In the midst of winter, we rage against the darkness with as much love and joy as we can muster, celebrating with family and friends. I celebrate Christmas, but it is only one holiday among many, whether it is New Years, Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or earlier in autumn, Diwali. We prepare ourselves for the coming cold by surrounding ourselves with light. This year, our family was so fortunate to be surrounded with love, even when we stumbled a bit.
Unlike many families, Chris and I never had to worry about sharing Christmas between two sets of parents. As we were high school sweethearts, our parents still live four miles apart. For the past several years, we’ve actually done a joint holiday, where we open presents separately at each house in the morning and then all have dinner together. This year, we stayed at Chris’ parents house for the whole week, along with his sister and brother-in-law.
But unlike previous years, we had a toddler. While Sprout was in our midst last Christmas, he was barely sitting up, much less mobile. He required constant supervision, but at least stayed where you put him. Last Christmas Day, we were able to prop him up in a laundry basket while he looked adorable in his little Santa pajamas. This year, he was everywhere all at once all of the time. Between the relatives and an endless parade of guests (Christmas Eve, Christmas dinner, the day after Christmas), plus the tree and decorations, there was a palable sense of excitement. Needless to say, there was none of his normal interest in sitting quietly by himself flipping through a book.
Adding to this chaos was a number of non-human friends. My sister and brother-in-law brought their schauzer puppy, Jasper, who is about half Sprout’s size. They became fast friends. Sprout would slowly pet him on the back saying, “Niiiice” in a tone that my sister-in-law likened to Borat. While he did become bolder over time, I was proud of how gentle and kind Sprout was to Jasper. Occasionally the constant petting became a bit much, but in general Jasper was very tolerant and enjoyed Sprout’s company. One of them was almost always following the other around. When I took Sprout over to my parents’ house, Jasper was genuinely excited when he returned. He was even protective of Sprout, barking when he thought he was doing something dangerous.
The other non-human friends were a bit more – mechanical. My mother-in-law loves singing animatronic Christmas decorations. In addition to her “people” (little synchronized carolers), a singing stuffed Santa, a set of Disney characters playing instruments, and a penguin, she bought Sprout a singing Christmas tree that was about half his height. To the tune of Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, it bounced, its mouth moved, and its little lights blinked. It was cute the first few times. On repeat number 10, it became intensely grating, especially when Sprout turned on all of the singing creatures simultaneously. It also bothered me that they mesmerized Sprout even more than TV. We hoped Jasper would attack them and force a retreat, but he seemed to enjoy them as well. Which meant the rest of us either had to tolerate the same recorded songs over and over and over again or whining that we hid the toys on him. We settled on some combination of the two, along with a heavy dose of distraction. Even my mother-in-law became sick of them eventually – it took a toddler for her to realize that someone could love her “people” even more than she did.
While Sprout was wonderfully careful around the dog and fragile decorations, we started to see some of the fabled toddler defiance emerging. He began saying “No!” with a snotty edge in his voice and a pout. He degenerated into mini-meltdowns a few times, both conveniently in public, at restaurants. Thankfully, getting away from the table helped calm him down significantly. I know that won’t always work in the future, so I’m working on my bag of tricks, including deep breathing (for him and me).
I couldn’t blame him for being on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster – everything was so confusing. After an absolutely bonkers December with the first two weeks spent traveling, we bopped from house to house several times over the course of the week. On the way there and back, we slept over at my aunt’s house. Once we were in upstate New York, we spent half of the time at my in-laws and half the time at my parents’ houses. And we weren’t alone in those places. As Sprout is starting to be afraid of strangers, the crowd of unfamiliar extended family and friends must have been disorienting. Considering how much was new and overstimulating, he did extremely well.
With all of the other thrills, he wasn’t that excited by Christmas Day. He’s too young to enjoy anticipation, so unwrapping presents confused him. His very first present was a Little Tykes slide and once he saw that, he wasn’t interested in sitting still enough to open anything else. To him, the wrapped presents were just fancy boxes.
Eventually, he did open them all with a bit of help. I wouldn’t say otherwise (of course), but I was extremely pleased with what everyone got him. While I wrote a list, I knew folks were going to buy items that weren’t listed. Fortunately, all of our relatives stuck to giving the types of toys we value – active, creative, practical, durable, and not electronic.
Chris and I chose to make the trek up to the great, cold north so that we can spend it with our family and old friends. It was worth every mile.