Well, it was a Christmas to remember for so many reasons.
The first was waking up on Christmas Day to a baby who decided that she’s ready to full-fledge walk.
And so we spent the weekend watching her wobble and bobble and dance and clap and experience her world on two feet.
Tomorrow she’ll be running.
Next week she’ll tell me she’s training for a marathon.
And in between all of the present wrapping and unwrapping, eating, drinking and being merry, an epic winter blizzard of North Dakota proportions raged outside our doors, making us grateful to be together warm and cozy inside…
only to send the boys out the spend the entire next day behind tractors and skid steers and shovels trying to open the roads and feed the cows and whittle away at the ten foot drifts that had piled against our houses, doors and pathways.
And then there was a Christmas ditch situation and a memorable the-baby-ate-too-many-blueberries-and-other-Christmas-treats bedtime projectile vomit episode that will go down in infamy.
And now that the company has gone and the wind has died down and the sun is out, making the chest-deep snowdrift on my deck sparkle and shine, I have a moment while the baby snacks on Cheerios (and blueberries…what’s wrong with me?) to share last week’s column about the magic of Christmas, which, I’ve decided, lies in the simple and crazy precious memories we create without even realizing it.
Even when nothing goes as planned.
I was too old to believe in Santa Clause when reality finally started tugging at my sleeves.
I tried to shoo the truth away as long as I could, not so eager to grow up and exist in a world surrounded by it because the truth never seemed quite as thrilling as the dreamed up.
I suppose I’ve always been one to hang on to the coattails of magic as long as it lets me, as long as it doesn’t grow too wild and reckless, sending me spinning and whipping off its haunches.
I think that’s what keeps me telling and retelling the best parts then, the ones from a childhood spent believing that maybe my horse could understand the words I spoke, my “secret spot” 12 feet off the road was actually secret and Santa Clause would exist as long as I found a way to never grow up.
I never wanted to grow up.
Of all of the memories I’ve collected as a kid in these hills, I remember that most clearly.
I was sensitive enough to the trials of adulthood to know that children had it best. I knew because I was listening from the other side of my closed bedroom door — hushed conversations in the kitchen while we were supposed to be sleeping, the stories of lost love coming from dad’s record player, the hugs from strangers at my grandparents’ funerals.
I knew what time did to people, and I wondered how I might make it miss me.
My grandpa died when I was six years old. His death brought our family back to the ranch for good, and it gave me another five years or so living down the road from my grandmother.
Actually, it gave us all that time with her, but I don’t own my family’s memories. I only have mine.
And I remember one summer evening lying in the patch of sun that lit up the carpet through the open window in my grandmother’s living room.
The TV was on, but it wasn’t as interesting to me as watching the way the dust caught the stream of light, turning it from invisible to visible.
My grandma had fallen asleep in her easy chair with a newspaper on her lap, her head tilted back, sort of snoring. She had a habit of holding a toothpick in the corner of her mouth, and I noticed as she took those deep, noisy breaths that her toothpick was still there, in danger, I was certain, of being sucked down her throat as she slept, unaware.
That’s the kind of kid I was, so comfortable and in love with the familiarity of my good and safe life, and a little too aware of its volatility, a little worried I was too lucky.
I sat up, eyes fixated on that toothpick, watching my grandmother’s lips purse and pop with each breath in and out, suddenly becoming distinctly aware of time.
I didn’t want to live in a world without her.
And I didn’t want to live in a world where time made me think it too cold for sledding or allowed me to walk by a swimming pool or a lake or the perfect puddle and not want to, (have to) jump in.
And so Christmas has come again, and the new year is right behind, bringing with it the recognition of time passed, new promises and reminders to miss the people who’ve left us here to admire the twinkling lights without them.
Now that I’ve succumbed to adulthood, I wish I could remember what it was like to truly believe in such an impossible thing like Santa Clause. My six-year-old self would be so disappointed in me.
But if I could, I would tell her a secret I’ve learned in the growing up we were so afraid of: I would say she was doing the right thing in holding on tight to her gratitude. Then I would tell her not to worry so much about time, because time gives us memories, memories we get to go back to whenever we want, but also, memories just waiting to be made.
And that, child, is the most magic you’ll find in this life.
Hold on tight to its tails.