My daughter, Violet, has been waiting for Santa since last January.
It feels like she’s asked, “How much longer until Christmas?” just about every single day.
I was the same as a kid.
Mom always drove us over the pass to her childhood home in Yakima for the holidays where Grandma would make all our favorite pies — pumpkin for Mom, lemon meringue for my little brother, and banana cream for me. A banana hater, Mom said the sight of my pie was enough to make her gag, which pretty much sums up how I felt looking at Violet’s hoard of Halloween candy this fall.
Sometimes parents just don’t get it.
And sometimes kids don’t get it either.
On Vashon Island in the 1980s and ’90s, my mom always worried about money. We lived in a two-bedroom doublewide where my brother and I shared a room. Around the time I turned 11, I fiercely complained until Mom moved to the living room, her bed became my brother’s, and I got my privacy.
Looking back, I can see how hard my mom tried to make Christmas special. She worked a holiday job at Maury Island Farm and barely slept, busy decorating or cleaning, wrapping gifts for us when she wasn’t wrapping gifts at work. Not to mention, one of us was always sick.
Day to day, we didn’t have a whole lot when I was little. But every December, Grandma and Grandpa spoiled us rotten: American Girl dolls, cassette tapes and a Walkman for me. Matchbox cars, Nintendo games and GI Joes for my brother. Their TV had no limits, there was always too much food on the table and I loved their cat, Lioness. Grandpa was always up for pulling a sled or building a snowman, and anytime I asked, he’d plunk a second piece of banana cream pie onto my plate with a wink and a smile.
Although I loved every minute we spent in Yakima, our drive home always felt off-kilter, not quite right. Like clockwork, Mom would panic at the top of the snowy pass, worried we might not make it in our rattletrap jalopy, jam-packed with rich-kid gifts. I understood that a new car would cost a lot more than our presents. But it didn’t make sense that I had expensive clothes and more than one $100 doll, while Mom complained about not being able to afford both gas for the car and electricity to keep us warm.
Now that I’m all grown up with a child of my own, I notice that lots of adults, parents especially, seem overwhelmed at the holidays. Whether it’s pressure to provide a perfect Christmas, seasonal depression, colds and flus, or simply the lack of magic we feel compared to holiday memories from childhood, life gets harder as the sky darkens, and the chill seeps in.
Last January a friend texted me that she feels depressed every winter, worded like a shameful confession. I was like, duh, of course. We all get that way, don’t we? No need to apologize.
But when you’re in deep, feeling depressed is lonely, sometimes isolating. And for some, it hits hardest around the holidays. We remember better years, more magical times, and it can feel like everyone around us is living a dream while we’re locked out. As parents, it’s a tricky balance to ride your way through that, while at the same time trying to create joyful, memorable moments for your kids.
But as my mom used to say, we “trudge onward.” We do our best.
When Violet was three months old, I called my grandma at Christmastime and we got to talking about the dreamlike holidays of my childhood.
“I grew up during the Depression, you know,” Grandma said, reminding me she’d lived through what for me had been a chapter in American History class. “We didn’t have much, but your grandpa’s parents always gave him a very good Christmas. Birthdays went by without a fuss, but Christmas was big. Your grandfather loved Christmas.”
Somehow, I’d never known. Kids only know what you tell them, plus a few things they manage to work out on their own. Grandpa passed away in 2007 after a long bout with kidney failure and I regret never asking much about his childhood, his Christmases, even his winter moods. But it never occurred to me until it was too late.
My grandfather was a real-life Santa Claus. Kind, gentle, generous and jolly, every December he gave us whatever our hearts desired, always reminding us that we were very good kids. I miss him the most at Christmas. Especially now.
As we all trudge onward through this second pandemic winter, tell your children how good they have been. Enjoy your friends, your pets, whoever you love, however you can. Tell your stories. Do your best. Dark days will lead us back to spring and summer, as they always do.
And remember, it’s not all about the presents. It’s also about the pie.
Krisa Bruemmer is an award-winning writer. She lives in Vaughn.
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