Hi Friends! and Happy 2019!
While it is already January 3rd, we are not quite through the holidays at our house: my parents are still with us, and so I refuse to return to normal life.
But I thought I’d throw a little something out on this here website of mine, something that reflects where my mind–in those rare, idle moments of these holidays–allows me to go.
And where does it go, you may be asking (or maybe not, but I’ve led us that way, so here goes)? My mind moves ahead to what 2019 will be bringing: the wedding of our second-born, and the high-school graduation of our third-born, and the anticipated and inevitable emptying of our nest.
I have more thoughts on this (are we surprised?) but will leave them for now. My parents are here, and I want to spend more time with them. Instead, I will offer you this from another year, a Christmas that, in practice, was not all that different from this year, except that Emma was four-and-a-half, and we went to Pennsylvania and Bill’s parents for the holidays.
These are not ordinary days, these Christmas ones, these holidays. These days we are eating too much, and lazing around, visiting with family and friends we haven’t seen in too long, and staying up too late. We are away from home now, and we are gone home to western Pennsylvania with Bill’s family. The children love it here, not just for the snow which, sadly, is melting fast anyway. The children love it for their grandparents and the joy that comes with being with them. It is good to be here.
One of my earliest memories is the sound of my grandfather sipping his morning coffee where he sat in the lazy-boy of his living room. From my bed at his house I could hear this, and I would go creeping down the stairs to be greeted with joy by both my grandparents, greeted with almost unreasonable joy: we were only just starting another ordinary day, after all.
My grandfather loved to remember a story of me on an ordinary morning like that, a morning I remember well. How old was I– six? I came down the stairs and climbed into his lap, laid my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes. I stayed there like that with him for a long time, half-listening to him sip his coffee and simply breathe, half-hearing him tell my mother and grandmother that yes, indeed, I had gone back to sleep.
I had not gone back to sleep, but I stayed there, comforted, for a long time. And afterward I loved to hear him remember it, his eyes almost closed by his smile and the pleasure of the memory. I don’t remember if I ever told him that I hadn’t slept at all.
But these are not ordinary days, these Christmas ones. Christmas can make Emma sleepy, particularly if we leave the house at 5:30 in the morning for our big trip, particularly if the seldom-seen cousin arrives at 10:30 at night, particularly if she doesn’t go to bed until after mid-night, regardless of Santa Claus.
She was so sleepy that she fell asleep on my lap during mass last night just as the priest was beginning the homily. I could tell that Something would have to happen: she was just far too squirmy to make it through the service without a Serious Scolding. She sat on Bill’s lap, she sat on mine. She tried to climb on the kneeler; she tried to climb on the hymn-shelf; she made a Big Hole in her tights. Trying not to sound horrified, I told her that she Must Sit Still and Say Nothing. Within minutes she had folded herself sideways, her head on my knee. I stroked her hands and traced her fingers; I stroked her hair where it fell over her forehead and my skirt.
It wasn’t long before I realized that she had been still for a long time– a Long Time for someone who is four and has only recently been climbing the pew-back. I looked and saw her eyelashes lying on her cheeks; I saw her fingers relaxed and still against her leg; I knew she was asleep.
There is a good deal of wonderful and significant standing, sitting and kneeling in a Catholic mass. I missed it all but the sitting, enjoying her slumber and its privilege falling on me. I listened to the reading of Luke 2; I sang the hymns from the missal; I was moved again– again– by the reminder of the abject humility of Christmas, what Annie Dillard calls “God’s emptying himself into man.”
I felt nothing like empty, my arms and lap full of the weight of my sleeping daughter.
The children were awake alarmingly early this morning, considering how late their rest began last night. And although Emma Grace was the last to wake, she warned me of a Need to Nap only halfway through the gift-opening. After a bath, after brunch, she curled up with both brothers and Granddad and was still there an hour later, sleeping fast, the only one in the bed.
I let her sleep for that hour, then went in to get her. The need for sleep at her age is an awkward thing to balance: too much sleep now means no chance of it later, and then we begin the cranky cycle all over again. So I pulled her from the bed and carried her to the living room where I was visiting with family, hoping all the while to coax her from her dreams.
I didn’t try very hard. Although she is tall for her age, Emma Grace’s little body still fits warmly in my lap. Her yellow hair smelled so good from the bath; her even breathing contented me. She sucked her thumb and, as she always has, let her fingers spread themselves out over her nose and eyelids. Then her thumb fell from her mouth, her head tilted up, and I looked into her still-sleeping face, watched her lashes rest on her cheeks, watched her little mouth open like a flower.
I held her for nearly an hour, maybe more. The time felt like nothing, and the afternoon was nothing like ordinary, Christmas or no. I sat there with my daughter filling my lap and thought of my grandfather, his eyes creased with joy at the memory of holding me.