One More Christmas

IMG_2153We were sure that last year would be our dog Lucy’s very last Christmas.  She was fifteen years old, and had survived a couple of serious health issues.  Signs of her aging were obvious: stiffness in her joints, hearing loss, and worst of all, a digestive system that obviously could no longer handle the variety of “food” she still found and insisted on eating.  Lucy had been part of our family for over fourteen years, so our Christmas morning was a little bittersweet as all photographed and video-taped what we thought would be the last time she would ever help us open presents.

Clearly, Lucy had other ideas.  Because Christmas is a week away, and she is still with us.

I’m not sure if it’s her competitive nature (her doggie sister lived to be sixteen and a half, and I think she has every intention of exceeding that goal), or just that she is still enjoys life.  She turned sixteen last October.  Lucy’s hearing is basically gone, her eyes are somewhat cloudy and she can no longer balance on three legs while I trim her nails.  But she still has a healthy appetite, still trots briskly after the occasional squirrel, and still plays with her dog toys now and then.  She can even still chase her tail a little bit when she gets really excited about something,  such as her dinner being served.

I know that eventually my family will be facing a Christmas, and a life, without Lucy.  She won’t be with us forever despite her best efforts.  Time moves on and those we love, both human and otherwise, grow old and die…often before we are ready to let them go. And since Christmas is a time when the influence of the past seems to be stronger than usual, acknowledging that loss can be hard.

My father has been gone for eight years now, and both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have been gone for six years.  And while my husband and I miss them all the time, we miss them especially during the Christmas season, when the memories of the holidays we celebrated together are especially strong.  We didn’t live in the same state so we had to be flexible about when we got together, but they were always a part of our Christmas celebrations.  And Christmas isn’t quite the same without them.

Yet Christmas is still a beautiful season.  It’s a time to treasure the family and friends we still have and to appreciate the new people who join our family and enrich our lives. My mother may be in her late eighties, but she is still with us, and so is her elderly Chihuahua.  My children and their spouses live close by and we are very much looking forward to the arrival of our first grandson in just a few weeks.  Some change is good indeed.

And the fact that Lucy will get at least one more chance to find the special present that Santa Dog left under the tree will just make this Christmas that much sweeter.

Christmas Present

There’s something about Christmas that can put me in a very nostalgic mood.  It might be the family Christmas traditions, or how I decorate my house with so many old ornaments and nick-knacks from my childhood.  It could even be that most of my favorite Christmas songs are the old ones and that I listen to them a lot as I’m driving around town.  All I know is that this is the time of year when my memories of past Christmases are strongest, and I sometimes feel a real sense of loss.  It’s as if an important and precious part of the holiday is gone, and I know I’ll never get it back again.

Thankfully, I don’t feel that way all of the time.  In between my bouts of Christmas nostalgia, I have moments when I’m downright thankful for the changes that the passing years have wrought.

Last Sunday afternoon, I headed to the mall to get in a little Christmas shopping.  When I got there, I saw a line of families waiting to have their children’s photos taken with Santa that stretched almost from one end of the mall to the other.  And as far as I could tell, it wasn’t moving.  I can’t tell you how good it felt to breeze right by all those people, duck into the little boutique jewelry store, buy a gift for my daughter-in-law and waltz back out again.  At that moment in time, it felt great to know that my kids are too old to want to see Santa.

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And speaking of Santa Claus, I like being at the stage where his only role in Christmas at my house is as (an occasionally tacky) decoration.  I remember the Christmas when my son was four all too well.  I had finished my shopping early that year, or so I thought until the afternoon of December 23, when my son casually mentioned that what he wanted most from Santa this year was a toy Bat-mobile.  This was news to me, so I asked why he hadn’t mentioned this before.  Apparently, he saw a commercial for it just that morning. (Yet another reason children shouldn’t be allowed to watch TV.)  I told him it was awfully late to be changing his mind, and he said he understood.  But he was still “really, really, hoping that Santa brings me a Bat-mobile.”  So guess who got to go fight the crowds for the last remaining Bat-mobile at Target?

As long as I’m being honest, and a bit Grinch-like, I’ll admit that I’m also glad I no longer have to be responsible for games and craft projects my kids’ holiday class parties.  Or spend two hours sitting on a cold metal folding chair during the school’s winter concert.  The concerts were only about an hour long, but if you didn’t come an hour early, you didn’t even get the privilege of an uncomfortable chair.  Instead, you ended up standing in a crowd around the perimeter of the gym, trying to peek over the shoulder of the tall guy in front of you, hoping to catch a glimpse of your kid on stage.  Good times, indeed.

I think nostalgia is remembering only the good times, and of course there were plenty of those.  I’ll always miss the excitement of the Christmas mornings of my own childhood, and the fun we had at Christmas when my own children were young.  But these days I’m getting better at recognizing that those long-ago Christmases were far from perfect, and that the present Christmas has a lot going for it, too.