Time for Christmas

I’ve lost ten hours of my life to that bank. Ten hours I didn’t have to spare. Hours of fussing with the new on-line interface that won’t connect, or calling help-lines and being put on hold. Hours standing in line at a branch office, the only one that deals with my problem, a problem that can be addressed at only one desk, the one with six people waiting in front of it. I will lose at least three more hours opening a new account in a different bank, and trotting down to the previous one and attempting to withdraw all my funds. I suppose it will eventually get sorted and in the context of all the other horrible things that are happening in the world, this is a luxurious problem. But I’ll never get those hours back. clocks_times_three

It’s not a time when I can be generous with hours. An array of projects lie unfolded before me, marked by a mosaic of bright Post-it notes on the wall above my desk or Skype calls inked in my calendar. All of these need time and take time. Each one of them something important or at least fascinating to me, none I would be prepared to discard. Yet all of them, all at once, fill up the hours of the day, and quickly.

I have so many things I want to write. Website updates and posts about all those interesting projects. A book to finish editing (for work). A book to finish writing (for myself). So there’s no pleasure in the time spent on bank interfaces that won’t work, or calling our internet service provider about the strange undulation of our allegedly high speed, high quality fibre optic wifi, or hunting down viruses that have snuck into my computer, or scheduling doctor’s appointments I should have made weeks ago.

The girls, of course, need time from me, now more than ever. Short-pants is carrying the stress of her schoolwork. Always conscientious about homework, she manages it without assistance, but lately you can see the burden of the workload – it increases in intensity and volume every year — taking its toll on her. Each week, her introverted self gets depleted by Thursday. She explodes in anger or bursts into tears at the drop of a hat. Especially when it’s her sister who drops it.

Her sister, who is going through her own existential crisis, spiraling down into dark thoughts. Don’t laugh: I remember going through this myself when I was Buddy-roo’s age, conjuring up weird fantasies about what would happen if I was dead. Never enough to make it happen, but wondering about it, which leads to wondering about why are we here anyway, and for Buddy-roo, pondering what’s the point, especially if she doesn’t have a iPhone like all her friends?

The only antidote to their various bouts of teenage angst – both legitimate and dramatic – is time. Time spent sitting on the couch beside them, listening, chatting, or just being there and doing nothing at all. Time when I step away from the computer and give them my full attention. Time when they get to feel like they are the most important thing on my to-do list.
And then there’s Christmas. The time of year for spirited joy and treasured family traditions. Time-honored traditions that take a lot of time. It’s a holiday that’s hardest on moms, even if dads play along. Or maybe it just hits me the hardest. Me and my mother, who used to get all wound up at Christmas and I never understood why until I was the one buying, wrapping, baking and planning. Though nobody’s holding a gun to my head to bake 4 dozen ginger-bread men and 8 dozen Christmas cut-outs (because that’s what the recipe makes) every year.

“Because it’s your tradition,” De-facto says, when, wincing at my sore shoulders, I ask myself out loud why I do this every year.

I do know why. The girls love it. They jump up and down at the mention of the seasonal baking. Now they’re old enough to really help – as opposed to when they were toddlers, when their “help” had a short attention span – and they do their share by mixing the ingredients to make the dough, rolling it flat and cutting out the angels and stars and fir trees and Santas. They know how to add the food coloring to the sugar, and how to sprinkle it on the cookies while the icing is still soft. That’s time well spent, and spent together, but it makes me long for a time when I was the one standing on the stool watching my mother read from her recipe card while she blended the ingredients with her foley fork, admonishing me, with affection, not to eat too much of the raw dough.

Because for me – and I know I say this every year – Christmas isn’t entirely joyful. It’s a time when I miss all those people who used to come together for the holidays, whose collective presence seated around my parents’ living room was the most comforting thing in the world. Christmas makes me want to regress to an earlier time, a time when I was the one marveling at the tree and its trimmings and shaking the decorated packages beneath it, when my only responsibility was playing the elf who distributed the gifts as we sat around and opened them one-by-one, and maybe setting the table or drying a few dishes after Christmas dinner. I long for those days when the hours between now and Christmas morning seemed an eternity, when time couldn’t move fast enough. If only we could put those restless, protracted hours in the bank when we’re young and impatient, and withdraw them later, when we’d appreciate them so much more. (Santa, can I open that account for Christmas?)

In the meantime, the speed of how we experience time is variable but (mostly) out of our control. There’s nothing to do but take in this moment now: Buddy-roo squatting before the Christmas tree, keep_outbemoaning how many days there are still before Christmas while I put a “keep out” sign on my office door and scramble to finish wrapping presents. This is what she will remember, and some day she will long for it. That’s the most enduring gift I can give those girls, a string of Christmases to remember fondly, even if the memory is always a little bit bittersweet.

7 Responses to “Time for Christmas”

  • Syl Says:

    I can’t remember when I started following your blog. I think it was when you were planning to walk the Camino – a few years ago. I wanted to let you know that there are probably other silent readers, like me, who really enjoy your writing but don’t take time to comment. Wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas season and a wonderful 2016.

  • Kim Says:

    Thank you for this, and for reminding us how precious time is amidst all the hustle. I’m appreciating it more than ever this year.

  • Andy Parker Says:

    Last year wrapping gifts was a bridge too far. There wasn’t even a “hot wrap.” I let go, wrapping only bulky items. Instead, I placed the gifts in a large cloth bag, and treated it as a Santa Bag. My kids are past their Santa believing days. They do however, love mystery, and wonder. I treated reaching into the bag as an adventure. Every item was a surprise. “What is this? Who could it be for? Me? You think so?”

    I’m not sure I found ten hours in proceeding that way. It did take something off my plate, and for that I was grateful. The kids? They thought it was a hoot. Perhaps as much because I’m that goofy. I may reprise it this year (nothing is wrapped yet).

    Will you find ten hours? Probably not. Whatever happened in your quest for a “Women’s Christmas”? I hope you have something like that. Enjoy the cheeses, the Cava, and your favorite carols. The tree, store decorations, and every good thing from your childhood. Yes it’s always been bittersweet. Hardworking, and sweet too. For you, as I’m sure it was for your mom also. Merry Christmas!

  • Jean Says:

    Thank you for this post. I too feel the stress of time at Christmas. Thank you for reminding me that “it is what it is” and we need to see the big picture of what is really important.

    Wishing you and yours Joy times together – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  • Lee Dunne Says:

    I had a little of that stress of having everything ready, perfect, house cleaned in each detail, the presents wrapped– and here I am late on the evening before Chris arrives trying to find recipes, pay bills, clear off my desk so I can FOCUS on Christmas! I jettisoned the Xmas card plan – nothing sent out at the moment. And perhaps that’s a good beginning to simplify, simplify.
    Love your writing and your perspectives.

  • magpie Says:

    oh yes, all of this.

    i do 98% of the shopping and 95% of the wrapping. why is that? and there would be no cookies without me, and even though the christmas card picture was husband’s idea, the actually creating/ordering/addressing/mailing it fell to me. oy.

    happy new year to you!

  • kunyi Says:

    I guess I have also become a silent appreciator. I haven’t commented for a while; though I love your writing and peeking into your family’s lives, enjoying your thoughts.
    This year, after many many years of (dare I say it), NOT enjoying Christmas, being exhausted by the end of the day and focused only on the clock, I let go of many self-imposed things. I finally got to enjoy my family, sitting around with them, doing things together. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed the day more too.

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