Christmas is a state of mind, and it begins with the advent calendar’s first reveal. We torture Luke with incessant holiday songs on the stereo, and burn our evergreen-scented candle until we fool even ourselves into thinking the plastic tree from a box was real.
Favorite recipes fill into stainless steel bowls and the oven turns a new trick every hour. New or complicated recipes weren’t welcome this season. We have too many wooden spoons to lick already.
Island friends-like-family entangle us in their deep roots, make us feel like one of their own. Five years now we’ve spent Christmas Eve with potlucks, deep laughs, old songs on the piano. Santa always make an entrance. But this year, oh, this year holds the most magic where they believe with their whole hearts. This year, no doubt or question to reindeer on the roof.
Days earlier, it was deep grey and pouring rain as the sun rose. Olive peeled up the shade from Daddy’s side of the bed like she so often does to give the weather report. Mama! Mama! It’s raining! The deers get wet now! The deers get all wet now! Now Santa will get his rainy deer for his sleigh!
As each daughter sat on Santa’s lap, they shook with excitement and nerves. Everyone in the room waited to hear our girls’ one wish for Christmas morning and then the eyes of the mamas of older children met mine and I knew. I felt so happy and sensed a need to stock up on some extra savoring of the magic of these fleeting moments.
This season’s magic amplified with the arrival of my parents from 3,311 miles away. Our girls smile a bit bigger when they’ve got grandparents around. It’s true.
After Santa’s sleigh had drifted through the sky Olive came and found me.
Mama. Today was the best day of my whole life. Santa is my best friend.
She meant it, too. Every word of it.
Christmas morning’s first peek was a gift. No, really. Luke, Olive and I slept until 10 am. Crazy, yes. Betty and Lucy woke up super early, whisper squealed in delight at the new gifts Santa placed while they slept, then ate granola bars in the kitchen. When we got downstairs, me and the girls in matching pink western-themed flannel, wrapping paper flying and coffee brewing, we saw that the girls had been coloring by the tree, by the plate of crumbs Santa had left.
Our sweet oldest two let the three of us sleep in.
Nothing compares to the deep inhale of excitement of Christmas morning.
It was the first Christmas morning I didn’t video tape or take incessant pictures. I didn’t have my camera with me the whole time. I took it in, every ounce of the experience. Eyes wide open, hands free to hug and unwrap. Feelin’ the magic.
Mama, I’m a mama now. Fo’ reals. I love the words that come from Olive, especially.
It was so wonderful having my parents be a part of our holiday. Fancy meal, naps on the couch, new board games and chapters from stiff books on the floor. A day full of love. Before bedtime, I asked each girl to stand by the tree with their favorite gift. Think I’ll do this each Christmas night in years to come. It’ll be great to see how the ornaments, the pajamas and the gifts all change around the girl growing..
When family comes to town, we get to play tourist. We walk the docks, drive the road the winds along the west side cliffs and resident orcas. One of my very favorite activities to do when we play tourist is breakfast out. It’s so rare of an activity for our family and it’s such a treat, especially when the table is shared with visiting loved ones. So, early morning Benedict with deep, black coffee by the sea…
Surviving the red eye ferry means a thermos of coffee, an iPod for each child, a classified trader paper for Luke and an unfinished knitty project for me. We all plug into the darkness in our own, unique ways.
Nine years ago I took my mom to The Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker production. It was an amazing evening, followed by a fancy dinner and a night at a downtown hotel. I remember it fondly.
As we’ve welcomed each daughter into the world, I’ve wondered about taking them to the show. This year, we read so many versions of The Nutcracker, watched the NYC Ballet’s production on video and talked about what the experience might be like.
I didn’t know we’d love it so. It was like stepping into a snow globe, putting on orchestra ear muffs and slipping into a dream. I could have watched the look on my parent’s faces as they watched our girls love on the production, and I could have just watched the girls clap like maniacs and been satisfied. I could have stopped at the intermission suite where the girls decorated cupcakes and filled hot chocolates with pastel marshmallows and been totally happy. Or when Luke practically attacked the champagne flute display or when I ate my weight in finger bbq pulled pork sandwiches.
We each took it all in, from the moment we handed over our tickets.
Lucy, smile, I say knowing I should have started with, Lucy, don’t even think about smiling for this picture..
It’s quite a precious thing to know when you’re inside a memory in the making.
It was so hard to say good bye to my parents. Their plane takes them far from our home, our daily rituals it hurts.
Sad, sitting on the hotel bed, my mood instantly turned when Olive asked, Mama, why are you sad? I explained how awful it would feel for her if me and her Daddy had to get on a plane while she stayed behind. Silly, Mama. That would never happen. I will always come with you, always be with you. I go where you go, said Olive as she leaned in for the best hug of winter.
We woke the next morning, squished in a king sized hotel bed and cuddled to cartoons. We drove to the center of Seattle, walked until we found just the right smoothie shop that was giving away free steel cut oats with each order. We walked and held hands past bricks, people playing buckets on corners, men in suite reciting bible verses by street lights.
I adore the sights and sounds of Seattle.
We found the perfect coffee shop with vegan, gluten-free pink frosted donuts. Betty was in heaven, and her sisters were so happy they could all eat the same thing.
At center’s square we rode a holiday carousel. I think it turned at twice it’s normal rate. I stumbled tipsy and ill from my Frosty the Snowman purple horsed ride. Maybe I should have stuck with the blue ones, like my girls. They named them: Bluebell, Blueberry and Sunny Day Sky.
We got hot chocolate, then ran into sweet island pals in a tiny corner Starbucks. Funny how weird it always feels to run into islanders when on the mainland even though it seems to happen all the time. It’s a small world.
We told the girl Thomas the Train’s second cousin lives in Seattle. He’s really different from most of his family, so he isn’t featured on the show. Actually, he’s just really special since he’s a sky train.
Girls, here’s Mono Rail. Oh, the lies we tell our children.
Olive was out-of-this-world excited.
We bought round trip tickets, sat in the same seats both ways.
Any way you see the Space Needle, it’s awesome. Luke’s mom saw it at the World’s Fair in 1962 when the Monorail was unveiled.
We sat next to the driver. Luke was impressed to know it went 34 mph and had 1.2 million miles on the odometer.
Nothing is like Ballard in Seattle. It puts the fishing ports I’m used to like Point Judith in RI just out to sea. So many fishing boats, such a deep marine history. It was nice to show my Yankee parents around a different port. Bridges and locks and oh, good eats. We had the best seaside meal at Ray’s. Clams and crab and salmon and scallops. Oh, my.
It was a wonderful holiday, weeks in the making. Travels and memories and feasts and love.
A Friday ritual. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember because it’s what life is all about.