If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever. Winnie the Pooh
When I was growing up, one of my favorite things about Christmas were the traditions we had. It was a given that we would end up at my Grandma's house on Christmas Eve. All the cousins tucked away into various rooms, pretending to sleep, as we waited for the grownups to come back from Midnight Mass. We would be wearing the new pajamas Grandma gave us and finally drift off to sleep. Finally, around 1am, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and parents would gently wake us up, saying "Santa has come!". We would rush out to the living room to see hundreds of presents (there were over 20 of us kids). I remember looking into Grandma's kind eyes and I just knew her heart was happy having us all in her home.
Grandma is now 88 years old. She doesn't have the memories of our traditions because she has dementia. When I look into her eyes, I see and remember the Grandma I had growing up. She doesn't see me. Because my grandma can't remember me. When she sees me now, she'll grasp my hand tightly and whisper, "Mija, take me with you". In my heart I know she doesn't want to go away with a stranger, which is how she sees me, her granddaughter. I know she is hoping I can take her to wherever it is she will finally remember and see someone or something familiar.But I remember after opening our presents how each family would make the drive home to sleep for a few hours. And then we'd wake up and drive back to Grandma's house. Because we wanted to be there. Because it was our tradition to be with the ones we loved most on Christmas.
Traditions. They are precious memories tucked into my heart. A snapshot in time of favorite moments. I'm trying to provide these for my own children. Though we are far away from family, our own little family is creating memories to cherish. I fear that some day, my mind will begin to fade, just like Grandma's. My wish is that my children will have these moments tucked into their hearts: memories of our own Christmas traditions.
I have a snapshot in my heart of one of our traditions: my family attending the Zilker Tree Lighting Ceremony. The first Sunday in December, the city lights the tree and that was our advent calendar activity for the day. I told the kids about it in the morning and all day they kept asking if it was time to see the Christmas Tree. It rained all day and when Madeline and Max woke from their naps, the first thing they said was "Go see Christmas Tree!" I warned them that it was cold and raining outside but that didn't seem to be so much as a warning to them but a promise of "really, we might get wet!?" So off we went, our picnic dinner packed and plans changed to eat it in the car instead of outside. As we stood under the band's tent, listening to the beautiful songs being sung by the choir, I hope to never forget these images:
Snapshot: Sweet Claire spinning the umbrella round and round while dancing to the music. Madeline, my delicate one, snuggled against me, her little red nose pressed against my cheek. My boys: Chris holding Max while they laughed as Max threw his head back to catch raindrops on his face.
Snapshot: When the tree was finally lit, the look of awe in three little children's eyes. As we walked away from the tree to go back to the car, all three of them kept turning their heads back. So Chris and I paused, huddled closely and we just stood, snuggled together to show them the tree one last time.
Snapshot: After buckling three soggy kiddos into their car seats and covering them with warm blankets, I told them I had a treat. I gave them their thermoses and a graham cracker. I hope to never forget the look in their eyes as they realized it wasn't water or milk, but hot chocolate they were drinking.
Precious memories. Our family traditions.
And so, just as I had Claire write her letter to Santa, I too would like to write one. I ask for one thing:
Please. Please let me remember.
Photo by Kay Harmon Photography