“If I’d known it was going to be this much fun, I wouldn’t have cried so hard when the kids left!” says my husband as we Christmas shop and lunch. I throw my head back with laughter. Then, instantly, a pain of guilt shoots through me, I’d never want the kids to hear us say that!
Because there are also nights I cry before bed because the house is far too silent.
Life can be both.
We play a game in our family, “What’s your favorite…” “What’s your favorite dessert?” “What’s your favorite hike?” “What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?” I want the children to return to our house in December not just for years, but for decades.
My daughter loves hanging the ornaments over the bookshelf. My son loves cutting the Christmas tree. I love hanging the stockings. My husband loves Christmas Eve dinner. The difference of our choices is what makes our family complex.
One of my favorite things is to spy birds in flight. A dove family nests above the light on our porch and I watch as the babies fledge. Mom and dad fly out, and return to a nest full of open beaks. These parents endlessly fly out and return with bits of food until their babies are sitting on the side of the nest. There is abundant chatter and tweeting. The fledglings make it to our fence. The babies return to the nest many days, until one day they don’t. The sky is filled with wings.
I delay getting a tree this year because my son’s new job has him working 70 and 80 hour weeks. I keep waiting for a let up, but he barely has time to go grocery shopping. “I’d love to get a tree with you,” I say. Getting the tree with him is what I want now more than stockings. “I can also get the tree from the 4H kids and support them.” My son was a big 4H kid growing up. I hope that by offering this second choice, I’ve erased any guilt that might accompany the longing in my invitation.
Years ago I was driving down our road and, as I made a sharp turn, I surprised a bald eagle who had been feasting. It was summer and I had my windows down. The eagle rose up over the car and filled the entire windshield. The whap, whap, whap of his powerful wings filled the air and I sensed the displaced air from his gigantic wings rising. I pulled over to survey the scene. I could see tangles of fur in the middle of all the blood.
“I think you better go with the 4H option. Sorry Mom.” I am sad to miss hanging out with my son, but I hear happiness in his voice. I felt the same thrill as when the bald eagle filled my windshield. There was an intimacy hearing the air under its wing as he took off, flesh hanging from his mouth. I was there for the brutal moment of tearing flesh and the freedom of soaring.
Still, we need a tree, and though buying a precut tree would be fine, my husband knows my longing is also for the adventure in the woods. Kindly, he volunteers to carry the saw and hike with me. We make a plan for Sunday when he is off. We have the whole day to linger.
Sunday arrives, my husband looks up from his email and his cheeks droop. “M is sick. I’m the obvious choice for the night shift.”
There is a lot of carrion when raising children.
Our family had many adventures. My husband traded his carpenter hammer for a stethoscope and we spent 12 years in school, moving 3 times. I had three family members die and two more in multiple ICU stays. It meant many sick Christmases. Working Christmases. Nights I was up and my husband went to bed because there were so many nights he never went to bed.
“I’ll be OK,” I say. And I am. I feel full these days. Abundant, even. Was it just that when the kids were little time was scarce and now the clock on the wall is kind? Is it all time? Or is there something more?
We squeeze in two hours to cut the tree and I promise to decorate later.
The snow is deep. We start up the trail and luckily a few skiers have been there to tromp down a path so we don’t sink. We walk, our throats taking in the frigid air, my gloved hands getting chilly.
“Shall we head into the deep?” David asks, and with one step he is up to his mid thigh in powdery white snow. We swim our way down the hill laughing and rolling the whole way. A snowy blanket has covered the forest in a hush. Snowflakes play block-balancing games on tops of logs.
We find our tree. He shakes it and a snow cloud covers us both. The vooba of the saw in my hand vibrates all the way up my shoulder and the tree is down quickly. I laugh as I wrestle it up the wall of snow that keeps crumbling with each step. David takes my picture.
We hold hands as we walk down the ski path and the sun begins to set.
Have you seen this baby eagle’s nest? My favorite is the eaglet hatching.
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