SANTA’S WORKSHOP — KEEP OUT, read the sign on her kitchen office door, from November 1 on.
Of course I peeked, and of course she admonished me, but I had to know what kind of Very Important Christmas Activities were going on in there, and OK, fine, what gifts she was hiding from me.
As I got older, I knew that peeking really would ruin my Christmas, that the surprise is half the fun.
“Theodora, I need your list,” is the refrain I heard from November on.
Christmas was big in both of my parents’ families, so it became big in our little family of three too.
All my parents ever wanted was a child, so once they adopted me and their dreams came true, all they wanted to do was keep me happy. In turn, I was beyond grateful for their love and just wanted them to be happy.
Several Christmases, my mom tried so hard to give us the perfect Christmas that she literally made herself sick, coming down with pneumonia from exhausting herself to the point that her immune system couldn’t handle the germs she encountered during her days of wandering the mall looking for that perfect gift.
Every Christmas, just before Christmas, she asked what my perfect gift would be. The question made me uncomfortable, because it never was about the presents. OK, fine, the first 22 years, it was totally about the presents. But once I started working full-time and this brat actually learned the meaning of money, I felt bad asking for as much, and my former “lists” turned into random links scattered in one-off emails to her.
Even last year, despite her cancer relapsing a month earlier, I still woke up to 30 Christmas presents under the tree; literally an embarrassment of riches to the point that I would lie about how much I got, downplaying it. We were so lucky to have so much. Lucky to have enough that we could afford these big Christmases, but more, so lucky to have so much love that we wanted to make sure we had the “perfect” Christmas. There’s no such thing as perfect, but our Christmases came pretty damn close.
Coming down the stairs Christmas morning was never short of magical. My dad bought my mom and I stuffed animals every year, and we always exchanged cards first. The goal was to find a “crier” card; one that was so perfectly sentimental, it would make the recipient tear up. I always succeeded at this. We took turns on trash duty; we took turns sharing the stories behind the gifts. We took breaks to eat pancakes and drink coffee.
Every year (except maybe last year), my dad set up his video camera; every year my mom and I asked him to turn it off, who wanted to see us in our PJs, no makeup, no bra? I know I’ll treasure these videos one day, but the idea of watching them right now is heart-wrenching.
I would give back every single one of those god damn gifts I got over the years to have my mom instead. To have the lady whose heart was so filled with love for her husband and only daughter that she tried so so hard to make happy.
My dad asked me earlier this fall what I wanted for Christmas, and through tears I snapped back “NOTHING. I want my mom.”
I’ve wondered a lot if we lost her because we were so lucky, were we too lucky?
The day my mom died, a dear friend of mine texted me “grief is the only price we pay for love.” I am in so much pain right now because my mom gave me so, so much love.
It’s December 24, Christmas Eve, as I write this, and I want nothing more than for the holidays to be over. I HATE that I feel that way, but Christmas without my mom just doesn’t feel like Christmas.
But I’ll get through this. As my BFF has reminded me, it will never be this hard again.
Thinking of anyone else having a rough holiday season this year, too <3