It’s Just One Christmas

This year my family’s holiday celebrations are low key, low effort, and carried out with even lower expectations. You could call it a lazy Christmas, a minimalist approach, or a scaled-back yuletide season.

I am calling it survival, and I’m one hundred percent, guilt-free, okay with it.

The festivities we skip, the traditions (only a few years old anyway) that fall by the wayside, the days we are decidedly not merry  … they are all just days, and it’s only this one, decidedly busy, Christmas.

Being 99 weeks pregnant with our third baby, I have to let a lot of things go. Like, most issues of daily life, and every single extra thing that comes up. My energy is intensely prioritized: actual trauma; basic necessities; remembering how to form sentences and when to pick up my 4 year old from preschool; and then celebrating Christmas. On a separate list, there’s prep for baby number three (if you could really call a box of diapers, a car seat, and a clean outfit hanging around somewhere “prep”), plans for where everyone else will be, and some things resembling food stashed away in the pantry and freezer.

Completely maxed out. Sorry Christmas, but it’s just this one year.

Chances are slim that we will get pictures with Santa in matching outfits, if we even make it to see him. With our non-existent budget, there are fewer decorations, fewer outings, and not a single holiday party (family gatherings aside).  Our (let’s face it) super fussy kids, have caused us to happily abandon many festive plans because they are JUST NOT WORTH IT.

I even have to skip my favorite tradition: an annual cookie baking extravaganza, followed by delivery of treats to friends and neighbors. But hey – we made some 2-minute-fudge yesterday, and cookies from a mix. My little bakers, whose hearts and sugar obsessed bellies are full, got in their messy mixing and used way too many sprinkles. (Although … if anyone wants to supplement our holiday cookie fix, we don’t turn down donations.)

And it’s all good – really. It’s just one Christmas.

What we have found so far, with a couple weeks left, are a few simple joys.

Since I spend a great deal of time coaxing the kids to let me sit and put my feet up these days, we’ve cuddled on the couch with our favorite Christmas books and movies over and over (and over).

The kids have spent whole days in Santa jammies, listening to holiday music, and making simple construction paper chains (in lieu of Pinterest style daily crafts).

We’ve made special trips out to buy simple gifts for each other, and made inexpensive and low effort homemade gifts.

Energy, time, money and patience have been spent on a few things we can’t live without. The kids require all things possible relating to the Grinch – movies, books, songs, and holiday shirts. I don’t have an ounce of merriment without hanging up my mom’s 12 Days of Christmas decoration and watching our shared favorite movie: Christmas in Connecticut. Kevin cannot go without a tree or hanging lights along the eaves of our cozy home. And Penny doesn’t get into the holiday spirit without stealing a stick of butter from the counter, left out from making (human) treats. All of those bases have been covered, and there’s still some time to spare.

It’s a simple year, all we can manage, and I am surprisingly okay with it. In the grand scheme of family life, it really is just one single Christmas.

Happy holidays to all my friends and readers out there – however much or little you are celebrating! More from this human after the New Year, or when I come up for air after labor and newborn number three.

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39 weeks. I exist like this all day, and yet I don’t see how it is humanly possible …

An Ode to the Perfect Part-Time Baby

Jacob (aka J-Baby, aka Part-Time 3rd Baby, aka Jake The Slug*) is doing one of my all time favorite baby moves these days. Every few minutes, as he plays with toys and big kids, he looks up at me to check in with a goofy, dimpled grin. Then he rapid crawls over, flings himself into my lap, and grabs a quick snuggle. Sometimes he pulls himself up into my arms for a full hug, leaning his head on me and sucking his finger briefly before flinging himself back to the carpet. It is one of the things that makes sitting on the floor to play endlessly (when I have to heave my baby belly back up to stand) totally worth it.

Oh. This. Baby. He has a special place in my heart.

I have been lucky to provide childcare for a baby I am allowed to fall in love with, because he belongs to one of my oldest and best friends, Melissa. While it is paid employment, he has come to feel like family. The months of intimate caretaking – all of the soothing and rocking to sleep in my arms – has formed a strong bond between us. When he leaves my care (freakishly soon) he will remain in my life. I will be able to hug and kiss him for years, watch with pride as he grows, and be there at his high school graduation to remind him that I used to feed him baby bottles and wipe his butt.

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4 month old squish during week one at my house.

Jacob was only a squishy four month old baby when I started watching him. He spent his time observing the chaos of my house from the rock and play, being hauled around in the carrier while we chased Owen, and trying tummy time on the playmat (with TONS of help from my toddlers). I learned the differences between feeding him and feeding my own babies (no spitup!), and the particular bounce and rock that soothed him to sleep.

We played and snuggled and got used to each other during the first couple of months, through an amazing phase of growth and change. I got to watch and help him learn to grab toys and play, to move his arms and legs, and to mimic facial expressions.

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All of the help, all of the attention, none of the regard for personal space.

I had him in the six to nine month phase, when routines had formed and fussiness had (mostly) subsided. We experimented with food together, Melissa telling me the new things he was trying each day. Feeding babies is one of my favorite messy activities; it gives so much insight into their personalities and preferences. J-Baby (the nickname my kids gave him) quickly exhibited his desire to self-feed, long before he was able, like Owen did. He vehemently spit out any food that did not please his taste buds, like Addie did.

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Happiest, busiest, little bee.

In the nine to twelve month phase, we survived spring colds, teething, and ever changing needs together. The kids and I moved furniture and play spaces around to help Jacob learn to pull up to stand. We worked on baby sign language. He left the carrier to wiggle at gymnastics alongside Owen.

Now I get to watch the one-year-old, as he gets busier, funnier, and sweeter. Every day he makes noises that sound more and more like conversation (if you speak baby gibberish that is, which I do fluently). He no longer accepts just any toy Addie and Owen offer as a trade to get something from him; he has the drive and ability to go after the red car, or the green ball, or any contraband items (paper, shoes, dog toys). He has finally increased from slug to normal human speed in these specific moments, or when a door is open that he would like to use as an exit.

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Caring for J-Baby, as meaningful and joyful as it is, is not without challenges. Babies are WORK. It has been a long effort (collectively, with his parents and other caretakers) to get him to self-soothe for sleep. He has his quirks, like all the rest – do NOT try to wipe his face or nose without protest. And he never gets my undivided attention, with my two around. Through exhausting sleep protests, clingy teething, and painful hair pulling phases, he has been mine three days a week, and I would not go back and give up this time for the world.

We have a daily, rhythm, the three kids and I, and the beginning of the end is bittersweet. This week I switched to only two days a week, and before long he will go off to new horizons and I will prepare for another third baby (who I do not pass off to someone else at the end of the day). I owe Jacob the world, though, for teaching how to care for three at a time.

* Slugs do not have feet, and so they – SLOWLY – drag the back of their body by inching the front across the ground, or drag the front of their body by pushing the back. This is also J-Baby’s preferred method of transportation. He does it around the floor, up and down the steps, and in and out of my arms. When not moving like a slug, he tends to drop like a limp noodle and/or curl into a ball. Although he has recently begun to crawl like a real baby, he has no need to move faster or better; his irresistible charm will have other people doing things for him for years to come.

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37 … 38

38 years old … What does this feel like? Is it the same as 37, as 36? It should be, but instead it feels like a long stride closer to 40. 38 is the difference between picturing my 40’s as a blurry time in the future, and realizing that it will just be another year, then another.

When I was a kid, my grandma claimed for a few years in a row – with her unique and baffling tone of kidding, but really was she? – that she was turning 38. I remember knowing it was a joke, but not quite getting it. It does seem like a good place to stop.

In my memories, she – eerily and eternally young – could have been 38 all those years. To my brother, cousins, and me, in our little kid days, she gave a plethora of her time.. She owned a huge part of our weekends, holidays, summer breaks, and the joyful spaces in our hearts. Technically 38 or not, the memory is my standard for the energy and dedication of the age.

Clearly, I am in a different place than my grandmother, who was packing seven grandchildren in the Suburban for a day trip to Marine World. 38, for me, is growing a third human while chasing the first two (as depicted in the family portrait birthday card, by Addie my artist, below).

 

How about my mom at 38? That would have been 1992 and right in the middle of her new lease on life and passion as a teacher. Like everything else, I failed to note how inspiring her drive to start a career late in life was. I try to imagine now how she managed to go to college, get her credential, and start teaching when my brother and I were elementary school brats.

I would be tempted to derail at every station of that nonsense. Not Sandi, though. At 38, she would have been in her first few years of that madness and – if memory serves – loving it all.

Oh the irony that my plan is basically the same. At 38, I’m not exactly marking off days on the calendar until I can go back to a life that isn’t overwhelmed by tantrums, needs, nagging, and carseats, but I do have a countdown to it in mind. (Obviously, Baby #3 is pushing back that timeline.)

My mom’s 38th was also one of the first years when we clashed over each wanting to be the sole epitome of the grunge movement. We fought over being the most disaffected, multiple pairs of Doc Martens and jars of Manic Panic, and loving Pearl Jam the most (she won that last one hands down).

We both wanted independence during these years, while somehow retaining our mommy and daughterness. I can feel that, now that I am on the mommy side of the equation. Addie and I are years off from clashing our teenage and middle age angsts, but I have a taste of my mom’s perspective now.

So how do I feel then, if not the same as 37, but not different? If not like my mother or grandmother (in her real or faux 38th years), but not totally unlike them? What is 38 to me, if I’m not unsettled with my daily grind, nor perfectly satisfied with my place in the world?

I have no concrete answers to those existential questions – not yet nor maybe ever. 38 is peachy keen so far, despite feeling older and slower all day every day (which could be my symptomatic of my geriatric pregnancy). 38 feels fine; maybe it will get good enough that I too stay here for a few years.

Birthday Present
Gifts at 38, from my husband: paintings by my favorite local artist (more on him in a future post).