Christmas time for many of us is a time to live, love, and laugh, as well as create memories. Traditions aid in embedding the connection so that no matter what happens there is a reserve to tap in to remind us we are bonded to a community of caring souls, that we are not alone, that we can meet any challenge and come out stronger. Over the years as 8 year olds passed through my life my mind would go to a place of remembering the time my mom passed. Looking at any 8-year old was a reminder, this is where I was on my journey, so little, so young. This year has been reflective year to revisit what 8 looks like, easier living with one. Being with Leila daily I could get a sense of where I was developmentally in 1962. At times I would be more protective of her because of my vulnerability to the memories; at times more understanding of her responses to life events; more often than not she simply had me in awe of her, instead of going back to being 8, I appreciated the 8 in front of me – she is resilient, funny as can be, smart, insightful, kind, friendly, passionate, and so lovable.
1961 was the last year in my memory we as a family had a ‘real’ Christmas tree. December 1961 was the last Christmas we celebrated with our mother. Maybe is was remembering this is the last time Leila will be 8 for Christmas; maybe it is because I want to revisit what I considered the best Christmas of my life; maybe it is because living with Leila I forget I am actually old enough to be the mother of the parents of her friends; or maybe I just want to go back one more time to that magical year, capture the joy, laughter, and hope we shared as family. No matter the reason for the first time in our lives together we have a ‘real’ tree. Until Leila came to live with me there was no decorating for Christmas, never mind having a tree. This was simply my way. The only Christmas I spent in Sudbury was 2004 the year of the car accident. Home in my heart remained Sault Ste. Marie until this little wee thing came into my world to turn it upside down.
Leila wasn’t giving up the tree we had each year easily. The first statement out of her mouth, “All our memories are in this tree, we can’t give them away.” Profound and certainly not expected, hence she gave me pause. The seed was already planted I was connecting my 8 with her 8, so we talked about how memories aren’t in the tree; they are in our hearts.
Choosing the tree was an adventure in of itself. My sense of measurement seems to have gone in the same direction as my sense of time. Leila wandered through the choices – “This one, no this one, wait, I like this one, ok, let’s take this one.” I swear to you I stood beside it and could touch the top of the tree. They shook it, trimmed the bottom, put in the stand, wrapped, and put it in the car – yep all the way to the front seat. Interesting drive home where we had to take it out of the car, carry it into the house, put it upright, unwrap it, and water it. Oops, I can no longer reach the top, in fact this tree is bigger than the one we had. Oh my. And did you know ‘real’ trees have sap? They are kind of gooey you learn that when attempting to stand it upright. Did you know the little needles fall out no matter how often you water the tree? Did you know you have to get down and under the branches to put the water in the stand? Did you know the big plastic bag they give you is supposed to go under the tree, so when the time comes to take it down you simply take the plastic and bring it up over the tree? We are going in the opposite direction when the time comes. I am getting good at sweeping. Thanks to Auntie Di the tree radiates the season. She has the creative eye that guided the placement of the ornaments and bows. I love our tree it has character, leans a little to one side, because I didn’t have the heart to cut the top. The tree lights create a soothing ambience that readies us for bed and transitions us in the morning.
In our house the Christmas season begins with the Santa Claus Parade. Superman, Leila’s Elf on the Shelf comes back with his buddy Olaf to tease us each morning with a new location. In addition to the tree and thanks to the weather, we added Christmas lights to the front yard so we can honestly say it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas at our house early in the month of December.
Leila’s references to Christmases past went beyond the memories in the tree; she also informed me of tradition. Our friend, Marisa Costanzo sings with Nickel City Sound and each year we attend their Christmas concert. On our way to the concert Leila told me this was part of our Christmas tradition. Hmmm what else is this child going to surprise me with this year? However, her mention of tradition did prompt me to look at what our Christmas season looks like: Santa Claus parade, Elf, Olaf, decorating the tree with Auntie Di, visit to Santa for photo, annual Christmas ornament selection, letter to Santa, concerts, STC play, giving to charities, dinners, parties, visits with family and friends, matching pajamas, and this Christmas letter. This time of year is a busy time of year and it looks different from the past, different than what I anticipated my Christmases would look like when I grew up. Over the years beyond 1961 Christmases were two-sided – the heart was conflicted no matter where I looked I was surrounded by love – that huge extended Italian family kind of does that no matter how old you are along with that collection of amazing friends who added a sense of joy that can’t be denied conflicted with side that was hurt or angry or whatever missing a mom looks like. Oh I might add – age is irrelevant missing mom is tough and as what happens with getting older others – grandparents, dad, aunts, and uncles who did what they could to fill that void joined her as guardian angels from above. So what did they do, what they do best they sent me love in the form of an earth angel – yes, Miss Leila came to live with me on December 7th 2009. Can you possibly think of a better way to heal a hurting heart?
Maybe it is because Leila is 8 or because I am ready my heart is happier, my smile is broader, the Christmas magic is back.
May you be blessed with peace and joy this Christmas season to share with loved ones and those you meet throughout the holidays and in the years to come.
Leila and I send you much love wrapped in warm hugs.