Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So This is Christmas

It came, it went. Why does it always happen so quickly? We worked and worked making peppermint bark, homemade wrapping paper, a batch of winter brew, cinnamon rolls and spinach balls, and spent hours sewing up a storm of soft goodies to get everything ready for The Big Day, and then it came and went in a giant holiday rush of sweet goodness.

After the big San Francisco trip, I kind of freaked out when I realized how soon Christmas really was, re-prioritized a few things, then downsized our Christmas gift giving list. We worked with the "less is more" concept and I think it turned out pretty well. Most people got a small, homemade token of some sort that Jack and/or Sawyer had participated in the making of. (In case you are wondering, it is now perfectly acceptable to end your sentence with a preposition. Trust me, I am an English teacher.)

I also decided that instead of being the family events photographer, I would put down my camera and live in the moment, rather than stuck behind the lens attempting to capture the moment.

So less was more. At least I hope it was. I'm not sure if it was a combination of laziness and frugality or simply common sense that led us to the decision not to give the kids many toys this year. They each got a pair of pajamas, a homemade doll, and a few little trinkets that were sure to please. Sawyer got his own water bottle and Jack got a Lego headlamp (and in case you didn't know, it was the year of the headlamp, apparently.).

Sawyer got an apron, and I'm not quite sure what I was thinking, because I quickly realized that I'm not quite ready to have his very special brand of "help" in the kitchen just yet.

Even thought we had deliberately simplified our gift giving to the kids, I did catch myself in a fleeting moment of panic on Christmas Eve when the stockings were filled and the few gifts sat beneath the tree. Had we done enough? Would they be happy? Would it be magical and special and everything that Christmas is supposed to be?

Then again, isn't the better gift the one that's gained when you learn to appreciate what you have instead of wanting what you don't? But how do you teach that? And I guess that's really all I want for my kids. I know we'll never be rich, and I know that because that's not one of our life goals. I also know that we'll never buy the kids indulgent toys or things we can't really afford, because those things don't reflect our family values. So how do we teach our boys to recognize gifts as sentiments rather than items? Can it be done? I welcome any suggestions in this department...

I think that we all experienced the feeling as a child of opening a present that you didn't really want. And trying to fake like you liked it, when in reality you wanted to toss it into the pile of wrapping paper and cross your fingers for the next one. I vividly remember this happening one Christmas when I was probably nine or ten. My mom had put together this tackle box filled with sewing tools and it seemed to me, the ungrateful daughter that I was, that she had given me this gift with herself in mind, rather than me. As is ME! ME! CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE! To put it simply, I thought it was a stupid present and I remember posing for the camera while wistfully eyeing the remaining packages under the tree. What was I hoping for? Headbands? The newest Wham! tape? A pair of Guess jeans? I don't remember, but I'm pretty sure I didn't fake my enthusiasm well about that sewing box.

But now that I am an adult and a mother and a daughter who no longer has her mother, I see that sewing box through a completely different lens. I can imagine my mom strolling through the aisles of FabricLand, picking and choosing through seam rippers and pincushions and buttons for just the right things. I imagine that she loved every moment she spent creating that unique gift for me and thinking of the sewing we would do together and reflecting on the gift of the craft that she was passing on to me. I bet she knew in her heart that deep down inside I was a seamstress, just like she was, and I'm sure she knew that someday I'd experience the supreme satisfaction of making the things that cannot be bought.

And now, today and every day that I live this life, I wish I could go back and appreciate that gift. I would lay my head against her fuzzy blue robe and inhale her sweet mom-smell and feel her soft hands stroking my hair and say thank you. Thank you for this gift. And for all of the gifts. Thank you.

I hope she knew.

I find myself writing about my mom a lot on this blog. In case you don't already know, my mom died at the age of 45 of colon cancer. I was 19 and my brother was 13. I won't insult her spirit by saying that she "fought hard" or "lost the battle" because that somehow implies that some people fight harder than others and that somehow effort, willpower, or some unseen attribute can "beat" cancer. I never went to grief counseling and I can say with absolute certainty that I have not "gotten over" her death. So it just comes out at certain times and I guess I just need to let it flow.

And I thought about my mom a lot as I sewed those pajamas and dolls. I thought about the skill that she taught me and what a gift it truly is. I thought these things as I stitched on her old machine, using her old pincushions and scissors. I thought about how much I miss her. I thought about how much I love her for the things she taught me.

It turns out that the boys loved their pajamas and dolls and new things. And all of the grandparents made up for any of our shortcomings in the giving of toys, and maybe that's how it should be. The boys were happy, satisfied, fulfilled, and loved. It was a beautiful Christmas, with just a tiny bit of sorrow.

Jack and Sawyer spent Christmas day with their adorable cousin Xavier, who turned two on Christmas Eve. Jack could not believe his luck when he realized we'd be having birthday cake on Christmas.

And there were Christmas games! Sound corny? I assure you they were not!

Sawyer and Xavier had some serious male bonding time. If you are wondering why my son is topless, it is because he stuffed his face at dinner and then ran laps around the house until he threw up on himself. I guess it's not really a party unless somebody pukes.

Just when we thought the festivities were winding down, we received a dinner invite from some of my oldest family friends. We were treated to the company of dear friends, gourmet pizza, fine wine, and the now infamous phrase "I'll watch the kids while you guys get naked!", which was Liz's effervescent way of inviting us to take a sauna.

If I never cut my boys' hair again, it will be Soleo's fault.

I wanted to show you the dolls up close, but when I tried to set up a photo shoot, Sawyer came along looking for a snuggle. His blanket has an opium-like effect on him.

I'd been harassing Brent about building a play kitchen for the boys and it just so turned out that Liz had an extra play stove, circa 1980. I bet you had this one, too.

I did let Sawyer help a bit in the kitchen. He's pretty good at turning the cookbook pages.

So that's it. The whole big Christmas shebang. And maybe more about me and my childhood and damaged psyche than you ever wanted to know. But hey, if you can't stand the carbonation of Talking Rain, maybe you should switch to Perrier.


  1. Cassadie...your writing is, as always, such a blessing. Your kids are lucky to have you and Brent. Thanks for helping me with my Mom issues. Love to you, Brent, Jack & Sawyer and it was great seeing ya'll (yes, it's a word) Christmas Day!

  2. If you must know Cass, I often think about your mom. This is probably strange as I only met her once and I don't remember her face clearly. You had invited me to go home with you after school, and when we got there, your house was filled with the delicious aroma of the still-warm gingerbread she had made for your after school snack. At the time, she was struggling with her cancer and it was believed she wouldn't live much longer. That memory calls me every now and again. At the time, it seemed to me that she put her heart into baking the gingerbread for you, to warm and nurture you on a cold Oregon day. Now, as a mother with a daughter and sons that I love more than life itself, it seems to me that knowing there was a good chance she wasn't going to beat her cancer, she baked that afternoon with the hopes that her sweet, yet simple act of love would be enough to last you your whole life. As we went off with delighted tastebuds and warm, full bellies, I remember thinking that I had just witnessed a strong and deep amount of love. It was amazing to behold.

    A joyful new year to you and your family,
    Rubi Harney

    P.S. I love that you made your babies gifts with your mom's sewing gadgets. I wonder if some of her love rubbed off onto their dolls?

  3. Your blog is a great combination of funny and touching stories.

    I'm sorry to hear about your mom. My father passed away when I was really young; 3 years old. It hurts so much to lose someone that you love. I went through grief counseling when I was a kid and in my opinion, you are essentially upholding the hallmark tenants of healthy grieving: talking and writing about, and having a mental/phsyical outlet for your feelings, and always remembering the good times that you had with her. It's great to tell stories and keep her memory alive and you do that so frequently on this blog.

    The wisest and simplest phrase I've ever heard about grief was this: "The pain of losing someone you love never goes away, it just gets easier to deal with." I think that's very true. So keep on keepin' on talking about and expressing your feelings, happy, sad, or angry, about your mother.

    Btw, I think you are right about the getting a present that you didn't like but had to pretend to like when you are a kid. My family tells me that I opened a package one year and it was tights (leggings). I wasn't too happy about it; I said: "Dumb tights!" and threw them over my shoulder, going for the next present. I was horrified to learn this story the first time, but now I think it's very funny. :)

  4. For those of us that sew, and LOVE to can be a form of praying/meditating...mindful-ness...(if you are not mindful, there will be stitches to pick or a bloody finger to bandage; no need for a monk to beat on us)
    Sewing keeps me focused in a way that only gardening matches. And sewing is even better. Perhaps it is the time of year...darker, colder,and more introverted than the general gardening season. Perhaps it is the gift making, ~focusing on the receiver....
    I know FOR SURE that Debbie's energy is in the box of tools, the sewing machine, and the thoughtful actions you now possess...
    You have all the good of your mom, and have kicked it up a notch.

  5. Cassadie, I sure admire your willingness to be so open and honest in sharing such personal thoughts and feelings in this blog. I think this may be your best entry yet. And the way you handle Christmas with your kids really resonates with me. Someday if I have kids I'd also like to tone down the materialism when celebrating Christmas--and I have also worried about how that would work, especially when they're old enough to compare their Christmas gifts with those of their peers. But I'll be resolute regardless, because I think it's so important to teach kids that having the flashiest new gadget or whatever isn't what life's all about. Not that I know what life's all about, but I do know that it isn't about material excess. Anyway I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with values like that.
    :D - Joe

  6. Cassadie, it did make me cry, but in a good way. It was a lovely story and I know your mom would be so PROUD of you. Love, Aunt Jacie