Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas in the Military

This is my favorite time of year. I love the colors, the cooler weather, the goodness of people, the songs, the smells... I guess I like all of it. Recently I was asked what my favorite part of Christmas was and I didn't have to think long before I said,

"I love the excitement. Today, we went to the tree lighting ceremony on base. Before they lit the tree, Santa arrived on a carriage and pulled up right next to us. All of the kids rushed him in excitement. Initially I held my kids back so the man could get to the tree, but I saw how excited Theo was. He was waving and kept saying, 'Hi Santa' over and over. I gave in and walked with him closer to Santa, thinking that Santa would wave and we'd just stand off to the side as we greeted him. We got closer and Theo was so excited, he waved and shouted 'HI SANTA' louder and louder hoping to get a response. He didn't. Then he left my side and started following Santa as he walked towards the tree repeating himself and waving, over and over and over. I just looked at Santa, put my hands to my face and started to think, 'COME ON SANTA, JUST WAVE AT THE KID!' I guess my telepathic message worked, because just then, Santa turned around. Theo was maybe an inch away from Santa's red coat when Santa bent down and greeted Theo. He shook his hand, asked his name and said, 'Merry Christmas'. Theo's face lit up. Once the tree was lit, we were allowed inside for the holiday celebration and as we crossed the threshold, there was Santa, Henrik looked at him, and said 'hi' to him. He was so happy he was so close to Santa. Santa looked at my boys and said, 'I remember you! Merry Christmas, I'll see you soon!" Henrik was just in awe, he looked up at me and said, 'He remembered us!" It was the most magical moment of any Christmas. I just love the joy that kids get this time of year."

It's moments like that that make this time of year so wonderful, at least for me. It's the magic, it's the joy, it's the ability to believe in something that is bigger than you. If you remember my post from last year, you'll remember that Henrik was worried Santa wouldn't find them because we'd just moved and while we had our tree up and Toby, our elf was visiting, we didn't have lights up outside. So, I told him that of course Santa would find us, but I took him shopping to find something to decorate the outside. That was an easy fix to a very important problem, this year we've found ourselves in the same situation.

This year, we happen to be moving, in fact, we are moving out of our house tomorrow and away from Colorado in four days. When we should be putting up Christmas lights, and decorating a tree while we read The Grinch and dance around to Jingle Bells, we are putting away everything we own (in front of our children) in boxes, taping them up, and moving boxes around the house and to a storage unit. Our house has no order, it's complete chaos. This time of year the only chaos should be dealing with wrapping paper, and pine needles. Before we really started packing, I pulled out our elf, Toby, and had him do some less exciting things than he did last year, but at least he was around. And I pulled out our stockings because I thought Santa could bring our stockings before our road trip as a nice surprise. So even though the boys didn't know it, I was sort of thinking about Christmas. I even ordered presents off of Amazon and sent them to my mom's house so the boys could have a good Christmas. I was preparing them for Santa to visit them at their grandparents' houses and they seemed to understand that Santa wouldn't forget about them. But I was wrong.

We came home from a friends house and because we walked over there before it was dark we forgot it was Christmas, we were fooled by the 65 degree day. But on our way home, we were quickly reminded that it was Christmas. Every house had lights on, it was beautiful. Once we were inside and had taken our coats off, Henrik had this look on his face. He got quiet and just sulked as he lay on the Ottoman. "What's up bud? Why are you sad?" He was quite for a few minutes, but I finally coaxed it out of him, "I'm sad we don't even have a Christmas tree. Everyone else has lights and a tree and presents under it". He looked me in the eye. I didn't really know what to say at first. This is my sensitive kid, so when he tells me how he feels, I know it's really important to listen and decode the message, though this message was clear. "Well, Hanky, we told you that Santa was going to come to Mimi and Pal and Grandma's house. They are putting up a tree and they are all saving ornaments for you to help decorate it. We will be there in just a few days and it will feel like Christmas". He put his head down, "Okay" he said. I could tell he was still really upset. "Where's Toby anyway? He's been gone for weeks!" he said after a few moments of silence. I really didn't have an answer to this one. Toby was found playing golf one morning and then he really did vanish. Eric and I searched everywhere for him but it appears he's been packed up and put in storage. Eric looked over his shoulder from the kitchen and said, "I think that Toby probably went to the North Pole and is telling Santa that we are moving." I don't know if Henrik was convinced or not.

Eric took the boys up to bed and while I was feeding the baby I quickly texted my neighbors: "Does anyone have a small Christmas tree with lights? I have a sad kid over here worried that we are going to miss Christmas". It didn't take long for an answer: "I have one. Amanda said she would let the boys have hers". I started to well up.

As soon as the baby was done, I walked up stairs and mouthed to Eric, "should go to the store and get a new elf?" He nodded. He left their room, we had to whisper because they were asleep. "I got a tree from across the street," I said excitedly. "You're crazy, you know that?" he replied. I know I'm not crazy, I brushed off his comment and I went across the street and picked up the tree. I was greeted by my neighbor who was more than eager to help my boys, "Do you need decorations? Here have some candy canes! What else do you need?" I couldn't believe the kindness. Then she said, "Amanda wanted you to use it because she didn't want them to be sad about Christmas". I thanked her, a lot, and went off to the store to find a new Toby.

When I got to Target, I looked everywhere. They had changed the box since we had purchased our elf a few years ago so I didn't recognize it at first. I had to ask for help. I was taken to an elf display but it was a girl, "Is there anyway someone can look for a boy elf in the back? I really need a boy elf". The girl looked at me like I was one of those crazy moms. I knew I wasn't, but I didn't know how to explain myself when she gave me that "you're a crazy bandwagon mom and this elf thing is way out of hand" look. "What is the deal with the elf anyway? I just have dogs so I don't really get it" she finally said. I looked at her and let out a sigh, "Well, it's a story about an elf sent by Santa to watch over the children and report back to him about their behavior. It's a cute story and it's something fun to do for the month. We had an elf, but we lost him and my kids noticed, so now I need to replace ours". She didn't really care, I could tell by the look on her face. "Maybe I'll get it when I have kids," she told me. "You will. When your kids are sad at Christmas, you will do anything in your power to change that." Some one finally arrived with our boy elf and I was saved from the judgy conversation I had with an 18 year old about kids, elves and the limitless love a parent has for their child.

I quickly walked through the ornament section of the store, picked up Super Hero ornaments for the kids (they get a new ornament each year, why not put one on their new tree), and I went to check out. I was so excited on the way home. I couldn't wait to set it all up and to see their faces int he morning. Then I started to think about what Eric said. I wasn't crazy. I wasn't going to let the military screw up my Christmas. Hell, I LOVE this time of year and I missed the tree and the lights. I missed the calm and joy I got from staring at the tree and all of our ornaments that tell just as much a story about our life as the pictures I hang in my living room. I wanted it to smell like Christmas as I burn a candle, sip wine, and listen to Christmas music. I don't care about the presents anymore but I do care about the excitement that my boys have when they come down on Christmas morning. Just because I am moving doesn't mean we don't get to have all of that excitement. Just because the military has thrown a wrench in our life doesn't mean I can't enjoy this time of year with my kids and my family. No one should ever mess with a four year old and a two year old on Christmas. They should all be able to experience this time of year with joy, excitement and happiness. If you can't do that at four, when can you do it?

Then I thought about Henrik, he's already started to ask if Super Heroes are real, he's determined that mascots at sporting events are people in costumes, and while he has yet to ask about Santa, he isn't far from it. Next year he'll be in Kindergarten, he will start to hear his friends and classmates talking about how Santa isn't real. Then he'll ask us and we will be faced with the difficult decision of what to say. I'm not wiling to let the military ruin Christmas at the best ages of our kids' lives. I may not have many years left where Christmas is this exciting, where Santa is real, and where magic is something we can all believe in for 25 days, and I won't miss it because of a move.

After Eric went upstairs and acted as a look out, I decorated the tree, put a toy from their stockings under it, the elf book, a letter from Santa (Santa wrote back after we wrote him a letter at an event we went to for the Polar Express, it just happened to come that day and I just happened to check the mail before I got in the house), and our new Toby. I looked back at the glowing tree and just smiled. I knew I was doing the right thing. And I started to cry as I looked at how beautiful this all was. Yes, I realize I'm hormonal being four weeks postpartum, but at that moment I knew that there really was magic in the world.

It's amazing how an hour earlier I was cursing the military and acting all tough and powerful as I was on a mission and vowed to not let the military run my holiday, but the next minute, I was so thankful for it. This tree really means more than what it will mean to my boys when they see it. It is a symbol of the real meaning of Christmas, and a symbol of how wonderful a military community on a military base is. In a moment of hardship and worry because a military kid was worried about a move, in an instant, our community rallied together to make sure that he was taken care of. It brings me to tears just writing this.

In the morning, Theo woke up and asked for a drink. He walked down stairs, I couldn't stop him, I was nursing Nora. He stopped on the stairs, "HUH?! TOBY IS BACK?! HE'S ON A CHRISTMAS TREE?!" I could hear wonder and joy in his voice. Henrik, who was in bed with me, sat up. "Did Theo just say a Christmas tree? We don't have a Christmas tree". He raised his eyebrows, then he furrowed them. Theo ran up stairs yelling, "I GOT A NEW TOY!" That got Henrik out of bed, I quickly unlatched Nora and ran down behind Henrik. Eric had already turned on the lights to the tree and was waiting out of sight to see their reactions. Henrik had a huge smile on his face, "Toby!" he cried. He grabbed the present that belonged to him and just looked at the tree. He studied it up and down, he touched it and he looked at us. "It's really small... but it's so beautiful". I looked at Eric with a smug, I told you so smile. He smiled back. He got down on the floor and sat with the boys as they looked at the Elf on the Shelf book, their ornaments and their new toys. Eric asked them how it got there, Theo said, "Toby did it!" Hank said, "I think Toby brought the tree but Santa brought the presents". Eric said, "Do you think Toby was gone to tell Santa that you were sad about not having a tree?" Henrik looked at the tree again, "I guess so" he said with confidence. My heart was happy, my eyes started to well up. This is what Christmas is all about.

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