It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love.
When I reminisce about the idyllic Christmas mornings of my childhood.
The lying awake for a signal from my parents that it’s acceptable to dig under my bed for that first hidden gift, the teaser of what was to come.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, swishing on socked feet into a living room packed with presents, pouring across the floor like a tidal wave.
My brothers and I clambered around on the Oriental rug, digging through our stockings for the tiny gifts hidden among the cheap chocolate, held afloat by a single orange.
Our bellies still full from the smorgasbord of Teriyaki steak skewers, stuffed mushrooms, sweet and sour meatballs and cheese spread of the celebrations the night before.
In Florida, there are no snow flurries to usher in a white Christmas, but it didn’t stop me from believing I heard the jingle of sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.
It was a huge family affair. My Uncle, Aunt and cousin would come to town from Cincinnati. We’d brave the chilly waters of the Gulf on their behalf and gather sand for luminarias to line our walkway at home.
My grandparents would come down from Massachusetts and our entire holiday herd would go to the St. Pete pier where I would beg my parents to buy me overpriced colored rocks masquerading as gems.
Every year, we would eat at Arigato Japanese steak house, a huge splurge for a family of 5 living mostly off a math teacher’s salary.
Now, nobody comes down from “up north” to take a dip in frigid waters.
The Pier is in disrepair, people kept away with a lock and chain, it’s future uncertain.
Arigato shut down in September. The owner filed for bankruptcy.
Immediately after Thanksgiving I would hold the bottom rung of the ladder (a pointless show of support) for my father as he strung the giant colored lights along our rooftop.
Now they’re considered “retro” and a fire hazard.
Now we put off stringing the Christmas lights along our porch railing because it’s such a pain in the patoot. We’re just too dang busy.
On Christmas Eve, we sat down as a family and read scripture to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We reenacted the nativity scene. I was usually stuck being a sheep by the manger, shrouded in my beloved and battered baby blanket, “Lambie.”
Now, nobody even mentions the “real reason for the season.”
These days, we are so busy redefining “family” that there’s no room to even bother trying to resurrect the Christmas traditions of our childhood.
The massive mountain of presents are now split between 4 homes. Christmas Eve with my in-laws, Christmas morning with my children, another random day with my family and finally a visit with my dad and his wife.
How does Santa pull this off? I don’t know. I just don’t know what to tell my kids.
Holidays should be about lazy mornings in jammies, cracking walnuts, watching football (reluctantly) and afternoons spent with kids crammed onto and underneath sofa beds, watching Rudolph on repeat.
Instead, I will leave work on Christmas Eve to rush home to food that I couldn’t help prepare.
Christmas morning will bring a modest delivery from Old Saint Nick.
The Friday after Christmas, it’s back to work.
Saturday, it’s the next “Christmas” with my family.
I am learning that there is absolutely no way I can recreate the magic of holidays past for my children.
I cannot pull it off.
It makes me sad and angry.
There’s nobody to blame, yet it feels patently unfair.
These days, who’s got the chestnuts? Where’s the open fire?
Holidays are never normal in my family.
I think it’s a safe bet that they’re never normal in ANY family.
My family celebrates holidays days after or sometimes before the actual holiday.
I work in news, my mother works in news, my brother and sister-in-law work for the TSA.
The news never stops and neither do travelers.
This year Thanksgiving was the day after Thanksgiving.
The drive to my brother’s place in Orlando was tolerable, despite the refrain “Are we there, yet?” (I eventually said, ‘yup, we’re there. We’re hugging everyone hello and sitting down on the sofa for a chat. CLEARLY, WE’RE NOT THERE YET.’)
My clan was the first to arrive, so I was unabashed in my dash to the kitchen to make a rum and Coke. My husband went for the moonshine.
This is not a euphemism. He brought a jar of moonshine. (smart man)
It wasn’t long before my mother arrived and launched herself head first into the kitchen, sweating off all her makeup and slaving over the hot stove.
Her boyfriend starts slamming moonshine with my husband, partners in crime.
Before the buzz wears off, I’m belting out Frozen songs to backup my niece when she forgets the lyrics.
I pile my plate high with carbs, a move I will regret when I see the pictures from the event later. (untag, untag, reevaluating ethical stance on lipo, untag)
My daughter gets two outside time outs in the span of an hour. During the latter of which, she inched dangerously close to the gator-infested lake and said, “I don’t want to be anywhere near you!” (I resisted the urge to reply, “The feeling is mutual, but alas, I can’t temporarily dispose of you.”)
Just when my buzz starts to wear off, someone sticks my four-month old niece on my lap and my holiday celebration is OVER.
Let me preface this by saying she is the sweetest, most relaxed infant ever. She’s a far cry from my babies, who were inclined to spontaneously toss their heads back and crash to the floor. She’s so strong she can stand for several minutes while you hold her hands. She holds up her head like a champ. She’s adorable… and the very last thing I want to be holding for over an hour on Thanksgiving.
There is the panicky feeling of being responsible for such a tiny human being that ISN’T mine.
There’s the horror of feeling like for only a moment, I once again have a newborn.
I will reiterate: I adored being pregnant. Childbirth was by no means “a blast”, but an experience I would suffer through again with enthusiasm. I would even consider having more children, if my current ones weren’t complete hellraising, demon seeds.
My niece is a peaceful little pile of cuteness.
My babies were belly-aching, crappy breastfeeding, perpetually crying, never napping monsters.
They had RSV, lactose Intolerance, cradle cap and mystery rashes.
As they grew older, it was MRSA and lice and fifth disease.
My son is about to turn 3 years old and he’s too terrified to poop in the potty.
His butt cheeks are like vice clamps.
If there is ever a day when I don’t have to wipe the crap out of that little muscle bum, I will throw a party.
Not kidding. An entire celebration dedicated to diaperless life. There will be confetti, shot out of a bum-shaped launcher.
After countless minutes bouncing this pleasant little girl on my lap, she starts to get wiggly and obviously hungry.
It’s my big break! I will be able to recapture my buzz with a quick stiff drink!
I report to my brother that his progeny is in need of sustenance, waiting for him to alert his wife that it’s time to secretly whip out a boob.
He hands me a bottle.
The holiday wraps up after my son lays a couple of noxious turds in his diaper, my grandparents massacre the bathroom with their own excrement and everybody is suddenly feeling painfully sober.
I hold my breath to give my (literally) stinking grandparents a hug goodbye, always wondering if it will be the last.
I don’t want my last memory of them to be clenching my teeth and plugging my nose. Instead, it would be my grandmother asking me twice what my daughter’s name is during a 5-minute conversation.
The drive home from Orlando is hell.
We hit bumper-to-bumper traffic because of an accident.
My son is sobbing for no apparent reason, which all but guarantees he has an ear infection.
Then a tree frog lands on my thigh, scaring the bejeesus out of me. (I can’t make this up.) I watch the dang thing wobble across the dashboard, dragging around one of Alma’s hairs, perching, poised to jump on my husband’s face causing the crash that will kill us all.
I was thankful for being back at home.
Oh, and for my husband, who still managed to provide much levity with his drunken shenanigans.
In less than a year I will become the sole member of my family to still live in my hometown.
It’s something I never could’ve predicted.
At 13 years old, I came home from school to find my father standing by the front door with a suitcase.
The year that followed the stunning revelation that my parents were getting divorced is a collection of fuzzy memories and cloudy snapshots.
My oldest brother was away in college. My other brother chose to live with my dad in our grandparent’s house.
I stayed with my mother in the house I grew up in, discovering the glorious distraction of the world wide web. Late nights with the green glow of the computer screen on my cheeks making the empty rooms disappear.
We started renting a tiny house, the color of mud, with terrazzo floors, jalousie windows and a sketchy neighbor who wore an eye-patch and mysteriously knew our names.
It wasn’t long before our dog Patches died of cancer and the only house I remember from my childhood was sold.
My mother had a job as a librarian at a school for “troubled kids.” She quickly parlayed that into a position as a “media specialist” for the world-renowned Poynter Institute. Months of watching presentations focused on the ethical dilemmas of Journalism and she landed her first gig in T.V. news as a writer at the small station in Sarasota.
This meant she worked overnight and slept during the day and was painfully absent during some of my most formative years. But, her determination earned her a position as a Producer at a Tampa station within a year. A year later, she was the Executive Producer at another station in town. By the time I left for college, she was running a 24-hour news station in Austin, Texas.
My dad was cheating the system and living in a senior living apartment complex.
I was without a “home” to call “home.”
I have always envied those college kids who were able to return home for a long weekend to their moms doing their laundry, home cooked meals and the stuffed animals from their childhood still cozying up together in their bedroom closets. I imagine them sighing with relief, enveloped by a quilt embedded with some comforting and familiar smell.
Fast forward to present day. My mother lives in South Carolina. My brother lives in Massachusetts. The other one is in Orlando. My father is about to retire and move permanently to North Carolina.
I am the last of the Fields to reside in Tampa Bay, although my last name is no longer the same.
Granted, I returned here after four years in Gainesville and four more in Miami.
But, I am HOME.
I cannot gaze dreamily at the white eyelet canopy above my childhood bed. So, instead I stare squinting at the Florida sun.
I can’t smell my dad’s barbecue chicken on the grill, the smoke filling the sky with the smells of summer.
But, I can dig my toes in the same sand I did when I wasn’t even old enough to swim.
Watching a palm tree, strained and bent by the gusting wind of a summer storm can bring me to tears.
My cheeks hurt from smiling hard while watching the “heat lightning” from my son’s bedroom window.
My Facebook friends probably find it annoying how frequently I talk about my love for this state. I post pictures of the sunset more than could be considered normal.
Florida is my home, my family, my childhood, my stability and my solace.
While I can’t be sure that I will be able to provide my children with their “childhood home” to return to some day, I am going to dry my darndest. But, they will always be coming home to my home.
My roots here run deep and my loyalty is fierce.