Christmas Vacation: Part I

Months of planning and anticipation culminated this weekend. After hosting our first Thanksgiving last month, Kates and I hosted our first Christmas this weekend.

My parents, aka Grandma and Grandpa H., arrived late Wednesday afternoon. We did the usual catching up on our lives, work stuff, family goings-ons, and before long we were mulling what to do about supper. We ended up Carson's, a popular sports-minded bar and grill on the downtown square, dining on burgers and club wraps. The food was delicious as always.

Back at home, Phoebe entertained us with her dance moves. We watched a little TV. And we called it an early night.

* * *

The next morning, Thursday the 22nd, I was awake and heading to work at 7:30 while the rest of the household was just getting up.

At the university, earlier in the week, we’d named a new director for our business and technology center but initially decided to hold the announcement until after the holidays. Yet, when the elements I needed fell into place Thursday morning, we decided to go ahead with the announcement before Christmas. So, for me it was just another work day filled with writing news releases, announcing major university hires, the usual stuff. So much for the easy-going morning I’d planned of cleaning out files and packing things away for the holiday break.

At about 10 a.m., I saw a tweet from Stephanie that she, Joel and their brood were passing through Kansas City, which meant I had about an hour or so before I needed to be home to meet them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t break out of my office until about 11:20. I headed down our street toward our house, hoping I’d beaten them. Then I spotted Joel’s car parked in our driveway. “Shoot!” I said as I pulled into our driveway. They’d beaten me to our house by mere minutes. I lost.

As the afternoon passed, the kids were up and down the stairways, carrying toys and setting up camp on the living room coffee table, while “Tangled” and others from Phoebe’s DVD collection played on our TV.

The rest of us grazed on the snacks filling the kitchen table and counter space -- including the finest cheese and sausage from Wisconsin -- and kept up our usual family discussions about life, work and politics.

We agreed to allow Mom in our kitchen so she could make a ham for our evening dinner, and at about 5:30 we were seated around our table -- all nine of us -- enjoying a Christmas meal together. It wasn’t extravagant -- ham, mashed potatoes, corn and crescent rolls. The fact that we were together mattered most, especially to my mother, who exclaimed repeatedly that this was “the best Christmas ever!” After all, as our family has expanded and branched out and relocated over the years, we figured it’s been a good eight or nine years since we’ve been able to celebrate Christmas together without having somewhere else to rush off to after dinner or unwrapping gifts.

Once the kitchen was cleaned up and the dishes were away, the gift unwrapping began.

Now, Phoebe has known for months what she wanted for Christmas. Every time anyone asked her what was on her list this year, she was amazingly consistent. And specific.

A “Cars 2” movie
A Rapunzel doll
A potty for her baby doll
A microphone
A Buzz Lightyear
And an orange teddy bear

On Thursday, she checked off one of those things from her list: the Rapunzel doll, compliments of Aunt Stephanie and Uncle Joel. Phoebe has watched “Tangled” incessantly since we first saw it in June and then purchased the DVD for her -- although, technically, it was a birthday present for Kates -- in July. The deal for the doll was sealed in October when we spent a weekend with Joel and Stephanie, and cousin Sophia had a doll of her own.

Phoebe also got a Barbie doll, with camping accessories that included a tent. And Sophia got a Barbie doll and a car to go with the new dollhouse she got earlier this month for her birthday. Cousin Freddie got a Fischer-Price car set, and he was set for the rest of the night, playing with it in the corner, oblivious to anything else happening around him.

It certainly gives us a whole new perspective, watching the kids open and love their Christmas gifts. To them, every new gift is the best gift ever. And then, as the festivities drew to a close, we watched the kids began to crash, one by one.

By 11:30 Thursday night, everyone was tucked into their beds and the house was quiet.

* * *

Friday turned into a mild, sunny day. So good for a late December day in the Midwest that we contemplated heading outside to play. But we never followed through on it.

Kates and Stephanie took off for a day of shopping, while the rest of us stayed back at the house, talking, playing with the kids and enjoying each other’s company. And, of course, watching another showing of “Tangled.”

By the time the girls returned, we were discussing supper plans and decided on ordering takeout from A&G’s, another popular local establishment. Joel, Dad and I picked up the order and we enjoyed one more meal together before Joel, Stephanie and their kids loaded up to head back to Ozark country.

* * *

Christmas Eve for us was as calm, quiet and low-key as the day before. Mom and Dad headed into town to run some errands in the morning. I headed out on my own, picking up some last-minute items for Christmas day and making sure the Forrester was ready for our drive to Wisconsin on Monday. In the meantime, Kates and Phoebe made peanut butter cookies for Santa, before heading out to run some errands, too.

By late afternoon we were getting ready for the 5 o’ clock church service. Somehow all of us were buckled in the car by 4:45. Being Christmas Eve, we expected having trouble finding seats at church -- we had contemplated leaving as much as a half hour before the service -- but to our surprise the church parking lot was hardly full when we arrived. Our family was one of the first seated in the sanctuary. It turned out our timing was right because the sanctuary was full a few minutes later.

This was our first Christmas Eve service in The ‘Ville, and -- Kates and I may never live through another Christmas Eve without comparing it to the epic “sickly” one of '08 -- it was a good one.

Our church service was a wonderful mix of Christmas scriptures, carols and special music sung by some of our congregation’s most talented members. We shared communion, too, which I’m not sure I’ve ever done during a Christmas Eve service. And the tradition of sharing candlelight while singing “Silent Night” at the end of the service never gets old. Although I did miss hearing the Manheim Steamroller arrangement of “Silent Night” played in church this year.

Afterward, we found ourselves surrounded by friends as we exchanged Christmas greetings with the Walkers, the Schrags, the Parsons, the Bradleys, the Fergusons and others. In one happy exchange, Mrs. White turned to Kates and said, “Well you’re looking very pregnant this evening!” So many moments tonight were reminiscent of Christmas Eve ‘07 when Kates was carrying Phoebe. … As usual, we were one of the last families to leave the church. The hugs and greetings and Christmas wishes were warm, cherished reminders that we are in the right place for this time in our times, truly living a new chapter in a new home.

Back at our house, as Kates finished the preparations on our Christmas Eve dinner, Mom, Dad, Phoebe and I sat in the living room. Phoebe cuddled up with her blankets on the love seat and began playing a game with the rest of us. She was closing her eyes, pretending to go to sleep and begging the rest of us to close our eyes, too. Eventually, she closed her eyes and went silent for more than a few seconds, a signal that she was no longer pretending, but that she had truly fallen asleep.

Phoebe was out for the night. A couple days of no naps and non-stop running and playing with her cousins had caught up with her. The rest of us ate our dinner while she stayed sleeping on the couch. We tried waking her a couple times, but to no avail. And soon, there was nothing we could do but carry her to bed and lay her down for the night.

Kates and I had all of these fun plans for Phoebe to write a note to Santa, lay out cookies for him, spread reindeer food on the deck and hang a magic key for Santa on the door. … Instead, Kates plated three of the peanut butter cookies she and Phoebe made that afternoon. I wrote a note to Phoebe from Santa and ended up eating two of the cookies, leaving the third as a special treat for Phoebe from Santa.

With Phoebe in bed, we turned on the “A Christmas Story” marathon on TBS, a Christmas Eve tradition in our house. I watched it three times before finally heading to bed at 1 a.m.

* * *

And today is Christmas Day. I was awake at 6 a.m. Mom and Dad came down around 6:30, and Phoebe stumbled down just a little before 7. Her face lit up when I showed her what was left of the plate of cookies and explained that Santa must have been at our house. Then she snuggled into me as I read her the note from Santa and Kates appeared at the top of the stairs.

The gift-unwrapping began a couple minutes later, but Phoebe never has been one to rush the process. The first gift we revealed to her was a new baby doll that uses a potty; a little pink seat was included with the doll along with a bottle to feed her. Of course, Phoebe was delighted and begging us to unpack the doll before we could unwrap any other gifts.

Kates and I also got her a copy of “The Polar Express” -- Phoebe recently saw the movie for the first time -- and a Disney Princesses "Look and Find" book. There was a neat moment after Phoebe unwrapped those books, and she shuffled right into Kates’ lap, asking her to read both books. Phoebe sat contently in Kates’ lap for the next 10 minutes or so as Kates read the books aloud to Phoebe, first “The Polar Express” and then the princess book.

As the gift-giving recommenced, Phoebe unwrapped the 'Cats cheerleading outfit I got her since she's taken such a liking in watching the cheerleaders at the football games. And Kates got her some clothing accessories, including a sparkly red headband that Pheebs will probably wear non-stop until it snaps. We also gave her a pink plastic cup with a straw -- the reusable kind that are popular right now -- because she'd seen Kates and I with ours and had been asking for one of her own.

Finally, from Santa, Phoebe got the microphone she wanted, along with an instrument kit that no doubt will provide her with endless musical fun for the next few months. She's also working on her conducting skills; Watch this video from lunch ...

And here we are tonight. We just finished watching the Packers game, a sound 35-21 win over the Chicago Bears featuring a stellar performance by Aaron Rodgers.  I actually pulled out my Wisconsin Badgers Snuggie -- a Christmas gift last year -- for the first time.

Tomorrow, we embark on the second half of our Christmas vacation with a road trip to Wisconsin.

No comments: