Jackie has taken to announcing recently that she is “feeling little today.” We know what she means when she says it. It’s one of those days when you’re not up to adult conversation or behavior or responsibility or probably even adult thought. What you’re up for is sitting in bed eating advent calendar chocolate and watching Charlie Brown bemoan commercialism.
I have felt little this Christmas. In fact, I often feel little at Christmas. When I am at Grandma’s in the summertime I feel mature and responsible. Two summers ago, when I was the only grandchild there, I was physically the strongest person in the house. (Every time I tell people that they apologize for laughing. It’s okay. Laugh. I, too, have seen my arms.) But Christmas at Grandma’s leaves me feeling little. Little and awed and surrounded by good things.
Last Christmas I wrote an entry called “Things Change,” and I am here, a year later, to tell you that they do, and that’s all right, but sometimes they don’t, and isn’t it grand? Almost everybody made it this Christmas, including Emily and André and their babies (she had twins this summer,) and my cousin’s fiancée Ashley, and all four generations of Billys, ages three to eighty-seven. There is nothing to make one feel warm with claustrophobia and familial affection quite like over thirty people crowded into one medium-small house where most of them feel quite at home and know where the silverware drawer is. Meals were something epic.
We’re growing up. The babies were sleepy little dolls and everybody held them at some point. Watching my cousins pass them around reminded me that our own babies are probably only a few Christmases away for some of us, and other parts of growing up are frighteningly close. Peter’s applying to law schools, Hannah will be an RN in April, Joe’s studying for his EMT exam, Tina’s moving to Peru next month and Billy’s getting married in two weeks.
But I think the secret of growing up is that it’s not such a great big deal as we all pretend. All of those people are still in many ways just the same as I remember them at ten-years-old. We can’t fit five of us on the loveseat in the living room anymore, but we still try. We can drive ourselves to Sonic now and pay for our food with money we earned, but we still sing Christmas carols with obnoxious gusto and slip on the ice while hectically switching cars. We are not really old yet—Hope is still shorter than me for one more year and Molly has a year and half of high school left.
This year we had a few newcomers who were experiencing their first Howell Christmas. Along with the babies, and Billy’s fiancée Ashley, whom we cousin-approved with great excitement and a piece of pink construction paper (no forged signatures this time!), Emily and André brought their friend, John. I wonder what they must think as we drag them into the great communal singing of the Twelve Days of Christmas and watch Sally, my mom’s littlest sister, conduct the last verse of each song. They are good sports. One evening we sat in the living room and threw Little Billy’s stuffed blocks at each other just because we could, but we don’t all have the best of aim, you know. It was a bit of a war zone.
Anyway, after all that, nineteen left on Christmas Eve, leaving behind a detritus of Christmas cookies and forgotten socks and underwear, and everything felt small and quiet with just the McLellans and Uncle Jon and us. We played Monopoly for the first time in years, with the anticipated miserable results and watched It’s a Wonderful Life and Charlie Brown Christmas, along with Sally’s new Christmas movie. It was peaceful and friendly, with one big table and one kids’ table (though UJ had to keep raising the maximum age for the latter until four of us were young enough to sit there.) We ate at Kaitlynn’s Deli and I slept on the TV room couch which is my favorite.
Each year the things that are worth being thankful for, the things responsible for my littleness and awe, are not the things that are old or the things that are new, but the things that are good. Cookies in the breezeway, unorganized games of Fishbowl, the way Sally refers to my mom as “my sister Hope,” my little brother who is too shy to hold a baby for more than a few seconds, snow-covered fields, my grandpa who uses a PA system just to talk to his own family in his own living room, (but still says more worth hearing than I ever do,) interstate highways, joy to the world, and a January wedding, where we’ll get to see each other all over again, so that this time, goodbye did not mean very much at all.