An Empty Nester’s Christmas

The holiday just doesn’t feel right without my kid here

So here it is, finally. Christmas Eve. Time to exhale and marvel at what I’ve accomplished yet again. Year after year, there’s an overwhelming amount of decorating, shopping and partying. My house looks like Longwood Gardens: big giant tree loaded with ornaments, garland strung everywhere and poinsettias adorning every nook and cranny. I have Christmas tchotchke (now there’s a blending of two cultures) strategically placed all around the house. The homemade ones are all prominently displayed; the light bulb my daughter turned into an ornament in the second grade, the hand print in plaster we made when she was only three, the paper doily used to frame a photo from the second grade, a candle holder made out of Styrofoam, a painted balsa wood tree wrapped with gold wire, a snowman cut out of felt, and plenty more.

Under the tree, wrapped gifts, but just a few. My husband and I stopped exchanging gifts a long time ago. It seemed kind of contrived and neither of us needs a thing. Besides, my husband is the type to go out and buy himself something on December 23rd rather than offer it as a gift idea to me or his children. How do you shop for a guy like that? You don’t and I quit a long time ago. My daughter, now a college freshman, asked for a singular gift this year that was pricey so we squared that away and said “Merry Christmas, darling” in November at the ski shop; no surprise there. There are a few sundry things wrapped in boxes under the tree but they’re there mostly so the tree doesn’t look unfinished, lonely.

[SIGNUP]Yup, that’s the word. Lonely. This empty-nester thing has been great so far. No fighting with my teenager and no arguing about her with my husband. Frankly, I haven’t missed her all that much. She’s off doing what she’s supposed to, getting an education and growing up. And my husband and I are enjoying being able to travel and be less encumbered by someone else’s schedule. All very nice until Christmas rolled around. Now I understand what Seasonal Affective Disorder feels like. Christmas just doesn’t feel right without my kid here. Decorating the tree was joyless. It felt like a job that needed to be done, like ironing or making the bed. No teenager handing me the ornaments while I teetered at the top of the ladder looking for the perfect branch for her fifth-grade project (an ornament with her name on it in glitter paint). Sure she would have been whining about how I needed to move faster because she was late to meet her friends but even the whining made the whole thing perfect.

I walked around the house this year, until my daughter’s return home on the 20th, belting out every Christmas carol on B101 to no audience. Just me and Burl Ives, or Mariah Cary or Andy Williams. Now that she’s home, my daughter tells me to shut up, that I’m giving her a headache because I can’t sing and it’s annoying to listen to me.

Music to my ears.