26 December 2006
Merry Christmas to all of you in the northern hemisphere who are waking up on Christmas morning. I’d like to be the first person in the world to say Happy Birthday to my dad, whose birthday is 26 December.
We’ve had a full and lovely Christmas, without the anguish and heartache I had feared. As I’ve written about it, I’ve realized that nearly all of the joys of the past several days have been in conversations. Here are some of delights:
Long conversations with our parents and siblings, either already had or scheduled for today. It is amazing to get caught up with them, to hear how things are going, to bemoan the weather that makes it warmer in your winter than it is here in our summer. The phone connections are high-quality and relatively inexpensive, so we can talk as long as we want and not be watching the clock. It was glorious for me to check in with my mother and brother at length yesterday, to hear the children chatter to them about Christmas presents and life in their new home. It was wonderful for me to see Michael’s face as he talked to his parents and his sister (and for me to get to talk a wee bit, too), and to have him come in when he was off the phone and tell me, “I really love my family.” We really love you, family.
The most silly/unusual conversation we had was with my father, whom I called after my Christmas dinner last night. As I left the room to call him, Keith said, “You know it’s almost 3am there?” Yup, I knew. He’d be awake. And so I dialed the number and reached my father just as his Christmas Eve party (which starts after the midnight service at
Our first kiwi Christmas was filled with the things we hoped we’d find here. After a quick breakfast and a single present opening each, we went for a long walk on the beach through a grey but warming morning. We watched the gulls drop mussels on the sand to break them open, and we looked for seashells on a beach which had somehow been swept clear of such things (the beach varies wildly—the day before we found three paua shells, the most beautiful of all seashells –you can see some at http://www.reijewellery.co.nz/what_is_paua.htm). Sometimes Michael and I held hands and the children raced ahead. For a chunk of the walk, Aidan held my shoes so that I could hold his hand (I had my coffee cup in my other hand), and Naomi held his hand. It was our first ever Christmas morning walk on the beach. Fantastic.
Then we came home and put the big breakfast (what we used to call “extra special Thanksgiving French toast—but Thanksgiving has no meaning here) in the oven, and Trish and Keith came over to open more presents. The kids played with their new toys, we hung the lovely new touches that would make our house feel more like home (from the new dishtowels to the spectacular mobile to the new paintings we bought), and we ate praline French toast, made with NZ butter (which changes everything somehow). And then, after a day at home of baking and playing (and Aidan with his new stomp rockets in the yard and Naomi wearing her new wetsuit and new riding helmet around the house with great hopes that we might actually give in to one of those wishes), it was off to Trish and Keith’s for dinner. There we had delicious food and fantastic conversation with a big group of people, some of whom were old friends to one another, and others of whom were just meeting on that night. We laughed a lot as people told stories of Christmases past—in Mexico, South America, Maori New Zealand, Paekakariki, other parts of rural NZ, California and the US southwest, and Augusta GA. It was warm and welcoming (and delicious) and we didn’t feel totally out of place or foreign at all—just among many people enjoying one another and celebrating together. Lovely.
The most poignant set of conversations I had was with Naomi (and sometimes with Aidan) on Christmas eve. She and Aidan called me into the bathroom, where they were taking an almost-unheard of bath together in the big clawfoot tub. She wanted to know whether there was a Santa Claus, because her some of her friends believed in it and some of them didn’t, and the ones who didn’t seemed to have much more logic and proof on their sides than the ones who did. She laid out the proof from the different sides and asked me to tell the truth. Aidan nodded earnestly. I sat down, and we had a long conversation about things it was lovely to believe in, things we believed in even though we could never really be sure they were there. We talked about how some beliefs made you feel better about the world, brought more delight or more comfort or more peace. We had an engaged and beautiful conversation, and I left the bathroom feeling pleased with the resolution. Silly me. She called me right back in, having saw the flaw in my earlier semi-philosophical argument—there’s no way to ever know for sure about God, but there’s a way to know about Santa: someone puts presents under the tree—is it my mother? She was going to feel silly if she was believing in something that others thought was false—if she was wrong. Was she wrong? She just wanted me to tell her the truth. I panicked, got flustered, and feigned irritation about the water on the floor and left the room in a huff to consult with Michael. Several minutes later, she emerged from the tub, and, cozy in purple fleece PJs, came by herself into the kitchen where I was making things for Christmas dinner.
“Mom, you know how we put out cookies and carrots for Santa and the reindeer every year?” I nodded. “What I really want to know--and I want to know the truth—is: who eats the cookies?” I looked at her in her earnest and beautiful face, and I felt the weight of all the future decisions I would have to make as a parent as she emerges from the bubble of little-girlness.
“Naomi, mostly I eat the cookies,” I told her.
“And do you put the presents under the tree and say they’re from Santa?” she asked.
“I like to think of myself as Santa’s helper,” I explained. “I like to believe that there are lots of Santa’s helpers all over the world who bring joy to children on Christmas by giving them presents they love, and we all do it in the spirit of the real Santa, who brought joy to little children long ago.”
She nodded solemnly. “Thanks for telling me the truth, Mom,” she said, and walked out the front door and into the yard, where she walked around, looking at nothing. When she came in, I hugged her and told her I would understand if she was sad, and that I’d like to talk about it more if she would. No, she wasn’t sad, she told me. “That whole flying reindeer thing was so unrealistic anyway,” and she began to joke about hot air balloons and flying kiwi’s and other impossible solutions to the get-around-the-world-to-each-house-in-a-day problem. And then we sat down and talked about how she’d like to handle it from here. Her presents were to say “from Santa’s helper” but Aidan’s should still say “from Santa” because Aidan would be so sad to discover the truth. And she’d be cool about the whole thing, and she’d be in on the secret, another one of Santa’s helpers.
And so she was, on Christmas morning, talking about how Santa had come and what he had chosen for Aidan and what Santa’s helpers had chosen for her. And if there was just a little bit of a new, knowing edge to her voice, Aidan didn’t catch it (he too busy playing with his new cricket set from Santa). And if she was a sadder girl on Christmas morning because of her new knowledge, I didn’t catch it much, either—just a few exchanged glances between the two of us when a Santa question arose.
So, to all of you who have woken up on this morning and given Christmas presents, you can know that Christmas had its beginning here in New Zealand, and Santa and his helpers came and made the world a little brighter for children here, some of whom still believe, and some of whom are just slightly wiser now.
Happy birthday again, Dad.
Much love to all,