Janet Sheridan: Thoughts following Christmas
Last year, during the interlude between Christmas and celebrating a new year, I sat in my living room by a Christmas tree, of diminished interest and numbered days, and watched as rays of afternoon sunlight slowly expanded the asphalt patches on the snow-packed street.
An SUV crowded with bundled-up, excited children and inflated inner tubes rumbled by my window. Next came a boy riding a new bicycle, navigating with care on the slick streets, a grin lighting his face. Although he couldn’t see me, I smiled in response, thinking how children exude joy during the Christmas season and about their tendency to be happy, find fun and feel wonder.
A few weeks earlier, out for exercise, I’d walked along the northern edge of the Sunset Elementary School playground at about 7:30 a.m. Three young boys, early arrivals, had discovered a large frozen puddle and were acting like they’d been given the best present ever.
Circling the doomed puddle, they examined and discussed it, ran and slid on it, pushed and fell on it, stomped through and broke it — laughing maniacally the entire time. When two buddies rode their bikes into the area, the three revelers signaled and yelled until the newcomers understood they were to ride their bikes through the ice-flecked puddle, which they did, one at a time, fast, their smiles and laughter reflecting that of their friends.
“When,” I thought, sitting in my warm house and remembering, “did I lose my excitement over frozen puddles?”
I then thought about the children I taught and the pleasure they took in giving Christmas presents and cards to me. Some shyly slid them onto my desk when I was occupied elsewhere; others rushed toward me on the playground with brightly wrapped packages or envelopes; a few quietly presented a decorated cookie, ornament or card they’d made themselves; and, always, one or two handed me a gift, blurted its contents, then looked dismayed: “Here. It’s for you. It’s a candle … oh no … I told!”
Next, my thoughts wandered to my grandchildren, who were the best possible bonus when I married Joel. Although they live in Illinois, we entered their world every Christmas, watching and laughing as they shook presents and guessed the contents, robbed the tree of decorative candy canes they’d been told not to touch and sang Christmas songs in church with wonder in their eyes.
As a teacher and grandmother, I also knew, as do parents, that excitement, expectations and altered routines during the holiday season can tip children into fussing, fighting and tears. “Just like adults,” I thought, “We sometimes exhibit similar behaviors for the same reasons.”
Filled with memories of children I’ve enjoyed and their endearing, sometimes trying, behaviors during the holiday season, my thoughts drifted to the baby who was born in a manger long ago.
What was he like as a young child? What songs did Mary sing to him? What stories did she tell? Did he find a wildflower in the yard and run to give it his mother? Did he play among wood shavings in the smell of cedar? Did he shout, “Watch me!” as he ran fast or jumped far? Did Joseph teach him the skills of carpentry? Did he ask what was for dinner and react happily when told it was his favorite? Did he grow cranky when tired or hungry? What did he think about as he drifted off to sleep?
Finally, as daylight turned to dusk, the streets quieted and the lights on my tree became more vivid, I thought about the blessed gift of babies, both then and now.
I’m never quite ready to let the wonder of Christmas go.