Twelve Days.

On the first day of Christmas, 
 I'm thinking of how my eleven-year-old daughter, Opal tells me she learned Santa wasn't real five years ago when she saw something in my Amazon purchase history that we told her was from St. Nick. 

On the second day of Christmas, I'm thinking about all the crappy depictions of Santa in Ruth's favorite holiday movies: the fisticuffs Gimballs Santa that smells like beef and cheese in Elf. The sadist, shiny-faced Santa (and all his evil crony elves) that sends all the kids away screaming in Christmas Story. 

On the third day of ChristmasI'm thinking of how a friend mentions a gorgeous photo that was posted on Instagram, of Opal and her Grammy gazing through a Hanukkah menorah. I tell the friend, no, that was last year. We have not been in the same house as Grammy since September.

On the fourth day of Christmas, I'm thinking about how awkward it is to tow-the-line between straight-up honesty with Ruth about Santa while also subscribing to the magic of cultural beliefs. She is steeping in a stew of Santa—decorations, song-lyrics, cartoons, movies—and so denying his existence would be futile, even if that was my approach. I tell her Santa is not a real guy who will break into our home on Christmas Eve (though she seems to care less about that than Opal did), that he is a character to help remind us of the enchantment of this time of year. Like a Disney Princess. 

To which she replies, "But you said we could meet the REAL PRINCESSES in Disneyland!" 

On the fifth day of Christmas, I take FIVE DEEP BREATHS.

Then I go back and re-read an article I wrote (with the help of many more qualified experts) for a few years back about this very thing, regarding the Santa-lies with Opal. For guidance.

Quote: Psychotherapist, Joe Soma, says holiday stories only seem like lies when we, the teller, are out of touch with the deeper meaning, in this case the magic of stories.

On the sixth day of Christmas, I move on from the Santa-issue and think of how we've always donated toys at Christmas in some capacity. I've always had the kids pick out a thing or two for Toys-4-Tots or Salvation Army. But, because there has never really been a personal connection, the gesture has always felt a little hollow. 

Growing up, my dad was part of a men's club that took care of dozens of families in Columbus, Ohio, each Christmas. As the holidays approached, I recall helping my mom shop for countless kids, followed by a raucous wrapping-event that took place in a Ford dealership. They even had a guy dress up as Santa and deliver the gifts and food and money to each family from the wide mouth of a dirty van. As kids, we got to join him for the ride some times. That vision was worth a thousand teachings in gratitude. I want that feeling for my kids.

This year—in spite of other obvious setbacks— I feel more of a personal connection when giving back to my community than ever before. A small group of locals have created a powerhouse of a Facebook group that supports local foster youth who have recently graduated out of care. This group—backed by local social workers—is curated for the needs of each youth/young adult. And because of that, it feels so personal. 

We make drop-offs anywhere between weekly and a few times a month, and we've been doing this since spring. Opal insists on riding along for the 5-minute each-way commute. The moment she clicks her seatbelt, any residue of angst or grumpiness abruptly vanishes. She is all business.

"What do they need this time, mama?" 
"This time coats and mittens. 
This time cleaning supplies. 
This time two pumpkin pies and two apple."

And, though it's not quite the same optics as seeing a man in a Santa suit deliver bags to overjoyed children in parts of town we rarely ventured to, I'm hoping the visual of seeing her mom pull into the social worker's driveway, throwing on her mask, dropping off the requested goods on the porch or in the coolers set out for us—and doing this during all the seasons—will make an impact. 

On the seventh day of Christmas, I tear up as we watch Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas, during the song The River Meets the Sea, where mom otter kisses baby Emmet on the head while he is sleeping. (What a newborn dreams is a mystery.

I wonder, did I feel as moved by this song last year? 

Then I read in the Washington Post that there is a COVID death every 33 seconds. "Every time you listen to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, about five people have died from the coronavirus between the beginning and the end of the song."

I will never again be able to listen to that song without an onslaught of grief.

On the eighth day of Christmas, I do a scene-by-scene evaluation of Holiday activities from last year to this, No-COVID to COVID. I think of an outing we took to an extravaganza called Camp Christmas, which was essentially a WAY-over-the-top, multiple-roomed Christmas-on-acid experience. Explosive holiday sensory overload. If only we were one of those wealthy YouTube vlogging families that could rent out the whole place to ourselves, it would've been epic. 

But no, the crowds were staggering, even for the adults, and all Ruth wanted to do was RUN. And that she did. And when she wasn't running, she was screaming to wriggle out of my hands regardless of how many times I paused to give her an eye-level, low-and-slow definition of SAFE-TY. 

By the time we drove home, with her nestled back into her carseat, my nerves were a brillo pad and I was pricing out kid-leashes on Amazon on my phone. 

(So that particular situation wasn't better than this year.)

On the ninth day of Christmas, I am thankful that we don't need to force large crowds and parades and malls and ice skating—origins of great stress until Ruth gets a wee bit older—into our calendar. I am thankful that the schedule is airy with breathing room. I am thankful that activities that may have been in the periphery in previous years now take center stage, gold-plus status. Decorating the tree was an event. Garnishing the gingerbread camper, a seriously fun FU-COVID moment. And ZOOMing with the Ohio family, which we've done for decades, has taken on a more engaged feel, this last time with ornament show-and-tell and a brief and wacky dance interlude to the Muppets' Christmas Is Coming.

But with COVID, a baby/bathwater situation, the loss feels huge, and it continues to be calculated. (Like, how do you mourn the dead when people continue to die?) 

We don't miss the stress and chaos of the crowds and the hubbub, but we do miss our people. Thankfully, life-savingly, we have teamed up with another family that aligns with our own like kin. Without them, we'd really be afloat. But we deeply miss Jesse's parents, especially at Christmas. For the last 16 years, since Jesse and I have been together, we've spent the holidays with his parents, in some capacity. My parents live 2,000 miles away, but we have almost always visited with them around the holidays for a week or so. I desperately miss that, too.

To have it be just-the-four-of-us for nearly every moment feels like training for something on the horizon that we don't yet know of.

On the tenth day of Christmas, I think about our FU COVID Campaign: Holiday Edition, and in my mind, it has a professional logo, like something on a business card. Essentially, it's an exclusive club of humans—parents, in our case, but all are welcome—giving it our A-game as we attempt to create holiday memories whilst inside the subterfuge of rules and regulations. 

I feel our campaign is going well so far, kicked off at the beginning of the month with a drive through a winter-light-spectacular show that took place in refurbished, seasonally dried-out waterpark. The girls screamed with such glee as they yelled out the windows to their friends in the cars ahead of and behind us. And I instantly thought of the lyrics from the Ani Difranco song "Freak show":

We live to hear the slak-jawed gasping
We live under a halo of held breath
And when the children raise up a giant shield
Of laughter, it's like they're fending off death

I wonder—would we have enjoyed this nearly as much last year?

On the eleventh day of Christmas, I think of the one example of a chaotic, congested event we will miss: The Nutcracker. Grammy has bought us tickets since Opal was younger than four-year-old Ruth, and last year was the first time (we felt) Ruth was big enough to come. She was dressed to the nines (SO much taffeta to shove down into the seat!) and our friends were there with us, along with Grammy. I could see pride flash over Ruth's face as she seemed to understand the significance of being Big-Enough to be with us at this grand cultural event. (And the big sisters took on new roles of shepherding the littles through their jolly paces.) 

Ruth did get antsy—of course, she was three—and so I bribed her for the second half with a comically large pinwheel lollipop from the gift shop. She wound up biting her tongue and we spent the better part of the Land of Sweets in the bathroom nursing her wound, missing Mother Ginger, the moment she'd been waiting for. 

This year, we'll watch it on the TV screen which will hardly be the same. But at least we can pause Mother Ginger if we need to.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Ruth is wearing her Clara dress and we have The Nutcracker piping in through the speakers. She and I act out all the major scenes, and she pours herself into character. I notice how she refuses to take my direction with most things in life, but when I tell her, "I'm the mouse king! Throw an invisible shoe at my head!" she obliges post-haste.

Then, we free dance to the 'Sugar Plum Fairy' and I think of my grandmother and her dear love for this song. And the sun filters in through the front window onto the rug and our moving legs and it is not the sun so much as her warm presence. I am transported like a whirling dervish—the marrow of this present moment feels something akin to hope, to love, to meaning. 

In a recent New Yorker article called The Melancholy Gestalt of Isolation, Peter Schjeldahl wrote, "Friends agree with me that, for those of us who have been confined to home, these past months of forced lassitude have given rise to moments that are essentially mystical: temporary losses of ourselves, like existential hiccups, that we would likely not have noticed if we were leading full lives."

I move through the space with Ruth like it is brand new territory, allowing the words yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes to fall around me like snow.

(And then Ruth, like a brick to the mirrored surface of my inner-stillness, says, "Hey mom, remember the funny JibJab video where they do the Nutcracker in FARTS and call it the BUTTCRACKER??!!" And then she falls to the floor in a mound of taffeta and giggles.)


  1. I’m just seeing this for the first time, and it brought tears to my eyes. So many beautiful memories from the past, and now we’re making different ones due to Covid. Beautifully written!! ��

    1. Hi Lynnie! Yes, these times sure call on us to be as creative as possible! Thanks so much for reading. Love you so much. XOXO.


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