I was sitting on the living room floor with my mom a few weeks ago, watching my 1-year-old press keys on a toy piano. After one of the baby’s more chaotic sonatas, Mom asked about my plans for Christmas. "We’re not sure,” I told her, “We might just stay home, like last year.”
She looked at me, eyebrow raised. She knew I wasn’t too worried about the virus anymore. All our friends and family were vaccinated. Even the baby had antibodies from my breastmilk. My mom said she was hoping to visit the family we didn't see the year before, but I didn’t want to go anywhere, Covid risk or not.
Almost two years ago now, on Christmas Eve 2019, I was sitting on my suitcase in Grand Central Station, arms folded over my chest as I waited for my husband, Randall, who was getting directions to our terminal. I was two months pregnant, tired, and desperate to get out of town.
We’d recently moved cross-country from California to Brooklyn, 3,000 miles away from the city we both grew up in and almost everyone we knew. Part of the reason I agreed to the move was that Randall's sister, who I adore, was a short train ride away. Our first months on the East Coast had been rough, and with our unexpected pregnancy making me queasy and sloth-like, I was homesick for a familiar face.
I didn't just want to visit my sister-in-law, I wanted to be her, with a box of colorful tree decorations to take out every year and kids who spent all season inspecting the fireplace to make sure Santa would fit.
Sure enough, besides a little morning sickness, I had a great time during our three-day holiday getaway. My sister-in-law couldn't have been lovelier. Her kids couldn't have been more charming. Her husband couldn't have made better pancakes (the one food I craved all through my pregnancy) on Christmas morning. And yet, on the train ride home, I told my husband that I didn't want to do it again next year. As soon as our little one was born, we were going to stay home for every Christmas, I said.
From when I was young, my holidays were always filled with travel. With divorced parents (and divorced grandparents) I went from my mom's house to my dad's, to various grandparents' every year. My merriment-in-motion was always fun but it was also hectic. As I sat on the train back to New York, thinking about the baby in my belly, I wanted something different for my little one.
I explained to my husband that I didn't just want to visit my sister-in-law, I wanted to be her, with a box of colorful tree decorations to take out every year and kids who spent all season inspecting the fireplace to make sure Santa would fit. I wanted to make family traditions at our own home.
12 months later, December 2020, the cliché, "Careful what you wish for," was at the front of my mind. We’d been strictly quarantined since March and by winter, we were desperate for some human connection. So, we were sad when we realized we wouldn’t be able to see our families for the holidays, and especially disappointed knowing our daughter wouldn't get to see her grandparents for her first Christmas.
We spent the evening making cookies from scratch, including little gingerbread versions of the three of us: mom, dad, and baby.
Knowing we’d be alone, I dreaded the 25th. I lamented my selfish complaints of traveling for the year before and found myself savoring every childhood holiday memory, even ones of crowded freeways and busy airports in late December.
But when that lonely Christmas day finally came, it surprised me.
In the morning, we watched our favorite winter movies and drank hot cocoa. In the afternoon I made a feast with some creamy macaroni and cheese, a big box of stuffing, and three different potato dishes. We spent the evening making cookies from scratch, including little gingerbread versions of the three of us: mom, dad, and baby.
A few months into 2021, Randall and I decided to move back home to California. The year away made us realize that we didn't want our daughter to grow up too far from her grandparents. We wanted her to grow up seeing them all year round. So far she has.
When the weather started to change this year, Randall and I thought about what we wanted to do for the holidays. We could easily visit our vaccinated parents with little fear of Covid, we could even slip back into a version of my old Christmas routine: driving from parents to in-laws, and maybe even stop by a cousin’s house. Lots of people wouldn't, or couldn't, be going home this year and we knew we were lucky to have the option.
After some thought, though, we decided to make staying home our new tradition, Covid or not. Close to loved ones, or not.
We decided that this year, and every year, we'd spend time with our parents the days before and after Christmas, but we’d spend December 25th at our own home, just us. We'd watch movies, make three different types of potatoes, and enjoy time with our little gingerbread family: mom, dad, and baby.