By TAYLOR BALLINGER
One of the reasons that Rosie and I moved to Kentucky in August was to be closer to family for the holidays. Rosie’s big on holiday traditions, and living in Louisiana (especially now that Caroline and Elizabeth are in our lives) had made navigating this time of year difficult. We’d swap the big holidays each year, so if Thanksgiving were spent in Kentucky, we’d do Christmas in Michigan. This meant that Rosie would never get to take part in all of her favorite holiday customs—and made it difficult to create our own traditions for our growing family.
This year, we had our first real family Christmas. Santa visited our house on Christmas day, and we spent the entire morning and early afternoon just the four of us. Caroline played with her new toys and opened presents for Elizabeth (born Dec. 6), Rosie lounged around in her new robe and slippers, and I got to cook a nice big Christmas breakfast for the family.
Being so close to my folks in Kentucky and Rosie’s in southern Michigan meant we didn’t have to rush off to my dad’s or my mom’s, or have Christmas brunch at Waffle House as we bounce between states trying to squeeze holiday visits into a short trip up north.
I’ve never cared quite as much about holiday rituals. Perhaps it’s having divorced parents and therefore having to go back and forth between families every year. Despite this, I’ve been looking forward to having our own family traditions—namely Christmas morning with just the four of us—and the move to Kentucky allowed us to spend our first of many Christmases together as a family unit.
Another holiday tradition I seem to take part in each year is an hours-long texting conversation with many of my buddies throughout Christmas day. It starts with a “Merry Christmas, amigo” and usually moves on to checking in on one anothers’ families, quoting “Christmas Vacation” back and forth, and discussing the bowl season.
This year, I got several texts along the lines of “Did you get anything good?” Perhaps it’s fatherhood and all of the emotion and reflection it brings, or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m at that stage in my life where I don’t need the latest toys, but the question irked me. How does one define “good” in this sense? If I hadn’t gotten a new television would I have been disappointed? With an excited two year old and a new baby at home I should certainly hope not. If I were to answer that question honestly….
Good is a happy and healthy two-week old daughter, and the joy and sleeplessness and sweet milky breath she’s brought to our lives already.
Good is a five-hour drive from Kentucky to Michigan turning into a seven-hour drive, because it means I get 120 extra minutes of Caroline singing at the top of her lungs, or yelling “turn it off!!” when the sun gets too bright for her in the car, or screaming “all done Ohio!!” when she learned that all that stood between her and a long weekend with grandma and grandpa was the pesky Buckeye State.
Good is looking at holiday photos of me with my receding hairline and whitening beard squished up next to my daughter’s face and knowing that the trade-off has been totally worth it.
Good is waking up on Christmas morning and having Caroline forgo opening her stocking and seeing her Santa presents because she wanted to spend time holding her new baby sister.
Good is a restless sleep on Christmas Eve, not because I was excited about what new toys Santa might bring me, but because I couldn’t wait to see the look on Caroline’s face as she saw the remnants of cookies on the plate and the art supplies Santa brought her next to the fireplace.
Good is seeing my grandfather meet his new great-granddaughter for the first time, and watching Caroline crawl up into his lap for family pictures.
Good is finally having a valid excuse for my poor present-wrapping performances. Do you have any idea how hard it is to wrap presents with a toddler climbing all over you?
And good is Christmas morning, just the four of us, and Christmas music in the background and burning bacon on the pan.