I get incredibly reflective around the holidays. Always. It was probably my dad's incessant joy for Christmas that eventually rubbed off on me to make me someone who plays Christmas songs before Thanksgiving and who says, "I love you. Seriously." to all of my closest friends. Every year on Christmas morning, my dad will make my mom and I sit at the top of stairs. He'll run down to turn on the Christmas lights and, when I was younger, set up a toy train. He'll then shout from downstairs, "I think Santa came.... Do you want to see?" After a photo at the top of the stairs, my mom and I will venture downstairs to see.
This tradition has been carried out in Chesapeake, Virginia for almost as long as I can remember. We've done it over 20 times. This year will be the last year it happens.
In Chesapeake at least.
That's because my parents, ever the cunning planners for the future, have completed a new home. You see, my parents have had quite the journey. Starting their relationship young and poor, my dad took out a loan for a home that my mom thought was too much. He made her cry with the amount they'd have to pay each month. My dad isn't someone who likes to settle. Having grown up in a room with five siblings his entire life, he feels very strongly that a home should have space and, most importantly, a big bedroom for just him and the love of his life. So there they were. Broke, stressed, and working two jobs in Norfolk, Virginia.
As my mom completed school for clinical psychology and my dad came to grips with just getting back from serving as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, they started talking about, well, me. I didn't exist yet, but I was in their plans. If I was going to exist, I was going to need a bedroom. So they moved to a bigger home. As I grew, they moved to an even bigger home. This home is where our top-of-the-stairs Christmas tradition takes place.
Though we haven't moved in over 20 years, my parents seemingly sold and bought houses every few years. We had a home in Washington, DC where my dad spent the work week and we also had a beach house that we rented out all but a few weeks a year. I've always been proud of my parents for what they've been able to accomplish. But I don't think I've ever been as happy for them or as proud of them as I am this very second.
Last year, my dad told me that we were selling the beach front property we had bought just a few years before. I didn't understand. I thought it was excessive. And, honestly, I was pretty attached to it. My dad didn't think it was good enough, so he informed that work had begun on a new property. A dream home, on the ocean. It would be the fifth house my dad has built.
He assures me that it will not be his last. I told him he was crazy. He told me that he has one or two left in him.
I tear up as I write this, in front of the Christmas tree in my living room while my dad washes dishes. I'm calling out to him to make sure I have my facts right. You see, I think of this post as a permanent documentation of the way I'm feeling right this second. I want to remember it. I want to remember the tree the looks out on the street I grew up on. I wan to remember that I want to start a fire in the gas fireplace, but don't know how and am too embarrassed to ask dad like I am every year. I should know how to do that by now. I want to remember that my mom is upstairs taking a nap. I want to remember the guilt I feel for being so self-focused in 2014. I want to remember how happy I am because I've been so self-focused in 2014. I want it to sink in how special this moment, in this living room, is to me.
I want to remember this house and sitting at the top of the stairs before we sell it and move into our new home.
Next Christmas we'll start a new tradition. I don't know what it will be. I don't know where the tree will be. I don't know how I'll sit at the top of steps since my new room opens up directly onto the living room. Will I remain trapped inside while my dad yells out that Santa came? Will I sleep downstairs so I can walk upstairs? What will happen when my parents are too old to carry presents to the tree in the morning? We'll have to figure out all of these things together.
It will be the first Christmas tradition that we figure out together. I can't wait. I'm so excited for the future as I try, desperately, to be in the present right now. When I wake up tomorrow morning, groggy, I will hold my mom extra tight at the top of the stairs. I might cry. I'm almost crying right now. My mom's awake from her nap and helping my dad with the dishes. They don't know how special this moment - this house - is to me in this very moment. It's my secret. I hate showing them that I'm sentimental. I don't want my dad thinking that he's rubbed off on me too much.