When I became a mom, I was flurried all the time that December just snuck up on me -- I had made no plans and shopped for zero presents, and our family home was bare. Between taking care of my daughter Vita and work, I had no energy to do anything else. A trip to the house of my daughter’s father changed that.
His family lives in Antipolo, nestled upon mountains, and the December breeze was colder up there. They had small, sweet parols hung outside -- nothing extravagant, as they made the lanterns themselves -- and a string of lights around the windows. I remember nuzzling Vita’s nose and saying, “It feels like Christmas here.”
When we went home to my family, I mentioned casually to my parents that the Antipolo house was already decorated. Just as expected, they brought out the decorations the morning after, and the house was decked out by the time I got home from work. Vita and I would sit in our living room, just marveling at the lights and the faint carols we could hear from outside. She enjoyed all the sparkling décor she saw when we were out shopping, and she touched the ornaments hanging on our tree. Choosing a gift for her was taxing -- it had to be something with which to commemorate her first Christmas. After weeks of searching, her dad and I decided to get her a walker, so that she could, perhaps, take her first few steps. What other milestone could be bigger than that?
Come Christmas Day, I was the only one left awake in the house, with Vita sound asleep beside me. The tradition of waking up at midnight was long gone, so all I did was whisper, “Merry Christmas. I love you,” and give Vita a kiss before snuggling beside her to go to sleep, too. As soon as we woke up, I read her all the Christmas stories from the Bible. She didn’t have the patience yet to sit through them, but I read them to her anyway. Same thing with mass: She behaved momentarily and started fussing in the middle. Her father came by around dinnertime, and while it was a bit tense between us since he came in later than he promised, we decided to let it pass for the sake of Christmas.
We opened our presents in the evening, with the kids, of course, having the lion’s share. I think Vita enjoyed unwrapping her gifts and playing with the used ribbons rather than playing with her new toys and books. She took a liking, though, to her walker, much to my happiness. I took a step back as she held on to it, and with her dad guiding her from behind, she took her first, tentative steps. Everyone wowed and cheered, of course, and she laughed and clapped, which was comforting to see, since she’s not usually comfortable with large groups.
Perhaps that’s the thing about Christmas. With our family outgrowing our own Christmas traditions, what stays is the most important: Holidays bring family together, no matter what the problems or circumstances may be. My circumstances then weren’t the most ideal. I felt the need to overcompensate for the lack of a “normal” family by making sure that Vita was surrounded by everyone who loves her on Christmas Day. And even after all those gestures and efforts, I’ll never know if she knew that that particular day was extra special than the rest. There’s one thing I know for sure, though: Her smiles gave away that she felt happy, whole, and loved -- and at the end of the day, that’s all a mother could ever want.