Last year was the first time that the parents were up before the child. Our son had sublimated his inner Christmas desire in exchange for more sleep. It was a none-too-subtle change in the dynamics of our household. It brought back all those memories of the pre-dawn awakenings that we experienced for fifteen years, and the anxious nights when we used all manner of cajoling and threats to get him to sleep so that Santa could do his job. And mom and dad held out the slightest hope of getting just a few hours before the full force of yuletide frenzy woke that little boy and brought him tearing into our room with all the anticipation replaced by adrenalin. The day he had waited for since the wrapping paper had been cleared a year ago was finally here again.
This year took an additional turn for the low-key. With no dog to insist on an early morning comfort stop outside, the three of us were free to stay in bed until the spirit moved us. Which may explain why I was wide awake just after six AM. I tried my usual insomnia routine: watching infomercials with the sound turned off, but I kept finding myself drawn to the "Christmas Story" marathon. I knew that somewhere there were households that were vibrating with all the frenzy that ours had not too long ago.
But now things were quiet, save for the hum of the Tivo and the exhausted snores from my wife in her kerchief. I lay there and thought about all those times that I had jumped out of bed, still bleary from the hours I had spent the night before, applying decals to the Hot Wheels garage that became the centerpiece for the wave of presents that awaited our only child. I could hear that boy's mother insisting that we all have something to eat before the deluge began. Something other than the chocolate that was almost certainly awaiting us at the bottom of our stockings.
I stayed in bed for a couple more hours, taunted by the ghost of Christmas Past. I wondered if I would be doing anyone a favor by going into the living room and turning on "Christmas In Hollis" by Run DMC at excessive volumes to rally the troops. Or not. Maybe we had rounded a corner in the family's approach to December twenty-fifth. We were older, wiser. Christmas could wait. I put on my shoes and sweatshirt and went out for a run.
When I came back, I recognized some of that old energy. It wasn't the vibrating, wild-eyed fury that I used to know, but the excitement had returned. We set to work, the three of us, alternately tearing into the carefully wrapped items beneath the tree, pausing to make sure that the present we were opening really was intended for us. We took a moment to note with some sadness and frustration that we were able to leave our candy on the coffee table without a concern of a dog helping herself to the treats we had so callously misplaced.
Then it was all over, just like before. We picked up the recycling and threw out the rest. We sat around and appreciated the good will we had shared. And we prepared to do it all again: not exactly the same.