This is my first holiday season as a long distance father. Last year I lived in the same town as my daughter, then age 3, and I saw her every other weekend and one night during the week (sometimes over night). I was living in a small two bedroom apartment just minutes from her. During my visitation with her, we’d engage in typical holiday fun (my girlfriend was even so sweet as to order us a big Thanksgiving dinner and have it delivered for one of my visits with my daughter, even though she was a thousand miles away visiting her own family). I would take Allie shopping to get Christmas ideas for her and to pick out gifts for the rest of the family. We would watch holiday cartoons or rearrange decorations on the tree. Basically, every few days or so, we’d spend our time together reveling in the joys of the season and I’d enjoy getting to see the holiday magic through her eyes, as she compiled her endless list for Santa and asked question after question about the jolly red guy. And when I wasn’t with her, I spent what seemed like months building my daughter one of those wooden dollhouses, gluing shingles, painting or decorating the miniature interior it turned out to be a gift that she loved and still enjoys playing with.
I’ve never been one of those huge holiday fanatics, as it often brings back some painful childhood memories that I’d rather not dwell on. But experiencing those moments with her made me feel the magic and the joy again, from a different perspective. I was the one passing along the tales of Santa and his reindeer, cultivating our own new holiday traditions, just the two of us. I created and organized her Christmas list, to distribute to my family. All in all, I ultimately helped to orchestrate her experience of the holiday season last year, at least as far as her time with me was concerned. It was nice to know that if she enjoyed the holidays, and felt that magic, that I helped to create that for her in some form or fashion, even if it was just a father and his daughter, sitting on the floor of a small apartment as she opened gift after gift, with no real traditions to lean on.
It’s quite a bit tougher from 1,500 miles away this year, though; especially when a 4 year old isn’t especially interested in even talking on the phone most days. I was fortunate enough to get to spend the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving with my daughter, and I wouldn’t trade that time with her for the world. My girlfriend, my little girl and I had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner and we even put up the Christmas tree and decorations. However, I won’t see my daughter again until Christmas Day, when I pick her up to spend a week with us and some of my family flying in for New Year’s. This time in between visits is only a few short weeks for a change but it’s been a little more difficult than most. Maybe it’s the Southern California 70-degree weather, or the lack of personal free time due to a professional workload I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it’s difficult to capture that “spirit of the season,” especially from that child’s perspective. Sure, lists have been compiled and exchanged and Christmas gifts have been purchased, but it all feels a bit more “formal” and somewhat missing that childhood magic, almost like we’re trying to squeeze it all in to our very busy lives. Throw in the efficiency/necessity of shopping on the Internet when everyone seems to be in a bit of a time crunch and things get all the more formal. I suspect, however, that much of it has to do with day after day planning, coordinating, buying and wrapping without those occasional meandering journeys into the joys of the season that only a child can provide. Whether previously spawned by a trip to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap, or wandering around aimlessly with a little one trying to pick out that perfect gift for Grandma, maybe I’ve become a bit too adult and efficient in trying to prepare a perfect holiday that I haven’t taken the time to lose myself in the magic that Allie is always so good about reminding me of, even if unintentionally.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely excited and anxious to spend time with loved ones and I’ve had a lot of fun preparing for the holidays this year. But, I cannot wait for Christmas Day, not because I put together a pretty sweet Christmas list and I’m anxious to see what Santa brought me, but because I want to again experience the joys of this time of year through my little girls eyes. I want to see her jaw drop when she walks into our house and sees the bounty that lies beneath the tree; I want to have to scramble to come up with an answer for whatever question she might come up with about the logistics of a 300 lb. man sliding in and out of our small chimney while reindeer await on the roof. All in all, I want to create new traditions with my little girl and my girlfriend that we can count on for years to come. So, I do count down the remaining time very anxiously, like a child waiting for Christmas, but I don’t have my heart set on a shiny new remote control car or a pair of basketball shoes. I just want to revisit that spirit that only a child can bring this time of year and I want to cherish every moment. Happy Holidays to all.