It's nearly 11 PM, three nights before Christmas. Lily is nestled all snug in her bed (and so is my husband, in ours) and our bags are packed and ready for us to leave early in the morning for a week of traveling to see family in Louisiana.
I'm quite used to being the last one awake in the house. I've always been a night owl. Tonight I'm thankful for a couple of hours of quiet before we begin a fun but busy Christmas week. It's allowing me a little bit of time to reflect on some things about the year and about Christmases past.
There are so many things that are different in our family now, things that have changed quite a bit in the past couple of years. The obvious one, of course, is that we have a child. We have a daughter sleeping down the hall, which, when I truly think about it, still amazes me. Before last year we'd had eleven Christmases together as a married couple without children, and now we're approaching our second one as parents. Last year's Christmas felt so foreign as we were adjusting to life with a three-month-old. It was beautiful and very special too, but it's nice this year to be able to feel so much more settled. And this year we are back to our old driving route, making a big circle (or more of an oval, I guess) from SE Texas up to N Louisiana, back down to SW Louisiana, and home again to Texas.
The year 2010 brought other changes as well, though, besides the birth of our long-awaited baby. In February of that year, my mom, stepdad, and younger brother moved from the little house in the country that we'd bought just a couple of months before my twelfth birthday. It was a kind of sad little wood-frame house that had lots of quirks from the start, but we were glad to have found a place we could afford that was back in the town that my sister and I called home. We had left all of our friends at school a few months earlier and moved in with my grandparents while my stepdad worked a job up in New Jersey, with the intention that we would all move there eventually. We didn't, though, and I was delighted when we moved back "home" and I was able to re-join my sixth grade class and, more importantly, my friends.
It had been a very tough transition for us girls at a new school and in a new town (my mom's hometown), although Mom would have loved to have stayed, I'm sure. My sister struggled at the new high school, not popularity-wise but with keeping her grades up. I felt completely isolated and didn't make a single friend at the elementary/middle school, and it was hard to be away from my sister for, really, the first time in my life (our previous school had grades K-12 all in one building, so we never were very far apart). And so that little house wasn't much to look at, but it was a way for us to move back home and back to the small school and friends that we loved.
The little house in the country did improve a tiny bit over the years. My mom and stepdad had the bathrooms remodeled after a few years, and when my sister and I married a couple of handy guys, we began to help out with improvements here and there as a family (painting the old, dark-paneled walls, changing the flooring, etc.), but always dreaming of seeing our mom in a much more comfortable, sturdy home someday. Mom had done her very best to make that house a home, but it required lots and lots of work. It was poorly insulated, which made it very hot in the summer and quite chilly in the winter. Mom had to clean the walls a few times a year because of mold and mildew, and the ceiling boasted some pretty interesting designs due to water stains from a leaky roof. The house was becoming much more of a burden and we began to start looking at options for them to finally move to a new house. Mom doubted it would ever happen, but lo and behold, a buyer appeared and after much work to get the house inspected and make necessary improvements, it actually sold. We helped them move during the early months of my pregnancy with Lily, and I have to say that we all felt like a weight had been lifted when they spent their first night in a brand new, beautiful home.
I never, ever thought I would miss the little gray house in the country. But it turns out, I do. I would never want to change their living situation back to what it was by any means, but it has been strange to realize that I actually miss turning at the only landmark in that tiny town (the little white post office), driving down that old dirt road, sitting on the porch swing, and listening to the familiar, soothing sound of trains rumbling down the railroad tracks at night -- a sound that lulled me to sleep nearly every night from my preteen years until I left for college. I miss that small bedroom right off the front porch that I shared with my sister until she moved out to attend college. And I miss that same room after we painted it blue for my baby brother, who took down our frilly curtains and our posters of cute boys and filled it up with dinosaurs and little boy things instead.
After they moved out I used to think about what it would feel like to drive by the old place and see what changes the new owners would undoubtedly make. I thought that, if my pregnancy was successful this time, it would be fun to take our child by there someday and show her the little house where we used to live and where her aunt and I spent our formative teenage years. The house wasn't full of all good memories, definitely, but we did have some good times there. And as you know, my baby arrived safe and sound in the fall of that year, but she'll never be able to see the house. We won't be able to show her anything except photographs and the land where it once stood because just four months after they moved out, there was a fire at mom's old house. Fortunately, no one was home and no one was injured, but the house was eventually torn down completely. It's all gone now: the wooden porches that Mom swept clean almost every day, the windowsill of our old bedroom where two of my friends carved their name (they had the same name -- James), and even the big sweet-gum tree that stood right beside the front steps. All gone.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the old and the new and gradually realizing that change is really okay. Sometimes it's great, but sometimes the changes take some getting used to. "Going home" still feels pretty different and new to me, but we're already making new memories in Mom's new house and it's kind of sweet to know that Lily will only think of one place when she looks back on going to visit her Granny. It'll be a place that holds lots of special memories from her childhood, memories that we're in the process of building for her even next week as we gather under that new roof, in a house that is only about a year older than Lily herself.
So there are lots and lots of new things for our family these days, but we're settling into some new routines and enjoying the changes. Having a little one around is helping us to see things from a new perspective, too, and it encourages us to roll with the changes and make some brand new traditions as we go along. Chuck and I were recently discussing how, even though we've been married for more than 13 years now and even though we were always a family even before we had Lily, this family of three thing is a new dynamic. In a way it feels like starting over.
Sometimes starting over can be a very good thing.