We got to go home to Illinois for Christmas this year. It had been almost a year since Phil and I had been back to our hometown, and we missed Christmas last year. Even as much as we wanted to see family, we approached the trip with a little bit of dread and stress. Because when you only come home once a year, it seems like everyone wants to see you, and we hate to disappoint people.
As the days passed, though, we found ourselves having a lot of fun and with less stress than we had expected.
Here are five of the best things that happened while we were away for Christmas break:
1. Our daughter picked out gifts this year. She shopped at school for her grandparents and her brother, and when she got to Illinois, her great-grandma took her shopping for Phil and me. We had no idea what any of the gifts were, so we were just as surprised as anyone else on Christmas. She got one set of grandparents a pen each that said something fabulous about grandparents, and the other set of grandparents got refrigerator magnets that also said something fun about grandparents. For her brother, she picked out a pair of squishy ducks in his favorite colors. He played with those all afternoon on Christmas. For me, she picked out a set of three pairs of earrings because she knew that I wanted to start wearing earrings again. And she got ones for sensitive ears because she knows mine hurt sometimes when I wear them. For her dad, she picked out a notepad and pen–“for work,” she said. More than the gifts themselves, it was fun for us to see the thoughts that went into each gift.
2. Playing with our nephew. We’ve seen him less than a handful of times in his two years of life, which means that when I ask for a hug he says “no.” But that’s okay. He did warm up to us eventually. We took advantage of our time and played as much as possible.
3. A daytrip to Chicago with my brother as tour guide. I’m not allowed to post pictures of him. (“No Facebook,” he kept telling me as I snapped photos with my camera.) But it was the best day. We rode every form of mass transit–the Metra to downtown, then after a few blocks of walking we took the subway to an intersection where a trolley picked us up to go to Navy Pier. We ate good food at Harry Caray’s and walked around the pier. I got to see the water and the skyline and breathe Chicago air. It’s weird, I know. We’ve never lived in Chicago, but every time we’re back, it feels like home. It’s my favorite city in the world, and probably always will be. When our day was done we took a bus back to the train station before heading west again. We did exchange gifts but I’ll take “presence” over “presents” any day. I don’t see my brother that often, so it’s always good to be together. And he’s the best tour guide in Chicago.
4. A double-date with my husband’s brother and our sister-in-law. We ate delicious burgers at Buffalo Wild Wings then we went bowling. Bowling! It was like a time warp to my teenage years. The alley even smelled the same as I remembered. And though we were mostly terrible and felt a little too old to be participating in said sport, we had a good time as grown-ups doing grown-up things.
5. Being together. It sounds sappy, but the four of us–my husband, our daughter, our son and me–don’t spend a lot of time together as a foursome. I’m home with the boy a lot. Our daughter’s at school and my husband’s at work. Our together time is limited, an unexpected downside to starting school. So, these days of long van rides, fun experiences, family meals and just hanging out were a refreshing reminder of how much I love our little clan. Even when I want to pull my hair out.