By the time you all read this, my kiddo will be on his first trip without me. He’s going with his dad to visit his grandparents, and I’m having a lot of feelings I haven’t yet processed. He will be home right before Christmas, and I will be in absolute agony until he’s back under my roof.
I can’t believe it’s already Christmastime! How did we get here so fast? It feels like it was just summer, and now I’m sweeping up tree needles and trying to keep the dog from destroying the ornaments on the tree. Christmas is such a chaotic time of year if you’re a parent, especially if you’re the parent of a school aged kid. We had three end of semester performances (he killed it as always) and one mini class party. I made Rice Krispie Treats and baked chocolate chip cookies. I’ve bought all the gifts but haven’t wrapped them yet — there’s just a bunch of random boxes stashed all over my apartment.
Every year, it feels like the holidays sneak up on us faster and faster. I think it’s because my kid is getting older and time seems to be passing much more quickly. (It’s probably because I’m just so busy and overwhelmed I rarely know what day it is, but alas.)
Christmas is interesting with a big kid. My son is only 10 — he’s standing with one foot in being a kid and the other in being a tween. He’s still excited about picking out a Christmas tree and decorating it, but he tries to act too cool to watch Charlie Brown Christmas with me. His Christmas list is getting shorter in favor of one or two more expensive gifts. There was only one thing he really wanted for Christmas this year, a shed for his trains. I had to pick his brain for gifts his grandparents could get him, which has never happened before!
I work really hard to make sure my son gets whatever gifts he wants, because he’s such a good kid and he deserves it. When he was little, it was Thomas trains and LEGOs. I remember Christmas 2020, he wanted sets for LEGO Super Mario. We spent hours putting together Bowser’s Castle; it was over 1,000 pieces, and there are no paper instructions, only an app. Right before bedtime, my partner’s foot plowed through Bowser’s Castle, and we spent another handful of hours trying to put it back together. The following year, he put Bowser’s Airship together completely by himself. Last year, he wanted a Nintendo Switch, so my partner and I split the cost with his dad. To date, it’s the most expensive thing he’s ever asked for, but we both use it, so it was worth the cost.
Money has always been an issue for me — I was a single mom for the first six years, and I bought all of his gifts. I always made sure he got the things he repeatedly asked for, and if there were filler gifts, I would do my best. Luckily, I can also outsource gifts to his grandparents, who are always happy to spoil him the best they can. Usually he was asking for trains that cost $15, $20 bucks, so I could make my money stretch and get him enough so it looked like a lot. I’d get him a few small things that would be from Santa, like books or crayons or Play-Doh.
Once he was old enough to understand who Santa was, I decided that Santa wasn’t going to bring him big or expensive gifts. Part of it was selfish; I was working hard to make sure he had what he wanted, and I wanted credit for that. The other part of it was so that he wasn’t disappointed if Santa didn’t get him exactly what he wanted. I remember that there were years when my parents couldn’t afford the mountains of gifts I asked for, and it always made me sad when Santa brought me some shitty winter boots and my friend got Barbie’s DreamHouse. If I was going to disappoint my kid, I was going to own up to it. It also made Santa less important — he believed Santa brought boring gifts like books and went to his grandparents’ houses to pick up his gifts.
But just because he was largely uninterested in Santa doesn’t mean that we didn’t uphold all of the pomp and circumstance around Santa. We baked chocolate chip cookies in our pajamas before bedtime and then left Santa a cookie and a glass of water (I don’t drink milk, so I convinced him that it was important for Santa to stay hydrated) and a couple baby carrots for the reindeer. My boy would write a note for Santa, and then I’d tuck him into bed and watch The Holiday while I wrapped his presents. In the morning, the cookie and water and carrots would be gone, and he would be so happy.
In the last couple of years, he has still wanted to get in pajamas and make cookies and write the note and all that, but his belief in Santa was starting to wane. This year, I straight up asked him, “what’s the deal, do you still believe in Santa?” He thought for a second and said no, but then he asked “Can we still bake cookies?”
That interaction is what it’s like to have a 10-year-old in a nutshell. He may not believe in Santa anymore, because Santa is for little kids. But he’s not ready to give up the tradition of spending time with me in the kitchen, cracking eggs and stealing handfuls of chocolate chips while I mix the batter. There’s a constant battle of watching them grow up and wanting that, but then still seeing glimpses of them being little and wishing you could go back for just a second.
I wrote about this on Halloween, but I think it’s even more true right now. Santa is one of the last pieces of being a little kid, and when they give that up, it hurts a little bit. Of course I’m glad to not have to pretend Santa still exists, but if it meant that he was still my baby boy for a little bit longer, I’d suck it up. He’s growing up so fast y’all. There are no traces of baby fat in his cheeks anymore, and he’s wearing men’s shoes. I’ve gone from Mommy, to Mom to Bruh in what feels like five minutes. I give him a hard time about still playing with Thomas trains, but they’re one of the last hold-outs of his toddler years. One minute he’s watching old episodes of Peppa Pig, and then he’s asking me if I’ve seen the most recent episode of Family Guy. We only have one more year of elementary school; next year he’ll be 11. There’s already fine hair on his legs, and I have to keep haranguing him about remembering to wear deodorant. He still wants little kid bandages, but it’s because he slid across the asphalt playing soccer with his friends at recess.
My mother warned me that it goes by fast, but fuck. The constant back and forth of being the mom of a tween is breaking my heart. How can I be freaking out about puberty when the kid in question still sleeps with a bed full of Paw Patrol stuffies? I’m folding boxer-briefs, but right next to them are his little Minecraft undies. I can’t pick him up without feeling like I’m going to pass out, but he still grabs my face to give me a kiss on the cheek while we sit next to each other on the couch.
The magic of the holiday season just hits different when you’re a parent. I had stopped caring about Christmas, and then I had my son. And now I love sharing that magic with him. But pretty soon, it’s going to lose its shine for him, just like it did for me. I don’t think I’m ready, but if I’ve learned anything about being a parent, you’re never ready.
What are some of your holiday traditions? Matching pajamas? A special dinner? Tell me!
Queer Mom Chronicles is a column where I examine all of the many facets of queer parenthood through my tired mom eyes.