As I watch my grandchildren gather around the tree to inspect the packages, lifting, smelling, shaking each one, I think of how symbolic our celebration is at Christmas—the way that we offer gifts, receive them, and count them. What are we measuring? Zoe and Miles are a good example of this: “Nana, do you love Miles more than me? He has six presents and I have four. You need to give me two more.”

This leads to several discussions about whether she actually believes that I love him more and her less—reluctantly she says she knows it’s not true. But does she really?

It must be a universal, this doubt. When I grew up, I observed the ongoing conflict between my grandmother and mother, first the arched eyebrows, the tension in the room, the buildup to a rollicking fight, the explosion. I didn’t know it then, but the unfinished business of my grandmother leaving my mother when she was young was the subtext of all fights. It was about failures in love—feeling unloved, feeling guilty. And the struggle not to feel any of it.

It’s a blessing to immerse myself in a holiday with my daughter now, after a delicious train ride from the Bay Area to San Diego. She loves sparkly lights, decorating the tree, the house, the trees outside of the house, making cookies, wrapping presents. I had to learn how to celebrate holidays by watching how other families “did” Christmas, wrapping presents, and holiday food , trying to create a meaningful holiday as a single parent with three children. We had our traditions—cookies, a decorated tree, one present opened on Christmas Eve. Movies and a big dinner on Christmas. Year after year, the echoes of the Christmases of my past would grow dimmer as we created new memories.

It’s important to know that we can heal the past by creating a new present, but for some, the healing will be long, or never. As I watch my grandchildren’s happy putterings about Christmas, I can’t help but think of families who have lost their children, particularly the Sandy Hook families who are grieving the impossible loss of their children. We think too of the broken hearts of everyone who suffers loss. The happiness we feel, interleafed with the awareness of the suffering of others, is a way to dig deeper into the meaning of Christmas and all the holidays of this time of year. To hold in our hearts the whole of humanity, represented by our family. To hold our love with compassion for others, to realize that the wish of everyone is to be happy, to be loved, to be at peace.

 What are your special moments this year? Your blessings?

What traditions are you creating for your family that break from past traditions?


Have a wonderful holiday! And capture your special moments in writing, with photos for future stories!