Christmas grows up

Dear friend,

This is not the house I grew up in. It’s been about ten years since we’ve celebrated Christmas in a house that I had ever called “home”. My parents are restless and easily dissatisfied. After trying out a gleaming subdivision, a 20-year-old ranch-style home shaded by trees, and a small rural house in the Sierra foothills, they have now settled in another subdivision even as they dream regretfully about the country-style suburb we lived in while I was in high school (which, also, was not a house that I spent my childhood in). And my dad dreams about the actual countryside as he plans to cash out some of his retirement savings and buy a few acres of property. But they have forced themselves to stay put for a few years, at least, in this suburban town outside of Sacramento. The house is new, stuccoed, and neutral in color like its neighbors. I can look through the window at a freeway carrying shoppers to the nearby mall. I can go for a walk along the paved path that winds through the entire subdivision but passes only a single point of interest, at a patch of wetland where ducks and egrets reside.

Being here does recall, in a sense, what it was like to grow up where I did. It’s just … very suburban. If you came of age in a similar setting and now have a healthy dislike for it, then I don’t need to tell you what that means. For those who are unsure, I mean that my brain feels dulled by boredom and the constant noise of television. I can’t quite remember how I spent my time when I was growing up, once I moved past the age of playing with Barbies. I know that I went to stores and malls quite often, after getting a driver’s license, even when I had nothing to buy. When I hung out with friends, we’d listen to music—we were totally rockers because we favored the “alternative” radio station, have sleepovers in a backyard tent, and put on goofy shows in front of my dad’s video camera. When I was alone, though, what did I do at home? I’m recalling a few things: I learned HTML and built myself a website. For a while I published a e-zine on AOL. I met strangers in chat rooms. I gorged myself on photos and news articles of my favorite band, Third Eye Blind. I practiced art photography while wandering through our neighborhood. I read books and played with our dog.

There are no friends left in Sacramento, no more pets, no more Internet obsessions, no more compulsion to shop. I make my visits short when I come down here, for reasons unconnected to how much I care for my family. There just isn’t much life here, generally speaking.

But it is Christmas today, and that has broken up the routine. Festivities ran behind schedule. My brother has his own family now, after getting married this summer. My parents and I waited for them to finish playing Santa at their own home before we all gathered to open presents here. The day didn’t feel particularly special until we were all together watching Madison open her gifts. There is a new kind of magic this year with my niece around. Next year, her sister Macy will be with us too. We are passing Christmas on to the next generation.


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