Tomorrow is Daddy Christmas Day with the kids, a peculiar holiday familiar to all single dads. This year is not my turn to have them on the 25th, so we're pretending that tomorrow is really Christmas. In fact, we've been pretending so well I actually found myself wondering about where the midnight Mass is tonight. Santa is making a special stop; I think he might have been here already, the stockings are full and somebody's already been into the cookies and chocolate milk we left out (burp).
Being back in Austin we've been reviving some of our old Christmas traditions that are different from the ones we had in New Orleans. We went out to Elgin to cut down our own tree, the same place we've been going since Liam was a toddler. We stopped at the 290 Cafe for our Chicken Fried Universe, but unlike past years we didn't see the eerily Santa-like biker dude having breakfast at the counter.
We went to the Zilker Trail of Whatever It Is This Year, and though the tree was as fabulous and as dizzying as ever, the scaled-down event was kind of a bummer. And tonight we swung 37th Street; I had heard that a lot of the original residents who started the wacky lights tradition there had moved, but I wasn't prepared for how much of a let-down it was. Half the houses were dark, several were for sale, and only two or three houses were making an effort at anything spectacular.
I think the kids are learning a little bit about how you can't ever go back. The Austin they left three years ago doesn't exist any more. There are more and more condos. Old traditions are dying. Austin is the kind of city that will break your heart if you're the kind of person who likes some things in your life to be timeless. Watching this city change is like losing body parts a little at a time...lose a finger when the Trail of Lights goes...lose a foot when 37th Street goes dark...I lost half my heart and Austin lost most of its soul when it tore down Liberty Lunch to build an office building. Nothing stays the same. Things change so much faster here than they do in New Orleans.
But tomorrow we'll do our standard stuff. We'll unwrap presents and listen to Christmas music. We'll eat too much candy in the morning. We'll have friends over later for Christmas gumbo made from the turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving, we'll watch football if we can find somebody who's got the Saints on, we'll go to a couple of dinner parties. We'll have pie.
And then Sunday they'll go back to their mother's until next year, and I will learn the beginnings of a brand new tradition. For the first time in my entire life, on Christmas Eve, I will go to bed in an empty house, and when I wake up Christmas morning (or afternoon, depending) it will still be an empty house. I could go to New Orleans to be with family, but I have to be back the day after Christmas and the short visit isn't worth the expense. And as I learned over Thanksgiving last year, being around other people's kids on a family holiday when my kids are far away doesn't make that holiday easier to take; it makes it harder.
The trick is to soak up enough holiday joy and kid time tomorrow to tide me over until New Years. I hope it works.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.