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An Empty Nester's Christmas Morning

Memories of what once was, thoughts of what's to come

By Greg Daugherty

(This story was originally published on Next Avenue in 2015)

Credit: Thinkstock

The presents are piled under the tree. The stockings hang from the mantle. The Yule log blazes on the TV. The big plastic Santa that my son and I rescued from a dumpster behind the local beauty parlor one long ago January has taken his customary spot in the corner. And my wife and I, up for hours now, watch the clock.

It is 11:18 a.m., Christmas morning.

Just a couple of years ago, the floor would have been a disaster area of discarded gift wrap and ribbons by now — ripped from packages as fast as pudgy little hands could manage. But the little hands, today a lot bigger, are still in bed, and they could be there for hours.

Christmas Days Gone By

Now in their late teens and early twenties, respectively, our son and daughter seem to value the opportunity to sleep in more than whatever awaits them under the tree.

Gone are the days when we'd hear them on the stairs at the first sign of light, if not well before that, and we'd then groggily pull on our bathrobes, start the coffeemaker and hope to observe at least some of the mayhem before it was over.

Gone, too, the milk and cookies set out the night before for Santa (not the plastic one). Ditto the sneaky, pre-Christmas practice the kids called "present hunting," which required us to come up with more inventive hiding places every year. There may still be a forgotten present or two, circa 1999, somewhere deep in the garage attic.

Gone, too, the milk and cookies set out the night before for Santa (not the plastic one).

Now, we could pile their presents on their laps and they'd not give them as much as a shake until Christmas day — and very likely, the afternoon.

A Silent Morning

So, it's just us parents, our bathrobes, and our coffee mugs. The children remain nestled in their beds, visions of who-knows-what dancing in their heads.

We read the newspaper. We watch the digital clock on the DVR. We remind ourselves that we had to get up anyway to let the dogs out; they don't seem to care what day it is as long as there's breakfast.


But, truth to tell, Christmas morning still excites us. In a dignified, parental way, of course. The joy of giving, not to mention receiving!

Did I get the camera lens I have been hoping and hinting for? Is there any black licorice in my stocking? Will my wife enjoy her new lint roller?

Season's Gratitude

While we may be wistful for the days when the kids were little and padded downstairs in their footie p.j.s, we are grateful as well — grateful to have them safely under our roof and back in their rooms again, if only for their winter break from college.

If we learned anything over our years as parents, it's that everything with kids is just a phase, and every phase is succeeded by some other phase. We reminded ourselves of that fact many times, especially when they were sick or disheartened or angry with us. It's true of the good things as well. We know that they're just a phase, too.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

Before long, our kids will probably have their own families, homes and piles of presents on Christmas morning. Then it will really be just us.

When that happens, will we live in this same house? Will we bother with a tree? Will the big plastic Santa still get to come down from the attic? Will we hang our two stockings all by themselves?

Or, will the scene shift to one of their homes? I can sort of picture it already: my wife and I in the guest room bed, our bathrobes at the ready, listening for the sound of eager little feet on the stairs.

Greg Daugherty is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and retirement who has written frequently for Next Avenue. He was formerly Editor-in-Chief at Reader's Digest New Choices and Senior Editor at Money magazine. Read More
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