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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

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About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to the share the good times and discuss the challenges of...  (More)

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Remembering my dad at Christmas

Uploaded: Dec 18, 2013
My dad was born on Christmas Day. We speculate that his confidence and big personality came at least in part from a childhood spent thinking that everyone was celebrating his birthday.

My dad loved holidays and everything oversized. He always overestimated the height of our ceiling when purchasing a tree, which necessitated lopping off the top and bottom, leading to a tree the shape of an enormous long- needled bush barely contained in the picture window nook. I remember prickly evergreen scented sessions of practicing as the tree impinged on the piano bench. My dad was thrilled when he and my mom bought a house with a cathedral ceiling so he could have a tree that truly towered over the room. We shrouded the tree in large multi-colored lights, sparkly strips of tinsel, and an eclectic collection of ornaments ranging from family heirlooms to plastic treasures found in cereal boxes. Dad regaled us with stories of the Christmas trees from his childhood with real candles, magically unveiled in the German tradition on Christmas Eve, with dolls arranged beneath in a wintery scene. At the stroke of midnight, all the dolls came to life and commenced sledding and skating.

With my dad, there was not only magic but also an element of danger and excitement at Christmas time with skate sailing on the lake, tobogganing at breakneck speed on steep golf course fairways, and consuming raw eggs in homemade eggnog. We even had a tradition of kissing the turkey goodbye before it went in the oven!

I share my dad's tendency towards excess during the holidays, although not the fondness for tinsel and raw turkey kissing. I pack our schedule with holiday events, write a couple of hundred cards, buy our kids too many gifts, fill our home with guests and always add one more side dish necessitating an additional umpteenth trip to the grocery store. My excesses confound my husband. Only about half the citizens of his native land celebrate Christmas, where it is a two day religious holiday with simpler traditions, not an entire season of festivities.

My dad passed away about a year and a half ago, so this will be our second Christmas dinner not ending in cake, candles and singing happy birthday to him. Since our older kids are studying and working overseas, we are going to meet them in Europe. My dad's great grandfather was a brewer who immigrated to Milwaukee from Germany 150 years ago. My family is going to experience Christmas in Germany in the snow and cold, visiting the Christmas markets and enjoying food, crafts and other traditions that my dad cherished from his childhood. We hope it will help us remember all the joy he brought to every Christmas.

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Karen, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

This is a beautiful piece, Sally. I think it is a great idea to do something different this Christmas, while you are still thinking about him and celebrating his life. I hope that you have a wonderful trip!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 9:13 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks so much, Karen. Enjoy the holidays!!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 9:24 am

Another nice post, Sally. Sounds like your Dad was larger than life. Men like that leave a large, gaping hole when they are gone. I am so sorry for your loss. The holidays are so hard. I'm glad you are taking the family to experience Germany at Christmas. Enjoy your trip!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 9:30 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Erin, for reading and commenting. You know that "hole" well, too. Have a great time on your trip!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by TulsaNative, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 9:38 am

A wonderful story of tradition and enduring love!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 10:19 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks TulsaNative,
Enjoy your family time over the holidays!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by CherylBac, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 10:26 am

Such a lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing these treasured memories.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 10:36 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks Cheryl,
Have a wonderful time with your extended family. I'd love to hear what memories your grandmother might have of her childhood Christmases!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by A mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 11:16 am

What a beautiful piece. Merry Christmas Sally


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 11:31 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, a Mom! Merry Christmas to you!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by BLH, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 11:35 am

Safe travels and have fun making memories. Some day your kids might blog about their Christmas in Germany. How fun it will be to read their perspective!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks BLH,
We've has some experience with reading a kid's perspective as our daughter has written about our family life for the high school publications. It keeps us humble (and laughing at ourselves!) Have a wonderful break, and enjoy the time with the grandparents!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura, a resident of another community,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm

It's clear your children will cherish their memories of the magical holidays you've created as well, Sally. Another gift that your father left you - and them.
Enjoy the Gluhwein!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Debbie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Love the story Sally that sounds so much like your Dad. See you in Munich :)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Selina, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 6:23 pm

What better gift for a child at Christmas-time than magic mixed with excitement and a little danger! Passing the traditions and stories along is a beautiful way to honor your father. Frohe Weihnachten!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 6:58 pm

It is so wonderful to pass on the traditions from the past at this time of year regardless of which heritage(s) the family comes from. Whether they are religious, traditional, or just unique to your family, these traditions become more and more important to the children as the older they get. Some of the foods I have made over the years at Christmas are so important that they want to share them with their friends so we all have to help make big batches so that they can be given away. Music that comes out at this time of year is another big tradition and even getting out a record player (yes, we have one which gets hooked up when necessary) to play some old Christmas favorites and have a singalong is still possible even for teenagers if you do it each year.

Starting new traditions is a good idea too, but the repetitive traditions every year mean that even the advent calendars and nativity scenes they have had since they were babies still have to come out and be "played with" by each of them at least once before they get packed away again.

It is about the one time of year that even a teen likes to remember that they are still a child at heart and wants a full stocking and the pleasure of opening gifts with a hoard beside them to scurry away to their room.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi Laura,
Thanks for reading and the kind words. Sampling the Gluhwein is definitely on the itinerary!

Hi Deb,
Thanks for commenting, looking forward to making memories in Munich!

Thanks, Selina! Enjoy the Christmas magic in your household!

Dear Mother of 4,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Traditions are very grounding for the kids, all the more important in the unsettling teen years. I used to worry about how to "establish" traditions for the family, but, as you have described, the kids let us know what is meaningful to them.
We still put out the collection of Christmas picture books each year. Even though our youngest is 11, I see them all thumbing through their favorites.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Dec 19, 2013 at 6:29 am

Ah yes the Christmas books -- just turning the pages without having them all fall to the floor -- a moment of calm during the busy season.

Great piece, Sally! Great memories from the past and this year brand new memories in the making!!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:20 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks LJ for reading and commenting! Looking forward to making those memories!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T., a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

Such a lovely remembrance and a good reminder of what the season is all about!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Dec 20, 2013 at 11:20 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Jessica! Enjoy your twins' first Christmas!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gail, a resident of Los Altos,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Hi Sally.
Nice piece, now I know from where you got your lively spirit. See you in dance!



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