I grew up in Syracuse, which just experienced 97 consecutive hours of snow. My first experience of Christmas in Miami was on video. Watching Andi and Jim on their front lawn, wearing shorts and t-shirts, fighting with the water guns they'd just gotten under the tree, I immediately decided Christmas in Miami did not exist.
I moved here in 1998. Sometimes there were decorations and a tree, sometimes not. Sometimes we'd eat at the in-law's, sometimes a friend's, sometimes at the brother-in-law's, and sometimes at home. We always exchanged gifts, stuffed stockings, listened to holiday music, drank egg nog, and spread holiday cheer, but nothing in thirteen years of semi-tropical merriment filled me with the excitement and joy I always associated with Christmas up north snow or no snow.
Supposedly it's bad trying to relive your childhood through your own children. You get the high you used to feel by seeing something through their eyes, which is fine, but the danger is you might end up resenting the children for not having all the fun and happiness you remember (or imagine you remember).
Well, screw the danger. Whether it was Dylan, Becky, or the way the three of us have become a family, I now know Christmas comes to Miami.
We opened our gifts Christmas morning. Dylan, who wants to be an immediate expert at everything he tries, became frustrated with the Beyblades he got. If you're unfamiliar, Beyblades are the dramatic re-imagining of tops. You spin them together in a plastic arena to battle, and the last one spinning is the winner.
Beyblades are for ages eight and up, and they're tough for little fingers to put back together when they fall apart. I warned Dylan if he threw another fit about the Beyblades, I'd put them away for two years, until he was old enough to use them. I was preparing breakfast for a crowd, Becky was frantically cleaning, and if he wanted to play instead of helping, he needed to do it without the drama.
As Christmas approached, Dylan has been a handful and a half. Both Becky and I have wanted to cancel Christmas at least once. One fine day, after blowing most of a paycheck on Santa's toys, he decided it was time to see who was in charge around the house while mommy wasn't around. I stormed into his room and yelled, "Guess what? I fucking AM Santa Claus! Unless you want me to bring everything back and use the money to fly your mother and I to New Orleans, you better clean your goddamn room NOW!"
Well, no. But I thought about it. Hard. A few mornings later, Becky and he screamed at each-other. Both of them ended up crying and shaking with anger and frustration.
We told ourselves he'd be better once Christmas finally got here.
Of course, Christmas morning, Dylan threw another fit when the Beyblades fell apart. I had to put them away, and his snit became a crying tantrum. Becky and I didn't get upset with him for ruining Christmas, imagining our childhood selves as dancing sugar plums of joy. I hugged him and told him it didn't mean we didn't love him. Becky invited him to play with the piles of other toys Santa brought.
Parenting is one of those things you'll never understand unless you experience it yourself. By extension, you can't understand your own parents without being a parent yourself. You might think you know how you feel about your parents, but being a parent will cast those feelings in a new light. I've never felt closer to my family than while forming my own.
The Quiroga Clan joined us for breakfast, as well as Carroll, and it was beautiful.
When they left, Becky and I enjoyed our first Christmas waking in the same house.
After twelve years in Miami, Christmas finally found me.