I work full-time. My husband works full-time. So with all the bell-ringing and tinsel, the hustle and bustle of the holidays are very hectic for us. Our kids are still in grade school, which means that they have all the wonder of the festive season in their eyes – and a lot of shuttling from after-school holiday concert practice to decorate the town square tree to baking gingerbread at the nursing home. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I wouldn’t mind if someone else did the chauffeuring for a week or two.

On December 23, we’ll head back east to New Hampshire to spend the actual day of Christmas with my in-laws. They have this great house – all the nooks and crannies for the kids to play hide-and-seek and create shows for us – they love that, and their grandparents are so proud. Me, I’m glad for the momentary R&R.

So away we’ll go. Over the river and through the woods. My mother-in-law will make duck, and my father-in-law will tell us that English fruit cake builds character, and the kids will have a wonderful time finishing off the tree. It’s idyllic, really.

The only caveat – and I know you could see I was heading for a caveat – is that my folks won’t be there too. They can’t make the trip. They became snow birds nine years ago – that’s northerners who head to Florida in the cold weather. For the first few Christmases, they came back so we could all be together, but I could see how much of a toll the travel took on them, and how, after all that time in a temperate climate, they couldn’t bear the cold anymore.

Those first couple of years when they didn’t come north, and we couldn’t go south (each year, it was a different conflict), were hard, but at least we knew that they are celebrating in style. They decorated the palm tree in their yard with holly and lights, and we toasted them over Skype.

But now – now they’re in an assisted care facility – and a darned good one, let me tell you; I may be busy at work, but I made sure to get down to Florida to help choose the right place for them. Now that they no longer live independently, everything is different. The main thing, I think, is not even that they need help, though they do, but that their schedule is not their own. Meal time is regimented, the home’s activities happen at set times, which all makes sense, of course, but oh how hard it can be for my vibrant mom, and my go-get-’em dad. They used to make the holidays, if you know what I mean. The clothes, the decorations, the presents, the feast – and even expressing gratitude that we could all be together. This time of year used to revolve around them.

Last year, it was really hard to be far away from them, hard to see them at loose ends, not on their own turf. So all year, I’ve been brainstorming about how to make the holidays special for them, and to celebrate together, even if we’re far apart.

Here are our plans – let me know if you have other ideas:

  • We are scheduled to Skype with them at night, when we light our tree, and in the morning, when the kids open their presents.
  • The kids made a “We Miss You, Grandma and Grandpa” video, which is a little goofy, certainly amateur, and very sweet. It’s heartfelt too – they really do miss them.
  • I packed up a big box of our traditional treats (gingerbread people, fruitcake, holiday sugar cookies, and a pineapple – yes, I know they have pineapple in Florida) and enlisted UPS to get it to them in time.
  • In a separate box, so that there’s all the fun of more packages to open, we sent down two of those “toughest crossword puzzle books” – my parents get competitive, so they each need a book; more importantly, they claim the puzzle keeps their brains alive. I bet they’re right. Also some other, more sociable games – Boggle, No Thanks, Jenga (I’m a little ambivalent about Jenga, because of the dexterity required, but maybe it will just be fun to knock the tower down pretty often).
  • In yet another box, I sent down some really scrumptious yarns for my mom, who loves crocheting. And in that same box, to make sure my dad doesn’t feel left out, I included a really intricate model Spanish galleon that needs building. Dad will have to ask one of the volunteers to help him with the most delicate details – that dexterity I was mentioning – but I think he’ll really enjoy the rest.
  • The kids put together a modern day “mix tape” – they loaded an iPod with all the music they think my parents like (they got some of it right), and we sent that down in the food box (that one seemed the most festive). Pretty soon Mom and Dad will be rocking to Beyonce.
  • And then we’ll take pictures in New Hampshire, and send them along right away. And we’re planning on taking a family portrait in all our holiday attire that we’ll blow up and send down afterwards, so they’ll have the memento, even though they couldn’t be there.

I know the facility makes every effort for a festive atmosphere – decorations and a nice Christmas dinner – but it IS really hard to be apart. Thank goodness for all the technology that makes us all a little closer. And for school vacations – we’ll go down to visit during February vacation, and hopefully get in lots of in-person visiting then.