On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com

On Christmas Spirit

I’m often surprised at the things I’m still learning about myself and about the world around me as I creep ever closer to the half-century mark. I would have thought the learning would be over. I would have expected I’d know whatever there was to know…especially about myself.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Ripples in still water – Washining Lake, Connecticut – 2016

But the mind is a wonderful and confounding thing. Just when you think you have it all figured out, just when it’s all starting to make a little sense, a new neural pathway opens, a connection forms, and you see everything anew.

Since moving to Florida and since Baris has left for university, I’ve spent a lot of time alone. Handan’s new position keeps her full-throttle busy for nearly 12 hours a day, and since Baris isn’t here, it’s just me and the dogs all day, every weekday. I’d love to say the dogs are good company, but as much as I love them, they’re still poor conversationalists, and they’ve really taken a keen interest in sleeping since we’ve taken up the apartment lifestyle.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Penny and Pepper home for the first time – January 2014

Now, alone though I may be, I do keep myself busy. We moved here during our blog’s busy season. Halloween through Christmas is our bread and butter, so I’ve not had a day to spare for anything other than blog work.

But I find myself getting more and more contemplative during those hours where normally Handan or Baris or both used to be home. Not the afterschool hours – though Baris would be home, I’d still be working. It’s the early evening hours.

Five o’clock. Six o’clock. Seven o’clock.

Sometimes I get so busy with stuff that I’m still working when my babes gets home. But more often than not, I’ll knock off around five or six and then I’ll take the girls out, feed them and then start preparing dinner. It’s during these times that I feel the emptiness around me. It is during these time that my mind reflects on anything and everything.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
The eye of winter – 2017

Just the other day I was thinking about Christmas. The season certainly has a different feel here in Florida than it does up North. I’m sure it’s business as usual for native Floridians, but for me, it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit.

And then I started thinking about Christmas spirit.

What is it, anyway?

When I was young, the Christmas spirit moved me and flowed through me every year starting on December first. The whole month was joyous and filled with delicious anticipation of Christmas morning. But that’s the thing. The joy came from the promise of presents. I was happy because I was gettin’ stuff!

Is that Christmas spirit?

I don’t know. Maybe for the little ones with inchoate minds it is. Maybe it’s all we can expect from them. And isn’t Christmas spirit for the parents embodied in the act of giving to their children?

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com

It is more than that, of course. Christmas spirit is enjoyment and anticipation of The Big Day, but it’s also showing kindness and goodwill to our fellow humans, regardless of who they are, what they believe in or how they look. Of course, in a perfect world, we should be practicing those values every day of the year, but the world is far from perfect, so I guess a few weeks of kindness is better than no kindness at all.

Still, the definition, the meaning…I still felt empty when thinking about it. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at kindness and goodwill, but it’s not really moving my Christmas-spirit meter this year.

I guess that’s when it hit me. All my life I’ve waited for Christmas spirit to happen to me. Like it’s a December wind that always blows, and all I needed was to step out into the wind and be caressed by it and suffused with it.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Sassafras – 2016

But the spirit is not a wind, nor does it just happen, at least not to those with seasoned hearts and minds.

It occurred to me as I stood chopping cucumbers in the kitchen that Christmas spirit must be found. It must be discovered, and that discovery takes work.

I don’t mean you have to scale a snowy mountain or dig a hole to China. But it takes self-reflective work. And boy have I had time for self-reflection these past few months!

Since my boy has been away, I’ve not only been keenly aware of his absence (I truly miss him far more than I thought I would), but I’ve come to see my relationship to him in a new light.

I don’t think most biological parents would ever go through what I’ve gone through. I think biological parents just have it from the get-go. But as a stepdad, my feelings for Baris have evolved and strengthened in ways I could have never imagined when I first met him in the summer of 2010 in Izmir, Turkey.

Here was this kid, this dinky little thing…and apparently he was now my son!

(what did that even mean?)

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Izmir, Turkey – 2010

I don’t think I was properly prepared for the responsibility, but Baris didn’t seem to mind. He had his video games, and that was enough for him!

And it was through those games that we began the years-long process of bonding.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Izmir, Turkey – 2010

These are the very first photos of me and my new son. I haven’t seen these in years. When I was thinking of how I would craft this post, I went through an old hard drive that was full of forgotten pictures. Looking at them brought up such powerful emotions! Handan has long been one to cry when looking at a picture of her baby. She gets overcome by a feeling of love so strong that it overwhelms her body and manifests itself as crying. It doesn’t last long, and she’s certainly not sad. She’s just overflowing with love for our boy. I always found that quirk a little funny. Something uniquely Handan (and her mother). But today as I scrolled through the old snapshots, I found myself welling up with tears a few times.

What the heck is happening to me?

(you’re growing, dummy! now shut the heck up and write!)

So I’m going to continue to try to unravel this mystery of Christmas spirit through the lens of time and these old photos. There’s no rhyme or reason to the pictures, and this is only a few of thousands of photos, but they’ll help me tell my story.

Those games were really the only thing we had in common back then!

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Izmir, Turkey – 2010

We both played!

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Izmir, Turkey – 2010

Day and night – he with his portable PlayStation or one of our iPhones, and I holding him in my lap and watching his progress. I remember his favorite phrase that summer was “do you want to watch me play?”

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Izmir, Turkey – 2010

Handan and I still laugh about it today.

After that summer, Baris went back to living with his father in Kazakhstan, and Handan and I went to live and work in Afghanistan. I won’t be talking about those years here, but if you’d like to read about them, you can find the story here.

Baris learned to play guitar, and we would play together.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Glastonbury, Connecticut – Summer 2013
On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Frets and fingers

When Penny and Pepper joined us, he had two new friends. I think he was a little scared of the girls at first, and I think they took him for an equal, but they loved him just the same.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Glastonbury, Connecticut – Summer 2014
On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Pepper taking on more than she can chew – 2014
On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Penny in her favorite place – snout buried in my slipper – 2014

It’s funny – I don’t even remember taking some of these photos, like the one below. This was Halloween 2014, one year to the day after moving into our Connecticut home. Baris and Handan are carving pumpkins with Baris’s neighbor friend Sonny. When this picture was taken, The Navage Patch blog hadn’t even been floated as an idea yet!

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Pumpkin carving – Halloween 2014

When he became a little bigger, we put those new-found muscles to work in the yard!

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Spring 2016

Yardwork – it’s every kid’s archenemy. At least it was for me when I was young! Here’s my boy in a typical I’d-rather-be-gaming work pose. He was helping out with the pond project, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve taken a trip to the dentist over pulling up sod!

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Removing sod – spring 2016

In those early years, I think I saw Baris sometimes more as the little brother I never had and less as a son I was responsible for. I knew he was my stepson and therefore my responsibility, but for a few years, I really didn’t know what that meant. Responsibility is a big word, and it’s one that has taken me many many years to fully understand and grow into.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Baris holding a jar of homemade sauerkraut
On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Baris and his great grandmother (my dad’s mom) share a sundae at the Charcoal Chef in Woodbury, Connecticut – 2014

One thing he had all along was a quiet calm about him – an inner peace. His name means ‘peace’ in Turkish, and I’ve never seen anyone carry a name like he does.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Peace – Washining Lake, Connecticut – 2016

He is like a lake at sunrise on a still summer morning.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Boaty McBoatface – Washining Lake, Connecticut – 2016

He is the yang to his mother’s yin. Handan is powerful, emotional and fiercely driven, and Baris is the calm eye at her center.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Handan at dawn – Washining Lake, Connecticut – 2016

As he grew – with each passing year – he developed into himself more and more. His peace never faltered.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
FLL Robotics tournament – 7th grade

But his mind expanded, and his capacity for all things began to show.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
First day of high school

By his senior year, the boy I played video games with in Izmir had been supplanted by a thoughtful, careful and caring young man.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Baris’s 14th Birthday

I couldn’t be happier with his achievements senior year – his grades, of course – and also his admission to Virginia Tech.

But I was also a little nervous about his departure into the (semi) real world. He’d been a homebody, and I worried that tossing him straight into life might be too much of a shock.

Well, he proved that my worry was misplaced. Not only is he pretty much acing his first semester, but he has made countless friendships and is enjoying every moment of his college experience.

To say that he has made us proud is a disservice to the word. I’m a writer, but I’m at a loss to put into words what I feel when I think about Baris – who he is, where he came from, what he’s become.

Pride is too small a word.

I am overwhelmed by his growth. I am awed by the strength of his character. And I am humbled by his intelligence.

Pride is far too small a word.

And it occurred to me these past few months that there is nothing on earth more important than Baris. It occurred to me that all I do with this blog is for him. Every penny I make goes towards paying for his education. And once that is paid, I will do whatever I can to help him later in life.

I don’t want to hand him life on a silver platter. That would diminish his enjoyment of it, and it would hamper his growth as an individual. But if Handan and I can take away some of the sharp edges of life and lead him around some of the pitfalls, it would ease his burden and ease our minds.

In this respect, I’ve finally caught up to Handan, and I’ve finally grown into my own role as father. It’s a different sort of journey for stepparents, and everyone’s journey is unique, but I do believe that I’ve finally settled into my role and found the purpose of the journey.

So this year, I’ve re-discovered my Christmas spirit. It is the knowledge that I’ve given myself over to the betterment of my son and his future. For once, the holiday isn’t about me, nor do I want any part of it to be. I want everything for Baris…everything. And paradoxically, that has given me everything.

On Christmas Spirit - TheNavagePatch.com
Pepper in the summer sun – 2015
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86 Comments

  1. I so loved this. Got me crying before 9 am. But in a good way! God certainly knew what he was doing when he put your family together. I love your story and I love your writing. I think you should write a book. Truly. You have a gift! Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, Sheri! It was an emotional post to write, that’s for sure! Also had Handan shedding a few last night. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you!

  2. This has been very touching; thank you so much for sharing. Our family had a similar experience when I married my husband when my son was 7 and my daughter 10. They have a father but my husband is their Dad. They are full blown adults now (37 and 40) and he is still their Dad. Thanks for reminding me of the journey!

    1. I married my husband when my daughter’s were 6 and 7… They are now 39 and 40….we live in a ranch style house… so we always have said…. There are no steps in this home! No steps to climb,no stepkids no step dad! Many of our neighbors never knew he was not their”real dad”. He was and is all hands on deck ! (He did 20 years in the Navy)
      I love your crafts, your stories and your family!
      The spirit is there… It just changes with time…
      Merry Christmas! 🎄

  3. Love this! Thank you for always sharing your heart. Christmas is different in Florida. But just remember on Christmas day when you are on your patio eating your Christmas dinner in shorts and flip flops and most of the country is freezing, you’ll realize that you can get used to this!

  4. I don’t subscribe to many blogs. There has to be something to draw me in. The crafts are a nice bonus, but I love good writing. I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. You’re a very good storyteller. You almost always make me chuckle, and I’ve even laughed so hard I’ve cried. Today’s post made me tear up. That’s why I subscribed to your blog. You’re a gifted writer and I appreciate your talent. I wish your and your lovely family a Merry Christmas and hope for more great stories in the new year.

    1. Hi Ronda, thank you so much for this comment! I do love writing and sharing my stories with all of you, and I’m happy you’re here for whatever reason! 🙂

  5. Love this one! Your writing IS beautiful and humorous most times, but this one…this one- cue the tears. You all are certainly blessed to have each other!

  6. You are able to put into writing what most of feel towards our children, whether birth children or step children. My son and my step daughter met each other at the ages of (12 and 16) and they are super close. I love them both so much (they are now 45 and 50) and the grandchildren they have given us are all my grandchildren. Christmas is a time of reflection and sharing time, love and special memories.

  7. Thank you for sharing that story! It was heartfelt and I was brought to tears with the sincere emotion of it. Merry Christmas to you, Handan and Baris! Oh, and of course, Pepper and Penny!

  8. That was so beautifully written and I truly appreciate the words you’ve shared from your heart. I can most definitely relate to what you’ve said as I am a single parent of 4 incredible kids who are my absolute everything. We’ve endured our own obstacles, believe you and me, but we’ve come out stronger in the end. Our journey,too, continues as I watch with worry and anxiety while standing ever so tall with pride as the apron strings of motherhood slowly unravel with hints of an empty nest not far off in the future. This post certainly pulled at my heartstrings. Thank you so much again for sharing. Happy Christmas!

    1. Thank you, Jessica! It’s not easy sometimes, but it’s worth it! Wow, with 4 gone from the house, that really will be an empty nest. Good job for raising them right!

  9. I loved this post so much. I just lost my precious younger brother (he just turned 71 in November) last Saturday suddenly and I’m still reeling from that. I have found as I have gotten older that my thoughts have shifted. I’m 58 this year and when I think of Christmas spirit I find that for me it’s being present in the moment, whatever moment you are having. Allowing yourself to feel the emotions, the memories, the happiness, the sadness, the everything. I feel more generous in December than the other months but I’ve been trying to shift that as well and giving to more charities, helping with more organizations year round rather than just flood them at Christmas. That Christmas song “Where Are You Christmas” from the movie The Grinch with Jim Carrey… there’s the line in it that says “If there is love in your heart and your mind, You will feel like Christmas all the time.” For me, it’s having presence in the moment that will bring that excitement. Being there to share the moments with my grandkids, going on little weekend getaways with my husband where we, just the two of us, are present with each other, and having heart to heart talks with my two grown children so they can share their hopes, dreams, and fears with me and just focusing on their words in that moment. I think that’s the best way to feel that Christmas spirit all the time.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your brother, Karen. A death around the holidays is just so much more difficult to handle, and I wish you strength during these days leading up to Christmas. I like that line from the Grinch – thank you for sharing it. I do hope you and your family manage to find joy this Christmas, despite the sad news.

  10. Yours is the only blog I subscribe to. Thanks for sharing your ups and downs and being a real person. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  11. I think this is the essence of being a parent: wanting the best for your children. Wanting to ease their burdens, hoping they don’t have to go through the same struggles or pain you once did. Although I don’t have any kiddos (biological or otherwise) I’ll never understand the type that thinks “well I struggled so why shouldn’t they? Why should they have it so easy?”

    If at Christmas time people do at least one nice thing to help someone else that they wouldn’t do throughout the year, then I think we’ve succeeded. And I think maybe that’s the difference between Christmas as a child vs as an adult – going from thinking about yourself to thinking about someone else..

    1. I agree, Jay. We want to ease the struggle of adulthood but still make sure he has drive and motivation to work towards betterment of self and family. There is tremendous satisfaction in achievement, but I wonder how many trust fund adults ever get to feel it? A also agree that kind deeds around the holiday are a hallmark of Christmas spirit. I would love to see it spread throughout the year. For those who donate in December or lend a helping hand, maybe try it twice a year, then once a quarter, then every month. Now that would be some year-round Christmas spirit!

  12. Looks like you found your Christmas spirit, Bud…along with a bunch of great photos! That one of Baris with his great-gran is too cute. Thank you for giving us a respite from the busy-ness of this month. We all need a moment to breathe and reflect sometimes.

  13. Your story brought tears to my eyes…Thank you. Any man can be a father, but a dad is always there through happy and sad times, and you are truly a Dad. You have a great talent for writing and I’m looking forward to more stories in the coming year. We wish you and your family – Penny and Pepper too – a Merry Christmas and a Healthy Happy New Year. My first dog as a child was a mixed terrier named Penny and our last dog was a Shepherd named Pepper.

  14. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your family with us. Your pride is well placed in your wife and son. Have a happy Christmas. x

  15. Thanks for sharing your personal feelings. What a special family!!
    Merry Christmas to the three of you!! May you all be blessed in the years ahead.

  16. well..if you are out of words.. I’m full of tears! What a great story.!!!
    Enjoy your son…I love happy stories!!!

  17. I can totally relate to what you wrote about Baris. I too am a step-parent. I received twin daughters, just turned 30, when they were 5. Although I am not called mom often as they too have a mother, I am Mom at some of the best and worst of times. I have four beautiful grandchildren now and they are mine. I have always said, they are my daughters of the heart, not blood. Merry Christmas to you, Handan, and Baris! Enjoy all your moments.

  18. Welcome to Parenthood! In my mind, and heart, once you’re a parent, everything you do is for the child. They become your raisin d’etre! Your purpose! This year, my son is also in his first year of college and is (unfortunately for me) spending his winter break in Florida with his dad’s family. But I think he’ll be having fun so I am happy for him. Thank you for sharing. I always enjoy your writing!

  19. Ahhh, Greg, well you went and made me cry, which, I must say, is not my usual reaction to your posts (usually, I’m chuckling out loud or even guffawing)! For a normally funny guy, you’re very thoughtful and pretty darned sweet, ya know that? Your family is blessed to have you and Baris is lucky to have such a wonderful father – step or no. Your love for him and your babes shines through every word. I’m sure you’re both counting down the days till he arrives home for Christmas break (which will hopefully be a little less dramatic than his Thanksgiving homecoming!). Happy holidays to you and yours.

  20. Thank you for this heartfelt post. It has me doing a little (a lot) of reflecting of my own. I have stepchildren; however, they are grown and I have not bonded like I really think I should. You were blessed to have Baris (love his name) grow up with you and have a real history with him. I see the pictures of him and I can really see that he is the epitome of his name; Peace. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you Handan and Baris. God Bless!

  21. This is truly wonderful. I’m a Mom and a Step-Mom. At first, I just maneuvered around my step daughters. Then, they each got in some teenage trouble. I can’t say that I wanted to help, but more that I got elected. Neither of their parents seemed to know what to do to help, and I did. That was it! I did what I would have done for my own kids because I just couldn’t let them fall irrevocably. From that point on, I counted two more stripes on my “Mom” uniform. Now grown, they care for me in a way that only success over adversity can engender. As you rightly said, it’s been a wonderful journey.
    Congratulations to you all.

  22. What a well written, heart tugging post. I enjoy reading your work. I can understand not finding the words to fit the situation. No one realizes what being a parent is (I dislike term step parent either you are committed or you aren’t) Loving a child is undefinably life changing. I’m so glad that you grew into your role and have the wisdom to recognize the changes in your life and appreciate them. It is both a blessing and a curse. Parenting is as the saying goes watching your heart walk around outside your body and doing everything you can to protect it while letting it grow.
    Thanks for sharing

    1. I agree, Barbara. Since day one, Baris has been my son, never my stepson (well, only when filling out official forms, lol). Step just has a stigma – like the child is lesser or the parent is inherently wicked. I hadn’t heard that saying before, but it is fitting! Merry Christmas!

  23. Beautifully written post..It’s said that anyone can be a father, but it takes a special man to be called dad. Have a wonderful Christmas … filled with love, family and many new memories…

  24. Such a beautiful, heartfelt post❤️ Reading it filled me with the spirit of Christmas too. Thank you for sharing.
    Cindy

  25. Beautiful expression of the true meaning of Christmas and how the love of a father grew into his willingness to sacrifice him for all the children he loves to be able to enter into the family of love forever. “For God so loved the whole world, that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life”. John 3:16

  26. What a wonderful post! You are courageous to share such an intimate look at yourself, and I am grateful you did so. Your introspection has brought things in my life, both different and alike to yours. My kids are both mine biologically, but some things are the same. It led to internal thoughts that brought my love for both my now grown kids to the forefront of my mind. Thank you again! And I read some of your experiences in Afghanistan (I will read more later, after digesting this). I’ve had trouble getting into The Spirit this Christmas due to health issues in my family, but have been slowly realizing the many many gifts that surround me, both material and spiritual. Seeing that others also put mental effort into their feelings is part of my realization of my own responsibility and gift to do the same. We are in control of how we face the world, and that is good. Again thank you for a thoughtful morning.

    1. Hi Kim, I’m sorry for the late reply! Baris arrived home the other day, and we’ve all been a way from the computers for a few days! Thank you for your comment. I hope that you’re able to get into the spirit this year. Sometimes I guess it does take a concerted effort. We wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas!

  27. What a lovely story. I truly enjoy your writing (and the projects are a nice bonus).
    Happy holidays and above all a healthy 2022 for all of you.

  28. Such a lovely piece. It takes a special man to be a stepfather and I do believe you’ve aced that role! I’m sure Baris has learned a lot from you about what it takes to be a man and a wonderful father. You and Handan have done a great job as parents.
    I really enjoy your blog…not just for all the great projects but for the stories. You’re a fantastic writer! Have you ever thought about or have you written any stories or novels?
    Merry Christmas and a marvelous New Year!

    1. Thank you so much, Susan! I hope he’s learned from the good and the bad! I haven’t written anything besides these blog posts, but I really do hope to get the time to do so one day!

  29. Wowza! You wrote my heart with this one! We mostly raised my husbands 2 boys. Unfortunately my husband was at the bottom of a bottle for a lot of it (he’s not now, thankfully) and their mother wanted to be the fun one. I’ve always said, you just do what you do, and that’s what I did. It was hard, it wasn’t fun a lot of the time, but I have one that calls me Mom which makes my heart swell each time. When I hear them talk about the memories we made, I know I at least did something right. The spirit is there, but sometimes it whispers. Thank you for your heart and sharing your family and stories with us.

    1. I’m so happy to hear that you not only raised two great kids, but you also got your husband back. Kudos to you for seeing it through, Shannon! 🙂

  30. Oh, how I have missed this side of you! Crafts are all well and good and fun, but your writing is what holds our hearts. The spirit of Christmas is love and you share that in every piece you write. All year round. Love and Merry, Merry Christmas to you, Handan and Baris!
    – Derry

    1. Hi Derry! Thank you so much! I also enjoy writing my Yaps. I’ll try to write more, now that “busy season” is coming to a close and the Idea Machine (aka Handan) is switching into 2022 mode. 😀

  31. As I read this my son has just told me was typed Covid positive. With a shot no less. Then he broke it to me his almost 3 year old twins have it. Well gamma videoed them to day so I could see faces and body movements. My son does not look good. Jack is full of vinegar. Lucy coughed all night and has brown spots under her blue eyes but she was Miss Chatterbox today.
    They were watching Blippi. You haven’t lived til you have seen him. But I asked Lu if she wanted to see my tree so I took the phone out to the living room. She saw the presents under the tree. Daddy gamma has presents for me and Bubby and you daddy. Mind you Presents was loud and clear. My heart overflows. My heart sighs for you and Barrister too. The kids can’t come for Christmas. Quarantined. I told them I will keep the tree and lights up until they can come.
    I litterly saw her shoulders relax. So little but so I can do it myself. Little people to nurture and watch with wonder while they grow. I am glad Barris is fine at college. You raised him right. Independence. You did.

    1. Thank you for this, Jody. We pray your family makes it through with no issues. It may not be on the 25th, but you will have your Christmas when all are well again. Merry Christmas to you and your family!