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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?)
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.
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!
We both played!
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?”
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.
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.
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!
When he became a little bigger, we put those new-found muscles to work in the yard!
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!
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.
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.
He is like a lake at sunrise on a still summer morning.
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.
As he grew – with each passing year – he developed into himself more and more. His peace never faltered.
But his mind expanded, and his capacity for all things began to show.
By his senior year, the boy I played video games with in Izmir had been supplanted by a thoughtful, careful and caring young man.
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.