This year, we planned a Christmas Trip as our chance to share Christmas with far-away family we get to see single-digit times a year (if we’re lucky). It’s a gift to them, and to ourselves, the kind of gift that is steeped in anticipation and frosted with love.

We’re going to be in a setting that is wonderful on all counts. In northern New Mexico, where this part of my family lives, there are mountains and mesas that inspire held breath and large thoughts. Anything is possible out west. And yet, when I’m there, I feel so small, so insignificant, so humble. I stand, 7000 feet higher than at home, and I am at the bottom of a mountain. I can’t help but reflect, in the miracle of New Mexico, how amazing it is that humans do so much, how the world is a canvas, how we are so very blessed.

Then there is the company we keep in New Mexico. My Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are so very special to me. They have been a different kind of support in my life: they have been the people to tell me “GO FOR IT!” (with all caps) on silly expeditions of academic and intellectual proportions. They have rooted and cheered and loved, all without exception and without practical restraints. I was raised by people who are wary of silliness, of experiment, of non-practical endeavors (like college or pursuing a dream).

Since becoming a parent a couple of years ago, I have come to appreciate my aunt and uncle even more, and I have come to feel a deeper mourning for their childlessness. I have reflected a lot on this in the last years, and I have accepted it. Isn’t that funny? I am surrounded by dear, wonderful people who have not been blessed with their own children. I always have been. And now, as I start my own family and feel the joy and wonder pour forth, my natural inclination is to share, to give, to light their lives with the smiles and hugs and daily miracles that surround me.

My aunt and uncle are scientists, and they’re good at what they do. We don’t really understand it well, and that’s OK. (We’re not supposed to. Some of it is classified. Isn’t that fun?) What we understand is our common language of interests, of love, of companionship.

What better place to spend Christmas?

I have been trying not to think to much about this trip, aside from the necessary arrangements, because I do not want to ruin the joy of the short days ahead of us. I want to savor the visit that will not be long enough, that will leave me hungry for more, that will be a bright star in a desert of waiting for the next one.

But now we’re within a few days of leaving. I have piles of this-and-that to pack, suitcases to reorganizes, suitcases to borrow, last minute details to finalize, and a stomach of flutters and shimmies and jumpings-up-and-down. I can’t wait! I remember so clearly the last Christmas I spent with them.

I remember waiting by the window. “Will they be here soon?” I must have asked that repeatedly. It was a special night: I got to stay up late, and we were expecting my aunt and uncle – the young ones, the ones who were cool and who traveled with dogs and always, always, triggered something in me, whether with a book or a conversation or an experience. They were also much younger than my parents, and that was to their benefit. When I was young, they would romp around with me. Now that I’m older, they understand in a different way than my parents.

The branches from the Christmas tree scratched my face as I kept looking out of the big picture window. I remember leaning against the window, feeling its coldness, with my feet planted on the yellow plaid couch (yeah, it was something).

This year, we will cut down a tree from the national forest, and we will decorate it – and we will see it all through new eyes, as my daughter, for the first time, sees the joy of Christmas, feels the excitement, knows the love the season represents. We’ll be in the coziest possible setting, with much-loved family.

Saying the season is about family is so…expected. This year, I feel the newness of that reality and the anticipation of a ten-year-old waiting at the window.