I gave Christmas a fair shot, but I was a bit off my game. A week before, I just picked up any ole’ wrapping paper from the grocery store. While secretly wrapping the gifts, I ran out of paper. Rookie Mom mistake. The Pfeffernusse weren’t spicy enough. I tried to make springerle mold cookies, but those online reviewers were being awfully polite when they mentioned that the dough is “hard to work with.” I made nothing but a mess and tossed the poorly cut cookies. The Swedish tea ring I serve every Christmas morning was lopsided, and I overcooked it. My heart wasn’t in it, clearly.
And then there was the cable tv. On Sunday, I hatched a plan to order cable tv and surprise daughter on Christmas Day, so that she could watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special and the tribute to Matt Smith. They assured me they could send a guy to climb the pole and flip the switch in time. He didn’t come Monday, but I did spend, literally, two hours on the phone and three trips to the cable office to deal with the new modem we needed for this new package. I could have been ruining another batch of springerle cookies in all this time! The next nice person assured me he would come Tuesday. Guess what happens next? All of these nice, but ineffectual, customer service folks screwed me over. I found myself on the phone on Xmas Eve night begging them to send a guy out. I needed to give her that gift, that gift of knowing that the unexpected is possible, that she can have things, just like other people do. I’ve read about people fighting over Cabbage Patch dolls in the Toys R Us, and I always cluck-clucked at the violation of the Christmas spirit, but while on the phone with the cable company I knew what it felt like to want something so badly, for all the wrong reasons. I checked myself and noted that this momentary lapse of reason, too, was a gift.
I played Santa and then sat in the dark living room with the Christmas lights on, and I felt so wretchedly lonely.
And then, on Christmas morning, Daughter cooed at the piles of gifts. (After I ran out of wrapping paper, I just bought a few rolls of shiny red paper and color coded them with ribbons. It looked charming. It looked like I planned it that way.) The kids have given up all pretense of Santa, so they thanked me directly and took their time and tried things out, and hours passed, quietly and in good cheer. I didn’t even buy very much this year, but after every last present was unwrapped, daughter clipped on her new Doctor Who belt, wrapped herself in her new Tardis blanket, draped herself over her pile of presents to gaze at the Christmas tree, while the teenager commented,”These presents are so thoughtful. It’s not just a big pile of gifts. You thought about these things.” And we just sat and soaked all of that in.
We could have called it a day there, but instead we pulled out board games and played, for hours. Literally. Hours. There’s a game called Porto Rico that involved our colonization and establishment of plantations, and Daughter and I thought it would never end. The teenager hoped it would never end, so tickled was he to have someone in for the long haul with him. He asked if anyone would like tea and duly served it. I pulled out the fancy cheeses, and the kids have pronounced Cotswold a favorite cheese. And so it continued, until the sun went down. I whipped up a quiche out of the leftover veggies from the Christmas Eve fondue, seasoned and roasted some potatoes, and baked some tofu for the teenager, who wasn’t going to touch veggies that we’d been poking around in. We lit the candles and ate at the dining room table, and the food was hot, just like a real Christmas dinner.
It was a gentle day, back like we had when they were roly-poly babies and toddlers, when our home was full of kindness and warmth. I got that feeling again, of what it was like to just enjoy one another, to love one another, back before husband got so sick. This Christmas Day, the kids were so comfortable. We tried on this feeling of comfort as if it were a new coat, or a hand-me-down, because it felt new, but familiar. I got the feeling that they felt…safe.
I made one, perfect Old-Fashioned at dinner and stopped there because I wanted to take a sleeping pill later. Daughter and I streamed some old Vicar of Dibley Christmas episodes and nodded off. When I woke up, Christmas was blessedly over and I had a blessed full night’s sleep. I felt like Scrooge when he wakes on Christmas morning, gets on his knees and says, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”
This Christmas was not painful but it was, nevertheless, ponderous. We muddled through and were taken off guard by its gifts. I will keep it in my heart, always.