During my Black Friday online shopping, I tossed a few reduced-price holiday kitchen towels into my Crate and Barrel shopping cart. When we opened the box, daughter cooed, “Ooh, Mommy, you’ve really got the Christmas spirit.”
She sounded more surprised than I was.
Last Saturday I decided, on the spur of the moment, to attend the annual holiday craft fair. As I put on my coat, it occurred to me that I should have called a friend. We could have gone to the craft show, stopped for coffee, caught up, made an afternoon of it. But I just went alone. All the vendors were there from previous years, including the wood turning guy, who made that beautiful rolling pin that Husband and I dithered over, for years, until we splurged. It was totally worth it. That rolling pin is great. It wasn’t easy to see him, though, reliably there in his booth, year after year. The building was also the site of Husband’s memorial service. Let’s just say, this was not an easy craft fair for me. I ran into people, who were invariably with their families, or with a friend. There I was, alone.
At the end of the day I peeked on Facebook to see that many people had spent the day in a Currier & Ives painting, surrounded by the warmth of their families, laughter, friends, husbands capably setting up the tree.
Note to self: stop doing that.
In the course of my solo shopping I picked up a few things that I mailed out to relatives on Monday morning. It felt good to give, even if it was just a little.
This weekend is the opening of Daughter’s play. All week, she has been losing her voice. She’s been so worried. She’s performing with a professional acting company, and she needed her voice. When she awoke Friday morning with her eyes swollen, I made her stay home. Her science test can wait. I pumped her with throat-comforting tea made by a local tea lady, each cup mixed with a generous dose of honey. I continued dosing her with the over-the-counter meds. Cough drops, ginger ale, an episode of Downton Abbey in bed. By late morning she was much improved and I figured we might as well get a tree.
Her rehearsal and performance schedule is so rigorous that I’ve hardly seen her in recent weeks. I’m going to get a tree this year, but I’m not going to do it without her. I figured this sick day was the most time I’m going to spend with her. So we bundled up and drove out to the tree farm. There was one couple there finishing up their purchase, then a young guy pulled up after us. We found ourselves in country-time, with folks chatting as if there’s nothing better to do. Once the chatting with the couple stopping, the tree guy turned to the guy who’d arrived after us. Maybe the young guy had gone home to get cash and they were resuming an earlier transaction. Anyway, realizing he wasn’t getting to us anytime soon, we wandered away from the display trees toward the bundles of trees lying on the ground. I was worried about the tree set-up at home, not sure if Daughter and I could do the tree wrangling on our own. We picked up a tree together, and it was so much lighter than I’d expected. I laughed. With a little heave-ho and wrestling with branches, I could even do it on my own if I had to. As we stood there, with the tree standing, we were like, ‘This is a great tree!” even better than the ones on display. So, thanks, got-all-the-time-in-the-world tree farmer, for welcoming us into your time warp. The 7’ tree slid into the back of the car with the seats down, so we didn’t even have tie-the-tree-to-the-top-of-the-car excitement. During our turn chatting with the tree guy, he told us that ours gives off a citrus scent. We enjoyed that scent on the ride home, with snowy hills all around us, and the tip of the tree poking between the front seats.
I put on a jazzy Christmas music station on Pandora. We got the tree upstairs and in the stand, no problem, and the lights strung up. Daughter organized all the ornaments into categories on the dining room table. She ooh’d and ah’d, just like you’re supposed to. She got a chuckle at some of the crafty kid ornaments that came home from school over the years, laughing at her own youth. There was an atrocious handmade Santa that we can’t account for. We have no idea who made it, or why. We have pronounced him a stowaway.
There was a cast party scheduled after the show, so I gave her a Christmas present early–a folksy, knit Hannah Andersson dress (on sale, natch). She held it up, her eyes bright. She is just so appreciative, of everything. She teaches me so much. And she looked so pretty in it.
By the time the tree was decorated and she was showered and in her new dress, we still had a few hours until the next dose of Mucinex and Call for actors. “How about we play a game in the living room?” I suggested. “With you?” she chirped. She dashed upstairs with Mastermind. I guess it’s been a long, long time since we’ve just sat and played a game together. We used to do it all the time, as a family. In the past year and a half I haven’t had the spirit for reindeer games.
I dropped her off for her early call and had nearly two hours to kill, alone, in this tiny nearby town. I browsed the few shops, then I hit the local restaurant, which is surprisingly gourmet for this tiny town. I could sit at the bar, all casual like, and order a drink and an appetizer. But the bar is the first thing you see, and I’m not ready for folks to see me drinking alone at the bar. So it seemed much more appropriate to request “Table for one, please.” I snagged a table tucked away, where I wouldn’t be on display and I couldn’t really see the rest of the dining room. I settled in and enjoyed it. The food was delicious. I savored it. I found a book in the car that I’m assigning next semester, so I read that between courses. It wasn’t so bad, really. There might have been people I knew in the main dining room, but I walked out of there with purpose. There was a couple I knew waiting for their table, and I chatted with them, as if it wasn’t at all weird that I was leaving a restaurant by myself. I sat by myself at the show, too, but right behind the director, so we got to catch up, and I got to gush over all the improvements they’ve made to this show. Besides wanting to burst into tears, it was fine. One of the other moms came to talk to me at intermission. It was nice of her to do that. It began with standard mom talk, but soon we rambled into a genuinely witty conversation that left us laughing as the house lights went down.
This was not a rookie mistake. Last year I had a companion for each of the shows. I even enlisted a friend’s daughter for one of the matinees. I really needed someone at my side last year. This year, I was a lot more comfortable going solo. I can engage with people I run into without melting into a pool of mush, and I’m making my peace with sitting alone. My friends are at an age when they have family commitments. I can’t steal away a friend during prime family time. In ten years, there will be a whole lot of empty nests and social opportunities. For now, though, this is it, and I can do it.
And, look, I’m doing Christmasy things. Our best moments may be instigated by sore throats and slow customer service, but so it goes. We’ve lost the elements of a Currier & Ives painting. But, golly, are we good at facing inconveniences and disappointments and moving past them, and making the best of them, and appreciating the good moments when they arise. We’re good at the moments. The moments are all we have. The moments are all there is.