I’m at a loss for words this month but I suppose that’s to be expected. Christmas is like moving but twice in one month. It involves enormous boxes, pulling things down from the rafters, unpacking, wrestling with memories, and lots of heavy lifting. In four weeks I’ll be doing the reverse but with five extra pounds. I call it Jiggle all the Way. I’m not exactly sure how you’ve stored your decorations, traditions, and expectations of Christmas but many of mine are packed with bubble wrap, bits of anxiety, and horribly fond memories of my Mom. It’s as if I had this tiny cloud of witnesses who mark my days with gifts of hope especially when I would prefer to cave to the darkness and just move on.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 21
I do not understand the mystery of this season that finds me in a place beyond meaning but leaves me unswaddled and exposed. How could it be my Mom hosted Christmas dinner just last year and now she is gone? My memories of Christmas are so intertwined with Mom, I can not tease them apart, nor do I want to. If only I could have skipped directly from October to January “for your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me. To remember this brings painful joy. Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing, to love what death has touched,” beautifully pinned by Yehuda Halevi. To love any mortal being is simply an act of bravery in my opinion.
“Listen to your life…touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner
Speaking of grace, last night my daughter Julie dropped Audrey (three year old) at the house, so she could swing by the doctor with the twins (eight months), something about diaper rash, and yogurt. We’ll leave it at that. An hour later she rolled back in with the twins and claimed
she forgot her wallet.
She promises, “just a quick trip home, I’ll grab my wallet, drop by the drug store, pick up the prescription, and I’ll be right back.”
Me, “Take your time honey, I’m fine.”
She, “Thanks Mom.”
So there I am, Christmas music playing in the background, surrounded by miniature girls, when all hell breaks loose. Audrey has a coughing attack, one of the twins does a number two, exasperating her rash, and starts howling, the dog goes ape shit. I’m desperately trying to remove the irritant from a tiny red butt despite the crying and barking. Twin two decides to join in with an empathy cry (howl), see this is why God invented wine, and as that thought springs to mind the door bell rings. Perfect.
Deliveries have been non-stop since Cyber Monday and might I mention one of my daughters is having all her packages delivered to my house. I’ve become a fricken Amazon depot. Audrey runs to the kitchen for a towel and I bring the loudest screaming twin to the door with Shaggy barking at my heels.
Surprise, it’s not a package, it’s a gift from God! My sister dropped by because her cell phone died in the middle of a conversation with the plumber. She pushes past me like a line backer and demands usage of my cell phone immediately. Nice to see you too.
She snatches my phone off the counter, “What’s the code? Hurry!”
Me, “Mom’s birthday”
Nancy, “Wait, with an zero first?”
Me, “Give it to me, I’ll use my thumb.”
This is when twin number two decides to dirty her diaper, and if possible, more howling ensues. Poor Nancy can hardly hear the plumber.
Me, “A little help here?”
Nancy, “I have a plumbing issue,” she says.
Me, “That makes two of us.”
I’m racing back and forth from the family room to the kitchen sink, rinsing off tiny red bottoms, the dog in hot pursuit, because it’s time for his evening scoop. Lord have mercy.
Nancy covers the phone with her hand and whispers, “maybe it’s time for a splash of wine?” She points to the glasses.
“Really,” I point to the mayhem.
Shaggy starts pushing his metal feeding bowl around the dinning room in protest. Really?
As soon as she convinces the plumber to finish the work she rescues one of the twins from my arms. Audrey is dragging a little Christmas tree around the house, it lights up when you plug it into a computer, but she using it as a lasso, trying to snag Shaggy. He’s not in the mood.
Filling the larger kitchen basin with warm water, I drop twin number one in the water, and hand her a spatula to chew on. Soak, rinse, clean the sink, fill, drop in twin number two. I grab a bunch of towels and lay them out on the kitchen floor like a dry land trip to the beach. Now Audrey is demanding a sink bath. Lovely. Scour the sink, refill, drop in three year old and I’m rewarded with a huge smile. Totally worth it.
Nancy says, “Why are they still crying?”
Me, “I think it’s time for their dinner and by the way we’re running out of diapers.”
Nancy, “Where’s Julie?”
Me, “The possibilities are endless.”
We buckle the twins into their car seats, and start mixing rice cereal as if serving an entire sorority, but I can’t shovel the spoonfuls fast enough into those absolutely beautiful, identical, pink mouths. Audrey announces she would like pasta for dinner, I’m thirsty, and Nancy is actually sweating. How does Julie do this all by herself?
Nancy takes over the feeding, I pour the wine, and by the time Julie returns they are fed, bathed, and ready for bed. I notice my sister left in a bit of a rush? After Julie and I enjoy a glass of wine and a bite to eat she heads out with the twins. Audrey and I are having a sleepover because we’re heading to the lake early tomorrow morning. The best laid plans…
“Everything is ceremony in the wild garden of childhood.” Pablo Neruda
As Audrey and I settle into my bed, preparing for a viewing of Home Alone, I glance over at the packages wrapped up, and covered with a blanket in my bathroom. I wrap Christmas gifts on a folding table stationed in the back of my room and stack them kid accordingly on the ledge by the bathtub. I can’t help but remember my Mom sitting in the Wingback chair by the window, scowling at me. Was that just last year? She considers my avalanche of gifts a horrid extravagance but I had twice the number of kids as she did. She would gently scold as she curled ribbon and attached bows. I’d purposely turn up the Christmas music to compensate. She’d eventually notice and laugh at my subtle tactics. I can see her as if she were sitting there right now every detail of her beautiful face etched in my mind.
“The presence of that absence is everywhere” Edna St. Vincent Millay
After the movie Audrey settles into a deep sleep and I grab my computer for a little writing but I’m so exhausted I fall asleep with my glasses on and the computer in my lap. I’m awoken by Audrey around 2:00 AM in the middle of a coughing spasm. It takes me fifteen minutes to calm her down, but as soon as she settles she says, “Grammie my ear hurts,” and in a pathetically sad voice she adds, “I miss my Mommy, I miss my Mommy.”
My thoughts exactly.
“If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness.” C. S. Lewis.