And so this week’s moment of happiness.
In the mail today, there was a package from my sister, Marilyn. She’s long since given up writing a note on it, saying to not open until Christmas, because I always ignored that anyway. I tore in and found a beautiful pair of earrings and…a Grinch hand towel. A bright, Grinch-green hand towel, with the Grinch’s face glaring on it.
Grinch pretty much describes me during the Christmas season. It just seems to add to my already overdone to-do list. I love shopping, but I don’t love “having” to shop, to purchase things by a certain date. I don’t love online shopping, but with COVID, that really seems the best way to go. Putting up decorations entails a drive to the off-site storage unit, because we don’t have a basement, and so all Christmas stuff, among other things we probably don’t need, are kept there. Then we have to load up the car and haul it all upstairs. So that I don’t have to drive back to the storage unit, all of the boxes are kept stuffed in my car until everything is returned when the tree comes down on New Year’s Day. I don’t have time to wrap presents until Christmas Eve, and it is a day of bending, twisting, cutting, taping, until my body aches.
In other words, work. Work, work, and work. When I talked with Eva, my student who lives in Australia, this week, I asked her to walk down her street to the ocean-front beach and enjoy a beach Christmas for me. Christmas is a summer holiday for her. Barbecues on the beach. Warm weather.
We had 70 mile per hour winds last night. One of our lit outdoor spiral Christmas trees is gone.
But, oh, last Christmas. Christmas 2020, the pandemic Christmas. Because we were doing it all on Zoom, we didn’t make a trip to the storage unit. We didn’t put the tree up. I dropped wrapped presents off at different houses, and I mailed them to my daughter in Louisiana.
I felt sad. I didn’t miss the work, but…I did. I missed my family.
At the last minute, I bought a small countertop Christmas tree and shipped it to myself. It came complete with ornaments and lights and garland, and Livvy and I decorated it. I found a small wooden ornament of the nativity scene and I shipped that to myself too, and it sat beneath the tree, as nativity scenes have been under Christmas trees since I was a child. Presents for Michael, Olivia and me nearly buried the little tree. But in my home, there weren’t any presents for Christopher, Amber, Andy, Katie, Nick…and Grandbaby Maya Mae. They were waiting at their homes, and I would watch them open these gifts on a computer screen, while Michael and Olivia watched on their screens. Late, late, late that Christmas Eve, while Michael and Olivia slept, I went downstairs, turned on the tree to see the glow behind the presents, sat in my chair, and wept.
This year, the pandemic still rages on. But we’re vaccinated. And we’re getting together. Last weekend, Michael, Olivia, Andy and I went out to the storage unit and loaded up the Christmas stuff. There is a beautiful tree in my living room. Michael and I watched as Olivia and Andy decorated it. Andy took special care to find the ornaments that featured photos of my kids. As brand new babies. Toddlers. Children.
Christopher. Andy. Katie. Olivia.
My daughter Katie and her husband Nick will not be here. They live in Louisiana, and the pandemic still feels too threatening to them to travel. I haven’t seen my daughter in three years. Even with the others around me, the ache I feel is often unbearable.
The big tree is up. The stockings are hung. The presents are all locked in my convertible, waiting to be wrapped on Christmas Eve. The little wooden ornament nativity scene is at the foot of the little tree. The nativity scene I picked out and purchased in 2019 when I was trying desperately to make myself feel something, anything, positive about Christmas is under the big tree.
The other night, when I couldn’t sleep, I crept downstairs, like last year’s Christmas Eve. I turned on the lights on both trees. Standing in front of the big one, I let my eyes rove from ornament to ornament.
New babies. Toddlers. Children.
Christopher. Andy. Katie. Olivia.
Carefully, I unhooked the ornament that shows Katie on her very first Christmas. Snoopy holds an oval that encases her baby face, capped with a white bonnet. I held it clasped tightly in my hand, the way I used to clasp her little hand, sat in my chair, and admired my two trees, the only lights in this brand new morning.
Yes, I wept.
But the tree is up. The ornaments are here. And on Christmas day, my home will be filled with laughter and exclamations, my son Andy will hold the garbage bag and my son Christopher will throw crumpled-up wrapping paper and miss the target every time. Olivia will play the elf and wear the jester hat that works as an elf hat. Grandbaby Maya Mae will rip with abandon.
I’ll miss the one that’s not here, again. But Christmas will not be on a screen this year. It will be at home.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.