I’m writing at the end of what could, possibly should, have been the worst day ever. Christmas is an amazing time, and we love it in our house, always have. It’s just such an amazing time and all the kids really do love getting presents, but they are actually just as excited by what they had to give as well. It’s always been that way.
But this had all the makings of being the worse day. I entered the Christmas weekend with every intention of tackling the day and addressing if we keep our routine of opening presents Christmas Day or keeping with the tradition that started with Andrea and waiting until morning. It’s really tempting, it is, to change everything, make a new start in every way, not just some. I had not thought about it and kept it off hoping to remove the decision.
The kids sang in the church choir, so it was left to Abbi, my oldest, and I to hold vigil in the pew with the thousands of people who don’t normally go to church and act aggravated with everyone who does in the parking lot because they’re in a hurry to leave right after communion and not hear the choir and didn’t realize that everything with the mass had changed and why does the priest take so long to give his homily when he knows Santa’s coming . . . etc. . . you get the picture. It’s enough to make you avoid going at all.
But I sat there, smiling, proud and puffed up like always when the kids sing, and you can’t help but remember. The year before, Andrea and I had gotten there later . . . because she wasn’t ready. So I dropped the kids off and went back to the house to pick her up. By the time we’d arrived, of course, it was only about 25 minutes before mass. Anyone who has gone to Christmas mass knows you may as well get out your wallflower shoes because you’re not getting a seat that late. Andrea’s knees were shot, the bones of her joints literally grinding together with every walk. So we had to beg the parking attendant to let us up so I could drop her at the curb to avoid the uphill walk. By the time I’d gotten to the church I was aggravated and she was angry, and there was no place to sit. In the lobby I’d found a chair that matched the pews so I stole it and placed it next to a row and stood next to her. I may have been angry, but I wasn’t heartless, and I was still chivalrous.
So sitting there yesterday I remembered looking at Andrea. I remembered the kids singing, some of the same carols, and had to look at my shoes for a bit to think about the fact that we’d changed things. We got there an hour early. We had seats. I’d gotten the outfits and the socks, shoes, did the boys’ hair . . . and Abbi helped her sister. We were stressed, rumpled, and wrinkled, but we were there. We’d avoided the screaming, shouting, sweating and running around; we’d missed the ensuing chaos that normally swept us into the abyss of stress and high blood pressure. I sat there remembering Andrea’s tirade about how she always got everyone else ready and not herself, how she hated my frustration with having to drop her at the curb; how we weren’t sure if there was enough stuff for every kid.
I missed it.
I know, it’s horrible, scary, frustrating and painful, but it’s real life. It’s how the holidays normally are. I don’t have my family near me. A handful of states separate us. Distance, finances and weather isolate us here and I have to speak to my family, my firm foundation, on the ph0ne. They always had a house full of people. Me and my brothers, the kids when they were born, the snow, the ice, wind chill, and the mass of annoying but necessary relatives at my grandmother’s house with plate, container and bowl filled with every pie, cookie and holiday treat imaginable. They were simple things, but things we need more than ever and will never have again. My mother, Dad, their home, their goodies: pecan sandies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, sour cream kolaches and their company, my brothers, their wives . . . they’re all impossibly far away.
With that missing, Andrea missing, the chaos calmed, it seemed so unlike Christmas. Good friends asked us to come over Christmas Eve to have drinks, company and . . . chaos. It was marvelous. We brought pies, they had tacos, margaritas, cookies, cake, cheesecake . . . and kids. Lots of kids, Dance Revolution on the Wii, and conversation. They adopted us for the night – just a couple hours – and it made all the difference. I heard giggling screams from the other room. Insane laughter as kids and adults tried to dance like the impossibly ’80s looking avatars on the game system and the incredulous shouts as several kids couldn’t believe their friend had never seen “The Princess Bride”.
I tried to keep the holiday busy. The more downtime the more time we had to reflect, which put us in the place I sat during church. Reflecting on how our perfect chaos had disappeared and we were left to figure it out.
There are things that, as a Dad, I won’t ever get right. Santa got suggestions for a dress from me this year. When it was under the stocking this morning Abbi was floored. When she tried it on, it didn’t fit. As Dad, giving measurements to Santa, I hadn’t taken . . . well, taken the upper part of her body into consideration. My wife is gone, and as a Dad, you don’t go into your daughter’s room and say “I’m going to run this tape measure across your chest now.” it doesn’t work that way, it’s creepy that way. But I should have done it, and I will have to from now on. The roles aren’t reversed, they’re increased.
So now I keep an eye on the schedule for the bowl games so I can see our Huskers play. But I also have to come to terms with knowing now that I have to measure a girl’s chest, waist, inseem, and everything, not just guess on size. I can watch my thrillers knowing that my daughters need someone to watch “Top Model” with so they have a parent to make fun of the judges and Tyra Banks. A year ago I’d have hidden in the office and played my guitar. Now, I know what my daughter likes about certain designers and why she hates the leader and am just as confused that the foregone winner is tossed out without explanation.
Why? The chaos was good. The confusion, the anger, the vented frustration were all things that showed we cared. The Grinch’s “noise, noise, noise NOISE!” is also what makes us aware that we’re surrounded by people and that we are lucky to have them. So where some thought I did too much, bought too many presents and spent too much time swirling around I say we succeeded. It could have been so easy to sink into the morass of depression today. After 3 hours sleep and a son coming down the stairs just as Santa was leaving the presents only to be interrupted and disappear at the last minute leaving me holding the . . . er . . . stocking. But we saw friends, I gave them great presents, we played with toys and games all day, visited my sister-in-law and had a great dinner with people, and were able to have Christmas.
So we didn’t have Christmas without her. We had Christmas. We loved that we got through it and hated that we did, knowing it meant another momentous occasion we pulled off without her here to make it what it was.
We were pining for the ensuing chaos, but in the end, we had a very Merry Christmas, we really did, in spite of ourselves.
Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you had family and chaos all around you. It’s not a curse, it’s a blessing.