Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Here to Stay is a New Bird

I never intended to be part of a family that traveled for Christmas. It is a well-known and certifiable fact that very few of my intentions and visions for the way my life would progress have come to pass. Per se.

Perhaps my expectations stem from the way my mother's life panned out differently than mine. Though they had grown up forty miles from each other in Maryland, she met her husband at her small-town college in North Carolina. Thus, as a child, I saw both families at every holiday without ever having to travel. I woke up in my own bed every Christmas morning. I was vaguely aware that others handled it differently, but it never occurred to me that there was any reason for that other than preference. That the people who travel for Christmas would want it to be different had never entered my mind. It's starting to now.

Despite enrolling in a small-town Carolina school and becoming engaged to a small-town Indiana boy, marriage at 21 was not meant to be my happily ever after. Mom married her college athlete and sweetheart and graduated pregnant with me at 22. I graduated a month shy of 21 with a fiance overseas who everyone knew I was never going to marry. Everyone but me.

The following snowy February left me with a roadmap reevaluation and few answers. What now? So finally, four Christmases after the one that broke my heart, I am starting to see where I am going instead. Which is, apparently, to New England. At 25, my mother had two babies. At 25, I am a newlywed on the pill. I have still not reconciled my expectations to my reality, however happy it is. But, after last night, I have learned something about families who travel at Christmas.

Mainly, they probably do not provide their coworkers with a variety of cookies in cute holiday tins. This is the first year I have not baked and wrapped and sprinkled and given the week before Christmas. Instead, last night, I did laundry like a person possessed, picked up dry cleaning, and sent my gracious husband to Petsmart for a travel sedative and to Walmart for tampons. In preparation for the week of impromptu high school reunions that always manages to constitute our trips to Connecticut, I made time to get my hair highlighted. Finally, my new blonder bangs falling in my eyes, I stared at a bed full of clothing with nothing to wear.

"I'm sorry to be throwing all of this at you at once," The Boy said, reading our commitments to me off a crumpled piece of paper, "but I have never been this overwhelmed."

I reminded him that this night paled in comparison to the ones leading up to our wedding, but remembered that he had spent those nights texting me from bars and hotels with his pals while my overworked bridesmaids and I maniacally tried to scrape together some semblance of a proper wedding. I was happy for him in retrospect, jealous of him at the time.

We discussed the best way to handle family conflicts, anticipated awkward confrontations, and I nervously penned a conflicted and carefully worded e-mail to The Boy's former love regarding our inevitable presence at the same functions.

I bathed our confused Puggle at midnight and slumped on the wet tile while drying him with a hairdryer so that he wouldn't go to bed shivering and wet.

The presents are wrapped and ready to go, but they are not decked out with ribbons or bows the way they have been in previous years. No one is receiving cookies. We will be staying at my brother-in-law's new condo that he has not had time to move into. We are bringing toilet paper and hand soap, an air mattress and towels. We are probably forgetting everything.

We gathered the dog's blankets and toys, treats and medicine, food and bowls, wondering how he would fit in the car. We pictured him perched precariously atop blanket-covered luggage on the backseat.

As we finally prepared to go to bed, The Boy asked, "How do people with kids do this?" I had been wondering the same thing all night. Initially, this question left me longing for more years of careful child prevention.

"We better hurry up and have kids," The Boy said thoughtfully, "So we can make sure we are the first and everyone will visit us for the holidays."

We are still not sure if the dog and the pillows can both make the trip to New England. Suddenly guest room preparations and grocery shopping don't seem like such a terrible fate.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Welcome Christmas, Bring Your Light

The difference between dusk and darkness is only about 15 minutes. I wait for a bus, so I know. What I don't know is the way the sky looks in the Mid Atlantic between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM on weekdays. But I know that if I sneak out early, at 4:45, I can see the pink-orange light behind the skeletal trees. And I know that if I leave at or after 5:00, I won't need my sunglasses, but I'll immediately need my headlights. Regardless of the presence of light while I wait, all the waiting has given me more time to ponder. Circumstances I am far from sure of, and thus not inclined to disclose, have driven me to my knees and, unfortunately, further into my head. While I ponder, I have been weighing, and while weighing, I have made some conclusions.

I am thankful that:

1. My father was around to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family. More than six months ago, lying in a puddle of hiccups and sobs on the softest bed I had ever felt, in the most gorgeous place I had ever dreamed, I realized Bora Bora was the last place I wanted to be. An interrupted honeymoon the least of my worries, my mind wrestled with the biggest fear I had ever felt-- that I had seen my daddy for the last time from the rear window of a borrowed Audi on my wedding night. I had never known terror or helplessness like that. I'm still not sure if I'm relieved; still holding at least part of the breath I sucked in through clenched teeth on that Wednesday in June. But I know that I hug him tighter and longer every time I see him. I know I don't let myself get frustrated as easily when we butt heads because we are different while so much the same. I know that I am grateful every day for the time that we have.

2. I got to marry a man who continues to thrill and surprise me. I never would have believed that the spiky-haired bartender with the killer chocolate martinis and pocket full of pick-up lines ("Why do you look so familiar?) would be my one and only. But however he convinced me, I'm beyond grateful that he did. Marriage is better than I ever knew to hope it could be, and I have never been more excited to come home every night.

3. I get to take a hot shower every morning. This one is relatively new. About six or seven weeks ago, The Boy embarked on what he thought was a minor repair in our only bathroom. "Just need to replace a few tiles," he told the guy at Home Depot. When he returned to take down the tiles, he realized the wall behind the tiles was rotten. It crumbled at his fingertips, and before I knew it, the shower had no walls and the tub was filled with debris. We returned to Home Depot, to the same guy, who taught The Boy how to install cement board and tiles and grout. No one had to teach me how to pick out the tiles, but there was little joy in that. I had to clean the tub each night and wash my hair in the sink each morning, followed by a shivering bath. The first few days, since the tub faucet lacked...well, a faucet, The Boy got up early and turned on the water for me. And stayed to watch. There was nothing erotic about this activity. Fortunately, for the sake of my marriage and everyone's libido, the novelty of my goosebumped and compromised naked body wore off for my husband, but this production continued for 9 days. Even when the functionality of the shower returned, it carried with it admonitions. "The water can't be hot," or, "this corner can't get wet," or, "the door can't be closed." It should go without saying, but here I go: Due to my poor man having to spend every waking moment in the bathroom, there is no longer any mystery or privacy left in our urinary activities.

Our second level has been covered in a layer of white dust, which is finally mostly gone. I have been congested for weeks, unsure if it was due to sickness or the fact that I should be wearing a mask around my home. Note to the novice homebuyer: Never purchase a home with only one bathroom, especially if you are married. You never know when your spouse will feel the need to tear down the walls.

Having said that, the new tile looks smashing. It makes me want to take it with me when we leave, but I haven't worked up the courage to ask about that yet.

4. I am able to give. Continuing the trend that began with the frozen bird, The Boy and I have turned our little house into the North Pole. Using Craigslist as our impetus, and staring with one family, we have initiated an effort that is ending up providing Christmas for three families, who, together, have 11 kids. At least 10 families from our church have contributed piles of generosity, and our adopted families have been blown away and brought to tears. For the last two weeks, my living and dining rooms have looked like a Toys for Tots collection center, and I've driven around with a high chair and a walker in my trunk. We were able to collect everything the first family requested, and then some, to the point where I needed to actively seek families who were in need of the extra items we acquired. I still have surplus, and the family who provided the most has left me multiple voicemails asking if they can contribute more. It has been an incredible outpouring, and it has overwhelmed me. Not only am I grateful to be in a position where I am not the one in need and I am able to give, I am also grateful to have the opportunity just to be part of something so big and full of love and hope and kindness. I got an angry email forwarded to me from a meek friend the other day, asking if I agreed that my decorated tree was a CHRISTmas tree, and that we should not say Happy Holidays when what we mean is Merry CHRISTmas. I guess those things are true. But why shout about Christ's love when you can just give it away? I haven't said this, but then I guess I shouldn't have to.

Conversely, I am not thankful that:

1. My month-long congestion has manifested itself in the form of a nasty and getting nastier cold, prompting a co-worker to ask me, over the wall of the cubicle, if I was chopping onions. My sniffles projected louder than my muffled apologies. No one could be more irritated than I am, except perhaps The Boy. Which leads me to...

1.a. Because of the Meth "crisis," it is very difficult to find decent cold medicine. Did you know that many nighttime medicines have gotten rid of their decongestants? Whaa? Why don't I just take a shot of Bourbon before bed? Instead of doing that last night, though, I chose to take daytime medicine along with nighttime stuff. Which led to a very surreal night of sirens and wide-awake and switching sides so I could alternate breathing out of either side of my nose, leading to the eventual sleeplessness of my also congested husband. Which leads me to...

1.b. I am unthankful for being sick at the same time as my dear husband. Nothing says happily ever after like, "You're not the only one who's sick, you know!"

2. I am, once again, sitting at work each day, looking over my shoulder, waiting for an anvil to fall on my head. Maybe it'll be the end of December, maybe it'll be the end of January; regardless, we're definitely nearing the end.

Though these lists were meant to be only a sampling, clearly 4-2 means I am doing just fine.

And, despite the dense fog that has lately blanketed my hometown and my mind, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
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