Nearly Christmas

Posted: December 24th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Mom | No Comments »

I’ve been a cookie baking fool. Over the course of the past few weekends I’ve been producing cookies at a furious pace and maniacally labeling freezer bags and Tupperware with cookie types and dates and storing them up for Christmas. Then to top it off I made cranberry bread this morning. I’m like a conscientious squirrel readying myself for the long cold months, and I can only imagine if I were one of the other squirrels I’d hate me.

But the fact is, aside from the by-product that it will be nice to have an assortment of cookies for those who stop by for some McClusky family holiday cheer, I think the cookie baking somehow turned into this nostalgic refuge for connecting with my mom.

There is something about getting your house ready for Christmas when you’re the one playing Santa. I want it to be nice. I want the tree to be pretty–not over-the-top fancy, but sweet and nice and covered in ornaments that have meaning to me or Mark and someday when she’s old enough to grock it all, to Kate.

My mother kicked ass at Christmas. Not that she’d ever take any credit for it, and not that she was showy about it. But she made pinecone wreaths, she baked and cooked special food, she hacked down her own tree with an axe and made a profusion of Chex Mix.

Going through all the motions this year I’ve given myself time to do it without stress and panic and the fear that I wasn’t going to have time to do everything I wanted to do. Even though it’s taken time and energy and planning, it’s this weirdly rewarding act—getting ready for Christmas—which was totally devoid of external pressure. How comforting it is putting a perfect double batch of Mark’s family chocolate cookies in the freezer.

And part of the comfort of it all is the knowledge that I’m doing the things that my mother did year after year—and since this is the first time we are having our own Christmas and not going home to RI, doing this all myself has made me realize all that goes into it. She’s been on my mind so much as I set out the manger figurines, or wrangle with fresh garland that I’m determined to frame the front door with, or put the cards in the little red wooden sleigh every day after Mark and Kate and I open them together. By repeating this well-worn ritual that she performed for so many years it’s like I’ve somehow been hanging out with her.

Part of the connection comes from the fact that so many of the decorations, the manger, the sleigh, the ceramic angels that lean towards each other and kiss–and are surprisingly not tacky, though in describing them it’s hard to imagine how they couldn’t be. So many of the things were hers. And I think she knew that of all of us I would cherish them the most. I think before she was even sick she said that I’d get the manger “one day.”

Peggy arrived today, and after going to a Christmas party we came home and got Kate to bed and watched a movie called The Family Stone. I guess I’d put it on our Netflix queue at some point thinking it was a light-as-a-feather comedy about a guy taking his girlfriend home at Christmas and she’s all New York and uptight and they’re all mellow and quirky but tight-knit and they give her a hard time.

It turns out the movie, while also being about the anal girlfriend thing, was more about this amazing family who lived in this huge old house that was totally enviable, but also a real family house with the requisite set of mismatched coffee mugs. Diane Keaton plays the eccentric but crazy-with-love mother of five distinctly different but successful in their own way adult children.

Somewhere towards the end, I realized that somehow my perspective on movies like this has totally shifted. I’m not identifying with the horror of being the child whose parents make a scene in front of the new significant other. I’m not picturing myself as the derelict daughter who wants to make the girlfriend’s life hell because she’s protecting her brother. I’m totally putting myself into the mother role—even though the mother is probably in her sixties in the movie. I’m thinking about how great it would be to have a brood of five children, who are all unique and fabulous and who unconditionally adore me despite my idiosyncrasies. I’m relieved to see that as this mother I’ve managed to hold onto my smart and funny husband who I still connect with and who isn’t afraid to hug and kiss our adult sons and tell them how much he loves them. From the snow-covered house to the cute gay son to the high-thread count sheets and patterned wallpaper, it was a nice daydreamy kind of fantasy.

I kicked Mark who was lying on the couch next to me. “Five kids,” I say. “How great is that?”

And of course, before they spell out what was going to happen in the otherwise light and breezy movie, it dawns on me that, of course (duh), the mother is sick. Just when you might be nearing the point of finding the family all to perfect in their garrulous noogie-giving love for each other, you realize that they are about to lose their most central character.

So here I am. Having spent the past few weeks channeling my own mother and hoping that somehow from wherever she is seeing me and admiring the fine job I’m doing of feathering the McClusky family Christmas nest. Then after renting an unsuspecting holiday hoax movie I’m suddenly crying over the fictitious dying mother who I wanted to be, and over the searingly sad pang of goneness of my own mother. No gut-wrenching sobs, mind you. Just the kind of weepiness that anyone would get watching a movie like that, but at a deeper, more personal level.

Maybe my mother is communicating with me through my Netflix queue. I swear I don’t remember ever having picked that movie, but it seemed to have made its way to me at a perfect time. Maybe I needed some sort of culmination to it all. Some big emotional moment to work out all these stray thoughts I’ve been having about Mom, so I can settle into Mark and Kate and the here and now and focus on the great new Christmas we are about to have–thanks in no small part to all my hard work.

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