Mewy Cwistmas!

Posted: December 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Last week I asked a mom at Kate’s school a casual question. And I’ve been feeling bad about her answer ever since.

It was at morning drop-off. I’d hustled Kate into her classroom on time. Phew! I was dashing down the school’s front steps, dragging Paige by the hand with the frazzled determination of a working mom with one more kid to ditch before fighting commuter traffic into the city. And I saw a mom I kinda know standing there. She was waiting to lead a tour.

“How’re you surviving the holidays?” I called over my shoulder. This, I later realized, is my go-to seasonal greeting to other mothers.

“Eh,” she answered, shrugging her shoulders. “I’ll be happy when it’s over. This isn’t my favorite time of year.”

It was not one of those eye-rolling oh-life-is-hectic-but-I’m-getting-it-all-done kinda responses. The reaction I realized I’d come to expect. My off-the-cuff question was the kind of quick check-in mamas often do at the holidays, back to school time, birthdays—when we’re feeling particularly taxed. These passing exchanges are sympathetic nods to each other. Our way of saying, I hear your life is crazy now, hang in there sister.

But this woman was clearly not referring to having too much shopping to do. She wasn’t feeling harried about having to juggle cookie-baking parties or get everyone packed for a ski trip. She wasn’t begrudging the maternal mayhem that’s often the necessary underpinning of busy, fun family times.

I’m not sure what makes her want the holidays to just be over—and that morning on the school steps wasn’t the time to find out. But several times since our brief exchange I’ve thought about her.

In fact, the next day we went to the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. It’s become a tradition between my sister, my niece, Kate, and me. And this year for the first time Paigey was old enough to come too.

Getting there was painful. Kate argued about wearing a dress. She refused to wear tights. She sat on the floor of her room crying, wailing, and miserable. I finally consented to letting her wear yellow and gray striped socks—the only ones she deemed comfortable. (Not a great look with a red dress and black flats.) We scrambled into the car late and tear-strewn, with me threatening to not take Kate in future years if she couldn’t get dressed. I’m guessing this isn’t the best way to manage a child with sensory issues around clothing.

But our fashion meltdown wore off somewhere between Oakland and San Francisco. The local all-Christmas radio station plus the pretzel snacks I’d grabbed took hold. And as we walked up the grand steps of the SF Ballet, fake snow flurries pumping out over the sidewalk, I got a deep hit of just how lucky we were to be there. That we live in this amazing cosmopolitan place. That we can afford this beautiful magical experience each year. That we are happy, healthy, and together, and spiffed up in our best winter coats—even if Kate’s socks were all wrong.

The thought of the mother at Kate’s school zipped through my head, and I took a big breath and exhaled before walking in. We are here, I thought, and this is so amazing. It was like the Ghost of Christmas Present came and tapped me on the shoulder. “Be here now,” she said. “Hug your daughters. Drink it in. Not everyone gets to do this.”

Message received.

A few nights later my sister had a Christmas party. Her huge Victorian was packed with adults, kids, food, dogs, a roaring fire in the fireplace. At one point Mark gave Paige a bite of the cookie he was eating. One of those Magic Cookie Bars with the graham cracker base, a mid-layer of chocolate, and walnuts on top. They scream of the the Bruno house circa 1979. And I love that my sister still makes them.

Within minutes Paige was in a crying fit. She was thrashing on the couch, yelling that her tongue felt funny and that she wanted water. I somehow attributed her behavior to the late hour and the crowd. But then I realized it was the nuts. Weeks earlier she’d had an encounter with walnut oil and her lip swelled up. D’oh!

Before swallowing the full dose of Benadryl, she barfed everywhere. And I had a full dose of maternal guilt for having ignored the earlier warning sign.

Poor lamb. I’d call her doctor first thing in the morning to schedule allergy testing.

In the meantime I took note of my visit from the Ghost of Christmas Puke. Seems impossible to get through the holidays without him stopping by.

On Wednesday we went to my friend Lily’s house to make gingerbread houses. It was super fun and the holiday huts turned out swell. I even managed to not micro-manage the girls’ design choices! And the kids didn’t slip into diabetes-induced comas from all the candy they horked down while decorating (eat one, stick one to the house, eat two…). We took this as a small victory.

But the biggest victory no one even talked about was that Lily just had her last radiation treatment. After a brutal year of surgery, chemo, radiation, and endless doctor visits, she is DONE. Officially out of the woods. Yee-ha!

I’d sent her flowers with a note that said, “Thank freaking God that’s over.” It was one of those embarassing-to-recite-to-the-florist messages, but one that needed sayin’.

As I watched Lily help her kids shellack their house’s roof with frosting—rocking her fabulous wig with the style and beauty only she could—I noticed The Ghost of Christmas Past stroll behind her, then slip out the door,┬átaking Lily’s crappy year with him. I’ve never been happier to see someone go.

Let’s keep that cancer stuff in the past, shall we? On to a happy and healthy new year.

In fact, we’ve had our own health scare around here. A close family member went through a series of tests that all seemed to be pointing in a very bad direction. But suddenly, the last most rottenly invasive—but decisive—test came back negative. Clean. Nada, zip, zilch.

Perhaps you heard me letting out an all-body phew when I got that call?

Can I say THAT really knocks things into perspective? Your shopping may not be done, and the star on your tree might be missing, but someone called and said “the test came back negative.”

That’s all the gifts I need, thanks. The garland on my mantle may be a bit bedraggled, but the things that matter in life are a-okay.

And really, my garland is actually quite perfect.

But thank you, thank you, Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be, for that mega-dose of things-could-be-worse. But they are thrillingly, blessedly, not. In fact, they are most excellent, with clear sailing ahead.

Knock wood.

It’s nearly dinnertime on Christmas day. After an abundant morning of gift-opening, we headed out with the girls and Mark’s parents for a hike in the Redwood forest. And my geek-chef husband is about to remove our free-range, organic, fancy-pants turkey breast from the immersion circulator. (Ah yes, just like mom used to make.)

I am not someone who’ll be happy when the holidays are over. For that I am eternally grateful.

Throughout these past couple weeks I’ve been sending out little wishes to that mama I talked to on the steps of Kate’s school. Here’s to hoping she enjoyed the holidays more than she thought she would this year.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

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