Saturday, December 31, 2011

Auld Lang Syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.  

- Robert Burns

I understand why New Year’s Eve is about staying up late, drinking alcohol and kissing. Being a sweeper is a lot of pressure and in holiday time, six days is like six minutes. 

Something very different is needed for a successful climax in the final round of the holiday season.

Thanksgiving kicks it off, a food, family and festivity inspired frenzy that culminates a month later when bank accounts are weak, family dynamics are both warm and wired, and exhaustion guarantees that no creatures will be stirring. By the time the man in red drops down the chimney and every ham, goose and turkey has been cooked, everyone needs a long winter’s nap.

Which is why I haven’t made it to many ball drops. But I have remembered them all.

As a child we watched the ball drop thousands of miles away, racing into the dead of an Arctic night with sparklers as rifles rang as the ghostly white Aurora Borealis danced above. There was the high school friend’s unsanctioned party. There was the New Year’s Eve that I spent on a red eye from Phoenix to Toronto after a Def Leppard concert with my younger brother and the 24-hours in Buffalo at the tail end of college.

There was the New Year’s Eve when we ordered in sushi, watched “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and drank wine with abandon only to throw in the towel at 15 to midnight. There was the time we listened to the radio in the dark as Journey squeezed a little more life out of their career. There were the years he worked, telling me over the phone that he wished he was at home kissing me instead of ducking for cover as revelers fired into the air, letting bullets fall where they may. And then there was the one I don’t remember, the angry one that followed, and the lonely one after that.

365 days ago, I sat right here watching wishes of all the best float across the screen. And the poem that Robert Burns wrote so long ago stung.

Like everyone else, I made a vow. To work less and live more. To make our house a home again. To slow down and enjoy the moments in my children’s lives that will happen only once. To write more. To never forget who and what came before and to look ahead to who and what may lie ahead.

And when the ball drops tonight and we are surrounded by the merriment of friends as Auld Lang Syne floats through the air, I’ll vow to do it all over again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hung by the Chimney With Care.

They were never big enough.

Christmas at my house has never been the “less is more.” As a child, it was the house where Santa read an itemized list with product codes, page numbers and color selections from the Sears Christmas Wish Book and nibbled on dry shortbread before leaving his mark. He didn’t just fill the stockings and leave a few gifts under the tree. He left the entire damn sleigh in the living room.

And with that Christmas was forever engraved in shiny paper and ribbons, oranges and gold foil chocolate coins in the toe.

It wasn’t that we eschewed the genuine meaning of Christmas, but when you live where polar bears knock on your front door and the closest store in 1,000 kilometers is a trading post, Santa isn’t just someone who lives a few miles down the road. He has celebrity status.

And so it was a match made in gift-wrapped heaven that my husband didn’t just embrace ribbon-and-glitter-festooned gluttony. He wallowed in it.

Now before you sling coal, we’ve never thrown reason and financial caution to the wind. The last time we used a credit card was before our daughter arrived, and we nurse our vehicles to old age. I don’t have a closet filled with shoes and I’d rather exit a store than enter. But for one morning every year, we abandoned restraint and stockings bulged as wallets wept.

He was always the first one to wake, the smell of peppermint coffee and sticky buns floating down the hallway at 3 a.m. as he waited impatiently as the minutes ticked slowly by. Little by little he lit the house, gifts aglow in twinkling lights and stockings silhouetted against a dancing fire. And when he couldn’t stand it anymore, he coaxed us from bed whispering “Santa was here!”

But it is something more, as the Grinch knows all too well, that fills our stockings each Christmas morning.

It is the excitement of the unknown and the light in their eyes as they spy the crumbs left behind by the man in red. It is the warmth of a morning wrapped in darkness and love. It is the calm that comes when, for one morning, we all leave the frenzy behind and simply enjoy each other, bare feet and sleepy eyed.

But when he was gone Christmas was something less, not something more. And four stockings hung by our chimney with care, despite the fact that he was no longer there.

Four Christmases later, I will wake once again to the memory of peppermint coffee and little voices will rouse me with cries of “Santa was here!” Eyes will light up as bare feet dash off to see what surprises await. And in the early morning light, we will be wrapped in love, simple contentment and remember whens.

And for the first time three stockings will burst at the seams. Not four.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alphabet Soup.

“Mom, I know the ‘b’ word. It’s spelled b, i, t, c, h.”

Speeding across black asphalt in the pitch black desert, I am suddenly back on our street knocking three doors down and letting my new neighbors know exactly what this b-i-t-c-h thinks about their foul-mouthed offspring. Because when they moved in four months ago, my son did not know the “b” word. Or the “sh” word. Or the “f” word. Or the “c” word. And he didn’t say crap or darn or damn. Or “son of a …” Or “what the …”

Four months ago our family tooted, but didn’t fart. People were silly, not stupid. We didn’t hate – unless we were talking about Daddy’s departure because, really, hate doesn’t even come close – but we “not liked” things a whole lot. We shushed where others shut up, and butt for exceptions here and there we were bottoms up. There are ta-ta’s where others have boobies and cubes where others choose fruits and nuts.

But, nooooooo. Because not only is the dictionary of all things rude and raucous three doors down, he is in my son’s classroom. At the same group table. Which is why I sent an email to his teacher that went like this:

Ms. Teacher of My Precious Son, 

I was hoping you might help me with something. My son has made a wonderful start to the school year, and I am very pleased with the progress he has already made in two short months. He loves his class, tells me every day about the new things he has learned and, as always, tells me all about the friends he has made and how much fun he has. I’ve also noticed that his vocabulary has expanded in leaps and bounds but not, always, in the way I would like. We’ve talked at great length about what words are appropriate and that just because others use them doesn’t mean he should. 

Unfortunately, it seems that all of these new and often four-letters-long words are coming from the same classmate and I would like to ask that you separate the boys (they sit at the same table) and watch the language that is being used during recess. I know that boys will be boys, and that this is inevitable. But I am not ready to hear my seven-year-old drop f-bombs. 

I really appreciate your help and understanding with this.


Irate Mother Who Has Already Been Through Enough @#&!

“Sweetheart, I’m very proud of you for knowing that is an inappropriate word. And, I want you to know that you can always ask me questions and I will never get mad. However, if I hear you use any of those words – EVER – the Wii and the DSi are gone. Not for a little while like before. Like FOREVER.”

“I know. What does OMG mean?” 

“It means Oh My Gosh.”

“What about SOS?”

“I think it is Send Out Signal.”

“I know what SOL means. Scream out loud!”


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Rainbow Connection.

“There’s a thunderstorm inside me. But sometimes it’s only raining.”

Outside, the rain has been falling all day. Dark and gloomy, we’ve stayed happily inside and done what families do on lazy, rainy, chilly Sundays.

But inside our home it has been falling for years. The raindrops are fewer and farther between, falling less like shards of glass and more like snowflakes that vanish at the first touch of warmth. But tonight, like so many nights since autumn fell, her eyes have grown cold and stormy as night draws close.

Of all the gifts we gave her, it is her eyes that I cherish most.

The color of hazelnuts ripening, they sparkle and grow warm with laughter. They glint sharply with the fiery nature that is both inspiring and infuriating. And like quicksand, you sink slowly and helplessly into them when they are dark with sadness. Like windows to her soul they reveal the damage left after the storm, the raw edges that have healed and those wounds still open and weeping.

Listening to the sound of the rain hitting the pane, I watch her little hands angrily rub away the tears that have broken free. She tells me about the color of her heart when sadness shuts it down and the color when it is not shut down. She tells me about the blackness inside, and the rain that falls, and of all the sadness that won’t go away. She tells me that it isn’t fair that her Daddy died, and that it isn’t fair that it is for me alone to keep them safe, and she wonders who will take care of me and keep me safe.

Tonight the thunderstorm has broken free.

“Sweetheart, I know about the thunderstorm and the rain. It’s inside me, too. And every time the storm gets really bad and it feels like it will never stop raining, I try really hard to remember one thing.”

“What’s that?”

Brushing back the gently curling hair that is my gift to her, I fight a smile as she reaches to do the same for me.

“That there’s always a rainbow after the rain. Even when we can’t see it, it’s there. And someday it won’t rain as much, and the thunderstorm will go away. And when that happens, that’s when you’ll see your rainbow.”

“What if it doesn’t have lots of colors in it?”

“It’s your rainbow – it can have as many colors as you want.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Things That Go Bump in the Night.

“I don’t ever want to lose you.”

It’s the witching hours when her words cut deepest, a soft whisper against my neck while tiny arms hug me tightly in a silent defiance of all things cruel and unusual. Night after night, I answer the call of her voice as it floats uneasily down the hallway, crawling under the covers to wrap my arms around her as she fights to stay awake.

Of all the ties that bind it is this bond that should never have been forged – a childish fear of the dark that death brought to life – that holds us closest.

Ever the contrarian, my daughter plays quietly night after night in a mound of covers, soft pillows and stuffed animals while my son greets the sandman before I cross back over the threshold of his room. Hours after the lights are dimmed and flecks of light begin to dance across her walls, her whispers float down the hallway as bunnies and peacocks and kittens and puppies band together in familial threesomes.

A mommy. A girl. A brother. Never a daddy.

She knows that a daddy is warm and safe and happy. But what memories remain – distant embers that burn brightly for brief moments triggered by the way light falls in the hallway, the way an ordinary object sits on a shelf, a story long forgotten remembered in laughter – are indelibly linked to the pain and confusion of loss.

For weeks afterward she drew pictures of the man that had vanished without warning, as though the carefully drawn images would change time and space. And then the man grew smaller and less colorful before taking his perch in the clouds before vanishing altogether, an image that faded into the background along with the pain. She questioned why she could not float to him with the balloons that disappeared into the vast sky above, and why he could not slide down just for a moment. As time passed she let his image return, on her terms and on occasion, in vivid color and warm context.

But with age comes understanding and the realization that childhood fantasies often remain unrealized while fears do not. She knows that there are gaps in the childhood that is shaping her, but does not understand who or what they are. Her days are filled with laughter and contentment, interrupted by what is missing when it erupts like a festering sore accidentally scratched. The world that stopped turning now spins on a new axis.

But it is the dead of night when things that can go bump do. And it is at night when things disappear into the dark. Because when daylight broke they had.

And tonight sleep has abandoned us both, because as darkness settles tomorrow I will disappear into it far away from her and from him. I cannot promise her the one thing she needs, but of this I am certain. When daylight breaks tomorrow she will be sleeping peacefully under the covers.

In my room.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Roasted by Reality.

A splash of rum. An ample roast.

It sounded divine. Our first post-nuptials holiday in a house we dreamed or and painstakingly designed, and we were determined to do things our way. Our dining table was officially a turkey-free table, without a trace of jellied cranberry to be found.

And that was the last time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner.

Not because I can’t cook a roast, and not because my turkeys don’t melt off the bone. Because Thanksgiving will always be the day when I gave thanks that eyebrows and eyelashes grow back and that the smell of charred hair does indeed fade along with the rosy evidence across cheekbones and the bridge of one’s nose.

But 10 years later I am being forced to revisit the ghosts of Thanksgiving past, because my son is determined to have a feast worthy of the pilgrims and their Native American guests. A bounty of corn. Fresh-baked bread. Mouthwatering mashed potatoes. Gravy worth wallowing in. Pumpkin pie. Stuffing. And a turkey. That must be cooked in an oven.

By me.

Thanksgiving has never been our holiday of choice, and for a decade it was one of the most important weekends of my career. Looking back on resolutions made 11 months earlier and a vow to change habits that no longer fit, comes the promise of new ones and contentment in the simple fact that it is nearly noon and I am still in my pajamas.

But if I know anything, it is this. Painful memories aren’t forgotten – they simply sting less with time. Staring at the pimply flesh of the bird I am about to violate with spoonfuls of stuffing my children will taste and promptly disavow, I also know this.

He’s already laughing. Wherever he is.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Restricted Airspace.

My eyes are burning and my nasal passages have commenced lock down. If I didn’t know better, I’d start searching for hidden decomposition. But right now all I want to do is get in and out.

Without losing consciousness.

It’s moments like this that I miss my husband. It’s not that the other moments don’t matter, but there’s nothing like being slapped in the face to remind you that you are navigating on your own. And I’ve just been slapped in the face by something that resembles being in a room with my husband an hour after a hearty bowl of chili. A burrito. Spaghetti. Salad. An apple.

The man could turn water into a toxic substance.

Stepping across the dark threshold of his domain guided by quiet even breathing, it is painfully clear that dimples aren’t the only mark of my husband’s legacy. My little boy has been swallowed up by something big and smelly and ravenous.

For months, my vocabulary has been on limited play and replay. Lift the seat. Put it down. Was that you? I’m not asking again – pick up your clothes and put them in the laundry basket. He tugs and rearranges, explaining the importance of “unsticking” to someone who really doesn’t want to know.  He spends hours in the bathroom, only to argue whether or not it’s really necessary to use soap. I’ve mastered the art of carrying soaked hockey gear pinched between thumb and forefinger, and I can no longer distinguish between an aquarium that needs cleaning and the air of the room he emerges from each morning.

Nearly eight years after he turned our world upside down my favorite moment of the day is still long after he falls asleep. Together we would tuck the tiny foot back under the covers and remove toy cars and noisy things from the folds of the blankets, whispering to each other about the little details that are magical to parents and mundane to those who are not. Alone, I tuck a foot no longer tiny back under the covers and remove books from the folds of the blankets. I kiss the forehead resting on the stuffed dog that has been his constant companion throughout the years and the tears.

And tomorrow morning the not-little smells will disappear when he wanders in bleary eyed and curls up in my arms.