Tuesday, December 24, 2013

All Through the House.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Three stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicolas soon would be there.

Thing One and Thing Two were tucked snug in their beds,
While visions of presents danced in their heads.
And Cocoa with her bone and I with my glass
Settled down for a long night ahead.

When down the hall came a tiny pit patter
And I waved her in close to see what was the matter.
“I can’t sleep, Mom. Can I snuggle with you?
It’s always better with you.”

The day had been full of mayhem and merriment,
Last minute gifts, tranquilizers, gift wrap and peppermint.
Even Cocoa’s excited …
She woke at 4 a.m.

Christmas has become so frantic and quick
And this year I have a bone to pick with St. Nick.

I’ve had no time to sit down, to relax and to calm
And this pace needs to end before me it claims!

Now, Merlot! Now Cab! Now Shiraz and Chardonay!
On Pinot! On Muscat! On Riesling and Rose!
To the top of the list! To the top of pile!
Now gift wrap! Gift wrap! Gift wrap it ALL!

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
Our eyes and our thoughts can’t help but turn to the sky.
To the one long gone and those here, too.

With a heart full of memories and a head full of dreams,
We’ve had a year that has held more than it seems.
I tucked her golden curl and wrapped my arms ‘round
The little girl whose passion for life knows no bounds.

“Sweetheart, we can’t snuggle up tonight.
Mommy stays awake ‘til you’re asleep every night,
And she still has dishes to clean and gifts to wrap,
Before she can finally take her own long winter’s nap.”

My eyes—how they hurt! My back, how it aches!
My buttocks are tender, bruised like squished berries.

I took her little hand, so small and warm,
And led her down the hall to her room.
The lights on her little tree danced merrily,
Lighting the path to where Bunny waited patiently.

As I tucked her in close
I thought of the gifts waiting for me
And I knew that what they want
Will not be under our tree.

With a kiss on her brow I started to leave
Determined to get it all done before I fell asleep.

We’ve been lucky, we know
Even if mommy hasn’t filled the hole in their souls.
And this year I am filled with thoughts of firsts and lasts
As a Christmas surprise brings us all together
For memories to last.
And now on the eve of the big man in red
I hear her say as I walked down the hall—
“I hope Santa brings you Gerard Butler!”

Merry Christmas, one and all. And to all, a good night.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rub a Dub Dub.

I simply don’t have time for this.

There are 11 days – 264 hours – until the big man in red is supposed to jam his cranberried belly down our chimney and I have 11,264 things still left to do. 

(That’s also about the number of unopened and answered emails. If you’re wondering when I’m getting back to you, let’s just assume the response won’t be coming home for Christmas.)

But, really, I don’t have 264 hours. Subtract work – running an undesirable 11 hours a day right now – and sleep – all of six hours, at best – and we’re down to 77 hours. Minus the three hours a week of workout time I am clinging to and we’re down another 15 to 62. Take out the 25 hours I’ll be at the rink for the kids over the next 11 days. Subtract familial commitments between now and then. Remove the overnight trip for work that has unexpectedly landed on my calendar.

13 hours. That’s all I’ve got. And I’m about to lose 20 minutes more.

A year ago, Santa finally caved. After two years of unrelenting puppy-dog-eyed pleading – driven home by the guilt-tripping haranguing of those who made me feel worthless as a parent for not providing a puppy for my oh-so-not-deprived children and who do not spend any time in the eye of the storm that is my frantic existence – Cocoa arrived. She was sweet and perfect.

For about 13 hours.

Our pocket-sized pooch is now 55 pounds of unbridled energy and far too many smarts. She is my daughter … with a fur coat. Her spider-eating episode cost me a grand and gifted our vet with both enjoyment and the genesis of an academic paper. She races in circles before jettisoning herself off the trampoline. Our gardener begins each visit reviewing a bag full of irrigation system parts collected since his last visit, an exercise in his ability to remember and repair what’s supposed to – but isn’t – stay beneath the ground. She’s torn apart every holiday delivery that UPS has decided to leave behind the gate. And now I’m supposed to find a way to wash her with a medicated shampoo that needs to stay on her for about 15 minutes before rinsing.

There are many things missing from my seasonal dose of merriment, and a glass of red and a bubble bath are just about the only guilty pleasures that haven’t been sacrificed for the greater good. And even those are few and far between. There is no avoiding the fact that my last sanctuary is about to be desecrated, and there’s a good chance I will be maimed in the process. And, right now, neither one of us wants a bath.

“Cocoa, please cooperate. Just once. Because I really can’t take any more right now.”

Sliding her silky head beneath my hand and resting it on my knee, her lime-green eyes stare back at me as though she understands my plea for calm and cooperation.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snow Fall.

“Do you remember when the snow globe broke?”

My childhood is filled with the memories that wintery grey skies bring. Ice skating on gently undulating ponds, peering down at the miniature horseshoe crabs frozen in motion. The first snow falling on my August birthday. Crying against the pain of warmth returning to near-frozen fingers and toes. Elaborate labyrinths in the drifts against the house. Blocks of ice melting on the stove. The mottled purple frostbite of my brother’s hand left uncovered for a 200-yard walk home. Twenty-four hours of darkness. Wild dogs deep within the snowy tunnels under the house. Brightly colored Christmas lights gleaming against frost caps on the inside window sills. The wind howling against the cold porch door, and my mouse-brown hair frozen to the wall when morning arrived. Husky puppies in the kitchen. Riding in the dark holding tight to the sled lashings. Elaborately embroidered parkas unveiled on Christmas Eve and Santa by DC3. Julie Andrews and my favorite things.

I loved winter and everything it brings.

Until the eternal winter that we were thrust into left me struggling to enjoy that most jolly of seasons.

The first one is a vague, foggy memory of uniformed officers hanging Christmas lights, an explosion of children’s toys under the tree, pressures to sacrifice myself for the good of family and the way it had always been done.

But it was the second Christmas that forever changed how the bells rang and the halls were decked.

By then the fog had lifted and left behind a seething and relentless anger that festered in the cold and empty house. She barely four and he just months into kindergarten, they had experienced so much that the magic of Christmas could not erase. Unhealthy and weak, the Thanksgiving weekend loomed over me like a black storm cloud overhead and I steeled myself against familial pressures and watched as the men of the houses in our cozy enclave climb up and down ladders, armed with strings of brightly colored lights and green holly.

Surrounded by boxes of ribbons and trappings and ornaments that evoked memories I loathed, I wrestled the nearly-10-foot-tree and its ribbons and trappings while carols sang in hollow merriment. But of all the sights and sounds, only one captured their attention.

The silvery, snowy globe.

More than a snowy holiday scene, to my daughter it was a magical place she wished she could enter. For my son it was a special gift from Santa. For me it was a link to Christmases past and all the ones that would never be. And suddenly it was gone, shattered and scattered in the way that our happiness had been. Everything that was trapped inside escaped me in a furious maelstrom.

As all children do, they remind me of that moment. Instead of all of the moments of sacrifice and love, it is the moments of anger and awfulness that they recall and that are forever burned in their memories. Moments I can never erase, leaving behind a mother’s guilt that I am resigned to and at times seems insurmountable.

A new snow globe arrived that Christmas to replace the one that had been lost, bringing a snowy sparkle back to the little boy’s eyes. But every holiday since, it is still the little girl that is mesmerized by the scene beyond reach in the way that I am mesmerized by what is out of reach. And each year as we deck the halls, she reminds me.

“I remember.”

And I imagine the sparkle in her eyes when she finds her snow globe this Christmas morning.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In the Mail.

“As an employee, the health benefits available to you represent a significant component of your compensation package. As administrator of your Post Employment Health Plan …”

When someone departs without warning and approval, the personal and the perfunctory collide. You are immediately faced with advice of all sorts, forms of all shapes and sizes, clauses and legal jargon. Your body revolts in a melting pot of nausea-sleep-deprived mode of survival and it’s a coin toss – did those 20 pounds vanish from starvation or the newly acquired irritable bowel syndrome that’s on par with a nuclear holocaust?

And suddenly the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood aren’t so crazy after all.

But you get through it. In your own way and on your own terms.

You reclaim your rebellious body, you put the bottles back on the shelf, and you fill out all those damn forms. But unless you move to Belize and leave no forwarding address, the U.S. postal service and mass marketers everywhere do their best to draw out the Grinch in all of us.

And there’s nothing like daily mail addressed to someone long dead to make you want to push the postal truck off the edge of Mount Crumpet.

Because in between the circulars, newsprint and avalanche of bills is a paper trail I no longer care to follow. Tiffany & Co. Coach. Alumni wishes for the holiday season. Frequent Flyer programs. DirecTV offers to come back home for the holidays. Year-end reminders. White House Black Market. Ann Taylor. Ann Taylor Loft. Nordstrom. Bicycling magazine. MBAA. Life Insurance pitches. Pre-made address labels from St. Jude’s. Year-end summaries from health insurance companies that whose end-of-life/coverage databases are, quite apparently, not synchronized with those “review your health and healthcare benefits” databases. Investment firms, hospice and AARP. Bills. Junk. Special discounts because “We’ve missed you, James!”

And an annual review of healthcare benefits for someone who hasn’t had a pulse in years.

I have expended a considerable amount of time and energy over the years waging war on my mail box. It’s not that I blame them for anything, but delivering the medical examiner’s report on Valentine’s Day? Not cool. The financial mail to those who have never lived at this address but who were connected on some document, somewhere, to my husband festers anew with each trip to the box.

I’ve called the post office. I’ve shown up in person. I’ve unsubscribed. I’ve blocked unwanted recipients. I’ve called the source demanding to know where their list came from. I’ve visited stores in person. I’ve even waited for the mail carrier to arrive. More than once.

“How can I help you?”

“I’m hoping you can help me correct some information on an account.”

“I’d be happy to. How can I help?”

“I’d like to remove my husband’s name from the account profile.”

“To remove him from the account profile, I would need his permission.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. The fact of the matter is that unless he plans on sending me a little blue box from beyond the pearly gates, he hasn’t been checking the mail for quite some time.”

“Oh, I’m very sorry.”

“I would really appreciate your help with this. And I hope you’ll appreciate that after a hundred of these calls, I am no longer screaming like a banshee.”

“Yes, ma’am, I most certainly do.”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Boob and the Boobette.

“Mom … why is that part of your boobs pointy?”

Naked and shivering, this is not the conversation I intended to have before 6 a.m. this morning. Every year, for about a week surrounding the anniversary of my husband’s death, my brain is foggy, my innards rebel, and I cannot get out of bed. And that leaves me unorganized, irritable and definitely late for work. And my daughter, like my late husband did, has an uncanny ability to make a hard morning … harder.

The only way my mornings work is if I have 60 uninterrupted minutes to wake up, shower and put on my costume for the day. But my daughter has never been one to let things … work. She refused to sleep through the night until she was closing in on a year and once she graduated to a big girl bed she left it every night at 1:30 a.m. to worm her way into ours. And as remarkable as my husband might have been, he wasn’t going to win any awards for shouldering the midnight load and putting her back to bed.

“It doesn’t make any sense for me to take care of her in the middle of the night. You’re her food!”

“If you’re tired at work you just don’t write as well. If I’m tired, it’s a matter of life or death.”

“You’re the mom. Moms are better at night.”

The last memory I have of my husband breathing – the last moment I remember him alive – I owe to her. When I fell back into bed – exhausted because my company decided to fire Santa that week and Santa found himself a lawyer and publicist and somehow my cell phone number had made its way onto one of the country’s leading media websites and people with nothing better to do had been calling 24/7 to let me know what they thought of Santa getting canned (never mind that Santa was demanding more for six weeks of lap time than most teachers make in an entire year) – he was the last sound I heard before everything went dark. 

A sound now less nice and more nightmare.

And ever since then my daughter’s bedtime comfort has ebbed and flowed. For the most part, she stay put, comfortably snoring away under her pillow-y blankets cheek to cheek with her beloved bunny until I coax her from her warm cocoon the next morning.

And then there are mornings like this.

“Why do they get pointy?”

“Well, different reasons. They stick out when babies need to eat. They stick out when it’s cold. And sometimes they stick out when you are excited.”


“Good God. I am not having a baby.”

“Then why are your’s sticking out?”

“Because …. I’m naked and wet and cold?”

“Why do they stick out when you get excited?”

“They just do.”

“What makes them excited?”

“Sweetie, they get excited when they feel good.”

“What makes them feel good?”

“Being with a boy you really like.”

“I hope yours stick out a lot very soon.”

With that, I cannot argue.