Payback’s a …

Last weekend, my daughter Elizabeth was in town to do some Christmas errands.  When she was finished, she returned to my apartment to relax and have dinner.  She burst through the door and as she hung up her coat, she exclaimed, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me!”

I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink.  Stealing a quick glance at her, I noticed she wasn’t smiling.  “What?” I said aloud, although I was thinking, “Oh no…now what?”

“Well, I was on South Willow Street and decided to stop at Starbucks…”
mochaI smiled, remembering how she recently introduced me to the evils of Iced Peppermint Mocha.  Such a delightfully decadent drink!

“And I went to take a left hand turn into the drive up.  A woman zoomed up on my right hand side and tried to cut me off.  I could see her yelling at me through the windshield.”

Holiday traffic on South Willow Street is a nightmare.  I’ve been on that road theroadrage2 weekends preceding Christmas when it’s taken thirty minutes to travel a quarter mile.  Like any city driving, there are times when you have to be fairly assertive, if not aggressive, least you become caught in the middle of a catastrophe.  However, I’ve always encouraged my children to be polite drivers and not allow themselves to be dragged into a situation where hot tempers and poor judgment prevail.

Elizabeth went on. “She didn’t succeed in cutting me off, but she ended up in back of me in the Starbucks queue.  I was furious.”

I nodded understandingly.

“But I got her back.”

I surveyed my youngest child’s face. She is strikingly beautiful; tall and willowy with huge eyes fringed by thick lashes.  Elizabeth is a free spirit- artistic, brilliant… and a bit impulsive.  She is usually soft-hearted and thoughtful.  I have often thought that she couldn’t be intentionally mean if she wanted to.  Still, the holidays can bring out the best, and the worst in all of us.

“Lizza!  What did you do?” I asked, fearful of the answer.

A smile played at her lips.  In an instant, memories of my child flashed through my mind.  Elizabeth elbowing an opponent twice her size during a basketball game.  Elizabeth throwing a rubber spider at a nurse in the Pediatric ICU and making her scream.  Elizabeth and her brother stuffing seaweed into Abby’s back pack before leaving the beach.

I have to admit that although my daughter looks angelic, she does not always make heavenly choices.

She hesitated a moment.  My stomach began to tighten.lizza beach_n

She broke out in a full faced grin.

My stomach tightened more, anticipating the worst.

“I paid for her drink.”

Merry Christmas to all.

Advertisements

‘Tis the Season

carly xmas card0001

Photo by Sarah Swan Photography, courtesy of my friends, Carly and Jeff Gartside, whose two little boys are more often full of smiles than this image suggests.

I love Christmas.  I love the surprises, the planning, the decorations, the food and the time spent with family and friends under the glow of twinkling lights.

But not every Christmas is a Hallmark moment, especially when kids are little. White Christmases, filled with late night television specials, trips to the mall and holiday concerts often produce sniffling noses and melt-downs in the line to see Santa.

We experienced one of those years when my children were little.  Abby was to sing in her first Christmas cantata at our church.  I had sewn a cheerful red plaid dress with a white collar and bought her black patent leather shoes for the event.  For weeks she rehearsed with the other children from our church, until she knew every word and every note.  Her father and I were excited to experience our first-born’s debut as a choral singer, and looked forward to the performance the day before Christmas.

The morning of the cantata was bitterly cold, but it was warm in our apartment as I brushed Abby’s long blond hair and helped her dress. She looked a little pale and tired.  “Perhaps she had been up a little too late the night before,” I mused. “I’ll get her to bed early tonight.” Usually she was ferociously hungry for breakfast, but today she refused the eggs I had cooked.  “You have to eat something,” I coaxed.  “How about a little yogurt?”

Abby shook her head, but I insisted.  “You cannot go to church without eating breakfast!”  Reluctantly, she spooned some yogurt into her mouth, and I turned my attention to Elizabeth, who had her own new plaid dress, and Gabriel, who needed help with his white shirt and tie.  Finally they were dressed and as I sat back to admire all three in their Christmas finery, their dad arrived from gassing up the car.

“Time to go!” he called as I buttoned Elizabeth’s coat.  I hustled the children to the front door of the apartment building, shivering in the icy wind.  Gabriel stood by his daddy as he buckled Elizabeth into her car seat, and I turned to Abby, still standing on the front stairs.

Her big eyes met mine, and she blanched a deathly white, saying, “I can’t do this!” With that she promptly vomited her breakfast, which immediately froze on the brick steps.

In that  instant, our holiday plans changed.  It was not long before Gabriel joined Abby on the couch, barf bowl by his side.  The cantata took place without us.  We bowed out of the family Christmas celebration.  Fancy dresses and ties were hung in the closet, exchanged for flannel pajamas.  And instead of the turkey dinner I had planned, we ate broth and toast.

Our experience was not unique.   Most families will have some holiday horror stories to report.  Every year I hear blurry-eyed mothers remark that they can’t wait for the holidays to be over.  Parents are so stressed from trying to fit in all the parties, plays and concerts that they spend most of their time wishing for some quiet time.  We listen to our children sing constant choruses of “I want, I want, I want!” so we stretch our budgets too far. We buy and buy, and then we are overwhelmed at all the wrapping to complete before the children rise on Christmas morning.  We chastise our little ones, warning them that Santa may not stop at our house, or the Elf on the Shelf is watching, or “If-you-do-not-stop-teasing-your-sister-this-very-minute-I-will-return-everything-I-bought-to-the-store!”

The Christmas of the stomach flu taught me a few things.  First, it taught me if your child looks pale and doesn’t want to eat, chances are she shouldn’t.  But more importantly, I learned that as much as the Jinglebells of Christmas- the lights and sparkles, noise, parties, commotion and concerts- are fun, a Silent Night is sometimes the better choice.

It’s not by accident the birth of Jesus was in the quiet of a stable.  Yes, there were angel choruses.  And no, I don’t think that all the commotion that we associate with the holidays is bad.  I just think that sometimes we need to take a step back.  Breathe.  Turn off the television specials and say no to some of the activities. Limit our rich foods and our running around and our spending.  Cuddle the ones we love and tell them that we will love them forever, even when they are sick or cranky, or tone deaf, or disobedient. birth

Because really, all this craziness-all the singing and the parties and the gifts, wrapping and decorating- all this celebration is because a small child was born in a desolate location, heralded by a single, noiseless star.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

%d bloggers like this: