Art Linkletter was right, kids do say the darndest things, and sometimes those "things” teach the damndest lessons.
Christmas afternoon 2007, restless, anxious I paced. “Ginger," the kids are coming, "aren’t you excited?” Orange-tipped ears, like antennae detecting a "time to eat" (again) signal, perked to attention as the rotund tabby raised her head, cast half-opened eyes, right, then left before coughing an irritated meow my direction and resuming her 24-7 napping position. Did I really expect an answer?
"At least there won't be any straggling, dry pine needles to clean up 'til July this year" my rationale for choosing an artificial yuletide tree. Glade's “Essence of Evergreen” candles permeated the air as white dancing lights radiated seasonal ambiance among plastic branches. "Peter will surely have the rhythm control blasted to frenzy pace as soon as he enters," I thought. Shiny gold bulbs comingled with never-going-to-toss kid-crafted ornaments. Presents, arranged by size, rested in precision under the canopy of limbs. Alvin and the Chipmunks squeaked “Holly Jolly Christmas” via compact disc. Stockings, hung by the chimney with care were filled with practical, traditional socks, underwear and toothbrushes. Empty ceramic Santa Claus mugs sat perched on the kitchen table, awaiting hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Instead of taking my place at the foot of the circular staircase armed with video camera readied to record the, "It's Christmas! It's Christmas!" stampede traditional of the last decade, I sauntered window-to-window in anticipation of the kids' drop-off after spending the morning with my ex and his Mrs. When at last I could hear the four-door Civic pulling into the driveway, like a starved pup unleashed within inches of red meat, I raced to the door, accidentally stomping Ginger's tail, sending her hissing down the basement steps.
“Merry Christmas, Mom.” Katie and Josh shouted nearly in unison as they catapulted from the backseat. In his scurry, Josh dropped a glove, its empty crimson finger holders, stark contrast to the thin dust of fresh snow, signaled "you are here . . . at the house of the divorced woman."
“Smile, remember Dad’s words 'never let him see you sweat.'" I echoed a hearty “Merry Christmas!” and saw my hand wave a congenial good-bye, but my mind was absent, lodged in another span of time, prisoner to excerpts of Christmases past.
Blink. . . Me, sitting next to the bent-over-too-tall tree in the foyer two-centuries-old home, Katie bounding down the steps two at a time, Josh scooting down on his behind swift enough to pass, giggling with each bump. Blink. . . Blink . . . the aroma of fresh coffee. Blink. . . Blink . . . Blink. . . “Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad,” spoken through grins so wide I wondered how Josh and Katie's teeth stayed in.
A sudden, in-the-face-snow-splash transported me back to reality.
“Merry Christhmuth, Mom, bet you didn’t know thatht wasth your presentht, did you?” Josh's temporary lisp account two missing front teeth made him even more adorable. I hugged the kids so tightly Katie gasped, “Okay, Mom, can’t breathe.”
“Sit down kids. Before you open your presents, I want to tell you something.” “Mahhhhahhhhhm,” stereo voices accompanied slightly rolling eyes.
“I’m so proud of you,” I started slowly, hesitantly. “You mean more than the world to me. You know that?” As if doing so
would hasten present-opening time, both nodded enthusiastically. “I know Christmas has to be hard for you, so if I’ve never told you before, I want you to know how sorry I am things are not like they used to be.”
Katie, first to break the dense fog of silence which had penetrated the room, spoke, slightly irritated, tears pooling in her round, blue-as-the-sky eyes. "Mom, why can’t we just have Christmas?”
“Yea, Mom,” Josh piped in. “Why do you alwaysth haff to talk about the sad sthuff? When we go to Dad’sth we justht open presthentsh. Why can’t we do thaht here?”
“You’re the only one living in the past, why can’t you just move on? You’re a Klingon, Mom.”
Katie may as well have dealt a live grenade and asked me to swallow it.
Though never a Star Trek fan, the term Klingon brought visual of plastic wrap, clinging to itself and becoming a mass of frustration. "Amazing, after all the shopping, preparing, anticipating, with only a few brief words, I wadded up Christmas." Even the fake corner greenery seemed to wilt in shame.
Motionless for what seemed an eternity, now I wanted to apologize for ruining Christmas. Pitching a mayday “Please help me” prayer to heaven, I took action.
“Kids, put your coats back on,” my voice sans any holiday cheer, Josh and Katie looked at me as if I'd just gone bonkers. “Go on, get them on.”
“Mom, whathst going on?” Josh asked.
"No questions, Josh. Just do as I say. You, too, Katie."
Once the kids were rebundled, I declared another command, “Okay, now go outside.” Opening the front door, I motioned, 'scat.' "That's it. Good job." Katie and Josh scuffle-shuffled past, heads focused on the their boots. "Walk to the driveway. Then stop."
Standing in the slight tire tracks left just moments before, Katie and Josh did an about face, their expressions bewildered, gaping as though deer in headlights. Closing the front door, I took a deep breath. Then, with a yank so forceful I nearly pulled the door from its hinges, I leaped onto the porch, careful not to slip in the mist of snow spray, lifted my arms wide to heaven, mustered cheer through silent prayer and shouted, "Katie, Josh, so glad you're here! Come In! Come In! Merry Let’s Just Have Christmas!”
Eyes following Katie and Josh's delighted footrace to reenter, I whispered, "Thank You, God" to the open sky and glanced at the now-frenzied white Christmas lights, dancing with applause, "Redeemed! Redeemed!"
Forgetting what is behind, I press on…
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