My mama is very much on my mind this year. I don’t really know why, but after 5 years, this year seems much more bittersweet than the previous ones without her. I think it may be simply because my children are so close this year, for the first time in ages. I will celebrate most of Christmas Day with my oldest son and his family, and it’s hard to not notice the similarities between Christmases of the past, when he and his siblings were small and their grandma made the trek to spend the day with her firstborn and family.
Have I related, lately, just how much I adore my children? They have become such interesting adults, not simply amazing because this mama always felt that they were special, as every mother does; but because they are simply remarkable in so many unique ways. I could write tomes about each child, absolute missives of adoration, joy, and testaments of love to each; indeed, each deserves his/her own novel of love and devotion from a mother who very much expected to lead a sad, lonely, secluded, and quiet life and instead found herself blessed beyond any seed of hope ever planted in childhood fields of dreams.
Again this week, I offer up a past writing from the archives.This one is the first, a first Christmas without my mother, and it deserves a place of reminiscence in this blog. It serves to remind me of how far I have come since that first very dark Christmas as an orphan, and yet, how easily I seem to be able to conjure up those emotions with little or no effort even now.
‘Tis the Season to be, well….something.
It’s not yet December but the trees are trimmed, the lights are hung, and thoughts of Christmas are ever-present in my house. It’s hard not to catch the spirit with two young boys jockeying for a spot on Santa’s “Good List”. It’s especially hard to ignore the fact that the holiday season has begun with a 3 year-old who is absolutely enamored of snow falling, trees glittering, and snow globes, which are of course Santa’s spy cameras. He sees EVERYTHING through those things. They are positioned all over the house, giving Santa a great view of every move, so you better be good, for goodness sake! It’s fun to have Aaron involved in the Santa shenanigans, too. At 9, he knows the truth about where the presents come from, but he’s really enjoying having this super-secret knowledge and keeping his brother on his toes. Yesterday, he told Desi all about “the year I was really, really bad and Santa only gave me coal.” He related this to his younger brother with a sly, conspiratorial look on his face as he glanced at me from time to time. Desi was astounded that this could have actually happened. I watched Desi’s face as he sat on the couch last night, his eyes glued to the TV set as the Grinch did his dirty work and then was shown the true meaning of Christmas by Cindy Lou Who. I’ll admit, it really is much easier to believe when you see things through the eyes of a 3 year-old child.
I know that I am mostly going through the motions this year. That’s been the case for many years, even though I have essentially had children running around the house at Christmas for over 26 years now. I miss my mom, and Thanksgiving was difficult. It just didn’t feel right somehow. I think it was mostly the pall of the last year’s events hanging over us like some sooty residue, and what we really need is a cleansing, not only in the house, but of our spirits as well. I’m trying. I really am. I need to wash the gloom right out of our lives. The only problem is, I have not yet figured out a way to accomplish that.
Here’s what I will not miss this year. I will not miss trying to figure out what to buy for a septuagenarian who has everything. I will not miss buying the requisite new nightgowns, perfumes, and household items she wants but doesn’t really need. What I WILL miss is seeing her open her gifts and exclaiming over those one or two really special items, like a handmade rosary or a soft, warm sweater. She always enjoyed opening the presents and that gave me a lot of pleasure.
I will not miss baking cookies and not being able to load up containers of them for her, because she had diabetes and therefore could not have much in the way of sweets. I hated this every year because I knew damn well she could smell the aromas of freshly-baked sugar cookies and snickerdoodles and pumpkin bread and all the other mouth-watering treats she taught me to make wafting down into her apartment. It had to be absolute torture for someone who used to be able to freely eat as many as she wanted. I hated making up a simple plate of just a couple of cookies at a time for her, because it just seemed like a punishment. What I WILL miss is that, on Christmas Day, all bets were off and she would come upstairs and feast her eyes on everything yummy and pick and choose whatever she wanted. Just for that day. It made me happy to see her eyes light up.
I will not miss having to trek downstairs to open our one Christmas Eve gift together, mostly because it was always crowded when we did so and because it just reminded me that in order to have her upstairs for Christmas Day, we had to limit how much she moved around because her back, legs, and hip hurt so much. Yes, she enjoyed coming up and hanging out upstairs, but it was always tempered with the certainty that she would pay for it for days afterward. I am reminded of previous years when my kids were young and she and my brother would come from their house next door to us and we’d have hot chocolate while we opened our one gift each. I can still remember how she used to walk; she always took small, careful steps that seemed just a little bit jaunty. What I WILL miss is the hot cup of coffee that greeted me downstairs when we would go down there these past 7 years and the little gifts of herself that she was so proud of creating for us. She was an incredible knitter and crocheter and I only wish she had been able to make us more treasures to keep always.
I will not miss having to hide the Christmas candy we’d buy for my brother’s stocking every Christmas because if we left it in her apartment, she had no self-control and would eat every single piece. This would cause me to 1) be pissed off at her because I’d have to go to the extra expense of buying more candy, and 2) worry that her sugar was going to go through the roof and kill her. I WILL miss buying her the bags of Russell Stover sugar-free caramels she loved for her stocking, although this one is a double-edged sword in that she also had no self control when it came to sugar-free candy either. Guess what happens if you eat too much sugar-free Hersheys bars? You get the trots, which is never fun, but is even worse if you can’t walk very well and sometimes barely make it to your porta-potty let alone when you get yourself sick gorging yourself on candy.
I will not miss the inevitable trip to the Emergency Room that has occurred every single year just after Christmas. Sometimes it was breathing problems, but last year, it was spinal stenosis. I DO miss the feelings of relief that always accompanied these trips because, well….she was always okay. She’d usually have to be admitted for a week but I never had the thought that I would lose her. I always knew she’d be fine and she’d come home. It was reassuring. That was how I knew, deep within my heart, that things were not going to be okay on September 22nd, When my brother came upstairs and told me “Mom needs help” and Amanda flew down the stairs while I threw on some clothes. I had this piercing feeling in my gut that somehow this was different. We’d been to the doctor just two weeks prior. She’d had tremendously good news and awesome results of her tests. She was feeling better than she had in years. This was an omen. I know that now. It should have prepared me, but it didn’t. Instead, I had that feeling of comfort, that my mom was going to be with me for a long time, and that we had more time to get to that good place we were seeking. I guess we were there without my ever realizing it. I wish someone would have clued me in, because in the days that have followed, I’ve really beaten myself up.
I will miss preparing her plate at Christmas dinner. I will miss her wishing she could have a beer. I’ll miss sneaking a bit of Irish Cream liqueur into her coffee and how she would gulp it down. I will miss watching her eyes roll back into her head and her sigh of pleasure when she’d take her first bite of fudge. I will miss how she always gave me one gift that said more in that gesture than a thousand words ever could. Hell, I’ll even miss how she would bicker with my brother, especially last year, when he opened a gift and exclaimed “Not another goddamn plush throw!” (I guess he’s accruing quite a collection.)
There are plenty of other things I’ll miss, but I am hoping that after this first, awkward year where we are all hyper-conscious of what has been lost and who’s missing – where I will probably try way too hard to seem festive and jolly and to make merry when inside, I’ll probably be as dead as a pile of unlit twigs in the fireplace – we’ll all be able to move on and find joy on coming years. Perhaps we can start to make some new memories that, while not better, are just as good. I may have lost my childish wonder at the magic of Christmas, and I may have lost my mother, but I have not lost the ability to hope.