On the first day of Christmas, I was at my parents’ new house. We had spent the two days before that doing little things to get ready, like still getting their stuff out of boxes and putting furniture where it was supposed to be, along with all the usual Christmas stuff people do, like decorating the tree and cleaning bathrooms and inspecting nooks and crannies for cobwebs. And then there was Actual Christmas.
8am: I’m up. Mom and Dad have been up probably for an hour. Low-energy why-do-you-people-drink-such-weak-ass-coffee gift exchange ensues between me, parents and Sister 3, who is 21 and has a nasty cold, and therefore is basically comatose and speaking in monosyllabic grunts.
9am: in the shower. Dad making scrapple and eggs. Yummy food smells. More coffee.
9:30am: breakfast. Mom’s head begins revolving on neck. Apparently no one else notices.
9:50am: must do something with hair. Not optional.
10:00am: Mom, Sister 3 and I get in car to head to 93-year-old grandfather’s house for 90-minute visit. 90 minutes! Not a minute longer! Dad is home cooking and needs help.
10:47am: At grandfather’s house visiting with him and Crazy Aunt. Vaguely racist references leak out in course of normal conversation between Crazy Aunt and Mom. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me blink and stiffen up but is perfectly normal in gatherings of a certain generation and a certain skin color, with just a slight twist because Crazy Aunt is crazy. Ah, family togetherness: a chance to realize you might be adopted, after all.
10:51am: Mom complains that the Midnight Mass from the Vatican featured too many closeups of the Pope’s gold rings. “That’s just the media’s way of slamming the Church.” I try to be gentle as I explain that the people who do the broadcast are, in fact, the Vatican. She remains displeased. I suggest she write letter to Vatican.
12:00pm: back in the car people. Back in the car!
12:31pm: back at Mom & Dad’s house. Off with the heels, on with the sweater socks to last until real people show up around 4:30 and I have to look like a grownup.
(Yes, my parents moved into a new house from a different state and hosted Christmas dinner for 20 adults and five small children like three days later.)
(That is a slight exaggeration.)
(But only slight.)
1pm: Sister 2, BIL 2 and Youngest Neph arrive. Youngest Neph is still in footie pajamas, ready for nap to avoid mammoth meltdown in course of long day still ahead. I might have given anything for my own footie pajamas and nap. Denied, because I’m 34 and helping with dinner instead of lying in crib blissfully with new toy and no obligations whatsoever, including no obligation not to mess my own pants. (Or anyone else’s, for that matter.)
1:36pm: wasps enter family room inexplicably. Wasps on Christmas in Pennsylvania? Theory: fireplace brickface is separating from wall in new house. Might be nest between bricks and wall. Fire is smoking wasps out. Fantastic.
1:38pm: Dad learns theory. Swears for first time of day.
2pm: Sister 1, BIL 1 and Twin Nephs add selves to mix. Twin Nephs have brought remote-control cars to crash into new house’s walls. WTF, Sister 1?
2:07pm: Youngest Neph wakes up from nap. Calamity around tree begins in earnest with second shift of gift-opening featuring two four-year-olds and a 21-month old who got a super-cool retro red Radio Flyer tricycle with bell on handlebars. Mayhem? Um… yes.
2:18pm: I envy Youngest Neph’s tricycle. Would nix bell, ride off to someplace quieter. Like an active runway.
2:45 – 4:15pm: kitchen dance gets underway. Dad, Mom and I do-si-do. All bleeding avoided. Almost. Dad swears for second time. And third.
4:15pm: BIL 2’s parents arrive. I ruefully remove sweater socks and put on Big Girl shoes.
4:16 – 4:35pm: inhale appetizers. Warmly greet arrivals. With more appetizers. Bask in glow of family.
5:00pm: appointed wine czarina. Good job. Will work for booze.
5:06pm: resisted own glass of wine for six minutes. New record. I win. Merry Christmas, cabernet.
5:13pm: Dad checks turkey. Swears fourth & fifth time.
5:30pm: appointed vegetable supervisor. Fill bowl with frozen broccoli to steam in microwave. Doesn’t all fit. Entirely unnecessary discussion with Mom over 1/5 bag of broccoli. “Is this still frozen?” “Yes.” “You can’t refreeze it.” “It’s good, Mom, I just got it out of the freezer.” “Just throw it out.” “Mom.” “Throw it out!”
5:31pm: hide remaining still-frozen broccoli behind microwave. Will make when first bowl is done.
5:33pm: Dad asks how long corn will take, how long broccoli will take, how long peas will take. Turkey is three minutes behind schedule.
5:35pm: Dad asks how long corn will take, how long peas will take. Swears sixth time. Wonders at cooking time of frozen peas.
5:41pm: whispered, intense talks between Mom and Dad re: readiness of turkey, fallibility of oven in new house.
5:42pm: Dad asks how long corn will take, how long peas will take. Turkey now 12 minutes behind schedule. Dad swears seventh time.
5:50pm: Dad orders Sister 2 to pour dinner beverages for everyone.
6:01pm: beverages warming in glasses. Dad asks how long corn will take, how long peas will take. Turkey 31 minutes behind schedule.
6:12pm: commence flurry of veggie plating. Broccoli for three tables: check. Corn for three tables: check. Green bean casserole for three tables: check. Peas for three tables: why do we have so many damned peas? Only three people in this family even eat peas. We needed four bags? Dad yells at 22 other people to sit down, lifts turkey out of oven. Swears eighth through eleventh times.
6:14pm: grace. Mom cries. Dad swears twelfth time. Unrelated to grace.
6:17pm: all veggies plated and on tables.
6:20pm: Dinner guests nibble on cold vegetables. Dad swears thirteenth time. Happy holidays, glass of chardonnay.
6:22pm: I sit down.
6:25pm: first plate of turkey finds first table.
— Meal break —
6:52pm: Dad sits down. Offers toast. Chokes up.
6:54pm: I remember stupid 1/5th bag of frozen broccoli hidden behind microwave. Swear for first time. Get up, throw bag out. Mom doesn’t notice. I win.
7:12 – 8:30pm: eat more, clear plates, eat dessert. General festiveness and conversation. Season’s greetings, fresh glass of chardonnay.
8:30p – 9:10pm: extended family gift exchange. Twin Nephs “help” selected relatives open gifts. Fun (read: potentially life-threatening) games and tomfoolery between little kids and Fun Uncle.
9:17pm: fatigue sets in.
9:23pm: Sister 1 yells at me for telling Twin Nephs to stop running through kitchen while she is standing. Right. There. (Not telling them.)
9:24pm: limit reached. Time to go. Still doing dishes. Why is parents’ dishwasher so flipping small?
9:45pm: wonder whether Jack will be impatient for me to arrive at his house after road trip home.
9:55pm: exhaustion threatens; mood drops. All parts hurt. Feet vicious. Dishes not done.
10:00pm: throwing in towel. Literally. Slip away to gather belongings. Pack car. Re-enter for goodbyes.
10:10pm: pull away from house in blissful silence of car. Remove shoes. Wonder why people move in December. Contemplate interesting correlation between physical and mental exhaustion and mood swings. Feel guilty. Cry a little. Drive in complete wonderful silence for one hour. Listen to Christmas music for remaining trip.
10:47pm: Jack begs off via phone, citing stomach issue.
Sometime after midnight: arrive home. Silent night. Holy crap, are my feet swollen. Drop all belongings upon entry. Crawl into bed, grateful for a big family full of love and faith and good cooks and cute kids and sarcasm and humor and generosity and varying degrees of insanity… and a day off to enjoy with all of them, even when I feel guilty for leaving and for being glad I don’t live there.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
My best wishes to all of you for a beautiful season of peace, love, happiness, warmth and absolute mind-bending family time. Thank you for reading!