There are fourteen more days, or ten, depending on how you count. Or what date you count to.
Regardless, this year the holidays will be different. The children are coming home for Christmas! Our adult children, that is, some with kids of their own. They are arriving by plane from far away — Colorado, California — and not just for an evening, but a few days before, and a few days after (hence the confusion about how much time we have). There are three distinct pairs of them: our children (daughter, son), our grandchildren (boy, girl), and our children-in-law (daughter-in-law and son-in-law, but can you call them ‘children-in-law’ when you address them in bulk?).
This hasn’t happened to us in a long while. A decade? Maybe. And it goes without saying that we are happy, tremendously so. Elated. And a bit scared, as well. Perhaps not scared, but overwhelmed. We want everything to go right.
I told my wife: “This might be the our last time.” She said: “It better not be.”
She is a perfectionist, my wife, which is to say that when I think that something is in good shape, she thinks that’s a good place from which to begin making it better. You see? How can we be ready in time, when there is always a readier state, a more perfect setup? I wonder what people do when they have families larger than ours. Say sixteen. Twenty-four. How do they cope? Maybe they do what they can, and then they give up. And they pray. How bad can it be? It’s a holy, magical time anyway.
We have a beautiful house: four bedrooms, four bathrooms, three beds (a king and two queens), three sofas, seven extra pillows, enough blankets to cover everybody (we keep warm in the house, 72 degrees, and the kids will complain they are hot), and sheets. We’ll borrow one cot. OK, the sleeping arrangements are set.
Let’s see transportation. I have my car, and so does my wife. But what if my daughter wants to visit her friends, while my son goes with his kids to the movies, and my wife has to make an emergency trip to the grocery store? What then? I have a solution: I’ll go rent a car. I’ll rent a large SUV, or a van seating eight, just in case we’d like to drive together someplace. As for the grandkids, our friend Shirley is giving us two car seats. All right, this is solved as well.
How about food? They’ll be eight of us, every day, and our guests will have guests. For that, we could order takeout or pizza, but would it be nice? No. We have to have home cooked food. My daughter is vegetarian, and the grandchildren are picky, especially Addy. She’s quite a princess. She is. My wife doesn’t want to spend her days cooking while things are going on in the house. Plus we have two parties to prepare for, twenty some people each time. So we buy food every day. And my wife cooks in advance, and we talk, and we store, and we freeze. I buy wine, beer, orange juice and Prosecco for Mimosas, single malts, ingredients for Martinis, and Ports. My biceps hurt from carrying. I feel I could drink right now.
I bought a tree, and installed it in the family room, by the sliding doors. It’s a beautiful fir tree, a little shorter than I would have liked it to be, but my wife suggested we use a ‘significant top’ to give it height. What a great idea! While I feared I would have to decorate the tree, the task got reassigned this morning: my wife decided she’d do it. With her attention to detail and sense of esthetical balance, I know I can rely on her. Stated differently, another great idea! But I’m not off the hook, not yet, because I have to do the outside. What holiday would this be without multicolored garlands shining and blinking into the eternal winter night? It goes without saying that I’m not completely up to the task. No Prancer or Vixen illuminated in our front yard. No manger for Jesus, no traveling magi. No Santa Claus sleigh based on the principle of magnetic levitation. All I have are some little white bulbs that will hang under the slanted roof of our porch, and cover a few sorry bushes that flank the pathway leading to it. Well, that’s just the way it is.
“You don’t think we will keep the grandchildren inside the house day after day,” my wife said. “We need to find things for them to do. Things small children like to do.” Thanks goodness we live in the times of the Internet. Within minutes, while expressing her dismay at my total lack of foresight, my wife came up with a comprehensive list: the Jump Zone, the Aquarium in the Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Science Museum, the Table Tennis Center in Columbia, the playground at Rt. 108 and 103, hikes in the woods, the Nature Center on Cedar Lane, multiple local fire stations (with their miniature train sets on display), Alice in Wonderland at Center Stage, the Symphony of Lights at Merriweather, and Baltimore’s 38th Street.
One thing we have to make sure is that our house is safe for the kids. Grandkids, I mean. It’s true they’ve outgrown the age when they stick their wet little fingers into electric outlets (we don’t have to use the plugs), but when they’re not busy outside the house, they still like to run and explore, climb, jump, and push each other into all kinds of things. So our collection of Native Indian ceramics from the shelves in the kitchen has to go; same for the barbed wire ‘woman in a cage’ installation in our finished basement, made by our daughter while studying fine arts in college; same for my volcanic rock chess game from Teotihuacan decorating the coffee table.
Our grandchildren will need toys. We got some from Shirley (not many, when stacked and placed side by side they occupy an area of only sixteen square feet), but Shirley’s grandchildren are girls and the toys are for Addy. I have to drive to Monica (her four grandchildren are boys) and borrow toys for Alex.
Since the main purpose of Christmas is the exchange of gifts, we need to think. If there are eight of us, and each will give each other a present, they’ll be about fifty packages or so. They all have to be labeled and wrapped. Bows would have to be tied. Our adult children are pragmatic, and they sent us several lists prepared beforehand. We complied religiously, but since the listed items are no longer surprises and are usually more substantial in nature, we decided to augment our giving with a few extras. Knick-knacks, you know, little things that one could place under the tree to enhance the holiday spirit. We also decided we need to give a welcome gift to our grandchildren on the day they arrive (poor little guys, you don’t want them to wait until Christmas, do you?). And I have to say we are lucky: we have Amazon Prime! That means we do our shopping on line (most of the time), and I am becoming proficient at flattening cardboard boxes and shoving them into our overstuffed recycling bin.
“You see, things are under control,” I tell my wife full of hope, and she looks at me as if I am mad. I get it. We can’t stop thinking that our children are still children, and accept that they are adults. They know things. We know things as well, and we think we know better then them, which, of course, is true sometimes. We have problems, but we don’t speak about them. And they have problems of their own. We have to remain engaged. That’s the only way progress is made.
The children and Christmas are coming — ten more days. No, let’s say fourteen!
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