Sunday in the Park
November 18, 2006
It just happened. One day, a couple of years ago, I became the destination in that holiday song that starts, "Over the river and through the woods" When the babies were babies, it was different and not so different. We adults ate all the same food and the babies ate well, baby food. The same number of chairs were set at the table. Gradually, one high chair was added and then one holiday, there were two. Now the kids of my kids are five and three and two. They have a place at the table and the five year old is printing, and rather well, all our names on place cards.
I find this period requires the dusting off of long forgotten skills. Baking for one. The grandkids love cakes in unexpected shapes. So I have invested in an entire collection of bundt pans that are holiday-themed. We had a bunny at Easter, a pumpkin at Halloween, and castle last Christmas. A little icing, a few gumdrops, and I’m the kindergarten equivalent of a rock star. God, I love that feeling.
The house now gets dressed for each holiday as well. Christmas is a return to trains and rocking horses. Easter is everything bright green and pastel. Halloween has spiders and witches and black cats. Thanksgiving& turkeys and pilgrim hats and ears of Indian corn.
I have some seasonal clothes too. Things I only wear in the company of appreciative children. T-shirts and sweatshirts and even sweaters with holiday appropriate animals. The fleecy reindeer pants are especially a sight to behold. But they produce giggles and snuggles and something I like to interpret as a kind of awe. With my adult children it is more a sense of& aw, what is Mom wearing now? I find it is OK to be laughed at, and with, at this point in my life.
Most the time while my kids were young, I was a single parent, living in Utah, away from California where I grew up, with no family here. Which I never had much of anyway since both my mother and father were only children, and my mother had just us two girls. So I filled our holiday tables with various strays. Retail folks who needed to work that day and had no time to cook. Ditto the cops and the fireman. I can’t remember why the lawyer was a good idea. The minister, the teacher, more folks than ever comfortably fit around my small table in my tiny house.
This year it will be just my immediate family at the table, which means using all the dining room chairs and those from the study and the bedrooms as well. We were three against the world for so long and now we are a blessed eight. My daughter will make her cardiac attack mashed potatoes which she only does twice a year so all my health conscious family will indulge in the butter and cream cheese creation that has a potato base. My son and his wife, and this year with the help of their two kids, will bake pies, something I never learned to do. There will be whipped cream for the topping. The turkey will be mine so it must be perfect — golden, crispy skin and moist meat. Two kinds of dressing, in body and out of body, as we call them. And all the other trimmings and pre-feast trappings.
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After spending hours preparing the house to look "just right," it will take only minutes for it to be strewn with toys and jackets and diaper bags. But the reality is then it will look "just right." The cousins will run around living room and up the stairs and jump on Oma’s bed because, well, they can. And I hope I will wipe my hands on jeans, we’re not a formal group and I never got the whole apron look down, and take a moment to let it all soak in. This is the family I always wanted to have. They live less than 45 minutes away. It is a blessing I am acutely aware of.
I did my whole not-sleeping-well this week, worrying about things I have little control over, mostly at work. So I reach over and turn on the radio in the dark and listen to the BBC in the wee hours. Often those lilting voices put me back to sleep. But this week I stayed awake listening to stories of global warming, tsunamis in Japan and the horror, the increasing horror of the genocide in Darfur.
At work, on breaks between answering the endless streams of e-mails, I jump onto the MSNBC Web site and take in another dose of ever-changing snippets about politics gone amok, more deaths of our soldiers in Iraq, and celebrities behaving badly. And it is so very easy to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the world. Our ability to instantly access information and communicate the world over with just a keyboard, is a kind of power and responsibility that my children’s children will have known all their lives. I find that stunning and thrilling and burdensome beyond measure.
There are so many things I wish I could spend time doing and helping and fixing that it is easy to question what parts of my life have measurable value. You can write a check, or a letter, or volunteer your time and still wonder if you have made any difference at all, because we all want to feel useful, purposeful. Then I remember. There are napkins to iron and bundt pans to flour, and candlesticks to be polished. It can seem frivolous, or mundane until you think back to your own childhood and relive those holiday dinners all over again in your mind and see loved ones long gone. We need tradition and ritual.
I have a friend who likes to say a motherboard will never replace a mother breast. And so, we bake, we polish, we stoke the fire and embrace the family. We keep the peace and we pray for peace and are grateful, oh so grateful for another holiday with traditions and rituals and the start of new stories that begin, "& remember the Thanksgiving when&"
And for a few hours we hold dear the tiny, ordinary, miracle of being together on any day, including this Thursday in the Park&