I love being a professor. I’m still in awe that I actually get time off at the end of each semester. For the longest time, I worked in the medical field where getting Christmas off was never guaranteed.
At the beginning of Christmas break, I am fairly frothing at the mouth to be free of the office. Nothing but tail lights, baby! I have visions of country Christmases with homemade gingerbread house mansions, the family sitting around in the holiday glow of the fireplace, laughing together quietly while listening to Bing Crosby’s silken baritone as exquisite snowflakes brush the squeaky clean window pane in the background.
Here’s what REALLY happens.
The fam is lying around, slug-like, watching sappy Hallmark movies on marathon. It’s less about holiday spirit and more about laziness because nobody knows where the remote(s) is(are) and nobody is ambitious enough to look for it. My husband, The Engineer, bought a TV so complicated I have to use 5 remotes and a NASA launch code to just watch Pioneer Woman cooking shows, and frankly it makes me cranky. If he doesn’t want to simplify it (for Pete’s sake, I have a Master’s Degree in English–why can’t I find my way to My Five Wives without two hours of research?), then I’ll show him by NOT learning another mouth-watering recipe to try out on the family. OH YEAH. It’s ON. (I know this is petty and dumb. Work with me here.)
I realize we’ve been home several days and there is NO decorations of any kind. I mean, we don’t have tiny cherubs anymore so it’s not essential or anything, but come on, we’re not Grinches or anything.
Me: “So, we gonna put up the tree today? It is December 15.”
Family: “Eh.” (No movement from the couches that look like they are memory foam but aren’t). It’s more of a sound than an actual work–it translates to something like “Nah. You can if you want but I’m really busy right now and…”
Me: “Nate, run out to the garage and bring the tree in.”
Nate: “What?” (His hearing is slightly compromised, partially from his noise-cancelling (or mom canceling) earphones and his classical horn music he blares over the speakers.
Me: (louder) “I said, will you run out to the garage and bring the tree in?”
Nate: (siiiiiiigggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh). Dear Reader: If you don’t know what this sounds like, imagine how you would sigh if you received a speeding ticket or a certified letter from the IRS. Then crank it up about five notches.
“Okay…”he says,with the unbridled enthusiasm of a middle-aged, clinically depressed DMV employee who only works there because his mom said he needed to contribute.
Moving at the speed of glaciers melting, the men of the household reluctantly bring in the Tree That Time Forgot, which is decorated by a family that has experienced the suffocating closeness of forced holiday cheer, using ornaments that may have once been pretty but now look like Goodwill rejects. Bing Crosby? Hardly. More likely, it’s the wisdom of Family Guy–of course set on the most awkward episodes possible to watch in a family environment. But I can’t change it, can I? I mean, I’m no rocket scientist! Do you think I’m gonna ask Hubby to do it? No way. I’m speaking softly as possible so he doesn’t abandon the whole project and leave me there to sort out the paint-coordinated branches that are not guaranteed to actually fit in their appointed slots but are definitely guaranteed to give me a migraine headache. I know it isn’t real pine. I’m allergic to the puffs of dust falling off the branches.
Ever try to decorate a tree and wrap presents with a neurotic, paranoid German Shepard that is equally terrified and seduced by Santa gift wrap? Add in a grouchy, narcissistic chihuahua who finds laps where none exist and a stupid but adorable min-pin mix that loves looking out the window to bark at menacing kids on bikes.
Oh yeah. We’re festive now.
At the end of it I’m like, “Ok you guys! We’re gonna decorate this tree and we’re gonna like it, got it!” I sound like a coach chewing out the losing team in the locker room at half time.
As far as holiday baking goes, I might have pinned a bunch of elaborate gingerbread houses on Pinterest, but the only thing that has remotely translated to actual holiday food is some leftover candy canes I found crushed under a couch cushion and a HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! card from my dentist, reminding me it’s been too long since my last cleaning. Note to self: pick up floss. Half out of guilt and half from The Ghost of Christmas Pressure, I half-heartedly bake some chocolate chip cookies from a tub that are just the perfect texture–burned on the outside and raw on the inside. Then I dare anyone to say anything. At this point, my inner Sybil has terrorized the family and everyone knows just to take a cookie and avoid eye contact.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. WE LOVE CHRISTMAS. I just sometimes fall into the trap of trying to create the Perfect Family Holiday Moment without the actual Perfect Family. None of us are perfect. We are all flawed, sometimes irritable, beautiful humans. And they are my humans. Don’t you say anything about them or I’ll be on you like rednecks at a Dollar General clearance sale. Don’t make me go there.
In the end, we had an awesome Christmas. Not perfect, by any means. Taking down the tree was almost as fun as putting it up but it’s done. I’ll spare you the details but leave you with this cliffhanger: extension cords and missing stockings. We know what it’s about: a tiny baby hosting Immanuel Himself, sent here by choice. An unmistakable sign of perfect love and sacrifice. God in man clothes–coming to take away the sins of the world. The rest? It’s just frosting.
And I have to remember at all times that none of this is promised to happen again. New Year’s Day, with tons of appetizers and messy kitchens and Back to the Future marathons and loud games of UNO is never guaranteed. Next year, it’s very possible that both my girls will be moving away to begin their careers as they will have graduated. A year after that, Mancub follows. The more talented your kids are, the more opportunities are presented, and the greater the likelihood that they will have to move far away to make these dreams happen. So for now, I’ll appreciate them in all their grouchy glory, and hope they do the same for me.
Happy New Year you all. Want a chocolate chip cookie?