Christmas Cards: I’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

I’m supposed to be wrapping gifts to mail. Or baking cookies to wrap and mail. Or baking cookies for us. Cleaning. Cards. Something.

At least I got school lunches made, before I fled the kitchen, with its sticky counters and floor that needs to be swept yet again. The lid that I need in order to pack away the mediocre raspberry palmiers (why, oh why, didn’t I stick to my tried-and-true baking traditions?) is missing. I can’t put them away. They’re so disappointing I wish they’d just vanish, somehow, along with the mint marshmallows.

I hate mint. I make very good vanilla marshmallows. But for some reason (all the chatter on Facebook, maybe) I decided to use peppermint extract this time.

The kids quickly lost interest in licking the whisk, the spatula, the bowl. “It doesn’t taste right,” they complained. “It’s not good.”

They are right. I wonder if the marshmallows can be redeemed by a good dip in dark chocolate or if that would be a waste of even more ingredients. Maybe I can wrap them in cute packaging and tuck them into my husband’s stocking. He likes mint.

I was thinking we should skip stockings this year, he and I. Stockings used to be my favorite part of Christmas morning, all the little surprises, useful and fun. For the past seven years or so, I’ve filled my own stocking at Christmas, with little things like lip balm and chocolates. I don’t mind. But I’m out of ideas for my husband this year, and out of ideas in general, so maybe we should just fill the kids’ stockings and quietly tuck ours away.

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The older boy has been ill since Friday. Coincidentally, I was also laid off on Friday (rather, my project ended—same thing?), and after a chaotic few months, I was deeply looking forward to 20 beautiful hours to myself this week, to bake, go to yoga, clean our home, go Christmas shopping, and take carloads of clutter and donations away. I would organize my desk, fold laundry, and….and….I don’t know. Have entire thoughts, uninterrupted by the relentless needs of others.

I don’t even remember what that is like.

Today is Wednesday. Max was well enough for me to take him out grocery shopping today, and to play with his friends after school when we went to pick up his brother, but he still tires easily. We both do. I now have a very short fuse by the end of the day, shorter than usual.

Bedtime went so smoothly tonight and then Ben came out, begging me to read him a book. This was after lights-out, when I’d nicely let him have a flashlight to look at books in bed. Another book? Now? You know it’s time to be in bed!—even now, my shoulders tighten as I wait for someone to yell, “Mom?” The endless yelling for me. The endless needing me. They yell past their father for me, most of the time.

I wanted to scream and throw things when he came to ask me. I was suddenly furious. I seized the book and the flashlight. After 14 hours on the job—the caretaker-and-cook-and-thankless-housemaid job–I should get a break. I deserve a break. I want a glass of wine and time to write out Christmas cards without anyone bumping me or fighting or climbing on me or trying to use the stamps as stickers. If I could figure out how to work our TV, I’d turn it on and watch something mindless, even though I get bored with it quickly.

I want two minutes, ten minutes, entire days, that are just mine.

Instead, I pick him up, carry him to his bed, and lie there with him, rubbing his back. We talk about flashlights. I tell him how proud I am of him. I tell him I love him so much and how he’s growing and being such a great person.

I kiss his nose, hand him the flashlight, and tell him he can keep looking at books, if he wants, and I’ll read him the other one tomorrow.

And maybe I’ll bake better cookies tomorrow. Or maybe not. Maybe I will do absolutely nothing tomorrow, with Christmas fast approaching, and that’s fine, too. Last year I felt so overwhelmed by general life that we didn’t send any holiday cards at all, not even the photo kind where you don’t even have to write on them. That seemed way too challenging.

This year, I’ve updated my address list, made contact with old friends, and bought the non-photo cards wherein you have to actually handwrite a personal message in each and every one.

I consider it a marvel that I’ve gotten to this place, this place where I can write out holiday cards once again. So what if our gingerbread house looks awful (we did it one night, just the three of us, when Max was too sick to even sit up but tried to do his share lying down on couch), and so what if our cookie arrangement isn’t what I want it to be? And I might have to pay extra shipping costs to get presents where they need to go on time?

I’m writing out Christmas cards this year. I’m pretty pleased about that.

Despite the relentlessness and despair and drowning of motherhood, I’m writing out Christmas cards. And maybe one day I’ll just, in general, write again.

Happy holidays.

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