Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Truth of Seuss: #BrokenChristmas

I loved having another foodie in the house. Our winsome niece, Kat, unpacked her Patagonia duffels, slept in "the drawer" as we dubbed Allie's trundle bed, and fit right into our family for just shy of a year. It ended all too soon as we stood motionless in the driveway watching her drive into the sunrise. To us, it felt like the wrong direction. Our happy pack of puppies was forever depleted by one, neither the runt nor alpha dog, but surely the one with the wettest nose, keen on frolicking with all the others.

We packed a lot into those months as she pined for a lifestyle marketing job in California. All my household chores were more fun with this Cornell Hotel and Restaurant management graduate. Whether we were kicking tires on used Volkswagens, stocking my pantry with antioxidants from Whole Foods, squeezing specialty produce at Chino's farm stand, or mixing ginger and pear mocktails in our Vitamix, it was more luxury than I'd indulged myself in years. The affectionate nickname she gave me, "DG" (for Domestic Goddess), egged me on. Her tongue must have been in her cheek, when she dubbed herself "DiGiT," (Domestic Goddess in Training). We did nearly everything together. Except when she was playing big sister to Allie.

Sharing a room with a cousin 10 years older gave Allie more insight, foresight, and camaraderie, than we knew she'd been missing. It was a double portion of intimacy, compensation for waiting 15 years in vain for her twin brother with autism to play with her or converse. In one easy stride Allie could step into Kat's shadow on the sidewalk of life.

Living so far west, we had not experienced family as part of our daily grind. It was a gift as well-tailored as the ones she gave us that Christmas. Kat takes shopping to Olympic levels, both online and off. She presented inspired gifts to each of us: a Lego model of the Guggenheim museum for Jim, a bright turquoise space dye Lululemon jacket for me, Lulu pants for Allie, and a theater-sized poster of Singin' in the Rain for Reid demonstrated both her generosity and keen insight into each of our passions.

My only annoyance with her the entire year was her insistence on reading the Grinch Who Stole Christmas daily during December.

Oy vay, had she not seen the stack of more scriptural Advent devotionals and juvenile picture books I unpacked with the ornaments? Of all the books to reinforce in one's mind right before entering a sub-conscious dream state, why that one? And must we begin our day with it too? I'll admit, it irked me, to hear it's relatively vacuous rhyme being recited as if it were gospel. More than once, I offered alternatives, hand-carrying an illustrated edition of Luke 2 to her bedside. Propping Ruth Graham Bell's luscious summary of the New Testament, A Wintry Night, open on the kitchen table. No nibbles.

I let it go. And like proverbial true love, it came back.

Christmas Eve we grazed on our traditional salade Nicoise and champagne in front of the fire.  The kids, even our newly arrived eldest, nestled themselves into flannel sheets aware that Jim and I would want time to arrange presents under the tree. Hustling to get to bed ourselves, we were mindful that Reid's body clock did not adjust for our champagne consumption. He had been the first one up for many a moon. Holidays were no exception.

I awoke to a whimpering, crestfallen teen, "Maaom, Reid's downstairs. I think he unwrapped all the gifts."

"Huh...?" I mumbled from under the covers.

"Will you go check?" she pleaded with me. I sensed the recurrent, unutterable feeling we worked to repress: he ruined everything. The subtext my mother's heart heard was, can't you fix it?

All I wanted was to rewind to silence and a cup of coffee, or more sleep. I think it was 4 am. I trudged downstairs without stopping in the bathroom. Sure enough, the place had been ransacked. Shredded paper littered the living room. Anything that was not aVHS, DVD, or CD lay discarded haphazardly like a Jackson Pollack splatter painting.

A two year old could have done this, I thought.

I can't believe he's almost 16 and we're dealing with this? 

Will he ever outgrow this impulsivity? 

Why can't we have a normal Christmas?

The injustice of it hurt. I couldn't give Reid a lifetime supply of self-control anymore than I could promise Allie he'd answer her, play with her, interact with her, or tease her like a typical brother. I felt like an utter failure. Failing her...failing him...failing to provide harmony in my home.

Jim joined me, groggy in his slouchy pajama bottoms. Somewhere in the rubble was a new pair that would fit him better.  Together, without talking, we tried to salvage our expectations.

We repurposed any available packaging. Putting books in gift bags, folding clothes in piles, searching for tiny treasures, trying to recall what was missing, we embraced recycling at a new level. Channelling Christo, the environmental artist, we wrapped every store-bought thing. Ribbon bound gaping torn paper in creative disguise. We fluffed and swaddled until it looked how we thought Christmas ought to look.

Jim broke the blur of silence, fatigue and resolution, "I think we're handling this pretty well, don't you?"

As we ruminated, two things dawned on me. The joy really is in giving. Our actual presents were unharmed. Everything we'd chosen was in tact, there in plain sight. What had been taken was the experience of handing each one out expectantly watching how it was received. As the giver, in most cases, I wanted to be present to enjoy each person opening what I'd picked for them.

Second, it was like the Grinch had come through here.

The words of the storybook, practically memorized now, woke me like an alarm: It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags....What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if, Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

It was true! We believed that. Could we actually do it now?

We went upstairs to console the girls. They sat sulking and whispering with arms akimbo. It's not fair. Those were mine, steamed from their nostrils into one conjoined bubble above their heads. Their breathing was audible: a strained inhale then forced exhale.

I couldn't help notice the stack of unharmed, picture-perfect parcels Kat kept stashed beside Allie's desk. Her mom had sent them from designer stores on the other side of the Mississippi. Let's just say at this point they were grossly mismatched with what was under our tree. Their creased corners and glossy graphics salted the wound, underscored the shabby salvage like "wash me" scratched in a cracked windshield.

Plopping on the trundle with them, I asked, "Kat, where's that Seuss book you've been reading all season?  Read the last page."

Seuss left it open ended. I wasn't going to risk confusion. Truth needed to be declared in the face of this attempted robbery.

After some succinct theology, we clustered in the chill around a wooden manger Jim had built as decoration for our front door step. Filled with evergreen boughs and a baby doll wrapped in a linen napkin, it was a semblance of the first Christmas.

We sang I Love You Lord, which was more of a solo but, I didn't care. They really did rally for Happy Birthday to Jesus.  And even a little Fahoo fores...Dahoo dores...

A poignant memory was born out of the hullabaloo Reid caused. He hadn't ruined anything. In fact, God may have sent him to fix a few things.

I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with  a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed.  Ezekiel 36:23-25 

“Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”  Matthew 2:1-3

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.  1 Kings 19:10-12 


  1. Andrea - again, you have captured the raw essence of life with grace and positivity. The fact that this post shares your experiences with my beloved, Kathryn Mary, warms my heart. Kathryn lives by the quote "wherever you go, there you are"and has always lived the moment with a sense of adventure......a quality that aligns with the values of your family. You continue to be an inspiration for me.

  2. I often read your blog and it was what I needed today. Laura is a high school friend of Kat's and you met her when she lived in SB. I was reading this as she was nursing her 2 week old son. We were both in by the time I finished. You have such a gift communicating your love for family and for The Lord! Merry Christmas!

  3. Replies
    1. Hi Ruth! I recognize your name and Laura's right away. Thanks for reading and good to hear from you;) Enjoy that new baby this season...he would fit right in our manger. What a special treat this Christmas. xox

  4. I love this Andrea. When does your book come out?! You could publish this.