December is the busiest month of the year for most women, and almost most men. The approaching holidays take their toll on us whether we celebrate them or not. Just knowing that there is an expectation increases our sense of obligation. Should I put up a tree? Do my casual acquaintances really need a gift from me? What about sending Christmas cards? The meal? Ham or turkey? Parties? Special outfits?
I decided that this Christmas I would go all out, put up a tree for the first time in years, shop for gifts, make an effort for a change, so that my sister Sarah who is living in a group home since the death of our mother, could come here and have a pleasant weekend with the family. We got the moldy fake tree out of storage and about ten boxes of ornaments down from the rafters and I began decorating. We put up lights outside, got the Santa coat hanger hung up, the lighted village of churches on the baby grand. I even got a pine scented candle. Then I found out that she doesn’t want to come here for reasons only known to her. Suffice it to say that I vacillated between several powerful emotions that swung from hurt feelings to anger. What it boils down to is that she is mentally retarded. Why had I placed so much expectation on her? Why wasn’t it enough to make those preparations for myself? We seek the perfect Christmas. I think since my children are on opposite ends of the country and Christmas isn’t what it used to be without them, it is just easier not to go to too much bother. Now next year, when my baby grandson is almost a year and a half, Christmas will be fun. (There goes those expectations again.)
Last week, the physical proof of the sequel to Pam of Babylon arrived. I was so excited! I went over with it fine toothed comb and found a few minor mistakes, included ‘damn’ where ‘dam’ should have been. I called my publisher and we rejoiced!!! The book would be corrected and go to the printer. And then thankfully, for some reason I read it again. Several major, glaring editing snafus slapped me in the face. There is a major contradiction that my editor missed and so did I, and four repetitive descriptions that just couldn’t be ignored. It was like a repeat of Pam in which there were four puking scenes in the original manuscript. I didn’t want it to be the book about women who threw up, so I had to get rid of three of them. History had repeated itself. After several more readings, I was able to make the corrections without too much rewriting. Tomorrow it goes back to the publisher. Ugh.
Monday night I flew into Philly to spend a few days with Jeni and Carlos and the baby. It was wonderful; I took my shoes off by the front door when I arrived and when we went to leave for the airport this morning two days later they were still there. I spent that time in repose, being catered to by my daughter with three home-cooked meals a day, ice water and coffee at my fingertips, and stimulating conversation. All while a four month old, happy, cooing baby sat on my lap. I don’t like to fly, but because I didn’t have much time and it was sort of spur of the moment, I got on a plane. Now next Monday, I am doing it all over again, but in the opposite direction. Andy is actually in Austin, Texas right now, scouting sets for their next movie, but he is supposed to be back over the weekend. So I am going to go see my aunt and the rest of my dad’s relatives and hopefully have lunch with my son. I’ll be gone just a few days.
During this time, Jim has a birthday, we have our forty-third wedding anniversary, and then the Christian holidays. I slipped up today while I was being goosed by the TSA agent by wishing her a Merry Christmas.
“Happy holidays, you mean,” she said with attitude. Am I allowed to disagree with the TSA over this? I mean, I know my brasserie under-wires are an issue, and my bluejean waistband is too tight for them to stick their fingers into, but do I have to be corrected about political correctness? I could feel my blood pressure going up and in my mind I said out loud, ‘No! Merry Christmas!’ But the part of me that wanted to get home tonight and eat Chinese food with my husband just smiled at her and said,
“Oh! Yes! Of course!”
While I was with Jeni I confided to her that I was worried about Jim and wanted him to get an Alzheimer’s test. Now you have to know my daughter. She has the most expressive face if she wants to get a point across. To the rest of the world she has the best poker face. But when those words were out of my mouth, she got ‘the look’. It is a sort of lips pursed but slightly smiling with raised eyebrows and a set jaw. I can’t explain it. Anyway, she said,
“And I want you to get one, too.” Evidently, her nursing assessment of me left her with cause for concern. So I told her I would get one. “If its positive, you can start taking Aricept now,” she said. Its a drug for Alzheimer’s. Jim and I talked about it on the way home from the airport tonight. He thinks the months of change in our life may account for some of the symptoms Jeni sees in me. I’m not so sure. I keep thinking about that book of mine that I have read at least fifty times and the critical mistake I missed again and again.
My sister and I talk hourly about pour-over wills and trusts, things we have to do to make preparation for our death. I think of the diaries and journals I have laying around here. Do I really want my kids to read that stuff after I go? I need to go through my drawers and throw away any ratty underpants so that someday, my son and his wife don’t have to do it for me. (I may have watched too many episodes of Hoarders.) Tonight I will lay in bed and think about Jim and I growing old together. I told my kids once when we all lived in New Jersey and it didn’t look like any of us would ever leave, that when we got old, they didn’t have to visit us.
“Just drive by slowly and throw a bag of groceries out for us once in a while. We’ll crawl out to the road and drag it in,” I said. Suddenly, that isn’t so funny any more. Jim and I don’t fly together because if anything happens, our dogs won’t be left alone. Our kids aren’t here to check in on us. I told my daughter today that even when Jim and I drive together in the car, I like someone to know that the dogs are in the house alone, so they won’t cannibalize themselves if we got killed.
She looked at me with that look.