Birthday! Geburtstag!

Yesterday was my fifty-ninth birthday. It was also my happiest birthday, besides being born (thanks MOM).

My children decided that the best way to celebrate my birthday was to spend it with me. What mother could resist that? They have such busy adult lives that normally we have a brief conversation over the phone, a sandwich brought by so I don’t have to cook, or a pat on my head. Their lives are so busy that in past years they haven’t had time to affirm that I was getting grayer, or whiter, or that time was ticking past at a tremendous pace. But this year we had the hospital scare which mobilized both of my dears to become more involved in my life again. It was a lovely outcome to a scary time.

My day yesterday started with a breakfast wakeup call. My daughter and her husband had arrived with pancakes, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and bacon. They set the table and giving a cheer to bring us down the stairs, presented me with this feast. It took another call up the stairs to bring my husband down. My daughter used the “Dad, he’s poking me again” line which has become a family joke. My son came in and announced that his sister has surprised even him with the early morning roll call. He encouraged us all to eat and then to dress warmly because the day had just begun.

“Just begun?” Could it be that the day was just beginning? Normally weekends are days spent cleaning house, grocery shopping, and organizing for the next week. Taking time away from those things was unusual. Did they mean a game day? We have days when we invade each other’s territory to spend the day with unusual games that call out to us to play them. My son in law Chris was the one to encourage days like that, but this time, it was not what was intended.

I was ushered into the car, and we sped off after my daughter and Chris, at a respectable 35 miles an hour, strictly following the speed limit. There is a vendor of trees, each Christmas season, at the end of our neighborhood behind the Wawa convenience store and overlooking Neabsco Creek. Every year we wander to the vendor a day or two before Christmas and pick a tree that we hope will last into January. This year we were suddenly ahead of schedule. My son had given us a new TV for Christmas this year at Thanksgiving. Now the two kids had delivered a tree, an eight foot all Frazier Fir, and let me pick it out. We were twenty days ahead of schedule. Maybe, as Merlin thought in White’s A Once and Future King, we were moving backwards in time. No, we were moving forwards. The tree was placed in Chris’s truck as Derek opened his wallet exposing the tree fund to light and U.S. currency and homeward we went.

At this moment, door number two opened. Yes, we got the contents of door number one and two at the same time. Derek began pulling out the lights, not just for the tree, but for the entire house. Since he moved home, there has been a sense of normalization that he’s brought. Halloweens must be celebrated with decorations, and so too with Christmases. But as he set out to do the lights, Chris and my husband Eric set the tree into water, and Genevieve ushered me inside.

We always spend Christmas eve cleaning the family room of a year’s worth of crafting and lack of energy on my part by cleaning and getting the area ready for a tree. It can be a daunting task. Once we lacked the funds for a tree, and my kids went out into the backyard and brought back a bough from a white pine, with the perfect curl to it that would have fit in Jack Skeleton’s setting or Charlie Brown’s Christmas. They wrapped the bottom of the tree with a blue Linus blanket, and set one ornament on the tree at the pointy end of the only branch the tree had. Our dear friend Ana arrived on Christmas Day and added one additional ornament to the tree, a Charlie Brown Christmas ornament celebrating the simplicity of the season which is often overwhelming for me. Another time, the cleaning was finished at midnight, and the tree remained undecorated, but well loved. Christmas always arrived expected, but never quite prepared for, just like babies.

So I was convinced that my duty was to let people help me. Chris, Eric, Genevieve and I sorted, moved furniture, ran up and down stairs (I only handed things that needed to be relocated) and we achieved a new landmark. We had a clean tidy organized Christmas room early. We also had a ficus in the corner that now bears handmade ornaments that look like the ones that Grandma Boonie had on her tree. (Just a sign perhaps, but this Thanksgiving Genevieve, my mother, Laura and I created the ornaments to help us celebrate her life. My mother had also created ornaments using the same techniques that had decorated my parent’s trees. We never lacked for a love of Christmas, even when there was no money to be found.) So we used the ornaments we had made at Thanksgiving to decorate the ficus.

Off went Genevieve, Chris and Eric they soon had the tree in the stand. Derek and Eric brought the tree in the house lifting it over all of the things that hop out into the way when you want to transport something, successfully missing all of the obstacles, and the tree was placed along the west wall of the family room. Then began a call for directions to straighten the tree, which was amazingly close this year to true from the beginning, and we ran a relay of water so that the tree wouldn’t dry out.

Then we fell over, and Derek arrived with the ingredients for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. He had four types of cheese, including the American cheese that I get teased for my infatuation with, two types of sausages to be sliced and added to the cheese and Campbell’s Tomato soup. He whipped up dinner for us all, taking orders like the short order line cook at a good deli. By this time we had listened to Hamilton, the original soundtrack, Christmas swing music by the Glen Miller Orchestra, and we were ready for something to go with a quick meal. So out came The Grinch, which has my father in law in it, just check the section of the first singalong where the Who wearing the glasses and the trimmed beard is shown, followed by Charlie Brown’s Christmas. That gave us enough to time recover our blood sugar levels and the lights arrived for the tree.

Genevieve has taken over that job. Her dad used to do it, but with his schedule giving him less time to do it in, he had to pass that tradition on. Derek has done it several times, but he was still finishing the outside of the house. We run a string or two of lights up the middle of the tree, generally using the largest bulbs we can find, and cabling several light strings together until we have fully lighted strings to use. Then we swirl small lights around the tree. Each year we put together the leftovers of the years before until we arrive at the tree lights we think of as perfection. The pineapple ornament, the symbol of hospitality, goes on the very top, and this year has two 9 inch ornamental angels in full gold and white dress, holding candles (fake candles, the ones using electricity) are directly underneath the pineapple. It almost looks like the beginning of an angelic chorus. As we added ornaments, the tree opened up beautifully. I decorate the inside of the tree as much as the outside. It’s always amazing to me how many ornaments a tree can hold.

We put in twelve hours of getting ready for Christmas on my birthday. It’s not many people who can say they have been given Christmas as a birthday present, but I can say that. I was exhausted but really happy by evening. When my daughter and Chris had left for home, and Derek had gone to get ready for bed, Eric and I sat and watched the tree. He remarked that we “have some great kids”, and I added “and they are remarkable adults.” He asked if I was happy and I am. I’m also really proud that they recognize that time with them is the most important gift I could have been given. Christmas as a present gave them a way to show how much they cared and let us share a lot of memories. And, it’s not even Christmas yet.

Falling in Love Again

I’ve been married now for almost 36 years. For our anniversary my husband and I are going on a cruise to Mexico and Honduras with the intention of learning more about the Mayan Ruins. It was a great culture, one marked wit all of the traits that civilizations develop. I’m bringing my cameras, so there will be photos. The last time we went was in 2006, on the Grandeur of the Seas. We ended up with two photos that really showed the spirit of the people. I’m glad to be going, we’ve gone through so much in the last decade that time seems to have slipped a bit for both of us. We survived a recession when my husband gave support to those we love who lost or couldn’t find a job. We survived a mortgage that we had with Countrywide, and the change that made it a Bank of America mortgage. We kept our house, my two children married (not to each other of course), and one is now a proud homeowner. The other now has his dream job, and should soon be able to find a home for his wife and himself in the next year. But we’ve spent the last decade trying to do everything we could for family, and exhausting as it was it was worth the effort, and I think we forgot about the two of us.

Our differences have really accentuated themselves recently. We find things that prickle under the skin and have to stop and shake our heads. It never bothered us to be different before. We just had not taken the time to talk about these things. Little things wedged themselves between us, you know, the three things that most couples deal with. Children, even grown ones, money, and time. Those three things can become doom scenarios in a relationship.

We decided not to have a doom scenario. He had a week of vacation last week that we spent together.  I decided to become the romantic one. My husband decided to become the practical one. We talked about all of those prickly things. He made me dinner, I did the laundry. He pruned up the yard as I raked the magnolia leaves. He told me he liked the flowers I picked from my garden. I told him he was handsome. We went out to dinner. We walked the dogs together. All of these little bits of time spent talking. I told him I was worried that he wasn’t happy. He told me that he thought I wasn’t happy. We laughed. We made sure that as we walked or dined that we talked about each and every thought that was in our heads. In the end, it was the plain old boring things that you don’t have time to think of that made us both look at each other again. We’re partners, equal, willing to depend on each other.

Love isn’t that mad passionate wave that excludes people. Sex is nice (well, of course it is). That isn’t love either. Love is having someone there who isn’t trying to change you. Love is understanding that you will grow differently, but there will be so much to share. Music surrounds us both, and we find that our tastes have become more similar. Art surrounds us. Our families surround us. Our willingness to make a family less about love and more about the people that we surround ourselves with. Love is an adventure. It’s willing to take the wrong turn, but with a map to get it back on course. It’s the willingness to not give up. It’s the companionship of years of changes.

I’ve changed over time. I’ve kept the things that are the essential me alive though. I keep my silliness to bring a smile to his lips when he’s angry at the world. I’ve learned to understand that he needs to vent. He knows that physically I can’t keep up with the house. He doesn’t care. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to write. Dishes can wait until one or the other of us have the energy to do them. Usually it’s him these days. He said I don’t ever have to lift a hand to the house. He also likes working with me on the house when I can. We are at the point in life where we realize there is an end coming. It doesn’t frighten us. We just need the time to be together, the two of us.

A quiet room when the house is just us, and we sit and talk about the world. We read together, watch John Oliver together, and the house is tranquil. Our moral compass heading is identical. But the biggest change came this past week when he told me that he’s looking forward to the adventures we have coming. He wants to spend that time with me, exploring the world, taking a class together, being happy. I think that is what love is beyond all else.

Love is when something happens, good or bad, and you want to tell that person first, before all others. That sharing bond of excitement or sadness bring you close and then closer. I want time to be gentle enough so that we can walk to the finish line hand in hand and know that the greatest gift we ever had was each other.