Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Holiday Fray :: Ringing in 2014

I really have no idea what I want for the new year, only that I want things to stop sucking so much. That, and I want to write more and have less stress about (and while) actually doing said writing.

Today has been a mixed bag of memories and emotions. Oldest was home with us over the Christmas holidays. We had him here for roughly a week, during which everyone except me and Dad were sick with the cruddy plague.

We picked Oldest up from the airport on Christmas Eve's Eve, and didn't get home until 1 a.m.. Once we were home, I hugged Oldest for the tenth time, helped him settle in and get comfortable, then went to bed. Once there, I listened to the guys talk in the living room until 2 a.m. because I couldn't sleep. This is not so unusual for me, really. The insomnia. But I digress.

The next morning, I woke up at nine. The house was as quiet as it always is. We had dropped Mini off at grandma's the day before. We knew he wouldn't weather being in the car for hours at night. Too, Oldest wanted his homecoming to be a surprise for his little brother. Whether it was, or wasn't, I can't really say.

Around ten a.m., Oldest and Hubby took off to Mom and Dad's for the Christmas Eve family festivities. As per the usual holiday routine, I stayed behind to have a shower while the house was calm, and to wrap the last of the gifts before making the trip to join the rest of the family. This hour or so before the big dinner also gives me a chance to center myself before dashing into the holiday fray. I am an introvert, and it really takes a lot out of me to hang out with a large group of people. As much as I love my family, they are no exception to this rule. The dinner is always especially tense for me, although I can't really pinpoint why. It just is. But once that part is over and we all sort of drift throughout the house to have more one on one conversations, to clean up, to sort gifts, etc. I can usually start enjoying myself a bit more.

That morning I wrapped the gifts, wrangled the dogs, loaded up the car, and with my hair still slightly damp after attempting to dry it with the hair dryer, I drove to my parent's house. When I arrived, Dad and Hubby were standing around in the front yard talking. It's always a good sign if the guys are in a good mood and chatting. I carried the gifts into the house, and first thing through the door, I see that Mini is lounging on the arm of the recliner next to his brother. Mini is on his iPod, Oldest is on his Gameboy. It was just like old times. My small heart grew three sizes that instant. (Yes, I am comparing myself to the Grinch. If the shoe fits...)

I deposited the gifts under the tree then went to help mother set the table and put ice in all the glasses. The guy shuffled into the dining room and there was the yearly adventure of musical chairs around the dinner table - who is going to sit where. Oh, but he will want to sit next to you. Oh, and isn't that Dad's tea glass over there? That part was fairly low key, but once we'd said grace and were sitting together, I was constantly worried that Mom and Dad were going to question Oldest about the Navy. I can't explain why I was so suddenly uptight and worried about it, but there it is.

We are an entire family of Navy cheerleaders, and we are so proud of Oldest. I don't think Oldest realizes quite how proud everyone is of him. He's independent, and as he should, he has his own thing going on when he's away from home. I'm also aware he's probably not going to stay in the service once his initial time is up. I think everyone hoped he'd do this Navy thing as a career, but I doubt that will happen. He's restless, and interested in other things: art, swords, girls. It happens. So I'm listening to the rah rah conversation going on around the table, and feeling incredibly anxious and slightly sick to my stomach even though the ham and cranberry sauce, and the green bean casserole is really, really good.

Instead of the conversation meltdown I'd expected, Mom brightly announces in the middle of dinner that she is coming down sick with the plague. I was sitting right next to her, so of course, on top of the anxiety, my chronic paranoid germophobia kicks into overdrive. I'm a Virgo, after all.

From that point on, instead of letting Mom touch anything on the table other than her own plate and glass, I guarded the bowls and commandeered the serving utensils. Yes, I did. Worse than the crazy angelfish on Finding Nemo screaming "My bubbles, my bubbles!" when anyone got close to his treasure chest...or in this case, when anyone got close to the ham.

I took over the tongs and the scoopers and the dippers and quietly hoped no one noticed what I was doing or why. I have no idea if anyone caught on, or if they all just assumed I'm a nutcase and let it go because they felt sorry for my present mental condition and because, well, it's the holidays. Mistletoe and forgiveness, and all that Burl Ives snowman fairy jazz.

We drifted off to the den to open gifts after the dinner. I took my time and cleared the table. It was soothing to do so. To step away from the round table for a few minutes. While I did that, Hubby acted as the present passer and sat down next to the tree.

I hoped this would be a no fuss, no muss kind of deal, since the gifts were mostly focused on Mini. At the same time, I worried Hubby would be disappointed with my last minute selection of gifts for him. He always asks for the most impossible shit to find, and this year was no exception. (This would later be the core of an argument we would have on New Year's Eve after he'd had a few drinks, but again, I digress.)

For the first year ever, there really weren't a lot of gifts under the tree to pass around. I mean, that's not a bad thing. Gifts aren't the reason for the season, as they say. But I mean, we didn't have much present passing to do. We didn't go crazy with gifts for Oldest because we were afraid he wouldn't be able to take them all in his carry-on luggage when he left to go back to his post, and Hubby and I had bought Mom and Dad's main gift early on in December. We bought them a much needed deep freeze, aka (in non-Southern slang) a deep freezer, which they set up in their laundry room. To me that was really the highlight of the gift exchange. Mom has since showed off the deep freeze to everyone who she can convince to come look at it. It's as if we had bought her a brand new car. Her enthusiasm, as you can imagine, has made both me and Hubby extremely happy. After all, everyone loves a well received gift.

Although my anxiety level was off the chart, the gift exchange went well. At least I thought so. We made it home by mid-afternoon. Straight away, I ditched my jeans for pajama bottoms, put on my new fuzzy boots (house slippers), and made a dash for my office for some alone time. The guys watched movies on the Roku, and after a while, I drifted out of the office, gathered up everyone's new clothes and tossed them into the washing machine. Mini's allergic to the fabric sizing the manufacturers spray on everything, so it had to be done.

It was calm and cozy. It felt like Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve, which had me all screwed up time wise for the rest of the week.

The next morning, Christmas Day, Mini and Oldest opened their presents and stockings from Santa. Ditto for JakeDog and SassiePup. Most of Mini's Santa booty was MineCraft related. Little figures and a foam sword. An Angry Birds comforter and sheet set for his room. Santa didn't go crazy this year, either. Oh, and there was the Sonic the Hedgehog watch that Mini went absolutely bonkers over when he pulled it out of his stocking. Since then, the watch has been left abandoned on the dining room table.

While cleaning up all the discarded wrapping paper into a big black garbage sack, I realized I had not taken pictures of anyone on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Not a single photo. I don't know why I didn't. How did something that important slip my mind? I mean, my son is home from Bahrain for a limited amount of time, and I didn't take any pictures? This of course triggered another fit of anxiety. It triggered fears that this would be our last Christmas as a family. My parents are getting older, you know. They're not in the best of health. Fears cropped up that someone might die before next Christmas, and I had completely blown it. I hadn't acted as the family paparazzo and snapped pictures of everyone eating, opening gifts, and trying avoid the camera. Fears still eat at me that I do not have pictures of this very important Christmas, because I was actually in the middle of it for once. Instead of taking pictures of it, I was living it. In the moment. Not watching through a lens. (Which I often find more comfortable than being in the moment, truth told.) Nevertheless, for the first time in 13 years, the depth of that anxiety attack made me wish I had a cigarette. No, I didn't give in to the urge.  

Fast forward to 10 p.m., December 31st, 2013. Mini is running a blazing fever. Oldest and Hubby are both restless. The past week dashed by. The fastest few days I've ever lived. There were not enough hours, minutes, or seconds. There wasn't enough time to visit, to drive and see things with Oldest, to breathe, to say thank you, to say I love you. I also felt like maybe I was coming down sick. (I have been on the teeter-totter edge of succumbing to the plague for about three days now.) That night, I stayed up late and chatted with Oldest long after Hubby had gone to bed. Oldest laughed, smiled, and played with JakeDog, who I must say took to Oldest from the moment he stepped into the house with his suitcase. That was a big, happy surprise.

Around 2 a.m., I gave up trying to be perky, told the Big Boy good night and that I loved him, and I went to bed. Once again, I couldn't sleep. I wrote on my iPod, read a few emails, and sometime around 4 a.m. Hubby woke me up. It was time for Oldest to leave. Since Mini had been and is still running fever, I agreed to stay home with him while Hubby drove Oldest to the airport. I hugged Oldest and told him I loved him. Then I woke Mini up so he could hug his brother goodbye. Shortly after that, Hubby and Oldest were gone. Again, no pictures. I was too busy in the moment to think about my camera. Another regret to add to my list of many. I hope Hubby thought to take a couple at the airport. I'll have to ask.

So that is the 2013 from which I have emerged. I feel like a butterfly pried too soon from its cocoon. I'm not ready, I'm not ready, I'm not ready. But I have to keep moving forward. What other choice is there?

In 2013 we went through a lot as a family. We also went without a lot. Still, I'm so grateful I was able to see the Big Boy for the holidays. Last night, while chatting with Oldest, I asked him when he thought he'd be transferred to another post. He said it would probably be August. His birthday month and mine. Hubby, who also felt there weren't enough hours, minutes, or seconds, has said that when Oldest transfers - hopefully to the states - we'll go visit him. I'm ready. I'm looking forward to it.

Overall, the house has felt a lot emptier today, but we keep going. We keep on keeping on, one foot in front of the other. Marching through the elements, marching through the regrets, the forgotten photos, the moments of joy. I'm so very glad 2013 is finally over. It's like I've finally escaped a year long funeral. I'm allowed to come home now, go to my room, and strip off my black dress of mourning. And I'm relieved to do so. I'm ready for brighter things. Happier times. I'm ringing in 2014, ready to move on. 

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