grumpy about the holidays – day 25 (Curtains Up)

Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho! I stayed up too late making magic for the kids, so I’m really tired. My fingers are numb and arthritic from putting together 4.2 million Lego pieces. I was almost reduced to tweezers; my eyes are permanently crossed. My grip is exhausted from trying to rip open cardboard boxes and put together the stupid Hot Wheels set Jesse insisted Santa would bring. (He did. It’s awesome. At least, it was awesome for the 5 minutes she played with it this morning.) My stomach is distended beyond all reason from overeating.

But still, it was a really amazing Christmas and I’ll save the grumpy tales for tomorrow. Jesse has never made it through a Christmas season with so much attention to simple happiness, and with so little affectation of anxiety. It was the best Christmas gift ever. Nick was a five-year-old enjoying his first fully conscious Christmas, full of wonder, curiosity, joy, and greed. We didn’t have to get up too early, and I only yelled at the kids a few times (and really, it was my own fault for getting them the three-foot-long light sabers).

The Star Wars Legos, which consumed me for way too many hours, were well received. “Whoooooa, it’s exactly what I wanted,” said a tiny, awestruck voice from the living room.

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The hexbot car thingy went over well, and the house wasn’t too trashed.

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Jesse got me an elf apron.

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And really, after putting that on, nothing could bring me down. (Except for maybe this picture. Gawd, go on a diet FINALLY girl. Too much chin and cheek.)

Jesse put together an apple galette, and she didn’t even spit or cough on it.

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When we were good and stir crazy, we grabbed the remote control helicopters and a few dragons and headed over to a park with a large field, right next to Lake Michigan. We flew things, chased the dog, and wandered down to the lake. On the trail to the lake, Nick and I avoided all the zombies, vampires and witches, probably because he let me vaccinate him with my kisses.

We even found a magic portal.

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I told Nick that if he crawled through this strange little doorway created by the two saplings, he might find himself in another place, someplace magic. He didn’t want to do that. I did, but I didn’t fit. Oh well. On we went to the magical lake.

There was no snow on the ground, but the beautiful day made up for it. We wandered cheerfully down the beach, breathing in life and enjoying each other’s company. Anthony found a big stick, and like a good dog he carried it down the beach.

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The clouds were perfect; my family even more so. We laughed; we were at ease; there was much smiling and simple pleasure, and always love.

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If there’s such a thing as a perfect day, today was it.

Grumpy about the holidays – day 23 (counting my blessings)

Yesterday some peeps who matter to me lost a brother and a son and an uncle and so on, in a car accident. They are such decent and good people, and there’s nothing I can do for them except to keep on keeping on. It’s a senseless and untimely death, but for that matter, what death isn’t?

I find that it’s easy, in the face of death, to forget about the silliness and joys of the world, or worse yet, to decide they need to be set aside for a time so that one can devote one’s full energy to, well, suffering. Sometimes grief is so utterly overwhelming you have no choice but to give in to it.

The horrible reality of life is that it’s full of death. And yet here we are, bearing children who are destined to die, and even making the best of it. We live on both sides of it all.

Last week Nick asked me, “Mommy, when I die will I not be real anymore?” It was a gut-punch. I had to catch my breath and dig deep to stop the tears, and I wasn’t even sure why they wanted to come. I answered best I could. You will always be real, forever, no matter what happens to your body, or this world, or this galaxy, or this universe, no matter what else is real and what is myth. The dinosaurs died 60 or 70 million years ago. Most of them returned to stardust long ago. But they’re still real, as real as the mountains we climb and the lakes we swim in, and they’re still shaping our world.

To myself I added, you’ll always be real to me, as real as the extraordinary love and pain and guilt I feel right now, feelings that are bound together in a strange dance as I watch my children awaken to mortality and suffering, as they learn to live on both sides of this journey we’re all on.

Jesse once sat on the can taking a dump, pondering death and heaven. I don’t recall her words exactly, but she put two ideas together as she bore down:

Mommy, you always say that a piece of your daddy is in your heart, even though he’s dead.

That’s right, I answered. He’s always with me.

She continued. My friend at school says when you die, she believes you go to heaven.

That’s right, I replied, a lot of people believe that.

Then, said my beautiful, magical little child, since your daddy is in your heart, it’s like heaven is in your heart.

Right. That’s where I think the people we care about stay, after they die — right here with us, despite all the mistakes, the failures, the fights and regrets, and despite all the love.