In countless households all over the world, mamas and papas were smiling with joyous anticipation. The kids were coming home–all of them–all at the same time!
A celebration of this magnitude required weeks of intense preparation. First, the lists had to be made–long, comprehensive lists that would be divided into shorter, doable dailies and conquered with a fleeting sense of accomplishment (for every item marked off one list almost always served as a reminder of something else to be added to another).
But, eventually, as the BIG DAY drew ever closer, the lists became smaller. The tree was purchased and trimmed, furniture was re-located to make room for it, and boxes and boxes (and boxes) of decorations were dragged from storage. With only minimal under-breath grumbling and slightly more aching of backs and knees, the tree and house both were adorned with symbols of the season. And then the real work began–sweeping, swiping, scrubbing, and (shhh!) finding convenient hiding places for all the clutter–efforts that no one else would notice but that a mama still deemed necessary for a successful celebration.
A husband and doctor scolded: “Relax! You’re working too hard; you’re stressing too much!” And even though they were right (this one time), their words were not heeded, for there was just too much to do to ensure that everyone’s visit was as close to perfect as possible.
Following multiple trips to the mall and countless hours of snowstorm-induced online shopping, the gifts were all bought (except, of course, for those last-minute, impulsive must-haves). After a near-tears, foot-stomping temper tantrum, the tape and scissors were finally located, and each box was painstakingly wrapped and placed under the already shedding tree.
Groceries were stockpiled in every cabinet, and in the final hours the counters were laden with each child’s favorite cookies and candies, while more recipes simmered and bubbled on the stove–in the days ahead, no one would walk away from Mama’s table hungry.
And then . . . and then . . . they were suddenly home, wearing their jackets and scarves and radiant smiles and bearing gifts for all. Gone were the little boys who once taunted and tumbled and tattled, suddenly replaced by young men who shared and remembered and teased, their raucous laughter echoing well into the early morning hours, their easy togetherness warming their mama’s heart.
Packages were unwrapped, thanks were given, meals were devoured, more groceries were hastily purchased. And new memories were forged for joyful reminiscence in the years to come.
And then, just as suddenly, it was time for them to go–back to their own waiting homes, back to their own busy lives. Presents and leftovers and suitcases were loaded into vehicles, and even though the children were anxious to be on their way, they submitted to one last family photo because they knew it would make their mama happy. They had not yet experienced the loss of a parent–and so did not yet realize how precious those photos one day would be to them. For their mother, though, the photos were already priceless because she could look upon them in the coming quiet and feel once again the warmth of her children’s presence.
After the last car pulled from the driveway, the mama collapsed onto the couch, fighting back the tears she knew were silly but tears she knew would trickle just the same. (Had her own mama felt the same tug of emotions each time she welcomed her children home and then watched from a window as they drove away? Yes.) The weeks of preparation and chaos had taken their toll, and a long, deep, luxurious recovery nap was in order.
She smiled in her sleep.
And then she arose, only slightly rested but ready for the laborious task of restoring the house to its pre-holiday condition, its everyday clutter. It would take some time. The dishwasher was filled and emptied (and filled and emptied again), the towels and sheets were laundered, and Salvation Army donation bags were stuffed to make room for the latest slate of gifts.
And then her husband’s help was requested. Garlands were taken down, decorations were carefully wrapped and stored, a tree was carried outside, pieces of furniture were returned to their original locations. Pine needles and glitter were swept and swiped from every nearby surface–and would be swept and swiped again and again in the days ahead. It would take even longer to rid the refrigerator of its remaining leftovers–and yet, strangely, no more than a day would be needed to consume every cookie, every candy left behind (she had her husband’s help with that, too).
And then “normalcy” returned.
It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing–this normalcy–in fact, in some ways it was even desired. No more waking up to dirty dishes in the sink and crumbs on the counter, no more waiting for the water heater to warm, no more spending hours preparing massive meals that would be devoured in mere minutes–her routines were restored, and her small world was easy and familiar once more.
But the silence . . . the silence was overwhelming. She tried to shatter it with a television blaring; she tried to pierce it with dogs let inside to frolic and bark–but her efforts were futile, and there was nothing more to do but embrace it and move on . . .
. . . and count the days until the next time they would all be home.
Our Christmas tree, before the grand unwrapping …
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my family to yours!