Sunday, December 25, 2005

A spin of the wheel

Sitting in the examining room in a paper gown, the obstetrician spun the wheel that would tell my future, and I held my breath.

Making the decision to have a child after a young adulthood filled with dreams of a single life and self fulfillment seemed such a longshot, I wasn’t really sure how I got here.

Five months earlier, I was saying “I do” with such trepidation; even though my mind was clear and I was happy, I worried. Would things change? Would I be different now that my life was going to be joined with another’s?

I balked at every step of the way, from the proposal to the license. I refused to change my name with such a ferocity that I might have become just a little unglued. I feared losing my identity. I feared a change that would make us both different people. I held on to each moment with a white-knuckled grasp, treating the bridal shower and the rehearsal dinner as wake and funeral for my single self.

Every detail became important as I waited for the date when I would walk down the aisle and laugh my way through the vows
we’d crafted together.

Looking back on it now with the distance of just a few years it seems as if it was all just a colossal waste of energy.

The idea that I would be someone’s mother was infinitely more important and powerful, not to mention irreversible. I had planned every detail of the wedding and seem to leave the baby to chance.

Once the stick test confirmed the happy news and I’d made the official appointment, it dawned on me; the wedding hadn’t changed me in any tangible way, but this most certainly would.

A year of planning a wedding and nine months … less by the time the first appointment was made … to get ready for something huge and tiny in one.

As you might imagine, we had a typical reaction to the news: We bought pregnancy books, which my husband lovingly hid from me once I peeked my head up from chapter seven and exclaimed “…OH my GOD. Vericose veins? … hemorrhoids? … WHO on Earth would ever get pregnant if they knew what the side effects were?” during dinner at his mother’s house.

Then the strangest thing happened. I relaxed.

Through 39 weeks of measurements, ultrasounds and blood tests, I meandered toward motherhood happily enduring heartburn, nosebleeds and being awoken in the middle of the night by jabs from tiny little feet.

All of that was still ahead of me, though, as I sat on the examining table swinging my feet, anxiously waiting for irrefutable proof that I would wreck this child’s life somehow with this haphazard planning.

“It looks like you’re due date is Dec. 22,” said the doctor. “We’re looking at a Christmas baby.”

“Nice going, mom!” I chastise myself. “You’ve already robbed the kid of a lifetime of birthday loot.”

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I just feel better when it's not around

It’s midnight and I’m sitting up with a glass of wine and my favorite holiday movie — “Barfly.”

OK. “Barfly” has nothing to do with the holidays, really, but lately I’ve been relating everything Christmas-y with a Mickey Rourke/Henry Chinaski/Charles Bukowski sensibility: I don’t hate Christmas, I just feel better when it’s not around.

How is it possible to love everything about the holidays except the holidays?

I love the music and the sentiment, the hustle and bustle; I even enjoy buying presents for family and friends to find under the tree.

It’s just that, for me, the perception of Christmas and the reality of it are two divergent things.

The joy that Christmas promises, in my estimation, requires the distance of a season or two for full appreciation to take place. Summer, for example, would be a perfect time to have Christmas.

When it’s uncomfortably hot and I am willing the skies to explode into fat snowflakes is when I pine for Christmas. Not when I am frozen to the core and trying to scrape the ice off my windshield with a credit card in the mall parking lot.

If you were to ask me in August what any thoughts of Christmas bring, I would envision myself toasty-warm in a big fluffy robe, sitting by the tree with a mug of coffee and nothing to do but look at the lights and relax in the moment.

Come December 24, however, and I have a new picture in mind that usually has me in a frenzy, surrounded by a tangle of tangibles, trying to wrap Christmas gifts that at the time of purchase I thought were brilliant but I now fear will fizzle. The last straw usually comes around midnight when I’ve lost the end of the “Magic Tape” for the 17th time and I am seriously considering using a glue stick.


But how?

Two years ago I was successful in abandoning Christmas by having a baby a week prior.

Christmas came anyway, but it was trumped by something infinitely more important.

We missed every Christmas party thrown, every cookie exchange and even the family gift fest that year. Christmas came to us. Our stash of pre-made cookies went to the hospital staff, and our presents to each other were small tokens.

It was a wonderful Christmas, but one that won’t likely be duplicated with any precision.

I still have my picture of that comfortable Christmas morning by the fire in my own house with nowhere to go and nothing to do as I book the 1,243-mile flight to Minnesota, where, with a toddler in tow, we will spend the holidays this year.

I suppose there’s just no way around it. No matter how much I plan, I know on Christmas Eve I will be furiously wrapping presents left naked for the baggage screeners to peruse and wishing the tape really was MAGIC.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

G'morning, neighbor

Sometimes I think the neighbors I know best are the other motorists I encounter each day on my hour-long commute to work.

They’re the folks who share the country back roads that wind their way to the babysitter’s house, and the highway that takes us all into the city and to our respective jobs.

It’s a kind of moving community that shifts and changes every time my routine varies by just a minute or two.
I spend more time each week reading their bumper stickers and noticing the dings and foibles of their cars than I do chatting with any of the folks who share a portion of my street address.

It’s an easy relationship that doesn’t necessarily require much effort. All I have to do is glance in any direction while traffic slows to know who they voted for in the last election or if they are pro-choice, anti-war or if their kids have made honor roll.
Of course in any neighborhood there are problems: there are pushy people trying to get ahead, people who don’t take care of their property and people who just don’t pay attention to concerns of their fellow compatriots. They yak on cell phones, honk their horns and occasionally scream obscenities. There are some otherwise nice neighbors who retaliate with equally unneighborly behavior, because, after all, it’s not as if they are going to encounter each other over the fence line.

I know that most people rail against their "commuter neighbors" for any number of real or perceived infractions - edging into the lane without the prop¬er turn signal; following too closely or doing any number of dim-witted maneuvers that clearly indicate the fellow trav¬eler may have obtained a licenses from a discount department store - but not for me. Much of what I see day in and day out is what makes such a long drive bearable.

I’ve seen a guy who plays a wooden recorder whilst driving, and another gentleman tooling along with two parrots, one perched on each shoulder; I’ve seen cars packed with any manner of interesting cargo from Styrofoam peanuts to rubber play balls. I’ve seen people sing to themselves, play silly games in traffic jams and even doing good deeds. What I’ve witnessed on the roads is as much a community as any neighborhood in which I have lived.

For two hours each day, the mundane becomes interesting and strangers become friends.

Just about every morning I start my day by waving to a man who rides his bike (or walks) to some job I imagine he has on a local farm. I don’t know his name and I haven’t a clue as to what he really does for a living, but this cordial relationship goes back more than a decade. Sometimes he has tools with him, sometimes he’s empty handed. One year he sported a sling on his arm for several months. When he’s not there for a few days in a row I worry about him.

I vow that someday I will stop and introduce myself.

In recent years I’ve baked an extra batch of cookies at Christmas just for him. But on those days, with the bundle on the seat beside me, our paths have not intersected.

Perhaps this year they will.