We could sit side by side in a car for four hours and the only words uttered would be "look, here comes our exit."
As odd as it sounds, it's one of those "healthy" relationships in which we are able to completely ignore most angst by merely willing the potential for strife into non-existence, and take pleasure in Car Talk or Prairie Home Companion instead.
I learned early on that reacting to the road hazards from the passenger seat was, in effect, calling into question his driving skills and would lead to nothing but hurt feelings. He learned that suggesting alternative routes from the one in which I had my heart (and my trip odometer) set was going to earn him the withering "if-you-wanted-to-drive-why-didn't-you" stare.
It's just that simple.
In the car, especially, we tend to shy away from all the party banter that gets non-habitating folks into trouble: politics, religion, the state of the environment, home maintenance, yard work. ... You name it, we’ve made an art form out of ignoring it.
The quarters are just too close for any sort of discomfort.
So, as we headed out to go hiking last weekend, (And for the record: Yes … hiking with a toddler is more like walk four steps, pick up leaves and rocks and yell Mama, UP-Y every fifth step, which has an appeal all its own, but I digress.) ignoring the first viable shopping day of the holiday season, I have NO idea what possessed me to break the traditional tranquility:
"So, what are we going to get your mother for Christmas?" I ask and then take a long drink from my coffee cup.
I looked over toward his side of the car. He was sitting there with his mouth hanging open.
"With that one sentence you have made the whole Christmas shopping season thing real for me."
He wasn't irritated, just stunned.
And his stunned silence brought the whole thing home for me, too.
I've spent so much time kvetching about the early marketing of Christmas that it's just now occurred to me – counting only the days I could feasibly get out and shop before Dec. 25 (discounting days that have been blocked off for other holiday chores) – I've only got five shopping days left.
Since I have typically done most of the actual selection, wrapping and shipping of items for both sides of the family, I should mention that the question I asked of him was elaborately rhetorical.
I ask for his input but I don't ever expect to use it.
He'll say "let's get the family to chip in and we'll get mom a riding lawnmower" and I'll say "oh, a posh tea kettle sounds perfect."
But this year, with a toddler-turn-preschooler who refuses the comfort of a stroller and insists upon leisurely strolls (not to mention hiding underneath clothes racks and juggling the breakables at Bed, Bath and Beyond) I don't have the energy to shop.
It's true: I've dropped before I've shopped.
If he had said let's get her an automatic car wash with a seven-head attachment I would have ordered it from the internet access of my cell phone that instant. Our "Buy Local" mantra be damned.
Truth be told, I've recently done a single scouting mission to The Mall to see what's what, and sadly I didn't even remember what's where, not to mention the confusion caused by some of my favorite stores falling off the directory.
We didn't come to any conclusions about our shopping list during the outing, and the car returned to its usual silence. And even though the clock is ticking down and the stress is rearing up, it occurs to me I wished I hadn't mentioned a word about the holidays. Maybe then I could have staved off Christmas (shopping) until next year and this year, just enjoy the season.
UPDATE: I received a letter from Edmay Mayers this week, thanking me for my contribution to her toy drive for Iraqi children and for getting the word out about the need for gently loved toys in that war-torn country.
I mention this because in the real spirit of Christmas and Eid ul-Adha, I want to remind you that Ms. Mayers is continuing her efforts to bring a little joy to children of Iraq and that your donations are still needed.
Again, please send gently used toys and clothes as well as hard candies and other non-perishable treats to her at:
Edmay Mayers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region South (GRS) APO, AE 09331.