My daughter went back to school today. Christmas break is officially over. I get to stay home, nevertheless I wish the Christmas season weren't over. Our holiday celebrations were far from perfect. And yet I loved them.
The trouble began with the Christmas lights. The string of stars kept falling and ended up askew. My husband was never around to fix them, and I couldn't reach them. I poked at them with an umbrella but wasn't able to nudge them into place. Instead, more stars fell. I propped them up on a partially opened window, but that was so precarious the wind blew them down again. And so the line of stars became an asymmetrical slope. In any case, we found the foliage outside the house obscured the view of the lights from the street. As seen from the house, my kids loved them. So I decided not to obsess.
My mom, on the other hand, was obsessed with our curtains. She complained because we were unable to change one set of white curtains with a red-flowered border to our Christmas ones which were almost the same except the flowers were poinsettias. My husband had recently rearranged the room so that a pile of heavy boxes in front of the window in question made the rod hard to reach. Nobody noticed, really, except my mom. Luckily, she never noticed that I completely forgot to change the throw pillow cases to the coordinating Christmas ones. As this was a private upstairs room, not many people would notice these things, including us. She worried more over the stark blue of the curtains downstairs and I reassured her there was no need to change the curtains, we just needed to dangle some silver decorations on them. She thought this was a great idea and brought over a tinsel garland and a silver snowflakes.
The decorations tied the curtains together well with our red and blue cushions with gold and silver stars. We were all delighted, especially my 9-month-old son, who gazed at the whole arrangement when we were sitting on the sofa, bounced in excitement, and yanked at the curtains, bringing the whole curtain rod down crashing! He bounced up and down even more wildly, thrilled with his accomplishment. My husband patiently worked to restore the arrangement, but the dangling snowflakes that had fallen on the floor and those that hadn't disappeared under the furniture were taken possession of my daughter. I collected them, hoping to return them when we'd found them all, but each time she saw them she would take them again. I was worried about their sharp wire hooks, so I decided to keep them out of sight. And, well, out of sight, out of mind. I completely forgot where I put them. Sorry, Mom.
Then there were the presents. I had purchased gifts for my daughter's preschool class early this year, but found on the day of the class Christmas party that I had miscalculated the number. I was lacking one gift and they just had to all be alike! I had two hours to find something suitable, and dashed out to the nearest store in our simple neighborhood. They didn't have what I was looking for, and I had to change plans. I decided to buy a completely different set of toys to the boys and give the original ones to the girls. So I had enough gifts, but searching around, I couldn't find any of the giftwrap I had saved from last year. I must have given to my mother, who was forever worried about running out. I scrounged around the box where we keep giftwraps for reusing. We normally have plenty, as my schoolteacher husband gets so many gifts, but we had donated most to my daughter's school and now we were short! I struggled to cut the wrappers I found so that all the gifts would be covered, and when I ran out I used printed tissue paper. I somehow managed to get the presents all wrapped and stuffed in a paper bag just as my brother-in-law, who was bringing her to school and me to the dentist, drove up to the door. I gobbled up lunch while my daughter put on her socks and shoes and brushed my teeth while Uncle Mike and my babysitter were loading the kids' essentials in the car. Then we were off, and somehow we got there just as my daughter's class was starting.
Something similar happened with my husband's gifts, but with a difference. We were wrapping gifts for his friends at the school where he taught also up to the last minute. At least we had some new rolls of giftwrap now, courtesy of my mom, plus plenty of bags and boxes. As it happened, he got to school late and was kept so busy at his classroom after the Mass at school he was unable to distribute gifts to anyone all evening. We needn't have bothered!
Then there was the food. I had a baking demo of gingerbread men at my daughter's class, to which I brought my mixer--only to find I had forgotten the blades! Well, no matter, there were many hands to help mix. But the butter was still hard as a rock, and the teacher sent someone to microwave it briefly to soften it but not melt it. It arrived in a bowl, a block of hard butter floating in a pool of golden liquid. We desperately chipped at the hard portion and blended it with the melted bit. I'd like to think the children got a lesson in adaptability and innovation from watching us. We crossed our fingers mentally as we mixed it with the dry ingredients. I selected a boy to crack an egg into the bowl. My daughter does this pretty well, but this child was not so adept and the egg went all over the table. I scooped up what I could, but it was not enough. Another egg arrived and this time I helped him to crack it into the cup where we had measured the butter. Some of the egg curdled and I realized my mistake--the cup was still hot! Still, most of it was liquid and I dumped it into the bowl with my fingers still mentally crossed. The children helped in mixing and cutting then eagerly took the gingerbread men with them to decorate. Some of them were so eager that they pockmarked their men all over with candy buttons. I said nothing but just prayed. They had to be all right. I stayed in the classroom so I could check on them every few minutes. When they were done I left. I tasted my daughter's creation and to my relief, it was not only good but even better than the ones we'd made at home!
We had a wonderful spread at Christmas if a somewhat odd mix of Western roast chicken and stuffing and native oxtail stew brought my relatives from another party. I was supposed to make my specialty, spinach quiche, then. As there was enough food and it was getting late, I was told not to bother. In any case, when I asked I was told there was no spinach. But on New Year's, my mother found she had no olives for the main dish and waited for my in-laws to bring them before she could put the chicken casserole in the oven. I was supposed to make quiche again, but it was too late to make it and anyway, there was enough food. I thought of making spinach dip using a mix so we could nibble while waiting, but looking around found no spinach. So I was told I could just make my quiche for my mother's birthday tea on the fifth. I arrived on that day prepared to make both quiche and dip. While my mother ran out to buy croissants, I scrounged around for the spinach. I found a container of dark green leaves and took it out. Then I realized that I needed softened margarine for the crust. The margarine was in the chiller, rock hard. I put it on the sunny table and preheated the oven. I checked it after the oven had gotten hot and it was still firm, so I decided to put it on the oven to warm up faster.
In my search through the refrigerator, I had found a peeled cucumber left over from New Year's. I remember how we had intended to have an Victorian-style tea with cucumber sandwiches so I looked through my mom's library of cookbooks and found a recipe. Not surprising, really, as thanks to my late grandmother we a collection of a thousand recipes at least. It sounded promising and we had all the ingredients except cider vinegar, but cane seemed an acceptable substitute. So I made a plateful of sandwiches while waiting for the margarine to soften. Having finished the sandwiches, I reached for the margarine. My hand was oily but the block was still firm--the surface that rested against the oven was all melted, the rest was not! This was a deja vu moment of my baking session at my daughter's class. I was ready to give up baking the quiche but my mom urged me to do it. I reluctantly agreed. But the maid had whisked away the container I had taken out of the refrigerator, informing me they were sili (chili) leaves. "Well, where's the spinach?" I asked.
"You need spinach for quiche?" my mother asked.
In fairness to her, I haven't made my specialty in at least a year. Rather than compromising and making a mushroom quiche instead, we skipped the quiche.
This Christmas was made extra special by a visit from my cousin's family from Canada, whom we had not seen since before my daughter was born. I was hoping my 4 1/2 year old girl could get to know my cousin's 7-year-old daughter, but each time we got them together, one or the other of them was asleep! We tried one more time at a dinner for my mom's birthday on Three Kings' Day. We arrived at the restaurant 30 minutes late, having waited to be fetched by my husband's family who lived farthest of all. My niece, Kaela, was lying down, drowsy but not quite asleep. My daughter went to her and squealed, "Oh, there's Kaela!" So far, so good. Hopefully Kaela would wake up later and they could meet properly. In the meantime, my daughter went to sit down and ate a little. Then all of a sudden she lay down on a chair and fell asleep. Kaela woke up again as we were getting ready to leave, but my daughter was still fast asleep. Well, at least they managed to see each other outside Facebook.
We don't forget the spiritual dimension of Christmas, of course. I was determined to have the family attend Mass on Christmas Eve this year. We had attended at various times on Christmas Day in the past, but a friend invited me to attend a Christmas Eve Mass at her religious center this year. It was not too late at night and it was near my in-laws' place where we were supposed to have a lunch that we knew would run on past dinnertime. So we decided to go.
As we were getting ready to leave, my son demanded to nurse. I lay down on a bed with him, and we both fell asleep. My husband maintains this was the reason we were late in leaving, I argue that I was in a light sleep as I woke up in less than an hour and was on my feet right away. They could have woken me if they were ready. In any case, we might have made it except we got lost. We arrived as they were singing the last line of "O Come All Ye Faithful," their closing song.
Incredible as it may seem, much the same thing happened when we tried to attend New Year's Mass. We were also coming from my in laws' then. The church was not far but there was more traffic than we expected, and somehow we still got there just as everyone was leaving.
Strangley, though more things seemed to have gone wrong than usual this year, it seems there was more laughter than usual. I felt more relaxed despite being exhausted. And it wasn't only because I wasn't doing any baking this year, with my oven kaput. I didn't feel as upset over things going wrong as I used to. Maybe because I've adapted to having kids and accepted that life with young children is naturally chaotic. And that you can dress them in adorable Christmas hats and vests and all but you can't force them to keep them on. Not when Christmas is as hot as it was this year.
So much went wrong, but more turned out right, I have to say. And perhaps as in a story, the contrast of the good moments after the conflict makes them more memorable. The lights may never have hung properly, but they still inspired my son to close-open his chubby hand to mimic their twinkling. The silver snowflakes may have been misplaced, but we put up a little tree at my daughter's insistence, using our silver wreath to hold it (the tree had been sold cheaply as it was missing its supports). Simply decorated with blue lights, the bright little tree diverted attention from the stark blue curtains and with its colors tied the room together.
We did manage to get all the presents wrapped and so what if I ended up spending extra for my daughter's class, at least the kids ended up with better presents. We had delicious, filling meals. My son discovered many holiday foods he loved, including my mother-in-law's classic macaroni and my newly discovered cucumber sandwich cream cheese filling. It's a pity about the cousins missing each other, but at least they've actually seen each other in person and it would have been a mistake to make them feel obliged to play together when they were both worn out. As for the Mass, I think we still kept the spiritual dimension of Christmas by joining in the singing of religious carols afterwards and bringing my daughter to kiss baby Jesus. She even tried to tuck a handkerchief around him as a blanket.
And of course this was an extra special holiday season as it was my son's first Christmas. Therefore, just as it is, with all its foibles, it will always have a special place in our memories.