Entering the third month of mobilization without Husband, we sure are keeping busy. We really are hitting our “groove.” Granted, it’s now officially the Christmas season, so that makes it even busier, but we are happy to be busy. It’s just time to get things done.
In fact, we really hurled ourselves forward into Christmas this weekend by putting up the decorations, doing some shopping, and cutting down a poor defenseless tree to erect in our family room. We rollerskated on Thanksgiving Eve (our tradition), and on Sunday the church was full of visiting family members. So as a result of all that activity, we interacted with lots and lots of folks.
Above all else, there was one consistent question: “Are you doing okay?”
It’s a funny question, really. It’s not the same as “how are you?” which permits either a generic response or a more personal comment. Somehow, it indicates that something is wrong. Do I walk around looking like something is wrong? Is there some kind of stunned expression I wear when I greet people? Or maybe it’s just me. I always thought that phrase presumed that things were not okay. When I have to answer that question, I have an urge to defend myself. It feels like saying “we’re doing great” leads to skepticism, requiring me to prove it. I suddenly feel compelled to expand on Husband’s latest report or our most recent care package contents. I involuntarily become incessantly focused on the positive. It’s highly annoying to listen to myself.
I really was doing just great! at Thanksgiving. I cooked for our little family, and we each talked about what we were thankful for. The Preschooler is very thankful for frogs and Cheetos. Sweet Pea extolled the virtues of family and shelter and Jesus. My mom was glad for each of us. And then it was done. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. It was Thanksgiving.
And then, like most moms/cooks, after the table was cleared I finally relieved myself after having to pee for nearly two hours.
Two hours! Why moms don’t stop to pee when we really need to is beyond me. I mean, really. It wouldn’t kill us to just say, “get your own water, I have to use the bathroom.” Nobody would die if the dishes sat for a few minutes. The crumbs, the gravy-greased countertops, the leftover containers, and the stained place mats … they would all stay right where they were if I walked away. I honestly don’t know how or why it happens, but it happens every single time.
So there I was, with the bathroom door closed. Alone. Phew. Finally. And I sat down, and suddenly - I started to cry.
I don’t know, maybe it was just because it was the first quiet place I had been all day. But I sat right there on the toilet, with my rear end hanging out, and I cried for no apparent reason. Next I laughed at how dumb I was being, and a little snot flew out, making it even more dumb, more ridiculous, more pathetic, and more disgusting than it already was. And then I put my head in my hands and I cried. I really, really cried.
When I was finally done, I couldn’t figure out what had triggered it. I washed my face and stumbled into the family room and sat watching the glare on the TV screen. I didn’t see the Dallas Cowboys running around on it. I saw Husband watching the game from a Command and Control room in his uniform. I saw him eating cafeteria-style pecan pie and roast beef, because he likes it better than turkey. And I saw him returning to his room all alone, to get some sleep.
To take my mind off the images, I started rifling through the Christmas boxes. I came across a stack of annoying glittered felt. Nothing says cheezy Christmas aftermath like turquoise glitter that remains in the carpet through New Year’s Eve straight into Valentine’s Day. One of many half-finished craft projects from the year before, we had traced all of our hands onto some felt in an effort to make a family Christmas wreath. Tracing was the farthest we got, because, like all other projects, everyone was more interested in starting the project than finishing it, which was left to mom. As I daringly pulled it out of the glitter-encapsulating plastic, I stopped and stared at Husband’s hand tracings.
I recalled him holding very still while the kids outline-blackened his hand the year before, and how sweet that was. The hand prints seemed so large now, yet so familiarly shaped. I put my hand on top of the drawing, comparing the relative size of my hand to Husband’s. It reminded me of a foggy evening overlooking the bay in Coronado when I was 19, back when comparing hand sizes was an excuse to touch him. This time I was really comparing the sizes, even though, just like that night twenty years ago, I knew whose hand would be infinitely larger.
What a gift to have this unfinished project. I wasted no time putting the wreath together. Soon there was a perfect circle made from all four of our hands, the big ones layered underneath forming a foundation for the smaller ones. Once woven together in an infinite circle, it was no longer individual hands, but a single wreath. And there we were, all woven together.
Perhaps I was hasty in assuming that I was doing just fine. Maybe I do have the Stepford Wife eye-glaze from time to time. I guess I’m too dumb to realize what my friends may already know better than I do: that this Christmas really is going to be a little bit harder than I anticipated. Maybe I can’t power through it. Maybe parts of it really will be sad.
So I will hang the wreath right there, in the hallway, where I will pass by it each day. It will be an icon for how tightly we are woven together, a reminder of how well we support each other even across the miles, and how difficult it is to tell where one of us stops and the next one starts. And I’ll look forward to next year, when it will truly warm my heart to take it out and to be thankful. Because if it weren’t for this year’s absence, I would never have that appreciation in the years to come. Not in the same way, at least.
Oh, and of course, I learned my lesson.
I will never ever again even consider going into the bathroom alone.