This post was first published as a part of the 2011 Military Blog Swap at Chambanachik. I’m republishing it here for my regular readers who may not have had a chance to wander that direction yet. Also, it’s now December 20th. I can start shopping.
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I loathe the annual requirement that befalls me each December 20: Christmas Gifts. I’m not a complete Christmas Eve procrastinator, not quite, but pretty darn close. What I’ve come to accept is that it’s just not a talent I possess. Oh sure, if you’re six years old, you think trinkets from the dollar store are the shazizzle, or you really like cookies, I’m your girl. But otherwise, I pretty much suck at gift-picking. I vehemently decry the commercialism of the American Christmas ritual mostly because I hate to shop for that perfect gift so very much. It all just stresses me out.
Point of fact, I was driving along peacefully this week singing radio carols when the Santa on the sidewalk twirling the UPS Store sign gave me a procrastination heart-attack. Not because his shiny white nylon beard was still the same shape as the neoprene packaging from whence it came, and not because my eight year-old was in the back seat eyeing him suspiciously after having been perched on the ledge of disbelief last year. And not even because he had blood-shot eyes and music device ear buds that were apparently delivering R&B Holiday tunes that allowed him to sync his twirling sign to the rap-tastic beat.
No, it was merely the content of his sign that induced panic. He paused for a radio station identification notification, and was momentarily still enough for me to read it:
IT’S NOT TOO LATE! YOU CAN STILL SHIP IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS AT THE UPS STORE!
The fact that I had not, up until that very moment, even contemplated that there might be an impending delivery deadline made me go into yuletide myocardial infarctions. I started thinking about gift lists, malls, grocery bills, navigating Toys ‘R’ Us at 7pm, and the blackmail that is Amazon’s free shipping racket. My head was spinning into oblivion. It was capped off with a stroke destined to put me into a holiday coma when my sweet daughter asked, “Mom, is that the real Santa?” Gah! I hoped Santa wasn’t watching as I pushed the pedal to the floor and replied, “Whoopsie! Didn’t see it. Sorry. Don’t know what yer talkin’ about.”
After dinner I calmed down and I sat down with a blank piece of paper, and I dutifully started scratching out names. I stared at the list with no idea what to write next to each family member. My Santa-doubting daughter sat down next to me and declared she would now be making her list for Santa. She looked at me sideways as she wrote, evaluating whether or not I was overly interested in her list. I stared at my own blank list instead and ignored her out of misery rather than parental strategy. In disgust, I finally tossed my pen down. I had eleven family members on my list and at the moment they were all getting cumin. Yes, the spice. I noticed that my daughter wasn’t faring much better. She had just one thing on her list, and it was numbered: “#1. iPod.”
“Um, are you stuck on what else to ask Santa for this year, honey?”
“Well … it’s not a very long list. You just have one thing there.”
“Yep. Just an iPod. That’s all I want.”
“Oh baby, Santa’s not getting you an iPod. You’re only eight.”
“Well that’s what I thought at first. But then I decided if I only put one thing on the list, there wouldn’t be anything else to get me. So that’s all I want. Just an iPod.”
Now I was depressed and in awe, all at once. It was horrifying and exhilarating. In a trump move to beat all holiday trump moves, she was actually extorting Santa. She was extorting me! She was successfully diverting her Christmas wish list right around the extravaganza that is the Dollar Store on Christmas Eve. I had to come up with the right answer, and fast. It rolled off my tongue eerily:
“Honey, I know what you mean about wanting that one thing so badly that you can’t think of anything else. But if you do that, you’ll have to be willing to wait until the time is right. If you really want it, it will be worth it, but you might not get it when you want it. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”
And darn it, that’s where Christmas came crashing down on me. You know that moment where something comes out of your mouth and you realize that what you’ve been thinking, what you’ve been obsessed with for the past week, just came flying out of your own mouth in the form of some sage advice to someone else? In my case, it’s usually something I need to hear myself say. In my case, I usually don’t like it. In my case, it’s usually said to my children who are all too ready and available at a moment’s notice to parrot the sage advice right back at me. Well yeah, this was that moment.
You see, last year about this time my husband was half way around the world in desert camouflage, avoiding a discussion with me about what it was like to have recently been under rocket fire for the first time. At this time last year I was sitting on the toilet, the only quiet place in my house, crying when nobody was looking and telling myself it was because I was allergic to guinea pigs. At this time last year I was standing in the Christmas Eve candlelight service listening to my five year-old’s miniature voice singing carols, and wondering what it was like to pretend that sand was snow and cafeteria curry was a Christmas bird.
Well a few weeks ago my husband came home, and I have to say, it has been rough at times. We aren’t synced into each other’s routines, yet. Into each other’s spaces. We aren’t operating as a team. It feels … well it just feels foreign. Strange. Like we’ve been apart for a year or something. And it’s frustrating, people. It’s frustrating that homecoming isn’t the magic pill that you swallow that makes the deployment go away. It’s frustrating that all of your friends think it’s the end of the mobilization when really it’s just the start of the next phase of readjustment. It doesn’t feel as good as you want it to. It just doesn’t feel like anything you expect. I’ve been focused on that. I’ve been focused on trying to cram my husband back into a hole where he doesn’t really fit any more, a hole that we kinda filled-in while he was gone.
I looked down at my list and envisioned my own name there, with just one thing written next to it: normal again.
I heard my own voice ringing in the air: “Honey, I know what you mean about wanting that one thing so badly that you can’t think of anything else. But if you do that, you’ll have to be willing to wait until the time is right. If you really want it, it will be worth it, but you might not get it when you want it. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”
And I smiled.
My daughter hugged me, and she said there were probably other things that would make her happy this year, even though she really still wanted an iPod. And I told her that I probably had lots of things that would make me happy this year, too. I envisioned writing myself a list of all the other things in my life that made me happy, and the girl in my arms was near the very top. I hugged her tight.
She suddenly squirmed out of my arms and reached for her list. Satisfaction and delight twinkled in her blue eyes. She kissed me on the forehead and walked away, as if she was the parent, and I smiled as I looked down to see what she had written. And there it was, right after the iPod:
#2. A Parrot.