The other day someone asked me how long Kelly had been living with us and as I stopped to add up the weeks I realized it was just shy of three months. Three months? That’s it? So seamlessly has our family life shifted and expanded to include Kelly and the cats that it feels as though we’ve always been a family of three (well ok seven if you count the cats). Oh sure there have been the “why do you leave the dishes on the counter instead of putting them in the dishwasher?”, the “Is there a reason you like to leave cupboards open after you get something out of them?” and the “I JUST swept that floor and now there’s shredded cheese all over it” er…discussions. (And no, I’m not going to tell you who the culprits were in any of those examples). And of course there have been the delightful “you folded and put away the laundry and started dinner?”, “YOU scooped the litter box?” and the “why don’t I pick up the girl today to give you a little extra time at work?” surprises. The other night when Kelly worked an additional 3-11 shift I found I couldn’t go to sleep without her there, so accustomed I’d become to our pillow talk at the end of the day.
So all in all it’s your basic family life with all those “ little things” (with apologies to Mr. Sondheim) that make it all worthwhile and maddening at the same time. And for me, someone who’s felt rudderless with little family for so long, it provides that mooring, that safe harbor to return to each night. So of course I was looking forward to a ‘real’ family Christmas this year and making our home warm and full of holiday cheer.
After five years as my partner, Kelly is indulgent of my penchant for decorating at Christmas, and humors my endless “No! the Santa on the bike goes on the phone table not the coffee table!” decrees. However, this year we had to navigate new furniture and the absence of old, resulting in Kelly gallantly clearing her sideboard to give the Santa mugs a new home, and my agreeing to cull down some of the duplicates so they would all fit. The crèche and the nutcracker collection found new spots as well and it all seemed to work out ok. Much to my relief the cats left things alone for the most part, although Spatz does show a marked preference for alternating between tipping over and sleeping on top of the basket of lights and pinecones I have in the living room. But then there was the issue of the tree. “In 43 years I’ve never had a fake tree!” I declared. But Kelly would hear none of it as she worried about cats eating the needles, drinking sap infused water out of the tree stand and dying horrible pine scented deaths. When she finally uttered the magic phrase “oh for heaven’s sake I’ll even BUY the tree” she finally had a deal. We managed to find one that wouldn’t break our bank and looked somewhat realistic so one night we set out to set it up while Liza was off at a friend’s house. The minute we took endless bunches of color-coded branches out of the box and read the instructions I started to cry. This was so wrong! Christmas trees came from our annual trip to the lot near the Dunkin Donuts and arrived at our home precariously balanced on the jeep and leaving a trail of needles as we wrestled it through the door – not FROM A BOX.” Kelly, bless her heart gently offered to take the tree back and throw the fates to the wind with a real tree so I dried my tears and persevered. By golly it started to look like a tree. By the time we got the lights on I felt much better and announced Liza and her friend and I would decorate it the next day while Kelly worked.
The next day while Liza and her friend played up in her room I decided to fold a quick load of laundry before bringing up the decorations. As I knelt on the floor near the washer/dryer closet folding and sorting I heard a rustling above my head followed by a meow as our cat Spatz suddenly poked his nose through the foam ceiling tile of my drop ceiling. He had jumped from washer to storage box and into the ceiling tiles quicker than I can polish off a bag of Ruffles. Did I mention the celing tiles are foam? As in non-cat-body-weight supporting foam? Much to his dismay I wrestled him to the ground closed the closet door, replaced the tile and sent him on his way. Less than 30 minutes later as the girls headed down to the basement we heard a thud followed by “mommmma…you better come down here.” Sure enough Spatz had repeated his new trick and surfed the foam tile down to the carpet below, sauntering away with a look that read “something happened to your ceiling.”
Fortunately I had the tree to distract him.
For the entire first week following our tree trimming we’d return home to find branches knocked off, ornaments rolled across the room and one particularly lovely Clara Nutcracker ornament repeatedly taken down. While the other cats regarded the tree with mild confusion Spatz saw it as a challenge. He chewed on lights, batted at ornaments and climbed the fake trunk of the tree in a quest to find those antique breakable family ornaments I’d placed on the topmost branches in an effort to keep them safe. After days of me pulling him out of the tree and threatening to banish him to the snow we finally came to a truce the day I returned home to find his favorite toy (a stuffed dog he stole from Liza’s room) lovingly tucked under the tree as a peace offering. He hasn’t so much as bothered a branch sincet. I can’t say the same for the basement ceiling but in exchange for his leaving the tree alone I daily replace the ceiling tiles and go about my day.
The holiday season can be brutal when you work both in a theater and bookstore and have a daughter who performs in dance, music, and theater. Between the multiple nutcrackers and Christmas Carols (last tally 4 of the former, 2 of the latter) and the shelving and scanning and the “my wife wants some book that has blue in the title, or maybe the cover is blue. I forget. Anyway do you have that one?”s, it’s easy to just want to wish the holidays away so that life can return to its peaceful ordered existence free of misshapen gingerbread houses and mad dashes to Target and “which costume do you need for today?” conversations. But the other night when I returned from the theater around 9pm, we ended up all gathering round the dining room table as Kelly researched honeymoon destinations and Liza created virtual rooms on Barbie.com and I relaxed with my nutritionist-sanctioned one glass of Shiraz. I looked at the room bathed in the glow of the tree lights, at the Santa mugs in their new spot, and at the cats curled up near the heating vent and was suddenly gripped with the kind of Christmas excitement I haven’t felt in years. “You guys!” I said, “look! It’s our first real family Christmas!” Kelly smiled and murmured ‘mmmm’ without taking her eyes from her search for special Napa Valley Inns, but Liza looked up at me, rolled her eyes and gave me the best Christmas gift she possibly could have. “ Mommmmma! We’ve been a family for years! The only difference this year is that we all live together..duhhhh!” Of course Liza, of course. It may not be “God bless us everyone,” but for my family it’s pretty darn close. Merry Christmas.