It all began with the hanging of the cookie cutters and patio lights.
To Grandmother’s house we went. And I’m pooped.
Our Thanksgiving trip to West Virginia began as a far-off idea, one that I’d eventually nail down for details and form into a concrete plan. As September and October rolled by, I realized that flying to Charleston wasn’t an option, nor was having a driving buddy to share the burden of a 2,400-mile roundtrip trek. Come last Saturday morning, it was me and the boys and a very long road ahead.
The key to our successful trip was a multi-layered plan of attack. First, the boys needed to sit separately (we have an optional third row, yee-haw!) with their own box of travel-friendly toys (quiet and small). Then we needed snacks divied out in plastic baggies that could be passed back easily without stopping the car. Then I laid down the ground rules: We will alternate movies and music, two hours for you and two hours for me. Keep your mess to a minimum and I will try not to yell at you. I’m just as miserable as you are, so hang in there and I might get you a treat at Starbucks.
We were fortunate to find one great rest area after another with clean bathrooms and even playgrounds. Every time we stopped I made the boys run laps around the grassy areas or do jumping jacks on the sidewalk. If I was uncomfortable in my cushy bucket seat, then they had to be cramped in their boosters. I’m happy to say both boys are great travelers and it was only in the last two hours of our 42-HOUR, double-weekend drive that they lost their minds. And really, since we’re battling colds and exhaustion, I couldn’t blame them.
Sufficed to say I’m not doing that again for a very, very long time. Especially since we sometimes had to stop to use the restroom and could only find single-seaters. You just do the best you can, right?
Boys, don’t look. Mommy has to go potty.
We got home around 7:30 p.m. yesterday and Salem was waiting for me in the middle of the kitchen floor. He gave me a long lecture via intimidating cat stare about being gone for nine days but quickly forgave me and became my shadow for the rest of the night.
This week begins my attempt to make all of our Christmas decorations from scratch. The challenge isn’t necessarily being creative with what I make but rather how I make them. If I spend too much money on supplies, then I might as well have bought all new decorations, right? Instead, I need to see what I already have and figure out a way to repurpose old things into new decorations. I could go broke at Hobby Lobby buying glitter and glue sticks and balls of twine.
Hmm. That just gave me an idea.
So the boys and I were sitting in Cracker Barrel tonight for dinner when Jeremy took the conversation in a different direction. (What else is new?)
It all started when the pair of them hounded me for toys from the Cracker Barrel store – specifically, two new Webkinz. (Because six isn’t enough!) I kept them at bay until we sat down to eat, and the pleading continued when Jeremy told me he already named the limited edition turkey he so desperately wanted. Please, Mom, please.
“Jeremy, we don’t have money to buy things like Webkinz and toys this week. We’re buying food and gas and that’s much more important,” I say matter-of-factly. No sympathy, no jolly “Christmas is coming soon so let’s wait and see what’s under the tree” speech. I continued to tear apart my baked potato blankly when he continued.
“Well I know something that’s more important than food and gas that you had to pay for,” he says with a smile. He nods his head in my direction trying to bait me.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I say, not playing. This mama is tired.
“Something MORE important than food and gas,” he repeats. He glances at Jack and back at me. We don’t get it.
“Us!” he says, beaming. “You bought me and Jack and we’re more important than food and gas.”
I pause to imagine Chuck and me at the check-out line holding two babies.
“We didn’t purchase you, Jeremy,” I say. “I mean, there wasn’t a shopping cart or anything.”
“But you did buy us, right? From the nurses?”
“No, more like from the lawyers,” I say, giggling at my own little private joke. “Seriously, we payed legal fees to adopt you, but we didn’t buy you. It’s just like when other moms and dads have to pay the hospital for giving birth to their children.”
“Well how much did I cost anyway?” His big blue eyes had long since abandoned his hamburger and were fixated on me. He was looking for a number, something tangible he could apply as a reflection of his worth and importance.
“It doesn’t matter what we paid,” I answer. “You and Jackson are priceless.”
Satisfied, our conversation turned back to Webkinz and robots and all the little treats they wanted and I wouldn’t buy. Though we managed to escape the Old Country Store without toys, I did buy one thing, aside from our dinner: an Advent calendar. I’m not a total Scrooge, you know.
Decorations are going up all over the place, something that usually ignites my holiday flame and gets me in the mood for All Things Christmas. However, this has been a tough year (really tough), so the fact that all of our holiday decorations are in a storage unit in Chattanooga is pretty annoying. It would be comforting to lovingly unwrap my favorite ornaments, family heirloom decor and our patchwork stockings from Becky and hang everything around the house that won’t sell. My brain is tempted to dwell on Christmas Past when we’d make a day of it all – chopping down the Christmas tree, sipping hot cider in the lodge while it’s tethered to the car and singing carols on the way home to decorate it. (That’s little one-year-old Jack and four-year-old Jeremy you see there.)
Remembering sweet holidays is one thing. Letting it depress me is another. And since finances (and logic) won’t let me purchase all new decorations this year, I’m doing the next best thing. The boys and I will make this Christmas from scratch. Since we don’t have a tree stand, we’ll forgo the real tree and get creative. We’ll cut snowflakes from white paper and string together popcorn with twine. We’ll make construction paper garland and hang a few strings of patio lights in the living room. We’ll make do, and we’ll make it fun. I may not see my favorite ornaments for another year, but that doesn’t mean this holiday season is a wash. It’s going to be different and that’s okay.
Sidebar: I did see some ornaments at Target today that are worth buying. I mean, just because I don’t have a tree this year on which to hang them doesn’t mean I won’t ever have a tree again. Let’s just say I saw a few owl ornaments hanging in the holiday department, and I’m not sure I can ignore something like that.
So anyway, the Made-from-Scratch Christmas begins next week. I’ll keep you posted on our progress, reader, because I know you’re dying to see how those popcorn strands are going to turn out.
Whenever a family gathers, at least in my bunch, there is always food. Lots of food. Savory and sweet, meaty and starchy, breakfast and a big midday dinner with a few snacks in between. It is usually while we’re eating a meal that we’re already planning the next. Even as we scarfed down Aunt Gloria’s homemade spaghetti on Wednesday we started making plans for yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast.
As the family members talked recipes and cholesterol levels, my brain went back to the farm – the place I ran around as a child with my sister and cousin when we visited for summer break or Christmas, the place where my father spent the largest chunk of his childhood (and still calls home) and the one piece of property I wish we still owned as a family. (My grandparents eventually sold it, and not long after the farmhouse burned down.)
Dinner at Mamaw and Papaw’s house was always the same: the main-dish meat, buttered potatoes, self-canned corn or green beans from the cupboard, sliced white bread with butter and a glass of iced tea in a Strawberry Shortcake glass. (For the record, I’ve never liked tea, but I couldn’t not drink it, for it would’ve seemed ungrateful.) Sometimes it was barbecue deer and sometimes it was something a little harder to eat – like groundhog or rabbit – but the point remains: it was a comfort to sit around the table together and share a meal. I may not have realized it in the moment, and it might have even taken having a family of my own to realize it fully, but these are the occasions that create the sweetest memories.
Right now I’m sipping coffee at Aunt Gloria’s kitchen table while she fries bacon – for a proper breakfast, you know. There is hash brown casserole to be eaten and scrambled eggs to enjoy alongside. The food is good in my family. Really good. But the family is even better.
Hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving. Mine has gone by too quickly.