They arrived with presents, one huge backpack, athletic gear, assorted hats, gloves, boots and sets of keys. The immaculately decorated house immediately took on the aspect of chaos that it used to have when children lived here permanently. Christmas had begun.
The schedule was planned by Charlie, and it included some shopping, riding around to see the lights, holiday performances, and dinners out. We had a barbequed turkey on Christmas night, complete with coleslaw and made-from-scratch baked beans. This was an innovation-—we wanted a change from the tired old stuffed turkey that usually graces our table. I would bet thousands that not one family in America leaves the table after Christmas dinner unbloated, and this family was no exception!
The opening of gifts at our house is an all day affair. The champagne we drank on Christmas Eve proved very soporific, and so none of us awoke before ten. Even the dog slept in. With coffee and egg casserole to fortify, we opened gifts for the better part of three hours. Since this was an “austere” year, gifts included boxes of cereal for one daughter, cookbooks from the shelf in the kitchen for the other. The dog opened her gift, and then chewed her way through a few others. We ate and drank coffee for the better part of the day, remaining parked in front of the fire. Fun, fun, fun.
As suddenly as they came, the daughters were gone. Despite assiduous packing, here is what we discovered that was left behind: One hairbrush, a complete set of workout clothes (still sweat covered), a red sweater that had to be retrieved from the restaurant where it was left, two boxes of the “gift” cereal, and various beauty products.
Also left behind was an air of emptiness, and echoes of laughter and late night television. There is silence where there was chattering and shouting, and here and there are remnants of the holiday: a shred of gift wrap under the coffee table, a stray ornament in the corner. The stockings are deflated, hanging there to remind me of those girls.
I have a bad cold. I don’t feel like putting anything away today. So I sit, wrapped in a blanket, thinking about past Christmases, and the days when the kids were still at home. Between coughs, I remember: Marion having strep throat just about every year, and all the Amoxicillin doses. Annie asking for a new saddle every year, and not receiving one (they cost the same amount as a CAR, for Pete’s sake!). The year Nintendo games were all the rage, and our girls didn’t get one. The arguments that resulted from “Trivial Pursuit.” Charlie falling asleep during “family time” watching Christmas movies. The messes that were made in the kitchen by well meaning cooks. The noise, the disruption, and the activity. It was exhausting!
So now I sit, with blanket and coffee. The house is quiet, and there are no cell phones texting, no Ipods recharging, and no hair dryers blowing. There is still more coffee in the pot. I have not tripped over one gym shoe in twenty four hours. The bed in the guestroom is MADE.
The children are where they belong. I am home alone. There is order in the universe.