Heading up to PA to visit Bill's family for just the day. Kids will get loads of presents and sugar and thus begins the hyper, too-excited to eat, sleep or think coherently phase that marks a truly good holiday season. Say three Hail Marys for a safe and happy trip - we'll need it with I-95 traffic.
Since I don't plan to blog much over the next few days, here's something to chew on, should you happen to have some down time and are looking for something to read.
It's hard to believe that it's already been three years, but it has. Three years since the worst Christmas ever with Bill deployed to Kosovo and not due back for two more months. The day after, I wrote about what it was like and I like to dig it out every year to rehash the misery. It serves as a reminder of where I was, what I survived, and what other families are going through right now. If you're in the mood for something upbeat...this might not be the thing right now. Come back in a few days. In the meantime, say a prayer for the troops overseas and for their families. God is listening.
A Deployment Christmas
December 26, 2003
I know many people will ask me how my Christmas was, so I thought I’d write it down. I want to remember it too. I’m sure by the time Bill comes home in mid to late February, I will have forgotten already how hard it was.
With Bill away, I debated for a long time about how to spend the holidays from Thanksgiving through the New Year. For many years now, my family has gone to Ohio for the week of Thanksgiving to be with my parents. My dad and mom helped me continue that tradition by driving me to and from their house. It wasn’t too bad to be there without him, because I’ve been to Ohio with the kids and not him many times. And this year we went a little wild and had lasagna for “Turkey Day”, so it didn’t even feel like Thanksgiving.
But Christmas couldn’t be disguised as another ordinary day. I decided to tone things down a bit: no outside lights, minimal interior decorations, and only a fraction of the ornaments on the tree. I held out hope until the very end for some home-baked cookies, and finally settled on pre-made store-bought dough. And since I consider chocolate chip cookies “everyday” cookies, not “Christmas” cookies, this was a tough thing to accept. There are many days left in the Christmas season, so I still hope to get a batch or two of real cookies made up.
For the past few years, I have hosted a small Christmas Eve gathering: my husband and children and his parents and brother and sister. The day is spent in final preparation for the birth of Christ. At last, the ornaments can go on the tree and carols can be played. I run to the store for fresh ingredients and to get a green wreath for the front door. The guests arrive as the food is cooking. The kids watch the sky for the first star – a sign of the birth! At last, the Savior is here! We bless the Christmas tree – a blessing which recalls the fall of man and the need for a savior. The baby Jesus is found and paraded and placed in the stable with his mother and father. We sing “Away in a Manager” and “Silent Night”. We read the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. I commend my in-laws for going along with all this pageantry with such good-nature.
This year, with no husband and a nursing infant, I couldn’t face all the stress of hosting and a moment of sagacity made me realize that I would have lots of work to do after the kids went to bed that night. My sister-in-law came over early in the day so I could get to the store, and she held the baby as she slept so I could unearth my nativity set from the mound of clutter. She also baked my not-so-Christmasy cookies, which saved me that hassle.
In the afternoon, my husband and I had a “date” on the computer with our web cameras. I couldn’t believe how empty the computer center was for Christmas Eve. We spent about an hour together. The kids came and went throughout that time. At one point I was swarmed with all four kids who were hamming it up for dad. I heard a jingle and realized that Bill had sent me an instant message – one that made me blush. And then another jingle – he was laughing that he could see me blushing. I guess it’s nice to know he hasn’t changed much in the last ten months.
After our date, my sister-in-law was gone and I started dinner while the three older kids took a bath. I wanted a nice dinner for Christmas Eve. I knew I couldn’t have everything I usually make, but thought I could swing something decent. I was wrong. The baby just wanted to nurse and be held, so she spent quite a bit of time screaming as I did some basic things. In the midst of this chaos, three-fifths of the Cincotta family stopped by to sing me a Christmas carol. My kids got out of the tub, and I didn’t have a free hand to get them dressed and didn’t have the energy to hassle them. Eventually, Fritz got himself dressed, Billy put on some underwear, but Katie remained completely nude…and we sat on the floor in front of the Christmas tree to listen to carols and eat our dinner. The baby would not let me put her down without her crying, so I either had to juggle her AND the food, or eat and listen to her cry.
After dinner, I called the children together to get the baby Jesus and take him to the nativity scene. In my mind I imagined angelic children singing “Silent Night” with their sweet voices as we presented the baby Jesus to his mother. I saw wide eyes glistening as I read from the Gospel of Luke, and heard innocent voices asking questions about the true meaning of Christmas. Instead my half-naked children were fighting over who got to carry the statue of Jesus, who got to lead the procession, and who stepped on whose foot first. When my 5 year old threw a temper tantrum because the 3 year old didn’t hand him the baby Jesus properly, I threw my own temper tantrum. I announced that Christmas was over and told them to get ready for bed. I put the baby in her pajamas and closed the door to the boys’ room so I didn’t have to hear them and sat on the couch and nursed the baby and cried. I cried because Bill was gone. I cried because my children weren’t interested in the story of Christmas. I cried because I had lost my temper.
I cried because I was crying.
As I emailed Bill earlier in the day, “I have everything I need/want...besides material possessions, I have a wonderful husband, (mostly) great kids, and most importantly, a loving God who is taking care of me. I have nothing to cry about.” I despise self-pity and self-induced misery. I hated that I felt lonely and sad.
After about a half hour in the bedroom, the kids got restless. I reminded Fritz that I was done for the day; the show was over. Worried, I suppose, that I might cancel all things Christmas (oh, like Santa and presents), he was interested in cooperating. I didn’t care. I was tired of trying to get the kids to conform to my mental images of a perfect Christmas Eve. I told him, “You don’t even know what Christmas is all about! I’m trying to teach you, and you don’t care!” He yelled back, “I DO know what Christmas is all about!” “What is Christmas all about?” I asked. “It’s the birth of Jesus,” he said. “But what does that mean?” I pressured him, still not willing to relent. He answered, “It means we can go to heaven.”
Wow. Did I teach him that?
Hark, now hear the angels sing,
a new king born today,
and man will live for evermore,
because of Christmas day.
Trumpets sound and angels sing,
listen to what they say,
that man will live for evermore,
because of Christmas Day.
So I relented. What else could I do? We blessed the Christmas tree. We sang “Silent Night” with my voice cracking from so much yelling. We read from the Gospel of Luke. There were no precocious questions, the kids couldn’t sit still, there were a few minor skirmishes, and Katie spent the whole time removing santa hat-fuls of ornaments from the tree and hiding them in another room.
Afterwards, the kids went off to bed. There was very little talk of Santa and presents. Billy said (for the millionth time in the last month) that he missed Daddy. I said I did too. He asked if I could catch daddy. I said I sure wish I could, and if I could I would give him lots of hugs and kisses and then I would grab Billy and Fritz and Katie and Jenny and we’d all give each other lots of kisses and hugs. He suggested I use a “cowboy rope”. I said, yes, a lasso. I’d lasso daddy and then tie us all up together and we’d never be apart ever again. The boys seemed to like that idea.
I tucked the kids in and sat on the couch to nurse the baby to sleep. It was quiet and peaceful. The phone rang. Bill had attended Midnight Mass and then went to his office and called me. We talked for quite a while. It was the first time in over six months that I was able to talk to him without also tending to our children. It was very pleasant. I didn’t want to get off the phone, but knew that he was sacrificing his sleep to talk with me. Of all the presents I got from him, this quiet conversation was the best. I didn’t even hear a single yawn the whole time.
After I said goodnight to him, I had a bit of work to do. I tackled the heap of dishes in the kitchen. I prepped breakfast for the next morning: a spinach and egg bake that I love but which I hadn’t had in months. I wrapped the last few presents, put everything under the tree, and filled the stockings. I hung the spider ornaments and hid the pickle. I ironed the kids’ clothes and had them all ready for church.
There were a few things which didn’t get done. I decided that none of the presents needed ribbons or bows. I decided that Jenny’s exersaucer did not need to be assembled that night. I decided that the box to the unassembled exersaucer did not need to be wrapped. In fact, I decided it didn’t even need a gift tag because it was very obvious to whom it belonged.
I munched on Santa’s cookies and grabbed a cup of eggnog. I planned to sit for a bit and look at the tree and listen to the cool Christmas CD my sister sent me, but as I walked into the living room, I heard the baby crying. It was just as well. As I headed up to bed with her, the clock said 11:45 pm. Best to go to sleep anyway.
The baby woke up again around 5 am to nurse. She was a bit restless and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I guess I was a bit excited and was eager to see if the kids would like their new things. Fritz woke up first around 5:40 am. We spent about an hour together before Katie got up. He was happy that Santa had come. He waited patiently for everyone else to awaken so he could get in the stockings, but couldn’t resist peeking and was thrilled to see Batman and Superman action figures popping up from his and Billy’s stockings. Billy finally woke up around 7 am. By then I had already started getting the girls dressed. Fritz got dressed quickly because he wanted to wear the new socks he found in his stocking. I brushed hair and tied neckties while the kids played with dinosaurs and ate chocolate. Katie found the magic markers in her stocking and quickly “dressed up” her white tights. At least she kept the marker away from her face (after church, she didn’t).
Somehow I managed to get everyone in the car and off to church in pretty good timing. We came in as Father Rich was intoning the generations from Abraham to Jesus which is before the processional hymn. We quickly found a seat. I allowed Katie to bring a few small stuffed animals and the boys to bring their Superman and Batman, although I told them I would take them away if they got too loud. They didn’t get too loud, but Katie did. She wanted their toys. They shared with her for a bit, but just at the consecration she asked for them again and was told no. Immediately she began a typical age 2 tantrum. Immediately I picked her up and hustled her (and Jenny) out of the room leaving my 5 year old and 3 year old alone! Great mom, huh? Fortunately, Katie was so very upset at being removed from church that she promised she would quiet down, and we were able to return after only a minute or two. As I got back to my row, I thanked the gentleman in the row behind me who had apparently been assuring Billy that his mother would return shortly.
The rest of the mass passed without much incident. The lady at the other end of my row helped me by putting the car seat up off the floor and taking Jenny. I let her keep the baby after communion too. Fritz asked why the lady was holding her. If I weren’t hushing him for talking during mass, I would have answered, “Because it is obvious to everyone nearby that I am in desperate need of help.”
And then I noticed Billy fussing with his tie. When I tied it before mass, I knew it would be a problem, but didn’t have time to fix it. The skinny part in the back was too short to fit through the tab on the back of the fat part in front. It took him an hour, but he finally noticed it and it really bothered him. He wanted me to fix it. I told him it would have to wait until we were home in just a few minutes. We stood for the final blessing, and he began a typical age 2 tantrum (except he’s nearly 4 now). As the choir began to sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, I started handing out coats. Billy wanted nothing to do with his. Fritz got his coat on. I zipped up Katie and got the baby from that very nice lady who held her for so long (Thank you God for charitable people!). As I buckled the baby into her car seat, another gentleman tried to help Billy with his coat. This only made him scream louder. I tried to go down the row to get to the aisle, but Billy intentionally blocked my path. I had to half drag/half kick him out of my way. I wanted to stop by the manger scene to pick up a piece of straw for Bill, but the noise was so loud that I decided to skip that part. I scooped him under my arm and carried the car seat with my free hand. Calling to my other two children and dodging people who didn’t seem to notice the flailing legs of the screaming kid, I made my way to the door. Sister Alice, laughing, patted me on the back and wished me a merry Christmas.
The nightmare continued. I somehow made it outside without Billy assaulting anyone. Fritz took off for the car and ran into and through the parking lot. And then, like a game of Frogger, decided to run back to me, tag up and head back for the car again. I caught him as he began his second run to the car, unmindful of the elderly man trying to back up right in front of him. I tried to yell at him but was distracted by Billy who was now upset because he was cold (he wouldn’t put on that coat while inside the church). I got the coat on him, but he continued to scream – now about how he needed gloves (it wasn’t that cold). I began trying to usher all the kids through the parking lot, and, fortunately, another kind man offered to carry the baby.
And this is why I avoid public places with the kids.
The rest of the morning was uneventful. We went home. We all calmed down. We opened presents. We ate breakfast. We called a few people and wished them a merry Christmas.
Bill sent me an email saying merry Christmas and that he wished he could be home. “But alas I am away, standing sentinel over a troubled land that knows not the joys of Christ or the wonders of Christmas.” And because we are so very fortunate to have this knowledge, we can rejoice. Even in our sorrow and through the pain of our separation, we can rejoice, and we can pray for those who know not the comforts of Christ.
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
In the afternoon we went to Bill’s parents’ house. The kids behaved well – no tantrums. They got more toys from Nana and Grandpa and Aunt Margaret than from Mom and Dad and Santa. Margaret got the boys these cool Batman and Superman belts that talk. They say things that Batman or Superman would say. One phrase for Superman is “Emergency! The Earth needs my help! Let’s go!” I guess he’s supposed to be talking to one of the Superfriends.
We headed home early enough that it wasn’t a mad rush to get them off to bed. The house was a wreck. I didn’t even bring in the bags from the grandparents until today when I’d had a chance to move the other new toys around. Today was spent playing with toys and cleaning. There is a lot of organizing left to do. Now the toys are getting smaller and pieces are getting scattered to the four corners of every room. Fritz needs to learn to be responsible for his toys, but he also has to have a place to put them!
As I head off to bed tonight, I can’t help but wonder what it was like in Heaven before Christ was born. Did he turn to the Holy Spirit and say, “Emergency! The Earth needs my help! Let’s go!”??