For the record, today was not it. The Worst Christmas, I mean. I see I left a few of you with that impression.
Nope: for the record, the Official Worst Christmas Ever was December 2005.
You see, in July that year we'd bought a house. Built in 1920, a yellow house, with a front porch wide enough for rockers, with old wood floors, and a long, full-of-promised-adventures backyard. Inside, there was much renovation required, but we were full of confidence that having redone a small cottage in England we could take on a large single family home. We were so full of confidence, in fact, that we invited my husband's entire family for Christmas. Invited them to share Christmas with us in our new home.
You are probably already shaking your head knowingly. You and our parents.
November arrived with cold winds blowing, the heating and hot water turned off in the house and funds rapidly dwindling. My self-employed husband was taking time off from our business, trying desperately to refinish the floors so we could install the kitchen so we could re-connect the plumbing so we could move in the furniture and and and.... then our pediatrician raised the red flag about the lead. The lead in the paint on the woodwork that we were trying to refinish. We needed to replace the windows so that our children, our very small & vulnerable-to-lead-poisoning children (3 and 9 mos at the time) would be safe in our home.
Told that the windows couldn't go in before the new year, we knew the jig was up. We locked up the charming old yellow house, drove away, and intended never to return (at least Never Until The Spring).
This meant Christmas in my parents' home, where we were living with our 2 small children, container-full of furniture and our small business. Imagine breaking the news to your parents that not only will you not be moving out (O Long Awaited Day), but that they would be sharing Christmas with a house full of Norwegians. Only, it turns out it was just news to us. They'd seen the writing on the woodwork (as it were) and booked last-minute tickets to San Francisco to stay with my brother in his studio apartment. With his 11 month old baby daughter.
My husband's parents, sister, her two boys, his brother and his daughter all arrived about a week before Christmas. I'd gone back to work - a horrible retail job, but a job where they would have me back at a moment's notice to fund new windows - and was working long hours in the heart of DC.
On the 22nd, I arrived home from work and heard a strange barking cough from my infant son. Hmm, said I. Hmm, said my father. (Did I mention he's our pediatrician??) By 10pm I was told we needed to head to the ER: bad case of croup. I spent the night at Howard County General, trying to console a baby boy who'd weaned to a bottle only 3 weeks before (therefore no mommy+boob=comforting.)
I had a rare day off the next day, and took my in-laws' rental car to pick up a Christmas present from the store. And got towed. So in a month where I was working retail to pay for a floor, I got to pay $200 to get the rental out of the tow-lot so that I could return it to the airport.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day actually passed without much drama. They are a lovely family, my in-laws, and beautifully skilled at carrying on as if nothing was seriously amiss. This is not one of my skills. My father in law actually looked up at me that night and said "Kirsten! Why are you walking around with your shoulders up at your ears? Are you freezing?" No. Turns out that's how I look when things are falling apart around me.
That Christmas week was also the week when my sister in law had to tell her family that she would be divorcing her husband, father to her two boys. That was a really fun night too.
It was not an unmitigated disaster. There was much accomplished, much wine drunk, many conversations held late into the night. The Norwegians even managed to find the right shade of paint for the interior and paint all the rooms in the house.
Looking back at that fateful holiday, I can scarcely believe we're here again, actually doing Christmas with the Norwegians. Doing it right this time, with sanded floors, furniture installed, and running hot water.
What I notice most of all in looking back was that no one counseled us on what a mess we were making of our lives. Neither set of parents chose that Christmas to tell us that we'd screwed up big time. Both families, especially our parents, worked hard that Christmas to let us know that we were loved unconditionally, and that no matter what train wrecks happened in our own lives, it would never keep us from the love that a family offers. That our families offer.
This Christmas, I am deeply grateful to our parents, both sets of them. Without them, we wouldn't have the life, and all of its blessings, that I can be thankful for today.
Yesterday I posted about choosing joy. Amidst the pain that year, amidst the disappointment of so much, we chose joy. I don't in any way discount all the heartache that traveled along with it, but we chose the joy.