A Retroactive Christmas: When the spirit hits too late
This is how Christmas felt this year:
I was on a freeway driving someplace that I HAD to get to and I had to make good time. I blinked through my lopsided glasses as I tried peer through the salty, grimy haze on the windshield, not completely certain that some of that haze wasn’t in my own head. The kids yammered in the backseat, while eating another meal from another drive-thru window. The radio was tuned to an all-Christmas station that seemed to be on a constant rotation of Bob Seger’s “Little Drummer Boy” and at least 15 versions of “Santa Baby,” sung by every pop tartlet to make a ding in the charts during the last four decades.
I could feel my stomach lining getting thinner as I chugged my 5th coffee of the day.
Then, a gleaming 18-wheeler pulled up next to the car. There were giant antlers wound with Christmas lights sticking out from the sides of the cab. The headlights were red and green. The driver had a Christmas hat on. The sides of that festive freighter were adorned with pictures of cozy fireplaces and carolers and people decorating trees and sledding. For a minute I could just taste the egg nog. Perfect, paper cutout snowflakes came out of the exhaust pipe.
“Looks kids!” I shouted. “It’s the Christmas truck!”
“Catch it, mommy!” they yelled. “Let’s follow it! Go faster!”
I hit the accelerator. The blanket of exhaustion started to lift as I thought, “We can catch it. We can have Christmas this year. It’s totally attainable. We can go sledding and sing carols and sit around feeling all satisfied and Christmassy … we can do it! There’s still time! If I can just find out where this truck is going, it can all be ours …”
The driver, who seemed to be lit by the glow of firelight, gave us a wave and hit the horn. A few bars of the “Gloria” section of “Angels We Have Heard on High” shook every car on the highway. We all laughed in utter joy. The kids bounced in their seats and waved frantically.
“Where are you going?” I mouthed to the driver. He gave us one more wave and a big old Christmas smile. Then he shot off down the highway, faster than my dirty, six-year old Prius could ever hope to go.
“It’s OK,” I told my kids. “We can still have a great Christmas. It’s going to be a good one. You’ll see.”
Then I dropped the kids off at their dad’s house, got another convenience store coffee, and drug my greasy, sweatpant-bedecked self to Target where I shopped until 11:30 PM with all the guilty fervor of a parent who can’t begin to make up for all the ways she felt she’s let her kids down during a holiday season where she worked just too darn much.
And then it was over.
Can I get a do-over?
So now I’m trying retroactively recreate Christmas, this first week of January.
I’m holing up in the living room and watching Christmas movies. White Christmas. Love, Actually. White Christmas. White Christmas. (Tangent: Does anyone else love this movie? If so, I need a big discussion about the romantic interplay and the female archetypes that were displayed in Betty and Judy. And Bing’s buttery voice. All that dancing. Judy’s teeny, tiny waist and why was her neck always covered? The witty, old-timey banter. I could just eat that movie — or lick it like a delicious lollipop.)
I’m trying to get into the holiday spirit not while shopping, but while returning all the crap that I bought by accident during my last-minute panic shopping.
I’m pulling out my old piano books and playing all the Christmas carols I used to play all-year-round. I’m laughing that I’m still making the same mistakes on the same notes that I made when I was a kid. I’m imagining that my dad, who used to love to hear me play (mistakes and all), is hanging around for his own private concert. I imagine when I pause for too long, I hear his voice boom down from upstairs and demand “More!” (Merry Retroactive Christmas, Daddy.)
I’m regrouping. I’m re-focusing. I’m starting to feel somewhat human now that I’ve gotten at least a few nights of sleep under my belt.
I’m looking forward to the new year. Hope you are, too.
Trish Sammer Johnston