The Man Who Marks The Time

June 2, 2009 § 4 Comments

There are 2.8 million people in the city of Chicago and it covers a total of 237 square miles.  Come August, Brian and I will have lived here for 14 years, lived in five different apartments and I will have worked at five different jobs not including temp work and theatre.  During that time, I have encountered the same particular man, somewhere in the city, at some point, at least once every couple of years or so.  Were I not married I would honestly believe that God was trying to tell me something, trying to shove me into the path of Pepe Le Pew with a white stripe of paint down my back.

He’s a man a bit younger than me, not ugly, not handsome, not short or tall, just a guy.  I first encountered him when I started my job as an Executive Assistant for a brilliant but scatterbrained institutional investments consultant who rented space inside the Hancock Building.  I was a temp, and The Man © was a permanent employee in the office we rented space from.  He would run into me in the lunch room and give a nod, and a hi, and that was about it. 

Five or six years later, I started doing improvisational comedy at The Playground theatre on the North side of the city, and a few months into it I arrived at a performance only to see The Man© performing in the show right before mine.  I introduced myself and he remembered me from the job that I had just quit a few months before.  We laughed at how small the world was, and as it happened, I never saw him at the theatre again.  Time went by, we moved to two different apartments, and I got a new job in a completely different part of the city.  Shortly thereafter, I saw The Man© while at lunch in a food court somewhere near my building.  It was becoming something to take note of.

Now I am a classic victim of “Van On The Corner Syndrome”.  I learned about this via The Straight Dope, a Chicago newspaper column I’ve been reading for about twenty years now.  VOTCS happens when you start spouting off that there’s ALWAYS A VAN ON THE CORNER AT THE END OF OUR STREET!  ALWAYS!  The problem is, you only think of mentioning this when you notice a van on the corner, which means that you’re blocking out all the times that there ISN’T a van on the corner, therefore making your argument invalid.  So I began to say that The Man was THE GUY I SEE EVERYWHERE, when really, I’ve only ever seen him in about seven different places.  But it seems strange to me, that I see him in each of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, each of the areas I’ve worked and at the theatre where I expressed myself creatively.

I had nearly forgotten about The Man© when I saw him standing on the corner of Wells and Hubbard, making his way to the same train that I take home from work.  I audibly guffawed, shook my head in disbelief, and then my eyes widened in horror.  His hair was going gray.  I’ve only lived here for fourteen years, but that means I’m fourteen years older, just like him.  And just like it’s hard to notice weight loss or gain when you see someone every day, it’s hard to notice fourteen years of aging.  I remembered back to the first time I saw him, and I thought he looked like a kid fresh out of college (not unlike myself).  I thought back on all the milestones of my life over these years – birth, death, gain, loss, struggle, success, friends made and treasured, friends lost or outgrown.  And even though I’ve only said about three sentences to him in my whole life, it felt important to see this man at the corner, hair gray at the temple, but still truckin’, still strong and relatively young.  I wonder if he saw me, and if the look of my face, my skin, my hair, had marked the time.

My Favorite Days: 15th Birthday

April 21, 2009 § 3 Comments

Here’s a fun little feature I want to do as I continue to evolve and develop my blog.  In an effort to tell more stories about my friends and family, to encourage myself to write again, to write every day, and to make sure that the people I love and treasure know that I love and treasure them, I want to tell you about some of the favorite days of my life.

I am a birthday person.  I love celebrating birthdays, birthday presents, birthday cakes, birthday surprises…birthdays.  The WORD birthday makes me smell frosting.  I love the mingled smell of sicky sweet frosting and freshly extinguished candles.  It’s one of those very unique smells like “bag of halloween candy” and “mom gets dressed up” that I carry with me in a sensory scrapbook.  I love birthday surprises most of all; be it a pony tied up in the garage or a brown paper package from Grandma on the front porch, they’re both great because of THE SURPRISE.  The existence of something you never expected.

So it’s easy to see why My Fifteenth Birthday is definitely one of my favorite days. 

As I have previously stated in this blog, I was not … a superstar in school.  I wasn’t the worst of the nerds, but I wasn’t popular either.  I was one of those people who fit like a middlemost gear, one tooth reaching out to the smart kids, one tooth reaching out to the arty drama folks, one tooth reaching out to the bizarre, long gypsy skirts and poetry group, one tooth reaching out to the kids I knew from elementary school.  I was never fully integrated into any single clique, just floated like a free radical from place to place.  No roots.

I turned fifteen my sophomore year, in the midst of an artists in residence program in our English/Arts department.  A woman came in from New York to teach us the ritual and the history of Japanese Noh Theatre.  It was announced that our school’s Fall production would be, in fact, a Noh play (Noh Show?) in full costume, with the dances and songs and all that.  We had auditions a few days before my birthday and I was not too jazzed up because I was just a sophomore, and you know how high school theatre goes, the seniors get the biggest parts, then the juniors, then they kind of fill in the rest.  A freshman phenom might get a cool character part but that was never me.  I never get to be a phenom.  I wanted to play the lead character Sotoba (evil queen of everything) with all of my heart and soul.  But two vastly popular, wonderful seniors stood in my way.  And so I waited….all day…for the rehearsal after school.

At lunch the boy I had a giant crush on but was as unattainable as Zack Morris came over to talk to me. He wasn’t the quarterback of the football team, or the romantic literature type, or the brooding guy with a motorcycle.  What he was was the Zany-Class-Clown-Prankster-Artist-Oddball who could basically burn the school down and everyone, including the firemen would just chuckle and say “THAT JONAH!”  He was Ferris Bueller before it was cool to pretend to be Ferris Bueller.  He was everything I ever wanted to be or be near: the center of the universe, funny, popular, man of all seasons that made life just a little more bizarre.  He swooped over to my table and sat down uninvited, smiling broadly.  As we talked, I told hm it was my birthday.  Why, I’ll never know.  First of all, I couldn’t even believe he was talking to me.  Why?  I was  mousy, ascot wearing drama nerd with braces and poorly feathered hair.  What made him stop and talk to me?  Did he have pity on me?  The matchstick girl with the gimp leg?  Whatever the case, I was in heaven.  Before I could truly make a fool of myself in front of him, he got up and left.  My heart had risen, floated, swelled and now burst into a puddle at my feet.  Then I heard a booming voice from the back of the cafeteria.

“TODAY IS JESSICA’S BIRTHDAY AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO SING TO HER YOU HEAR ME?”

There he was, standing on top of a folding table while teachers, security guards, lunch ladies,nerds,dweebs,bloods,cryps,jocks, all fell silent, turning their eyes to the red faced girl in brown cordouroy eating a Buddig Turkey sandwich in the corner.  He counted to three and I sat agog while two hundred people who didn’t know me from Adam sang happy birthday to Jessica at the top of their lungs.  To cap it off, Jonah ran and dove on top of a rolling garbage can, belly surfing down the center aisle of the cafeteria yelling HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESSICA! before crashing spectacularly into a table, sending food everywhere and cooler heads dragged him out to give him a talking to.

The rest of the day was a haze, with people smiling and nodding at me in the hallways, my association with this town demi-god giving me some sort of new instant status, the beautiful and the rich wondering if perhaps I was worth acknowledging as a human being after all!  My association with Jonah lasted a few months more, a very chaste and innocent “going out” that didn’t actually involve going anywhere, but made me feel like a celebrity for the first time in my life.  He then met Rachel who stole his heart and they had some meaningless fling that lasted a little over ten years or so. pfft.

After school, I skipped down the hall to drama club, eager to learn what sort of role I’d be getting in the Noh play, hoping for something elaborately costumed, something masked and interesting, anything but the ‘CHORUS’.  What I found was that when you have an artist in residence, they don’t know the hierarchy.  They don’t know that Molly Always Gets the Lead.  They don’t know if you’re a hopeless nerd or not.  And so they read off the cast list and lo and behold, on my fifteenth birthday, I was graced with the lead in the school play, Sotoba, Evil Queen of Everything…with her very own dance of madness- an elaborate choreography of fans and masks that I adored.  I got to train with a Jo stick  and fight my evil husband. It wasn’t your ordinary school play, and weeks after that fateful cast announcement, as I stood backstage preparing to put on my mask, tying my hair back in black ribbons, configuring the complicated sash on my robes, I remember thinking “I could do this all my life.  I love how I feel right now”, and my love of acting was born, having gestated for years in the back of my mind.

That evening after rehearsal, I walked home from school in the crisp Autumn air, the sky a jewel like purple and blue, the moon rising on the horizon in front of me, and I found myself smiling so hard that I ached.  I had never looked forward to growing up.  I loved the safety of childhood, the womb of mommy and daddy and sister around the kitchen table in our four bedroom house.  I loved the freedom, the fun, the play of childhood that I never saw adults enjoying.  But that day, my fifteenth birthday, I felt the first pangs of ambition, the rush of color to the cheeks that comes with new love, I experienced the thrill of an audience, the joy of success that follows hard work.  I saw what is great about being grown up.

And yet I ran home, following the smell of a fresh crackling fire, the golden glow that poured from the windows, anxious to get back to childhood for just a little while longer.

Let’s get Psyched for a new feature!

March 2, 2009 § 7 Comments

recipebutton

If there is one chore in the world that I don’t mind and actually look FORWARD to doing, it’s grocery shopping.  Ever since I was kid I’ve loved going to the grocery store.  Part of it could be that my sister and I were card carrying members of the Wegmans and Star Markets cookie club, allowing the bearer of said card to receive a cookie of their choosing from the grocery store bakery and even at 9:00 in the morning, eat said cookie without a word of protest from mom.  For a while there was a creation available at Star that would make childhood nutritionists blow their stacks – the Cookie Cup.  This thing was a soft chocolate chip cookie pushed into a muffin tin so as to make a bowl to hold ABOUT A HALF A CUP OF FROSTING. It’s true.  They filled the cookie bowl with swirls and swirls of brightly colored buttercream.  This was available for free.  I don’t even have time to get into my love of old fashioned bakery frosting that I can’t find anywhere.  That will have to be a sob story for another post.

 

I’ve put the free cookies behind me, but getting my cart, pluggin in the ipod and hitting the Jewel is still an event I look forward to with a sort of childlike glee.  Unlike my mom, I rarely have a plan when going.  I have a partial list of things that are needed, but what I love most is just roaming the store.  I love finding a great looking bunch of asparagus, standing together like a bunch of cold co-eds outside a bar, waiting to be something delicious.  Although I’m something of a picky eater, I do like to find new ingredients and devise new dishes.  To me, cooking is a kind of crafting.  Why not?  I rarely use recipes.  Even when I’m baking I look over the ratios to assure it rises and binds and all that, but I always like to substitute sugars or flavors or cocoa or fruit.  To me, it doesn’t feel like MINE until I’ve put my personal touch on it.  So when I grocery shop I’m usually buying INGREDIENTS rather than prepared sodium boxes.  

 

Even if I have no need for anything in the “Household Cleaners and JuJu Fruit” aisle, I make my way down it.  Here’s why:  I’m an easy sell.  I’m a sucker for 10 for 10 sales.  I heed the call when grocery stores advise me to “stock up”.  I love the idea of “stocking up”, as if I have a dirt walled root cellar under a trap door out in the prairie.  Amongst the handwoven baskets of apples and onions and knobby potatoes, everyone needs a box of Glade Plug Ins to see them through the hard winter.

I guess this is a round about way of saying that I’m anxious to share recipes with you almost as much as I want to share my crafting and memories and housekeeping tales.  Housekeeping tales?  What will those be?  “Brian yelled at me until I agreed to throw away my last five months of magazines.”  So coming soon to the annals (heh heh) of DIAWC, the blog that tires easily, will be Jessica’s Recipes on Recipe Monday.  I hope you’ll let me know if you try them and/or improve on them.  I love hearin’ about the tweaking.:)


Beware the Temptations of False Spring

February 12, 2009 § 6 Comments

It happens every February, and like my father’s April Fool jokes, I fall for it every time, even though I tell myself (out loud even) that I shouldn’t.  Like a bad boy in a leather jacket who drives a motorcycle, I am fished in by False Spring.  Its warm breezes curl their smoky white fingers under my chin, leading me on tip toe down the primrose path until, like a sixteen pronged innoculation needle, a killing frost descends and turns those primroses into little brown crispies on the ice covered sidewalks.

The joke of it is, I don’t even really like spring, to be honest with you.  To me, spring is raininess, cloudiness, grey, mushy, slush. It’s the discovery of long lost dog feces garnishing the yards of the neighborhood, the smell of rotting leaves and worms and some dead thing that was caught in the ice like a fossil.  Spring is a reminder that the days of sweating from morning till night are just around the corner.  Spring means shopping at JC Penney with your mom for Easter Dresses.  

I am a strange bird.  I enjoy shopping.  Wait. I LOVE IT.  I love the social event of shopping, a “girl’s day of shopping” a “shopping spree”, “christmas shopping’, “back to school shopping”.  I love GROCERY shopping so much I include it on my list of hobbies.  I love when stores tell me to “STOCK UP”.  I love paper shopping bags with logos on the outside.  I remember when my friend Marlo and I would go to Eastview Mall with our…thirty dollars or so, wanting to go on a giant spree.  We’d buy 1/2 off hoop earrings at Express and then ask if we could have the BIG shopping bag, because who doesn’t love the look of carrying armloads of bags out of the mall?  All that could make it better would be a fresh bunch of flowers wrapped in paper, a long french bread and a hat box (and some celery*).  What I do NOT like about  shopping is trying things on.  This is why the majority of my clothes come from Target and Old Navy. I know precisely what styles and sizes fit me in those stores and I don’t have to try them on.  I eyeball it, hold it in front of me, see if it can be thrown in the washing machine and purchase it.  I hate dressing rooms.  I’m an impatient person, and i don’t like to waste time DOING things that I don’t like DOING when I could be somewhere taking a nap.  I hate the whole procedure of taking off your coat, your purse, your clothes, shoes, taking the thing off the hanger, figuring it out, looking terrible in it and knowing that a gaggle of security people are laughing their faces off at you behind the mirror while you strike a pose and say “HI, YES, How are you?” which is something my mom and sister and I do when we try on clothes for some reason.  You have to see how your body looks saying “Hi, yes.”  Maybe I’d like trying on clothes more if I were at least six sizes smaller, but as it is, it’s just a big series of “NOPE, YOURE STILL TOO FAT! TRY AGAIN NEXT YEAR, ORSON!”

So imagine then my torture when my mother used to take us out to buy Easter dresses.  I don’t remember my sister’s attitude, so we’ll just say it was bad, because she and my mother were like those trick magnet dogs, flipping around and resisting each other, never occupying the same point.  But I, the usual nerd ‘good child’ who let my mother dress me in grey courdoroy when I was thirteen, engaged in a particular act of rebellion when it came to clothes shopping. First of all, you had to try everything on.  Then you had to come out and let mom see it, and pull it around and “HOW’S THE CROTCH FITTING?  DOES THIS MAKE YOUR CROTCH LOOK FAT?”   Then she’d pull VIOLENTLY on the waistband to see how much room was available.  If you couldn’t pull the waistband out wide enough to put a cat in it, they were too tight.  Because remember, “IT’LL SHRINK”.  Everything shrinks.

By the end of our day of shopping I had reached an unusual level of frustration while trying on a ridiculously stylish, early eighties PANTSUIT with a peach colored patent leather belt about 1/2″ wide. 

“LET ME SEE IT,” Mom called from out in the middle of the store.  That was the catch.  She didn’t wait outside the dressing room door.  She was out looking for more things to force me to try on.  “COME OUT HERE.”

So, in an effort to show my hatred of the whole shabang, I got down on all fours, and, like a dehydrated man crawling through the desert, I dragged myself out of the dressing room and across the floor of the juniors dress department, past salespeople, customers, other girls my own age.  I turned up the vocals as my mother came into view.  Groaning and whimpering to really illustrate the torture I was being put through; the torture of pantsuits, of PANTY HOSE, of white mesh/net hats and teeny white patent leather purses.  If my goal was to make a scene:  I was victorious. To this day, it mortifies my mother to look back on that afternoon.  

Spring also has Easter.  Although I am a lifelong Christian from a Christian home, lovin the Lord, letting Jesus take the wheel…I…I don’t like Easter.  The severe importance of it scares me.  Are we allowed to joke around on Easter?  To laugh and have fun?  It’s never been a favorite holiday, and ever since I was a kid when I saw the statue of Jesus covered in a back shroud at church, Good Friday has really freaked me out.  It scared me so much I didn’t want to go back to church on Sunday to see the ‘black ghost Jesus’. 

HE’S NOT A GHOST,” my mom yelled, tapping her foot. “THE WHOLE POINT OF EASTER IS THAT HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD TO SAVE US. THAT’S THE MIRACLE OF EASTER! NOW GET IN THE CAR!

So I guess the point here is, even though I don’t like spring, by the time February rolls around I’m so sick of the brutal wind, ice and snow of Chicago winter that a taste of warmth, a lighter coat, a brief glimpse at the sun are enough to drive me into a brief, unheard of, put-a-wallet-between-her-teeth optimism that says MAYBE THIS YEAR SPRING HAS COME EARLY!  Maybe this year it’ll be sunny and warm!  Maybe this year I’ll find a flattering dress for Easter Church!  Maybe this year…everything is different. 

But the snow always comes back, the gray black slush lining the streets, the wind pulling your hood right back off your head, turning your umbrella inside out.  The sky returns to its gloomy state of freshly erased chalkboard as we inevitably step into a puddle that looked 1 inch deep but really was a storm drain.

 The thing about false spring though is that it comes at just the right time.  It reminds you that while your troubles are not over, all is not lost, that the days indeed are getting longer, that there’s grass somewhere under that blanket of gloom, that Jesus isn’t a ghost anymore and empire waist dresses are flattering on everyone.  So while I urge you to keep a cool head about yourself during this warm, deceptive week…you can still enjoy it while it lasts.  Reminds me of a quote I have taped to the fridge:

“Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened!”

~ Dr. Seuss

Stay warm!  

 

 

*a very select few will get this joke.

The Cicadas

June 7, 2008 § 3 Comments

We watched you crouch on your grandmother’s patio, balancing on two tanned, calloused feet and squatting sturdily, feet flat on the floor, like only a young child can do.  You followed a shiny black ant as it struggled to find its way back to the gardens, its hill beneath the boxwood bush. Mulch filled with cocoa shells gave the garden an alluring smell that kept you beside it, looking for treasures like the shiny black ants, or chipmunk holes by the redwood fence. The poolside plants were perfectly sculpted, religiously groomed back then.  We watched your grandmother in the early mornings, her blue handled shears snipping away browned, sunburnt leaves and broken stems.  She hid all of those flaws in a brown paper lunch bag and threw them away before anyone came out to swim.  Each bush stood proud, a forced green sphere, all the same height, the same color, the same width.

 

It’s true that Nature favors symmetry.  You see it daily in the faces of those you deem beautiful, and the feather patterns of birds.  Look how the octopus is the same from every angle, the way a pine tree, unfettered, still grows into a soaring, majestic cone – a monolith in a field of pristine snow.

 

The shrubs.  They will find their own symmetry.  There’s no need for you to intervene.

 

You looked up when we sang out to you and your mother nodded from her poolside chair.

 

“You hear the hot bugs?” You said, one eye squinting into the sun, your head cocked to the side like a curious animal. 

 

“Mmm hmm.  Loud today.”

 

Your mother sat in an orange plastic chaise lounge that always looked dusty from its years of baking in the sun.  She was thin and golden tan, comfortable in a sun yellow bikini.  She was watching you as you soaked in the sun, but no worries about the pool only feet away.  You were an excellent swimmer, and even if you fell into the darker blue, deeper end of the water, she was confident that she could save you.  You’d been to the bottom when you were just a baby, your parents part of a ‘progressive’ generation that thought infants could swim by instinct.  You were gleefully tossed into the deep, sinking to the bottom and quickly bobbing to the top.  Is this why you love water now?  We don’t know.

 

We were loud that day, having finally been released from the cool, musty ground, our wings stretched out, while hot breezes raced across our backs.  Who wouldn’t sing?

 

And look at you now, still an excellent swimmer, although your swelling belly prevents you from diving or performing your kick turns at the end of a lap.  Instead, we crouch in the trees and watch you, slathered in sunscreen, floating, loose limbed in a bright pink inner tube while you talk to your mother.  Look how little you’ve changed in so long.  You assume the same postures, the tilted head and squinted eye.  It makes your mother nostalgic and a little bit sad.

 

“What about Downs Syndrome, have you been tested for that?” She asks, shading her eyes with one hand.  In seventeen years she hasn’t changed much, although it must seem to you that she has shrunk, since you’ve long surpassed her height by three inches.

“I guess.  They took all of the blood from my left arm.”

 

“All of the blood?” She asks, with a tone.

 

“Well, one tube.”

 

You are prone to exaggeration, and we think it’s to garner sympathy while retaining your sense of humor.  Our eyes are faceted, red, sharp.  It is not hard to see through you.  You laugh too often for someone so sad.  You laugh because it’s your weapon, a trick, slight of hand.

 

“They tested for EVERYTHING, and everything looks fine, but no one ever knows, do they?”

 

“It’s fine. I know it’s fine,” your mother says, just as easily as throwing you into the deep.

 

She knows you better than we do, of course.  She will not feed your fears like others will, like the books you read, the stories you hear.  She will not let you spiral out of control and play games of what if.  This has been her life’s work, to comfort and shelter you, to take the fear you radiate and absorb it.  It wasn’t until you were older that you wondered who took hers? 

Stewed Prunes and Campfires are no cure for Homesickness

April 30, 2008 § 2 Comments

I stood beside my green nylon suitcase, waving to my parents as they rumbled away down the dirt road in the navy blue Chevy citation, my baby sister bouncing around in the ‘way back’ of the hatchback, free from the shackles of today’s carseat laws.  One week at camp.  I was alone with my thoughts and baby blue Zipps, my fears and my denim shorts, my anticipations and my pink t-shirt, just a little too small.  Stretched over my nine year old tummy was an adorable jungle cat iron on, beneath it a heartwrenching political statement in multicolored glitter:

Pumas: Our little endangered friends

Growing up in a Christian household, my sister and I were not brownies or girlscouts – we were Pioneer Girls.  It was the same really , except that in addition to earning badges for “camp cookery” and “map reading”, we got points for “discipleship” and “Bible knowledge”.  With Pioneer Girls came Camp Cherith, an all girls summer camp where I learned how to ride horseback, identify wildflowers on a hike and properly fold an American flag after we said the pledge of allegiance each morning.

It was at Camp Cherith that I had my first encounter with homesickness. 

As I ate my breakfast, picking at the bowl of prunes that my mother instructed them to feed me each morning, I thought about my family, sitting at the kitchen table with a box of donuts from Wegmans.  I pictured them laughing, remarking about how great life was now that I was gone.

“What if we just left her there?  What if we moved back to Chicago, right next door to Grandma and just left her there?”

And they would laugh and grab for another chocolate glazed.

I ate another prune and visualized the camp closing for the winter, all the counselors leaving, asking me one last time:

“Are you sure they’re coming to pick you up?”

They always did.  But homesickness has followed me all my life.

When I got to college, I quickly discovered that going to a STATE school means everyone goes home on the weekend, and I was left alone in a strange town, in a dorm, with no mom to make meatloaf, no dad to watch baseball, no couch to curl up on while reading Garfield Books.  I often called my parents just to hear what they were doing, to try and insert myself into their activities, to visualize life in picturesque Western New York, so far away from the flat, beige, Ohio prairie.

And even now, grown up, a wife, a mother, I get homesick for the orange and brown flowered wallpaper in the old kitchen, the smell of the fireplace, the way the trees looked at twilight when I walked home from the library.  I would love to go back and be ten again, just for a week maybe, to eat dinner and do some homework and lounge on the couch and go to the busstop and get a free cookie from Star Markets and then sit back in a baby blue iron on t-shirt, arms crossed, a smile on my face, and really truly cherish how great I had it.

Only 242 Days Until Christmas!

February 16, 2008 § 2 Comments

When I found out I was pregnant, it was only natural that my due date be Christmas day. It was already a day I counted down to all year, my ears pricking up at the first ring of a jingle bell, the first “Big Holiday Sale!”. I am not at all bothered by the ever increasing hype of Christmas, the decorations appearing earlier each year, the all Christmas Radio Station starting on November 1st – these are bonus celebrations. They caannot deter me from the very intimate, family focused love I feel at Christmas, in my home, around the kitchen table, at church. I do not celebrate Christmas at Target, so I don’t care what they do with their decor – unless it’s on sale.

The day after Thanksgiving is a holiday unto itself in our house. Boxes and bags are dragged up from the storage closet, cookie recipies, some stained with a smear of butter or vanilla, or a touch of caked on flour are pinned up to the bulletin board in order of importance. I make lists at Christmas, just to mark the time. I make lists of gifts I’ll buy, gifts I want, who will get Christmas cards, which treats I’ll mail out to friends, and anything else I can think of.

But Christmas, as we know, is for the children. It always felt strange to decorate a two bedroom condo for two people and a chihuahua. There was no reason for me to wake in the dark morning of Christmas, always expecting some magic or miracle to appear in the next room. But I did it anyway, even at the age of 30, having slept in the guest room in my own childhood home. I stood at the top of the staircase and waited for my mother to say “Santa’s been here!”, because I wanted to cement it in my memory. I wanted to always have that phrase to bring me back to every Christmas of my life, the year I got a cabbage patch doll, the year I got my drafting table so I could become a world famous architect. I wanted to remember the first Christmas that I was married, the Christmas I came BACK to Rochester because I lived somewhere else. They all lived in that one phrase,and the sound of our feet stomping down the stairs, giggling and acting like six year olds. I don’t ever want to be without it. Even so, as we aged, it became less thrilling to empty our stockings filled with batteries, chocolate, stamps and a Crest Spinbrush. The gifts became more practical, the boxes thin, rectangular, and plainly wrapped.

Thank God for Charlotte. She was born four days early, arriving home from the hospital the day before Christmas Eve, her soft, plump skin golden with jaundice. We swaddled her in a therapeutic light blanket and she glowed like a fresh little space traveler observing human customs as we huddled in our tiny condo living room: grandparents, aunt Allison, laughing and munching on Chinese food and cookies. It was fifty degrees and raining outside, our tree wore only white lights and paper snowflakes, but we were all together, my heart overwhelmed with more emotions than I could recount here. I slept soundly, contentedly in my own bed for the first time in months, the bassinet emitting a soft green glow throughout the house. My home was filled with my family, with joy and never before seen thankfulness and celebration. We were all so excited to see the baby that we awoke in the dark on Christmas morning to see the magic, the miracle in the next room. I held her close to my chest and cried, so happy to be 34 and having the best Christmas morning ever.

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