December 31, 2003
As Usual

As usual, I came home from TicTac this year with entirely too many new sweaters crammed into my suitcase. (Eight of them, if I'm counting correctly: dark green, light green, dark pink, light pink, gray, black, red and an ugly Christmas tree turtleneck that I've already given to the Goodwill.) As usual, I have nobody to blame for this wretched excess but myself: my family learned long ago that giving me a sweater is a complete waste of time and wrapping paper. I may wear it once, just to be polite -- for the photo opportunities, if nothing else -- but the moment I get home it is immediately relegated to the back of the closet, along with all of the other climate-inappropriate clothing I've accumulated since moving to California: the suede-and-fur gloves from my ex-husband, the Eddie Bauer parka that probably cost more than my last automobile, the microwaveable wool socks I've never even removed from the cellophane, and -- most guilt-inducingly of all -- the mountain of sweaters from TicTac Trips Past, most of which I've purchased myself. The sad fact of the matter is that a sweaty pre-menopausal woman simply cannot wear sweaters on a regular basis ... especially if she is a sweaty pre-menopausal woman living in the temperate climes of the East Bay. I know this, and I accept this, and for 355 days out of the year I'm perfectly OK with this. But a weird unreasonable sickness seems to wash over me, the minute I land in the frigid Pacific Northwest each December. It's as though I'm possessed by The Spirit of Inappropriate Impulse Shopping, and it wants to go to Fred Meyer RIGHT NOW.  Let's go buy some SWEATERS! it shrieks. Lots and lots of pretty SWEATERS! One SWEATER for every day of the WEEK! perspiring in cashmere

The next thing I know I'm posing in front of a Christmas tree, perspiring in cashmere again.

As usual, somebody fell tragically ill on Christmas Day. This year it was Daughter #1, and we never even saw it coming. One minute she was playing Santa -- handing out presents to her brother and her sister and her amicably divorced parents, her usual cheerful perky Christmas Morning Elf-Self -- and the next minute she was curled in a pathetic fetal lump on the living room sofa, moaning that she "hurt all over." By 11 a.m. she was sound asleep in her brother's bedroom. By midafternoon her fever was nearing thermal meltdown. When dinnertime rolled around, she completely blew off her Dad's barbecued turkey and green bean casserole: she didn't even want any pumpkin pie. (That's when we knew for sure she wasn't playing possum.)  

When we got back to her house that night, she went directly to bed and slept straight through the night, while I sat in the guest room down the hall and quietly read back-issues of People Magazine. She was still asleep when I left for the airport the following day. I gave her a kiss on her hot damp forehead -- it was like planting my lips on an overheated carburetor -- and told her to get well soon. Anguished, she mumbled something about "ruining Christmas for everybody."

Don't be silly, I said. Getting sick is part of the tradition.

As usual, the things I worried about the most were the things that turned out the best. The World's Cutest Nephew loved his gingerbread house. My Dad and Valerie were not only expecting us this year -- that hasn't always been the case, as you may recall -- but Dad was actually wearing a Christmas tie and a Santa hat when he opened the door. Plus I had plenty of clean underwear this trip, I slept like a baby every single night, even without my husband laying next to me, AND I managed to almost completely avoid the dangerous subjects of politics, weight and inappropriate eye makeup.  

As usual, it was the gifts that weren't on my Amazon Wish List that meant the most. My son's senior portrait, framed in mahogany ... a lighthouse lamp from Kacie ... an abalone bracelet from Jaymi, which hasn't left my wrist since Christmas morning.  

And -- as usual -- it was the unscripted moments that made this year's Christmas trip memorable. Coffee with my mother. Lunch with my children. Cookies with my nephew. Singing in the car. Hugging my dad. Watching my ex-husband open the special photo album I made for him. Driving around TicTac with Kyle. Shopping at the mall with Jaymi. Kacie laying her head on my shoulder on Christmas Eve, just like she used to do when she was a little girl. These are the memories that resonate most clearly in my heart as I putter around the apartment this morning, finishing the last of my unpacking, signalling the official end of yet another Christmas in TicTac.

Now if only I could figure out what the heck I'm going to do with EIGHT new sweaters.

jaymi & kyle at taco time, first day of my trip no windows in THIS gingerbread housethe world championship 'kerplunk' tournamentmy sister debi & her husband tim
dad was ready for us this year! jaymi on christmas eve
kacie finally got the biggest present just before she crashed & burnedkacie, kyle & momfelled by the flu
the ex opens his photo album future prizefighter

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