Christmas is fast approaching and with every day that passes I feel my feet sinking just a bit deeper into the ground. Quinn is nearly four this year, his birthday is just next next month, and for the first time he is really embracing the absolute joy and excitement of the season at the level unique to children who are waiting on Santa and thrilled with the prospect of cookies, presents and company.
As we drive around in the evening he points with glee at the colored lights. Look Mama, they want Santa to come!
That is something my father started, telling Quinn last year that all the decorations on the houses and shops were a welcome for Santa.
He wants to buy presents for everybody – us, his classmates, our entire (big) extended family. He is so excited to put up the tree that he has twice crept into the attic on his own to pull out the lights and decorations, just to look.
He’s normally phone shy, but the season has even put that into a spin – when the phone rings he lunges for it – it might be one of his grandmothers calling, and they might talk about Christmas.
He is moving toward Christmas with excitement of such force, that if sheer will could rearrange the calendar we’d all be opening gifts tomorrow.
On Christmas morning there will be no stopping him. And I don’t want to stop him. I want him to rush down the stairs and through the kitchen to see what’s been left. I want that moment of awe when he sees the gifts under the tree, and the shrieks of delight that will come as he tears through the paper. I want him to be a child and to think about childish things, to have those moments of absolute, untainted joy.
At such a young age, he’s already known such grief from the loss of my father nearly a year ago that he still has nightmares about it. He wakes shrieking from dreams where his grandfather just walks away, leaving him lost. Out of the blue I am hit with questions that just break my heart. Mama, is it ok to still love Grandpa up in the sky?
When he visits his maternal grandmother it’s institutional, a nursing home that takes pains to be cheery, but they cannot cure their patients, they can only ease the time that is left. Calls for help that we have to ignore as we traverse the halls confuse him, he doesn’t understand why we can’t go help everybody. I love that he wants to.
And there is one man there, younger than the rest, who was involved in a bad accident, left incapable of moving any of his limbs save for his left leg which he uses to pull his wheelchair down the hall. His ability to vocalize was also impaired and he communicates with shrieks and growls. Quinn is terrified of him. No matter how I explain the affliction, he refuses to walk by him. And it saddens me, because the man knows.
I try to get them out as much as I can. Weekly trips when I pick Mom up and wrestle her into the car with assistance from the staff. But there we are stuck. Car picnics, rides, driveway visits with family. I can’t get her out of the car easily, and its nearly impossible if I try it with Quinn to keep an eye on. So we are stuck. I find errands to do – bank trips, picking up a few groceries to give them time alone together. In the car. But they both love their time together, so every week, one of my free days is swallowed by this – once I get her out, I can’t stand to make it a short trip.
I cannot bear to make this the setting for Quinn’s Christmas.
My mother loves Christmas. She’s always been one of those people who puts the tree up the day after Thanksgiving and dons sweaters festooned with dancing Santa bears and jingle bell necklaces. She was the buyer of gifts, the planner of parties, the giver that embodied the spirit of the season. More than one family had their entire Christmas funded by her. Lonesome stragglers made appearances at our house – no one should be alone on Christmas, and kids deserved that joy.
Now her collection of ornaments sits in boxes in my garage. There is no room for them at the nursing home, save for a few tiny ones on the sad little tree I put up for her. And with my steps and broken ramp, I cannot get her into my house. She is immovable this Christmas. We must go to her. And I can’t stop Quinn’s morning. I won’t do that. So that means on Christmas morning, my mother will be alone, and that breaks my heart.
It will crack before then, on the 17th. Quinn is in his first holiday pageant. In the old Governor’s Hall with street-side parking and lousy handicapped accessibility. I have to manage Quinn and all that goes with that, so I can’t take her. My husband is breaking away from a work day to race out, then has to race back when Quinn’s part is over. My bother can’t do it, because he’s busy. I haven’t asked yet, but he’s always busy.
The year I was pregnant, my mother mentioned this first pageant. Many other things too, but I remember her telling me she looked forward to that because she missed going and watching the little kids sing. So now I have to tell her that she is going to miss it.
I also have to tell Quinn that I can’t get her there. He adores my mother, and he’s already mentioned how she’ll love seeing him up there on stage. I let that one go. I hadn’t seen it coming, hadn’t thought that far ahead.
So here I am, unable to extract myself from my position. Quinn’s excitement and energy hurtling us toward the holiday, trapping me between that and the solid, immovable heartwreck of my mother, who will be waiting for us.