This is the second in a series of posts chronicling our last holiday season before baby arrives -- as they say, life is never the same afterward, so in the interest of capturing a few snapshots to remember this time, here are some jottings from moments that have lingered with me over a multi-destination Thanksgiving week.
Dinner is over and Marketing Sis and I have sent our mother up to the game room for once to play mahjong with Troubadour Dad and the boys. Usually, two of us girls must play with Dad and D while she cleans up, but this year, with N at the table, we have enough leverage to convince Mom to take the night off and leave the mess for us. "I'm not comfortable with this!" she calls over her shoulder as we all but push her toward the stairs. "This is Mom's job!"
"We're going to have sister time!" we tell her. She exhales forcefully but can't budge our united front.
We tackle the pile of dirty dishes, voices low so we can try to monitor the conversation from the other room. It's the first time we've ever left our men alone with our parents, and we can't help eavesdropping a little. Nothing much drifts down at first, but soon Dad's customary heckling and a few good-natured retorts begin to carry over the clack of the mahjong tiles. Marketing Sis and I exchange grins. They're doing fine.
"It's nice that N offers to help in the kitchen," I say -- he's been in and out during the day-long preparations, which, I've noticed, has kept Mom a little calmer than her usual self during major holiday meal assembly. Not that the extra hands have reduced the burden that much -- Mom's not the best at multitasking and delegating -- but the presence of this new person has tamped down some of her testiness that ordinarily emerges, particularly when she's dealing with the challenges my food allergies present for her. The presence of D, no longer a novelty, doesn't force her to be on better behavior anymore. I wish in some ways that it did, but I suppose it's also a sign of acceptance into the family that my mother doesn't keep her company face on around him as much. I also wish my mother were just less high-strung, but I've learned over many holidays that that's just not who she is.
"N's good about that, making himself useful," Marketing Sis says. "He knows it's easier on me." She doesn't say it directly, but I know she's referring to the family dynamics, not the cooking. When our parents are happy, the rest of us can be happy. If that means preventing Mom from getting overwhelmed in the kitchen, so be it. I'm certainly relieved that the day's culinary feats are over. While my mother has insisted on making as much allergen-free food for me as possible, the extra stress it causes her puts me on edge the entire time she's at it. There have to be clean zones and cross-contamination prevention measures and recipe alterations, all of which make her ill at ease. If she makes a few mistakes, she suddenly gets defensive and begins tossing off comments about how difficult or inconvenient my food limitations make her process -- even though I've insisted that she doesn't have to include me in the meal plan since I'm perfectly able to cook for myself.
But again, it's Mom's job, my mother insists as she assembles the next day's menu.
The control freak in me understands, though just barely. She needs to feel she's taking care of me, but her taking on the task creates more risk, which runs counter to her intent. If only she could understand that, I think to myself as the dish pile slowly dwindles.
The boys have helped haul out the Christmas tree, so we also plunge into decorating while Mom is occupied. Normally, we're not home to help until practically December 25th, if not after, and the tree remains bare or Mom has to trim it entirely on her own if she doesn't want to hear our cries of mock distress when we see the naked plastic branches upon our arrival. I reach into the first of many boxes and come up with a tray of tinsel puffballs that could almost pass for cat toys. Their strings for hanging have long since fallen off -- the ornaments are older than my sister -- but we aren't deterred. Each armed with a handful of the soft, nearly weightless sparklers, we launch them overhand at the tree, where they happily lodge in the branches.
Marketing Sis flings a puffball with particularly mischievous gusto, and I am reminded of how we are still, despite our taking over for Mom, the kids in the house for a little longer, with our own variations for doing what Mom would. Next year, we'll be trying to decorate the tree with a ten-month-old underfoot -- a little boy who will be old enough to crawl and possibly even stand, hands reaching and grabbing for everything. What kind of mom will I be then? I wonder. Not one like my own, I imagine, but not totally unlike her either. I won't be throwing ornaments for sure, lest the baby get his hands on the more fragile baubles and try to follow our example. I can just hear my mother scolding us for giving him the idea -- or is it my own voice in my head, warning me off before she can? I can't tell. But for now, I shrug the question off and enjoy the game. My best shot hits its target from a distance of six feet.
A shout comes from upstairs followed by groans -- someone has won a particularly good hand -- and then my father calls down for one of us to bring him a peeled orange, his usual evening snack. When my mother asks for one too a moment later, I know we've done good work -- she's let go enough of her Mom mindset to let us do what she ordinarily would, instead of abandoning the game table to take care of the request.
I assemble a tray for the players, leaving our own entertainment to step into my mother's role once more. I'm glad to do it -- and glad for this in-between space, where I can still shift from Mom to daughter to mother-to-be.
For more from this series, please click here.
13 hours ago