Thursday, December 15, 2005

Take a deep breath

One step forward, two steps back.

There was a day at the end of November I panicked. Not directly regarding Christmas — I didn't see the point in worrying over gift shopping or food preparations — but it had everything to do with matters indirectly related to the holidays and the happy coincidence that people would be descending on our household. I fretted that my mother would not like the condo we now call home. That we are in many ways not yet entirely settled in our new home, that it's disorganized and not exactly fully furnished. These are things I can live with, have been living with, but can my mother live with them, even if only for a few days?

I'd been wondering why, at the end of November, would people start worrying? What's there to worry about? Christmas is coming — what joy! And others kindly reassured me that I was right — this, that, and the other would get done. I'd forgotten about this, that, and the other.

For one day at the end of November, I truly panicked. Where would my mother sleep? Where will my sister sleep? My mother will take Helena's room — really, she's of an age she'd like a room, with a closet and drawers, she's too old to live out of a suitcase being shuffled from one corner of the house to another, waiting for the bathroom to be free and for the household to settle down so she can sleep someplace without a door amid its traffic — now where will Helena sleep? Will we really find the time and money to buy a sofabed before my sister is again relegated to the current only couch, overstuffed and just a little too short? Is it true that my brother is actually considering joining us? Where will he sleep? Since when does he even like Christmas anyway? Is it possible that this would be the year he chooses to show up on time and sober for dinner? He hates Christmas. If he doesn't come, will my mother spend days wringing her hands over "poor Mark, alone for Christmas"?

For one day I panicked. Better to get the panicking over and done with, out of the way. Pretty lucky, I thought, if that's all the worrying I have to do and it inspired me to take charge, organize, do things.

One day's panic was fed by sickness. Helena's cold had her feverish for a weekend and home from daycare for 2 days. The same cold put me to bed for 2 more days. And then J-F, 4 days and counting. Me trying to DO things with people underfoot and not yet feeling 100% is less than 100% effective. Downright silly, even. Cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry, every day trying to clear an extra corner, but barely maintaining status quo. I should water the plants before they die.

I bought a carpet for the entranceway. It will define the space better than a dirty puddle. I cleared a spot for a tree, retrieved the Christmas-tree stand from J-F's mother's basement. We must get a tree. I bought hooks to fasten to doors for hanging bathrobes. I ordered a bedroom suite. Stupid. I should've ordered it weeks ago, but finances were confused, and I waited for that credit card to be cleared up, and then it was out of stock, and I panicked, but it's done now, and what the hell was I thinking, having bedroom furniture delivered just before Christmas, we won't have time to assemble it, there won't be room for extra boxes, and certainly my mother won't benefit from this, but dammit I want a grown-up bedroom, we deserve one, how nice it'll be to have a bedroom one wants to spend time in, though I doubt we'll want to during the holidays if it's full of extra furniture and boxes, and then we have to get rid of the futon, at least its base, unless we buy another futon mattress, then houseguests can sleep on it, if we can make it fit in the family room — I doubt it.

And the poor kitty-cat who stands meowing at our back door, every day for a week now, he comes in the evening and meows frantically. The second night we put food and water out for him, but he looks healthy, has a collar, young but not a kitten anymore, we think he's a fixed male, he must have a home, but the nights are cold and there he is meowing plaintively, so we put down some blankets and left the door open to our outdoor storage area. Another day passed — we don't see him during the day — and there was hope he belonged to someone in our building who accidentally locked him out when she went away for the weekend, but she returned and her cats are in fact accounted for. We've let him inside a couple times, but he's frantic and wants out, so we let him out thinking he'll go home, but he paces a little and runs off through the snow and then he's back and meowing and cold. Poor kitty. We may have to take him in, but we'd have to ensure he's healthy; I worry for Helena — we don't know his temperament — and for our cat, but he seems to worry for the stranger too, watching him through the window. He's looking thinner, and cold.

Daycare was closed yesterday, workers are striking, bless them, they have difficult jobs, so Helena and I bundled up and went to the park. The playground is surrounded by a moat of ice, soon to be a skating rink, treacherous to cross; someday soon Helena will learn it's not worth it to go on the slides at the playground when it's easier to slide down the snowy hills that surround it whether in her sled or on her bottom. But we did not go Christmas shopping because my planned excursions were either too long and I feared she would melt down not being able to run off every 10 minutes or too short and I dreaded bundling and unbundling the both of us more than the once — I might melt down and have nowhere to run. And we did not bake. But I'd bought her a snow shovel at the dollar store, for a dollar, and such joy it brings, Christmas could be so simple, but it rarely is.

What was I thinking planning to bake Christmas cookies with Helena? She's got ants in her pants, won't stick with anything for more than 10 minutes at a time. I've started a million times and finally ingredients and supplies are assembled and ready to go, but there is no window of time long enough to actually do anything with it. Maybe this afternoon, and I'll wait another year before including her in this tradition.

Now there's but one week left before family arrives, and there are no presents, no groceries, no baked goods, no sofabed, and I've cooked turkey only twice in my life but never for 10 people, what the hell else do we serve for dinner? and oh my god we don't even have 10 chairs, and our kitchen-dining table barely seats 6 and it's on the verge of collapsing, we should've purchased a new table instead of a stupid bedroom set, really we should've bought both, and months ago, using the money my mother gave me for a housewarming present instead of using it to pay municipal taxes, and damn that stupid job I can't invoice for yet, it was done weeks ago except for that one bit I'm still waiting for, an hour's work maybe, but even if those loose ends are tied up this week I doubt I'll be paid before Christmas.

Tomorrow morning is Helena's music "recital" which will be good for a few laughs, maybe I can go shopping directly afterwards, and I should mail some Christmas cards today, but boy is this place ever a mess, and I can't delegate chores to J-F when he's home sick, well, I can, but they won't get done unless I do them myself, I'll make some soup, he'll make a big mess in the kitchen, and there are no quiet corners to retreat to, if only we had a peaceful grown-up bedroom, and I could stay in bed for a morning and rest, not a recuperative sleep of the sick, but a self-indulgent, luxurious lie-in with a good book, just for an hour or two.

One day's panic has grown into a prolonged and surreptitious-in-its-effects mindfuck, conspiring even to keep me from writing it down, sorting it out.

Three steps forward, two steps back.
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