“Mommy, will you come sleep with me?”
Our 5-year-old daughter had somehow materialized next to the bed, only her head in full view, seeming to float there in the half light, the place where the streetlights finally yield to the dawn.
“I want you to sleep with me,” she said.
By itself, this was no unusual thing. Like many kids, ours seek out the comfort and security of mommy or daddy when they are jostled awake somehow, and like so many parents, we either give in and sleep with them or try to reinforce their self reliance by gently but firmly sending them back to bed. We learned long ago that if we sleep with them tonight, we have doubled the chances that they’ll be back again tomorrow night expecting it again.
“No, sweetheart, go on back to bed now and I’ll get you some breakfast in a little while when morning comes.”
“But mom, my head hurts.”
Tammy sat up and felt her head. Hot, and not just a little. It was the kind of hot every parent recognizes and fears. It was the “your kid has the flu and tomorrow is Christmas Eve” kind of hot.
Of course, we took her to the doctor first thing. Yep, she had the flu, they said, writing out a prescription and instructing us to put her in bed and quarantine her the best we could for the next several days. The next several days? The next several days included Christmas Day, included our annual trip to Sparta, where we celebrate Christmas with our family, including doting grandparents, uncles, aunts, and the kids first cousins, who are roughly their same ages. It included Christmas dinner at my grandma’s house, over the river and through the woods. It included our annual extended family reunion, the day after Christmas. It included 85 percent of our Christmas plans.
Now what? We got home and put Kayden straight to bed. She took some medicine and was asleep in less than five minutes. We went upstairs and played out various scenarios. Our younger son, Jack, and I could go on to Sparta, and Tammy and Kayden could join us in a few days. That would be fine, as long as we didn’t mind missing Christmas together as a family and possibly exposing the rest of the family to the flu, in the event Jack or I already had it and didn’t yet know it. Uh, no, this plan wasn’t going to work, not at all. The prospect of our family divided on Christmas morning was unthinkable, in any case. The Grinch wouldn’t have stolen Christmas — but the flu would have.
There was really nothing left to do but call the family and tell them the bad news. As disappointed as we all were, I knew my mom and the rest of the family would be even more disappointed. They already complain about not seeing enough of us as it is. We rely on Christmas not only for this, but at least in some measure to fully soak in the real spirit of Christmas. Oh sure, we decorate, shop for gifts, wrap them, play Christmas music, bake cookies, burn holiday-scented candles, watch Christmas movies, sing carols, the whole bit. But until this year, I didn’t realize how much we depend on the trip to really take us the rest of the way there, into the very heart of Christmas, the place where the commercialization, the stress, the credit card bills, all of that stuff, just melts away like snow flakes falling against a window, and suddenly you are there, and it is Christmas.
This year, where would we be without that? How would we, how could we, replace the missing 85 percent?
We spent an hour or so feeling sorry for ourselves before I finally made the call to my mother, who was crestfallen but nonetheless supportive and understanding. Then we set to work on devising a plan to reinvent Christmas for ourselves. We would make our own Christmas dinner — ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie. We would watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” the one where mean old Ben Weaver gets himself locked up for Christmas. We would sing songs and play games and call the family to wish everyone a merry Christmas.
Santa did appear, just as we had hoped, leaving presents for everyone and taking away Kayden’s fever, the best present of all. We lost a chance to see the family, but we found the true spirit of Christmas right here. We missed the rest of the family, but we did not miss Christmas.
Oh, and the dinner was spectacular. We’ll be eating ham sandwiches for a week.