Traditions in the Year of COVID

Two years ago when I walked into this house, I knew it would work for my family. Actually, the most important thing was that I knew it would work for me – because I knew the kitchen was big enough to host the annual Cookie Day in December. A tradition dating back since I graduated from college, it had moved to Pittsburgh and I was determined to host Cookie Day.

But this year is the year of COVID. The year when traditions have been upended. The year when we can’t figure out what’s happening from one day to the next and find it almost impossible to plan anything.

This year it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving and I walk around the house feeling sad and trying to come to grips with the fact that being responsible in the time of a viral case surge means making some hard changes.  This includes coming to grips with the fact that my parents will have a quiet small Thanksgiving at their home, rather than my mom bustling around in my kitchen with pies in the oven and sweet potatoes on the stovetop. COVID means that the boys have switched to remote schooling and I’m struggling with how to be patient with their constant interruptions as I try to maintain enough stream of thought for my own work. It also means that it would not be a good year to host Cookie Day. Blah.

But it’s coming up on Christmas. A season of great joy. A season of gathering. A season of sharing love with others. As the emotions of Christmas season start to rise, it’s hard to think of being apart and not engaging in all usual gatherings. It’s hard to think about not having parties and meals together. To not have the extended family come visit. To possibly not sing out “Silent Night” with lit candles at the traditional Christmas Eve service at church.

Saturday morning, Mr. Ornery skipped into the kitchen and exclaimed, “I’m starting to get the vibe of Christmas.” Starting a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I said, “Okay….Alexa, play Christmas music.”

That’s all it took. Mr. Ornery began cleaning up the family room and before I knew it, we were dragging the tree from the garage and he was stringing lights everywhere. Tradition has it that we start decorating the day or weekend after Thanksgiving. Tradition has it that we don’t mix the holidays. Tradition has been there’s no tree before turkey.

But traditions have gone out the window this year of COVID. Easter was a live-streamed church service and spontaneously hiding eggs in other people’s yards. The Little Guy’s birthday was a drive-by parade of cars after the firetrucks squawked through the neighborhood. Independence Day was a small group of friends lighting fireworks in their cul-de-sac. And for the first time in so many years, Labor Day weekend was just another couple days at home rather than the sights and smells of the Great Geauga County Fair.

I opened the flue and Mr. Ornery carried up some logs for the season’s first fire. A strand of twinkling lights were hung in front of the orange pumpkins on the mantle. The younger boys put (obnoxious) blinking multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree and I just left it as they placed them rather than correcting the spacing or stringing my preferred white lights. This year, we let the Christmas “vibe” come early. We let “Silent Night” stream through the house. We let Super Tall Guy break into smile at the glow of lights around every window and doorway in the family room. And we invited my sister’s family (our extended COVID “household”) for a spontaneous mish-mash dinner of shrimp, crab legs and fondue (traditionally the New Year’s Eve feast).

Because why not?

This year, we find new traditions. We find new ways of being “together.” We find new ways of working and learning. We find new ways of self-care and coping. We find new ways of appreciating those working the frontlines of the stores and services and hospitals. We find new ways of connecting and growing and thriving. We find new ways to experience peace, comfort and love. (And, I might need to find a new way for the Cookie Day tradition – like Zoom!)

This year…..there’s a little spark of Christmas Hope and Joy mixed with the Gratitude of Thanksgiving.

Shhh….don’t tell anyone 🙂

Pandemic Puppy’s First Christmas

Gifts of Hospitality at Thanksgiving

“When are these people leaving?” the youngest asked with sincerity. My cousin, her mother, her husband and their two kids were staying at our house a few months ago. While the boys were still sleeping in their rooms (except Super Tall Guy who is an extreme introvert and “moved” to my sister’s house temporarily), clearly The Little Guy noticed some disruption and change in their routines. He wasn’t asking in a negative way. He probably genuinely wanted to know when his “fun” playmates were leaving. But his question struck me as an honest one that usually only kids can ask. And it struck me that this was the first time in his memory that we had a house large enough to “host” people and enough space for people to actually spend a few nights with us.

I love having enough room to “host” people. I grew up a missionary kid with parents who believed in a revolving door philosophy of “come on in, we’re here.” I want people to visit and to stop by whenever they can. I also want my boys to understand how to help people feel comfortable and how to treat guests with respect and kindness.

So, after the front room carpet was torn up the night I moved in; after the hardwood floors were stained on Christmas afternoon; and after the “wood room” served as Mr. Ornery’s crafting, building and storage room for months, I was thrilled to clean it up to get ready for the delivery of a dining room table a few days before Thanksgiving. My brother and his family of ten and my local family totaling ten would be gathering around the table. Mr. Ornery and I counted out who were the eldest of the grandkids who would make the cut and win seats at the new “adult” table whilst the others would be at the folding tables down the middle of the kitchen. I ordered a ten-foot Thanksgiving table cloth and my friend suggested an idea her family does of stenciling on a turkey every year with people signing their names around it. I was thrilled.

Until the delivery men said, “Did they call you to tell you that the base is broken? We can leave the table but can’t put it together until they deliver a new base.” I stared dumbstruck. You mean, you’ve arrived with my almost $2000 table but it’s broken?!? It took several phone calls and a good night sleep for me to get over my disappointment. It took days of hassle to realize I wouldn’t have a table up in time for Thanksgiving. (It’s taken even more phone calls and grumpiness once the table was set up but the seating bench didn’t have “hardware” in the box to put it together. Don’t buy Bob’s Discount Furniture is the moral of this saga…even if you really love the table!)

And yet, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving of folding tables and folding chairs and lots of people and plates tipping off the too-narrow tables and good food and okay wine and lots of noise and Nerf darts everywhere and high-stakes games of UNO and Bananagrams. Because it turns out that celebrating family and celebrating what we’re most thankful for didn’t require the perfect dining room table at all. The gift of welcoming people just involved opening the door.

May The Little Guy soon learn to ask, “How long can you stay?” and bound away with thankfulness that all are welcome in this house.

 

 

My crazy slippers

For the past week, I have walked around the house with mismatched slippers.  My left foot wearing a brown slipper – one half of the pair that my mom just purchased and left at our house to keep her feet warm – and my right foot sporting a mauve fleece slipper from a pair I purchased several years ago.  I haven’t really thought about my mismatched slippers, despite the visiting foster caseworker pointing them out last week to the two other caseworkers (we like to schedule them all at one time and pretend to clean up for them).  But tonight, once the house grew quiet, I moved myself downstairs to the couch to admire the newly constructed and lit Christmas tree and kicked off the slippers to tuck my feet up under me.  I looked down at the odd pair and smiled.

Now, I could just say that wearing this particular pair is a sign of true laziness on my part.  I haven’t bothered to bend over and look for the matching sets under any of the couches or chairs or even bothered to look for them at all.  Strangely, for the entire week, the missing slippers have not magically appeared themselves like I keep thinking they will.

Or I could admit that my comfort and ease in slipping on two completely different slippers now shows just how completely I have given over to CHAOS and don’t even notice it anymore.  I only worry about the missing slippers when my mom does come to visit and I reluctantly give up my crazy pair so that her feet are warm (but since she was on a cruise for the past ten days, my feet have been so nice and toasty).

It’s hard to tell if this surrender is the sign of strength or just a survival mechanism.  I mean, I look around this room and see the towels on the floor (awaiting the return of the hamper which hasn’t climbed out of the basement yet with its latest load of laundry), the red Christmas Santa hats and stockings scattered at the base of the tree where the boys discarded them after our torture photo session in front of the tree, the books leaning off the shelves in a “pick me, pick me” stance waiting the joy of page-turning, the orange Matchbox tracks angularly sticking out from under the furniture (although I just noticed the loop and a couple tracks are up on top of the wall railing 6 feet up and in time out after a frustrated little boy threw them when the car didn’t loop as expected)….and I could go on and on ….but won’t, for instance, even mention the fireplace mantel where you’d be hard-pressed to find the beta fish in among the trophies, Lego airplane, digital camera, box set of DVDs, lotion bottles, a red 3-pound hand weight, and numerous other “off limit” or “too small and highly-chokeable” items.

Chaos reigns well enough in my life that yesterday when we pulled away to head down to my late-grandmother’s farm to have Thanksgiving dinner with the family, I wasn’t fazed at all to drive around the block, discover my tire pressure of the front tire read 6 instead of 35 (ie, FLAT), park the car, transfer 3 children into my sister’s car, climb in and head on out.  I wasn’t struck by the commotion of 13 children (my brother has 8) bouncing around the small dining room/living room of the farmhouse, wielding light-sabers which occasionally injured innocent bystanders.  And I wasn’t (too) fazed by sitting in the back of the new John Deere Gator and bouncing around the brush as my brother provided rides for all the kids.  In fact, it just felt really good to be surrounded by family and to watch the kids chase each other, “capture” each other into “tickle jail,” and slam Draw Four cards down in heated games of Crazy Uno.  It was delightful to have my grandmother’s farm welcome us all again.

My two cousins spent the night with us afterwards and this morning it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring up the Christmas tree and start the festivities.  We balanced tree-arranging and some football playing, with Micah wrestling a cousin in the other room to get the ball and me defending the mantel knick-knacks (and fish!) from the on-coming missile.  The “babies” (we’ll eventually have to stop referring to the youngest two as “the babies”…someday) repeatedly approached the sparkling lights of the tree and timidly reached out hands to marvel at the brightness of bulbs before yielding to the expected reprimands of “Don’t TOUCH!”  Noah was the best, though – every time he walked into the living room today, he’d exclaim “oh my gosh,” or “that’s amazing,” or “we have an awesome tree.”  The chance to share in this joy and amazement and love of family is what makes the chaos worth it….the clutter worth it….the exhaustion worth it….

It’s what keeps my toes warm in mismatched slippers without a care.