One cold and snowy Monday evening in 1986, my mom laid herself down on the couch in our living room and gave birth, all by herself, to a real live super shiny pink baby. My dad was off somewhere and my other siblings were pretty much toddlers and were crawling around chewing on teething biscuits so they couldn’t help. Also, teething biscuits are very strange. They’re like tiny vanilla flavored pressed logs but I want to eat them because they’re just for babies. Is it just me?
Anyway, Joan, being eighteen months older than me, got to call 911 and I was only a little bit jealous. Ok, I was pretty green about that, but only for a little while because there was a lot going on. Well, actually I still wish I could’ve called 911 but I’m nearly over it. I DID help birth the baby, and by help I mean I mostly stayed in the other room to watch Queen Elizabeth have her own baby on a very dramatic made for television biopic. What are the odds that Queen Elizabeth had a baby at the same time and in the same house as my mom!? So funny. All I really remember about my mom giving birth in our living room was the utterly unnatural shine on that pink blob as my mom held it up to the light and made sure it was doing all the things newly minted humans are supposed to do.
My mom’s faithful friend Dawn Crowley came over because she was a nurse. The ambulance took a very long time to arrive and in the interim I helped Dawn wash some stuff off the couch cushions. And by helped, I mean I watched while she rinsed an alarming amount of what might have been blood down the tub drain. By the time anyone else stopped by, the baby was no longer shiny (thank God) and the couch was soggy, but blood free. My dad came home and we apprised him of the details of what happened as they loaded my mom into the ambulance to take her to the hospital (teachers had better insurance back then and so could ride to the hospital without thinking about their copay. I’m really thankful for my health insurance and still there’s no way in hell I would ride to the hospital in an ambulance in a non emergency while there’s a perfectly good spouse/car nearby. Once when I was in Costa Rica I got food poisoning and the doctor wanted me to ride in the ambulance to the next town and I said I can’t afford it and he looked at me oddly and said it was free and I said Oh! How novel).
So then the little blob turned into my sister Anne and my parents realized that we didn’t have enough bedrooms (we had three) for all these people (we had eight) and they decided to build an addition onto the house.
They decided on two more bedrooms, one more bathroom, and one odd-ish room that was sort of a library and a dance studio and a room to store dirty laundry and a spare bedroom. My sister Joan and I were to share one room and my oldest sister Rachel would take the other room. My parents asked us what amenities we would like in our new space. Joan asked for a ballet bar and a toe shoe friendly area because she was a budding danseuse, having starred in the yearly “Nutcracker” performance for several seasons. I asked for a deep set window that I could put pillows in and curl up like a bagel and read Farmer Boy one hundred more times. They also asked us what color we should paint our bedroom. Joan said lavender and I said camouflage. They said it was a difficult decision and after some long deliberation, they went with the ballerina bar with toe shoe friendly area and lavender. I wasn’t too cross about it. There was a lot going on. I’ve almost gotten over it. Joan quit ballet a year later. But no matter.
Handily enough, they did build a weird closet with a trap door on top that concealed a ventilation fan (to ventilate the dance studio? I’m not sure, I had never seen such a thing and haven’t seen one since either). I would climb up there and open the trap door and smoosh myself in with the fan and read my book. It was pretty quiet and nobody ever knew I was up there, so it was almost like a romantic reading nook with pillows except there were no pillows and I’d have to be careful not to let my mullet get caught in the fan blades.
During those years in our new (lavender) room, Joan and I had a tradition of listening to cassette tapes as we fell asleep. Our favorites were The Andy Williams Christmas Album and a sound recording of Miracle on 34th Street. We listened to them year round because we LOVED Christmas. It was the time of year when we were all together and merry and there were sparkling lights and lots of food and no school for two weeks and beautiful songs to be sung about snow and sleigh rides. It was romantic and Santa and reindeer were involved and life was sweet at Christmastime. I remember sneaking into my Grandparent’s bedroom one Christmas Eve while everyone was finishing up dinner. They had a wooden half moon Christmas light candelabra in their window and I sat on the floor looking out into the darkness through the rainbow bulbs letting Christmas feelings overcome me. It was such a pleasant feeling, I didn’t ever want it to end. And so we kept the thread alive through the nightly cassette tradition.
Joan and I still bond over Andy Williams Christmas songs and bubble lights (which my Grandmother always put on her tree) every season. I also still cry every time I watch Miracle on 34th street when the postmen (I’ll point out that they were all white postmen, lest you think I’m leaning too far into the nostalgia camp-though I will say the MO34THST was astonishingly female friendly for a movie made in 1947) start bringing in bags and bags of letters to Kris and dump them on the table in the courtroom. Though why they had to make that ginormous mess I can’t fathom. Surely they could’ve just set the bags down on the floor and Kris could’ve gotten to them just as easily. Now some underpaid cleaning staff will have to clean them up.
I still love Christmas like no other holiday. I start listening to Christmas songs a week before a Halloween. I start planning Christmas dinner the day after Thanksgiving. I lie on the floor in front of the glowing Christmas tree and think about that night in my Grandparent’s room, when everything was so quiet and dark except the ever shining fake candle Christmas lights. Christmas is a night of hope and redemption, when we can all be still and remember the past and think ahead to the future.
I’m not going to say that my sister Anne was like Jesus that snowy night when my mom had to give birth by herself in a house full of unhelpful animals and the wise Dawn Crowley brought gifts of medical expertise and cleaning the schmutz off the couch. And then the world opened up to a joyful time of expansive (reading nookless) rooms where the holiday celebrations were honored year round. I’ll just let you come to that on your own. But one thing I will say: this year, like all the years before it, I am settling in for a season of Andy Williams and quiet reflection and growth and hope for the future and remembering the past. Things, though they are complicated and sometimes heartbreaking and hard, are better than they’ve ever been and love is on the rise.