We don’t do Christmas like normal people.
Even the Lifetime movies that attempt to portray the dysfunctional family in a humorous way never really seem to pinpoint exactly how, without fail, we get it wrong every year.
It’s hardest for me because I actually pay to come home and spend hours on an airplane to be right in the thick of it.
But it doesn’t matter how old I get, how many baked breads or cookies get thrown at one another or words get tossed or unsaid, I wouldn’t take a penny to change the way Christmas is at our house.
My sister calls it the Searle Syndrome.
So, coming home is not the relief from the drag on my current life in LA, but it’s just a pause in that chapter and a jump to another, scarier, unresolved plot line I just can’t wrap my head around, words around, emotions around.
I thought this year was filled with emotions I had never felt.
You know when you are a kid and you are screaming to scream, laughing to laugh, crying to cry? You discover - I have power! I can get what I want when I do this screaming thing. I can get food, love AND attention. Then, you discover there is more. Everything you see is new. Everything you feel is new. It’s intense. You fall. Hurt becomes a new feeling, sad and painful but new and interesting. You make a friend and that feels nice. You play and you feel what fun feels like. You fall in love and understand what love and desire feels like. You find things you like to do, painting, singing, running, counting numbers or reading books and you understand what passion feels like.
Feelings, when they are new, are scary and wonderful at the same time.
Why did I think that in my thirties, I would have felt all there was to feel?
I’m sure there are emotions I don’t even know are out there yet to feel. That’s scary.
My younger sister would be angry if she read this, because right now, she’s in denial.
Here’s the deal, we are all, at some point, going to have to deal with the loss of someone we love, to death.
I don’t want to face this now or ever but the truth is so close, it hurts in a way, I’ve never felt but am facing now whether I have to now or twenty years from now.
I hope that my dad has the strength to fight Cancer for the third time.
He had a lot of weight to lose the last time, to cushion and fight the battle when on chemo the first time.
This time, the chemo is a lot stronger and my dad is a quarter of the size he used to be.
He’s emaciated. He doesn’t eat or drink, because it’s painful to do so. He’s tossing food in the garbage, flushing it down the toilet and hiding it under the couch to keep it a secret from my mother.
My mother, desperately trying to help him, serves him and takes care of him.
She is all love. She is all the time.
She is not trained or responsible for keeping him strong and alive. But she tries, like no one I have ever seen.
My mom is my Oprah. She is Saint Elizabeth Seton tirelessly dedicated to her family and faith, convinced that God will show her the way according to the divine plan.
That is her yoga.
And even in the midst of the possibility of losing her life partner, she committed as she does yearly, to adopting a poor family in our city and providing them with food and Christmas gifts so that they can have a Christmas with Santa and joy and celebration.
This is my freekin’ mother.
Christmas eve was Dad’s first chemo treatment. There isn’t a lot of room in the center for all of us to go so my mother decided to go down with my dad. My youngest sister, Kathy went down with them as she had last minute business to take care of before the holiday.
My older sister, Karin and I, stayed at home. We didn’t want to, but we did. We made the best of it. We baked goods for our neighbors and ourselves, chatted and cleaned the place up for Christmas Eve dinner.
My mother was convinced they’d be back in time for her yearly three-course extravaganza and the drop off of toys and gifts to our adopted family.
Being that it was his first treatment and the beginning of a long holiday, there were very few people working. My dad wasn’t seen for an hour and had difficulty getting the proper hydration.
By the time my mom, sister and dad came home it was 5PM. We had missed most of Christmas Eve together. We had so much still to do.
My dad was incredibly weak and tired. It took everything out of him just to get up and go, get the treatment and come back.
Karin and I made everyone a little snack to tide them over.
Kathy and my mom wrapped the gifts for the family. Karin worked out in the basement.
I was alone with my dad. All I wanted was to have time with my dad over this break, but he slept so much and stared the rest of the time that it was impossible to connect.
I was baking a cake.
He was sitting in the chair off the kitchen. He started talking to me.
He told me to tell him what I needed for my new apartment, our new apartment, as he cosigned for it and he would take care of it.
How, I thought.
He was going to be out of work and my mother was going to have to work for the both of them, selling homes in this crazy uncertain economy.
I gratefully accepted his offer, knowing I wouldn’t actually do it when it came to the big move.
This is what he can do right now. He can’t do anything else. He knows I’m having a difficult time and he wants to help. It’s important that he knows I accept it. I know this.
He gets up and goes to the den to rest.
I get up to take the cake out of the oven.
I let it cool.
I start to frost it and realize I’m doing it all wrong.
How can you frost a cake wrong?
My mother and sister were in the other room and I just stood there with the sweetest frosting melting everywhere including my hands and I sobbed, the quietest, most fierce sobbing I have ever done.
I talked to my dad. He talked to me. We connected.
I had been home for half a week and hadn’t ‘talked’ to him. When I did, it was after four hours of chemo, when he had no strength left, after being micro managed and watched by mom for hours and now finally, for the two minutes he was left alone with me, he offered to help me. “Anything you need, Laur.”
Eventually, my mom and sister could hear me.
They came into the kitchen and saw me in hysterics. They saw the cake and thought I was laughing. I played it off and dried my tears.
The moment was gone and I had to let it go.
My sisters, mother and I packed the car and went off to drop the gifts at our adopted family home.
They lived on Union Avenue in New Rochelle.
I see it in everything.
The temperature had dipped tremendously and it was very icy.
We got to the address and realized it didn’t exist. The soup kitchen had given us the wrong address.
I called information on the cell phone and was given another address just up the block.
We piled out of the car, slipped and slid our way on the ice and knocked on the door. None of us could see over the bags and baskets in our arms. There was no answer.
They are at church, Karin said.
They are asleep, Kathy said.
My mother just started laughing, because it was cold and because we actually called the phone number and hung up to make sure they were still there.
Everyone was nervous to do anything and I noticed that the door was slightly ajar.
I opened it and noticed it was several apartment homes. The name of the family was not listed on any of the doors so I said; we gotta get out of here.
We turned around and slipped and slid back to the car.
I’m not quite sure how the rest of it went but Kathy started to lose her balance holding the biggest basket of them all. She took one hand and grabbed the top of the car on the passenger side, resting the basket on her chest. Her legs started to spread laterally.
My mom caught sight of this and started to laugh.
Kathy started to laugh and told us to stop laughing or she’d pee her pants.
This is a genetic problem the Searle’s have, laughing till we pee.
My mom crossed her legs, as Kathy’s legs got wider.
I can’t do the splits!!!!!!! Kathy said.
Karin and I just tried to open the doors as fast as we could and pile the presents into the trunk.
My mother exclaimed, I’m just going!! I’m just going!! As she proceeded to pee herself.
Kathy heard this as we all saw the stream of pee coming from between her legs onto the wet dark slush beneath her.
I ran over to get behind her and lost my footing.
My training has come in handy as I saved myself from eating it on the ice and falling into their pool of pee.
I grabbed underneath her arms and pulled her up.
Karin grabbed two towels out of the trunk so they could lay it down on the car seats.
What is my mom doing with towels in the car?
We packed ourselves into the car, crying with laughter.
How did I make it through without peeing? This was supposed to be my recent problem.
I called the number on the sheet and told the guy who answered that we were friends of the family that needed to drop off presents. He told us the address. Very trusting.
Karin, Kathy and I walked up to the tiny one room apartment where 6 people resided.
The grandmother, uncle and four kids came to the door. They saw the presents and jumped up and down.
I told them that Santa had come by and dropped off the presents for them by mistake.
The dad pressed his hands together and thanked us graciously.
The little kids, faces beaming with smiles and joy tore open the gifts immediately.
We got back into the car and told mom what happened.
Then it was quiet.
We gave Christmas to them.
They were so happy.
We were so happy.
My mom and sister were so wet.
How is it, that on Christmas Eve, a day of celebration, we could cry as much as we did and then laugh as much as we did in one day?
It’s like we’re all manic-depressive.
We came home. It was late.
There was not going to be any three-course meal.
The routines and traditions of Christmas past were going to have to be in the past.
We ordered Chinese food and ate till we had to lie down.
We told the story to dad and then we went over the story again and again with each other.
I don’t know if it’s one of those inside jokes or you had to be there kinds of things, but this Christmas Eve, this Christmas, was the best we’ve ever had.
We were connected, unified on Union Avenue in New Rochelle.
Unified in our family and in someone elses.
Yoga. It's in everything.