Sigh. It feels to me like I write so much that I don’t hit “post” on these days. (I guess it feels that way because it’s true.) We have had a pretty good Christmas over here, though Joe’s idea (mostly charming, and mostly effective) that keeping busy and building new traditions will be an effective bandage for the grief we all feel this year, as we navigate our first Christmas without Tupper, my Mother and now Susan, almost backfired and took us all out. (Organizationally speaking, of course.)
We have had the gingerbread party and a ski trip with Luis and Frankie (and their parents) and we made the colossal mistake of having that trip end the 23rd, in the evening, which left just 24 hours before the big Christmas eve gathering at Joe’s sister’s, and left Joe and I alternately whizzing through shops and the kitchen all day, harried and frantic. We only had the food part (and some of the knitting part) waiting for us when we came though the door, but wildly underestimated how long it would take to put it together and culminated in Joe buying weird substitutes for things on my list and me contemplating what, exactly was wrong with ordering pizza anyway.
The answer of course is TRADITION, and you know that I think that traditions are important markers for a family, and part of the way you make home seem like home and make it so people feel like they belong, but I admit I did wish that way back in the 40s my grandparents had decided on something that wasn’t as much work as an elegant sit down dinner for everyone, or if there had to be a dinner, that they had settled on peanut-butter toast and sliced apples by candlelight.
It all came off in the end, and in many ways it was lovely, since we all had to work together to get it off the ground, and I do like that very much. The food was good, the company excellent, and everywhere we went and in (almost) every moment of our Christmas and the weeks leading up to it, there were so many moments I was able to find where I was grateful, and happy, and I only had to deal a little bit with the voice in my head that periodically whimpered like a toddler, and said things like “I want my mum” or “I want things back the way they were” or “I don’t want to do this without them.”
That voice though, I am able to recognize now, is an upgrade from last years voice. Last year’s voice of grief said “I can’t do this without her” and that turned out not to be true, and so I can see movement there – a change of a small and steady sort.
It all still feels very strange. My girls called my mum Grammy – and that’s what Elliot will call me – as soon as he can say it. Right now he very cleverly calls me Mama-mama, and though it is technically accurate and I can see how he got there, I hope it doesn’t stick. Meg’s doing her part to teach him, and so she calls me Grammy often now (instead of Mama, which we all blame for the conclusion he’s come to.) it is odd to hear that word spoken by my daughters when the person I think of as The Grammy is not here – and I struggle with feeling a bit like an imposter. My mum is so much to live up to. I know I’ll never be her, and I’m not even trying, but the role feels like a lot of pressure, especially at Christmas, when the Grammy is really the one who’s supposed to pull the whole thing together. (Also, my kitchen is a little small to be The Grammy, but I can’t really fix that.)
There were many wonderful gifts this year, but I want to tell you about one in particular. Since Mum died, we have had trouble holding our family together – being as connected as we were in the “before”. I don’t mean this little family, the one based out of this house, but the family one generation up. All my grandparents are gone, and now Tupp, and Susan, and Mum, and my siblings and I have been rather adrift, now that we are properly orphaned. It is a credit to my mum that we are all very different people, but it does mean that what is a comfort to me might mean nothing to my sister, what I like isn’t ever what my brother does, and my mum always, always was the bridge between us. We didn’t tell each other much, we told mum, and she disseminated the information, kept all of us in the loop, and helped us speak each other’s languages.
We haven’t learned how to do that for ourselves yet, though we all care about it, so that’s a start. I wasn’t going to talk much about this, feeling hurt and sorry that we haven’t figured it all out, and maybe a little embarrassed by it, but as i open up about this part of grief, I’m learning it’s more common than I thought, and if it happened to you, maybe it would help you to know that it’s what we’re working on here too. We really love each other a great deal, and I think that as we emerge from the deepest parts of this trip, we’ll get better at it. It will be easier for new traditions to take hold when we’re not so close to the loss of the old and special ones – when going to Erin’s house, or her coming here feels like just doing it, rather than not doing it at mums.
So, back to the gift. We were all handing out gifts on Christmas, exchanging with each other, lots of laughing and happiness, and Ian came to me with a paper bag and a big smile on his face. “Steph” he said, beaming away, “Almost the best present ever”, and he thrust the bag into my hands.
I opened it, and inside there was yarn, already wound, and a pair of sock needles, and a pattern. “Thanks Ian” I said, slightly befuddled, but I like yarn, so that’s cool.
“No” he said “It’s not really for you. I mean it is. I was going to make you socks.” Turns out that Ian had gone to a yarn shop, talked to the people there, been directed to the appropriate yarn, needles and a simple pattern, and had paid for it, and then addressed the one remaining problem, which in true McPhee fashion, felt like something he could fix easily. He can’t knit. Ian tried the internet, followed directions (sort of) and texted with Megan – pictures, diagrams (Meg said that most of the texts were actually about interpreting the pattern and why there were so many brackets on it.) In the end, it didn’t get off the ground. He thinks he might have cast on – but “things got funky.”
Ian was assured by the yarn store (and charmingly, also assured me) that the yarn is reusable, and you can redo it several times, without damaging it so… he wants me to teach him, and he’ll make me socks, and after the year we’ve had, I don’t have the heart to tell him.
It isn’t “almost” the best present ever. It’s there.
Merry Christmas. (Belatedly.)