Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

M was home yesterday when I got some bad news, and he got the full force of my anger and frustration.  It wasn’t fair to take it out on him — he’s got enough on his mind at the moment — but he was there.

He was there because his company had sent him home with no hours.  Again.  It’s become a regular occurrence these past four months.  Every week like clockwork, when the pay-week comes to a close on Thursday, he gets up and gets ready, gets in his truck and heads out for work, and then they send him home with no hours.   Since the beginning of December, he’s had only three weeks of full-time hours, only three paycheques that really cover the bills.

My birthday is coming up in the next couple of weeks, and it’s a big one.  Apparently, Life Begins at this age.  M may be all manner of wonderful things, but he is not good at remembering me when it comes to  important occasions — I have not had a birthday or Christmas gift from him for three years running — so I have been reminding him of this impending event almost every other day since before the turn of the year, like a count down.  This is a Big Birthday, and I do not want to be forgotten this year.

I had emailed out my birthday wishlist to everyone who would likely find it useful but, knowing that M uses a computer about as often as a camel uses an umbrella, I have been coaching him separately for a long time.  More than anything, I want a Lendrum spinning wheel to replace the ancient, second-hand wheel that I have been using (and which has served me well) for the past 12 years.  But a shiny new Lendrum is nothing to be purchased lightly — it’s $622 — and so I’d hoped that maybe if everyone pitched in together, then what remained would be more within our grasp.

And just the day before, I’d made a furtive phone call to a local yarn shop to see if there were any places left on the knitting class they were offering this month with knitting guru Brandon Mably.  I had already taken this same class  six years ago — it was a treat to cheer myself up after I miscarried our first child — and I had enjoyed it so much out of it that when I saw that he was coming to the area, I immediately began to muse over taking the class again.   It was an expensive class, at least for me…  The amount left each month for spending money for me and the girls rarely tops $50 — and that includes everything: shoes, clothes, magazines, coffee — and this one class would blow that out of the water, but how often does one turn…  erm…  How often does Life Begin?  I felt guilty making the call to the yarn shop and I felt guilty at the thought of booking the class…  But there were spaces left!  And I wanted to take it — I really wanted to!  I decided  I’d wait a couple of days to be sure the idea settled right, and then — damn it! — I’d do it!

Yesterday morning I received a bill from the doctor’s office which treated my sprained ankle.  It wasn’t for much — almost exactly the co-pay amount — and so I assumed it was an error.  Somehow, the insurance company must not have realised I’d paid the co-pay on the day, so I picked up the phone to sort it out.  It was a beautiful day, sunny day and my husband was home — I’d get this out the way, it shouldn’t take long.

The lady on the phone sounded weary.  “That’s your deductible amount,” she explained, and then added, slowly and with a tinge of irritation, “You’re responsible for the deductible.”

“Oh, I know!” I said with deliberate cheerfulness, because the lady sounded like she needed it.  “I understand we pay the deductible but… I’m confused…  Before I went to the doctor’s, I spoke to a lady in your office who explained that my husband’s employer pays the first $1000 of the deductible.  Have we gone through a thousand dollars in two visits…?”

She tapped on her keyboard and then paused.  Then a deep breath.  “No, but I’m afraid whoever spoke to you got it wrong.  You’re responsible for the first thousand; your husband’s employer pays the second thousand.”


My stomach dropped instantly, and then my mind began tallying, very quickly: doctor’s visit, three x-rays, the airboot, follow-up visit, three more x-rays, the lace-up brace…   How much had we run up?

The lady was tallying too.  “We’ve negotiated a nice discount for you on that bill…”  I could see that they had indeed — they’d reduced the bill by 75%.  “And I can see that you’ll also be receiving a bill from a rehabilitation equipment company…”  Yes, that’d be the airboot.  She told me the amount, and I winced.  “And… let me see…  another bill from the doctor’s office…”  The follow-up appointment.  “And another… oh, from the equipment company again.”  That’d be the brace.  “Let me add that up for you, ” she offered helpfully, her irritation subsided now that she realised I wasn’t going to put up a fight.  The amount came to around $400.

Four hundred dollars…  for one moment of stupidity.  Four hundred dollars, after months and months of short weeks and short pay.  Four hundred dollars!  If I had known that, I never would have taken off the tape that was holding my ankle still and let them replace it with a brand-spanking new lace-up brace.  If I had known that, I would have paused at the offer of the airboot, and grabbed my mobile to ask my mother if her old airboot would fit my foot.  If I had known how much it would cost us, I honestly think I might not have gone to the doctor at all — certainly not to that follow-up appointment.  M had said it was only a sprain and it would heal on its own, and he was right.  I could have gotten by without the doctor.

The day had seemed to have suddenly lost all its sunniness…  I felt sick to my stomach (again! again!) and deflated.  My hoped-for birthday gift now sounded extortionate, and the thought of booking that Brandon Mably class seemed frivolous, if not downright irresponsible.  Spend money on my birthday like that?  Spend money?!? What fool thinks she’d get to spend money on a milestone birthday?!?

And with that, deflation turned to anger — real, seething, boiling, red-hot rage — and  so I yelled.  I yelled and I yelled and I yelled at this country, at this joke of a “system”, at the waste and the complication and the confusion and the callousness of it all.  I yelled at the lack of transparency, at the miscommunications, at M’s lack of hours, at his too-short paycheques when he works so hard, at the recession, and at the ludicrous idea that somehow this is all ok, that this is the American Way.  I yelled because, apparently, going to the doctor when I sprained my ankle was my birthday gift this year.

M thought I was yelling at him.  And he came up and held my hands and, with tears in his eyes, he said, “Your birthday will be alright.  We’ll make it alright.”  And then I felt terrible for all the yelling, and tears came to my eyes too.  Sod my stinkin’ birthday — what I’m really scared of is losing the house.

The door woke me when M left this morning: 6.11am.  That’s early, I thought, and then drifted heavily back to sleep, hopeful that it meant he had a busy day scheduled.  He was back home again just after 1pm, having worked three hours, and then hung around for another three in the hopes that some more work would come in, before he finally gave up and drove back home to us.


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“So, did you get through Christmas without much homesickness?” my mother asked cheerily as we drove back from the shops.  I hate how her perpetual optimism causes her to phrase questions with an innate assumption, so that half the time I am forced to counter rather than just answer.  It exhausts me, and it makes me appear argumentative when I am not.

She’d phrased it that way because she hadn’t seen any homesickness.  She’d seen her daughter and son-in-law and granddaughters thoroughly enjoying themselves  — and near to her for the holidays at long last.  There was no end to the merriment — gifts, food, family, more food, and then even more gifts — and, indeed, all the enjoyment she saw was real.  We had had a wonderful Christmas.

But what she didn’t see was real as well, and it was waves of homesickness that came over us both with such force that it took us — well, me at least — by surprise.  There is nothing like the holidays to make you miss whomever is not near; there is nothing like the holidays to make you look back, to grow nostalgic, sentimental; there is nothing like the holidays to make you cast your mind back to a year ago today, two years ago, ten years ago…   There is nothing like the holidays to make a father miss his children.  And he did.

It came to us both in its own way and at different times.  And so, amid all the merriment and the twinkling lights, one of us would suddenly appear in front of the other, eyes brimming with tears, and needing to be held.  Nothing was said — there is nothing to say… or do…  except to wait for it to pass, tears wiped away, bravery summoned again, and that dry spot left in the back of the throat.   It was different things for each of us — family missed, and friends who feel like family, sights and sounds we are used to at this time of year which simply aren’t there — but it left that same dull ache, regardless, and that same panicky need to do something — to fix it now, change it now, to do whatever it demanded just to placate it and make the hurt go away.

But there is nothing to be done, at least not at the moment — except to hold one another until the tears dry and feeling goes…  Maybe later, in a couple of years, there will be something that can be done.  Maybe.  But for now, there is only to ride this up and down, from twinkling lights to real despair, from food and family and merriment to grief…  all changed in an instant.

My mother’s question was still hanging in the air, and I didn’t know how to answer it.  I don’t want to lie to her, but I don’t want to share the pain either.  I sat quiet for a moment — a bit longer than I should have — before I  gathered myself and spoke.

“There has been…  an awful lot of homesickness.”  I took a breath, “More than I expected.”  There, that was all I wanted to say, and I hoped it was all she would ask of me.

Oh.”  …And then, to my relief, nothing more.

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I have to admit, I was a little worried about how the rest of Christmas would go — expectations were running incredibly high in certain key quarters — but it was wonderful.  Really and truly, it was festive, warm, relaxing, peaceful, and…  well, remarkably stress-free.  All in all, wonderful.

After starting their Christmas morning off properly with a nice restorative bath, the girls were allowed to go appropriately wild over the rocking horse before we trussed them up in their coats and bundled them off to church (which was just the right mix of festive and solemn and — oh joy! — the Mass was not lost amid the music) .  And then it was the opening of the rest of the presents under the tree, during which my daughters were amazingly well-behaved and actually shared their gifts with one another.  I was ready for grabbing and tantrums and sibling strife, and ended up instead sitting back in my chair and marveling at the scene of peaceful cooperation before me.

And then it was coats on again to go to Grandma and Grandad’s for dinner with the whole extended family — 16 of us in all.  I have to admit, I was nervous — I’m always a little bit wary of big gatherings but especially when I feel I have to perform somehow, and I did feel everyone would want me to gush on about how wonderful our first year in the States has been…  But they didn’t and the day was just plain enjoyable from one end to the other.  Everyone was in good humour, the food was delicious, I enjoyed being in the company of my family, and even successfully avoided getting stuck talking to the every-family-has-one boring uncle.  Bingo.

Naptime came and went, and I waited for a meltdown from one or the other, but it never came.  They stayed out of the living room and kitchen, they ate all their food — spilling nothing on their Christmas Day dresses —  and they had nothing but smiles for everyone all day.  When we finally got home around 9pm, we got them straight into bed and they fell asleep almost immediately.  It had been a long day for them — for all of us — but I couldn’t have been more pleased.

On Boxing Day, my parents and sister came to our house, bearing all the Christmas gifts that we had been meant to open at their house the day before but which we’d had to postpone when time ran short.  There were bags and bags of presents — Christmas is the kind of holiday that feeds my mother’s voracious streak of generosity, and the present-unwrapping took no less than two hours.  At the end of such a marathon-run of giving and receiving, even the adults begin to lose patience, but the girls…  well, the girls were good as gold again and I was stunned again.  Honestly, I don’t know what got into them those 48 hours, but it helped so much.

And one other thing that helped a lot: my sister loved the gift I made her.  I honestly didn’t know if she would.  I didn’t know if my sister — who makes it clear that she’d rather we all stuck to her Amazon wishlist, who has time and again forgotten not only to thank me for gifts but even to let me know she’s received them, and who often forgets to send gifts or cards herself — I didn’t know if she’d like it at all, or if she’d take one look and chuck a cursory “thanks” in my general direction, before setting it aside without even a backwards glance.

But she didn’t — she loved it!  I’d made her a set of fridge magnets, showing every place she’s lived, on a map written in one of the (four) languages she speaks.  As she looked down at them in utter confusion, trying to make out the distorted letters and slowly sound out the names, she suddenly realised what they were and let out such a whoop, and then rushed over to give me a great big hug.  It was a silly thing, really, in the whole scheme of things, but it meant the world to me.  And it made my Christmas entirely.

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We’re a little late…  and we’ve got no ornaments…  and I’ve not had a chance to bake (egg-free) gingerbread men or stars to hang on it yet…

But I think it looks pretty fab nonetheless!

After six weeks of feeling like we’re surrounded by boxes and only just moved in last week, it has instantly made the house feel warm and cosy.  There’s nothing like a Christmas tree!

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The first 4th of July holiday I have spent in the US in 15 years. The town we are living in put on a really good party in the park, with food and music and lots of stuff for kids, and even though we knew no-one and hung out with no-one in particular, it was just so nice to be surrounded by a whole community who were out celebrating the 4th right alongside me and totally understood what it was about and how it was supposed to be celebrated. Lots of red, white, and blue, and not a single barbecued breakfast sausage in sight!
  2. That when the inevitable rain came pouring down in great angry sheets, we were home for naptime, and then it kindly stopped in plenty of time to leave again for the fireworks.
  3. That the only panicked screaming that occurred today was when the first noisy group of fireworks went off and so thoroughly scared poor E1 that she was unable to draw breath for several moments and just stood shaking, with terror in her eyes and her mouth wide open, before finally breaking into great body-shaking sobs and all but climbing right up her daddy’s body into the safety of arms. And even though she eventually calmed down and was able to watch the display with a sort of guarded enjoyment, every time fireworks were mentioned after that, she still pointed out that they were very scary and made her cry ‘a little bit’.

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