This has been a crazy, insane, rough Advent for me. Two birthdays during Advent always make it a bit hectic, but add in finals week, a disappearing husband, an angry baby, and a shoestring budget…it’s just been a madhouse. I’ve been playing catch-up all Advent, always a week behind where I wanted to be, the tree up late, no Advent calendar or wreath, the house falling into disrepair, the children unbathed, the presents unwrapped, and so on, and so on.
The Ogre’s been steadily working at his dissertation since his grading was finished. Finally on Saturday night he came home until after Christmas. Out of sheer desperation, I called for the last Sunday in Advent to be a day of cleaning, so we could get the house somewhat into shape before the bevy of cooking today and presents tomorrow. We worked furiously all morning with plans to attend a 5 pm Mass in Naples and then stop by the grocery store for last-minute ingredients.
By 3 pm the kitchen and sitting room were clean, the floors mopped, the bathrooms scrubbed, and the rooms picked up and ready to be vacuumed. The Ogre said he would vacuum in the morning, so I laid out the kids’ clothes for Mass and hopped in the shower.
Ten minutes later, the Ogre came into the bathroom and pulled out two large towels. I asked him what spilled and he grimly said, “Charlotte threw up.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Noro virus has been going around Ave since the beginning of November, and since the beginning of November I have woken up every single morning and prayed, “God, please let no one throw up until after Christmas.” Every evening I have laid in bed and prayed, “Please, God, please please just let us not get the stomach flu until after Christmas.” I have washed hands obsessively, kept drinks separated, distributed probiotics religiously, and instructed the children daily not to put their hands in their mouths or noses (instruction they’ve studiously ignored, naturally). Our bout with the stomach flu last year left me terrified of it’s reappearance, especially combined with the added stress of a newborn. But by Friday, I was beginning to feel confident that we had avoided the threat. By Saturday, I had completely stopped worrying that someone would get sick. And then Sunday, Charlotte threw up. Several times.
I stood in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, and started crying. I felt completely broken. I felt like this was the last straw, that last, almost weightless circumstance that in itself is more than bearable, but that combined with everything else was just enough to break me. The Ogre said that he could understand me struggling with my faith over post-partum depression, but not over a stomach virus. It wasn’t just the stomach virus, though. It was everything. Everything, plus the prayer I prayed, every day and night, that we would be spared this just until after Christmas. And here we were, two days before Christmas, with the specter of stomach virus descending upon us like the Grim Reaper, not before Christmas but on Christmas. Like the most twisted and hideous of gifts that Jack the Pumpkin King could conjure up to destroy Christmas. Like God not only ignored my prayers but laughed out loud and said, “here you go, sucker.” Like he was out to get me, out to ruin absolutely everything in every way he could.
I got dressed and helped the Ogre clean up. I wouldn’t go to Mass, I announced petulantly, because what’s the point. Either God isn’t there or he hates me, and either way, I’m not going to give him one more second of my time and energy. The Ogre tried to get me to re-think it, but I wouldn’t. If this was the game God wanted to play, I was going to get him back for it, any way I could. I loaded Sienna and Liam into the car, leaving the Ogre with sleeping Lincoln and puking Charlotte, and wearily made the hour-long trek to Naples to gather the last few ingredients for Christmas dinner, a dinner that I was convinced none of us would be able to enjoy.
What’s the freaking point, I thought bitterly as I drove. Christmas is ruined. Everyone will be sick. The Ogre and I probably won’t even be able to get all the presents wrapped, but it’s not like the kids will even feel well enough to unwrap them. And even if I wanted to go to Mass, I can’t take children who are puking.
My thoughts kept turning there, like a skipping CD, ruined, ruined, ruined playing over and over, until I drove past the church we had been planning on going to. And like a perfect cliche, I felt this deep yearning to stop, to go in, to go to Mass in spite of it all. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to go to Mass that badly in my entire life. I pulled into the parking lot and circled for a while, knowing that I couldn’t go in. Even though Sienna and Liam and I weren’t sick, we might be soon, and I would be furious if someone else brought their possibly-ill children into Mass two days before Christmas. I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for anyone else. So we pulled out of the parking lot and went to the store and came home.
After the kids were in bed the Ogre and I sat on the couch and looked at each other. I said that Christmas would still be okay because we would be together, something I didn’t really believe but that I thought I should say. Then I went to bed, feeling sad about everything. About missing Mass last night, about missing the Christmas Vigil tonight. Christmas Vigil is our favorite service. The Ogre loves it. He even sings to the songs, especially Joy to the World, loud enough for the kids to hear and be delighted that Daddy is singing! Not this year, though. This year the Christmas clothes will hang unworn in the closets. The hymns will go unsung. And we’ll be at home, puking.
I woke up this morning and immediately shoved a trash can under Charlotte’s mouth. Miraculously, she threw up into it instead of onto the carpet. Then we cuddled up on the couch, her and Lincoln and I, and watched a Christmas movie. Sienna and Liam woke up an hour later and joined us. I had mentally scrapped all the plans for the day, so I did nothing. I just sat with the kids, watched them watching the movie, and enjoyed their smiles and laughter and endless questions. I made breakfast after a while and it occurred to me that since we weren’t going to Mass, I would have to think of a way to still make Christmas about Christ for my kids. I would have to think of a way to still make it special, and wonderful, in spite of illness and incomplete preparation and plans gone horribly awry.
As I was cooking eggs and thinking, I had been unconsciously humming In the Bleak Midwinter. Sienna came over, stood at my elbow and said, “wow, Mom, you’re in a good mood today.”
I laughed a little, but then I realized that I was, in fact, in a good mood. I was in the best mood that I had been in in weeks. I wasn’t stressed and rushing, frustrated over how much there was to do and how little of it I had done. I wasn’t snapping at the kids to pick up or be quiet or stop fighting. I wasn’t exasperated that Lincoln was crying again and wanting to be held instead of sleeping like I needed him to. For the first time in all of Advent, I was actually bringing a little Advent peace to our home.
I guess that’s the point of the stomach flu, in the end. To get me to stop ignoring my family in my quest to make everything perfect for them, and just be with them instead. Imperfectly, in the midst of chaos and vomit, with the dishes still in the sink and the floors unvacuumed and the presents unwrapped. It doesn’t mean that I like the fact that God’s answer to my fervent prayer was “no”, but I understand the reason for it. It is, after all, Christmas time, and this, like all things, is a gift.
Merry Christmas Eve, everyone.