Snow on Snow

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.

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  • Bonnie

    The flu made its way through our home, too. Fortunately it was 24 hours for each of the 3 of us who got it. Prayers for a quick recovery for you guys, too!

  • Lena

    It seems everyone I know in real life or in blogger land has a little something of a sickness. I myself have a cold and a bitty fever. I may wrap gifts tonight or I may sleep on the couch in front of the t.v. Let’s just call it The Restful Christmas because everyone seems to be too tired and sick to do anything.
    Hopefully there will be no more throw-up and way less Angry Baby.

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  • pagansister

    Merry Christmas, Calah to you and your beautiful family. :o)

  • Theresa

    Good for you. I know it isn’t how you expected and hoped Christmas would turn out, but I’m glad you were open to seeing God’s grace. Hope the babies (and you and “the Ogre”) get/stay well (soon). Merry Christmas.

  • Corita

    This year I am so grateful for the peace that has come, surprisingly, from the tentativeness of a family together after four months of separation. No way could this be “ideal” in any surface sense; all notions of “perfect” would bring destructiveness into these attempts at love. What a shocking reality!

    Merry Christmas, Calah.

  • Jennifer Fritz

    I and several of my children were unable to make it to Mass either . We had the stomach flu weeks ago and now its an upper respiratory something. No fun being sick on Christmas. Despite all that I made tons of cookies this year but would feel awful giving them out, I feel they are contaminated. Ugh…
    Hope you guys get better soon.

  • Cordelia

    Merry Christmas to you, too, Calah! And your family. I love your blog…

    And I love this post; it helped me make a little sense of my own Christmas. Helped me recognize why sometimes I’m a happier mama during “emergencies” than I am during “normal life” times. Our family had the stomach flu last year; this year we have the nose-and-chest flu. I spent all day Christmas Eve cooking anyway, for the in-law’s family gathering today – only to discover this morning that everybody else made food, too, and way too much, and all my work yesterday was completely, utterly unnecessary. Not bad like cleaning up barf – been there, done that – but I’m all tired out now at 8pm from too much semi-forced cheeriness & bonhomie and just wishing for a REAL “holiday”. But I love your blog (did I say that already?) and so I do my venting here… It’s all gonna be okay; I just need some sleep and time off my feet.

    God bless you, my dear!

  • jen

    That’s one of my favorite carols.

    Daniel had a febrile seizure on the 19th and a high fever until the 21st. I missed Christmas morning worship because he and one of the cats were asleep on my lap. So yes, I feel for you.

    • calahalexander

      Noooo, febrile seizures are the worst! Poor little guy. I’m so sorry. Everyone’s had a lame, sick Christmas this year. I think it’s because of the Year of Faith. (No kidding, I am pretty much blaming everything bad that happens anymore on that thing. It was like painting a huge red target on us. Thanks a lot, Papa B.) (50 people probably just unfollowed my blog after reading that comment.)