This Christmas stood out for a lot of non-traditional reasons.
I was behind on everything due to multiple family disasters a hundred miles away that started in early November with my mother’s broken leg and went downhill from there. I wrote no newsletters (though I still may get them out in mid- to late-January beating my previous lateness record of Valentine’s Day quite a few years ago). I baked exactly two small batches of Christmas cookies before the kids came home, hung no garland, left the creche in the storage bin, looked for but never found the mistletoe ball.
When the kids came home for a few days over the holidays, they were the ones who hauled out the ornament boxes on Christmas Eve and made sure that something was hanging on the tree, and made merry while they rolled out and decorated the traditional butter cookies in truly demented ways. (Hint: you don’t find “bloody axes” in a Martha Stewart holiday guide.)
But Christmas day itself came and went with me solo on the tollway to Chicago and back, making a round of two hospitals and a nursing home to keep an eye on things on the only decent no-weather-hazards driving day in the week. I was not a happy camper.
I confess to feeling pretty “Grinchy” that morning as I pulled out of the driveway at eight in the morning. But then as I drove, the sunlight and the season and the fact that I’ve got kids that I absolutely adore started to get to me, and I felt a spasm of generosity twitch in my heart that up until then still felt two sizes too small. A half hour into my drive, I called my older son, who at the age of twenty-one was most definitely deep in slumber, and left him a voice mail. Hey it’s Christmas, honey, yes you can bring the cat home.
Simple words, but they masked a world of complexity. Mike had brought Meatball home to his student apartment from an animal shelter about eight months earlier, where the eight-year-old cat promptly became known for leaving his odorous “mark” on his master’s clothing. The problem seemed to be resolved by six months later, but I was still wary. There’s a sixteen pound male cat who already owns my house, and so I just drew a line in the sand at the plaintive requests to bring Meatball home for the holidays. I was thrilled to death that Mike had a cat, since I always think that life is far better with pets. But two adult male cats who are strangers in the same house? I could foresee only disaster…as well as a few “accidents.”
So Meatball got left home alone at the apartment with a big bowl of cat food and a big bowl of water while the rest of the family gathered and visited. And on Christmas Day, I wasn’t the only one on the road–my son would be driving eighty miles back to his apartment that day to check on his pet.
And so during my own Christmas drive, thinking of my son spending half his day traveling back and forth just to make sure Meatball was okay, I took a leap of faith and relented. And felt better all day for it, and ever since.
Yes, when the two cats got introduced, there was a lot of hissing, and growling, and counter-growling, and stalking and more growling. (And if you’ve never had a cat, surprise, they can GROWL!!) But in the end, after three days of togetherness, no blood was shed nor fur torn out, there were no “accidents,” Smokey– the evil-genius king of the castle–kept his place on the food chain, and Meatball proved himself to be a no-fuss houseguest with the mind of a simpleton, the peskiness of a two year old, and the voice of a canary. I know it sounds strange, but hearing him in the other room was like listening to a bird chirp. It was pretty damn funny!!
Christmas is now behind us, though I still have to box up and mail the presents for the daughter who didn’t make it home for the holidays. Not much to put away this time other than ornaments, since not much got put up in the first place. I’ll remember lots of things about it, though, the family disasters, the fire in the grate while the kids made the cookies, the wacky gift exchanges, the Christmas spent on the road. But for this year, the most lasting memory of Christmas 2008 will be of Meatball, the Christmas Cat.