i found this essay browsing NPR’s “This I Believe” and had one of those moments when i thought “man, why didn’t I think of that?” family as a verb. to family.

we familied over the turn to the new year with friends (a, j1, j2) who now live nearby. before we moved to our new home/city/state in may, these friends were an 8-10 hour drive away through some dull country. now they’re 90 minutes up a major highway. we drove up on new year’s eve for a wintry dinner of risotto and wine, watched tv through the obligatory midnight hour (and oh, how my heart sank for poor dick clark), ate 12 grapes each, one to signify each month of 2008 (i wanted to be like the italians and shove as many grapes in my mouth as possible, but the family (a noun) opted for the more delicate spanish mode and i’m not one to make waves) and stayed through the new year’s celebratory meal of hoppin’ john, when we were joined by our other dear friend p and p’s new friend c.

given this wealth of food and friendship, we familied well. in fact, we familied better, and more happily, and with more verve and style and with less exhaustion and tension than i could ever dream of doing with any of my blood relatives. j1 laid a beautiful table featuring a crushed orange velvet tablecloth from denmark. a fed us with absolutely brilliant food, and put up with us while we all drank. we took a brisk walk in the bitter cold just as snow was starting to fall, and came home to warm with up french-press coffees. we stuffed our gullets with lovely homemade chocolates, a holiday gift to j1 from an old college friend. i learned that i really like c and now can genuinely hope that c and p will be happy together. i told p some things i wasn’t sure i could, i listened to j1 tell me about some problems she’s facing this coming term (that’s school, not pregnancy), i admired j2’s new thomas the tank jammies, i watched m toddle around and befriend befamily absolutely everyone with equal enthusiasm, and i listened to a & s talk about music and smoking and “taboo food” in northern england.

the group of us celebrating together is a subset of a larger group that vacations together usually once–sometimes twice–a year, and has done so for eleven years. we have long described ourselves as a family of choice, since many of us (especially the women) have major issues with our families of origin. but to family: to family by choice. i like that.

every holiday season i buy a few new ornaments — usually but not always during the massive sales that start december 26. but in december 2005 i paid full price (a whopping $5) for a capital letter “e,” which s and i hung together in earl’s memory.

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it didn’t occur to me this year until almost christmas day to go back to restoration hardware (so much for living green and shopping locally) to see if they had letters again. they did! and m and i picked out a nice capital letter “r.”

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instead of a tree — which was far more than i could wrap my arms around, what with falling needles and months of vacuuming and a very toddly toddler (made more so by the fluid in her ears, a special gift from her sinus infection) — we hung garland over the arch between our living room and dining room. we hung ornaments on the garland, and found that we even started to feel festive, not to mention relieved that the fragiles were out of reach of the grasping, smashing fingers of a 16-month old. we hung the r and the e first.

it turned out to be an ok christmas after all.

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can’t top tash’s craptastic but can offer this gem of a x-mas card, seen two nights ago at target when i actually thought for a brief moment  (ha!) that i might get around to sending out holiday cards this year:

front: picture of cute little girl holding letter to santa and a puppy.

text:

jackie finally got the puppy she wanted. thank goodness santa didn’t screw up this year and bring her a baby brother.

 oooh, thank goodness.

the sad thing is if i’m left alone i think this is kinda funny, in a pathetic sorta way. but that feeling is fleeting, and i just get stuck on jackie’s good fortune, which should not be confused with the probably not-so-good fortune of her parents. and the real joke, the joke the writer likely did not even intend, the joke about the ease and simplicity of babies appearing.

neuroses exhaustion hormones grief:

today a colleague, walking down a set of stairs with me, said: “i bet i know a little girl who is about bursting with excitement at your house!”

now, i could have said “well, actually, she’s only 16 months old and she doesn’t really get it.”

or i could have lied said “oooh, she is! we are all feeling so festive and are counting the days ’til santa arrives!”

but no.

i told her that we don’t have a tree up. (even one in a cage.) or lights. (ok, s *did* hang one strand around our front window, which is quite lovely and i’m glad to have it up, but it isn’t the same as really decorating.) we have not shopped. there are no wrapped gifts anywhere in our house. i told her we are really grateful that m is so young because she doesn’t really know how seriously we are dropping the [hyped-consumerism] ball.

and she said, bless her heart, “oh, but you’ll make it a good day for her. i know you will.”

and i said “well, not really. none of us are very happy. we’re not looking forward to this holiday at all.”

the truths of the matter are this:

m will love simply being home with us for days on end. and she will enjoy spending time with her grandparents and her baby cousin e and her favorite aunt and uncle in the whole world. and she’s getting some great gifts from them, and they’ll create a festive atmosphere complete with the excitement of ripping open packages and gorging on holiday food and staying up late.

and we are very grateful that they are here and will do those things, because we can’t.

i should be big and fat and round and waddling and tired and hemorrhoidal and preparing to birth a beautiful baby who is supposed to come to us in the cold winter months and stay with us — living, breathing, playing, crying, pooping, biting, smiling — for a long, long time. instead, i am trying (and failing) to find a christmas ornament in her memory. because i don’t feel like i can commemorate her with a stupid decoration, i don’t want to decorate at all.  i am trying (and failing) not to be so, so angry at all the healthy living babies people around me people are gushing about. because i am angry i am tense and my head hurts and my mouth is dry and i want to curl in a ball and sleep until 2009 and i am afraid to talk to people because they want to show off pictures of their children and grandchildren with santa and it’s all i can do to say to them “hey, idiot, remember me? the woman whose infant daughter just died?”

i want to hold and treasure m, and i do: i spend every waking moment with her holding her in my lap or cuddling her. and she is ecstatic about this. but i do not want to celebrate. not a goddamned thing.

thanksgiving 2005 — 9 months after earl died — i stayed home by myself and ate a pumpkin pie.

we usually give thanks with a large group of friends that all make an effort to see each other twice a year: once for a summer trip to the beach, and again for thanksgiving. these are the two most important events of my year. i love love love these people. but that year i couldn’t go.

a week before the big day a friend had mentioned that a certain, kinda-extra couple would be there. i like these people a lot, and i think my friend meant to cheer me by telling me they’d be spending thanksgiving with us. but…he said something (i can no longer remember exactly what) about them bringing their son, who was about 15 months old. and while even though i can’t remember what he said i remember perfectly clearly the thought i had after he said it: “don’t offer me a substitute baby!” whatever he had actually said, i had heard him say that even though my baby wouldn’t be there, this other baby would. i’m pretty sure he didn’t mean even to say that.

i didn’t break down until after i got off the phone. then i sank into the couch and wept.

i haven’t thought about that day for a while. it has been much easier and so much more pleasant to remember thanksgiving 2006, when 3-month-old mairin responded to the noise and chaos of the food-and-friend-filled weekend by nursing nonstop — straight through, even, our outing to see casino royale. she was the hit of the weekend. she made mothering look so easy.

but i’m thinking about that day now because tomorrow i’ll be eating turkey with a thoughtless woman who once referred to earl as “the miscarriage baby.”

i don’t want to see her.

i don’t want to have to talk to her.

i don’t want anybody to mention ruby in front of her.

i’ve been obsessing about this for two weeks, since i learned the very disappointing news that she’d be joining us. (i don’t usually feel this way toward people, but this woman is a very special case.) i’ve been imagining all the terrible things she might say to me, or in front of me, or within ear shot, and i’ve been trying to think of snappy comebacks. nada. everything i think of is just bitchy right back in return. and long-winded. i mean, if i’m going to be an evil bitch from hell, i should at least be a quick-witted evil bitch from hell.

gotta love the holidays.