The Moment at Christmas… And The Moments Thereafter
written by: Etni Rose
The unique, unmatchable magic of Christmas morning. The children rise early. In hushed tones and giggles, they pitter-patter down the stairs, their eyes alight. The Christmas tree lights are warmly aglow, refracting their rays off the hanging ornaments in an array of colors.
The young ones sit before the tree whispering excitedly while studying the gifts wrapped with such love and care in diverse metallic and rustic Christmas colors.
The youngest toddler reaches out but the oldest quickly pulls the eager hand back, “No, no. You gotta’ wait for Daddy and Mommy”. The toddler is happy to acquiesce as the excitement of his siblings, combined with the glow of the tree and presents, is enough for his delight.
Mother can hear it all. In fact, she had woken to the sound of the first child upstairs, creeping out of bed. She smiled as little footsteps pattered about, awakening the others, then trying their best to be silent, as they tumbled and tiptoed down the stairs in slippered feet.
Mother, still smiling, dons her robe and slippers and exits her room. The children seeing her can no longer contain their excitement. Jumping up and down they begin to excitedly beg to open the presents, “Now? Now, can we?”
She puts a finger to her lips and gently shushes them. “Don’t wake the baby.” But that has hardly any effect. So, she reminds them, “We have to wait for Daddy.”
The children smile, knowing it will be soon, and continue dancing around the tree.
Father enters the room a few minutes later, greeted by the smell of percolating coffee. His wife meets him halfway to hand him his warm cup of their favorite morning beverage. They sit down, Father in his large, lounge chair, Mother curled up on the couch.
And then it is here. That beautiful moment, when the children hesitate as if unable to make up their minds as to which of the gifts to open first. This is the moment, this exact beautiful moment with her family all around her. Smiling. Happy. The Christmas creche aglow with warm light sits on the mantle overlooking the family. Below it, hang the stuffed red velvet stockings, each child’s name embroidered on them in beautiful gold letters. And the hearth, is now alight with crackling red flames, thanks to her husband’s ministrations. This moment makes everything melt away.
She forgets her fatigue from cooking Christmas Eve dinner for her family and extended family. She no longer thinks about the chaos of dressing the children in their finest for Midnight Mass, then bundling them off to Church, as she waved from the doorway, her baby in her arms. Then their return home in the darkest hours of the morning, trying to put the excited children to bed, and finally with her husband’s help, the wrapping of the last few presents and placing them under the tree.
Back in the here and now the children quickly remove the wrapping paper from the first present. The excitement, the sharing with each other what they received, holding it aloft above their heads to show their parents.
And then, a few moments later…
The noise escalates. A cacophony of alarms and lights are screaming out from the toys. The children are ripping the paper off in exciting movements, giving the new toy or clothing item a glance over, then tossing it aside as a sibling shoves the next one into their arms. Mother sighs, as the mess of toys, wrapping paper, cardboard and plastic bindings begin to scatter and grow taller, wider.
Suddenly there’s a screech as Johnny takes little Tommy’s remote-control car, the car Tommy had discarded seconds after unwrapping it. Johnny holds it aloft while Tommy jumps up and down to reach for it all the while hitting his older brother, demanding the return of a toy that is suddenly his “favwit”. Johnny ignores him, and simply pushes his little brother onto his diapered bottom.
Father’s stern, deep, commanding voice, “Johnny, give it back to Tommy” Johnny turns and studies his father for a second, trying to gauge the tone, to decipher in this situation if he really must. Father, a coffee mug midway to his mouth, freezes for a second, his stare intensifying. Suddenly the remote-control car is no longer important to Johnny, and he hands it over to the still sobbing Tommy. The toy suddenly forgotten by both; they attend to their pile of unwrapped presents.
Mother sighs but still smiling, she slowly unfolds herself from the couch and makes her way to the kitchen to cook Christmas breakfast.
She can now hear the children pleading with their father. So many of their gifts need batteries and assembling, they plead. They simply can’t enjoy their new toys if he doesn’t help. Her husband is soon rifling through “his drawer” and pulls from the mess a small assortment of screwdrivers.
Brows lowered in complete concentration, he starts to assemble the doll house with its automatic doors and elevators. After a few minutes, there is a mumbled word of exasperation. Low enough for the children not to hear, but mother, by the stove monitoring bacon, eggs, and pancakes, turns to him and raises an eyebrow.
He doesn’t notice, as the plastic piece he is now trying to pry with his fingernail keeps him fully engaged. Suddenly the piece clips harshly back into its original place, slamming his finger down with it. He hisses another indecipherable word and quickly glances towards Mother, who stands, spatula in one hand, her arm on her hip, her eyebrow still raised. Father scowls and bends back over his task.
Halfway through the assembly, Elma, leans against her father’s forearm, constricting his movement. Tammy leans over his shoulder, her morning breath hard against his ear and cheek. Veronica, the oldest is jumping up and down immediately behind him, waving her hands.
“Hon” her husband calls out “where are the triple A’s”?
Mother glances back over her shoulder “I had you buy them two nights ago, when you went to grab the milk. It was just a small shopping list, remember? It is probably in the blue Stop n’ Shop bag you left on the top rack in the laundry room.”
Her husband stares at her back. He did not buy the triple A’s. The said blue Stop n’ Shop bag currently contains whoppers and a last-minute gift for his wife he forgot to wrap.
It is her husband’s silence that answers her. With a knowing look of disapproval, she returns his gaze.
Scowling at the doll house, he tells the kids today they can’t use the buttons for the elevator, but just play with the house anyway. A moan of disappointed “Daddy” was raised from all three. Father stands and moves on to the next assembly. A bike. He had put plenty of these together with no problem, but this morning, while adjusting the chain it gives way, grease and oil slicking over his fingers and calf. The chain was one link too big. He would be dealing with this chain all day long, he realized. The children will be towing it back to him after every ride.
This he did not mention to his wife. All she would say is “I told you not to buy from Save-A-Buck.” He drops his head against the leathered bike seat.
It was at that moment the inevitable crash resounded. A deafening silence fills the room. Everyone looks toward Johnny. Johnny looks back, his face full of guilt, fright and a poor attempt at wide-eyed innocence. It is, or was, Mother’s favorite painting. The frame cracked, the glass shattered, the canvas marred. Mother doesn’t say a word, simply points to the door tight-lipped, and Johnny, head down, pogo stick dragging behind him, makes his way outside, to his personal island of exile.
“Babe” Mother says, “can you sweep that up before one of the kids steps on the glass?”
Her husband points at the line of toys waiting for assembly, his face disbelieving that she would ask him to perform another task.
“Your bacon is burning.” Mother says.
Father stands up to get the broom.
On his way back from the laundry room, the room still containing the blue Stop n’ Shop bag, he steps on a Lego. Jumping up on one foot, he nearly trips over little Tommy’s remote car. With another muffled, but louder exclamation, he throws the broom down. “That’s it. You kids clean up your toys and get out of here now or whatever is left behind is going in the trash.”
His wife sighs loudly.
The children know this tone. No argument. They quickly scramble to save their new belongings and flee to the four corners of the house. Tommy doesn’t. Thumb in mouth, still in his onesie, he shuffles towards the closed front door, and reaching up on his tiptoes, fumbles with the knob for a few minutes, then steps outside, carefully closing the door behind him. He now prefers Johnny’s company.
“You know, Babe,” Mother says to her husband’s back, bent over, sweeping up the glass shards, “I told you to start assembling a week ago. We go through this every year”.
He turns sharply, his back ramrod straight, and stares at her. She shrugs and turns back to the now nearly-cooked breakfast.
Story writing has been my escape, my reprieve. Books were always my "best friends" and I hope that any piece of literature written well enough to be published will be all of the above for another. Lover of books, horse riding, dancing and writing.