Holidays are always hard, especially when you have an extended family that is more dysfunctional that functional, or even present. So, in general, I have these wide hopes for the holidays inspired by epic holiday movies, and things generally fall short. I try to adjust my expectations.
My son was about two and a half, my daughter around seven months. Instead of doing the whole turkey thing, I decided I’d make Chinese food instead. Homemade eggrolls, crab rangoons, meatballs in a hoisin sauce, rice, sweet and sour chicken. My in-laws were coming down from Canada and they’d already had their Thanksgiving, so it seemed fun. I spent a day sweating and rolling eggrolls and when we sat down to eat, I had the realization that it would’ve been so much better if we’d just ordered takeout. I craved turkey and mashed potatoes, not mediocre meatballs in a soy sauce dotted with sad slices of green onion.
That night, my son called out in his sleep and I ran to him. “Mommy I don’t…” I knew he was going to say ‘feel good’ but he started retching and I looked around in a panic but couldn’t find a trash, so I held out my hands. It was the moment I felt like a real mom, trying to catch my kid’s vomit. Then my daughter got sick, followed by my husband, and then his dad.
The house reeked of illness. I tended to everyone while my mother-in-law stood outside in the cold chain-smoking. “I am not going to get sick,” she said and I couldn’t tell if it was a promise or a mantra of black-magic using cigarette smoke to ward off the demons.
Two days later, everyone had recovered and we sat at the breakfast table. My father-in-law slowly ate a bowl of cereal as if it took great effort and looked at me and said in his thick French-Canadian accent: “Oh, Tanya. It was ze ring. Ze ring of fire.”
He wasn’t kidding. Because later that day I got sick. I felt like an exploding pin cushion. It was all kinds of horror movie.
My mother-in-law took over caring for the house and(still chain smoking) made her famous pot of spaghetti with a homemade sauce of spicy Italian sausage, red peppers, and onions. The smell permeated the house like a plague. I tried not to breathe, but it was either breathe or pass out.
The days passed, slowly trudging to Christmas.
With four adults and two children getting sick, our septic tank backed up and on Christmas eve, it broke entirely. I’d recovered enough to talk to the plumber in the basement and then my daughter, in her new crawling adventurous spirit, decided to follow all the adults and she tumbled down the stairs.
She was fine and we scooped her up and dusted her off, but the plumber looked at me (I’m pretty sure) like I was evil incarnate for leaving the door to the basement open. For the record, I didn’t. There were four other adults who trundled down the stairs after me.
I don’t remember much about that Christmas, but I do remember when the Thanksgiving/Christmas/NewYears mania was past us, I thanked the gods above and below. And I made a vow to never thwart tradition again. From here on out, Thanksgiving would always feature turkey, mashed potatoes, and a corn casserole that I would be the only one to eat. And maybe I’d start chain-smoking too. Just in case.
My mother-in-law never did get sick.