Sunday, November 9, 2008

All I Want for Christmas - Jennifer D. Bokal

Celtic Heart
A Writers Vineyard Holiday Treat

A few hours later the entire family sat amiably around the dining room table eating spaghetti and meatballs. The tangy scent of my homemade tomato sauce mixed with the fresh, woodsy smell of pine wafting in from the Christmas tree. The low murmur of conversation could be heard over the clinking of forks on china. Maybe this Christmas will be fine after all.

Rachel sat next to Jake, a dangerous move. She was cutting pasta into miniscule pieces and placing them on the highchair tray in frontof Seth.

“More?” asked Rachel as she tapped the tips of her fingers together.

Seth dutifully imitated his mother and tapped the tips of his pudgy fingers together, giving his mother the baby sign language for “more.”

“Oh wook at Mommy’s smart widdle man,” crooned Rachel while she spooned a teensy bit of pasta on the tray.

Jake opened his mouth to say something, changing his mind when he saw my “Don’t You Dare!” look.

Ever watchful, Rachel saw Jake and decided to press her advantage. “See, Jake, by using sign language Seth and I can communicate even though he is not verbal yet. He can tell me when he is still hungry and when he is finished.”

“You know, Rachel,” said my husband in an irritated tone, “before our kids could talk they let us know when they were finished by not eating anymore.”

“Well, Seth can communicate more than that,” said Rachel, exasperated. “Being able to use baby sign language is a sign of superior intellect.”

“Really?” asked Jake pointing to Seth. “What does it mean when he sticks pasta up his nose? I’ve got a full scholarship to Harvard? And what’s with the cutesy baby talk? I thought that—”

Rachel let out a shriek and began explaining to Seth the error of his ways. “No nose, Seth. Eat. Yummy. Dinner.” Rachel’s hands were flying around her head while she made all sorts of gestures.

I knew she was trying to explain to Seth that pasta was for his mouth not his nose, but she looked like Joe Torre, manager for the Yankees, telling his base runner to steal second. I had to bite my lip to keep myself from laughing out loud.

With that, the easy atmosphere was broken. Jake’s dad cleared his throat and asked, “What is Santa going to bring you girls for Christmas?”

Riley, our five year-old, could not contain her excitement. She bounced out of her seat, brown pigtails flying behind her, and called over her shoulder as she ran to her room, “I’ve got a list Grandpa, and I will show it to you!”

“List! List! List!” cried Emma as she threw handfuls of spaghetti into the air.

Pitter-patter, Frenchy-the-rotten-dog came running into the dining room and snaffled up the spaghetti as soon as it landed. Yuck. Dog spit on my floor seemed to bother no one else. Great. Just great.

“Well, Kirby,” asked her grandfather, “what is Santa going to bring you?”

She let out a long sigh. “There is no Santa, Grandpa,” she answered with her best eight going on eighteen tone.

Unfazed, Frank continued, “Yes there is. In fact, he is a good friend of mine.”

Kirby rolled her eyes, “Grandpa, even you can’t be so stupid to think there really is a Santa.”

“Kirby!” I scolded. “You never call your Grandfather stupid!”

“Why not? You do all the time.” Kirby retorted, pushing pasta around her plate.

The silence that followed was deafening. I opened and closed my mouth several times, looking more like a bass than a mature woman.

Looking at my husband across the table, I knew I was defeated. Jake was not about to help. His face had turned beet red and tears were running out of the corners of his eyes. I could not believe him! He was laughing! At Me!

The thumping of feet on the wooden floor announced Riley’s return a second before she came through the door. “Here it is! Here it is!” she cried while waving several sheets of paper in the air. “Here, Grandpa, look at my list!” She made her way into her grandfather’s lap.

“Well, lookey here,” said Frank while taking reading glasses out of his shirt pocket. “This is quite a list. Let me look, how many pages is this list, sweetie? Four? Five?”

“It’s six pages Grandpa. I wrote them all out by myself too!” said Riley, proud of her newest accomplishment.

“Girls, take Grandpa and Grandma up to your room and show them Lassie,” I suggested.

“Oh, Lassie? Your mom finally got you a puppy?” Trudy asked.

“No,” said Kirby sullenly, “Lassie is a hamster.”

Riley lead the parade upstairs while Trudy shot a tut-tut look over her shoulder as if to say “These poor children have to name a hamster Lassie.” I fought the urge to stick my tongue out at the woman.

Jake disappeared to check on his latest project at the university, leaving Rachel and I time to chat.

“So,” Rachel teased while bringing a forkful of brownie to her mouth, “you bought your kids a vermin and called it a pet.”

“Kirby came home from school about three weeks ago and told me she was the only child in her class without a pet,” I said, filling the sink with hot, soapy water.

“Kirby has a flair for the dramatic,” Rachel noted.

“Yeah,” I sighed. “But, the sad thing is, she really was the only kid in the second grade that didn’t have a pet. So, I caved. Lassie stays in her cage. She’s a little yucky, but we have to sacrifice for the ones we love. Right?”

“I couldn’t agree more. I feel like all I ever do is sacrifice,” Rachel grumbled.

“Speaking of a flair for the dramatic,” I said, hoping humor would derail Rachel and keep her from going into all the details about how badly she thinks her husband treats her.

“I can’t believe Greg wouldn’t drive up here with me,” she whined, twirling a piece of chestnut hair the same color as mine around her finger. “Still, it wasn’t a complete waste. I was able to play Mozart all the way to aid Seth’s cognitive development.”

I tried to make a sympathetic grunting noise while I put the dirty pot in the sink. Grabbing a sponge and scrubbing gave me something to do other than telling Rachel how crazy I thought she was acting.

Helping herself to another brownie, Rachel continued, “You know, Greg really should be more interested in what is going on at home. All he ever does is work, work, work. He leaves the house at seven in the morning and doesn’t get home until after dark. I feel so alone and isolated.”

I examined the clean pot then decided to throw caution to the wind and give Rachel some sisterly advice, “Try being nicer to Greg when he is home. He might be gone a lot because you are so critical.”

“I am not critical!” she practically yelled, her blue eyes flashing. “Greg is a rat bastard who doesn’t want to take care of his family.”

Emma started to bang the lid of a pan on the kitchen floor in time with her chant, “Rhat Basturd, Rhat Basturd, Rhat Basturd.”

“Slick, Rachel,” I said.

For once in my sister’s life, she was speechless. Red faced, she grabbed Seth and mumbled something about going to bed.

This has been an excerpt from All I Want For Christmas
Jennifer and her husband live in Upstate New York, with their three beautiful daughters, a dog, several unnamed fish and two cats (who are kind enough to let the people stay and care for them). Aside from writing and reading, she enjoys yoga, skiing, jazz and tap dancing and the occasional full night of sleep.
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