On grumpy elf & ironing

December 9, 2013 in North America, Travelogue, United States

Christmas 2013

Perhaps the hardest thing about this friends and family tour through the midwestern United States is the pace.

Eighteen sets of loved ones hugged tight within the past three and a half weeks. A dozen more before the new year.

I love it, because every single person is precious to me. 

I hate it because there’s never enough time with any one of them.

No down time. That’s the thing that is hardest.

No time to sit quietly. To think. To savour the space between moments. I’m a person who needs that half breath of an empty universe that happens between heartbeats. If I don’t have it, I can’t think. If I can’t think, I can’t write. If I can’t write, I’m not sane for very long. Aside from my weekly commitments, I haven’t been writing.

I know I’m drowning when a simple trip to shop for dress shirts and ties for the men reduces me to grumpy-elf. The resale shops were fruitless. The road construction while we were away has completely reconfigured “normal.” I hate box stores of all sorts. Being forced into Walmart pushes me beyond my own moral boundaries.

Hannah was patient with me. She remembered to buy a peppermint patty for the frosty man ringing a bell in front of the store and thank him for his service. I griped about the parking lot reconfiguration and wondered if a better choice wouldn’t have been to let the boys go half dressed to the holiday function instead of lower my standards and purchase slave-made goods. Merry Christmas.

I returned to the sound of Grandma happily making cookies with a grandson she missed. Ez was pounding out a math lesson, breathing slowly through factoring polynomials. Gabriel was buzzing, long and low into the digiridoo, his cheeks puffed, his face a bit red, his ipod timer in his right hand, trying hard to stretch out the drone to a full thirty seconds like his Australian teacher instructed. I noticed Grandpa’s enormous goldfish freaking out in his tank, apparently the foreign noise is a new sensation on his lateral line. No one seemed to notice the morning’s stress but me.

It is the small things in life that center me: the tiny moments, the mundane tasks, the profoundly uninspiring details that tether me to the universe and keep me from spinning off into a black hole somewhere. 


The saving grace of four men’s shirts is their need to be ironed: heating the implement. Standing patiently by the board. Laying out a sleeve; paying attention to the seam beneath, stretching the line across the crease. Spritzing the water bottle quietly. Gentle pressure and the wrinkles disappear like magic. Deep breaths. Shift the fabric. Short strokes around the buttons.

I love the way the ghost of a man leaps, naked, from the scent of his shirt, dancing around my mind; a pleasant distraction from internal unsettledness. A reminder of what matters. I smiled at him as I flipped the shirt.

Soul wrinkles fading with stuffed-in-a-backpack creases.


Afternoon rest time for the children and a big cup of the Tim Horton’s hot chocolate that Muywa gave me for Christmas have restored my zen. Instead of annoyances and an assault on my senses, my focus on the moment, and what matters is returning: There are bubble lights percolating on the Christmas tree. Toys are scattered across the carpet, evidence of my boys rediscovering Grandma’s old favourites. Warm cookies are seductively beckoning from the oven. I’m snuggled in a great big man sweater (I will overlook that it’s emblazoned with the Indianapolis Colts logo). There is quiet. Blissful quiet. I have time to savour the memory of painting my grandmother’s fingernails last night, holding her frail hands in my own and willing her softness into my soul for all time. I have the presence of mind to appreciate the love gift of a friend bringing us coffee and tea in bed, crawling in for a giggle. I’m working to relish the aesthetic of the thick blanket of snow, if not the biting cold that grabs me by the nose when I open the door.

If I don’t write for a while, don’t worry. It just means that we’re too busy living and loving for me to have time to process and write.