Sunday, January 3, 2010

The True Meaning of 'Home For Christmas'.

Twelve minutes before midnight, January 1, and I am draining my second massive Kahlua and coffee of the evening. This is not typical, mind you. At least it wasn't up until three weeks ago. Come to think of it, there's not much typical about a lot of things I have been doing since I arrived back stateside for the holidays. Until I actually got here, that is; then the atypical quickly assumed a veil of normalcy. Confused? Bear with me, I'm heating up another pot of water.
Twenty-hour journey and subsequent jet lag notwithstanding, I always look forward to coming home for the holidays. The predictable inveiglements apply, of course: Mom's cooking and Dad's SUV, occasionally half-decent radio and the opportunity to catch up with friends face-to-face. And the experience of having twenty-three family members simultaneously under one roof is an occasion that really shouldn't be missed, regardless of how you feel about them. As long as there's Kahlua, I mean. But these things are more or less superficial adornments to a subtler, more gratifying and much more sinister dynamic of substituting a normally sane lifestyle with the damn-the-cholesterol-torpedoes approach to anotheer Christmas season at home.
I got off to a responsible start, actually. My two-year-old son didn't take to the time warp too readily (he was gracious about it, even if he didn't understand why the hell everyone was eating dinner at 8am), but this meant he would drag my wife out of bed and down to the basement in the middle of the night to play with Grandma's impressive collection of third-generation Fisher-Price toys. This in turn led to long afternoon naps and early bedtimes which translated into time for me to work on a couple of writing projects. On top of this, I am nlessed with superhuman powers of concentration and I have been able to tune out Mom and Dad in the background watching CSI: Toledo.
But then came the road trip. Christmas was coming fast and my window of opportunity was closing. So I tossed my family into the car and head south to DC to drop in on my sister...then headed further south into the Shenandoah Valley and the seething teeth of a snowstorm to see a couple of friends who had a couple of kids while I wasn't looking. Headed home via the Jersey shore, another sister and a poorly-plowed I-295 and voila! I was back home again, itching to get back to Google's amusing Slovenian-to-English translation efforts. My mom was even clearing out for me, taking off for Pennsylvania and her husband's side of the family for a few days. But then my wife and boy made a horribly miraculous recovery from their jet lag, and before you could say 'No Yamato you can't have ice cream for breakfast don't touch that hey GET DOWN FROM THERE' my quiet time had disappeared, leaving me with these nagging notions of responsibility, of bearing the mantle, however thin, of the caring, infested-with-holiday-cheer father and husband. This is when I first cracked the Kahlua.
With a near-empty house, Christmas Eve was indeed a mighty calm affair. On Christmas Day we attended mass, the majority of the congregation showing up fashionably late then hauling ass out the door like the crowd at the Giants' last home game this season. I think I was the only one in the entire place wearing a tie. Best dressed in the church I was, with the possible exception of the priest. In the afternoon we accepted an invitation to celebrate Christmas with my oldest sister's husband's extended family, consisting mostly of gregarious Italians whose names I successfully forget with each new meeting. I draw fair consolation that most of them forget my name too. The day after Christmas mom and her husband returned, my sister from California was flying in the day after that, and my Japanese wife was full-on into the post-Christmas half-price-on-all-Christmas-merchandise fray at Target and Kohl's. Monday was taken up by a trip into New York City, and thereafter the rest of the family came pouring into mom's quiet home, making all sorts of noise and taking away any hope of getting any writing done, even if the computer wasn't overheating with the constant stream of facebook hounds. Long before mom began slicing up the cheese and lining up the crackers for our family New Year's Eve I had accepted the probability that I was not going to get any more writing done for a while. Thus my spiral into my present condition.
My alternate life, temporary but oh so thick.
I've watched more TV in the last week than in the previous six months, thanks to the generous helpings of criminal investigation dramas available, not to mention the return of my body to a couch that takes itself seriously (while simultaneously magnifying one of the glaring voids in my life overseas). I haven't touched a bicycle since December 9th. Last weekend my legs were aching, quite literally, from inactivity - and probably still would be if not for an afternoon of walking Times Square with thirteen pounds of little boy hanging on my arms and neck. The only running I've done lately was a sprint across the street to the Dunkin' Donuts two days ago.
I am hardly repentant.
Because this is what it means to come home. I'll be back in Japan soon enough, my life once again devoid of decent TV dramas and big couches and bottles of stuff to mix with coffee. I'll get back to my writing then.
At least until my son's jet lag goes away.
The kettle is whistling again. And my mom says she really doesn't care much for Kahlua.