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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
December 2017
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Senior Spectrum Publications

This 'n That
by Anne Vargas
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A cluster of candy canes December 2007: 

Anne Vargas
Anne Vargas

Too much stuff on the calendar resulted in no time to write an article this month so the wonderful editor of this publication suggested I recycle an older one. I chose this, written seven years ago. Essentially the same scenario has played out every year since then. The age range of the grandchildren is now 8-21 and last year we had all eight of them (and their parents) here. Hopefully, readers will enjoy reading or re-reading this.

“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house they came” or, in our case, to Mummi & Papa’s house. Two of our three children and six of our eight grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving this year, a rare and happy event for us. We see everyone often but as a geographically challenged family, we usually do the traveling and it’s been a long time since we’ve had so many of them under our roof.

Their arrival was preceded by a week of frenzied preparation. Since the ages of the children range from 13 years to 22 months, we went shopping for a portable crib, Sippy cups, books, toys, games, puzzles and videos.

Futons, booster seats and a high chair were borrowed and a bed for us provided by a friend up the street since there was no room for us at our inn. Breakables were put out of reach, cabinets were secured, anything that could be harmful hidden.

Ignoring a lot of advice to the contrary, I cleaned every corner of the house, ensuring everything was in perfect order. Visions of a storybook Norman Rockwell gathering danced in my head. Menus were carefully planned and shopped for, freshly baked cookies and hot soup ready when they walked through the door on Tuesday.

The chaos that immediately ensued was, well, chaotic. Hugs, happy hellos and a steady stream of soggy stuff making its way into the house and up the stairs. Coats and scarves and boots were strewn everywhere. As I tripped over suitcases I rapidly realized how out of practice I am in coping with confusion and I smiled ruefully as I thought of the futile hours spent putting everything in place. I really should have heeded that advice.

The age gap posed all sorts of unanticipated challenges; toddlers need naps and eat dinner early but older cousins don’t, which resulted in mealtime madness. Pancakes for breakfast delighted some while others preferred Cheerios and everyone needed a different kind of milk. A few had decided (recently) to live as vegans which meant even turkey was verboten but we were assured the side dishes on Thursday would be sufficient. Games that are fun for some are boring for others and videos that are exciting can be frightening to little ones. Frigid temperatures severely limited outdoor opportunities to work off all that energy although the sighting of fresh bear tracks in our yard created excitement for everyone.

The days were beyond busy; something was needed by someone every moment. Nights were short but appreciated as we crept gratefully out of the house and into bed in the quiet room up the street, savoring our brief isolation. We returned to the house very early every morning but the littlest ones were already up and waiting for us. The 3- year-old thought we slept in the garage since we always came in through that door.

The dishwasher and washing machine ran non-stop, the hand vacuum always close at hand. All the children, whatever the age, had a wonderful time racing up and down the stairs and all around the house and I reminded myself frequently (hourly?) that all of this was to be cherished, that pandemonium is a good thing, that the mess was not that important and that everything could be and would be put back together eventually. I willed myself to disregard the crayons in the carpet, sticky fingerprints everywhere and tried to laugh at the need for a plumber after toddlers plugged the toilet with tissue.

Just as I’d about given up on that peaceful, perfect Norman Rockwell image the turkey was ready. Thanksgiving dinner matched that image; it really was perfect. Everyone was at the table in their Sunday best, faces beaming in excitement, even the little ones taking turns telling what they were most thankful for. (We were thankful that everyone decided to eat the turkey after all.)

Friday was given over to putting up and decorating our too-big tree, a memory-making event we even managed to capture on camera. Since picture taking is seemingly not in our DNA (we have boxes of unsorted photos dating back to early marriage, affording ample opportunity to test our aging memories: “who is that?”) this was quite an achievement.

Saturday morning the California clan departed early, hoping to beat the storm in the Sierras (they didn’t), and the Washington family left by plane, all of which involved hurried and harried preparation. Suddenly we were surrounded by solitude and silence, the silence I had guiltily but occasionally thought of wistfully in the preceding days. As I gazed at the house, trying to decide where to start, I stopped to look at the tree. It didn’t look anything like Martha Stewart’s trees, it was much prettier. All along a bottom branch hung a cluster of candy canes, carefully placed there by the little ones to be within easy reach. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. Martha Stewart would be envious.

With a lump in my throat, I thought of words of wisdom from Judith Viorst: “Love what you've got while you've got it”.

Happy holidays.