Maria, Sherod and I went to a mall down the road from our home the first Christmas after we brought Maria home. This particular mall has some spectacular Christmas displays and it was a time of wonder in all of our lives, though the going had already started to get tough and I’d just gone out on leave from FedEx because I’d realized how much care our child needed. While we were wandering around the mall that day, we came by a little stand where someone was selling personalized Christmas ornaments along the lines of the one at the top of this post. Sherod chose one of a sled with a mom, dad and little kid and had the ornament personalized for us. It is as pedestrian and ordinary as they come, and I’ve always treasured it.
This past Saturday, Sherod and I headed to another mall, this time to buy a small hostess gift for Marsha and Cosby who will once again receive us at their home in Selma. As soon as we walked through the mall entrance, we saw a stand with the same kind of ornaments from all those years ago. The two of us wept.
Ms Maria is having a hard time of it again, especially at school and with us. Last Sunday when we had the hours-long standoff, she hurled all kinds of accusations our way. The one that was most pointed was, “You abandoned me. I’m just a kid and you put me with all those old people and I hate it there. I’m telling you, it’s a bad place there. You have to listen to me. It is a bad place and this is my home.” It was torture listening to her say these things with a mixture of fury, fear and sadness.
After losing the privilege of having us check her out and bring her home for visits, and even one sleepover a few weeks ago, she has withdrawn emotionally from us. When we come see her, what matters is whether or not we brought something for her to eat or a present. About 10 minutes of conversation and she looks at us and matter-of-factly says, “I’m ready for you to go now.” Our girl has run headlong into the reality of far more immediate consequences for bad choices and out of control behavior at BARC, she hates it and is pulling out all the stops to get herself back to where she is in charge and as hard as this is, I know it represents more hope and promise than anything has in a long time.
All that is clear to me and there is enormous relief and gratitude that Maria has a place to be where she stands a chance of learning some new ways of belonging in a family and in her community. But seeing that silly little booth of ornaments at the mall, even walking into Publix with all its commercial Christmas cheer, reminds me that the life I hoped for and knew as a mom has passed away. I can’t even fathom taking out Christmas this year, and jabbing at myself over and over again with this memory and that. I am going to rebuild Christmas for what life has become on this side of the line that got drawn on June 5th of this year, when Maria entered BARC
There is a vague blueprint for that new edifice. Today, Sherod and I leave for Selma and a very different kind of Thanksgiving than we’ve had before– including lots of time with my mother-in-law and Fox News (no comments, please. I am sure God is amused). I’ve also started a project. A couple of days before she died, my mom was still pretty imperious and she bade me go to my grandmother Rosa’s hope chest and bring out a knitting bag I remembered from my childhood. Inside were skeins and skeins of beautiful alpaca wool. My mom had started and never finished a complicated sweater for herself. Now she wanted me to have that fine wool.
I’ve unravelled what there was of a sweater pattern far too complicated and beyond my skill level to finish. I’m going to knit myself a cardigan instead. The wool feels glorious as I work with it. The colors are gorgeous. I am grateful for the rhythm and concreteness of knitting. I have finished this row. I must cast on 4 more stitches. Remember to start a new color on a knit row, not a purl row. When we drive through crazy holiday traffic today and Friday, I will be able to lose myself in my project rather than harp at my spouseman. When Fox News gets to me, I’ll count stitches. Literally, it is goodness I can put my hands on.
I have no idea what else this Christmas will hold. If I had it my way, I’d run away this year–not necessarily to anyplace exotic, but somewhere with no memories. Our jobs and our current financial realities make that impossible. So I’ll figure it out. And life will go on. Yesterday’s reading from the Gospel of Mark emphasized that the distress and horror of something ending is also birth pangs. I hold on to that and in those oh so British words, try to “keep calm and carry on”.