This has been a strange Christmas.
A Christmas of firsts.
In honor of the first strange Christmas here is a website with awesome (and sometimes blasphemous) nativity scenes. Here's my favorite...
And the one that most made me go... "Wha...?"
And for my strange Christmas of firsts, this was my first Christmas away from my family. Yep, my first Christmas not in St. Jo Mo with Mike & Carol in 33 years. Whoa. Santa's been down that chimney a lot of years, but this year, the tracking sheets arrived with *Emergency! Re-Route! * Papers all over them.
Why am I not in St. Jo Mo you ask? Where have all the slightly sad, tongue in cheek posts about life in Missouri and Christmas at the Pittman household been? (Exhibit A... Exhibit B...)
They were traded for a trip or two to the hospital.
Because of frequent (three this year) bouts of tonsillitis and my new career of performing (I was only without throat ailments in one of the three shows I did this year), my doctor decided that 20 years of tonsillitis was enough and we scheduled a tonsillectomy. Unfortunately, this is not an easy surgery for adults. Apparently 33 years old is like 97 in tonsillectomy years.
So despite the fact that my surgery was the 15th and the nurse said I could still go home for Christmas since home was near a hospital, I did not get to go home this year because for my first major surgery, there was a major complication.
Of course there was.
My sister, an ENT surgeon herself, aptly noted (after the fact) that because of she is a doctor, there was bound to be a complication. It's Murphy's law. So while Murphy was clearing his throat, I started bleeding from mine. I threw up a blood clot the size of a golf ball if you want the gory details. So skipping the ER, I went straight back into surgery where they sutured me up. Awesome and horrible. All wrapped into one.
They said this didn't really delay my recovery, but losing that much blood after already losing about 10 pounds on a liquid diet, and I felt like I was back at square one. No talking. Major pain meds. Mucho sleeping.
And no singing.
For the first Christmas (ever probably), I didn't sing. Not one note. For the last, probably 15 years, I've gone caroling, been in Christmas choirs, sung at Christmas parties or at somebody's church for Christmas. Usually Wyatt Park's Christmas Eve service. But not this year. Not even a carol from the choir or the pew. This little strange bird was silent.
Did I mention this was my first Christmas away from home?
I know, I am such a baby.
But thanks to modern technology this was my first Skype Christmas as well. Christmas Eve we opened our one gift as usual, and as usual, Amy, Emily & I got jammies. With fuzzy sweaters. Nice!
We arranged a time (12 noon since mom had church this morning) when we would open presents Christmas "morning." I was to be at dinner with a family here in Austin at 2pm so we thought that would suffice. As always, mother delayed us with work in the kitchen which I unfortunately would not reap the benefits of this year. But we soon got started with stockings. I got tights and make-up for my theater kit and jewelry. Amy & Emily got Mary Kay, Sephora and jewelry.
Then we moved on to Santa gifts I got skinny jeans (to wear with boots - don't confuse me with those oh-so-hip-hipsters) and 2 adjustable window screens, and hair hot rollers (also for my theater kit). And we had drawn names to ease the burden on the three girls (none of whom make very much money) and added in Grandma this year. I had Dad and had worked hard on a frames of six pictures from my father (and mother's) production of Stop the World I Want To Get Off back in the 60s at William Jewell and my production at Austin Playhouse earlier this year. Unfortunately, communication lines had gotten crossed and my package had been addressed to mom and when she opened it I burst into tears because the one thing I was supposed to do this Christmas (since I didn't get to go home or sing at church or do any of the other Christmas favorites) got fouled up (and let's face it, I was emotional anyway). So I started crying.
My sister's boyfriend Jesse saw me crying on the computer first, but I could tell he didn't know what to say and eventually the rest of them caught on and then the round of apologies began and the "I like it's" started, etc. etc.
I eventually got over it.
But then 2 o'clock hit and though we weren't quite done, we finished quickly and said our good-byes. I wore my comfiest outfit ever (some people eat comfort food, I wear comfort clothing) complete with arm warmers, a jingle bell ring, my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas tee-shirt and a fuzzy hat. My sister said I looked ridiculous. I prefer precious.
So I headed off to lunch where I ate my first Christmas meal free of meat. This year I decided to be a full out vegetarian. No more being polite and eating meat at dinner parties or at Holiday feasts. It's been about 10 or 11 months now. Thanksgiving was my first major holiday meal and I made it through! But this was my first Christmas meal sans meat!
Truthfully, I cheated a little.
I figure the gravy was probably made from meat, but since I'm a full-fledged vegetarian now and I can only eat soft foods, my choices were really limited. So I filled up on mashed potatoes and gravy, cooked veggies and a soft croissant. Yumilicious. Food. Is. So. Good. And it had been So. Long. My pants were falling off me I'd lost so much weight. And then dessert: coconut cake, moist and amazing. The jeans are fitting a little better now :)
It was strange being with other families: visiting their homes, eating their meals, listening to their stories. While we may have visitors to our home every Christmas (who hasn't made the trek to St. Jo Mo for some holiday or another, really?), I rarely am the visitor, the outsider, the guest. And that was different... to be welcomed rather than to be the one with open arms. I admit. I liked it. I thought it would make me sad, but it made me feel special to be invited into someone else's sacred tradition.
I drove around the city I live in from friend's house to friend's house and it was weird. A day that is so special because it is the one day every year that my entire family is together: all five of us, but I was in Austin, in my place of ritual. So it was strange looking at the city through the lens of the Christmas lights.
And one thing I see in Austin every day, I never see in St. Joe. Or at least, never on Christmas.
A homeless man.
Standing on the side of the highway with his cardboard sign, his backpack, and his dog. Because I worked in a downtown church for 5 years and interacted with homeless people on a daily basis, because I know Austin's statistics on people who beg for money on the sides of roads versus people in shelters and agencies, I never give money to the people I pass in my car. If they approach me, I explain that I donate money to Caritas or Salvation Army or the Trinity Center if they'd like to seek food or shelter there, they can. But today when I saw the man with his dog, I grabbed all the coins from the tray in my car and rolled down my window. Because for heaven's sake, it's Christmas. And as far away as I felt from home this day, at least I have a home of my own and a home for my family and I can't imagine Christmas without one. Since today was my first day driving in 10 days and I have no real food in my house, there were no bottles of water in my car or pb&j sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. I had nothing to give him but those coins, but hopefully that was enough.
It was a Christmas of firsts. Firsts from and firsts for. And strangely enough, I survived. And I may have even liked it.
So Merry Christmas. From Austin... a first.