The post-Christmas hangover — rubbing your forehead, wondering what the heck you were thinking, gazing at the rubble around you. Regrets abound, but hope bubbles up from your still-full stomach cavity. Time to sit still and figure out if it was all worth it, in the end.
A hangover, but not from any alcohol. This hangover is from the season itself, the day after the big event. The pounding headache from your new after-holiday world.
For some families, the headache comes from the awful sight of new toys jammed into the corners of an already cluttered house. For some, the pounding is the result of whining that what was received was not what was wanted (call this the “board games are stupid! I want DS!” phenomenon). For other parents, it’s the obvious shrinking of our pants, clearly from a hot water cycle in the laundry, a strange coincidence just as the last of the candy and cookies are consumed. For still others, it’s the distant memory of a few hours of peace when our now sugar-saturated children were at school for a few hours every day, not racing around the house on an icy day as they are today. All of us have traditional harbingers of the season’s close, and, boy, do they hurt.
For me, I know that the holidays have come and gone in just one sound: the after-Christmas sneeze.
Oh, it starts harmlessly, easy to chalk up to allergies or too little sleep or too much fun. But then the sneezes come more frequently, red noses start to run, and all manifestations of germs move south to either the chest (hacking coughs) or tummies (middle-of-the-night heaving). In some years, the extra gift is to have both ailments at the same time. Must be leap years.
The inevitable Christmas cold. Like the rest of the season’s traditions, this one comes without fail.
Okay, to be fair, Ellie and Cooper both got into the car on our pre-holiday trip to Connecticut sporting mucousy noses and phlemy chests. I knew what was coming, but part of me hoped it would be short-lived, and not amount to much. (Ellie, after all, seems to have had a runny nose since about 8 months old.) I myself felt a little dry and stuffy in the car that night, but attributed the sensation to a general let-down of control, with Ray behind the wheel, and most of my holiday preparation done. I could relax and enjoy the ride, so to speak. For me, that kind of relaxation often results in a general drainage of my lymphatic system and the resultant tickle of exiting bacteria from my otherwise healthy body.
Or so Yoga Journal has me believe. I relax, I get sick. You do the math.
Anyway, we celebrated. Our family rocked our Christmas, despite the colds. The ten cousins got together for music, cookie swapping, charity fundraising, and general chaos, as one would expect from a gang ranging in age from fourteen months to nine years. The adults — me, my brothers and their wives, my sister, our parents — held up admirably, through scratchy versions of “Frosty the Snowman” to a not-so-frightening-this-year visit by Santa to many more moments immediately committed to memory via brain neurons or my brothers’ cameras.
It was no surprise that Cooper woke up the day after Christmas, agonizing over his right ear. My son is prone to drama in the extreme, but experience also tells me that he is honest in his tears. For a five year old, an earache is awful and demands immediate medical attention. When Ellie’s fever didn’t go away, we opted not to visit the local emergency room, and started packing.
A week earlier than we had planned — and thus missing secondary visits to our dear friends’ home as well as a cherished and too-infrequent one with great-Grandma Mitzi, the six of us piled into our minivan and trekked home to Massachusetts, where we saw our own pediatrician, rested in our own beds, and have since had complete head-to-toe meltdowns, courtesy of post-holiday stress.
I was heartbroken to miss out on the rest of our time with the relatives and friends whom we see so infrequently (as were the kids, who cried to go “home to Muggy’s” again), but it’s funny. Ray and I are looking forward to a holiday at home, even it’s only the B-list holiday like New Year’s. It’ll be a first for us, I think. To celebrate at our own little home, our own little family, instead of packing up and happily traveling to celebrate with the bigger La Famiglia. I mean, we love it, but the packing and traveling does lose its luster after these seven years. Staying home is exciting, despite the illness that taints our home (the two remaining “healthy” kids are caving to fevers and sore throats, even as I type this, and I’m getting ready to paint a big red X over my front door to warn hopeful visitors of our plague). Already we are planning to make fondue and challenge the kids to Scrabble and Cootie, should medication allow the kids to stay awake past seven o’clock.
I guess if they don’t, well that’s not so bad either. Ray and I could grasp some rare alone time, assuming sick children don’t descend the stairs to cuddle as we watch a non-Disney or DreamWorks movie, or they could join us in bed, as they do most nights. (Yup, amazing that we have four kids considering the miniscule amount of time we are alone together. But that’s a post for another day.)
Our holiday hangover, the annual cold. If not suffered by me, my husband, or my children, it’s devastating to the grandparents or the aunties or uncles or any of us who run ourselves ragged from Thanksgiving onward, who also welcome eagerly the wet (and admittedly germ-riddled) kisses from our loved ones.
We love, and we infect. The greatest gift of all.
The Christmas cold. A tradition likely to overtake the fruitcake (though admittedly without any festival potential, such as the fruitcake races or fruitcake throwing competitions that abound at this time of year). And despite the co-pays, antibiotics, and loss of extended family time, it’s not so bad. Orange juice, cuddles under a blanket, soup. We don’t have to go anywhere. We can catch up on movies, sleep, together time.
Before long, our energy will return and we will rise to plan another celebration of our lives together.
I’m not afraid of the hangover. So belly up to the bar of family — I’ll drink to that.