I was farther away from my family this Christmas than I've ever been before, yet my mother followed me all day December 24, my patron homemaker saint.The consummate hostess, my mother knows how to throw a party. Everything is just so, just before the guests arrive — and she still finds time to look fabulous, even if she's had only five minutes to herself. During which she's expected to shower, style, apply makeup, choose an outfit and sashay back into the living room with a flourish in time to take coats and offer cocktails. A talent that, as a child, I assumed was just another mom thing. And now that I'm in "nesting! cooking! organizing!" Suzy Homemaker mode — let's not discuss how much money was spent at Crate & Barrel on the day after Christmas — I assumed I could also fall into the aforementioned mom thing. Sure, yeah. Christmas Eve was a scene from a black-and-white silent film, and the Knight and I were harried characters scrambling around in slapstick time-lapse, bumping into each other in corridors and kicking up clouds of dust as we rushed around the apartment, the neighborhood, the city. But somehow, amid all our errands and preparations and dirtied dishes and trips to Trader Joe's for forgotten carrots and an emergency bottle of Zinfandel, we still managed to light every candle I've ever owned, move furniture, hide the stacks of bills and old magazines, dim the lights, turn up the music. I attempted fabulous: new corduroy trousers, a winter-white turtleneck. Gold jewelry. Gold flats. And sashayed to the door to take coats and offer drinks, just as our friends stumbled up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, bearing gifts and food and wine. And the feast? It went off without a hitch. Well, I burned the rolls. But the turkey was perfect. The stuffing was chewy and moist. The cranberry sauce was pungent with cinnamon and fresh orange zest. The vegetables were al dente and steaming hot. The sweet potatoes weren't too sweet, with just a hint of maple and a warm, buttery softness. We ate, we drank, we made merry. Christmas Eve was perfection.
At the end of the night, I turned the deadbolt and rested my head against the front door's hollow wood as my friends made their way back down the three flights of stairs, their bags empty of gifts and food and wine. And I wished my mother could have seen me hours before, flitting around the apartment like I'd been born to do just so. But then again…would she have been proud, or would she just have been sad that I'm growing up so fast, so far away?
After that frenzy, there was no hurry to get up the next morning, no rush to tear open the piles of presents or get on with our lives in any way. We had the whole day, with nowhere to go. Nothing to do but enjoy each other. So we lazed. A steady rain beating on the windows threatened to melt away the white Christmas, but we couldn't see the snow from the courtyard anyway. And we never left the apartment. Those 700 square feet became our domain for the day, arid and overheated and buzzing with electricity from the tree, the string of tiny white lights by the window, the TV, the stereo, the microwave. I padded around the apartment in wool slippers, the hem of my brand-new lilac pajama pants tucked beneath the sueded heels. We made breakfast and drank cocoa out of the matching porcelain owl mugs the Knight bought me this fall — a red one for the day I bravely ventured out to meet his ex-wife in Andersonville, a white one just "because." We listened to Christmas music and danced around the crumb-caked kitchen floor. We opened presents; mine just seemed to keep multiplying under the tree. We had seconds. Full of casserole and cinnamon rolls, we succumbed to the lure of the flannel sheets again — for three hours. We called our families. We finally showered around 9 p.m. — then settled back into our pajamas for the night. We watched Christmas movies; I sobbed through the end of It's a Wonderful Life and texted my sister at our favorite part of A Christmas Story.
I made four tiny grilled cheese sandwiches that night from leftover fig jam, fancy cheese and crusty bread — and ate them all. I flounced back onto the love seat in the living room, surrounded by bows and discarded wrapping paper, and giggled as the soft white cheese oozed through the holes of the airy baguette. I licked my fingers gleefully and gobbled up every last dollop of fig jam from the tiny plate. And I wished my mother could see me then, too. Maybe she wouldn't be so sad, because she'd understand that I'm still a little girl in a lot of ways.