13 December, 2009

the best of times, the worst of times

Charles Dickens aside, it has really been the ultimate holiday roller coaster chez moi these days. Let me explain.

Monday I awoke with a blinding headache. I'm not prone to headaches. I tried everything: John squeezing the back of my neck till my eyesight went blue, a couple of ibuprofens, finally the ultimate: two fizzy tablets of Tylenol with codeine, in a glass of water. I first discovered this sovereign remedy when we were in Moscow many years ago, minutes away from a private tour of the Kremlin, when POWEE! One of those cartoon headaches, where lightning bolts issue from the head of the Actual Sufferer. A savvy fellow traveler offered me the fizzy solution and ZAP - another cartoon moment. Lightning bolts evaporate. But not on Monday.

The Royal Albert Hall and its Annual Choral Society Christmas Concert waits for no man, however suffering, so off we went after an early supper. And for the first half I was golden. Forgot the headache in favor of "Once in Royal David's City" with the full soprano descant, AND the Royal Grenadier Trumpeters in those fluffy furry black hats! Their trumpets came complete with the royal seal on little flags which they draped ceremoniously over the heads of the choir below when they played.

I'm sorry, American identity mine: when you're in the RAH, full of holiday greenery, the plummy tones of the conductor telling very tame and hilarious jokes ("When I was a little boy, I visited a family who said a prayer before every meal. My family didn't do so, because my mother was a very good cook"), and those trumpets blare at the final chorus of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"... you just want to be English! At least I do. And there's something about a National Anthem that celebrates not just the country but its leader - "God Save the Queen" - that is heartwarming. Bless her! Why couldn't we Americans sing "God Bless the President"? I'm sure we could learn. It's very unifying.

And in the row above us was... drumroll... "Strictly Come Dancing" finalist Chris Hollins! What could be better!

And so all was well until... I suddenly became most rashly unwell, all of a moment, and had to dash out of the hall. Twice. By the second time I was well and truly ready for the end of the concert, so last verse, no encore, bob's your uncle and we were home. Me under Avery's puzzled scrutiny, huddling under a duvet with several hundred hot water bottles and John hovering over me. Nothing to be done.

Monday night and Tuesday were a blur. Wednesday I staggered above the surface of misery to discover that aside from fatigue, I felt quite well. That old chestnut, the 24-hour bug. "Poor Mommy," Avery said, brushing my brow in relief.

Until Thursday morning when John said, "I have the worst headache." Oh no.

Oh yes.

And then that evening Avery slunk into our bedroom at precisely bedtime (as creatures like this will do, in captivity). "I've broken another bracket on my braces. I think it needs to be fixed tomorrow."

Sigh. "Tomorrow" already involved a visit to school to drop off the proceeds of Monday's Lost Property sale, a stint at the LP room itself, a trip to the post office, and, as it turned out, a horse show.

I rose from my fainting couch to accomplish all these things (broken braces brackets are really no big deal, and Avery's ortho immediately said at the same time I did, "We must stop meeting like this; people will begin to talk"). From there a race to get a cab to Hammersmith and to take John's place at Olympia for the Annual Horse Show, with Avery's friend Lillie and her father, the MOST urbane, gentle, protective, elegant man I have ever met. He wore an ascot. He was the dream escort, and the two girls in complete heaven. I had prepared myself with an antihistamine, and for once did not sneeze my head off.

Four hours, one gourmet dinner, a celebrity bump-into for the girls with the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla, to the uninitiated! "honestly, we just accidentally walked into her!" they claimed), a very nice evening of conversation and a walk home in the snow later, it was finally bedtime. Poor John was down for the count.

So this morning came that dreaded sound in my life: the ALARM CLOCK. I am the original night owl. Any one need advice, recipes, a reading list, flight schedules at midnight? I'm your man. But patient conversation at 7 a.m.? Not so much. After supplying apple tart, salami and apple juice, the banter went like this:

"Have you brushed your teeth? And your hair could use something..."

"Mommy, I have this down to a schedule. You don't need to worry."

"But today you need to pack for the party and sleepover after school."

"I KNOW [elaborate patience]. Trust me!"

(five minutes later)

"Did you pack your toothbrush and toothpaste? And don't go on Facebook until you've packed your bag. Did you REALLY brush your hair? It looks..."

Believe me, I'd hate me too if I were her. She maintained an elegant silence. Her lovely friend Emily could not arrive soon enough to allow her to escape from me and into the frigid snowy air, full of gossip and comparison of afternoon social plans. Double sigh.

Can I just ask? HOW ON EARTH do people with more than one child, a job, and no second parent ever survive a week when they get sick? This week I would have had to do all John did for us, plus all I did for us, plus earn a living, AND vomit. I live in complete awe and amazement at everyone who does what I do without any of the support I have.

Of course, these people are probably sensible enough not to be neurotic wrecks over mere inconsequentials, as I manage to be. For example. This morning I knew very well that Avery was going straight from school, at noon, to a birthday party with a school friend, including a movie at a cinema, on a public bus, and spending the night. But somehow, in the fog of weeklong illness and holiday must-cheer, I never ascertained some salient details. Imagine the police, if Avery didn't turn up.

"So, Kristen [we'd be on a first-name basis], who are these parents your daughter was going to?"

No idea. Avery says they're both doctors.

"And the birthday girl, is she a close friend?"

Couldn't pick her out of a lineup, although I hear she is REALLY good at putting eye makeup on other girls at lunchtime.

"Where do they live?"

Well, I could tell you the address on the class list, but I later found out through assiduous (if belated) telephoning that this address is outdated by 6 months.

"Did you send your daughter with a phone, spending money or identification?"

At this point, I would simply give up and start signing adoption forms. How could I be so careless? I'll tell you how. Because this year of Avery's life seems to be all about how to Hold On and Let Go. Pay Attention But Don't Interfere. Be Supportive But Not Intrusive. And I just don't know how to go halfway. I'm very good at handling it ALL. And apparently, if today's any example, I'm spectacularly talented at doing nothing. But the whole gradual letting-go of control? Not so much.

I finally broke down and called a friend whose daughter was going to the same party. "At the risk of sounding both a nutter and really irresponsible..." I began... when the other mother broke in. "You mean where on earth are they, and who are they with? I don't know either."

So John and I survived a quiet evening recuperating, with some nice simple sauteed lemon sole. He's asleep and I'm definitely NOT worrying about Avery, who has no phone or visible means of support. She has a strong scream.

And I have my mantel full of Christmas cards. Isn't it funny. Snail mail is nearly dead in our lives. I rarely use a stamp in normal life. I have one friend without a mobile phone or email and I do ring her at home and I write to her. But real letters? Never anymore. Until Christmas. Now the rug inside the letterbox is full of lovely white square envelopes with foreign stamps, and my heart leaps.

So even if I can't keep down a meal on a given Monday evening, or keep track of my daughter on a given Friday night, I can keep friendships of a lifetime, marching in their green, gold and red, above my flickering fireplace. And for that moment, as I look upon them, life is safe, and good.


Casey said...

one of my favorite posts here ever. Happy holidays!

Kristen In London said...

How dear, Casey! Thank you. Happy Holidays to you too, I know they will be lovely.