A Rosy Cheeked Christmas

 

By Susannah Shannon

It was a terrible idea.  An utterly absurd idea. George came home delighted with himself. “Hey, the Freemans can’t use the cottage they go to every Christmas, so we’re going.”  This is the part of the story where you hear a needle being ripped off of the record. If you don’t know what that sound is, go read something else, about gamer gate or something.  It was the week before Christmas, we have sacrosanct Christmas plans.   I still had shopping, wrapping and cooking to do.  We hadn’t visited Santa yet, the cookies weren’t baked, and we had tickets to the Nutcracker. It was impossible.

He had it all figured out, he said. We would leave tomorrow, drive all day. Have two or three days at the cabin, return with a Christmas tree cut with our own rosy cheeked rough hewn hands, and leap elf-like right back into our yearly traditions.

I pointed out that we have six children.  Throwing some things in a duffel bag isn’t exactly how one packs for a family of 9. I still had things to do to get ready for Christmas. To each and every one of my well thought out observations he responded, “I’ll help you, it will be fine.”  Of course, George was working the next day.   So the bulk of laundry, packing, winnowing down the things that were now clearly not going to be done, and keeping our offspring alive fell to me.   George called me several times  to tell me more things about the cabin. He was gushing like a preteen at a One Direction concert.

“We’ll be next door to  Ed and Louise Gable.”  I had no idea who these people were. “Sure you do, Ed’s in radiology.”  Still not any clearer…..

“Wood burning stoves on each floor” Did I mention the 6 kids?  Packing winter gear, and food filled up much of the suburban. I couldn’t pack things on top of the vehicle because George was sure that we would be returning with the magic Christmas tree to end all Christmas trees…

I tried, briefly, to focus on how much fun this trip could be, a break during the hurly burly of pre Yuletide chores. I failed.  This whole trip was just stupid. So much to do, and instead we were driving into the woods so that the children who didn’t get eaten by bears could get burned by the wood stoves.

George to his credit refused to notice my grinchy mood. The roads were icy so he did all of the driving.  If you haven’t ever travelled with small children you might imagine that the person “not driving” languishing with her pedicured feet hanging out the window, idly clicking between NPR and Indie rock.

In fact I was playing air hostess to our miniature Satanic overlords in the back seats.  I put straws in juice boxes- I took the first sip out of each juice box to prevent their weaponization. One good squeeze can turn a full juice box into a stream of juice powerful enough to drench an annoying sister.   I doled out apple slices. I contorted my body so that little Margot could spit her chewed up apple skins into my hand.   I passed out wet wipes, not one of which was used on sticky hands. We sang Christmas songs, loud and off key. My mood was softening somewhat.

I rode herd on potty stops. At one of the truck stops, I believe it was number 6,239, our oldest son insisted on using his own money to buy a back scratcher.   It had a flat handle, maybe as thick as a ruler and of course the bent “scratchy” end. It immediately became clear that this was the perfect weapon to terrorize his siblings.  My mood was right back at full on Grinch.  The scratcher was finally handed back to me and I stuck it in the pocket behind my seat, where no stubby arms could reach it.

We finally arrived.  The cabin was charming.  We pulled into the driveway and before the brakes were fully engaged our minions were throwing off their seat belts and diving into the snow.  A man cheerfully greeted us. He handed George a beer, and waved a cheerful hello to me. “I got your stoves lit, figured you wouldn’t want a cold welcome!”  The two men ambled off, talking about the cottages and the woods.

So much for helping me.   I considered calling after George and asking for his help to get the kids bags inside. I needed their jammies because if they didn’t go to bed soon I would murder them.   Instead, I fumed in silence.  I dragged suitcases in.  I hoisted grocery bags while   the kids pelted me with snow balls. I slipped on the icy steps, and cursed under my breath.

Once again, I had to be big ol meanie mom.  Kids shed their coats into a sodden pile which I hauled up and arranged to dry over the shower rod.   The pj rodeo was far more trouble then it was at home. Every toddler wanted to explore their surroundings and they needed to do it EXACTLY as I was taping up their nighttime diaper.     It was sweet talking about the adventures we would have the next day.  We were going to look for the cousins of Santa’s reindeer, since a certain Daddy had made it known they lived in these exact woods.  We would toast marshmallows and have hot chocolate. Which Patrick excitedly informed me was “marshmallows two different ways. At once. That’s AWESOME”. The chatter died down and the cottage was enveloped in the sweetness of sleeping children.

It was at this point George returned, bottle of wine in hand.  I was making sure that the cold food had all made it into the refrigerator when he said strode in saying, ”Babe, come relax with me, we’re on vacation”

You know in the excorcist when she sprouts boils and pustules and her head spins?  That.

“No,” I seethed. “You are on vacation. I am doing all the things I always do that no one notices, without any of the things that make it easy! I told you this is what would happen. Jesus, George are you incapable of listening to me?!”

He paused, ”Let’s go talk about this in the truck”(a note here, George has never been pleased that we are in fact mini van people now. In his denial he calls my suburban “the truck.”  It is not a truck.)

I was shocked at how  I responded. “No.”

He had paused before, now he froze to the spot. “You do not say no to me”

“And you do not get to spank me for pointing out that you are an inconsiderate jerk” I spat out through clenched teeth.  And yet, I flounced past him, out the door towards the not a truck. I clamored in and pressed myself as far to one side of the bench seat as I could. I wanted some real estate between me and his spanking hand.  He started the suburban and then carefully climbed back to where I was.

“Just try it “ I was thinking. “ Attempt to haul me across your lap and you’ll be looking for your teeth in the snow.”  I crossed my arms around my chest.

He tried to find a spot for his long legs and failed. “Why didn’t you ask for my help?” he said

“You wandered off!”

“Yeah, that took longer than I thought it would, I’m sorry. But Ed owns these cottages, I had to be nice.”

I snorted and looked out the window. It was really lovely in the woods.

“Try this, ‘Hey hon- I need your help with these bags”

I snorted again.

“I am serious Suse- say it”

I felt like an idiot. ”Hey, hon, I need your help with these bags.”

He shrugged his shoulders, ”See?”

“But it’s not just that- I had all sorts of things to do this week, and without even asking me you decided we’ll come here!”

He suddenly looked sad. He reached for my hand.  “Once the boys are playing serious sports we won’t be able to do stuff like this.  The Freemans have come here for like 10 years, but their kids have to do conditioning for club basketball. That’s why they couldn’t come”

“Sweetheart, Patrick is eight years old.” I was trying to reassure him that this was not an issue we needed to be worried about. Wrong tack.

“I know! I get five more years to not just be the guy that works all the time.”

My god, I love this magnificent man. “So that’s why you wanted us to come? You’re afraid you don’t get enough time with us?”

“Of course. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to see you guys as much as I want.  I’m sorry I didn’t notice you needed help. You are just so good at taking care of us.”

I am a shmuck.    He reached over and used two fingers to raise my chin  ”Ask me for help”

“I will. I am sorry.”

He kissed my forehead.“You know you’re getting spanked right?”

I look around at our cramped quarters. George is 6’4” and wedged into the very back seat, knees to his chest.

“Think you can manage it?” I tease.

“Is making fun of a me a good idea right now?” he grins. Have I mentioned I adore this man?

“I’ll risk it.” We both smile.  As it has always been for us he guides me over his lap. The surrender of my ribs against his thighs, the strength of his left arm over my back, holding me, protecting me, loving me.  It’s all so familiar. The way he murmurs, ”I know you are sorry, but you owe me some tears my sweet girl”

The stinging whap of the back scratcher on my white bottom was not familiar. I screeched and bucked and he belabored my poor backside with the infernal thing.   He paused, ”You will give me the benefit of the doubt- I deserve that.”

“Yes, honey you do. Please no more of that thing.”

He wasn’t finished. Stingy little stripey swats across the crest of my bottom.

“I can not imagine a better mother than you are.”

Not the bamboo scratcher of flaming death, this is what made me cry.  I began to cry with deep grateful sobs.  I snaked my right hand down along my side and grasped at this left hand. He held my hand while he spanked my bottom.

“I married the girl of my dreams and she grew up to be the woman of my dreams. If I don’t notice you need help, its because you take such good care of us”

I don’t know why this is such a part of who we are. Its woven in.  Heart to heart, hand in hand palm to bottom.

Later, once we’d smoothed my pants up and he had turned the non truck off we held hands while we slipped and slid back into the cottage.  That was the first time we made love in the cottage in the woods.  The first of many, we have returned to the cottage every year, even as we have had to maneuver kids schedules. That first year we returned with, rosy cheeks, memories of reindeer in the woods, a lopsided, scraggly perfect tree and a backscratcher.

4 Comments

  1. Heather Hart
    Dec 11, 2015

    A lovely story thanks, Heather Hart

  2. Alyssa Bailey
    Dec 31, 2015

    This one made me feel good. I loved it.

  3. Amelia Smarts
    Jan 3, 2016

    Wonderful short story. George is a whole lot of great.

  4. Minelle
    Jan 20, 2017

    Sweet, loved this!

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