Saturday, December 19 2020

dropping off christmas presents



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Dear Journal,

Good evening everyone. Happy Saturday. My arms and back are sore from driving, my brain is fried from staring at a dark road, and the house is in such a state of chaos, it’s actually kind of impressive. But I’m going to resist the urge to start simultaneously drinking and cleaning and try to wring a thousand words out of my weary brain.

As I said, the house is in chaos. The remnants of my spectacular bread failure still litter the kitchen (more on that later), and everything else is just stuff from the car that we haven’t gotten a chance to put away yet. About an hour ago I ushered a very sleepy Rodney into the house, and apparently I was zoning out so hard that instead of telling him to go upstairs to get ready for bed, I set him up on the couch with paw patrol. Marissa found him snuggled under a blanket with a smug smile of contentment spread across his face.

“What is he watching TV for?” said Marissa.

“I lost track of time,” I laughed. “My bad, dude. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.”

Rod didn’t seem too upset about it. He must have known it was coming, but for the few minutes he got to watch Paw Patrol over an hour past his bedtime, he must have felt like the king of the world.

Sip. Today was Christmas present delivery day, and today I’ve learned that my family would make a terrible Santa. It took us an entire Saturday to deliver Christmas presents to only three houses in the Chicago suburbs, so at that rate delivering presents to all the Children around the world would take us several years. Too much laughing, crying, and trips down memory lane were to blame for the abysmal benchmark.

We got an early start this morning. I woke up early to bake four loaves of bread. We had one beer bread ciabatta loaf that we would cut up for sandwiches on the road, and three beautiful honey wheat sourdough loaves as gifts. But I foolishly attempted to bake all four loves of bread at once. The bottom ciabatta loaf burnt to a crisp, sacrificially shielding the other three loaves from the heat, leaving them milky pale, under cooked, and each with a single creepy bubble in the middle.

“Can you bake them for a little longer?” said Marissa. “Did you cut into one? I think they still look OK.”

But I didn’t hear her. I was biting my lip, silently practicing the self-soothing “snake breaths” that Rodney and I had read about in his Highlights magazine earlier that week. Nobody would get any sourdough loaves as gifts that day, but at least we still had turkey sandwiches on creepy, milk white, slightly undercooked bread that had just the faintest wisp of smoke to them.

The first house we hit was Grandpa Dirk and Grandma Jane. They looked exhausted. Standing in their front yard on their quiet suburban street in Geneva, they brought us up to speed on last night’s medical scare with my thirteen year old dog brother Phin.

“The vet said it’s just an inner ear attack,” explained my Mom. “But he was thrashing on the floor all night, and we were scared that he was having a seizure.”

We wrestled the urge to exchange hugs. There’s not much you can do in terms of comfort from six feet away behind a mask. But Rodney was a welcomed distraction, leading Grandma Jane and Grandpa Dirk to the trunk of our car to present our payload.

“Ope, first I have to go potty,” he said excusing himself. I set Rodney’s tiny plastic potty at the base of their driveway. Right there out in the open, Rodney disrobed, squatted, and relieved himself.

We bid farewell and packed up the car again. Once Rodney realized we were leaving, his eyes watered and he buried his head in his hands. I stabbed the brakes with my foot and waved my parents over. Rodney’s crying made us all start crying, and after one final tearful wave through the car window we pulled out of the driveway a sniveling mess.

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Next up was Sarah and Phillip. They met us around the corner from their adorable town house in Winfield. There new golden retriever puppy Hendo clumsily bounded ahead of them and fell at Rodney’s feet.

“It’s good to play with a puppy,” I said. “We left Mom and Dad’s place and we were all crying.”

From my short meeting with my new dog nephew, I’ve surmised that Hendo is the perfect puppy. Energetic, sweet, meek, mild mannered, and smells like he was delivered from Heaven yesterday. Puppies are the best.

My sister Sarah and her husband Phillip looked so grown up. We hadn’t gotten to spend much time with them after they were married. The quarantine effect made the time difference seem so stark and sudden. They were dating, engaged, married, and then all of the sudden they appeared before us as two happy adults walking out of their own house with their own little puppy son. Time moves too quickly.

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The final house we hit was Kelly and Jeremy in Lombard. It was getting cold, and by the time we reached their cozy house, I had to ensconce Miles in a thick blanket like a precious moments nativity scene baby Jesus. Our dogs were grateful to emerge from their cozy car nests and stretch their legs in Kelly and Jeremy’s big back yard. Ziggy, Ollie, Becca, and Jo-jo wrestled and sprinted the length of their fence. Rodney cautiously followed after Alice and Frankie where they played a joyful contact-less game of tag - honor system, I guess.

Jeremy met me at the front of his house, handing me a white bag. “I just picked this up for you from Los Burritos,” he said. “So now you don’t have to convince Marissa. We doubled over in laughter.

“I actually convinced her on the way over,” I laughed. “We’re picking up Los right after this.

Jeremy persisted. I took the bag anyway. We share a mutual understanding of just how special a steak burrito from Los Burritos is. They keep incredibly well in the fridge, and taking home an extra is always a good idea.

Seeing our kids run after each other, our dogs romping in a happy play circle - I would be more upset about the time we missed together this year if I wasn’t also feeling so hopeful about this spring. “We’re going to do a lot of stuff together,” we assured each other holding back more tears. “Good things are coming.”

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Jeremy gave me directions to the Los Burritos across the street from their neighborhood. But my minnow brain took control of the car and guided us a little further to the location right by Wheaton College - the one Marissa and I spent a lot of time at during our treasured time together in school.

Los Burritos. That place deserves a journal entry all of its own. We scarfed our dinner in the parking lot. We took a quick drive through campus. Rodney would take one more unceremonious pee in the parking lot of the Belvidere Oasis before we’d finally arrive home.

Here’s to hopefully last COVID Christmas, everyone. If we made it this far, we can make it to the Spring. Stay strong and hopeful. Thanks for stopping by today, and have a wonderful night.