After that phone call, I wasn't assuming anything about Christmas. My dad had said we could come over for a meal, but specifics hadn't been offered, so I wasn't jumping to conclusions. We made plans for either possibility: we might be going out, or we might have the day in, just the four of us. We started to think what a gentle possibility that was.
Maybe a week before Christmas, my mom confirmed that we were invited over in a tone that suggested I was crazy to think of anything else. "Well of course... I hope you know you're invited for Christmas." Actually no, after my entire relationship with my dad was cast into doubt, I thought all bets were off.
Closer to the day, when I was trying to figure out our schedule for Christmas, I asked what time we should arrive. Having had trouble with formal events in the past, my parents had decided to have an informal buffet: "It's very casual. We're just going to have food out, and you can come when you want, take some food, sit anywhere. The guys are coming, and the grans will be here. It's very casual and relaxed."
The kids had been napping around 1pm, so I asked, "if they're napping, is it alright if we arrive a little later, rather than coming early and putting them down at your place?"
Pause. "Well. You won't have hot food them. The food will be ready at one."
Okay fine. So it was casual, but the arrival time was not negotiable. I sighed and held my arguments to myself. I said slowly, "So, if the kids seem to need their normal nap, can we arrive a bit early? In case they are acting up?"
My mom started, "Well, sure, if you're talking about coming 20 minutes early, that would be..." I heard my dad saying something in an annoyed tone in the background. My mom came back, trying to repeat whatever he had said fervently from her own voice: "Well it's better if you don't come early because we won't be ready for you... we're expecting people to arrive at one."
I closed my eyes and ran some calculations in my head. I said okay, and got off the phone. It was better not to engage on this. I wasn't taking for granted that we were allowed over for Christmas at all.
Christmas Eve went very well - we had hosted John's family with a catered meal, which everyone enjoyed. Christmas morning was very pleasant, with Jack opening his own gifts, and helping Jill open hers. They both had a fun morning playing with their toys.
So far, two for three! Very good success for a young family, I thought. Lunch time approached - in our family, lunch time is 11am, followed by nap time at around noon or one. There was too much excitement for a nap after lunch, so we decided to coast through the day as best we could. It was Christmas after all. We'd make it through.
Then, at noon, they started acting up, and by 12:20 they were going nuts, whining, fighting with each other. I couldn't discipline them: I knew what the problem was. It was time to load them up.
"But we're too early," said John. We're only a two minute drive from my parent's place.
"I know, but what can we do? At least if we're in the car, they won't fight. Jill might even sleep."
"Are we driving around, then?"
"I think so. We can drive through for some coffee and take the scenic route."
John's expression was incredulous. I added, "What else can we do? If we stay here, they fight. We were told not to arrive early." The kids were at each other's throats. "Look, let's just go and talk about it in the car!"
So we bundled them up and started out. It was a bright, white-and-blue winter's day, the best kind, with safe, still roads and beautiful sights. I don't remember if we got coffee. We drove, and listened to John's iPod. The kids were quiet for a time, and I remember it being a peaceful drive.
Then, the kids got tired of it. Ten minutes to go! John looked at me. I looked at John. John waited. An eyebrow may have raised. "Well what can we do!?" I asked.
"Shouldn't we just go?"
"We can't be early. We can't be late. We have to be on time!"
"Well, the kids are acting up again. You want to get out and just wait outside the door until it's exactly 1 o'clock?"
"Don't be crazy. Just... drive around the block one more time."
We drove, trying to ignore the crying crescendo in the back seat, trying not to ball hands into fists, taking deep breaths and thinking of calm oceans. We approached the house again. John asked, "Do you really want to be exactly on time, to the minute?" We joked about it a little, how blameless we would be arriving exactly at the right time, but then how we'd surely be just a few seconds out either way, and there would be trouble regardless.
I sighed. It was 12:55. "Okay. Let's go."
"There's still five minutes. Are you sure?"
"It's five minutes. Let's not be crazy. It's a normal arrival time. We're here anyway." And we were. We pulled into the driveway.
My mom opened the door, happy to see us. "Merry Christmas!" Everyone exchanged the greeting, and I felt relieved. This would be okay. It was good not to have fought about it on the phone.
Then, from the kitchen, where he was working on the turkey, my dad called, "You're seven minutes early! Nothing is ready yet."