And so we end another Christmas season with toys scattered across the floor, chocolate wrappers lingering on coffee tops, and pants unbuttoned to make room for the holiday food resting snuggly in our bellies. It feels like someone stood me up in the middle of a large room, twirled me around at lightening speed for three minutes straight, and then let me go. Dizzy, light-headed, and a little lost but the excitement was well worth it.
We started out with our Christmas Eve at my mom’s house and then my cousin Laura’s house (formerly my Grandma and Grandpa Heile’s home). My mom’s house is always a whirlwind because we only have about 45 minutes to say hi, open presents, and get ready for Laura’s. My mom agreed this year to limit the presents for the kids and ourselves but it still seemed like we gave too much even though the kids ripped through the presents in ten minutes. My mom scored big this year with Ben Ten paraphernalia for Mario and Pet Shop and Barbie for Maria. Each present that Maria opened garnered a big ol’ smile and a big ol’ gasp when she saw it no matter if she loved it or not. What a ham and a sweetheart since I had told her it makes people feel good when you smiled and acted happy while opening a gift. After the gift opening, Mario hit the treadmill for a bit (my mom calls it her $1000 toy for the kids) and Maria looked for food in the kitchen. After we raided the cheese and crackers, we headed to Laura’s house.
It is still strange for me to see my little cousins all grown up with Laura the oldest at 27 and Konner the youngest at 14. The girl cousins are all in the 20-something range and lavish Maria with love and advice on how to deal with boys, how to brush her hair, and how to be polite. The boy cousins rough house with Mario and teach him wrestling moves. While teaching Mario moves, Robert commented to Mario that he was acting like a girl. This comment threw Mario into a state of deep depression. Jon and I found him outside of the house sulking and he finally told us why. Jon, our family protector, had a few words with Robert, and he told Mario he was sorry and he was only kidding. I would have never dreamt that such a comment would have bothered him, but you never quite know with Mario what he is going to take to heart. The other day he was upset because Mr. Park made fun of his sweater by saying it wasn’t “ugly sweater day”; Mario went in the corner and sulked until Park told him he was only kidding.
While the cousins entertained M&M, I talked with my aunts. They always seemed so much older than me since I was a pre-teen and they were in their late teens or twenties. Completely different worlds at that point. But now I have a kinship with them since we all have or are experiencing a lot of the same – kids, jobs, mortgages. Most of us have the bond of motherhood – we talk about how to deal with temper tantrums, moments we cherish with the kids, moments we wish we could forget and everything in between. These women raised me and each time I see them, memories of my times with them flood through my head. We enjoy the brief time we have together over the holidays with the male family members watching football and engaging in small-talk about hunting or sports or the latest event in the news. This is home to me – this is what I have known since I was a newborn and it is comforting.
The kids opened presents after dinner. Every kid gets another kid’s name and acts as his/her secret santa. However, Maria and Mario scored gifts from all of the aunts. They had a boatload of presents to unwrap. I was so proud of them as they tore through the presents. Maria got a book she already had at home but she acted surprised and said thank you to my aunt (and then looked at me and gave me a nod). Mario said thank you to every person that gave him a gift even before he opened it. He got a bow and arrow from Robert and Cy (his cousins whom he idolizes). Maria got i Carly lip gloss from Aunt Jane.
After gifts, we talked and laughed a while longer and then hit the road for Columbus. I still had to wrap a few gifts and get Maria’s Barbie Dream House out of the garage. I am still so charged about that purchase – $30 from a fellow Grandview mom and it does not even look used. Maria had no idea. I just could not fathom buying a $150 dream house when I knew she would play with it for a short time and move on to something else. Mario kept begging us for a Boy Barbie Dream House for him. All I could imagine was a house with frat boys waiting for the “barbies” to show up.
The kids fell asleep right when we left for Cincy (miracle), and did not get up until 7:45 am. Nice present. Maria stood by my side at 7:45 trying to cough gently to arouse me from sleep and then Mario, sleeping beside me, bolted up. Is it Santa time?! We threw on sweatshirts and headed downstairs to see if Santa decided we were good this year. THe kids tore through their presents with Mario getting Ben Ten everything and Maria getting random presents like a robe, drawing stuff and a Leapster reading game. She walked over to Jon towards the end and said “I don’t think I will get the dream house because it is expensive.” When I brought it our for her, she nearly passed out. She was so excited.
My parents came to the house around 10 am and the kids got showered with more presents. Overload city. The kids tore through the next round with Mario again scoring mega Ben Ten toys and Maria getting serious bling from Mama Meg (she is known for getting Maria some sweet sweat suit get-ups!). After we opened up our presents, the rest of the Menkedick crew arrived. My 91-year-old grandma made the trip, which made the day for me. Jon’s parents also arrived early to have dinner with us. The dinner went off without a hitch except that we had to use my parents’ apartment down the street to cook one of the casseroles! How do people make big holiday dinners with just one stove?!
During dinner, Patty recognized my grandma for raising my uncle Bill and my dad all by herself. She commended her for raising such wonderful “boys”. I was so glad that she spoke up and recognized my grandma. I don’t know how many people I have talked to about how amazing my grandma is for raising my dad and my uncle in the 1950s all on her own. Never re-marrying. Taking them on trips every year. Making sure they were fed and went to good schools. As open as my family is, we tend to shy away from sensitive subjects when we get together. In our defense, we don’t all get together too often, so when we do, we want to keep the conversation light and upbeat. But surprisingly, the conversation remained light and honorable. My grandmother received much-deserved praise and gratitude from all at the table (even if she didn’t fully recognize it) and we continued to laugh and enjoy one another’s company.
After a big ol’ dinner and big ol’ dessert (peanut butter chocolate pie), we opened yet another round of presents. After an hour, we finished the unwrapping (we go around with each person opening one gift at a time). Five minutes later, Patrick and my niece and nephew arrived for dinner. Rock-n-roll! We switched out the table-cloth, got out new plates and silver, and began making the dinner. Maria and Alana danced to Big Time Rush and Giovanni and Mario took a walk with me to the park. I needed some fresh air after a non-stop day indoors. Besides it was 42 degrees out – balmy for Christmas.
We returned home for wedding soup, ham, green beans almondine, and potato casserole. Mario had a break down because he wanted to sit next to Alana and Maria wanted to sit by her alone. Maria eventually gave in to him like she typically does – Mario has it really good with her. After dinner, we opened the last round of presents. I think my cousin’s son summer it up well earlier in the day when I asked him if he is ready for his presents. He replied “I have opened up too many presents today.” Fortunately, I don’t think any of the Ionno kids felt that way and how could they with the big bags of goodies that Patty brings for them?
When everyone left at 9 pm, Jon and I collapsed on the couch. Absolutely exhausted but absolutely elated. A NPR commentator summer it up well when she spoke about her holidays. She told a story about experiencing the same exhaustion we had and her husband asking her why she drove herself to such a state. She hosts holiday gatherings in order to honor her family. I thought that was such a profound and relevant statement for me this year. The joy I experienced in sitting with my Heile clan that I have grown up with all my years; the warmth I felt in sitting with my Menkedick brood that I cherish and respect; and the happiness I experienced in sitting with my Ionno family at the end of the night brought it all together in one tidy Christmas present for me. The best present I could ask for 2011.