So you think you can pwn a Christmas.

I thought I had at least ten to fifteen years before this happened (I’m twenty three, so I’m meeting my Completely Unrealistic Quota.), but this year I’m trying my hand at running a Christmas. It’s a small affair, just the family, so you’d think it wouldn’t be particularly difficult.

You’d be lying to yourself.

Thanks to the eviction, my parents have reached stress levels that go beyond all natural reasoning. The rush to find a new place to call home immediately ensued, and as soon as that happened (The new place is actually right down the street. Really.), all focus shifted to packing and preparing the funds, determining who was going to move when, and so on. I’m still going to N’s, E is going to live with her girlfriend in Cambridge, and R is off to stay with my parents until she graduates. Much to her dismay.

Then my father found himself veering off into oncoming traffic with my sister and mother in the car one morning. On the highway. When my mother grabbed his arm and tried to tell him what he was doing, he said “It’s okay.”. And then he didn’t do anything about it. After getting him to snap out of it and go back onto the right side of the road, he took my mother to work, drove home with my sister… And did it again. Once again, he was snapped out of it before anything happened.

But there was no arguing against going to the hospital after that.

Though the word on everyone’s mind right then was ‘stroke’, it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. My father has bubbles (embolisms) in his head. Small ones, but ones that should his blood pressure rise to a certain height, could kill him. At least, that’s what the doctors said.

Couple that with an irregular heartbeat, and we have a tense three days while the doctors are running every last test they can think of. The theory is that the stress on his heart caused a tear small enough to send up the bubbles.

After that, he started getting tired a lot faster. And everyone’s been on edge since. (Still are, but according to a neurologist he’s fine and the hospital may have overreacted. We’re still waiting on the new tests.) Meaning Christmas was the last thing on my parents’s minds, collectively. Which made sense. But someone had to pick up the proverbial dropped ball, and with my classes already over and only one final date on the way, it seemed like it was going to be me. (Also known as, I stepped in because I was answering the call of the Planner; fix everything, everywhere, at any time.) After some debated, my parents agreed.

With our eternal lack of funds getting in the way, there’d be no chance of even starting the Christmas shopping until Thursday. I assembled a crack team (Or something.) composed of N, E, and Girlfriend. We’d meet at twelve thirty, and attack the Prudential and Downtown Crossing in Boston. I put myself on the ten o’ clock train, and spent an hour listening to my mp3 player (Primarily the Karen O/Trent Reznor version of ‘Immigrant Song’, from the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, which is oddly good for psyching yourself up for something.) and getting some pre game peace.

My intensely soundtracked serenity was continuously interrupted by texts from E. She wanted to reminders on where she should be and when, what to do with the coupon I’d given her to redeem a freebie that was being given as a gift to someone, and every last possible detail that she could think of. I finally oh so casually reminded her that we’d be seeing each other in two hours, and she could ask me all the questions in the world then. I didn’t get a text back.

Go figure.

Off the train I went, and on to lunch to fuel up. Then, mindful of my budget, I went into round one at Barnes and Noble. I’d started all this thinking it’d be just another game like the ones I’ve mentioned before; find the best gift for the best price, and always go for the gold. I had a wad of coupons printed multiple times in my bag, Christmas lists for both my sisters (I told them I if I didn’t get one by Wednesday night, they’d get what I saw fit to give them, and whatever’d amuse me to watch them open Christmas morning. I got plenty of suggestions after that.), and rough ideas for my parents.

Then I realized that since no Christmas shopping had been done, I wouldn’t be just getting something that went from me to the Recipient. I’d be getting something from everybody that went to everyone else. And while I’d dispatched my minions to various stores to carry out tasks as I saw fit, my budget was minimal, and it’d be on me if I did a bad job with it. I wasn’t just planning out presents, I was doing the best cheap and cheerful dinner I could come up with. And then there had to be money left for wrapping paper, and the tree, and dinner, and dessert…

My sanity slowly started to slip after that. An hour at least in Barnes and Noble, more scouting out places in the Prudential I was considering for potential presents, more buying, and by lunchtime I was already starting to tweak. N, E, and Girlfriend held on strong, even as the Captain began to show the first signs of madness. Fast talking, repeating of plans, compulsive desire for chocolate, the whole shebang. In spite of it all, they were still willing to go down with the ship. Brave souls.

Safe to say the rest of the day went along the same thread. Once we made it to Downtown Crossing, it was easier to dispatch people to different places where I had a more definite idea of what to get, but there was still the dizzying notion that I was getting it all wrong. I wanted the best possible Christmas, not just for me, but for my sisters too. It’d also be the last Christmas we had with all of us living in the same house. It felt like the last thing that should be happening was the “Eh.” vibe I was getting off the whole thing. It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!

But from my shoestring budget I managed to drag forth a decent haul, content in the knowledge that it’d be only Phase One of the battle, and any mistakes I’d made would be fixed in Phase Two. In the same night there’d also be shopping, then baking the desserts (Revenge of the apple cinnamon cake, and a gluten free pumpkin pie for Dad.), and then getting through Christmas Eve so I could get up and make dinner on the big day.

Yeah. I know.

Then came today. My father kindly opened my door early this morning to wake me out of a sound sleep. The words “We need to talk.” took a full thirty seconds after they’d been spoken to sink into my subconsciousness. And then the flood of highly unwanted information began.

There was less money than we thought there’d be, so Phase Two was out. I’d also have the bare minimum budget for dinner, which meant downgrading any frivolous ideas I might’ve had (Alcohol? Snacks? Extra desserts? Don’t be silly! There will be none of that here.), and eviscerating any shot at a real tree, and all the other trappings of the day I would’ve liked to pull off.

Shopping for dinner has yet to be pulled off (It was Mom 2.0’s birthday today, so we were doing birthday type things, and ran out of time.), but I’ve already learned my lesson on several levels.

  • “There will never be a perfect budget.”
  • “A rough idea of what you’re doing is not enough.”
  • “A lot of ones in the cash pocket does not mean the end is near.”
  • “Caffeinate extensively.”
  • ” Three days and under two hundred dollars does not a full blown holiday make.”
  • “You saying that it does won’t make it true.”
  •  “Breathe more. Dumbass.”

Practically all life lessons, aren’t they?

But it’s halfway over, and I refuse to let myself get worked up over it any further. Something is better than nothing, and as I said, there’ll be multiple items for each family member to unwrap. There’ll also be a dinner (Pizza, breadsticks, salad, egg nog, apple cider.), and the aforementioned desserts. And as far as a tree, we do have a fake blue one in storage. Given the state of the living room however, we’ll probably have to put it on top of a box.

It’s better than having December 25th roll around, and it be just another day. No matter what’s happened, we’ve never done that before. And we won’t be doing it now, either. That’s an accomplishment. The feeling of doing everything and yet nothing aside, I’ll hold onto that.

The rest of this happy odyssey will go to the next post, but I have the money for dinner, so that much is going to work out. Provided that I’m granted the grace not to mess up the desserts. And there isn’t another random snafu.

And on that happy note…

Merry Christmas, everybody. May your last second shopping yield shiny beauties, and may your cooking come out so beautiful even Gordon Ramsay is forced to burst into tears.

Should you find yourself lucky enough to be doing nothing approaching this…

Shhhhh.

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~ by Sara on December 24, 2011.

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