Impulsive. And ill-prepared. These two states of being are my status quo and therefore, quite naturally, the pretext by which I found myself hurtling through the various stages of dressing and preparing for Christmas Eve service. Never mind that I’d had fourteen hours to ready myself and my family for the formal church service; when you need to be there by 10:00 pm, why wouldn’t you start getting ready at 9:15? Especially on a night when the world outside looks like a snowglobe but feels like black ice and neck braces. Leave early? Why on Earth would I want to do that?
We all had nice church outfits basically picked out but at the last minute Aidan decided he wanted to wear his new pajamas, opened by the glow of the tree just a couple hours earlier. This lit inside me a small hope that he would fall asleep on the way home – an idiotic dream if ever I had one, but appealing enough to get behind. Plus, he’s five and they were brand-new jammies and he was painfully adorable, the absolute epitome of anticipatory Christmas glee. To be sure, Aidan in his pajamas worked right into the Normal Rockwell mental image I had for our family on Christmas Eve.
Isabel did not want to wear her new pajamas, which was probably for the unfair best. She’s nine now, and no one knows better than she – standing quietly, invisibly, to the side while people fawn over a little brother who still has the baby fat and wide eyes of toddlerhood (awkward scenes reminiscent of my own childhood and through which we sometimes bond) – that things that are cute on Aidan are less so on her. In these moments of uncomfortable clarity, I’m inclined to give Isabel the space to do what feels right for her.
This is how Rockwellian dreams begin to die.
Isabel not only did not want to wear her pajamas, she also did not want to wear a dress (not even with leggings underneath). She did not want to wear slacks. She did not want to wear anything, in fact, except her gray sweatpants and pink t-shirt. The old one. With a stain on it.
“How about…” I said, over and over again. How about that one dress you liked that one time? No. Okay, how about your nice jeans and that pretty sweater? Maybe? No? Then, how about, uh…. uh… Really, no on the jeans? That seems like a good compromise. Okay, okay! No jeans.
So it was that Isabel wore a t-shirt, sweatpants and sneakers – without socks – to the formal Christmas Eve service.
We had exited “classic Rockwell Christmas” territory and set up camp somewhere near yellow-eyed, foxtail hat-wearing Scut Farkus, and we hadn’t even left the house yet.
Then there was the small matter of the dog.
As in, we adopted one two days before Christmas Eve and weren’t yet comfortable leaving it home alone… making us a party of five for Christmas Eve service: Two adults, two children, and one 11-week old Bichon Frise puppy. Who, of course, woke from his nap and quite gloriously fell off a chair right in the middle of the second reading, to the combined horror of myself, the assembled musicians just over my shoulder, and the reader who had to keep his place through the ensuing kerfluffle (sorry, Tom).
For accuracy’s sake, I will note here that (1) bringing a dog to church who then (2) falls off a chair during a reading does, indeed, take us even farther from idyllic Christmas. Goodbye, Farkus camp; hello Beverly Hillbillies. As the character of Deborah once commented on Everybody Loves Raymond, “It’s like the first time they’ve worn shoes!”
Had you been sitting near us on that particular night, you might have wondered why I would have opted to pair an otherwise very nice outfit – blouse, jacket, knee-length skirt, tall boots – with frighteningly torn pantyhose. You might have guessed, correctly, that they had not been torn when I put them on. You probably would not have guessed that it was I who tore them.
While shaving my knees.
For, you see, I’m fairly comfortable eschewing cultural standards for body hair during the cold winter months, when my legs are safely tucked away beneath long pants, like giant ferrets in blue jean burrows. But I’m not so counter-cultural as to openly display my unshaveness… especially not through pantyhose, with the hair all mashed up and twisted underneath the sheer nylon like a werewolf sausage trying to escape from my (fabulous) black suede boots. Which is precisely how I found myself at 9:40, when we were inexplicably (ahem) running late for church and my entire family was already loaded up in the minivan and I was “Coming right out once I grab the cinnamon rolls!” that I’d made to share during the post-service reception.
Three inches of pantyhosed, hairy legs separated my boots from my skirt, and my private apathy from my public insecurity.
I looked at my knees, then out the window at the running van, then back at my knees.
Three inches. I can do this.
Plunk! went the cinnamon rolls on the table as I ran into the bathroom, hiking my skirt up as I went. Do I take off the boots? No time! I wriggled out of my pantyhose and pulled them down over my boots and then, moving as quickly as I could, dry shaved three inches of each leg. Front, side, side, back. Front, side, side, back. DONE!
I brushed off the inside of my pantyhose as quickly as I could and yanked the suckers up… driving my thumb right through a hole left by my quick-flicking razor.
Which is probably why common wisdom holds that you should shave your legs before donning pantyhose, and not after.
9:43. Time up. I shrugged, grabbed my cinammon rolls, and ran.
On Christmas Eve we were one well dressed man, one harried-looking woman with prossie hose, one child in pajamas, one child in sweats, and a dog with a tendency to fall off of chairs at the worst possible time. But three inches’ worth of my legs conformed with societal expectation, and I call that success.