You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
You can but it is difficult.
And if it is Colgate you won’t get the stripes as cleanly the second time. TikTok says you can magically get the stripes no matter how many times you load it back in but I don’t trust anyone on TikTok. That nozzle isn’t magic.
I saw a delivery guy go viral for finding a floating broom in the middle of a neighborhood around Halloween. He stopped in the street and made like three videos in utter disbelief at this magical bewitched floating Harry Potter Nimbus 3000 fucking broom. He was shaken. The video got seven million views and three hundred and fifty thousand comments. The full range of speculation. My favorite was the conclusion that obviously the witch had fallen off and the broom’s default holding pattern had taken over and was waiting on its master to recover. Like a jet ski without a rider.
Not to brag but I’m basically famous-adjacent because I know the witch behind the whole thing. Which doesn’t really count because they didn’t get famous from it so… I’m obscure-adjacent.
Where was I?
I think I was setting the stage for not being able to travel to the past. To erase a misstep. To undo knowledge once it is gained. That is important this time of year. The one tradition that we have held for the children and our own selfish purposes is the tradition of inviting small stuffed elves into our home and thereby, their employer; Santa.
Now… we have four children and their ages are getting into the range of non-belief and skepticism. That’s fine for most things. But my younger two really enjoy the Santa season. It is still fun to see the elves move around and get into trouble. It is still fun to get a stocking and sort out all the personalized choices that the man-in-red makes for them. As it so happens, the stockings became the issue this year.
Christmas Day we pull out the stocking and sort all of the knickknacks. Each stocking got a pack of flavorful Trident gum. One was Tropical Orange and the other Watermelon. Each came in a pack of three so we chose four of the six and doled them out on Christmas Eve to make the stocking complete. The remaining two we set aside for our own purposes. We then placed the stocking on the hearth and retired to bed.
Did you notice the error? We didn’t either.
Fast forward. Christmas morning is a success. Brunch goes well. We eat and wade through torn wrapping paper and lie around like the lazy sacks of Christmas waste all day. As we are finishing the day and handing out some evening melatonin, Donna Threeto looks on the bedside nightstand and notices an unopened pack of Trident Tropical Orange. She then looks in the trashcan and saw the packaging that all of the packs came in.
Like a puzzled puppy, she tilited her head to one side and said, ‘”huh…”. Then I saw it. The little childish twinkle got a little dimmer and she became just a degree more solemn.
“Do you help Santa sometimes?” she asked.
“Yes honey, most parents help Santa.” I replied.
And that was it. She quietly walked into the kitchen and got a bowl of ice cream.
Supermom and I both knew. She knew too.
It is one of those moments that is tiny but underpins a change in perspective. Less magic and more cold reality.
Today was a little bit of that for me as well. We have a traditional day-after-christmas gathering with my father’s side of the family. My Grandmother has always loved Christmas and poured all of her energy each year into selecting gifts and giving them to her very large family. She would accumulate things over the year and they always had specific thought and purpose. In recent years she has struggled with Alzheimer’s and our tradition has been reduced to symbolic envelopes. This year the tradition was reduced further because she wasn’t in the room to watch the envelopes get handed out.
This feels like the last year we will carry that torch. The flame might have flickered out.
My aunt brought a large box with jewelry. Pins, button covers, bracelets, necklaces, broaches, and several other types of accent pieces. All had one thing in common. They had to be related to frogs. Greatmother built a reputation as a lady who enjoyed frogs in all of their whimsy. If something could be adorned with a frog then she had it and here in this box were years of the hoarded frogs. We spent part of the afternoon sifting through the collection and taking the ones that caught our eye. Tokens to remember a once powerful lady who has grown frail.
Each trinket I looked at, I wanted. I could see a unique color or shape or detail that might have made it special to her. There is one where two frogs, who are clearly friends, are sitting on a log and just passing the time. They are happy in each others company. I grabbed that one. There is a Mardi Gras frog and I remember she had trips to New Orleans. I grabbed that one. There is a shiny smooth tree frog that looks like it is climbing a tree and looking back down. There wasn’t much to associate it with so I passed it over. It feels like passing those details over is letting part of her die. And doing while she is sitting in a wheelchair in the other room, wondering where she is at, seems especially cruel. I would love to have her sit and recount the special memories that each one represents. To tell me about trips and friends and how no matter where she traveled in the world, frogs were common ground. Maybe that is just a sorrowful thought that sounds good but is not something that would have been given the time.
The truth is that I try to cling to things as surrogates to my own memories. It hurts to think about not having a lucid moment where my grandmother sees me and loves me the way she always had. She smiled at me and there was a brief second of maybe recognition but she wasn’t there. Her eyes are smaller and unfocused. Her mind wanders on the little things and she is rarely present beyond the moment at hand. Her light has all but died as well. I sit here tonight with tears streaming as I write and I mourn for someone I haven’t yet lost but I haven’t brought myself to visit in the past year. Too busy is a pitiful excuse.
Our traditions are changing and there is this ongoing season of loss hanging over our heads. It is heavy. Then I look at the other end of the family tree and things are looking brighter. Children are happy and healthy and growing into young adults. It is important for them to learn the hard lessons and hopefully through a couple of generational layers to dull the sting. So we carry on and smile. We request things of Santa and welcome his elves into our homes. And for the next little while, when I wear a suit at work, there will be a small frog resting on the lapel.
Greatmother has had a great life and is owed a giant slice of gratitude for who I am today. If you find yourself missing someone who might not even be gone, this post is for you. You’re welcome.
-Underdaddy to the rescue.