Christmas is a bit weird this year.
It started to unfold in back the fall when I learned my three sons and brother would be unavailable for the holidays. Graham and Warren would be in Bali while Cary was scheduled to work. Meanwhile, brother Brent and sister-in-law had in-law plans in place.
55 years worth of tradition, waiting to happen and no room at the Inn. Well, actually, maybe there was a room, but no one else was gonna be there.
To avoid the alone-at-Christmas weepies, I figured best ti be proactive and make plans. There were two obvious options—stay in Halifax and horn in on one of my new Haligonian friend’s family festivities or go to Waterloo to either microwave a turkey pot pie (for one) or horn in on Waterloo friends’ festivities.
Uh, just no.
This odd family-less anomaly called for something completely different. So I sussed out a plan for a short pre-Christmas Ontario visit and then a venture into the nontraditional, a week in la belle province—Quebec City — over the hallowed 25th with a couple of willing girlfriends, Ruth and Claudia. By mid-October, the Christmas in Quebec City plan was signed, sealed and delivered—flights and B&Bs booked.
Queue the unpredictability factor.
Hardly a month ago, Graham wasn’t going to Bali anymore, Cary wasn’t working Christmas, and brother Brent’s plans had fallen through. The impossible was again possible. A quintessential, happy-together-family Christmas was in my sightline, except for one teeny glitch… la Français Noel escape was booked, bought and paid for.
Adapt. Embrace. And just get on the plane, damn it.
Early Monday morning, I am packed and ready to leave Halifax to catch my 8:45am flight. The plan once I land in Toronto at 10am is to take the UP train to Union Station and enjoy a full day in the city before meeting up with my sons for dinner. Course, that’s scuppered when an email pops in my Inbox saying my 8:45 flight is cancelled and rescheduled for a noon departure, albeit not to Toronto, at least not right away.
This is when I pull up the blinds to look outside my window. You see, I’d been slightly ignoring the howling outside. Confirmed… snow, wind and ice. Seems overnight and across the whole damn country, the balmy winter weather had swapped itself for a snowstorm from hell.
Okay, fine. The best laid plans and I know how to roll with the punches. I mentally rejig my expectations for the day, and then I unpack my tidy, sensible carry on and exchange it for a giant suitcase with twice as many clothes since I have time to second-guess. Plus, I have some hours to kill before my new flight time.
At noon, giant suitcase in tow, I catch the rescheduled flight (on a prop, no less), land in Ottawa a couple hours later, deplane and wait two hours for the second flight to Toronto. At least I get a window seat, though all I can see outside is whirls and swirls of whiteness.
By the time I land, retrieve my suitcase, execute my UP train/subway combo and reach my son Graham’s flat, it’s dark, I’m pooped, and it feels like pumpkin time. I crash in seconds.
Tuesday morning. My eyes pop open at 4:30am, Ontario time.
Refusing to rise two hours before the sun, I toss and turn. At 5am, I give up on sleep and stumble my way to Graham’s kitchen, one goal in mind… caffeine.
Eyes barely open, I nose through the cupboards, find the coffee grinder and then snatch the bag of Laughing Whale coffee beans I’d brought along, all the way from Halifax. I open the bag and breath in the earthy scent of my favourite elixir, an important part of the coffee-making ritual. In about ten minutes, the coffee plan goes awry.
Below follows the recipe for how not to make coffee at 5am…
1 tired mother
1 electric kettle
Fill kettle and place on stove. Grind beans and put in filter. Stand in kitchen (half asleep) and wait for kettle to boil, with back to stove. Smell smoke. See smoke.
Turn around and see kettle is actually electric and plastic base is melting onto red-hot burner. Grab kettle and throw outside onto balcony. Leave balcony door open, letting sub-zero arctic gales into kitchen while waving noxious fumes out the door with hands.
Make moans and ministrations while loudly proclaiming, “Stupid. Stupid. I’m so stupid.” Wait for son to rush into kitchen, mentally preparing apology with usual ma-is-over-50 excuse in mind.
“Ma!! What’s going on?” yells Graham when he rushes into the smoke-filled kitchen.
His hair is mushed upwards (Mohawk-like) eyes slits, track pant and t-shirt jammy combo wrinkled from being twisted in bed covers. Huh. Isn’t that just how he looked when he was a little boy and turned up at my bedroom door on Christmas morning, all rumply and crumply and ready to rip open gifts. Sure, but… this is not a little boy, anxious to see what Santa left under the tree. Nope. This is a 26-year old man staring at his absent-minded mother, frantic at the spectre of smoke in his kitchen at 5am.
“Sorry! I put the kettle on the stove by accident.”
“But Ma!!” he says, “How could you forget it was electric? This used to be your kettle!”
Well, what I learn from the 6am how-not-to-make coffee debacle is that plastic will mostly come off a burner once it hardens if scraped at with knife. And for what doesn’t chip off, just turn the burner to high (when son has left the flat), and it will burn off.
This is what I do, and I don’t worry about the fumes since I’m over 55, and it’s probably too late for me anyway.
Later, when Graham has left for work, I head to Queen Street for a hair pruning, courtesy of my fav new stylist, Jason. I’d discovered him on my last trip to Toronto, and while I’m not saying I went back to him just because of the amazing head massage before the hair wash, let’s just say that when he buries his fingers deep into my locks and goes at my scalp, I choke back tears, of joy I mean. Look, don’t judge me. You go three and a half years solo and see if you don’t cry too when someone gives you a head massage.
Post-haircut (bye Jason… sniff, sniff… see you in six months… I love you), I meet up with oldest son Cary and his girlfriend Myra. When our bellies are full and Cary heads off to work, Myra and I walk to Canadian Tire on Dundas, so I can buy a new kettle. Myra never says a word about my bonehead morning. Instead, we discuss the merits of various electric kettles, and when our conversation is going gangbusters, I sneakily segue into a mini interrogation about her and my son’s life plans. She kindly fills in all the blanks.
Goddess above, thank you for delivering unto me I mean my sons girlfriends who willingly provide information to nosy mothers.
What’s that? It’s the middle of the week, and I should have that serious conversation with Graham—the one about school and his future and all that important stuff. That’s what moms do, you say?
Yah, yah, I know we were supposed to have the conversation when he was visiting in Halifax last month, but we were busy having way too much fun to muck that up by getting all serious. And just cuz it’s 7pm, and we’re sitting in Puck’s on Bloor Street waiting for big beers and giant burgers and talking about anything but earnest stuff doesn’t mean I’m shirking my mom duty. Come on! The kid has to eat, right?
Course, when we are back to his place, we get comfy in front of the tube and click on Netflix. But hey, I’ve yet to get my Toronto land legs back, and I really should acclimatize before I get into the important business, anyway.
So what if Graham convinces me I have to watch several episodes of The Office to really understand how hilarious it is. Well, you know what? My kid is actually helping me out.
You see, me and my boyfriend Netflix are getting a bit weary of each other. Keeping our relationship alive and fresh is uber important. Graham hooking me up with The Office, well, he’s actually getting me and the Net’ back on track. After all, isn’t a Netflix show fix-up a better option as compared to other, more terrifying alternatives—say like, online dating?
I rest my case.
Thursday is my day to head to Waterloo. My plan is to stay there until Sunday and then return to Toronto for a last night with my sons before the Quebec leg of the Christmas adventure.
Being my Waterloo hometown is sprawling and suburban, wheels are essential. Thus, I book a car rental for a 2pm pick up. Before I head to Waterloo, though, my plan is to spend the morning with Cary, who has the day off. We make arrangements to meet at Starbucks on Young and College.
I get there early, and while I wait for Cary’s arrival, I order up a Grande Café Mocha, plunk myself down at a table, pull out my computer and start bashing away on the keyboard.
A couple of minutes later a man is barreling in my general direction, eyes riveted to the table beside me, which is empty. Not two seconds later, he reaches where I am sitting and without a warning, rams his body in the teeny space between the two tables. He twists sideways and his butt slams into my drink, dumping the entire Grande Café Mocha on me and my computer.
“I can’t believe you just did that! I can’t believe you just did that!” is what I say, I mean yell.
And yes, I do, I really do yell because like I said, I can’t believe he did that.
My jeans are soaked with hot mocha. It’s dripping off my arms and pooling around my feet, but worse, there’s a puddle of it on my computer.
And the guy? Well, he gives a deer in headlights look and runs out of the Starbucks.
And the Starbucks people? Well, their ears must be on mute cuz not a one comes to me with as much as a napkin, and I can’t get up to get any myself without further compromising my computer.
What saves me is two young men who leap from their seats, grab a pile of napkins and begin mopping the puddle on my computer. Thank Goddess for the kindness of strangers because these two stay with me, wiping and mopping, going back and forth to ask for more cloths from the Starbucks people until I am as un-Mocha’d as I can possibly be.
“Please tell your moms they did a fantastic job raising you two,” I blather when they finally depart.
Ten minutes later, when my long, lanky-limbed son arrives, I tell him my tale as we head out to Young Street. As we walk into the -20 temperature, my soaking wet mocha legs insta ice into two chocolate freezies.
“Cary,” I say, “I think I need dry pants.”
“Okay ma. Let’s go shopping. Where do you want to go?” he says as he tucks his arm over my shoulders.
Driving the Dodge Charger rental car up Eglinton Avenue, I can’t seem to get the wretched beast to move in a forward motion straight line. The back wheels are slipping and sliding, arbitrarily jerking the car into the lanes on either side, independent of my efforts on the steering wheel. Meanwhile, the wipers can’t keep up with the snow hammering down on the car, making it almost impossible to see.
It’s Snow-mageddon Part Deux, and Goddess knows how I have not been hit by or hit another car being since I am in Toronto rush hour traffic.
Let me just say that in the half hour I’ve been on the road, I’ve made it all of two kilometers from Graham’s place. Figuring neither the weather nor the traffic are going to ease, I decide it’s time to give and take a left, turning the car round to head back to Graham’s place.
Fifteen minutes of nervous driving later, I turn onto St. George, and somehow, visibility nigh on zero, woman-handle the car and park behind his building.
So much for going to Waterloo on Thursday.
Once out of the car, I leave my bags behind, lock up the car and trudge my way down St. George. With no keys to get into Graham’s flat, I give him a quick call to explain the change in plans, and we arrange to meet at a coffee shop on Bloor, so he can give me the key before he heads to the gym for a work out.
Forty minutes later and key in hand, I make my way back to his building, tunneling through mountains of snowdrifts and head to the parking lot to retrieve my suitcase from the rental car.
This is when things go sideways. The car is not there. I look again, and nope, ain’t no Dodge Charger in sight. As I take in this reality, it suddenly pops in my head that I’d forgotten to put a note on the dash saying I was visiting Apt. 606, so I wouldn’t get towed. Not that I am much for swearing, but when I deduce my negligence has resulted in the car being towed, I explode with a loud Holy *uck. And then I call my son with the news.
“Graham!” I scream, “They towed the rental car from your building!”
“Wha??? Ma, Oh No! Okay. I’m leaving the gym and coming home.”
“No, don’t come back. Do your workout and just give me the number of your landlady. I’ll call her.”
(Should I tell you the rest? I don’t want to tell you the rest. But I’ve gone this far, so I suppose I must tell you the rest… please don’t judge…)
Graham calls his landlady and I also call his landlady, and she insists to each of us that she hasn’t had the car towed.
And it is when I am talking to her on the phone that a terrible, horrific thought creeps into my mind… If she didn’t call a tow truck, could that possibly mean I’d parked the car behind the wrong building? I could hardly see through the snow… I was in a frantic state… I’m not the great for details at the best of times… so many buildings on the street look similar…
Deciding I must check out this possibility, I battle my way through wind and snow and down the street on a search for an apartment building that I might possibly have confused for Graham’s.
And yup, don’t I see one a few buildings away, with the same brown balconies. I trudge to the back and the parking lot, and yup, there it is… the Dodge Charger, all safe and snug, albeit at the wrong building.
And you know what? All I feel inside on this discovery is profound relief. First there had been the kettle meltage and then the Café Mocha spillage, and now, the rental car debacle. So it’s three for three, with bad things coming in, that is.
The next day, although the weather settles, I rejig my plans and return the rental car, paying $100 for the privilege of parking it overnight and having my son question my mental state.
Lesson learned. Next time I go to Waterloo and there’s a snowstorm, travel by bus.
FYI, I end up parking myself in Toronto until Sunday, spending bonus time with my sons, and even managing to find the right moment to have that serious mom talk with Graham and pin Cary down (ever so slightly) for corroboration on his future plans.
There are no further Toronto debacles, and I finally make it to Waterloo by bus. In less than 24 hous, I squish in fast and furious visits with a buncha friends and my brother, even fitting in a Sunday evening band practice. Monday morning, after a great sleep on my brother’s pull out couch and one last (quick) friend visit, I am on way to the airport for the flight to Quebec City.
As for my weird Christmas… I’m thinking this year I might be a bit of a Dodge Charger myself, my back end jigging and jagging here and there. Pretty sure in due time, I will wrestle back control of the wheel.
Until then… Adapt. Embrace. And just get on the plane, damn it.
Deuxième partie, à poursuivre en français. Jusque-là, Joyeux Noël.
And now, for your visual entertainment… let’s start in Toronto…
Graham Cary Mama
Myra, Cary, Graham, Andi, Sara Warren in Bali
Goofy movie time…
And in Waterloo… quickie visits with…
Michael and me Susan and me
Sabine, me, Heather, Ginette, Megan Hillary and me
Band practice… (Thanks for videotaping Jen!)
And one more… just cuz…