All is Calm, All is Bright
When the boys were little — seven, four and one – and I was tired, always tired, because they still didn’t reliably sleep through the night, I’d stay at school until 5 pm because I was paying for daycare and I had to prep for four different classes and I knew I wasn’t going to get any work done at home. Home, which was always a disaster, with piles on every level surface, including the card table set up for Thanksgiving and never taken down, and with toys scattered across the living room floor and baskets full of laundry that never made it into dressers. I couldn’t keep up with daily life, much less think about getting ready for the holidays.
On those late December afternoons, I’d step out of the middle school into inky darkness, sharp cold slicing my cheeks, and walk out to the nearly empty lot to scrape my car windows and coax the engine alive after nine hours in below freezing temps. I’d drive in silence to go pick up the boys, even the radio too much, too much for my chattering mind. When will I ever get my shopping done? Do the boys have any decent clothes for a picture with Santa? What’s the forecast for this weekend? Will the roads be slippery when we drive to Mom’s? and Crap! When was that bill due? Please tell me it wasn’t yesterday…
At Ruthie’s house, I’d bundle up my brood, all of us cranky and hungry after a long day. We’d pile into the car, each of the boys carefully strapped in, the bickering already starting. Boys! Enough. Keep your hands to yourselves. With a sigh, I’d hit reverse and head home to start my second shift, wondering some days how I would muster the energy to make it until bedtime.
Then one day as we backed out of Ruthie’s driveway, my middle son said, Mama, drive that way. He pointed toward the white twinkling lights on a towering pine on the corner lot at the end of the street. So I did. I drove toward the lights. And for a moment, everyone was silent. We paused at the intersection, checked both ways for cars, and instead of turning left as we normally did, we followed the brightest Christmas lights we could find and headed right. Turn on the Christmas music, said my oldest. Block by block, at each junction, we evaluated our options and followed a winding path through the quiet suburban streets. A light snow had begun to fall. I checked the rearview mirror to gauge my youngest in his car seat. Nukkie in his mouth, his eyes were focused out the window, entranced.
Experts say that taking a different route home can help to keep you sharp, can help to ward off dementia. What they don’t mention is how getting off the hamster wheel and forging a new path, a path in pursuit of sparkling lights and See, Mama! Did you see? can wholly reconfigure a person. Instead of a fifteen minute commute full of red lights and black ice and whiny kids and What can I make for supper?, we had thirty minutes of magic.
So what if I never got around to Christmas baking? Who cares if the gifts never made it under the tree before it was time to open them? And was it really such a big deal if we were several days behind on the Advent calendar? The boys and I could take a different route home every night. And in doing so, we could create our own little peace on Earth.
Jennifer Hernandez lives in the Minneapolis area where she teaches middle school, wrangles three sons and writes for her sanity. Her work has appeared in Talking Stick, Silver Birch Press, Visual Verse and elsewhere. Her poem “Montage” was recently chosen as the reader poem of the month on the Disarticulations blog.