Ho Ho Hospital Christmas
Your best gift is the present.
This essay accompanies, Truth #4: Change Happens—With or Without You.
I love the comfort of sameness.
A restaurant menu frozen in time. A brown tiled shopping mall. A sweet 16 car that leaks in the driveway.
As a nostalgist, I’ve had to coach myself to embrace the new.
For fear of turning into a baby-voiced, stuffed animal collector, I’ve faked change. To stay current, I’ve downloaded the apps, googled the acronyms, and thrown out countless chunky belts and peplum tops.
Note: As someone born with thin-limbs and an alcoholic’s midsection, the three years that peplum tops were “in” was a godsend. While tight at the bust, Lady Pelpum juts out AGGRESSIVELY at the waist, propelling stiff polyester across the equator. Lady P graciously covers-up any muffin tops or belly button ripples, offering what is best described as “the poor man’s tummy tuck”.
But as a traditionist, some things must remain unchanged.
If I had it my way, the entire holiday season would be time-capsuled—fixed with Bruce Springsteen and the same tattered-dress angel atop the tree. And for this reason, I regress into a bratty juvenile over the holidays.
This earns me no favours.
Note: To paint my level of juvenile regression, let it be known that my one-and-a-half year old niece and I were in a fight ALL Christmas long. If I approached her, she would throw a tantrum. If I was alone with her, she screamed. While she bumbled around the living room plastering every man, woman, and pet with stickers, I wasn't allowed a single one. Why, you ask?
Well, my husband (yeah, I’m a grown ass woman) concluded that it’s because she saw me as competition. At my parents house, transformed into a sugar-rushed, cartoon-watching tot, she didn’t know what I was capable of. Would I also want to unwrap her LeapFrog plush toy? Would I fight her to put Super Pickle on the tree? Would I also cry if things weren’t to my liking? I was giving off rival kid energy, spastic and unpredictable, vying for Grandma’s attention. I became a terrible (thirty) two.
Every year, to the exasperation of many, I insist on watching The Grinch before bed on Christmas Eve.
And while I’m not proud of it, I turn into a living room shusher. But I believe it’s for good reason.
I am preparing for time travel.
Traditions hold history. By doing the same thing, on the same day, a line can be drawn between ‘now’ and ‘then’. They serve as mini lightning rods into the past, allowing us to go back in time. And once we come up for air (*queue The Grinch credits*), we have fresher eyes to view our surroundings.
Plugging into calculated sameness allows us to check-in and bear witness to change. Whether it’s holiday homogeneity, an annual boozy baseball tournament, or getting a McCone on the first day of summer each year, traditions teleport.
They let us pay our respects to change.
Carrying out tradition is ripe with “holy shit, we are not as remembered” software updates. Although things update but don’t replicate, tradition brings us closer to both.
A day of ritual underscores all that has stayed the same, and all that has changed.
And for me—as a defunct Presbyterian who answers to gift-giving and beige appetizers—this is why Christmas is so important. It’s a day that deserves bubble-wrapping.
Unfortunately, the pandemic did her best to meld multiple Christmases into an indiscernible purée. Even so, there was one that stood out as particularly unkind.
It was my first ho ho hospital Christmas.
My old school farmer Dad, who has mowed the lawn through salmonella and wears wool socks to “suffer through” heat waves, agreed to go to the hospital.
What was originally chalked up to barrel-gutted Dad things (e.g. gout and type 2 diabetes) eventually worsened. For days, my Dad was in keel-over pain until he, himself, suggested the ER.
Note: Beyond getting salmonella from a Shoppers Drug Mart shrimp ring, my Dad has been unplagueable. He once ate an entire grocery bag of dog treats, mistaking them for Combos Snacks. Not only did he avoid stomach gurgles (and any remorse), he found the dog treats to be more flavorful than regular Combos.
After several days in hospital and a series of tests and delays, my Dad was eventually scheduled for routine gallbladder surgery.
On Christmas Eve, instead of indistinguishable M&Ms appetizers and Grinch-shushing, we were in an elevator heading up to visit my Dad. In the sterile room, adorned with hospital carnations and a deflated balloon, I was forced to run a software update.
Removed from chopping wood and swearing at the PVR, I saw my Dad for how he actually was: old.
In the non-discriminate hallways of the hospital, my Dad blended in with the other white-haireds hooked up to breathing machines and IVs. This man, who I’d spent every Christmas Eve with driving to see neighborhood lights and closely monitoring his drunkenness level, was a homogenous fixture in a place I never wanted him to blend into.
In his room, I fought back any honest sentimentality.
Instead, I voiced a rambling complaint about the disappointing selection of baked goods in the lobby’s Tim Hortons. No sesame bagels was a bummer I was comfortable putting into words.
Tracing the line back from this Christmas Eve to Christmas Eve’s past, change screamed out. Despite knowing that we were so fortunate, and my Dad would make a full recovery, it was a reminder that nothing lasts forever.
I’d been visited by the Ghosts of Christmases Yet to Come. Time had flashed its mirror, forcing her reflective stare. While sobering, I was given the gift of the present.
When we get a whiff of an alternative reality, we can enjoy our parent’s health, time with friends, and lazy mornings while they’re taking place.
Appreciating when things come together to serve up a special moment is something we hone as adults. We get better at recognizing nostalgia-in-the-making, knowing that things can change quickly. Being present for the fuzzy bursts of life—or even soaking in the monotony of your current routine—helps to slow the passage of time.
Always being “on to the next” or living too much in the past messes with the rate of change.
Change is as inevitable as it is powerful. When we harness it by living in the moment, building tradition, and making micro-moves, there’s less to fear.
And for fucks sake, start moisturizing your grinchy paws.
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