A Reflection for Friends and Family:
On Christmas day we found ourselves at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP), the four of us sitting at the only available table – in the back next to the bathrooms and emergency exit. The place was packed and I said, “We’re with our people.” Bob and the kiddos thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t. “We’re with the people who are like us -- nowhere to go for Christmas.” Amanda and Aidan kind of laughed but they knew it was true.
Like many of the other patrons, we were there in mussed hair, no makeup, and flannel shirts (mostly speaking for myself), as though we were home and hungry. All four of us played on our phones while waiting for our food. Our waitress started every interaction with “I’m sorry I’m taking so long,” as if it was her fault she was handling a large section of tables all by herself. You got the sense that she really should have been home with her children, instead of working a shift at IHOP. As one with many years of work at understaffed restaurants, I tried not to imagine what was going in the kitchen, fingers dipped in pancake batter, hamburger patties dropped in the floor before placement on bun, deep fryer grease looking like molasses from lack-o-cleaning. (Just last night I had a dream that I was starting back at my former short-order cook job. I was thinking hard in my dream, for any new knowledge that I might have gained to curb the pimples that would emerge on my face as a result of working again with large vats of grease.)
But don’t feel sorry for us.
We intentionally traded-in cooking Christmas dinner for a naps because we stayed up late the night before. Bob had worked well past 1 a.m., and I made the decision to attend all three Christmas Eve services, 5, 8:30, and 11 p.m. (I had the freedom to make that choice because both Amanda and Aidan drive now, plus I have my own car.) Each service different, I wanted to experience it all – the live nativity (see pic below), the children’s flashlight stars, the orchestra, the ensembles, the choirs, the bells, and the hundreds of golden candles flickering under the milky way of paper stars hovering above the congregation (see pic below). Truly magical.
These are the choices you make when you live far away from your family and your in-laws. One night it’s the glory of art and music, the next night it’s IHOP. Christmas for a pastor’s family is a strange mix of beauty and loneliness.
Still, anytime the four of us are gathered around the same table, even if glued to tiny cellphone screens, mama panda is happy. I used to think that the baby pandas would be with us forever. I guess when you’re chained to intensive parenting, probably not all of it necessary, it feels like a bottomless pit of duty. But to be cliché, children grow fast. Everything ends. Amanda (19), who we used to call Demanda because up until 2014 she seemed to command every minute of my attention, now lives quite independently in another time zone. She’s a sophomore at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and I will now shamelessly brag about her exact area of study because I love it so much: she’s majoring in political science and minoring in international studies with a concentration in international economics. People ask what she’ll be doing with that. Her quick answer is: go to law school. My answer is more uppity: think critically. It was a thrill for me to help her set up a home gallery of her ceramics (see pic below), pieces she created in high school and college learning from a talented host of mentors and teachers. Patrons were amazingly generous in buying her pottery, thus supporting her art and her study abroad fund.
I might have been more depressed at our Christmas at IHOP if not for the memory of the previous weekend with friends and family. Amanda and I were able to make a quick trip three hours due north to Minnesota. My brother and sister in law, Tom and Gretchen, hosted a big family gathering in the grand style all three of my brothers are known for: in a heated, immaculate, fully stocked garage, so comfortable you could go stocking footed. It was the first time I’d seen my family for Xmas in a decade and I left feeling profoundly satisfied way deep down in a way I cannot explain.
When our IHOP waitress gave us the bill for Christmas dinner, Aidan (16) offered to pay. He’s been working for over a year and has liquid money, a bank account, and a debit card. He pays for his cell phone and gasoline for the car, as he drives himself to school. (Yet another last vestige of my motherhood duties ended – 15 years of driving my kiddos to school. Aidan is happy to finally be getting there on time, instead of chronically two, three, ten minutes late.) I didn’t want him to pay for IHOP meal. Actually, I’d rather he not work so much. Instead of having extra cash I’d rather he join more school things and/or read. But his joy is skateboarding, baseball, heavy metal, and silence. A few weeks ago he was invited to join the school improv team and when he (reluctantly) told me I tried my best to play it down low. (Competitions! Scholarships! Hollywood!) A subtle dude, he carefully selects the times when he’s hilarious but he mostly chooses quiet. When he speaks up, he has something to say. I realized that his offer to pay our IHOP tab came from his heart. It was his gift to his family. Instead of regulating his choice like a mother I gave in to gratitude for his generosity. We made a deal. Aidan would pay for the food, Bob and I would cover the tip, upping our usual 20 percent to 25 percent for the holiday. (Ex-waitresses tip higher, they say.)
Napping was a good choice for Christmas day.
Sated, Bob and I postponed our planned Xmas cooking until December 26 and we did not disappoint, if I may say. We stuffed large pasta shells with ricotta, parmesan, Italian sausage, fresh basil and oregano, chopped spinach, onions and garlic. We topped with marinara sauce (while I fantasized about garden fresh tomatoes for next year’s din) and wala – two pans of excellent eating. We vowed to cook more the new year, to host more house concerts. We also vowed to take dance lessons after Bob’s knee surgery (January, his third joint surgery and our seventh collective surgery altogether, but who’s counting? Thankful for modern medicine.) More of our collective 2016 vows: golf more, bike more, hike more, read and write more. Visit family and friends more. Bob is sustained by the awesome congregation that is St. John’s in downtown Des Moines, where he’s served as associate pastor since 2007. But he misses his family and friends in Brooklyn, as do I. Our vacation resources are dedicated to trips to NYC. (And now also to DaveMatthews Band concerts, as our first try in 2015 was a tremendous success. My family got to enjoy a happy mama panda, and I got to sit/stand/dance next to tattoo dad, according to his t-shirt, who shared my enthusiasm for the lyrics and set list. Three fourths of us are looking forward to the 2016 tour dates. Another vow: more tailgating. Fingers crossed.)
Mostly, I vow to more fully appreciate the gift I have in Bob, and my parents. The truth “everything ends” haunts me, as I think of all I have and all I have to lose.
My new job sustains me. 2015 was a pretty big year for me in terms of employment. I’ve transitioned from full-time grant writing (a white collar version of hard labor) to marketing/communications (a day job version of creative writing). I started as marketing/communications director at a large counseling and education center that provides a broad range of mental health services, plus renewal and professional development opportunities, serving more than 2,450 individuals including 700 children annually. The organizational culture of wellness and wholeness makes for a pleasant work environment. I also do some freelance writing and editing on the side, mostly with Living Lutheran blog site and The Lutheran magazine. In the vein of always wanting more, I wish I could make a living by teaching and writing. I wish all the refugees could be resettled. I wish people wouldn’t listen to hateful speech. I wish we would all seek to understand one another’s concerns. I wish peace would prevail.
I wish that all of you are loved and satisfied, wherever your sanctuary is: a grand cathedral, a packed diner, a warm garage, or somewhere else. Pancakes for everyone!
I close with a litany that St. John’s used for Christmas Eve services:
Light looked down and saw darkness.
"I will go there", said Light.
Peace looked down and saw war.
"I will go there", said Peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred.
"I will go there," said Love.
So Light came and shone. So Peace came and gave rest. So Love came and brought life. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
On behalf of the family,
Terri and Bob Speirs
Amanda and Aidan
Facebook: Terri Mork Speirs
|Christmas at St. John's Des Moines, Iowa|
|Xmas eve 2015, Bob and I are standing on a step, the kiddos are actually taller than us|
|Amanda's ceramics are getting better and better; it's such a pleasure to watch her craft develop. |
We are incredibly grateful for the people who bought many of these pieces.
|James and Poppy|