Christmas, chaos and time well spent

Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in “Christmas in Connecticut”

“Christmas in Connecticut” has been my favorite holiday movie for many years. Just ask any of my children, two of whom refuse to watch it yet another time. Filmed in 1945 before the war’s end, Barbara Stanwyck plays a food writer whose column includes details about her life with her husband and baby on their small farm in Connecticut.

The thing is, our writer isn’t married, doesn’t have a baby and lives in an apartment in NYC. She can’t even cook! This doesn’t bother her editor so long as her column generates sales. But when her publisher, a Randolph Hearst-like man, decides to send a wounded veteran to her Connecticut home for Christmas and that he, too, will be joining them,  we’re off to weaving tangled webs of hilarity with a perfectly delightful rom-com ending.

How my life has come to imitate art with regards to my favorite film! I write a column similar to that of Stanwyck’s character, who even breaks up (to all the other characters’ delight) with a man in the same profession as my ex-husband.

But unlike our heroine, I do have the five children about whom I’ve written many times over the past three years. I do live in West Akron, teach at our local university, shop at the Acme and walk my dogs in our parks. However, were my publisher to arrive at my door—well, let’s just hope he doesn’t.

I see mom-blogs with photos of elegant women whose clean children wear crisp outfits while playing in lushly manicured yards or rooms with nary a toy out of place. I get it, these photos are curated and nobody lives like that. But they can leave the rest of us feeling a tad inadequate.

Except for when I’m in the classroom or meeting with students, I work at home. In order to remain productive, I have near-perfect tunnel vision. I heat up coffee without looking at the dishes in the sink, on the counter or the stovetop. I work on my laptop without seeing the piles of documents on my desk or, when I work there, the newspapers strewn across the dining room table.

When I go upstairs, I avoid looking down lest I see the rolling balls of animal fur or, depending upon the bedroom, LEGOS a-scatter, dollies a-jumble or baskets of clean laundry waiting to be folded.

Even though only two of our five kids now live with us full time, they vigorously coordinate with the three dogs and four cats to facilitate entropy. That is, what is orderly is doomed to slide into chaos.

Stanwyck’s character relies on a man she calls Uncle Felix, scene-stealingly played by Hungarian actor S.Z. Sakall (whose three sisters all died in Nazi concentration camps), for the recipes in her column and her meals. Unlike her, Max and I love to cook. We’re even pretty good at it. But what we often lack is time. Luckily, we have our own version of Uncle Felix.

On Mondays, I begin my hour-long carpool pick up at 3 p.m. From 4:30 to 5:30, Lyra and Leif have back-to-back piano lessons. That’s why most Mondays we eat dinner at our “second kitchen,” a.k.a., Macaroni Grill. And, as opposed to the other nights we’re there, their healthy kids’ meals are free on Mondays and Tuesdays (with each adult entree ordered).

There’s a saying that people go to a restaurant because of the food, but return because of the service. At our second kitchen, which has very little turnover, we know everyone’s name and we are greeted with hugs. Jake’s been working there as long as I’ve lived in Akron. He was just 16 when he first waited on us. Today, 20 years later, he’s the apple of Lyra’s eyes.

Now that the semester has ended, I have time to cook and our second kitchen has seen us only twice in the past two weeks. I am plowing my way through disorderly rooms, closets and cupboards. Scrubbing the fridge and editing the toys are also on my list.  General order is slowly being restored before the whirlwind of the holidays blows it all to smithereens.

The mother of a friend, who also has several children, regularly tells her, “Someday, in the not too distant future, all you will have is a clean home and you’ll want for these days where life is too full to ever have things as clean as you think you want them.”

Kids don’t care if a home looks like it’s out of a Pottery Barn catalog. In fact, they’d prefer it not. When grown, what they’ll remember most fondly are the times spent together, often making the messes.

So pile onto the couch with your loved ones and a plate of cookies and watch one of your favorite movies (you know my recommendation). Who cares if crumbs get between the cushions? That’s what vacuums—and dogs—are for.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on December 15, 2019.

Contact Holly Christensen at whoopsiepiggle@gmail.com.

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