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Holiday-Birthday Train

My father's just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and my son is off the grid. I know where my father is, and I wonder if he got up at midnight to make coffee in San Diego thinking it's morning.

I don't know where my son is, and this worries me more than usual because the Dodgers are winning, and if he loves anything it's the Dodgers.

Yet his social media is quiet. Crickets.

But I'm drinking hot coffee as a hot flash washes over me and thinking about the holidays.

A ritual.

It began with Halloween. We were the stagehand parents, putting together homemade costumes. My husband did that, and I helped with makeup and roasted pumpkin seeds.

The costumes were elaborate - a Neanderthal, Salvador Dali, a Turkish princess, Nosferatu, a walking hamburger (her best friend was French Fries), David Bowie, Pippi Longstocking, Charlie Chaplin, the Tin Man, and in the earlier years - Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Elvis, Vincent Price, a cat dressed as a present and so on.

Once in a while I stuffed a dummy to prop outside. I ate the children's Mounds bars in their Halloween scores when they went to school. And when they were little, I'd throw all the candy away within a few days and feign confusion when I couldn't find it.

Then Day of the Dead arrived, and it became a thing with Norah because she called it a "Walter" instead of an "altar," and so for a few years we made "walters" and once our slobbery hound dog ate all the sugar skulls off Norah's walter.

Then Lucy celebrated her birthday November 3.

Then Flannery celebrated his birthday November 8.

When they were little we celebrated the birthdays together for years in parks, and Kiffen dressed up as Captain Hook or a Bone Man as the birthday party entertainment.

Then came my quiet birthday on November 22, after all the hoopla of Halloween and kid parties, which was fine by me, until Lucy had a surprise party for me when I was forty. I'd walked to Los Feliz to see a movie and home again, thinking about my quiet birthdays. Then boom! And we danced and ate cake, and it wasn't a big celebration - friends in the living room dancing on bad carpet. But I was so grateful to that sweet girl. I think she was in 7th or 8th grade.

I remember Kiffen made the most beautiful chocolate cake. Kiffen and his seven sisters had such a gift with making cakes that rose high and boasted swirls and roses and raspberries.

Once he made Flannery a James Bond birthday cake of seven layers.

And then Thanksgiving rolled around, and we usually went to San Diego to see my parents because it was my mom's favorite holiday.

Then Kiffen's birthday on December 17th and Norah's birthday on December 23rd.

And then it was Christmas, so the holiday-birthday train began on Halloween and we had to buckle up.


This is what I remember. This is what I recall. It's the Christmas of 2012. My heart has broken and I can't put my finger on why. Maybe it's because my son doesn't sleep. Maybe it's because I live in two states, and when I come home to LA for the holidays, something is so wrong in the house, and yet I can't figure it out.

Is it the cousin from Nashville who has come to live to try his hand at the music business because he is so talented?

Is it the shivery-weepy actress we are renting a room to with the dog who glares at us with judgment and disdain?

Is it because my son doesn't sleep or come home much?

So on Christmas morning, I put on a man's suit because I know if I put on a dress I will cry. I put on a man's suit like armor. My daughter and I go to Mass on Golden Gate at the little Catholic church where she was baptized.

Kiffen packs us for San Diego.

Flannery makes an odd and kind of sad film of Norah and Wil, the boy from up the street, called "Jillian's Corner."

I think how this is not Christmas morning, but it is.

In the afternoon, we get into the car and drive to San Diego, which has been our tradition after having our own Christmas in LA. And somewhere on the 5 Freeway, in my man's suit, I listen to the sounds of my three children sleeping.

I am in the backseat with Norah and Flannery. I am sitting behind Kiffen and Norah is asleep on me. Flannery has sprawled over two seats the way he does in cars, all limbs and greed.

Kiffen drives and Lucy sleeps in the front seat, because she and Flannery will kill each other in the backseat.

It's not worth the fight.

The dogs are with us. The cats are not.

Our three children are so tired they have all fallen asleep, a deep restorative sleep from a late night and an early morning that is Christmas but doesn't feel like Christmas.

Yet, I am so glad they are so sleeping. I pretend they are babies again, sleeping on the way to San Diego (which they are rarely ever did).

But I don't sleep. I look at the ocean as if it might give me answers. I touch the tie I am wearing, and feel the man's suit heavy on my body.

My eyes are hot and dry. No tears. The suit is working.

Kiffen reaches his hand back to hold mine.

We say nothing.

It's the last time we will all go to San Diego for Christmas as a family, although we don't know that yet.

The Evolution of Tradition

It's EZ