Christmas in New York











Family Christmases offer such good memories - or not - depending on the nature of the holiday.  Last year, as I pack and call a car for the airport, I get a call.


The Bedbug Dilemma


“Mom, you need to sit down.  I have to tell you something.”


“Go ahead,” I say.  “Shoot.” My daughter, Mary, continues.


“First, we have bedbugs.  Steve discovered one last night and killed it.  It spurted blood and I have bites all over me.  We think we have it contained but we want you to know in case you want to change your plans about staying with us.”


“All righty then,” I say, parroting Jim Carrey, trying to remain calm and mature.  Internal dialogue:  Oh, shit, this is going to set Jenny off into frenzies. She’s terrified of bedbugs.


My daughters, Mary and Jenny, live in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in purchased coops three blocks from each other.  Mary is generally laid back.  Jenny can be hypersensitive and sometimes she can be a little compulsive.


The Announcement


“There’s more.” Mary says. “We wanted it to be a surprise and tell you when you got here, but now I have to tell you.  One of your gifts is a cup with “KEEP CALM, YOU’RE GOING TO BE A GRANDMA. I’m pregnant." 


I cannot register at first. “And what might be the reason you had to tell me now?” I ask, slightly stunned. “Why not surprise me?”


“Because I am puking night and day.  For the last four weeks.  And I may have eight weeks to go.  I can’t do much of anything."


“Oh, Mary, that is wonderful!” I exclaim.


“What?  That I’m puking my guts out?”


 “No, of course not.  That you are having our first grandchild!”


“Yeah, if I live through it.  Did you have morning sickness, Mom?”


“Not an ounce,” I say, and then wish I had lied.  “Not sure why," I say, trying to soften the blow. "But I hear morning sickness is a sign of a healthy baby.”


Long silence.  “I don’t believe it,” she says.


 “Well, bugs or baby, vomiting or victimization, I am getting on that plane tomorrow.  We will work it out.”


  The Bedbug Hysteria  


 “Mom, this is Jenny.”


“I suspected that,” I say, having spoken with Jenny for the last 38 years.  “What’s up?”


“Have you talked to Mary?”




“They have bedbugs. Now, when you go to their place you will put the clothes you wore in a bag. I will bring you a change and you can change from my place in the hallway.”


“And what do I do when the neighbors stare at me for being in my altogether?”


“I don’t know.  We’ll work it out.”


The LGA Breakdown


 So off I go, DTW to LGA, nonstop. Upon arrival, I learn Delta has diverted my bag to a later flight. I have to send my bag to Mary’s place since Jenny will be working the next day.  I know that will set off Jenny alarms.


 My cell phone rings.  It’s Jenny.  “Mom, Come to my place instead.  That way we can monitor the bug problem.”


 “Can’t.  My bag was delayed and I sent it to Mary’s place.  You said you were working.”




“See you soon,” I said.  “We’ll work it out.”


The Bedbug Reprieve


As it turns out, I stay with Mary and Steve for three days and no bedbugs appeared.  We all (including Jenny) have a happy Christmas Eve doing our traditional stockings, even custom-made ones for the cats, Rue and Scrams.  Mary holds up fairly well, disappearing occasionally to retch loudly in the bathroom.


Christmas Day, we all go to Connecticut, where Steve’s family makes a huge fuss over Mary, giving her advice and meds to calm her stomach.  She eats mashed potatoes and throw them all up.  The rest of us eat salmon and veggies and drink a lot of wine.  We work it out. 


The Clothing Purge


December 26 begins my visit with Jenny.  She and I roll my bag the three blocks to her 5th floor haven.


“Now,” she says, as we approach the door, “we have to take all your clothes to the basement and wash them.”


 “You’re kidding.” I say.


 “Mom, you have to understand bedbugs are a horrible thing.  They lay eggs and multiply.  Getting rid of them is almost impossible.  They could return in three weeks.”


“All my clothes?”


“Yes, and I am going to wrap your suitcase in plastic.”


“No, you’re not.”


“Yes, I am!”


At this point, I throw a fit and pulled my clothes out and throw them on the floor.  “This is insane!” 


“No,” she says, “Insane is if you or I acquire bedbugs.”  I see the fear in my daughter’s eyes, and I know we must wash the clothes. 


We trudge to the basement and once the clothes are washed, dried and the bag wrapped in plastic, we settle in for our three days together.


 Togetherness in Chinatown


Sunday starts quietly.   Jenny and I go to visit Mary while Steve escapes to a super hero movie, having held Mary’s head for four weeks.  Poor guy.  There was a madness in his eyes. 


As we women sit talking, Jenny cannot stand looking at Mary’s forlorn self anymore so she starts calling to find a doctor for Monday.  (OB-Gyns. today won’t see a pregnant woman until the second trimester – outrageous.) 


“There’s a doctor with Sunday hours in Chinatown!” Jenny says.


“Call him!” Mary says.


“God yes,” I add “If it’s a front for crime, we can always run.”


“Mom!” they both say.


We book their last appointment at 5 p.m., hoping we can get the miracle drug, Zofran, that helps vomiting.  Mary springs out of her sofa like a jack in the box.  I think she is going to hit the ceiling - clearly the most action we have seen from her in days.


“Let’s go!” she says.


So off we go on the "Q" to Chinatown, not knowing what we would come upon.  At that point, desperation and stupid faith drive us.


As it turns out, Dr. Chang is a nice doctor with a very clean office in a modern office building.  And he refuses to give Mary the miracle drug.


“Not safe for baby,” he says.


Dr. Chang takes a sonogram and indeed, there is a healthy baby, as Mary had told me earlier, the size of a blueberry.  The doctor gives Mary a vitamin-antihistamine combo that he believes is safe. 


Steve, concerned that we are wandering around Chinatown, leaves his movie in the middle to take Mary home, and Jenny and I escape for dinner and a movie in Manhattan.


The Finale


The vitamin-antihistamine combo lasts one day, and Mary goes off to work Monday, retching all the way.


By this time, Jenny’s bug paranoia had become my paranoia, and I wash all my clothes a second time.  We both agree my old ugly bag should be replaced, and I purchase one on the street with “New York, New York, New York,” all over it in rainbow colors.


“I love this bag!” I cry, as I handed the street vendor $25 for it.

“Good,” Jenny says.  “Not me.  As a New Yorker, I cannot be seen with that, but you can.  Let’s get you packed.”


So off I go the next morning, back to my quiet home. Sitting alone again, I gaze at the photo taken of the three of us in front of the Christmas tree in Connecticut.  We looked like three refugees from a violent storm.

Placing the photo aside, I begin to ponder how I would handle the arrival of my first grandchild.  How does a grandmother act?  What does she do? Will I be a good grandma?


And then I thought, What the hell - We’ll work it out.

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