Christmas in New York
Family Christmases offer such good memories - or not - depending on the nature of the holiday. This year, as I pack and call a car for the airport, I get a call.
“Mom, you need to sit down. I have to tell you two things.”
Way to approach a topic, I think, - or two.
“Go ahead,” I say. “Shoot.” but I don’t sit down. I’m stubborn that way. My daughter, Mary, continues.
Jenny Me Mary
“First, we have bedbugs. Steve discovered one last night and killed it. It spurted blood and I have bites all over me. I want you to know in case you want to change your plans about staying with us. He is out buying all new bedding and has sprayed the room. The building super will fumigate after the holidays. We just want you to know so you can do the right thing for you.”
“All righty then,” I say, parroting Jim Carrey, trying to remain cool and mature. Internal dialogue: Oh, shit, this is going to set Jenny off into frenzies. She is 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 is hypersensitive and sometimes a little compulsive. Both are brilliant and beautiful, and I can’t wait to see them.
“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.
“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 so wonderful!” I exclaim, my timing a bit off.”
“What? That I’m puking my guts out?”
“No, of course not. That you are having our first grandchild!”
“Yea, 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.”
Five minutes later.
“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 have to 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.”
So off I went, DTW to LGA, nonstop. Upon arrival, I learned Delta had diverted my bag to a later flight. I had to send my bag to Mary’s place since Jenny would be working the next day. I knew that would 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.”
As it turned out, I stayed with Mary and Steve for three days and no bedbugs appeared. We all had a happy Christmas Eve doing our traditional stockings, even custom made ones for the cats, Rue and Scrams. Mary held up fairly well, disappearing occasionally to retch loudly in the bathroom.
Christmas Day, we all went to Connecticut, where Steve’s family made a huge fuss over Mary, giving her advice and meds to calm her stomach. She ate mashed potatoes and threw them all up. The rest of us ate salmon and veggies and drank a lot of wine. We made it through.
December 26 began my time with Jenny. She and I rolled my bag the three blocks and made it to her 5th floor coop.
“Now, she said, as we approached the door, “we have to take all your clothes to the basement and wash them.”
“You’re kidding.” I said.
“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 threw a fit and pulled my clothes out and threw them on the floor. “This is insane!”
“No, insane,” she said, “is if you or I acquire bedbugs.” I saw the fear in my daughter’s eyes, and I knew we had to wash the clothes.
Once all the clothes were washed, dried and the bag wrapped in plastic, we settled in for our three days together.
That night, Steve drove us to Dyker Heights to see the famous Christmas light show. Mary faded very quickly so we came home. By now, we were feeling guilty that we were not as excited about our first grandchild as in the beginning.
Sunday started quietly. Jenny and I went to see Mary while Steve escaped to a movie, having held Mary’s head for four weeks. Poor guy. There was a madness in his eyes.
As we women sat talking, Jenny could not stand looking at Mary’s forlorn self anymore so she started 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 said.
“Call him!” Mary said.
“God yes,” I added. “If it’s a front for crime, we can always run.”
“Mom!” they both said.
We booked their last appointment at 5 pm, hoping we could get the miracle drug, Zofran, that helps vomiting. Mary sprang out of her sofa like a jack in the box. I thought she was going to hit the ceiling - clearly the most action we had seen from her for days.
“Let’s go,” she said.
So off we went on the "Q" to Chinatown, not knowing what we would come upon. At that point, desperation and stupid faith drove us.
He was a nice doctor with a very clean office in a modern office building. And he refused to give her the miracle drug.
“Not safe for baby,” he said.
He did take a sonogram and indeed, there was a healthy baby, as Mary had told me earlier, the size of a blueberry. The doctor gave Mary a vitamin-antihistamine combo that he felt was safe.
Steve called and left Revenant in the middle to take Mary home, and Jenny and I escaped for dinner and a movie in Manhattan.
The “combo” lasted one day and Mary went off to work Monday, retching all the way.
By this time, Jenny’s bug paranoia had become my paranoia, and I washed all my clothes a second time. We both agreed my old ugly bag could be replaced, and I bought one with “New York, New York, New York,” all over it in rainbow colors.
“I love this bag!” I cried, as I handed the street peddler $25 for it.
“Good,” Jenny said. “Not me. As a New Yorker, I cannot be seen with that, but you can. Let’s get you packed.”
So off I went the next morning, back to my quiet home. Sitting alone again, I gazed 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 began 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.