"Mrs. Claus....I need your help." My husband's voice bellows from our bedroom. It has been turned into Santa's workshop as he assembles our daughter's play kitchen. Mrs. Claus is wrapping gifts in the living room, discovering her ability to cut a straight line has not gotten better with time, while two loads of laundry are running and the battle against PMS fatigue wages on. I sigh and curse the elves.
I endure spousal snapping for not remembering which way I was just told to turn the screwdriver. We then argue about following the picture on the box versus the directions when applying the stickers to the bottles of fake condiments.
"Parsnip is green!"
"But the directions say H4 should go on the yellow bottle."
"But Parsnip is clearly green!"
"BUT THE DIRECTIONS SAY-"
I concede and stick the stupid label on the bottle.
Bickering and snide comments continue as Christmas Eve night falls upon us. There are tons of toys, unfolded laundry, rolls of wrapping paper, and more assembly standing between us and our night out at my in-laws. We look around the apartment feeling the weight of our "to do" list. The holidays seemed to kick our ass this year. We are unprepared with zero holiday spirit as the calendar reminds us the year is almost over. My decision not to make cookies isn't helping the need for a quick bite of chocolate to ease the tension.
Christmas Eve is just a small part of the bigger problem my husband and I often face. It always takes us a while to remember its stress and fatigue that is the thorn of our relationship. They creep up on us in the form of a messy kitchen, having not eaten all day, a cranky baby, an unpaid bill we forgot about, our jobs, our family, or our noisy upstairs neighbors. Like fools we forget this and wonder why we are so irritable. We should just have a giant Post-It on the fridge that says, "Remember, Being an Adult Sucks."
Over the past sixteen months I'd say my husband and I fight about stupid, unimportant things. Residual anger we have from the fights dealing with our daughter. Who knows a better tactic when managing a tantrum, who has the sixth sense and knows what her problem is in the middle of the night, who thinks getting her off the bottle is going to work better cold turkey or with a week of gradual weaning. Any team knows in order to work effectively there needs to be leaders and followers, often times switching positions when necessary. But when you are both so invested in doing what is right for the one person in the world that needs you the most, its hard to remember you are part of a team.
The toys are assembled quickly as our daughter wakes from her nap, hopefully in a good mood. We carry our bitterness to the Christmas Eve festivities, feeling further and further apart as The Fresh Beat Band sings loudly between us in the car. At my brother-in-law's we all marvel at my daughter dancing with her new Rockin' Elmo. My husband and I are entertained, taking family pictures and clapping along with her. The moment she rubs her eyes, we quickly resume our respective roles. He packs the car, I get her dressed in PJ's and we are on the road.
Tucked in bed, I tell my daughter that Daddy and I have it covered this year and will leave Santa his cookies. Mr. Claus is already taking the presents from the make shift workshop and setting them up around the tree.
We move quickly and quietly. The anger and frustration from the day melting away as we work. We eat Santa's cookies while taking the occasional powdery scented hit off her new Cabbage Patch Kid. We whisper about our memories of Christmas morning and realize our parents did this exact thing. We remember why we had a child in the first place.
Together we create magic, carefully placing the gifts near the tree, leaving just the right amount of cookie crumbs and reindeer food behind. There could be 364 days of aggravation and stifling reality of being an adult standing between my husband and I. Yet we will always have this one night a year constructing this unbelievable lie for our daughter. Something we believed in so intensely as kids that all the good grades in science couldn't shake. We agree to commit to this process for years to come. To ensure she believes in this magic for as long as the bratty kids in her class let her.
My husband and I climb into bed, finding each other's hands in the dark. We are Mr. & Mrs. Claus. Creative, strong, patient, forgiving. A mother and father, husband and wife. A magical team.
I close my eyes, aware of the aches in my back, the unfolded laundry, and the mess in the kitchen. Nuzzled into my husband's arms I know it can't be true, but after thirty three years I'd still like to think there is a fat guy with eight reindeer up there making his way over the Atlantic. And somehow in the morning, all my Christmas wishes will come true.