The expression “herding cats” does not even begin to cover the travesty of attempting to gather six adults (well, five adults and a 15-year-old mother of a newborn) into one room for long enough to reach in and pull out painstakingly-chosen treasures from Madeline’s hand-knit Christmas stockings.
Pots of coffee were brewed and drained, favorite Christmas CD’s from long years past rang out on the stereo one after another – and still, no more than four people at a time managed to amass in the general vicinity of the tree, the stockings, the waiting slew of piled gifts.
The only person in unfettered good spirits was, as usual, baby Dylan. As a one-month-old newbie who had every reason to express general difficulty in his adjustment to the whole world outside of a warm, dark, wholly embracing womb, he rarely did. The bright lights, noise and general chaos that he had been born into seemed A-OK to him. Madeline regularly said to Savannah: “He’s not a real baby, you know.” Savannah of course had nothing to compare him to. She had no idea that sleepless nights were the norm, not in infant who nestled into his mother’s ample chest and snoozed the night away.
Kate planted herself in the living room, turned off the Mormon Tabernacle Choir mid carol, and opened her violin case. “John,” she shot over her shoulder, “let’s play until everyone’s here.”
“I was just—” John said.
“Let’s play.” Kate’s breathing was faster than usual.
John wandered back and forth in the room, as if trying to remember what her words meant.
“Oh, great!” Madeline said, rushing into the room and plopping down on the sofa. “Best idea ever. More impromptu carols!” She knit her brow and continued, “Hey, anybody seen Dan? What the heck is he doing?”
“What the fuck is anybody doing,” Kate said. “Seriously, what the fuck is everybody doing.”
“DAN,” Madeline called out. “DAN!”
A door on the second floor opened. “Yeah?” Dan said.
“Hey, can you come down here?” Madeline asked.
Footfalls on the staircase, Dan standing on the landing, uncommitted to the remaining six stairs and exhibiting slight annoyed bewilderment.
“Whatcha doing up there?” Madeline inquired.
Dan shrugged. “Well, come down and sit with me. Listen to the kids with me. Come on,” Madeline chirped.
Dan padded down the remaining steps and took his place beside Madeline. “Here? You want me here? Like this?”
“What’s up with you?” Madeline asked.
“Nothing. Here I am.”
“Oh my God,” said Kate. We actually have four people here. All we need is Marie and Savannah.”
“I’m pretty sure Marie’s in the basement. On the phone or texting someone. Savannah’s upstairs. Also on the phone.”
“Let me know the next time and place that my services are required,” Dan said, standing.
“No no no no!” Madeline said. “Stay here! I’m gonna see if I can rally the troops.”
“I’m around. Once the troops get rallied, let me know,” Dan countered.
“Hey! Come on! This is fun!” Madeline said.
“Do you know the New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast?” Dan asked.
“Yeah…” said Madeline.
“Cartoon title: Pollyanna in Hell. Cartoon caption: ‘No more down jackets forever!!!’ ”
Madeline made an excellent attempt to demonstrate the expression “shoot daggers” with a glance, but Dan pre-emptively did not allow for eye contact as he left the room.
Cartoon excerpt: Roz Chast, originally published in The New Yorker