Once again, I ended up at the “kids’ table” as we all sat down for Christmas Eve dinner. But in my opinion, the kids table is better than the adult table. It was me, Cayden, Meg, and Corbin. We were the fun ones, the cool kids, the ones refilling our wine glasses and egg nog faster than necessary.
“But I want to sit at the kids’ table!” Noelle complained from the adult table.
Jay’s mom and sister (Noelle’s mother- and sister-in-law) decided to join my family for dinner, so they took up post at the adult table with Noelle, Jay, Mom, Dad, Abuela, and Abuelo. OK, so there was one kid at the adult table: Jay’s sister’s brand-new baby, barely more than a month old.
“Anyone want to hold him while I make my plate?” Jay’s sister asked.
Yes, I called dibs on a newborn. I’d always had a strange obsession with babies. I started babysitting them when I was still a baby myself, at the ripe age of 9. Don’t ask me why anyone left their baby with a 9-year-old. But I was responsible. And I was in my super awkward years, so it’s not like I had anything better to do on a Saturday night.
But I loved babies, the weird way they squirmed, the way they gazed at seemingly nothing and everything all at once, the way they curled their tiny hands around my waist length hair and yanked. And to this day it just blows my mind that newborns come out of people. They just grow like a seed in there and then one day they just pop out as miniature human beings in our crazy world. Whenever I see pregnant women, I stare at their bellies and think “Holy shit. There’s a baby in there!”
But then once they start walking and talking, they lose a little bit of their appeal to me. They talk back, they don’t want to be held and cuddled, they learn cuss words, they’re defiant.
Cayden stared at me while I tucked the baby in the nook of my arm and held him closely against me. Was he looking at me in adoration? In that oh-I-can’t-wait-until-she’s-holding-our-baby kind of way? Picturing how I’d be as a mother?
Hell no. He wrinkled his nose up at me. Then looked down at the squirming infant with an absurd look.
“I just don’t get it. Why do you like them so much when they just sit there and stare at things and squirm around? They’re so creepy,” he said.
I laughed. We’d had this conversation before. Cayden didn’t like babies until they could sit up on their own and bang wooden spoons on the cabinets and drool all over everything and make random high-pitched noises that gave you goosebumps. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. He doesn’t like them until they have personalities of their own. Which is why (hypothetically, of course) Cayden and I would make great parents. I’ll obsess over out hypothetical kid until he talks back to me, and then he’s all Cayden’s.
“But look at how cute he is?” I said, readjusting and hoisting my arm up so the baby’s blue eyes scanned Cayden’s face.
“Hm,” he said. “I still don’t get it.”
Once I was relieved of baby duties, we cheered our wine glasses and filled out plates with salad, turkey, ham, mashed potatoes loaded with sour cream and more butter than I’ll ever admit to, sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows and brown sugar, and broccoli cheese casserole.
Cayden’s hand rested on my leg under the table. That was more satisfying than the mashed potatoes, but not quite as satisfying as the sweet potato casserole. It had become a tradition that I’d bring the sweet potato casserole. Now I know you’re thinking, “But Whitney, you can’t cook!” Well, by ‘bring the casserole,’ I mean I pick it up at Boston Market and bring it to my parents’ house. Go ahead, judge me. It’s damn good!
My siblings and I were all rushing through our meals because we knew what came next. Well, I guess dessert came next, but after that…presents! After every couple bites, I’d glance at the tree and try to count how many I saw with my name on it. Our pile of presents got a little more extravagant every year as we added people to our family. Grew a little bigger when Noelle married Jay. And now it was a little bigger since Cayden was considered family.
I caught Meg and Corbin glancing at them, too, nudging at the peculiar looking ones in the big fabric bags. I’m pretty sure I even saw Noelle and Jay looking, too.
“I don’t think I’ve tried anything I haven’t liked!” Cayden said between mouthfuls of mom’s home cooking (and Boston Market’s behind-the-counter cooking). “I don’t know how I’m going to stay awake after this.”
I always forgot about the jet lag. By the time we finished dinner, it was nearly 1 am in London. I made him a cup of steaming hot Cuban coffee to wake him up. That shit’s strong enough to keep you awake for days if you have too much. Mom calls it “tar,” but I call it “heaven.”
For dessert we had the option of Boston Cream Pie (no relation to Boston Market), Noelle’s apple crisp, and an arrangement of different flavored cheesecake. Cayden went for the Boston, I stuck to my sweet potato casserole.
“That really is a gorgeous tree, isn’t it?” Cayden said, glancing at my pride and joy behind him.
“It’s precious,” I answered.
And finally, when our bellies were stuffed to the max and we couldn’t contain our present-opening excitement anymore, we sent Mom the signal. It’s not a spoken signal, but she just knows it in our eyes that if she makes us wait one more minute, we’ll tear into the presents in the most uncivilized way.
Jay’s mom and sister and the blue-eyed newborn said their goodbyes, because I think they could feel it coming, too.
“PRESENT TIME!” we all yelled the second the front door closed behind them.
Noelle and Jay claimed their usual spot on the couch next to the tree. Corbin plopped down in front of dad’s desk, Meg kneeled down to the left of the tree, and Cayden and I sat down right smack dab in the middle of all the presents. Mom, Dad, Abuela, and Abuelo pulled up chairs around us.
We were all careful not to knock over our wine glasses as we tossed the gifts around to their rightful owners. I also had to keep our dog Joey from trying to sneak drinks out of mine.
First, we gave Mom and Dad their presents. A 1-hour driving experience in a Lamborghini Gallardo for Dad (thanks, Groupon!), and a custom puzzle of all six dogs for Mom (Photoshop credits go to Meg).
Then we gave Abuela and Abuelo a huge picture frame filled with photos of all of us kids in our childhood, awkward, and post-awkward years to hang up in their room in the nursing home. To say they loved it was an understatement.
Then the rest of us tore into our presents.
My parents got Cayden some comfy lounge pants, slippers, a long-sleeved black T-shirt to lounge around in, Burberry cologne, and a ridiculously comfortable down pillow (that’s what was in the fabric bag we were all poking at).
My favorite presents included a 4-foot panorama wall sticker of a picture of a street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; a matching ridiculously comfy down pillow, a digital camera with built-in USB, running clothes, a funky purse from my aunt, and an even funkier retro picture of Cayden and I that Meg had taken when we were at NYLO during his first trip here.
(We’re Photoshopped to look sort of cartoony and retro, so I’m posting that one without cropping our faces out.)
And just when I thought I’d opened the best presents, Mom and Dad left the room and came back with a 32-inch flatscreen HDTV with my name on it. GOODBYE, BUNNY EARS AND NO CABLE!!!
I got hooked up!
And when all the presents were opened and the wrapping paper became dog toys, Noelle said, “Well, aren’t you going to give Cayden his present?”
I looked at it sitting there under the tree, so alone.
“No, we’re going to start our own tradition and open them alone on Christmas morning,” I explained.
“That’s stupid,” Noelle said. “The rest of the world opens their presents on Christmas morning, so it’s not your tradition. Just do it now, or you’re going to be thinking about it all night.”
She had a point. But I’d had this image of Cayden and I slipping away from my family Christmas morning to sit alone by the tree with our steaming cups of coffee open our presents decked out in our Christmas pajamas. That seemed more special and personal than opening them in front of my whole family. And that’s a lot of pressure with almost 10 other people watching!
“Nope. We’re waiting.”
“Oh, c’mon,” Mom chimed in, “just do it now while we’re all down here.”
Cayden looked at me. “I’ll run upstairs and get your present if you want to do it now.”
Of course I wanted to do it now. I was dying to see what Cayden had gotten me, but even worse, I couldn’t wait to see his face when he opened my present.
I tucked Cayden into bed and kissed him goodnight. His jet lag had gotten the best of him.
“I can’t wait to wake up next to you on Christmas morning,” he said.
“Well, you’re just going to have to. Now go to bed. I’m going to go watch Twilight: Eclipse with my family, and then I’ll come put my freezing cold feet on you while you’re sleeping,” I said, kissing him again on the cheek.
“I love you,” he mumbled right before he dozed off.