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December 26, 2001: Wearing thin

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My mother and my sisters and I always hit the after-Christmas sales. It's a tradition that will die hard in our family, even though it requires getting up far too early on a morning when all we'd rather do is sleep in. When I arrived at the house, the usual cacophony greeted me, but somehow we managed to get out the door and off to replenish the caffeine supply of myself and my younger sister before hitting the mall, which was unusually empty for this time of year, and so far less stressful than we're used to. I found cards to send, and a wreath to hang, and stocked up on the plastic gutter hooks we will need to add even more lights to our house next year. Add to that a few sweaters and shirts and even some towels for the guest bathroom, and it was a successful shopping trip. And after that, I slipped quietly back home to check on Richard and take a quick and much-needed nap.

Last year we got family portraits done, but because this year has seen the addition of two new members - Richard and the youngest nephew - there was a push to do it again. This meant we all headed for the busiest and noisiest mall in the area to confront a photographer who was obviously exhausted and wishing she were far, far away, to get mediocre pictures taken while the poor woman and the rest of us did our best to get the three small children in our group to - if not smile, at least quit crying. The children in question were, of course, all smiles and laughter once the pictures were over and we went off to get dinner.

Richard and I slipped away early once the pictures were ready. Tempers were starting to flare and the kids had about had it and Richard really wasn't feeling well, so it was as good an excuse as any. We were heading for the car when we took a slight detour to the Cingular booth. We'd tossed the idea around before, but somehow tonight it took on a life of its own and 30 minutes later we walked out clutching a pair of cell phones.

I think the best word for today is overwhelmed. I am officially overwhelmed with family. I told Richard this afternoon that I was, in some small way, glad that he wasn't feeling well, because it gave me the excuse to slip away from the noise and chaos even if only for a half hour at a stretch, and bolster my tolerance levels back up past the danger line.

The problem is that there are far too many people in my parents' house right now, what with both siblings, their spouses, and their children. There are differing opinions on whether the children should be required to behave, and the tension has started to get to me after only short doses. Today was the day I started to try to time my visits so I could avoid as much of the worst as possible. Unfortunately, it's not always working.

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