November 21, 2018
Woodbridge, New Jersey
My husband Greg and I recently upgraded to a bigger car for reasons like this — but, it still didn’t seem to be enough. Packed inside the red Outback was a mix of kitchen gear, a stroller, a Pack ‘n Play, a high chair, luggage, our trusty dog, and of course, the toddler who required the accessories.
While Charlotte is generally a happy and very sweet baby, she hates being contained in one place for long and is prone to meltdowns when she’s not in control. Car seats aren’t really her style so I had to improvise a solution—a combination of my hand on her cheek, a pacifier in her mouth and Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born. She enjoyed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as well.
The last hour of the trip, I squeezed into the backseat next to the dog with my feet resting on multiple coolers. Charlotte calmed down pretty quickly after realizing she wasn’t alone.
My dad has lived in the same place for 40 years —these last 15 alone, aside from two years where I joined him after college. In those years, it seemed empty without my mom, who passed away in 2003. It’ll always be empty, in a certain way. But as the years went on, my dad repurposed the home as his safe place. He had a routine that made him happy, and he stuck with it. He also stuck with a lot of the same furniture I had as a child. The house hadn’t seen a lot of interior renovations in decades, aside from some new carpeting and flooring.
We arrived around 5:30, hungry and a little overwhelmed. Before diving into pizza — always our pre-Thanksgiving meal — Greg unloaded a lot of his cooking supplies. It’s always been tough for him to know what to bring since the kitchen in New Jersey is still foreign to him. Certain cabinets were equally foreign to my dad, who doesn’t cook all that much, aside from grilled cheese and hard-boiled eggs. While investigating further, Greg managed to uncover a tarnished serving dish that was given to a long-lost relative, “Agnes” in the 1940s. My dad hadn’t seen it in years.
Once we finished our pizza, I felt settled. It was good to be home. And it was good to see my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, who’s four years older than Charlotte.
After a few minutes of feeling shy, Charlotte soon warmed up to her cousin, who wanted to play with her. For the first time, the two were old enough to both get something out of playing. Charlotte was quick on her feet and attentive to her surroundings. She belly-laughed.
Once again, two children were running loose in the house, chasing each other around the kitchen and underneath the dining room table, which seemed almost perfectly designed for a child’s imagination. I asked my dad if seeing the two of them play gave him flashbacks to me and my sister as young kids. In true dad-fashion, he was mostly concerned that nobody got hurt. Nobody did.
I brought Charlotteupstairs to my childhood bedroom. Even though I purged the room of all theembarrassing childhood memorabilia years earlier to prepare for theaforementioned new carpet, it was still the same space where much of my lifehappened. It was where I listened to my first CD, and made my first mixtape,sloppily recorded right off of Z100. Earlier than that, it was the place whereI studied my rock collection and built shoebox houses for my small figurines tolive in. In that room was where most of the backstories of every doll I owned wasformed; most of them were Olympic gymnasts.
Greg was busy getting a head start on mashed potatoes, warmed with a sous vide. My husband is meticulous when it comes to planning and executing a meal for others. A fan of Cook’s Illustrated, he prepares for this all year. This year, he was making a turkey porchetta with the white meat. The dark meat was deboned and rolled into roulades. Unlike previous years, everything was deep fried.
My job, aside from cleaning the dishes and prep areas, was keeping an eye on Charlotte.
As she accidentally explored my dad’s Christmas CD collection, pulling out Josh Groban’s album first, I wanted to tell her the story about how my mom was an early fan of Groban after seeing his big debut on Ally McBeal. My mom wasn’t always such a fangirl when it came to new celebrities on the scene, so this infatuation was especially humorous. As a joke that Christmas, we got her an autographed press photo of Groban, which she genuinely appreciated. But, Charlotte was still too young to understand.
I think everyone knew how much would be different had she not passed. The kitchen likely would have been upgraded, the “Agnes” dish would have had a fresh polish, and Charlotte would be in her lap reading a book instead of meddling with dad’s holiday classics.
Charlotte’s bedtime is normally 7:30, but she got into pajamas earlier than usual. My sister bought a matching set for her and my niece, which my niece wasn’t all too happy about. She didn’t mind matching her cousin, but she grumbled knowing that a posed photo would be required. She was more interested after she showed Charlotte how to use her iPad. Charlotte was fascinated with pressing buttons and smudging the screen. My niece put on a few music videos, all which focused on a ’90s song covered by a kid-friendly band. Both girls jumped on the bed and my sister and I got a few blurry photos.
By then, it was time for bed. It was hard to call it a night for two reasons — for one, Charlotte was having the time of her life. But secondly, she was right in the middle of a difficult sleep period, and my husband and I knew that the three of us would probably need to squeeze into the double-sized bed in my childhood room for an unrestful sleep.But it didn’t seem so bad to be on toddler time for a night.