Gwen already has the turkey in the ovens; the potatoes, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes boiling; the stuffing mixed; the Caesar salad dressing made when I walk into the commercial cooking lab at seven-twenty this morning. She has pots for me to wash, then I change out of my walking clothes and return with my clipboard.
8:50 Pick up Keitha for manicure
9:00 Candy and oranges to grade four classroom for Santa Bags
Tables set up in gym for dinner
Last minute list check
9:30 Tables decorated
10:00 Coffee on
10:50 Period two ELA help out in home ec room
11:15 Santa suited up
Greeters and elder plates and seaters taken out of class
11:30 Welcome carolers
Welcome grade fours
In the office, Cathy asks what she can do. "We're all yours today," she says. Rod calls me over, gives me a long hug and speech. "Now today is a very big day, and it's really sweet everything you've got going on, and if anyone gets in your face or gives you grief, you just remember this hug."
Ms. Jade is wearing a green sweater, black and white scarf and Rudolf antlers. She is showing her grade eight curling team girls some tips using a magnet curling board. "Where would you put the first rock?" The girls point and she moves the magnet on the model. "And the second rock?"
Keitha is done her manicure and she and I run around a bit with my clipboard. The commercial cooking kids are mashing and mixing all period one, and by period two, everything that can be done, is done. Gwen has some adult staff helping out with dishes, but is waiting for her period three kids to get the food ready to serve. Sandy, a community volunteer, shows up in the office, red apron in hand, "What can I do." We put Sandy in charge of coffee and juice, set up in the staff room. Keitha stays to help Sandy.
Jade and I have a few moments alone in our classroom. "It's business as usual," she says.
"Like nothing is going to change," I say.
"I just feel like it'll be a long weekend and then I'll see you on Monday," Jade says.
In second period it is our student, Jack's, birthday. His mother has sent Korean food and Jack explains the dishes. The class fills small plates. I offer Jack my second set of chop sticks and I put some food onto a serviette and nibble away. Delicious. Keitha has some too.
In my third period tutorial, Angela and Jade organize the drink tables. Others start arranging cookies, cakes, and pies on the dessert table. Kelly from the DQ drops in with his latest donation: ice cream sandwiches. The Santa bags show up and we wheel them into the Phys Ed office off the gym.
Two elders arrive at eleven-twenty and Keitha takes them to the gym. We gather the greeters and set them up with the guest book at the door. People star arriving just as the food is wheeling in, piping hot. Students in white aprons set the turkey in the hot plates, arrange the cranberries, potatoes, stuffing, Caesar salad, carrots, sweet potato, turnips, and buns on the table.
At eleven-thirty we discover that Santa can't be Santa and we need to find a new one. We start our search, from kid to kid, and Michael comes to the rescue. At twelve-ten, I find our new Santa in the computer lab and I take him five minutes early from class. He shuffles, hangs his head. "I can't be a brown Santa," he says. We laugh and tell him that of course Santa can be brown. He grins and goes off to find the suit.
The gym is filling up, lots of students now and community members, some already having eaten and leaving. The grade seven carolers are sitting along the front of the stage, singing. I fill my plate, and am just about to sit down, when I see the lineup has stalled. We're out of plates and we'd put out 250. Someone has already started looking for plates, but I know I have some in my classroom, so I leave, full plate in hand. I return with another sixty plates and more show up in a few minutes. I sit down at Keitha's table. People, as they're leaving, come and shake our hands, thank us for the food, comment on how tasty everything is.
At twelve-thirty, Santa shows up and we clap and cheer. The greeters are Santa's helpers, and they begin handing out candy bags. Mrs. Gehl's grade fours have left, so Santa takes his helpers and they visit her classroom.
And then it's over. We start dividing food into plastic bags and send it home with whomever wants some. At two I am giving Keitha and her son-in-law a ride home and then to the hospital for a quick visit. At two-seventeen I look at the digital clock in my vehicle and I'm almost back to the school.
The walk home, past the hospital, governance centre, treaty four convenience store, ski hill is a blur of happiness and melancholy. Another successful Christmas Dinner and Keitha was so beautiful. I'm losing Jade tomorrow. The kids and staff pitched in so graciously. Got to get the house ready for Christmas. Char and I are texting and she is brave and funny in the face of loss.
I read over the scripture prayers that Michael and I will lead at the inter-faith Blue Christmas service tonight at the Calling Lakes Centre. I bath and dress in black pants, black shirt with red flowers, black blazer, red boots, red gloves.
We gather, pray, light a candle, remember that Christmas isn't always a cheerful time, and people are suffering loss, pain, anger, frustration. We sing a song, meditate on a reading, pray, and light more candles. Tears streak my face for the entire service. I light three candles, one for Char, one for Rob, and one for Keitha and our Outreach family.
I just want to fall into bed, but I am trying to make Jade a memory book, so I start pulling pictures into i-photo on the school division Mac and I'm doing fine until at about eleven I hit something called "auto flow" and the program inserts every picture on my camera into the book and I don't know how to undo it and I'm near tears and call for Michael and he helps me out, but now I'm right on the edge of crazy and off I tumble into yelling and crying and full-out-insanity. Michael is right to be furious, but I can't save myself alone. By midnight or one we have backed away from the edge and we have named and owned our anger, mine a day-in-and-day-out thing and his appearing in explosive pushed-over-the-edge moments.
Michael holds me and says, "I choose you. Okay. I choose you."
As I fall asleep I am dizzy and nauseous, but at the same time safe and cozy. This day could have ended very differently. I wonder who is lighting a candle prayer for me.