Shortly after Christmas, I’ll travel down from Saint Louis to Louisiana to visit my family. The entire month before the trip, I’ve been preparing.
Packing? … No.
Christmas shopping? … No.
Planning a list of activities? … No.
Checking flights or transportation? … No.
If I’m not doing the obvious preparations, what am I doing?
Eating: junk food, desserts, and plenty of second servings.
Anything, for a couple extra pounds.
A beautiful routine awaits my arrival home.
I’ll drive down my quiet street, slowly keeping an eye on children who might appear crossing the road. The kids who used to live there when I lived there have all grown up; their children now fill the street with bikes, random toys, and mayhem.
When I arrive at the house I grew up in, I’ll see the single line of glimmering blue bulbs which decorate the roof. I’ll imagine that the angel with a horn, which has hung for a decade of Christmases from the roof, will announce my arrival—all in glowing Christmas lights. Though, I know she’s there to announce something greater.
I’ll park in the same place I used to park in high school. It’s the same place I parked when I’d visit from college. I’ll make a mental note to remind my parents to be careful if they have to move their cars—as my parking space almost, but not quite, blocks the driveway.
I’ll open the car door and step out, looking over the old chain-link fence at the backyard. Inevitably, the grass will be recently trimmed—it’s both my father’s hobby and his way of preparing the house for my return. The expanse of the back yard will inescapably feel smaller than it did when I was younger. “Of course,” I’ll think, “I was smaller at 7 years old.”
I’ll turn from the backyard to the carport, walking carefully towards the front door. Depending upon the weather, the screen door may be the only thing separating me from the kitchen and my parents.
As I open the door, my mom will appear, usually pretending to be busy though we both know that she’s been watching the driveway for quite a while. My dad will emerge from either the back porch or his favorite chair in the living room.
There will smiles and some sort of comment about the drive—Was it long? How was traffic? Was the weather OK? Then, I’ll hug my parents.
My dad’s hug will be firm and tight. In that moment, I’ll know how happy he is to see me.
My mom’s hug will squeeze me down to my bones… and that’s the point. It’s a trap. I know what comes next: “Are they feeding you? Have you eaten? Are you hungry?”
A couple years ago, at a lovely little restaurant in New Orleans, I sat down with two of my friends who were recently married. We laughed about the oddities of newly married life, about the shenanigans that happened at their wedding, and about their new house. Hopes, joys, and friendship filled the time.
A pause punctuated one of the bouts of laughter. Chris looked up at me and smiled, “Hey… I was wondering.” He stopped for a moment. “I was wondering… What do you eat?”
My head tilted; the question didn’t quite register: “What do you mean?”
“Like do you all, do you all have dinners or… ?”
And, it hit me. He wanted to know what I eat—or if I eat—while living in a house full of Jesuits. I laughed and explained to him that, yes, I do in fact eat. Three meals daily, actually—though, I confessed coffee counts as breakfast most days. We laughed, he nodded, and we continued visiting over lunch.
I’m Cajun, sure, so food is part of my culture and perhaps one of my favorite pastimes. I love to eat. I love to talk about eating. In fact, I often love to talk about eating—while I’m eating.
I’m a runner, sure. I run a lot—if I had my way, I’d probably run even more than I already do. I’m slim, sure, but I’m not scrawny, emaciated, or skin and bones. So why are my friends and family so obsessed over whether or not I’m eating?
Unless, it’s not about the food at all.
Maybe the strange questions from friends are subtle hints. Maybe the tight hug from my mom—which tries to feel for my ribs—is actually her way of communicating something more than food: maybe it’s a reminder that I’m loved.
Of course, my mom is still my mom. No matter how much I try to convince her otherwise, she swears I’m starving and whittling away to nothing. That only goes to show how much she loves me.
And, of course, I’m still going to try to make her happy by putting on a few pounds before my trip south. So the preparation continues…
Seconds? … Yes, please.
Christmas Cookies? … Of course, I’ll have a few.
Late night snacks and desserts? … Sure, why not.
A couple extra holiday pounds? … Yep, that’s the hope.