Home for the Holidays [ 2005-12-22, 7:17 p.m. ]

My mom called me last night to say, Wow, I guess you really are a New Yorker now. After almost nine years included in which are one terrorist attack, one blackout, at least one blizzard and one hurricane warning (in 1999, which really just amounted to a Very Rainy Night), the transit strike finally tips the scales from one coast to the other and marks me as a New Yorker. I'm not sure I am quite ready to take on that label, but I have high hopes for the strike acting as a boot-camp-like fitness regimen, seeing as how my commute is about seven miles door to door and when I say 'door to door' I mean that my legs are walking me out one door and all the damn way to the next.

I suppose that it's a fair benchmark to use subway service as an indicator of crisis in New York; in the time I have lived here there are three occasions on which I remember the trains not running: 9/11, the blackout of 2003, and this strike. In terms of sheer entertainment, the blackout is far and away the winner, as it took place in the SUMMER, when I worked a few blocks from my apartment, lasted only one night, and was basically an excuse to drink a lot of beer while sitting on our stoops with neighbors. As for comfort levels, the blackout was sticky-hot, but the strike has been (was! Strike is over, I think!) freezing cold. And lasted several days, so again, I think I have to rule in favor of the blackout. There was a blizzard which did not stop the subway system but prevented me from getting to work, and normally it would have been an excellent day but this blizzard was the day before I was scheduled to fly to California for our wedding and I spent the whole day vibrating with anxiety and worrying about getting to the airport.

[And to interject regarding the strike and my newly-pedestrian commute: It's really not that bad! I swear! I have been saying that over and over again the last couple days, and trust me that when I say it's not that bad. It's not that cold, it's not raining or snowing, I don't have an injury or vertigo or anyone waiting for me at either end of the commute who cares if I'm twenty minutes later than usual getting in the door. I promise you...IT'S NOT THAT BAD!]

In April I will have lived here for nine years, meaning that this Christmas marks my ninth as a New York resident (am still struggling with 'New Yorker' label). Since that time, I've gone home twice for Christmas and once to Ohio, which leaves six holidays spent in the city, including this one.

One year my whole family came here and we spent Christmas at our friends' lake house in New Jersey and drank lots of champagne and wore pajama pants the whole weekend. The last three years I have been in Brooklyn with Kent , 2000 and 2001 are fuzzy but I think I must have been in California because 1999 was the year I went to Ohio and 1998 was the aforementioned Jersey Lake House holiday. Christmas of 1997, my first Christmas in New York, is the one that whenever I refer to it, Kent throws up his hands and says PLEASE NOT AGAIN YOU WIN YOU HAD THE WORST HOLIDAY EVER NOW CAN WE EAT THE SEE'S CANDY AND STOP WITH THE SAD STORIES?

On paper, it's a pathetic Christmas: I was alone, I spent the whole day in my apartment watching a Northern Exposure marathon on A&E, I ate grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, I didn't leave the building all day long.

But, much like my commute, it really wasn't that bad!

I swear!

Sure, I was alone on Christmas, but I was 22 years old and had 21 Christmases behind me with plenty of fantastic family time, and numerous Christmases ahead of me with even more family, and if you forget about the Christmas part of my story, it's a damn good day -- it was like the Ultimate Sick Day, because I wasn't sick, PLUS there were presents to open. I promise you, IT'S NOT THAT BAD!

Kent likes to joke that I have a heart of stone, and accuses me of wielding that Christmas story as a weapon against his family, who are much more of the "Love is shown ONLY by proximity to one's parents" philosophy and are having difficulty time-sharing our holidays. Kent, too, is having a hard time realizing that his wife may not want to spend every single Christmas in his uncle's rumpus room. This year our compromise was that we would go to California for Thanksgiving, as would his family, we would visit Ohio the week before Christmas for an early celebration, and we'd be at home - OUR HOME - for Christmas weekend and would do whatever the hell we wanted since Christmas weekend is a blank slate, followed only by a whole WEEK of a blank slate, because I am taking next week off work.

For the past few years, we've gone to dinner at the same [cozy, welcoming, excellent] restaurant on Christmas Eve, and then cooked a big Christmas dinner ourselves and walked around looking at the lights and streets, and have enjoyed the city when the volume is turned down. Two years ago we walked through Central Park, imagining an idyllic scene straight out of a "Diamonds are Forever" commercial, finding instead a park teeming with tourists and residents alike, all with seventeen kids and each kid with a new bike. Last year we spent time with friends who live above us and then took the dog for a long walk. One year we got over a foot of snow and walked down the middle of the street in silence just as the sun set and people started to emerge, post-feast, from all the townhouses.

This year it really is going to be Just Us. We're going to dinner on Christmas Eve and we're making dinner on Christmas and we will probably watch a movie or two and maybe we'll take the dog to the dog park or maybe we'll walk over the bridge. We won't sit down with our families and there won't be a dozen little kids running around and no one is going to gossip about some cousin's trashy new girlfriend. I know it's not the kind of holiday that everyone wants, and I know to some people it looks like we are eschewing family. But my husband and I are each other's family, and our Christmas may be small, but I promise you, It's really not that bad.

You walked??!! From Brooklyn??!! Yes. You're staying here??!! For Christmas??!! ALONE??!! Yes. YES YES YES! Because a long walk on a nice night isn't so bad, and neither is a quiet holiday in an empty city.

Oh, and in 2007? My family has decided the buzzword is Destination Holiday and we're getting the hell out of here. I hear Mallorca is nice this time of year.

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