I found the assignment in an online newspaper.
There, in a virtual cornucopia of curriculum — crosswords and current events, found poetry and fill-in-the-blanks — was the perfect project.
Rewrite Clement Clarke Moore’s “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” from Mama’s point of view.
Mama. You know, that lady in a kerchief who was settling in for a long winter’s nap.
Ahem, cough … Fact check: Only fictional mothers get long winter naps. Real mothers cat nap with their eyes open while in line at Target. And real mothers wouldn’t able to sleep through the roof landing of fleet-footed reindeer and a rotund stranger parceling presents.
Wait, was this the perfect assignment for my students? Or for me?
’Twas the night before Christmas and all through …
Alas, who was I kidding? Verse is so NOT my style.
OK, OK, here goes… it was a few days before Christmas and there was a cacophony of sirens, police wailers and spinning lights spilling blue and red into the dark pool of a night.
A steady parade of armed men and women that alarmed the neighborhood with their noise. Like Mrs. Prothero beating the dinner gong of Dylan Thomas’s childhood.
“What is it?” Mama called her brother-in-law. This was the week the world was supposed to end after all.
A police-sponsored toy drive, he said. At the local TV station.
Mama didn’t know that unopened toys could be so noisy.
Her own two toy seekers were out Christmas shopping for her with two babysitters, who were also sisters. The buying trip was an event organized by Mama’s organized daughter who had already made peppermint bark for her teachers and exchanged clever gifts with her middle school friends.
Mama hadn’t wanted her son to shop – he had been sick all week, but he pleaded and implored with such force that she relented knowing how insufferable he would be if he had to stay home while his sister participated in a Christmas conspiracy.
“Don’t turn around!” he said when he came home and he wrapped the present right behind her back, after first asking her which tissue and paper she preferred.
By now the sirens were long silenced and the sounds of law enforcement had given way to the rain running from storm-sagged gutters and slapping into air conditioners still stuck in windows, outstaying summer’s long-gone balmy welcome.
The rain was a beat box to her daughter’s rap about a postponed talent show, a shuttered school event that set her egalitarian soul and justice-minded heart stuttering about unfairness. Because life was unfair! This was the universal cry of teenagers, who were in fact, telling the truth. But what could be done about that?
The daughter needed to bang Mrs. Prothero’s dinner gong.
Then the son wheezed with a cough that pinballed around his ribs, and Mama realized that the inhaler they had bought him weeks ago was not an inhaler at all but some other sort of medicine – the pharmacy had made a mistake.
So it was into the unapologetic sogginess that could never pretend to be snow that Mama ventured, black coat pulled tight, rain frizzing her kerchief-free hair as she made the late night Rite Aid run.
And then back again to her warm house, her lit tree, and a dance floor of a living room, for in addition to everything else, the old sofa was pushed up against one wall as they awaited the delivery of a new couch the next day.
For just one moment Mama thought about the spins she could make across the sofa-less space in the middle of the room — bladeless ice skating and figure eight making.
For some reason that made her happy.
Christmas was five days away.