With that in mind, this childhood memory has to do mostly with Christmas, Chinese food and caffeine. The tradition in our family is to go out to dinner on Christmas Eve and then do the big family home cooked dinner on Christmas Day. When I was young, we would go to the 5pm mass and then out to dinner, but as I got older, we’d go out to dinner, come home and watch the Alastair Sim version of The Christmas Carol and then go back out to midnight mass at the very cool gothic abbey at my brother’s private high school. The church part of Christmas Eve has phased out of our celebration in recent years, which is a shame, but then again, it can’t be beat, so why try. There can’t possibly be anything better or more breathtaking than midnight mass at that church: stone walls and floors, a huge pipe organ, real incense, real pine wreaths, real poinsettias and a choir of robed monks.
Anyway, this childhood memory is from when I was about nine, before the midnight mass phenomenon. We always went out for Chinese food with them at the Hunan Wok (at the intersection of Hanover Ave and Speedwell, for you homies). I had started drinking tea for some reason or another that year, so my parents didn’t think much of it and let me have some of the obligatory Chinese tea. After about two pots and maybe thirty packets of sugar later, dinner was over. We had already been to church so it was time to just go home, watch the movie and go to bed.
It was the first year I watched the movie the whole way through. I went to bed at midnight, as I still had some lingering doubt that Santa might still be real (he showed up at my house after all) so I wanted to be absolutely sure in case he was real that I wouldn’t disrupt his gift distribution. So I curled up in bed and closed my eyes. But I was still awake.
2am. I could never go downstairs and look at the presents early, as I was always hung up on how disappointed my parents would be and how bad I would make them feel if they found out I ruined their surprises, and they had a strict 6am waking up limit. I started playing with some of by current toys, figuring that they would not be played with at such a high rotation after the new crop of Christmas toys came through, so I should spend some time with them so they didn’t feel neglected (yes, I actually thought stuff like this. I also told my parents I didn’t want more than one Cabbage Patch Kid because I didn’t want to shift the focus of love off of the first one and was worried if I had too many I wouldn’t love them all enough equally).
3am. 3 more hours. Tried to read. I went and woke up my mom and told her I couldn’t sleep, and she said it was probably a combination of excitement and the tea. I couldn’t fathom why the tea would be a factor. I didn’t have to pee all the time—how else would it be keeping me awake?
I finally fell asleep for a little while and woke up my parents at the pre-arranged 6am mark. Christmas was merry, but vague. I was very, very tired. My mom commented to a sleepy me, "Maybe next year you won't drink so much tea at dinner."
I still couldn't figure out just what in the hell she was talking about.