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As I finally succumb to my armchair this Christmas Eve—the children having crawled eagerly into bed after dining gleefully on apple cider and red sprinkled cupcakes and checking Santa’s last position with NORAD (see link below) one last time—I know this will be a week to remember for a very long time.

I’m really feeling the weight of every dust mote on my towering 49 years. After baking lasagna, cookies,  artichoke dip, gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese, serving up three squares a day like a short order cook and braving Safeway on Christmas Eve without full football pads and helmet, I feel I’ve finally achieved Alex’s prediction a little ahead of schedule: that I’d be his grandma when he grew up.

But the greatest lesson of the week (an epiphany of sorts), pertained to the nature of the forces that guide and often control our lives. In the season of goodwill towards humanity and in an economy that has left our faith and our bank accounts battered and bleeding, it never ceases to baffle me how the greedy will prosper on the broken backs of the families just trying to endure.

It has been the week of the Bob Cratchit Christmas.

Frank had a breakthrough at work and clocked 105 hours on his weekly time sheet, at least 10 hours ahead of his previous biggest number. He was still putting out fires for clients into the late hours the night on the 23rd of December and woke this morning with crevices under his eyes that looked like an aerial shot of the Grand Canyon.

Brother of Scrooge (BOS—and the pun is completely intended)  rewarded him for his dedication and sheer hard labor by putting him on-call over Christmas while BOS himself  took his own family off to Europe for a festive, restful vacation.

It is also the Christmas during which we paid $45 for two children’s ice creams and $42 for two loaves of French bread—a seasonal feast graciously hosted by Bank of America (or should I say, Bank of American Scrooge).

I had just congratulated myself for having successfully cleaned out our checking account with the same zeal as four-year-old Lizzie polishing a cake-battered mixing bowl to a shine with her sugar-seeking tongue-missile, while staying safely in the black until pay-day (today).

But Bank of American Scrooge struck our house the night before Christmas with a big sack in which to stash our cash, when our landscaper inadvertently banked his fee a day before the check was dated. They debited the check first, then the ice creams and the bread, gleefully polishing their knuckles to a fine shine and rolling up their sleeves with eager readiness to triple-dip into Frank’s bitterly earned salary to the tune of $105.

According to USA Today (http://www NULL.usatoday NULL.com/money/perfi/credit/2009-09-28-overdraft-fees-anger-regulation_N NULL.htm), this stacking of the order of debits high to low to maximize their siphoning off your hard-earned cash is a common predatory tactic.

By going into overdraft, the bank was effectively lending us just over a hundred dollars for 12 hours and charging us 54,000% interest. Frank calculated that if it were an annual loan, we’d  be in for over $75,000 of interest.

When we called Bank of American Scrooge, despite pointing out the honest mistake, the customer service manager said the check could be banked at any time, regardless of the date on it, and the bank charges were “valid”. He added that if it were his decision to reverse the charges, “the answer would be no”.

Merry Christmas, Bank of American Scrooge. I’m sure the decision to gas six million innocent civilians during the Hitlerian pogroms of WWII seemed like a “valid” directive to the evil bastards at the time too.

By the time that telephone conversation took place this morning, I was walking up and down the stairs like a drunken slinky toy (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Slinky). This Twilight Zone reality was a trend. It had been going on for days.

On Sunday, our telephone line had suddenly died, leaving an empty crackling sound in the wake of a once healthy dial tone.  This morning, a mere four days later, it was still dead and we were all walking around with our cell phones strapped to our heads.

AT&T, festooned with all of the benevolent generosity of Father Christmas, informed us that  the problem was external—perhaps an animal had chewed into a wire somewhere—and we may, or may not, have a working telephone by Christmas day when the families are expecting to call.

Today, I was still waiting to hear the results of the mammogram I had earlier in the week—an experience that always reminds me of having your breasts stuffed into a dry cleaning press while you pray that this is not the day the machinery blows a fuse and tears one off in an unplanned anesthetic-free mastectomy.

At 49, with the bright young faces of a four and seven year old gazing up at you trustingly with the faith you’re going to be around for a while, mammograms make you edgy.

So, with all of this seasonal joy and exuberance surrounding me, this morning  I somehow managed to double the usual amount of sauce in my lasagna so that the cheese got drowned by a red sea.

And later, after we took Alex and Lizzie to see Santa Claus in San Jose (where they promised to be good), Alex had a meltdown in the car, screaming so loud he could have screen-tested for the female lead in the 1958 version of The Blob (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/The_Blob).

(When he woke up the next morning, we had to dose him with Ibuprofen because his throat felt like Pavarotti’s after a double bill.)

So, with Alex drawing blood from our ear drums,  while we were in our car being guided out of the mall parking lot by scary parking attendant Santas with big sticks (who looked as though they were hired from the gang outside of Home Depot for “seasonal work”), Lizzie rolls out at least a hundred back-to-back renditions of “Alex is getting’ nuttin’ for Christmas, mommy and daddy are mad…”

Being up to midnight the last few nights as Santa’s sole elf, powered on Toasted Head (an aptly named Chard), tenderly cradling gifts in clouds of tissue and carefully tying gold, green and red fabric bows with care—for the first hour at least–has also taken its toll.

This morning, so exhausted I was beginning to hallucinate, I looked in the mirror and saw my skin, hanging from my face, rachet down another inch, and I wonder if I’m going to be invited to the Matthaus’ house for Christmas dinner, mistaken for Walter’s twin sister (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/wordpress/?p=604).

The way I’m aging, I’m betting that on New Years Eve, my rear end will hit the ground faster than the ball in Times Square at midnight. (Now I know why they call it a face lift.)

How does it end? Well, the mail came today and a letter from the hospital arrived with it. With shaking hand I passed it to Frank to read for me. I had a voicemail on my cell phone from the AT&T guy stuffed somewhere up a tree at the end of our road. I decided my head was toasted enough.

Tonight I know my breast health is good for another year, by six in the evening we had our dial tone again, and Frank told me how much he loved the lasagna.

My children eagerly brushed their teeth and willingly went to bed. Just a few moments ago, I heard Alex whisper in the darkness of his bedroom: “Daddy, where’s Santa now…?”

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Notes for this blog:

NORAD: http://www.noradsanta.org/

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