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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Jervis

Day 286

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

On Constance’s first Christmas, she was four months old so she mostly slept and ate the way new babies do. It was magical because it was our first Christmas as a family. We went to my mom and Nana Vollmer's home.

Constance's second Christmas was remarkable. One present she received was a book from her grandparents. Constance was so excited to see the book that when I moved it just out of her reach, she moved towards it by taking her very first step. When she reached the book, she turned the page and sat down with it, contented. She loved books.

One year, with the help of my best friends, I organized a sensory-friendly Santa at a friend’s toy store to raise money for Autism Service Dogs of America. The idea was a result of inspiration from my friend Ellen, who had organized a sensory-friendly Santa at her store when she had a retail location in Lincoln Square. We took Constance and had a wonderfully inclusive time.

Santa was played by my stepdad and my brother Nick. The elves were Constance, Erika, Marc, and myself. Katie and Joan took photos of the children with Santa. Melissa, Pon, Marty, and Olga did gift wrapping. Florence and Paul brought over their boys to play with Constance. I made snacks, decorated, and emailed families their photos after the pictures were taken. Many friends, neighbors, family, and colleagues donated their time, baked goods, and money to make the event a huge success.

Constance never seemed to be interested in gifts. She had, on several occasions, handed back presents to the giver with a “no thanks.” This led us to try to never open gifts in front of the giver. The only universal exceptions regarding gifts seemed to be books, her iPad, and swimming gear. This worked fine until her last Christmas.

On that Christmas Eve, Constance was sitting in front of the Christmas tree opening presents from her babysitters, our family stockings, and some of the gifts we got each other. I noticed that for the first time, Constance was really enjoying opening the gifts. She seemed to care about what she was gifted and enjoyed many more of the gifts. Grace had given her a toy that wound up and played Christmas music. Constance loved it and had me wind it over and over again. I was so emotionally moved by this developmental step that I slept next to her in the guest room with tears of joy coming to my eyes. In the middle of the night, Constance got up, went back to the family room, got the wind-up toy, brought it to me, and asked me to wind it for her again. I was exhausted but jubilant.

Most Christmases I made the Mar-Yohana Jervis Family shirts with iron on photos of our family throughout the year. It was a goofy tradition but it was ours.

On the morning of December 25th, we had a tradition of driving to my mother’s house. The house was always filled with, at a minimum, my mother, stepdad, brothers, step-sister, my step-sister’s children, Constance’s father, Constance, and me. For each person, there seemed to be 100 gifts. We opened presents from youngest to oldest and then ate a big lunch together. The pickle present was always a group game we played after lunch. Because of Constance’s historical indifference to gifts, I had asked my parents to give Constance incredibly practical things like clothes. However, on her last Christmas, Constance had noticed that her step-cousins received more toys than clothes. I felt terrible and told my parents afterward that we would have to celebrate with gifts of toys and experiences this year.

Constance enjoyed eating with the family. At other people’s homes, Constance would politely ask for what she wanted. At my mother’s house, she always said, “I want an apple, please.” The sentence construction wasn’t perfect but her glee when she received the apple was.

After lunch, we’d drive from Indiana to Chicago and drop off the mounds of presents we received. It would be difficult to overstate how big my mother and stepdad do Christmas. It looks like they knocked over a Target. My mother has this amazing ability to find things I love that I never knew existed. I asked her once how she knows me so well and she said, “I just buy you things I want. “ My stepdad took note and started buying her some of the things she bought me. It seems to me like a perfect system.

After dropping off the gifts, we would put our already packed suitcases in the car and drive to Keylime Cove Indoor Water Park. The now defunct resort was Constance’s favorite. The building and pool temperature was always warm so you could walk around in your bathing suit all day. On Christmas, the resort was nearly empty. As a result, Constance could slide and play basketball as much as she liked. We’d spend the night at the hotel there. The onsite restaurants were terrible but Constance wouldn’t mind. She would be so blissed out. She would dance, sing, and literally jump with joy from the moment we arrived until we left. She would also wake up in the middle of the night to beg me to take her to the pool. I would try explaining that the pool was closed from 10 pm to 8 am but Constance always seemed unconvinced. She wanted to get every moment out of that place.

The final phase of the Christmas celebration was when we would leave Keylime and drive up to Door County, Wisconsin. There, we would visit Constance’s paternal grandmother and stay there till New Year’s Day. We would stay at a hotel with a massive, heated indoor pool and hot tub. Constance would swim three times a day. The hotel staff got to know us over the years and put us in rooms closer and closer to the pool.

On Constance’s last Christmas, Keylime was closed for renovation so we went directly to Wisconsin from the present drop-off in Chicago. We stayed in the suite next to the pool. It was convenient for Otis. He would watch Constance swim from the deck. Despite being a wonder dog, Otis didn’t join her in the pool. Constance loved that place. Constance’s dad tipped like Santa. Constance was treated better than Mrs. Claus by the staff. It was a place full of many happy memories.

Constance played on her iPad, read, and watched the Disney channel when she wasn’t swimming. While she did those activities, the adults played games together. Last year, I tried unsuccessfully to convince Constance’s paternal grandmother that she would never win Yahtzee with a strategy of always going for Yahtzee—and then she won Yahtzee. Then I tried unsuccessfully to explain to her that you can’t use words in other languages or abbreviations in Boggle. She replied, “Says who,” while waving away the notion of rules as if I had said a ghostly specter told me she could count “AARP” as a four-letter word. I said, “The rules,” and she said, “What man wrote those rules, “in a way that implied the patriarchy was out to steal a Boggle victory from her. Then I tried unsuccessfully to convince her that she should stop telling her son how to play his Rummikub tiles because he was an adult and, as such, he could figure it out for himself. Then he won Rummikub. She said it was because he cheated. It was at that moment that I decided that any time I didn’t spend watching Constance swim, I would spend watching North Woods Law reruns. My favorite episode is the one in which the suspicious man turns out to just be picking wild berries and then a lost grandma is safely returned home. I find it calming.

This year, I couldn’t handle Christmas without Constance. I left town. I couldn’t give or receive gifts. I couldn’t sit around trees and pools without Constance. I couldn’t take a family photo without a family or read holiday cards sent by people who could. I just had to opt out. I can’t express how grateful I am for my Christmas memories with Constance. It is just not Christmas without her.


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