Southern California people like to complain about the weather. When it rains, we act like the world’s been plunged into an enteral winter, the sun’s been blotted out for a lifetime. We are, what I like to call, sunshine spoiled. We got our first snow on Halloween Day and the early freeze out had us fearing a long, wet winter. As October slid into November, I couldn’t listen to Judy Garland’s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” without feeling like I’d rather just lean into the sound of pure chaos that is my house 90% of the time and leave the holiday music for my bi-weekly grocery shopping trips. Most days, I just wanted to trudge through the holidays and make it out on the other side, mostly unscathed.
We’ve done our own fair share of whining since we moved here. Scoffing at another week of below freezing temps, lamenting the threat of a snowstorm well into April, commenting on another day without any sunshine. The truth is our struggle to dig roots here in Indiana has nothing to do with the frozen ground and everything to do with all the people we left back on the West Coast. The thought of our first Midwest Christmas loomed. I guess we weren’t alone in our brooding because my parents called us late one night and said if Guy had the time off of work, they’d be happy to fly us home for Christmas.
Minus a close call with a helicopter on our descent into Burbank and a couple other hiccups, our trip was pretty unremarkable in the best possible way. We watched movies and spent a lot of time in our pajamas. My mom helped the kids make personal pizzas with all their favorite toppings (pepperoni, black olives, onions, and pepperoncinis). My dad sat with Hank in the glow of the Christmas tree, marveling at his length and heft, so different from the three month baby we’d arrived with last year. We crowded around the island in the kitchen and rolled phedans in sugar. Guy had a chance to catch up with his parents and his brother. We went to the movies for the first time since 2017! (If your wondering if I liked Rise of Skywalker, the answer is yes, but no spoilers because the noise was way too much for Indy and Guy ended up having to miss the last 20 minutes, sorry babe!)
Oh and we woke up to snow! It followed it all the way from Indianapolis to SoCal. Apparently the weather was beautiful here while we were out of town. Harper was, well, real mad, but the part of me that always wished for white Christmases was sort of excited to peer through the curtain in my old bedroom to see several freshly fallen inches.
We have friends, who are more than friends. The people you call when everything goes to hell at 3am. Who invite you over for a BBQ just so you don’t have to cook because it’s been a too long week. They were our family is San Diego and still are, despite the distance. Once again they let us take over their home for a couple of days. We ate tacos, a lot of tacos, and stopped off at our favorite curry place. Sprawled out in their living room, playing video games and watched a steady stream of random YouTube videos, we took turns snuggling their foster puppy and scolding their corgi when he snatched all the kids’ snacks.
Indy and their son are a year apart and both equally obsessed with anything with wheels so the house turned into an Hot Wheels car obstacle course. Their daughter and Harper have been friends since before they can remember . Together they turned the weekend into a marathon sleepover, emerging way too early with crazy hair and leftover eye-shadow and lip gloss from the night before. Jamie made us some proper Trini food, corn soup, and had it waiting when we finally made it into town, road weary and ready for a meal that didn’t get handed to us through a drive thru window. The mamas snuck out for a slow lap around Target to stock up on cheese sticks and goldfish crackers. It was a hot mess and it was just what we needed.
One night we stood in a circle in the kitchen. The house was quiet. All the kids except the baby were playing behind closed bedroom doors, up way too late for anyone’s good. The dads were talking tech and the moms were waiting on hot water for tea. Hank was losing speed fast, his head lolling on my shoulder as I swayed in my time-tested figure eight. Jamie reached out, gently cupping Hank’s head in his hand and smoothed down a lock of blond hair that had gone askew. His touch so sweet, natural and genuine. It was the first time in a long time that a dear friend had reached for any of my children and it made me cry.
It wouldn’t be a trip home without at least dipping our toes into the Pacific. We walked along the shore, one late afternoon watching the sun dip below the horizon from the edge of Fiesta Island. Last year, Hank was only a few months old and wasn’t much interested in the cold ocean water but this year we had to struggle to keep him out of the surf. No amount of redirection could convince him he’d rather be warm and dry. Indy in his typical way striped down to his underwear as soon as we let him out of the car. Never mind that everyone else was wearing a sweatshirt. Our girls carved their names next to each other in the sand.
We spent a morning at the farmer’s market in Little Italy and some other very dear, dear friends, Indy holding their hands, and linking them into a chain too long for the crowd we were navigating. Grabbing lunch at a burger spot we had frequented on the weekends, we listened to the news surrounding their engagement and some details of a 2021 spring wedding. Our time went quickly, too fast. It was almost a shock when we had to head to meet our plane at the airport. There was something too easy about being back. A literal and emotional autopilot Guy, Harp, and I struggled to pull ourselves out of after a decade in its groove. One time we even accidentally ended up back on the road we lived on because we were talking instead of paying attention to were we were headed. The house was the same but some things were missing,, different. I fought the urge to sit on someone else’s porch.
As we boarded the plane, the sun was just beginning to set, giving the surrounding hills a sort of majestic purple hue. Indy stopped at the top of the ramp and turned. In a voice unusually quiet for such a boisterous boy, he whispered goodbye to the mountains. Settled in his spot by the window he asked “Can we go to Gigi and Pop’s house again tomorrow?” and I had to tell him no, not tomorrow or the next day.
Unlike last year, no one burst into tears when the wheels hit the tarmac. Harper went into seasoned traveler mode and guided us to baggage claim. Guy split from the pack to warm up the car. We still miss our people. Every once in a while we still forget, reach to call someone to help us fill a gap in the schedule and realize there isn’t anyone to call. Still, we’re starting to learn you can always go home, even if it’s just for a little while.