Dinner Party

We Played Stratego

We stood in the beautiful kitchen, back lights gleaming against the fresh cream colored tiles. My feet anchored into the wood floor as we were introduced to her husband. Reach. Shake hands. Eye contact.

I’ve known of her for years, but her regular presence in my life jump started again as she recently moved back to town. They all come back to Colorado, we always say.

My view of the stairs was blocked from where I stood, the stove and half-wall creating a sound barrier for the shy giggles that started at the bottom of the five or so steps separating us. A little boy leaning on the carpet, bare tummy sticking out from his footie pajamas decorated with carrots, radishes and broccoli.

“Come say hi,” invited the mother, “I promise they won’t bite.”

This little boy crossed over the threshold into the adult space – bravely walking into the kitchen and kept his eyes focused on the floor. Curly hair bounced on top of his head as he leaned into his mom’s caring and protective embrace.

We sat down to eat. He started to engage. I asked questions of school, what one does at first grade, the things he is learning. He politely asked if he could reach for the salt.

Boy do I hope my kids have the manners that this little boy demonstrated.

We chewed and we chatted and the little man warmed up. His gangly legs started fidgeting like only a six year olds can. When we were done with the meal he asked, “Will you play Stratego with me?”

Sharp breath in. Stay sweet my little beating heart. He doesn’t know. He couldn’t know. That Stratego , a simple strategy game, was one of his favorites. One of Dad’s favorites.

This one my dad taught me too, when I was probably the boys age. Hours spent trying to develop strategy, protect my flag, destroy bombs. I hadn’t seen or heard of the game in years. Here was a young fella, inviting it all up again.

“Why do you keep attacking me with your twos?” he’d ask.

” I can’t remember how to play,” I said “you’ve got to help me remember.”

Heart warming and magnificent to remember that games span decades and memories linger. That threes destroy bombs and only a spy can destroy a ten. He took my spy right away. Captured. Much like the flag.

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It is humbling to be beat at a strategy game by a six year old.

I couldn’t put it into words that night just how special it was for this younger generation to ask me to play. A beautiful, expanding circle for my once nanny’s son to ask me to play Dad’s favorite game.

The candle light flickered as the new memory etched into my heart. Just like we etched our names into their kitchen table that night. That’s their family’s tradition. For guests to solder their name into the kitchen table. My husband took his time and we wrote my new family name in their table.

Stories, decades of time, connection – etchings in wood and fibers of my heart.

She knew my dad. I now know her son. We played Stratego.

What a beautiful thing.

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Nope. Not this year.

Thursday – A Rushed Morning

7:05 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.  Olive pounces on me as I reach from my comfy flannel sheets to read the message.

Dylan: Can you bring me my jacket?

Type type type.

Katie: Sure – do you need it this morning?

No response.

We’re up late. Rush out of bed.

8:02 am

Katie puts cushions in bathroom so the dog won’t eat them, shuts all doors, unplugs curling iron, grabs jacket and says a silent prayer that Olive won’t chomp on the unlit Christmas tree while away. Drive to Dylan’s work.

8:17 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.

Dylan: No – I don’t need it this morning. Just for later tonight.

Said coat sat on my drivers seat as I waited for a stop light to stamp out a reply.

8:18 am

Katie pulls into Dylan’s work parking lot.

Type Type Type

Katie: I’m in the parking lot. I have your coat.

Dylan came out to greet me, walking up to the driver side door. He said thanks, and then repeated he didn’t really need the coat until later that night.

Katie swallowed down emotion and said out loud, “Ok, I’m feeling frustrated.”

And then Katie promptly started crying.

In the parking lot, Dylan came round and sat in the car as Katie shed some tears, holding her hand.


I wept about how pissed I am at my dog for peeing in our house all the time. I wept about feeling like schedules need managing and tasks need completing, and dishwashers need unloading and like I need help. That’s what I told Dylan.

What I didn’t tell Dylan –

At 7:40 am I also got an email from The Dinner Party. This group hosts grief tables for 20 and 30 somethings who have experienced significant loss all around the country.  I’ve been on the waiting list since October. Waiting to get placed in a group of people who get it. Just how total suck-fest this thing called grief can be.

I’ve got lots of supportive people in my life, yet I still crave connection with people my age who can say, ‘yup – me too – I’ve lost someone big and their them-sized hole will never be filled.’

As I read the email, I think I stopped breathing a bit. The Dinner Partiers might have a spot for me soon. I hate that I can belong to this club. She ended her note, “I hope you’re finding ways to take care this holiday season.”

So there I was, in the parking lot, crying tears and blurring my mascara and trying not to calculate how late to work I would be. Sure, I was pissed at my dog and helping people get their needs met. More though, I was pissed that I’m not sure I have been taking care of myself this month as others have so wisely recommended.

We got through Thanksgiving with grace and smiles this year. We decorated for Christmas and I was doing just fine. And then I opened that gracious, hope-giving email, and I sank right into the hard truth that my dad isn’t with us this Christmas.

Damnit.

Worse, too, that I haven’t been giving myself space to expect the slide backwards. Because who want’s to expect that?

I wiped off my face and drove to work, finished out another week and started asking myself – how can I take better care of myself this Christmas season? A beautiful reminder that sometimes even strangers can nudge us towards the self-care we didn’t know we needed.

I’ve found freeing answers in unexpected spaces. The beauty in saying, “Nope, not this year.”

For example. This season I can’t bring myself to make Christmas cookies. I bought the ingredients to make peppermint shortbread for Dad and then I just couldn’t stop thinking – well where would I bring them?we don’t have a graveI certainly can’t eat them myself. And why would I give them away. They are Dad’s.

And Mom and I were going to make gingerbread snowflakes like always but really I just wanted to send my Christmas Cards instead. Our time got eaten up as the grief gremlin gnawed on my heart. Sneaking cookies from tins in the morning reminds me of him and so I just can’t do it. Not this year. The weight of grief has pressed pause on our cookie tradition. The red snowman tins shall remain empty til next year.

Today, as we Christmas shopped I bought a Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Cake Mix  . We came home after a lovely afternoon out downtown and I whipped up the batter in ten minutes. After thirty minutes my house smelled lovely. I cut a warm square that looked  beautiful my white plate, gummy ginger crystals still melted from the oven. I ate a piece while watching The Santa Clause and got choked up as Santa calls Charlie Sport. Dad always called me Sport too. More feelings of Damnit. Let’s put that word in caps shall we? D-A-M-N-I-T. Let’s YELL it at the mirror!

So this is what taking care of myself looks like. Saying no to tradition because tradition hurts like hell. Finding substitutes that make life easier – like cake mix. Asking for help with Olive and holding hands. Reading my Advent devotional and remembering Jesus is coming – bringing light and banishing darkness.

And saying hello to my grief gremlin friend as she waves her candy cane Christmas wand from my heart pocket. She’s here this season too.

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P.S. – I told Dylan all of this before I shared here. He’s in the know. You can be too.

P.P.S. – The Give Light Giveaway is still going on. Send me your entry soon!