Santa got Zoe a big-girl bike this year. The delivery of said bike was tricky - it was supposed to be delivered on a Friday, so I made sure to be home all day, but it never came. So then I had to work from home the following Tuesday so they could try again.
It came in a box, not assembled. I hustled it over to our neighbor's garage, where it was to sit until Christmas Eve, when Charles would put it together after Zoe went to bed.
"Are you sure you don't want to go put it together at Monica and Justin's ahead of time," I asked one night, trying to be practical. We were hosting a gathering of family and neighbors Christmas Eve, and I had a feeling things could get a little hectic.
"Nah," said Charles. "I'll put it together Christmas Eve. It's tradition."
More famous last words have never been said.
Charles, Zoe and I spent Christmas Eve day prepping for the party. Cleaning, cooking, cleaning some more. My hands were chapped and chafed before noon.
The party started around five, and pretty soon we had a full house. We ate, drank and were merry with the best of them. Three children (ages 3 to 18 months) ran circles from my kitchen to my living room and back (too bad I don't have a bigger house so the route could have been longer). They exchanged gifts, after which the adults tried on the superhero masks and played with Zoe's new light saber. We set out reindeer food on our front lawns.
Finally, it was time for the children to be in bed. Santa was coming, you know...
Neighbors and families said goodnight, and I ushered an exhausted Zoe upstairs, where she was asleep within seconds, despite the overwhelming, ohmigos-mommy-santa's-coming-and-i'm-still-awake feeling that was bubbling up in her speech. I headed downstairs where I was thrilled to find Charles had already cleaned up all evidence of the party.
Phew, I thought. I can set out the gifts, we can build the bike and then go to bed ourselves.
I did say we up there. I really did think we were going to build the bike.
Then Charles smiled. His eyes were...glassy. His drink was...full.
My husband is incredibly responsible. He almost never drinks to drunkeness. He always gets the job done.
But something about those glassy eyes...I started to wonder. But...no. No big deal, just some glassy eyes.
Then he told me...the dads had a plan. Charles was going to help Jamie unload his son's Powerwheels, then go to Justin's to help him build his daughter's slide. After that, he was going to bring the bike home and get it built.
It was 8:30. Not too late. I figured that was a good plan.
So off he went, to help the other dads.
Once I was sure Zoe was sound asleep, I pulled out her presents and re-organized under the tree to make it look impressive. Santa hadn't brought her much - the bike was the big gift, and it would look pretty standing next to our tree. I just wanted to be sure everything was perfect.
8:45 came and went. Then 9:00. I started to get a little concerned.
I walked across the street to pick up Zoe's bike myself. I carried the box home, and then texted Monica, at whose house Charles was building the slide.
"I stole the bike," I said.
"I'll be right over," she responded.
Uh oh, I thought again. Her text meant the slide was taking a long time to be built. It meant I'd be putting the bike together myself maybe. It was getting nearer to 10.
She showed up a minute later and let me know...Charles and Justin were working on the slide still. Charles...was a little silly. He'd maybe had a drink too many. So we set about unpacking the bike. It wasn't in too many pieces - just the handlebars, seat, front wheel and the main bike frame. And, of course, the flower-shaped pedals, which were Monica's favorite part. We unwrapped each piece, congratulating ourselves on how well we were doing. We could do this.
Still no Charles.
Suddenly the front door opened. Our other neighbors stood there, baby monitor in hand, coming in for the long haul. Jamie looked at me and smiled. "You girls gonna put that bike together?" he said.
We nodded, still confident.
"With what tools?" he asked.
We'd only just gotten to the "tools needed" part of the manual. So I said, "Well, I already have a screwdriver out." (I did! Flathead AND Phillips!)
He laughed. "I'll go get my tools. Your husband...he doesn't need to be building a bike tonight."
And thus I learned exactly how silly Charles had gotten. These things happen...we've all been there...but Zoe's bike...needed to be built.
And thus I learned exactly how key it is to have awesome neighbors. While Charles and Justin finished building a slide (Charles, I'm still dubious about exactly how much you "helped"), Jamie sat down and put together Zoe's bike. When the brakes fought him, we provided moral support (Monica finding and reading key paragraphs of the manual; me handing him tools; Jennifer squeezing the brake handles that were sort of...in a place where I shouldn't reach them. Monica and I screwed in the pedals.).
At some point, Charles and Justin came over to see what was going on at our place. My husband (responsible, wonderful, loving Charles) was quite tipsy. I think it was that one last drink he'd taken over to Monica and Justin's an hour before. I think that put him over the edge. But at least he was home, and he was helping Jamie.
When it was time to fill the tires with air, I went to the garage to get the pump. As soon as I came in, Charles...went to the garage to get the pump. We all knew what he was doing. I could have gone to get him, but it was sort of more fun to let him look for a while.
I'm mean sometimes, what can I say?
It was almost 11 when the bike was done and everyone filtered back home again. I went out to the garage again and attacked the box with a box-cutter, slicing and dicing until I could hide the evidence behind our recycle bins. It was cathartic, cutting it up with a vengeance.
The next morning, Zoe was thrilled to walk down the stairs and find her bike. All the neighbors were outside pretty early in the morning, so everyone who participated in the bike-building-event got to see Zoe go for her first ride. It worked out...better than I could have imagined. Until those pedals? That Monica and I screwed in so diligently? Yeah, they fell off, and Charles screwed them back in and tightened them with a wrench. He was quite proud.
So...the moral of this story is...build stuff BEFORE the Christmas Eve party, but if you don't, you better have as awesome neighbors as I do. Because you just never know what a night's going to bring.