Since I had no Christmas Eve plans I volunteered to work a closing shift at the restaurant. Other people had kids and families and such. My kid went everywhere with me by default and my family was far, far away in snowy Indiana. Being on my feet, rubbing my belly for tips, would be better than sitting at home bemoaning my inability to drink eggnog.
I didn’t even have to wake up at 3 a.m. to do my normal newspaper shift. Though I insisted on working it, my boss told me that since I had volunteered for the Thanksgiving shift, I should have the day off. She told me to just enjoy the quiet.
Work at the restaurant was busy. Churchgoers, last-minute shoppers and people eager to spend their gift cards made my shift a hectic one. I wished people a “Merry Christmas” if it looked like they had just come from Mass. I told others to have a Happy New Year. I made a lot of money. My last table took their time toasting each other on the patio and by the time I cashed out their check, the kitchen was closed. It was about 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve and I was starving.
I really didn’t want to cook and was pretty sure the selection in my fridge was slim. I also knew that I was going to have a tough time finding any place open. I decided to try a Burger King on the tourist strip. A cheeseburger and fries sounded like fantastic comfort food on this, my first Christmas Eve pregnant and nearly 2,000 miles away from family. My mouth was watering, and stomach growling, as I got closer to the drive-thru. I pulled up to a dark Burger King with an empty parking lot. I started cussing and hitting my steering wheel. Not exactly the Christmas spirit, but damn, I was hungry.
I noticed lights on and cars parked in a nearby shopping plaza. People were walking in and out of a storefront carrying brown bags. There was a hot pink illuminated sign that said “Chinese Food.” It had to be the only establishment open in all of Central Florida. It was a Christmas Eve miracle.
I ordered garlic chicken, spring rolls and extra white rice. I rushed home, climbed under the covers of my Queen-size bed still in my greasy restaurant clothes and polished off my dinner while watching “A Christmas Story” in the dark. I stacked the empty white containers next to my bed. I stripped down to a tank top and pair of candy cane boy shorts — my 20-week baby bump putting some skin between the two articles of clothing. I brushed my teeth and decided to save a shower for Christmas morning. It would give me something to do.
I crawled between the sheets and set the sleep timer on the TV. I wondered what time my one-year-old niece would wake up to open gifts with my brother and his girlfriend in Indiana. Would she wake up to a white Christmas, and a half-eaten cookie left by Santa? I wondered if my Dad was still awake, drinking a glass of scotch, watching the snow fall. Mom was surely asleep. Without three teenagers to wake her before the crack of dawn to tear into electronic gifts, she had taken to sleeping in Christmas mornings and enjoying a cup of coffee in her robe before confronting the day. I would call in the afternoon and everyone would be jealous that I was wearing flip flops. I’d be sad and homesick but I’d force a cheery tone and say “It’s 80 degrees and beautiful here. Just how Christmas should be.”
Laying flat on my back I placed both hands on my mound of a tummy. If I wasn’t exhausted enough, this food was going to put me in a food coma until New Year’s.
Just under my right palm I felt a rumble.
Great. Here comes the post-feed gas.
The rumble moved. A rhythmic tap started just inside the skin of my belly. It hit the center of my palm over and over. I sat up abruptly.
I’d been reading my weekly email that told me that around week 16 I would start feeling “bubbles” or movement of the baby. The information repeated in every weekly email that followed but I had yet to receive any sign that my little soccer player was awake in there. I scoured message boards trying to discover if I was the only pregnant woman in the world without this bubble-nonsense taking place. I was somewhat reassured to learn that there were other 20-weekers that were still awaiting a “hello” from beyond their stretched stomach skin but I’d still been trying to coax the wee one to “just kick me already” for the better part of a month.
Apparently baby needed some garlic chicken for motivation.
I propped myself up with my left arm and tried to push my hand against the kicking. With the shift in position the tap, tap, tapping dropped a few inches to just below my belly button.