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We Kindle These Lights

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December 1, 2010

“Josh, can you get the door? I'm trying to change!” Donna sounded frazzled enough that Josh swallowed any smart-aleck remarks he might have made and instead went to answer the door as the bell rang again, then again and again. By the time he opened the door, Andi was already scolding Huck for an overgenerous finger on the button, and Molly was trying to jump off the front steps. “Chag sameach,” he called out, attracting the attention of the foursome on the porch.

There was silence for a moment, then Toby gave Huck a nudge. “Oh,” the little boy said. “Chag sameach.” That earned him a pat on the head.

“Shalom aleichem!” Molly chimed in, climbing back up the stairs. “Can I hold the baby?”

“Why don't you come inside first,” Josh offered, shifting his son securely into the crook of one arm as he pulled the door open wider. “It's cold out!”

Huck was first through the door, and immediately wrinkled his nose. “It smells bad in here,” he noted, “like burning trash.”

“Huck!” Andi sputtered with a laugh. “Not nice!”

“We had a little latke mishap earlier,” Josh explained, grinning. “Donna's really determined to get them right, but there's some deep-seated internal conflict between the proper way to fry potatoes and the Italian-Irish-Scandihoovian disaster she grew up with. That was the third batch this week.”

“I heard that!” Donna called as she descended the stairs, looking perfectly unruffled in a clean blouse and slacks and with her hair and makeup fixed. “And I'm sure I'm going to get it right by dinnertime, but just in case, how do you all feel about french fries?” She hugged Toby and Andi, then the kids, exclaiming over Huck's new shoes and Molly's lost tooth. “I put a dreidel out on the coffee table,” she told them, pointing to the living room. “Do you remember how to play?” They both nodded eagerly and took off, Molly yelling something about candy.

“That'll definitely end in tears,” Toby predicted dolefully, making no effort to stop it.

“I'm so glad you could all come over today. It's been way too long,” Donna told their visitors as she took their coats and led the way into the kitchen, Josh trailing behind. Left unsaid, of course, was the political pall that Toby was only beginning to crawl out from under since the last administration, and the fact that he and Andi were still divorced, for all they were very effective and involved coparents.

“Thank you for inviting us,” Andi replied with equal warmth. “Your house is beautiful. I love all the lights outside.”

Donna laughed. “Wait till it gets dark, they're quite a show. I went a little insane near the end of my maternity leave,” she admitted. “I hired the neighbor's high-school boys, had them up on ladders stringing lights for me for two days at the beginning of November. We were the first ones lit up in the whole neighborhood, and I don't know that we're ever going to have time to take them all down again. But they're pretty!”

“That sounds familiar,” Andi agreed. “I remember being torn between feeling horrible that my babies were going to daycare soon and being absolutely desperate to get back to work just so I could get out of the house. You really got the best of both worlds, going to work and having the baby just a few rooms away. Who could leave this little cube of sugar, anyway?” she asked, her voice going sweet and high as she addressed the infant in Josh's arm. Garret Noah Lyman, still bald as a ping-pong ball at four months of age, rewarded her with a huge toothless smile.

“We didn't exactly plan for the entire East Wing to start having babies all at once,” Donna admitted, a little ruefully, “but once it happened, well, starting a creche was honestly easier than coordinating that many different daycare schedules. And I don't think we'd have been able to convince Mrs. Santos to hire on a baby nanny no matter how busy or exhausted she got, but with the creche already right there, she can use it when she needs it. It's a lifesaver for everyone.”

“Not a bad visual for the daycare expansion initiative either,” Josh added proudly. “Not even six months old and he's already helping the Democratic agenda.” Donna just rolled her eyes and poured the wine. “I'm thinking about putting him up for a cabinet post after reelection.”

“Just so long as you don't make him Secretary of State,” Andi cooed in the baby's direction. “Because he's ineligible to serve in the line of succession until he's thirty-five, aren't you, pumpkin? Come over here and see me.” She held out her hands for the baby and Josh passed him over, only a little reluctantly. “Why don't you boys go out and see what the kids are up to, and we'll talk latkes and breastfeeding in here.”

That was enough to scoot Josh and Toby out of the room at a good clip, with Donna's laugh following after them. “You're quiet today,” Josh remarked.

“I was drowning in estrogen in there,” Toby replied sourly. “Women and babies, I swear to God. One of them is a sitting United States Senator and the other is chief of staff to one of the most influential women in the world and has contacts that the intelligence community could only dream of, but you put them together and they'll spend all night talking about breastfeeding and Baby Einstein!”

Josh blinked. “They probably have plenty of chances to talk about the rest of that stuff at work,” he pointed out. “You've gone through your own baby phase, as I recall. Or was it some other grumpy guy sneaking pictures into his office and putting them up on his walls like nobody was going to notice them if we didn't see them going up? Or showing pictures of the sonogram around the West Wing?”

Toby waved it off. “I'm just saying, the estrogen is killer. That's what happened in the East Wing last year. Woman sees another woman with a baby, she wants a baby. Then they're all having babies, and the first woman gets a look at the latest new baby to come along, then she wants another, even though she started the whole thing in the first place!”

By this point, Toby had stopped walking in front of the front door, and Josh was thoroughly baffled. “So does Andi want another baby?” he guessed.

“She's forty-seven, she can't have another baby!” Toby exclaimed, somehow while still keeping his voice fairly low. “That's why we had the first two babies when we did, because she was worried she was getting too old. Seven years ago! I don't know what the hell she's thinking.”

“Maybe she'll get her baby fix by proxy and then be okay,” Josh offered. “Maybe he'll puke on her. That might help.”

Toby shook his head dourly. “Doesn't work that way. You watch. Donna's going to start looking at pregnant women and women with babies and think she's ready for another one, despite the fact that the first one's barely-” He broke off when Josh made a small coughing noise and looked away. “Are you serious?” he asked, and this time his voice was noticeably louder. “The first one's barely dry and you're having another?”

Josh hushed him. “Come on, Toby, we just found out two days ago,” he muttered urgently. “Donna doesn't want to tell anybody yet, she's worried. But yeah, we want to have our kids close together while she's still relatively low-risk. We have enough health issues in the family already.” He coughed. “Besides, it was only semi-planned at the time.”

“She's worried?” Toby's focus shifted instantly. “Is there something to be worried about?”

“Just, you know.” Josh shrugged, not wanting to spell out all the things he tried very hard not to think about. “Most miscarriages happen in the first trimester, and the risk goes up with age. Nothing specific except that her blood pressure's always a little high. She was the same way with Garret, we didn't tell anybody except her doctor and Ron Butterfield until three months.”

“Yeah.” Toby very, very rarely talked about the troubles he and Andi had experienced while trying for kids, but Josh knew he understood the problem well, and that he'd keep the secret. Toby shook his head. “You're both crazy. Mazel tov.” He smacked Josh once on the back, then walked onward into the living room.

As it turned out, Huck and Molly had forgotten most of the specifics of the dreidel game, so had chosen to eat all the gelt instead, leaving a large pile of little gold foil balls on the table. They were now inspecting the Christmas tree in the corner and trying to decide if the cranberries and popcorn Donna had strung onto it were edible or not. Josh and Toby watched them from the doorway. “So, do you not feed these kids?” Josh teased.

“Just wait, you'll see,” Toby assured him darkly. “Children are piranha in human skins. Hey!” he shouted to the kids. “No grazing on the decorations. Show a little class. Go bug your mother for food.” That brilliant bit of strategy was enough to win Toby and Josh some peace and quiet in the late-afternoon light, letting them talk politics and sports while the smell of only slightly-burnt potato pancakes began to fill the air.

They ate dinner around the kitchen table, which was slightly cramped but much cozier, Donna had insisted, than the formal dining room would've been. The fourth try appeared to be the charm when it came to potato pancakes, and when combined with the sufganiyot Josh had been prudent enough to pick up at a bakery and a crockpot brisket, the meal was actually very good. Huck and Molly dominated a lot of the conversation, each one determined to outdo the other in seemingly everything, including volume, but they were smart, friendly kids and Josh figured that wasn't so bad. Garret licked all the sugar off one sufganiyah for his holiday feast, a spectacle that entertained the kids to no end.

After dinner, everyone headed into the nearly-dark living room, where Toby recited the story of Hanukkah very gravely for the children, who settled down and listened for probably the first time all evening. Josh watched from the sofa, Garret on his lap and Donna next to him, as spellbound as the kids. He thought about watching his own father tell the story and light the candles, thought about eating a stomachache's worth of chocolate coins, thought of playing dreidel with Joanie, using marbles when the candy was all gone. As though she could tell where his thoughts were turning, Donna reached out and squeezed his hand lightly, reminding him of everything he had now, everything that was still coming. Great miracles, indeed.

As the story finished, Josh stood up and tucked Garret back into the crook of his arm, then walked over to the menorah in the front window. Huck and Molly followed him, and then the rest of the adults. Josh picked up the tallest candle. “Remember what this is called?” he asked the kids.

“Shamash,” Huck told him confidently. “It's the helper candle.”

Josh nodded and picked up the first candle. “And where does this one go?”

That caused a moment of consternation when neither twin could remember right from left, but Molly finally sussed it out. “There,” she insisted, pointing to the far right space. Josh nodded again and set it down, then lit the candle.

He'd had to practice the blessings, he wasn't exactly observant most years, despite his mother's urging. But Donna loved Christmas and wanted to go all out for that, and somehow she translated that into it being only right to go all out for the Jewish holidays as well, so Garret would grow up with both. He couldn't exactly say no to that, and right now he could see the wisdom in it. Saying the blessing and lighting the lamp while surrounded by family, that was a feeling that might fade, but would never be forgotten. And as he watched his son, named for both his fathers, staring at the candles with huge and fascinated eyes, Josh could almost hear his dad saying the blessing along with him.

After the candle was lit, they turned on a few lamps and Josh sat down to teach the kids how to actually play driedel. Donna somehow produced another bag of gelt to replace the highly devalued first issue, though Andi strictly forbade the kids from eating any more of them before bed. There was a little more wine, a little more grape juice for Donna and the kids, and then Donna had to feed the baby and the Ziegler-Wyatt family headed home for homework, baths and bedtime before Toby returned to his own apartment. Josh wondered what that must be like, but didn't like to think about it for too long. He found Donna in the kitchen instead, eating the last of the doughnuts with sour cream smeared on top. “Gross,” he teased her, walking around and piling dishes into the sink.

“”S good,” she defended herself, her mouth still full. “Yer jus' jealous.”

“I can absolutely assure you I am not,” he laughed. “Just because you're allowed to eat ridiculous combinations of food doesn't mean you ought to. You're gonna warp the kid.”

She wrinkled her nose and glared at him, but couldn't get too mad at him because he was doing the dishes. He was a master strategist. “So...” she asked instead. “Was it good? I mean, I know it's been a long time since you did Hanukkah. Are you happy we did?”

“Yeah,” he replied, walking over and putting his arms around her. He didn't want to risk kissing her at the moment, so he put his forehead against hers instead. “Yeah, I'm really glad. It was nice.” She beamed at him, pleased and relieved, and he soaked it in for a moment. “I'm hoping it will fortify me for the horrorshow next week in Madison.”

“Joshua!” That earned him a serious pout, bottom lip stuck out and everything, and suddenly his reservations about kissing went out the window. They were going to be really busy for most of the foreseeable future, he figured he better stock up while he could. Twas the season, after all.