Month: December 2014

When Your Pen Takes Over Your New Year’s Resolution

I asked myself the question: What’s the most important thing that I can focus on this year?, and I thought that I already knew the answer. I thought that my New Year’s Resolution would look like a pared-down version of my daily to-do list:

Write every day.

Exercise more.

But I was writing with a pen and paper, which is a little dangerous because sometimes my hand takes control of the prompt, and ignores what my brain has been planning to say all along, and instead of the sentence “I need to find time to write, if not every day, then as much as possible,” my hand wrote:

The most important thing I can do is to experience joy in my body, and bear witness to joy when people close to me experience it.

Shit. Why did my hand write that? I thought that writing every day was a challenging priority, but making room for JOY in my body and my life? That might require me to become a different person, one who can write joy in capital letters without wincing. One who can relax for for more than ten minutes without listing my to-do list in my head, without feeling like my body is tightening around me.

At the moment, it feels kind of like standing in the middle of a forest with no trail, only a compass and a destination. And I don’t really know how to use a compass. But I may know enough to orient myself. I know enough to start.

I’ll start, when I remember, by taking breaths, by imagining my lungs, my belly, my capillaries opening and making room for for this somewhat foreign and suspicious feeling.

I’ll start, when I remember, by slowing down and searching for whatever small joy might be found in the task I’m doing. The feeling of my fingers stretching across the keyboard, the one perfect sentence in the paper I’m grading, the moment halfway through a class I’m teaching when I notice (sometimes) that things are going well.

This sounds like work to me.

I’ll start, when I remember, by engaging more deeply with Stump and his world, by letting him run through the house in his diaper, by mirroring his happy dance when his brother comes home or when I offer him a piece of chocolate.

I’ll start, when I remember, by saying Yes instead of Later to Smoke’s bids for more time and attention. Yes, let’s open your science kit Now, and Yes, you can pour all of the colored sugar on top of the cookies.

I’ll start, when I remember, by holding the word between my fingers and coming to know it. Such a small word for something so sweeping and grand, (joy, joy, joy).

boys

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Christmas Eve: All the Things I Haven’t Done

It’s 9:33 pm on Christmas Eve, and as I wait for Smoke to fall asleep, I take stock of all the things I haven’t done.

1. I haven’t finished wrapping presents.

2. I haven’t filled stockings because Smoke is still awake, nor have I put any presents under the tree because Stump would have immediately unwrapped them and thrown them across the room.

3. I haven’t bought my partner any kind of gift that would indicate that she’s special to me in any way. I’m hopeful that I’ve chosen enough items to fill her stocking, but it’s going to be filled with underwear, socks, and beef jerky. No fun surprises. (Kellie, if you are reading this: spoiler alert.)

4. I have only mailed one third of my Christmas cards. This is typical, and why I always choose cards that don’t directly mention Christmas. That way, I figure I have until New Years to send my “Season’s Greetings.”

5. I haven’t mailed packages to family members who live far away. I don’t remember making a decision about this. It just kind of occurred to me this morning that tomorrow is Christmas and I haven’t done that.

6. I haven’t assembled thoughtful gifts for my closest friends, even though I have received them. I didn’t make jams, or soaps, or buy a case of expensive wine to dole out to those I love the most, although I fully intended to back in November.

It seems that many of the seasonal things I’ve done, I’ve done haphazardly. I did my Christmas shopping, frantically, in two days. I made cookie dough last week, but didn’t bake or frost the cookies until this morning. It feels like this year Christmas is something that simply happened to me, like a tornado or the flu.

I dream of a future holiday season, one in which I decide which holiday activities are meaningful to me and follow through. Perhaps that would entail beginning in November, not just with intentions but with action. Perhaps it wouldn’t mean doing more or buying more, but it would mean engaging with the season, with the notions of giving and receiving, and breathing my way through rather than closing my eyes and hoping for the best.

Smoke and neighbor Kathy's Christmas cookie art. Please note Smoke's psychedelic Santa, on offering tonight.

Smoke and neighbor Kathy’s Christmas cookie art. Please note Smoke’s psychedelic Santa, on offering tonight.

I am Santa. Santa is me.

As I write this, Smoke is sitting in the bed next to me looking at comic books, claiming he wants to stay up all night. He has Christmas Fever. When I told him it wouldn’t be possible for him to stay awake from now until Christmas, he responded “It’s only seven days away.”

I’m humoring him, just a little, by letting him stay up late with me tonight. It’s better than turning out the light and hollering at him every five minutes because he won’t settle down.

Two nights ago I helped him write this Christmas list for Santa.

 list

I will transcribe it here for you.

Santa- I! want for Christ[mas]

A Science Kit!

Angry Birds Transformers Teleporters!

The! Minerals Mommy Kellie uses in the Bath

A Whole Box Of Candy Canes (every kind)

Dumbledore’s Castle (Lego Set)

The Dark Fortress (Lego Set)

Jay’s Thunderator (Lego Set) [I later learned that the product is actually called Jay’s Thunder Raider]

Double-sided Tape

Bat-coptor (Lego set)

I’ve got to say, I’m finding it hard to juggle my duties as mom and Santa, and I find it hard to know where one of us ends and the other begins.

When I was a child, Santa’s role was clearly defined. He came down our chimney, filled our stockings and ate our cookies. All of the presents under the tree came from Mom and Dad.

We haven’t drawn such clean lines in our family. We don’t have a chimney, so I don’t know how to explain how he enters our house. Santa fills stockings, but Smoke is under the impression that he’s in charge of all the gift-giving too.

I let him believe this since this is what his friends all think, and I don’t want to muddy the waters. But the waters are muddy. How will I explain that Santa looked into it and decided that (s)he really didn’t want to spend fifty dollars on a video game accessory (see the second item on the list), or hundreds of dollars on a Lego fortress?

Santa has already come through with a science kit, bath minerals, and double-sided tape. The box of candy canes (every kind!) seemed like a no-brainer but is turning out to be hard to find. Sadly, I notice socks aren’t on the list…

To be sure, Santa will bring some of Smoke’s friends more, and some of them less. I’ve no doubt that Santa will bring someone Dumbledore’s Castle, or extravagances Smoke hasn’t even dared to dream of yet, and I’ve no idea how I’ll explain why Santa seems to play favorites.

Holiday-Grumpy-Cat-Internet-Meme

Meanwhile, I’ve already purchased more than I intended to. I find my eyes glazing over in the Target or in our local toy store, hopelessly torn between wanting to keep things simple and imagining Smoke’s disappointment when he opens the last gift and begins to enumerate all of the missing items on the list.

“You realize these are just suggestions?” I asked as we were writing. “Santa’s not going to get you everything you ask for.”

Smoke gave me a confused look. “It’s not suggestions,” he told me. “It’s a list.”

The Most Excruciating Time of the Year

When it comes to Christmas, there are two kinds of people I’ve never really understood.

The Would-Be Elves: people who think it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The Sullen Humbugs: the people who constantly refer to the holidays as being “hard” or something to “get through.”

For most of my adult life, I would have categorized Christmas mostly along the lines of minor pain in the ass with a few bright spots. I like other people’s light displays, but I don’t feel like going to the trouble of putting up my own. I like giving gifts, but I never feel like I’ve given enough. I like sweets, but I’d prefer a nice batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to an endless array of shortbreads and fudges. Still, I can almost bring myself to understand that for the Would-Be Elves, a season of lights and crafting and gift-giving is just what they need to make it through the dark season.

elfspaghetti4

The Sullen Humbugs I had a harder time with. Sure, I’ve felt a fleeting sense of malaise on every Christmas morning I remember, a fear that nothing is as special as it’s supposed to be, but it struck me that the humbugs attributed more power to the holiday than it really had. What exactly was so “hard” about a month where people hung up lights and shopped a lot?

This year I’m starting to get it.

Smoke is six this year, which makes him Christmas’s target audience. He’s no longer afraid of Santa like he once was. (Several years ago, we had to leave Santa a note requesting that he not come in the house.) Smoke is old enough to understand that he’ll be getting presents, but he can’t quite measure time the way an older child can, which means that, I imagine, it feels to him like Christmas could arrive at any moment. It could be tomorrow, or it could be three months from now. And so, he’s living in a state of suspended anticipation. That’s intense.

To amp it up even further, he’s around twenty-five other kids all day who feel the same way and are feeding off of each other. I witnessed the pure synergy of this earlier this week when I dropped Smoke off in the kindergarten line and one of his classmates, a gentle boy who I’m fond of, was wearing a Santa cap. “Ho, ho, ho!” he said, and all the kindergarteners screamed in delight. “Ho, ho, ho!” he said again and again and again. This was a joke that would never grow old.

On Sunday Kellie bought a Christmas tree, but by the time she got it home it was dark and she was tired. The ornaments were still in boxes stored in the shed. When explained to Smoke that they wouldn’t be decorating the tree that night, he was genuinely dismayed. I had assumed it was pretty much impossible for a six-year-old to hold onto disappointment continuously for longer than an hour, but at bedtime he still looked glum; his lower lip had never returned to its usual spot.

The next morning, after eating an iced gingerbread cookie, he was the most distracted squirrely version of himself I’d seen in weeks and it took everything I had to get him ready for school and out the door. As I buckled him into his car seat, I hissed “We are NOT doing any more sugar in the mornings!” Smoke, barely registering my anger, replied, “I’m just so excited to decorate the tree tonight, I can’t think of anything else!” “Really?” I said, amazed that this tree could hold so much power for him.

Deer Show

Add to the chaos that Stump, who will be two next month, is fascinated with a) the concept of a tree indoors, b) lights, and c) shiny round balls (e.g. ornaments). In short, it’s as if Christmas trees were specifically designed as a decoy for him to systematically dismantle. So far he has pulled on the cords, leaned forward to suck on the lights, tried to hug the tree, pulled on branches, shaken branches, detached ornaments from their casing and hurled them at the floor.

To cope with all of the above, I’ve got a single strategy, a video that Kellie picked up at Costco for seventeen dollars, a purchase that I was initially critical of and which Stump now refers to as “Deer Show.” To distract Smoke from his perpetual anticipation, to keep Stump from tearing apart the Christmas tree, I am hosting daily screenings of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. So far the audience consists only of a towheaded baby in a diaper and a six-year-old in PJs hopping all over the couch, but if you ever find yourself needing a break from the holidays, feel free to drop in for the Deer Show. It will be playing and we’ll clear a spot for you.

Conversation of the Week: Life with Stump

Smoke and Stump many moons ago

Smoke and Stump many moons ago

When things change gradually, sometimes it’s hard to notice the shift.

Stump was terrified of the bath for about three weeks. He had pooped in the bath a handful of times over the past few months, and each time I’d simply pull him from the bath, scoop out the poop with my bare hands, drain, rinse, and start over. Okay, it might have been a bit more frantic than that, and I’m pretty sure that Stump and I cried “poop!” back and forth throughout the whole ordeal, but Stump had never seem truly rattled about any of it. Apparently, though, there was something about the most recent incident that set him off, because for days whenever I put him in the bath he cried “poop!” and immediately tried to scramble out. For weeks, bathing him was like bathing a cat. I’d try to lower him in the tub, and he’d splay his legs and push against the sides with all his strength. I could not get him in. I resorted to sponge baths. He was winning.

Last week I stumbled on my answer, which is so obvious it hurts: bubbles. He was willing to take a bubble bath, and by the time the bubbles popped he had grown reaccustomed to the water. He slid his body back and forth like a little baby swimmer.

And thus, I reinstated the evening ritual of shared baths: Stump and Smoke together again. And because it had been nearly a month since they bathed together, a shift in their relationship was clear.

Ever since Stump could sit up on his own, he’s been sharing a bath with his brother, and the problem has consistently been that they have too much fun. They get too loud, water goes everywhere, they make a game of harassing each other. About a year ago, Smoke made a habit of  filling a funnel with bathwater, plugging it with his finger and crying “Drink, my baby friend!” Stump happily ignored my protests and drank bathwater from the funnel every time.

But this most recent bath time was strangely…silent. Each brother quietly played with his own plastic cup. And as I noticed this, it occurred to me that over the last few months, Smoke has seemed less and less interested in his brother. So I asked him about it.

Me: It seems like you used to play with Stump a lot more than you do now.

Smoke: Yeah. That was before he started to annoy me.

Me: Oh, ok. But you still love him, right? (I know! I shouldn’t ask that! I can’t help myself sometimes!)

Smoke: Yeah. And I still think that he’s the cutest baby in the world, and the funniest.

Me: Do you think you’ll want to play with him again someday?

Smoke: I’ll play with him when he knows what he’s doing.

Given that this evening Stump beat him with a bottle brush until he was legitimately sobbing, I’d say Smoke’s assessment is fair.