holidays

Embraced by the Curve of the Earth

Apparently yesterday was one of those days where I had to lash out at two of the people I love the most.

Stump had woken me at 4:50 am for the fifth morning in the row. It’s my punishment for night weaning him. He sleeps beautifully now until 4 a.m., but he just can’t forgive me yet for the last three hours. He wakes a four and coos in my ear “Nursey time? Nursey time?”

“No nursey time,” I whisper, and he cries for a while, and dozes for a while, and then wakes himself up so that he can ask again. “Nursey-time?”

Sometime around 5, I give up and we sit and eat our breakfast with the kitchen light on, the world pitch black outside our windows. At 5 Stump and I are both awake, silent, too tense to return to sleep, but too weary to function as our best selves.

At 7, Smoke rose, curled up on the couch, complained that he was cold and didn’t know what he wanted for breakfast. After minutes of negotiation he settled on an English muffin, and I fried an egg for myself.

While I stood over the pan staring off into space, Stump reached to the counter and tugged on the edge of the open egg carton. It fell to the floor. Every egg tumbled out and broke on the floor.

An hour later, once I finally had lunches packed, bags packed, and all of the bodies dressed, Smoke decided he was “too weared out” to go to school. “You’re going,” I told him. “You can stay home all weekend but today is a school day.” I told him to put on his shoes and meet me at the car.

Usually that works. Usually, the sight of me loading Stump into his car seat is enough to convince Smoke that our departure is imminent. But this time, when I came inside, he was lying on the floor feigning fatigue. And I lost it. “Oh My God,” I said. “I Can’t Believe You.” My voice held all of the crankiness of five days of lost sleep, and all of the rage of having lost control of my life, along with eleven freshly-laid winter eggs. By the time Smoke made it to the car, he was in tears.

Later in the day, it was Kellie’s turn. We had wriggled out of our Friday afternoon obligations to celebrate my birthday, one day late. As we drove to the Olympus Women’s Spa in Tacoma, I fought against my angst. I wanted to want to sit in a hot tub, and I had been looking forward to this outing for weeks, but what I really needed was sleep. And I had work to do. Piles of it. When would it get done? “Do you want to turn around?” she asked. “Don’t even ask me that!” I snapped. If my goal was to make our drive to Tacoma as unpleasant as possible, then I did an admirable job.

Later, after Kellie and I had paid our thirty-dollar entry fee, once I found myself lying on a heated salt floor in a cotton robe and a pink cotton shower cap, once the tension inside me started to uncoil a bit, I remembered that it was my birthday and stifled a laugh. Of course I was threaded with angst, itchy like a healing wound stitched too tight. That’s what birthdays always are for me. An extra celebration once the holidays have ended, one that no one is quite up for. A measuring stick for where my life is abundant, where it is scarce. In the past few years, I’ve tried to cope with birthday angst by celebrating sideways, by spreading out treats over the course of days, rather than focusing on a single day. And I like my birthday, too. I like cupcakes and flowers and Facebook greetings, it’s just that angst is an undeniable part of the thing.

Thorns“Embraced by the Curve of the Earth,” was the title of a blog post I was meaning to write all week and never got to because every evening, once the kids had gone to bed, all I could do was blankly stare at Facebook and tell myself to either write or go to sleep. Instead, I just kept scrolling. The post wasn’t going to be about my birthday. It was going to be about my trip to Whidbey Island with my sister, and I was going to describe, among other things, these two moments.

1. Waking up at eight-thirty in the morning, when the sky was already bright and grey. Noting the feeling of having slept for eight continuous hours. Making tea while my sister slept in the next room and no one pulled on my shirt saying “nursey time”, and no one asked me to carry him from the couch to the kitchen table because his legs were “weared out”. As I settled with my tea, a bald eagle flew right by my window. And I couldn’t remember the last time silence had been so rich or so magic.

2. At the end of that same day, my sister and I went for a two-hour walk along the side of the island. The clouds kept changing, making windows of light and dark. At one point, nearly halfway through, we reached a special spot where it seemed that the earth was a cradle and we were held there in its center. By the time we returned to the car, it was night.

Sometimes I remind myself that time isn’t linear, though I may experience it that way, and so even though I’ve reached the end of a tight and angst-y week, even though my nerves may feel stretched and brittle like an old rubber band, I am still living that moment where the eagle flies across my periphery, and I am still standing in that spot where the earth looks extra round. Because if anything is true, it’s this: every moment, every day, I am embraced by the curve of the earth. Curve1

 

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.

How to Survive Thanksgiving

  1. Don’t make any plans to travel. You’re not up for that. Sure, the idea of spending four consecutive winter days at home with your kids may sound daunting, but you’ll make it.
  1. Don’t try to get invited anywhere either. If you go to someone else’s home, you’ll just spend the afternoon chasing after the toddler, or keeping an eye on whoever is supposed to be chasing the toddler.
  1. Consider inviting people over, but don’t follow through. It looks like Thanksgiving is just going to be your family of four. Let go of any lingering fears that this is a sign you’ve become a social pariah.
  1. There’s a turkey in your freezer, so you’re all set on that front. Delay the unthawing process because there’s no room in your refrigerator. Tell yourself that the cold water submersion process will work just fine.
  1. Don’t even consider beginning any of your cooking projects until you’ve gone for a long holiday run. Get drizzled on and smell the wood smoke. Listen to the frogs; say hello to the llamas.
  1. Tell your wife to take the toddler out visiting so that you can make a pumpkin pie with your older son. Remark on how enjoyable the day has been so far.
  1. Get the turkey in the oven more or less on time, even though the toddler has woken up way too early from a nap, and he insists on being held. It’s hard to prepare a turkey with one hand. Dismiss your concern that the inner cavity still felt partially frozen.

decorating

  1. Watch the house descend into chaos right around five—an hour past the time you had hoped to eat. For some reason, though the potatoes and salad are ready, the turkey stays at 140 degrees. Consider hopefully that maybe your thermometer is broken and start carving at the turkey. Realize it’s not your thermometer; the turkey is raw in places. Tell your older son that yes, he can decorate the dining area. Take note that “decorating”, to him, means spreading blankets on the floor and piling every stuffed animal he owns on top of them. Try to remain calm as the toddler promptly dismantles these decorations, and both of your sons wind up hitting each other and in tears.
  1. Try not to take it too personally that your older son won’t eat Thanksgiving dinner because he’s too busy screaming in his room. Try to understand that those decorations were, for whatever reason, very important to him, especially the unsharpened pencils that he laid at every place setting. Consider that someday he might be a world-renowned decorative genius and then this moment will make more sense. Try not to make a big deal out of the fact that you spent half of the day cooking and now no one can really eat. Remind yourself that holidays are weird. They just are.
  1. Find consolation in the fact that your son more or less gets over himself and eats two servings of mashed potatoes. Follow his instructions when, between dinner and dessert, he asks you to sit on the couch with your wife. He has a card to present. It’s a classic of sorts: one of those turkeys made from a handprint, with a Thanksgiving poem inside. He made it in kindergarten. Fawn over it. Remember that you’re all supposed to say what you’re grateful for. No one gets too creative, and that’s okay. You’re all just grateful for each other. Even the toddler gets in on the spirit, rattling off everyone’s name.
  1. Whip some cream. Eat some pie. Decide that this holiday has been no better and no worse than the vast majority of holidays you can remember.

Tday

The Problem with Mother’s Day

Before we actually had kids, I assumed I could talk Kellie into conceding Mother’s Day to me. I’d give her Father’s Day, and I assumed she’d be fine with that. After all, I was the one who would be growing these babies inside my body, birthing them, and breastfeeding them at all hours of the day and night. It seemed only reasonable that I’d want that day to myself.

When Stump's daycare class made Father's Day gifts last year, this is what they did for us.

When Stump’s daycare class made Father’s Day gifts last year, this is what they did for us.

The problem that I didn’t anticipate, and maybe I should have seen this coming, is that Kellie is not a father. She’s pretty clear about that. She hates it when people call her “sir” by accident. And, though she pretends not to mind so much, I know it bothers her when strangers look at our family, try to quickly assess her role, and conclude that she must be the aunt or the grandma. Just last week she brought both Smoke and Stump to Costco and upon her return she reported that someone had commented in her direction, “Oh, the babysitter’s taking the kids on some errands.” As someone who is rarely acknowledged as a mom when out in public, she’d like to claim the title when she can.

So, my problem with Mother’s Day is that I have to share it. But I’ve come to see that this is the problem for all of us. In the years that I had wanted to become a mother, I had thought of Mother’s Day as a kind of extra birthday, a day where I would get to be the center of my own universe, to eat breakfast in bed, to open cards, to receive flowers. But, competition with Kellie aside, there are plenty of other mothers in my life—more than I can adequately celebrate in a single day.

There’s my own mom who, when she comes to visit spends at least eighty percent of her time cross-legged on the living room floor reading books and making block towers with the boys. There’s Grandma Jerry who bakes cookies just for Smoke every time he comes to her house. And then there are the aunts in our lives—sisters and sisters-in-law who nurture my kids while raising kids of their own. I haven’t even started on the other mothers in my life, the friends who keep me sane by hosting Smoke for play dates or listening to me complain. Instead of the center of the universe, I am just one of many planets.

This is Smoke's Aunt Cindi teaching him to ski.

This is Smoke’s Aunt Cindi teaching him to ski.

This is why today it dawned on me: I should take Father’s Day. It won’t be hard to do. The week before, I’ll tell Kellie that I don’t expect a card, but flowers would be nice, and she and the boys are free to bake me a German chocolate cake while I lie outside in the hammock and read.   I’ll mention to friends or maybe even post it on Facebook that I count as a father on Father’s Day. I’m guessing that people will go for it. Sure there are people who go fishing with their dad or take him out for sushi, but Father’s day strikes me as a roomier holiday, one where some of my friends might be scratching their chins thinking, “I already called my dad, now what do I do?…Oh yeah, bring Jenn a beer.”

Kellie turned down a pretty good offer. It’s taken me six years to figure that out.

We are lazy but it works for us.

 

IMG_1014

When I was growing up, my favorite holiday tradition was decorating Easter eggs with my family. We covered the dining room table with newspaper, and then set out all the materials: cups of white vinegar, paintbrushes, watercolor kits, and Sharpie markers. I’ve got an older brother and sister who are both artists, and they’d spend an hour on one egg enacting the entire creative process right there before my eyes: they began with a concept, then sketched it on the egg in pencil, then painted layer upon layer of watercolor, and then added the final permanent details in Sharpie. My father too, had artistic skill that often manifested in macabre final products, like a skull or an alligator’s head. My own eggs were just regular Easter eggs, maybe dyed a couple of colors or painted only half-successfully to look a little like a cat. I was less than happy with my own work, but joyful to be part of the process.

Every year, I hope to recreate this experience for my son, to cover our own messy kitchen table with newspaper, and lay out all the materials. Every year I come up short.

This year, I bought white eggs on Friday, and on Saturday, while the baby slept, I enlisted Smoke to add vinegar and food coloring to water. We dyed our eggs in batches of four: four green ones that came out pale, four red ones that came out hot pink, and four yellow ones that turned out disappointingly brownish, like we might have simply bought brown eggs at the store. Smoke was excited to paint ninja faces on them, but the day got away from us and this morning, before he woke up, I hid them all as-is throughout the living room.

Since this weekend included two other Easter events, I had decided to minimize the candy. Hidden along with the hard-boiled eggs were two Cadbury caramel eggs, but that was it. No jelly beans, no Skittles, no Kit-Kats. Smoke should have been disappointed, but he wasn’t.

The highlight of his Easter? Under a pile of bills on the kitchen table, Smoke discovered a stray piece of Trident gum. “The Easter Bunny hid some gum for me!” he cried out, delighted. And then he proceeded to line everything in a neat row. In the end, I guess, Smoke provides his own creativity. If he misses his chance to draw faces on eggs, he’ll make art out of the hunt itself.

Besides, those eggs are still in our fridge. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get around to drawing ninjas on them. Maybe.