Tag Archives: Christmas

Memory Week: Snow Day

snowman

We found a snowman.

Most of one, anyway.

I took a whole week off of work this season to celebrate Christmas (and the days before and after) with family who live five hours away. On the Friday after Christmas, all five members of my family—plus my parents and my wife’s mom—met up about an hour north of where we were staying. We were in search of snow. My parents had driven the route a couple of days before and had spotted some of the white stuff on the side of the road.

My kids had never seen real snow. Not really. There were a few patches of it, like a beard trying to grow on a 14-year-old’s face, on the ground at a cabin we went to one Thanksgiving when my firstborn was 2 years old, but that didn’t really count. It was more like samples of snow someone set out to see how the whole place would look covered in the stuff before they committed.

Snow has fallen only in books and on TV for my children. It has been captured not on tongues, but in photos and illustrations. My 6-year-old’s dream destination is Chicago because she saw a postcard of it once, and there was snow in the picture. The city has since become this mythical, icy wonderland in her imagination. It’s literally at the top of her list of places to visit, beating out Hawaii and Paris.

I’ve been to Paris, and I had an extended layover in Chicago once. Paris is prettier, but Chicago is certainly cheaper when it comes to surprising her with a trip some day. Maybe for a graduation present.

Anyway, when we arrived at this little gas station/diner blip on the map, we found my parents waiting at a small field of what technically was snow. It wasn’t really white, as so many muddy boots had tromped it over the last several days, and the melting/refreezing cycle had made it pretty gray and hard.

“This isn’t what I was expecting,” my firstborn said.

But my parents soon produced a plastic saucer they’d bought on the way in, and we found a hill that seemed like it would offer a fair run. All it took was one successful slide, and the 6-year-old was hooked.

We took turns rushing down the hill one at a time, two at a time, and even three at a time. And after a while, we walked a little ways to find a swath of untrammeled, powdery snow, perfect for scooping into snowballs and crunching around in. That’s where we also found two-thirds of a snowman, with the topmost third—its head—a lump some distance away.

We took pictures of the kids clambering around on its torso, and we joked that the photos would make it look like we’d been building the snowman. Only later did I realize that, years from now, perhaps my kids wouldn’t be able to recall that they’d just found this snowman. Perhaps, like my daughter’s initial disappointment forgotten as soon as she felt the wind on her face on a downhill run, or like Chicago growing from a generic postcard to a frosty wonderland on par with Santa’s North Pole, the rest of the snow trip would change to become something new in my kids’ minds.

The moment was so magical—the sort you hope for when you set out on an excursion like we did—it has the makings of one of those early childhood memories that flickers at the margins of solid recollections later in life. At least I hope it does. I don’t know what my children will ultimately remember about their first years in our household. I don’t know if they’ll look back and treasure the same moments I do: the bedtime stories read on our patio, breath streaming into the chill night air, everything but our faces tucked under layers of blankets, the book visible only by the light of the electric Christmas tree standing above us; the impromptu family-room-floor picnics; the trip to the aquarium to see sharks and otters through a transparent wall, a whole alien world just a few feet away; staying up far later than any of our bedtimes to watch the summer Olympics each night; the made-up stories; the wrestling matches; the sing-alongs.

Maybe all of these things are registering. Or maybe I’ll be surprised to learn that their prized memories are things I don’t recall: drawings I forgot I scribbled, but that meant something to them; casual, unthinking gestures of everyday activity with greater impact than I realize; a particular time of getting tucked in or visiting the pool or cooking a breakfast.

I hope they remember all of it. And I hope Chicago is everything my girl believes it is.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Tradition Week (Christmas): Like Kaiju

Image

When I was in high school, my family—along with four others—began an annual summer camping trip that still continues to this day. We head to the mountains to spend five or so days hiking around, building log rafts on the lake, playing disc golf on a course we made up, taking day trips to waterfalls, reading, playing board games, and the like. Or at least we used to. Since most of us kids are now in our 30s, and many of us have families of our own, we’ve slowed down a bit. Hammocks feature predominantly in the activity line-up.

Those five families also get together in the week after Christmas to have dinner each year. My wife, children, and I historically aren’t able to attend the post-holiday meal due to my work schedule, but as I took a week of vacation this year, we were able to make it. Other friends, who now live in other cities and on other continents, weren’t able to come, but I still got to see many of my favorite faces.

Two of my friends, in particular, hounded me with requests to appear on my blog. They waved their arms around and everything. I think they were attempting to do something funny. Something blog-worthy. So forget that I took my three children to see snow for the first time in their lives today. (Actually, don’t forget that. I plan to post about it later.)

I’ve been friends with both of these guys since I was in junior high, and they’re both very tall. One is now a lawyer, and one is a Crossfit coach. One of them I frequently refer to as the funniest person I know, which is really saying something.

We were at one of those all-you-can-eat salad-bar buffet places, and he left half of an avocado on his plate when he went to get seconds—adding a request to not let any passing servers take the avocado along with his messy tray. Not five seconds went by after he left when a server came to our table to ask if he could remove anything. I handed him the entire tray, avocado half and all. But I had a change of heart and rescued the coveted food item before it was gone for good. Then I hid it on my lap.

My friend is the type to appreciate the joke, but he’s also the type to sort of wish I had really gone all the way through with it: to have actually let the waiter clear away the avocado. My friend prefers a good punchline to getting what he wants.

He also “accidentally” spilled some chicken pozole soup down my back when he was walking back to the table and noticing that his precious avocado half was gone.

Anyway, he’s really tall. So is my other friend, which is why I granted their request for a blog appearance tonight. And it’s late.

I miss them.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Tradition Week (Christmas): Not Blogging

Hey all! Sorry I didn’t post for the 26th. I was enjoying the follow-up to a semi-tradition my wife and I have of staying at a bed and breakfast on Christmas night. The next morning started with sleeping in and some eggs benedict delivered to our room, and everything just got better from there, so I decided to make a day of enjoying life instead of enjoying writing about life. And doodling. I did doodle little caricatures of my wife and I in the B&B’s guest book, and I only now realized I should have taken a picture of that for the blog.

My wife slept for her first night ever away from the thirdborn, which was a full night’s sleep 16 months in the making. I slept pretty well, though I got up to pee in the middle of the night and then banged my leg on an antique chair as I was walking back to bed in the dark. The bed was so tall, my wife needed help getting up on it. It had a lot of pillows, too.

I really liked our room, except there was this door to an unknown feature—closet? adjoining room? hallway to outdoors? Narnia?—that was locked and had a doorknob that endlessly spun when I turned it. Anyone or anything could have come into our room while we slept. I managed to get to sleep, though—a couple of times.

In fact, just after we checked in at 5:30, we both fell asleep for about half an hour. We took a nap on Dec. 25. Merry Christmas to us. Later on—after not sleeping for a while—I was reading out loud to my wife (Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan) when I suddenly declared that I was tired, and, apparently, according to my wife, instantly fell asleep. It was 9:30.

Cut to the day after Christmas, when we finally managed to get all three kids asleep by 9:30. Their usual bedtime is 6:30. I could use another Christmas sooner than next December.

Tagged , , , ,

Tradition Week (Christmas): Merry Christmas

Image

My 6-year-old drew this yesterday on a new whiteboard at my parents’ house.

Merry Christmas from all of us in the Shallows!

Tagged , , ,

Tradition Week (Christmas): All About Eve

Image

My 4-year-old drew this on my parents’ porch today with chalk she got in a present. Later in the afternoon, I was carrying a load of boxes out to our van and didn’t want my son to get out too, so I asked her to close the door behind me.

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door, please.

Her: Where’s my chalk?!

Me: The door! Close it now, please!

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door!

Her: I forgot to draw the tornado!

I’ve been blessed to have Christmas traditions that are roughly compatible with my wife’s family’s traditions, as well as to have parents and in-laws who are willing to be flexible. So my wife’s parents’ annual Christmas Eve fondue dinner was on Christmas Eve Eve this year. And we treated Christmas Eve itself as Christmas day with my family. We’ll spend Christmas Eve night with my parents and my dad’s brother’s family, and Christmas Christmas with my wife’s family.

It sounds busy—and it is—but we’ve more often than not managed to schedule out big blocks of time so we don’t feel like yo-yos spinning rapidly between a couple of houses.

Plus, we have a tradition of going away Christmas night when we can, just my wife and I, to a local bed and breakfast.

Amid it all, we get to see friends and cousins, aunts and uncles, and multiple generations enjoying conversation and fun under one roof.

When my cousins were little, we would go to my uncle’s house for Christmas Eve, and I would tell them elephant jokes on the drive across town back to my house, where we’d read the Christmas story. Now that they’re older and we get together at my parents house, we tend to show each other Youtube videos.

I love seeing my family, which is why I’m cutting off this post here and rejoining the chaos—though it is nice to have an excuse to sequester myself away for a breather. (I’ve found since starting this blog, however, that they also tend to worry that certain stories or anecdotes will find their way onto the Internet. Some will, someday.)

Also, my girls are right now shouting about seeing the Magic Shoe, which is a pink, glittery sneaker that’s been known to peek in windows or skitter across the lawn at my parents’ house from time to time.

Merry Christmas!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Tradition Week (Christmas): The Food

Image

In his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, in the essay titled “Jesus Shaves,” Dave Sedaris explores the difficulty in explaining a holiday to someone for whom it has no cultural reference: “Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do,” he writes. “We talked about food instead.”

Sedaris was relating an anecdote about parsing Easter for two Moroccan students in a beginners’ French class he was taking, but the sentiment applies here, too.

Many of my Christmas memories involve food—and it’s no wonder. Smell, tied as it is into the sense of taste, is a powerful force in triggering recollections and remembrances.

I remember my mom making beef stew in the crock pot, where it would simmer throughout the day. Picking almonds out of the party mix at my paternal grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. Eating beef stroganoff later that night. A tart lemon dessert my maternal grandmother made each year (and still makes from time to time; I got to have a slice this past Thanksgiving). Containers of bacon bits, bottles of Ranch dressing (both staples of my diet when I was younger), and Pez in my stocking on Christmas morning, which often yielded to a breakfast casserole fresh from the oven. The one and only time I had alcohol before I was 21 (shh, don’t tell!) was when I got a splash of champagne in my orange juice one Dec. 25.

Food showed up everywhere: I remember the cinnamon and gingerbread smell of a paper fold-out holiday street scene we unpacked along with the other decorations. And the photo of candlelight illuminating some sparkling champagne on the album cover I carefully handled each year so I could listen to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” And the Christmas ornaments featuring small mice tucked cozily into beds made from walnut shell halves.

As my family has expanded, so have the food memories. My wife’s family tends to enjoy cheese fondue on Christmas eve, a meal for which I’ve declared myself the official cheese grater.

I love grating cheese. It’s so gratifying to watch the block get smaller while the pile grows larger. You can tell you’re really accomplishing something. Success is so measurable and obvious.

Image

(I included my hand for a sense of scale.)

My children have been quick to identify and generate their own traditions. They may try something once and then declare that that’s what they eat whenever they visit Grandma and Grandpa, as they have with biscuits and gravy at my parents’ house.

I realized recently that now is when their lifelong memories are starting. My earliest recollections—the ones I can reliably say are true and in context—are from when I was 4 to 6 years old, so this is the time in my kids’ lives when they’re inhaling the scents of seasonal spices or otherwise mundane meals and connecting them with sparkling colored lights, sleeping bags under the Christmas tree, and everything else catching their eyes this winter.

In other news, I fell asleep while writing this post.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Late Week: Freaky Friday

hungry

Freaky Friday on a Saturday? It’s Late Week! Anything goes!

Actually, I had most of this post prepared a full day in advance, and I still managed to fall asleep without finishing it Friday night. But this week’s theme is a forgiving one. So I’m declaring this a Late Week miracle!

Now, onto the actual content:

My wife was heading out to run some evening errands couple of days ago, and my 4-year-old was, for some reason, freaking out about the departure: clinging to her mom’s leg, crying, refusing to answer our questions as to why she was so upset. She’s only blubber that she didn’t want Mom to leave.

Before we just pried her off and let her scream—my wife had presents to buy, after all, probably for me!—we tried making my daughter laugh. Nope. She chuckled a bit at my attempts, and then went right back to her paranoid sobbing. We tried reasoning with her. And then I decided to throw her into the middle of a game. I figured that if she suddenly thought she could win—that elusive and undefinable yet desperately desirable state of success my daughters yearn for, whether they’re on their way up the stairs to brush their teeth for bed and decide to start racing or are comparing the juice I poured them into different-shaped glasses to see who got more—she’d forget whatever was bothering her.

“I bet you can’t catch me!” I said, and I darted a bit, as if I were about to run off.

My 6-year-old caught on immediately and tried to help, employing what sounded like some reverse psychology of her own:

“Dad’s a thief! He wants to catch you, kill you, and eat you!” she shouted. “Want to chase him?”

In retrospect, and looking at it actually written down, it seems fairly innocuous. I play all sorts of games where I’m a lion ready to pounce on the girls, or a monster coming to chomp them, or something similar. So I guess the death is implied.

But I never come right out and say it. There’s a difference between sending your kids scurrying by shouting “I’m going to get you!” and “I’m going to kill you!”

I do have a somewhat dark game I break out when the girls are pretending they’re asleep. Sometimes they’ll fake it in the backseat of the van, squeezing their eyes shut and keeping rigidly stoic faces as I unbuckle them and toss them over my shoulder to carry inside. At times like that, I’ll stage whisper to my wife: “Since the kids are asleep, I can tell you this: They seem to be getting to just about the perfect size for eating. Remember: Never let them know!” Then I act all surprised when they sit up and accuse me of wanting to cook them.

Anyway, my 4-year-old wasn’t terrified or anything by her sister’s shout, but it didn’t help either. My wife and I exchanged eyebrow raises, and then we did the prying.

My girl was fine for the rest of the night. Mostly.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Late Week: White Christmas

Image

This whole season has felt … delayed. Here it is Dec. 17, and my wife and I only just had our annual White Christmas viewing last night.

That movie never gets old. I love it—though the song “Snow” has always been an odd one to me. The four main characters suddenly start singing about how much they love snow, and all the stuff they’re going to do with and in it. Betty Haynes (played by Rosemary Clooney) twice declares she wants to wash her hair with snow.

Is that a thing? I mean, do people really wash their hair with snow? And their faces and hands, as also indicated by the song? I’ve never lived somewhere that cold, so I don’t know if it’s common to see folks bathing in the frozen outdoors. Or carting buckets of snow inside for a soak?

If you’ve never seen White Christmas, I suggest giving it a try. It’s got its cheesy moments, sure, and it’s musical—which isn’t everyone’s cup of cocoa—but it’s clever and funny and ultimately has a happy ending, which is what Advent is all about, right?

What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Carol Week: God Bless Ye Merry Caterpillars

While cleaning up (at our house) and getting ready for a Christmas party (not at our house), I came into the girls’ room to discover two Christmas beasts crawling around this afternoon. According to my firstborn (dark pink), they’re caterpillars. According to my secondborn (light pink), they’re naked mole rats.

There are lots of animals mentioned in Christmas carols and songs, but I’ve never heard of either of those making an appearance …

Happy holidays!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Carol Week: Away in a Manger

 

Image

The decorations have been slow to come out this year, for some reason. Actually, I know the reason: our thirdborn, the 1-year-old. He’s not Christmas tree compatible, and a Douglas fir or whatever tends to be the centerpiece of the seasonal decor. We’re still planning to get a small version—something that would fit on a tabletop—but in the meantime, the nativity sets have been trickling out. My wife and daughters put up our first string of lights yesterday.

We have been listening to carols every night. After story time, the girls like it if one of us stays in the room for a while as they fall asleep. I tend to sit in a chair in the corner of their room and work on a writing project or play some mindless video game, and since Dec. 1, I’ve added playing carols, softly, to the routine.

Not much else, today. Last night was a very late night for various reasons, and a slice of life is what I’ve got in me this morning. May your day be merry and bright …

Tagged , , , , , ,