Our little family joined up with friends at an Airbnb in Colorado last weekend. We decided to leave our cold mountain and go to a higher colder mountain to celebrate President’s Day because who doesn’t love a long car ride to go to someplace similar but worse?
Actually, I can’t explain why. We are mountain people and it was a different mountain. We went. We looked at it. We sledded down a part of it. And we explored some of it’s microbreweries while the children sampled the mac-n-cheese each establishment had to offer. Mountain people stuff. You just have to trust me, it was fun.
Monday morning, I got up early to get a shower before the line formed and to begin packing up before the long ride home. Check out was 10 AM which I thought was too early for a place that specifically advertised for families, but I can’t help following rules, even when they are nearly impossible.
I was packing up the kitchen while Ethan (age 6) ate breakfast and Matt went up to take his turn in the shower. That’s when the fight broke out. The very near next door neighbors began to shout at one another over who (the man, apparently) is lazy and who (the woman, eventually) should leave. I looked over at Ethan to see if he noticed anything but he looked untroubled. It got louder and louder and until each were daring one another to call the cops.
Of course, Wensley chose this moment to ask to go out for a wee, as the back yard was directly adjacent to the situation. I gave in before having to clean up a mess and risk losing the cleaning deposit that we had managed to retain all weekend. I opened the door and each word became as clear as if the conversation were happening there in the kitchen. “I do every-%$^@ing-thing around here! Why don’t you &(%*ing *$@# yourself? You $*&^@ing @&%$@#er!” Or something like that. Meanwhile, Wensley sniffed the snow, being particularly particular about picking a spot for a 15° morning.
Ethan walked over to stand by me and peered out the door to see who was yelling.
It was clear that I wouldn’t be able to just ignore the fight at that point, so I said, “Well, I’m glad I’m not in that family. They don’t speak very nicely to one another.”
Ethan considered this for a moment and then said, “At least there hasn’t been any contact, I don’t think.”
I was stunned by this statement. I wondered if he even meant what I heard when he said the word “contact.”
“Yes,” I hedged. “That is good.”
“Because the only people who should make contact are professional wrestlers,” he added, sagely. “That’s pretty much the only time it’s okay.”
“I agree,” I said, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. “Leave it to the professionals.” Wensley came back inside and Ethan went back to his cereal and that was the end of the conversation.
Oh my goodness, I love that kid. Where does the kid get this stuff?
At some point in the week, a truck (I assume?) came through the neighborhood and collected the discarded Christmas trees. I didn’t see it happen. One day I saw the trees lying in the gutter, a corpse in front of every home, and I thought of the Monte Python line, “bring out your dead!” Then the next afternoon they were gone. One final Christmas magic trick.
My holidays were a whirlwind. As a new step parent, I am learning that Christmas with a child is much more fun, but so much more work! It is possible that we over-do it. The kids don’t need the dozens of elaborate recipes executed to perfection, for instance. They are so focused on Santa and toys and chocolate… and… and… and… But it all feels so important! Who knows what will stick out for them in the decades ahead? What smell, taste, or activity will come to symbolize “Christmas” when they are my age and looking back on it all? That is what we are trying to accomplish here. We simply aren’t baking cookies and roasting turkeys and instigating sword fights with the spent wrapping paper rolls. We are constructing memories! We are making happy childhoods! What could be more important?
I can’t pretend it is only for the kids, I suppose. I always put way too much effort into Christmas. I always expect too much from the day. And I nearly always ruin it for myself by trying too hard and indulging too much. It’s a character flaw of mine, and it burns brightest during the holidays. Do other families have that person, too? The one who goes overboard, wanting everyone to feel her love vibrating through her gifts? The one baking up a storm, wearing light-up earrings, and wearing everyone else out with her enthusiasm? I hope not. I’m exhausting. I wouldn’t wish myself on anyone else’s family, either.
At one point before my family arrived, I started a blog post, but I didn’t finish it in time to post for the holidays. There never seemed to be any TIME! I was too busy putting antlers on things (see below). I’m finishing it now and posting, belatedly. Just in case there was someone else out there who found, once the trees vanished from the street, they weren’t quite ready for Christmas to be over, despite it all.
Every year, I take note of the holiday honking, but then I quickly forget about it. What is that all about? Most of the year, I will occasionally hear someone honking their horn at another car, usually for truly bad behavior. But between Thanksgiving and Christmas, an epidemic of honking breaks out. People are in a hurry, and they are self-absorbed. Everyone has end-of-year deadlines for work and a shopping list the length of their forearm and no time for your bullshit. Each day it hear multiple people honking at cars for making legal maneuvers too quickly or too slowly, or just for existing in space and time. Someone honks at every light the second it turns green. People honk at jaywalkers and bollixed pedestrians wandering aimlessly though a parking lot as if concussed, trying to make sense of it all. Don’t we all feel a little shell-shocked? Can’t we employ a little compassion?
No. This is not the season for compassion. It is the season for douchebaggery. And for grumbling over the line at the post office, at noon on December 19th, when what in God’s name did you think you would find going there on your lunch break? And it is the season for treating retail workers like foam stress balls to be crushed between the fingers and the palm because we are human and therefore terrible.
I was in line at the grocery store’s post office and the woman in front of me was glaring at a the lady at the scale, who was wearing a name tag that said “Hello! I am in training!” I looked over the shoppers shoulder to read the message she was typing on her phone, which said, something to the effect of “OMG, I’m NEVER getting out of here!”
I quickly saw the problem. They woman was trying to save time by posting a package at the grocery store. No big deal. Same thing I was doing. Only this woman was sending something to Myanmar, or Somesuch. And the poor lady behind the counter (who was in her fifties, at her first week of this new job, thinking she was going to be selling eggs and deodorant), was furiously trying to learn how to fill out the customs form. She was asking for her co-workers to help her, but they didn’t know either. Because this is a grocery store! You take complicated crap to a real post office! Especially two days before Christmas! After the woman sent her text, she looked back at me and rolled her eyes with luxurious indignance, inviting me to join in the shaming of the proletariat in the apron. I declined, gazing behind me, as if to see who she was looking at. The man behind me had a shopping cart full of packages; I counted fifteen. This is another shipping mission that, at least during the holidays, should be saved for the real post office, in my opinion. I tried to tell him so with my eyes, but I don’t think he got the message.
After I mailed my small package to an adjacent US state, I wandered back into the store to pick up some chocolates and eggnog flavored salt water taffy to fill up stockings. I stopped at a table for a free sample of brie and sour cherry preserves on a lemon flavored cracker, and as I licked every microscopic crumb off my thumb and index finger I asked myself, “what is wrong with everyone! It’s Christmas! It doesn’t have to be ‘every man for himself!’ Just don’t be an ass-hole. And take deep breaths. Especially in long lines. Keep your sense of humor and we will all get through it together!”
I was still thinking this as I walked out through the sliding glass doors and out to my car, when I passed a white haired lady and her male companion, probably her husband. “Oh, my!” She said to me, and I stopped. I thought maybe she was going to ask if she knew me. I have one of those faces and I get that a lot. “You have a beautiful, smile!” she exclaimed instead, making my day, my Christmas, and my year.
“Thank you so much for saying that!” I said, deciding at the last second not to hug her. “Merry Christmas!” I said to her and her fellow, and I walked to my car.
Here is my Christmas wish for everyone: be that lady. I know, Christmas is Carnage. It is exhausting, and it will kick your ass. Especially if you are a Mom. (Sorry guys, but that’s what I have witnessed. See this Onion article for reference.) But you can focus on the smiles, and call them out when you see them. And if possible, instead of making cashiers go home in tears, make someone smile.
To be honest, they are in a different neighborhood but I couldn’t think of a word for someone else that lives in your city but not on your block. Citymate? Neighboring-neighbor? I dunno. But I think of them as the owners of the Halloween House and I have to go by to see what they have come up with every year. (I’ve blogged about them a time or two before.) I think this is my favorite so far; they have really outdone themselves. One of these days I need to stop when someone is in the yard. I have so many questions! Mostly to do with budget and storage.
To be a little more honest, I have one more Halloween decoration. It is five feet tall (just shorter than I am) and it looks like this:
The dogs’ names are (from left to right) Zero, Maxwell Silver-hammer, and Queequeg. (I name everything, by the way. I originally named the parrot and cat skeletons Polly and Pyewacket, but only to myself. Then, on a whim, I asked Ethan what he thought their names should be and he said, without hesitation, “Pierical,” pointing at the parrot, and “Port Jackson,” pointing at the cat. So, obviously, those are their names now. He said he didn’t know where he got the ideas for his names but clearly we were both feeling the letter “P.”) I bought the inflatable dogs last year after the fellas moved in because I wanted to make sure we had a fun yard for Ethan and the neighborhood kids. And also because, dogs.
Months later, long after Halloween, one of my neighbors stopped me to say hi and she mentioned the big dogs. She said that her daughter loved them. “And I mean, she loved them. One day, we came home and they were deflated and she started to cry. ‘They’re dead! ‘They’re dead!’ I couldn’t console her!”
“Oh, I’m sorry! I was unplugging it during the day to save power. But you know, they are ghost dogs. So, technically, they were dead the whole time.”
My neighbor responded with that blank look that translates as a reminder to socially awkward people to avoid face to face contact in the future.
At any rate, they are back up for the holiday. And I haven’t unplugged them this year. Not even once.
When I asked Ethan what he wanted his 6th birthday party theme to be and he said “knights,” I had to double check that I understood. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded, “Nocturnal.”
“Knights? Like, Knights of the Round Table?” I asked, knowing there was a better way to phrase this to a kindergartner.
“No,” Ethan said. “Like knights that fight.”
“Okay,” I said. “I got it.”
I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find good decorations easily. At least, not as easily as if he said, “Starwars,” for instance. But it wasn’t a problem. I ordered a dragon pinata, foam swords for a melee, and foil crowns and stick on plastic gems for a craft station. Easy peasy.
There were about 40 people on the guest list, so we had the party at a park in the neighborhood. This took care of seating and shade. Also, I thought if no one wanted to sword fight or decorate a crown, there was a playground.
I’ve never thrown a child’s birthday party before, and I admit I stressed over it more than I should have. I didn’t sleep much the night before and then I went to the park early and claimed some tables (they don’t take reservations). I did my best to plan for all contingencies, but there are always things beyond one’s control. For example, a block away, a sewer pipe burst and each time the breeze shifted there was a distinct barn-yard smell. I could have been upset, but I decided that it gave the medieval theme an air (pun intended) of authenticity. Hopefully the guests felt the same. (They did not, but they were very polite about it.)
The final touch were two figurines to decorate the cake – a knight and a dragon. Once everything was set up and we were waiting for the guests to arrive, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.
“You know,” Matt – my history teacher boyfriend – said, pointing at the cake, “there is a historical problem there.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“Yes, I think the knight should have a sword. I was just reading that knights, who usually came from the aristocracy, actually looked down on archery. Archers were from the lower classes.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “Also, there’s a dragon.”
Last weekend, we took Ethan (age four) to a Bees game, which is the minor league team here in Salt Lake City. He and I were bonding over our love of hot dogs. He asked if he could get one for dinner at the game.
“You have to get a hot dog at a baseball game,” I said. “Anything else would be un-American.”
My boyfriend, Matt (Ethan’s dad), didn’t agree. “You two enjoy that,” he said, wrinkling his nose at the thought of overpriced and nitrate-loaded junk food. “I’m getting something else.”
“Is it because you want the terrorists to win?” I asked sarcastically.
Before I could add “Why do you hate America?” Ethan responded.
“Nooooo!” he said. “You HAVE to root for the BEEEES!”
I bit my cheek to keep from laughing as Matt assured him that we were all pulling for the same team, and then we left to catch our train to the ball park. Come to think of it, we didn’t really clear the matter up. Ethan probably spent the entire game thinking that the Salt Lake Bees were playing the Omaha Terrorists.