Snowy Old Christmas Eve’s at Home

Brockport is a charming Victorian village that straddles the western Erie Canal and it is made only more beautiful for its near constant snow cover for much of the year. We are natives of the snow belt and there was endless pleasure to be derived from its copious bounty. As kids that first snow fall was something approaching magical. We would watch the weather reports, sometimes as early as the beginning of the school year, but usually just before Halloween or shortly thereafter, waiting to see those snowflakes. If it was going to come in the night we’d stay up as late as we could (we were and remain a family of night owls) in hopes of seeing those first flakes fall. If we didn’t make it we were rewarded with the fresh, bright, clean sheet of dazzling white when we woke and it really did make a kids heart skip a beat.

In hindsight I have a great deal of love and respect for how my parents dealt with it. We moved to Brockport, well, Hamlin initially, but to the area when I was a month or two from arriving in the world. Myself and my brothers and sisters are natives and we saw endless delight in skating the ice and digging tunnels in the snow, making a web of undersnow crawl spaces that were so much fun to explore and play in. We couldn’t wait to go sledding down the hill next to the high bridge at the back of the park across the street. We’d be there for hours on end when the snow was good. All day. For my parents winters were a challenge. I see that now as a parent myself. But I’ve moved away from those winters. Sure, New Jersey has winter and the cold can be even worse down here, but the snow, there’s no getting around that.

Having the fairly safe assumption that we would have a White Christmas was pretty great. Our family traveled on Thanksgiving, but Christmas always was at home. When we were lucky it wasn’t just the sitting snow, it was the big fluffy fluttering of a beautiful snow dancing in the floodlights out the front window as we headed out on Christmas eve. We were going to the barn mass usually around 7pm the night before at Martin Farms. It was so cool to see all the folks and more from our weekly mass out and standing, excited and cold. Styrofoam cups of coffee steaming in hand. The kids in the Nativity scene dressed in period and regionally appropriate clothing for Jerusalem, draped over the heavy coats and winter hats. There was livestock present and lights dim.

After mass we got pizza. That was our tradition. We’d all mill around, wondering what the small gifts around the tree in the smolderingly hot living room were. We had a cast iron stove that kept the far reaches of the house warm enough to be sure but made the living room, the secondary hub of our home (kitchen is always primary, no?) at a resting temp of roughly 90 degrees. You think that I’m exaggerating. You do. You have to. The reality is I’m being conservative. I can still feel it and not in some sentimental way. I mean my core temp is still cooling. It was geologically hot.

1017044_10202956744025782_526539434_nSometime between the pizza and the wondering and the heat of the fire and the lights around everything dad would disappear. You wouldn’t notice. He’s like that. As central a figure as he is in all his life, he’s remarkably subtle and he can slip away without notice at any time. Some time after he was gone a strange rollicking would be heard from upstairs. It wasn’t quite from the roof and he didn’t enter through the chimney. Rather, Santa himself would come down the stairs. We would come to discover that he had made his way into the house through the drains. Why else would we catch him emerging from the upstairs bathroom. It started as a joke and was always received that way, but still, in our house the tradition is a tad askew, as we all prefer it. Sounds like something my older brother Mike would have come up with. It was already orthodoxy by the time I became aware.

Besides his penchant for coming in through the pipes there were other signs that our Santa was different. He wore the traditional red with white trim. His beard, though a bit cottony, was never the less white and long. The hat was a match. But there was something about that belly. It didn’t quite fit what you imagined was holding him up in those baggy pant legs. Nor was it really a belly that fit the spindly, long arms. One time I distinctly remember making out the points of a square, roughly the size of that throw pillow from the couch that seemed to have gone missing just then. Regardless, Santa was here and my extraordinarily tall, lean, and incredibly subtle dad was missing it. Again! Oh well…

Santa made it every year I remember while growing up. He would come and sit in Dad’s chair and read us all Twas the Night Before Christmas. We would all sit rapt with attention, trying to suss out how exactly we might be able to catch him this year. We all wanted to see him. We had been told quite early that he was just a story, not real, but we weren’t dummies. We knew better. We’d spend weeks planning our middle of the night espionage in hopes of capturing sight of the midnight, more ‘jolly’ version of this tall Santa with the familiar voice and lap. We never caught him, but we kept planning and trying and we always thought we might get a better chance if we could figure out from this story how he operated in the wee hours. It never happened and slowly the kids that sat at his foot transitioned to younger kids as older kids began to take in the story with mom, a bit behind the younger ones who didn’t want any distractions.

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I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus. Seriously.

Santa then took time out of his busiest of nights to let everyone sit on his lap. Even Mom! We even have picture evidence of her kissing Santa. He would tell us all how we were on the nice list and that we should expect some presents in the morning. He would let us choose one gift from under the tree to open that night. At that point the only gifts were from siblings and Aunt’s and Uncle’s and Grandparent’s. It was agony choosing and you started days in advance. Picking up, shaking, maybe even peeling tape slowly and peeking. I mean, I’ve heard that some people did that. I didn’t, but I’m pretty sure some of the others did.

Before long Pop would return from wherever he had disappeared to so mom could get ready for the midnight mass. We would all be wound up on candy canes and hot chocolate and native excitement for getting gifts that was so close you could taste it. It was all too much and eventually we would go to bed. One by one, falling off and forgetting all our plans to catch the Ho Ho Ho man in the act as the snow flied outside our windows, dreaming of Christmas in our own perfect snow globe.

The Dumb Dad’s Guide to Holiday Travel

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yep, it’s ‘The Holiday’s’ once again…

This season will be our fourth traveling with small children. This year we’d classify them as a toddler and a pre-schooler. but the parameters are fuzzy. In any case there are a few mistakes we consistently make as evidenced by our recent holiday travels. Be smart and don’t do the doo-doo that we do so well!

  1. Start Early – Get those motors running early. We like to start talking about Christmas and all it’s excitement as we are eating Halloween candy. That way they can perseverate on it’s arrival for nearly 2 full months. It is a sure fire way to induce at least one if not several moments of disappointment a day for nearly 60 days! Talk about efficiency!
  2. Make Promises – Especially if they depend on several things working out a particular way. Like cousins who are also toddlers being receptive to playing with them and sharing their toys. Or hotels being ready for you to swim in pools. Promise these things even before checking if they have a pool or if it will be open Christmas eve. I mean, I’m sure everything, including health, will break in your favor.
  3. Pack a Weeks Worth for Every Day of Travel-This will ensure that you can’t find anything you need when you need it. But it’ll be there. Somewhere. Unless you forgot.
  4. Separate but Equal – Sure, it hasn’t worked historically, but you know, I’m sure your tired, overstimulated, constantly competing for attention toddlers will understand that you’re doing your best. If you have one of anything make sure you give it to one child in view of the others. A bag of M&M’s, one bag of Pirate Booty, any toy that beeps and flashes lights.
  5. Be a Sweetie – That is to say replace all calories with candy and treats. This is the most effective tool for compliance known to man for exactly one usage. Once spent, usually getting them into the car to leave your home, you are now contractually obligated yourself to provide junk for any and all compliance. Pack sweets generously.
  6. Get The Most Out of Every Minute – For us this means be sure to arrive at the end of your long journey right at the times when your children who nap might naturally go to sleep. This will ensure that they do so upon arrival. Or it will ensure that they don’t nap and are sure to have epic, sugar-crash-fueled melt downs in front of the entire family.
  7. Cat Naps are Just as Good – Catch some Z’s on that trip to the store to grab some milk (and more M&M’s, who’s kidding who) to make sure they are overtired come bedtime. Surely this 20 minutes rest will allow their bodies to calm naturally for an early bedtime. That or they will miraculously turn this 20 minutes of rest into 4-6 hours of fuel that will kick in right at the moment you begin the treacherous march to sleep in a new place.

I hope these hints are helpful and that you and yours have a truly wonderful trip!

 

Luckiest Kid In the World

I’m pretty sure that my faded feelings of angst were borrowed. Perhaps they’re inherited. Whatever the case may be they are sincere. At least at one point they were. they’ve largely been replaced by more literary feelings better described as ennui or melancholia and these occupy a tiny spectrum of my mood wheel that would be a teeny tiny fraction of the area formerly owned by angst.
This is not to say that it wasn’t come upon honestly. While my supporting documentation wouldn’t seem to support my general affect, that’s not the same as saying the feelings were an act. They weren’t. They were just an inheritance. A side effect of a temperament that can lend itself to self-pity and biology that can skew toward depression.

The reality of my life couldn’t be more at odds with this discordant temperament. My family in all directions is nothing but wonderful. I have 5 to 8 siblings depending on how that term is defined. Strictly biologically speaking I have 5, but if you count all of the kin that grew up with seats at the table and familial relations it’s definitely the more inclusive number. All of whom have been a delight to know. They are smart and funny. Challenging and tolerant. They are supportive and fun. While we don’t all see each other as much as we’d like, we are a hoot to be around when we do get together. My brothers and sisters are generous with their time, money and love and we all have a deep appreciation at this point for the family we were blessed with.

My nuclear family at the moment is in a constant state of becoming and it’s a process i so clearly delight in. I’m learning every day to be better at being okay. My natural tendency to harsh self-criticism has been mitigated by the perspective and presentness of parenthood. It is impossible to dwell too in depthly at this point in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful. The morass that my wallowing would accompany was a useless emotional appendage that had become a dependable crutch and occasionally a warm security blanket. Make no mistake people, light depression surrounded by loving support is a perfectly sustainable and comfortable existence. It’s just not a very productive one.

But the greatest gift I’ve been given are my parents. I spent my youth, roughly age 9-30-something, defining myself away from them. A ridiculous but necessary endeavor. The only problem is I’m actually the luckiest person on earth in this regard. And this is not just bias. Other people, considerable numbers of others, would agree with this. My parents have opened their homes and their hearts to anyone in need for as long as I can remember. They have literally played Santa Claus for the world without ever taking credit. They hold hands and say prayers every night for all of their children, all of their children’s friends and express genuine thankfulness and appreciation for the beauty of life itself in the midst of challenges that would crush me and many others. Their generosity has literally known no bounds.

Beyond this they are such wonderful barometers of what is important in life. This year they have put the home I grew up in on the market and downsized to a beautiful new home that is much more suited to their current needs. While we are all delighted for them, it has come with nostalgic feelings that are hard to process. But my parents are so in tune with who we are and what we need that they took the time to address it in the most loving and delicate of ways.

We received our Christmas box at our door a few weeks before the holiday and having little ones, immediately banished it from sight, not to be opened until Christmas eve. When we did so we were thrilled to see the wonderful toys and gifts for the kids we knew would be in there. My mother knows little boys and the big trucks and wrapped boxes are all a big part of the mornings excitement and they nailed it. But underneath that were some gifts for us. My mother put together a beautiful album of photo’s lovingly taken of the house in all it’s glory and then in all its spacious emptiness and shots from outside and from the windows. Everything I’ll need in my dotage to be transported back in time to the place that will always be my specific home. It was enough on it’s own. But my mom also included a disc. And this is where she truly gets it. She went into a room in our old homestead and recorded herself singing all of her favorite Christmas carols. Can you even imagine? In such a self-conscious world to be reminded by this humble and beautiful servant of what matters. My mothers voice is my most native language and this is a treasure that I will take and place alongside so many others that I’ve been lucky enough to receive from my folks.

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Further down in the box was what my mother always sends. At least it appeared to be. It was a holiday piece, covered in holly decoration intended for a mantle for now and perhaps for a subtle centerpiece on a table once the kids can be trusted with such things. But it was more that that. Under the holly was a short cut of a tree. It had been created by my father, a talented artist who worked his whole career as an industrial designer. He had taken pieces of fallen wood from our home and fabricated this beautiful Christmas piece with his own hands. It will be loved and featured for the rest of my life. Because it is perfect. But also, and mostly, because it was made truly lovingly and thoughtfully and with a purpose to provide and show love to me and to my family.

At the bottom of the box was the final piece of the gift. It was a multi page narrative of the history of our house. It was a beautiful narrative from a designer, highlighting his choices in designing the house. He was not an architect, but he knew what he wanted so he learned how to design a house and did so. In a weekend. I know this and am bragging, but he is humble and would never mention it. He noted the wide walkways and large rooms meant to house his giant and growing family some 35 years ago. He recalled the glorious moments and the wonderful warmth of the family life that it so perfectly supported. His concrete and intelligent mind drifted to his heart and he shared personal and subtle examples of the life this house had hosted. It was so beautiful and could barely get through reading it to Karen that first night. I will take this piece out to read at least once a year. It will be a part of my life forever. And there’s nothing they could have gotten me that will mean more than they did.

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The lessons I’ve learned and my wonderful good fortune is sometimes lost on me. But thankfully I have reminders that mine is a wonderful life indeed.

 

Lawless Holidays

“They laughed at Louis Armstrong when he said he was going to the moon, and now he’s laughing at them from up there.” Chazz Michael Michaels

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The world has always scoffed at truly revolutionary ideas. Even those ideas that would one day become so ingrained in the culture as to feel that they somehow evolved organically as self evident truths. Were you to venture back through time you’d find a world full of people that would sooner burn you and your worthless life at the stake than consider for one second that the earth existed in a heliocentric environment. The information was in and we wouldn’t hear of anything different.

With this in mind I ask you to please consider the possibility that what I propose here may someday have merit. That it might someday be so commonly understood and practiced as to be considered orthodoxy. Without further adieu…

I propose that we should henceforth celebrate New Years Day on December 25th and Christmas on the first Saturday after December 29th.

The first point I’ll make is that this week, which can last as long as 13 days for kids on break from school or daycare and the parents that are responsible for them is awful. It just sits there at the end of the calendar year waiting to kill your energy at the precisely when it is the coldest, darkest and most inhospitable time of the year. If the sun shows up during these days it’s sure to disappear within 9 hours or so. Then to be gone for like 15 hours. We need to utilize the tools at our disposal in a more useful and efficient fashion.

Parents for millennia have been using Santa for their own nefarious and manipulative purposes. It’s great. We’ve even created spies for our made up arbiter of naughty and nice, our petty overlord who insists on our children’s adherence to standard codes of conduct. WHY THE HELL WOULD WE SHOOT THAT LOAD ON DAY ONE!

Furthermore, lets take advantage of this week off to truly recharge. Let’s take that first night and make it New Years Eve. Keep our little human alarm clocks up until midnight if possible. You need to adjust that version of the biological clock proactively if you hope to have any chance of sleeping in past 7:00 on a regular basis on your ‘break’. Besides, putting the motivator of toys and gifts at the end will help you readjust those clocks back to regular schedules when the interminable 52nd week finally ends. As it is now the incentive is for the kid to adjust their wake up time earlier right at the start. WHY THE HELL HAVE WE STOOD FOR THIS!

Now imagine the benefits for the early adopters. How does it sound to you to miss all that last minute shopping amidst the herds of people exactly like me who see shopping on the 23rd as getting ahead of the game. We all dread all the last minute shopping not because of the thought of buying all the fun last minute stuff we know will bring all the smiles and hugs you can handle. We dread it because of all the other people who similarly have to stuff stockings and make up for their lack of organization in a harried rush through the throngs at the last minute. Compare that to the laid back pace of casually scanning clearance bins while the throngs of consumers hoard the customer service desk with their returns. Their is the potential for getting great deals on chintzy crap that is only intended to last a month or two that would have cost double the week before. Not to mention the shopping at your local grocery on the 28th. You’ll be comfortably perusing produce for your giant family feast as the rest of the world stupidly goes about preparing to destroy their sleep patterns and ruin any of the restorative benefits of their time off right before returning to the rat race. Not you, you’ll show up on the 2nd raring to go. BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD

We parents are often and by necessity bold thinkers determined to create a better world for the sake of our children. Let us not shirk our reponsibility we have. Do not allow future generations to look back and wonder why we didn’t fix this when the answer was so clear. Go forth. Make a difference.

Merry New Year! Happy Christmas!