Chocolate, The Universe, and Everything

I had last minute shopping to do this morning because Sam suddenly told us he wanted bear pajamas and a red bear. Two days before Christmas. Or maybe three, but anyway, at the very last second. (Not that it takes much to get me into Build A Bear. It’s my guilty little secret.) We also needed cottage cheese, so I went to the grocery store.

The mall at 8:30 Christmas eve morning was actually manageable. There were no red bears, but there were bear pjs and there was a spiderman suit he can use to turn a bear red with clothing. It will have to do. Publix, too, was still OK at this hour. But it was already getting crowded, and I was glad to get in and out when I did.

Anyway, I had on this shirt:

I think 'shit' is the word you're after

I turned around to grab some gum in the Publix line, and the Christmas Asshole behind me took my movement as license to converse. Trying to be polite, I turned around like I cared what she was saying.

She stopped whatever she had been proclaiming to demand, “Why would you wear a shirt like that at Christmas?”

Now, I had a lot of options for my answer, all of them true.

For example, I could have said, “Oh, my husband got me this,” and adopted a dismissive, airy tone, like I was saying oh those men, never can tell what they’ll come up with next.

Or I might have said, “Eh, I wasn’t really awake when I pulled this on.” This would have required an apologetic expression and tone, like I was sorry for having fucked up her stuck-in-line-chit-chat moment.

But I think we all know I didn’t choose one of those options. There’s only so much Christmas spirit to go around, you know. Instead, I looked down at the shirt and said, (opting for ‘indignation’ as the most enjoyable tone) “My husband got me this dumb thing, and as soon as I looked at it, I told him, “Honey, you know I’d never say something like that.”

The woman looked relieved until I pointed to the shirt’s first three words and added, “No. I would have said ‘Life Is SHIT’.”

And do you know that lady turned around and left. She gave up a short line and moved over to a long one. I resisted the urge to shout “Merry Fucking Christmas” after her. Because, you know, I’ve got to save my holiday spirit for others, too, you know.

Scenes From My Life

A few scenes from my life the last week and a half.

See? Total fools. The one on the left is approaching a 101 degree fever, but you'd never know by her behavior.

It’s my birthday. We’re in the doctor’s office, and my kids, who will have to come back in the morning to be diagnosed with the flu, are acting like idiots in the exam room.

Pretty, huh?

Sam melts down and has to be bodily removed, and outside, the cold air startles him enough that he stops screaming. But he doesn’t want to come with me, and the people in cars are already looking at me like I might be a kidnapper. So I put him down in the middle of the street (everyone can see him, and the parking lot is far from busy) and walk over to look at the fountain, which is lovely in the sunset. Eventually, Sam joins me. The water soothes him.

The chainsaw means I'm telling the truthWLove love LOVE that scent. I don't care that I'm allergic.e go get our Christmas tree,

and I make sure they cut it off again at the lot.

See? Absolutely fresh.

chomp

chomp chompGrandma B. and the kids have decorated the tree, carefully putting the salt dough ornaments a good foot over Fudge’s head. It’s to no avail. The first time we all go away, we come back to find a scattering of plastic balls on the floor and realize we’re down an angel. Possibly two. Fudge has also chomped on the plastic ones. Just to be sure.

Alas, poor SantaWe have moved the salt dough up another foot, but it doesn’t matter. This is all that remains of poor Santa.

Caroline on the couchWe’re at my husband’s Christmas party. Caroline has taken over a couch to flop on.

Mis+chief = why the hell haven't they just put me in charge?It’s the first year I get to stay for the whole party and have both kids along. In just a few minutes, Sam and the four year old girl are going to go hide in the men’s room and tear up an entire roll of toilet paper to throw all over the floor. As we’re leaving, someone will give what remains on the roll to Scott for a gag gift, since it pretty much has to be eighty sixed anyway.

Da manSam is sitting in the office before therapy with an assortment of things he plans to surprise Dr. Cone with. In the background, behind the receptionist’s window, I can hear the therapist stifling laughter, getting it out of her system so that when she comes through the door, she presents Sam with the expression of delight he is hoping for. Well played Dr. Cone.

Whee

We’re at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, and Sam is on the zipline. Because I don’t have the good camera along, this is all we can see. But it isn’t that far off base.

Which parent?To the left of the zipline, the kids play in the snowroom, with weird snowshoes in unmeltable snow. Mostly, they thwart Scott’s efforts to take their pictures.

Snowball? With that?But Caroline does stand still for one good photo. Barely.

The ugly dressFinally, the woman two ahead of me in line is wearing this indescribable dress. We’re at Sam’s club again, back at the pharmacy because both kids have gone into a post-flu sinus infection and cough that we’d rather not drag up to the relatives. I think it is African inspired (the dress, not the illness), with earth tones and a collection of patterns. Unfortunately, the material’s texture and its fringy edges serve to make it look like she just sewed together a bunch of furniture throws before coming to the store. I pretend I’m looking through pictures on my phone in line just so I can photograph her.

And that brings us up to now, two days before Christmas. Santa and I better get busy wrapping, or our little elves are going to be completely annoyed Christmas morning. Cheers until then.

Swap

The kids’ big gift this year is loft beds, but that requires some rearranging in their rooms. (My mother in law noticed that if we didn’t move Sam’s bed, he’d have full access to the ceiling fan from his current vantage point.) The overall purpose is to give Sam some more space in his rather small room, and I don’t see us getting out of that without doing the same for Sis. (Thank the pricing gods for Craig’s List, or we’d never be able to pull this off). The kids have both been begging for bunk and/or loft beds for over a year, and Scott and I have good reasons for caving in.

But.

You don’t just take an autistic kid’s furniture and move it around willy nilly. Although it’s far from universal, many kids with Asperger’s react very badly to change in general and to change in their surroundings in particular. The results are ugly, and I’m not talking feng shui.

It’s not going to be so bad for Caroline. Without telling her about her present, I’ve been gearing her up for change for a little over a month now. I told her, “You’ve got a lot of toys you don’t play with anymore, and I know you’ll get new stuff for Christmas. Let’s go through your old stuff and donate what you don’t enjoy any more.”

“Oh that’ s great!” she said, and launched into some explanation of loving and giving to others that she must have learned at school. (It finished with having the spirit of Christmas in your heart, so I know she did not learn it from me.) So she’s all revved up to start in on her closets Friday and her bedroom Saturday, getting things fixed up for the Big Holiday.

Sam, though, is another story. He’s the one who both needs and wants the new bed most, but he is also the one most resistant to change. He’s been accepting of my little donation speech in a vague way, but he does not understand what I’m talking about. In order to hope he can enjoy his gift unreservedly, I served up an early shock this afternoon.

Today, while we were building with his Legos, I said “Sam, you need more space in here.”

“Yeah,” he said. He did not look up, so I knew he was basically ignoring me.

“Would it be OK if we took your big dresser out of here? You don’t have anything important in it.”

He studied the ‘big dresser’ which was really somebody’s entertainment center once. Its bottom drawer is missing, so there’s this gaping hole in the bottom where we crammed stuff. It had stacks of garbage we hadn’t bothered to sort on top of it. And the drawers were full of outgrown clothes. “Sure,” he said, and went back to the Legos.

Within an hour, I’d emptied the thing and Scott and I rolled it out to the road with a minimum of cursing at one another (mostly on my part – Scott favors the silent glower). Sam was pretty impressed with the new cozy hole in-between-things that had just opened up. But he needed to go take his nap.

I said, “I’m going to need to move the other furniture around, too” and I gave him an outline of my plans.

He was pretty busy arguing about the nap, and I don’t think he really understood, but he agreed to the changes long before he gave in about going out for his afternoon sleepy-car-ride. (He won’t nap in his bed. Hasn’t for months. He is almost past the need for this nap, but not quite. So we drive him around until he crashes, then bring him home and dump him on the couch.) While he slept, Scott and I pushed pulled, emptied and moved. Still, we were only half finished by the time he woke up.

All the toys were piled up in the middle of the room, mostly on the train table. His bed was on a new wall, as were his bookcase and ‘little dresser’, the latter of which which was Scott’s in childhood. Even before he saw this, Sam woke up mean (he usually does). Scott wouldn’t let him have candy for an afternoon snack, and things got vicious. The vampire teeth came out, we hauled him off to his room for a time out, and he transmogrified suddenly from an enraged beast to a shocked trauma victim.

He kept spluttering at me, trying to speak, but the words just weren’t there. Finally, he screamed, “PUT MY BED BACK ON DAT WALL WHERE IT BEWONGS!”

“It’s pretty upsetting when somebody messes up your stuff, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, dissolving into tears and letting me hold him.

After a couple of minutes, I showed him how he already had a lot more room. We cancelled the time out and let him come and go all evening. Finally, at bedtime, he told Scott, “I like my new room with more space. It sure took me some getting used to, though.”

Just you wait until Christmas, buddy. You haven’t seen getting used to until you find out what your Daddy and I have in mind then. Hopefully, the big shock was today, when I moved it all around and insulted your senses. And hopefully, the next ‘getting used to’ will be joyful instead of traumatic. And if not? Well, we won’t toss anything important out on the street until after we get back from our holiday travelling, OK?

Real danseurs don’t wear underpants

For all my dislike of the Christmas season, there are two things about this time of year that I simply love. One is the music. And no, I’m not talking about that trashy pop shit they play on whatever station calls itself “Mix” in your area. I don’t mean the incessant crappy mall noise that lasts from the day after Halloween until three days past New Year’s either. I mean Christmas carols, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” “The Carol of the Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas”, preferably sung by a full choir a capella or with classical accompaniment.

I like Handel’s The Messaiah as performed by nearly any church, and I enjoy everything put out by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If you promise me good singing, I’ll go with you to midnight mass, Christmas eve service, Hannukah Lights, Festivus, or anything else you might be celebrating.

Directly related to the love of carols, and really a derivative of it, I love The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky is a favorite composer anyway. If they had given out Grammy Awards in the 19th century, he would have clearly received one for “Best Use of Cannons in a Non-Murderous Role” for The 1812 Overture”.  Nutcracker is special though, because Mom (who hated driving downtown for anything) took me to see the ballet the year I turned five. (She did not actually drive. Jenny’s Mom, Bug, was willing, so I also got to see the show with my best friend.) Vastly pregnant with my sister, Mom still waddled down with me to look into the orchestra pit at intermission.

At home, we had a four record set that we only set under needle with great care. My favorite music came from the tail end of the first act and the middle of the second act. I loved the Snow Fairy scene, with its eerie voices, the Chinese Dancers , and the Russian Dancers (Trépak). Because it was Christmas music, we only got it out once a year, and I treasured it.

Several years ago, when a little girl I used to babysit was a Ginger Girl in Cincinnati’s production, I drove up from Lexington to see her. More recently, Caroline started taking ballet. I initially didn’t realize that kids at The Montgomery Ballet’s school can try out for the city production of The Nutcracker. But last year, I learned. I presented the opportunity to Caroline tentatively. I didn’t want to either push or hold back something she might love.

I said, “Are you interested? You wouldn’t necessarily be cast just because…”

“Yes”

“You should try to enjoy the tryout for its own…”

“OK.”

And that was pretty much the end of the conversation. I took her to the studio at the appointed time, and to my surprise, she was cast. The ballet didn’t notify us. They assumed our elated children would come home and tell us about it. Caroline missed the first rehearsal because she hadn’t bothered to mention it at home, even though she was thrilled to be an angel. (They’re the opening scene of Act II, and not all ballets play it with angels.) (Note to Asperger’s Syndrome: Please quit fucking with me this way.) We had another round of the ‘are you interested’ conversation, it went about the same as the first, and she missed no further rehearsals.

I later learned that under a certain age, pretty much every kid who tries out gets a part, because this ballet company needs lots of children. Montgomery isn’t a big city with a lot of professional dancers to fill out the cast. The choreography always calls for copious numbers of small people as everything from party girls, to soldiers, to angels, to polichinelles (Ginger girls). (Caroline already has her heart set on being a poli next year. Though I think she’d be happy with angel every year for the rest of her life.)

She loved it. I loved it. There were two casts, Caroline came with me to watch the show one night when she didn’t perform, and then I watched it again every night when she did. All told, I saw The Nutcracker five times last year. Bliss.

However, due to disorganization and internal squabbling, I never got a picture of Caroline in costume. The angels had a pretty complicated little dance, and I would have liked something to commemorate it.

This year, the internal squabbling blew up into an outright rift, artistic director Elie Lazar left to go be a professor at Troy University, and, aside from the infighting, a couple of professional dancers moved on to new posts. The company had to scramble to get together some choreography and extra adult dancers to put on a Nutcracker at all. (It’s the ballet’s cash cow, really it’s only cash cow, so there was no question of its fate. Just a scramble to get it done.) In the end, there was only a one weekend run (it usually lasts for two weeks) with a single cast (not two casts like in years past).

Caroline was cast once more as an angel, and this year I got bold. Scott’s Mom came down to see her granddaughter in the production. (Naturally, we gave her the flu. Sorry Betty.)  Scott ushered for two shows, I ushered for two shows (we overlapped when Betty watched Sam so Scott and I could see Caroline together for a performance), and for the final show, I volunteered to work downstairs with the kids, hauling along my oh so forbidden camera like a jet-pack on my hip.

Costumes, pret a portier

So, not only did I get the joy of watching my little girl dance in my own favorite ballet, I got the bloody evidence.

My own personal angel

And now, as a final note, I will leave you with this image. A ballerina should never wear panties beneath her tights. The lines are visible to the audience. Caroline doesn’t. Many of the other kids do, because they freak out at the thought of going commando, even in layers. Ballerinas’ modesty is protected by their leotards. But when you see a danseur up there on stage, please consider that those thin little costumes that don’t leave much to the imagination are leaving even fewer empty spaces for you to fill in than you might have previously considered.

That is all.

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In case you missed the good news, I’m published! To order a copy of my novel (and find out what it’s about), click on the picture below:Divorce: A Love Story

 

Divorce: A Love Story

Three. Two. One.

Come here. Get really close. I don’t want anybody to miss the story. Everybody gathered around? Great.

PUBLICATION=Validation

                                                 Can you believe it???

Sorry sorry! Didn’t mean to burst any of the eardrums. Hey! Come back. I’ll speak more softly, promise. My publisher Throwaway Lines released the e-book edition of my novel Divorce: A Love Story yesterday on Amazon and B&N. ON MY FREAKING BIRTHDAY. Thank you SJ and Jason. Oh GOD I’m so happy. For a low $2.99, You can download the novel. Don’t have a Kindle or Nook? No worries. You can grab it for your PC, MAC, i-pad, or smartphone right now if you just download the free app from the Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites.

You can download it here:

Barnes and Noble: Nook

Or here:

Amazon: Kindle

It’s gritty, it’s awesome, and if you buy it, you are supporting a great cause (my ego). Please, consider purchasing copies for everyone you know for Christmas. I’m adding a button to my page to help you achieve this goal. It will link back to my Divorce page, where you can find permalinks to any online retailers. Please, go forth now and buy my book. I’ve said what I needed to say.

Divorce: A Love Story__________

remembeRedButtonRed Writing HoodLinking up to two Write on Edge Posts with this one. The RemembeRed post this week asks us to talk about something we’ve anticipated, starting with “three two one”, and Red Writing hood asks us to think about a time we’ve cleaned house. I think this meets both prompts. Because I’ve been anticipating this for a long damned time. And I feel like I have totally cleaned house.

s30pbadgeI’m also linking up to the folks at Studio30+, who I hope will agree that I’ve said what I needed to say.

Going Visiting

At the beginning of December, I got to go visit friends in Ohio without my husband or kids. (Note: the hubs would have been welcome, but somebody had to mind the banshees.) Although not really a birthday present, this certainly launched my birthday month in fine fettle. First of all, I stayed with my best friend since preschool, Jenny Southcombe.

Jenny and I met because our Moms became friends and we were forced to spend time together. Prior to that time, we were enemies. I wanted to follow every single rule to the letter. Jenny just wanted to play with the damned preschool toys. I don’t really remember how we overcame this, but by the time we had to go to separate kindergartens, we were heartsick, and it is probably her friendship that kept me from realizing until the following year that I had not bonded with a single one of my new classmates.

Staying at her house a couple of weeks ago allowed me to meet her nearly two year old daughter, the elfish Jena (see for yourself)

See? Pure pixie.and to find out that her older daughter, the ten year old Juliette, is a kickass writer. (No, you may not see. I do not photograph anyone over age 8 or so without express permission and sometimes an invitation.) Seeing how Juliette writes was really validating for me, as well. I burned a lot of my early writing in a fit of teenaged mortification, and I have wondered fearfully for a long time if I wasn’t just arrogant to one day decide I’d be a writer. Looking at how good Juliette’s stuff is, both technically and stylistically speaking, gave me renewed confidence in my own ten year old writer self, made me feel like, yeah, I probably did know what I was doing when I picked my future career.

It also allowed Jenny and I to reconnect. We have always been the sort of friends who can pick up with each other years down the road as if no time has passed. And there have been times when we lost touch completely. But we always seem to land on the same page when we do find each other again. And this time, we found each other in glorious hour-long conversations in her kitchen and living room. We stayed up giggling until midnight and woke up thinking deep thoughts at each other. I think that, given a couple more days, we’d have horrified her children by role playing Voltron like we used to do as kids.

So, that in and of itself would have been enough of a reason for me to want to go. But realistically, until I’d done it, I had no idea how powerful it was. So I probably wouldn’t have gone for the sake of a ‘girlfriend’ visit alone. (I had no idea what I was missing. Seriously. No idea. In the future? Oh yes. I will be going to see Jenny. And others, too. And them only, one on one, even if only for a couple of days. Because these are friendships I value so much. I never want to lose them.)

Anyway, as if that wasn’t enough, I also got to go to a wedding and a baptism. And there was a for-real birthday gift in there, but I’ll get to that tomorrow. (Or, given that it’s nearly eleven and my kids are home sick and likely to be up by six, I’ll get to it first thing in the morning after I turn on the babysitter television and upload THIS entry. Or possibly Thursday. Yup. Thursday. Friday?) The wedding was fantastic. The bride is one of the few people – perhaps the only person – who I have literally known for her whole life. She is one year younger (down to the month) than my little sister was, and I can remember her mother bathing her newborn body in our grimy and inadequate sink.

Baby Morgan

GrownUpMorgan

Looks a little different now, doesn’t she? (Though really, she doesn’t. She’s one of these people whose face never changed its essential shape, so her baby pictures resemble her little girl pictures, and she’s so pretty.)

MorganAgedFour
I’ve always considered her a cousin, since her Mom is my Auntie Em, no biological relation. And I loved having a “cousin” since my biological ones are all either about thirty years older than me and on my Dad’s side (I’ve never met them – long story) or else “twice removed” or “second” on my Mom’s side (met most of them – another long story, though). The ceremony was short (but very sweet), and the night’s focus was the reception. Cheers Morgan. May you and Jimmie have a long and happy marriage.

Don't you love how the veil comes in under her updo? Isn't that just gorgeous?
Finally, I made it to my Godson’s baptism. Physically, I was standing in for the Godfather. I handed my camera to one of my friends’ friends and stood at the altar. There was an awkward moment when the deacon handed me a candle.

Also, I found out it's sacrilegious to put out the candle in the holy water. Who knew?

Because right about then, the Catholic Godmother was instructed to put a vestment on the baby’s chest and I worried that maybe I was supposed to drip symbolic wax on the baby’s head. I had visions of the headline “Stand-in Godfather Accidentally Burns Baby in Botched Baptism.” Fortunately, the candle just stood for the light of God, and all I had to do was hold it and promise to love, support, and adore baby Jake.

Jake, Genie, and Mike

With a face like that, how could I disagree?
That’s all for …. well a few hours. Several blog entries have hit me all at once here lately, and it will take me a few days to get everything posted.

A post I had thought to avoid


So I was going to lay off the Christmas angst this week, but that was before both kids’ schools called within twenty minutes of each other on Tuesday. Two one hundred degree fevers. Two children in need of picking up. Neither of them sick enough to be bedridden, both of them sick enough to be crabby and evil. And exactly one project to do that would keep them entertained for any length of time.

Salt dough ornaments .(One cup salt, one cup water, two cups flour. Mix until smooth. Hope you have a stand mixer.)  We made these last year because I knew I couldn’t trust Sam with real ornaments, only to discover that they kept vanishing off the tree. Mysterious hanger-hook appearances didn’t seem related until the day that I heard the crunch. Turns out, we made salt-dough-dog-treats. Fudge was cherry picking, then leaving the evidence lying around. So this year, we will hang our salt dough dog treats up a little higher and only give him the ones that don’t get painted first.


In the meantime, instead of cleaning and getting ready for the impending doom holiday, we had to sit around the kitchen table rolling out dough, getting coughed on, and trying to make giraffes stay in their cookie cutters long enough to get dropped on a baking sheet.I had to turn on the oven way early, because last time I used it, the excess crap in the bottom caught on fire.  I needed to be sure I had scraped enough out before I ran the machine again for the hour and a half long drying period the inedibles required.

And when that was all over, we went to the doctor and bought our Christmas tree on the way home. In short sleeves. From a  tree lot that turned out to belong to one of Caroline’s teachers’ husbands. We slapped a string of lights on that baby and called it ready to decorate on my birthday.

Since the salt dough dog-treats aren’t painted yet, they are not tree-ready.  However, thanks to my recent stay with Jenny, I’ve learned about plastic ornaments. I do not care whether they are made in China, destroying the planet, or polluting my children’s environment: they are indestructible. (OK, really, I do care about all those things.) And indestructible means that Sam will at least have to work to smash them, Fudge won’t eat them, and Caroline can have some sparkle on her tree.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law flew in yesterday, so I could let the kids decorating with her (Scott was teaching), while I took pictures. I only had to participate long enough to help them get the angel on top of the thing.

Caroline is still stuck at home through Thursday. (Which is by now today). I just dropped off Sam with promises that we would pick him up right after nap today. Caroline is probably sitting down with her Grandma B and paint the salt dough ornaments, while I, God willing, update my blog.


_____

Sam’s fever was gone by the time we went to the doctor. Still, of course, could not send him to school on my birthday. Caroline’s fever was up. Feared I would need to send her to the Nutcracker dress rehearsal for awhile. On with the joy

Another update:. Caroline did not have to go to dress rehearsal, but she can still perform. Good thing, since she has the real flu. As an aside, guess which Merriman has actually been vaccinated. Yes, her. Sigh. No, really, spare me. Return me to the place I was previously reading

Final update: I wouldn’t know what my kid is doing at this time, since I’m at PriMed Urgent Treatment facility getting a flu test. They prescribed Sam preventative drugs at the pediatrician’s office, but they won’t give the parents such a generous gift. And Primed won’t either. I hope that if my test comes back positive (it will), Primed will at least give in and prescribe Tamilflu for Scott. OK, I mean it, Jessie. If you interrupt my reading one more time, I quit this blog

Flu test negative. It’s safe to go back up now. Only you’re done anyway.

Two Days until 35

Lest you think I am a total Scrooge (I am) let me pause in my Christmas ranting to tell you something that makes me really happy this time of year. There are several things. But heading up the list is MY BIRTHDAY, which is coming up on Wednesday. People, I was born 11 days before Christmas, and because my Mom is that kind of mother, I never once in childhood lost my day to the big holiday looming soon after. December 14th has always been, and will always be, my favorite day of the year.

Now, getting other kids to come to my party was always a challenge. And by the time I was ten, I’d settled into a routine of dinner and a movie with Mom, and opening presents. I do love presents. I could almost always count on getting a book or two. In fact, Mom probably bought the books first, before she got me anything else. Because books have always been my haven. Approximately the only command I will obey without question is “Just go READ YOUR BOOK”. The desire to read consistently overpowers my ODD soul’s need to defy a direct imperative.

When Christmas gets to be too much, and I completely lose it, I can go read a book. For that matter, when anything gets to be too much, if I’ve got a good book, I’ve got a good escape. Books are my safety net, and I never travel without one. I have a car book, a carry-on luggage book, a bedside book, an office book, a living room book, and a bathroom book. Seriously.It’s one of the reasons our shelves are so crowded. I must have a go-to at all times. And Scott isn’t all that different on this score. Although he is usually reading two tomes at any give time, his are almost always really intense stuff, where mine are a mix of serious reading and fluff.

Mom has never missed giving me a gift, ever, and yes, that does  matter. Last year, she somehow managed to have a live Gardenia delivered to my house ON my exact birthday, and this year, I got my gift several months early while we were in Florida together. (It was awesome, but not the kind of gift to place on a blog, either.)

Adulthood has been a mixed bag. Some years, and this will only increase as I get older, my birthday has been almost completely forgotten. (When I think I have it bad, I remember one sister-in-law’s husband is a Dec. 28 birthday. Ouch.). Other years, it’s like I have two years of birthday fun in one. This year has been of the second variety, and I’m going to be telling you about my birthday this week, because there’s just too much to fit into one post.

Look out world, this year, the Jester Queen turns 35.

__________________

a flicker of inspiration at Lightning BugI’m linking up with The Lightning Bug’s Flicker of Inspriation #28, “Happy Place”.

Down with the Polar Express

Written last night but posted today. Sorry. fell asleep before I could hit paste.
______________

I save my Christmas spirit for my kids. I have to. There isn’t much of it to go around, they live in a Christian society (American South), and if I can pretend it’s not a shittyass time of year while they’re growing up, then for them, it won’t be.

But god DAMN the TV world challenges me when it comes to giving them the positive face. I just had to drink half a bottle of Riesling (which my wise husband went out and bought when he saw which way things were heading) to shut down a rant about the Polar Express. We’re at a hotel. And there’s no real way for me to turn that shit off without really letting on to my kids, who are oblivious to me cursing at the TV in the background (and no, it’s not in an undertone) that Christmas is the least magical time of year for me. (They are so used to my television hatred that they barely hear it when I bitch about the thing when it’s off, and when it’s on, I might as well be talking to their stuffed animals.) Let’s be clear. I like the book. It’s schmaltzy, but it’s OK. There’s Santa, but he’s not hideously overbearing. And the book is about childhood innocence and preserving it and stuff I can understand and appreciate. If it also means increased Santalove, eh, whatever. There’s an awesome train. Plus, the illustrations are irresistible.

The movie? Same theme, but oh so different. The movie is all about why I hate Santa Clause. It takes all the worst things about Christmas for me and packs them into one nasty barrel. You’ve got a kid who is used to crappy Christmases who gets an attitude adjustment, a token black girl who learns she can be a True Leader, and a skeptic who learns to believe (in the big fucking C).

First, the kid who says “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me”. Why can’t that kid be respected? Why does the movie have to be about proving to that kid that Christmas really is magic? It reinforces an unrealistic expectation. Why not let the kid just find peace? Why not teach kids to love without expectation? (And no, the glasses kid’s lesson in humility does not achieve that end.) Wouldn’t that be better? Why invalidate the emotions of those kids who see the movie whose Christmases will never improve.  Hey Disney, you can’t fix Christmas for everyone.  And pretending you can just makes it worse. Me? I’m an adult. I get pissed, and my heart hurts some, but it doesn’t break. But it would have done me in at nine or ten.

Second, let’s talk about that black kid. You want to go for diversity? Then you need more than one of her. You have three white boys and one black girl in your main character slots.  Why does only one kid have to be black? Why does only one kid have to be a girl? Why do these characters have to be the same person? Why does she HAVE to be the leader? (Exceeding expectations simply to fit in, methinks.) Fuck you, Disney, you have failed the equality test.

And finally, and most importantly, let’s talk about the skeptic who remembers to believe. (AKA, the main main character.) That one makes me more angry than all the rest. When I was a kid, my Mom told me the truth, and my Dad bent it to suit his own needs. Sorry Dad – you’ve gotten more honest since the divorce. When I was five, I knew Dad as the guy who claimed Mom didn’t need to know about his PO Box, the guy who had girlfriends and thought it was OK, and the guy who originated the claim ‘your Mother and I are just very good friends’. So when Dad said Santa was bullshit and Mom said Santa was real, guess who I believed?

And by the time I was eight (and by then I was advocating for divorce), and the score on the Clause hadn’t changed, guess who I continued to believe? My mother, the one who told me the truth about everything. She would never just say, “yeah, I’m the one who loves you enough to stay up late, when I already don’t get home until after midnight most Christmas eves, and put out presents and stockings”. No. She said (still says to this day) “Santa Clause is the spirit of loving and giving in all of us”. Oh man. What. A. Lie.

Yes, OK, if you want to go with the story of St. Nicholas and love and all that jazz, then yeah, OK, what she says is true. But I already knew that stuff. And at a basic level, at the level she knew  I was asking, the answer was “no, he’s not real”. But saying that, for Mom, would have been admitting Dad was right about something, and she still won’t do that.  

So I was about the same age as those kids in the movie (eight or so) when I was starting to piece together the truth for myself. But Mom insisted.  My best friend Jenny and I held a protest – complete with signs and a march through the house – to convince Dad Santa was real. That’s a memory that just makes me cringe. I had to stay up one Christmas Eve and see what went on for myself. (By which time I was an angry ten.)  And you want to talk about resentment? Then let’s talk about seeing a movie about a kid who was just exactly that age being forced back into the lie. Oh yeah. Fuck you Polar express. (If I seem to be losing cogency, it’s because we’ve finished the Riesling and moved on to the Chardonnay.)

I should note that my kids have chosen to believe in Santa.  We told Caroline the truth from a very young age because she thought Santa Clause was Santa Claws, and was certain he was coming to eat her.  But she later met a friend at school who spun a tale that made her happy, and she chose to believe it. I don’t really have a problem with that. I find it awkward that Sam now kind of has to believe. I know better than to try to tell him what’s what when he has a devout believer of a sibling. But in a year or two, Sis will be ready to deal with things, and Sam will be over it then by then, as well. And I can’t wait.

But that wait is seriously irksome, and it’s completely Disney’s fault.  Because Caroline was starting to reassemble the truth for herself this year, and then they watched the Polar Express at school.  Then Sam saw it with us at this hotel. Now, I have another year of having to pretend. It’s a tense game. One I don’t enjoy at all. And one that makes me resent the bullshit of Disney even more.

I never liked Christmas cartoon specials. Even Charlie Brown got on my nerves. The Year Without a Santa Clause (except the Heat and Freeze Meisters; they were awesome) annoyed me to no end. I hated that damned Rudolph thing, which was not about stopping bullying but about making Santa believe in you. (Irony much?) (My kids love Rudolph. They haven’t seen Year). I was OK with Frosty, because everybody knew where they stood with the snowman. Nobody pretended he was actual. (Although there, once again, Santa fucking saves the day. And my sweet daughter, who saw that one at a parents’ night out, absolutely loves the moral.) But the Polar Express goes beyond anything the networks produced in my youth.  It takes the worst of the worst and makes it badder. I’m very sorry both my kids saw it this year, and I hope never to own it on DVD.

Christmas really isn’t so bad for me anymore. Scott’s family is nice. Nice to me and nice to each other. Our gatherings are invariably peaceful. But seeing any of these TV specials (and movies brought to the small screen) just reinforces those years when the whole period of time from Thanksgiving through New Years meant trapped with my family in a house that was smaller than an apartment.  

Right now, I just have to get through this year and deal with the fact that, thanks to viewing the Polar Express, Caroline wants a reindeer-style jingle bell for Christmas. Scott’s in charge of that one. He doesn’t share my conflicts.  Me? I just got done taking Sam on a real train. And I’m gearing up to watch Caroline dance in The Nutcracker. Because those are Christmas specials no fucking television can replicate.

Cut it Off Again

To fully understand this story, you must know two things. One: always growing up, we either had a fake tree or a balled and burlapped one. OK, there was a time in my infancy when we had real cut trees. But Dad decided live trees were a fire hazard in our living room, with its live fireplace, so for years we went over to fakies. (Never mind that for the tree to catch fire, it would have needed to get up and walk more than halfway across the room, then fall over into the hearth.)

Two: I didn’t much like decorating anyway, starting from a young age. The plastic tree pretty well erased what little enjoyment I might have taken from the ritual. The balled and burlapped ones when I was a teen were small, nice looking, and altogether dull. And they took about six minutes to ornament unless we dragged things out with extra light strands.

Oh. And one other thing. I hate Christmas.

The one year I lived completely alone, I put up no holiday decorations, murdered no firs, and watched not a single Christmas special. Bliss. People offered me wreaths and garlands, and I rejected them saying, “I’m finally away from that garbage.”

Yeah. Fast forward a year. I was living with Scott in a different apartment, we were bogged down with grad school, and we had agreed not to fool with decorations. Only I got this stab of guilt because he loves Christmas so much that he watches It’s a Wonderful Life every year. So while he was teaching one night, I went to a tree farm. I needed something small enough to fit into the trunk of my compact car, and easy enough for me to carry up to our apartment. I found one roughly four feet tall, bought it and its stand and muddled the whole kit and caboodle up to the stairs.

Scott came home and, after admiring my find asked, “Why didn’t you put it in a bucket of water if you were waiting for me to put it in the stand?”

“I don’t see why I would have,” I told him. “It was stuck on a post at the lot.”

“Right,” He said, “But when they cut it off again, the base is fresh.”

“What are you talking about?”

He cleared his throat.  “The base of the tree covers with sap if it gets much of a chance to dry out. It won’t drink, then, and it dies faster.”

“Ohhh.”

“I don’t think it really matters,” he went on. “It’s only been a couple of hours…”

“Yeah, only I didn’t let them cut it off again,” I said.

“What?”

“They offered, but I thought, Well that’s dumb. Why would I want to cut it off again?  There aren’t any low hanging limbs. So I didn’t let them cut it off again.”

It goes without saying that we didn’t own a saw. Didn’t even own a drill. What we owned turned out to be a bread knife. A dull bread knife. Scott whittled patiently away at the tree trunk for about an hour, periodically looking up at me and mouthing “Why would I want to cut it off again?” Finally, a sufficient amount of trunk had been removed, and we stood the tree up and added lights.

My mother, worried about our first Christmas, had mailed us a tiny live tree with ornaments for the twelve days of Christmas, had I but known. It was actually darling. Much more appropriate than my lotside purchase. But for a foray back into a tradition I didn’t really enjoy, things could have gone much worse. Besides the running joke the experience engendered, all we wrecked was the bread knife. Indeed, we couldn’t get rid of that right away, so for months after Christmas, we could find that  knife by opening the drawers and sniffing for pine.

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I’m linking up with the crazed fan weekend warrior woman blog hop with this post :)