Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Joy to the World

I admit I’ve become more than a bit “Bah Humbug” about Christmas.  I’ve been that way for years now, and this year seemed like it would be even worse with personal financial and other woes and the generally miserable state of the union and the world.  Not exchanging gifts with friends and family because we didn’t need more stuff yielded this year to not exchanging gifts because I’m too broke.  All three holiday parties I’d looked forward to in December ended up being rescheduled until January for various reasons.  I wasn’t the only one not feelin’ it.  As one of my friends posted on her Facebook page, with all the busyness and added burden, “I will be glad when the holidays are over.” As another put it, “We’re all running around trying to make everything so special, we’re not making it peaceful.”

But lo and behold, I’ve gotten my Christmas spirit back.  I put up a tree, and even decorated the house a bit. I watched Christmas in Washington on TV.  I listened in the car to my all-time favorite holiday CD, Etta James 12 Songs of Christmas.   

Best of all, I went to a drive-through winter lights show with my friend Elsie and my four-year-old goddaughter Annabelle.  Both Elsie and I were weary from work but we wanted to do “something holiday” together.  We went out for a casual dinner first, and Annabelle was her usual delightful self.  She generously offered to share her stuffed animal puppy Rudolph with me (her mom explained she had named quite a number of stuffed animals Rudolph recently). As has become a tradition with us each time we get together, she always reaches magically into her pocket and pulls out stickers for me, then carefully places them on my sweater, and never has any expensive gift meant more to me than the love of those little fingers patting down an odd assortment of stickers. They were treasures to her, and I received them as such.  She also gave me a Christmas card she had created for me including even more stickers, with two new photos tucked in, one of her with Santa.  She opened the paperback books I got her for Christmas with gratifying excitement (they featured various favorite characters enjoying snowy days—I’d gone in circles for nearly two hours in the children’s section of the bookstore trying to find just the right ones).  Later, as we walked back to the car (well, I walked, she skipped) with her hand in mine, she told me told me she had been dreaming about me. I told her I dream about her, too.

From the turnoff into the state park to the light show entrance was a bit of a drive, and the lights didn’t start away.  Annabelle pronounced the dark forest “spooky,” prompting her mother to ask, “Spooky good or spooky bad?”  Without waiting for a response, we switched to distraction mode—Elsie making a funny ghost noise and I riffing on something, I don’t even remember what—I said it was “RIDICULOUS.”  Both of these things tickled her no end and for the next hour of our excursion she begged her mother to make the noise and me to say “RIDICULOUS!” each time setting her off into peals of laughter. 

I reached into the bag I’d brought and pulled out an M & M cookie for each of us.  As I passed one back to Miss A. in her car seat, her mother looked at me and said in alarm, “she doesn’t like those,” and as her daughter’s little mouth turned down and she shook her head in disappointment I mentally kicked myself, knowing I’d had other flavors of cookies I could have brought instead.  Sucker!  They both started beaming and I knew I’d been had in an impromptu mother-daughter skit. 

Once the cookies and then clementines I’d also brought had been distributed and devoured, Annabelle asked if there were any more of the cookies.  I told I was sorry, but no, all I had left was water.  (I got credit from her Mom for having thought ahead to her disinclination to load A. up on too much sugar at night.)  She hopefully asked if I had any more surprises and again I said, “Just water.”  L-o-n-g pause, followed by an emphatic declaration from the back seat, “I LOVE water!” I duly passed it back and she guzzled it down like it was elixir.

We continued on our merry way at 2 miles an hour through the lights of Teddy Bear Land, oohing and aahing at lit swans on the lake, and nutcracker soldiers standing at attention.  The Subaru’s tushy warmers were on, we were giddy and giggly, and we sang along to a radio station playing 24/7 Christmas carols.  Annabelle informed me that she didn’t get to see me enough; I agreed wholeheartedly, and we decided that we should talk on the phone more often.  She pressed her mother to be sure and write my number down for her so she could call me herself.

Such pure joy in these moments when they occurred, and every time I remember them a smile breaks unbidden across my face.

The next day I had a nice talk with my Dad on the phone, catching up.  I called and swapped a few stories with my mom a bit later. Then I went to a get-together for Christmas cookies and conversation with friends in front of a lovingly decorated tree and roaring fire, and the moon came up nearly full, before sunset, as we approached the winter solstice.   

I didn’t stay too late, as I was meeting my son for dinner, always a treat.

Life is good.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh, Baby

I went to a baby shower last weekend for the daughter of two close friends.  It was a tea party, so much fun, especially the part where we all oohed and aahed as the expectant mommy opened gifts, from hand knitted blankets to adorable little onesies to colorful changing pads to jungle print crib linens. 

I couldn’t help but think, though, that there were some very important gifts Lesley Jane didn’t get.  New parents, listen up and add these to your gift registry:

New York Times bestselling book, The New Parent’s Guide to One-Handed Living: How to Do Everything While Perching Baby on One Arm.  Hah hah, just kidding, you won’t have time to read a book for a looong time.  If you try, you’ll find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over again as your attention is pulled away, you make your way back to where you left off in the book, and then your attention is pulled away again. 

Random House’s new iPhone app, The New Parent’s Diet Plan:  How Eating with One Hand Can Help You Lose Weight, Gain Muscle. (Just a tip: switch off every week or so or you’ll bulk up only on one side.)

Hudson Trail Outfitter’s kit, How to Survive on One Shower a Week and Other Camping Hygiene Shortcuts.  This little shindig we’re all at celebrating your impending baby’s arrival? It’s the last time “shower” will be part of your vocabulary for a while. (And as for “bath”—for you, that is—well, hah hah hah!)  Part of this handy gift kit is a bottle of no-water soap like you get when you’re a hospital patient.  When you finally put your little darling down for the night, quickly pour this over body and hair, rub in a little, and stumble off to bed yourself. Running comb through hair is strictly optional. (Comb Not Included.)

Noise-reducing headphones.  These are to accompany the sleep-guru-du-jour’s book you’ll be following on getting your child to fall asleep by herself.  Also good for drowning out the conflicting advice well-meaning relatives and more seasoned moms and dads will be giving you.

One-ton roll of bubble wrap.  Say goodbye to all your hip, geometric, sharp-edged furniture, the glass coffee table, the striking fireplace hearth.  It’s all rounded surfaces and soft corners from here on. 

High-speed Internet connection.  If by some chance you’re living in the dark ages and still have dial-up, change now!  It won’t allow you to simultaneously surf the web in a panic and speed-dial your pediatrician the first year every time Junior gets a cold.

Five-year gift certificate for carpet cleaning company.  Or you can just do what we did, when the apple juice stains reaching straight through the padding to the sub-flooring get too bad, put the house up for sale.

Caffeine of the Month Club gift membership.  This thoughtful gift makes sure the new parents have plenty of their favorite stimulant on hand, whether it’s triple shot espressos, Red Bull, or Red Zinger.  You’ll need it. 

Costco-sized case of Band-Aids.  These are for you, not your child.  They’re for injuries you’ll sustain installing child-proof cabinet hardware all over the house, and later for injuries you’ll sustain when you try to open a cabinet like a normal person forgetting the child-proofing is on and snapping your finger like a twig.

Press-on nails.  You will not be giving yourself a manicure for about 5 years, and if you’re foolhardy enough to try, you’ll be sporting sloppy streaks of color over your knuckles.  And trust me, you won’t have the time or the money to go out and get a professional manicure!

Anti-nausea medication.  Again, this is not for the baby, this is for you.  If you’re one of those people whose gag reflux is sensitive to the smell of vomit, you’ll want to keep this with you—or better still, in your system--at all times.

Tide Stain Stick.  Buy in bulk for cleaning up milk, baby food, and bodily excretions on that new suit you got for when you meet with the board of directors at work.

Babysitting gift certificates.  This is for real the best present for any new parents. 

A new heart.  You’re going to need a bigger one to hold all the love you take in and give out to this life-changing little miracle.  

Photo courtesy of Leslie Jane Moran (no, not the pregnant Lesley Jane, another one!)