Monday, December 26, 2005

The Unspoken Christmas Tradition

We’re in the Pacific Northwest for Christmas, staying at Ed’s parents’ house. My folks live about ten minutes away and as our good friends have lent us their car until early next week when we get a rental, we’ve been spending pretty much equal time at both. We are lucky to be able to be with the family for the holidays. I won’t say we’re happy about it, because, 1) Ed’s ass would twitch, and 2) happy is too simple an emotion to express what it feels like to be with family over the holidays. I think that it’s closer to say that we are feeling a kind of euphoria/stress current dramatic syndrome.

Case in point: I just left my mom’s house to drop off our presents and pick up our Christmas Eve presents (pajamas). Jack & I left a bit early because my sister’s youngest child, Daisy, was throwing a fit. Apparently she didn’t want to get out of the bath. She sat up at the top of the stairs, flaying, kicking, crying, and basically being her two-year-old obstinate self. Jack was getting both tired and concerned, so we kissed those in the house not throwing a tantrum and came back to Ed’s folks. Daisy normally saves her tantrums for bedtime, but like all of us it seems, she’s can be set off at a moment’s notice.

For some reason, everyone seems to be on the edge of some kind of emotional tears. I have a hunch that it isn’t just us, but a lot of folks. Is it American? Is it cultural? Are there others fighting the urge to punch their pillow a bit before falling asleep a night? Or, are there those families out there who are calm, grateful, and openly affectionate at Christmastime? If so, what’s your secret?

Christmas Eve morning, Ed went out to buy buns for his family’s Christmas Eve ham sandwich tradition. He had bought the wrong buns (too small, no Kaisers) – and was on the defensive about it. Normally, he would roll (Ha!) back to the store, buy the “right” buns and be done with it. This morning, he got a bit fired up, huffed around and got somewhat excited. That same day, Before giving her girls their bath, my sister, April, sat down on the couch and fought tears. She said she was overwhelmed about everything that had to get done today (Christmas Eve), but then she said she wished that there was no Christmas. Her husband is just about to head home after a year serving in Iraq, and despite the thrill of having her family back together, it is still the first Christmas that her family won’t be together.

I think what April is going through gets at the paradox of the holiday season. We’re bombarded with all of these conflicting emotions: we’re expected to be grateful for all the intangible stuff: love, health, security at the same time we’re bombarded with this idea that we have to buy stuff to bring happiness to others. In other words, the very spirit of Christmas – or what Christmas should be – highlights what it often isn’t. So, here we are, raised to expect tangible gifts under the tree and with them, the intangible sense contentment and love. Let me tell you, those kind of expectations never bring peace to anyone. Somewhere along the way, all of the tangible and intangible gifts get confused and we can’t tell what will make Christmas be like what we want it to be. And, the kinds of gifts we tend to want as adults are the most complicated gifts of all- and somehow the promise of gifts under the tree just gums all of those expectations up. And, because the culture of Christmas – on television, in the news, in movies, in all the books, promises that you will indeed get what you want or need, we get our hopes up. Dangerous? A bit.

I wonder, though, if families, particularly those that live far away from one another, would take the time to think about what they want- as individuals and as a family if we didn’t have the holidays to remind us. I guess some of us do some times. And, that’s really the miracle of Christmas: the ability to be honest about what you want and even if you won’t get it, to know that those around you hear you. You know? Now, that would be something.

All said, we had a lovely Christmas, really. Like every year, we'll go back to our daily lives and remember all the joys of the season: how great it was to watch Jack thrive around so many people who love him, to remember where we came from and the people and places that helped to mold who we are today. We probably won't remember the shadowy side of Christmas: the tension, unspoken expectations, or emotional exhaustion until next year around December 20th. Maybe Christmas is so meaningful because we live through the tension. Without it, the holiday would just be another day.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Our Christmas Blard

We tried and tried to get a photo where we all looked like ourselves, and this is the closest we came. We meant to send it out like good Christmas folks, but it didn't happen. So, here's our Christmas card. To those of you who read our blog, (thank you), and have a genuinely joyful holiday.

Laura, Ed, & Jack
Merry Christmas Posted by Picasa

The Grinch That Stole Christmas Letters

What does it say that I can remember typing a paper out on a manual typewriter when I took my first college class? On Saturday I emailed my professor my last paper of the semester. I'm sometimes blown away by technology. I mean, can you imagine going back in time to 1991 and trying to explain to someone, email, the Internet, or even iPods? Sheez.

Still was nice to click the send button though.

I'm currently sitting in a room full of undergrads typing this while they take their final for ED 100. Eyes in the back of head my friend, eyes in the back of my head... ED 100 is a class that wanna-be teachers take to study educational philosophy, you know, the big questions in teaching: What is affective teaching? What makes a good teacher? Why aren't teachers paid more? Ok, maybe not the last question, but you get the idea. It's actually a class I hated when I took it. I can see me now: I hate this class, what does this class have to do with teaching history, man, these writers don't know nothin' about teaching, what does Dewey know about teaching nowadays, he's old, I'm young, I know what's good teaching...I suspect I was the type of student I would hate to have now as a teacher.

Turned 33 yesterday, blah. Oh, the day was fine. Laura and Jack were awesome, but I was a little grumpy. I think I have a problem with the whole-time-marches-on thing that birthdays come to represent for us after, the age of 25. It's your birthday. You're one-year older. And. There's. Nothing. You. Can. Do. About. It.

Ah, Christmas. Actually, I don't have a problem with Christmas. Looking forward to it this year. Our present to ourselves this year is a trip back home to see friends and family. We're excited. We thought about doing Christmas cards and then, well, I had papers to finish, Laura had deadlines at work, and Jack, well, he's still too young to dump those responsibilities on him.

One thing you will NOT be receiving from us, ever, is a Christmas letter. You know, what I talking about (and I apologize in advance to those of you who have written them in the past, I'm sure they were fine). Christmas letters are those letters you get from friends explaining to everyone how wonderful their lives have been in the past year.

[to be read in sarcastic mocking-voice]
Oh, Bob got a promotion, and we bought a new house, and our 10-year old looks like a model, our dog had puppies, and we all love one another...blah, blah, blah.

The theme of just about every Christmas letter I read is: We're so happy. People who say they're "so happy" make my ass twitch. People who actually put it in print...well, I just don't know. It can't ALL be good this past year, can it? And yes, you could say, "but Ed, why would want to read about the bad stuff?" And I don't want to read just the bad stuff. It's just that Christmas letters have the feel of old Soviet-run newspapers back in the day. Which is to say, they're a little boring, and well, kind of phony.

Just once I'd like to read the anti-Christmas letter...

Well, this year was, to tell you the truth, hard. Didn't it suck a little at times? It wasn't all bad. But we made it through and we're ready to give 2006 a go.

What do you think, unrealistic? Probably. And I've probably permanently removed us from the Christmas card lists of those of you still thinking, "why does he hate Christmas letters?"

Next post will be from Tacoma!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Why Men Forget to Call Their Mothers

So, last week I agreed to play in Ed's Bowl pool. No, it's not a giant bowl for swimming in; rather, it's this college football bowl game betting thing. Basically, I give him $10 (I told him I'm good for it) and choose which college football teams will win their bowl. Last night I asked Ed if he could give me some information about the teams so I could make a relatively educated guess. Little did I know that there are nearly 30 bowl games - all played between December 20th and January 3rd. Tell me, is there someone out there who actually watches all of them?

Anyway, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Ed started off by giving me the run down on Arkansas State and Southern Miss. I think I remember correctly that this is Arkansas State's first bowl game (I picked them). By the time we got to talking about the Motor City Bowl (about seventh on the list), I was EXHAUSTED. Apparently, Ed took my request for information to the next level. One minute we're hanging out on the couch, channel flipping, Ed pretty exhausted from long days this week finishing papers - and the next, Ed is basically in full Sports Center mode. I got the feeling he wasn't talking to me, but channeling a kind of sports analysis talk show- I don't even think I could find the rhetoric to capture the tone. I heard a lot of words like "momentum," "plagued by injuries," "they've shown a solid consistent bowl performance," etc. He'd often pop up off the couch and run the computer to find the stats on some team's offensive line or their overall bowl results in the last five years. It got to a point that I couldn't take all the info in; I began to catch the bowl fever, wanting to know as much as possible, feeling crazed about NOT knowing enough and at the same time, feeling pressured to guess. It felt a lot like taking a test I wasn't prepared for. And this is fun? I am reminded why I don't like betting.

At a certain point, I thought about choosing teams based on more (for lack of a better word) feminine paradigm. One of Ed's (female) friends is using team colors for one of the deciding factors. Ed was kind enough to include that information at one point. For the Sun Bowl, he stated that UCLA and Northwestern are the "funnest color match up." Gotta love the guy.

I must admit, I do like the idea of watching these games, just to see how my picks are doing. And, if in the process, Ed and I can have some common discussion about college football, well, that'll be a nice perk to the holiday season. Besides, I might also gain some insight into the infamous fantasy gene. (There's a bowl named Insight, too, I picked Arizona State based on MY OWN recollection of Rutgers' predominately hideous football record).

On a separate note, I should apologize to Ed's mom. Yesterday was her birthday and I am pretty sure that Ed's exhaustion, coupled with his sudden focus on college football, caused him to forget to call despite his self-reminders all day. Last night I woke up to a 1:30 a.m. "(insert G** here) Damnit" when he did remember.

Wish me luck. If I win the pool, I plan on using my winnings to buy something really girly.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Bliss (?!) of it *ALL*

So, the whole point of a blog is to post everyday. My God, how do people do it? Basically, that's been my question lately. How do YOU ALL do it? "You All" refers to those folks out there who are in shape, attentive loving parent and spouse, successful financially, and emotionally/spiritually satisfied. Of course, nobody feels like they are "doing it all" right? For those of you that are, I don't want to hear from you.

It's 11:30 on a Saturday night and after a long day with Jack - great to spend time with him, but the kid didn't nap (just plain didn't sleep!), I had to grade SAT essays online later than I had planned. I've been offered the job of writing (yes, WRITING, not just editing: YEAH!) the teacher edition of one of the reading workshops in an eighth grade textbook and that's due Wednesday, plus I've got some new math work coming up this week. As usual, I've got all the good stress I could ask for. And despite any hint at an irritated tone, I'm genuinely thankful for (all) the work.

I'm just trying to figure out how to balance *it all*.

Of course, I could start by dealing with my DVD addictions. By addiction, I mean anytime we rent a television series on DVD, I have to watch ALL of episodes in one or two nights. That meant that when the third disc for Scrubs first season came in the mail, I kept Ed up until 11:00 with me Thursday and Friday to watch all eight episodes. Let me tell you, it was worth it. If you haven't checked out the show, I highly recommend it. The next season starts January 3rd. Dramatic and hilarious, wry and sensitive, with the occasional dancing and singing, Scrubs reminds its audience that even though we strive for it all, the success is, well, as you may have guessed, in how we strive for "it all." I always forget about that. Ed also narrowed in on another reason we love the show so much: the writers have a knack for showing how life really works: in extremes. One minute we're on top of the world, and then something happens, and the next moment we feel like shit. This is my life. Forever I've been trying to find some equilibrium, to be more emotionally consistent and avoid the extremes. Maybe it's better to roll with ALL of the reactions, emotions, and face them head on. Who knows.

I'm going to bed now and focus on what did get accomplished today (I had some good laughs with Jack, Ed finished a major paper for school, I got a few hours of SAT grading in) and not what isn't being accomplished (the usual: sleep, and the ability to comfortably fit into my jeans that fit so well when I was walking up and down California Avenue everyday).

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Empathy Factor

When I was about four or five, I went and watched Disney's Pinnochio on the big screen. When the whale swallowed the wooden boy and his friends, I threw up all over my dad and his (now ruined) leather jacket. When I was in high school, I went and saw Edward Scissorhands with my sister. Towards the end, when Johnny Scissorhands Depp was flaying on the ground, trying to help someone or other, but couldn't because of his, well, scissor hands, I got up, went to the bathroom and blew chunks of resses pieces. I haven't had that candy since- you can ask April (my sister). She'll confirm. About five or six years ago, Ed & I went to see The Sixth Sense at the theater. A little over one-fourth of the way into the movie, Ed leaned over to me and (stop reading if you are one of the five people left who've never seen this movie) and said, "I think he's dead and doesn't know it." I promptly got up, ran to the bathroom, and hurled my dinner. We left, and I didn't see the rest of the movie until about two years ago.

Granted, I had a terrible day at work the night we went to see The Sixth Sense, but I'm not sure that would have made a difference. I've come to realize that I have a profound dose of empathy in my temperment. This may sound like I'm bragging- that I'm some really caring, thoughtful person. Honestly, I'm not any more loving than the average person who cares deeply for their family and friends (most days, the evidence is hard to find). My emphathetic nature gets me into more trouble than it is worth; it is the major contributor in my pessmistic mind set. I will usually imagine the worst case scenario and then when thinks work out better than that, everything is fine. I was sure I end up in labor for 72 hours and leave the hospital with a C-section scar; I was preparing for bankruptcy the month after we moved to Boston; and recently, I've been picturing Ed frozen on the side of the road.

You see, whenever there's the potential for "bad" things to occur, I ALWAYS put myself in the shoes of the people that I don't want those things to happen to - and that's mostly Ed & Jack. The problem is, I imagine that they feel much more worse than they probably would. For example, for the last three weeks, I've been *dreading* the inevitable New England Winter. I've purchased about six pairs of gloves and mittens for Jack, bought him a space-snow suit, and told Ed to get whatever he needed to stay warm. The idea of either of them being cold for a second makes me want to turn the basement into a bunker with enough supplies to last the winter as a hermit. I HATE being cold, and so, in a twisted self-centered way, I imagine that my boys hate it just as much - and their misery, like my misery, is something I just don't want to tolerate.

I woke up with Jack this morning at 7:00 a.m. Outside the snow had begun to fall (it's not like in the Northwest when the weather men say they'll be snow and you're lucky to get a trace that might melt away in a few hours- here when they say snow, they mean it. It's like predicting rain in Washington state). It's now noon and the snow is still falling. Immediately, my mind started thinking about how we'd get Ed to school Monday since he usually rides his bike. We could take him to the T-stop in the morning, but Jack's in bed by the time he'd be back in town. And, what about daycare and me getting to work? Just how many days can you call in sick (disguising your fear of driving in the weather) before they yank your latest freelancing gig?

Ed, giddy with snow fever, thought he should go grocery shopping to stock up (we're supposed to get a handful of inches through Tuesday). He really just wanted an excuse to be out in the weather. We are complete opposites when it comes to snow. He came home not five minutes before I realized I needed some more vicks rub to put on the radiator to help Jack breath through layers of his current snot festival. And, because I'd rather crash in the snow and walk 2 miles before letting Jack have an uncomfortable sleep (again, because I hate that and imagine he does, too, because if I hate something, doesn't everyone?), I drove out in the Boston snow after to get it. And guess what? It ain't that bad. By 10:00 a.m. (on a Sunday!), the sand had already been scattered on the back roads. AND - I think they do something to the roads, maybe a built in heater or something, because all the main roads (and not-so-main roads) were mearly wet, no slick or snowy at all. Suddenly giddy myself at NOT sliding and crashing into a Massachussets native ready to pound me for my "out-of-town driving" skills, I treated myself to my first Egg Nog latte of the season. Yum.

So, ONCE AGAIN I've been shown one of two things: one, that things are NEVER as bad as the seem or, they are never bad ONLY IF you devote a chunk of your thoughts imagining just how bad they could be - thus, reality by comparison, rocks. Whatever works, I guess.