Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Year Again? Already? What Did I Miss?

The last of the Christmas pine needles and gift wrap have been swept away, the house is clean, quiet, cold. I am clean, quiet, and wiped out. A new year awaits us, or more likely stares us down. Whether we like it or not, here it comes. No snooze alarms, no re-writes, no calling in sick.



But first, a review of the last. Was it what you expected, what you needed, what you desired? Is it ever? Did a wish come true? Did you keep the receipt? Did you truly wish that you kept the receipt?

Why do we make such a big deal of it? We look back to look forward - did we learn, did we grow? And if we grew, do we now diet? And if we ask too many sappy, introspective questions, are we then told to shush?

As kids playing games, we used to argue fiercely over 'do-overs.' If Icky Arty snapped his gum while you were kicking the ball, you got a ‘do-over.’ If a dog ran in your way in the basepath, you could call 'interference' and get a 'do-over.' Rules regarding the execution of a 'do-over' were strict, complicated, and written by 8-year-olds. But by golly, at least we had them.

Oh, what I'd give for a 'do-over' now. Or at least a slow-motion replay. 2007 was a blur, and not just because my eyesight is going. Blink. Done. As adults we have second chances, second helpings, mulligans, rebirths. None are as pure as that quintessential 'do-over.'

We can learn from kids. Before I was even one day old, I taught my parents quite a bit. Such as:

  • If you're due to give birth at Christmas, don't plan to name the baby 'Holly.' The baby will hear you and intentionally wait another entire month just to avoid that name.
  • If you're due to give birth at Christmas, but your baby isn't born until January, it IS possible to claim the baby on tax forms for the prior year and get away with it. It may not be completely legal, but it can be done. (Sorry, Dad.)
  • If you're absolutely sick of being nearly ten months pregnant, before inducing labor, make sure conditions are good. A blizzard, thirty below zero temperature, and a state of emergency are all very good examples of bad conditions.
  • If you're going to induce labor by shoveling snow in a blizzard, make sure to shovel snow near the hospital. Do not shovel snow at home. There are no epidurals available at home.
  • If you're going to give birth to a child so ornery that she takes ten months to be born but then has the audacity to make her entrance into the world at the most inopportune moment and so quickly that she's born in the elevator of the hospital, make sure to put aside lots of money for therapy.

So there you have it - some good advice with which to start your new year. While the odds are quite low that we'll have to confront a blizzard any time soon around here, I'm sure you've learned something. Yes, you have. You've learned to never argue with someone born in a blizzard, in an elevator, a month late, and in a hurry.

As you watch the ball drop upon the knuckleheads gathered to freeze at midnight in Times Square, be proud that you have the common sense to live in Southern California where you can wear shorts all year round, laugh at the silly frozen New Yorkers on TV, and celebrate New Year's Eve at 9pm Eastern Standard Time. Then go to bed immediately. We have much to do in 2008. And we're fresh out of 'do-overs.'

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Stairway of Misfit Ornaments

The boys were helping me trim the Christmas tree. A special moment, since I was sick of doing it and they were still under the impression it was fun. I worked carefully, since any sudden movement on my part might scare them off, especially if they realized they were actually helping Mom do something 'uncool.'

Then they found it - a creepy ornament. One created and purchased with the intent that yes, this will brighten someone's holiday, only to fail miserably and instead turn all gazers to stone. This particular one was a bulbous purple dinosaur somehow so popular with children. "Mom," my youngest said, "He's only wearing a Santa hat. Where are the rest of his clothes? And why is he looking at me like that?"

Everyone has at least one. Perhaps it was a gift, but it's hideous to the point you 'd like to flatten it with your car but you worry about feeling guilty later. Maybe you paid a lot for it and hope that one year it will suddenly be stunning in a good way. I can tell you that the only way it will ever be truly stunning is if you flatten it with your car.

I didn't have the guts to get rid of my 'gifted misfits' but I couldn't bear to display them either. Nothing like gazing at a beautiful Christmas tree and seeing a haggard, one-eyed Santa with a death wish staring back at you. So I kept them for years, stuffed in the bottom of a box like so many precious yet clunky memories.

My parents had ornaments from the Depression. Dark, worn, and fragile, for years I thought we kids weren't allowed to touch them because you could catch 'depression' from them. Why we put them on our tree I had no idea. Perhaps to appease the gods of depression.

Soon my kids were digging out more oddballs- a headless dog, an angry angel, an overly medicated banjo player, a tired dancing Santa, a teddy bear only Freddy Kruger could love. Silver Bells crooned quietly under the squealing as the boys chased each other through the house with their newly discovered Christmas freaks. They decided all the ghoulishness needed its own place of admiration, a "Creepy Hall of Fame." The pine garland on my spiral staircase became their spot. So much for making it into House & Garden this year.

The line between cheery and creepy is sometimes vague. Santa's supposed to be every kid's best friend - direct contact with THE King of Toys. But he scares the bejeebers out of kids. Same with ornaments - they're supposed to be beautiful and warm your heart. When they quietly turn on you, when all Santa needs is a carving knife to complete his outfit, it's all the more frightening.

Each night as we head upstairs and pass the Creepy Hall of Fame, the Misfit Ornaments stare back at us, waiting for us to close our eyes....that much closer to our dreams.

Keep that weirdo dino-freak away from me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

12 Reasons We Know Santa is a Guy

1. He has one good outfit for special events.

2. He never asks for directions.

3. He has staff. Staff! To hand out toys. Toys!

4. Workshop - puh-lease. He's got a 50" flatscreen and a beer fridge in there.

5. He uses the same lame line over and over again- 'Ho, ho, ho!'

6. When his machismo is threatened, he arm wrestles an elf.

7. Sure, he delivers toys all over the world. Would it kill him to put the trash out before he leaves?

8. He's out gallivanting all night, comes home at dawn and takes a nap.

9. He uses 8 reindeer and a 1905 Waggoneer Sleigh when a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is more practical.

10. He sees you when you're sleeping (ick).

11. He insists on knowing who's naughty (again, ick).

12. He piddles around for a whole year, crams all his work into one night and ends up looking like a hero.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Horizontal Conifer

As averse as I am to being force-fed Thanksgiving turkey rules, I am adamant about having a really big, really real Christmas tree. I may have to buy water, firewood, and perhaps some day even buy air, but dangitall I gotta have a 15 foot tall pine in the living room every year. Not sure what that has to do with buying water, but I'm feeling rambunctious. Rambunctious enough for a....painful yet somehow endearing flashback:

My grandmother had a fake tree. White with blue ornaments, I secretly giggled that it was a Hanukkah bush. I never said so because she had a nasty left hook. Each year she'd retrieve this faux ode-to-joy from under the house. Since she never took the ornaments off, and since it was a whopping 30 inches tall, all she had to do was whip its trash bag cover off, plunk the thing down in her living room, and say, "Merry freakin' Christmas. Now fetch me some Kichels and rub my feet."

So you see, I, too, had a painful childhood. Like many others, I survive my past by ignoring it most of the year, facing it only at holidays with alcohol. And since I associate fake Christmas trees with the smell of cheap stale cookies and old feet, I compensate by getting a honkin' big Christmas tree and decorating the bejeebers outta the house. Makes sense, no? Doesn't need to, yes?

Getting this monster upright poses a challenge. In past years I've used a chaise lounge and two small boys to catapult it into position. That worked pretty well eventually, however, this year I've had the walls patched and painted. The real challenge? Get that tree up without destroying the house. Yes, the gauntlet, if not the tree, has been raised.

We performed our traditional hunting and killing of the pine at the Christmas tree farm, hauled it home and dragged it into the house, where it suddenly grew taller and heavier. Either that or my living room shrank, which is of course absurd.

"This is fun, Mom," my testosterone-infused ten-year-old said. He had manly gardening gloves on and was ready to 'git 'er done.' We decided to use two ladders and a winch. My youngest was the 'catcher,' holding the tree stand and the water bucket. Also wearing manly gloves.

Smooth sailing, right? Of course not, which is why you're reading this. After much grunting and growling, we got it vertical, but not perfectly vertical. I had to tinker with the stand to get it just right, which was exactly the wrong thing to do, because the tree had had enough and started to tip, slanting ominously over my ten-year-old, who was adjusting his manly gloves and obliviously repeating his fourth chorus of how fun this was. I jumped on him to protect him, giving the tree a shoulder block, which knocked it into the fireplace and couch, smashing a statue. Then I said a bad word, which made this adventure even more manly and fun.

My youngest was missing. I frantically pulled at the tree looking for him, yes, pining for him. Turns out he had retired to the other room to watch Scooby Doo.

By now it was time to take the boys to their dad's house. "Mom," my youngest said as I dropped them off, "Get some help." I assumed he meant physical assistance and not therapy.

After a beer, I 'ladderwalked' the tree into position. Using two ladders side by side, I'd lift the treetop a bit, climb a few steps on one ladder, lift the tree again, then shift to the other ladder, pull the first ladder closer to the tree with one hand or leg while holding the tree up with the other hand, lift the tree again, shift to the other ladder, and so on until the gol-dang tree was up, more or less. Kinda like macrame'. Who came up with this stupid tradition, anyway?

To get it all the way up, I invited my neighbor over to hold the bucket and stand while I tipped it finally into place. "It's not perfectly straight," she said, "Maybe a bit closer to the window....."

Sigh. Next year we're gonna do it without any trips to the emergency room.