Cookie (Oreo, actually, but I give my pets pet names; what, like I’m the only one), was given to Emma by my niece Lauren. She had named it Dog, so maybe that’s where his initial identity issues started.
As a child, Christmas was magical. Dad loved Christmas. And he did Christmas like everything else with a style all his own! Or, the tackier the better. He had a lot of great qualities, taste was not one of them. Being colorblind factored into it certainly but it was more than that, it was his absolute inability to edit. Every idea, according to Dad, was a good one and needed to be accommodated. Some how. Somewhere.
You have no idea how much garland, fishing wire, and tinsel were lost to Dad’s quest for Christmas decorating perfection.
First things first.
The Tree. Not just any tree. The Perfect Tree. A Scotch Pine. Oh, the tree, couldn’t be any Scotch Pine. It had to be the biggest, the fullest, the christmas-treeiest of all trees on the lot. He would not tolerate bare spots or other disfigurements. This was Christmas. This was the centerpiece of his decorating madness. The crowning glory of his vision.
I don’t think Dad ever paid full price for a tree. Hell, I’m not sure he paid any price for a tree, ever. People gave stuff to him cause he was a nice guy. He was always the first to offer help and would stay there, at the lot, carrying trees to cars, tying them to rooftops, just helping out a busy guy. For an hour of his time, doing what he loved – shooting the breeze – he would come home with a tree. Dad was smart. He did his shopping, picked out his tree, and brought it up to pay. Then, he would start with the chit-chat and the helping. And when it was time to go, he’d go to pay, and tree-guy was like “nope, we’re good. Merry Christmas.” It was a true talent.
He would drive up Sheridan Street, tree tied to the roof of whatever car he was currently driving, the sisters all excited. Waiting. Anticipating. Dad would park and unload the tree. It would be monstrous. The tallest tree we had ever seen. It towered over everything near it. That folks, that is when the fun would start. Getting it in the house. No easy feat when you purchase a fifteen foot tree for a home with nine foot ceilings!
Wrestling the tree into the house to gauge it’s true height, Dad would then start with the “trimming”. Usually 3-4 feet before the tree could be safely placed in the stand and slid into the box bay in the living room. We would be admonished to leave it alone. Decorating would take place the following day.
The tree trimming doesn’t stand out in my memory. Most vivid, to me, is the wrestling and the chopping. Taming the tree into the confines of the living room and the box bay. I remember some cussing as bulbs blew out and wires tangled. As we all got older, the trees got bigger. One year he cut so much off the top of the tree, we had two trees. One for the living room and one for the playroom.
But the tree was just the beginning of the decorating on-slaught. The true decorations were yet to come.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Christmas memories. Wherein Jim bends wire hangers to his will and another family legend is born.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and widsom to know the difference.
That, for those not in the know, is “The Serenity Prayer”. And, yes I know I spelled wisdom wrong. It’s an inside joke for the sisters.
My first experience with it was when Dad joined AA. He had it in his wallet, he had it engraved in lucite, he had it memorized. He clung to it. It was his lifeline and his salvation.
I heard him refer to it often in the 11 years of sobriety he attained before he died. Which one is it Blondie, he would ask, do we change it or accept it? Change it, I would reply, no matter what. That was my answer. Even the color of the sky? Of course. He would laugh and say no, it wasn’t possible. I’d tell him to put on a pair of sunglasses – sky color changed. Suck on that Big Jim!
My most vivid memory of the prayer is saying it over his casket at his funeral. Mom asked if anyone wanted to speak and, me being me, said yes. What I was going to say, well I wasn’t sure about that. As I stood at the podium on that cold March morning, in front of family and friends, it seemed so right; so appropriate. I remember asking all present to say it with me, if they knew it.
I remember my aunt, Marie, not knowing the prayer. She scolded me after for not telling her about it so she could learn it. Sorry, Marie! I remember another aunt, Mary, scolding me for using the “alcoholics” prayer as she called it. Her I ignored since well, she annoyed me. It was important to Dad and if his sister couldn’t see that, arguing with her wasn’t going to change her mind. Nothing ever did.
I have no physical copy of the poem these days but it’s written on my soul. It’s my personal attitude adjustment. See I’m an optimist, well really more of a realist with a positive attitude. I don’t wish for things to get better. If I’m unhappy with something, I change it. If I can’t change it, I deal with it. If I can’t deal with it – well, let’s just say I haven’t run up against anything I can’t deal with. Yet.
I forget every so often that I have an amazing life. I certainly don’t have everything, not even close. But I have what matters: family, friends, and work (both professional and volunteer). What else do you need. Oh, right.
The widsom to know the difference.
You know the kind. The kind of day that makes you feel like you have a target on your back. Yeah, one of those days.
Well it really started last night. With the trip to the ER for Emma and her knee. Crutches, ice, and rest. Tendonitis. No biggie. Except now I have to drive her to and from school for the rest of the week. On top of driving her brother, who is having knee surgery tomorrow. Oh, plus working. Yeah work’s important.
So my plan was: drive Dylan to school, come home, get ready, drive Emma to school and go to work. I would leave work at 1:40 to pick up Dylan after school, figured I’d dismiss Emma early since she had gym last period. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right. Ha. As if.
Remember the target?
Emma has a half-day; Dylan does not. Which means she is out at noon and he is out at 2. And I am in a whole world of suck.
Oh, plus I decide that this would be the morning that I would clean the trackball in my blackberry. I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I pry the trackball out, clean it, and cannot get it back together. Great. Now my phone is not fully functioning. Once again my complete confidence in my ability to do anything, even that which I have no clue about, has back-fired – shocking, right. Remember that target? Yeah. I haven’t yet clued myself into the target.
I get Emma to school and get to work, we’re down one person already due to a family emergency and our part-time person calls in sick. Ever-loving-god-almighty universe WTF. Still cannot fix my phone but I have loads of work to do and not really a lot of time to do it. Except the Server is down. We need to move stuff to backup in order to get any work done. Hours are wasted in the pursuit of the paperless office and modern convenience.
I hurry out the door at 11:30 to get the Divine Miss Em, go to the Sprint store to have a new trackball installed, get Em home, make sure she is settled and back to work by 12:30. Damn, I’m good! Server is finally not acting like a dickhead and I actually get some work done.
Just in time to leave to get Dylan. Leave work at 1:40, get to school, pick up, go home, check out sister, and back to work by 2:30 and jam out a few hours of work. Good thing I’m awesome!
Peace out people this will probably be the last entry for a few days what with having two kids on crutches, a day at the hospital, and my three fav things in the world: work, work, and more work. But no laundry, Pattycakes did that the other night, cause he’s awesome like that.
Oh, and universe, suck it! The target was there all day and you missed.
Send Dylan best wishes, prayers, sacrifices, whatever flavor you indulge in, he could use some. He’s had more than his fair share of the suck lately.
I’ve written in the past about my Facebook obsession.
I’ve never been good at keeping in touch. Ever. Not even with family. I’ve tried but it’s not my nature. I live to much in the present to be concerned about the past. Or perhaps there are things lurking there I’m not interested in revisiting. I always assume there’s time. No matter how often I learn the lesson that there’s not, still I persist in my notion of once and future friendships. Of people waiting to hear from me. Happy that at last I’ve been able to reign in my raging self-importance and give them a call or an email or a poke. I’m always surprised to find that their lives have gone on without me. Humbling certainly but not enough, apparently, for me to learn my lesson.
Facebook is about as perfect a device as I could dream up. I can trick myself into believing that I am being a good friend by constantly updating my status with sparkling wit and clever humor (ok, dirty jokes). Commenting on pictures of events that I don’t attend, sometimes to people with whom I have only a passing acquaintance. A witty remark quickly typed while taking a break from work. A breezy back and forth while I have my morning coffee. Perhaps a superficial fight over the events of the day. Easy to get fooled into thinking you are having actual meaningful human interaction.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that I have reconnected with old friends. I love seeing events that I missed and I’m glad that most of the people I grew up with are good and decent people. I’m glad I’m allowed to peek into their lives, however obliquely. I’m not quite sure I deserve that. I wish more people were active Facebook users. The experience grows exponentially the more users interact with it. Like building a village. If everyone contributes it enriches everyone’s experience. I’m interested. Really. Even if it’s not all about me.
I had the opportunity to see old friends the other day. It was weird. I haven’t really seen anyone for 20 years, yet I knew things that I shouldn’t know. Spouses, kids, events, trips. Information you should have to work for; information that should have a context; information reserved for people sharing lives. People that I’m not sharing with, not really. And haven’t for a very long time.
Isn’t that what friends do? Isn’t that what friendship is? Sharing experiences, sharing memories, laughing. The pain of mourning. The joy of children. The simple act of caring about someone enough to engage in their lives. How does Facebook fit into that model. How casual can your acquaintance be?
This is the part where it starts to breakdown for me. Where virtual meets reality. My thoughts pile up on each other and reason runs away. The brain refusing to give up the answers I’m seeking. Selfish, petulant brain. Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions or maybe the answers exist outside of me and my computer.
Maybe I’ll surprise myself. Or worse, maybe I’ll surprise you, or you, or you – no not you – the one behind you!
My parenting philosophy is simple, my kids started out great and I’m trying to screw them up as little as possible.
I am, I think, more open than most parents. I tend to think that if the kids ask about or bring up a topic, someone has already brought it up to them, so I may as well take the opportunity to get the truth into them in some form. If you’re old enough to ask the question, then your old enough to hear an answer. I’m not saying that full disclosure on every topic is necessary, but having age-appropriate information isn’t going to do them any lasting harm.
You gain credibility with children by being open and honest. Answers doesn’t have to be long, in-depth answers for I am also a firm believer in the follow-up question. For example: Q. Where do babies come from? A. The hospital. If that satisfies them great. If not, they can ask a follow-up. Hey, it’s worked so far!
We have cats (and a dog, but only cats at the time of this story). One of whom was a female. A very, shall we say, active female cat. Minnie, it seemed, was quite popular with the boys and got herself knocked up. Minnie’s first delivery started while we were out. When we arrived home, Emma walked into the living room and screamed, “something’s wrong with Minnie”! I knew she was imminent, so I figured out pretty quickly what was going on.
Ok, background information being delivered, I will move on! Minnie, I’m not proud to say, had several more litters. I’m a bad pet-owner in this regard. What, don’t judge me; everyone makes mistakes.
One afternoon while driving my children (I know, right), they started discussing what the cats did when they were home alone. According to Emma, they probably have kitty-sex on the couch. And it was probably happening At.That.Very.Moment. Mind you the male cats are neutered (and gay – but that’s another blog story) and really not much use to a female looking to score in the increasingly popular kitty-sex-couch-capades! Hell, my couch hasn’t seen that much action in – well, let’s just say since before kids.
From that conversation starter, they branched out into where babies come from and how they’re born. I have been listening this whole time trying to figure out how this conversation was going to end when Dylan pulled out the “first you have sex” and then “the mom pushes the baby out of her butt”. At that point, I decide parental intervention is necessary.
Do you know what sex is, I asked. Yes, he answered. It’s when you wrestle, naked, on the couch. Oh, where did you learn that, I asked. It was in a movie. I learned two things with this statement: (1) I have to monitor the TV watching more closely and (2) this is why they think the cats are having sex on the couch. At.This.Very.Moment!
I understand, I say, why you would believe that, but sex is a little more involved than that. Yes, he says, I know that. You have to use your penis too. Well yes that is true I told him (having decided that it was probably best not to delve into the other ways one can have sex, minus the penis) but it’s not really a topic that he should be worrying about at his age – you know, being nine.
Moving on to the “pushing it out your butt” part of the conversation. I learned that he deduced that fact from watching Minnie give birth. For those fortunate enough to NOT have seen that, it does look like the kittens are being pushed out through the butt. Well at least, I think to myself, they pay attention to what goes on around them!
So, as the conversation continues and I adjust their knowledge, Emma chimes in with “Really. That’s what I told my friends and now I have to tell them the new stuff.” Ha! I have learned, dear friends, that my children armed with information they gleaned from watching cats, TV movies and some strategic questions placed to their dad and me, decided they understood the whole reproductive cycle from soup to nuts. They had so much information, they believed themselves experts. Especially Emma. Who took it upon herself to educate her friends on the mystery of reproduction. Thankfully, she was a quiet child with a small circle of friends with incredibly understanding parents.
I suggested she let me handle the “new” information part with phone calls to the parents.
I take the opportunity to explain that with information comes responsibility. Just because a subject is tolerated in our family that’s not the case for every family and every family gets to set their own rules and boundaries for what is acceptable and it’s neither our place nor our responsibility to interject our topics and values.
As the kids get older, the questions get harder. I never shy away from a question and still answer as honestly as I feel they can handle. In certain instances I have told them that they’re simply not ready for the answer. Dylan balked at that once. I explained, again, how we give them loads of information because we respect them and their ability to assimilate information. If I feel you can’t handle the topic, you need to have enough respect for me to accept that.
Hey, it works for us.