Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas, 2007

Alcohol Insight

After two margaritas at the kosher Mexican restaurant tonight, I'm feeling a wobbly kinship with my giggly girls. I remember the truism that living with small children is like living with perpetually drunk tiny people. "Exshcuse me, sir, can I have some banilla ice cream?" warbles Nora to the waiter and I'm laughing, laughing, understanding her like never before. Emotionally labile, uncoordinated and prone to sloppy affection? "It's like Rush Street!" I whisper to Randy.

After Anticipation

In the days leading up to Christmas I almost worried, when I had a spare moment, that all my happy anticipation would crash afterwards, but no. I feel a definite division - the slice of night between Christmas and the day after changes everything but I am fine about it. Take down the ornaments; leave up the clean cold lights. The tree boughs will make excellent mulch for our sleeping bulbs.

Does this contentment come from my satisfaction with our Christmas? Absolutely. The girls were elated and charmed that Santa ate his cookie and the reindeer left only carrot stubs. Nora carried a wrapped present over her head from the tree to her pile. Randy smoked a turkey. I never did finish that gingerbread house (two walls have been sitting on parchment paper on the kitchen counter for two weeks) and we are only just starting our Christmas cards (Happy New Year!) but cheer and memories of fun are all around.

Does it come from relief we've made it through to the winter solstice? Oh yeah! The meteorological difference between today and yesterday is merely a few more moments of sunlight, but the psychological difference is huge. We are ascending! Every day from here to June will be a little longer than the one before! More light, more light!

Am I content because Nora looks so big today? So big that I ask her, "Are you a three year old yet or are you still two?" "I'm two!" she corrects me. Her birthday is in a week but I'm not missing the tiny infant, the big-headed toddler she used to be. Today she wears an old pair of big sister's size four pants and her sister's thick black shoes and clumps around, a big girl. Her legs are long. I don't miss my baby. She's right here in front of me.

Old Acquaintance

Dan Fogelberg died! Just before Christmas! How much more pathos can you pour onto "Same Old Lang Syne"?

In high school we used to laugh at this song, at the sing-song monotony of the melody and the clumsy lyrics ("The beer was empty and our tongues were tired"? Oh bah ha ha!) but when I was alone with the radio and Fogelberg's story, I listened, rapt.

The first time I heard it this year was the second weekend in December. Randy and I were driving around Zion, under a fat snowfall, looking for a community swimming pool that was supposedly transformed into a winter wonderland. "They play this on the Christmas channel?!" I asked Randy in wonder.

The girls had fallen asleep in their carseats. We carried them, groggy and limp, into a Mexican dive (yeah, we do loves us some burritos) that apparently is going to cross that statewide smoking ban bridge when it comes to it. Mia slumped against Randy, Nora fussed on the floor, but they both cheered up after some chips and a chance to pet a little burro statue carrying plastic flowers.

Kringle's Kingdom beat all our expectations. We drove slowly through a park decorated with vignettes of blinking lights - dinosaurs, a penguin playground, bears playing catch. Six or so inches of snow had fallen the day before. The lights glowed under the mounds of fresh snow.

We walked through a maze of shadow boxes, dressed up like shop windows, with animated Santas and teddy bears acting out Christmas scenarios sympathetic to the sponsors: Teddy at the candy shop, Mrs. Claus in the poinsettia replete florist, reindeer at the dentist, Santa on the chiropractic's table. Randy and I lifted the girls to see.

Family dinner and Kringle's Kingdom in soft new snow. A million miles from the lonely saxophone and sad rain of some Old Lang Syne.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Funny Mind, Body, Banjo

Long before his elegantly odd hosting of the Oscars, long before his penning and portraying the remote and wealthy Ray Porter in Shopgirl, long before his New Yorker essays, there was "Grandpa bought a rubber." If you are of a certain age, the memory of Steve Martin's joyful warbling of this hootenanny non sequitur can't help but reduce you to adolescent giggles again.

Martin's new memoir, Born Standing Up, offers an intimate view of the early years of what must be one of the most unusual career trajectories in show biz - from child magician to philosophy student, from San Francisco hippie comic to stadium filling superstar. Martin generously offers insight into how each of these experiences was formative for his comedy - a unique blend of absurdity, brilliant and energetic full-body mimicry, and a send up of old time show biz conventions. His act, he reveals, was "a parody of comedy. I was an entertainer playing an entertainer, a not so good one." The skilled banjo playing only added to the head-scratching strangeness of it all.

What was interesting to me was the contrast of this memoir's fine writing with the more simple quotes of familiar old bits from his routines. Martin's prose is lovely, dark and deep, but on stage, his jokes themselves needed not much more than a simple framework upon which his malleable body worked. There was a world of hilarity in his wild but practiced gestures and perfect mugging. Remember his bit about taking a drug that made him small, while he mimed driving behind a giant steering wheel, then tried to convince a cop that he was "large, man, large!"?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Well, It's Funny to Me

1. Another bumper sticker: "OH NO, NOT ANOTHER LEARNING EXPERIENCE."

2. Nora from the back seat pipes up, "I have a joke. Poo sandwich."

Followed by her version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, "You better not poo, you better not pee!"

We stifle giggles, then tell her to leave those words in the bathroom!

She keeps singing in her sweet helium-high voice. "He sees you when you're pooping. . ."

The only threat that stops this scatological onslaught is the dreaded "Car Time Out," a punishment I don’t how to inflict but luckily have yet to enforce since she hasn't called my bluff.

3. The worst Christmas lyric ever, so horrible, I have to sing along lustily in merry disbelief and amazement:

There's a world outside your window and it's a world of dread and FEAR/
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of TEARS/
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of DOOM/
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of YOU!

The Onion opines on this and other jaw-dropping lapses of judgment in the name of Christmas.

4. On the way to Randy's office Christmas party, he helps me cram employee spouses' names and interns' marital status. But when Randy says, "His name is Martin. He goes by Marty Marinari. Nah, I'm just kidding," I have no sense of humor.

"Don't pull my leg tonight," I snap. "I'm so brittle, it might fall off. And then I'd have to beat you with it."

(Actually, the party was wildly fun. "I'm not sure I'll drink tonight," I had tensely predicted, then quick-sipped two cranberries and vodka, followed by some toasty Chardonnay. Randy and I danced, stupid but not sloppy, making silly faces and quitting while we were ahead.

Randy's company always has a great big holiday party, with trip giveaways, a moving speech by the president about family and company milestones and a much anticipated, very long and very funny video recapping the year's work. Well, it started as a recap of the year's commercials, but the work part has been shrinking in the face of the silly skits. Oh you know. Recreations of music videos with rewritten lyrics full of inside jokes. Scenes of various mucus being distributed on the fastidious guy's desk. Shots of exaggerated assistant abuse under Donald Fagen's lovely falsetto: "I'm a fool to do your dirty work, oh yeah." Sweet grade-school photos of long time employees, followed by present day shots in the same pose. "HE'S THE SAME!" I'm screaming by this point, buzzed, moved, delighted.)

Nerdy Wordy Fun for Charity!!

Play the game and feed the hungry!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

New Tree

The closest Christmas tree farm is just over the Wisconsin border. But we choose to drive a few miles farther to the one with donuts and free hot chocolate and the spiffy website.

I'd never cut down a Christmas tree before. We always had an artificial tree when I was a kid - fun to put together, matching the yellow paint smudge on the wire branch to the yellow marked hole, but missing that sharp cut pine smell or the chance of finding an abandoned bird nest as we did last year.

"Watch out for the sap," said Sally.

On the farm's website, Randy and I had researched the needle retention and comparative scent intensity of the different pine, fir and spruce types, but all that knowledge flew away with the fast and brisk wind once we got out of the warm car. "Oof! Let's DO this!" we rallied.

While we were waiting for the tractor to come around and pick us up, we peeked into the giant white tent that held a Narnian world of already cut trees.

"Ooo," said Mia, "It's like a magical forest!"

Oh how very tempting - we wouldn't have to schlep around in the muddy fields, but no, in for a dime, in for a dollar and we are going to have this whole G.D. experience, G.D. it.

"Most with cones for seeds, most with needles for leaves,/C is for Conifers, my kind of trees!" sing They Might Be Giants.

The wagon, if you could call it that, was little more than a long wooden platform with rails for our feet but no sides. We huddled close, gripping the girls in our laps, laughing at the bumps. Randy held the snaggle-toothed saw with one hand, Mia far away with the other.

In the field, the sky was clear and dark blue, the sun restoring us with vitamin D. We had the whole sky and the whole afternoon before us. Only three o'clock and it was already the golden hour, with the light all slanty and beautiful.

Eleanor ran around and hid behind the littlest trees. Mia, wearing a Santa hat and smiling, chased her a little, followed Dad.

I'm happy with every tree I see, cause I know we're going to tart her up with a sparkly makeover. But Randy's all, "That one's too crooked, look at the big hole in the side, not enough room for ornaments, too skimpy." I teased him about the absurdity of being a perfectionist in 32 degree weather, in a field of mud.

We finally agreed on one - a scratchy pine, possibly a Scotch, not too tall. Randy lay on the muddy grass to reach the trunk with his saw.

On the way back to the barn, our tree fell off the bouncy wagon. We yelled at the driver over the engine roar.

The girls watched fascinated, as a vibrating dish shook the dead needles off our tree, then a shivering conveyor belt sucked her into a gin, closing her up like an umbrella and wrapping her in twine.

Inside the noisy warming house we drank the most delicious hot chocolate ever. "It's just Hershey's" said the lady sitting behind the counter.

On the way home, Nora slept and Mia sucked on the thumb she'd pulled out of her mitten and looked contentedly out the window. Randy and I giggled for miles after passing a restaurant called "Bacchus Nibbles." "Satan's Yummies," offered Randy. "Or is it a strip club?" I wondered.

At home, Randy cut off the bottom inch or so of the trunk and we set her up in the front window. She's been drinking gallons of water. The first night, I even woke up around three, anxious, like with a new puppy. In the dark, I found her reservoir empty and filled it, reaching through the scratchy needles.

It's hard to replicate your first experience inside something really new and beautiful. Even our second visit to this farm will be following an inscribed map of memory. "We had the best hot chocolate ever," I will say. "The tree fell off the wagon. Remember?"

Our next visit might be fun and memorable, too, but I will not be as open and receptive to sensation as this first time. I think this tender sensitivity to experiencing the world is how children live every day - it seems any old walk around the block fills their hearts and senses.

When Mia, our first baby, was only a few days old, I tried to explain to my friend Christina what it felt like to have a brand new child in the house.

"The closest feeling I can compare it to is when I was a kid and I got a new bike for Christmas," I told her, wincing because this memory seemed so inadequate compared to the momentous event we'd just gone through. I mean, we went to a hospital and everything!

I tried to go on, get at the heart of this new overwhelming, but slightly familiar feeling. "Um, remember when you were surprised on Christmas morning to get a big present that you really wanted? And you wanted to be near it all the time - like keep the bike in your room overnight?" Yes, Christina remembered.

But it's really not that bad a metaphor. A baby is not a toy, but having children can return you, if you let it, to the time when you were a child yourself. A time when just the pink and shiny surfaces, just being close to this new and wonderful thing was all you needed, was enough, to thrill you and fill you with happiness.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nora, Again, in the Far Reaches of Two

Since I've been feeling bad about maligning my baby girl a couple of posts ago, here are some Nora dispatches from the ether of abundance and love that fills our family universe. Mommy does fall into black holes sometimes, but really, our sky is filled with stars. Feel free to hum "These Foolish Things."

"Look at me!" she says when she's clomping around in Daddy's snow boots.

She holds her nose when she's pooping.

The way she fell asleep in my arms during the last act of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. The way that movie wasn't as really truly bad as all the negative reviews would have me believe. Yes, there is some sad product placement and a confused, wonderless ending, but I did like Dustin Hoffman's little truisms about seizing the day and such. And the creepy little boy character who did nothing child-like in the entire film only made me appreciate my own real girls more.

Her butt dance, when she just sticks it out and shakes.

Her chirping tree-frog voice and her warm sweet smell, like a tiny tropical marsupial raised on vanilla bean pods.

Her singing along with The Polyphonic Spree's: "Follow the day and reach for the sun!" as we drive to pick up sister at school. (Witness our singing butterfly with the will of iron here.)

Her insistence for her upcoming three year birthday party as a "Dora the Explorer in Space Costume Party." With elephants.

In The Car
Nora: I like cupcakes!
Mia: Me too!
Me: Me three.
Mia: Me four! Me five! Me eight!
Nora: Me twelve!
Mia: Me 43!
Me: Me a thousand!
Mia: Me a million!
Me: Wow, Mia that's a huge number!
Nora: Me apple.
Me: Me watermelon!
Mia: Me fish!
Me: Ha ha ha!
Mia: Me house. Me door. Me computer.
Nora: Me pee pee!
Mia: Me poo poo!
Nora: Me fart!
Me: Oh, I knew we were going in this direction. Girls, those are words are for the bathroom only!
Mia: Me in the bathroom!
Nora: Me in the car!
Me: Me driving.

Her taking off her shoes and socks every frickin' time she gets strapped in her car seat, no matter the temperature outside or how late we are. Oh wait, this one belongs on the Imp list.