24 December 2011

Long Lay the World

For the past two Christmas seasons I've had a blog waiting for its time. Chewing at my thoughts.

It starts with the line "I have a bone to pick with George Bailey." Just a few observations about the movie: It's a Wonderful Life. Some potentially controversial, potentially clever or potentially crap. Possibly criticizing Capra's Christmas Classic. "What? Less than glowing things to say about the Mother of all Christmas movies?"

Not today. Maybe next week. Maybe next Christmas. Sorry Clarence.

I feel the need to talk about Christmas Tradition.

Parenting was impossibly difficult and defeating for me. I just COULD NOT DO IT WELL ENOUGH. It simply wasn't possible. Isn't possible. There are a few things however, that I somehow nailed. At least things that I felt like I nailed. Christmas Traditions was one of them.

The first one I hold way up over my head as a great thing: Every Christmas until the year they moved out, my children woke up in their own bed.
I loved this about my own childhood. I woke up, ran into the living room, noting happily that the cookies and milk were gone and some new shiny toy or bike had been left by Santa as I'd slept in the next room. We did not travel on Christmas Day.
Because of my love for this, I told my children's grandparents that very first year, "If you want to see us on Christmas, you'll have to come to us." We did not pack up presents and our Christmas pajamas and drive to Yakima, Edgewood or any other family location. That would not have been a real Christmas, but a sad substitute. Christmas morning at home. Period.
Then even after they moved out, my kids would still come home some years and spend the night Christmas Eve so they could enjoy that same tradition they grew up with.

The second tradition I love and take some pride in is their yearly ornaments. And I am NOT talking about those cliche Hallmark collections here, thank you very much. No imagination in that, at all. Starting the year they were born, except for Brian who came to live with us when he was six, each Christmas, my kids received their own new ornament. With their name and the date. And if possible, relating to something significant about their past year: A clay figure on a miniature snow board the first year Brian learned to fly and fall down snowy hillsides. A little ceramic snare drum the year Colin started playing percussion. A tiny snow globe with a girl kicking a soccer ball inside, hanging on a string the year Ciara went out for soccer.
They love their collections. And I loved the yearly hunt for the perfect one. Every Christmas when we decorated the tree, they each unpacked and organized their previous ornaments in order, recalling and retelling the significance of each and eager to see what the new ornament would be. Then each taking their turn hanging their personal assortment on the evergreen boughs.
And at the age when they moved out of the house, each had their own cherished collection of at least eighteen ornaments to start out on their own.

Also each year, after attending Christmas Eve service at our church, our family drove through a few favorite neighborhoods on the way home, to 'ooh' and 'aah' over pretty Christmas light displays. And as we drove, taking strict turns picking our favorite holiday carol, we'd sing in the car together. Some of us picking the same song every time.
Lynn: O come All Ye Faithful.
Me: O Holy Night.
Ciara: The First Noel.
Brian: We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Nana (my Mom): Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Colin: The 12 Days of Christmas. We tried to save Colin for last.

Another tradition we enjoyed was reading just before bedtime on Christmas Eve. Each year, cozy and warm, in our Christmas jams and in the red glow of the Christmas tree (because my personal tradition and preference was all red lights), we would read two 'stories':
  • First, T'was the Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore
  • Then Luke 2:1-14; the Gospel of Luke's record of Christ's birth.The King James Version being my favorite for this. "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree..."
I treasure each of my family's precious Christmas traditions.

As of this year, each of my children are now married and starting to create Christmas traditions of their own.
One of which I should have seen coming but instead was proceeding blindly through the Christmas season just like I knew what I was doing.....

My Grandboys are all going to wake up in their own beds tomorrow morning. This will have a dramatic affect on my Christmas morning.

It is just as it should be.

I fell into the old habit of thinking we'd all get together in the same house. The house in which we've spent Christmas morning for the past 20 years. Of course assuming the Grandboys would all be there but completely forgetting about that 'Christmas morning at home. Period!' thing.

When I asked my daughter-in-law a couple weeks ago what time they would be over for Christmas morning, she said, "We're staying home. We're not going anywhere all day Christmas. People are welcome to come see the boys if they want to. But we aren't going anywhere." Genius. Of course. I felt stupid that it had not occurred to me.

The other Grandboy, living in Richland, is staying home as well. It turns out my kids feel strongly about the Christmas morning tradition they grew up with. I love this.

Another consequence of the traditions I've nurtured and cherished is that I don't have any of their ornaments on my tree. There is not a single familiar ornament when I look over. I'm fine with this but it is a little hard to remember it's Christmas. Or that the tree in my living room is my tree. My three grown children each have a Christmas tree standing in their new homes with their young families, decorated with, among others, the ornaments they grew up with. Feels like a good way to start a tree and tradition of their own. My tree this year is quite small and so doesn't need many ornaments. Mostly it has decorations of paper and chocolate. With a multi-color light string. Not sure how I feel about every change.

I'm having some type of Out of Body Christmas Experience this year. The first year for me without any of those tradition moving forward, including living in a different house. In some ways it might as well be mid-January or early November. Simply doesn't feel like Christmas. This is not necessarily a complaint but an observation. Change is important and a constant opportunity. But I keep having to remind myself that it is the day before Christmas. There are still gifts left to be wrapped but my heart is not into it. (Maybe that Apathy Fairy was paying attention after all.) It started off a perfectly cozy and quiet Christmas Eve that I might have appreciated upon reflection but then it sort of melted into a completely ordinary day. I spent a good portion alone, which was odd yet surprisingly comforting and then even when given the choice of company, I preferred to remain alone. I've never had a Christmas Eve, or Christmas Season, for that matter, like this one.

I get to visit two and a half of the four Grand-kiddos tomorrow. I can't wait. It's 10:20 p.m. Christmas Eve. They should each be tucked in by now. All a bit young to understand what's coming tomorrow morning. Even so, there is nothing better than spending Christmas with a kid.

I wonder what next year's Christmas chapter will be titled for me.

14 December 2011

Empathy for the Anti-Apathetic

Begging for some apathy here! God, how I wish I could be more apathetic sometimes. It looks so, so, so I'm not sure what, but it really looks like it.

A relief, maybe?
I remember so clearly during some of the most disheartening and lowest points in my marriage when I actually got onto my knees praying to care less. The price of full investment is quite steep. (Often while on my knees, my well sharpened rationalization skills would kick in and ask myself 'Would he truly prefer a wife who cared less?' I found this hard to imagine, yet that was precisely the case.)

And on most days, I'm happy to pay the high price because I wouldn't want to be the type of heartless soul who doesn't give a shit. But once in a while......a day, or a person, or an issue gets the best of me, beats me down to a bloody mess and I wish I could just wish it away. The passion. The caring. I wish I may. I wish I might. Poof. Gone.

Indifference looks very sweet from where I sit some days. Give me indifference.

At the same time, there's also part of me that thinks in a silent declaration to people in my life: "Be very, VERY careful what you wish for."

"Oh well, whatever, never mind," sang Kurt Cobain.

11 December 2011

I Hate Sucking!! (Or Learning to Excel at Imperfection...)

My parents put me in violin lessons in second or third grade. Now today this would not be so outlandish but this was in the early 70's and back then the default parenting mantra was not "sign them up for everything," as it is today.

I was an enthusiastic and energetic (precocious) child. I think someone must have told my parents that they should try to find an outlet for all my genius yet unruly and sideways momentum.

So, the violin. It was terrible. I was terrible. I hated it. I think I had to learn some patriotic song. Can't remember which. And then play in front of people at some point. It was terrible. And I sucked. Needless to say, it didn't stick. I can't remember anything about playing the violin. Except that I really liked how you stuck out your little pinky finger down at the end of the bow. Made me feel unusually ladylike. And that I learned how to hold the violin between my chin and my shoulder. Look Mom, no hands!!

Then in fifth or sixth grade they put me in saxophone lessons. Alto sax. Guess why. That's right because we had free access to an alto sax. My Uncle Mike played it in marching band and was happy to let me borrow it. We are estranged now; I haven't spoken to him since fifth or sixth grade.

The saxophone. This was terrible as well. I hated it. It was just an opportunity to suck at a much louder and more squawk-y level. And it was frickin' heavy, that thing. Did I mention I walked to school ten miles each way? In the Yakima winters? Uphill both ways? It was terrible. I sucked at just lifting it up off the ground. I'm not a tall person now, imagine my height in elementary school. The perpetually cracked reed and I could look at each other square in the eye. A stare-down. The goose-call-like instrument won! I played one recital or concert or violation of the Geneva Convention or something and I believe that was the last time I touched that thing.

Then in high school when my sister started taking piano lessons, I stomped my foot and said that I wanted music lessons too. "Drums, please." "No," said my father. "Too loud." Shit. Okay then "Guitar, please." (The guys who taught guitar at the music store where my sister took piano were foxy (...the 70's, remember?).) Conveniently enough, we had an acoustic guitar in the extended family so this worked out well.

Until I went to my first lesson and the instructor told me I'd have to clip my fingernails. Now I don't care how cute this guy was, in the era before acrylics, long nails were a virtue, probably a sign of royalty. Long beautiful nails were not something you could purchase if you had 45 spare dollars and 45 spare minutes.
No thank you, handsome older man with curly blond hair, brown eyes and a mustache.

Then when my children began taking piano lessons, I thought, while they were gone to school each day, I'd sit down at our piano and teach myself to play with their Piano for Beginners work books. I'd sung alto in my high school choir; I knew how to read music. Every Good Boy Does Fine, right?

I plucked my way through a couple of basic songs but I was not willing to suck at Old McDonald long enough to get any better. I was terrible. Frustrated. And would not be teaching myself how to play piano.

I am now 49 1/4 years old. And it feels a little bit late to be learning my first musical instrument.

Then you know how things tend to happen exactly as they are supposed to happen...

While poaching my daughter's Facebook account recently (with her permission and in order to see some of her photography), I noticed a former boss of mine was wishing her father-in-law Happy 101th Birthday. And that he began professionally dancing at 75. And began writing at 93 years old. (I own one of his books, myself.) Suddenly I felt much younger.

So I decided that before my 50th, I'd learn an instrument. Drum set. I want drum lessons. (I KNOW!)

Now, when I looked back at how I pretty much hated all previous attempts at an instrument, I was a bit worried about my ability to commit to sucking long enough to get 'good' at it.

I kept talking about it but not doing anything. I looked online for drum teachers in the Gig Harbor area. Nothing was really clicking or lining itself up for me. (That's a real thing, you know.)

My son plays drums. He is actually quite gifted this way. Kind of a natural. But I really didn't think it was a good idea to have him teach me. Seemed like a recipe for a killing spree. Plus I thought he'd scoff. I hate scoffing when it's aimed in my direction. I was just sure he'd point and mock and never believe that I'd really follow through. I wasn't going to ask him. I wasn't. I wasn't. I was decided. Period.

Then one day when I went to his house to watch his two boys for a couple hours, the words "Colin, do you want to teach me drum set?" flew out of my mouth before I could stop them.

To which he replied: "Yeah, sure. When do you want to start?"
"Thursday," I blurted out for no particular reason.
There was more discussion to follow but I really can't remember any of it as I was in some kind of coma for the rest of the day.

Well, that was easy. But then I remembered the drum set was stored in my ex-husband's garage. My ex-husband who lives alone in a four bedroom house. "Hmmmmm....you know what would be so cool," I thought to myself. "If we could set up the drum kit in one of the empty bedrooms and Colin could teach me out there once a week."

I knew my ex would mock and laugh, for sure. But I was used to this and didn't care too much, so I called and asked him if we could work something out. He didn't even scoff a little bit. "Sure," he said. "I'll clean out Ciara's old room." Later that week I got a text that said 'The room is ready. Brought the kit in from garage. Drums all set up."

I could not believe this. It was all happening so easy. No fussing. No resisting. Especially from two men in my life who have a lot of practice resisting me. Everything was lining up perfectly. (I told you it's a real thing.)

Now the only thing left to fall into place, or not, was me. Would I be able to stick with it? Would I be willing to suck long enough to get to the point were I could play (or completely butcher) 'Come Together' for my friends and family?

I took my first lesson and LOVED it. It is the first music lesson I've ever taken that I had a great time. I was atrocious but it was so fun. A blast. And my son, it turns out, is a great teacher. Even with his mom, which I think is saying a lot. I paid him in cash and Fig Newtons.

Check back with me in couple months so I can give you my progress report and any gigs I might have lined up.

Do you think Hell's Kitchen would ever have a Beatles' Tribute Night?

01 December 2011

Giving Thanks

One Gratitude Post for each day of November 2011: Check.

November 1 - I am grateful for gratitude.
November 2 - I am so grateful for Microsoft Office. Word, specifically.
November 3 - I'm grateful for Sharpies.
November 4 - I'm crazy, I mean grateful for a cut, crisp, slick styled, sharp dressed man.
November 5 - I'm grateful for the symmetry of nature.
November 6 - I am grateful for the 'extra hour' this weekend.
November 7 - I am grateful for a glimpse of personality.
November 8 - I am grateful for my right brain. Bless her heart.
November 9 - I'm grateful for my favorite kid movies.
November 10 - I'm so very grateful for the laughter of a child.
November 11 - I feel deep gratitude to all American citizens, past and present, who have served our country in the military.
November 12 - I am grateful when I stumble upon a new treasure.
November 13 - I am grateful for the 13th day of every month
November 14 - I am grateful for a good, juicy list.
November 15 - I'm grateful for the technology that I'm not addicted to
November 16 - I was and remain all gratitude for my window
November 17 - I am grateful for every word so far.
November 18 - I am ever grateful for the aforementioned co-worker: Midge.
November 19 - I am grateful for movie quotes.
November 20 - I am grateful for opportunity to grow and learn a new way.
November 21 - I'm grateful for a good reader.
November 22 - I am grateful for your feedback.
November 23 - I am grateful that I have unconditional permission to write a full-fledged AWFUL rough, sloppy, shitty first draft.
November 24 - I'm grateful for libation free-license
November 25 - I am grateful for the magic that is this boy. Connor.
November 26 - I'm eternally grateful for room service.
November 27 - I'm grateful for contradictions and exceptions.
November 28 - I'm grateful to be so wrong sometimes.
November 29 - I'm grateful for the energy of gratitude.
November 30 - I am, as ever, grateful for men with facial hair. And I am grateful for the pants on the dining room table.
It's been a very good month and I'm thankful.