Christmas

A Belated Holiday Letter For All The Late Bloomers

On their way to becoming awesome…someday

On their way to becoming awesome…someday

I was rifling through a stack of papers on the counter yesterday and came across a holiday letter that arrived in a card from some friends of ours around Christmas. Okay. I feel your sneer of judgment. Yes. I still have holiday mail on our kitchen counter. Guess what? We still have a broken, faux Christmas tree lying on the floor in the rec room too. I’m leaving it there at least until Easter to prove how very zen I can be in the face of ridiculous things. So there. Anyway, I opened the letter and reread it. It was, as most family holiday letters are, a beautifully composed, loving tribute to our friends’ apparently flawless, exceptional, decorous, loving children. I’m a natural skeptic, so I’ve always assumed children like the ones outlined in those letters are figments of fantasy, like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and men who multitask…a charming idea, but a complete fabrication. Still, we get many letters just like that one every year, rife with phrases like Eagle Scoutstraight A honor studentVarsity letter, State championships, class president, volunteer hours, and first place, which are aimed at making me believe that children like this exist in families all across this nation. It must be reality for some people.

Friends have asked me why I do not send out a letter with our Christmas cards. They figure that a writer should be at the top of the list of Persons Most Likely To Write A Holiday Letter. But I don’t because comparison is an ugly thing. We don’t have the kind of children who look good on paper. They’re off schedule and complicated and not in line with many other children their ages. In terms of learning, our children are classified as “atypical” and that doesn’t play well without lengthy and exhausting explanations. Even though we don’t write holiday letters, we think they’re awesome. We’ve just accepted that their beauty sometimes gets lost in the comparison game.

If I were to write a holiday letter, it realistically might contain paragraphs that read something like this:

Joe is thirteen and in seventh grade this year. He’s completely immersed in Pokémon and adores Japanese culture. He keeps asking when we can go to Tokyo. He used most of his Christmas money to buy Pokémon plush toys that he and his brother use in elaborate stop-motion video stories they are creating for their YouTube channel. Despite his ADHD and dyslexia, he’s making great progress at school. We are so proud that he’s using capitals and periods in his schoolwork on a more consistent basis these days. He’s still reversing his Bs and Ds, but we are hoping that he’ll have that mostly figured out by the time he’s writing college entrance essays. Joe has finally mastered the coordination and multiple steps to tie his own shoes now, which has taken one thing off my plate. He uses about 400 knots to make sure they don’t come untied, though, and that has created a different hassle as I now have to unknot his shoes each morning. Be careful what you wish for! After two years of private ski lessons, his core strength and coordination have improved enough that he has a mastery of most beginner slopes. We hope to have him exclusively skiing intermediate slopes by the end of next season. His favorite books are graphic novels, his favorite food is pasta, and his classmates call him “Puppy.” He never misses his nightly spa time, which mainly involves sitting in the bathtub while watching a continuing stream of Netflix videos on his iPad from across the room. Thank heavens he was gifted with great eyesight and the brains to know not to bring the iPad into the tub with him.

Luke is eleven now and in fifth grade. He is a talkative, class clown, and his teachers have initiated a rewards system to keep him reined in during class. So far it seems to be working because our last parent/teacher conference went off without tears. This year his decoding skills have gone off the charts and he is reading at a beginning of fourth grade level. He’s still struggling with fine motor skills and his pencil grip is downright bizarre, but his handwriting is bafflingly lovely. He loves to draw, write stories, build Legos, and watch episodes of Parks and Recreation. And, this year he began catching footballs successfully. He’s still two inches shy of being tall enough to ditch the booster seat in the car, but he’s getting there! His latest career aspiration is to be an entrepreneur/architect/engineer, but he’s planning to author books in his free time, which we think will make him quite well balanced. His sensory issues force him to sleep in a nest of blankets, pillows, and plushes, but he showers regularly, doesn’t eat in bed, and sleeps on the top bunk so we are reasonably sure there are no rodents up there with him.  All is well and we are grateful. 

Now, this holiday letter fodder might seem a bit hyperbolic, but overall it’s an accurate account of life with our exceptional sons. They are not straight A students. They are not athletes. They are not overachievers. They’re not on the Dean’s List. They’re not first chair in orchestra. They struggle a lot, work hard to catch up with other kids their age, and keep plugging away. They are, in every way I can see, damn near perfect human beings, emphasis on the human part. And I may never be able to write a holiday letter extolling the impressive scholastic or athletic achievements of their youth, but I could not be more proud of my young men.

I don’t begrudge any of our friends the joys of having children who are achieving at a high level already. After all, it’s a lot of work being a parent, and a smart, capable child who is excelling in many things can only do so with personal support and chauffeur services. My friends have earned the right to brag about their offspring. As for our boys, I suspect they are simply late bloomers. Sooner or later, all their hard work and dedication will pay off. And someday I’ll send out a holiday letter to share how far they have come. Our Christmas card with personal letter in 2035 might just blow your socks off.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Dead trees tell no tales

Dead trees tell no tales

It was with great joy today that we slayed the ghosts of Christmas past by dismantling our holiday decorations. Few things delight me more at the beginning of a new year than boxing up baubles and stashing stockings, organizing ornaments and gathering up garland. As tedious of a task as it is, paring down after a season of excess is exhilarating. I love putting things back to right, restoring order, and returning to ordinary time.

Some people love Christmas with unbridled enthusiasm. I am not one of those people. I do my best to live in the moment and revel in the excitement of my children during the season, but I could do without the trappings of the holidays. I’m happier without all the overdoing. I prefer to practice random gift giving and card sending. I like buying things for someone when the mood strikes me and not when the calendar says it’s time. I enjoy that smell of pine more in a summer forest while I rest in a hammock. If someone parked a red-bow Mercedes in my driveway on Christmas morning like the holiday ads imply some people do, that might increase my seasonal joy. Still, it probably wouldn’t stop me from grousing about the wasted hours putting up and taking down lights. Every Thanksgiving, as I turn my face toward New Year’s Day, I lie to myself as I repeat this mantra: “Five weeks of insanity and then it’s over.”

It’s never truly over, though, is it? We removed the dry, dead carcass of our Christmas tree from our house this afternoon. The drag marks from the front door made its disposal look like a crime scene. Its needles on our walkway told a grisly tale of one cut down in his prime, held hostage, tortured, and cruelly left to die far from home. I might be able to muster a bit of melancholy about it all if I wasn’t sure that I’ll be finding its errant needles in our home until next Christmas. It’s hard to miss a holiday that never truly leaves.

Keep Your Hands Inside The Ride At All Times

You could eat out of this pantry without being poisoned. No more canned goods from 2003!

You could eat out of this pantry without being poisoned. No more canned goods from 2003!

I’m a strange beast. For most of the year, I operate at breakneck speed. I can’t stand to be bored. You likely won’t catch me growing mold as I fester on the couch, not even during the winter months. I’m busy, and I like it that way. But, for three weeks, three glorious weeks beginning mid-December and running through the first full week of January, I shut down and become Slothstine rather than Justine. In all likelihood exhausted from 49 straight weeks of running headlong into my future, I quit moving. I don’t work out. I only go out when absolutely necessary (apparently Christmas with the family is compulsory). I lounge in bed reading, surfing Al Gore’s Internet, playing games on my iPhone, and going into some sort of trance while busting through episode after episode of my latest television show du jour. It is decidedly, uncharacteristically, not at all like me.

There are pluses and minuses about this annual holiday shutdown. On the bad side, without my usual workouts and time on my yoga mat, I often resurface during the second week of January only to find a random Hot Tamale candy stuck in my hair and tell-tale orange fingerprints on my clothes from excessive Cheetos consumption. And, it’s right about that time that I step on the scale and hear it whimper. My house is a pit because it’s hard to clean a bathroom when your butt hasn’t moved out of bed. My husband, like a dog whose repeated enthusiastic requests for a nice walk have gone unanswered, stops barking at my door. Of course, that might have more to do with my slovenly state than with ego-bruise gained from the repeated times I smacked him on the nose with the rolled up newspaper when he asked if I wanted to go for a long, winter’s walk with him. My kids. Well…where are my kids, anyway? I have no idea. And, at the end of this three week period of sloth and gluttony, a time during which the only real accomplishment I can note is my OCD completion of three puzzles (2500 individual pieces, thank you very much), I’m usually ready to hit the ground running as soon as the kids start back to school after Christmas break. If I can find them, that is.

Just as Punxsutawney Phil emerges after a long, shadowless winter, I too am ready for spring. Yes. Spring is still over two months away. I know this. But, I’m well-rested after my three weeks of hibernation. To that end, in the past four days I’ve picked up the pace. I’ve done insane things, like wash light fixtures, clean out our pantry, and scrub the laundry room floor on my hands and knees. I finally made it back to yoga today, and they’re having a promotion that coincides with my fitness goals. If I complete 20 classes in 30 days I’ll get a retail credit for new yoga clothes, so that’s a win-win, right? I registered for the Tubbs Romp to Stomp 5k snowshoe event in Frisco, the 7k Running of the Green (which, knowing me, will be more like a Walking of the Green), and my annual MS150 ride. Yesterday I whipped out 16 handmade greeting cards so I won’t miss birthdays during the first quarter of 2013. I think I’m finally back on track.

I used to feel bad about this rollercoaster ride I’m on. I would berate myself for falling off the wagon and losing myself to Christmas cookies and movie theater popcorn. I don’t anymore. The way I have it figured I’m merely one of those people who needs something to motivate her. And, nothing motivates me more than the chance to let go and fall apart occasionally. After a quick, exhilarating downhill slide, my coaster car is back on the platform and about to begin its next ascent up the highest peak on the coaster. I’m a lifelong coaster rider, and I’m ready for another go around. There will be plenty of time to relax again when I head down the big hill next December, arms in the air, smile on my face. It’s all good.

 

 

 

 

My Christmas Miracle

Our traditional Christmas raclette at the loft

Christmas raclette at the loft

Monday night was Christmas Eve. I wanted to write that night, but I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotional. If I were F. Scott Fitzgerald, I probably would have had a bottle of gin and used my inner angst to compose a brilliant and yet widely under-appreciated (at least in its time) novel. Alas, F. Scott I am not. So instead, I helped unload the car, removing a plethora of freshly-unwrapped Christmas gifts, and finally collapsed around midnight. During the course of this week, though, I’ve not been able to shake the image I wanted to write about on Christmas Eve. After having taken most of the month of December off from writing this blog, I at last have something I want to write.

We spent Christmas Eve at my in-law’s home this year. For five months each year, they live in a loft in LoDo (lower downtown, for the uninitiated), a few blocks from everything amazing that Denver has to offer. Their place is the quintessential loft space, open, airy, filled with great light and exposed concrete. They have managed to make it feel cozy with warm wood furniture, textiles, and art. There’s nothing cold or industrial about their home. We love celebrating the holidays there, standing out on the deck with its 6th floor views and taking in the downtown atmosphere at Christmas. Monday night was especially festive because it was snowing. Denver has a white Christmas approximately 11% of the time (yes…I checked), so to be wrapped in the magic of a Christmas snow Monday night was fantastic. We had everything. A yummy dinner of Swiss raclette, the comfort of a loving family, good conversation and wine, every single gift any of us had asked for, and snow.

When we’d finished unwrapping and were preparing to make room in our cheese-filled bellies for dessert, Steve and I decided it might be a good idea to make a preemptive trip to our car with some of our newly acquired treasures. When the boys were young and the sheer number of toys they received seemed immeasurable, we would take several trips to load up our loot. Old habits die hard, I guess, because even as the boys’ gifts have dwindled in number while increasing in cost, we still feel the need to take down a load. That is what we were doing this snowy Christmas Eve when we were confronted with yet another reason for gratitude.

As Steve, Luke, and I walked out onto a snowy 15th Street, heavily laden with a giant duffel bag stuffed with clothes and several bags filled with large Lego sets, we noticed that between us and our car there was a homeless gentleman sitting on a bench. The snow was coming down hard now, and he was hunkered under a Colorado Rockies umbrella. Next to him on the bench in a clear plastic trash bag were his belongings, the sum total of his life’s possessions. I’m certain he wasn’t enjoying the Christmas snow the same way I was. My eyes welled up. I tried to keep it together. Steve and I exchanged a look. I could tell he felt the same way I did…heartbroken and somewhat guilty. We hastily loaded our things into the car and headed back into the dry building feeling unfairly fortunate.

On the way up in the elevator, I knew Steve and I were thinking the same thing. On the way out, in possession of our wallets, this time when we saw the man we would gift him the way we had been gifted. After all, we had everything already. We could certainly spare some of our Christmas cash for someone who not only had no one to celebrate with but who was spending his holiday in soaking clothes on a metal bench on a cold, wet night.

Twenty minutes later when we left the loft full of homemade apple crisp, we found he had moved on. He was no longer on the bench just ten feet from our car. We looked around for him, thinking we might have missed him by only a minute or two, but he was gone, hopefully to a dryer, more sheltered spot somewhere. The City of Denver, after all, has its “unauthorized camping” ban to enforce and there are no exceptions…even on Christmas, even if you’re not camping so much as living outside involuntarily.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about that man under the Colorado Rockies umbrella. For the first couple days, I felt sad that he hadn’t been there when we emerged. I wondered if receiving a $100 bill on Christmas Eve would have felt like a small Christmas miracle to him. I was certain that it would have made me feel better to give it to him. Because he wasn’t there, though, I’ve come to consider that perhaps he gave me a gift with his disappearance — the opportunity to be uncomfortable with my status as a Have and not a Have Not. Seeing him on the bench downtown in the snow reminded me how arbitrarily, unreasonably lucky we are in this house. It gave Steve and I an excuse to talk with our kids about the homeless and about gratitude. As a result, I’ve been looking at things a bit differently after Christmas for the first time in years. Instead of noting what I didn’t receive, instead of thinking about what I can buy with my gift cards, I’ve been focused on how much more I have than what I need. That’s one hell of a gift.

 

 

 

 

 

The Key To Holiday Bliss Lies With The Mayans

Skip Christmas and party like a rock star instead!

Skip Christmas and party like a rock star instead!

To avoid sounding like a whiny baby, I just deleted hundreds of words, a litany of complaints about the holiday season and why it is (for me) the least wonderful time of the year. My distaste for this season stems from a complaint that from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day my workload doubles while my pay increases not at all. In addition to my regular duties (chauffeuring, cleaning, cooking, laundry, errands, homework detail, etc.), I add holiday shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, stuffing, mailing, coordinating, and distributing. I sat down today and took a good, long, hard look at my calendar for the next three weeks. Then, I researched a one-way flight to the Seychelles. Holidays at home with all the family or solo vacation in the Indian Ocean? Tough call.

I spent my day putting the finishing touches on some homemade gifts, which means I now have gifts for teachers, office staff, and neighbors completed. The Christmas cards have been ordered and are on their way. Tomorrow night we’re shopping for the family we adopted. Things are starting to come together. I could almost make out the faint sparkling of New Year’s Eve fireworks ahead, but then I remembered the greatest part of my busy season has not yet begun. Suddenly I was thinking again about a white sand beach in a warm ocean.

Tonight my husband requested that for his December birthday I gift him with a temporary cessation of my holiday apathy and my Grinch attitude. Because that’s way less expensive than what I was going to get him, I’m going to grant him his wish. I’ve strained my brain thinking about the best way to achieve it, and at long last the answer finally came to me. I need to disregard the holidays altogether. To that end, today I firmly committed myself to belief in the Mayan calendar. If the world is going to end on December 21st, then there really is no point in jumping through hoops for Christmas. And, since hubby’s birthday is the 20th, I figure we’ll focus on partying and let the rest go. Please excuse me if you don’t get our Christmas card or receive any cookies from us this year. The world is ending, and I’m busy living it up. The way I have it figured, the Mayans invented chocolate. Heaven knows they weren’t wrong about that. So, put aside all the stress of the holidays and join me in partying like it’s December 20th, 2012. On December 21st, if we’re still here, at least we’ll have enjoyed the holiday season.

Sorry — I Gave At The Office

Sometimes back lighting doesn’t work

Okay. You caught me. I am late writing this blog again. Why? Basically because, well, I am insane. I am normally a busy person. I don’t think anyone who knows me would dispute that. But, during the holiday season, I become the rough equivalent of an ADHD squirrel on four Red Bulls. I take my normal daily workload and add a few items to it. Today was our planned “lazy day” at home. In my head, I imagined watching football while casually stringing lights on the tree. Somehow, though, that leisurely day dissipated into chaos. We put the exterior Christmas lights on the house, hung the wreaths, washed and folded four loads of laundry, meticulously placed seven strands of lights on a 10 foot tall Christmas tree and then decorated it, adorned the boys’ tree with ornaments, posed for our annual holiday card photos, edited said photos, designed and ordered 100 holiday cards online, cleared the refrigerator of the last of the Thanksgiving Day leftovers, and did it all without murdering our children in the process. I think that’s a reasonably full day, don’t you? So, I hope you will excuse the fact that this is a brief and prosaic entry, devoid of pithy sayings and greeting card sentiments. I hope you’ll understand that today I gave at the office and have nothing left to offer.

On a side note….to the cyclist who chastised us for parking briefly near the front of our neighborhood while we used a self-timer to attempt to capture at least one decent photo of our four-person family for our holiday cards, thank you for starting off our holiday season with the kind of spirit we’ve come to know and expect this time of year. It wouldn’t be the holidays without a spoil-sport Grinch now, would it? Keep calm and merry on, friends.