The increase in bumps and bruises indicates we have entered the Christmas Season

Children can smell Christmas a month away. The first sniff of it smells like Thanksgiving turkey. There’s something about that turkey, or maybe it’s Parade Santa driving down whatever avenue Macy’s is on, telling all the kids to rev up their engines for presents.

Our three boys can be found roughhousing at pretty much any given time between New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve, but there’s a special, over-the-top season of horseplay between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s something in the air that shoots right to their little, immature synapses and makes them start snapping in hyper drive.

Big Brother, Yuletide veteran, knows how many days until Christmas. He lives in anticipation of that day. He knows exactly why he’s excited, but when it comes to controlling his frenzy like a civilized third grade citizen, he’s as helpless as a two-year-old. Fortunately, there’s a two-year-old nearby to emulate.

Buster knows Christmas is coming, in a general kind of way. It could be in a few months or it could be tomorrow. It’s probably not tomorrow because there’s no Christmas tree yet. But Big Brother has been asking about putting up the tree, and he only does that within three or four months of Christmas, so it must be time to get amped up. It’s not enough to say, “I want that!” to every toy commercial on TV, you’ve got to shout it at this time of year, so people know you’re serious.

Big Man exhibits a vague sense of impending joy. He’s been seeing more lights, trees, and red suits lately, and that can only be a good thing. I doubt Big Man remembers last Christmas as a specific event, so he has the advantage of having it be the first time all over again. The disadvantage is that he doesn’t know the reason he’s feeling so hyper these days, but if his big brothers are running around like maniacs, there must be a good reason for it.

And running around like maniacs they are, literally. Their race course is a narrow path starting in the entrance hallway, with a sharp left in the kitchen, a hairpin turn in the dining room, then between the sofa and an unforgiving book case back to the start. The days since Thanksgiving have been littered with stubbed toes, banged knees, and bumped heads as they chase each other around this treacherous course at warp speed.

It always follows the same pattern: the sound of running feet is punctuated by a thud; all the running noise stops, replaced by one siren wail; the pitch of the wail slides down into the steady notes of crying; perhaps this is accompanied by the sound of a little person hopping on one foot as he stumbles toward expected parental sympathy.

Actual parental sympathy sounds much like, “That’s what happens when you run in the house.”

Who needs parental sympathy when you’ve got the Christmas Spirit? Those overstimulated baby synapses will wash away the tears and get a boy back in the race in no time.

Thanksgiving’s minor blessings

As I pick through the bottom of the barrel remnants of my kids’ Halloween candy, the little clock in my head (adjusted backward one hour to Eastern Standard Time) tells me it’s time to start feeling thankful for stuff. In America, when you reach the dregs of Halloween candy, it’s time for a little Thanksgiving.

If Thanksgiving is about one thing, that thing is turkey, and also football. But Thanksgiving isn’t about just one thing. It’s about many things, like awkward dinner conversation with extended family, finding that one morsel among the cornucopia of foods your picky preschooler will eat, and, increasingly, college basketball. The latter means Thanksgiving is also about negotiation with crazy people who believe the holiday is family movie time.

Beneath all this important stuff, Thanksgiving is also, in a tertiary kind of way, about giving thanks. I have many blessings in my life, and at halftime I spend all my spiritual energy giving thanks for them. They know who they are, and if they’ve forgotten, I will remind them by asking them to move out from in front of the TV before the second half begins. Since the game usually starts up again before I have time to move on to giving thanks for lesser blessings, it might be good, as I work my way through this least coveted candy (3 Musketeers), to preemptively list the mundane things for which I am thankful this year.

  • I’m thankful for the bountiful Halloween harvest my children brought in this year and that they were raised by good parents who taught them the value of sharing, especially with said parents.
  • I’m thankful Edwards’ frozen cream pies went on sale, thereby assuring the Thanksgiving dessert satisfaction of Big Brother, and to a lesser extent, Buster.
  • I’m thankful there are no more days for Big Brother to ask if we can have the cream pie before Thanksgiving. And then get another one for Thanksgiving, of course.
  • I’m thankful there was a sale on Butterball turkeys, not just the off brand, and that my amazing wife used her top-notch organizational skills to make space in our crowded fridge for it to thaw for three days. Meanwhile, don’t even think about reaching for the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter; that’s trapped behind the bird until roasting time.
  • I’m thankful Stovetop Corporation employs factories full of workers who will cut bread into little pieces for me so I don’t have to tear through an entire loaf of bread all by myself to make stuffing, as my hapless ancestors did.
  • I’m thankful for this one meal each year when it is legal to have Stovetop stuffing AND potatoes.
  • I’m thankful for gravy.

I guess I’m done now, because how do you follow gravy? I’ll deliver my major thankfulnesses in person: “[Child’s name], you are blessing and a joy to me, and the only way I could love you more is if you were out the way of the TV.”

"It's a Butterball. And there's cream pie in the fridge for later." (Artist: J.L.G. Ferris)

“It’s a Butterball. And there’s cream pie in the fridge for later.” (Artist: J.L.G. Ferris)

The new breed of mountain men: more cute, less mountainy

If having children means one thing, it’s saying goodbye to your simple pleasures. This is why I don’t read anymore. Now, when I want to relax, I go to the kitchen and pour apple juice into a plastic cup. What do I do for fun? I pour apple juice.

Another simple pleasure I’ve missed is walking in the woods.

Up until now, there’s always been one kid  too small to make a worthwhile walk in the woods. Strollers are fine for neighborhood walks, but only the jogging stroller could be useful in the woods. We have a jogging stroller, somewhere. It’s been banished to the basement for eight years as part of my wife’s prejudice against vehicles without steerable wheels.

Baby carriers? Nope. Not gonna do that to my walk in the woods. I am precious few years away from needing someone to carry me. I’m not going to waste this time pounding the final nail into the coffin of my posture.

Last Sunday, when my wife proposed going for a walk, I said I would like to do that very thing, in the woods. In the following silence, my family looked askance at me, wondering with their eyes if there were not sidewalks in such a place.

Buster, the adventurer, was first to sign on to the expedition. I knew I could count on Big Man to join as soon as he saw the two of us putting on our shoes. Big Brother was reluctant, having reached the age of philosophical objection to the act of walking for its own sake.

Since no neighborhood kids were playing outside, Big Brother caved in to going with us. The only detail remaining between us and the woods was the traditional parental argument over adequate apparel. A day in the mid 50˚s, brings out the sharp differences between Mom and Dad over the necessity of hats and gloves. Mom won, and the boys started out overburdened with accessories that will hinder them developing into proper mountain men.

Mom is lukewarm to anything having to do with nature, but fearing hats and gloves would be discarded the moment we were out of sight, she decided to come along.

It was a beautiful day for an adventure.  People got dirty, but nobody fell into freezing cold water, though that temptation was present. The boys learned that steep hills become slippery slopes when covered with fallen leaves. I discovered there is still at least one biting insect flying around our parts in mid-November.

Best of all, nobody required carrying, not even me. Big Man was standing on heavy legs by the end, but he soldiered through. Maybe he’ll make a mountain man yet, despite how cute he looks in his winter hat.

At the end of the day it was unanimous: we want to do this again. Now, if I can only get them to read with me, we may rediscover the simple pleasures.

 

Halloween off the record

Halloween is a reminder of the futility of capturing precious moments. The best of them come in the chaos, and it’s difficult to hold onto a camera and chaos at the same time.

What I recorded:

Our festivities began at Big Brother’s school parade. Hundreds of other parents, just like me, sat with their cameras ready to get those great shots of their kids passing by. I think we all got the same blur as the kids raced toward their classroom parties with little regard for posterity. I tried to get photos of some friends’ children, and never have I collected so many pictures of the backs of heads.

I think I did better than most, since my wife had no qualms about stepping into the parade route to make a human speed bump as Big Brother approached.

Next it was on to Buster’s preschool, for the recital portion of his Halloween party. It turns out, Buster is not an enthusiastic public singer or dancer. This, despite how readily he will do both at home, right in front of the TV, on fourth and goal.

I recorded several minutes of video in which Buster half-heartedly dances, and more in which his lips are sealed as his classmates sing. His little classmates were a joy to watch. Maybe that’s what he was busy doing instead of singing. I’ve got lots of video of him watching his classmates sing.

What I missed recording:

We began our Trick or Treating with a group of a dozen kids, also known as the kind of chaos where I lose track of my camera. That’s when I have to start relying purely on memory, which is a shame because I feel like my storage is reaching its limit.

Our group of children and assorted parents kept together pretty well right up to the first house. After that, the group quickly pulled away from Buster, Big Man, and me. We continued on our own, free of the stress of keeping up with the big kids.

One quick shot before the chaos.

One quick shot before the chaos.

Together, we three shared Halloween moments I wish I could have recorded:

  • My two-year-old Ninja Turtle fully immersed in the spirit of the night, running from house to house.
  • My four-year-old Spider Man, once again marching to his own drummer, making his little brother wait as he walked backward or hopped to avoid cracks in the sidewalk.
  • Big Man pointing to a darkened house and asking, “That guy heeping [sleeping]?” then pointing to the festive house next door and declaring, “That guy not heeping!”
  • Two little superheroes forgetting about candy for five whole minutes to examine all the cool lawn decorations at one house.
  • Buster offering an unsolicited explanation of our night to the owner of the last house: “This took a long time, but we’re going home now.”

I’m happy I got what pictures and video I did. It’s all entertaining stuff. But those little moments that will stick with me I can’t replay for anyone else. All I can do is put them into words, and that doesn’t seem quite the same.