Tree goes up; alcohol consumption goes down

Putting up the Christmas tree with children is inspiring.  In past years, it has inspired the Daddy to raise his voice multiple times, need a scotch break or two in the midst of decorating, and write a post summing up the entire misadventure.

The boys must be getting more mature. This year I could count on two hands the number of times I had to yell at somebody, and I made it through the entire process without an ounce of liquor. I begin to wonder if the event merits a post at all.

Well, it’s part of a tradition, and we’ve already lost the scotch break, so let’s just see if having conscientious helpers for once ruins the whole story.

We have a fake tree, against which I expect the boys to rebel at each new season. This year makes another in which my expectations were wrong. They like the fake tree. Perhaps it’s because the tree needs to be built every year, like a construction set, which may seem like fun to foolish, young people. Also the tree comes out of a rather large box, the likes of which you don’t get to climb into very often.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

When your fake tree gets enough years old, it sheds needles just like a real tree.

Part of me is concerned these boys aren’t clamoring for a real tree. That seems like what boys should do. But that concern is quelled when I think how convenient it is that I can fetch the tree in my slippers. It shouldn’t be surprising children don’t pine for a real tree, considering how much of the world they live in is virtual.

Big Brother helped me assemble the branches of the tree. He was more help than hindrance, the first signal of the demise of my traditional scotch break and cooling off period. He helped me test the light strands, only neglecting his duties long enough to check in with the game he was playing on the computer.

Buster and Big Man helped with the lights too, this year with the understanding that the main purpose of the strings was not to be used in a tug-of-war. Another nail had been struck into the coffin of my period of scotch and deep breather exercises.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Working together in harmony, mostly.

Once the lights were up, the boys hit the ornaments with gusto. Only this year they kind of, almost, sort of, nearly worked together as a team. Big Brother handed the others hooks from the tangled, rat’s nest wad of wire, they selected their ornaments and hung them all in a three-branch radius at the bottom third of the tree. Big Brother picked up the slack higher up the tree, and I, barely necessary any longer, placed one or two bulbs at the very top.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

A very popular, and easy to reach, spot for ornaments.

Last came the garland. Buster and Big Brother were eager helpers, overcoming their instincts to strangle the tree in a shiny, boa necklace with minimal intervention.

And just like that it was finished. They’d made a delightful tree. I’d needed neither alcohol nor soothing meditation. What’s become of this world?

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.