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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

All the daddies do it

It’s that time of year again. It’s the height of the season when parents use Santa Claus leverage to pry good behavior from their children. But I would never hijack a beloved icon to extort good behavior from my kids.

Like hell I wouldn’t. I clobber them over the heads with Santa.

“Santa won’t want to come here if these toys aren’t picked up.”

“Santa looks unfavorably upon little boys who won’t be quiet when Daddy’s watching the game.”

“Santa this; Santa that.” It’s all Santa, all the time. Sometimes it even works. Sort of.

the empty chimney of sub-par behavior

A watched pot never boils, especially when the watcher made noise all through Monday Night Football.

Santa’s pulled a lot of weight around our house when it comes to keeping kids in line, even without the help of that creepy Elf on the Shelf, who has yet to prove he’s officially sanctioned by Santa.

Eventually, Santa will abandon us, and then I don’t know where we’ll be. I can only hope he will have done well enough raising our children that we can take over without a large drop off in behavior or, more importantly, convenience.

But Santa is not the only force of manipulation in our house. Lately, Buster has discovered a new force he’s sure should persuade me to do what he asks.

If I tell him I won’t give him a bowl of gummy bears for breakfast, he looks up at me with big, sincere eyes and tells me. “All the daddies do it.”

I say, “No. Daddies don’t give their children gummy bears for breakfast.”

He gives me a what-rock-have-you-been-living-under? look and insists, “Yes they do. All the daddies.”

The motion is passed. The Council of Daddies decrees that, henceforth, all daddies will do it.

The motion is passed. The Council of Daddies decrees that, henceforth, all the daddies will do it.

I’m not sure where he learned about peer pressure, or how he found out what all the daddies are doing these days, but it worked out for him that they are all doing just the sorts of things he would appreciate. Sadly, the only daddy who is out of step with the times is his own. What a rotten luck of the draw.

Lest you think parental peer pressure is reserved for daddies, I have overheard him play the all-the-mommies card as well. Apparently, all the mommies have joined all the daddies in opening up a world of limitless sugar and playing ball in the house to little boys.

It frustrates him that his parents have not joined, or even been invited to, the revolution. But we are older than most parents of three-year-olds, and not very hip. We’re stuck in the old ways. We think he should get his morning dose of sugar from someone we trust, like Cap’n Crunch, not from a fly-by-night mob of nameless bears.

This doesn’t stop him from using the new thinking of all the daddies and mommies to try to influence our parenting. Likewise, a reminder that Santa is watching only keeps him on the straight and narrow for about a minute, but that doesn’t stop me from going to the Santa well at every opportunity.

In either case, you’ve got to do the best you can with the tools you have.