Sunday, January 04, 2009

Annual Christmas Novella 2008

It amazes me how tangible the coming of Christmas feels. Whether it’s collective consciousness moving towards a time of giving, cherished traditions, and family, or something else, there is some undeniable magic to it all. A few weeks ago, I was leaving a store carrying my 17-month-old Alec in my arms when the cold night sky suddenly turned to motion as the season’s first snowflakes appeared from the inky blackness. I watched Alec as he looked with amazement at the snow. He began to chuckle with delight as they kissed his nose and softly blanketed the ground. His little hand reached out to the sky as if in greeting, and his eyes twinkled, bewitched. Watching his joy, I paused mid-thought about what on Earth I was thinking by giving him a Nutragrain bar in the store when I didn’t have any wet wipes. I forgot my ill-advised corner-cutting hours earlier when I decided carrying 36lb baby to a couple stores was easier than getting his stroller out of the trunk. I even forgot that in my frenzy to grab bags of returns, purses etc., I didn’t take note of where I parked and if pressed, such as now standing in the snowy parking lot, could only narrow it down to within a square mile. All that drifted away as I watched Christmas-time arrive on the wings of Alec laugh.

Speaking of cherished traditions, I apparently still wait to the last second to do my Christmas cards. When the first card arrived in November this year, I was inspired, and wondered how the sender managed this; are they stuffing the turkey with one hand, and the Christmas card envelopes with the other? Outliers! Over-achievers! But as the days pass, and cards pile up, the thump-thump of my holiday version of Poe’s tell tale heart, beats louder, and I’m ultimately forced to admit that Christmas is next week.

So 2008…what a year, right?! Last year, thanks to my editor at Disney requiring that I write constantly about my life, I was able to provide an orderly review. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s if I don’t write it down I will never remember it. I recently went back and read some of Jack’s baby book updates and it was all a complete surprise. I can’t wait to read more and find out how year 2 turned out. This year, I’m back to winging it and so you might find the update a little biased towards what happened in the last week or so. My sleep-deprived mind (20 -months now of interrupted sleep) can only recall so much. That said, I wouldn’t get your hopes up that this is going to be a short letter. That doesn’t correlate as much as you might think J

Let’s start with the good stuff. Our kids! Jack and Alec are the light of our lives. Jack is our so-smart 4 (almost 5) year old. Everyone quickly points out that he is way smarter than Brian and I…put together. We are both flattered and offended. Jack is in his second year of preschool, and has ruined every class surprise this year because his teacher keeps forgetting he can read. He is still fascinated with all things mechanical. Most everything in our house that is longer-than-it-is-wide in has been scotched-taped into a gate and we are lucky we all have our eyesight with the number of gates he carries around whacking us in the head. Naturally it prompts us to yell at him, which we later wish we didn’t because Jack’s has a near-photographic memory and we will hear our comments played back verbatim at inopportune times months later. Garage doors, automatic doors, traffic signs, all still center stage in Jack-land. Jack loves to open ALL doors and strangers often remark that he is the most adorable little gentlemen or they are almost knocked over by a blur racing to trigger the automatic door eye before they do. If you live in the area, you’ve been warned!

Jack is at actually a really fun age because he is such a mix of maturity. On one hand, Jack tried to ban me from singing Christmas carols in the car because he only likes Classic Rock. The same sensitive child that covers his ears and cries when his preschool class sings ‘London Bridge’ because its “too much noise”, plays The Beatles so loud at home that the windows vibrate. I’ve tried to explain to him that when he hits the natural state of teenage rebellion, he will have left himself no choice but to develop an affinity for preschool nursery songs. But he is still annexing Brian and my CD collection. On the other hand, Jack asks approximately 100 million questions a day, some of which reveal his actual age like, “Mommy, have you ever been to the center of the Earth on a rocket ship?” or “When I get my dog when I am 10, can I also have a reindeer?”. You can also tell that he watches TV occasionally, as Jack has become Madison Avenue’s dream-child. Typical exchanges: Me: “Here’s your band-aid, Jack.”. Him (suspicious): “Wait. Is that Band-Aid Brand?” Or Me: “Jack, is that a spot on your shirt?”. Him: “Yes! Do we need Oxy Clean Laundry Stain Fighter?”

Alec meanwhile is such a sweetheart, that at times of great insanity; I want to have 20 more. Alec is our social butterfly and navigates the world with his dimples, curls, and smile. I almost never go anywhere with him without strangers remarking on him. In addition to his affectionate, mild nature, Alec is one tough cookie; he endures all sorts of rough and tumbling, and never protests as long as he is still near Jack, his idol. He is also pretty sporty. A late walker (at 14 mos.), his first week walking he saw Jack play soccer and when we got home, Alec started kicking and trapping the ball like a professional …or at least like someone who wasn’t crawling last week. In some ways he is just like Jack (love of garage doors appears genetic) and other ways, he is really different. Regardless of this, I have this strange obsession with dressing them as if they were identical twins. I don’t know what compels me to do this, if I dress one in a shirt that they both have, when I get to the other one’s closet, my mind pleads- “Don’t do it! Don’t pick the blue checked one!” But I do. Every time.

In other news, In April we went to the Dominican Republic. We went with our friend from college who fatefully introduced Brian and me. Or, at least he and his family appear in pictures of that trip- to be honest, it was mostly a blur. Alec, a poor sleeper at home, on the road falls into more the non-sleeper category. Since the slightest noise would awaken him, I would threaten the entire family before bed (at 9pm- how fun!), warning them against talking, coughing, anything. But sooner or later, someone would get careless and rustle their blanket or breathe a little too loudly, and I’d be back up with a crying Alec wondering if the airport was open for flights back to DC. Up for the day at 5am, the highlight of this vacation was the stolen moments alone at the buffet at mealtime. Naturally this trip should have put me off travel forever, but it did not and we went with friends to a beach-house in August where we repeated the whole thing.

Once we got home, we tried the Ferber method with Alec. This form of "cry it out" was torture for me, but within 3 days had the predicted success of an almost-night’s sleep! This is supposed to solve your sleep problems. Unfortunately, on day 5, Alec started crying again. We conferred with the book. Was there some sort of epilogue? There was not. Over and over, same result- Alec is a serial rebound-Feberizer. Every time Brian says he wants another baby, I remind him that we already have one! He can relive the newborn experience any night he wants to! No 9 months wait required! Though it’s nice to know that after 16 years Brian still has the ability to surprise me, since I seriously believe he is going to get up every night as he sincerely promises, when usually he sleeps right though the screaming (both Alec’s and mine). I figure worse case, I can marry Alec off in 20 years and this can be his wife’s problem. T-20, baby!

Of course many people were affected by the financial crisis this year as we were no exception. Mostly, we are majorly disappointed we didn’t spend more frivolously over the years considering how our saving-based plan worked out. At least we would have had some expensive shoes or ill-conceived tattoos to show for our efforts! Instead, Brian and I will be able to tell our future grandkids the fascinating story about how at one time, long ago, we thought we would retire someday. Ah well, C'est la vie. I also for the first time in my life paid attention to gas prices since I drive a Tahoe and had to take out an equity line at every fill up. Fortunately at least the fuel crisis is over so I can stop being the boring person opening up all conversations with some variation of “hey, what are you paying for gas around there?” and go back to gobbling up natural resources with impunity. Ha! Kidding! (sort of).

As for my wonderful husband Brian, he is working at XYZ where his days are spent in a mix of finance and triathlon training. I’m not saying which, where. His races are going well, he competes in the Clydesdale class, which always reminds me that I should buy some Klondike bars. Is that just me? I called Brian at the office the other day, and it seemed like he was whispering whereas he is usually bellowing at me via speakerphone. I asked him what was going on and he said that this neighbor had asked if he could speak a little more softly. This was late vindication as I had long wondered why no one stole his speakerphone under the cover of night. I was amazed to read in his first grade report card that his teacher was very concerned about Brian being shy and not being able to hear him when he talked. All I can say is “most effective intervention, ever.” . So of course it’s ironic to hear Brian admonish Jack, “geez Jack, talk softer!”. That’s for those of you who wonder about that whether the universe really balances out!

Brian’s dream of adding more dirt to the backyard also finally came true this year in a project rivaling the size of The New Deal. An in-ground sprinkling system also mysteriously made its way into our yard but I didn’t fight it because I am sick of looking at dead flowers from June on. When we moved into our house it was owned by the president of the garden club. We let natural selection take its course but it seems that all plants like water at some point. And that has been a real inconvenience.

As for me, I am still the Senior Director at XYG. I am still working a reduced work-week/flex schedule and I love it. I also have piles of books I’m reading and ideas I’m dreaming up, but the kids take up all of my time so mostly I’m lucky if I can get through a tivoed episode of Oprah in less than a week . Clearly sensing this, a friend recently invited us over for dinner and asked if we wouldn’t mind being on her team to help raise $100,000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this Spring during a 10-week fundraiser. My mind raced for excuses I hadn’t already tried when she earlier emailed me about needing “a favor”, but as she spoke, I couldn’t help but picture the children and families who were praying for miracles this season; and knew we had to help. If any of you are feeling blessed this Christmas and support this very deserving cause (or would like to), we’d really appreciate any (tax-deductable) donations to our drive, of any amount. Brian is the team Treasurer and checks (made out to L&LS and post-dated to April 15th!) can be sent to our home address. As for my friend’s taste in teammates…well, I think that she was already really impressed by my (sole) suggestion to sell candy bars from our desks.

Another big event for us this year was the loss of our wonderful nanny, Maria, who had been with us since Jack was born. I was devastated when she told me at age 70, the time had come for her to retire. Talk about stress! But I will pause and reference an ancient Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. “ One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck? Who knows?” The older and wiser I get, the more I see this to be a universal truth. Life is full of “bad breaks” which in retrospect, created the space in life for new growth and richer experiences. Like the daffodils that are hacked apart and subdivided, returning the next year, bigger, more beautiful, more vibrant than ever. Such is life. In this case, our new nanny Lilly, a grandmother of 2 boys, has been an absolute delight. We couldn’t have imagined to dream for a someone so perfect for us. We are very grateful.

Anyway, even the smallest font eventually gets you to the end, and so here we are. We wish all of our friends and family a wonderful Christmas and hope that any breaks in your plans spring forth with multitudes of flowers. May each of you be graced with peace, love and light in the New Year. With love, Amy, Brian, Jack and Alec.

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