The Absolutely True Story of Our Family Holiday Card

Some people are really good at gifts, a knack for finding that perfect something. Others love to bake…hundreds of melty snowmen cookies and cute little Santas made from tiny pieces of dried fruit which must be cut with nail scissors they’re so small. I have a good friend (you know who you are) who makes gorgeous, elaborate ginger bread structures. One year she microwaved Jolly Ranchers to make stained glass windows. Not even kidding.

Me? I get paper cuts from wrapping and, like the Christmas goose, I’m getting fat. There are certainly no hay pennies to toss in this old woman’s hat by the end of all the gift-buying. But I have my own little piece of the holidays where I go over the top, down into the valley, and up the other side.

Our family holiday card.

You see, I may not love Christmas and all the trimmings, but every year we do a family holiday photo card. It started out with a picture of our eldest son in cute little outfits. Then it extended to include all of us. Now it’s morphed into a full-blown production.

I just got this year’s out and I’m already starting to stress about what to do next year.

Not really.

(But yeah, sort of)

****

A friend said, when she got this year’s card (via email–postage in Denmark is ridiculous), “Oh, when I look at your card I think, I wish we were one of those families!”

I burst out laughing.

You see, the finished product is one thing. The process? That is something else entirely.

We are..most decidedly…not one of those families. And by those families I mean ones who actually measure up to the lives their holiday photo is portraying. Which is why we forgo the cutesy family pjs in lieu of something a bit less Rockwell and more…say…Parker family from A Christmas Story. More representative of us.

You know, the ones who are thinking of getting a crest with the family motto: Don’t be a dick.

****

I don’t tend toward anxiety, but when I do, it’s almost always about time. My kids are thirteen and almost ten and if it’s 7 pm and I know they haven’t had dinner I still get a knot of anxiety in my stomach. Getting to the airport is a nightmare, I can never get the timings right. This year, I knew the set up for the card was going to be time-consuming and time? Time, unlike my middle-aged spread, is in short supply this year. A traveling photographer, visitors, plans, more visitors, more traveling for the photographer.

Basically I had a 2 hour window to get it done.

Cue me, hurling clothes from the cupboard looking for a wig and the family Santa hats in an anxious fit which more accurately resembled semi-rage.

You see, this is what goes on behind the card. Not Happy Families. Snarky Ones.

****

Things I do not do when shooting our Christmas card:

Xmas Card 2015 From The Usual Suspects
Gather my children round and speak to them in soothing, dulcet tones

Regal them with warm and fuzzy stories of the holiday season

Snuggle up next to them with hot cocoa and sugar cookies

Things I DO do

Threat, beg, plead, bribe

Swear never to do it again

Say things like “It’s doesn’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year, does it? For fuck’s sake, it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year! Show some gratitude for the wonder!”

Thank the universe profusely when it’s over.

Here’s what the scene of shooting our holiday card really resembles:

Hours of prep work on my part. Hours of my husband (the traveling photographer) taking too long to get the lighting just right, the camera sitting precariously perched on a pile of books on an upturned stool on a jerry-rigged tripod. The kids getting fidgety about thirty seconds after I announce we’re good to go, at least thirty shots where everyone looks good….except one person. In years past we’ve spent an hour taking photos only to end up using the first one we took. This year, we ended up using the last one so there was some karmic retribution there.

Last year’s shoot was probably the worst. The fake fur rugs we were wearing kept slipping off. Wrapping paper swords were denting. We couldn’t decide on fierce or funny. The lighting wasn’t right. My photographer was getting frustrated. There was yelling and I think there may have been hissing.xmas-2016-christmas-is-coming.jpg

All witnessed by my mother and sister.

Not our best.

The card looked good though.

This year was pretty mild in comparison. The camera fell from its perch once and there was a collective intake of breath. Would it crack? Would the photographer be in a foul mood? Would we finish within our two-hour window?

It didn’t. He wasn’t. We did.

****

All for what you may ask?

Well, part of it is definitely memories. And part of it is the fun of the finished product. But I’m not going to lie. I’m….good at holiday cards. It’s become an annual challenge to come up with something quirky or different. I like giving my friends and family something fun or funny to look at each year. And buried beneath all of that, we actually are making memories.

They just have more swearing and less sugar plums than you’d think.

My holiday gift? My husband and kids indulging me in a ridiculously over the top tradition. It may be a silly tradition. It may be an over-the-top one. But it’s ours. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

 

****

 

 

 

Advertisements

Memory Keepers

My kids, like most, have memories like a steel trap.

Remember that time you promised us ice cream and then we didn’t get any?
You mean the time your brother was running 104 temperature and we were trying to get him to the hospital, that time???
I dunno, maybe. But you still owe us an ice cream!

But the memories they keep, the ones that get caught in their young traps? They tend to be highly selective.

For instance, they don’t remember the seven hundred and sixty-two times I asked them to get their socks on, They only remember when I screamed at them to get their f**king socks on right this goddamn minute.

See? Selective memories.

Your kids have them too. They won’t remember all the mushy- gushy kisses, they’ll remember–and tell everyone who will listen– about the time you accidentally elbowed them on your way to the toilet to barf.

They won’t remember all the times you told them you loved them, but you can be damn sure they’ll remember the one time you threatened to sell them on eBay.

They won’t remember the mom magic that helps you keep track of who likes hard-boiled eggs and who likes scrambled, who likes their pasta with pesto and who prefers it with butter, who likes their carrots peeled and who doesn’t. What will they remember? The one time you put cucumber in the lunch box of the kid who doesn’t like cucumber as if you were trying.to.poison.him.

They won’t remember all the times you stayed up all night, not to get lucky, but to obsessively check their foreheads. They’ll remember the one time you were out to dinner and they threw up on the babysitter.

Remember that time, Mom? The time when you were out and I got sick all over the babysitter? Remember??

They won’t remember the 683, 909 calm and rational explanations, but they’ll remember the one time you lost your shit and threw a cup across the room.

They won’t remember the times you got up early to make scrambled eggs for breakfast on a school day. They’ll only remember the time you bought the bread with the seeds. You know. The one they hate.

No remembrance of time past, the hours spent pushing swings, spotting their little bodies climbing up the slide, zooming cars around on the floor. Nope. They will remember all the times they were so bored, Mom! 

They won’t remember the 10,000 meals you cooked, the ones they gobbled up. What will they remember? The ones they hated.

Out of 5,493 loads of laundry, the only one they’ll remember is the one when you shrank their hoodie in the dryer.

They won’t remember the times you pretended to be interested in play by play Pokemon or Minecraft stories. They’ll remember the time you shushed them because they were about to announce who was eliminated on Master Chef.

They won’t remember the scenery on the way to the National Park, or the $3,498 you spent on admissions. They’ll remember the way the ketchup at Burger King squirted on the table.

They won’t remember the 7,930 toys you bought them over the course of a lifetime, the 15,000 bits of Lego, the Barbie shoes you glued back together. They’ll fixate on the Barbie Dream House they never got.

Oh wait, that was me…

They won’t remember the blood, the sweat, or the tears. But the yelling, the screaming, the swears? It’s the stuff of legend. The stuff of therapy, of memoir, of blogs.

It’s all good. I may not remember why I opened the fridge, or what I came into the room to get, but all this stuff? Stored for life..or at least until I have grandkids on my side.

 

You Don’t Have To Be Cool To Rule My World

prince-800-468x351In the dark of a sweat-soaked night, poured into a pair of jeans with zips at the ankles, a half shirt riding my midriff, I stood. With other uncoupled girls, backs against the cool tile wall, I listened as the unmistakable guitar notes of Purple Rain echoed through the cafeteria.

As a young teen, Purple Rain was a song for fetishes. It was the song you fantasized to, the one where the boy you had been following between locker clangs and lunch tray thumps all semester strode over to ask you to dance. That long, guitar strum anthem was four and half minutes in which to bury your nose in the scent of boy crush. Ten if they played the album version.

Prince, like the smell of Drakkar Noir and Aqua Net, the stickiness of bubble gum lip gloss and the snap of grape Bubblicious, was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence. His music was there, new and adult. For many of us Darling Nikki was the musical equivalent of Judy Blume’s book, Forever. A song which you knew was down and dirty without knowing how you knew. That song sounded like lust. It sounded illicit and secret and thrilling and as teens, our parents had no clue we were grinding to those notes until Tipper Gore came along and ruined everything.

Prince’s music was accessible enough to land in the Top 40, but edgy enough to make you squirm. For a young teen, his music was dirty. It was sexy. It was raw and lust and moan and grind. It was music to make out in a dark corner of the cafeteria to. It was boy straining at the crotch of his jeans music. Music that made your pulse throb with longing.

For a long time Prince found the perfect balance between commercial and cool. Androgynous, high-pitched and unabashedly sexual, he was the 80s answer to the 70s Bowie. Flamboyant enough to appeal to the fringes and talented enough to wrap the mainstream around his little finger. Prince was the man who made singing about a sorbet colored hat sound cool, the one who got away with singing about condoms on Casey Kasem’s radio show.

As adults my husband and I still listen to Purple Rain from time to time. We still know all the words to When Doves Cry. I can still do the finger gestures to I Would Die 4U as if I were dancing in a circle in a high school cafeteria, watching the boy I crushed on out of the corner of my eye, praying he noticed enough to ask me to dance.

For me, Prince will always be the music playing at the moment you understand what the adults are talking about behind their hands. The moment you realize the throbbing and the pulsing and flutters mean something. When the Drakkar Noir mixes just a little too well with the scent of flesh and male and the hum of your very self sings as high some of his notes.

It was the perfect soundtrack for the long walk from childhood to adolescence, a low thrumming baseline of lust which made you sing and wonder and feel those notes down below your belt.

Standing here now at forty-five, at the crossroads of yet another turn of life, his death has brought me full circle. But I will never be able to hear the opening strains of Purple Rain without feeling like a girl on the cusp of something new, something exciting, something they tell you is wrong but is oh, so right.

Toy Story

car boyAs my boys get older and their interests shift from matchbox cars vroomed on the carpet to computer games that make my head spin, it seemed only natural we’d start to clear and cull the clutter of toys which have defined our lives for the better part of twelve years.

Digging through the crates of cars and bins of bulldozers, sorting the Playmobil knights and pirates, stacking the Thomas track to pack should have been cathartic. All the space we will reclaim! All the weight to shed! And it was. For a little while. Until we got to the bottom of all the cars and trucks and things that go.

Dumping out the Matchbox cars I realized, with the beginnings of a lump in my throat, there was a story behind almost every one. This one was a Matchbox match of the black VW Golf we had in NYC, fondly dubbed, The Daddy Car. That one was the Mini-Cooper my husband had to go back to the beach for after it had been accidentally left behind in the sand. The big blue monster truck? We bought that one to placate a cranky toddler right before a long car trip. There’s the clutch of construction vehicles which came to the playground every day for three years, forklifts and front loaders traded between hot little hands, now scarred and chipped with playground digging. There were race cars and emergency vehicles that populated the road rug we kept under the bed. And at the very bottom of the box, dusted with lint were Lightning McQueen and friends.

One of our favorite pictures, taken when we were still a family of three, shows us tanned and relaxed in the Florida sunshine, a chunky toddler smiling a goofy grin to the camera. In his sweaty hand, he clutches a toy Chick Hicks. We collected those collectible cars and each new acquisition slept under a pillow, was carted around in pockets and fists. Those cars were the bread and butter of his play for years.

My younger son’s taste was more eclectic. Frying pans and toy kitchens, and lest we forget the empty Listerine bottle phase. But his passion was construction vehicles. The knowledge I acquired with boy child number one was put to the test with boy child two. Backhoes, front loaders, rollers, pavers, scrapers and forklifts. We had  a bag of yellow, plastic diggers that came to the beach and another bag of yellow, plastic diggers for the park. His eyes lit up like Christmas every time we passed a construction site. We spent hours watching buckets full of dirt and rock rise into the Cypriot sun. We even once went to a  trade show where we were entertained by backhoes strutting their outriggers to Lady Gaga. Go figure.

207284_1013873311427_7603_n

Toy stories.

The Toy Story trilogy, for all its cute adventure and syrupy sentimentality is, at its heart, about the inevitable passage of time. By packing those well-loved toys in a box labeled for the attic, kids take the final step over the threshold of adolescence and close the door on childhood. And while I sympathize with Woody, well-loved cowboy, playmate, and friend, the character I identify with most is the oft unseen mother.

You see, the mother isn’t just packing up a box of toys to be donated or even a box of memories. She’s packing up all the magic she witnessed over the years; the undiluted imagination, the possibility, the joy that zooming a bunch of cars on the carpet or digging in dirt brought to her children.

My older son takes his bike into the Danish woods with friends and cycles around now. Maybe they’re making the same sounds he used to make when he was a toddler pushing a tiny bulldozer around the sandpit while he flies over dirt minds and careens around trees. I hope so. My younger son spends hours upon hours making intricate models of World War II aircraft and micro-mini Star Wars fleet out of Lego. Nerf weaponry has replaced the construction vehicles. Computer games have replaced the wooden Thomas track.

And I am left with the phantom limb syndrome of all those toys and the memories they evoke.

f79d635f2e3f60140fb20047093dbdf7In the end, the memories remain even if the toys don’t. I packed up three giant baggies full of matchbox cars to deliver to the school after school program. The Duplo and the giant mobile crane that took up precious square footage in an apartment with limited storage. But in a box to travel to wherever we go next went things I couldn’t quite part with:

The Daddy car and ‘Man’, the action figure we spent weeks looking for, only to find  in the inner workings of our printer the day we were packing to move to Cyprus, long after his absence had been forgotten. Randy, the driver of Unit 2. The pirate ship and a small selection of backhoes and forklifts and site-dumpers. And of course, Lightening McQueen and his car-patriots.

They will stay with us, like the snapshots I have of those two smiling boys, to infinity and beyond.