Family Life

Here’s what you learn at the San Diego County Fair: You can fry anything.

I’m not talking about the normal stuff, like hotdogs and chicken and whathaveyou. I’m not even talking about the “Did you hear that they are now frying…” stuff, like Twinkies and sticks of butter. (Sticks of butter!)

No, no that stuff. I’m talking about a place called Chicken Charlies, where they’ll fry you up some cereal. They’ll fry you Kool-Aid. Nobody who sees an advertisement for fried Kool-Aid pauses to wonder if Kool-Aid taste good fried, because we’re all wondering how in the name of all that is holy do you fry Kool-Aid in the first place?

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As you pack up your life to move, you seem to have time for nothing else but inventory management. Your house smells of nothing but cardboard and packing tape, and you wonder why you’ve been using a knife to cut cheese for the past couple of years when you apparently had a whole set of specialized utensils for that purpose that you never bothered to take out of their package.

We’ve moved to LA from Connecticut, and while that may sound pretty far and pretty radical, we should remember that Liz is from Southern California, so this is a homecoming for her. We’re terribly excited to be here.

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29 Feb 2012, by

Me and Shamu

If I could write a letter to Shamu, I’d first check in just to make sure he was doing okay. (Actually, first I’d make sure I was talking to the right Shamu. There seem to be, like, five of them.) I’d want to know how he was doing because he sure seemed happy, and he sure seemed to be making a lot of kids happy, including ours. I’d also thank him for his hard work, and compliment him on being able to jump out of the water even though he weighs about nine thousand pounds.

I was thinking about Shamu because I was thinking about the family vacation we took a couple of weeks ago. If you’re like me, you do a fair bit of calculating during these vacations.

Case in point: How much is it going to cost to take the family to sea world when we’re out in San Diego? Probably a bunch. Tickets are pretty expensive, after all. Food is prohibitively expensive, which is why we ate at a famous local diner that used to have some kind of terribly politically incorrect name (can’t remember what that was now, but when Liz and I were reading the famous history on the back of the menu I noticed that we both raised our eyebrows at the same time.) We filled up on breakfast burritos (or whatever they’re called in Spanish) and gave Finn and Lucy pancakes and went into Sea World on a Friday morning in February, when the crowd would be about 5000 instead of about 40000.

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I don’t remember Christmas when I was two and a half years old, but I have to believe that watching my son Finn, who – alas – looks very much like a small version of myself, is something like watching myself around this time of year.

Finn, like as I once did, spends a lot of time running toward the Christmas tree. There’s something about a tree in the house that’s magnetic to children – add lights and ornaments and they’re drawn to it like a skydiver is drawn to the earth, and at a similar velocity.

I get that. When I was young I used to sleep on the sofa so that I could hang out with the tree, all lit up, with presents bulging below. I remember those moments better than the Christmas mornings themselves, maybe. It’s the anticipation of the thing that we enjoy. (Liz once read a study that people enjoy looking forward to vacations as much as the vacations themselves, so better to plan lots of small vacations rather than one larger one – it gives you more pleasure throughout the year.)

Since Finn is at an age when he doesn’t really know anything about how Christmas goes, these moments of picking the tree and decorating it are the moments that he’s loving. He’s loving making a gingerbread house with his mom (or as he calls it, “COOKIE HO– USE!!!”) He doesn’t seem terribly concerned about what’s going to happen on Christmas, though he did insist, when we told him about Santa, that we get Santa a present.

It never occurred to me that we had Christmas traditions in my house growing up, but I think that’s mostly because they were so completely ingrained that I didn’t recognize them as traditions.

Now, though, as a father who is meant to create them for his children, the traditions I had as a kid are starting to come back to me. I used to dress up in my PJs, which were a full-bodied red zip up thing that we called a teddy bear suit, stick cotton to my chin, and play Santa by giving the gifts out to family. We used to leave out cookies and milk for Santa. We had an advent calendar, which I only remember because I couldn’t wait to get that chocolate out of it. (You ask me, every calendar should have a little door for each day, and behind that door should be chocolate. Everybody wins.)

We’re trying to create our own traditions in our family. As Christians, we want to remember the birth of Christ. As parents who want Finn and Lucy to not take things for granted, we want to make sure we find ways to serve the less fortunate on and around Christmas. We want Santa to be involved. We want the tree and the stockings hung by the fire and candy canes on the tree.

Mostly, what I want is for Finn and Lucy not to really notice the traditions. Like me, I want them to just feel like this is what we do at Christmas time. What families do when they have time together. I want these traditions to feel normal because I want them to grow up in a home where they have loving parents all year round, a family that takes care of each other.

Nothing reminds me of that like Christmas, and nobody reminds me of that like my sweet, goofy, hilarious two year old son.

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There are more than a few differences between my current hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut, and the city of New Orleans, but I don’t know that those differences are ever more pronounced than they are on Halloween night.

I was on a flight at the crack of dawn, leaving Toronto after several days spent at the International Festival of Authors. (Canada has made me feel like an honorary citizen this past year; if my arms were long enough, I’d hug the entire country.) Bleary-eyed, I scrolled through Facebook on my iPhone, checking out the photos my friends were already posting of their young children in costumes.

There were little bears and monkeys, there was a little boy dressed as a banana. From my own home Liz had sent me a short video of two and a half year old Finn, who was living out his life-long fantasy of becoming a real live pirate (with an infectious, swashbuckling glee that I imagine very few actual pirates ever possessed), and our beautiful little Lucy, dressed as a pumpkin.

New Canaan, like thousands of small towns across America, looked like a giant Anne Geddes photo shoot.

This particularly Halloween, however, Liz and I came down to New Orleans for the National Orientation Directors Association conference, where I’ll be speaking, and Halloween down here – to use a tired but apt phrase – is like visiting a parallel universe. The date is the same, the concept of dressing up is the same, but… wow.

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Copyright ©2012 Conor Grennan. Photos: Larry Closs.
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