Family Life

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 HOUSE!!!”) 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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13 Jul 2011, by Conor

Irish Family Vacation

There’s something about Irish pilots that they never want to tell you the weather. They dance around it, hinting but never coming right out and saying it, as if they were trying to describe an embarrassing procedure that they had, or inform you that your dog just pooped in their fireplace.

“We’re getting reports that it’s a bit cloudy in Shannon, I’m afraid,” the Aer Lingus pilots told us on July 4th. We were in a row that was three across, Liz with Lucy on her lap, Finn between us, and me on the other side of Finn. “Perhaps a bit of drizzle, though hard to say until we arrive there. The temperature…well, it could be better, not a terribly warm day, it seems.”

“What’s he sayin’, Daddy?” asked Finn.

Finn spent a weekend with his grandparents – my father and stepmother, a few weekends ago (who we would be seeing in Ireland), and came back enunciating his words as if he was trying to teach a gorilla to speak. So his simple question came out: What’s he saaaaaaayyyyyin’ Daaaaaaddddy? with modulations covering about three octaves. I could have made myself a sandwich in the time it took him to ask that question.

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23 Jun 2011, by Conor

General Anesthesia

I don’t remember the first time I ever heard the term “general anesthesia,” probably because it’s not the kind of phrase that raises any red flags.

“General” is, almost by definition, about as generic a word as you can get. And “anesthesia” had only positive implications. You want anesthesia. Anyone who’s hung out with a combat medic at a bar knows this, above all things.

So when I learned I would have to have a minor surgical procedure last week, and my doctor told me I’d be going under general anesthesia, I was like “Okay!”

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31 May 2011, by Conor

The Grill and I

I bought a new grill in time for Memorial Day. Nothing represents summer quite as well as a grill – it’s like some pagan totem to the blissfully warm weather. It’s a final nail in the coffin of this brutal winter, the winter of a foot of snow per week, of wondering if we were going to be hit by a storm just when Liz went into labor, whether we’d get stuck in the snow halfway down the driveway, whether our baby would be born in a makeshift igloo, kept warm by the furs and pelts of the local fauna.

So anyway, this grill. It’s one of those grills that looks like it costs about eight thousand dollars, like it was built with the same specs as the fuselage of a C-130. I think that’s what I liked about it – the fact that it was a budget propane grill that looks like a high end grill. I like that because people would come over and think: Conor is a guy that knows how to grill.

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Copyright ©2012 Conor Grennan. Photos: Larry Closs.
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