Back when I was in college, I knew what my life would be like. I would work in political consulting – I was, and remain, a complete political junkie – in Washington DC.
Things went off track almost immediately. My grades kind of sucked at Virginia, so right after graduation, I decided to move to Prague. I didn’t do this because I was adventurous or super cool, I did this because I wanted to appear adventurous and super cool. I wanted to distract attention from the fact that I couldn’t get a job.
I’m not blind, you know, so I know very well that there are folks out there who are posting blogs three or four times per week. And don’t think that doesn’t make me feel terribly inadequate, when the most I can manage is maybe a blog posting every, oh, three decades or so.
What does that say about me? Or more importantly, what do I think that says about me?
We all write differently. Me, I’ve never been able to just hammer out a blog and post it. I know people can do that. My problem – and believe me when I tell you that I am loathe to admit this – is that I am worried about putting up something bad. Or dumb. Or embarrassingly bad and dumb.
To preempt this embarrassment, this is my defense mechanism, which I use so often on Liz that she could lip-sync along with me:
“Oh, that blog I posted? Yeah, I just wrote it in, like six minutes. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even really remember writing it because I wrote it right after I fell off the roof when I was up there cleaning the gutter. Most of it I wrote on the way down, actually, and I polished it up as I was trying to regain feeling in my lower body. So it’s probably not a great entry, but remember that I didn’t spend much time on it.”
The truth is that I spent about a week on it, sweating blood and banging my forehead with a boot.
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.
I was in my hotel at the University of Calgary, asking the man at the reception desk to change a Canadian ten dollar bill for a five and five singles.
“Of course!” he said happily, because in Canada everything is said happily, even when it’s twenty below outside.
He opened the cash register, and a look of consternation fell across his face- the kind of look you get from Canadians when they are unable to quickly fulfill your precise request.
“Hmmm…” he said, peering into cash drawer and tapping it with his fingers. He looked up at me apologetically. “Do you only need loonies? Or would you take toonies?”
I had no idea what he was going on about, but clearly Canadian currency had sneaky weird names. Loonies! Toonies! It was like getting tickled.
“Oh, either one!” I said with a dismissive wave, because I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. He looked relieved, and gave me some shiny coins.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I freakin’ love Canada.
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.