Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nibbling at the Edges of Christmastime

I approach Christmas the way a picky eater deals with a fruitcake. Instead of wolfing down the season (and risking  mid-December holiday indigestion), I try to pull out all the stuff I don’t like, dig around for the edible bits, and savor the parts I love as much as possible.  It’s untraditional, and people look at my finished plate like I’ve got a major Christmas disorder, but it’s the only way I’ve found to keep sane. 

I found many crumbs of happiness this holiday season – little moments that meant more than any pre-packaged, tinsel-coated extravaganza ever could.  Here are some of them:

Gingerbread Houses:  For the past several years, I’ve bundled up the kids and taken them to the local community center to make gingerbread houses.  The staff is incredibly patient and kind, the atmosphere is lovely and – here’s the best part – the mess stays there.  The houses are pre-made (wonderful for someone whose architectural skills are lacking) and the array of decorations is much more than I’d ever be able to afford.  Over the years, the children have grown into tall teens, but they still want to make their houses every year.  I usually try to wrangle in a small child-shill from a friend or two, under the pretense that the teens are “helping” the little ones.  This year, we took up an entire table: three kids under age seven, a grade schooler, a couple middle schoolers and a large contingent of teenagers.  When they start driving themselves to the Gingerbread House event, we may have to develop contingency plans.

Starring in our own Movie: We usually plan one downtown day each season, and this year’s felt so relaxed and fun, with a fairy tale plot twist thrown in.  Emma was playing in the Youth Symphony at the IDS Crystal Court on a Friday at lunchtime, so I relented and let Mary Katherine ditch school early to go hear her big sister perform.  On the way into the building, Emma dutifully stepped onto a crowded downward escalator, carrying her cello and still wearing her snow boots.  Mary Katherine, holding her sister’s high heels, began waving and shouting, “Your shoes, Emma!”  Two quick-thinking businessmen, riding past us, put out their hands, and Mary Katherine gave one black pump to each.  When they reached the bottom of the escalator, Emma reported, they handed her the shoes and said, “Here you go, Cinderella.” She blushed mightily; passersby laughed and clapped.  It happened in just a moment, but it felt like a well-planned scene from a Nora Ephron rom-com, with the Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon parts played by Emma and Mary Katherine.

Santa’s Lap:  That great downtown day, I persuaded the girls to go see Santa.  It was 2:00 pm on a Friday, and the only people at Santaland were preschoolers, which made the teenagers look even larger.  But they sweetly sat on Santa’s lap and told him that they wanted a laptop (Mary Katherine) and an airplane ticket to an international destination (Emma).  Santa delivered a priceless double take and asked wryly, “Have you been THAT good, girls?” 

Double Bill:  In mid-November,we saw “Fully Committed,” a play set the bowels of a New York restaurant-of-the-moment, featuring one beleaguered reservations person and the 40 people who call him over the course of 70 minutes.  One guy does all the voices, and it’s a tour de force of acting chops and humor. Mary Katherine and I especially loved it, and quoted from it constantly.  We kept wishing we could see it again, but it felt like a major extravagance to buy tickets for a show we’d already seen. Then, as I was straightening up the kitchen bulletin board to make way for Christmas cards, I came across the “Two Tickets to the Jungle Theatre” certificate I’d won in a raffle at a fundraiser for Families with Children from Asia.  I hadn’t given it a moment’s thought since winning, but I suddenly realized that my prize could get us into that show one more time.  The world conspired WITH me for once, and I found that: 1)the run had been extended; 2)there were front row seats for Monday night and 3)Dick was in town and was willing to provide car service during (another) snow storm. We went to the show last night, and it felt like the Christmas present I was giving myself – time with Mary Katherine, a truly funny show, and a bit of non-tinsel-covered time in a dark theater.  

There is more Christmas time ahead for me, of course, and plenty of time to freak out and stress out, but I hope to find some moments in the days ahead – opening our presents on Thursday night, since we’ll be traveling; enjoying the train trip to Chicago, spending time with friends there; glamorizing for a family wedding on New Year’s Eve.  By the time I walk back into my house on New Year’s Day, I’ll be plenty full of Christmas fruitcake, but I hope I will have enjoyed just the best parts, and let all the other stuff sit on the side of the plate.

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