Monthly Archives: December 2005

Flying the Whiny Skies

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We flew to Georgia for Christmas.

Whoever dubbed them “the friendly skies” did not see the look of hostility on the face of the man sitting in seat 4A when three adults, two children, and five carry-on bags filled with assorted toys, snacks, and diapers (most of them clean) collapsed in a sweaty, tired heap across seats 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E, and 4F.

Flying with kids is a special sort of torture, familiar to those who are foolish enough to move thousands of miles across the country from their parents before producing the biological homing beacons known as grandchildren. As a Georgia girl married to an Idaho boy, my future in aviation was sealed from the moment our lips met.

An adult traveling alone will buy a ticket, pack a suitcase with clothes, and tuck a magazine or two in her purse before showing up at the airport for a dull but quiet wait for her boarding call. A mother, on the other hand, will pack diapers, wipes, a stroller, a carseat, and the entire contents of the playroom in her checked baggage. Her carry-on will be filled with extra clothes for every member of the family (in anticipation of the inevitable juice spill that happens two seconds after the drink cart passes), enough snacks to feed a small village for weeks, a dozen books, a box of crayons, and a big bag of quiet toys, all of which will be refused roundly by the children in favor of tormenting the person in the seat in front of them by opening and closing the tray table four hundred and eleven times and sticking their legs straight out into the aisle at every opportunity, tripping flight attendants and causing a traffic jam of passengers on the way to the bathroom.

During our layover, I walked Caleb up and down the terminal in his stroller to forestall the overtired toddler temper tantrum that had begun brewing between Spokane and Denver, praying aloud and repeatedly for an on-time connecting flight. I glared openly at two adults, sans children, who I overheard complaining loudly about their three hour layover while I could only daydream about collapsing into an airport chair with nothing to do for three blissful hours but read magazines and watch planes swim in peaceful circles through the sky.

Once on board, the juggling act of toys, snacks, and books began, punctuated by Caleb’s increasingly cranky demands as his promised meltdown approached critical mass. I began to wonder about the exact composition of the chemical the A-Team put in B.A. Baracus’ milk and how I could get my hands on it. Last year when we flew, I dosed the kids up on Dimetapp before our flight, hoping for a quiet journey between angelic, sleeping children (and besides, I’m almost certain I heard one of them cough the night before.) For your edification, let me now illuminate a critical piece of information that I missed in reading the fine print on the Dimetapp box: “excitability may occur, especially in children.”

Big. Mistake.

To be honest, I can’t blame all of the tension on the kids. I’ve always been a rather anxious flyer. Actually, that’s an understatement. I used to be that woman you sometimes see on airplanes, the one who’s gritting her teeth and white-knuckling the armrest, eyes rolling back in her head in alarm while she frantically concentrates on keeping the airplane up in the sky by sheer act of will. Exhausting. I finally realized that something had to change when I actually proposed making a four day drive to avoid taking a five hour flight. Over time, with prayer and pep talks, abject terror has slowly given way to uneasy acceptance and I’ve managed to mostly forget that we’re basically defying gravity and hurtling across the sky in a big metal burrito. I still hate turbulence, though. White Knuckle Woman reared her fearful head once more on the flight from Denver to Atlanta when the seat belt light came on with a series of bumps that convinced me we had run into a whole flock of miraculously airborne hippopotami. The flight attendant’s overly-chirpy voice on the intercom assured us that we were just hitting some “choppy air” in a tone that somehow conveyed to me that I was about to meet death in a fiery plummet to the unforgiving earth. I could feel the pressure changing in the cabin–where were those oxygen masks? Gasping for breath, I forced myself to concentrate on not screaming while the chirpy flight attendant sat immobile in the forward jumpseat. Couldn’t anyone but me see the barely restrained panic beneath that forced smile? Were these our last moments? What would it feel like? Would I ever taste Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream again? And why was I wasting my last moments thinking about ice cream???

Fortunately for all of us, our heroic pilot kept his cool and brought us safely through the savage hippos to make a beautiful, three-point landing in Atlanta. I tried not to look surprised, but I think it gave me away when the flight attendants had to pry my seat cushion/flotation device out of my arms.

On the bright side, White Knuckle Woman’s tantrum completely distracted the kids from theirs.

Willie Ford Belongs to Me

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We have one perfectly cozy green blanket in our home. His name is Willie Ford. At least, that’s what is stitched along the hem in haphazard capital letters made of pale green embroidery floss. He is warm. He is soft. He is as ugly as it is possible for a blanket to be, but he has stolen my heart.

Maybe it’s because he’s just the right size for tucking around me from my shoulders to my toes while I watch movies from the cushy recesses of our couch. Maybe it’s the way he’s always waiting for me in the linen closet, ready to protect me when the evening chill pokes its harsh, bony fingers through my sweater. Maybe it’s the romantic riddle of his unexplained origins.

You see, we have no idea where Willie Ford came from. He just appeared one day in a load of clean laundry, smelling like Tide and saying nothing, only holding out his fuzzy green arms for an embrace, which I quite naturally gave. Mystified, we called around to friends and recent visitors, but no one had lost a Willie Ford.

His adoption into our family was immediate and enthusiastic, and he’s been with us ever since. He plays on the floor with the kids, content to be a picnic blanket or an army tent. He sticks close when any of us is sick, keeping the drafts at bay and standing guard through long, feverish nights. He makes a great cocoon for curling up with the latest Anne Perry mystery and a cold Diet Coke. And though Willie Ford is loved by all, I know in my heart of hearts that he came here for me. We were meant to be together.

I don’t know how he found me, but the mystery of his coming has long since been swallowed up in gratitude for the wordless comfort and unconditional warmth he offers.

God bless you, Willie Ford, wherever you are. I promise to take good care of your blanket.

A Star Is Born

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Last night, first graders sang and a window opened into the heart of God.

At a quarter to six, my daughter Katie’s elementary school was a humming beehive of activity, swirling with girls in sparkly dresses and boys with ties askew, running up and down the halls in a reckless, yule-inspired sugar frenzy. Yes, it was the night of the annual Christmas program, where proud mamas and papas would stand in the audience and watch their combed and bedazzled progeny enthusiastically belting out slightly off-key versions of The Twelve Days of Christmas and Feliz Navidad while having their photos snapped by an exultant crowd of parental paparazzi.

I had received a call earlier in the day from Katie’s teacher’s aide, reminding me about the program and giving me a few tips for Katie’s last minute coaching. She’d been flipping her hair out of her face over and over during rehearsals, so perhaps I could pull it up for the evening so she wouldn’t flip herself off of the bleachers. And could I remind her not to play with her sweater sleeves during the performance? Other than that, she assured me, Katie was doing great–she’d sung out with gusto at practice and had even done all the hand motions in perfect time with the rest of the class. I assured her that I would have Katie pressed and ready and at her classroom door at 5:45, and we hung up.

Ten minutes later, Katie bounded off the bus, full of excitement and begging me to help her “get more Christmas-y!” This last was accomplished with the loan of a cherished snowflake pin from my jewelry box, which I pinned on her glittering sweater, an acceptable substitute for her first request–to have her fingernails painted in alternating red and green. After putting her hair in pigtails, checking cheeks and hands for residual lunch particles, and gently reminding her not to fidget with her sweater, we bundled up and headed off to Katie’s debut school performance.

In the passenger seat on the way there, I sent up a quick prayer that she would do well, remember her songs, and, above all, not get scared up there in the spotlight. In my imagination, there was a distinct possibility that she would just burst into tears from nervousness and not be able to pull herself together. I guess I needn’t have worried about the little girl who declared to us just a few days ago that her future ambition was to become a Rock Star Princess.

The school was a circus of light and sound. While Paul drove off in search of parking, I took Katie’s hand and worked my way through the teeming crowd to deposit her safely in her classroom, where she was delightedly greeted by her classmates. They did some quick warmup activities and then lined up to walk to the gym. I trailed along behind them, enjoying the anticipation in the air, and slid into my seat in the back row next to Paul and Caleb just as the curtains went up.

Katie was standing at the end of the second row of the bleachers. Grandpa, who was standing in the back of the auditorium with his digital camera, found her easily and started snapping away. Two or three minutes were designated as a photo op before the actual singing started, and the kids obliged camera-wielding moms and dads with dimpled preening and schmaltzy antics that would’ve made The Little Tramp proud. Katie waved and grinned with the rest of them, and I let out a small breath I’d been holding as I saw that she wasn’t cowed in the least by the large and adoring audience.

Then the lights lowered, and the kids started singing. Or, more accurately, some of the kids started singing. Our Katie, who had been relentlessly serenading us with Christmas songs at home and in the car for the past three weeks, did not sing a single word for the entire length of the performance. What she did do was this:

She turned her body away from the music teacher and directed all of her considerable attention and devotion to the audience seated in the right hand side of the cafeteria. She smiled. She wrinkled her nose. She played with her sweater sleeves (aargh!) and with the snowflake pin I’d loaned her. During the songs with hand motions, though, she did go along with the rest of the first grade, putting lots of energy into it, and still directing her performance to the little section of seats off to the side. And then, on one especially long song with lots of motions and little coordinated steps, she departed from the assigned choreography altogether and launched into what can only be called an interpretive Christmas dance, complete with hypnotic swaying and delicate, sweeping arm movements, at the end of which she took a very deep bow.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

I started out wincing, maybe even a little bit embarrassed that my child didn’t seem to be able to follow along with the rest of the “normal” kids. But as I watched her, I realized that I had it all wrong. She wasn’t really concerned with following along. It was as if she was dancing to music that she alone could hear. Paul leaned over to me and whispered, “I think she’s giving a concert all her own.” And for a second, I could see the bright lights in her eyes and hear the roar of applause in her ears.

Of course, she’ll have to work on the singing.

After the half-hour program was over and the thunderous applause had died down, parents were directed to pick up their kids back in their classrooms. I claimed Katie from Mrs. Albright and headed for the door. “Bye, Katie!” came a chorus of little voices. We bid them goodnight and began to press our way back down the hallway, now full of older kids, second and third graders, preparing to take their turn on the stage.

Then an amazing thing happened. As we walked by the lines of seven and eight year olds, one after another of them reached out to touch Katie’s shoulder or pat her arm. “Great job, Katie!” “You did wonderful, Katie!” “Katie, I saw you! Nice job!” Katie grinned back at them with a big “Thanks!”, accepting the praise as her due and waving goodbye. At the head of one line, a teacher stopped me to ask, “Are you Katie’s mom?” I nodded and she went on, “We just love having her here. Everybody likes Katie. She has such a great attitude.” I thanked her, feeling the prickle of sudden tears starting in the back of my eyes, and we moved on down the hall and out to the car.

***

Once in a while, a child is born who is a little “different”. Maybe their body doesn’t work right, or their mind is impaired. Whatever it is, it marks them forever and sets them apart from the pack. And as we watch them struggle through this life, cheering every hard-won milestone like it’s an Olympic event, we sometimes wonder why God would let it happen, why one so innocent and new would be made to bear this unfair burden and face so many obstacles in the path to the finish line.

Last night, I saw the true beauty of the gift God gave the world when He made my daughter. Her innocent joy, her enthusiasm, and even her struggles, can bring out unexpected kindness and gentleness in people. Her differences give everyone around her a chance to experience the warmth that fills you when you show acceptance and encouragement to someone who needs it. As child after child reached out to Katie, I had the distinct feeling that her victory in simply going onstage and performing was, in a sense, a victory for all of them, because they were all invested in her success. This seed of compassion, I hope, will take root and grow madly in every heart.

***

As for my girl, the shine of excitement and jubilance in her eyes said it all. Her debut performance was an unmitigated triumph. Later, as I tucked her into bed, I told her again how proud I was of her and how thankful that God gave me the best six year old in the world! Then I turned off the lights and left my Rock Star Princess to her dreams of thunderous applause.

And in my prayers last night, I did some applauding of my own.

37 Cents of Guilt

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It’s confession time once again, and this one’s a doozy for a self-proclaimed Christmas Extremist like me. Get ready for it:

I don’t send Christmas cards.

There. I said it. Wow. It feels so good to finally get that out in the open, even knowing that not sending Christmas cards constitutes a guaranteed, one-way trip to Santa’s Naughty List. I just couldn’t take it any more, going through the motions of hall-decking, goody-baking, carol-singing holiday perfection, all the while masking the shameful truth–that I have given up on yuletide greetings.

That’s not to say that I don’t love receiving Christmas cards. I adore hearing from friends far away and seeing photos of babies turning into children turning into teenagers as the Christmases pile up. I open each card as it arrives, perusing the letter for news of promotions and graduations, chuckling at yet another (no doubt heavily-sedated) dog dressed up like a reindeer, and placing it in our tabletop Christmas card basket to warm and entertain other members of the family. And yet, with each card I find in the mailbox comes a little twinge of guilt that tugs at my conscience with the knowledge that the sender will not be finding an answering missive among his own mail.

Why? Why would someone who so obviously adores the Christmas season and all its trappings, who admits to feeling uplifted and encouraged by the heartfelt holiday wishes of family and friends, neglect to spread the same joy to others by the relatively simple act of addressing and mailing Christmas cards?

The reason is so silly, I’m embarrassed to even write it. No, it’s not the cost of cards or stamps. It’s not the tedium of addressing the envelopes. It’s not even the mental labor of coming up with a line or two to write inside each one.

The reason I don’t send Christmas cards is that…I’m afraid of leaving someone out.

See, I told you it was silly. But once I sit down to write out a Christmas card list, I just keep going and going and going, like an eggnog-enhanced Energizer Bunny. It starts out fine, with family members–brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. Then I move on to my closest friends–my Harding roommate, the married college professors that “adopted” me when I was a student, my best girlfriends. So far, so good.

But then I remember that my cousin Alison lives just across the street from one of the bridesmaids from my wedding. What if they’re both out checking the mail at the same time and they happen to strike up a conversation, wherein Alison mentions that she just received my Christmas card? Why, my former bridesmaid will wonder, doesn’t Katrina keep in touch with me anymore? I mean, doesn’t she miss me? Aren’t I good enough to warrant a lousy 37-cent stamp and a scrawled “Love, Katrina” on the inside of a dime-store Christmas card? She’ll trudge forlornly back into her house, suddenly besieged by bitterness and self-doubt, all because I had to keep a holiday tradition alive. Obviously, I have to add her name to the list, if only to save her money on therapy bills. Of course, that means I have to send cards to all my bridesmaids, and the groomsmen, and the cake decorator, who went to college with my parents and will definitely feel slighted if the photographer, who I only met the month before the wedding, receives a card and she doesn’t. Oh, and the wife of one of the groomsmen is also a member of my ladies Bible study group, and I don’t want the other women to think I’m being cliquish, so they all have to go on the list, too. And now that I think about it, the Bible study leader belongs to my gym, so I’d better not forget my personal trainer, either…

Et cetera.

In my imagination, all the recipients on my Christmas card list are out parading around town with their cards clasped proudly in their hands, comparing my scribbled greetings line by line (Wait–she wrote three sentences in your card! I just got a “Merry Christmas!”) and weighing and measuring my love on Hallmark scales. I just can’t handle that kind of pressure! Curse my people-pleasing ways!

And that’s why I don’t send Christmas cards.

This way, I disappoint everyone equally. It works for me.

Just don’t be mad, okay?

Christmas Tag

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I’ve been tagged by my friend MsMeg to pass on the holiday cheer by answering the following questions:

1) Name three things that you would like to get for Christmas.

  • an “I (heart) my geek” t-shirt
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • world peace (well, either that or “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” on DVD)

2) Name three things that you are giving as gifts for Christmas.

  • foam rubber bowling pins
  • an Aquadoodle
  • a fruitcake*

3) Name three things that you hope no one will get you.

  • a fruitcake (particularly the one I am giving, which, if my research is correct, can trace its origins to Prince Edward’s Island, 1988)
  • polka music
  • any gift from Paul that might be associated with cleaning, cooking, or self-improvement (such reckless generosity could well end in one of us filing a police report)

Merry Christmas, and husbands: remember to shop responsibly!

*You may think that fruitcake is a thoughtless gift, as it is eschewed by 98% of the world’s inhabitants as inedible. However, many people overlook the fruitcake’s other useful applications–as a doorstop, a paperweight, a family heirloom, or even a weapon. Just learn to think outside the cake box. With that said, please don’t give me a fruitcake.

Veni, Vidi, Visa

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I love Christmas shopping. Especially on that chaotic, sale-saturated day that strikes terror into the hearts of reluctant, turkey-filled shoppers everywhere, the biggest shopping day of the year, the day that finds sane people safely at home with their doors locked: Black Friday. Maybe it’s my long-buried predatory instincts coming to the fore, but my heart leaps to the thrill of the hunt, the pulse-pounding race to the quarry, and the final deadly pounce on the very last 50% off Furby in town, seconds ahead of the grim-looking soccer mom with her rock hard jaw and her aggressive shopping cart maneuvers. It’s all I can do at such a moment to keep from lifting my voice in a primal scream of triumph and dancing wildly down the toy aisle while waving the plunder over my head in an unconscious mimicry of my mammoth-hunting forbears. Instead, with a satisfied flourish, I check one more name off of my Christmas shopping list and strike out in search of the next elusive prize.

***
Even better than getting a great deal is knowing that I’ve picked out the perfect present. It gives me a warm glow inside to know that the gift I’ve chosen will bring a delighted smile and a squeal of “It’s just what I wanted!” from the recipient. In fact, in the spirit of giving, I like to help Paul experience that same warm glow every year by dropping subtle hints about my most cherished Christmas wishes. Last year, for example, I was completely enamored with a beautiful three-diamond drop pendant I kept seeing on television advertisements featuring doe-eyed women fawning rapturously over men holding jewelry boxes in outstretched hands.

I’m not above a little fawning myself.

Without being so artless as to simply tell Paul what I wanted (where’s the fun in that?), I launched a campaign designed to leave him in no doubt of my appreciation for the lovely bauble.

“Oooh!” I cooed at the Kay Jeweler’s commercial, “Don’t you think it’s so romantic when she puts her hand in his jacket pocket to keep warm and finds that jewelry box? I always get a little teary-eyed at that part… Could you hand me a kleenex, honey?” As his gaze shifted to the TV screen, I stifled a grin of triumph. This was almost too easy.

“Hmph! What do they mean, ‘Every kiss begins with Kay?’ That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard! Like you’re not going to kiss me if I don’t give you diamonds? Boy, that’s messed up, isn’t it?”

“Heh. Yeah.”

Time for Plan B.

I left jewelry flyers scattered around the apartment with the picture of the pendant circled in black Sharpie, occasionally scribbling “I LOVE this!” in the margin for good measure. I coached all my girlfriends on what to say in case Paul asked any of them for gift ideas. I lingered over the jewelry counters on our trips to the mall, pointing out similar pieces with what I hoped was a sweetly wistful longing. I waxed poetic about how timeless and meaningful jewelry becomes when it is bestowed upon you by the man you love.

In a word, I was shameless.

But all to no avail. Paul seemed oblivious to my wiles, considerable as I like to think they are. Not a word was said, and, as Christmas approached, I prepared myself to love whatever quirky, surprising thing his heart had conjured up to give to mine.

I’m sure you know what’s coming.

Yes, after all the other gifts were lying on their beds of shed wrapping paper and the stockings had been turned inside out, Paul produced, like magic, a small black jewelry box. Inside was the beautiful three-diamond pendant of my dreams.

I screamed. I leapt like a gazelle. I did an impromptu “It’s Just What I Wanted” dance around the living room. I hugged Paul fiercely and fawned over him as no woman has fawned before.

Then, as I held him tight, he leaned in close and whispered in my ear those five little words that let me know that I was fooling exactly nobody:

“Every kiss begins with Kay.”

The Santa Snafu

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A big thanks for this blog idea goes out to Rose, who wrote to ask me my thoughts on an issue I have been trying very hard not to have any thoughts about. Santa Claus. The Big Guy. Mr. Ho-ho-ho. As a Christian, she wonders, how do I feel about the beloved old elf of Christmas myth, and do I have any reservations about embracing the idea of Santa Claus on a holiday that much of the world sets apart as a time to celebrate the birth of Christ?

That question is probably easier to answer than the one I actually struggle with. As a Christian, I think every day is a day to celebrate Christ—His birth, His sacrifice, His resurrection, His gift to humanity—so while I love that so many people turn their eyes and thoughts towards Bethlehem during the Christmas season, I have no trouble at all with the other delightful traditions that accompany the merry shouts of “Joy to the World” and “Sale at JCPenneys!”

No, my dilemma is this: I teach my children to tell the truth, no matter what. A six foot saint with a bottomless bag from Toys ‘R’ Us, who sucks down millions of plates of cookies and thousands of gallons of milk in a single night (and yet, miraculously, hasn’t landed in the cardiac unit of the North Pole E. R.), doesn’t exactly fit the definition of truth, per se. And though I love the magical allure of believing the impossible, there’s a little part of me that feels disingenuous about enthusiastically spinning out Santa yarns for my own children. Sure, the construction paper Santa with the cotton ball beard that Katie brings home from school gets a place of honor on the refrigerator, and letters to Santa are written and rewritten with spelling help from mom. We watch Christmas movies and I join in on the chorus of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with heartfelt gusto. Yet, like the government, I decline direct comment, neither confirming nor denying whatever assumptions the kids have made on the matter. Because, as hesitant as I am to deceive my children, I am also loathe to destroy the magic for them.

Katie’s A.S. complicates things a little, too. As I’ve mentioned, she has trouble with abstractions. She is such a concrete thinker that anything we tell her is etched in the Katie Lexicon as complete and exact truth. If we say that lying is wrong, all our later explanations of Santa Claus as an idea or a harmless allegory for the spirit of Christmas will fall on deaf ears. All she’ll remember is that we told her something that isn’t true.

I guess the way we handle the whole Santa Claus Conundrum hearkens back to a trick I learned in childhood: technical truth-telling. You know what I mean. It’s when your mom asks you if you snitched a cookie before dinner and you truthfully say “no”—because you know you actually snitched two. Likewise, when Katie asks me a question about Santa Claus, I artfully deflect:

“Mom, how does Santa Claus know if I’ve been good or not?”

“Well, what do you think, Katie?”

“Hmmm…maybe he has secret cameras all over the place and can see us all the time!”

“That’s an interesting guess.”

And so on.

I know it’s a little childish, but I’m straddling the fence for now. The day will come, I know, when Katie will ask me, directly and without equivocation, whether or not there’s a Santa Claus. And, because it’s what we’ve taught her, I’ll tell her the truth. But I see no need to hurry that day along—as we all know, it will come soon enough.