Thursday, December 24, 2009

Countdown to Santa Claus

My little angel is manic right now and I am having trouble stringing words together, I’m so distracted. And sleep deprived. Normally, she sleeps late and allows me to do the same, which nicely balances out the weird staying up too late thing I’ve been doing recently, but not since she realized how close to Christmas we are. This morning, just like yesterday, she climbed into my bed to pester me into wakefulness, but I admit I love to cuddle with my baby, always in the back of my mind that soon enough she won’t want to anymore.

Being the pagan that I am, Christmas for us is entirely about the tree, lights, getting together with friends, and lots of fun food. Yesterday we made gingerbread - for making a gingerbread house tomorrow, and also for gingerbread men. We also made dipped chocolates. I loved making dipped chocolates as a child. This year I wanted to make them with M, and she seriously considered what three flavors we would make the centers. She chose raspberry, orange, and peppermint, and we colored them accordingly. She was really pretty good at rolling the fondant into little balls, but of course, lost interest in doing it long before all the balls had been made. That’s the fun of being the Mom. Going to the trouble of planning, arranging, setting up, and creating these projects, so that our kids can engage in something like candy making for a few minutes before wandering off to get into trouble in another part of the house while your hands are covered with chocolate.

The wine bottle got opened early. Outside our window, the snow kept falling all day, the kitchen was warm, the scent of gingerbread and chocolate creating a heady perfume, and Windam Hill was playing on the stereo (what M calls ballet music). She danced around the room in her pink tutu and undershirt for a long time, and then it occurred to her to go outside and play in the snow, in the dark, in her tutu. (She thought to put on a jacket, but didn’t feel she needed pants. Or boots, at first.) By the time was able to trundle her off to bed, we had a kitchen table covered with chocolate candy and cooling gingerbread pieces.

Today we are going over to our friends’ house for more cookie making, then back home to prepare for Santa. M can’t wait to hang her stocking. Tomorrow morning, she has a huge pile of presents to open, but I’m pretty sure I successfully dissuaded her dad from sending her the Zsu Zsu hamsters he thought (not being a real parent) would be a great idea. I have my fingers crossed. Merry Solstice/Christmas/Festivus, everyone!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Brother, Can you spare a tree?

Being unemployed is an interesting experience. The last time I was unemployed for an uncomfortable length of time, it was summer and I had a big landscaping project that took a lot of time and effort. I put in a retaining wall by myself, along with a lot of other things. My mind was occupied, my muscles were tired, and I had something tangible taking shape in front of me. Compared to now, living in a rented townhouse, in the wintertime; I realized again last night how much I miss my garden. I feel so useless right now, and I’m not suited to spending a lot of time watching tv. Sometimes I have moments of real terror and panic as I worry about the future. Despite this, I am trying to keep my concerns to myself at the same time being realistic with my child about some extravagant things we can’t afford.

The holidays are never a good time for me, and although I really love certain aspects of Christmas, overall I dread this season. The last couple of Christmases at my parents’ house, I tried in vain to avoid the Christmas Present Extravaganza that they unleashed on my daughter. My mother never listens to me, but I still tried to make her understand that I didn’t want to instill a materialistic concept of “getting” that heaps of presents would create in her mind. I also knew that as a single parent, I wasn’t going to be able to keep this going and didn’t want to set up unrealistic expectations. My daughter has lots of toys and other things, and her birthday is only 3 months after Christmas. The practice of buying random things just to have an impressive pile of wrapped packages makes me crazy. I wanted to try to make it about fun experiences instead of Stuff, but my mother did what she wanted and Christmas morning the last couple years was unbelievable. Along with the few nice, fun gifts that would have been completely fine, they kept piling on the crap so that she was clearly overwhelmed by the end of the morning, surrounded by piles of stuff that she didn’t even register.

This year, it is just the two of us in our little place, and she won’t be getting piles of stuff, and I tried to prepare her expectations without ruining her anticipation of Christmas. This year she is five, and believes in Santa, and Mommy is unemployed. I’ve tried to keep the conversation generalized, not so much about our own situation, and so we just say that this year, with the economy being so bad, that lots of people are having a more low-key Christmas. I reassured her that Santa will bring her something, and that we will have a Christmas tree.

Most years, no matter how poor I was, I found a way to have a tree, so I am certainly not going to short my daughter when I didn’t deprive myself, and so we set off yesterday to bring one home. I did tell her though, that we might have to go to more than one place because I didn’t want to spend too much money. She is so sweet and perceptive, and I don’t want her feelings to get hurt. I still remember how my little brother would howl if we left a store without buying anything.

I checked online to see where the lots were, although I had seen some cut trees at the grocery store and knew that if it came down to it, we could get one there. Those trees had been leaning there still wrapped up for quite a while though, and I knew what shape they were in. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Plus, the crappy grocery store trees weren’t cheap.

We drove around where I had read that they had a pretty good lot, and it took a while to find it. When we pulled up, we were the only ones there. It was windy and cold outside, and there was a lone woman struggling to tie down a wreath that had blown over. I rolled down my window and asked her what the price range on her trees was. I told her I wanted a little tree, about 4 feet tall. (Even if money were no object, we don’t have a lot of room.) When she came over to the car to talk to me, M piped up from the back seat. “Hi!” she said to the woman, who smiled and said hi back. The woman tells me what a 4 ft tree would cost, and she says she thinks they have a tree in our budget. M announces to her very seriously “We are running low on money.”

I felt a little embarrassed, and I also could tell that the woman probably felt worse than I did. I just laughed a little bit and said to M, that yeah, we were, but it sounded like we’d be able to get a nice tree here. We got out of the car and I couldn’t help but think about how it seemed that we were in an old movie, where I have my kid pretend to be destitute to con the tree seller to give us a good price on a tree. I thought about what we looked like, me with my little blonde haired girl, talking about how we don’t want to spend too much. I’d put what I thought was enough cash in my pocket and we followed her to the trailer to pay. When we went inside the trailer, mostly to get out of the cold, the guys who also worked there were huddled together, and they jumped up a little embarrassed, making room for us. They were young and had genuine smiles, and they looked like they’d been woken up too early on a cold windy day. When the woman told me what the total was with tax, I was short the 28 cents, which I told her as I handed over the bills, intending to walk back to the car for the change. Quickly she said she’d take care of it, and gave M a handful of little candycanes.

The young men cut the end off and wrapped the tree in my tarp, and took my rope and tied the tree to the top of my Rav for me, as I put M in the back seat. They were all very nice to us and wished us a Merry Christmas as we pulled away.

We decorated the tree, with M putting ornaments wherever it suited her, and she was pleased with my ornaments, which have been packed away these past years. She thinks we have a very pretty tree, and danced around happy last night in front of the twinkling lights.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ah ha moment while watching Arrested Development

When you’ve read this, you will be thinking to yourself, “why?” So, please understand that there were extenuating circumstances and let’s just leave it at that, for now. Okay?

I used to have in my mind Stephen Colbert or Rainn Wilson, or a mutant child of the two of them, but now I have had an epiphany and realize that it is Buster from Arrested Development. This is who my child’s father really is most like. When I heard the actress say the line “people find you odd and alienating,” it made me gasp in recognition. I studied the sweater over the button-down shirt. I looked at the dorky glasses, the high forhead, the receding hairline that makes the non-existent hairstyle look that much worse, and especially the awkward smile and speech patterns. And I knew. My daughter’s father is who they modeled Buster on. They must have followed him around the Cape for a while, studying how he likes to sit alone at a bar and drink PBR and pretend he’s slumming. While he watches boat racing on the TV. Because so many blue collar regular guys closely follow the America’s Cup.

Yes, my poor, poor child is the biological descendent of a person who took for granted his parent’s money and their provision of a good education, squandered it over five years and two schools, finally and barely getting his degree in History, only to spend the next sixteen years in a series of sporadic, menial, dead-end entry level jobs, moving across the country and back, living in crappy cheap apartments, making few friends and fewer impressions, but managing, through some ironic twist of fate, to stop off in Colorado long enough several years ago to impregnate me.

Whenever I consider how his family must feel about him, I think, sardonically, “They must be so proud.” He is now living with them, doing god knows what, and I can only be grateful for the 2023 miles that keep him from being more of a colossal pain in the ass to me than he already is. A master of nothing except being supremely passive aggressive, he recently told me he wants to – over the course of the next few years – acquire the “skills that I can support myself with.”

Did I mention that he’s almost forty?


Lately, his shenanigans have been getting me down. There is no personality disorder I find more tedious and aggravating to deal with than passive aggressiveness. It is no accident that my mother is a master of this game, as well. To have two of them in my life, simultaneously, both of whom have a stake in my daughter’s life… well, it’s no wonder I drink. Please be gentle with me. I know where I went wrong.