Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

As I think of the ability of Christmas to make symbolic peaceniks, if only for a day, of the most bellicose and jingoistic Christianists, my gratitude for the season grows. "Peace on Earth," said the Heavenly Host, praising God.
I enjoy the seasonal hubbub, and it's been more hubbub-ful than usual for me this year, and I'd love to tell you about it sometime, and all about the significance of a Merry Ganesh Christmas, but for now -- with a song of love in my heart -- I only want to wish you well, and Peace on Earth, Good Will Among All People.

* * *

Update, Dec. 26

Early in the month we had gone to a Saturday morning concert of “old-timey” music at the Museum of History and Industry, the ticket of which included an entrance into the museum, which I had never visited, so after the concert we looked around. An interesting and well-put-together museum, focussing mostly on Seattle history; lots of stuff I didn’t know, fascinating maps and absorbing photos. Santa was hanging out in the museum foyer, which was awesomely convenient: The kid wanted to visit Santa, and now we wouldn’t need to go to a mall! Santa had a 19th-century sleigh for picture-posing, and we all wanted a picture of the kid with St. Nick, so we paid and the kid sat up there clutching a teddy bear and some random bit of paper he had acquired from one of the exhibits, happy to be with Santa, who, this being the Museum of History and Industry, had told the kid all about the provenance of the sleigh. Terrific all around -- this wasn’t about consumerism -- wasn’t in a mall -- it was about face time with the gentleman in red. Funny thing was, the photography technology was historic too, and instead of an instant digital print, we would have to come back the next week to pick up the evidence.

A week went by and then another, and then finally it was 8 days before Christmas, and I needed to mail off presents to relatives in Michigan, Chicago, and California. My beloved spouse’s employer had unexpectedly sent her to Centralia, 100 miles south, to help people displaced by the flood that had buried parts of I-5 under 10 feet of water and had for three or four days sent travelers between Portland and Seattle on a 150-mile detour across two mountain passes and through Yakima. She was to be gone for four days which thankfully ended up being three. And since we had ordered an extra Santa photo to send to my mom, I had to pick them up on the way to dropping the kid off at pre-school.

The museum seemed empty except for the two clerks, a friendly young man and woman, who asked us to look at the contents of our envelope before leaving, to make sure we had the right pics. The kid opened the envelope and the young man and woman laughed in a friendly manner as his eyes grew big at seeing himself with Santa. Awesome. We had the right photos. For several days the kid ate breakfast with his photo set up in front of his table so he could commune with Santa while eating his oatmeal.

He turns five in a few weeks, and this is the first year he has had consumerist ambitions for Christmas. He wrote Santa a letter, and all he wanted was art: A statue of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-headed god; a statue of the Buddha; a book of Japanese art post cards that we had seen at a terrific exhibit of Japanese art at the Seattle Art Museum; and landscape paintings of the rain forest and the desert, the inspiration of which desire eludes me. He knew, vaguely, about Ganesh and the Buddha partly from a lovely children’s book about customs around the world, called People, by Peter Spier; also his last daytime babysitter before he began pre-school was a Buddhist woman from Sri Lanka whom the kid loves.

But the kid has been concerned for Santa’s welfare too. Christmas Eve he asked if I had Santa’s phone number; he wanted to call.

“Why do you want to call him?”

“I want to ask him if likes to play golf in the summer.” Stone cold serious.

“You thought you might like to give him golf clubs as a present?”


Our neighbors whom we see all the time play golf, so maybe he got the inspiration there; it wasn’t from me or my beloved spouse.

I was going to take Christmas Eve off, but last week a new prospective client whose name appeared to be Muslim called requesting a meeting, and I would have had to have waited until after the New Year if I said No to Christmas Eve, and that didn’t seem fair, and we are making an effort to improve client satisfaction in our office, so I went in for a morning meeting, which ended up going longer than usual, in part because the couple was from Iraq and we got to chatting about the Middle East. A very nice couple, bitterly critical of Saddam and the current car-bombers, and terribly sad about all the destruction of the current war, but they expressed no anti-war sentiment, and so I didn’t either; we spoke more generally of the cultural history, and they in particular about Iraq’s history of peaceful religious cohabitation; the wife wore a head-scarf -- my guess was right -- but they spoke with cultural, Iraqi pride about inter-religious marriages among their social circle, Jews and Muslims marrying, Muslims and Christians.

After the meeting I had some last-minute Christmas shopping to do, and my beloved spouse had the inspiration of getting a scooter for the kid, so I ended up heading to the mall after all. And when I got there I was shocked and amused to be hit with a wave of consumerist lust for the first time in my adult life
(aside from book and music lust): I wanted to buy every toy and trinket for the kid, just for that momentary hit of delight when he ripped open the wrapping paper. I held back and only bought a few things, including a Hot Wheels car, and a used, four-dollar Christmas CD from 1966 by Julie Andrews with arrangements and harpsichord by Andre Previn for my spouse’s stocking, which I knew she would know was more for me and laugh about, even though she likes Julie Andrews and Christmas music too.

Christmas Eve afternoon the kid and I did some Christmas shopping for the woman of the house, which I enjoyed last year too: Picking out blouses for her at the second-hand store. The kid’s eye is at least as discerning as mine, and he has a generous attitude; and we went to a toy store to get last-minute gifts for the next-door neighbors, who had surprised us with a gift for our kid. Our kid knows what their kids like -- they play together all the time -- so that was fun. On the way to the neighborhood toy store -- this was a foot trip -- I speculated about the store’s name. I had thought that it was Izilla with a long “I,” but the kid said no, it’s Izilla with a short “i.” I said that I bet the owners have a daughter named Isabell and her nickname is Izilla. I asked about the name as we paid for our items; the owner’s son is Isaiah and Izilla (long “I”) is his nickname. Now he’s seven-and-a-half, and he just goes by Zilla, and yes (I asked), they have had his photo taken by the Zillah town sign (a small town near Yakima). I love guessing things.

We went to the house of friends for Christmas Eve dinner, a family with three kids whose mother is a convert to Hinduism, who was tickled that our boy wanted Hindu and Buddhist icons for Christmas. They have three kids age 16 to 21, lovely kids (two of them are adults now, I keep forgetting!) who have all baby-sat for us. Another family and three other friends of the hosts’ sat around the long table and discussed slang. Sandy, our Hindu host, had embarrassed her 16-year-old son by interjecting into a conversation he was having with two of his friends in their dining room, “That’s totally G!” And then laughing so hard at her own faux-slang that she cried. She had plotted the interjection for weeks, ever since Martin, the son, had responded to her discussion of her belief in reincarnation by saying, “Wow, Mom, that’s totally sick,” to which she had calmly replied, “Now Martin, I am respectful when you talk about things of importance to you,” not realizing that “sick” means “cool” in the current parlance. (I would have been confused too.)

Needless to say, the dinner was totally G.

After dinner we started a game of Cranium, which neither my spouse nor I had played and which we all were enjoying, until our son started crying in pain, coughing and saying he couldn’t breathe. Obviously he could, but he was in distress, and this went on for some time, and so we went to the hospital.

After an hour the distress went away, and other than a fever he was fine, but they ran a bunch of tests, thinking it might be strep throat. It wasn’t. He had had a cold, and his tonsils had suddenly, briefly swelled to the point that his throat started to close off. The first doctor had been concerned that the swelling could continue until the air passage were completely blocked -- our concern as well. The second doctor said that if it happened again we shouldn’t worry until his lips started to turn blue. Easy for him to say! The kid didn’t like getting jabbed for the blood test and the IV, but once the IV was hooked up he thought it was cool that a bag of saline solution was dripping into his arm. He didn’t fall asleep until past one o’clock, and we didn’t get home until 2:15. And then we had to wrap presents.

Wrapping presents was pleasant, my beloved spouse and me on the floor around the Christmas tree, and then she went to bed and I had a few more to wrap. By this time it was past 4:00, and I hoped we would sleep late. I ate a piece of shortbread that the kid and I had decided to leave out for Santa, and part of a carrot for the reindeer, and a glass of milk and eggnog, and artfully left the crumbs, empty glass, and a crumpled napkin by the mantle.

Around 9:30 the kid crawled into bed with his mom for a snuggle. I said Merry Christmas to him and the words made him very happy and he repeated them and promptly fell back asleep until noon. Which we all needed. Fever gone, just slight a cold. Phone calls from relatives had started coming in around 11:00, which I had fielded, and then, exactly like a cartoon dad, I got excited and wanted to wake the kid, but my spouse didn’t let me, which I knew was the right decision, and I fell back asleep too.

First question after “Did Santa come?” was whether we had left a snack for Santa, and my spouse’s face froze in a moment of fear, but relaxed when she saw that I took the question calmly. The kid was very excited to see the remains of the snack, and for a moment I felt that yes, Santa had come; the awe of a kid can be contagious. I did a lot of theater in my early 20s; a performance of mine in a Brecht play got a good review in the Yale Drama Review; I had a leading role in the first play by one of America’s best and most prolific playwrights; stupendously talented and lifelong dedicated theater artists let me work with them -- but all day long until I washed the dishes last night I felt that that arrangement of crumbs had been the best bit of theater I had ever been involved with.

The kid was amazed that Santa had given him things that he liked even though he hadn’t asked for them (a toy car, a bottle of root beer, a mask-making craft book). After our 2:00 PM breakfast it began to snow, but the snow had turned to sleet by the time my spouse and I went for a walk as the kid went to play with neighbors. Phone calls from friends and family. Dinner at the home of friends across the alley.

December 25 started with a bang in the emergency room; I ended up being more grateful than usual for health and family. Sleeping until noon was weird but necessary and Christmas afternoon could not have been lovelier. I hope you’ve been having a good solstice season, a merry Christmas if that’s your persuasion.

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