What Christmas Means To Me

This is probably the last thing that I should be writing, right now. As of this particular moment in time on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence  the question, “What does Christmas mean to me,” can be answered with one word and one word only: Pain. As in sinus, head and throat. As in I woke up this past, Monday Morning–Christmas Eve for those of you that have been living under a rock or do not celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday–with virtually the same ailment that both of my girls had last week. But wait, you may argue, didn’t your girls have two, separate ailments? Yes. They did, and I got the best of both worlds, i.e. Cara’s fever and Natalie’s congestion. I am a walking, talking, barely breathing, woozy headed, medicated facsimile of a smiling face, right now, and the smiley face? I’ve only got that on for my customers. I’d much rather drink a bottle of Nyquil and crawl up in to a corner for the next day and a half. But I can’t. I won’t. ‘Cause as Freddy Mercury so aptly sang despite his foreknowledge of his own, personal condition, “The show must go on!”

To be honest with you? The only reason that I’m here and not at home, in bed right now is because I need to ensure that the dozen or so moving parts of the massive cylinder order leaving the factory for my biggest OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) this PM get off without a hitch. That’s the kind of thing that I do for my customers, guys. Most Inside Sales/Customer Service people punch in quotes, punch in orders and talk on the phone only when unnecessary. They take sick time when they’re sick (and sometimes when they’re not). But me? I throw myself bodily in to my work. I persevere despite how incredibly sh*tty I feel. I go out and visit my customers. I get to know them on a personal level and not just a professional one. I’m not sure why I do it that way, I just do. And it seems to work pretty well so really, why f*ck around with the system?

Because the older I get, the worse I feel. Yes, I know I’m only 37 years young but “getting sick” can’t be cured by 30 Jello shots and a bottle of champagne anymore. I need real medicine and I need rest. And consistent rest is something I have not been getting these last few weeks.

So why? Why chose now to write a blog post about what Christmas means to me? Won’t your answers be skewed by your condition, you may argue. They may. But I just popped a couple of Tylenol Severe Cold and Flu that I picked up at 7-11, along with a low sugar, Monster Energy Drink and I can already feel my nasal pathways, my head and my chest drying up. It’s amazing what Acetaminophen can do when combined with an antihistamine and caffeine. I’m not saying that I feel 100% better… I don’t. But I’m feeling a bit more functional than I was a few paragraphs ago and some things? Well, I’ve waited a few days to write this and I don’t want to wait any longer lest I forget them. So damn the pounding in my ears, I’m goin’ for broke.

This past Christmas–or this past Tuesday for those of you that have been living under a rock or only celebrate Hanukkah–was my 38th on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Mind you, I really don’t remember the first couple but I can remember from roughly my fifth or sixth on. I can’t recall every gift… every detail of those earliest Christmas mornings but I can remember how they felt. In short? They felt magicalBefore I knew the sad truth about Santa Claus; before I learned that reindeer generally don’t fly, not even with some of Cheech and Chong’s magic dust; before I realized that my then-father now sperm donor had eaten the cookies and drank the milk that I and my little sister had diligently left out for the other big guy, Christmas morning was a time of infinite possibility. In truth? It was the only time. Not even my birthday could match it’s awesomeness.

All that changed as I got older and realized “the truth.” Christmas morning was a time of necessity. It was a time to get up before 10:00 AM–something which I rarely did in my teens–and eat breakfast with my mother and my sister. It was a time to open my significantly smaller pile of gifts with each, passing year despite the fact that all I really wanted to do was kick back on the couch and watch “A Christmas Story” over and over again. Magical gifts like the original Millennium Falcon and the Darth Vader carrying case–both of which are worth bow-coo bucks presently in mint condition; who knew?–were replaced by clothes, more clothes and the occasional novelty gift, i.e. “junk.” All this culminated in my first Christmas away from home–1997 for those of you that are counting–when I slept too late at my apartment, missed Christmas breakfast and showed up at my Mom’s hungover and smelling of tequila and cigarettes around noon. I still don’t know if my mother ever forgave me for that trespass. If she still begrudges me it let me formally state the obvious herein: I’m sorry. And if she forgot about it some time ago? Well, I guess I can’t blame her. Only pseudo-madmen like myself can remember things as mundane and inane as this and can barely remember what they ate for lunch yesterday.

For the record, it was leftover Eggplant Parmesan, a meatball and a low sugar, Monster Energy Drink. Anyone else sensing that “caffeine dependency” is a theme for your old buddy the Madchronicler? My neurologist would have a field day with my caffeine consumption, presently. No migraines for the moment. Just a pounding in my sinuses, my head and my chest that already appears to be returning despite the fact that I just popped those Tylenol Cold and Sinuses an hour ago. All together now: Oh f*ck me. Sorry, but I abandoned oh thank God last night.

And then, three plus years ago, something amazing and unexpected happened: My wife and I had a child. Okay, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. We had been trying for a while. But it wasn’t Cara’s birth that I was referring to as “unexpected.” It was my own renewed interest in Christmas. I remember waking up that December 25th, long before Cara and Nicole did in anticipation of Cara’s reaction to seeing all of her presents under the tree… of her happiness at realizing that Santa had eaten all of his cookies and drank all of his milk. I guess in my elation, I neglected to realize that Cara was only five months and some change old at the time and could barely sit up, much less realize that some jolly and jiggly, red suit clad, cookie and milk loving sot had slid down our non-existent chimney and left her an army of Fisher Price, Playschool and Leap Pad stuff. Still, it was fun opening her presents for her and giving her the paper to play with.

But a fundamental change had been enacted in my life, guys. With each, subsequent year I got more and more “in” to Christmas as Cara realized more and more that something different was happening. This year, my wife and I had our second child (Natalie for those of you keeping score), and Cara turned three. And I knew, even before the season started that this Christmas was going to be as fun as hell.

My anticipation reached a feverish level on Monday night–Christmas Eve for those of you that have been living under a rock or who celebrate Kwanzaa–and that wasn’t because of the temperature I was running. It wasn’t due to the myriad medicines, the two low sugar, Monster Energy drinks that I had consumed or the periodic shots of vodka I was taking when mine and my wife’s families weren’t looking to dull the itch in my throat. Okay, so maybe those factors played in to it a bit but I got very little sleep and was up before anyone else on Christmas morning. I actually had to wait a half an hour for Cara and Nicole to wake up (Natalie is still portable and hence not as much a wakeful necessity) before I could go downstairs. But when I walked down those stairs and saw all of the presents under the tree and against the wall behind and beside it… when I looked over at the end table and saw the cookie crumbs on the plate that Cara had left for Santa, the empty cup that smelled a little like sour milk and the note that Santa had left Cara and Natalie? Well sh*t. I felt the magic come flooding back in to my living room for the first time since I was an impressionable youth despite the fact that I knew “the truth” behind the staged scene laid out before me. It. Was. Christmas! And there was much rejoicing.

Yay!   

In short? I had come full circle, friends. As I turned on the tree and the iPad underneath it which had “Merry Christmas!” written in bold, flowing  purple letters across its face I realized that the reaction that I was about to witness in Cara was the same as the reaction that my own mother and, for a time, my own father turned sperm donor had witnessed in me on those early, Christmas mornings of my life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. The impression of the prototypical, Thomas Kincade Christmas morning was heightened by the rapidly melting, coat of white snow that lay upon the ground outside and the lingering scent of baked cookies that hung over my head from the previous day. Throw in a roaring fireplace which we do not have (the Yule Log is not a sufficient substitute, BTW) and you’ve got a scene to rival any cinematic vision of Christmas morning ever created including my all time favorite, the one that takes place in the Nexus for Captain Jean Luc Picard in “Star Trek: Generations.” Yes, I went there. Don’t believe me? Check it out at your leisure and tell me I’m wrong. I triple dog dare you.

In a word? No. It did not.

Um…

Wow. Talk about anti-climactic.

I’m serious, though. It played out like this: Cara came downstairs, smiled and stated very nonchalantly that “Santa was here” before she seated herself next to where my wife indicated her pile was and began to rip through her presents. She further “assisted” her little sister, myself and my wife with our piles. As the process unfolded she seemed to get more and more “in” to what she was doing but admittedly, the entire outcome was somewhat unexpected considering how sure I had been of her reaction leading up to it. After a whirlwind 45 minutes, everything was opened and she was asking me and my wife to remove toys from boxes so she could play with them.

In all honesty? I should have been prepared for it as soon as she came in to mine and my wife’s bedroom and informed us that she did not believe that Santa had come ’cause she had not heard him or his reindeer on the roof of our house. Which is a legitimate point as the ceiling of her room is directly beneath said rooftop. But I was not. Don’t get me wrong: I was not disappointed. Far from it, actually. I savored every shredded piece of wrapping paper that fell upon our living room floor and every “ooh” and “ahh” that her gifts elicited. And I did not for once doubt her belief that “Santa was here” despite her not having heard him and his reindeer because, as she stated at numerous points over the course of the following day and evening, Santa had gotten her everything that she had asked for and she was very thankful.

Perhaps I simply built the scenario up too much in my mind. Maybe she wasn’t quite as ready to embrace the magic of Christmas morning as I thought she was at three and a half. Or maybe the times have changed and the mentalities of our children have done the same. I’m inclined to lean more toward the latter though the former is also a distinct possibility. Little exists in the way of magic nowadays and what does exist is called “fantasy” by most. Our kids? They learn this from the get go. More attention is paid to the sciences and mathematics than is paid to the arts, nowadays. As for me? I’m not a true believer in magic as it exists traditionally though I am a lover of everything and anything fantasy. Wizards and witches, warlocks and leprechauns? There is no place for such things in a world where everything from a holiday to our national debt is analyzed at the microscopic or, some might say quantum level. Such things now fall in to the realm of “fiction” and not “reality.” Not even “Little Kid Reality.”

And Christmas? Both the story that we all know so well and the fundamental spirituality at the center of it (see: Jesus Christ; Saint Nicholas) have been glossed over by the big box retailers and the idea guys. Case in point: The Elf on the Shelf. While I love ours like a member of our family, albeit one that merely shows up for approximately 30 days at the end of the year, wreaks havoc and then leaves, where is Jingle in the traditional canon of Christmas? What child ever wrote in their “What Christmas Means To Me” essay, “My Elf on the Shelf, Buddy, who likes to TP our Christmas tree and have an affair with Barbie right under Ken’s nose.”

None that I know of though there’s always the possibility that there’s some sick and twisted kid out there that thinks like I do. The fact is, Christmas in 2012 (pushing 2013) is not the same as it was 30 plus years ago, or even 15 years ago in 1997. Our children are not the same. Whereas my generation and I were born in to a world of notebooks, number two pencils and Trapper Keepers, Cara and Natalie’s generation is being born in to a world of iPads and Cloud storage. All one of them needs to do is Google “is Santa Claus real” and “the truth” will be revealed. My generation, disenchanted with the magic of Christmas created the same technologies that our children are now being born with. The Catch-22? We used our imaginations to create such things, the same imaginations that once upon a time believed that Santa Claus and his reindeer flew to and landed silently upon our rooftops despite the fact that reindeer aren’t supposed to be able to fly, not even with a sprinkling of Cheech and Chong’s magic dust…

…that Santa slid down our chimneys despite the fact that 75 to 80% of us, growing up, did not have chimneys and the physics of a 400 pound man sliding through an opening with a diameter of a foot are virtually inconceivable…

…that he ate the cookies and drank the milk that we had diligently left out for him…

…that the Thomas Kincade scenes imprinted upon Christmas and post cards, and popularized in movies like “Star Trek: Generations” were, in fact, actual scenes of the perfect Christmas morning that at some point in time existed on this, or any side of the proverbial wormhole of existence.

We created the mentality that our children are now being born with: That everything once considered magical or fantastical has been relegated to the fiction shelf of your local big box, book retailer (see: Barnes and Noble), or the online store of your preferred internet, big box retailer (see: Amazon.com). Even Christmas. But still, there is that teeny, tiny part of me that was watching Cara very, very closely on Christmas morning and could see, despite her nonchalant exterior, a twinkle in her eyes that had not existed the previous evening when I had put her to bed. She saw all of those presents beneath the Christmas tree, the empty plate that had once held cookies and the cup beside it that had once held milk, the note that was printed in her Mommy’s distinctive handwriting and she knew that something had happened. Maybe not something magical but something special. Someone had come, be said someone Santa Claus or Daddy/Mommy Claus, and said someone had gotten her everything that she had put on her Christmas list…

And she was very thankful.

What does Christmas mean to me? The same thing that it meant to me when I was a child. I drowned it for a while with tequila and cigarettes, not to mention a heaping dose of skepticism, one too many viewings of “A Christmas Story” and one too few mornings simply sitting around the Yule Log, enjoying my family’s company. I forgot about it for a while but over these last few years, I’ve remembered it. Even without magic, Christmas morning has been and always will be a time of infinite possibility.

As for Cara? Well sh*t. She’s only three and a half. I can only remember as far back as my fifth or sixth Christmas.

Who knows?

Happy Holidays, everyone.

 

Defining “Monster”

It’s the most wonderful time of the year my fellow denizens of the universe on this side of the proverbial wormhole of  existence. But presently, the sublime joy that I should be feeling about the holiday season despite my pseudo-Grinchiness in years past has been supplanted not by questions about the existence of Santa Claus, Missus Claus, their nine flying reindeer (why do people always exclude Rudolph and just say “eight flying reindeer” anyway? I mean sh*t, they didn’t write a song about Dasher and Dancer; they wrote a song about Rudolph) and their cadre of indentured servants I mean elves but about something completely unrelated. Unrelated, and unexpected.

I can’t believe that I didn’t see this coming. I mean, I should have. After all, Cara is my daughter and if history has taught me anything about… well, me its taught me that I’m not always the most well-adjusted individual. Those of you that have known me since the wayward days of my youth are aware of this, as well (sacrificing Billy Joel to the highway gods, anyone?). And for the most part, Cara has shown signs that she is a carbon copy of my wife/her mother, Nicole, and not me, which is good. No blogs entitled “Random Musings of a Pseudo-Madwoman” in her future. Is it any wonder that I let my guard down? No. Not really. But I did, and guess what happened?

It all started a few weeks before Halloween. We were hanging around in our living room after dinner one Sunday night. I was feeding Natalie and Cara was watching “Tangled.” Nicole was on her computer looking at Halloween costumes and she asked Cara, “What do you want to be for Halloween, honey?”

Cara’s immediate response? “A monster.”

Me: “A monster, huh?” I turned to Nicole and mouthed pridefully, that’s my daughter. Nicole smiled sarcastically, rolled her eyes and shook her head.

Cara: “Yes.”

Nicole: “Why not a kitty cat, honey? Or a princess?”

Cara: “No, mommy. I want to be a monster. Can Natalie be a monster, too?”

Admittedly, the initial pride that I felt at not only Cara wanting to be a monster for Halloween but having her baby sister be one, too quickly faded and I began to question myself and my parenting skills. How does Cara even know about monsters, I thought. As far as I knew and as far as I know presently, the only exposure that my three year old has ever had to monsters is via Sesame Street. And Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster and Telly aren’t exactly the invasive monsters that most of us associate with the term, i.e. Dracula, the Werewolf, Frankenstein, the Blob and the Crites to name a few.

FYI: If you don’t know what a Crite is you need to check out the movie “Critters.” It came out in the mid-1980’s and it is a masterful piece of Reagan Era, cinematic super cheese. Think a Tribble gone cannibal and you’ll develop an accurate representation of what the f*ck a Crite looks like. Add a spattering of foul language and a couple of shape shifting, alien bounty hunters (one of whom looks like Jon Bon Jovi) and you end up with one of my all time, favorite movies. See? I told you I wasn’t always the well-adjusted, picture of sanity that you are all familiar with.

Um… yeah. Right. End FYI.

Back to monsters and Cara’s understanding of them. I didn’t think much of it at the time save for my initial, subconscious inquiry. Neither Nicole nor I had any intention of introducing Cara to the darker side of the term “monster.” Hell, we didn’t even want to let her watch “Monsters Inc.” despite its significance to our relationship (for those of you that didn’t know, “Monsters Inc.” was the movie Nicole and I went to see on our first date back in 2001). We let it lie. Halloween came and went and Cara was the cutest little, pink monster that I’ve ever seen. Natalie was a close second and that is not a reflection on her but rather, on her disinterest in wearing her monster hat which, had she worn it, would have made her the cutest little, pink monster that I’ve ever seen and Cara a close second (like how I did that?). We gallivanted around the neighborhood and collected candy for the better part of an hour before we returned home. Cara took off her costume and went to bed, and there was no more talk of monsters. None.

Then.

Sadly, Cara’s fascination with monsters did not end with her Halloween costume. Rather, it went in to hibernation for a few weeks before re-rearing its ugly, horned and pimpled head this past Monday night. It started innocently enough. I picked her and her sister up from school as I normally do. We made our way out the door in to the dark and out to my waiting car.  As I was loading Natalie in to her car seat I peripherally saw Cara step up on to the grassy knoll beside which my car was parked. I instinctively turned and stated in my best Unkie Frank voice, “Cara Angelina, don’t wander where I can’t see you.” She turned back to me, smiled, and said “why, daddy?”

Me: “Because its dark up there, baby.”

Cara: “Oh. And there are monsters in the dark, daddy.” To this day I thank God that Natalie was firmly affixed in her car seat else I’m not sh*tting you: I may have dropped her in shock at what my three year old had just muttered (Dad of the Year, I know). Thankfully, I had her seated and was able to tighten the straps around Natalie’s shoulders and midsection before I turned back to Cara.

Me: “No, Cara. There are no monsters in the dark.”

Cara: “Are there monsters in the day, daddy?”

Me: Ah f*ck. I didn’t vocalize those words but I thought them along with the question, how the f*ckity f*ck f*ck do I answer THAT? 

I didn’t. I closed the door, walked over, gathered her up and changed the topic from monsters to her day as I bucked her in to her own car seat, closed her door, climbed in to the driver’s seat, started the car and drove home. She went along innocently enough. The trade-off was that I had to listen to Cee Lo Green and the Muppets sing “All I Need Is Love” about five times between her daycare and our house which, in all honesty, is not that bad of a trade-off. BTW, if you haven’t heard that song yet check it out on Youtube. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. It’s an instant Christmas classic. I’d post a link here but I’d rather not distract from the topic of this blog entry anymore than I already have or will.

Later that night as I was putting her to bed, it came up again. As we were going through the nightly routine that Cara uses to push her bedtime back a minimum of 15 minutes–Cara reading me a story, us rocking, Cara getting in to bed, Cara asking for a drink, Cara needing to saying goodnight to Lucy her fish, et cetera, et cetera–she got emotional and asked me not to leave. When I asked her why her response was, to say the least, predictable per our earlier conversation. Nevertheless, I was still surprised by the suddenness of it:

“I don’t want to be alone in here with Lucy, my [stuffed] animals and the monsters.”

Me: Ah f*ck. F*ckity f*ck f*ck. Um… yeah. Right. That is, to say, I was utterly speechless for the second time in approximately three hours. After I’d composed myself, I explained to her that there were no monsters in her room and that if there were monsters her daddy would protect her from them. But that led to her asking “so there are monsters, daddy” and me back tracking and saying, “no, Cara, there are no monsters, but if there were monsters daddy would protect you from them.” And so on and so forth. 15 minutes became 30 pretty quickly and 30 became 45. I eventually got her to go to sleep but said situation repeated itself last night, leaving me not just with a big question mark in my mind about what’s going to happen tonight and tomorrow night, but a big dilemma: How do I explain monsters to a three and a half year old? 

I shouldn’t have to, guys. I keep telling myself that it is too soon. I know that the Monster Talk is as inevitable a talk as the Death Talk and the *CRINGE* Talk that I will Not Discuss Herein Because My Wife will be Giving that Talk. It has to happen eventually in some capacity, hopefully well before the Death Talk and that other Talk but I had hoped for a few more years of blissful innocence from my first born before I had to begin to teach her one of the most crucial truths that I will ever have to teach her as her father.

That truth? That monsters do exist, just not in the way that Hollywood portrays them. The real Draculas, Werewolves, Frankensteins, Blobs and yes, even Crites are the people that cause pain for either their own, sick satisfaction or because their ideology dictates it. Stalkers and molesters, militants and terrorists, rapists and murderers, even politicians. It is presumptive of me to think that Cara would or even could understand what a single one of these monsters is despite the fact that she has always been a quick study. And I’m sure as hell not going to sit her down in front of a television and show her “The Silence of the Lambs” or pictures of 9/11, now.

In reality? Monsters are still, for Cara, little more than the multicolored, felt inhabitants of that place that every kid can “tell [you] how to get” to. Perhaps there are one or two horned and pimpled orcs and/or goblins in her brain though I swear to you that they are not there because of me. Scout’s honor. Cross my heart and hope to… well, you know. Daddy constantly reinforcing for her that he will protect her against any monsters that happen to spontaneously appear on this side of the proverbial wormhole of her existence will hopefully be all the reinforcement that she needs for the next half a dozen years or so. But all the reinforcement in the universe cannot replace the realization that my daughter appears to have come to completely on her own:

Monsters are real. Regardless of how I or anyone else spins it, Cara now believes in them to some extent. And she’s not wrong. While certain types of monsters are fictional and are not real others like the ones I mentioned above are just as real as she is. That belief, for me, signals the beginning of her inevitable transition from a sheltered child in to something more. Not overnight, obviously. She is, after all, only three and a half and I’ve still got what I hope is a decade plus before I have to worry about sharpening my Claymore when her boyfriend comes to pick her up for a date.

Me: “So you want to take Cara to see the 3D, Smell-O-Vision re-release of ‘Monsters Inc.?'” Sharpen, sharpen. “Did you know that a Claymore can skewer three full grown men upon its blade? The Scots never tried it with teenagers.” Sharpen, sharpen.

Boyfriend: “Um… yeah. Right. You’re not exactly well-adjusted Mister Marsh, are you?”

No. I’m not. I once authored a blog called “Random Musings of a Pseudo-Madman.” Where do you think I got the “Madman” part from? I also used to refer to myself in the Third Person as Madchronicler and my all time favorite horror movie is an 80’s cheese fest called “Critters.” Every hear of it? Its about a race of extra-terrestrial, cannibalistic hairballs that attack the Earth but are driven back by Rick Springfield. Have Cara back by 10 or I’m going to reenact Act Two, Scene Five of that movie on you. What’s it about? I’ll give you a hint: It involves a staircase, a shotgun and the line, “they have weapons!”

But I digress. I can see that Cara is beginning to understand that there is more to her world than her home, her daycare, her friends’ houses, her Mom-Mom Minnie’s house or her Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s house. And she senses that its not all kitty cats and princesses. So as her father, what the hell do I do? How do I rein in her imagination before she starts seeing monsters or worse in every shadow?

Um… yeah. Right. Guess what? I have no farg’in idea. Perhaps I’m presuming too much. But I’d rather be completely wrong in making what I feel is a very responsible and well thought out deduction of my daughter’s psyche than deny the possibility and get caught with my britches down. What can I say? Part of being a new parent (and I am still a new parent; three years does not a Parental Sensei make) is being a tiddy-bit paranoid and I remain so with both of my daughters. I don’t like the thought of either of them being scared of anything so this whole idea of defining “monster” for Cara in a way that reassures her while alternately leaving a very, very important seed of thought in her psyche (equivalent to the Stranger Danger Seed) is incredibly important to me. I just don’t know how to proceed.

I think I’ll wait and see. The situation does not yet appear dire. I’ll wait and see what happens tonight and tomorrow night. If the topic doesn’t come up again then no worries, at least not for the moment. I’ll let it lie like I did back in late October/early November and wait for it to re-materialize. I just hope it doesn’t do so at 2:00 or 3:00 in the bleepin’ AM.

But what if it does? What if monsters are now as integral a part of Cara’s existence as waking up for 10 to 15 minutes at 1:30 in the bleep, bleep bleepidy bleep is a part of Natalie’s? Well, then. I guess I’ll just have to formulate a plan. And if that happens, I may need to solicit some advice from those of you that have gone through this. I may not yet be a Parental Sensei but I know enough to know that there are a few of you out there. You know who you are. If you’re reading this consider yourself tagged… and on call. I may need the parenting equivalent of your masterful Crane Style before long. In the meantime, its back to my visions of sugar-free sugarplums, Rudolph usurping Dasher as the head reindeer and a society of elves that have been freed from their servitude to Santa.

Um… yeah. Right. Guess what? I’m done. All together now: Oh thank God.