Friday, December 23, 2011

The Reality of Christmas

Today, there are two things on my agenda: clean the house and bake more Christmas cookies. Molasses, gingerbread, crème de menthe truffles, snickerdoodles… Tonight, John will make a crackling fire and I will snuggle on the couch with my four perfect children and watch the film Nativity.

Ella’s actually not so perfect right now. Her upper lip is so chapped and red I call her Rudolph.

“I not Rudolph. I Ella! I a girl!” (Her speech is coming along, people.)

We will wish for snow, because mud doesn’t invoke cozy Christmas feelings the way clean white snow does, and we will send the kids to bed with visions of sugarplums in our heads. Or crème de menthe truffles. Or whatever. After they fall asleep, I will continue wrapping presents. (I finally started this most arduous process last night.)

Last evening, at 9:30, as John was bringing in Barbie dolls and Imaginext Batman toys from his trunk (our super secret Christmas hiding spot) to our living room, a mother whose three children were already slumbering in their own beds slipped from this world into the next. She had been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for the past 2 years. Her three children are just about the same age as mine.

I read the news with a heavy, bitter heart. I thought of how the shadow of her death will forever darken her children’s Christmases to come.

And then I thought better.

I thought of how the miracle we celebrate on December 25 makes it possible for these kids to have hope. That there is something serenely beautiful about leaving this broken earth at the same time of year we celebrate Jesus’ coming,remembering that Jesus came for the sole purpose of bridging the unfathomably large gap between heaven and earth.

Tonight, I will hold my kids close and remind them of our temporary condition. Their toys, which bring them such short-lived joy, are nothing in comparison to the ultimate gift of Christmas. And they will probably tell me to be quiet mom, that I always talk during movies and hug them so tight they can’t breathe so good. So I’ll tickle them and one will inevitably rush off to go to the bathroom, and we will all laugh. Oh, how blessed we are to have one another. To have faith.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” C.S. Lewis.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Husband Sexually Harassed Me Under the Mistletoe (& other Christmas stories)


It’s the Christmas season and you know me, holly in my heart (Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember)

The following are directed at me every year over the holiday season. I would like answer concerns and questions about being a girl named Holly born four days after Christmas so that I never, ever have to answer them again.

1. “You name is Holly? Wow. You must, like, really love Christmas.”

Oh, I do. I love Christmas, and so much more than people named, like, Beverly. How can you love Christmas when you’re named Beverly? Also, I love Christmas so much more than people NOT born in December. How can you love Christmas when you were born in July? Preposterous.

2. “You were born at Christmastime? Did you, like, get cheated out of gifts?”

Not when I was younger. My mother always made my birthday very special.

However, things are different now, and yeah, I totally get gypped come my birthday. It’s an awkward time of year to have a birthday. It’s not like you can compete with, well, you know. And the one time I crossed my arms and complained that I wasn’t getting enough attention, people thought I was being “selfish” and “sacreligious.” (Wasn’t Jesus actually born in June?) So I don’t complain anymore- I just weep silently in my bed. Birthdays are for kids, not adults, anyway. And I don’t need anything. I want a lot of stuff, but I don’t need anything. So, don’t worry about me and the presents I’ve been swindled out of. I’m okay.


My Husband Sexually Harassed Me Under the Mistletoe

Today, the Christmas season is a shell of its It’s a Wonderful Life former self. Mr. Potter, despite what you saw on film, has not been defeated. Nativity scenes are out: singing the tune of "The Carol of the Bells" to sell bargain-priced designer-labeled clothes is in. Christmas caroling in the mall is a potential fire hazard, but Black Friday shopping has become a tradition in many families. Mistletoe is being banned from office parties so that corporate executives can still have “Santa Shots” (this is an actual drink) and not get stuck under the mistletoe while inebriated. Darn that mistletoe, inviting sexual harassment charges with its lascivious plant motives.

I was never kissed under the mistletoe until after I was married. Not that I didn’t want to be. I mean, how romantic is that, getting caught under the mistletoe with the object of your affection? I may have lingered by a sprig on an occasion or two, just to see if I could gain the experience of being kissed under the mistletoe, but alas… no one ever noticed.

One year, John and I were at a party where mistletoe was prominently hung from a doorway. I stood boldly underneath and called my husband over. Utterly clueless, he wanted to know what I wanted. Why had he been dragged away from playing Call of Duty? (Which is a wonderful wartime game that’s a staple at any traditional Christmas gathering, along with eggnog and candy canes.)  Also, I think maybe he’d had a couple of Santa Shots.

I directed his attention to the mistletoe above us, and this is what happened: John sniggered, grabbed my butt, pulled me in close, and laid a noisy, lingering smooch on my mouth. He tasted like peppermint schnapps.

My husband sexually harassed me under the mistletoe.

And I loved it.


We Wish You a Merry Christmas

The twins have been happily practicing their preschool Christmas program songs. At home, they sing loudly and unabashedly, so I was surprised when their teacher informed me that during practice at school, Ella had repeatedly dissolved into tears, ran into her teacher’s arms, and had hid her head while shaking like a leaf. Ella, who is not a naturally quiet individual, has auditory sensory issues and is unnerved by resounding ambient sound. Being in large, cavernous places where echoes bounce and shrill voices carry brings my usually boisterous little girl to her knees. So on the day of her program, I made sure to get a spot right up close, so that if she began to withdraw, I could grab her and hold her.

Ella sashayed down the aisle in her Christmas gown, beaming at us, shaking her hand bells with enthusiasm. She came down first because she was the smallest and needed to be placed at the front of the group. Daniel stood a little ways behind her. The first song began, and Ella’s face went from joyful to terror-filled. She stared at me. I grinned at her. “Sing,” I mouthed.

The sanctuary was packed with moms and dads and grandparents and siblings, and the crowd absorbed the sound beautifully. No echo. No reverberating bells. Ella relaxed noticeably and stayed with her classmates. She didn’t open her mouth and sing during the first song, but she stayed there and stared, somewhat dazed, at the crowd.

By the last song, she was into it. The following is a video of her preschool class singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Ella got a little carried away. She was the only child who twirled during the program. (Which was no big deal considering two songs before, she jumped up and down and then sat for half the song.) Note her unique dance movies during the “singing” verse. Please ignore the constant wiping of her nose with her hand.

Daniel was incredibly proud of his tie. When I showed it to him he gasped.

“It’s a real tie?”

"Yes! A real tie!”

"Just like daddy’s?”

“Daddy would never wear a black vest over a red shirt,” John said. “We are not gangsters.” Daniel was too busy taking his tie out of his vest and putting it back in to listen to his father's weirdness.

Today’s song for Monday: We Wish You a Merry Christmas:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Under the Boardwalk

I'm a day late with my Monday happy song.  This is actually typical behavior that I am going to try and rectify in the new year. 

Several Valentine's Days ago, John took me out to eat at my favorite restaurant (since closed), and then to Eastman Theater to see Ben E. King.  The place was filled with a bunch of 60-year olds and us, but it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I have ever been to.  Mr King, of course, sang the below song, which is a wonderful antidote for grey and gloomy day.

For a few minutes, even I can pretend that the space under the boardwalk is NOT filled with broken glass, used prophylactic devices, and needles.  It's a respite from the hot sun and, apparently, a great spot for dancing with my baby. 

That's-a-where I wanna be...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why Reading To Kill a Mockingbird Will Help When it Comes Time to Read Conceptual Physics

Part 1

This morning, I came downstairs to spy the husband sitting in our dilapidated rocking chair in front of the television wearing a headset in order to talk to strangers online.

I cannot express how disturbed I am by this development.

Yesterday, John bought a wireless router so we could access Netflix through his Xbox. Unfortunately, this means subscribing to Xbox Live. If you have Xbox Live, you can play arcade games with other people live over the internet- through the television. If he starts playing Warcraft, I am going run off and become a lounge singer on a cruise ship. He wasn’t even excited about all the Gregory Peck movies we could watch right in a row! Or the karaoke features! He just wants to play hockey with 12-year olds who swear at him if he fails to prevent the opposing forwards from screening his goalie.

In my next life, I am going to marry someone whose idea of gaming is playing Scrabble on a Friday night. Good grief.

In other horrible news, we moved the television from the basement up into the playroom, which means we have two TVs on the first floor. The Wii is in the playroom, and the Xbox is in the living room, which means when I came downstairs, everyone in the house was playing video games.

Video games, of course, are not inherently bad in themselves, and I guess have some “benefits,” like in that 80s movie where the boy’s impressive gaming skills get him recruited to battle in an intergalactic war.

Of course, as a mom, I am naturally concerned that TV, video games, and other forms of technology are turning my kids’ brains into the consistency of the gruel served to Oliver Twist in Dickens’ classic.

“What’s gruel?” asks Ben.

“Kind of like porridge.”

“What’s porridge?”

“What the three bears ate.”

“Oh, yeah! That stuff is good!”

(I assume he decided that based on contextual evidence.)

Part 2

While some argue that the reading and writing kids do online “counts,” I am suspicious. And here’s why: reading a friend’s poorly conceived e-mail or participating in online forums or threads on Facebook does not develop the critical reading skills kids need to succeed.

I’m a huge fan of fiction: it’s fun, it allows kids to learn to sit in one place and read for an extended period of time, improves analytical thinking, expands vocabulary, improves memory, and helps kids become better writers. However, other types of literature, including comic books, magazines, and non-fiction books achieve these same goals.

Online reading doesn’t generally improve critical thinking skills. Since most kids aren’t logging on to The Atlantic or online literary journals, they are susceptible to the strategies websites use to get readers on to their website. Strategies include writing short paragraphs that are written around “keywords,” lists, emboldened headings, low-level vocabulary, and water-downed pieces of information people can scan to get the gist of the message. And then, there are the built-in links that drive online users from one page to the next, where eventually they become lost in cyberspace. There is no discernable ending when reading online, and time is literally sucked up into a vacuum as we aimlessly wander through a virtual world of our own creation.

Yes, digital literacy is a valuable asset in today’s technology-driven world, but are kids really gleaning valuable, factual information while web-surfing on their own? Outside of the classroom, kids troll YouTube, Facebook, celebrity sites, and personal blogs. Sure, you can find an answer to a question a lot faster on the internet than by visiting the library, but how do kids know if that source is reliable? I love this quote from a NY Times article:

Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy. In one study, Donald J. Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to look at a spoof Web site ( about a mythical species known as the “Pacific Northwest tree octopus.” Nearly 90 percent of them missed the joke and deemed the site a reliable source.
Extensive web-surfing fosters extremely short attention spans. The average time a person spends on a web page? 27 seconds. In a rush, we search for the answer to our question, then click on an advertisement that proclaims to have pictures of Ashton Kutcher’s latest tryst. (The pictures were questionable, by the way.)

If kids don’t grow up reading books, they miss out on developing critical thinking skills. When they get to college and a professor gives them a reading assignment, a lot of freshman can’t do it. They don’t know how. If they can’t sit still and read the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird, how are they going to read two pages of Conceptual Physics? How are they going to be able to dissect and respond to case studies, poetry, historical documents, and political science articles?

In short, if the future of mankind places extreme value in virtual hockey playing, intergalactic starfighting, finding songs on YouTube in less than 10 seconds, and cyber-bullying, by all means, let’s allow our kids to spend unprecedented amounts of time gaming, web-surfing, and texting. However, if the future still calls for doctors, physicists, engineers, novelists, poets, teachers, and lawyers, we should temper gaming and surfing with reading. (Maybe not the lawyers.  Unless they are like Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.)

Part 3

The best way to foster a love of books in your kids is to:

1. Read to them.
2. Read in front of them.
3. Provide them with interesting reading materials.

(In the husband’s defense, his nose is in a book as often as or perhaps more often than he’s in front of the Xbox.)

I’ve been reading the boys A Christmas Carol, because of the holiday season and also because of a possibly premature and over-zealous desire to introduce them to Dickens. We stop a lot because they want to know what words mean.

“What does frigid mean?” asks Ben.

“Let’s see if you can figure it out. I’m so frigid! Brrrr!”

(A snicker comes from a corner of the room.)


The boys are really enjoying the book, even though it’s a bit beyond a first and third-grade reading level.

“It’s like that movie, Monster House!” says Ben.

“I would never wear tights. Even if I lived back then,” says Caleb.

The other night, we unwittingly allowed Caleb to stay up past 11:00 on a school night. He was reading Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.

I’ve never been so proud.

Fun articles: