methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Christmas and Kids

My son used to get so excited about Christmas that he’d vomit. Maybe he still does, even if he’s 35 years old. I never asked because when he was entering puberty and growing hair on his lip he would get embarrassed when his mom and I would laughingly portray his anxiety. Like the ghosts in “A Christmas Carol,” we could remember the barfs of Christmas past, present and future.

My two daughters were no less enthusiastic about Christmas, but were rather more sanguine than Scott. Young girls, I have observed, tend toward more of a sophisticated demeanor than boys in many ways.

Lyn, my kids’ lovely mother, and I felt that even though the kids were out of school, there was no reason to curtail their education. We contrived codes for which packages were going to whom. This served as an educational tool and had a secondary benefit in that there was no package-prowling before Christmas.

When they were quite young, we used simple things like odd numbers, even numbers and fractions. Thus three packages might have tags reading “5,” “8,” and “¾”. The secret to all this was not disclosed until Christmas morning, when we’d tell each kid which of the designations that went with the package. As they grew, the codes became more complex. Vowels and consonants replaced numbers, other esoteric designators were used as the years passed. The one I remember (and the children probably hated) was rivers. Scott, for example, got rivers that flowed into the Columbia, Whitney’s flowed into the Atlantic, and Vikki’s might have been foreign. I don’t remember precisely, but here were all these packages tagged with names like North Platte, Orinoco, Missouri, Nile and the like residing in closets and under the tree and the poor kids didn’t have a clue what the code even meant. Worse yet, they had to look at a map even after knowing the nature of their designator.

At age 11, Scott was already becoming an accomplished moto-crosser, and was on the third motorcycle of his young career. While checking out one of his modifications to his Honda, I managed to break my leg big-time. This was at the end of September, and I was bedridden for a week after which life went on with a cast from crotch to toenails, and crutches replacing motorcycles as transportation.

Whitney, a year younger than her brother, wanted a motorcycle that year. Whereas he was big for his age, she was small for hers. It just so happened that Honda had a promotional motorcycle deal that year: buy a little Honda with fat 10-inch tires, and it would come in its own over-sized stocking. She got her cycle, along with a helmet. The look on her face when she saw it next to the tree (without a river name tag) was unforgettable. Because it fit her, and was low to the grown, it became a perfect vehicle for me to tool around on when I got the urge to cycle. My casted leg stuck out about 45 degrees from my body, presenting a rather grotesque riding style.

If I remember right, Jimmy James was the most memorable gift we gave Vikki, the senior member of the kiddy klatch. She must have been about four. Jimmy James was a life-size, clothed baby chimpanzee doll, with a realistic face and hands. She would wheel him around in grocery carts. Sometimes she would require that her mom or I put him in the child seat, while she rode in the basket. Store customers frequently did classic double-takes at the cute little blond girl in the cart and her baby brother—wait a minute, what IS that?

Now, in my dotage, memory sagging faster than my belly, I acknowledge that there may have been more memorable holidays and gifts. For whatever reason, the selectivity of my mind singles out these events. These worlds will elicit conversation among the family, and stir up some more memories. “No, Dad, you have it all wrong. Scott did not get the Barbie outfit that year…” The kids will laugh at my mis-remembrances , as I laughed at my parents’ and I’ll revel in it. If I’m there with them.

It’s that “If” that has changed Christmas. We live only a couple hundred miles from the rest of the family, but it might as well be a continent away when the temperature is sub-zero here, the mountain passes are icy, the airport is 120 miles away and the pump might freeze as it did in ’85 when we had Christmas in Seattle and came home to frozen pipes and no running water for 13 days.

Now there are two grandchildren and two sons-in -aw. Our clan has begun to resemble a Norman Rockwell cover at Christmas in sheer numbers and embarrassment of presents and food.

Maybe because we have so few Christmases together, the ones we share are even more special.

- Originally published in the (now sleeping) Goat Wall Street Journal


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