Holidays With

Since at least 1973, there’s a place in town that has been serving two grilled doughnuts with a scoop of ice cream called a Grills With. I have a love/hate relationship with insider language like this. The dish itself sounds amazing – I have not had it – but it implies so much. What is grilled? What comes with? Can you order it without? Then is it just called a Grills? But it’s historical, you say, and of course the menu tells you! And there are other hidden features like bacon! And chocolate sauce if only you ask! You clearly do not experience restaurant ordering anxiety but I don’t hold it against you.

The winter holidays are the Grills With of my life and maybe yours, too. There’s the basic units, in our case, me, my wife, and RR and the holiday events themselves which evolve and change over time but which have been core ingredients. They are loaded with insider knowledge, for instance, there’s no way for you to know that my family always had tamales on the Eves, on New Year’s Eve we ate pizza rolls and watched 1959’s House on Haunted Hill, cinnamon rolls dethroned overnight french toast on Christmas morning in 1986, and 11pm church services were non-negotiable for everyone. There’s also no way to know that Debra and I ban family and friends prior to 10am on Christmas morning (if not longer), that I get to hang the six tiny glass ornaments, and that we do all of our shopping for each other on Christmas Eve.

That’s the Grills With for us. Then there’s all the other things you can have with it, family, new traditions, travel, weather, etc. For the last several years, my family has been adding random ingredients into our recipe. Barring the Christmas my parents lived with us, we managed to keep Christmas morning to ourselves. But, they brought with them a load of other add-ons, some of which were their Grills With, no doubt. It made for a complicated set of holidays trimmed with anxiety over unspoken requirements and unknowable “givens”. This year, my dad is gone, my mom has moved away, my sisters aren’t traveling, many of our friends are out of town, and it looks like we will be back to basics again.

Perhaps my Grills With analogy is hard to follow, but it sticks in my head as the thing that is so simple but so complicated to actually have, much like the holidays. There are many assumptions and a coded language. There’s anxiety but also enjoyment if you can just manage it. And so, happiest of holidays to you. Enjoys your own Grills With and don’t try to explain it, just dig in and savor it. I will be.

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Wait Stop

Lately, I’m spending a lot of time reminding myself to remember this moment. I’m taking mental photographs of everything and searing the remaining babyisms in my brain (the latest, and newest, clubhammer: the ending of the movie that leaves you wondering what will happen in the next movie. See: Mama, I can tell we’re going to get a clubhammer in this movie. What will Spiderman do next?! Also, if you haven’t seen Into the Spiderverse, it was great). If I get the chance to cuddle, I’m cuddling. And even though last week’s solo bedtimes were hard, I reminded myself overandoverandover that this prolonged reading/rocking/holding time was nearly past.

This is the time of year where one of the biggest growing up milestones happens. Santa. We’ve established here (and can you BELIEVE the oldest post is from 2009? You guys, we’ve been together nearly 10 years. I love you, too.) that Santa is alive and well and, no, I’m not willing to entertain your “beliefs” about the matter. After ten years, it’s like you don’t even know me. And we are not going to couples counseling. To the point, we’re fully committed to Santa. We read the books (this one, in particular, is wonderful), we make the calls and get the videos, and we discuss the vagaries of chimney negotiation and “helpers.”

I imagine this will be the last year she visits and sits next to him. Some of her friends are already too grown-up for this activity and I imagine she’ll be one of the older ones visiting him this weekend. I don’t have any particular attachment to that moment because it’s not a part of my own childhood. Santa, my father explained, is far too busy to sit around listening to kids make their case right before Christmas. No, those are just guys in suits doing good deeds. So we’re done with “lap sitting” (there are not actual laps involved, thank goodness) and I’m probably not going to tear up. Probably.

Once she says she doesn’t believe anymore we’ll have a choice. Do we go the route my family took or do we go the popular route: Yes darling, you’re right, but now you get to be the Santa Claus for other people. I mean, I’m obviously buying the Santa gifts here. It will break my heart to say it. It looks like I won’t have to make the choice this year (we’re already picking the kind of cookies to leave out) and thank goodness for that. I’m still grieving my dad, I’m not ready to lose Santa.

Remember The Nanny?

You might want to start here. In 2012. Basically, nothing is different now. 

But you’re still reading, I guess, and so I should probably clarify again that there are no actual nannies. None. No nannies. Pity. Why aren’t there nannies?

Well, I am the nanny*. This week, anyway. Debra is away living her musician dreams and RR and I are spending the week together and trying not to catch the house on fire. I was actually prepared to not be the nanny this time. Who cares if she plays games on the iPad on a school night? So we eat McDonald’s for dinner, whatever. Bedtime? What’s that? She’s not going to suffer long-term because I’m only up to so-so parenting for five days. 

Apparently though, I’m not actually capable of dialing it back. During yesterday’s snow day we read books, practiced math, and made a gingerbread house from scratch. She had chicken, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and spinach for supper (which was delivered on time and arranged in a pleasingly fun face), wrote a sweet note to mail to her grandmother, and went to bed early after a story and lullabies. I did have one point of failure. Rather than going out to build a snowman with her, I just helped her make the face and then, when she came in cold and rosy-cheeked, gave her hot cocoa that I mixed up from a delicious recipe.

This morning I walked her to school, after using Debra’s guidelines to pack her the world’s most perfect lunch. I have no idea what this evening will hold but I’m willing to bet the nanny will have everything under control. Kidding, I’m not so crazy that I refer to myself in the third person. Yet.

I’m pretty sure we can blame this one on my mom so there’s something. When she mothered, she was over-the top wonderful. It always came with an equally over-the-top crash at the end and, as I got older and less cute, stopped happening at all. I was relieved, actually. The hills and valleys were exhausting. I don’t think she ever pretended to be the nanny so I’m not sure I’m on the side of right here. But RR is happy and I’m amazing, even if I am maybe, a little, pretending to be something I’m not. 

*For those that don’t click links: Since RR has been alive, during lengthy times of being the sole caregiver, I’ve pretended I was the nanny. Nannies get paid to be awesome and patient and perfect and I’m a much better mother when I pretend I get to go home at the end of the night. I swear I’m not as crazy as this makes me sound. Go read the post. 

Bad Habits, I Guess?

I’ve been informed that I’m doing it all wrong. I know, right? That is a heavy burden to carry. Yes, friends. I am proceeding through life as only the oblivious can do. Wrongly wronging with abandon. 

A more than occasional theme of late is that I’m accommodating. That I am particularly aware of how my actions/inaction will impact the people around me. That I am overly concerned with smoothing the way. This theme is accompanied by a stream of well-meaning scolding. I mean, honestly, I’d have ignored it if it hadn’t become such a thing. Apparently, my inclination to do this or that in order to minimize potential confusion or frustration is a hazard, not a perk.

Well, fuck. 

I suppose being accommodating can be seen as being too concerned with others’ feelings. I see it as pretty self-serving. I’m made more comfortable by having as few bumps in the road as possible. If I can proactively do or say something that will make our interaction better, I absolutely will. It’s not a tendency to avoid conflict either, because in the fight or flight equation, I’m full on fight. I also don’t go very far out of my way to smooth yours. Not everything can be perfect, of course, but it doesn’t mean I’m not trying.

These sound like excuses though. And as much as I don’t think it’s a big deal, everyone else seems to, which is in direct opposition to being accommodating. Here’s an example that I suspect will make you nod and agree with my wife:

I’m sitting in a coffee shop across from a man who has his backpack on the chair next to him. It’s a busy day and a small shop. I have also noticed that our table is the wheelchair accessible table which has filled me with low level angst the whole time I’ve been here. Several people have eyed this chair as they walked past, a mother and child, a lady with a mean cell phone voice, and a befuddled man with a cup of coffee who has circled the table three times. He looks like he’d like to ask for the seat but hasn’t for whatever reason. He also doesn’t look like he’s used to contending with fancy people, like backpack man, for space. While I don’t want to ask the man to move his bag myself, it tripled the anxiety I was feeling about working at the shop at all and being at the accessible table in the first place.

Not my backpack. I’m not taking up too much space. I’ve only been here 20 minutes. This is a common work location. Just because I have the skills to deal with a fancy backpack man doesn’t mean befuddled guy didn’t. This is not my concern. Still though. 

Another example. I’m having, again, dreadful problems at work. I go out of my way to get as much management training as possible, I practice what I learn, and I get rave reviews about my communication and support for my team. However, it turns out that I’ve been trying too hard to cushion the more difficult issues and, as a result, there hasn’t been as much suffering as there could be. Or something like that. Rather, I’m the one doing all the suffering. Even I’m aware that less hand-holding is required. This smoothing the way habit has definitely backfired. 

Obviously, that’s vague and doesn’t make for great reading. Suffice to say, now it’s not just my wife and sister telling me I’m too accommodating, it’s work, too. Which apparently pushes me over the edge. Fun. I can’t even effectively blame my mom for this since it has definitely gotten worse in the last several years. There’s no conclusion to this and I wish I’d remembered to warn you about that so you wouldn’t waste your time but there it is. 

And there it is. Literally. Right above us. I clearly have work to do. 

6,700,000,000

That’s the results you get if you google “how much can one person take”. It’s also at the top of the autofill list if you get all the way to …one person. Of course, in my search results, it looks like this. Please don’t ask me to explain lot lizards.

The first result there is for a stress quiz from Oprah. I clicked it for you, dear reader. It was not a quiz (bummer) but was instead a link to a stress meter. It was not a fun drag-the-arrow sort of meter (bummer) but rather a PDF to fill in All The Feelings (super bummer).

Basically, I can’t take the amount of stress that worksheet is giving me. You can’t even drag and drop those colorful doodads on the right which I totally would have done. For you.

And while couples’ counseling is hard, and so are pets, and eight-year-olds, and broken down cars, and friends that move away, personnel problems are really hard. Especially on top of the rest. I’m in it, friends. And have been, since last year at this time. Knee deep in one problem after another and I am so exhausted. I realized today that all I want is for someone to help. Not to explain the rules or commiserate or sympathize. I just need help. 

I’m not without it, never fear, and it can’t go on forever (although, after a year, I think it’s fair to be worried) but I feel like pieces of me are flaking off and they are the only good pieces. I’m worn to wire in places, nothing but policies and best practices. And a wireframe doesn’t make friends easily, or cuddle nicely, or bend back into shape. At least wire doesn’t break. There’s always a bright side, right?

And Us and Them and We

Apparently, practically everyone has been in couples’ counseling. Not you, of course. Well, at least not all of you. Probably. In my old age (I just had a birthday and that was nice), I’m realizing that I give far fewer fucks than I used to about what people think. I’m also realizing that the last few years of personal and professional challenges have drained me deeply; I now have a small margin of self-restraint before I will tell people my business. It’s like my tire treads are worn out and I just sort of slide into the corners with a teenager’s confidence that it’ll all be okay.

I do have a fair amount of restraint at work, thank goodness. There it’s all black ice all the time and I haven’t gotten to the point where I don’t care if I spin out. Everywhere else I seem to be more than willing to say, “we’re in couples’ counseling, you know” I don’t ever say why. I don’t think it would make me feel better if I did. Once, Debra and I found out some distant acquaintances were in counseling and we spent some time speculating whether it was an affair, or drugs, or abuse. We shouldn’t have, of course, but we were young and didn’t understand that they were working hard to fix something rather than settling into contempt or giving up. Fifteen years of wrinkles, that much experience, and no shortage of humbling communication snafus later, and it seems obvious. 

I was talking with my stylist (this makes me sound more fancy than I am) and she said that it’s remarkable, really, that couples make it as long as they do. You can’t expect people to stay the same. They change and grow and they don’t always grow in alignment with one another. They don’t always grow at the same pace. Someone one veers off while the other races ahead. Someone sinks in while the other reinvents. Not every couple should stand fast. Sometimes they need to help each other along, even if along means out

So even though I’ve always thought that couples’ counseling was reserved for couples careening into a split, now I’m finding that many people I tell have ALSO been in couples’ counseling and that every single one of them is a happy person, fundamentally satisfied with life. I thought counseling was reserved for couples with deal breakers. I thought it was something to keep quiet. But I’m not in a deal breaker situation, I’m not in a situation at all, and it’s a relief to hear that others have been here and that it doesn’t have to be forever. It feels hopeful. 

Andrew Jackson’s Hands

We took RR to DC to visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Portrait Gallery to visit the Obama paintings. I was particularly excited for the latter because they are so visually interesting and well, I miss seeing that man’s face. Also, RR has never been to an art museum before and I thought that there was a good chance she’d enjoy it given the kinds of lessons she’s had at school and her general overwhelming appreciation for art.

I had no idea.

No idea that RR would find the Natural History Museum only mildly interesting (except for the Aye Aye skeleton which she knew all about…for some reason…). Though given her feelings about zoos, I shouldn’t have been too surprised.

No idea that neither dinosaurs nor diamonds would be considered “big enough”

No idea that the Portrait Gallery at dinner time after a three hour drive and two hours looking at an Aye Aye and judging dinos would be so fascinating.

No idea that a room filled with nearly all white men wearing similar suits, sitting in the same pose, painted in the same style would be the hands down most compelling thing that has happened in recent memory.

And especially no idea that Andrew Jackson and Andrew Jackson’s hands, in particular, would be the highlight of her day and would involve an intense session of investigation and examination filled with pacing and muttering and attempted caressing of the texture of the oil paint.

Who knew.