Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Did we go straight from a 6:30am flight to Santa's lap?  Yes, yes we did.

It's the day before the day before Christmas.  It's 34 degrees and the sleet-snow that covered our cars this morning has run into the gutters.  Thin gray clouds moving fast over a slightly lighter thin gray sky.  The coffee shop is full of people home for the holidays talking to people they think they should talk to when home for the holidays.  Or they sit at tables and check their iphones simultaneously. 

Today both you and your sister are at daycare so it's a special holiday for Daddy and I.  A holiday filled with grading and last minute holiday errands: wine and sweet vermouth and whole milk and butter and powdered sugar and grapes and sugar snap peas.

You are, 90% of the time, the sweetest creature imaginable.  We flew to Maryland and back last week and you actually were NOT a holy terror on the plane.  You were quite content to move from my lap to Dada's, to have Thisbe press butterfly stickers to your cheeks, to munch thousands of graham crackers, to point out to lion, the teapot, the umbrella.  Your lexicon mostly consists of "ba" and the closely related "ba-ba" which actually makes you sound reasonably smart when you point to a ball, a bubble, the bath, or a sheep.  Oddly, you also say Jesus but it comes out as "sheesh."  So there's a lot of pointing to creche scenes and saying "sheesh!  sheesh!"  You like to be close, to be cuddled.  Your daycare workers describe you as "chill" and are not worried about your upcoming transition to the toddler room. 

Your sister remains the opposite.  She continues to have a tough year.  Struggles with constipation and anxiety.  Today she asked me which Santa I thought would be coming to our house tomorrow.  "What do you mean which Santa?" I asked.  "Well, there's the Santa who came to Gak's party and the Santa we saw yesterday at the store.  I don't think the one at the store was the real one."  Which made me realize that we were idiots to introduce her to two different Santas.  But her comment also made me feel that crack, that sliver of the real world that's beginning to creep across the veneer of safety and certainty of the world we've created for her.

I've been feeling bad this year for the way, in all honesty, we celebrate Santa more than Jesus in our house.  Your father has been good about trying to wedge an advent reading into the twenty seconds between when we sit down at the table and all hell breaks loose but I'm not certain those readings are sinking in too much. 

This time of year stresses me out.  Me and a lot of upper middle class Americans.  It's not really justified stress, it's created entirely out of our own consumptive choices.  Not just stuff but also experiences.  Building a ginger bread house!  Going to see "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"!  Going to see the "Nutcracker"!  Drinking coffee and shrieking at the Santa party!  And there are adult versions of all this too: holiday work parties!  holiday book parties! holiday drinks with friends!  I think until this year I didn't realize that my over-full feeling comes not just from the cookies and Manhattans and tinsel and wrapping paper and gifts but also from the fifty zillion Christmas activities that we should do because they are so fun dammit!  The accumulation of experience as its own kind of consumption.

My own favorite holiday moment will be seeing your sister on Christmas morning (assuming no one is puking or running a fever KNOCK ON WOOD).  The absolute joy that I think comes not only from the mystery of wrapped packages but also the mystery of this mythic figure showing up.  Making himself known.  And I think there's part of me that likes watching because a part of me wishes God worked that way too. 

And part of me aches to have Thisbe's relationship with God work this way.  Cookie crumbs and wrapped Elsa dolls so that she sees and feels in a palpable way that she is remembered, that she is loved, that she is not forgotten.

Instead she is transitioning into seeing this world.  The one where thousands die of Ebola.  Where students at the St. Olaf need to lay their bodies down for four minutes so that we remember that black lives matter.  Where someone can go out for a walk and fall or be hit by a car and changed, hurt, instantly.  Where cancer slides its grubby fingers into people that we love and each day animals vanish and disappear and don't ever come back again. 

And the truth: in the middle of all of this, God does not always show up.  Or rather, God does not always show up in the way we want God to show up.  If you're being persecuted and someone promises you a savior, I bet it sucks pretty bad when all you get is a baby.  We've made baby Jesus into the happy ending of the story we tell today.  But a baby is not a leader or a conqueror or a politician or a lobbyist or a radical or a medical professional or a genius or a scientist.  A baby sure as hell does not solve the practical problems of someone who is suffering.

It is hard to learn that the world is a complex place, full of violence and pain and rage and hate in addition to the joy and peace and reverence and love. And it is harder still to learn that a sparkling figure will not arrive to offer us exactly what we desire.  It's easy to help a kiddo have faith in Santa Claus; it's harder to help a child to have faith in a God who mostly appears in the shards of grace and goodness in those around us. 

So this year Santa will not bring Thisbe exactly what she desires.  There will be no Disney Elsa doll below the tree.

Instead there will be the Creative Kidstuff knock-off Elsa doll.  Because, you know, baby steps.

This photo has nothing to do with Christmas.

This photo also has nothing to do with Christmas.