I prefer to spend the month of November, on the other hand, getting Christmas cards ready to send out, which includes wrapping up our family's annual Year-in-Review, a month-by-month, blow-by-blow narrative of the chaos, confusion, and savagery that is our family. Seriously, this is nobody's social-media-spin, happy-happy-joy-joy document. You will not find in our letters anything which resembles the following:
“We’re so proud of Edwina, who graduated from Oxford this year at the age of thirteen, and has just received a Pulitzer for her groundbreaking work in the field of biomechanics.”
“Little Bonzo took his first steps this year at four months old, and was composing Ovidian sonnets three months later. His foreign language instructor expects him to master Mandarin Chinese by next week, then she’ll start him on Arabic and Ancient Latin.”
“Carlton and I traveled this year. We toured the pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, and the ruins of Atlantis. Next year, we’re planning a cruise around the world and a lunar landing.”
|Photo by Tim Regan|
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Tambako the Jaguar
Mother tells Father her writing dreams. “I want something I’ve written to change someone’s life, alter the trajectory they’re on.” Father nods. “Pretty sure your Christmas letters have changed a lot of people’s minds about having kids.”
|Photo by Pinké|
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” As Inigo Montoya corrected Vizzini in The Princess Bride, Father and Mother attempt to rectify a number of semantic inaccuracies which pop up frequently in the children’s vocabularies. For example:
An “ACCIDENT” is an unexpected, unintentional, and unforeseeable event. It is not an action you carried out by malicious design, then later, upon getting caught, wished that you had not.
The phrase “NO FAIR” indicates either a condition of flagrant injustice, or that the local carnival has once again been shut down by the health department. It is not a war-cry to catalog the misery that is your life because of the unendurable existence of your siblings.
“I DON’T KNOW” reflects a state of ignorance of some relevant information or fact. It is not a synonymous alternative to I DON’T WANT TO TELL YOU, PLEASE DON’T SEEK OTHER WITNESSES, or I PLEAD THE FIFTH. It may, however, precede the phrase, I’D LIKE TO SPEAK TO AN ATTORNEY.
Mother attempts not to say, "You're making me angry," (because no one can make you angry) or "You're getting on my nerves" (an emotionally injurious thing to tell a child). Instead she stammers out, "You're... getting... on my... angry place."
One night at tuck-in, Mother finds Daughter reading the biblical story of the Egyptian plagues. Daughter has many questions. In order to make the story real, to really bring it home, Mother says, "That would be Son in our family, if first-borns died today." A light bulb illuminates over Daughter’s startled little head. An expression of epiphany spreads over her face. And she grins from ear to ear.
The end of the school year arrives and Son graduates from elementary to middle school. He leaves the very next week for seven days of Boy Scout camp. And…
…Family's house becomes a haven of peace, tranquility and goodwill. Daughter and Little Girl play together in joy and harmony. Chores are accomplished with gentility and cooperation. Meals are punctuated with jokes and laughter, interesting discussions, and polite camaraderie. There is kindness. Love. Joie de vivre.
Then Son comes home.
“Mom!” he calls when the mail arrives. “Why’d we get a brochure for Fork Union Military Academy?”
Daughter turns nine!
FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, is “a form of social anxiety, whereby one is compulsively concerned that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment, or other satisfying event” (Wikipedia), which explains a number of things overheard in Family's household:
“Why does SHE get to scrub the toilets?!?”
“But I want to pick up Yogi-Dog’s poop!!!”
“I wish I got to ride in a wheelchair.” (Then get your own hemorrhaging gash and nine stitches.)
|Freedom of the Seas|
“Nana?! Can I tell you what my barf looked like?!?”
Son turns eleven! One morning he moans that the banana won’t fit in his lunch box. Mother suggests he problem-solve. He grouses, “Why don’t you and Dad ever help? All you do is tell me to think.” Mother advises him that his parents won’t always be there; he must develop his own mental acuity. “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day,” she explains. “Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Son rolls his eyes, turns back to his lunch, and mutters, “I don’t know what fishing has to do with putting a banana in my lunch.”
Family’s children must learn every lesson the hard way. And sometimes not even then. After a city bus illegally passes the disembarking, red-lights-flashing, STOP-arm-extended school bus on the left side of the road, Son’s Nikes screech to a smoking halt, and he narrowly avoids becoming road-kill. Mother thanks God and Son’s much-overworked guardian angel, and consoles herself that at least Son will never again neglect to look both ways. Wrong. Mother picks Son up at the bus days later and watches him stroll across the busy street without the slightest, cursory nod to either the right or left. “I couldn’t look,” he insists. “I have a headache.”
Tuition is pricey at the School of Hard Knocks, my son. Prepare to pony up.
Mother suffers a night of insomnia. The next day Little Girl belts out “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to the stridently piercing tones of her annoying electronic keyboard while Daughter practices bouncing a Ping-Pong ball across the kitchen countertops. Again and again. And again. And again. ‘Cause, why not?
On a completely unrelated note, terrorists torture their victims by denying them sleep, playing abhorrent music at deafening volumes, and repeating nerve-blistering noises ad nauseum. Yay, Parenthood.
Merry Christmas, and may your family need less therapy than ours.
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Version 2015 is in progress and coming in January 2016. Cheers.
*Excerpted from the book Year-In-Review: the Entirely True Histories of a Perfectly Wretched Family.