As Thanksgiving rolled into Christmas, the nagging to do list I carry with me everywhere, in my iphone and in my brain, threatened to become overwhelming. I don't mean to be a complainer, but since being given new responsibility at work (which was much desired, be careful what you wish for!) a role that has me managing eight people, on top of my responsibilities as the mother of two small children, a dog and two cats, I feel I am barely able to do even a half arsed job at any of it most of the time. Managing, parenting, critical scientific thinking (which is apparently what I'm paid for, God help my employer) were exhausting me. Christmas just felt like one more list of uncompletable tasks.
Geekydaddy is no help at all, as he would gladly forget about Christmas. As a pragmatic atheist he has has no time for the excess, the spending and the waste associated with the Holiday. Every year he suggests we erect a "festivus pole" like George's family on Seinfeld, instead of a tree. I suspend my athiesm for the holiday, because I have a nostalgia for the Christmas story generated by years of school nativity plays and church manger scenes, a love of Christmas Carols, and really I have nothing against the baby Jesus. To me he represents the promise all children hold.
But a small miracle seems to have happened. The Christmas spirit has crept up on me. Maybe its the wintery weather; gloom, drizzle and pouring rain that would do Britain proud. Maybe it is because I have a pile of wrapped presents in the basement, I have mailed my cards and my gifts to the UK only one day past the latest garunteed posting date, I have Christmas crackers from the British store, where I also found black treacle (for my cake, its baking still being on the to do list), and jars of mincemeat (for the mince pies, ditto). The house even looks festive. I hadn't planned on decorating here at home because we will go up to Tahoe for the Christmas and New Years break, and we will get a Christmas tree up there. But on one of my many morning trips to Target, chipping away at the shopping in 20 minute chunks stolen from my commute, I picked up some fake tree garland and grabbed a rather sweet ornamental snowman and a couple of boxes of lights (low energy LED to keep my Scrooge happy).
Geekygirl had been exclaiming in delight at other decorated houses, and I secretly shared her pleasure. I wanted lights too! When I opened the ones I had purchased I realized they were neon blue (the same colour as the box they came in, that should have been a clue!), and arranged in a flexible tube. I lacked the energy to return them, so I put them over the fireplace along with the garland. I'm not sure whether my mantle is celebrating Christmas, Hannukah or is disguised as a bar from a provincial nightclub circa 1987, but the kids like it!
What really tipped the balance, though, was our family trip to a Holiday concert at the Symphony hall. Yes, we took an almost four year old and and almost two year old to the symphony and survived. San Francisco has a wonderful symphony orchestra, and in the brief window of wealth Geekydaddy and I enjoyed after leaving crappy academic jobs for more lucrative ones and before saddling ourselves with two kids and two mortgages, we had season tickets. I recalled going for drinks before our concert one evening in December, just as a family concert was ending. Children and parents, dressed for the occasion, milling around and chattering excitedly about the music they had heard. I noticed in particular one family with a beautiful auburn haired little girl, resplendent in red velvet, tulle and ribbons, and a tiny boy in a miniature suit, both skipping along between their mother and father, and I hoped that one day I would be that mum, introducing my city born children to this sophisticated world.
So taking the kids to the Symphony for the first time was a big deal. It could have gone very badly, since there was sugar cookie decorating with our neighbour that morning (for decorating read eating), but amazingly the kids managed to nap despite gorging on frosting, awoke just in time to get dressed and to get out of the house (though not in time for me to win the negotiation on what should be worn), in time for us to get nearby parking (an unbelievable $40.00, someone's making a buck off Christmas), and even to look at the decorated trees in the Symphony hall before the performance. Geekygirl was transfixed by the music. The drums were so loud, the strings so pure, each instrument easily distinguished and clearly visible from our seats. The orchestra played pieces from the nutcracker suite, then the featured performance of "Peter and the Wolf", (a sanitized version where nothing dies, thanks goodness), followed by a rousing holiday sing along of "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer," "We wish you a Merry Christmas" and "Jingle Bells". Geekyboy managed half an hour of rapt attention, then wanted to play with the seats, so Geekydaddy extracted him to run about outside for the rest of the show.
But for a few minutes there, as both kids got lost in the music, I was able to lose myself too, and I felt tears spring to my eyes at the perfection of our little family and this wonderful shared experience.
Maybe next year I can even win the outfit negotiation, and get Geekygirl into a red velvet dress, instead of a unseasonal short sleeved pink cotton jersey one, picked up wrinkled and almost clean from out of the dirty laundry. Now that really would be perfect!
Here she is, pretty in pink by the pink tree, city hall glittering behind.