Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Letter

Dear family, family I never see, family I see more than I'd like, friends, acquaintances, friends who used to be acquaintances, and acquaintances who used to be friends:

I hope this letter finds you well and that you and yours thrived in the year 2013. Unless you're one of those people who always seem to fall backwards into good luck and prosperity even when you've done nothing to earn it, in which case I hope you at least had a terrible stomach bug or found a hair in your filet mignon or got a speeding ticket on the way to the new Mercedes Benz dealership in Fort Mitchell (where, and I am not making this up, you can practice your putting on an indoor miniature golf green while your luxury vehicle gets tuned up and crusted in diamonds.)

2013 was a good year for our family. Better than 2012 in that no one in the immediate family died. But we still went to a lot of funerals. Hey, Death. Can you do us a solid? Maybe dial it down a notch in 2014? Thanks, bro.

When we weren't at funerals we were travelling to swim meets, and while the latter is more enjoyable than the former, it's only by a small margin. We learned a lot this year as our young daughter became more competitive in this sport. For instance:

1. Swim parents are big drinkers.
2. Swimming is a wonderful sport that teaches children the value of hard work and perseverance, keeps its athletes in peak physical condition all year long, and can remain, more than many other sports, a life-long passion and its own way of life.
3. Swimming has the ability to suck the energy from a parent's soul and the money from a parent's wallet once every month when the whole family joins in the caravan of swim gypsies spending entire weekends in hotel rooms and crowded bleachers struggling for air and just a few precious moments of unscheduled time.
4. 1 and 3 are related.

But our kid did well, and while not the fastest girl on the team, she was the hardest worker and one of the most-improved. She has a significant collection of 4th- and 5th-place ribbons from last year, and I promise you I am more proud of those than the superstars' parents are of their swimmers' gold and silver medals.

Our daughter also gave a piano recital this year, played a few hymns in church, and, more importantly, learned to play an indie-rock song called "Ghosts" by the band The Head and the Heart, who we all also saw in concert. This is an exciting development, because we desperately want our child to have better musical taste than we did as kids so we're not forced to listen to her practice Tiffany's 1988 classic "Could've Been" 20 times a day the way our parents had to. Sorry, Mom.

The hubby and I are at our same jobs, which, God willing, we will keep long enough to get big, gaudy service awards from when we retire to New Mexico, which we fell in love with this year as we got caught up on Breaking Bad. Subtract the meth, the intense showdowns, the amazing acting, and the heartbreaking study of the addictive nature of power and greed, and that show was really just a long commercial for the desolate beauty of the desert southwest. I'm buying that blue stuff Walter White is selling, if all he's selling is the clear skies of Albuquerque.

We did not take a vacation this year, a situation we will surely rectify in 2014. In fact, we have bright hopes for the upcoming year. We'd like to get away for a week to somewhere with warm sun and blue waters. We'd like to do a little more home renovating. And we'd like to see a bit more of our friends, who are like family to us. And just like with our extended families, we have a bad habit of not taking time out of our busy schedules to simply enjoy their company.

If I make a New Year's Resolution, it would be this: to stop more often and be with the people whose company I enjoy the most, my friends. Because they're awesome people. And they usually have good beer around. And we are, after all, swim parents, and that sort of thing matters to us.

Just kidding! We'd love you even if you didn't drink. But we would worry about you, because seriously, not even the occasional glass of wine with dinner? How do you make it through the holidays?

Join us at a swim meet 2 1/2 hours away from home after driving through a snow storm, and we may convert you.

So, as the old song says, as we inch closer to Christmas, and the end of this year, and the beginning of a new one, and to our inevitable doom (sorry, I turn 40 this year):

May your days be merry and bright.

(Just not so bright that you find yourself on more than one occasion on the putting green of a Mercedes dealership, because that's just excessive.)

The Cranky Librarian
December, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Very Boy George Christmas

The December of my fifth grade year was going to be full of awesome.

After a year spent in the wilds of Knox County, we were finally back home in northern Kentucky where I could get good pizza and cheese coneys any old time I wanted to. I was a hot-shot fifth-grader ruling the roost with my best friends in our last year of elementary school, and after much cajoling, I finally had 80s hair; my mother had given up the fight and my hair was cut from the "Dorothy Hamill" I'd had since I was 3 into a short feathery bob that tried to be Courtney Cox in the "Dancing In the Dark" video and some days actually reached that mark.

Because the previous Christmas had been so lonely, and we'd had so little money, my mother and sister were making up for it by organizing a steady stream of big-ticket family activities every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Our little family, very Hobbit-like in general and not inclined to adventures when there were naps to be taken, actually had plans. Plans that went beyond going to Florence Mall or throwing pennies into the indoor fountains at the deserted shopping center beside McAlpins. It was an exciting time to be one of us.

And yet, as it so often wasn't, luck was not on our side.

The first blow to our schedule was completely Dolly Parton's fault.

My mother had always loved Ms. Parton and related to both her humble Appalachian upbringing and her obsession with big hair. So when we heard the news that Dolly was going on tour with "Islands In the Stream" partner Kenny Rogers, were we supposed to say no to that? One of their winter stops was in Rupp Arena, a shrine in the minds of most Kentuckians and a place Mom and I had never been to before. Tickets were purchased and the countdown begun.

Honestly, I did not care about Kenny and Dolly. I was in it for Boy George.

In a gesture that would continue for years after, and one that I continue with Ainsley to this day, I received an early gift of one stylish and showy outfit that would be my uniform for all dress-up events that holiday season. Mom's taste was not as trendy as I would have liked for these outfits, but in 1984, she totally nailed it.

She bought me an off-the-shoulder oversized silky white tee with a multi-colored, be-glittered likeness of the one and only Boy George. (It was only later that she realized the face on the shirt was male and the lead singer of the group that sang "Karma Chameleon"; she thought it was a woman's face in a really kick-ass art-deco style.) His eye shadow was represented on the shirt in purple glitter, and the eyebrows, blush, and lips were airbrushed in charcoal and pastel pinks.

Be still, my beating heart.

Pair that baby with new zipper-leg ankle-length jeans and the off-brand pale gray penny loafers Mom found, and I was ready to rock the Arena. I even had a mesh head scarf that could be tied in a bow the size of Texas to hold back my newly feathered hair.

Look out, Dolly. This kid was totally going to steal your spotlight.

And then Dolly got sick. She fell ill with pneumonia and cancelled several tour stops. Rupp Arena was not rescheduled. There was nothing I could do but look longingly at Boy George hanging forlorn in my closet. And listen to my brother-in-law ask, over and over again, if Dolly Parton with a chest cold was worse than a giraffe with a sore throat.

But then my mom gave me permission to wear George to our fifth-grade Christmas program. I had a small poem to read (with two other girls, but still) and a place on the first row of the risers for our group choral numbers. I couldn't wait to be seen.

"Who's that charming young lady with the great hair and the totally rad Boy George shirt?"

"I don't know, but baby, she's gonna be a star!"

Alas, on the day of in-school dress rehearsals, the intense sore throat and body aches I'd woken up with that morning, but hadn't told my mom about (the show must go on and all that), caused me to make a sudden exit during "Silent Night" to rid my stomach of my breakfast and huddle shivering in the bathroom until the school secretary could check on me. I had my first and only case of strep throat. I had to drop out of that evening's sole performance.

Boy George and I were devastated.

Our family had one more chance at fun, and Boy George just one more chance to come out of the closet. (My closet, I mean.) On the evening of my last day of school before Christmas break, we had tickets to see our beloved Kentucky Wildcats play. I was going to get to see Rupp Arena, after all. Though everyone else was going to wear blue and white, I was by-God going to wear my new shirt, which still had the tags on it. It was all I could think about all day, even though we were going to be racing scooters in gym class, which was every 5th-grader's favorite thing to do. That and pulling bra straps.

When it was my turn to race, I was so focused on the evening ahead that I was in my own world. I was a distracted driver who couldn't be bothered to focus further than the blue plastic handles on the sides of the scooter.

I went out of my lane and into another student and landed on top of a scooter handle. With my face.

My eye bruised and puffed immediately and blood trickled from a cut above my lip. Our gym teacher led me aside to clean me up and ice my eye. I was inconsolable.

"They won't take me now!"

"Who won't take you where?" (I'm sure she thought I had a concussion. And given that I saw stars and talked nonsense for 5 minutes, I may have.)

"My family! They won't take me to see UK and eat at Joe Bologna's and I won't get to wear Boy George because my eye is swollen and I have a busted lip and they won't want me out in public!"

The gym teacher sighed as only an annoyed teacher trying to be patient can.

"Your eye will be fine. Your lip will be fine. I don't see any reason why you can't go to the game. Now go sit down before you hurt yourself."

We did go to the game. But I was defeated. I decided I should not wear a shirt featuring a face with purple eye shadow and voluptuous pink lips when I also was sporting an accidental purple eye and a very pink lip. For once, I wanted to fade into the crowd. I wore a UK sweatshirt and allowed my feathery hair to partially conceal the damage to my face. It was fun. But it's hard to see a game through a painful and partially shut eye.

I did finally get to wear Boy George when a boy in my class (named George, and I swear I'm not making that up) asked me to go see a movie with him over Christmas break. It was magical in a way that Dolly & Kenny, my school Christmas program, and even the UK game could not have been. For it turns out that my "date" was a huge Culture Club fan. Unlike my mother, he  knew exactly whose face was on my shirt. And gave me the first compliment I ever got from a boy:

"I like your shirt."

It was an innocent date, of course, chaperoned by his parents and discussed over the phone with mine. It was spontaneous, born of two friends with nothing to do on a snowy Sunday afternoon after our Christmas presents had been thoroughly explored and were beginning to get boring. It wasn't a dramatic scheduled thing like a concert, or a basketball game, or a Christmas program. I had built the expectations for these things up so much in my head that when they didn't go as planned, I was disappointed and disillusioned. I had no expectations for my trip to the movies, except that the movie keep me awake and provide more entertainment than watching my father watch football. It did not disappoint.

At Christmas, we tend to over-schedule, over-plan, over-think. We raise our expectations for magic so high that we are bound to go out of our lane and fall face-first into disappointment.

It's not the big things at the holidays that create the magic. It's the little spontaneous moments that make the joy.

That, and fabulous t-shirts.