Christmas and things


In which Stellan meets a man in a large red suit. Also: fear, God, and cookies.

Most years we’d have spent all of yesterday herding through airports and I’d be too exhausted to think right now. One of the disadvantages of our rusticated choice of location is that it takes freaking forever to get anywhere: it’s a two hour drive to the airport, which is just a regional so it’s guaranteed that for any given trip you’ll have at least one opportunity to get stranded overnight in some central states hub city: direct flights, along with broadband and pizza delivery, are among the few things I feel nostalgic for from our days of city living. So any trip anywhere is going to be at least a full day of slogging and waiting and slogging some more.

But this year we’re not flying across the country. I’m going to miss being with my family, who I don’t see nearly often enough — see above re issues related to travel — but I do have to admit that not having to get on an airplane is an unexpected relief. Instead of coordinating travel I’ve been, like, decorating and baking cookies and stuff. It feels a bit strange. I’m out of practice; the few years we’ve spent the holiday here have been more along the lines of “we just had a baby like two months ago so let’s celebrate by changing diapers and staring blankly at the wall at three in the morning and trying not to pitch the wailing thing out into the snow.” This year, one hopes, will be a little less fraught.

Our tree came from the back yard — easy, when there’s 40 acres of back yard to choose from. Cocktail umbrellas make excellent decorations; they look like little paper lanterns over the lights. Though I’ve rather lost the knack of getting the lights on the tree evenly; there are some dark patches that I’m just too lazy to bother fixing.

The last three nights running I’ve been going through small batches of the more obscure recipes in our cookbooks. Verdict so far: butterscotch cockaigne tastes more like nuts than like butterscotch, and really wants some chocolate. Tea wafers are interesting but would serve much better as a crumbled topping for a cheesecake than as a cookie BUT DO NOT FEAR, THIS WILL BE REMEDIED. Pinwheels are easier than they look, provided you learn to keep the dough within a three degree temperature range between too sticky and too crumbly, and allow for slippage between layers. (Honestly I’m beginning to think that one could make a pretty decent cookie cookbook by just randomly generating different permutations of butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, and chocolate, and baking them at 375° for 10 minutes each.)

I even considered making a mincemeat pie, but gave up on the idea when I saw the recipe calls for ox hearts and beef suet, neither of which I happen to have in the freezer.

Stellan had his first encounter with Santa Claus just the other day. Completely by accident — he and I were running various errands, as you do: bank, post office, groceries. (He’s taken to insisting “We not going grocery store. We go supermarket.”) When we got to the hardware store one of the older guys who the only clue that they work there is that every time you go into the hardware store they’re always there, anyway, one of those guys, gives me the high sign as Stellan and I walk past and whispers “make sure you linger for a while.”

This is not the sort of hardware store at which you’d expect to see Santa Claus; it’s a sawdusty and slightly grumpy place that caters more to building contractors than to civilians. (Locals: it was Greenbergs. Oooh, you say. Yeah.) But sure enough, as we’re paying for our lightbulbs the store intercom coughs out a crackly “HO HO HO” and then what I’m pretty sure was that same older guy comes out in a santa suit — he must just wait around and throw it on quickly whenever someone brings their kid in to the place, which can’t happen all that often. And Stellan responds with a shriek and a full-body BACK, FOUL DEMON!! pose, complete with crossed fingers and the waving of amulets, and we depart from the hardware store.

He just discovered fear recently. For a couple of weeks there you could see him trying out the word, applying it almost at random to household objects. “That’s scawy.” More recently he seems to have sorted it out in his head: the basement dehumidifier is still a little bit scawy, but only when it’s turned on; the underwater part of his favorite movie is no longer scawy at all, most monsters are not scawy, except for Animal, who is nightmarish and terrible. Robots are never scawy. Daddy is consistently described as “scawy and nice”. (Mommy is “just nice.” no my feelings are not hurt at all why do you ask?) Santa Claus, it appears, has fallen on the wrong side of that magic line; the whole drive home Stellan wanted to talk about the “scawy wed guy with the wed beard and the wed hat.”

And I discovered that I had not planned ahead on how to cope with the whole existence of Santa Claus thing. On the one hand I don’t want to lie to the kid. But I also don’t want to be the SPOILER guy who ruins it for him. In the car that day I punted, by prefacing everything with a passive voice “The story is…” The story is that Santa lives at the north pole, reindeer, etc. I’m not saying it, the story is saying it, you see.

That worked in the moment, but I have to decide pretty quickly how to play that one when he actually asks. I have to make the same call about God pretty soon too, for pretty much exactly the same reasons. (I’ve seen this come up a few times recently online, so it’s been on my mind:

I think it’s fascinating that kids are told of two omniscient, fatherly, largely benevolent supernatural beings with the capacity to reward and punish, and expected to stop believing in only one of them at age five. Seems like a total own goal from the religious point of view.
My own beliefs are firmly spiritual atheist (which depending on your own beliefs reads as either a complete contradiction of terms, or you know exactly what I mean), his mom is a nonreligious jew (which, again, contradiction or just obvious, depending.) So he’s not going to be getting a lot of God talk at home. But at the same time I want him to be able to make up his own mind; I’m glad my own parents consciously did that for me. Nobody wants to be the SPOILER guy. And he has to live in a world where plenty of people do believe in God, and in Santa, so he’ll need to cope with that one way or the other — I don’t get to make these decisions in a vacuum. But I do have to make them soon.

But not today. There are cookies to bake. Neither God nor Santa are allowed to interfere with cookies. Not in this house. That much I’m sure of.

Update, the next day

Hey, looks like I’m not the only one.