Happy Holidays: Listen and Learn
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Hold my hip, see to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh!
That’s Lucy’s version of Jingle Bells, and it summarizes in many ways what holidays with a three-year-old are like. They get most of what’s going on — and while you're enjoying this, you realize your body is starting to fall apart with age and the rigors of parenting. Hold my hip, indeed.
Naturally, it’s not just your body that’s falling apart. It’s also your mind. On Christmas Eve, I finally discovered that Adam and I had been talking about two entirely different things when we were making good on Lucy’s Santa requests. She’d asked for two things: five boxes, with five chocolates (which we later clarified meant one chocolate in each box); and five ice creams.
The chocolates were pretty easy. All I had to do was buy five small boxes, which I decorated with the extremely tacky plastic gems Lucy loves so much. Adam bought the candy, and enough to fill about 200 other boxes -- a strange thing for a man with a pathological and possibly hereditary fear of the dentist to do, but that is a different debate (and one I have opted not to have this year).
Where we stumbled, though, was with the ice cream. When I was growing up, we used to eat vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet from little plastic tubs we called Dixie Cups. Each one came with a little wooden paddle that looked like the sort of thing you could use to discipline an unruly doll, but was actually a spoon.
Dixie Cups would be perfect, I thought. Not too much ice cream, the spoon comes with – Lucy would be able to serve herself and I wouldn’t have to hold my hip or worse, get ice cream knuckle, in the process.
Since I am nine months pregnant and feeling like I’m carrying Santa’s belly without benefit of highly trained reindeer or elves, Adam volunteered to go to the store to get the goods. It was the day before Christmas Eve – and the last of the presents we had to buy.
“Did you find the Dixie Cups?” I asked when he got home. “Yes,” he said. “They came with pink flowers.”
I thought that sounded a little weird at the time, but since everything these days comes with a cartoon character to show how irresistibly fun it is, or a flower to show that it’s derived only from things found in nature, I just figured Dixie Cups had been swallowed by the trend.
I should have known that something was wrong, though. The orange in orange sherbet appears nowhere in nature. And those weren’t Dixie Cups Adam had bought. They were Dixie Cups. The paper kind.
When I saw them on the counter, I still didn’t get it. I grumped at Adam over them – “I’m just not from a paper cup family,” I said. To compound this general distaste for the messiness of paper cups, Lucy likes to take small objects and stuff them into holes. Just this morning, I found lemon slices in a small bowl on the bottom step of the kitchen stool. When I saw the Dixie Cups, I saw a future of them stuffed with perishable items, hidden throughout the house.
“Well, I’m not from a paper cup family, either,” he said (despite the fact that there is a Dixie Cup dispenser in his childhood bathroom. I’m just going to let that one go.)
“So why did you buy them?” I asked.
“Because you said get Dixie Cups!”
And then it hit me. Adam didn’t know what a Dixie Cup was. At least not in the same way I knew. And I am learning, that outside of people who grew up in the greater Seattle area, no one calls ice cream cups by this name.
Adam actually thought I was planning to fill the Dixie Cups with ice cream for Lucy. Now I could question his logic in assuming this, particularly since he did not buy any ice cream to put in the cups, and all we had in the freezer was a half-eaten tub of vanilla wearing a furry ice coat..
But I have chosen to look at it in another way – Adam had simply listened to me, and he brought me what I wanted, even though it made very little sense. He trusted I knew what I was doing. And I could credit this to the fact that smart husbands give their extremely pregnant wives plenty of slack. But I know better.
Whether I am insane with late pregnancy or not, Adam trusts me. And he listens. This is how we have survived the first few years of parenthood.
As I sit here in the quiet of a dark house, Adam and Lucy are asleep. I can hear two cats squabble over turf in the alley, and I can hear our gas fireplace breathe gentle warmth into the room.
Before too long, the house will come alive with the noise of my family. And before too long, these quiet early mornings will be filled with the sound of a crying baby.
Three years after having the first one, I have come to the humbling realization that, no matter what your intentions, you screw up as a parent and as a spouse. Sometimes, the same words just don’t mean the same things to people, even if your goals are identical.
Becoming a parent the first time can break you. Not in a bad way. To be broken of illusions that you can organize and control and perfect your life – or anyone else’s -- is a good thing.
It’s like changing your perspective on Christmas. First, you’re the one waiting for what Santa will bring you. Then you become Santa yourself, figuring out what it is that all the people you love want and need you to bring. This is the job of the parent, after all.
Perhaps this is why the tradition of sitting on Santa’s lap persists. It’s a reminder what the Santas among us most need to do to do our jobs: listen.
When Lucy’s sister comes into the world in the next few weeks, I will be ready to do just that. I can’t wait to find out what I’m going to hear.