Monday, December 31, 2007

Creating Holiday Memories to Cherish a Lifetime

So this year Big Dog has turned 4. In my vast reading on child development (mostly skimming, and a lot of it on the web) I have come to understand that this year is the one where you start to hold onto memories for a lifetime. As the Alpha mom in training, I decided that this year I would work hard to start creating holiday memories for my boys. My genius plan was to create some unique holiday traditions that we, the Dog family apart from out originating lines, would be able relive year after year. Not the usual hellish trips to the mall Santa, or Christmas cookies that often taste more like paste than pastry, but fun yet sentimental outings of our own. Twice this holiday season I have tried, and twice I have failed.

The first outing was a trip to Seattle's own Candy Cane Lane. This charming residential neighborhood of vintage homes decks their halls, and lawns, and traffic circles with a power-sucking display of holiday lighting cheer. In my idealized version of events, we would start while the children were young and impressionable enough to be awed by the lights and sheer output of holiday wattage, over time they would see the amazing kitsch value as their sarcastic minds went to work pulling apart the traditional American ideals. Our entire family could sneer at the gross consumption of valuable resources for holiday vanity. In other words it was an event that could grow with us. Unfortunately my plans were well conceived but poorly lived.

I think the root of the problem was that I just tried to cram too much childhood awe and wonder into one evening. I took the afternoon off work and went with our nanny and our nanny-share girlie (hereafter dubbed Visiting Pup) and my two boys to go see the reindeer at Swanson's Nursery. We'd gone last year and as terrible as I am at gardening, I have the lust for greenery, so I always enjoy a trip to a nursery. In addition to the reindeer, they have a train track running around a troll island and about a zillion (rough estimate) decorated trees, plants, shrubs and well, um....tables. The kids loved it, I enjoyed it. The whole experience was magical until the uptight "Whole Foods Mama" in her stylishly-hippie, stitch-n-bitch wool cap, snapped at Big Dog when her son shoved in front of him. She jumped on Big Dog, saying "Don't push the little guys!" when CLEARLY he had been the pushee not the pusher. I almost buried my jingly-toed elf shoes in her ass, but decided to put on a merry face and move on.

By this time it was getting dark and Visiting Pup had to get back in time for her family, so we decided to head home. On the way NE volunteered to take us for a quick detour through some of the more "splendid" homes in the area. This was fantastic. Within the Seattle city limits, she drove us up and down streets full of houses that looked like they shopped online at "Big Glowing Shit to Put On My Lawn and Home Superstore". Just when you thought you saw the largest inflatable glowing Jesus ever manufactured, you'd turn the corner and be visually accosted by an even bigger savior backed up by some hulking wise men! And if those weren't enough, there were entire families of glittering reindeer, puffed-up polar bears and penguins too plentiful to count. It is a good thing the actual wise men were not looking for a child in this neighborhood because there were more artificial luminescent "Bethlehem-type" stars in assorted sizes than even the smartest Magi could ever navigate. When we had come near the end of our tour, NE suggested we look at the marina to see how many boats were decorated. Big Dog jumped all over this idea, in his mind nothing could be more fantastic than boats heaped with gaudy lights! So we drove that direction, but when we turned the corner to overlook the marina only a couple of boats were decorated. We paused, discussed and decided to skip it. Packing and unpacking three kids in carseats sets the bar for boat decorations pretty high, and we decided it fell short. This enraged Big Dog. I'm certain in his mind we were just holding out on the best lights for a "Grown Ups only" tour later. He complained and whined and cried and screamed pretty much the whole way home. I promised him that after Papa got home, we'd go see some more lights and that those would really impress him.

Well Papa came home and we packed up the car with two very tired little boys, we put on Christmas music and I forced the happiest-mom-who-loves-holidays smile I could muster. We made it about 5 blocks before the meltdown began. Little Dog decided he'd had enough. He started to scream as though I was skinning him alive. I tried to tell myself, and Mr Dog, that by the time we got to the lights he'd recover. I assumed that the magic of a brightly shining block of homes fully trussed up in Christmas lights would bring back the charm to his cold night. Well, we got near Candy Cane Lane and with the growing volume, decided the noise in the back seat was too much, we had to stop and get them a snack. We pulled over at Third Place Books and stuffed them full of cookies and cups of milk. The evening turned a bit for the better afterwards, but Candy Cane Lane's display was "tasteful", if that is a term you can use to describe that many Christmas lights in that small of a location, compared to the blinding display we saw earlier without all of the drama. And the entire drive along the famed "Lane" took about 3 minutes. By the time it was over, I had more of a sense of let down than tradition in the making. I got home and poured myself a nice glass of holiday cheer to recover.

Today was the second new tradition's trial run for whole Dog family. It started when I was pregnant with Little Dog and Mr. Dog was off on a summery warm trip to Australia for a close friend's wedding. (Trust me, at nearly 8 months pregnant there was no way I could go, and I wouldn't have wanted him to miss it either, but I can still complain about being abandoned in my "weakened condition" for at least another decade and casually mention it in conversation right up until my death) My family came up to my house in Seattle after Christmas to help me survive the final weeks of my pregnancy while caring for a very active toddler. That weekend we decided to start a new tradition. We went to Pike Street Market, bought warm cashews from the warm cashew guy, snacked on mini donuts fresh from the fryer (yeah, this was a plan hatched by a very pregnant woman with some serious cravings, but it's still a good plan) then shopped for fresh shrimp, cheese, French pastries and delicious crusty bread to make a New Year's Eve feast of shrimp cocktail and fondue. My mouth just waters thinking about it.
I figured it would be a nice tradition for our growing family in our newly (well, new is a relative term) adopted hometown. Every year we could shop the market, get photos of the kids on the brass pig thing, and have a meal of fresh local foods.

We skipped it last year since I was in Portland and Mr. Dog was in Seattle trying to get our house up on cribbing for once and for all (again, that's a whole other story), but this year I was determined to make it happen. Mr. Dog had to work, so I planned to take the boys on the outing solo, then meet up with our local auntie S. to have a bite of lunch. When I mentioned it to Mr. Dog, he told me to call him and he'd try to come with us to the market. I was thrilled, he was actually participating in my scheme to force some childhood memories down these kiddies throats! When I took off from home, I gave him a call and arranged to pick him up, meet auntie S for lunch at the Pike Street Brewery, then do our little bit of shopping. Then things started to unravel.

As soon as we got him in the car, Little Dog announced that he was poopy. I glanced around and realized that I had forgotten to pack the diaper bag in my rush to get on with the business of building family history. "No problem, we'll stop at Whole Foods," says Mr. Dog, ever the practical one. I hopped out, bought diaper, wipes and ran back to the car. We were on the move again. Too bad the city planning department of Seattle had conspired against us to keep as many one way streets and right turn onlys between us and the Pike Street Market. When we finally arrived, we got seated, did all the normal small talk with auntie S. and ordered our meal. What I didn't realize was that we had been seated in the most remote corner of the restaurant being served by a waitress who seemed to be unable to focus on the simple task of looking at her own tables from time to time.

The kid-friendly restaurant we chose specifically because it has been kid-friendly in the past, became a wasteland. It felt more likely I'd find tumbleweeds than crackers for whiny children. I had to stalk other servers to provide for my children. Thankfully once the cracker arrived the tired, hungry and mildly cranky children fell silent as they ate their prey. Shortly after devouring the second batch of crackers, our meals arrived and again, the children ate contentedly. It wasn't until we were all finished eating and were waiting for what seemed like an eternity that our table turned from nearly-civilized to something out of a werewolf flick. It was as though the demon beasts that dwell silently in my apple-cheeked young had been invited to come forth by the pull of of the missing check, as though this time between consumption of food and payment for the meal was some kind of witching hour. Suddenly they were climbing under the table, taking off their shoes, crawling aimlessly on the dirty cement floor on all fours like some kind of demented canine/child hybrid looking for blood. It took nearly 40 minutes for the check to arrive. Mr. Dog accompanied each child out of the restaurant at least once by the time I was able to catch her attention and GIVE HER MONEY.

At this point I decided to just ditch the whole idea and go home, swinging briefly by the toy store for a bribe for Big Dog he had earned last night. As soon as we had dropped Mr. Dog back at work, both boys were completely sacked out in the back of the car. I had to move them from the car and into their beds single-handedly. Big Dog transferred easily, but Little Dog woke up and demanded to be rocked and swung and comforted in a misleading attempt to get him back down for a nap of an acceptable duration. No joy in that effort, but Big Dog stayed down for more than 3 hours. He woke up happy and refreshed after Mr. Dog got home from work. I promptly scrapped any attempt to make the originally planned dinner and eat leftovers. Everyone will be happy with what we have, and it is significantly less work for me.
Did I mention I whipped up a couple of ginormous cocktails for the adult Dogs in our pack, and passed off some juice as kiddie-cocktails? Yeah, that might actually be a better family tradition in the long run. At least one that I can fully endorse for generations to come.

Cheers! From the Dog family to yours, all the best in the New Year!

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