Friday, December 21, 2007

The Tree, The Lights, The Santa Thing

Ahhh, Christmastime at the Gorman's. Peace, joy, laughter. Ha! I was raised in a family that celebrated Christmas, and I've maintained that tradition. When I got married it was a great kick to go out with Marco and Italo, then 4 and 7, to shop for a tree in Manhattan from the tree man on Second Ave and haul it up to Third, then climb the old tenement stairs to our apartment, strong the lights and get out those ornaments. And in a few years, when Madeleina was born, it was even better because of the wonder she had just oozing from her spirit on seeing those lights and tearing open, as best she could, the packages that were for her.
The move to Texas made Christmas--while snowless and without my brothers and sisters coming over for dinner--almost a little better for its intimacy. It was just us. Not only did we have the added fun of putting lights up around the house, but it was one day of the year when we knew Chepa would be there in the most family sense of the way. She would bolt out of bed as quickly as Marco and Italo and Madeleina to go see if there was a stocking for her and joyfully tear it apart, then urge on breakfast so that we could get to the good stuff, the presents under the tree.
Now there wasn't ever as much money as we'd have liked to have to buy the best presents on everyone's list, but somehow there was always enough to keep the kids happy. And as a dad, that's an important thing. It's one of the secret men's rituals that we judge ourselves on: Can you make Christmas as fun as your own dad made it? It's an important part of the dad image.
The last couple of years, with the boys older, have even been better. They've been able to go shopping for presents with their own money, and they've taken to putting up the outside lights without my help. And getting a tree has been a Peter, Italo, Marco, Maceleina enterprise, driving all over town to get a great tree at a great price, and stopping at the Cleburne Park, where the Johnson County jail lets trustees spend a week or more putting up a million lights that simply dazzle you. Madeleina would get into that park and never want to leave. And then we'd go home and put the tree up and somehow Chepa would materialize and make it a great great party.
And this year, with baby Sierra nearly two, I thought it might be even more fun getting the tree and putting up the outdoor lights and especially going to the Cleburne Park where Madeleina, now 10, could show her sister the wonder of it all.
So I told the kids Monday would be a good day for that. The plan was to have Sarah, Italo's girl, go to Chepa's and get Sierra. I would have done it myself but Chepa's boyfriend's parents and his sister and brother-in-law came into town and and are staying with her and I didn't want them to think I'm too forward or intimate with Chepa and Sierra. From what I understand they think I'm a sort of monster and wouldn't want Sierra hanging around me too much. I don't think they've been told that for most of her life I've been her adult male influence.
Monday came and there were excuses all around. Sarah worked late, Marco had his own girlfriend issues to deal with, and Italo had to buy presents. So Madeleina, who was looking forward to it, was disappointed but I pointed out that we'd do it the next night. Of course I was forgetting that Italo's semi-pro soccer team practices on Tuesday nights and so we got postponed again. Which is when I pulled a Dad directive and told everybody that Wednesday was going to be the night. No ifs, ands or buts.
Madeleina was excited: I don't give a lot of whole-family orders and she thought that was about the manliest thing she'd ever seen, I think. But when Wednesday night came, Sarah announced that she definitely didn't want house lights this year because I always have a trip in early January "and then we're left to take them all down." I pointed out that I only tok down last year's lights in October, so I didn't get her point. Then I asked her to go get Sierra and and she looked at me and said "Why should you get to go with Sierra? She's not your baby."
I told her that I knew that, but that Sierra was my kids' sister and so for better or worse, the same way that Chepa's boyfriend has become part of my extended family, Sierra is part of it as well.
Sarah didn't go for that and went into her room .closed the door and pouted or wrapped presents.
Marco and Italo gave me the same resistance to the point where I finally said the hell with it and told Madeleina we'd do the whole damned thing ourselves. But I made sure to let the boys know that if they were too old for a little joyful Christmas spirit that they should be giving it up for Madeleina at least. So Madeleina and I jumped into my truck and went tree shopping. Italo and Marco got into Italo's car and followed us and were there when we picked out a tree, but then left abruptly, making it the sourist tree-moment in Gorman history.
When we got home Marco was putting lights up around the porch, but he wasn't a happy camper doing it. Sarah, who normally does the roof, wouldn't come out of the room, and Italo was utterly disinterested. So me and Madeleina attacked the roof lights and got em up and looking pretty, but when we came down and discovered that Marco had quit halfway through the railing I fairly exploded.
I went inside and announced that I'd called a demand for that day. I reminded everybody that nobody pays any bills or is responsible for food. They're allowed to earn, keep and spend their money any way they like but if in return I couldn't even get a good tree night for Madeleina then they could all just get the heck out.
Tell you what: that went over like a lead balloon, and me and Madeleina wound up eating dinner alone. Italo did come in just to put the tree in the stand but that was it.
And then I had all night to run through things. And I started out justifiably angry, then realized that it was stupid of me to think that my explosion was actually going to put anybody in a mood to put up lights and decorate the tree. Then came remorse for sounding like the kind of father I sometimes am but don't want to be. And by 4 AM all I wanted was forgiveness.
Sarah didn't speak to me in the morning before she went to work. No good morning, no 'you suck', nothing. I did speak with Italo and apologized and then gently went over the fact that I felt ignored and that I felt he and Marco and Sarah were abusing Madeleina: "She's just 10, Italo. And if you're too old for Christmas, that's fine. But you should be doing it for her."
He countered that he was all for Christmas and had bought the presents to prove it. I told him I thought the presents were the least of Christmas. What was important was doing one little night with his brother and sisters and his dad. And I left it at that. I had to. Because even while I was saying it I realized that what was probably really going on was that mom isn't in the Christmas picture this year. She's going on 42-weeks pregnant if the docs are right and isn't going anywhere but the hospital. So she wasn't going to appear like usual like magic to make the putting up of the lights a party like only she can. And she's not going to be here Christmas morning. And that's probably taken all the joy out of the broken-family but family traditions.
And that's just the way it is. So the boys didn't want to get revved up, even for a night, but they didn't know how to say it. And I didn't know it either until it hit me.
And so me and Madeleina decided we'd take Sierra to the park ourselves. So I called Chepa and told her I wanted to kidnap Sierra for a couple of hours and she said sure, and then Italo went to pick her up and then when Me and Madeleina were getting ready to take her and go to Cleburne Park, suddenly Sarah decided she wanted to come and then Italo decided to join, and I'll bet Marco would have come too if he hadn't been at his girl's house.
When we got to the park, Madeleina went wild, just like a 10-year-old is supposed to. And Sierra just looked at all those lights and said "Wow. Wow. Wow." Over and over, and then started running after Italo, who was being chased by Sarah, who was giggling like a teenager in first love and Madeleina joined in the chase and even I jumped into the fray and the next thing you know everybody was laughing and playing on the park slides and spinner rides and they were all beautiful and it almost couldn't have felt more like Christmas.


Arbol said...

Thanks for the great read this morning Peter. It really hit the spot within, and trying to keep tradition alive is hard to do now. Why? because there is way to much of the BS Clinton PC and greed infecting the lives of the US citizens instead of moral correctedness, Love, Light, and Life, you know,'s all one can do to keep our lives functioning at a some what sane level in this present moment in which we exist. Peace Bro.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Arbol

bamboo said...

Beautiful story.

Merry christmas.

Kuchinta said...

It's hard when traditions change, isn't it? I remember when I was growing up, my 3 younger sisters and I would put up our Christmas tree (a fake tree - the only kind they had, at that time, where I came from), decorate it and then get all excited about making/ getting Christmas presents for the adults in the family and each other....and then grandma had a series of strokes and we (the girls) grew up fast and Christmas lost its magic....

I still love Christmas, though - my fave holiday of the year!

Merry Christmas, Peter and may 2008 be a spectacular year for you and your loved ones!


Paul de Boer said...

Merry christmas and a happy 2008!

Phoenix said...

Hi Peter, yeah, thanks for giving it a good try. I don't have any kids but if I did I'd take my inspiration from you.