This year, Santa decided that it would be great fun to leave whoopee cushions in everyone's stocking. I received two, perhaps one for each cheek, or maybe as a sign that I ought not to get a hot chocolate from Starbucks every day, even though it's how I talk myself out of bed in the morning.
The boys think this is great fun. You get to play a trick on someone, which is hilarious in and of itself, and said trick results in a fart noise. Whoopee! How aptly named is this device.
They are good sports about it, too, recognizing that a brother's enjoyment comes partly from the deception. Even though the whoopee cushion is always in plain view, the "victim" pretends as if he doesn't see it, and sits down extra hard. Forget the more expensive toys; most of Christmas Day's play consisted of my sons nonchalantly asking one of their brothers to "have a seat," or "come sit down," as if this is everyday conversation for young boys. "Sure," is the reply, and then the fart sound, and then they roll around laughing.
Eventually, Eli came to me with a mournful look. He'd become over-exuberant with his whoopee cushion, filling it too full of air. It burst. "Since you got two," he asked through his sniffles, "can I have one of yours?"
"Sure," I told him, as if I had a choice, as if I can say no to that sad little face. I suppose this means I really will have to lay off the hot chocolate.
Christmas night I made a pot of Christmas chili (it has red and green peppers in it). I played Handel's "Messiah" on the stereo. As I chopped peppers I could hear, mingled with the appearance of the angel to the shepherds, the sounds of farts and giggles. Somehow, this seemed right. That's part of the significance of the annunciation to the shepherds, that the King of kings was introduced to the lowest of the low, completely upsetting the hierarchies of man. Those shepherds were an uncultured lot, after all. Who knows, perhaps Handel might have incorporated the whoopee cushion, had it been available to him.
I like to think that more of our highbrow than lowbrow ways will rub off on our children, but maybe it's best if they get an equal dose of both. I can't imagine, after all, getting along with anyone who can't appreciate a whoopee cushion. In fact, once they're older, and serious about some young lady, I'll recommend that as the test. If she laughs, she's a keeper; if not, throw her back and keep fishing. Because we're rednecks that way.
There's probably some irony in writing an essay for a major international publication about how I am going to ease back on the throttle come this Christmas season, only to find myself collapsed in a chair at the end of December, praying for the quick approach of January 2nd. The plain truth of it, I think, is that being a parent of four boys is serious work, Christmas or no Christmas.
I'm still struggling to lay down my urge for efficiency, and be a full-time teacher. Instead of chopping vegetables in ten minutes, I need to work with one of the boys to chop them, and show him how to do so without slitting a finger vein. Rather than shovel snow in record time, I need to get my sons engaged, even if it means I get whacked in the shins and other sensitive body areas eight or ten times with the flats of their small but incredibly hard shovels. There is no speed in a family this size, except in the transmittal of vomiting- and snot-based viruses, which spread faster than rumors in church.
The work aside, however, it was a good season. A few days before my birthday we had a snowstorm, and the next day the boys and I had the mother of all snowball fights. I made a pile of snowballs, like Will Ferrell in "Elf," which I used to pelt the little whippersnappers. Isaac, not understanding the rules of war, kept toddling over to my pile, beneath his ten layers of coats and sweaters, and taking snowballs. He seemed so wounded, when I told him to make his own, that I just let him use mine against me.
Caleb, on the other hand, was a fount of knowledge about the rules of snowball war. There is, for example, a rule that says you can't hit someone else's snowball-in-process with your own snowball, which is one of my favorite things to do. I think of it as akin to when Jackie Chan grabs the bad guy's gun and takes it apart. There is also a rule about knocking down snowballs with your hand, another of my snowball aikido moves. Breaking these and other rules led to extreme displeasure expressed in no uncertain terms by Mr. Stephen Caleb. I don't know where this first son of two firstborns gets his rule-centered uptightness.
Eli proved the wiliest of the bunch. I could make the others scatter when I charged them, but he would stand his ground until he launched his snowball, and then scamper away. He also nailed me in a penalty round. The penalty round happens when you hit someone in the head. I accidentally pegged him in the noggin, and so I had to stand against a tree while he fired a snowball at me. He caught me square in the face. Then he giggled, looking very much like a snow elf must look, if one were to believe in such things.
On Christmas morning, the children were beside themselves, even Caleb, who has been having his doubts about Santa. More than once he's asked me if Santa is real. He's been hearing rumors, you see. I know lots of parents struggle with what to tell their children, and many try to walk a fine line by hemming and hawing about Santa being the spirit of Christmas, and so on.
I flat-out lie, and I have no problem with it. Santa, I explained to Caleb, is as real as you or me, and he is coming, so you'd better leave him some milk and cookies. Preferably chocolate chip. Homemade chocolate chip.
They were delicious.
Isaac was so excited, Christmas morning, that he did a little happy dance, capped by rearing back while I wasn't looking and punching me square in the groin. I think that's how Houdini got killed. The kid uses his hips when he punches; it's an innate warrior skill.
After I recuperated for a few minutes on the bed, we opened presents and emptied stockings and ate lots of delicious yummies and listened to Christmas music. It was a delightful day and we didn't miss driving from house to house one little bit.
Now we're observing the twelve days of Christmas, which means we have until January sixth to watch Christmas movies and listen to The Nutcracker Suite and read "The Night Before Christmas." Every night we also read the explanation behind the items in the song for that day (how the partridge on the first day of Christmas represents Christ, and so on). Then we hang an ornament depicting that item on a little tree. It's a nice complement to our Jesse tree.
We'll likely leave all our decorations up until the end of the month, because that's just how we roll. If our neighborhood busybodies don't like it, all the better. We'll slowly take them down, a little at a time, like we're weaning ourselves from a delicious drug. That can take some time, because we have a tree in every room. We heart Christmas, you see.