Friday, November 27, 2009

The Holiday Sense of Wonder

Thanksgiving day brings with it an annual visit to Steph's parents' house for our family and about five or six dozen other people.  I was told it used to be only thirty or forty; there are now at least 25 children that attend, in addition to some number of adults.  Two of the children that attended this time around were our very own Allie and Evey.  Evey mostly slept, passed around like a sacred totem from grandmother to aunt to cousin to mother and back again.  Allie... well, Allie went hog wild.  The kids got to enjoy climbing on a jungle gym, pony rides, playing Beatles Rock Band, badminton, ping-pong, and just running around burning k-cals like little hummingbirds.  And I began to remember for the first time in decades just how incredible the holidays really are for children.  As they should be.  And Christmas is just around the corner.

I vaguely remember the entire holiday season in my youth being one gigantic run-up, like a party on the verge of breaking out for an entire month.  It was impossible not to get caught up in the anticipation.  There were colorful, shiny lights everywhere; every toy and gadget and gizmo a person could want to examine was on display at the stores; and special events were taking place at arcades, roller rinks, bowling alleys, and laser tag arenas.  The temperature turned cold, but never freezing, here in the Phoenix area; it made for bright, pleasant days and chilly, wintry nights.  There was plenty of candy to be had no matter whose house we visited, and there was plenty of time to play because school was out.

I remember my friend Dalton would have Christmas a few days early, because his father was an airline pilot and would inevitably have to work through the holiday itself.  There would be a barbecue, football games, early presents (meaning toys and gizmos, of course), and usually trips to cool places we would never have thought to go.  I remember Thanksgivings at my parents' cabin with a few other families in the mix, and going out to play in the snow (or the autumn woods, if it was a warm year) with my sister and/or my friends Jeff and Tom.  One year, I was horribly ill -- I think I was 13 or 14 years old -- but I managed to play through and complete several Nintendo games, so even a sick New Year's turned into what was, for a teenaged nerd like I was at the time, a pretty decent experience.  (I believe Philip J. Fry said it best: "Well, I spent all of ninth grade playing video games, except for that week when my eyes started to bleed, and in my opinion...")

Once I grew into adulthood, the shine quickly faded from the holiday apple.  I had a few good years early on with the family, but then I made the mistake of getting "married" at 22 and having to shuffle between visiting my family and visiting hers -- truly an excruciating experience.  Things went south for me financially, and I ended up more concerned with getting work done and the fact that I couldn't do any mailing or other business during the days when everything was closed.  After I was divorced in 2001, I spent the next few years having things go generally well, but the fun was definitely "over" -- the bottom line was that I had a household to maintain, even just a household of one.  And since it was more economical for me at the time to eat out for virtually every meal, holidays became an adventure of wondering what would be open so I could get some chow.  Dalton, Beach, and I filmed one of our "funny videos" on Christmas in 2001 or 2002, showing us visiting restaurant after restaurant with no success, and finally managing to grab a meal at Gameworks.  I met Stephanie in 2005 and things improved, but for a few years my main concerns during holiday season were law school finals and eBay work.

This year, I was able to arrange for all those distractions to be set aside, because I was determined to make sure I enjoyed the time I had with the family.  Even though it's a challenge keeping up with "Tornado Allie," I knew she would be on cloud nine and I determined not to miss it.  Steph's family is an order of magnitude better to spend time with than that of my ex, and instead of having us shuffle between houses, my parents and such were simply invited right into the fold and joined the fun.  And for a shining afternoon, I was able to smile and just live in the moment.  It's still going on, after a fashion; the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend is going to be full of visits with friends and recreational time with my folks and the girls.  So, even though the child-scale enjoyment of the holidays is probably gone beyond my reach, the festivities still have the power to stimulate my sense of wonder... and, being a science fiction writer, my sense of wonder is something I am happy to see nourished and sustained.

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