Monday, November 12, 2012

Christmas music and other random thoughts

I was getting the boys off to school in my usual state of semi-consciousness this morning when I turned on the minivan and was jarred awake by Christmas music on the radio. On Veteran’s Day? Really? I quickly turned the station to country music, which was refreshingly patriotic, as it should be on Veteran’s Day.

There are so many things I find wrong with radio stations playing six weeks of straight Christmas music—the least of them being that they recycle the same twenty songs over and over and over again. Blah! It’s depressing, especially since I really love Christmas music of all genres. I came home and put on an Amy Grant Christmas album, because nothing says Christmas-at-home-with-family to me like her and Vince singing "Tender Tennessee Christmas" together, and thought about things.

Radio stations playing Christmas music for six weeks before the holiday are just one facet of the craziness that has become what should be one of the most peaceful, joyful times of the entire year. Extreme commercialism, Black Friday, wish list catalogs, ever-growing lists of people to buy gifts for, Martha Stewart standards of decorating, politically correct holiday cards depicting perfect families in color-coordinated outfits, throwing extravagant parties for throngs of people—the list of things that keep us from focusing on what really matters gets longer every year. When will it end? What I guess I should really ask is, “How long will we let this go on?”

As a child, I thought our family Christmas traditions and celebrations were far from perfect. We never had a lot of money, and I never received everything I asked for. But we baked sugar cookies and gave them to the neighbors. We decorated our tree with ornaments that each had a story. We played in the snow. We shook the packages around the tree and guessed what was inside. We made presents for each other. We sat in the living room for hours with the lights out and watched the Christmas tree lights chase each other around the tree. We had hot cocoa around the table. We spent Christmas Eve reading our favorite Christmas stories to each other. We woke up on Christmas morning to orange rolls and Danish pastry wreaths.  We were together. Yes, we had our squables and all was not peaceful. But now that we are thousands of miles apart, I miss the togetherness most of all.
Christmas for the past few years has been difficult for me. I’ve been going to school full time. It’s hard. I’m tired. When December comes around, I’m not ready for it. I have good intentions, but no follow-through. I spend lots of time and money shopping, when I really want to be spending quality time with those I love. My boys are growing up so, so fast. Have I really ever shown them the magic of Christmas? Have I ever really just sat still with them and watched the snow fall, or watched them revel in the magic of lights glowing on the Christmas tree?
One of the songs on the Amy Grant album is called “I Need a Silent Night”.  (Watch a video of it here.) The album notes say that she wrote it while sitting in a busy mall one December. As I listened to it, I promised myself that this year would be different. I made a short list of presents to buy for my children. They won’t be receiving many toys this year, but they will be getting experiences—skiing, snowboarding and art lessons. Possibly a trip to Legoland. I plan to do most of my shopping online, so that I can stay home and bake cookies and build a Lego city around our Christmas tree. I will still do Black Friday, not necessarily to shop, but to spend a fun night out reconnecting with my best friend. I have made “tickets” for the “Honda Express” and will surprise my boys one night in December by making hot chocolate and driving them around to see Christmas lights instead of putting them to bed. We will be a Secret Santa for a boy we know who would not otherwise be having very much of a Christmas.
Don't start thinking that all will be sugary sweet or Norman Rockwell-esque at our house this December. Peace on earth, good will toward each other is not a concept that my children understand. Just ask our neighbors. My boys will quite likely be disappointed by the smaller pile of gifts around the tree. I am sure that there will be tears shed and doors slammed and fits thrown over Lego sets and remote control vehicles that Santa forgot to bring. But I hope that as the years go by the shared experiences and family time will become cherished memories and traditions that they will want to continue in their own families. And I really hope that those memories do not take place with the radio station’s meager list of twenty so-called Christmas songs playing over and over in the background. Justin Bieber wailing for his sweetheart to come back to him for Christmas? Really? I’m spending today making a playlist that will bring cringe-free, happy memories for years to come—because in the world’s vast store of Christmas music there really are jingle bells ringing, silver bells jingling, church bells pealing (there are a lot of bells), snowmen playing, chestnuts roasting, wise men traveling, families gathering, snowflakes falling, animals talking,  and reindeer flying. I personally hope that I can slow down enough to help my children hear the angels sing about a baby in a manger on a silent night. Because that is what it’s really all about.
Copyright 2012 Laurie Innocenzi

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ordinary Kid or Extraordinary Secret Agent?

Connor is the "kid of the week" at school and as part of this, I had to write a letter or story about him for the teacher to read to the class. It's been a rotten week of upheaval and drama on the homefront, so I wrote a funny story to make us all laugh. I thought I might as well share it with all of you. We all need to laugh, right?!

Once upon a time, in the quiet little town of West Haven, there lived a boy named Connor. Connor seemed to be a quiet, average third grader who attended West Haven Elementary. He had two little brothers named Nathan and Lucas, he was in the Bear Den at Cub Scouts, he loved to ride his bike really fast, he played computer games, he could swim like a fish, and he designed and built Lego creations. Nobody knew the secret life Connor lived when nobody was watching.
Connor seemed like an ordinary kid, but actually he was a secret agent! His main job was to find people who were in trouble and help them. He did this with the help of the people at HQ, some very nifty gadgets from the Gary the Gadget Guy, and (believe it or not) from his Lego creations. While his mom thought Connor was building cool Lego spaceships and fighter aircraft, Connor was actually building things that were real! As soon as his spy phone rang with a call about a mission for him to go on, Connor would build the kind of ship or jet or car or whatever else he needed for the mission. Then he would sneak out onto the trampoline with it and press the “life-size” button on his special remote control. As soon as he pressed the button, whatever Lego creation he was holding in his hand would get big and actually fly or shoot lasers or whatever else he had designed it to do!
One day, Connor’s spy phone rang while he was doing his math homework at the kitchen table. HQ was calling about a black and white kitten that was stuck in a tree in the snow on the highest mountain in the world. Connor immediately stopped complaining to his mom about doing homework. He finished in ultra-speed and ran up to his room. He grabbed his Legos and built a super-fast jet plane with a turbo boost light speed engine. Then he built a jetpack and a snowboard with some lightning bolts to increase the speed. He hid all of his creations under his shirt and ran outside to the trampoline where he pressed the “life-size” button on his remote. Before his mom even knew he was gone, Connor was zooming away at the speed of light in his jet.
Within minutes, Connor was across the big ocean and crossing a gorge. He could see the world’s tallest mountain on the other side of the gorge. He flipped open his computer and activated his airplane’s spy cam which launched out of a hatch on the plane and zoomed up the mountain. It transmitted pictures to Connor’s computer. Finally, Connor could see where the kitten was. He landed the plane at the bottom of the mountain, strapped his snowboard to his feet and pulled on his jet pack. In a few moments, he had jet-packed up the side of the mountain and to the tree where the kitten was. He gave her a treat and put her carefully inside his warm coat. Then he turned off his jetpack and snowboarded down the mountain. It was the most exciting ride of his life!
When Connor got back home, he turned his Legos small again and ran into the house with the cat. His mom fed it some kitty food and tucked it into Connor’s bed. Connor named the kitten “Lucky” and she became his secret agent spy cat and went on many adventures with him.
So if you ever see Connor around school and he disappears suddenly, you’ll know that he’s probably left to go on an important mission with Lucky the spy cat and his real-life Lego creations. You should ask him about it if you see him come back.

The End—Until the Next Mission
Copyright 2011 Laurie Innocenzi