Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Needs Norman Rockwell?

Well, a new year has begun. The fun and festivities of Christmas and New Year's bowl games are over once again. Now it's time to start fulfilling those new year resolutions you came up with in order to ease your conscience as you downed your twentieth sugar cookie or blew off any semblance of exercise to watch Christmas movies and football. Yep, this is the time of season when gyms fill to the brim with well-meaning, yet soon-to-be-gone by mid-February, workout warriors who have vowed that this is the year they finally drop twenty pounds and learn to run thirty minutes without losing control of their bodily functions and falling to the floor in need of a cardiologist. It's both a dreary and an exciting time. Dreary that the Holidays are over; but exciting because of the possibilities a new year brings.

I don't know about you, but this past Christmas reminded me of a very important truth that I need to keep in mind as I head into 2010: FLEXIBILITY IS KEY TO SUCCESSFUL FATHERHOOD! As a dad, you have to be able to roll with the punches. Few things demonstrate the need for such versatility more than Christmas with the family. It's good to establish and carry on family traditions. You should plan festive times over the Holidays. Have parties. Visit loved ones. Take the kids to see Santa. Enjoy decorating the tree together as a family. But you also have to be careful. As a dad, you can't become a victim of your own expectations. If you get too locked in to your own vision of what the holiday will be, you could very easily find yourself experiencing a holiday far more reminiscent of Clark W. Griswold's than of any Norman Rockwell Painting.

Take our Christmas, for instance. In a moment of temporary insanity, Meredith and I suggested to my parents that it would be a good idea if we packed up our belongings, all our presents, and Santa's cargo, and took a road trip to visit them in the mountains of North Carolina. Thus, we committed the cardinal sin of parenthood. When you have small kids, you have a huge bargaining advantage. If grandparents want to see the looks on their grandkids' faces Christmas morning, then they have to drive to your house. It saves us parents a lot of headaches and chaos. To those without children it might seem heartless and cruel to hold your own children as Yule Tide hostages, but parents with children understand. We're not trying to be mean or deny grandparents access to their grandkids at Christmas. In fact, we'd kind of like to have them there so that we can take a nap. Rather, we're just trying to keep our sanity.

For some reason, Meredith and I chose to forfeit this invaluable home-court advantage and packed up our little crew for six hours of road trip "fun." After packing our minivan to the brim with gifts and luggage, I found what bungee cords I could and strapped what remained to the top of our over-packed vehicle. My kids were barely visible amidst the suitcases and packages as we backed out of our driveway and headed for Carolina. Every few miles I'd ask my daughter to raise her hand from the backseat just so I could see her and know that she was still alive.

Twenty minutes into the trip, my four-year-old, William, began asking every two miles when we would get there. An hour later he began whining and insisting that the trip to my parents' house was "taking forever." By the time we reached Boone, NC, William was screaming in my ear that he was "going to die if we don't get to MaMa and PaPa's house right now!" Meanwhile, Carson joined in by crying and Emerson announced every five minutes from the rear of the van that her back hurt. As for Meredith and I, we just stared out the front window of the minivan at the dark mountain road before us--envying with every passing mile those lucky CIA agents who keep cyanide capsules on hand for just such occasions.

After over six hours, we finally arrived after dark, only to realize that we couldn't make it up my parents' frozen drive. After twenty minutes of trying in vain to reach my folks' house, I finally had my dad shuttle Meredith and the kids to the house in his 4X4, while I stayed behind with the van. Too frustrated and worn out to even put on a coat, I stood there in 15 degree weather attacking the frozen tundra with a pickax, hoping to make a path for my van. It didn't work. Finally, Pop returned and suggested that he back the van onto a side road. I agreed. He then proceeded to back my van into a snow bank. We spent the next 45 minutes trying to dig the van out of the snow so that we could back it off of the main drive. I don't know what was more fun, wallowing in the snow holding a flashlight and a pickax with my private parts so cold that my testicles felt like Siberian BBs, or the exciting rush of knowing that a wild animal could emerge from the surrounding woods at any time to mangle us. Yep, it was a wonderful experience--a regular Donner Party Christmas.

Eventually, we did reach the house alive--FROZEN, but alive. A day later we were visited by a stomach virus that would have made Montezuma smile. While most people around the country were passing around the coffee and the pumpkin pie, my family and I were being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Dinner Past and adding projectile vomiting to our festive holiday itinerary. Add the three-hour power outage we enjoyed Christmas morning due to an ice storm, and it's safe to say that it wasn't the holiday I'd envisioned.

But that's the point. Things rarely go as planned. It doesn't matter if it's a Christmas gathering, a family vacation, a business deal, or a day off. What you imagine you'll have and what you actually get are usually different. This past holiday wasn't the memory I'd expected... but it was still full of good memories. In between the frostbite and sprints to the bathroom, we laughed, played bingo, enjoyed one another's company, and watched with enjoyment as the kids went nuts over what Santa had left them. Even when the van was stuck in snow on that first night I remember looking up at a beautiful, star-filled sky and thinking, "You know, once I get past the fear that I'm going to freeze to death and be eaten by my own father so that he doesn't starve before help arrives, it's actually kinda nice out here."

Be flexible dads. To find the good memories, sometimes you have to be quick to part company with the memories you anticipated walking away with. Who needs Norman Rockwell. All you need is your family. Whatever else happens, just roll with it.

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent post as always! Siberian BB's, huh?