Thursday, December 14, 2006

He did what with what?

I had just closed the front door early this afternoon, clutching a handful of newly delivered Christmas cards and a couple of bills, when I heard a yelp from the kitchen. Not a barbaric yawp, mind you. It was a Connor yelp, but not in one of its usual forms. It wasn't an I'm-furious-my-horse-won't-stand-up holler, or a my-sock-is-bunched-up-in-my-shoe growl. It sounded something like a small, surprised animal.

I had taken only a few steps before he came running toward me. He didn't say a word. Just stuck his tongue out and pointed.

"What?" I asked, seeing no signs of injury or destruction.

His pointer finger pumped like a piston at his now drooling tongue, and he raised both eyebrows, as if to say, "Hello! My tongue is what!"

I leaned down, careful not to get in the line of drool, and inspected it. It looked pink, kinda sandpapery. About what you expect to see in a healthy tongue.

I motioned with envelope-laden hands. "What, Connor?"

"I touched it," he said.

"Touched what?" I asked, but I knew. I knew.

"That." He pointed back toward the kitchen. There was no longer any question, really. But -- seeing that he didn't seem worse for the experience -- I wanted to hold onto the illusion a bit longer that surely, SURELY, my son (who, might I add, takes after his father very, very much) wouldn't do such a thing.

"Show me what you touched."

He stuck his tongue out again and pointed at it a bit peevishly this time.

"No," I began walking toward the kitchen briskly. "What did you touch your tongue on?"

He didn't comment. He couldn’t, really, since he had his tongue in his hand.

"You touched your tongue on the skillet, didn't you?"

I looked over my shoulder at him. He nodded.

"Connor, WHY did you touch the skillet with your tongue?" I removed it from the burner, on which I had briefly (it's possible to get the mail without stepping fully outside our front door) left a grilled-cheese sandwich browning on low heat.

He shrugged. And held his tongue. I examined it again closely and still saw no sign of a burn.

"Connor, haven't I told you never to touch anything on the stove?" He nodded. "That includes WITH YOUR TONGUE."

"Yesth, mahm."

I'm fairly sure he didn't know the skillet was hot. But he suspected it might be. So, he reasoned, the safest way to find out if it was hot or not would be to, you know, test it with his tongue. A tongue is wet, after all.

The obligatory moral of the story is never leave something hot on the burner, however briefly, when there's a four-year-old in the house. I shouldn’t have. If he had been seriously burned -- or burned at all -- it would be a different kind of story and I'd feel awful instead of mildly guilty. (Will there be a point in the rest of my live-long life that I don't feel some degree of guilt associated with parenthood?)

But a secondary moral might very well be, when instructing a boy never to touch the stove or items on it, be clear this includes with his tongue.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Would you rather eat Comet or Blitzen?

A couple of friends have emailed this meme to me, and I've seen it posted. So here we go:

Eggnog or hot chocolate?
I tasted eggnog for the first time yesterday. It wasn’t bad, but I prefer hot chocolate. However, my favorite winter drink is a fruit tea* my husband and I first tasted long ago at a Tennessee B&B. I harassed the proprietor until she gave me the recipe. (What, did she think I was going to start a fruit-tea conglomerate?) I’m drinking the tea right now, in fact, out of a mug bearing the likeness of Young Elvis.

Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Santa NEVER wraps his gifts. The very idea. Although, with Madeline, the jig is up. A few months after last Christmas (and turning five) she informed me one day, “I’m thinking Santa isn’t real. I’m thinking you and Dad give the presents.” She’s agreed not to tell her brother.

Colored lights on tree/house or white?
This seems to have become quite an important distinction in the past few years. I actually think white lights are, well, classier. But we have colored lights on our tree because that’s what I had as a child and that’s what Roy had. And apparently, that’s what our Indian/Irish/English ancestors hung on their teepees/cottages/chateaus. So we simply Can’t Break the Tradition. Santa might die or something. I’d like to say white lights on the outside of the house. But we don’t seem to get around to outside lights anymore.

Do you hang mistletoe?
Yes. Over our bed.

When do you put your decorations up?
The second weekend following Thanksgiving. I just don’t have the energy to go into full-blown decorating that first weekend. We just relax. It's like the calm before the storm.

What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Excuse me? Excluding dessert? That’s like saying, what you’re favorite song, excluding the lyrics? Actually, this one’s pretty easy: my mom’s dressing. Oh, my, it’s so good. It’s very moist. It tastes wonderful. And – touching on a decades-long debate with family friends – it doesn’t have any sage. None. Nunca. Sage is bad. Bad, I tell you.

Favorite holiday memory as a child.
No way could I choose one, so I’ll pick a favorite older memory.
One cold Christmas Eve, as a teenager, I drove with my brother to town to pick something up for Mom. Sam was probably seven or eight. The sky was heavy with that crystalline quality, where sound travels miles and the darkness is almost blue. Cresting a hill on our farm-to-market road, we encountered the moon, perched hugely before us. It shimmered ivory in its enormity, close enough so that if we left the car, the steam from our breaths would have caressed its surface. My heart filled, but I didn’t say a word. My brother did. He exclaimed, “Wow.” “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked. “Yes, it is,” he said. And that’s when, for me, my little brother became less my little brother and more his own person, someone who thought on his own, saw beauty and shared it.

When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I was probably in kindergarten. I just kind of figured it out and, on the way home in the car (sitting in the front seat, before all children had to be chauffeured), I asked Mom if Santa was real. She told me no, and I cried quietly. Not because I was bitterly disappointed, but – and I remember this feeling still – because I mourned the loss of something magical.

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
We sometimes gather with another family for a Christmas Eve gift-opening party. But it’s not a matter of tradition that we open a Christmas Eve gift.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
I love pulling out ornaments because almost every one of them bears a memory or belongs to one of us. There are ornaments from my childhood, bearing my name or the name of my first dog (and still the best dog evvuh). There are ugly-but-lovely wooden soldiers Roy painted as a boy. (I don't try and hide them or anything.) The kids have gotten ornaments each year, and they love to see them again. Several my mammaw made for me. There are strands of wooden beads and, of course, lights. It’s not a designer tree, but we love it.

Snow! Love it or dread it?
Love it. Rarely see it. One early December, when Madeline was just a few days old, we woke to a blanketing of snow. Roy and I bundled her up like the Michelin man and went walking through a wooded park. It was magical.
The only other sound's the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake./The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep.

Can you ice skate or ski?
I can ice skate as long as no one gets in my way or makes me turn sharply. Or speaks to me. As for skiing, does water skiing count?

Do you remember your favorite gift?
My sister, Christy. Her birthday is Christmas Eve, and I adore her still.

What's the most important thing about the holidays for you?
It’s a perfect time to talk about the birth of Jesus into the world – God, all-powerful, mighty God, born into the world as a helpless infant to a teenage mother in a barn. Is that not poetry? But I would be lying if I didn’t also say I love Christmas music and sharing that love now with Madeline.

What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Oh, NOW we talk desert. This one’s easy. Every year, my dad and I make divinity fudge together. We use my grandmother’s recipe (I have the actual sheet of paper in her faded handwriting). It takes time, skill and – at the end – at least two people and preferably three to get it all out of the bowl before it loses its liquidity (you know it’s time to start spooning out when it begins to lose its shine). It’s almost an art form getting it just right. Dad’s the master, and no other divinity comes close.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?
I don't always get to do this, but most Christmas Eves, our church has a very simple service, wherein the Christmas story is read out of the Gospels, in between the singing of classic Christmas hymns. Members of the congregation take turns reading, and the music is led simply and without fanfare. At the end, the lights are extinguished, and the candles passed out upon entering the sanctuary are lit one-by-one as people pass the flame from person to person. It is an exquisite symbol of Christ's love. "I am the light of the world," he said. When all the candles are lit -- hundreds of them -- we sing one more time by the shimmering light. Writing about it makes my throat swell.

What tops your tree?
An angel. Growing up, for YEARS my parents used a cardboard star I cut out and covered in glitter. Every year or so, I had to reglitter. I loved that thing. I recognize now it was pretty hideous. My parents really loved me.

Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
Giving. Definitely. My godmother says she loves to give so much, it’s a shame she’s not rich. I feel the same. It would be really cool if she were rich. ;)

What is your favorite Christmas Song?
Hands down: “O Holy Night,” when it’s sung with skill and heart. When it’s done right, and I hear “Fall on your knees. O hear the angel voices …” I tingle all over. Incredible song.

*Fruit tea recipe
Make a gallon of your favorite tea (five tea bags) in a big pot on the stove. I use caffeine free, and there’s no difference in the taste.
2 cups sugar. You can start with less and add more at the end after tasting.
1 can lemonade from concentrate
1 can orange juice from concentrate
½ can pineapple juice from concentrate
5 or 6 cinnamon sticks
8-10 cloves
Serve when it’s hot enough (the kitchen will smell great). I refrigerate remaining tea and heat by the mug until it’s all gone. You can fish out the cinnamon sticks and cloves or leave 'em in.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Getting abreast of the situation

Author's Note: I know I have a few readers of the male persuasion, which is fabulous, of course, with me liking men and all. But the following is intended for a female audience. I've got material too rich to pass on, but I really don't care to share it with anyone possessing both an X and a Y chromosome ... unless you happen to be my husband. In which case I hope you know who you are. So, if you don't have breasts, you'll need to skip this one. Or, at the very least, pretend you did.


My mother-in-law, Sandra, says that as we age, medical tests get steadily more invasive and dehumanizing.

I'm beginning to see that may be true. Certain events took place, which had me taking a trip to the radiology department last week for my first mammogram.


The procedure was mostly about peace of mind, in light of an It's-Probably-Nothing concern. Of course, like most women, I'd heard about how getting a mammogram is even more fun than an annual pelvic exam. And I'd seen the stock photos of a woman getting one. Those pictures usually show the woman from behind, perhaps partially draped, while a sweetly smiling tech (let's call her a boob technician) takes an x-ray from behind the protective screen.

It's quite clear why you only see the back of the patient. The kindly photographer is shielding you from the fact this woman's boob -- besides looking like a week-old, Dollar Store balloon wedged under the dresser -- is being pulled two feet from her body by a $300,000 vice. They like to call it a "mammography machine." Wink. Wink. And the tech is smiling because 1) her boobs are not where yours are, and 2) you look ridiculous.

The whole procedure, while necessary and not particularly painful, is pretty much an exercise in humility. In situations like that, I find it's best to roll through with humor. My boob technician, it turns out, was a former student of my mother's and remembered me from when I occasionally accompanied Mom to school. Life is funny, you know. One day you're 11 and shyly waving hello to a roomful of teenagers. The next day one of those teenagers is 42 and telling you you'll need to wear nipple stickers. That's what she said. Nipple. stickers.

I lifted one eyebrow.

"We're all out of tassels," she deadpanned. Thus I discovered a boob technician after my own heart.

The whole clamping ordeal -- you must get in as much breast tissue as possible -- reminded me a bit of trying to get an overstuffed pillow into a starched case: you shove on this side, and it pops out the other. My job, I was told as she positioned and tightened, was to relax. Yes, relax.

At that, I couldn't help but laugh out loud -- which of course created jigglege, which then necessitated reclamping. Eventually, though, I just sort of checked out of my body and watched remotely. Not exactly like Shirley McClain, but with that part of myself that takes notes to process later. And here's one of the things I noted: It is possible, even when one's mammary glands have gone from oval to linear, even when a virtual stranger is sticking metal-tipped stickers on parts of oneself never intended for accesorization, it is possible even then to continuously suck in one's stomach.

Because, by golly, a girl has to maintain her image.