Tag Archives: Valentine’s day

Valentine’s Day Elephants

IMG_5492While I realize my recent blogging break is making me slow on the draw here, I still wanted to give my husband John props for planning a fun Valentine’s Day activity.

All by himself, he reserved us a couple of spots at this place called “The Painted Cork,” where you paint something (elephants, in our case) while drinking wine. He then packed a dinner of stuff like salami, cheese, bread, olives, and dark chocolate with sea salt, which ended up piled around our easels for the evening.

It was LOADS of fun, even if things got a bit rowdy after a couple glasses of wine and I ended up talking too much and going crazy with shadowy goth elephants because why not?

It was a tribute to our dating period, when he impressed me by taking me to an art class where we painted some apples and our apples were similarly different back then as well (his a perfect rendering of the example apple and mine a pile of shadowy ennui painted well outside the lines).

But in truth, it was bound to be an awesome time because I’m never gonna criticize a date my husband sets up all by himself because only a fool would discourage their spouse’s efforts to be romantic (or wash dishes or pick up or say nice things or bring home gifts) unless, maybe, he was taking me to a monster truck rally for the third time (I’d be game once) or giving me one of those godawful Big Johnson shirts that were popular a couple decades ago…

netflixddateAnd frankly, I’m proud of both of us for going out at all and NOT spending the night binging on Netflix while wearing sweats and eating hot wings (despite how much we swore we’d still be Cool Parents who Still Do Stuff ) because parenthood can be so draining that you sometimes want to collapse the first second someone’s not demanding anything.

But we didn’t. We put on proper clothes, listened to grown-up music instead of Disney, drank wine and talked about world events like actual grownups on a date. Yay!

 

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The 7 Deadly Holidays

Last week, a friend of mine wished everyone on Facebook a happy Thanksgiving by calling it the “eat whatever you want without feeling guilty” holiday.

She’s right, of course. Officially, Thanksgiving is about being grateful, but we all know the main focus is usually on making a ridiculous amount of food then trying to eat as much as possible.

It’s gluttony, really. One of the seven deadly sins.

Not that I’m against it. Giving into temptation every once in a while helps us build up enough willpower to truly deprive ourselves.

It’s an old idea. The Catholics have a long tradition of  letting loose during the Carnival festive season right before buckling down into all the self-denial of Lent.

Maybe they’re onto something… America may not have a Carnival festival per se, but we DO have 7 major holidays, which just happens to be the same number as the official deadly sins.

Coincidence?

1- Thanksgiving: Gluttony

ckthanksgicing.jpgOfficial purpose: Being grateful for what you already have

I already  covered this one… On Thanksgiving, we’re all supposed to prepare a massive feast involving turkey, cheese-covered green beans, and a variety of seasonal gourds.

We then invite our families over to collectively lay siege to this food pile, not stopping until everyone is sleepy and no one can buckle their pants.

That’s when we break out the pumpkin pie…

2- Halloween: Lust

halloween-socialismOfficial purpose: Making yourself look unappetizing

Traditionally, Halloween is about kids dressing up in scary costumes and going from house to house,collecting candy. So maybe, for kids,  Halloween is about gluttony. They weren’t all that jazzed about eating turkey, after all.

But for adults, it’s the holiday where good taste fashion rules fly out the window. Naughty nurses, naughty witches, and naughty tavern wenches are EVERYWHERE.

It’s the one time of year women feel free to channel their inner dominatrix, parading around in glorified bikinis, weapons, and heavy eyeliner. Ironically enough, this all happens when it’s super cold outside.

3- Christmas: Greed

christmas

Official purpose: Caring about everyone else

Sure, Christmas is about the birth of our savior, trees with pretty lights, traditional songs and family togetherness. It’s lovely.

But who are we kidding? For kids, it’s all about the presents. They dream up wish lists for months, write letters to Santa, and wake up at the crack of dawn on Christmas, hungry to tear into that sweet new pile of toys.

And we parents absolutely break ourselves to make that possible.

4-New Year’s Eve: Sloth

best-funny-new-years-resolutions-2015-memes-6Official purpose: Welcoming the challenges of a whole ‘nother year

NYE is basically a grownup’s holiday that mostly involves going somewhere to sit around and drink until the clock strikes midnight and everyone kisses each other.

I’m gonna argue NYE is all about sloth, because it’s not only the holiday that involves the least work (unless you’re throwing a giant party), but also the one where everyone expects to magically improve their lives.

Yeah, we just cheer for the brand new year, thinking this new year will automatically make great things happen without us having to do anything. Okay, maybe we throw out a New Year’s resolution or two, but we definitely won’t be starting them until tomorrow.

5- Valentine’s Day: Envy

its-valentines-day-batman.pngOfficial purpose: Being grateful for your significant other

This is the holiday where some lucky women receive enormous bouquets of roses at work, in front of all their jealous coworkers, while others wonder why their deadbeat boyfriends/husbands never send them roses at work. Because apparently that guy has gotten a little too comfortable and it’s probably just a matter of time before he stops even bothering to sniff the armpits of his shirts before getting dressed to go out.

This is the day when people in seasoned relationships get to envy the emotional rollercoaster of fresh new relationships, and people in new relationships get to be disappointed when a bunch of dramatic gestures don’t end up leading to an incredibly romantic proposal.

Even worse, single people have to sit around being single while the whole world celebrates being in love. Hearts, chocolates, and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes… it’s the schmoopiest, most in-your-face kind of romantic comedy love propaganda on the planet, designed to remind anyone single just how tragic it is to be alone.

Of course, all those bells and whistles put a lot of pressure on couples. What if you’re exhausted and all you really feel like doing is ordering in a pizza and watching Netflix? This wouldn’t be a problem if you were single. Single people have nothing to prove and can do whatever they want. Lucky bastards…

6- Independence Day: Wrath

4th-july-jokeOfficial purpose: Patriotism

It’s tempting to say the 4th of July is all about Pride, because we Americans are feeling pretty smug about how awesome our country is and how smart we were to hide behind rocks while the British Redcoats lined up with giant X’s on their chest.

But I’m going to go with Wrath instead.

Why? Because the one thing that distinguishes Independence Day is our collective need to watch fireworks.  (Maybe we set them off ourselves, or maybe we go watch a professional show… it depends on how your city ordinances deal with handling explosives).

And while fireworks are beautiful, their thundering noises, flashing lights, and thrilling potential danger have been commemorating the weapons of war since 1777.

That’s right, everyone casually eats watermelon and well-barbecued meats while fondly remembering how we really decimated the British with our musket fire and cannon balls. Cause that’s what we ‘Muricans do to folks who TAX US WITHOUT LETTING US REPRESENT.

You wanna TAX our tea?? Well, we’re gonna THROW IT INTO THE WATER and start DRINKING COFFEE INSTEAD.

You like them apples, England?  How about you guys waltz into your nearest Starbucks, sip some lattes and think about what you did…

7- Easter: Pride

easter.jpgOfficial purpose: Celebrating the resurrection

Admittedly, saying Easter is all about the deadly sin of pride may be a hard sell. But I’ve only got one holiday and one deadly sin left, so I plan to plan to rationalize that square peg into this round hole until my theory completely fits.

So… what about the fact we think we know what we’re doing, even though we’re all  celebrating Christ’s resurrection with a bunch of bunny rabbits and colorful eggs?

Does that seem reasonable to you? That a giant rabbit, who hides baskets of chocolate from children, should be a fitting symbol of our messiah’s return from the dead?

Of course. Because we all know what we’re doing here. Why shouldn’t we call this holiday “Easter,” which comes from the Teutonic fertility goddess “Eostre,” which we celebrate in the Spring with a bunch of fertility symbols, like eggs and rabbits?

Nothing weird about that.

And while we’re on the subject of pride, how about the way we celebrate the holiday by hiding baskets and eggs from little kids. Kids have trouble finding them even when we put them in really obvious places, which makes us feel pretty smart.

Easter, the day we get to feel like geniuses by outwitting a pack of tiny children.

So, am I completely off the mark here? Because I’m basically saying that while we set up these holidays to celebrate the greatest of human virtues, we kind of end up reveling in the worst.

Not that it’s a bad thing. Maybe we need these “safe,” official spaces to get out all our selfishness. Maybe it makes us better people for the rest of the year.

Or maybe we’re inventing new holidays to do it better. I mean, what the heck is Black Friday about, if not our willingness to trample our countrymen to get our hands on a bigger TV?

UPDATE: After reading this post, my blogging buddy Amanda at Just in Queso wrote a hilarious post where she assigned the 7 deadly sins to characters on the show Friends. You should check it out: Sins and Friends.

(And read her other stuff too. It’s really good!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Valentine’s Day Massacre

peacock

 

 

When it starts, I’m walking hand-in-hand with my daughters through the kind of glorious, dreamlike day you hope will leave an impression on your children. We were negotiating whether to buy ice cream cones or see the bears when a peacock slipped into the wolf cage.

Valentine’s Day was unusually sunny this year, so John and I wanted to spend time outside with the kids. Holidays seem to warrant more than a local park outing, but February had been a tight month, so we couldn’t go crazy.

We decided to take them to the Folsom Zoo. It’s a change of pace from the Sacramento Zoo, smaller and more intimate. You can walk up within a foot of the animals, the cages are closer together, and kids can run around without much danger of you losing them.

And freedom is exciting for toddlers. They live under a dictatorship: don’t walk out in the street! Stay where we can see you! Put that down!

We adults are so removed from those days of boundless energy with nagging soundtracks that it’s hard to remember the exhilaration of running wild, how once it felt better to run than walk.

Bridget has only been getting around without constant tripping for a few months now and Brontë, our three-year-old, wants to jump, dance, and skip at quadruple the speed of anyone else.

John and I took them to the zoo and told them they could go wherever they wanted and we would follow.  Brontë’s eyes grew enormous and Bridget started spinning in circles.

They ran us back and forth in meandering loops, sometimes holding our hands and sometimes stopping to dance on benches. They scattered to the lemur cage, counting them, and peered into the raccoon cage, trying to spot one. Bridget kept fingering the heart-shaped papier-mâché Valentines tacked in front of the cages.

“A heart, mommy.” Brontë explained as she squeezed my hand. “You in my heart.”

Our kids stayed bottlenecked on the left side of the zoo, circling past the same cages over and over again. John and I felt the right side’s pull as we strained against adult impulses to take back control. “Let’s go see the bears,” John suggested. The bears were to the right.

“You can go where you want,” I insisted. “What do you want to do?”

Barely hearing me, Brontë turned and gasped. Walking in front of her, along the sidewalk, was an enormous peacock.

I may have gasped as well. I’ve never seen a peacock only one arm’s length away before. They are much larger birds than I realized (as big as my daughter) and profoundly stunning.

The peacock’s colors were inexplicable, a blue somehow richly deep yet glowing from within. His endless train of a tail dragged behind him, yet seemed weightless:  a vibrant green speckled with purple-black ovals. His legs moved so lightly he appeared to glide in front of us, shimmering velvet colors in fine detail across our path.

He was the most beautiful thing Brontë had ever seen. “I want to follow the peacock, mommy!”

“Okay, let’s follow the peacock.”

We raced after the peacock together, Brontë’s tiny legs swimming on concrete toward the floating bird. She giggled as he raced up staircases, trotted past the coyote’s den, and paused near a water fountain.

Trying to keep my distance, I finally couldn’t help reaching out to feel the gossamer tail swooping in front of me. I felt its swish of light softness for a moment before the startled bird jumped up to a handrail to get away.

At least Brontë didn’t seem disappointed. She understood exactly why I needed to touch that magic bird. Grabbing my hand as we backed away, her eyes darted around in search of her dad and baby sister.

Catching up with them, Brontë circled with Bridget before they grabbed my hands and started down a new path. We saw a number of free-ranging peacocks hanging around various cages and were passing a family nursing ice cream cones when the kids decided they were hungry.

It sounded great, but where do you get ice cream? Finding out the family bought ice cream outside the zoo, we were pondering whether to leave and come back or finish out the zoo trip first when we heard a startled fluttering nearby.

White_WolfAbout fifty feet away was a wolf cage with a handful of docile-looking white wolves resting inside.

A flash of green and purple, a rustling noise, a growing murmur from the crowds as people started jogging over for a better look…

A peacock had flown into the wolf cage, maybe through an open space in the ceiling. He was frantic, hopping to and fro and smacking against the metal walls.

The crowd grew noisier as John and I froze. I squeezed my kids’ hands harder as my mind raced.

The peacock jumped in the air and fluttered for a while before landing again as one of the wolves stood up. The wolf walked toward the peacock and began jumping and squatting in nearby arcs, like a golden retriever trying to inspire his owner to throw a stick.

Another wolf’s ears pricked up and he trotted over. The two wolves began whipping their tails and circling as the peacock flew up again and again.

The peacock reached a hole in the ceiling, his wings slipping out to freedom for an instant before he fell inside again. Maybe the hole wasn’t big enough for him to fit through.

A large crowd had gathered. Some people were steadying camera phones while others were gasping. Some horrified eyes couldn’t look away, while others glowed with the same hot light that must’ve surrounded the gladiator pits in ancient times. Looking around, you could nearly pinpoint which gazes were rooting for the peacock’s escape and which were not.

John and I locked eyes as we talked about ice cream, lemurs, and anything else to trap our children’s attention as we ran mental equations. It looked as though the peacock might escape. Then the crowd sucked in its breath as the wolves leapt in quiet arcs toward their target, green feathers soundlessly splitting the air.

John’s face turned white. I tried to picture what my daughters’ faces would look like were they to swivel around and realize what just happened.

The zoo is an illusion. We have predators and prey living together peacefully and well-fed in secure cages. Take these walls away and all Hell would break loose, even though coyotes and wolves look like robust puppy dogs and the the mountain lion a prettier cat.

And children grow up with illusions. Cartoon animals are friendly and reasonable. Bears have bowties and giant smiles.

Are chilldren as fragile as we assume? In many ways, I’m more sensitive now than I used to be.

When I was very young, my grandparents kept chickens in the backyard. I liked them. I would play with them and talk to them.

Even though I made up names for them, I’d help catch them so my family could slaughter them for fried chicken dinners. Watching their decapitations fascinated me. I was amazed by how their headless bodies kept running around the yard.

I’d watch the adults dip their lifeless bodies into boiling water to make feather removal easier and dig right in to the fresh fried chicken served at the dinner table that night. No judgements, just observation.

It didn’t occur to me to be bothered by any of this as a very young child, though I now keep chickens that I wouldn’t dream of slaughtering. Children simply accept the world around them. The universe is still a fascinating mystery whose truths are revealed in increments.

I think about how much we now sanitize childhood these days, how protected kids are from all forms of suffering and savagery, though they were watching public execution just a century ago.

We will inevitably learn the world is not so fair and innocent… does it make things harder when our expectations are sky-high? Do we feel lied to?

I remember being five years old at my grandfather’s funeral. My father’s father was already suffering from Alzheimer’s when I was tiny, and he used to call me “Michael” or “Mike” when I played.

That’s my father’s name. I would contentedly play with Mickey Mouse train sets at my grandfather’s feet and he would look over at me, smiling, calling me “Mike” no matter how much I reminded him my name is “Erin.”

I loved him, though I don’t know if he ever knew who I was, or always believed he was a young man again whose little boy liked to play with train sets. Even at five, I vaguely grasped that I was helping my grandfather hold onto a moment he wished had never left, a simpler time with his happy baby son playing at his feet.

He died that year and my parents deliberated whether or not to take me to the funeral. My mother, I believe, decided I should go, though many people argued funerals were too traumatic for five-year-olds.

Flashes of that funeral live deep in my memory: seeing my grandfather laid out in a coffin. Walking up to him in the dim light of the church. Looking at him. Wanting to go outside to pick a rose for him.

I went outside and found the nicest rose I could before breaking into sobs. I was in the middle of crying when a distressed-looking woman walked up to me.

“He’s not gone, sweetheart.” She told me. “He’s just asleep.”

“HE IS NOT ASLEEP!” I screamed. “HE IS DEAD AND I’M SAD AND I MISS HIM!”

She ran away and I cried for a while before walking inside and laying the rose on his hands. It was a painful moment, yet far more comforting than if my grandfather had simply disappeared one day without explanation.

I watch the peacock being torn apart and think.

I was five. My daughters are one and three.

I picture Brontë’s eyes watching the glorious bird, as big as she is, being torn apart by glowing white wolves.

And I squeeze her hand tightly while veering to the right…

“Let’s go see the bears.”