Thursday, December 26, 2013

Shirt Box Tops and Works of Art

This Christmas it was our turn to have my parents with us. After dinner on the 25th, my dad asked each of us about childhood Christmas memories. Stockings came up in many of the memories. It was the perfect opportunity for me to validate with my parents some of my own memories.

You see, as a child we had "stockings", but we didn't have stockings. Santa chose to approach our morning treats in a utilitarian fashion, leaving our goodies in various tops and bottoms of department store boxes. Yes, shirt boxes. As with so many family traditions, you don't really question their normalcy - you just roll with it. There was no laying out of a stocking, no selection of its placement in the room, no picking of a perch. When given the go ahead, we four children would fly down the hall, round the corner into the living room and search frantically through the four piles until your eyes landed on what one hoped was "your pile", given it's resemblance to one's whisperings into the fat man's ear at the downtown Foley's.

Years and years this went on and - like so many children - we delighted in the simplicity of our Christmas mornings. Our shirt box tops would hold oranges, chewing gum, a banana - yes, one - and varied nuts in their shells: pecan, brazilian, almond and one little round one that looked like an acorn, filberts I believe. Lordamercy, I left hulling those nuts to New Year's. I couldn't be bothered to tear myself away from my toys for a good week or so. And of course, over time, your shirt box occupants would mingle with another's and eventually there'd be one bowl of nuts, nestled proudly in their shells, on the kitchen counter alongside an orange or two.

There was one year, though, that things changed. One year for Christmas, my grandmother gave to my mom the most beautiful six handmade stockings you would ever see. I can vividly recall their detail in my mind. Little works of art. The DAD stocking had a man sitting in a stuffed armchair, wearing a smoking jacket, holding a pipe, and reading a newspaper. The MOM stocking had a woman wearing a beautiful red robe and slippers and a necklace as she decorated a tree. 

The stockings were not - to my knowledge - a kit. I believe my grandmother bought the elements and materials to piece together that family of 6. Our names were on the top stocking band in felt and sequins. So many hours of handwork. It boggles my mind. My scene on my very own stocking was of two children, a girl with blond ponytails and a sturdy boy, caroling underneath a street lantern. Did my grandmother know before I did my love of music?

Those stockings were so revered. Every year they would be brought out and carefully tacked to the wall, making certain to put the thumbtack in the hole from the year before. No fireplace needed in Houston, making for an awkward moment each year. But, we grew accustomed to the soft arch of six stockings cascading the wall behind the tree. And those stockings hung on the wall all season long. They were definitely not to be stuffed on Christmas Eve. Santa could jolly well continue leaving our fruit and nuts in our shirt box tops. Around New Year's, mother would take down the stockings from the wall, wrap them individually in tissue paper, and box them up. They stayed down out of the attic for protection. They were far too grand to be relegated to that hothouse with our other Christmas decorations.

When I married, I was given my stocking. Those 6 stockings that my grandmother made, like their owners, live today in 5 houses in 5 cities. I still treasure my handmade stocking. I did make a decision, though, when it passed to my possession. I decided that I was going to use mine each year. My own mother continued the handmade stocking tradition and made stockings for each of her sons-in-law, her daughter-in-law, all of her twelve original grandchildren, and some of her early great-grandchildren. My mother used those felt kits, by Bucilla I believe. But, they, too, are works of art. Finding a stocking kit that you liked, that fit with the others in your family collection, and then actually getting it ready for your child's first Christmas was a joy that I, and each of my sisters, treasured in our early family days.

Every year now, I hang 4 handmade stockings on my hearth. I have evaluated houses we've purchased based on whether or not there was a mantle for them. And every year when we deck the halls, I remember shirt boxes and oranges and brazilian nuts and blond-headed boys and chewing gum and Reese's Peanut Butter trees. My oldest son mentioned a few years back that his favorite thing was opening our stockings. I have to say I agree. Sometimes it's the littlest of trinkets that can make a morning memorable. Sometimes it's the simple joy of the stockings, and the stories they hold, that makes Christmas magical.

The Simple Joy of Stockings ~ Christmas Morning ~ December 2010

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: October Afternoon, Echo Park
Fonts: Honey Script, Chaparral Pro

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Joy of the Pomp & Circumstance

My cousin, Margie, is forever telling me I think too much. I am forever telling her that I can't help it. I am forever telling God that He must have wanted me to think this much, because He's the one who wired me. And all the while, I keep thinking.

I could long see coming this day and all that it held. Not just the diploma, the pomp and circumstance, or even the advent of college. What I could see coming was the end of life together as a family of four. I have always thought that we really balanced each other out and the four of us together make up my family, the place my heart comes home to every night, the place that defines me, that softens me, that challenges me, that encourages me. You know, home.

And so, in anticipation of the swirl of senior year, we bought a 12 month academic calendar. I straddled that monster out on the kitchen table and dropped in every high school, church and college preview event known to us, stretching from July to June. And yes, being the thinker that I am, I color coded it. Why use one Sharpie when you can use seven? 

And with each setting of the sun, we marked off one of the squares that represented in my mind our little house of four. And I cried. I cried almost daily. Some days, I cried more than once in a day. I can't explain it. I won't apologize for it. I can only tell you with all candor that I cried. As I think about it - and you must know I think about it - I wonder if my attachment to my boys being at home runs so very deep because I was a stay at home mom for nearly fourteen years? Part of my brain likes to think so. Surely if there is a reason for it, it instantly becomes more rational, yes?

People at work would ask about my senior - his college search, his interests, his board testing, his graduation date - and any mention of any of it would find me in a quick puddle of tears. Tears that learned to slide so easily down my cheeks, as if in ruts worn well by the frequency of their appearance. They began to expect me to be a mess and I began to stay in my office a little more. I had enough going on that I didn't need to be the loony bin candidate or that month's pity party honoree.

I would not be lying at all if I told you I cried from July up to May. The senior year trudged on. The boy made his college choice. And began to get excited. And began to prepare for the big transition and the change and the move and the new life. I tried to be supportive. I learned to text things I wanted to say, but that my voice could not say without cracking or my face support my mouth by providing dry eyes. My boy learned to filter what he told me. And when he told me.

 As the graduation day approached, I set aside my emotions and settled on the task at hand - the base logistics of getting 8 guests + 1 graduate on time from my house to the ceremony venue. Downtown. Dallas. 20 miles away with traffic variables and zero venue knowledge and the already insufferable June Texas heat.

The situation with the oldest child is that everything you do is a first. You have no real clue. The parenting books run out of content long before you run out of questions. You learn to probe gently and if you are lucky, you have a network of friends that are older than you on the age curve. Without my network of friends near and far, I know I could not make it as a mom.

I reached out to some friends from church whose son graduated from the same high school with some questions. So, I went into the event with an idea of where to go and where to park. I took off in the lead car, determined to get my graduate "to the church on time". We suffered through the uncertainties and did indeed get there, get parked and get inside on time. 

As I reached out to him, donned in his cap and gown, helping him to get it on and get it all straight, I fought one last wave of emotion. A surge of acknowledgement of life together swelled over me and culminated in a sense of pride in this man boy, who towers over me by 6 inches, as I helped him place his honor cords and quickly snapped one quick picture without daring to ask permission.

After that, he took off to join the throng and I settled in to helping the following car maneuver the streets, parking, and concrete maze of downtown. It was nice to have the distraction honestly. Finally, all 8 of us were together and we set in to get seats and wait for the beginning of the ceremony. Philip's graduating class size was record-setting, a fact acknowledged by the media and the presenters of the day. I think that was my lucky break.

In the sheer determination of the district's goal to graduate 1,600 students in under 2 hours, the ceremony itself was a media whirlwind of faces, the pace itself defying you to look away or blink or ponder the magnitude of the passing out of the sheepskin. You literally would miss your child's face on the big screen if you weren't looking in the nano second that they passed in front of the camera. The consolation in the speed of it all was that one was so focused on keeping up with it that there was no time for emotions at all, let alone tears.

I embraced the numbing speed of it all. It allowed me to detach from the college launch. It allowed me to try to look for classmates of his that I had known over the years. It allowed me to be excited because he was excited. When it was all said and done, the day itself was a good day. And I guess any day that you are celebrating the graduation of a high school student there is reason enough to take in the joy of the pomp and circumstance. Way to go, Class of 2013! Ya' done good. Way to go, mom! You made it, too.

Class of 2013 ~ Philip's Graduation ~ June 2013

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: October Afternoon
Font: Blackjack