Thursday, January 05, 2012

Giving season

My lovely wife and I have promised ourselves bigger gifts for some time now, but that promise has had a fair amount of give in it. We’ve talked about moving for a few years, either to a larger apartment in the city or to somewhere altogether different, perhaps even to a place with yards and cars and weeds thriving in the sidewalk cracks. But this giving season we finally made good: My wife, who tracks nearly every apartment in the city, saw a three-bedroom open up in our building (and price range). The rents drop in the winter, mainly because people don’t like to move in the cold and the middle of the school year. Neither the cold nor school presented issues for us, and the third bedroom presented opportunities.

It was all rather sudden. We looked at the apartment the Saturday night before Thanksgiving and decided the next day to take it. This year, unlike most, we had booked travel to Southern California to spend the holiday with my sister-in-law and her family. Our work and school schedules makes holiday travel tough, but they just moved into a new big house with lots of room for us and for new memories. We know what it’s like to have small kids while far from family, and there aren’t many opportunities to get my wife’s family together. We found ourselves packing what we could of everything else along with our suitcases before flying out on Monday.

Thanksgiving on the opposite coast, though quick, was just how it was supposed to be. We all made bits of the feast, the shared work in their large open kitchen the sweetest part of the meal. Q crafted most of the name cards, including one for my brother-in-law’s father who came for part of the time without telling his wife.* (After saying his thanks and goodbyes, he left the table, then came back to quickly slip the name card into his pocket.) We went to Sea World, and the kids eventually agreed to pose for pictures in a giant snow globe. Since we traveled both ways off-peak, the planes were empty enough for us each to have our own row. I give thanks for the visit.

We returned late Friday just after Thanksgiving to a half-boxed house. The new place had become ours while we were away, and we started taking things up, small cart by small cart, all weekend. The Boy began mourning the old place in earnest, which is understandable given it’s where we’ve spent the last eight-and-a-half years, including all of Q’s life and most of his.** My wrist was still fixing itself in a cast, and I wasn’t much help with the heavier stuff — we have an absurd number of books — but our building’s maintenance staff muscled the big items*** (and most of the small) up the padded service elevator into the new place. No moving truck, no layers of subcontractors between us and our destination. My wife spent moving day on the new floor unpacking and helping place the big things as they came in. Which meant that Q and The Boy left their shared space for school and came home to separate rooms that each looked as if they had been lived in for years.

We unpacked our traditions in the new place just as quickly. We determined the apartment’s natural spot for a Christmas tree (in the corner joint where the big windows meet), and strung our lights across the limbs and the jambs. My wife and I found fresh hiding places for the kids’ presents until they appeared under the tree disguised to be hefted and shook. We like to dedicate a good part of December to connecting with people, and we kept up with that, too. We spent Christmas Eve with our good friends and their daughters gloriously failing to build gingerbread houses, as we have for the past several Christmas Eves. We had new friends and their daughters over for my wife’s crème brûlée French toast, which is as French and good as it sounds. Q and the boy were like squatters in their friends’ home across the street.

The kids didn’t ask for much for Christmas, never do, and they deserve lots. We strove (like always) to find a rough mean between asking and deserving, and grandparents and aunts and uncles generously helped fill out our tree to the deserving point. Both Q and The Boy loved their new LEGO sets (Hagrid’s Hut and LEGO Architecture Falling Water respectively), the magnets maneuverable into surprising lattices, the books (including another volume of Calvin and Hobbes), the kits for making and spying, the obligatory but necessary winter clothes, and many other wonderful things. My parents gave my wife and I a box of Kansas barbecue, which we, reluctantly, shared with the kids. And we appreciated the familiar park and river from new directions and heights.

To give a gift is to entertain another’s beliefs and desires. We as a species do this so often and so well just making our way everyday, though, that I think we tend to forget the magic of it, and the difficulty. To give well — to give, as we say, a thoughtful gift — is to inhabit a whole mind as it is in motion and not as one pictures it. Now and again I still see Q and The Boy as they were when they fit easily on my shoulders and lap, even though these days The Boy and my wife can share shirts. I like to think of myself as still better described by what I have yet to do than by what I have done. All of these ideas have had to give.

My wife and I always find it difficult to give to ourselves, but with the new apartment we have more than promises this year. We live in the same building, but everything seems new enough to give us the change we needed. We’ve made a few promises, too, of course. We want to take the kids somewhere new, perhaps to Paris or London, or to where you can see right through the ocean to the sand. We could also use a new mattress and fewer broken bones. And I want to finally let go of at least one book and see where it lands. Might as well give it all a try.

Happy and Merry, everyone.

*Long story.
**His mourning consisted mainly of crying quietly in his old room’s closet with the accordion door closed. My lovely wife and I decided to take these moments as indicative of how much he enjoyed the place. And further confirmation that the boy is as subject to sentimentality as his father. He still hasn’t quite run to the end of his grief — or so he says while ensconced in his own room behind a sign reading “Boys Only: Enter & DIE!”


teahouse said...

Sorry this is so belated, but happy and merry to you as well! That's awesome that you guys found a bigger apt in your same building - that's change, but not too drastic change. Right now we're in the middle of trying to figure out what to do, as we have a new baby and are outgrowing our space rapidly. City or suburbs? Stay or go? Decisions, decisions.

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