Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Christmas Letter

Christmas letters were a lot of fun to write when my children were little. I mean, really little. “So and so took her first steps this year. Sure to be the beginning of an illustrious future as a track and field star!” Or, “6 year old you-know-who received a perfect attendance certificate at school this year. Hope they give those out at Harvard! Ha ha ha!” Those were the years of suppositions and projections.

I remember the year I stopped writing a family Christmas letter. Actually, I wrote one that year and wrote our family truth in it and, as I always would do, showed it to my comrades in arms at the homestead. The letter was met with unanimous silence; a disapproving silence and promptly shelved.
It was a banner year for the Maxim clan and I was compelled to share it in all its glory. It went something like this:

“Greetings family and friends! Whew! What a year! Let me give you the lowdown on what’s been happening in our little nest.
Eldest child finally came out of the closet (bet you didn’t see that one coming, ha ha!) and promptly became a pseudo goth/punk high school freshman. That ought to help her make loads of friends, don’t you think? She’s played ‘I’m A Creep’ a few thousand times each day this year; we’re really getting to appreciate Thom Yorke.
Our youngest once again failed math, but hey! At least she’s consistent! We’re hoping her deep interest in brushing her Barbies’ hair prepares her for future in either dog grooming or beauty school.
Dear husband’s parents are living with us for the next year! Doesn’t that sound awesome?! Yep, that’s the same mother-in-law who wished me dead, but, hey – this will give us time to bond!”

Yeah… that letter never went out.

And the subsequent years haven’t engendered any letters for one simple reason.
Not because there haven’t been projections or dreams or illusions. I could never have imagined the blessed life I have been gifted with, the marvelous unfolding of my children’s lives and the treasure of their accomplishments.

Simply put: I cannot begin to capture the wonder and surprise that is life.

How do I explain the life-giving conversations with my daughters while we cuddle in bed? Or the profundity of looking at my spouse of almost 30 years and still feeling dizzyingly in love with him? Or the privilege of having my parents and sister near me, of the wonderful times we share? How do I express my satisfaction of seeing my little girls grow up to be remarkably well-adjusted women?
Not only am I feeble at finding the words to write, but what a boring letter.

No, you won’t be getting a family Christmas letter from me. Probably not until grandkids start arriving and taking first steps and I get caught up in exclamation points once again. Until then though, know that life – as usual and unusual – goes on with us. In all its glory.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Killing Cathy

Shortly after arriving in this country, someone – probably my parents – gave me my first doll. She was Chatty Cathy, a large size hard plastic doll with a pull string in the back of her neck, blond wavy hair, unreal blue eyes and a fixed smile.

My greatest joy was that Cathy spoke to me personally, in my language. When I pulled her string, I became convinced that among her many utterances, she stated in a clear loud voice, “Que rico Colombia!” (loosely translated to “How wonderful is Colombia!) I look back now and realize the complete nonsense of my belief. There was no way Mattel was going to personalize Chatty Cathys for homesick immigrant girls.

I know I ran around pulling that string like crazy, demonstrating to anyone who would listen how brilliant my doll was that she was able to know where I came from and how wonderful it had been there. My parents humored me and nodded with what I assumed was melancholy for the homeland but was probably pity for their clueless child.
There were naysayers, well meaning folks who’s greatest desire was to educate me who were quick to point out that Chatty Cathy was American and therefore only spoke English, that she could only repeat 11 English phrases, that I needed to listen carefully and so on.

And so I did.

Eventually. I pulled the string over and over, listening closely to Cathy’s message to me and it suddenly dawned on me that no matter how many times I pulled the string, she was no longer saying “Que rico Colombia”.
She said “I love you”, “Take me with you”, “Can I have a cookie” and other meaningless phrases, but she no longer said what I needed to hear.

I remember that evening undressing Cathy and without my parents knowing, took her in the bath with me. A strictly forbidden activity because of her talking mechanism. I’m not sure what I was thinking or if it was intentional. But that was the night I silenced Cathy.

For a few days afterwards she gurgled a bit when her string was pulled, but eventually she just smiled silently at me. A little mockingly, I believe.

Chatty Cathy was relegated to a shelf in my room. At one point I took her down and with a marker scribbled something on her forehead and put her back on the shelf.

I never had another doll again.