Reflections, Hopes and Wishes
Around this time of year, I usually breathe a sigh of relief, grateful for the reprieve from the hectic schedule of the preceding few months, happy to hear my kids' laughter, and in full endorsement of a guilt-free state over eating with reckless abandon (for these couple of weeks, at least). This year, unlike previous years, I feel unsettled, with a mild dread that yet another year is coming to an end, only to usher in a year in which the second anniversary of the pandemic will be marked. What to do then, since pausing time is not among my talents, nor is eradicating a virus that just won't quit? I go back to what I know: my kids, my family and friends, and the things that never fail to pick me up: good tunes, meaningful words, and something yummy.
Every misfit needs a home, and my sister felt that our home could pass muster for this misfit. Happy Holidays from Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster from the 1964 TV movie, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
A couple of months ago, two friends came on campus and surprised me between classes for my birthday. What an incredibly lovely surprise! I've never been one to recognize the day in a big way, so I was tickled that two people took time out of their day to come spend some time with me. We marveled at (and lamented) the fact that we had not seen each other in ages (IRL, as the young folk say), and spoke of how quickly time has passed. I met C and A almost ten years ago, when our kids were cute little munchkins in the same class, and now those kids are big, and in the case of my kid, not as cute (but have no fear, all is not lost - cuteness has given way to more eloquence, and more kindness... we just need to work on stuff like tidying the bedroom, waking up in the morning...). Bigger kids mean more wrinkles and greys for me, which on occasion, I rage against, and at other times, I accept. Mostly. In an effort to age gracefully, I've tried to espouse acceptance and understanding, and maybe, just maybe, the universe is expressing its support of this approach, as I came across a quotation that speaks to me (we'll skip over the fact that the universe reached out to me in the same shop that carried this tree ornament:
The Velveteen Rabbit was published in 1922 by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson. Long story short: a stuffed velveteen rabbit aspires to become a real rabbit after learning that through the love of children, toys magically become real. No spoilers here, but I will say that the shedding of tears may be involved.
You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.
- Margery Williams
The notion of living authentically is wonderful in theory but hard to attain, only because of years of conditioning through upbringing, media, friends, acquaintances, strangers, etc. that we could always be better. Better than what? Than whom? I had a small epiphany when, during a conversation with my kid (who is banging loudly at teendom's door, lord help me!) about what we thought our fears were, my kid looked at me and said, "Mom, you're not afraid of anything. You're the strongest person I know." That stopped me in my tracks and nearly brought me to tears, because all this time, I've felt like I've been frantically treading water, barely keeping it together as I try to mother a couple of beings, go to school and deliver as a student, keep a household running somewhat smoothly, and not lose my sanity in the process. In that moment, my kid told me that I am enough. I may not be perfect, but contrary to what that voice in my head tells me, I'm doing OK by my kids, which is about as real as it gets. William's quotation brought that moment in focus for me, and now I share it with you because every now and then, we need reminders that during all those times over many years when we thought we messed up, when we've tried and (thought we ) failed, we were becoming less breakable and more of our real selves.
A Yummy Interlude
At this time of year, holiday treats are de rigueur, but I will detour away for a different kind of treat. I came across a Korean bakery that sells red bean donuts. Now, I've loved donuts since forever - when I was younger, I'd have donuts for breakfast, and nowadays, in non-COVID times, get me to a farmer's market, and without fail, I'll be looking for a mini donut vendor - but the marriage of donut and red bean paste, a classic Asian dessert staple, knocks this sweet treat out of the park for me. Whether you call it hong dou sha (Chinese), Anka (Japanese), or danpat (Korean), the red bean filling is a perfect, not-too-sweet, non-custardy companion to the doughy goodness of a donut. If my mom approves, and we're talking about an Asian grandma who cooks like nobody's business, then you know it's a winner.
Red bean donuts. Images from (L-R) Business Insider, WOW Bakery, and Maangchi.
Still Dancing in the Kitchen
What says "Happy Holidays!" like the plaintive anthem of a lover scorned, seemingly declaring that why yes, this heart has recovered from the pain of rejection, yet, one wonders, why even bother to write a song to the callous jerk who gave your heart away the day after you declared your love? I mean, it's only been a year since Rejection-gate... Yes, I'm referring to "Last Christmas" by Wham!, which, although not Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You," gets a lot of airtime during the festive season. Contemporary holiday offerings tend to run the gamut between brokenhearted lamentations, promises to be with loved ones during the holidays, re-do's of sentimental and holiday-fun classics, and poetic evocations of winterscapes. My personal favourite is the 1965 soundtrack for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," performed by American jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi and his trio. Who does not love "Linus and Lucy"??? But I digress. The version of "Last Christmas" that I enjoy is less dour and more peppy - it was released in 2001, by Jimmy Eat World, an Arizona band that formed in 1993 that's probably best known for "The Middle." While the band does not register a lot of plays on my Spotify account during the other 11 months of the year, their version of "Last Christmas" makes for a good kitchen dance vibe in my home at Christmas. Bing, Bublé, Burl... and Jimmy Eat World. We are an equal-opportunity household.
This didn't get the video treatment, but that's OK - it's about the music!
It's been a gong show of a year, and with a variant extending the pandemic into the new year, life won't be settling into some sort of consistent rhythm for some time yet. Sigh. I'm heading back to online learning in the new year, and I'll confess, commute and masks aside, it was nice to be back in the classroom, being able to speak to professors, commiserate and laugh with fellow students, and learn just by being in the presence of peers. I feel for my kids, whose childhood memories will include those of missed opportunities and the experience of some curtailed freedoms. I feel for my friends' little ones, who don't know of a carefree existence yet. My hope is that as time goes on, more people will think of our children and our parents, and do what they can to ensure that the people who depend on us can experience life to its fullest. In that spirit, I hope you and your families enjoy the holiday season, and wish you joy, however you find it, in the new year.
I'll leave you with a small clip from one of the funniest Christmas movies ever, Elf (2003). For those of you who have yet to enjoy this slice of hilarity, check out the family-friendly story of Buddy, a human raised by elves who journeys from the North Pole to New York to find his father after learning that he is not, in fact, an elf. Will Ferrell does not disappoint. Chuckle away and enjoy.
"You smell like beef and cheese, you don't smell like Santa!"
Take care, everyone, and be safe!
Until next time,