Bye Bye, Olympics

At the beginning of these Olympics, I commented on friend’s Facebook status that this would be the worst host city ever. Between Putin’s anti-gay propaganda, terrorist threats, and poisonous water in the hotels, I wasn’t excited to watch at all, and I felt bad for the athletes who’d worked so hard to get there.

Of course as soon as the opening ceremonies started I had to peek. The President of the IOC took everyone to task, saying it wasn’t fair to put their politics on the backs of the athletes. After that moment I was happy to keep watching.

That, and my kids were totally into it. They enjoyed the summer Olympics in 2012 but this is the first year they were able to really start digging into the big picture issues. I let them stay up late whenever they wanted and we talked politics, geography, history. We looked up about a hundred facts online every time they had a question. (Younger was particularly concerned with when America had beaten Canada in men’s hockey and it was actually quite difficult to find that stat. I’m still a little annoyed by it.)

We talked about why it’s fun to watch the Olympics. I told them about the 1984 winter Olympics, when my ever-patriotic mother actually whooped and applauded the American team walking in with their cowboy hats on. And how fun it was for me to watch with my kids, as it was for her.

I told them about the year Older was two and we’d decided it would be a good weekend for a getaway with the grandparents. We rented a house in New Hampshire and were ready for a nice relaxing weekend, when Grammy and Grampa both came down with the flu. Older commented, “Well at least you had something to watch.” (Was he referring to the Olympics or flu action?)

It turns out there was a lot to love this year. We were amazed by Ted Ligety, entranced by the cross-country relay, and discovered freakin’ slopestyle! Younger Son dug Katie Uhlaender’s tough attitude and red hair, in fact we loved anything that happened on the bobsled track. None of us could wait for snowboard cross and then we found out they were doing it on skis too?!

Of course I couldn’t dream of getting anyone to watch figure skating with me but they did listen to the story of Plushenko, and we all felt he was wrongly criticized for dropping out. But I am sad that I missed out on seeing more of Jonny Weir sending “the message that one can fight intolerance simply by putting on a tiara and showing up for work.”

We even dug the ads. My favorite was the oddly creepy Cadillac commercial with an over-zealous American businessman, but only because he was played by the oddly creepy evil bad guy from Justified (Neal McDonough, as the terrifying Robert Quarles in season 3). Nes pa?

And I had a soft spot for the incessant one with Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society, a character based on a professor that my husband and I had – yet another story the boys enjoyed. The incessant ad usually haunts your dreams for a few months after the Olympics, but I won’t mind if that one does. (Actually the last winter Olympics incessant ad wasn’t bad either because it used Lou Reed’s Perfect Day.)

On the last day of the Olympics I dragged myself out of bed at (a very late for me) 8:00 (because I was tired from watching Olympics for two weeks). Older was already sitting on the couch watching the men’s hockey final and telling me to hurry up and watch with him.

They were both looking forward to the closing ceremonies and asked if they could stay up even though it was a school night. As if I ever say no. Even though it was sad that the Olympics were ending, this was still fun because we knew the athletes and could remember all the cool stuff we’d seen. The best moment was when they actually poked fun at themselves and didn’t open the fifth Olympic ring.

Younger asked, “Will there always be Olympics?” and Older celebrated a little when I said definitely. Then he pointed out that “They shouldn’t do the closing ceremonies until the Paralympics are over.” I am so pleased at how their horizons seem to have actually broadened as a result of watching this year.

Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back, besides the thrill of watching athletes win, and the sympathy of knowing that when they lose, there are a lot of people who don’t actually see their dreams realized but life goes on (and still, they did something great).

Maybe it’s the idea that people care enough to see this event continue beyond politics and pettiness. That the world can be made to feel smaller even when so much of it is out of control. That ultimately, we all want the same things from life. Peace, people.

Trying to Find the Spirit

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Well, it used to be. As a mom with a full-time job, it’s the living on no sleep, drinking too much coffee, downing Emergen-C shots to fight germs I can’t afford, stumbling through the mall at 10 PM like a zombie time of the year. I’d like to see someone turn that into a catchy tune.

I really used to love Christmas, I really did. And even up to the last few years I still loved it, having surprises in store for the kids and reveling in their excitement. But now it feels like a grind that starts at Thanksgiving. I don’t know if it was this hard for my parents when they were putting on Christmas for us, but they never showed they were cranky about it.

I’ve had the privilege of reading “The Fellowship of the Ring” with Younger Son lately – as a real and true geek, this is a moment I’ve looked forward to for a long time. Now with just four days ’til Christmas, I can identify with Bilbo when he handed the ring to Gandalf: “I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”

Oh, Bilbo. I do know what you mean. I am the butter. But Younger has finally agreed to reading all four books together, so even if that’s not Christmas spirit at least it makes me ridiculously happy.

I was excited for a white Christmas after so many years of way-too-mild Christmases. Not one but two little snowstorms gave us over a foot of snow blanketing the yard. And now in these last few days before the holiday it’s supposed to jump to 50+ degrees. So the low hum of global warming dread that had been quieted is back.

My Kindle offered me a free version of “A Christmas Carol” so I decided to jump into that, thinking maybe the classic tale would snap me out of the doldrums. As with every book I’ve read as a child and come back to in adulthood, the experience of reading it is so much richer.

However, I also came to find out that it’s because of Dickens and this very story that we’re historically supposed to have a wonderful Christmas. In fact Christmas was a dying religious celebration until Charles came along and decided it should be a life-changing event. Oh, the irony.

My favorite song has become the Vince Guaraldi/Peanuts version of “Christmastime is Here” because everyone knows it’s depressing while trying to be cheerful. Thank you for your insight to human nature, Charles Schulz. Your gift to the world may be truer than Mr. Dickens’.

My family has several holiday traditions, activities that we’ve done with the boys year after year, and I wouldn’t miss them even if I was feeling Grinchy. I’ve enjoyed doing those because it’s precious, stolen time with my boys away from the madness. And we have fun no matter what we’re doing. Those times make me exceedingly happy, but it’s not technically Christmas spirit.

So what am I to do? Besides a delicious meal, perfect gifts, my contribution to our economic stability, joy, peace, love, and happiness, I’m supposed to have Christmas spirit. Just the requirement makes it feel less possible (and all the more depressing).

In the end, spirit came to me in flashes this year. In explaining to Younger what Habitat for Humanity is, that there are people who are willing to give up their time and money to build homes for others in need. In a neighbor whose picture order got mixed into mine, and instead of tossing them in the trash, she delivered them right to my door. At the school band concert when the kids played Good King Wenceslas all on the same notes. Singing “Dahoo dores” at our Whoville flash mob. Younger picking a fancy red “Christmas” shirt to wear on Christmas day, and being the general curator of Christmas spirit all month.

It came in a long and detailed email from my aunt, telling stories of Christmas in her house as a child and everything her mother did to make it special despite not having any money to spend. How family and friends were welcome all week and the time was spent visiting and eating bad sugar cookies with the silver balls that break your teeth.

That is what I have to settle on, finally, as the meaning of Christmas for me this year. After all the long hours, hard work, stress over finding the right gift, forgetting to bring out the silver and praying it wouldn’t be tarnished just hours before the meal was to be served, it comes down to family. It’s simply a tradition for family. I am blessed with a large, happy, and healthy one, and while it’s exhausting to fit them all into the schedule, it’s worth it. And we’ll continue to do it every year, while searching for the meaning behind the insanity. Isn’t that what family’s all about?

People Will Rise

I’ve had the Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach” in my head for a few days now. You could hitch a ride there, but you can’t anymore. I guess I’m wishing I did when I had the chance.

The other day my friend said, “The storm really affected me. I don’t feel right,” and I realized I was feeling the same way. I’ve been in a funk ever since it happened. Looking at the pictures of devastation, hearing stories of friends who lost everything, worrying about our complete inability to do anything to address the issue of climate change.

When we started hearing reports of homes being swept off their foundations – or simply disappearing – I asked my husband, “What would we have done if we were in the evacuation zone?” His answer suprised me.

He said, “What’s essential?”

I said, “The kid’s pictures and videos and my computer.” He said, “That fits in a car. We pack all the essentials in the car and get the hell out.”

That actually soothed me. As long as I knew my family was safe, I could go on without a house. It would be devastating, but we’d survive.

When our power flickered out during the storm my son started to get panicky. I asked what was wrong and he said they learned in science class that if a massive solar flare happened, it would knock out all power on the planet and we wouldn’t get it back for a decade. I said, “They teach you this in science class??!!”

I went into calming mommy mode. I reminded my kids of what happened a year ago. We were without power for four days. We had huge tree damage in the yard. But we made it through, and we made it an adventure. We were almost sorry when the lights went back on and we had to return to real life. We took care of each other and other people helped us. We were okay, and we’ll be okay this time.

But the more unprecedented natural disasters we face, the harder it seems to convince them of that.

Of course this storm was immeasurably more devastating than our (what now seems little) October snowstorm, and it’s going to take years for the east coast to recover. There was terrible tragedy. And now in the aftermath, anger directed at public services, and people firing guns over gas.

But there are also people like this:

And impromptu parking lot trick-or-treating for kids:

And so many other moments of kindness, help, and support that remind me how people will rise. The worst challenges bring out the best in us. Many who helped others during last year’s storm say it was the best work of their lives.

My doctor once said to me, “Humans are amazingly adaptable creatures.” That quote comes to mind whenever I face an unknown, and it comforts me. He said, “It’s amazing what we can learn to cope with.” That’s resilience – and it’s what we need more and more as we head toward an uncertain future.

Let It Snow?

We are in the THICK of the New England winter. In typical style, the schools closed for the first two storms (and rightly so) but by the third, they all think, oh this is only 3-4 inches, it’s nothing. So parents were welcomed to this spectacle on their way to school today – with no delays!

Can we please have a delay next time?

Crappy drive to school

Unfortunately I couldn’t get the awesome picture in front of the school, with cars jockeying for position against buses, and parents trying to get their kids safely across the street like a Frogger game. It’s a shame because it was terrifying and amusing at the same time and would have made an awesome shot. But I didn’t think to bring the camera as I was dashing out the door, late, with six kids in tow and concerned about the road conditions.

And come to think of it, what would the other parents think of me standing in the middle of the street taking pictures of the free-for-all? Probably nothing. They’re used to seeing me make a spectacle of myself at this point.

Anyway – it was a mess. And check this out – the swingset is buried!!

Snow swings

I love how the baby swing is full of snow

Honestly, I’m happy about all the snow. I want more. Dave is sick of it and I can’t blame him, because he’s the one who has to go out in the pre-dawn and shovel it. But I’ll tell you why I’m so happy about all this mess: because global warming scares the crap out of me. After the last two downright balmy winters we’ve had, with 60-degree days in January, this feels just right.

Now that's a lot of snow!

Guess we won't be using the playground anytime soon

EXCEPT that after I finished writing that, this morning’s paper said, “Arctic ice loss may boost cold, snow here.” Dammit. And that “a snowy winter in no way suggests climate change isn’t happening.” Thanks for bursting my bubble!!

Not to mention that I was awake at 2AM thinking about how much my basement will be flooding in three months.

I recently read this incredible book: The World Without Us. It’s about what would happen if all the humans suddenly disappeared off the planet, and it’s truly fascinating. But the author makes one compelling point about global warming. It’s not that we have the capacity to destroy the planet, in fact it will go on without us, as many people like to point out. (Probably.)

But the problem is that what we are doing to the planet right now will render it uninhabitable for ourselves. Yeah that kinda blew my mind.

So let’s all go put on a sweater and turn down the heat a couple notches, OK?