Friday, January 9, 2015

December in India

The build-up to Christmas and the end of the year is always hard. It seems that the holidays put unexpected pressures on everyone. In India, where it takes all of our collected strength and every minute of every day just to keep the ship afloat, the holidays bring extra work and new tasks. Shopping to do. Decorations to put up. Meals to plan. When it is hard enough just to make it through the most normal and calm of days, when it takes every ounce of energy to manage the chaos of India and just get dinner on the table, the extra weight, though not unwelcome, might just be enough to tip the ship. It might just start taking on water.

We are fortunate in that our children's expectations are low.  I don't believe our childrens' expectations are low because we have disappointed them in the past, but because we have never gone overboard. We never got them a petting zoo or real-life fire truck for their birthdays nor had the Christmas elf/gremlin tear the house apart every night for 12 nights leading up to Christmas Eve (honestly, who has time for the that?? I don't have time to pick-up the messes my three kids make much less intentionally make messes that a fictitious, mischevious Christmas elf makes every night for the 12 nights leading up to Christmas and then pick those up, too! The first time I heard about this, I thought some parents must be truly insane. C'mon, people!).

As Christmas and the boys' birthdays approached, Elise became homesick.We mostly battle trying to meet our own expectations. I know Elise does. She has many fond memories of a Pacific Northwest Christmas, huddled around a fire crackling in the fireplace, snow sprinkling softly outside. I don't share the same storybook vision of Christmas that she does. I grew up in South Florida. Think, Christmas lights on a palm tree and boat parades. No snow. No hot chocolate by a crackling fire. My parents separated when I was young and we spent the first half of Christmas break with one parent and the second half with the other. We spent Christmas morning with one parent then got into the car and drove to the other parent's house to spend the rest of the day with them. I'm not complaining. I don't have bad memories of Christmas. I just don't share the same magical ones that Elise has.

This Christmas was the most Christmas-like Christmas we had in the last three years. Two years ago, we left Brazil right before Christmas and last year, we had just arrived in India. I think there is something to be said to be settled in your home for it to feel like Christmas. Sadly, I had little to do with the fact that this year felt very  much like Christmas. I had to travel to Mumbai for work for a week in the middle of December, and Elise put up all the Christmas decorations while I was gone. In fact, she did pretty much everything to make sure this Christmas was as magical for our chidlren as her's was when she was a little girl.

The Sunday before Christmas, she and Ed went on a photowalk in Georgetown. She came back later that day, saying she happened upon the most beautiful church in Chennai and wanted to go back because they were having a Christmas concert. I was in. I was hoping we would be able to go to church this year (we only go once) and this sounded perfect.

Sundar drove us to St. Andrew's Church (the Kirk) and we forced the kids to sit through a two-hour service. It was the longest church service I had ever been to. I don't know how the kids did it, but they were angelic. Sam sat next to Ed. Ed doesn't have kids. He's just not a kid person, but Sam may have won him over that night.

Christmas Eve, I had the thought to take the family out to a fancy dinner, so I made a reservation to eat at the rooftop restaurant at the Raintree hotel on St. Mary's road so that we could spy Santa and Rudolph flying over. The kids didn't really get to see Santa this year. They didn't get to sit on his lap. Christmas isn't that big of a deal here and not many of the malls had a mall center. Frankly, I wasn't sure an Indian Santa would fit the bill. Elise told me about the Indian Santa that came to Peter's school. In his defense, he probably had zero cultural context, so he just sat there unsure of what he was supposed to do, kind of like another Christmas decoration. I'm guessing it would be a lot like asking me to dress up like Ganesha and do a Hindu ritual. I wouldn't know what to do either and may just end up sulking in the corner in my hot, stuffy outfit.

Earlier in the day, the hotel called me and said that they would not be offering the usual menu, but would be serving a 6-course, prix fixe menu featuring lamb and beef tenderloin. I thought that sounded stupendous. So, "Yes! Of course we want to keep our reservation! Would it be possible to also just order noodles for the kids?"

I was assured it would not be a problem, but in my boundless enthusiasm, I overlooked the fact that, yes, it could very well be a big problem.

After an hour, we had only been served one course: roasted red peppers on bruschetta. The natives were becoming restless. The wine that came with the prix fixe tasted like swill. We upgraded. I drank draft beer and would pay for it Christmas morning. I tried my best to speed things along, but to little or no avail. After an hour and a half, the kids finally got food. We took the rest to go. Elise may have said at one point that she was having an anxiety attack. They charged me for 5 prix fixe and the noodles. So far, the most expensive meal I never got to eat. It wasn't my first and won't be my last. Such is life.

When we got home, we threw the kids in pajamas and sent them off to bed. We got to work. I chewed up carrots then spit them back out onto a plate to make it look like reindeer had eaten them. We put presents under the tree. Thankfully, I didn't have to build anything this year. I remember staying up ridiculously late one Christmas in Brazil as Elise and I put a toy push-car together. I thought it would take an hour and ended up taking three.

The next morning, surprisingly, everyone slept until six. This never happens. Peter--always the first to rise--is usual up no later than five. A Christmas miracle, indeed. Typcial mayhem ensued. I remember well the Christmases when Sam and Peter were both two--Clem's age--about mid-morning, say 10:00, they would break down, overwhelmed by everything, and start crying for no apparent reason. Unbelievably, this did not happen this year, and we were tear free until well past noon. Christmas miracle #2.

Sam is a victim of his own industriousness. He had all the legos he had gotten for Christmas fully put together before naps. We had to hide the last one, so he had something to play with in the afternoon. Elise did a wonderful thing and took each of the children shopping on their own so they could buy Christmas presents for each other. Sam bought Pete a bag of Cheetoes. Clem bought Pete two Superman action figures. They were his favorite gift and he played with them for hours, forgoing the opportuntity to keep opening more presents.

Sam's birthday is the day after Christmas. We never had time to plan a proper party. Elise picked up cupcakes at the local cupcake shop. We put a candle on top and brought out a few more presents. We dimmed the lights and sang him happy birthday. To Elise and I, it didn't seem like much of a party.

The next day, Elise and I were talking to one of our friends about planning a party later in the week or the following week and grilling out, baking a cake and getting a bounce house. Sam overheard us talking and said, "I already had my party."

That's all he had needed. One cupcake, a few candles. His family around him, singing him happy birthday. He was completely content. Peter couldn't wait to have his own party a few days later. It was much the same as Sam's. One cupcake. A candle. His family singing him happy birthday.

Only Pete got bow and arrows.

In a moment of shared insanity, Elise and I decided to buy the boys Nerf bows and arrows. The boys have been racing around the house pretending to be Hawkeye and Green Arrow. If either one of us had come up with the idea, the other might think we had truly lost our mind, but we both had the same idea independently of the other. I emailed Elise, prefacing the email by saying, "You may think I have lost my mind?" then going on to suggest the Nerf bows and arrows for the boys. She responded, saying something to the effect of, "I just put those in the Amazon cart!" We both had the same idea. Great minds and all that. In my mind, it was meant to be.

I got Clem a Nerf football so she wouldn't feel left out on the boys' birthdays, so now we have two would-be archers and halfback. 

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