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the singing season

2013 December 20
by Rachel Turiel

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Things that calm my heart: The almost-9 years old is not too old to sit on a parent’s lap and sing Joy to the World. 

We’ve been pouring all our usual holiday ambivalence and confusion into singing. Col is determined to learn the words to Hark the Herald Angels Sing, as a sweet though somewhat misguided tribute to Dan’s father whose name was Harold. And just when Rose thought Madonna couldn’t get any better, she discovered Madonna’s version of Santa, Baby (I prefer Eartha Kitt’s). Sibling spats have completely evaporated by the communal brainpower required to remember each of the 12 Christmas gifts my true love gave to me (about which, Col, junior economist, remarks, “That would have cost A LOT of money.”) And Come all ye Faithful never fails to put a lump in my ambivalent Jewish throat.

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Rose, pumping up my bike tire and proving once again that multiple prints can make a kickass outfit.

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The kids and I biked downtown to do errands, each kid with their own backpack. I nearly died from the independence of it all.

Rose’s homeschool co-op sang Christmas carols at our local assisted living home, (although, while the little angels were belting out Jingle Bells, the song I kept hearing, gazing out on a sea of white hair was, this will someday be all of us). And then last night we went caroling. Real old-fashioned caroling with mugs of hot chocolate, warbly, off-tune voices and entire songs collapsing good-naturedly because no one quite knew all the words in the right order. The big moon kept us company and pajama-ed families came out to their front porches, surprised, delighted and embracing each other as we sang.

And also tape. The kids have been going through so much masking tape this season, they’re now on the watch list for Earth First! Not to mention, causing finger paralysis for anyone who has to pry all that tape from one of their presents.

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Tape, dental floss, glue, aluminum foil. I give up.

And when I say “holiday confusion and ambivalence,” it’s that I still don’t really get Christmas. Apparently there is still a teenage rebel within who wants to know what Jesus’s birth has to do with obligatory gift buying. It makes me twitchy to think of kids expecting a pile of gifts on Dec 25th. I don’t quite get the magic of that. Butterflies wriggling out of cocoons, yes. A starry night, yes. Kindness and compassion, yes. A decorated tree throwing light and beauty into a winter house, yes. Time off work while sipping egg nog, for sure. Does that sound grumpy and scroogey? I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something, culturally-speaking, the way certain phrases can’t be translated into other languages.

However, the gift exchanging amongst Col and Rose’s friends has been delightful. They shyly hand each other homemade gifts sprawling with tape and shaky handwriting. And it’s true that the moment just before tearing into the wrapping paper might be the best moment of all: the anticipation, the feeling of being thought of by friends, the surprise waiting behind the paper. Maybe this is the magic.

Col and Rose made some lovely presents to give out and we had a great time assembling, wrapping (and taping) them while our Pandora station played an endless rotation of carols. And Dan busted me like he does every year, walking in on our little scene and saying, “you love Christmas.”  Which isn’t exactly true, but isn’t exactly not true either.

hh - sing4Rose with her special friend, Tubbz, at the humane society where she volunteers. The fact that Tubbz is slightly obese, has halitosis and dandruff has not tampered Rose’s affection, nor her desire to bring him home. Last week she said, “What if Tubbz follows me out of here and refuses to get back in his cage?”

p.s. I haven’t got anything figured out except what feels good and right for our family, which is still a day-to-day puzzle. I wish you the merriest of holidays, and all the magic you seek in whatever form it arrives.

p.p.s. Have you started reading Nick Hornby yet? After reading (and loving) Juliet, Naked, I just finished his book About a Boy, which was so unassumingly good. Unassuming because you feel like the author’s simply telling you a story over a beer, and then surprises you with his insights into people, relationships, growing up. Also, upon Anne Lamott’s recommendation (her posts are one of the best things going on Facebook), I checked out What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen from the library, started it at 8pm on a Thursday and finished it at 7am on a Friday, and still got a good nights sleep. Which is to say, it’s a fast, engrossing read.

Confusedly, though singingly, yours,

Rachel

 

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27 Responses leave one →
  1. December 20, 2013

    Love the paragraph about gifts and Jesus and eggnog. Well said.
    And thanks for more book recommendations
    Tricia

  2. Kathy permalink
    December 20, 2013

    The meaning of Christmas for your family will change over the years. There was a time we did not do Santa because our older daughter was born two days before Christmas and came home Christmas day, without a hospital portrait, I might add. :( She wasn’t happy celebrating her birthday in the midst of Christmas decorations. And my younger child was afraid of him anyway. What child isn’t?
    When I was a child it was all commercial and Santa meant everything. I am ashamed to admit I was so greedy. I hoped my children would not be. So I concentrated on Jesus, still knowing it was by Roman decree and coincided with an old pagan date that this time of year was chosen. Wasn’t he born sometime in April? Then there was the issue that he did not ask us to remember his birthday, only his death.
    Now we have a combined family of three grandsons and it repeats. They want it all. And here in our three person family we are free of the giftgiving, but not the family meal! We prepare a big meal to eat together and then play a white elephant game to exchange useless gifts. We laugh, however.
    Will Christmas ever be what I hope it to be?
    I’d like to celebrate quietly, with my favorite music, with BOTH speakers working, snow in the air and on the ground, the mountains surrounding me, with hot chocolate in a big mug. Oh, and lighted candles and twinkling lights, on the tree and in the sky (there are few stars here near Detroit). I broke my favorite Christmas bulb in 1987; it was my mother’s and I broke it the year after she died. I’d like that on the tree, short and real, still scenting the house with its life. But even the tree has an obsure meaning, something about worshipping it because it was ever green.
    My Christmas would be to have all my loved ones who are gone now with me again. You probably already feel that.
    Life is the message of Christmas. My Sarah listens to Christmas music year round, especially in July. She is thankful for the love she finds in the words, even though they might be doctrinally wrong (and she overlooks all that, as do I). The trappings of the holiday will fall away, and return with grandchildren, and then… having life is really the meaning of it all.

  3. December 20, 2013

    Oh! What I Thought I Knew was an amazing, harrowing book. I read it two or three years ago and it still haunts me. Wow. And, yeah, you need that fat cat, and I think you do love Christmas just a teensy bit.

  4. December 20, 2013

    Oh be still my heart for that big tom cat. I have such a soft spot for big ol’ toms. I had one for a few years growing up, named Tippy. I would lay down on the floor and he could come and lay on me full body, with his head under my chin, and purr and drool in his joy and love for me. I was about 7. I also used to put hair ribbons on him, and I think he knew he was prettier for it.

    “It makes me twitchy to think of kids expecting a pile of gifts on Dec 25th. I don’t quite get the magic of that. ” Me too. I’m just so done with it. We didn’t even get out the decoration box this year. But then I remember being a kid, and how wonderful the anticipation was, and spending time with my friends dreaming of what we would buy if we were rich (my list included lots of new underwear and socks among other things – I was practical, and fashion challenged, even then). Wanting keeps us motivated and moving forward. With no kids in the house, it’s easy to just skip over the whole holiday (bad Christmas music in every danged store not withstanding). Next year, more ritual, that is about renewal and gratitude.

    Big hug to you and yours. And that lovely tom.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 20, 2013

      I think Rose would like exactly with Tubbz what you had with Tippy.

  5. Bree permalink
    December 20, 2013

    What a fun and funny post…
    plus 10 points for spotting Dan with no winter hat, yes?

  6. Baba permalink
    December 20, 2013

    Love your post. Wish we could have been there at Mary’s singing Christmas songs with you all. I know, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn? Reading your blog reminded me, again, of what a wonderful town Durango is (kind of like the imaginary town in the film “Its a wonderful life) and how much I miss you all (family and friends)! My feelings regarding Christmas have also evolved from total avoidance to let’s focus on the positive aspects . I now perceive it as an opportunity to remind ourselves that we can be more kind and generous to all those we encounter not just now, but through the year.
    Love Baba

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 20, 2013

      That Jewish boy from Brooklyn is very wise.

  7. Andrea permalink
    December 20, 2013

    You read my mind with this one. As you always do, because we were twin sisters in a previous life. Im trying to focus on the giving. And if there is giving, there is receiving. Or this is what I am telling myself.

    Also, I have a fat cat that makes tubbz look like a Victoria Secret model.

  8. December 20, 2013

    We overbuy every year and the kids have way too much. I don’t like that it diminishes the rest of the meaning of Christmas for them, such as family, friendship, and love, but I try to do that in the days leading up to it, instilling our values in ways that I hope would make their sugar-addled brains remember, but because My Guy and I have always loved presents ourselves – the giving and the receiving – we just can’t help ourselves…

    May you and yours have a wonderful holiday, way up yonder at 6512 feet!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 20, 2013

      You don’t have to help yourself, dear Justine. Love what you love!

  9. Valerie Mehaffie permalink
    December 20, 2013

    Ha! Joss and I just stopped by the Humane Society to love on the animals there and she loves Tubbz! For some reason gravitated to that kind tolerant cat.

    Peace to u Turiel Hinds clan!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 20, 2013

      Val, maybe Joss and Rose can work out shared custody of Sir Tubbz.

  10. Ellie permalink
    December 20, 2013

    I love to quote you in the comments. ” Apparently there is still a teenage rebel within who wants to know what Jesus’s birth has to do with obligatory gift buying. It makes me twitchy to think of kids expecting a pile of gifts on Dec 25th. I don’t quite get the magic of that. Butterflies wriggling out of cocoons, yes. A starry night, yes. Kindness and compassion, yes. A decorated tree throwing light and beauty into a winter house, yes. Time off work while sipping egg nog, for sure. Does that sound grumpy and scroogey? I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something, culturally-speaking, the way certain phrases can’t be translated into other languages.”
    Amen, sister.

  11. Sarah permalink
    December 20, 2013

    Thank you repeatedly for your kick ass, honest writing. I love it every time. Happy Holidays Rachel!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 22, 2013

      Sarah, honored to have you reading.

  12. Alanya permalink
    December 22, 2013

    This is perfect and helpful as we navigate Christmastime!

  13. Emmanuelle permalink
    December 22, 2013

    Rachel, I think you would definitely enjoy the monthly session of “holy songs from all traditions” that I love to attend. Accompanied by several musicians, everyone sitting crossed-legged on meditation cushions, we do chanting from India (includinga few Christian songs in sanskrit), Israel, Africa, America’s First Nations or an occasional hymn in Spanish or Gaelic.

    Families often attend this, little children happily drawing and colouring along, or hopping here and there with the music… The lyrics are no more than one or two sentences at a time, written down for us which makes it easier to remember them at first, but each song is carried on for 5 to 10 mn so that it becomes a kind of singing meditation, full of peace and love really :o)

    The fact that they always are from various traditions demonstrate in a very simple, intimate, powerful way, in each session, how complementary their spirit and rhythm are. A session with only kirtans for instance is really beneficial, but not quite as exhilarating as this.

    By the way, I really love this evocation: “Real old-fashioned caroling with mugs of hot chocolate, warbly, off-tune voices and entire songs collapsing good-naturedly because no one quite knew all the words in the right order. The big moon kept us company and pajama-ed families came out to their front porches, surprised, delighted and embracing each other as we sang.”

    :o)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 22, 2013

      Emmanuelle, I would TOTALLY love that. Beam me up to Canada!

      • Emmanuelle permalink
        December 22, 2013

        Holy moly, singing with you in the room would be a big additional source of positive energy! The whole assembly would be floating above the cushions.

        The next session is on January 19th. You could probably hike a ride from a passing snowstorm en route to Montréal ;o)

  14. December 24, 2013

    wow i have been having a similar reaction to yours in the nursing home- realizing our mortality and how none of this will last. i made rich a mix cd for our two year anniversary (on the 22nd! two years!!!) and i noticed a lot of the songs were about that, mentioning things like “and if there is eternity i’ll love ya there again” (that’s bob dylan). sort of a desperate grasping feeling. not that pleasant.

    as for the expectation of kids that they will receive a pile of presents… i totally hear ya. i agree it is nice, though, when they start to show signs of wanting to give to others, and i guess it is only because they receive from us that they know it is something that people do. riding in the car the other day quinn asked out of nowhere, “mama, can i make YOU a christmas present?” and i about died. he said he knows what he is going to make, and that his dad will help him because it involves a piece of wood, and that he needed some white string from me. then we talked about the fishing lure he wants to make for his dad, and i said i’d help him, as much as i’d rather never give that man anything ever again, i want to encourage my son in this newfound spirit of giving.

    also, i love caroling. our living school did some songs in spanish this year and it was magical. little drummer boy makes me all vaklempt on a regular day, but listening to all the children sing it, the non-readers making the “rom-pom-pom-poms” boom out in between all the trickier phrases, was quite something. and silent night. and and and. i seem to be especially prone to weepiness this time of year. my mom sewed me this tree skirt, which is this amazing 7-sided quilted piece of pure beauty, and when i opened the package i wrapped it around myself and cried. get bad religion’s xmas album on your pandora if you can.

  15. December 24, 2013

    Dan isn’t bald?? I don’t think I’d seen a photo of him without a hat. He’s a keeper- cleaning up so well like that! I realize I’ve been reading for just over a year now and I appreciate your voice through the changing seasons. Thank you. And have a lovely vacation at the beach.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 30, 2013

      Ha! Not bald yet. If I keep writing this blog for an extended time, you never know.

  16. Amy permalink
    December 24, 2013

    Somehow I am reveling tonight in songs about baby jesus, and can hardly contain the visceral excitement of santa coming tomorrow, even tracking him on Norad as if he was truly in Dubai at this moment like the website says. This berkeley girl, pagan at heart, cant explain it -but maybe there is not a rational explanation. For a week or two a year I cry over songs about jesus and the virgin birth, awe over my child’s hearted demands to adhere to this bizarre ritual of magic and gifts…and i love it. Merry christmas, or… whatever floats your boat in this dark time of the year. Aloha.

  17. December 28, 2013

    How I love the tree and the music and the cookies and the mystery of the baby bodhisattva, but in past years the gift-giving and receiving has become so very stressful. Everyone wants to give something to the children, and it adds up to too, too much!

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