Whose Idea Was This, Anyway?

There are certain things I like to do at Christmastime, dammit.

I like to go to see the dogs (okay, and the cats too) in the windows at Macy’s.  Those Macy’s people really know what they’re doing.  Standing there, with a hundred wreaths of lights twinkling above, and the motorized figure skaters in carefully curated outfits whirling across a fantastical San Francisco landscape, and the SPCA puppy (“Hi, I’m Deeter” reads his nameplate) gazing out all moon-eyed…well, that would be enough, wouldn’t it?  But on top of all that there is music playing: majestically festive music, swelling out over the sidewalk.  On a sunny-but-brisk morning, standing next to your children in their best coats as they take it all in, you really can’t help but fall right into a Christmas swoon, even though some part of you knows it’s just fricking Macy’s, which on any other day is an overwhelming, borderline grim place to shop.

I like to have at least one semi-cultural experience.  The Nutcracker at the San Francisco Ballet, Deck the Hall at the San Francisco Symphony, The Velveteen Rabbit at ODC…there are many, many options of various style and length, geared to various ages.  As much as anything, I like the sight of the crowds arriving, the little girls in their twirliest dresses and the grandparents gazing at the children while the mothers and fathers just try to get everyone across Van Ness Avenue safely, what with all the pirouetting and attempts to re-enact the Russian jumping.

I like to ride the cable car to Nob Hill.  Once upon a time, I liked to get a martini at the Big 4 or the Top of the Mark; nowadays I like to take the kids to the enormous gingerbread house at the Fairmont.  On the way home, I like to sit on the south-facing side of the cable car so we can see our favorite tree of them all, the flamelike pillar of red and orange lights in the plaza at 555 California Street.

There are other things I like, too.  Quieter, homier things: the cooking and the watching of retro TV specials and the egg nog sipping.  We have a lock on the best-kept Santa secret in town, at a hotel near our house where he makes an appearance every weekend morning in December, and there are never any lines at all so if the kids decide at the last minute that no way are they sitting on that stranger’s lap, well, you haven’t lost anything.  Plus the decorations are spectacular.

This particular year, however, on Macy’s day, it rained like the dickens.  It rained SPCA cats and dogs.  Was I deterred?  I was not!  I suited up the kids in rain coats, sealed Babygirl in the plastic stroller rainguard, and armed LittleMan with his Lightning McQueen umbrella, and we struck out.  Through the Financial District, several blocks up Market Street, and my hat was getting soaked and LittleMan was struggling to hold his umbrella against the wind and I was fighting the good fight to make it fun, like “Isn’t this festive?  You are going to LOVE the windows!  Do you think they will have more cats, or more dogs?  Boy, a hot chocolate is sure going to taste good!”

LittleMan dropped the umbrella on the corner of Market and Sutter and looked at me: “Mommy, I’m cold.”  (Oh, and Mommy, he was probably thinking, you are crazytown, and this totally sucks.)

There are these moments in parenthood — and they happen to everyone, and they are tough to swallow — where you realize, for better or for worse, that you have made it all about you.  (And here’s the thing: once you have kids, it’s rarely about you.  Get used to it.)  Standing there in the rain with my babies, their noses running in the cold, I realized they did not care for one minute that the Macy’s people are Christmas geniuses.  They were not having fun.  This was my mission, and I had dragged them along.

I think a lot of Christmas is like that, in the early years of parenthood.  In our defense, we really mean well.  It’s like how you sign your 6-month-old up for music class, and then one day you look around and realize it’s just a room full of grown-ups shaking tambourines and making manically happy faces at a bunch of infants who have barely mastered grasping, and you are a sucker who just lost $80 and four hours of your life.  I imagine that a solid majority of mothers who bring their 2-year-old daughters to The Nutcracker wind up leaving halfway through, acknowledging far too late that no 2-year-old in the world can spend that long doing anything, much less sitting quietly in a velvet chair watching other people dance.

We took LittleMan and Babygirl to the kids’ concert at the Symphony this year, and as the holiday music started up I felt sentimental tears prick my eyes — we’re a family, with traditions of our own! — and then Babygirl started squirming and needed her diaper changed, and then LittleMan turned to me and said, loudly, “Mommy, it’s no fun just sitting here, listening, and not doing anything!”  Which is how we found ourselves, well before the grand finale, standing in the lobby sharing a cookie.

But I always say, when life hands you a rainstorm, head to the subway.  (Just kidding.  I don’t always say that.  On the day of our ill-dated Macy’s outing, however, it worked.)  There just happens to be an elevator to the MUNI on the corner of Market and Sutter, so I picked up LittleMan’s umbrella, held my breath against the MUNI elevator stench, and loaded us in (and for heaven’s sake don’t touch ANYTHING in here!).  We took a train — always a favorite! — and we braved the block to Macy’s, and we looked very briefly at the windows before heading inside and up to Santaland where we found all the ornaments and decorations were on sale for 50% off because it was two days before Christmas.  Everyone got an ornament, everyone got a hot chocolate, and little Deeter was even greeting shoppers in the cosmetics department as we left.

It is January 8th now.  The kids are back in school and the whole holiday feels sort of far away as we dive back into The Routine.  Reflecting back on 2012, I have thought a lot about the delicate art of being Mommy to a toddler and a 3- or 4-year-old.  So much of the year was about expectation management — mine and theirs — and the daily search for that tiny sweet spot: maybe it’s the nucleus where well-rested meets well-fed and age-appropriate, but in the end it’s that moment when everyone is content.  When no one (Mommy) has demanded or expected *too* much and no one (LittleMan) is being *too* stubborn and no one (Babygirl) is *too* far out of her element (or just plain fed-up with constantly being hauled around in the Ergo).

I’m not one for resolutions, really, but I’d like to think in the year to come I will be better at managing expectations.  I’d like to think I will continue to cultivate patience, both in the immediate (I mean,but seriously, how long can it possibly take to put on one’s socks??) and the global (as in, we might be wise to wait another year before attempting a fun-filled family ski day).  I’d like to think that in 2013 the sweet spot might become a little less elusive; that the union in the Venn diagram of family contentment might become a little bigger.



  1. Love this. It's like you can read my thoughts!! You have a wonderful talent for this, Jaime.

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