Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas is for...

 Little kids, first.
These are little first graders from Casey and Riley's school, performing a song at the holiday concert last week. They were led by my friend Tracy, who has been teaching them music in the Music For Minors program. They did an amazingly good job of their three songs, and I was really impressed with them, and with Tracy's teaching. They also kind of broke my heart. They were so enthusiastic, so happy. And of course all of us were thinking of the little first graders from the school in Connecticut who are gone, or the ones still alive, who are traumatized by what happened in their school. Kids are resilient, there's no doubt, but to have something like that happen to your community or your family, even if you didn't even directly witness it, leaves permanent, altering marks on your psyche. The kids left will be different people now than they would have been before this happened. They've lost that innocent joy that these kids you see in this picture still have. And that is a tragedy of a less easily seen nature, and not something that can be given back to them no matter how much therapy or aid they're given.

The Holiday Concert was fun, happy, and bittersweet all at the same time, at least for me. My guys are in sixth grade now and they've grown out of a lot of the spontaneous gestures that the little kids have. They've become much more conscious of what others might think of them and it inhibits them in some ways, while it also makes them say and do really stupid things in vain attempts to be cool. I suppose it's a natural part of growing up, after all we look at adults weirdly if they shriek and jump up and down and do flips all over the furniture. So maybe they do have to learn to be conscious of what others think. But I miss that uninhibited joy. Okay, with my guys the flips over the furniture are still happening, but they're learning to control everything else a little more. And it's a little sad when the Christmas stuff is colored with them not wanting to do some things anymore because they're too silly or babyish now.
Holidays are so hard for many of us; there's so much expectation of happiness, and you're supposed to spend it with family and be loving and perfect and all. And it's never a perfect thing, really; even if you have a great family there's still friction and arguments and over-tired kids who melt down and things like that. If you manage to have a near perfect Christmas with kids, that's a Christmas miracle, really. If you don't have family or you're estranged from what family you have, you're faced with what you don't or can't have. It's hard in so many ways. Holidays bring up all of those things and people we've lost, or never had.
It's hard to go on after losing a loved one. My wise friend Annette told me a while back that holidays were especially hard, and that one had to find ways to make new traditions for holidays, make complete breaks with the old traditions that were Before. And that makes so much sense. But as she said, it takes time. What she didn't dwell upon, but is a great example of, is that it takes a ton of courage, perseverance, and determination to keep going, one small step at a time, to rebuild a life from the ashes of the loss. I wish for all of those parents in Connecticut the strength to go on, and the perseverance to find a pathway through the dark times they're going through now.

The Christmas season has always been a bittersweet time for me, and it can be hard for me to stay 'up' during it. I think with increased age, however, I'm coming to accept that melancholy is a part of the holidays for me; I need time to mourn people and things lost, as well as to savor the goodness in my life. I need a balance where both sides are acknowledged and recognized and felt, rather than trying to stuff the sad parts down and deny them. Christmas is not all about happy-happy all the time, not for me, not anymore. I used to love Christmas and all the implied magic surrounding the winter holidays. I felt that magic in a very real way, but it became harder and harder to feel, to rediscover that magic as the years went by. Life experiences tend to change us from those innocently joyous little kids we used to be. But bittersweet can be a good thing; it makes me savor the good parts, remember the parts that are irrevocably in the past and do some mourning if it's needed, and be able to see and recognize the good parts happening now that are fleeting in their own way. There's a lot to be said for enjoying the moment.

I am so incredibly fortunate with all my family and friends, and this Christmas especially it seems appropriate to appreciate all of the wonderful people in my life and to say thank you for being part of my life, though many of you are scattered all over the globe. I am a lucky person and you all make my life richer. Merry Christmas, all of you. Hope you can find some of the magic, too. I'm sending out virtual *hugs* to you all. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My Little Car

I had this car.
This was my first car; we bought it new just for me about twenty years ago. I looked at a lot of cars and this one, this little Honda CRX, with it's Celestial Blue color and special wheels, was my dream car. It has been a staunch and reliable friend for all these years. It's been my freedom.
It has no radio and it's a manual transmission; nothing is automatic, there are no frills. It sits low to the ground and hugs the road and it's as agile as a cat. I've always loved jumping in my car and driving off into the redwoods or out to the coast and just enjoying the drive, the wind, the smells, the feel of the car on the road, the shadows and the scenery going by. I've explored all over California in this car.
I love this car. Note the present tense. It has been nearly, oh so nearly, past tense, and my car has been in limbo for many months, waiting to be rescued. Today we got it back from limbo, and I have begun the arduous paperwork process of re-adopting it. Because you see, when you have a twenty year old car and it gets in even a minor fender bender, your insurance company will insist that it's not worth fixing, that it's worthless junk, they will total it out, tow it off to a junkyard to be scrapped. Well, they can just kiss my tailpipe, because today I got my little car back and it looks like new. It runs as great as it ever did and it is one sweet ride, let me tell you.

Our lives changed a lot when we had the boys; we got the van and my little car became the one Paul drove to work while I hauled kids around in the van. He was hit from behind while at a stoplight about a year ago, and the left taillight and bumper were damaged. The insurance company wouldn't pay to have it fixed and called it totaled. They left us feeling like we had no choice but to let it get taken away, even though the engine was still great and there was only the damage to the light and bumper. I was trying so hard to be sensible and practical but the whole thing was eating away at me. They sent a tow truck to take my car, and the driver hooked it up and hoisted the front wheels off the ground and I stood there with tears running down my face as I let him drive it away.

So I called Paul after it disappeared around the corner and he knew I was crying and he knew how upset I was about giving up that little car and damned if he didn't just up and call the insurance company and insist that we get our car back from the scrap yard. They very reluctantly and rather grumpily told him we should have gotten our act together and decided to keep it before it was towed away (which we weren't told was an option) and it might be too late, but they'd give us the tow yard's number and let us see if we could get it back, though they didn't hold out much hope. And yeah, we'd have to pay the monetary difference between the cost of the car if it were totaled out vs. the cost if we'd kept it despite it's non-operable status, so we ended up returning their money to get our car back. The money they grudgingly gave us sure didn't come close to anywhere near all the money we've paid them over the years, but then I tend to think of insurance as a gambling game anyway. The house always wins. (Bastards.)

We drove out to the junk yard and waited our turn among a number of men who were salvaging vehicles to fix up to sell again, and they found my car and drove it up to the front, with yellow numbers written large on the cracked windshield in grease marker. I climbed in and drove it home with the numbers there in front of me, and it made me cry again because I was so glad to have it back. It wasn't legal to drive, however, and it was now classified as a salvage vehicle. In order to get it legal again, we had to get bodywork done, have it pass all the inspections for a salvage vehicle and go through all the paperwork associated with that. And we didn't have the money to fix it up since Paul was unemployed for much of that time. It sat in our driveway waiting until we could save up for the bodywork for about a year.
We finally took it in to get fixed up about three months ago, and we brought it home today, with a new bumper, new windshield, new brake lights and a new paint job to boot. It looks so beautiful to me, my dear old friend all fixed up.

We nearly let it go, and I'm sure that people who have even a lick of financial sense would tell us that we should have let it get scrapped, because it cost much more to fix it back up than it's worth on paper. Financially speaking, we should have used that money to fix up other things that need it as much or more, like house repairs. We've been told before that we are not the most sensible people, and that is true. If we were fiscally responsible Paul would have gotten out of games and into a more stable sort of programming, and I wouldn't be an artist at all. God knows what I'd be, though, since this is all I've really done as a career.

But.  It would take more to get a decent used car to replace it than to fix it up (probably, unless we went with a complete clunker), and we couldn't possibly have replaced it with another car that came close to this one: a sturdy, reliable little sports car that's really fun to drive on winding little mountain roads and sticks to the road like a cat. We can't afford such a luxury item: a two-seater manual transmission sports car. If we are honest, we may never be able to afford one again. This one is the only sports car I am ever likely to own. I am the only owner it's ever had and I hope it lasts for a good long time to come. I am still in love with my little car and I am damned glad to have it again. All I need to do is slog through the paperwork now. And once I do I'm taking it for a long drive through the redwoods and driving on out to the coast to listen to the waves. Anybody want to ride along?