Christmas Remix

[The following story is based on a stormy December night from 2003. No names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated. Mostly.]

Dashin’ through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh

The lights are up. The tree is decorated.

O’er the fields we go
Laughin’ all the way

The sound of holiday music fills the air. Another Christmas swathed in tradition and orchestrated with perfection is under way.

Giddy-up now!

Well, almost.

“Dad, when will the lights be back on?” A winter storm knocked out our power about 15 minutes ago. To Dalin, my six-year-old son, this means the Xbox has been unavailable for an eternity. 

“Soon,” I say. “Why don’t you stop hopping around and just sit down for a minute?” Even in complete darkness, I know exactly what he’s doing: tail-spins, backside rotations, and a few front-nose tweaks. All tricks he’s learned playing a snowboarding game on the Xbox.

“Watch this one,” he says. I then hear the heartwarming sound of a 60-pound first grader landing a big-air jump somewhere near the middle of our living room.

“Tight,” I say, which is a snowboarding term that means “Thanks for not breaking your head or my widescreen television during the execution of that last trick.”

“It’s going to be even better in the snow!” he says.

His level of confidence is amazing, especially considering he’s never actually been on a snowboard before. He’s fully convinced, though, that the skills he’s developing by leaping off our furniture and playing video games will transfer directly onto the slopes. In fact, he’s requesting to go somewhere this winter where he can “grind” on a few rails and attain “phat air” on some half-pipes. I’m not exactly sure what these terms mean, but they generate horrific visions of my phat backside rotating wildly out of control down an ice-encrusted mountain, resulting in a grinding face plant and a severely tweaked nose.

“I’m totally stoked,” I say, which means “Your mother can’t wait to take you.”

Bells on bobtails ring
Makin’ spirits bright

Across the room, I see the silhouette of my oldest daughter, Matison, next to our tree. She’s remarkably creative, resourceful, and fearless for a four-year-old, so I decide to crawl over and make sure she isn’t doing anything that will ultimately require some sort of emergency care. Also, I’m still on edge from a recent cabinet-climbing expedition she led that culminated with a trip to the hospital and 11 stitches across her chin.

“What are you doing?” I ask, noticing she’s surrounded by several ornaments plucked from our tree.

“Playing Christmas. This is Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.” She nods towards a glass Cinderella, a gingerbread bear, and a small model car.

I’m not sure who’s playing who.

She then holds up a snowman and Winnie the Pooh. “And these are animals from the manger.”

“Who’s that?” I ask, pointing to a plastic Spiderman dressed in a Santa hat.

“Dad,” she says, as if it should be completely obvious, “that’s Spiderman.”

What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighin’ song tonight

Convinced her antics are mostly harmless, I scoot over next to Tamie, my wife.

“Where’s Makenna?” she asks, referring to our two-year old.

“Upstairs,” I say. This is assuming she’s somewhere near Big Mouth Billy Bass, Makenna’s best friend and the sole source of our holiday music. Billy is one of those so-called “novelty” mounted fish that blare out redneck renditions of numerous Christmas songs (by “numerous” I mean two: “Up on the Housetop” and, his personal favorite, “Jingle Bells”). My parents sent him to us, claiming he was a gift for the children. Tamie and I have since come to believe he’s payback for something I did to them as a child, though I can’t imagine what I would’ve done to deserve Billy.

“Do you think we should go get her?” Tamie asks, knowing full well she won’t come down without the fish.

Before I can respond, Makenna shouts, “We coming down!” This is followed by the sickening sound of something heavy pummeling down our stairs. Tamie and I quickly feel our way to the bottom of the landing, nervous of what we’ll find there.

Ride ‘Em!

It’s Billy. He’s strapped inside Makenna’s baby stroller and was apparently sent down ahead of her to mark the trail. Unfortunately, he survived the trip unscathed.

Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way

The fish is a technological wonder, likely constructed from the same materials used for flight data recorders on commercial aircraft. He also came pre-equipped with a military-grade motion sensor and power supply, allowing him to detect any movement within a two-mile radius and blast out his cheesy Christmas carols at decibel levels capable of overpowering most home theatre systems. He also blasts out his cheesy Christmas carols if he detects any change in the temperature or barometric pressure. Or if he detects any continental drift. Or even if he doesn’t.

Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh

“Are you okay?” Tamie asks, stepping over Billy to reach Makenna. In the dark, it looks like there’s blood on her face.

“I fine,” she says, struggling to get out of Tamie’s arms and back to the fish.

“It’s chocolate,” Tamie says, relieved.

“All gone,” Makenna replies, which is the same response she’s been giving us for the past several weeks. She has a stash of Halloween candy hidden somewhere in the house and every so often will just show up with a chocolate eyeball or a mouthful of candy corns. We’d be more concerned if it wasn’t for the fact the candy seems to have replaced her former preference of tissues dipped in the toilet. A little tooth-decaying, tantrum-inducing sugar is actually a delightful change.

Git along now!

As I guide Tamie, Makenna, and Billy back into the living room, I step down onto something that crunches apart like a cockroach. A very large cockroach. One with rabid claws and venomous fangs. I respond by leaping around in circles while wildly brushing the spiny remnants from my foot.

“Dad!” Matison shouts. “You stepped on my Wiseman!”

“Your what?” I ask, fearing she’d befriended the nasty thing. I then look down and, much to my relief, find I’ve only trampled a festively decorated pinecone.

Matison starts crying. “Christmas is ruined!” she says. Fearing she’s being left out on some clever ploy to snare a candy cane, Makenna joins her. Billy, however, remains indifferent.

Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way

I hobble back to our couch and sit down, exhausted. For some reason, Christmas never turns out like I plan. I dream Norman Rockwell and deliver National Lampoon.

Then, from the darkness, I hear Dalin. “Wow!” he says. “That was a sweet Boned Corkscrew, Dad!” From the sidelines, he must have misinterpreted my erratic bug-stomping moves for an elaborate snowboarding trick. The night, miraculously, becomes silent.

But only for a moment.

Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh

I laugh. Tamie laughs. All of our children laugh. And our gloomy home suddenly becomes the proving grounds for a rambunctious gang of professional snowboarders. Shadows take turns jumping, twisting, cheering, and rejoicing. And I’m reminded that Christmas doesn’t have to go exactly as planned to be perfect, and even if you shoot for a Howard Johnson’s but end up staying in a manger, it’s still possible to bring joy to the world.

Even if you have to bring along a singing fish.


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