2020 Holiday Lessons, News, and Conversations I didn’t need to Learn, Read, or Hear

{Mandatory preamble: As with all of my blog posts, the views espoused herein are mine alone and should be construed as neither shared nor endorsed by any organization with which I have an affiliation.}

Extra preamble: This post is about @BoggildLab’s holiday season and is written solely for the purpose of pandemic levity. It is duly recognized that the pandemic continues to devastate people, families, and economies around the world and in an unacceptably differential manner according to demographics that should never inherently or otherwise disadvantage anyone. We are all working hard to provide some sense of normalcy to our children, while simultaneously propping up the economy and protecting those who are most vulnerable through our actions. It’s a challenging ask, and every decision nowadays carries risks and benefits. But this post is meant to temporarily distract you from all the year’s negativity, and offer light and laughter. Make no mistake: laughter, like food, is medicine. Any offense taken is unintentional and regretted. Also, if you are not generally a fan of the literary genre best characterized as privileged white person X complaining about nonsense inconvenience Y, I advise you to read no further.

My holiday season typically begins exactly on December 1st, when I realize, in a panic, that I have yet to procure my son’s advent calendar, the first window of which, by the way, is scheduled to be opened that day. I hail from Christian Danish, Irish, and British roots. Having an advent-less but child-full home in December is sacrilege. Yet, every year, December 1st sneaks up and corners me like a chatty elevator windbag dumping the entire contents of his brain onto the pristine blankness of my auditory nerves. Sure, I’ll make it out alive – courtesy of my stiletto prizing open the doors – and with a great deal of involuntarily acquired wisdom about the remarkable complexity of Portuguese water dog genealogy, but getting off that elevator, I’m still without an advent calendar. Now ordinarily – as in ordinarily without a raging viral pandemic flooding supply chains with vegans but no rice-milk chocolate to sate them – I would do what every desperate person in this situation does: Instacart. In 2020, though? No dice. I emailed and called all the usual local small businesses supplying the plant-based populace. Nothing. Or, more specifically, “we sold out of those a month ago”. Minuscule windows of online shopping opportunity would briskly and unpredictably appear, and then evaporate just as quickly. Only a bot could snap up these calendars so swiftly. I needed reinforcements. And a plan. My heart sank at the realization that I was going to have to….. gulp……make the advent calendar. Let me be clear here that I am the opposite of an artsy and crafty type. To say that I lack artistic talent is an affront to non-artists everywhere. I am a terrible artist. Allow me to wind back the clock to the mid-80s so that you truly understand the extent of my non-artisanry.

It was Grade 4 art class. We were each assigned another classmate of whom to draw a portrait. Pencil or pencil crayon were acceptable. The portraits would all be strung up around the room in alphabetical order upon completion so that we – and the entire parent community – could take pride in our handiwork. Seems innocuous enough, right? Except we had a set of identical twins in our class. And I was assigned one of the twins. I thought nothing of it and got to work, trying to capture with my pencil the shapes and lines that would loosely connote a human being. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the other twin had been assigned to Pablo friggin’ Picasso whose portrait of twin B was a literal photograph, a precise rendition, a broody masterpiece with cheekbones and angles and emotion. Who was this kid? Up it went on the wall with the expected buzz of accolades and celebration. An empty space sat ominously beside it, awaiting my contribution of twin A. As I am sure you have surmised by now, twin A’s “portrait” evoked none other than a seriously malformed Mr. Potato Head rather than an actual person. The galling badness of it had a narrow chance of flying under the radar to begin with, let alone next to Rembrandt’s masterpiece. Capital C conspicuous. And beyond humiliating. In hindsight, it prepared me well for CIHR peer reviews, at least………

Back to the advent calendar. As I was frantically searching and googling that day for procurement options, I came across what was clearly the genius of an enterprising mom who had DIY instructions on her site. I made a list of supplies and engaged my support network – cork board, paints and brushes, push pins, and favour bags could surely be acquired at some essential service that remained open amidst escalating case counts? Cue the dollar store, which apparently stocks and sells everything. Helpfully, our hospital has a candy store, so I was able to wrest judgment and control from my dominant whole-foods-plant-fed cerebral hemisphere in order to fill the favour bags with literal synthetic garbage for which I paid actual real money. I grabbed a cab and headed home. With supplies on hand, all I needed was time and a secret place to work in our tiny, creaky, downtown house where nary a room is beneath its maximum p.s.i. allotment. With the usual wave of crushing guilt and self-flagellation that washes over me as I enter my office, I carved out a space between piles of in-progress manuscripts and raw data awaiting analysis. After preparing dinner for the pediatric beneficiary of the advent calendar, I needed to ensure that he remained distracted for at least an hour while I created the damn thing. Cue Roblox. And his father.

Now about that father……. Let’s just say that serving as wingman to whatever covert operation I need to execute is not his strong suit. Need a guy to bear the brunt of tiny fists pummeling one about the head in a fit of patricidal toddler rage for grave offenses such as tooth brushing, hair combing, and snot wiping? He’s your man. Need a guy who – due to sociocultural influences and decades of ‘manly’ indoctrination – greets that ineptly-lobbed and grievously errant lawn dart neatly impaling his naked foot at the neighbourhood birthday party with a stiff upper lip? He’s your man. Need a memory leaking everything domestic but hockey trivia, gas prices, how to order a pizza, and recipes for mixed drinks through a coarse porosity sieve? He’s your man. Need a wood pile? A wood shed? A wired or plumbed or sawed or coded anything? He’s your man. Sack of cement in your way? He’s your man. Need a guy who will – without complaint – wile away hours in a bobbing metallic solar oven trying to outsmart fish? He’s your man. Incidentally he’s the much better artist so why the hell am I running Santa’s little workshop out of my office at night? Anyway, he is no match for our 9-year-old who plies him like silly putty and is half a dozen steps ahead at any given moment.

I knew I had to work fast. I set up the paints and laid out the decorations with which I intended to garnish the cork board from Dollarama. I also grabbed a blanket under which I planned to throw the whole operation should I happen to hear the hooves of a muskox pounding down the hallway towards my office. I painted a set of holly leaves in one corner. They resembled holly leaves. Next I painted a snowman in another corner. It resembled a snowman. I painted some festive words in the middle. They resembled festive words. At this point you will be stating the obvious which is “now is the time to put down the paint brush“. It is no exaggeration to say that could I rewrite history, I would go back in a second to smack that brush right out of my incompetent little hand. Alas, I got too confident on Christmas spirit. I got too big. Stunningly, I elected not to put down that brush but to instead paint a stocking. It does not resemble a stocking. It resembles a stocking by exactly zero parameters. Rather, it more resembles an orthopedic boot. For Frankenstein. Molded by Frankenstein’s orthopedist on acid. Also, because I am evidently unable to effectively plan a canvas, the orthopedic boot appears to be kicking the crap out of the snowman’s head. Thankfully, the bar for recognition of violence is set so high for 9-year-olds these days what with the actual news and the fake news and video games that this particular instance of a snowman beat-down went unnoticed, in the end……

The calendar was done, and for the subsequent 24 days, little favour bags full of FD&C Red No. 40, maltodextrin, titanium dioxide, and high-fructose corn syrup were dutifully hung on the push pins with care. This was a popular development in a household where edible artifice is normally contraband. I doubled up his veggies and rationalized that we could repair his annihilated microbiome in 2021. It couldn’t be any worse, after all, than the carpet bombing his flora survived while I – 22-weeks pregnant doing research in the field in South America – was being prophylaxed against typhoid with azithro……. Could it?

I care about his microbiome, and all of his organs, I really do, but 2020 has been exhausting. I vowed not to worry about it at least for Christmas Day, which, I was determined, would be filled with peace, tranquility, and gratitude. The day started at 4:20 am. Some children, it turns out, simply do not sleep on Christmas Eve. I made the mistake of scrolling the news on my phone while awaiting the kettle to boil as my son assembled Harry Potter Lego. COVID was still a thing. As was the white, ableist, racist, sexist patriarchy. Ugh. Is 6 am too early for the 10-hour remix of SAINt JHN’s Roses on repeat? Yeah, my son thought not either….. He also relayed the great news that all this time through simple Snapchat filters I could have avoided looking like a ratty old dish rag in posted photos……Oh, and there’s a holiday update on Roblox! Joy. Kids can earn enough points to adopt pets by investing a gazillion hours body-checking gingerbread men on skates. My son is so proficient at this task that it led my septuagenarian father to remark on how fluent kids are these days with technology. My son’s response to this observation perfectly encapsulates the entire collective experience of 2020, which is to say that of being totally and irretrievably punked: “Yeah at my age you were outside playing hopscotch, while these days we’re all playing Minecraft and twerking on our hover boards.” ‘Nuf. Said. Could this year get any crazier?

So it is done and decided. I am closing the books on you, my dear trainwreck 2020. You are heretofore cancelled, never to be resurrected. And, friends, if you happen to see me floating around the institutional hallways like a catatonic lobotomized apparition next November – assuming COVID’s still around – permission to gently remind me that December 1st is right around the corner. Beneath my mask I will smile and give thanks. And so long as we’re not in an elevator, you might just get an original, hand-painted holiday card in return.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *