Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Still life with bug jar

Tomorrow is our Lady L Ladybug's first birthday, and her personal smushing cake is ready to meet its match.

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'Tis the season

About midway on our drive between work/daycare and home is a beautiful mosque complex that E has spent years not noticing until just this fall, as the days have gotten shorter and our drive home has become, again, one completed in darkness. The mosque is so beautifully illuminated at night and E is particularly captivated by the tower and its Eastern architecture. So we say “Hi, mosque!” twice a day. (We also say “hi, building that they’re still building!” and “hi, horsies” and a few other greetings, so this by itself isn’t so spectacular.)

On Monday morning we tried to make our usual right turn in front of the mosque and had a little difficulty. At first we thought there was an accident because we could see the halted traffic and the blinking lights of multiple police cars. As we drove by, though, we realized that the police were serving as traffic cops for the large body of cars coming in and out of the mosque. Ms. Hagi, one of the girls’ favorite teachers, is a devout Muslim, so we agreed we’d ask her about the occasion. Of course, when we got to school Ms. Hagi wasn’t in, and we forgot until yesterday when we saw her again.

So yesterday Ms. Hagi told us a little bit about Eid-al-Adha, and in particular she told E that it was a day of big celebrations for Muslims. So on the way home E waved, “Hi, party mosque!” And then she wanted to know why we hadn’t been invited.

Bravely (in my head), I jumped off the cliff into the timely and sensitive conversation about people of different religions. I explained that we were different (without getting into the how, though I have no doubt follow-up questions will challenge me imminently) and turned the conversation wide left into Holidays We Don’t Celebrate {Major Category}; It’s Okay to Help Our Friends Who DO Celebrate to Have Fun {Sub-category}; Christmas {item-level entry}.

Separation of church and state be damned, our big government building throws a huge tree-trimming Christmas party in the lobby each year for the entire staff. Said party was today. It is imbued with institutional traditions. There is a very big tree. There are lots of delicious treats. There is a piano, and there is a piano player. But the highlight, at least in my opinion, is the annual Trotting Out of the Daycare Children. The kids all decorate construction paper ornaments to hang on the very big tree; the oldest kids sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which makes the ovaries dance on a few hundred g-women and the minds envision cigar-distribution in a few hundred g-men; and all the Precious Kiddos get to sit on Santa's lap.

So we talked about Christmas, and the singing of Christmas songs, and the decorating of Christmas trees, and the upcoming Chanukah that promises to yield its own consumer society fruits. And we talked about Santa. We talked about how Santa would be there, and he's part of Christmas, which is not our holiday, but that he would be glad that we're helping our friends to celebrate so if he had toys for kids he'd have one for all of the kids, not just the Christmas-having kids.

And because E is a girl who thrives on clear expectations, we practiced talking to Santa. We talked about what his Ho ho ho would sound like. We practiced answering with Merry Christmas, Santa! or Happy holidays. And I told E that she might be asked what she wanted for Christmas, and she could say whatever she wanted, or she could say nothing, or she could say she doesn't celebrate it. And any answer, as long as it was respectful, would be okay.

She told me she'd say, Nothing! Because Christmas isn't my holiday! Like Ms. Hagi!

I love the things kids say. But also, I was glad to hear that answer because it meant she got it - that today was going to be a day filled with traditions many people love, and though they aren't ours, we still celebrate with the members of our workday community.

L sat on Santa's lap first.

Her reaction to him was pretty much, Hey, Stranger Man? How goes it? Cool toy - can I chew it? And thus her existence is now one faux-Beanie Baby animal figure richer.

When the kids in E's class started going up to Santa, E balked. I don't wanna! I don't wanna! she started crying. "You don't have to," I told her. "You never have to sit on Santa's lap if you don't want to." I DON'T want to! I DON'T! "That's okay, love, don't cry," I told her. "But - he's giving books to your friends. I don't want you to be sad if you don't get a book because you didn't sit with him." I WANNA! I really wanna! It's my turn! she insisted.

Then we actually got close to Santa, and she started crying hard again. She wanted that book, though, so she climbed up on his lap. He didn't ask her any questions at all because she never stopped crying enough for him even to get a "hello" in to her. So after about 45 seconds of her convulsive blubbering, he just handed her a book and scooted her along.

The awkward angle on this photo is because while I pressed the shutter with my right index finger she was squeezing the circulation out of my left one.

So while it's true that this isn't our holiday, the kid crying because of Santa, that is the tradition, yes? Tell me, my Christmas-celebrating brothers and sisters, we did this holiday right?

I love that we're going to be the devout Jewish family with a collection of annual Santa photos.

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