Thursday, December 17, 2015

From screaming to smiling: Growing up with Santa visits

One of my favorite scenes from A Christmas Story is when 9-year-old Ralphie visits Santa at Gimbels department store. The line is long, the elves are bitter, and Santa is more like Ebenezer Scrooge than jolly ol’ Saint Nick, responding to Ralphie’s request for a BB gun with “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” 

It’s possible that I had a similar experience. I don’t actually remember a bad Santa visit, but here’s the thing: I don’t remember any Santa visits. That’s strange, right? Maybe my coping mechanism is to suppress painful memories, which would also explain why I have only vague recollections of dancing in public.

2006: The first Wixon boys Santa photo
with Ryan (4) and Cooper (18 months)
The Santa visits I remember well, and I hope to always remember well, are those of my kids. The visits started nine years ago, and in all likelihood, this will be the last year. My oldest sons are 13 and 10, and at this point they’re just going through the motions for their little brother. And Nathan – Baby Nathan, as his brothers like to call him – is 7 years old and seems far too world-wise for that age. He already mentions Santa with a sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge knowingness.

I remember, with an admittedly schmaltzy wistfulness, when the kids were younger and the Santa magic was like pristine snow. The boys sat on Santa’s lap and flashed smiles that were simultaneously innocent and mischievous. Their enthusiasm was boisterous, even after a draining wait in a line filled with strollers, sippy cups and parents reminding their kids not to eat the fake snow.

I think the Santa-visit enthusiasm hit at about age 2. When Nathan was 10 months old, he sat on Santa’s lap with the tense look of a kid being shipped off to boarding school. No surprise there, because to an infant or toddler, Santa is like a large, loud, oddly dressed kidnapper.

2008: Nathan, with a very tense look,
joins his big brothers
At 22 months, Nathan wanted no part of Santa at all. The photo captures him during an onslaught of screams as his brothers smile blissfully on each side of him. The strained look on Santa’s face really takes me back to that moment. Santa got in one hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and then told the photo elf to “Take the picture! Take the picture!”

Years passed, photos were snapped, and the kids grew up. There were matching outfits and matching complaints about the wait in line. Someone was hungry, someone was thirsty, and at least once, someone needed to urgently use the bathroom about a minute before we got to Santa.

Every year, Santa asked the boys what they wanted for Christmas. The early answers were sweetly adorable. Big-boy bike, football helmet, dump truck and dirt. Then the responses grew with the kids, evolving into something like “a WiiU video-game system with the Super Mario 3D World bundle, not the Nintendo Land bundle.”

2009: Take the picture! Take the picture!
It sounded like a drive-thru order. Thanks, Santa … do I get a receipt with that?

Last year, my oldest son, Ryan, had a list for Santa (he said, with a wink) that was typed on the computer and included bullet points. My middle son, Cooper, had a list that included prices he found on Amazon.com. This was from the same Cooper who, starry-eyed at age 3, asked Santa to bring a real race car “for I can ride in.”

Now Cooper is smiling with his brothers in one more Santa photo. I guess it’s possible that this won’t be the last year, but it feels like it. It also feels like a sort of milestone in our lives, or at least in my life, because my kids might not remember the Santa visits.

I probably shouldn’t call this a milestone moment. Nothing has been achieved. It’s certainly not in the class of graduating from college, or getting married, or having kids who can transform from toddler to teenager in a flipbook of Santa photos.

No, it’s not a milestone. Maybe it’s better described as a mile marker. You know those numbered posts along the highway that are blurs in our peripheral vision as we heavy-foot it to our next destination in life? Something like that.

The annual Santa photos -- sometimes with smiles, sometimes with tears, sometimes with Santa saying “take the picture!” – have been a chance to slow down and let a few mile markers come into focus.

What emerges from the speed smear are the kind of snapshots that make the journey special.
 
-- Growing up with Santa (2006-2014) --
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Uncle Larry is the mashed potatoes: Your relatives as Thanksgiving dishes

Michael Hogue/The Dallas Morning News
Well Americans, another Thanksgiving is at our doorstep, along with family and friends and an abundance of reasons to be thankful. Actually, let’s go with a “cornucopia” of reasons to be thankful, because I believe it’s standard practice for every Thanksgiving column to include that word.

Food and family. It’s such a feel-good combination. It’s like hugs and kisses. Smiles and laughter. Cowboys joy and intact Tony Romo collarbones. And, when you think about it, Thanksgiving food and family kind of resemble each other. 

No, I don’t mean Uncle Larry actually looks like the mashed potatoes. But isn’t he a little lumpy and soft in the middle? And lovable, of course. 

That’s what I mean. The family and friends around the Thanksgiving table often share characteristics of the food on the table. Here’s a sampling as we count our blessings and search for the pants with an elastic waistband.
 
Here's the piece I wrote for The Dallas Morning News. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

***
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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day: The rollercoaster for dads is worth it

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------


During my son’s recent visit to the pediatrician, the doctor checked his eyes and ears, heart and lungs, and everything that’s part of the annual checkup for a 7-year-old. But before pronouncing my son ready to roll, the doc should’ve checked on one more thing:
 
Nathan’s schedule for later that day.

Not even two hours after the “well visit,” with his lips still red from the customary goodbye lollipop, Nathan broke his arm. He was playing football at the park and slipped and fell while making a catch. The official family description, which I provided on our next, much-too-soon visit to the doctor, was that Nathan “dropped like a sack of potatoes.”
 
An expensive sack of potatoes.

In the span of five years, that’s four broken bones for my three sons. Ryan, age 12, has broken his nose and foot. Cooper, age 9, has only broken a pinkie, but it required a cast to the elbow. It required two casts, actually, because Cooper was 4 years old at the time and banged the first one around like a Tonka truck.

The boys when they were a little younger ...
and more willing to be in photos.
These are the moments a father remembers. They are not, however, the kinds of moments offered up on Father’s Day, when we celebrate the filtered, rose-tinted, Hallmark-ified version of being Dad. It’s a day for fatherhood’s greatest hits, such as holding your newborn baby, hearing “Da-da” for the first time, and seeing your kids grow and learn and hit milestones -- instead of each other.

That makes sense, of course. It’s a day of macaroni art and warm fuzzies. But the Father’s Day fluff reminds me of something expectant parents always hear:

“Cherish every moment. It all goes by so fast.”

Got it, thanks. But when the baby won’t sleep, and therefore you can’t sleep, or eat, or even think, you only cherish the thought that the moment will eventually end. “Maybe I’m doing this wrong,” you think, as your precious gift from God seems like a Ginsu knife or an infomercial vegetable slicer.

You know, it looked a lot different on TV. So much easier.

There’s nothing easy about fatherhood. Even if you know what you’re doing, and I don’t think any of us really does, you’re just learning on the fly. You’re like a new employee every day, wandering around the office, asking if anyone knows the copier code. Fortunately, Moms usually know all the codes.

As a dad, you learn about tantrums, timeouts and training wheels. You learn about patience, responsibility and sacrifice. You learn how to act in front of your kids, including Oscar-worthy portrayals of someone interested in playing another game of Candyland.

“Where does all the time go?” you wonder, sometimes aloud, scaring yourself. Then you’ll remember how much time you spent assuring your child that self-flushing toilets are not evil. You’ll remember the time looking for lost shoes, toys, books and blankies. You’ll remember checking for fevers, cleaning up a kid who gets sick, and then cleaning yourself up after becoming collateral damage.

You’ll remember saying “clean your room” and “don’t throw balls toward the window” and giving ultimatums that ended with counting to 10, sometimes using fractions. You’ll remember dodging questions such as, “yeah, but how does the mom’s egg get fertilized?”

For all those who gave me advice years ago, thanks. But I didn’t, and I still don’t, cherish all the moments.

Those esteemed elders were right, though. It does all go by too fast.

I remember sitting in a rocking chair with my oldest son, who is now about to be a teenager but was then an infant, looking up at me as I tried to feed him. He was very particular about the angle of the bottle, and when it wasn’t right, he just turned his head away and waited for someone more competent to take my place. Thank goodness Mom is so on the ball, I told him, because Dad’s a little iffy on all of this.

I’m still a little iffy on a lot of things. But parenthood, while unquestionably complicating your life, can simplify your world. It’s easy to find meaning and purpose when your child looks to you for an explanation, or reassurance, or just a hand to hold.

Nathan held my hand as we walked into the X-ray lab, where it was confirmed that my little sack of potatoes had a small, nondisplaced fracture just below his right shoulder. No cast was needed, but the arm had to be immobilized for six weeks. Nathan walked out of the office with another lollipop and a sling that was soon decorated with sports stickers and Angry Birds drawings.

Six weeks later, Nathan was done with the sling. He might try to turn it into a slingshot, he said, to create some sort of live-action version of the Angry Birds video game. I’m not sure how that will work, but it sounds like we might be moving away from a broken bone and toward a broken window.

It will be another moment to cherish. At least years from now.

***
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A car accident, a moment of trust, and someone who seemed nice

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------


When the truck began backing toward my car, I should’ve hit the horn. If I were a more aggressive honker, one of those quick-boilers always ready to palm-smash an alert, I might have avoided the whole mess.


Shockingly, there were no injuries in the extremely
low-speed collision.
But it happened too quickly. I was in a left-turn lane, stopped at a red light, and, wait a second, is he backing up? Does he not … oh no … and then wham. I uttered some sort of expletive, but it was under my breath because parenting three kids is a fantastic censoring program.


My 9-year old, Cooper, was in the back seat. He told me later that the whole smash-up was boring and that he hoped the airbags would inflate next time. I hope there won’t be a next time for anyone in my family, but I have three sons who will eventually be driving. Prepare you horns.

There were no injuries, which is great. But also no witnesses. It was 8:30 in the evening, and the only car nearby sped off when the light turned green.


Hmm.

* * *
I like to have faith in my fellow man (and woman), and this fellow man was very apologetic. He was backing up to get room to maneuver out of the left-turn lane and didn’t see me. He would contact his insurance agent immediately, he said. Don’t worry about anything.

Don’t worry about anything?

I think heard that when I was shopping for a used car. And I think I read that in an email from a Nigerian prince who offered to pay me $100,000 if I helped him get some funds transferred.

As we exchanged insurance information, I worried, but I also felt awkward. I even felt a little guilty as the nice guy – seemingly nice, because I had known him for 10 minutes – waited for me to take photos of the damage. I took a lot because, when combining the darkness and my photography ineptness, it was hard to get a sharp focus. I have some tremendous, artistically blurred shots of a dinged-up bumper and my feet.

Should I have called the police?

 “I tell all of my friends, go ahead and call,” said David Tilley, the Plano police department’s public information officer.  Some departments won’t respond to an accident in which there are no injuries and the cars are driveable, he said, but it’s still worth calling. An accident report isn’t required, but the officer can make sure the correct information is exchanged and not fraudulent.

* * *
When I got home that night, I thought about it. The nice guy could come back with a not-so-nice story about how I ran into him. That would make more sense than someone backing up in a left-turn lane. He could claim he was not at fault.

My only witness would be Cooper, who wasn’t paying attention when the crash occurred because he was busy pondering what position he should play for the Rangers. His only clear memory of the incident was that Dad muttered something, and he’d like to know what it was.

I could’ve been in trouble. For years I had sidestepped identity theft, telemarketing fraud, phishing scams and emails informing me that I would receive a fund in “U.S. cash dollers.” Now I was set to be the victim of the nice-guy crash scam.

Thankfully, he really was, and is, a nice guy.

His insurance agent called the following morning. I was provided a rental car much nicer than my own car and the $1,200 repair was billed to his insurance company. Now I’ve got a new bumper and a grill so shiny that it looks out of place as it smiles from the front of my car. It’s like someone who goes a little heavy on the teeth whiteners.
 
But my car looks good. And although I'll probably call the police if I have another accident, I feel good about how this one turned out. In a world filled with scams, schemes and reasons to feel pessimistic, it's nice when something positive crashes in.

***
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