The second half of 2010 was the beginning of a tough stretch in life. I was having some challenges professionally, which would get worse before they got better, and while I was enjoying my new role as father the adjustment period felt like it was taking a long time. Suffice to say I was looking forward to the week off I had coming that Christmas. The holidays are always something of an oasis for me, but that year I had high hopes. The Big One was going to celebrate his first Christmas, and we were going to do it at my parent’s house in Saginaw. It felt almost Rockwellian to me, and I needed the rest besides that.
It didn’t quite pan out the way I planned. Our son got barfing-and-crapping sick for a good week or so, and it started on Christmas Eve. Not only that, but he ended up being patient zero for what was apparently a pandemic of general digestive dysfunction across the Great Lakes area. Everyone we came into contact with eventually caught it. At one point we traveled to Ohio to visit more family, and we discovered that the bug had beaten us there. It was like The Stand, if everyone vomited instead of dying. Between everyone being sick and the general exhaustion of traveling so much within the vacation, it was one of the most disappointing holiday seasons I’ve had. I came home more tired than when I left, and I was left to face the New Year without the rest I had hoped for. Worst of all, my son’s first perfect Christmas had drowned in horrible bodily fluids. He barely had enough oomph to play with his toys on Christmas morning.
I’ve found that parenting has contained a lot of strange anti-climaxes in it. None were as drastic as that first one, but there are so many moments that I want to be “perfect” for my boys, and they very rarely work out the way I hoped. Maybe someone gets sick. Maybe the circumstances don’t line up. Maybe it’s too hot to go to the zoo, but you go anyway because you already drove all this way and you sure aren’t going home without seeing the gorillas. I’m not sure if I want my boys’ experience to be exactly like mine or what, but it never quite matches what I pictured.
At some point, I realized that those experiences I had as a kid were probably not as tidy as I recall. My parents told me of a time when they had to race down to Ohio to visit my dad’s family for the holidays, because the snow storm that had hit the west coast of Michigan threatened to strand us for days. I’m sure that Halloween costumes sometimes didn’t work out like they were supposed to. And my parents didn’t set out intending to take us halfway around the world and raise us in four different countries. I don’t remember them as flawed experiences or ruined opportunities for picturesque memories, but I wonder if my parents viewed them that way.
Tonight, my wife took The Big One out for trick or treating. This is his first time. He dressed as the Hulk, and I know he had a ball going out with his mom while I stayed at home with his brother to hand out candy. It wasn’t “perfect” as such. We had to go to a different neighborhood to get some really good pickings. I only handed out candy to three groups of kids all night, and now we’re stuck with a whole bowl of Smarties and Heath bars. I had meant to watch some kind of Halloween spooky show (Treehouse of Horror! Thriller! Universal monster movies!) while I handed out candy, but it turns out I had work that needed done. So it wasn’t precisely what I envisioned. But when The Big One came home with a bucket full of candy and a ton of stories about his time going from door to door, it was hard to argue with the results. I think the odds are pretty good that he’ll remember it the right way.