Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Carols: Musical Passport to the Past

Musical Memories

My sister and best friend came to my house last night for coffee and girl talk.  We haven't done that in quite awhile and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The coffee was hot, the lemon cookies tasted divine, and the talk danced from one topic to the next.  The most surprising part of the evening, however, occurred when we broke out into song after discussing our favorite Christmas carols and we then proceeded to sing about ten of them right there at the dining room table.

And you know what?  It felt really, really good. We congratulated each other for knowing all the verses, laughed when we said the words wrong or hit a badly pitched note, and smiled the entire time we sang.  My kids eased over to watch us, wide-eyed with both astonishment and mirth.  In front of them, three middle-aged ladies cavorted like children singing song after song, swaying at the table and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  My husband even came out of his Monday night football man-cave to check on the ruckus in the dining room.  Peeping around the corner, he smiled and just shook his head.  He knows how absolutely silly I can be at times.  I just keep reminding him that it's all part of my devastating charm, but I am not sure he believes me half the time.

I have incredibly fond memories of Christmas music.  Most people either love it or hate it.  Some enjoy it for a brief period and then grow to despise it by the time Christmas finally arrives. I, however, enjoy the songs from the very start of the Christmas season until the very end.  I've always loved the carols, especially the religious ones, even though I've never been very religious.  I suppose that stems from my deep appreciation for beautiful music.  I've always loved the complexity of classical arrangements and something about the religious carols speaks to that love.  They contain both a simplicity and a richness of composition that modern day Xmas songs lack.

I can listen to almost any Christmas carol and draw up memories long forgotten as well as memories that I thumb through and enjoy on a regular basis.  Music has informed such a large part of my life that most of my very vivid remembrances include a song.  This is especially true for the carols that play every year around this time.  Christmas naturally lends itself to perusing cherished memories, but the music of Christmas makes them more brilliant and intense.

As a child, I remember singing carols in the car with my mother and sister.  My father would join in on occasion, and entire road trips would pass moving from one song to the next.  We always had music playing in the house and one of my clearest and earliest memories includes helping my father hang garland in the dining room while we sang along with the record player. I must have been about four years old and my mother's favorite album of carols sung by Wayne Newton caught my attention.  I remember telling my father that the woman singing had such a beautiful voice.  He laughed and laughed at that.  I always loved Daddy's full-body laughter, how it consumed him and tickled everyone around him.

In middle school, I remember getting a group of friends together during Winter Break and going from house to house one afternoon singing Christmas carols.  We thought it would be a silly way to spend the afternoon and we cracked jokes about the absurdity of it in between getting up enough nerve to actually sing.  To our surprise and pleasure, most of the people we entertained seemed very happy to hear us sing. The most memorable part of the day, however, occurred when an elderly gentleman asked us to wait a moment as he wheeled his wife to the door in her chair so we might sing for her as well.  I am sure more than a few of us thought that this might be his wife's last Christmas when we witnessed her frailty.  All of us kids completely felt the emotion of the moment and we settled quietly to sing Silent Night as best we could. By the end of the song, everyone, including my sarcastic pre-teen friends had tears in his or her eyes.

In high school, my Latin teacher translated Christmas carols into the dead, yet beautiful language and we serenaded every class along our hallway during sixth period.  Although embarrassed a bit due to the nerdiness of being in a Latin class and being forced to sing, we enjoyed every minute of it, making our classmates smile and giggle. Good music, in any language, transcends every circumstance.  Unless a person is completely unfeeling, music makes an impact upon him or her--even snarky teenagers.

As an adult, after the births of my children, all of whom are born around Christmas, I remember singing them to comfort and sleep with beautiful carols, such as The Holly and The Ivy and O Holy Night.  I have such special memories of holding their warm, tiny bodies close to mine and singing softly to them, feeling utterly blessed to have such little miracles in my life. Every time I hear either song, I am filled with love for my babies.

I am certain that last night, my kids created Christmas music memories of their own by watching their mother and their aunts act silly and sing at the top of their lungs.  Hopefully they will remember this and many more pleasant instances where music provided a background soundtrack for all the love, joy, and happiness the Christmas season brings.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Behind the Christmas Curve

I wish I had this much done already.

There remain nineteen days until Christmas.  Nineteen short, rapidly disappearing days and I have yet to buy a single present for anyone, including my three children.  I haven't bought nor mailed Christmas cards, ordered sausages and cheese from Swiss Colony, planned the menu for our Christmas Eve party, or even decided what goodies I am baking this year to give to friends.  Suffice to say, I am a bit behind the Christmas curve this year.  I have absolutely no motivation to do any of these things.

If I had my way, it would be October all over again and I would be much more focused and prepared for the holidays.  I wouldn't waste my time being distracted by mundane, unimportant things that I spent my hours on this past Fall.  I would prepare, plan and execute properly and be totally in position for a splendid, Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas.  As it is, one would think that I should at least have a little bit of agitated panic to get my motivation up to snuff by this point in time, but I still feel like I cannot be bothered with all the details. I have this deep-seated feeling that no matter what I do or don't do, Christmas will work out as it always does.  As if by magic, it will come together flawlessly or with all the expected and excused flaws that happen every year.

The presents will be bought and wrapped, the cookies baked, the party planned and all will be well with the world.  I just hope I am a bit more mentally present for the whole thing.  I am looking back upon this year and realizing that while I was here for some parts of it, I was gone for a great deal of it as well.  I think after the death of my father, which in a way I dealt with but also did not deal with, I absented myself from being fully present in my own days.  I did a lot of mental vacationing, engaging in fantasy, or burying myself in so many little things that I didn't have think or feel too much.  I am kind of tired of behaving that way.  I miss the old me. Over the past few weeks I've become a bit more aware of all the things I need to do. Gradually I am coming back to myself and my reality and I realize that it's not such a bad place to be.  I don't need to run away from all the changes that have happened nor the feelings that accompanied those changes.  I don't need to dread holidays just because my father won't be here to celebrate them with us this year.  He would want me to live life like he did...enjoying each minute for what it is and staying completely present in the moment.

 In essence, I am beginning to be okay again.  And for that, I am really grateful.  There is much to be said about just being "okay" and for being fully present in one's own life--being there for the good, the bad, the ugly, and Christmas.  Even if there are only nineteen days left in which to get everything done.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Out of the Mouth of Babs

My quirky, beautiful, wise Babs.

My daughter, Abby whose nickname is Babs, really impressed me the other day.  As I picked her up from middle school, she told me about her day while we drove home.  It was her eleventh birthday that day and I expected her to be talkative and chirpy from the moment she sat in the car.  However, her cousin dominated the conversation by relating a story in which he had almost punched a kid in the face for teasing and mocking him earlier that day.  Abby remained silent through his story and then after he left, she turned to me and said, "He really could have handled that better." Very interested to hear what she had to say, I replied, "How so?"  She then told me a story about how some boy had picked on her in band class, calling her hyper and mental and geeky.  I expected her to then tell me how she responded with some choice cut-down of her own as she is incredibly intelligent and witty.  I also expected it because it would have been exactly what I would have done at her age.  She surprised me, however, by saying something entirely, beautifully different.

Abby said that she just looked at him and felt badly for the other kids he had picked on earlier and how she felt badly for the boy too because he had been the object of mockery as well.  So instead of continuing the snarkiness and meanness and negative energy, she decided to end it.  She said, "I told him 'I am me and you are you. I laugh and giggle and am quirky.  You aren't those things, but something else and that's cool. We should appreciate that difference and just leave it at that."   I smiled at the maturity and wisdom of those words, and then asked how the boy responded to her statement.  She said he looked at her, but really didn't know what to say and was quiet for the rest of the class period.  He didn't pick on her or anyone else for the remainder of the day.

Some of the wisest words come from the mouths of children.  They don't over-think things like adults, they don't imbue much subtext into their statements.  They just say it from a purity of youth that adults really can't access anymore.  I was proud of her innate sense of what was the right thing to do, but also because it proved to me that she listens when I speak.  She listens when I tell her that words do matter, that she should be kind when she can, that negative energy shouldn't be fed and fostered.  She amazed me with her maturity and with her emotional intelligence and overall with her kindness.  She could have very well come back with some cutting, hurtful remark but chose not to do that.  She is, at eleven, a far better woman than I.  I am so lucky that she's my daughter.