In this installment of “Love, Recorded,” the baby falls in love, unrequited, and Matt ponders the socialization element of the holidays.
There is a boy my daughter likes. Four years older. The problem is, the boy does not like her back. He taunts her, running up and down the stairs at a pace she can’t match. To see her little red 2-year-old face is to remember a history of unrequited love.
My daughter is also in love with Santa. Sometimes it seems like the idea of Christmas is to socialize your kids. Be good or you won’t get presents. Capitalism is a fat white man who has his eyes on you and gives back once a year.
Of course, we embrace the good behavior aspect. Grace is just old enough now to worry that her behavior might not meet reward.
She even knows to fear her judgment. We take her to Santa’s Village at the mall, since she “loves Santa so much,” and she stops us a few feet from the little green house. Santa waves and she waves back, but she won’t let us move any closer. “Don’t you want to take a picture with him?” we ask her.
She puts up her hand like a stop signal: “Just look.”
On Christmas Eve, we eat dinner with our church group, a big house in the Korean suburbs with plenty of room for our envy. This is where the dance of the sugarplum stairs takes place. The boy hides, and when she sees him, he takes off, always a step ahead.
I am on following duty, otherwise known as: catch-her-when-she-falls. This is a must with stairs. This is a must with love.
The adults are supposed to be playing some kind of drinking game without drinking. The game is in Korean, but I follow the basic idea. It is one of those games teenagers play before they can drive: sitting in a circle and following a set of rules, where the fun is that everyone knows how simple the rules should be to follow, and yet someone will always screw it up. Then you laugh at that person as they go up for “punishment” (in this case: singing with a pencil mustache and/or shouting “I love you” at the top of your voice three times.)
I have never seen my wife play these games, though I have seen Koreans play them in movies. Usually, Cathreen gets seriously competitive. Now, she follows the rules to a T and is the only one who never makes a mistake.
I sit there with my daughter on my lap, eating oranges, thinking: my wife is the most socialized.
She wins a bar of soap, dishwashing detergent, a box of straws. Then the group does a civilized version of Yankee Swap, suppressing the animal instinct for the largest portion.
When we get home, it’s midnight. I am reminded of the Garfield Christmas Special, where an adult Jon and his brother burst into their parents’ room in the middle of the night and say it’s technically Christmas morning and it’s time to open presents. Grace has not slept, refuses to sleep. She’s too excited for the magic of expectations fulfilled. We have to call her cousin in Korea, whose Christmas, and Santa, has already come. He tells her he was excited, too, but Santa comes while we’re sleeping.
Grace puts out cookies and milk that Cathreen eats before I get a chance to.
On Christmas morning, it strikes me, as every year, how soon it feels pointless to go on with the good cheer and good behavior and carols and movies, after the presents are unwrapped. Now it is time for the NBA, and SADS. My mother, when we see her a few days later, reminds us that it is supposed to be 12 days, but even that song seems relentless.
Recently, I read an essay by a friend with a 1-year-old, against the idea that our kids are growing up too fast, that time moves too quickly, that we’ll miss the stages past. Time bounds along, for sure, but I wonder: aren’t we all doing the same dance of unrequited love? Aren’t we all running after a future that will forever be running from us?
Or do I just have to wait for next year?