In the first Love, Recorded of 2012, Matt looks back at the holidays, the baby turns 6-months-old and vulnerable, and the family plays Sleeping Lions.
1. When I was growing up, we spent most Christmases at the house my parents got as a wedding present from my great aunt, who lived through three nominal centuries. She was born in 1899 and died in the year 2000. I have been thinking about time.
2. This was Grace’s first Christmas. She got all dolled up and had no idea what was going on. After several days with family, she came down with a cold. Now we’re all sick, she and my wife and I. I tell someone in my office that it is like looking at your future, in germs.
3. I have been thinking about time. My parents have sold their house and moved in with friends. At the end of the school year, my mom will retire and they will move to Florida. They bought their house my freshman year of college. I came home that year and they lived in a different place, up the street from our old place, with one fewer room. I slept in my mom’s office, on a futon.
4. When we get home from my parents’ house this year, sharing their last days there, my wife lines up our daughter’s presents on the floor, like a Macy’s display, and snaps a picture.
5. We took Grace to see Santa a few days before Christmas, something my parents never did. She had never seen a beard before. She looked up at him, took a moment to decide, and then balled.
6. I have been thinking about gifts, and wishes. Sometimes it is easier when everyone you know is poorer than you. This is pretty much the opposite of our case. It is a problem of wish fulfillment.
7. One of our favorite toys for Grace came from her grandma in Korea. My wife picked it out. The toys we love are ones in which we can place our daughter and walk away, if only for a while. Does this make us selfish, or bad parents?
8. You know that part in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, where the Grinch is so happy he has stolen everyone’s presents, and then the Whos come out and sing? Before the part about his heart growing, he looks completely heart-broken, and confused.
9. With Christmas comes a short vacation until New Year’s. In Korea, the way you spend New Year’s Day is how you will spend your entire year. This is a lot of pressure. The holidays are hard. Even once you are too old for the Elf on the Shelf, you still have to be on your best behavior.
10. On the coldest day of the year, we take Grace to the mall, to play indoors. As we walk around, I think: the difference between babies and adults is potential. With adults, we can learn to accept their faults. With babies, there are no faults. Any faults they will have as adults have come from us.
11. There are outside forces involved. Think of it like this: in one scenario, you have a beautiful painting, worth millions of dollars, but there are always people who want to take it from you. You have to keep guard. In the second scenario, you have an ugly painting, and you try your best to love it anyway. In the second scenario, it’s all internal. You only have to watch out for yourself.
12. Innocence can be crippling.
13. A baby loses its mother’s immunity after 6 months of life. Grace turns 6 months the day after Christmas. 8 days later, she is sick. She’s never had a stuffy nose before. For a while, we think the problem is she doesn’t know what is hurting her.
14. Then we got sick. We start the year with sore throats and moodiness and cold. I think the New Year should be the way it is in China and Korea—the parties should start off the year, not finish it. In America, we start by going back to work.
15. The day after Christmas, Cathreen and I take a break from the baby. My mother baby-sits. She calls after half an hour and I can hear Grace crying in the background. We get another call, and another. When we get back to my parents’, Grace has cried for two hours. She hasn’t been away from both of us, at the same time, since she was a few weeks old.
16. Usually, before Christmas, I like to watch the holiday movies: Home Alone, Rudolph, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life. This year, I managed about fifteen minutes of Kevin McCallister, and saw Elf a few days after Christmas, though unable to pay attention to it. This year, it was hard to tell that it had been Christmas. It was not Christmas, and then it was, and then it wasn’t again.
17. I did manage to drink two cartons of egg nog. There are priorities.
18. I find myself wondering now why the Grinch dresses up as Santa to steal the Whos’ presents. It is convenient during the scene where the little girl asks what he is doing, but why, before setting off, does he feel he has to emulate what he hates. He puts on the holidays long before he has his realization at the end.
19. A sick baby means a tired wife, which means a day off of work to give Cathreen time to sleep. We are always playing the game Sleeping Lions in our house, except with each other. Sometimes Grace wakes up when I snore. Most of the time it’s the cats. During the day, I try my best to keep our daughter quiet. Some people say sleep is a gift. But when it is taken away, that is when we act like the lions.
20. During Grace’s 6-month visit, we ask the doctor about leaving the baby alone more often, whether this is how to socialize her. The doctor says the two hours of crying is exactly what would happen, with a baby Grace’s age taken away from her parents. She needs us. She is supposed to need us. That is the thing about babies, the thing people later miss.
21. The other day, on Facetime with her grandma in Korea, Grace was playing with a stacking toy, far above her age level. She dropped the second-sized pot into the first, and Cathreen’s mother went crazy. Cathreen tried to tell her it was only a coincidence, but finally she just let her mother have that, the idea of the future.
22. We have to give our parents something. The holidays are that, when compared to the year. I worry about the point at which parenting turns from fear to loneliness.
23. There is a contest going on right now to write a story with me as its protagonist. This was mostly not my idea. I do give a few pointers. If you write about me, like in this column, you write about insecurity.
24. Two days after Christmas, when we leave my parents’ house to return to Boston, they wave goodbye through the car windows. “Our last time in this house,” Cathreen says. That is when my parents seem to realize, as if for the first time, that I never really lived there. They laugh, though I always tell the story as a way to feel sorry for myself. We wave, and Grace falls asleep to the sound of the engine leaving.
25. I have been thinking about time. As we pull out of the driveway and down the roads I remember, the town so changed, my daughter’s breaths settle. My wife calms her with a hand on her chest.
—phot Flickr/Mykl Roventine