Soon It Will Be Christmas Day

I’ve had an unusual amount of work in the past few weeks: I’ve written a booklet about ten herbs, a brochure for a calcium supplement and right now I’m in the middle of another brochure about a digestive aide. Plus, I edited a short academic paper. We also had a houseguest, a college friend who was in town to sing in a concert (the Bill of Rights set to music!) and we had a brief but fun visit with him. So it would have been easier to skip the Holiday Sing at June’s school on Friday morning, but I went anyway. Part of how I justify working part-time at home is that it makes me available for this sort of thing, so it seems I ought to go in the busy weeks as well as the not so busy ones. Plus I love this event. I went every year Noah attended this school.

The first year I went it was not really what I was expecting. No real information was sent home other than the date and time. I knew Noah had been practicing songs in music class for a few weeks so I expected all the kids to get up on stage or bleachers or something, though I wasn’t sure how so many kids would fit because the whole school is there in two shifts and some kids go twice, as I will explain. But in fact only the fourth and fifth graders perform in a visible way. Back in Noah’s day it used to be the choir, but sadly, the choir fell victim to an expanding school population with no money for an extra music teacher, and it is no more.

The program now starts with the advanced strings and wind sections of the school band. Then all the kids in the fourth and fifth grade are divided into three groups of a few classes each and they either play the recorder or sing for the rest of the first half of the program. Meanwhile the younger kids sit on the floor facing the stage while parents sit on folding chairs at the back of the room. In the second half of the program, the younger kids on the floor sing the songs they’ve practiced in music class along with the older kids up on stage. (In a way it’s nice because it’s more inclusive than the old way of doing it, but knowing how important being in the band is to Noah, I’m sad the more talented singers at June’s school don’t have that creative outlet any more.)

The room was festive. There was a fifteen-foot high inflatable Santa with a spinning present on one hand on one side of the stage and a Nutcracker on the other side. Paper snowflakes decorated the walls near the stage and more hung from the ceiling of the stage. I caught sight of June as her class filed in but she didn’t see me. Her blonde pigtails and red Nordic pattern sweater made her easy to find in the crowd. (It was the same sweater Noah wore to the Holiday Sing when he was in kindergarten. Don’t ask me why I remember. I just do and the idea of having June wear it appealed to me. It was surprisingly easy to convince her. I just suggested it and she said yes.)

There were Kwanzaa songs and Christmas songs and Hanukah songs. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was the crowd favorite, but I walked home with “Feliz Navidad” and “In the Window,” a very pretty Hanukah song in my head. Also this one, which the kids didn’t sing: “War is over/If you want it/War is over now” ( because as strange as it seems, the war in Iraq is over, our part in it anyway. This is more a solemn than a joyous thing to contemplate, but it’s a good thing nonetheless.

When the songs were over, the kids on the floor were allowed to get up and turn around and wave at their parents. June saw me and beamed and I smiled and waved back and then slipped out of the room to hurry back to home and work.

The next day was Saturday. I worked a little and June had her last ballet class (they danced to some songs from The Nutcracker) and she and Talia and Gabriella followed it up with a free tap/jazz class because the first ballet class of the year had been cancelled and the students were allowed to make up the missed class by attending another one. Afterward all three ballerinas went to lunch at Eggspectations ( with assorted parents and siblings to celebrate the end of class.

That night Beth and I went to a birthday party for Lesley. It was a surprise party, made surprising, I think, by the fact that she’d already had a party two weeks earlier. (We went to that one, too.) When a preschool teacher as beloved as Lesley turns fifty, people go all out. One party is not enough. The parties were thrown by different people, with different guest lists, so we got to see a lot of people, including several parents from Noah’s class we hadn’t seen years and Becky, the nursery school music teacher, whom we miss a lot. It was a fun evening.

Sunday I worked some more and in the afternoon we went to see The Nutcracker at Onley Theatre ( Before the show I bought June a little nutcracker figure (given that she broke, not one, but two Nutcracker snow globes last year it seemed like a better bet than another snow globe). June tested how wide each nutcracker could open its mouth before settling on one in a white and gold outfit. She angled for a second souvenir (a book with a CD) and I considered it, but it was a bit pricy. The sales clerk warned her to be careful with the little wooden doll because it was really a decoration and not a toy.

The theater space was medium-sized and kind of rustic, with wooden beams decorated with evergreen garlands and big ribbons. We piled up all our coats on June’s seat so she’d been tall enough to see, and it worked, but only because there was a child in front on her and a child in front of that child. June perched on her elevated seat and watched the first act with close attention. She applauded a lot and every so often put her arms up in the air in the same poses as the ballerinas. Noah paid close attention and applauded a lot, too. It was a nice production, somewhat more elaborate than the one we saw last year, though not a really fancy one. (I do hope to splurge on a top-notch one some day. My kids have never seen a version where all the children coming running out from under the giant mother’s skirts in the second act. That was my favorite part when I was a kid.)

At intermission, Beth and June went to the bathroom while I went in search of snacks, since June said she was hungry. By the time we found each other she only had time to eat a few of the pretzels I bought before it was time to go back to the theater, so she was still hungry. She was also tired and kind of antsy by this point. The people in front of us had re-grouped so three out of the four seats in front of us had adults in them and June’s view was now blocked. Rather than ask Noah to take an obstructed view, I moved June onto my lap, which meant I needed to crane my neck to see around her. Sometimes she sat up straight, sometimes she slumped against me, sometimes she stood in front of my seat, a few times she slid to the floor and sat there. I think she actually paid better attention last year when she was four, but this might have been a longer production. She was watching when Clara appears back in her living room at the very end. “It was all a dream,” June announced loudly. She seemed happy to have figured this out on her own. (I’d read her the synopsis of the first act before it started, but the lights went down before I could finish reading the synopsis of the second act so she was on her own piecing together the action.)

As we walked back to overflow parking lot, the kids argued over the remaining pretzels and Beth said anyone who continued arguing would not get anything at Starbucks, and lo there was peace. The sword had already broken off June’s nutcracker, but we decided this was appropriate because the nutcracker gets broken in the ballet, too. Also, Beth promised to glue it back together once we got home.

We came home. Noah and I bagged three bags of leaves I’d raked earlier and Beth made Vietnamese spring rolls for dinner. We ate in front of the television, something we hardly ever do, so we could watch The Year Without a Santa Claus before it was time to put our sleepy daughter to bed.

The new week has started and I am knee-deep in things to do, but I am wondering if I can somehow manage to make gingerbread cookie dough to take to my mom’s house to bake there. It will be a hectic week, but soon it will be Christmas day and I want to arrive with something sweet for the many relatives who will be there.