Sunday, December 30, 2012

It takes a village

It's a week before Christmas and I'm having a lie-down in my room, pooped from all the pre-holiday prep.  My husband and his teen daughter come in, and I can hear snippets of their conversation.
"I can't get the panorama feature to work," stepdaughter M. says.
"Is that an iPhone feature?" her father asks.
"No it's Instagram," she says. "I want to get this all in one picture."
He suggests she step on a chair to take the picture.
I'm smiling to myself in the other room. I know what she is trying to photograph, and my heart lifts.

She has been my stepdaughter since she was just shy of her third birthday. Since our family is blended, holidays are always extra stressful. The logistics of sharing children with their other parents and everyone's extended family over the course of two days has always been a nightmare. But her father, my husband, has done his very best. He has tried to create traditions for her that don't necessarily involved her getting every single thing on her Christmas wish list. One thing he did was buy her those little lighted holiday houses. Ever the frugal man, he didn't buy those overpriced Dept. 57 numbers. He mostly got these houses at the local hardware store, sometimes after the holiday. He and M. selected them together and over the years they've accumulated. And when she had her own room in our larger home, they sat out all year on a desk, and served as nightlights when she came for her appointed weekends.
When we downsized, and she lost her room, the houses were taken out only at Christmas.

Every year I'd threaten not to put the lighted ceramic village. The village takes up a lot of decorating real estate, and time. Last year, I came up with the idea to put them on top of the wall that divides our kitchen from our dining area. M. didn't seem to notice them last year. So this year, when I heard she was trying to take pictures of them, it made the work to erect the village worth it.

I haven't been the world's best step parent. I always had the philosophy of staying out of the way. "She's here to spend time with her dad, not me," and "She already has a mother, and I don't want to compete with that," were my refrains.

Consequently, M. and I are not close. We get along just fine, but the distance between us has always been clear. But she's 17 now. And, like most girls her age, she has issues with her mom. She's anxious to strike out on her own and head off to college far away from the small town where she lives. I feel for her.

In that small act of her wanting to take a picture of something from her childhood with her father, and by extension me, and share it with her friends, made me decide to change my refrain. And for the rest of that pre-Christmas weekend, things were different between her and me.

She showed me a photo app while we were waiting for ice cream. I shared an off-color comment about a South Park character and made her laugh. We took goofy photos of her dad. Together we selected sushi rolls for dinner. She helped me pick out cologne for my son, her step brother. She shared a brownie recipe with me. We went shopping at stores she likes and she showed me some gift ideas for her father to buy her instead of his usual gift cards. And as we shopped I realized we had more in common than our like for trendy clothes, South Park and sushi. How could I have missed this: We both love the same man; why aren't we best friends?

I'm not going to push the best friends part. But as she heads off to adulthood, I'm going to make certain that if she's interested in being my friend, I'll be ready to order up plenty of California rolls and gab about boys and clothes all night.

And I'll always find a place in our home for the lighted village.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Betty's Piece of Ass

As I was unpacking the holiday decorations, I came across the this (at right): A plush Santa’s butt ornament. Now who the hell would give us that and why would I save it?

(I suspected my mom, but a Facebook posting query revealed it was not. I still don’t know where it came from.)

I set the ornament on the coffee table, took a photo of it, and left the room. Within a few minutes the ornament was gone. Betty our dog had snagged it and put it in her bed.

“Aw, how cute! She’s decorating her bunk!” I said.

So there the offending stuffed Santa butt sat for a week. Occasionally I’d find it in another place in our bedroom, the room where Betty also sleeps, indicating she played with it.

Last night around midnight I was awakened by Betty rustling in the room. She’s been doing that lately: getting up to get a drink from her bowl and playing with toys briefly before trying to get back into our bed. Groggy, I just let her play. I dozed off but was awakened again by three strange, low mechanical tones. The sounds were flat and almost sounded like a bark. I thought to myself, “Was that Betty? Is she bark/talking?” I was half asleep, so a talking dog seemed possible.

Now I can barely see in broad daylight, my vision is so poor. In the dark, I’m blind without my glasses; I can’t even read the alarm clock that is six inches from my face. I peered down at her and could make out her whole body wiggling around and going to town on some toy.
“Betty, drop it and come back to bed,” I whispered. She would not even turn around. I put my head back down and shut my eyes. That’s when I heard the sound of organized notes from a musical toy, but not exactly a song. “What the fuck is that?!” I said. None of Betty’s toys make that noise. I wouldn’t purchase anything like that for this very reason: I don’t want to be awakened by nocturnal dog play.

I peered again into Betty’s bunk and I saw her with the Santa’s butt toy deep into her mouth so that only the boots and legs were sticking out of her muzzle. Then I heard the unmistakable notes of “Deck the Halls” rendered by fart noises. Truly the most horrible sound. And, very uncharacteristically, Betty refused to drop the offending toy. I pulled and pulled it from her, and the farting tune just kept going. She tried to run away with it and I knew I was going to have to chase her and perhaps bribe her with a treat to drop it. But I sat up too fast, and my vertigo sent me reeling and stumbling to the floor, scaring Betty into dropping the godforsaken toy from her mouth.

I scooped it up and shoved it in the nightstand. Betty sat by the nightstand whining for a while.
“Go back to sleep Betty. Christmas isn’t for another few weeks.”