Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Santa Talk (Jewish Edition)

It's that jolly time of year! Maybe because Chanukah is already long over, this Christmas season has arrived in seemingly brighter shades of red and green than usual.

Or maybe it's just that my two-year-old is experiencing her first conscious Christmas. And she's blown away. For a week or two, we couldn't walk through the lobby of our building without Louisa stopping to admire the electric menorah. Then, one day, the TREE arrived. No matter that the tree itself is made of green plastic confetti (such a bummer--what's the point without the lovely smell?); it is towering, it is covered in shiny colored balls and lights, it has wrapped presents and a little baby Jesus snuggled underneath its embracing fronds. All in all, completely amazing to two-and-a-half-year-old eyes. It's difficult to pull her away.

When we finally step foot out of our building, within three blocks we encounter one of several Christmas tree vendors, camped out on the sidewalk 'til the big day, with their dozens of trees, bright lights, and blow-up Santas.

Let me back up. This child already has an abiding love for symbols of the dominant faith. She loves church bells. She knows which churches in our neighborhood have the ringing capability, and squeals on the occasions that the bells happen to sound when we are in hearing distance. "I hear the church bells!" she yells, which garners delighted smiles from passers-by, who probably imagine her as a future choirgirl.

Anyway, about the blow-up Santas. There's a giant one above the tree stand on the west side Broadway, and I've found myself distracting Louisa so she doesn't notice it. She'd have to look up to see it, so it's not that hard. All I have to do is strike up a conversation about what she did in school that day, or what we'll have for dinner, or whether we'll hear the church bells on the way home.

I just don't want to have the Santa talk with her just yet. You know, the Jewish version. The one where you tell your kids that different people believe different things and we have lots of nice beliefs but we don't believe in Santa. (And shhh, don't say anything to your friends about what I just told you about Santa. Bella made this mistake once and it still haunts her.)

Here's where I admit that I've been avoiding putting on one of the four episodes in the current TWC on-demand Dora rotation: "A Present For Santa".  Yes, that's right. I'm the Christmas censor. I figure Louisa can learn about Christmas on a need-to-know basis. This year: beautiful trees, lights, and empty fake presents that I constantly have to tell her to put back and stop shaking. Next year: red-cloaked bearded man brings presents to our neighbors, but not you.

(But, don't worry, we have Chanukah!!)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On the Loss of Things, and True Need

We've had a bad run of luck with things, lately.

Already, on this blog, I recounted the destruction last year of a laptop. (Dropped to the ground by adorable Loulou. So cute!) Then, last month, Ruby left her backpack on a city bus. Thankfully, we got that back, it's belongings all in place (including her brand new Kindle, which she had received for her birthday). Those 100th Street bus depot guys rock.

Earlier this fall, Josh bought a new bike for commuting to work, a fixie with orange wheels that he quite fancied, and within weeks it was snatched, from outside the Y where he was picking up Bella. Gone.

Then, on the first day of our recent family trip to Costa Rica, two of our backpacks were stolen. One of the backpacks held pull-ups, a portable potty, and a few changes of toddler clothes (the backpack itself was the one Ruby left on the crosstown bus--fated to leave us?), and the other held quite a few of the family's electronic gadgets, including the replacement laptop for the one that broke last year.

This last loss felt painful. I had been planning to do some writing while we were away--I had a freelance gig due on our return--and my means for doing so were gone. Our books and the e-readers they were stored on--gone. Our kids' entertainment for the return trip--also gone. Our camera to document the trip--ditto. Things that we had cared for, and cared about, and 'needed' were taken blithely, and there was nary a thing we could do about it. Enough things that we do not have the budget to replace them all, and will probably only replace a few.

In the day or two after, I felt waves of anger (It was just so unfair!) and sadness (But I'll never see these things again?) and guilt (We shouldn't have brought all that stuff with us. We should have been more careful.).  But more often I felt resignation and peace. I found myself saying, out loud: "Our kids are fine. We are fine. That's what matters."

Maybe we have to experience this kind of loss to appreciate what we have. I say that having spent some time in the past two days reading about the details of Dasani's life in poverty. The New York Times' profile of a homeless 11-year-old girl and her family living with so little, is wrenching in its details of what it means to be in need.

As I mentioned in a previous post, before Thanksgiving, we attended the kick-off for the West Side Campaign Against Hunger's Thousand Turkey Challenge, an annual fundraising (and turkey-raising) event to provide holiday food for the tables of poor New Yorkers. Bella and Ruby attended a discussion group for kids, in which they learned about the hunger and poverty cycles. There were a lot of kids in the room, which was refreshing to see. These kids need to know what it's like for the kids who weren't there on the fundraising night--the ones who come with their families during open hours for the food pantry, and "shop" for the food that sustains them. Food that is necessary, in a way that an e-reader or a camera will never be.

The turkey challenge was a fantastic success, which is good news for WSCAH and the families they serve. But the fact that the need is greater than ever, and that New York City's poor keeps growing, as the cost of living in this city rises and rises, is downright depressing.

Dasani imagines a video game called "Live or Die" in which winning means getting a house, and losing means returning to the shelter, "'which is death'". There are levels of need; Dasani's most basic needs--those of shelter and food--are barely being met.

If you want to talk about unfair, talk to her.