It doesn't feel like Christmas.
The weather has taken on a chill; the skies regularly alternate between impossibly cold blue and scudding grey clouds. Leaves, once the colors of fire, darken to dingy browns and blacks in disheveled piles of waste. Winter is here, and it doesn't feel like Christmas.
The routine goes on.
Wake, shower, dress in the scrubs that make up my new, non-military uniform. If time - or exhaustion - permits, the dog and I do a quick lap around our apartment complex. I drive to work, cursing unskilled drivers; I work, cursing clueless co-workers. I drive to pick up the kids, wondering what ways (new or time-proven classics) they've chosen to torment us with today, and it doesn't feel like Christmas.
At the house, a rush - walk the dog again, cook dinner, eat food, wash children, put them to bed; a staccato five-course routine liberally spiced with passive-aggressive whining and outright hostility. Then, an attempt to impose some sort of order on the rest of the house, and I collapse about the time she returns from work, and Christmas is the last thing I'm thinking of.
The routine, never-changing, of all the mundane things, the boring things that simply must be done to maintain a home of the complexity that my family desires. There's no room in it for Christmas.
Tuesday past, she informed me that we'd be going to the Zoo after I got off work. I worried a little about driving in the snowfall, but I resigned myself to it.
The Zoo has a "Festival of Lights" - prominently sponsored by a corporation, I cynically noted. Still, it would be Fun For The Children, another one of those parental ordeals like the purple dinosaur or pocket monster trading cards.
She insisted on listening to Christmas music both ways; I countered with Garrison Keillor telling softly inspiring melancholy tales. We compromised: carols on the way down, stories on the way back, so we bundled up and headed out.
I didn't like the Christmas music. It grated and wore on me, reminding me of the horrible Christmas season I worked at Taco Bell. That year, they had an hour-long loop of Christmas music played continually, with a spectacularly cheerful - and spectacularly annoying - version of Felis Navidad. Every hour, every day we heard that song, until it was caged in our heads, a wild - but spectacularly cheerful - beast, appearing at its own whim, no matter now much you begged it to just go away.
Worries preyed on me; little naggling things of no individual importance flocking in a huge swarm of "Will the dishes get done?", "Do the kids have clean clothes?", "When will I have time to pay the bills?" and "Do we have enough money to pay the bills?" until I was surrounded by their crying voices. And still, it didn't feel like Christmas.
Then we arrived.
We'd been to the Zoo only two days before - a clear, cold Sunday. It was nice - a refreshing change from the summer crowds that make us both nervous, no danger of overheating. The decorations for the Festival of Lights were already up, seeming dingy in the cold Sunday afternoon light.
The snow still fell, majestically; a quieting down pillow broken high in midair drifting to Earth. Lights shone elegantly from every tree, ripe luminous winter fruit more suited to seeing than eating. Winter statues - gigantic rhinos as toy soldiers from the Nutcracker - at once inspiring a childlike wonder and fully adult awe. The electric train ride assumed the wonder of a stately steam locomotive working its way through the Alps; even the singing animatronic trees were charmingly amusing in their own high camp style.
The stirring whizzing burr in my mind - the routine ever-rolling, crushing in its daily monotonous hum had stopped. In sudden awe and wonder, in distraction become meditation it was silent, and for a little while memories of clothes unwashed, dishes undone, rooms unswept and chores unfinished passed through, for once unremarked upon.
On the ride home, as we listened to "A Prairie Home Companion", I was surprised to catch myself humming "Silver Bells" to myself.
Smiling, I continued to hum, and the song sat, and the song stayed, not like a wild animal at all.
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