The list of potential “ring the alarm” Christmas party songs is pretty short. That’s a song that, when it comes on in the morning, we stop eating, combing, hiding, whatevering, and…begin dancing. (Last year that song was “All I Want for Christmas,” Mariah Carey or Glee Cast version; the year before, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee.)
This year’s song, no contest: Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” triggers a run to the hardwood for some twisting. This might be the last year that the twins get the full dance party treatment — it’s getting tough to pick them up and twist at the same time. At first, they didn’t understand a single word of the song, because…who cares, we’re dancing! Then, I told them the title…
…a morning or two later, Cory stumbles out of her bedroom a tad too early and instead of coming over to sit on Daddy’s lap, per usual, she beckons Daddy over to her.
C: Morning, Daddy.
D: Morning, Cory Bee. It’s cold, huh?
C (smiling and lying down next to the half-decorated tree): Let’s lie “underneath the tree,” Daddy.
Daddy smiles and complies. Kohl joins us. And eventually Fisher. All-too-fleeting slice of heaven.
C (returning to kitchen after powdering her nose): Daddy, Quincy is so smart.
D: I know, right? But, why do you say that?
C: After I go potty, she waits until I flush the toilet before she starts drinking the water out of it.
D (long pause, Cory smiling but serious): Smart girl.
“Don’t wait, little child…on an empty stage, for fate to turn the light on. Because your life, little child…is an empty page, that they will want to write on. (To write on….)”
Boredom is the real reason to rewrite the words within Daddy’s limited repertoire of makeshift lullabies. After a hundred times through with the real words, once Daddy starts, Fisher (usually Fisher) will take over and sing the song double-time, instead of three-quarter time, in outside voice, instead of bedtime whisper…to be funny, to keep the energy from slowing down, and to avoid falling asleep. But, change the words a little bit (even nonsensically), they decide to listen again, and their eyes are lulled shut once more.
“You are five years, going on six years
Babies, it’s time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
Babies, you’re on the brink
You are five years, going on six years
People will fall in line
Eager young lads, harlots, and cads
Will offer you weed and wine
Totally unprepared are you
To face a world of them
Timid and shy and unaware are you
Of things beyond your ken
You need someone, older and wiser, telling you what to do
We are forty-five, going on forty-six, we’ll take care of you
We are five years, going on six years
Okay, so, yes, we’re naïve
People we meet may tell us we’re sweet
And willingly we believe
We are five years, going on six years
Innocent as a rose
Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies
What do we know of those?
Partially unprepared are we
To face a world of them
Excited, not shy, and not scared are we
Of things beyond our ken
We — occasionally, sometimes, every once in a while, from time to time, now and then, not too often, as in, not every day — want someone, older and wiser, just advising us what to do
You are forty-five, going on forty-six, we’ll depend on you”
D: Okay, guys, it’s time to put up the big Christmas tree!
F/C: Yay! Can we help you, Daddy? I want to help you, Daddy!
But, who can stay interested in the pieces of a fourteen-foot tree that has to be assembled when there’s…the equipment?
Daddy asks the twins to help separate the branches by color code and bring them over for placement on the “trunk.” They sort three branches, using the dolly to wheel them over one at a time, because each weighs about a pound, so dolly, of course, dolly. They then start dollying each other in circles around the emerging tree only to graduate to dollying themselves down the driveway into occasional, oncoming traffic. Daddy stows the dolly.
Daddy asks them to spread out the bottom branches, filling in the gaps in the artificial tree to make it look fuller. They spread a couple of branches apiece before they notice the empty boxes in which the tree had been stored. First, they roll around the front yard inside the bigger one until its sides give out, at which point they make a boat out of the second one. “Daddy, we live on this boat and,…” pointing to the bigger one flattened underneath them, “…that is the water!” Great. The tree won’t be going back in those boxes.
Daddy asks them to collect the pinecones that have fallen from the tree during assembly for reattachment. Neither looks up, much less disembarks from their boat, but Cory announces that they do need food on their voyage, destination forgotten at this point, and heads inside to grab a big bag of holiday pistachios. She climbs back in, and the two of them babble as they throw empty pistachio shells around the front yard, while a tree goes up next to them.
Daddy stops asking them to make themselves useful. They start yelling to anyone passing by, “Peanuts for sale! Who wants peanuts! We have peanuts! Who wants peanuts?” with lots of belly laughing, which was useful enough in its own way.
Fisher comes over to the sink at breakfast, arms up for a hug.
D (complying): Fisher, you are getting so big! Pretty soon, I won’t be able to pick you up at all. You are growing up so fast. That’s because you tear through an egg, boy! Packing on the muscle.
F (smiling after being seated back at the table): Daddy, when er, eh, uh, will I be as big as you?
D: Oh, I don’t know, Fisher. Probably in ten, fifteen years, you will be the biggest you are going to be. I don’t know whether you will be as tall as Daddy. (Rethinking.) Actually, maybe you’ll be taller, who knows.
F: No, Daddy, when will I have the same years as you?
D: You mean, when will you be 45?
D: You will be 45 in 40 years.
C: 40 years? That’s a long day away.
F: And then we will both be 45, right, Daddy?
D (looking over): Well, no, Fisher. That isn’t how it works. As you get older, so will Daddy.
F: But, when will we be the same?
D: Well, we will never be the same age, Fisher. When Daddy turns 46, you will turn 6. When Daddy turns 47, you will turn 7. We will always be forty years apart.
C: We won’t ever be the same age?
D: No, we won’t.
F: Why not?
D: Because that is how time works.
C: Because you were born first, Daddy?
D: That’s right.
C: When we are 45, will you be an angel, Daddy?
D: I don’t know, Cory. I will either be 85 or I will be an angel.
F: I don’t like that choice, Daddy.
D (smiling): Well, there are no other choices. It will be one or the other.
C (counting): 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80. That’s a lot.
D: It sure is.
F: Daddy, I don’t want you to ever be an angel. Ever.
D (looking at him, thinking long and hard): Fisher, I don’t know if I will ever want to be an angel either, but I do know that I don’t want to be one right now. (Pause.) Now, listen, guys, who has time to contemplate time when it’s clearly time to finish off some eggs…
D: …and think about all the flavors of yogurt to choose from because you know, I’m not just gonna choose your yogurt for you, no, no. You are five now, and you know what kind of yogurt you need, whether boysenberry, vanilla, a dumpy kind, add pomegranate seeds, just plain. We’ve got so many other things to work through today; we can leave aside how incredibly implacable and inexorable time is for another day. But for right now, well, we have yogurt, so…
Thankful, on many days, including this one, not to be an angel just yet.