The Wheel of Christmas

Every year when Christmas decorations come out of their dusty bins and spread good tidings to all, I think about my old neighbor’s Christmas decorations. First, you have to know that this was a neighbor that had everything. They had fancy cars, endless parties, and they even had a pitching machine in their back yard. Christmas was their time to really shine. Blinding light displays, huge wreaths and, most of all the inflatable display to end all inflatable displays decked every inch of their lawn. 

I’m not much for the inflatable variety of yuletide flair. I think it’s the inevitable deflating part that gets me. By night Santa’s a jolly stalwart Christmas icon, by day he’s a sad pool of primary-colored post-puffed glory. As I wander past puddles of Santas, elves, and snowmen I can’t help but think one could come to the  conclusion that sunlight kills Christmas.


My neighbor’s inflatables were not susceptible to sunlight deflation. Just like the lights, they were never turned off. Taking a bold stance against tradition and flying reindeer transportation, the largest inflatable was a landing strip for Santa in a biplane. It was huge. It took up half the lawn and actual lights lined the nylon runway that rippled in the wind.

The one that I can’t get out of my head, though was the Ferris wheel, and it wasn’t just a mock carnival ride. No, this thing turned. As remarkable as that is, it’s not the part that’s burned in my memory. The Ferris wheel had three seats each occupied by a character associated with Christmas: Santa, a penguin with a Santa hat, and Baby Jesus. An eclectic mix for sure.

Baby Jesus really stuck with me. First, it’s hard to picture our Lord and Savior at an amusement park, let alone riding a Ferris Wheel. Any baby really, doesn’t belong on a Ferris Wheel, but that’s not the weirdest part. In order for everyone to know that this wasn’t just any kid enjoying Christmas, this was Jesus with a capital “J” the Ferris Wheel designer put the iconic Jesus beard on the baby.

I have so many questions. Was there a big discussion about leaving Christ out of Christmas and it was resolved by Baby Jesus on a Ferris Wheel? Did anyone balk at the idea of a swaddled babe riding alone without a proper restraint system? Was there a meeting where the beard was discussed?  Did the Chinese workers making this fine yard decoration wonder if American children are plagued by severe hormonal abnormalities? Mostly, I question my neighbor. A family that deprived themselves of nothing decided this mechanical wheel is what Christmas means?

The Learner’s Permit

My son has his learner’s permit.

He is driving my car.

I don’t know how this happened. I mean, I know how it happened. It’s like taking a pregnancy test and having it comes out positive. You know how it happened, but still, you don’t know how it happened.

I surrender my keys into his eager palm and attempt a state of calm as I relinquish control of both the steering wheel and the brake. It’s momentous. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying.

Your prospective changes a lot when you are the passenger of your teenager. You realize that your mild mannered minivan has been harboring a dark secret. It is not a secure family vehicle; it is a four wheeled death machine. In fact, you have been hoodwinked by all the other folks on the road. They are not fellow citizens of humanity. They are potential drunks, idiots, fools, and ne’er-do-wells.

It is at this point that you realize your child is not a child anymore but a bona fide young adult who navigates in the real world and as such is in need of the full complement of emotional responsibilities and reactions. I’m talking about the F-bomb. Driving is the X axis, the Y axis is permission for cursing, and obtaining a learner’s permit is the point where X and Y intersect.

Golly Gee, Fudge, and Darn don’t cut it when driving a three thousand pound missile that has the potential to do great bodily harm down the road. The proper use of cursing requires nuance, restraint, and situational application. It’s a lot like driving.




Driving is an unmistakable demarcation. No longer can I fool myself that he is my munchkin or that he’s just dabbling in the world of teen deeds.  When he is driving he is a certified Grade A teenager.  He even has the papers from the state to prove it.

I have to practice with him which means I surrender the keys and he operates the steering wheel and brakes.  When I place the keys into his eager palm I try to forget that last week when he packed his own suitcase he forgot pajamas, a toothbrush, and underwear.  We both must focus on the task at hand.

Driving is unlike any other childhood milestone. It is gravely serious.

Something’s Fishy

Whenever my sons visit a pet store, they make a bee line for the aquariums and declare their affection for fish. They expect me to believe without a hint of introspection that the non-electronic, unarmed guppy who has no potential for upgrades or new skins would hold their attention for more than five seconds. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other children under a similar spell, they gaze at the mindless path the shiny fish swims between fake vegetation and a plastic scuba diver who, judging by the amount and intensity of the bubbles he belches, is frozen in a moment of grave distress.

Then, they begin the case for fish as a low maintenance, inexpensive, and odorless addition to any household. But we have been down this road before. I remind them fish are none of those things.  They are a high maintenance wet box of stink that makes dollars disappear as fast as food pellets. And to add insult to injury, fish offer the same emotional relationship as a lava lamp.

Make no mistake, an aquarium is a delicate ecosystem. Ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, PH, temperature, salinity all these factors are essential for the survival of the little swimmer who arrives unceremoniously in a see through plastic bag that could do double duty as a lunch sack for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Before we know it, we will be dipping test strips in that water every day and running back to the store to buy $8.00 drops to remedy the situation for the .99 guppy.

And here’s another oddity, we eat fish.  Pets in general don’t make the menu- except fish.  So when a fish dies are we  throwing away good food or good money?

In fact, death is the bulk of the pet fish experience. Aquariums are in a perpetual cycle of death.  We have become painfully aware of the warning signs.  A troubled fish starts swimming vertically as if revving up to spring out of the tank in some aquatic harikari then loses its nerve at the last second and swims back to the bottom. Next, its body bends, it swims on its side, and starts to look like a self-propelled elbow macaroni.

Finally the poor creature gives up the ghost, but our work will not done. Someone must scoop out the remains or witness Swimmy’s friends cannibalize his dead corpse and then act like nothing has changed.

No, fish are not easy. Like all pets, they teach your children a lesson. Life is not easy. It takes care, devotion, and a lot of dedication to make it work right.