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Merry Christmas, 2001

By Lawrence Henry
web posted December 17, 2001

If you asked our son Bud what has happened since last Christmas, he could give you a monumental list: Second grade, the ability to read just about anything, a green belt in taekwondo, growing taller than four feet, getting his own computer, and Game Boy Advance. Bud is seven.

If you were to ask Joe, who is just two, and if Joe were able to answer you completely, he'd have lots to say. I can walk. I can talk. I have discovered marvelous physical coordination. I can feed myself with a spoon or a fork. I can hit a baseball with a bat, out of the air. (Bats lefty, throws righty.) I am determined to sit on a real chair. I can put on my own shoes (and take them off, and put them on, and take them off again). I can put on my big brother's shoes and clomp around in them, which I love. I can't understand why I can't take taekwondo lessons, too.

I'd be so good at it.

For the adult cohort, things seem to move more slowly. We mark changes more by our children than by ourselves. Daddy, after a year and a half as an at-home father, is really, really ready to go back to work. He has prepared a curriculum for a new jazz improvisation course at the local music school. (We'll see how many students sign up.) He's still desperately looking for a regular guitar player or piano player as musical partner so he can go out and dig up some gigs. (What he'd really like is to lead his own band again.) He has begun to get opinion essays published for pay in regular newspapers and magazines. One, "Taking a Child to Church," in the Boston Globe, got reprinted in several church newsletters around New England.

The post 9/11 downsizings in the corporate world ought to be good for Daddy, who freelances for financial services companies. Usually, the advertising, public relations, and corporate communications departments get cut first. That means more work for outside vendors.

Cody the dog, at age seven, has started a training program. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, they say, and Daddy is rapidly finding out that maybe that old saw applies more to him than to the dog. He's beginning to think he likes his old dog just the way he is.

Mommy has been growing into her job with Siemens Corporation, dealing with real-world intercultural communications issues and challenges, and trying to interpret the sometimes mysterious signs from abroad. (Boy, are those people in Germany going to be surprised when Mommy starts speaking fluent German.)

Mommy was in New York City, on Wall Street, standing outside the Stock Exchange, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. A scant 40 minutes earlier, she had arrived, via train from New Jersey, in the PATH station under the WTC. Normally, she would have gotten a cup of coffee and sat in the WTC plaza to drink it, but for some reason, she decided to walk past Trinity Church and uptown a little bit - a blessing that she did. She ended up spending the night in Manhattan, mainly because she was unwilling to risk being trapped in Penn Station by the unscheduled departures of trains.

Back in Westfield, Daddy managed to get in touch by e-mail. The phones were all down; we couldn't call outside our own area codes. Dial-up Internet connections worked. Throughout the day, at odd times, New Jersey Transit trains pulled into the Westfield station and discharged passengers who stumbled off the cars, their clothes awry, their hair wild. They stumped off toward their homes on numb legs, their eyes as blank as Little Orphan Annie.

Three weeks later, we had friends over to help celebrate Joe's second birthday. One couple, both employed at high levels in Wall Street, sat, still stunned, in our living room, and told stories of that terrible day.

More terrible than the stories themselves was the gradually dawning realization that these two, husband and wife, had not yet had time to tell the stories to each other. They had been too busy with their jobs and their companies. It was desperately sad, hearing these two nice people talk to each other through us and through our guests, and to realize all that they had needed, and all that they had missed. And something became clear to Mommy and Daddy, a result of a decision we had made a long time ago, and had sometimes been not quite sure of.

We had decided, in ways small and large, not to be as prosperous as we could be. Sometimes, in its various increments, this decision had made us cranky, but we had stuck with it. We had decided, bit by bit, not always realizing it, that it was better to be together. It was better to raise our own kids than to depend on daycare and nannies. It was better to put our boys on a path through modest, happy schools than to shove them into expensive, toney ones. It was better not have to travel a lot for a job, even if the traveling jobs tended to be the high-paying jobs.

So this Christmas we are together, because that's what we are most of the time. And for that, we are grateful, even as the years pass quickly for the boys and slowly for the adult cohort, marking our lives off through the lives of our children.

Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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