One morning I receive an email from my younger daughter. She has shared a Google document with me. It’s her Christmas list.
She wants a duvet, white sheets, an Elf on the Shelf, an ipod touch and “music for ipod touch (list in different document).” Under the heading Stocking Stuffers, she lists smaller items—nail polish, chocolate and socks—but “no t-shirts, undershirts, or underwear.”
Not so long ago we were mailing actual handwritten letters to Santa that went into the red pillar box at the corner. I didn’t actually didn’t mail the letters, or if I did, I mailed them to the grandparents. The first letters were dictated, then written in the child’s own hand, then they are written “just in case,” then a non-committal My Christmas List, now this.
She is so past believing it is safe to pretend.
Technology occupies a larger place in our American lives. Watch TV here and you are struck by the fact that most ads are either for technology and how it makes our lives better or they incorporate some aspect of social media, friend your local roofer on Facebook. Smart phones, iPads, dancing apps, game systems that operate without handheld remotes so that you can dance in front of your TV while pretending you are in a real place with people, books that read themselves fill the airwaves.
The other night the Grinch was on. In London, we had bought a DVD of The Charlie Brown Christmas Special and read them the Grinch so that the girls would know their own culture. Now it is on TV for free. And they have outgrown it, just about, but not quite. They think it might be English. “I don’t think American kids watch this,” my older daughter says.
It is imprinted in us, I think to myself, watching Max the Grinch’s dog’s whiskers being tweaked.
As Americans, do we all have a particular kind of cartoon memory? People my age, I imagine, unless it’s peculiar to me, would have a deeply embedded sense of Flintstone feet braking the car, and the robotics of the Jetsons’ house, and the way cartoon characters took the shape of the mallet with which they were thwacked. We know that pause of running in midair before the realization of having run off the edge of the cliff or out of the airplane. Kids now will be imprinted with the more sinuous, swooping, rubbery movement of Pixar characters ricocheting off a landscape of things like pinball bumpers, zipping through canyons on aeronautic jet-skis.
I fell asleep on the couch, asleep in a drift of Kroeger-brand Nyquilesque syrup (I sick) and cartoon memory (I old).
The Christmas season here takes on a familiar shape from last year. The traditional local illuminations run again. Here in America we have Cyber Monday, a holiday that is not a day off work but honors skiving off at work by online shopping from your desk. I tried to boycott Black Friday on principle but ended up at Target with the rest of them buying a technological gift.
Last weekend we went to Santa’s Village with friends. Technically, all the kids were too old for it but you do these things one last time, one last time. Santa’s Village is the Christmas season version of the olden days 1800s village. I was expecting to see tables laden with fake historical food, like the Geffrye Museum, which would dress up the rooms of each century to tell about how the holiday was celebrated, but instead the rooms are given over to presents wrapped in modern day wrappings and signs bearing the familiar logos of local businesses.
“Oh, look,” my husband says, “there’s our dentist.”
The girls’ dentist has sponsored the parlor where the children can write postcards to the North Pole. We have been fortunate to find a pediatric dentist who inspires confidence and trust in both parent and child. He has a sense of humor, too, but I am not sure what he would have made of the younger daughter’s postcard, which she wrote with him in mind. She ticks the box for naughty and requests the following: chicken, cow, saber, tooth sharpener, cotton swabs.
I think (hope!) she has confused tooth whitening with sharpening but I am not sure, maybe it is her slam on Twilight or goths. No mention here of socks, underwear or iTouches.
It is strange and sad like the penguin that follows us around, waving, with its pockmarked beak, smelling of gin and fish, we joke. It/he doesn’t, but penguins are just wrong. And the scale of the penguin is wrong. This is a tall, thin, forlorn penguin. Dude, you’re freaking us out.
“My mom went to talk to the reindeer,” our friend’s daughter says. The reindeer are quite small, but they are real, with large and complex antlers.
So here we are, caught between childhood and adolescence; liking toys, trains and technology. And we are at an awkward point in our expatriatism, too. Not here long enough to feel of it, but long gone.
I could not remember the name of a store on Oxford Street. I could remember where the two branches of it were and I could see the beige store front. I could you tell where the belts were, but I could not remember the name. Maddening. Just now I typed Oxford Street shops into Google and found this very useful website; shoppers, take note. It was Zara. How could I have forgotten that? In the middle aged brain perhaps the non-essential information gets pushed off the shelf. But luckily, there’s an app for that.