My wife and I have a lot of stuff; we don't need any more stuff. So this year we're not buying a bunch of Christmas presents for each other. And the kids are grown now, so for the most part they'll get one big present each. And my siblings and I have never exchanged Christmas presents. So our stress when it comes to shopping is at a very low level.
Instead, this year, we're buying as much stuff as we can for the kids in pediatric mental health facilities. You know, the places where the athletes with TV cameras in tow rarely visit. We're also buying Christmas presents for a man and his little girl that my wife knows that barely has enough money to keep the lights on.
Every year, we've both always taken a day off from work and gone shopping at the Mall of America, mostly because we like to watch people, and it's usually a nice time with a relaxing lunch to boot. This year was no exception.
At every turn there was a good memory. One time we took my mother and father there. Dad was in a wheelchair and he'd wave his cane (jokingly) to clear people out of the way.
Today, we stopped to watch some kids in a band set up and play. I like kids in bands. Don't ask me why; I was never in one. But I do remember the first time I saw my son, Sean, play at one of those elementary school band nights. He played the trombone and, I guess, he played it well, even though I don't recall hearing him practice. But the particular night I went -- it might've been 5th grade or 6th grade -- it was the first time I saw my son as someone other than my son. It was the first time I recall seeing him master something I never mastered and realized this kid really was his own person.
The same is true for Patrick. He played the trumpet, although -- again -- I never heard him practice. Now, you have to understand elementary school bands. First, they have too many clarinets and, second, because they have drums... everything they do has to have drums in it. So if they did Beethoven's 5th... it always comes out as Beethoven's 5th march.
And you can also sort of hear the kids saying "1-2-3-4-" in their heads as they played. Patrick was different. He grooved on the trumpet thing. He'd swing his head back and forth, the way a trumpet player should. For all I know, he couldn't play a lick. But it doens't matter. Band is like golf. It's not important to be good; it's only important to look good.
That's what I was thinking about as I watched the kids get ready. And then they played the theme from the Nutcracker and Carolie remembered stuff too. One time she was decorating a tree at home and listening to the Nutcracker CD. Carolie being, well, Carolie, she started dancing as if she were a ballerina. Patrick, quite young at this age, was astonished. "How do you know all the steps?" he gasped.
"Dare me to start dancing," she said to me today when the kids started playing.
"Yeah," I said.
So she did. She walked up to the front of the atrium hall where a huge Christmas tree was and started the whole "ballerina" thing. I was laughing so hard I couldn't get my camera to work right (picture is a re-enactment). And because we were laughing so hard, we had to excuse ourselves from the concert and continue our shopping.