Holiday Letter 2006

December 2006

Friends-

Holiday Greetings from Elmira, New York where even the cats sleep lightly since our three-year-old, at her birthday party, hugged her mother and uttered these unforgettable words: “I squeeze your neck mama. Like the lion squeezes the zebra’s neck.” And now you know why we don’t keep firearms in the house. Also, for those of you who were worried that we had modernized, fear not; our better-than-natural-green-spray-painted-genuine-pine wreath has entered its eighth year of service on our front door.

The past year has seen progress on many fronts. For example, the average daily population of our house dropped to 4.2 from 4.8 in each the two preceding years. Yes, over the preceding two years we were the mythical average family with 2.5 children (if you conveniently ignore that one of those children turned 28 this past year and that average family is collectively dysfunctional while our family is individually. . . different). None of that changes the math that the average population of this house won’t reach the ideal population of 2 for another fifteen years or until Ellen buys into the idea of boarding school for Kate (which becomes an easier sell almost daily).

Another quantifiable advance has been made here in the annual battle between The Hanson Family and The Hanson Family’s Trees. In the not-too-distant past this was a brutal battle easily extracting eighty hours of toil from Eric in weather conditions a computer programmer rarely encounters (we won’t mention Ellen’s involvement in this as she has no complaints about outdoor work in inclimate weather). However, we are not the first family to face these hardships and we quickly decided to learn from the work of others. It became clear, almost immediately, upon researching the history of man versus tree conflict that the technological advantage that man possesses cannot be over-estimated. Once we came to understand this, the tide of the once epic struggle slowly, undeniably and inexorably moved in favor of the side possessing chainsaw technology. Each year a new technological advantage has been added to our arsenal and 2006 was no different with the addition of a zero-turn-triple-bagger-fifty-inch-deck-turbo-vacuum-equipped-leaf-annihilator. What was once an 80 hour undertaking that included the risk of blisters and cold fingers has now become a 20 hour commune with nature. With the leaves vanquished our little empire will now turn its attention to crushing the stubborn resistance of the gnats in 2007.

Finally, we did cross one entry off of our to-do list. The sand and gravel piles in the driveway that we previously mentioned in our 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002 letters are now gone. Don’t ask where. Eric hated to see them go as this only reinforces Ellen’s behavior of asking Eric to finish things. In a review of other old news: Eric’s 10 day office remodeling project which was in month 6 in December 2000 is now in year 6. The rec room in basement project, at the top of the to-do list in 2001’s letter has not yet been started. Nothing remains from our 2003 letter simply because we accomplished nothing in 2002 and so 2003’s letter had no new failures to offer . . . just old failures re-failed. The shed to playhouse conversion started in 2004 is going slowly enough that the kids may be able to finish it themselves at some point.

We still have two children (after last year’s letter we feared it may be too obvious if down-sized right away) and just love to share the pain interesting moments they cause us with others.

Connor had a good year. He learned a lot. Early in the year, while taking down last year’s holiday decorations, Ellen explained to him the reason for Christmas: to celebrate Baby Jesus’ birthday. She should have seen the next question coming from an inquiring mind that hasn’t been told it’s not polite to ask how old someone is: “How old is Baby Jesus?” Uh-oh, we all know what a quick thinker Ellen is. “Um, he lives up in heaven.” Yeah, mom. In the concerned and excited tone that only one of our two children ever speaks in: “Baby Jesus passed away?!” Poor Baby Jesus. Shortly after that he learned where ham came from. “Poor piggies.” In March he turned five. He wanted a sign on the door for the party: “You can’t come in unless you are naked”. Subtle. Clothing optional birthday parties may someday be part of Connor’s life . . . but not this year. In June we went down to the Outer Banks with too many other people (Eric was tricked into the trip again). Everyone had just come back from the beach and it’s dinner time. Five children are eating at the picnic table, one child is eating under the picnic table as if all the world is right. Afterwards, Ellen: “Connor, why were you eating under the picnic table?” Connor: “Laurel wasn’t wearing any underwear. I had a good view.” Very subtle. (Note to self: send a different version to Laurel’s mom.) Hopefully Connor will figure-out that honesty is not always the best policy at some point. He learned about fishing one day at Ellen’s mother’s. Ed comes into the cabin with a string of fish. Connor: “Those fish don’t look well. Are they passed-away?” Well, yes, Connor. They have seen better days. “I didn’t want to hurt the fish. I wanted to keep one in a bowl as a pet.” Poor fishies. Kate (in the deadpan, matter-of-fact way that only one of our two children ever speaks in): “I want fish soup.” Connor had his first season of (flag) football. Another learning experience (“They are blocking kind of hard.”). He learned about gardening. Ellen has a method for killing slugs that trouble her flowers. Poor sluggies. Connor’s thinking on the matter: “We have enough flowers to share”. Actually, that’s the short version . . . the long version involved Ellen getting a long lecture on the ethical treatment of animals. And, finally, Connor embarked on the ultimate learning experience: kindergarten. Kindergarten isn’t easy. First, there’s the getting out of bed at 7 a.m. (“I love this bed and this bed loves me.”) and waking-up after that (“Even the trees look sleepy.”). He’s learned how to tie his shoes and, with a little help, make it out the door to the bus stop on time. We assume he also learns things at school. Very soon we expect he’ll learn about Santa Claus there.

Our house goes as Kate goes and 2006 was better than expected. Kate turned three in March and entered what we like to call her “Happy Period” about that time as well. That seems to be over now and even during the Happy Period Kate could not be mistaken for a normal child. While she can be as sweet as Connor in short bursts her “default disposition” would not-exactly be characterized as that of a “people person”. For example: “Why are you squeezing my body mother?” “It’s called a hug, Kate.” Her social skills already rival Eric’s and that had Eric eagerly anticipating Kate’s entrance to Happy House pre-school this year. Eric had visions of teachers spoiled by three years of Connor ending-up in therapy after two months of Kate. So far her schooling has been amazingly uneventful and perhaps it’s the case that she only wants to torture those closest to her. More likely, though, she’s just biding her time. I’m sure no other three year can make the phrase “I’m just waiting for the right opportunity” sound as ominous as Kate can. While raising Kate provides a unique set of challenges there are some (minor) advantages. For example, no movie-induced nightmares. When asked if she likes movies, Kate replied “Yes, especially very scary ones.” Oh, why do you like scary movies Kate? “They just make me feel good inside.” She remains a big fan of “The Wizard of Oz” though for a while she was very unhappy with Dorothy (for bumping-off the Wicked Witch of the East . . . she thinks the movie would have been much better with two naughty witches) leading to the “Don’t Blame Dorothy” campaign here. The whole house-thing was an accident after all. Sometimes Kate, an avid dancer and optimistic vocalist, will put on her own shows. She will dress-up as a princess-ballerina and demand the attention of all. Just this week she gave a show, beginning with the opening announcement: “Ladies and gentleman, prepare to meet your doom.” We mention this hoping that someone can reassure us that she heard the phrase elsewhere. Kate seems to have developed a strange appreciation of dead things, whether it’s a dead fish, a dead butterfly (she keeps a collection of dead bugs on her dresser) or parts of dead things the cats leave about. Could an exorcism cause that? When given a piece of putty at Ellen’s office Kate described her sculpture to one of Ellen’s co-workers who was probably trying to humor the sweet little girl by asking her what she was making. Kate’s answer: “It’s a frog. A dead frog.” When asking Eric to hold one of her dolls, “You can have this one daddy. It’s not a doll. It’s a real baby that passed-away.” Eric didn’t ask how she passed-away, but if it was the same doll Ellen reported Kate punching in the kitchen he has a pretty good idea. Ellen tried to intervene on the doll’s behalf but Kate had a firm theoretical grip on the situation: “It’s just a doll, mommy.” Odd that she realizes that then wants to nurture one lovingly for 30 minutes before putting it in the oven. Corporal punishment has its place (Kate disciplines her dolls), but capital punishment, apparently, also has its place. This is probably a sign of something. So, while 2006 was better than 2005, leading indicators are mixed. Eric and Ellen, however, remain cautiously optimistic.

If you read this far you deserve a cookie. Or a beer. You can have either, heck, you can have both. 2007 Gathering will be Saturday, October 6th. Mark your calendars. You are invited.

Wishing you a happy holiday season and an interesting year,

Eric, Ellen, Connor and Kate

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