Holiday Letter 2009

December 2009

Friends-

Holiday Greetings from Elmira, New York where Eric once opened a fortune cookie that read “You are smarter than you think you are.”. Inconceivable, and yet, he was still not smart enough to replace the roof himself; or, better yet, have bought a condo. In Florida. There is a poster that some of you may have seen with a picture of a sinking ship and the caption: It Could Be that the Purpose of Your Life Is Only to Serve as a Warning to Others. This truly was a year of lessons learned.

The early draft of this letter touted the successful completion of the roof project, but this version demonstrates how much extra effort we are willing to go through to bring you the sugar-coated truth and nothing but. Our roofers have progressed about as slowly as possible without coming to a stop and, in so doing, have managed to stretch a six week job into fifteen months. While we are generally pleased with the work we are less pleased with other aspects of this adventure. Like the time-line. Even if you are concerned about quality paying by the hour may be sub-optimal. Since dragging out this story any longer would be painful, at least to us, and the roof fiasco pretty much put the rest of our home improvement plans on hold this year we have nothing left to say about the ongoing pains of home ownership except that the downstairs bathroom still doesn’t have a door.

During this past year Eric and Ellen have become reasonably adept at the 2009 phenomenon known as Facebook. Facile enough that much of what appears here is old news to some of you. For those that are unfamiliar with Facebook, it is a website that lets you share information. The quantity, and quality, of what you share is completely up to you. Let us say that we are amazed at what good sharers some of our friends are. Ellen checks in on her Facebook community every now and then to play catch-up . . . her favorite game. Eric checks in every day or three and sometimes shares what is on his mind. For example, those of you who checked in on or around March 15 saw John Eric Hanson is wondering how hard it would be to give up monogamy for Lent and those that stopped by on June 5 may have read John Eric Hanson is researching boarding schools for his children and counting down the days until he can send them there. Roughly 2269 to go. So, it came as a surprise to only a few that Ellen eventually asked Eric to stop bothering her relatives and remove them all from his little Facebook community.

We had noble objectives and big plans when Connor was on the assembly line. It became apparent early on that not all children are born knowing how to read and that home school, at least initially, would involve more than picking out a reading list. We decided that was a commitment we were not up to and that leaving our children in the care of the Elmira City School District for seven hours each weekday was not the worst choice we could make. Parenting, like home ownership, gets much easier when you decide to live with what you have instead of always trying to change something into what you think you would like it to be. (Oddly, marriage works the same way.) We actually figured this out a while ago, but the issue comes up every now and then, like when our kindergartner asks: “Why do they call them teachers? They don’t teach anything; they just tell you things you already know.”. Inertia, however, has now taken hold and our children seem destined to become at least the partial product of the local public school system. And, since we are going to live with what we have, we consider ourselves very fortunate to have so much variety packed into just two children.

Kate remains Kate, but has become a much more pleasant creature to be around . . . most of the time. Her primary playmates are sixth grade girls who hug and giggle a lot and whose mannerisms she has picked-up. These are strangely incongruous with her innate personality traits which lie somewhere between those of Steven Wright and Spock. Kate is the inquisitive sort, asking questions whenever she doesn’t know something, but as she learns more and more the questions become less frequent. Of course, if you want to interact with Kate you can ask her questions. She usually has an answer. Unfortunately, it is often an answer that makes you regret asking the question. For example, early this year Eric witnessed this exchange between Connor and Kate:

Connor : Kate, what’s the opposite of ‘smart’?
Kate: Not smart.
Connor : No, that’s not what I was thinking. Try again.
Kate: OK, then ‘disagreeable’.

The joke being: disagreeable = Connor = opposite of smart. Eric was there and he laughed, but not everyone will appreciate Kate’s sense of humor . . . and it’s not always that subtle. Kate’s sense of humor would be lower on our problems, but when you combine it with her complete disregard for the well-being of others. Imagine this exchange:

Kate (in her ominous monotone): Dad. Connor needs you.
Eric: Is it an emergency?
Kate: It is for Connor. Not for me.

Connor survived that one, but the local feeling is that he has been living on borrowed time for a while now. In 2005 our holiday letter included this passage: Connor, however, is consistently exhibiting one piece of behavior that indicates he may not be as bright as we once thought . . . he continues to tease his sister. Everyone else seems to recognize this as a bad idea for reasons other than it violating the inviolate rule “Don’t tease your sister”. The tables are going to turn here. Soon. And while Connor is a kind, gentle, considerate, polite, affectionate and caring person; Kate is not. The final version of our 2007 letter did not include the following story (Ellen actually edited it, and several other anecdotes, out of the letter because she thought they painted a scarier picture of Kate than some people, specifically neighbors with children, would be comfortable with) : Last summer, Kate and Connor are out of sight of Ellen and Eric, but we can hear Kate. “I’m tearing off the arms.” “I’m tearing off the head”. Ellen is curious. “Kate, what are you doing?” “I’m just looking at a pile of body parts mother.” Eric is amused. Ellen, not so much. “Whose body parts Kate?” “Jacob’s. He was mean to his little sister.” Subtle. Of course, Connor didn’t get the hint about treating little sisters well so he slept fine that night.

Someday we will hear the phrase “collateral damage” . . . only the context will be a surprise.

Kate has taken an interest in these letters, meaning next year you can expect to read about how wonderful she is. Perhaps we will focus on how smart she is (simple genetics, really, as she comes from a line of big-brained people – her uncle Brian has a hat size of 8 ¼) or her science experiments with small, furry creatures. Or, perhaps, her level of self confidence. Kate’s certainty in her conclusions, at least in comparison to Connor’s (who approaches every decision point as a multiple choice event with unlimited do-overs) is surprisingly strong; and as Kate moves confidently through life with an eerie certainty of her course (she has joined Eric’s father, who can’t stay on topic long enough for it to matter, as the only people that argue objective matters with Eric) our other child ricochets through each day like a roof project gone horribly awry.

Each year we mention that our house goes as Kate goes, but that is no longer true. Our house now goes as Connor goes. 2009 Connor was close enough to 2008 Connor that we can simply quote from last year’s letter: . . . Connor has shed his quiet and lovable demeanor at home and has spent the year unwittingly promoting Eric’s boarding school agenda. He, apparently, has decided to spend his time with his family auditioning either for the nickname “Spaz” or an ADD diagnosis.

The funniest home moment of the year came when Connor, after dripping gravy all over his shirt at dinner, uttered those far too appropriate words: “I’m a mess.”. With Connor nothing is obvious so in his mind we were laughing with him. He maintains a surprising level of inner confidence when faced with novel scenarios despite the fact the all of the history he has experienced should make new things terrifying. New things like a bike with a crossbar. Fortunately, the combination of obliviousness, confidence and enthusiasm leads to repetition and hundreds (and hundreds) of hours of repetition has worked in Connor’s favor in some areas of Connor’s life. And, by “some”, we mean “baseball”. It’s a start, and the skill set transfers well to kickball.

Connor is almost legend in our neighborhood for his inability to be sneaky. Even if you miss the trail of evidence (the spoon left in the freezer next to the ice cream container, the unwrapped, powdered jelly doughnut under the pillow) simply asking will usually do the trick. He doesn’t exactly have a poker face. His inability to either stop doing things that will get him in trouble or stop getting caught doing things that will get him in trouble would be worrying to us as parents if it wasn’t so often funny.

One new thing Connor did get to enjoy this year was the internet. You can find anything you want on the internet, especially if you what you want are pictures of naked people. Or movies of naked people. All you need to do is go to www.google.com and type in “nudies” as Connor explained while being grilled about the movie featuring naked people playing on his computer when Ellen walked in one day. Connor would not have been caught had he been a little more devious. Another child would have closed the door to his room and, perhaps, even turned down the volume on his computer. He might have even checked if his mother was just outside the door and waited a few seconds for her to wander away. Not our Connor; he was neither sneaky enough to get the full three minute show nor, apparently, experienced enough to appreciate exactly what he did get to see as this short excerpt will attest:

Ellen: What did you see?
Connor: Two people. I think they were married.

Santa Claus may live another year in our house.

Wishing you a happy holiday season and an interesting year,

Eric, Ellen, Connor and Kate

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