I just reread this blog entry from last Christmas Eve – http://vesnavuynovich.blogspot.com/2007/12/adorable-christmas-anecdotes.html – and was struck by the magnitude of difference in Ulysses today: his comprehension, the abstraction of his thoughts, his articulation of them. Last year he was in the moment in such a way – there was no use describing to him a distant future.
This year he's been anticipating Santa's visit for weeks, announcing regularly that tonight was the night. We pointed to the day on the calendar as it approached, showing him, "We're here, this is today. Santa's coming on this day." It was hard to see his scope of comprehension, but probably a safe guess that it wasn't total. I should have told him it was a map of time, because he understands maps. (Thanks, Dora.)
On the morning of Christmas Eve, we told him that this was the big day -- that Santa was in fact coming tonight, that we had a lot to do to get ready. He was elated. We drove out to storage to pick up the tree and decorations, then to the supermarket for figgy pudding ingredients. Would you believe Copps, giant as it is, doesn't carry suet, while our neighborhood market does? It's in the same chaotically, gloriously mixed case of ethnic speciality animal parts as the chitterlings, necks, feet and other tidbits for the adventerous. Or the traditional. Depending on your point of view.
I set White Christmas to play on the DVD. Don got out the battery-powered Christmas train while I prepped the tree area. We stood the 5-foot square cedar play table (built by Don in 2006) on its side against the bookshelf to clear the living room corner. The toy bins that live under the table went into Ulysses' room. I remembered the white vinyl that been discarded at my workplace that I'd brought home for another project, and Don brought it in. We cut parts of it and made a tree skirt about 8-foot square, large enough for the train to run on its extended length track for the first time. We discovered that the other side had been printed on -- it was the color of winter sky, with a field of irregularly placed soft white dots. Snowfall! How fortuitous was that? Or maybe the dots were the printing error that caused the banner to be jettisoned. Either way, it worked for us. We draped the play table with the blue side out, a much better backdrop for the tree than bare wood.
Throughout, Ulysses played on, under and within the enormous length and width of vinyl. As soon as the snow pattern was revealed, he jumped on it with his bare feet. "Cold! It's so cold! Ouch, ouch!" he shouted, gleefully jumping from foot to foot. "Brrr, snow," he said. Next he made an "igloo" of the cavernous mounds, pulling me under with him, insisting that I also complain of the cold. It was hot under that vinyl.
There was a bit of a snag when we eventually cut up his ice fields and igloos for tree skirting and background draping, and then folding up the rest to put away. "My igloo!" he said, horrified. "You broke it!" Then I pulled out the box containing the Christmas tree. I showed him the label, with a photograph of the contents.
"Mama!" he said, excited, "We have to make the Christmas tree beautiful."
Ulysses enthusiastically pitched in to help string the lights, hang the delicate glass ornaments and unpack and set out the trees and buildings and people of the miniature village. Consider this word, "help," with circumspection. For instance, he tended to hang the ornaments not on the branches, but the needles thereon. Matching ornaments, he believed, should properly all hang on the same branch tip.
I moved into high parenting gear to prevent electrocutions, injury and excessive breakage. Don split for the far end of the house and shut the door.
An hour later, the tree was done and only one ornament, a green glass ball, had paid the price. Ulysses had been batting it around on its branch, not heeding my warnings: "Ulysses! Be gentle with that. It's fragile. This breaks very easily. It can cut you."
"No, this is not fragile," he insisted. He gripped at it, and it collapsed into shards between his fingers. A moment of shock, then howling tears. "I cut my hand! The orn'ment broke! My green orn'ment!"
His hand was not cut. Whew.
After a few moments, he was ready to be consoled with a different, identical green ornament that he hung on the same branch. He moved on, but not before he batted at it – gently – to, fro and to again, announcing, "Be careful. This breaks very easily!"
Then there were the fancy glass ornaments,the kind with the deeply indented, faceted centers. Ulysess saw one and declared it broken.
"It's not broken," I said. "It's fine. This is the design. It looks this way on purpose."
"It is broken," he insisted.
"Look, there's nothing wrong with it," I said, angling it so we could see directly into the indented pattern.
It was broken. During storage, the wire for hanging had punched through the thin wall of indented glass from within.
After I'd thrown out the broken pieces, I brought out another ornament of the same type.
"No," said Ulysses. "It's broken."
This one was not broken. But he was having no truck with any of the tray of center-dented ornaments that seemed to splinter dramatically in upon themselves. "These are broken," he insisted.
I replaced their lid and put them back in the ornament box for the season.
Ulysses regarded the half-dressed tree. "That's not beautiful," he said, and looked on the verge of tears.
"We're not done yet."
"But it's not beautiful, Mama!" He whimpered.
"Then let's keep trying. Look at this one!"
"It's a egg!" he said.
"Yes! This is a goose egg from our friend Cindy and our friend Troy. They brought it to us from ..." I couldn't remember the country they'd visited. "... Eastern Europe!"
"A egg, a egg! Two eggs!" Happy again, he set to work trying to hang the elaborately painted goose eggs on the same needle of a single branch, and didn't mind when I helped him pick out two different branches instead. Peace had been restored.
Later: "Mama! The Christmas tree is beautiful! We made it beautiful! Together!"