The holiday season officially arrived in early November as the boys stood looking out the window in mid-narrative ramble and Tyler made a startling remark:

“Reindeer are better than people … and people smell better than reindeer.”

Long pause. Then Bryce took the words right out of my mouth:

“How do you know that?”

And we were off — like coursers we flew, rooftop to rooftop, in search of Christmas. The boys, for the second year are fascinated by reindeer, Rudolph in particular. That very shiny nose. They don’t understand why he wasn’t in the rotation when Clement Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nick.” They’re also not sure why he’s called St. Nick. You know why. I know why. But splaining that to two 5-year-olds can be a bit tricky. Santa Claus, that most improbable and fragile yet enduring of myths, is precarious enough as it is (How can he get around to that many chimneys in one night? How many seconds does that break down to per chimney? “Magic” can only explain so much. And by the way, why don’t you have a chimney, Papa Ken?). Yet we are willing co-conspirators, and it’s worth every pretzel-twisting rationale we can muster because you can see the magic in their eyes — and through their eyes I get see the world with magic still in it.

The following week, Dylan and I took them to see the 12:45 showing of The Grinch at the Lake Theatre. Front and center in the big theater, we had the place to ourselves, all 700-plus seats of it. One other middle-aged couple eventually settled in a few rows back. And that was it. So the boys could give full throat to their awe. The new version of the Grinch story is like the old animated one … on steroids. They can do a lot more with animation these days, and they took full advantage. The film even provides the backstory on the Grinch’s small-heartedness: growing up lonely in a sad-sack orphanage — not very original, but it made you sympathize.

The film was pretty dazzling even through my eyes, so it must have been breathtaking to the boys: The color, the characters, the colorful characters, the detail, the wildly diverse perspectives. The boys were, to say the least, visually stimulated. Even their big-screen TVs at home pale compared to this wall-sized image filled with cartoon splendor and surrounded by mega-speakers. Of course, they still had the presence of mind to decide, midway through, that they needed popcorn. They sat in our laps, knelt in their seats, and stood up because they were too excited to stay seated for long. The couple behind us seemed unfazed by their running commentary on the film in progress.

Afterward, we visited Grandma at Brookdale, where there is a piano on the 13th floor. Bryce climbed up on the bench and I reminded him to play gently as our musical friend had taught him. He settled on a few keys in the middle and kept fingering them, back and forth in different patterns, coaxing sounds that conveyed surprising feeling.

“This is a song about the Grinch in the place where kids don’t have parents,” he said, seemingly grasping musicality, emotional resonance, and empathy all at once. Let’s face it, kids are smarter than we think.

The week after Thanksgiving, we had our first full-fledged snowfall, which only intensified the ambiance — and the anticipation. The first week of December, we started opening the Advent calendar doors and crossing off the days with red and green markers on my wall calendar, heading for the holy grail, the big number 25.

We also bought a 5-foot Frasier fir from the YMCA, put it up and wrapped it in lights. We saved the ornaments for the following week — except for two they each just “had” to put on, beginning with the typewriter ornament they gave me last year because I have an old manual in my living room for them to peck on.

They’re crazy about tree-decorating, so the following week I put on the Christmas song station (93.9 FM) and we began excavating my closet. They can hook ornaments on a tree so fast, it makes your head spin, but somehow they got through without breaking a single bauble.

“Do you have any more ornaments, Papa Ken?” they kept asking, so we rummaged around in the closet for anything hang-able. If they had hooks, we would have hung all the plastic Easter eggs, too.

As it is, we found some used ribbons left over from last year’s gifts and draped those on the tree with great artistry. 

Afterward, we stood back and speculated on what Santa would think when he saw it. They were pretty sure he would nominate it for a prize, maybe the Rudolph the Reindeer Award.

“Now Dasher, now Dancer … and Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Santa is immortal, but we’re not quite sure about the reindeer.

We’ve taken the boys to see the Illuminations show at Morton Arboretum. Kristen took them to see Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry. We browsed Geppetto’s Toy Box in Oak Park and they had me take notes to add to their growing list. They’ve written letters to Santa and mailed them in the special box in front of the Scoville Square building.

For the boys, this is all about getting to the big day. It can’t get here soon enough. But not for me. I don’t ever want the day to arrive. I live for the lead-up.

Christmas is fun again.

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