Blog – alexis rankin popik

Our family’s move from loosey goosey California to traditional New England twenty years ago opened up a whole new world of occasions for guilt and shame. That first December, everything looked like a print by Currier and Ives. Beautiful as it was, I couldn’t get a grasp on all the traditions. It seemed as if everyone decorated for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving, my favorite weekend for doing nothing. There were unconfirmed rumors that families wore matching PJs when they opened Christmas presents. One of my good friends had beautiful decorations handed down for generations, and she put them in the same place every year.

I, on the other hand, could barely remember what we had for decorations, much less where I placed them in years past.

The most memorable Christmas in those early years was when friends let Eric, their teenage son, come to our house for Christmas. Eric’s Jewish parents agreed that our house seemed like a good place to go because we celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. Our teenage sons rented a video to watch before dinner. We all settled down and the boys turned on The Ladies Man. It was clear from the beginning that this film was not going to be a cozy Christmas story. For starters, it had nothing to do with Christmas. But Tim Meadows and Will Ferrell were funny even though the humor was raunchy—really, really raunchy. While the three boys choked with laughter, I started worrying that Eric’s parents would think we were horrible people. We watched the whole thing.

That was long ago. Now we have our own traditions. I put up the tree and all the other decorations whenever and wherever I please. Our granddaughter chases the cats around the house and the kitties stay under the beds for a week. We eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and pop those ridiculous British Christmas Crackers. We celebrate on whatever day near December 25 th we can all be together. And we always watch The Ladies Man.

The videos are often on YouTube. There is a series on The Dodo called “Little But Fierce.” In just two weeks I have received from friends clips about a tiny armadillo who “likes to snuggle” and rolls around in a bathtub filled with water and the story of a “tiny pink blob” who “grew up into a hedgehog.” [Note: it was an hedgehog blob–what else would it grow up to be?]

If you watch enough of these videos you will discover that they all have a common story line. Because the animals are “rescued” there is an element of suspense: will they make it? And how do the human rescuers know what to do? In the case of the snuggly armadillo, there was a point at which its little heart failed and the rescuer did CPR on him for an hour and 45 minutes. And it worked! The baby hedgehog’s chances of survival were very slim but with constant feeding and a heating pad, he (she?) gained weight and, of course, became very snuggly. The rescued animals are often “tiny fighters” with “huge personalities.” I have a lot of admiration for a person who would take in a baby armadillo, but what on earth will she do with it when it’s full grown? It’s one thing to hire a cat sitter if you are going away; it’s an entirely different matter to find someone to babysit a 15-pound adult armadillo.

For several years I have been afraid of water and therefore seldom mustered the courage to snorkel, even while wearing a life vest. When our kids were little, I would sit on the sand of some vacation spot and wave at them as they flippered around, enjoying the beautiful coral reefs. I saved the drawing above, produced by my son Ben when he was five years old, because I loved the idea that he was afraid and understood that it took courage to dive into a pool for the first time. He overcame his fear and now is a regular scuba diver in Belize, where he lives.

We visited Ben and his wife, Jo, on their island last week and he suggested that if I could overcome my fear of deep water, scuba diving is much more pleasant than snorkeling. He swore he knew someone who could teach me in four feet of water and keep me calm on a deeper dive. I took the long, boring on-line course required by PADI (the Professional Association of Dive Instructors), managed to get through the four-feet-of-water part (thank you, Raul Cruz of White Sands Dive Shop) and went on to the open water tests.

Let’s just say that the beginning was a little rough. I was terrified and could hardly breathe, even though I was still on the boat. I will spare you most of the details, except you should know that in order to become a PADI-Certified Open Water Diver, you need to demonstrate—down there 40-50 feet below the surface—that you can fill your mask with water and then clear it out, take your air-supplying tube out of your mouth, fling it away from your body, then locate it with your right arm and get it back into your mouth. There were other terrifying maneuvers and with Raul’s calming instruction, I did them.

Do you ever have sudden evil thoughts—the kind that make you blink hard and shake your head to drive them away? I have had evil thoughts all my adult life and whenever I have mentioned one to friends, they deny ever having entertained such fantasies. Here’s an easy one: I asked a group of close women friends if they had ever had the urge to shove a pedicurist backwards off her stool and watch her lie there, astonished, with her legs kicking in the air. Their responses ranged from one choking on her coffee to another shaking her head in emphatic disapproval. I have had many pedicures over the years and have never even wiggled my toes in a threatening way, but I was surprised that my friends were shocked at the fantasy.

I started thinking about this after reading an article about Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl and several other books and screenplays. The piece caught my eye because it concerned Flynn’s writing about “the dark side of femininity.” You can read it here, though I warn you that there is a sentence that includes “uses…the evocation of post-recession malaise..to flow into incisive cultural critique, and even employs postmodernist flourishes like metafiction.” When I reached that whopper of a sentence, my mind wandered to my own “dark side.”

I cannot think of a single violent act I have ever committed except punching my brother in the nose when I was 12 (he was nine, so at that time I had the size advantage). I have fantasized about driving my car through a crowded intersection (hard blink, shake of the head) but I know I would never do such a thing. I used to hug the wall while carrying my infant son downstairs because I was afraid I would throw him over the bannister. Would I do that? Of course not. I believe it was a way to be particularly careful carrying a baby downstairs but when I mentioned to another new mother at the time, she was shocked. I hope, Dear Reader, that you aren’t shocked as well, but just in case, I’m keeping the rest of my “evil thoughts” to myself. But I’d love to hear about yours–and I promise not to publish them, even if they are shocking.