Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Nostalgic Gift

Christmastime always reminds me of my students. During my first year teaching, I got terribly, awfully sick the second week in December. When I returned after two days out, I still had no voice and I couldn't stand for long periods of time. I used a hand-held stop sign with the word "QUIET" on it instead of yelling. And luckily, the kids were fairly lovely. When you teach students who run through a few teachers before you get to them, they expect that you will leave them, yet again, at the first sign of trouble. So they do what seems counterintuitive. They push you to the brink of all the strength you have until you will, in fact, leave them yet again. But I was committed. I pushed back. I pushed until I had to crawl myself to the doctor with a 103 degree fever.

Every time I even went to the door of the classroom, my students were convinced I would walk out the door and never return. So when I was out sick for TWO WHOLE DAYS, they figured that was the last of me. This explains how when I returned to the classroom, they were so shocked that they managed to hold it together for the few days before Christmas break. When I say, "hold it together," I don't mean "sitting still and listening to every word I say." I mean, "they didn't break anything or anyone." Which was important because I was in no condition to discipline. During this stretch of having to teach while feeling like a giant open sore, I would occasionally hold my head at the front of the class, hamming up my pain in a last-ditch effort to gain control over the backdrop of lots of yelling and throwing things. At this point, Anthony, who was as tall as my leg, who was as skinny as a yard stick, and who one time offered to be my bodyguard, came over to me, patted my arm and said the greatest pick-me-up anyone has ever offered.

"Don't worry, Ms. Stone. It's ABC Family's '12 Days of Christmas' now."

I don't think Anthony quite knew that I, indeed, had been clinging to ABC Family's annual glut of Christmas-themed movies as a refuge for the past few days. Or that what I was worried about was more along the lines of how little I was doing to aid in the future success of his classmates and not the immediate present of making it through December. Or that I even had cable. But Anthony somehow picked up on "Happy" as the general theme of Christmas movies, and that I, at this moment, was for certain, "Not Happy."

Whenever I see ABC Family now, I think of Anthony. The tradition of watching the "12 Days of Christmas" was such an innocent high point for him in a year of very low points. And so watching it now makes me feel like I did in that one moment, with his sweet words ringing in my fevered head.

We all have favorite holiday movies. Movies that make us feel like we are children again. Or like everything is right with the world for a couple of hours. Or like anything can be fixed with a little more love. My mom's favorite of these is "It's a Wonderful Life." NBC used to show it every year on Christmas Eve, and we would watch it every year. And my entire family would be in tears at the end, every year. But commercials get old after a while, and sometimes we would miss the beginning because we were all wrapping last-minute presents. So for Christmas about ten years ago, I bought my mom her own VHS copy of "It's a Wonderful Life." I adorned the present with a little glass angel ornament. My mom cried.

Last year we did not watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time in many years. We watched "A Muppets Christmas Carol" instead. Mostly this was because my parents had had a terrible year and the crying would have been greatly increased if we watched more tragedy unfold onscreen. And partly it was because I lobbied for Muppets.

So this year, I decided it was time to upgrade my mom to a DVD of her favorite Christmas movie. I planned this as a stocking stuffer, just a small present to replace the VHS that will most likely be obsolete in a short time anyway. I went to Target and couldn't find it. I went to Borders. No dice. So I went to Best Buy and asked for help. The extremely nice girl who helped me, but also didn't know the movie at all, found it for me. It was the only copy in the store. And it was packaged in a giant box in honor of the 60th anniversary of the movie. Even though it came out 63 years ago.

Anyway, this box includes the original black and white version, the colorized version, all the extras and behind the scenes, AND a little bell. Which means that in transporting this movie to my parents' house, I ensured the winging of millions of angels. But this box also meant that my dad had to wedge it in the top of my mom's stocking because it is clearly too big to be a normal stuffer.

We didn't actually end up watching it this year either, in favor of "Elf" for Christmas Eve, and playing Scrabble on Christmas. And partly this was because their terrible year extended and bled into my terrible year. Next year, I think we will be recovered enough to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" without dissolving into a heap of sadness. If 2010 ends up as bad as 2008 and 2009 though, there's always ABC Family.

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