Dear Atticus, on temperance

Dear Atticus,

A few weeks ago, your dad asked me if I would rather that you be a television watcher or a video game player. Though I was both of those things growing up, I told him that, if I had to choose, I’d rather that you play video games. I remember the stories being fairly sophisticated back when I played video and computer games, and now they are ridiculously complicated and require a lot of thought and problem-solving skills. I am in favor of those things, and I appreciate the skill it takes to navigate a difficult storyline. The thing is, though, television can also be complex, with multiple intersecting and overlapping stories, important clues, visual and running gags that require you to pay attention and think. (I’m not talking about stuff that’s on the Disney Channel, obviously. We don’t have that channel anyway.) But television and video games are not, in my mind, inherently bad. Nor is the internet bad. Or sports, or reading, or music, or however you choose to spend your time.

The problem comes when we don’t manage those things in moderation. I know, it’s the height of irony to talk about moderation on the day after Thanksgiving. I didn’t stuff my face yesterday, though. Mostly because you don’t really allow it anymore. (I am keeping these jeans to wear again next year and get a do-over.) And we don’t start shopping today. We make our own modest turkey dinner (for the leftovers) and start decorating for Christmas.

Your dad and I are not great at being moderate. I spend too much time on the internet. He used to play too many video games. We have been known to overeat. I prefer to lose myself in a book rather than do housework. Worst of all is when we do those things to keep from thinking about the things that are troubling us: money, difficult relationships, issues at work. I don’t mind whatever it is that you like, as long as you understand the importance of balancing your passions and interests with the boring parts of life: memorizing times tables and raking leaves, unloading the dishwasher and practicing the piano. Those things are part of a full and rich life. Without them, we wouldn’t enjoy the fun stuff quite as much.

One area where we try very hard to be moderate is in our Christmas gift-giving traditions. We love Christmas. Your dad busted out Christmas music before 8:00 this morning, and we’re putting our tree up today. But we try to make December a time when we can prepare our hearts for Christmas as a family. I am going to tell you more about our Christmas traditions over the next few days, but I want you to know that since your birthday will be so close to Christmas, we are going to work very hard to make your birthday a special time where you are celebrated. The first thing your Uncle Joseph said when I told him your due date was, “Man, that sucks for the kid.” (I predict that you and Uncle Joseph are going to really like each other.) It’s true, it can be hard to have a birthday so close to Christmas. But I am, how do you say, big on birthdays. So we won’t let your birthday be overlooked.

We don’t let Christmas invade our house until today, but your dad did take time last weekend to make the Christmas lasagna. He goes all out, making the sauce (three whole pots) and everything. The only problem is that he feels compelled to make more lasagna than four people could possibly eat. Last year, he made seven. This year, he managed to make eight. (I told you that we aren’t great at moderation here.) We have already eaten one of them, and we’ll have another on Christmas Day. We are saving the rest for the spring, when we will need meals we can pull out of the freezer.

Christmas lasagna

Christmas lasagna

Christmas lasagna

Christmas lasagna

Over the past few months, your dad and I have talked a lot about our traditions and how to make them meaningful for you, how to include you in the things we are used to doing as a family of two. I hope you help him make the Christmas lasagna, that you put on one of my aprons and help me roll out sugar cookies. I hope that you enjoy eating tater tots and chili when we watch the Final Four. We can’t wait to take you to the pool on Memorial Day weekend, to eat turkey with you on Black Friday, to show you the Super Secret fireworks location for the 4th of July. We want you to know how special you are when we celebrate your Birthday Week. We have food and music and books we want to share with you at different times of the year. Most of the time, we watch what we eat, we turn off the TV, we sweep the kitchen floor. We do that so that when we overeat, when we have movie marathons, when we ignore the dishes in the sink, you will know that it’s something special. We want to teach you to enjoy life excessively, but we want to teach you about balance, too. We have no idea how to do that. We know we’re going to mess it up. But we hope that we mess it up in all the best, most celebratory ways.


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