In the Spirit

David knew as he opened his eyes that it was not going to be a quiet morning. He hadn't been expecting a quiet morning, of course -- mornings were almost never quiet in their house anymore -- but, well... it would have been a nice I-Don't-Celebrate-Christmas-Leave-Me-Alone present. As the pitter patter (or rather the THUD THUD THUD) of little feet came closer (really, how was it possibly for one child to make that much noise?), David groaned and rolled over.

A second later the thumping stopped, and was followed by the quiet creak of the bedroom door opening. The door creaked open for about ten seconds and then stopped again. For a moment, the air was filled with tangible silence. And then...

"Daddy! Papa! DADDY, PAPA! Wake up, wake up, wake up! It's Christmas! Daddy, wake up!" Another blissful pause. "Papa? Papa, Papa, Papa!"

"The predator focuses in on it's target," David thought vaguely.

"Papa?" The little voice had relocated itself to a place entirely too close to his ear.

"Murr," David said.

"PAPA!" cried the little voice, having affirmed that its prey was awake, and readying its talons for the strike. A few seconds later, David felt his midsection rapidly transformed into a landing pad for a six-year-old bundle of warm energy and fire truck footie pajamas.

"Oof."

"Papa..." the little voice whined.

"I'm not going to open my eyes, I'm not going to open my eyes, if I don't open my eyes maybe I can go back to sleep."

"Christopher," David said in his best annoyed voice, "what time is it?"

"I don't know," said the little voice plaintively.

David cracked open one eye. "Yes, you do." He sighed. "Look at the clock. No, over there, the clock is right there. Good. Now, where's the big hand?"

"Umm."

"The big hand, Christopher."

"Three?"

"...oh dear God, please tell me the big hand isn't actually at three." David opened his other eye, and looked at his alarm clock. No, indeed, the 'big hand' was pointing at seven. "That's the little hand. The little hand is pointing at three. Where's the big hand?"

David could hear his son whispering numbers to himself.

"Seven!" Christopher said a moment later, bursting with pride. "It's seven and three!"

David sighed, and turned to look at Jack, who was trying his hardest to still be asleep. "Jack, you're not fooling anyone." He looked back at Christopher. "Are you hungry, Christopher?"

"Yes!" Christopher replied, excited to be asked a question to which he definitively knew the answer.

"Good, because I think Daddy's going to make pancakes this morning. Aren't you, dear?"

Jack said something into his pillow that was probably rather rude, and lifted his head, shooting David a death glare. Then he turned to Christopher with a bright smile. "I sure am!" he said.

"You are? You are?" Christopher bounced himself up and down a few times on David's back.

"Yes, Daddy's going to make pancakes," David interjected breathlessly, "but you have to be a good boy now, and let us get up."

"Then can we open presents?"

"Yes, then we can open presents," David confirmed.

"In fact," Jack said as he sat up and cracked his neck, "why don't you go count the presents one more time, just to make sure they're all there?"

"Okay!"

"Jack," David whispered harshly as Christopher bounded into the living room, "don't encourage him! You are promoting the consumerist spirit of materialism and greed in our child!"

"Oh, come on. If we were celebrating Hannukah this year, he'd be getting presents every night for eight nights. You're telling me that's not greedy?"

David rolled his eyes at Jack significantly. "That's symbolic."

"So is Santa Claus." Jack went to the closet and pulled out a sweatshirt, slipping it on over his bare chest.

David was momentarily distracted, until he remembered that he and Jack were having an argument, and that he could look at the lovely way cloth draped over Jack's toned muscles later. "Oh, yeah? Symbolic of what?"

"Um. The holidays," Jack said, tossing David a bathrobe. "And the holidays are symbolic of being with family, and love, and celebrating joy and..."

"And the birth of Christ?"

"Oh, yeah, that too. And presents are traditional. And I know for a fact that there have been three or four new packages added to the pile since last night. Or maybe five."

"Maybe five?" David repeated. "And we wonder why Christopher has trouble counting."

Jack slung an arm around David's shoulder. "That's why counting presents is a good thing for him. It's not greed, it's practice. You want him to practice, don't you? He's got to be good at counting, because it's the basis for all other forms of math, including calculus. And God knows that if he doesn't count presents today, he'll end up like me, and I can't do math for shit. Children are the future, you know, Dave."

David blinked as his partner kissed him on the cheek and strolled into the kitchen. Jack's arguments never made logical sense, and David was very aware of that, but even after ten years together, David still found himself occasionally rendered speechless.

*

After pancakes, the family settled in by the tree to open presents. Christopher, though slightly more subdued, was wiggling in uncontrollable glee, and Jack was not much better. David curled up on the couch, his third cup of coffee in hand, and tried to keep track of who had given what as Christopher eagerly ripped the paper off of the various packages scattered around the living room.

David's parents had found a toy fire truck, complete with little movable firefighter action figures and a working siren (David could imagine writing the thank you note for that -- "Mom, Dad, I can't hear myself think, but Christopher loves the truck. I'll make sure he brings it with him when we come for a visit on Friday. Happy Hannukah!").

Tony and Sean had sent an age-appropriate Operation Ivy CD for Christopher, along with a present for Jack and David with a card that read "Don't open this in front of the kid unless you're prepared to answer some uncomfortable questions."

Christopher got two books from Nick and Ryan. One was called What Happens Inside a Fire Station? and the other was Elmer and the Dragon.

"Look, Christopher, your first chapter book! Isn't that exciting?" David perked up for the first time, and paged eagerly through one of them, already spotting which words would be difficult and which would be Learning Opportunities.

"Mm," Christopher said, a skeptical frown on his face. He peered around at the masses of destroyed paper, looking for anything else box-like. "Ooh, here's one!"

"What does the card say?" Jack asked, most of his attention devoted to What Happens Inside a Fire Station?

"It says 'to David,'" Christopher read. "'From the Han-- the hannuk-- the Hannukah fa-fairy. The Hannukah Fairy.' Papa, what's a Hannukah Fairy?"

"Well..." David started, "you know how I don't celebrate Christmas?"

Christopher nodded solemnly.

"That's because I'm a Jew, and at this time of year, Jews have their own holiday. It's called Hannukah."

"Oh. Do you get presents?"

David glanced furtively at Jack, who was smirking at him.

"Well, yes, but that's not really the point. I guess the Hannukah Fairy is a little bit like Santa Claus."

"I like Santa Claus better," Christopher said dismissively, dropping the package on David's lap. "He gives bigger presents."

"But..." David started to object and then stopped. He could explain the symbolism of Christmas and talk about the miracle of Hannukah later. Christopher was six; there was plenty of time for that in the future.

He opened his present.

Jack fidgeted as David slowly peeled the tape off both ends, and off the middle. The package came in two layers, and David folded the first layer before starting in on the second.

"David. It's wrapping paper. You're not going to use it again. Are you?"

David looked at Jack. "What's the rush? I'm savoring this."

Jack sighed and tapped his fingers against his knee.

When at last David removed the final layer, he was left with a small, glossy box in his lap.

"Oh my God, a box!" David said. "Someone got me a box for Hannukah! How special!"

Christopher had lost interest and gone off to play with his fire truck, but he glanced up to see his father's new box. "Papa, I think you're supposed to open the box. That's what I do. Usually there's stuff inside it."

"That's very wise, Christopher. Maybe I'll do that."

Jack groaned. "David, please, just..."

David laughed, and opened his box. A little gasp leapt forth from his lips, and his eyes widened in delight.

"Oh... oh my. It's beautiful." He stared at it, a slow smile creeping onto his face. "A real Breitling watch! Twenty-four hour dial divisions, a Flyback mechanism for successive timing operations, a burgundy leather strap..." David ran his fingers over it almost breathlessly.

Jack smirked, and Christopher went back to playing with his fire truck.

"This is the most beautiful watch in the world. Thank you, Jack," David said, laying the box aside and wrapping his arms around Jack's neck. "Thank you so much. It's just what I wanted."

"Hey, don't thank me; thank the Hannukah Fairy," Jack replied, but smiled anyway as David plied him with feather-light kisses. "I'm glad you like it," he whispered.

"I found another one!" Christopher cried. "Look, look, another present!" He scooted over to the couch, legs straddling the fire truck. "Stop kissing, there's another present! It was hiding next to the 'lectric socket, but I found it."

Jack and David broke apart, and smiled guiltily at each other.

"What does the card say, Christopher?" David asked.

"It says 'To Jack, from the Grinch.'" Christopher frowned. "The Grinch doesn't give presents. Liar." He deposited the present on the couch, and rolled gently away, leaving parallel grooves in the carpet.

Jack picked up the package, and raised an eyebrow at David who looked at him with a practiced expression of innocence. He shook the present once. "Feels like a book. How very consistent of the Grinch."

David stuck his tongue out, but Jack kissed David's forehead, and ripped it open.

"Oh man! The Complete Prose of Woody Allen!" Jack bounced up and down in delight. "Oh man, oh man, oh man. This is so awesome! Oh my God, I cannot wait to read this." He brushed the paper aside, and flipped the book open, skimming over the table of contents.

David hugged his knees, grinning with pleasure at his own good judgment. "See, Christopher? Your daddy reads big chapter books."

Indeed, Jack had already buried his nose into the preface, but looked up when David spoke.

"I'd say 'thank you,' but I know you didn't give me this," he said. His hand found David's, and squeezed it gently. "A real Grinch doesn't give awesome presents like this." The pair looked at each other adoringly.

Hiding behind the Christmas tree, Christopher launched into what appeared to be a medley of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..."

David leaned his head on Jack's shoulder and fastened his new watch onto his wrist. It fit just right, snug and comfortable.

"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style," Christopher sang, accompanied by the slow whoop of the fire truck's siren. "In the air there's a feeling like Christmas!"

"Indeed," David thought. He closed his eyes, and smiled.

back