Merry and Bright

Last week, I spent several nights in San Antonio for a work-related conference. In the evening, the building that made up the view outside my window lit up in a dazzling array of red, green and white lights which spelled the word PEACE – a sparkly homage to the holiday season. Instead of closing my shades to keep the light out when I went to bed, I decided to leave them open so I could fall asleep to the word, the thought, the idea of peace.

The few times I’ve found myself in a warm climate around Christmastime, I’ve had a great appreciation for the juxtaposition of Christmas decorations – so much the domain of colder climates, in my mind – and their environment. Chili pepper lights strung across sun-bleached buildings, tinsel in palm trees, outdoor Santas, reindeer and nativity scenes shimmering beneath the sun – my mom has always rejected the notion of traveling somewhere warm for the holiday because she thinks it wouldn’t “feel like Christmas” but I disagree – I think warmer weather makes me feel a little closer to Christ’s birth. He was, after all, born in the desert after his parents’ arduous journey.

For as long as I can recall, I’ve been more drawn to the religious aspects of Christmas than the secular ones. Perhaps as an adult this isn’t particularly unusual – I am not exactly sure who the grown ups are that respond to all the early Christmas advertising and brough ha ha that happens now – but even as a child I remember preferring advent observation and Christmas Eve service – Mary’s faith in God and Joseph’s faith in both of them and their long, exhausting trip across the desert – to Christmas day itself. Don’t get me wrong – I delighted in Santa’s visit and exchanging gifts with my family as much as the next kid, and I loved our tradition of opening our stockings and then having a family breakfast before moving onto the gifts we purchased for one another. But unless you are extraordinarily rich, Christmas gift-giving has lots of room for error, for wishes left unfulfilled – for wondering, does my father/mother/brother even know me at all? Worse, though, than any gift-giving mistake, which can always be forgiven by remembering it’s the thought that counts, was the Christmas afternoon malaise that often overtook our house while my mother and grandmother prepared Christmas dinner. I know other families who were allowed to leave the house on Christmas Day, to go skiing, to the movies, to visit friends, but in our house Christmas Day was serious business, to be spent inside, with family, enjoying one another while my mother and grandmother worked themselves practically sick preparing prime rib, twice-baked potatoes, green beans, tomato pudding, fresh bread and an elaborate dessert, as well as appetizers for an endless cocktail hour that came prior to dinner. By the time dinner was over, the kitchen destroyed with dirty dishes, everyone was over-full and stir-crazy from all the time inside, but even suggesting a walk was unthinkable because of all the dishes and cleaning up that had to be done. The shiny promise of Jesus’ birth just a mere twenty-four hours prior, celebrated with a multitude of white candles and singing “Silent Night” already tarnished by too much from the secular portion of the holiday.

Once Sam and I purchased a home of our own we started hosting Christmas, and in this way I was able to take a small measure of control over how we would spend our time during the holiday. We live in a city, and even on Christmas Day there is a feeling of vibrancy and life that doesn’t exist in the small northern towns we travel to in order to be with our parents. People walk their dogs, run to the nearby drug store for the paper, commune on front porches in the later hours of the day, literally stop by for a cup of sugar. I’ve experimented, here and there, with variations on our traditions – going out to dinner at a fancy hotel instead of cooking, or having a fancy Christmas Eve dinner and enjoying a buffet of some sort the next day prior to seeing a matinee of a Broadway production, but WASP dna has a strong pull and more often than not I found myself polishing the family silver, prime rib roasting in the oven and the tomato pudding bubbling away, feeling frayed around the edges. It’s not something I am particularly proud of, but I am not alone in this particular insanity – my husband has come to love my family’s traditions so much that they’ve usurped any he brought with him to the marriage.

If we don’t eat prime rib on Christmas, what the hell are we going to eat? My brother asks, panicked. Not turkey. No way am I eating turkey on Christmas. And don’t even think about ham.

And so the beat goes on, with Christmas Eve at the Presbyterian Church and Oh Come, All Ye Faithful and walking outside after Christ’s birth into a cool, crisp northern night and then Santa’s mysterious midnight arrival and too many presents despite us all swearing to keep it simple this year and the same holiday music in the background and silver to polish, tables to set and chilled shrimp cocktail arranged just so. Everybody has a favorite part of the holiday and between the importance of church to my mom and me and Sam and my brother wanting to protect Christmas dinner and Santa for the kids and all of us watching “The Christmas Carol,” well, even as I write this I can feel myself mellowing, allowing room not only for the grace of Christ’s birth but for the ribbons and wrappings and even the traditional argument about how long it will take the beef to properly cook.

This year, for the first time in a decade, Sam and I are loading the car and the kids and heading to northern Michigan. In some ways, it feels like a lot of work to get out of the house (gifts to wrap bags to pack dog to board) but in so many other ways I like how preparing for a journey to celebrate with loved ones echoes the journeys undertook by the Wise Men, by Joseph and Mary.

This is my round about and odd way of saying, to all of you, Merry, merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. I am so thankful for all of you. Truly, so thankful.

thankful

Thanksgiving, according to Evangeline:

The Mayflower is a ship, like a pirate ship but NOT a pirate ship, and the Indians came over on it and created America. Now we eat turkey and hey, guess what? I know a SONG about turkeys, it goes like this: (insert lots of gobbling and incomprehensible words). When can I visit Santa?

Last night during her nightly prayer, she thanked God for Santa.

We have some work to do.

Sam and I have always held space for Thanksgiving week, in our home. It is one of the weeks we most look forward to, because it isn’t about giving or receiving presents or honoring one individual – it is about family, and nourishment, and being present together in our thankfulness for all that we have been given. We don’t rush out at 6 a.m. the following day or midnight or God forbid the day of Thanksgiving to start shopping for Christmas presents, as though Thanksgiving is a holiday to be skipped over entirely. We are so adamant about this that even Evangeline parrots us – “we do NOT shop on Thanksgiving Day!”

I’ve never understood this rush toward Christmas, which seems to happen earlier and earlier each year, as though Thanksgiving is about one meal sandwiched between the carnival that is Halloween and the gift-giving extravaganza that is Christmas.

So we’ve been working with Evangeline on the concept of being thankful. When we say our prayers each night she thanks God for certain things – she is generally quite thankful for her “warm, cozy bed” and her pajamas and her family and baby brother – these are all unprompted. She is also regularly thankful for magic and flowers – especially roses – and for pretty clothes and her toys. With the last two, I tried to guide her to reconsidering. “I don’t think clothes and toys are something we necessarily thank God for,” I said.

“Please momma. Please, please. Lots of kids don’t have toys and clothes and I want to say thank you,” she pleaded. She caught me off guard because of course, she is right. When I was growing up my mom regularly listened to my prayers and often told me what was and was not okay to pray for to such an extent that my dad finally had to intervene at one point.

“You’re going to wear the Christ right out of her, Mary,” he said. “Let the kid pray for what she wants to pray for!”

Evangeline has actually taken to prayer with a zealotry I never anticipated. No place is off limits to take a moment to pray, whether we are in a coffee shop or watching a television program or playing dress up. It’s a bit like being in a musical except we break into prayer instead of song. Growing up in a conservative Presbyterian church where it was generally assumed prayer was saved for bedtime and church, I have to admit this has shaken my ideas of public verses private behavior, but my desire to foster her faith so far overrides my awkwardness when we end up “saying a little prayer” in Starbucks.

This Thanksgiving week will be an especially wonderful one for us, because Duncan will be baptised on Sunday. I’ve been looking forward to this period of time for weeks now, from the slow trickle of family arriving to Thanksgiving Day itself to the small party we are throwing Saturday night to the covenant of Duncan’s baptism, so when I felt myself coming down with a cold on Sunday morning, my brain started in on its usual cycle of doom. What if I’m too sick to host properly? What if I don’t feel perfectly perfect all week? What if I can’t HAVE THINGS GO EXACTLY THE WAY I WANT THEM TOO???

I’m still sick. The sinuses on the left side of my face feel like they’ve been hallowed out with an ice cream scooper, and I’m pretty cranky about it. I need to rewrite my own narrative, put things in perspective.

I am thankful…that both sets of grandparents are able to travel to see us this year. All four of them are in their early seventies and I imagine we only have so many years left before the eight hour drive is too much for them, so I am thankful for this. Instead of feeling stressed out from hosting while not feeling well, I will let them help – they always want to help – and make sure they hang with the kids as much as possible. I am thankful I just have a cold, and not something debilitating or chronic. I am just generally thankful for my overall good health. And I am thankful for the opportunity of Duncan’s baptism – for God’s grace and unconditional love. This coming Sunday isn’t nearly as much about me as I’ve been making it – it is about Duncan and his relationship with Jesus – completely, one hundred percent not about me.

And, taking a cue from my daughter, I have to admit, I am thankful for magic, and for flowers. And, let’s be honest – I am thankful for pretty clothes, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

fighting 100 years of history with a cinnamon broom

Our local Trader Joe’s is located right next to my gym, which makes it extremely convenient, particularly in colder weather, to combine a workout and grocery shopping. Yesterday I had to pick up the ground beef for our tacos I forgot the day prior, and while there I succombed to the purchase of yet another cinnamon-scented broom – this time, for our living room. Trader Joe’s cinnamon brooms are particularly pungent, I think, and I hope it, combined with my new vanilla-scented candle, will do their work in an admirable fashion.

Living in a century-old house has a lot of positive aspects. My house is significantly more well-constructed than the more modern homes my friends have purchased, and the craftsmanship is stunning. “Good bones” doesn’t do it justice. It has large, airy rooms and enough cracks that we never have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning. The views from the second and third floors are lovely, all church steeples, chimneys and roofs of homes built in a similar style – very Mary Poppins. Even though it’s a tremendous work in progress, I love our home and all of its potential.

But the negatives. Oh, the negatives. The closets were constructed when women owned two dresses and one pair of shoes. If a new crack in the plaster occurs, decades-old coal dust pours out. The house is well-made and long-lasting, which means it has witnessed trends come and go, including the mid-twentieth century trend of covering up, with carpeting, curtains and block glass, all that is unique and original about the home, which is also how we bought it. But, more than coal dust older than my parents or continually adjusting our clothes to fit the space allotted, I routinely find myself at war with over one hundred years and countless layers of old-home smells.

The couple who owned the house prior to us ran a catering company out of the kitchen and both times we toured, she was preparing large batches of Italian-American cuisine – vats of veal parmesan, kettles of Italian wedding soup. The scents of garlic, onion and red sauce consumed the house and gave it a cozy feeling it otherwise lacked. A general mustiness still lingered, which we attributed to the old carpeting and curtains which we foolishly assumed would be a breeze to get rid of or replace. Essentially, the smells of the house echoed the smells of the old Italian-American neighborhood we were moving into and I am not someone who generally minds such smells.

What I didn’t take into consideration, of course, is what the house would smell like afterthe owners left – like an Italian restaurant, vacated, stale onion and oregano lingering in the cold air, allowing all the other smells to surface.

People, at some point, there was a cat. Now, I like cats – it’s more their litter I am adverse to but for the most part I think cats are lovely and I actually think a cat would complete our house – this house calls out for a cat – but this cat – he must have made it his life’s work to grind his litter with his paw into every conceivable corner of the house, for when it rains the smell of stale kitty litter seeps upward from the basement and from corners on the first floor and completely combats any fresh scent the rain brings with it. It has also become evident that at some point, maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, people smoked in the house, which also isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is how it is only on really hot, humid days that the stale cigarette smoke emerges from a piece of carpeting we have yet to remove or one of the few curtains we haven’t replaced yet.

We haven’t helped matters, admittedly. Our dog sheds profusely no matter how often I make sure he’s trimmed and now we are as likely to catch a whiff of wet dog as we are the litter of some long-deceased cat. I’ve potty trained one toddler and I think we can all agree the smells that come along with that particular chore aren’t pleasant, and I have another child that requires owning a diaper pail. In the past, though, I would have thought the smells of a life dissipated with time. Now I realize that with every tumbleweed tuft of dog hair, every apple cake baked, each accident Evangeline had on her way to the potty and every pot of root vegetable stew I make, the scents of the life we have are seeping into the cracks in the plaster walls and the grooves in the hard wood floors, and will resurge for new owners, decades down the road, on days when the wind comes from the west, or on frigid polar vortex mornings. I imagine these people, relaxing on our front porch while I’m rocking away the hours in a nursing home, noticing on warm rainy evenings the unexpected smell of butter, browning – mingling with runaway scent of diaper changed decades ago. I imagine them sighing, understanding once and for all that no amount of cinnamon brooms and vanilla candles can rid a house of history.

…a kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the queen…

Evangeline has decided to be Queen Elsa from the movie “Frozen” for Halloween. This came about after several weeks of planning to be a pirate, and then switching, suddenly and upsettingly, to Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” for a bit before settling once and for all on Elsa, although she did agree I made a very compelling case for Wendy from “Peter Pan.” It took a bit of discussion to understand why she came to Elsa so late in the game, but it sounds like she found out most of the girls in her class were planning on being princesses of one kind or another. She and I were having a chat about it her choice when she changed her mind from being a pirate.

“Well, I really want to be Elsa but Myra (a friend of hers at daycare) told me she is being Elsa so I had to choose another princess, so I chose Belle,” Evangeline told me. I can get almost any information I need to out of her when we have popsicles on the front porch swing together.

“Okay, but who or what do you want to be for Halloween?” I asked her. “Nobody else gets to make that decision for you – not even mommy.”

Evangeline considered. “Well, I really want to be Elsa,” she concluded. “She has magic powers. Pirates don’t have magic powers.”

“Then, you can be Elsa,” I said definitively, managing to keep my less charitable Myra-related thoughts to myself.

I’m actually relieved she chose Elsa as her costume, not only because it was easily purchasable but I was nervous she’d be really upset when she realized just how many little girls were dressing up as Elsa this year. I never felt comfortable offering it up as a choice for her but at the same time knew she could end up crushed, seeing all the other Elsas out in the world on the evening of Halloween. I’m glad she came to the decision by herself and that, while being just one of a million other Elsa’s, she’s standing up for herself in a way.

I read somewhere that Disney made a major miscalculation by believing girls would prefer Anna’s character over Elsa, assuming since Anna had the love interest AND performed an act of true love she would garner the favor of little girls everywhere. Instead, it was Elsa, with her magical powers, independent nature and easily identifiable theme song that drew children in and kept their attention rapt, and having listened to “Let it Go” belted out more times than I could possibly estimate, I think I understand why.

I have watched my three and a half year old daughter, clad in dress up shoes, various blankets and well-placed scarves, running from room to room in our house, belting the lyrics to this song. Her commitment is unquestionable, her passion all-consuming. And, after listening to the lyrics for the hundredth thousandth time, I get it. I really do.

“Let it go” is the perfect anthem for all the little girls who are told to be nice, be good, act like little ladies, smile, be sweet, be kind. It’s the kind of messaging girls start receiving incredibly early on, and even as a woman who tries not to instill gendered expectations on my daughter , I find myself communicating those messages on occasion, snapping at E to “act like a lady” when she’s lifting her skirt over her head to show everyone her underwear or to calm down and be kind when a friend is upsetting her. I like to believe that I’ll pass the same messages on to Duncan – that we don’t walk around showing off our underwear, no matter how cool they are, or to always take a deep breath when someone is invading our personal space, but I know that one of the reasons I communicate with E the way I do is because she’s a girl.

I do cut myself slack for this as often as possible – I’ve seen so many of my friends tie themselves in knots over every parenting moment and that’s not how I want to live, but I am trying to be mindful of how I communicate with E and what expectations she might infer from me. And, no matter how tired I might be of the soundtrack, I am thankful to “Frozen,” for giving her lyrics that help her feel like she can break out of the “nice girl” narrative, run and stomp through the house with abandon and cry at the top of her lungs to let it go, let it go, let it go.

the view from my front door

Sunday morning, after a luxurious (for us) wake up from the kids at 6:45 a.m., with no plans to attend church because of road closures, Duncan down for his morning nap and Evangeline ensconced in her puzzles, I filled up a bucket with window cleaner and hot water and headed for the front of the house, determined to finally wash our windows. It was a bit cooler than I had anticipated but I didn’t mind. I was finding so much satisfaction in dipping the squeegy window thing (it’s real name) in the steaming hot, bubbly water, splashing the water all over our large front window and then meticulously squeegying the excess water off the window that very little could have dampened my mood. Our street is a relatively busy one and a lot of people were out and about already, walking dogs, chasing toddlers or going for a morning jog.

“Early start,” I heard a male voice call. When I turned around I saw a middle-aged man with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby strapped securely in his Ergo carrier, trying to contain an excited beagle on a leash.

“Oh, no – we’ve been up, had first breakfast and are now just down for morning nap,” I replied, jutting my chin in his child’s direction. “We have a baby too.”

“Oh, yeah – we are heading for morning nap too, right after we finish our walk,” he said. “I’m Adam, by the way.”

“I’m Courtney, it’s nice to meet you.”

The rest of the conversation finished in the average way you would expect it to, so it would be difficult to immediately discern what was remarkable about it unless you lived on our street with us for the last five years. What I found astounding was that the conversation happened at all.

Five and a half years ago when we chose our house, we did so with the understanding that it wasn’t in a great school district, and that it did, in fact, exist mere blocks from one of the worst neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. At the time we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to have children, and even if we were able to, they existed merely as figments of our imagination, so we weren’t concerned with school districts.

It’s one thing not to be terribly concerned about school districts, and entirely another to realize what it means to live on the border of a “bad” neighborhood. Within weeks a drug deal went bad in our back alley, resulting in one of the kids breaking into our neighbors’ house while they were home to hide out from his dealer. A few weeks later, a woman was raped in a nearby park. For the first two and a half years we lived in our house, it wasn’t unusual to witness a rotating group of prostitutes circle in and out of one of the nearby apartment buildings, or to watch for used condoms and syringes when walking our dog. Occasionally we despaired about our choice of location
but, typical first-born children that we are, we mostly owned our decision and went about the business of restoring the house we bought and appreciating the fact it was within walking distance of work and our favorite restaurants. We did adopt a pretty big dog.

After I became pregnant with Evangeline we talked much more deeply about what we should do.

“We may have to lose money on the house,” Sam would say. “But we can recover from that if need be.”

“Kids need more green space,” I would say. “And fewer drug deals going on behind their house.”

“Preferably NO drug deals.”

“Well, yes, preferably. But even the suburbs have meth and heroine and teenagers.”

But while I was busy making and nursing babies, an amazing thing began to happen. It happened so slowly as to practically be imperceptible, until one day Sam and I were drinking coffee on our porch and noticed a brand new BMW parked in between the identical Mazdas my neighbor and I own.

“Well, that person obviously doesn’t live here,” I said.

“No, he does – down the street in one of the condos,” Sam said. “And someone nearby owns a Range Rover, too.”

I know gentrification has its downside but that’s not exactly what we are experiencing yet – I think, we are experiencing pre-gentrification, maybe? We’ve always had a solid set of neighbors, the majority of them child-free by choice, for whom school districts have never been important part of choosing a neighborhood. Now, between the frequent sightings of various couples in their late thirties, generally dressed either for the gym or a night on the town or the more transient, dislocated people who circulate in and out of the apartment buildings four blocks away from us, we are meeting young families. So many young families, in fact, that my neighbor Carmen has declared a baby boom in our neighborhood. And students! College and graduate school students, moving in with their Ikea furniture and beat up cars, asking with heartbreaking sincerity at the bus stop “if the bus is usually on time?” as we wait for one to arrive.

For several years I always found Sunday afternoons the creepiest time in my neighborhood. I usually found myself all alone in the park when I took my dog for a walk, save for one or two men sitting on the benches, a restlessness about them that screamed drug addiction. Even though Skylar is fiercely protective of me and sort of scary due to his size, I rushed through our Sunday afternoon constitutionals, never feeling completely comfortable or safe.

Now, though. Now. Sunday afternoons! A nearby yoga studio conducts classes in the middle of the park while parents bring their kids in wagons, on bikes and in strollers, laden down with t-ball equipment, beach balls and toys. The park is poetry in motion, all kids on bikes and babies on strollers and parents, coffee in hand, chasing chasing chasing. It is now one of my favorite places to spend time on the weekend.

Over the years we’ve talked about moving to the suburbs, to a house in better shape than ours – one perhaps with a better bathroom and yard big enough for a trampoline and more green space for the kids, but something continually keeps us in the city. Sometimes it’s a reminder during our minister’s Sunday sermon that as Christians we are supposed to travel lightly and not become bogged down with the more more more our society encourages, other times it’s realizing that adding an actual commute to our daily lives could be our undoing. Whatever the shifting reasons happen to be, they’ve given us an opportunity to witness real change, and the way a neighborhood can evolve over time, and endless opportunities for gratefulness.

it all began with boys we loved

A long, long time ago, back when I was entering the ninth grade, one of the things I most looked forward to about entering high school was finally being allowed to attend Friday night football games with my friends, without my parents lurking somewhere in the stadium, keeping an eye on me. In Alpena, Michigan in the 1990’s it was a big deal to be able to join your friends in the student section of the bleachers on Friday nights, and the first game carried a particular importance – it was the day you picked spot – the place you would watch games the rest of your time in high school. Very few of my friends at the time were interested in football and those that were also happened to be in the marching band, so I couldn’t sit with them. I was a little nervous,that first Friday, to arrive alone – but my parents encouraged me to go ahead – they said I’d find people to sit with, and of course they were right. Before even purchasing my ticket, I ran into my friend Jessica and together she and I braved the crowds of juniors and seniors to find our spots. We ended up almost exactly in the middle of the student section, near several friends from our French and biology classes, and for four years we watched the boys we grew up with play against other small-town northern Michigan teams. As far as I know, none of the boys that I watched play football throughout those years grew into a violent man – in fact, many of them were and remain today some of the gentlest souls I know.

Yes, I hung out with the football players in high school, and while this association conjures up all sorts of cliches thanks to movies and television, it wasn’t because I was absurdly popular or a cheerleader or anything like that – in a small town roles are more malleable than that. I fell into friendships with football players in the usual way – my best friend began dating one of them, and then Jessica began dating another, and while throughout my tenure at Alpena High School I only (and briefly) dated one football player, they became my friends, part of my gang, so to speak.

I mentioned it earlier but it bears repeating: these boys were some of the most gentle I have ever met, off the field. Most of them were raised to be good Catholic kids who took their religion and their families seriously. A number of them are still active in the church, a smaller number of them heavily so. They weren’t rule breakers and they rarely challenged authority – when I spent time at their houses there parents were always home, just like mine were when they came over.

When I attended our high school football games, I wasn’t cheering on strangers – I was rooting for my friends – for the quarterback who completed a shared read-aloud Macbeth assignment with me, for the linebacker in my church confirmation class.

For many of us, a love of football all began with the boys we loved.

Football, perhaps more than most other sports, is about so much more than the game itself. When I was in high school it was also about the hot buttery popcorn and frothy hot chocolate served at the concession stand, and the ebb and flow of hundreds of teenage bodies absorbed sometimes in the game but mostly in each other, and it was about frosted nights beneath the stars and lights and the majority of the town’s activity centered in this one particular corner for a couple of particular hours. Football games were generally parent-approved and teacher-regulated, yet a certain amount of freedom could be found in taking a walk with someone around the field or congregating in the parking lot prior to and after the game. Most of the time the high school sponsored a casual post-game dance where whatever energy we didn’t expend in the bleachers or on the field could be danced off before going home.

My interest in football has ebbed and flowed over the years depending on where I lived and what I was doing. In college I spent a number of Saturdays tailgating and attending Michigan State University football games with my friends, but I was just as likely to have play rehearsal or a test to study for – even a rare trip to the mall for dinner and a movie could lure me away from a football game. I’ve never been a huge follower of the NFL or, for that matter, any professional sports team except for the Detroit Tigers, but when I moved to Pittsburgh it was nearly impossible to avoid paying attention to the Steelers, and even if I didn’t watch every game, I had a husband and a brother who did and over the years I grew accustomed to football Sundays (and Mondays and sometimes even Thursdays). Again, football is more than the sum of its parts and it in Pittsburgh it is a regular part of our daily conversation – not just the game but what we ate who we were with the games we played the fun we had together.

There is an ocean of difference between the game I grew up with and the culture promoted by the NFL now. The concussion issues over the last few years muddied the waters for me considerably when it came to considering whether or not I want my children exposed regularly to professional football in our home, but watching the video of Ray Rice beat his fiance complicated matters even further. While I don’t hold the NFL directly responsible for Rice’s actions, I do think, as an organization, it has shown over and over again how little it values the health of its players and their families, coupled with the glorification of a violent and egocentric subculture. If I don’t allow reality television shows like “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and The Real Housewives of whatever in our home because of the self-centered, damaging values they promote, then why would I allow NFL football?

Sam and I have talked back and forth about it (for the record, he is as conflicted as I am) and for now we’ve settled on keeping our relationship with NFL football pretty casual. We aren’t adverse to turning a game and watching part of it, but football will not become the center of our Sundays.

Every year, a bunch of the guys I went to high school with meet up the Friday after Thanksgiving to play football. Even though we are all heading toward forty, they wouldn’t miss this annual rematch anymore than they would miss Thanksgiving dinner itself. For several years in my late twenties and early thirties, I would meet up with several of them and their various girlfriends and wives at a restaurant in Alpena the Saturday evening after their great rematch, where they would replay the game for us, often sporting bruised ribs, black eyes and sometimes worse. Over garlic bread pooled in butter, steaming platters of chicken nachos, chilled martinis and drafts of beer, our reunion conversations always started first with that Saturday’s game, and then circled back a decade to games of the past until eventually moving to current topics at hand – family, friends, how much has and hasn’t changed in our hometown. I almost always spend my Thanksgivings in Pittsburgh now, but when I think about football, this is what I recall: Friday nights in my hometown, taking the first steps toward the woman I’ve been lucky enough to become, huddling in the stands,cheering on the boys we loved.