posted May 18, 2009 at 1:25pm
I lucked out on the morning of Christmas Eve and happened to be in the car — by myself — when NPR’s Morning Edition played its annual excerpts from David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries.”
It was the 20th anniversary of the original broadcast of an essay that ultimately made Sedaris a household name (well, in my house, anyway) and in many ways launched a whole genre of confessional (true and sometimes not so true) storytelling that is sometimes good, often bad and in a few cases, really ugly. (And I’ll be the first to say that I’ve had my own ugly moments, experimenting with the form. It’s not as easy as it looks.)
But I digress. If you’ve never heard David Sedaris read “Santaland Diaries,” you must immediately Google it and have a listen. Reading Sedaris doesn’t do him justice, and while he’s had some great hits since, this truly is his best work. You will love it, I promise. One thing that struck me, as I sat (okay, hid) in the car and listened Monday morning is how timeless the piece is — a story about what it’s like to work as an elf during Christmas at Macy’s department store. Like the best Christmas classics, it’s all as true today as it was 20 years ago.
The last excerpt really hit close to home for me.
Tonight, I saw a woman slap and shake her growing child. She yelled, Rachel, get on that man’s lap and smile or I’ll give you something to cry about. Then she sat Rachel on Santa’s lap and I took the picture, which supposedly means, on paper, that everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be, that everything is snowy and wonderful. It’s not about the child or Santa or Christmas or anything, but the parents’ idea of a world they cannot make work for them.
Ah, I thought, that was 20 years ago. What about today, where sharing our kids’ images and quips has become a competitive sport? Again, I’ll be the first to admit my own guilt. And I’ll admit that I totally related to what Sedaris said: I’ve never actually slapped one of my children, but I have on occasion begged, cajoled and threatened both girls before snapping that photo and wiping away the tears with an Instagram filter.
Not this year. Not on Christmas morning, anyway. The Friday before Christmas, Sophie pulled a shirt over her head without first removing her glasses, leaving herself with a very shallow but very large and nasty looking scrape just below her eye. No photos for us. I was bummed — of course I wanted the perfect shot of Sophie ripping into her Monster High long underwear — but I must admit the lack of a photo op forced me to savor the moment just a little more.
The day after Christmas, the scab fell off; and the picture-taking resumed. Habits die hard. Anyhow, I thought to myself this morning as I bribed Sophie with hair products so she’d let me snap her picture during a bang trim, David Sedaris doesn’t have kids. He just doesn’t get it.
In any case, it’ll be a while before I take a photo of the kids without thinking of him.