Sadly, the Novelty Holiday Letter Industry isn’t what it was back in the heady days of the 1980s, and this year our family has been forced by poor ad revenues, rising ink prices and an increasingly surly staff to discontinue the print edition of the Dreaded Andrew Martin Nonsensical Holiday Update Letter. So we welcome you to the first DIGITAL or E-ZINE edition of the DAMN Update.
By next year we’ll probably be so lazy we’ll just include a link to our Facebook profiles and tell you to read from the bottom up.
It’s traditional to start off Holiday letters with “It’s been a super busy year for the XXX family!” even if your biggest achievement that year is increasing your belly button lint collection to the point where Guinness is actually returning your calls. But 2012 really did see significant changes for the Martin-Avetta brood.
In April we had to find a new home for my beloved basset hound Buford, who has been my boon companion for the last 8 years. We had a rather scary incident where Natalie tried to kiss Buford on his nose. He snapped at her, probably reflexively, but it still resulted in a trip to the emergency room. The next day as I wheeled her around in her stroller I kept getting strange looks from people because of her bandages. “You should see the OTHER baby,” I told them.
Fortunately the story ends happily. Through Facebook friends we made contact with a lovely young couple in Chicago who were just about to begin searching for a rescue dog. Buford hit it off with them instantly, moved with them from Chicago to New York, and now lives in Harlem, where his street name is “B-Dawg” and he has a promising career as a hip-hop impresario. Natalie harbors no hard feelings, still recognizes Buford in photographs, and loves dogs as much as ever, especially her grandparents’ dachshunds Ferdinand and Isabella.
The same week as the Buford Incident, we put in an offer on a gorgeous mid-century modern house with a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque feel, a two-car garage, and a screen porch the size of Donald Trump’s ego. Our real estate agent warned us that the sellers had received — and countered — another offer, but that the other potential buyers had been dismissive of the house and were trying to nickel and dime the sellers into a lower price. “To get this house, you’ll need to write the sellers an email about how much you love the place,” our realtor said. “An award-winning email.”
Needless to say, we now live in this gorgeous abode, which we have nicknamed The Eyrie. It’s in a leafy green suburban region of DC called The Palisades. It’s mere blocks from one of the best elementary schools in the district, which was suddenly a top priority because that VERY SAME WEEK we confirmed that Natalie was going to be a big sister.
At the end of June, right after we’d moved in to the new house, a heretofore unknown weather pattern known as “The Derecho”(1) swept through much of the east coast, toppling trees and power lines. After the storm we still had power, though our neighbors across the street were without. We of course saw this as a moral judgement on behalf of the cosmos, a stance we had to rethink three days later when a PEPCO crew accidentally severed power to our side of the street.
The new house is five miles from downtown instead of five blocks. And though I still bike to work, we’ve taken the next logical step in our transformation from hip young urbanites(2) into stodgy suburban parents and purchased a minivan. In an inversion of the usual gender roles, I was all for it and Julie resisted the transition to the mom-mobile tooth and nail. Perhaps this was because my first car was a hand-me-down 1990 Plymouth Voyager, and so I knew it was possible to be cool as well as practical while driving a minivan(3). We bought a magnificent used Honda Odyssey that is absolutely LOADED with bells and whistles. It has power doors, power rear lift gate, and an onboard computer that responds to voice commands! All you have to do is say, “Play iPod…Artist: The Beatles,” and a synthetic voice responds in dulcet tones, “OK…Rear Defroster ON.”
In August we left Natalie with my folks for a long weekend and flew to Southern California for the lovely wedding of Julie’s cousin Heather, up in the hills of Malibu. Since this was also our official babymoon for #2, we stayed a night on the gorgeous grand dame ocean liner Queen Mary, which has been converted into a luxury hotel. We had a blast poking around the fun shops in Long Beach, spending time with all our LA friends, and discovering the incomparable joy of taking 45 minutes to travel less than three miles on the freeway. LA friends, if you’d ever like to experience a refreshing break from your legendary traffic, you have a standing invitation to visit us in DC, which will feel like an open field in comparison.
Later in August I was promoted to Chief Librarian of the NLRB, primarily on the grounds that “everyone else who wants the job is retired or dead.” I’ve immediately let the heady rush of power and authority overwhelm me. Sometimes I insist that my minions file Corbin on Contracts under PZ1 .F897…. JUST BECAUSE I CAN! WOOO!
In October we continued our tradition of family Halloween costumes. We figure we have MAYBE one more Halloween where we can dictate Natalie’s choice of costume before she insists on being Thomas the Tank Engine or the Gangnam Style guy, so we took advantage of it. We dressed Natalie as Princess Leia, though in the interests of minimizing her exposure to the Princess Industrial Complex we insisted that everyone call her “Senator Organa.” Julie’s pregnant belly made a spectacular Death Star, and I dressed as the guy who pulls a lever and destroys Alderaan(4).
This summer we took Natalie to several baseball games, and though she has yet to grasp the nuance of the infield fly rule, she is a HUGE fan of eating ice cream out of a miniature plastic helmet. Now whenever she sees any sport played on a green surface she proclaims, “That’s the Baseball Game Park!” We have dutifully rooted for the Washington Nationals ever since they came to town seven years ago, though it’s usually less cheering and more coming up with explanation for their poor play such as, “Well, maybe they’re all drunk.” This year, however, they surprised everyone by winning the division and bringing playoff baseball to the Nation’s Capital for the first time in 79 years. The Nats took us soaring the pinnacle of elation with a walkoff home run in Game Four, followed 24 hours later by an epic collapse with two outs in the ninth that was proclaimed “The worst loss since the ball went through Buckner’s legs.” This was Julie’s first taste of serious sports fandom. “I didn’t know what it felt like,” she said. “But it HURTS!”
On the first Sunday in December Natalie turned two, and we celebrated with a Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel themed party. We can’t believe it’s been such a short time that she’s been in our lives and all the amazing changes she’s brought. She loves llamas, steam shovels, trains, and
merry go rounds merries go round merry gos round carousels. She’s looking forward to being a big sister, at least as far as we can tell. When she got some toy steam shovels for her birthday, she quickly announced that the big shovel was the mommy shovel and the small one the baby shovel, and that the baby came out of the mommy shovel’s tummy.
She talks a blue streak and has entered that stage where we have to watch what we say pretty carefully. Once Julie dropped something on her foot, and Natalie, who at that time was learning the sounds barnyard animals make, clearly thought her mother was mimicking a chicken and joined in: “BUCK BUCK BUCK BUCK BUCK!” We’re experiencing the whole universe anew through her eyes and love that she can tell us all about it. It’s neat introducing her to Christmas traditions like the advent calendar, the Elf on the Shelf (thanks Aunt Kat!), her first Lionel train(5) and the story of Santa, which will one day teach her the very important life lesson that adults are not to be trusted.
Natalie attends “Just Us Kids,” the DOJ day care center, where the toddlers go on semiweekly excursions to the monuments, the Smithsonian, the National Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, and other sites that D.C. residents only ever think to visit when accompanied by out of town guests. Her little sister will join her there when mommy returns to work in April. We are grateful and very, very lucky, in the world of multi-year-long waitlists, to have our kids at such a terrific daycare so convenient to both of our offices downtown. In fact, we’re not a little envious. Natalie clearly has much more fun on any given weekday than either of her parents do at work.
We’re simultaneously eager and terrified about the arrival of this younger sister, who is due on December 27, though I’m convinced she’ll arrive on Christmas day. We are incredibly fortunate that my whole family is in the DC area, and that we have Grandmothers poised to sweep in and provide more assistance. Advice on raising a pair of sisters two years apart in age — something with which neither of us has any experience — is welcome from all sides.
We wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. May you have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Saturnalia, a droll Hanukkah, a scintillating Kwanzaa and a Mighty Festivus.
Andrew, Julie, Natalie and “Ermentrude”
1. Since I spent so much time in Latin America growing up, I know that “El Derecho” is Spanish for “If I don’t come up with a name for this my career in meteorology is finished!”
2. Please, allow us the delusion that this was ever even remotely true.
3. See footnote 2.
4. You have no idea how happy it makes me that my spell check knows “Alderaan.”
5. Natalie is enjoying the train FAR more than I expected when I used her as a flimsy excuse to by myself a choo choo. As is my dad.