What’s the Difference Between a Violin and a Fiddle?

If a man with a goatee gave up the banjo to start playing one, then it’s a fiddle.

     I interrupted the Man I Married while he fondled and stroked his recently-acquired fiddle, producing any number of fantastic sounds that have a supernatural way of carrying no matter how far away I am in the house (or down the block) and no matter how many closed doors separate us. I’m reading The Haunting of Hill House to a perfect screeching soundtrack. And here I thought I would have until the Little Monster’s teenaged years to look forward to this.

     Since MIM caresses and cajoles his fiddle into vaguely-recognizable hints of melodies more or less constantly, I must interrupt him no matter what I have to say or when I need to say it. He set his new lover down patiently, as he always does, when he finally heard me unsuccessfully trying to yell over the moans and false protestations of the curved (but rather dry) beauty in his arms.

     “Can you believe I can already play a few Christmas songs although I just started learning the fiddle a few weeks ago?” he asked me, beaming with pride.

     “Gee, has it really been only a few weeks?” I said. “Seems like it’s been a lot longer than that.”

A Man Uniquely Tuned


     Next day as MIM practiced, I sighed, “So now you’re learning that Eight Tiny Reindeer hip-hop song that LM is constantly humming?” Venison for dinner began to sound appealing.

      “Actually,” he said, “that was an Irish jig.”


     Last week I drove MIM to the violin store to buy him a new violin bow for Christmas. He needed a slight repair on his junk-store fiddle before he could begin the delicate procedure of deciding how much I should plunk down on my charge card for a bunch of horse hair (he’d make a fortune stringing the hair he leaves on his own hairbrush). After the kind repairman finished the minor fix and re-strung the instrument, he laid out a dazzling array of stunningly-priced bows for MIM to choose from. MIM selected one and brought it confidently up to the strings, producing…interesting sounds that perplexed even MIM. “But something’s wrong with my fiddle now,” he declared. “I can no longer play it. What have you done to it?” he asked the repairman.

      “I tuned it.”

      “Well, shoot! And I was actually getting pretty good at it just the way it was!” Then MIM added, “Well, huh, I guess I need to start over on the lessons I’ve been giving LM, ’cause his is tuned the same way.”

I'd love you more if that was a fiddle and not a violin

     Tonight at dinner MIM confessed to me, “Now that my fiddle is tuned like a fiddle and not like a guitar, the self-teaching websites make a lot more sense. Now I’m really getting somewhere.”

     All teasing aside, I admire MIM for his willingness to try new things, to experiment boldly in his confident, self-taught manner, and for his lack of pride during the learning process, even when it turns out he made a gaff. I might have slunk out of the violin shop, too embarrassed to admit my error, but he laughs easily at himself while rarely judging others (except when he’s in the passenger seat while I attempt to park the car). That’s a lesson that all of us could use. Also, he’s not half bad at the durned thing, much better than I could ever hope to be. And while I can’t tell whether he’s playing Eminem or Enya, it’s easy to recognize the sound of contentment.

     Plus, I always know where he is and what he’s up to. If he’s not on a ladder releasing bees, I can relax (with a pair of earplugs).

The Chicken Army and the Barnacle Wars

Banty Hen Bandied About

Some things about LM will always remain a mystery. Gaps about his first six years can never be filled in, such as The Chicken Army, a concept that LM was fanatical about from day one as our son. Nobody could explain it, and the only connection we could figure was his yellow bicycle helmet, which looked like an egg yolk. This fixation expanded to include Barnacles. Everything was about the Chicken Army or Barnacles, so MIM and I, in the interest of a balanced mythology, began referring to the Barnacle Wars every time the Chicken Army was bandied about. This caused LM to drop the obsession entirely. Nothing like the damper of having your parents take up your fascination.

A Henbrained Idea

Although the Barnacles have fled our coop, the Chicken Army has taken up permanent roost in our home. This year we put on our Second Annual Burning Chicken Festival (www.burningchicken.wordpress.com), and, once again, our Christmas tree is topped by a homemade chicken ornament–the Beak of Bethlehem.

Who needs J.R. R. Tolkien when we’ve got the Chicken Army and the Barnacle Wars running afoul on our own front stoop?

[Credits: Hens drawn by MIM, hand-colored by LM. Get your orders in early for nest* year.]

*Not a typo, though perhaps that would be more forgivable than another pun.

Mele Kalikimaka

We’re coming up on our third Christmas with the Little Monster (LM), who is now eight (only ten more years to go. Nothing like a little corner cutting when raising a kid—start at age six and they’re off to try out for American Idol or join a gang before you know it). We think he’ll like the big gift he’s getting from us (not Santa) this year. I explained to him that since he’s getting older, his parents will now give him the big gifts. Santa will give him something small, because Santa needs to spend more time on special gifts for the littler kids. He agreed with the logic that Santa leaves smaller presents as we age, remembering that Santa had left only chocolate in my stocking last year (for which I was thrilled and rewarded Santa with good beer). In truth, LM no longer believes in Santa, but he’s afraid of the lack of presents that admission might entail, so I concocted that story as my “workaround.”

Smelly Shoe = Santa Exists

The universe sent us incredible gifts the past two Christmases, helping us to shoulder the challenges and difficulties of the year along with the added stress of the holiday season. On our first family Christmas, the big gift was of course the Little Monster himself. No matter how challenging his behaviors that first fall, there is nothing to match the joy of your child finding his new bicycle from Santa on Christmas morning. Especially when he had agonized and worried that Santa wouldn’t be able to find him in his new home. Does that break your heart or what?

We got a double miracle on our second Christmas together. As my first blog post describes, LM kicked his shoe onto the top of the community center roof, where it could not be retrieved. LM had no doubt that Santa would find the shoe on the roof and would then put it in his stocking (even if he had to backtrack). The extraordinary efforts and kindness of the community center staff enabled us to pull this off, and never did a child have stronger proof of Santa’s existence. His excited shriek over a muddy, smelly shoe could be heard up at the North Pole.

And on that same Christmas, the universe presented us with a magical little dog for LM. We wished her into existence, and our little wire-haired terrier ran up to us on our walk to church on Christmas Eve (the first time the Man I Married’s been to church in the 23 years I’ve known him, so I can truthfully say that I’ve been to church three times as often as he has).

Sweet Dog = Proof of Miracles

For our third Christmas, LM is now more Little Monkey than Little Monster, which is gift enough. But a large box arrived from Hawaii, crammed full of macadamia nut treats and Chex mix, and I realized that our blessings are double yet again. The true gift is my mother, LM’s Tutu (Hawaiian for grandma). As she has done for the past two Christmases and past two end-of-school-years, she called me up and asked me, “Do you need gifts for LM’s teachers and daycare workers?” And social workers, therapists, school counselors, psychologist, rock climbing teachers, and respite workers? Not to mention our many neighbors (more gifts from the universe) who help to nourish and include LM in a large and loving circle of care? Not only had I not had the time and energy to shop for token thank you gifts for the huge team that supports us, but I had not even remembered, yet again, that I needed to buy them. “Sure,” I said, and within days, a sixteen pound box, costing her $45.05 to mail, arrived, stuffed with dozens of Hawaiian treats to use as gifts (I ate all the Chex mix—Tutu makes the most ono, using secret ingredients like curry).

Tutu Decorating Outdoors in Muumuu = Hawaiian Holiday

Although it’s not an absolute truth, there is a lot to be said for the old trope that you can’t fully appreciate your parents until you become a parent yourself. As my witty friend Ann says, our mothers love to push the buttons that they sewed on, but Tutu has pulled out all of the stops on being a solid rock for MIM and me on our unusual parenting journey.  For instance, Tutu doesn’t like to drive. She doesn’t drive at night, she doesn’t drive in strange (much less big) cities, and she doesn’t drive other people’s cars. She is blind in one eye so has good reason for caution. But on her first visit out to meet LM, intrepid, petite Tutu used a ladder to climb into my ancient four-wheel drive and manhandled it all over Seattle—day or night, rain or not-as-much-rain—searching high and low for a particular item we needed for LM. She pinned down salespeople, took notes, and copied them out for me, with footnotes, an annotated glossary, and highlights. She filled my freezer with her onolicious food, sharpened my knives (the only way she could stop herself from kvetching about them), and quickly left the house with a knowing laugh when it was apparent we were about to have a scene (such as the night LM dumped his Brussels sprouts into the toilet, a crime that many people can understand). The woman who turns on her heating blanket when it drops below seventy braved two bleak Pacific Northwest weeks in February and March to fly out to help us (I still don’t get the school’s mid-winter break in February, on top of spring break in March. What the hell is up with that?).

Tutu in Muumuu and Catseye Glasses = So 70s!

I could fill the internet with how much Tutu has done to help us, preparing the most amazing meatloaf of my life when the chips were really down (gourmet meatloaf! Who knew?). Love really can be expressed in meatloaf and Chex mix (and, as MIM knows, in jewelry).

But mostly I want to thank her for loving and embracing my quirky, incomprehensible, enthusiastic, infuriating, always well-intentioned husband, and for welcoming the Little Monkey with her kind, generous, and creative heart, for the letters and cards she constantly sends him, and for the way that she cares for him and us while expecting nothing in return for herself. If Tutu herself is not a miracle, then I don’t know what is.

Tutu loves Christmas.

The only thing we love more than Christmas is Tutu.