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Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas is for kids

Christmas is all about family. And, we all know that family extends beyond the four walls of our everyday living. So, every Christmas we drive 100 miles each way to my younger sister’s house for the day. We contribute three semi-grown children, each two years apart. Then there are my three sisters, each of whom I love more than the next. We share a mother who is about a perfect a person as was ever created. I have a niece and nephew who are the same ages as two of my kids and a hopefully-soon-to-be nephew-in-law who pours cocktails with a heavy hand. My sister-in-law comes when she can and when she does documents the event with great candid shots. My ever-loving loving spouse brings calm to our chaos and exhibits great displays of patience for all of us. The father-in-law and his significant other, who we love like no other, come for Thanksgiving but graciously send good wishes and hefty checks for Christmas. The circle has started spinning again with an adorable two year-old grand-niece who doesn’t care how much we don’t spend on her. Sometimes a friend of one or all of us will join us for dinner.

It’s not a huge group, but it’s a loud one. Some of us spend the day vying for attention, while others are content to cook or clean up. The meal is always gourmet and the spirit bright.

Christmas is for kids.

And my sisters and I have never really gotten over being kids. Even though we’re middle-aged and can theoretically afford to buy our own glass popcorn poppers and orange down vests from Lands’ End, we would much rather have them given to us.  The youth of the group don’t share our vision and so, as aunts we have learned to give them money or gift cards which are opened with quick but genuine enthusiasm.

Long after the kids have lost interest, my sisters and I keep opening and opening. One at a time, we go round the circle, oohing and ahhing and being so very thankful to receive the gifts we simply could not live without. And when it’s over, we pack up our cars with more bags than we came with and tote everything back home. The next day I’m always surprised when I do inventory – rediscovering presents I forgot I had even received.

Ah, yes. Christmas is for kids.

But, the way I see it, there’s nothing wrong with being a 55 year-old kid.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I'll Be Home For Christmas

I have always dreamed of a Hallmark Holiday.

I’m one of those saps who would have loved to have gotten engaged on Valentine’s Day. Mother’s Day would best be memorialized with a feature in the local paper touting the town’s most loved and revered mother (me). And I have continually fantasized about getting that very special gift for Christmas. I’m not sure what that gift would be, but I always wished that someone somewhere would know exactly what it was that would make me swoon that season.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had wonderful holidays. I have a fabulous family filled with lots of sisters and we all get along. We’ve never had to worry about who is not talking to whom because none of us have ever mastered the art of silence. We have a few distant crazies, but none of them are harmful. I am truly blessed.

Bu, I still want that Hallmark Holiday.

This year, Max, my middle child transferred from a college two hours away to one 2800 miles away. He went off with the understanding that there were certain concessions that had to be made in exchange for the high tuition and far away campus of the University of Southern California. And, much to my sorrow, one of those sacrifices was that he couldn’t fly home for a long weekend at Thanksgiving and then again three weeks later for winter break.

Yet, I couldn’t help but sneak onto Expedia every other day to see if the airfares had miraculously plummeted. Instead, the basic roundtrip airfare doubled. I was tempted, but I stayed strong. I didn’t buy the ticket.

In mid-November, my daughter, a senior at University of North Carolina, started whining about her 500-mile drive home. We bought her a clunker of a car with the understanding that if she ever wanted to fly home again, she had to pay for her own ticket. About this time, knowing full well that he wasn’t, she asked me repeatedly if her brother was coming home for Thanksgiving.

I didn’t need much more than that to set my mind in motion. By Thanksgiving Eve, I was 100 percent sure that the whole family was in cahoots and would be surprising me the next day with my prodigal son at the dining room table.

Well, Thanksgiving came and went. The turkey was moist, the company magnificent. But still, there was a hole in my heart the size of California that could so easily have been filled with the purchase of a plane ticket to my Hallmark Holiday.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I Hate Christmas

I hate Christmas.

I know that sounds a bit harsh, so let me back-pedal a bit. I love everything that Christmas represents; the cheesy decorations, the cheery greetings, the way the working world slows to a crawl and we all get to eat and drink too much. I love to wear my red glittery sweater and silver Christmas tree earrings. I love that there’s no school and no schedules and that I can go see the girl next door as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker.

I just hate that I am too busy, too poor and too stressed to enjoy it. I hate dragging the decorations down from the attic and rearranging my living space to make room for the garlands and angels and jingle bells and nativity scenes. I hate putting up the Christmas tree. I hate the way the brand new red table cloth gets stained on the very first day in an unhideable spot. I hate that I purposely schedule my haircut for after New Year’s and hide from the UPS guy so I don’t have to give a holiday tip. I hate that I got in the habit of baking cookies for every human being I know. I hate the gifts I buy to give to people I don’t even like and I hate the inordinate amount of presents I pile on our kids who already have more than any reasonable human being could ever want or need. I hate the guilt I feel that I haven’t bought, done or been enough.

I hate that I color-code my family’s Christmas gifts. Yes, it’s true. Molly’s gifts are wrapped in blue angel paper, Max’s are red reindeers and Leo’s are your basic green and white stripes. My husband’s gifts are wrapped in whatever was leftover from the year before and the few gifts I buy for myself are done up in the expensive gold wrapping paper from the school fundraiser.  I won’t put the gifts under the tree until everyone has gone to bed even though it’s been well over 10 years since the youngest stopped believing in Santa Claus. Understand that I don’t have babies. Remember, I am on the road to the empty nest. My kids are almost 22, almost 20 and close enough to18 years-old.

I hate that when it’s all over I have regrets. I regret that I spent too much money. I regret that I ate too many cookies. I regret that snapped at my spouse. And my kids. And my dog.

But most of all, I regret that I missed another opportunity to be the kind of friend and wife and mother that I know I could be.

If only I didn’t hate Christmas.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The longer I live, the less forever never is

We’ve all known them. Those annoying NEVER people. You know who I’m talking about. The ones who get up on their pedestals and proselytize –  not about reasonable nevers that they could actually stick to – “I would never run a marathon,” or “I would never own a gun,” but about nonsensical nevers that set them up for failure time and time again.

Sadly, I am one of them.

Some of my more adamant nevers have surfaced over parenting.  I would NEVER let my children talk to me that way. I would NEVER talk to my children that way (at least not in public). I would NEVER bribe my kids to do the right thing to make me look good. And I would NEVER, ever, not in a million years, drive a mini-van.

You guessed it.  I’m on my second mini-van and I’m never getting rid of it.

I tried not to succumb to the whole mini-van thing, I really did. Instead, for years we would take two cars wherever we went. I’d load up the Subaru wagon (which was too small to hold three car seats and two adults) with the portable crib, double stroller, baby walker and the Little Tikes cozy coupe with the yellow roof, grab the two kids who were the best behaved at that moment and send the screamer off with the father.  Whether we were driving 200 miles to the in-laws for the weekend or two miles to a friend’s house for the afternoon, this is the way we did it.

But, somewhere along the line I got tired of hearing, “He’s touching me!” and “I’m squished!” and I started fantasizing about the kids each having their very own row in the car. I thought about how wonderful it would be to take a nap while my husband drove us off to parts unknown and convinced myself that I would never, ever regret traveling together in familial solidarity. Not that I wanted a mini-van, mind you. It had simply become a necessity.

And so, for the last decade-and-a-half I’ve been the reluctant owner of a mini-van. I’ve spent hours and hours and miles and miles transporting hundreds and hundreds of kids to games, to schools, to malls, to libraries, to tutors, to jobs, to restaurants. But these days, I ride alone in the big rig, half-full water bottles sloshing around the back seat as a gentle reminder that this was once a car made for kids.  

All three of my children drive now. Two of them have their own cars. And the third says he would never, ever drive a mini-van. Which is precisely why I’ll never get rid of it.