The Smudged Star

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 5.52.06 AMNew Year’s is time to pack up the tree. I remove each ornament and ponder its significance as I gently wrap it and put it in its special box. Except for the generic balls and fillers, each has a very special meaning–the power to make me travel to a time and place in my life represented by that little piece of wood, plastic, or glass. Twice a year–when I put them up, and when I take them down, I hold these little time machines in my hand.

Every year I get a special ornament for everyone. Mom began this tradition. Her thought was that everyone would have 20 or 30 of their own special ornaments when they struck out to start their own tree.

This year I bought three ceramic shapes on which to paint–one for Rusty, Brittany, and Declan. I made dinosaurs on Declan’s. He found and broke the snowflake that would have been Brittany’s. The star that would have been Rusty’s went missing. I cleaned. I searched. Gone. Too late to get another.

I gave Declan his ornament, since he’d already seen it. It’s usually part of a Christmas Eve pre-bed ceremony which includes putting out carrots for reindeer, a cookie for Santa, and tossing the boy into bed so I can sleep, too. “Mommy made this special for you this year.”
He looked at both sides. “I LOVE it!” There were two dinos. He examined each carefully reading the text. “I have something special for you,” he said. He went to his room into his “special box.” It’s a glass-topped wooden box with an etched compass–looks like it came out of a Kipling novel. He keeps his treasures inside, including his already been chewed “world record” gum, some pom poms, an elastic, and a plastic dinosaur. He pulled out a small crinkly-wrapped package and handed it to me.
“Open it, Mommy!” I did. It was the star ornament. “I hope it didn’t get smudged.” It did. Clearly, he’d used the wrong markers. “It says ‘To Mommy, Love Declan.” On the other side was a picture of stars. Smudged stars, but stars, nonetheless.
I can’t help but think that’s the best present of all. That’s what I told him, “I will never get another present better than this. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mommy. I love this ornament. Even though you put PLANT EATERS instead of CARNIVORES on it…I really love it, though.” I got the biggest Christmas hug.
==
When I was about 4 or 5, my grandmother was visiting. I found a pile of Hallmark cards she’d amassed for birthdays and such so she wouldn’t have to go to the store. I took each. I wrote, “I love you, Grandma, Love, Dawn.” I wrote happy birthday on the birthday cards, but I didn’t know what an anniversary was–I could read, but I didn’t know the word… I just put “I love you” on those.
There were about ten cards.
Mom found me. I’d ruined all of Grandma’s cards. Mom was really mad.
Grandma wasn’t.
Packing up the stolen star reminded me of that story from a generation ago, which I remember clear as if it were this morning.  Interesting how timeless the innocence of a child really is.
[image: marthastewart.com]
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All’s Fair in War and Christmas: Weapons Make Great Gifts

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

In my family we don’t give gifts. We give aggravation. No one likes a Yankee Swap where people regift candles to an unsuspecting aunt. That’s small time. We’re far more clever than that.

Anyone who’s come near our family has suffered the wrath of the gift. There was once a plastic silverware sorter that got regifted for years indicating the fact that the recipient had been tagged with shame and would have to wait gift it to the next unsuspecting victim.

We gifted twelve packs of socks, individually wrapped because everyone took one turn before the next person went–this meant you knew you had twelve turns of socks to find and all the disappointment, discovering boxes you thought had something cool had…another sock wrapped so cleverly that a customs agent wouldn’t pick up on the contents if it were a sock filled with drugs.

I’m not sure how Christmas became a time for pranks rather than generosity, but that’s the way things are. We had good stuff below the tree, too, but it was always bulked up by things that people needed that were saved and wrapped for Christmas, like food items. Most families just grocery shop for food and eat it. Our family wrapped it and put it under the tree. Pepperoni, olives, candy bars, treats, ramen noodles…it’s all been there.

This isn’t normal behavior I’ve discovered. It’s why my husband was mystified to unwrap barley this year–he likes my mushroom barley soup so I wrapped barley. My son, however, loved that I wrapped marshmallows and chocolate Goldfish crackers. He’s going to fit into the gift spirit just fine.

This whole gift thing got particularly nasty when everyone had kids. Instead of individually wrapping socks, we tried to give gifts kids would love but would secretly torture parents. Mess, noise, disaster, global conflict and warm–all’s fair in war and Christmas. The more parts, mess and batteries the better. Directions in Japanese–a plus. I started studying Japanese. Mostly I can order beer and talk about the day, but soon I’ll be able to build a hybrid from a manual and defeat any toy.

This year, I tried to win by sending the boys science stuff and socks. They cringed at the thought of getting clothes for Christmas but everyone needs socks. I was tired. Socks are beginner strategy. So two decades ago. I set myself up for a big loss.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Ali (names not disguised to protect the guilty) sent us the mother of all gifts…the trebuchet. Or as Declan calls it, “The Cannonpult.” It’s not just a trebuchet The Cannonpultcapable of launching rocks and things a full 30 feet through car and house windows, it’s a build your own trebuchet, complete with wood glue and about a million parts with multistep directions. That makes them the clear winner in this year’s gift category. Although the cannonpult came with a harmless rubber ball, everyone with a brain knows that it’ll never be used to launch that ball. The ball has exactly one flight before it’s lost in the woods forever. After that, we switch to rocks.

“Mom, is it hunting season?” Declan asked.

“It’s over in a week.” Surprised I know that. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, if my cannonpult ball goes into the woods, I don’t want to get shot. What happens if I get shot?” he asked. Fair question.

“It’ll hurt. Try not to get shot. And don’t shoot your cannonpult into the woods.” Good solution. He scrunched up his face. “If you lose your ball, I will get it,” I said.

“But then you’ll get shot.” I’d thought he’d realize I could go Matrix and avoid the bullets.

“Don’t worry about it. I have life insurance. If I get shot, you’ll be fine.”

“Too bad you don’t have State Farm. Like a good neighbor…” He began to sing and lecture about my choice of insurance companies. I have USAA. Somehow being paid out by a good neighbor would make things better than a random lump sum by a company which doesn’t have a song?

So, we–no, I–set about building the trebuchet that will get me shot and give someone other than State Farm something to do. Declan sanded pieces of wood he could not destroy and I carefully read directions in seven languages and glued parts together, bonding with the boy by saying, “Don’t touch,” and “NO!” while being filled with gratitude for things like pre-drilled holes for hardware.

I discovered this project was going to take a couple days. That’s a fantastic learning experience for a six-year old, although the cannonpult box clearly said “Twelve and up.” That really means (translated into Japanese and back) “Even someone as old as dirt can’t possibly put this together. We’re laughing at you for trying.”

We had to let the parts dry. When he slept, I glued the second stage together. I told him it was an elf so he wouldn’t get mad that I did stuff without him.

Today, we’ll go out and toss rocks into the woods and break a car window or two. He’ll have fun with his cannonpult. I’ll smile. Not because I’m happy about getting shot and breaking windows, but because I’m already planning my revenge for next year.

 

No Card for You: First Annual Holiday Blog Wrapup

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 8.08.50 AMI didn’t send you a card.

Not because I don’t like you. I never finish my cards. Ever. Somewhere in the recesses of a closet lies a box of unsent wedding thank yous from a dozen years ago–I was so appreciative I wrote novels. I paused to include black & whites hand-picked specifically for each note and found small mementos requiring a slightly bigger envelope, which I hand-calligraphied…

Defeated by vision and distraction, the cards lie in wait.

This happens every Christmas. Some years I plan cards for New Years. A couple of times I aimed for summer solstice. This year, I skipped cards entirely and sent a pile of small boxes and gifts.

I got a few cards from people who are much better than me. Cheryl, Cat, Herb and Su, and my Mom always send a real card. Elly, my dear friend and accountant includes a calendar so I remember to I pay my taxes on time.

The bulk of the cards on the mantle are from Declan’s classmates. I pretend they’re mine. It’s tough to hang holiday emails.

I love cards with pictures of families, but I wonder why parents always cut themselves out. We get old, too. I have five grey hairs containing the wisdom of 2013.  I want to show them off. I look like an adult now. I don’t get carded often. I’ve aged gracefully. I clean up well if I have to. That’s what you’d see if I sent you a card.

I wish I saw people in person more. I’ve promised not to say that anymore, because the truth is, life gets away from me no matter where people live. I rarely see my friend an hour down the road, and I’ve been texting my friend two doors down. That’s only slightly more forgivable than texting someone in the next room.

It always seems easier to visit tomorrow and send a text or email today. I check Elly’s calendar to find “tomorrow,” so I can block out visits with real people. I keep hunting, because “tomorrow” isn’t anywhere on the pages.

Phone calls are no better. These days, I schedule them. I caught up with one childhood friend this week but have a call pending that’s been hanging out there for two years. If that seems excessive, just know it’s been a busy two years.

An assistant won’t help. It didn’t make me any more organized in my first life, but it was cool to hang out and get reminded of all the work I didn’t do.

“Did you finish your cards?”

“Nope.”

I like cards with holiday newsletters, especially the ones people sign in human form–I authenticate signatures. My mom sends one. Since I already know what happened, I read it to see if I got more mentions than my brother and sister. That’s how I know I’ve had a good year.

Since I didn’t send cards, here’s a post including links from Christmases past. Pull up some egg nog. Enjoy the blessings of this and all the other holidays I haven’t properly acknowledged. Be well, be blessed. Savor the gifts of the universe, be they small or great. Thank you for sharing this year with me and being among my greatest gifts.

“Best Christmas Posts from The Last Two Years When I Didn’t Send Your Card.”

Here’s where I complain that customs ruined Sarah’s Christmas surprise, and next I fail to send gifts for Declan’s classmates at school. Speaking of zero surprises, I bought a couch this year, which can’t be wrapped and put under the tree. On Christmas morning we’ll see the dog didn’t eat it. We’ll yell, “Surprise! Merry Christmas!”

In this post, I forget what I ordered from Amazon, so it feels a little like Christmas, even though it’s fall. Here, I try to organize the list but fail. Here’s where I promise to finish your cards in order of religion, not alphabet. Epic fail again.

The boy is still reciting Scrooge by the version now and asking why there is no sequel. He does this all year. Our snow has been melted by freakish weather. I’m reminded by Sarah, the Australian, that Christmas isn’t owned by New England, and some people decorate with sea shells and wait for Beach Santa.

These 2012 and 2013 posts reflect upon the day before Christmas vacation–a tough one for teachers. I’ve kept my vow never to use glitter again.  Reading through posts, I see my mind’s in a better place this year, though I’m thrilled Declan wants to give me–“world peace and an end to human suffering.” It’s much appreciated. I sit by the fake tree looking at the ornaments that remind me of my childhood trees. Putting up the tree this year was a joy–a three-piece fake tree with lights included. Not one argument. Declan is trying to be good for Santa, although not so successfully at times. Last year, a chance run in with an elf helped carry the momentum. This year Santa sent an email.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a Joyous 2014.

I hope you enjoyed your “card.”

Bad Mom Ruins Elementary Christmas

I’m an urban secondary educator who’s moved out to the sticks. Although I grew up in a small town, Christmas changes from location to location. Things definitely aren’t the same in the city.

I got Christmas all wrong.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.42.05 PM

What I wanted to give as gifts…What they deserved…

I knew I must get something for Declan’s teacher, the saint who calligraphies two-paged notes prolifically, ending each with, “But I know tomorrow will be a better day.” I negligently missed the collection the parents organized, but no mere collection could equal the amount of hell Declan’s put that teacher through, so we made something with love and loaded as much caffeine as possible onto a nice coffee card. Everyone in Rhode Island has stock in a Dunkin Donuts, so I figured that’d raise the local economy.  This teacher really deserved a fifth of vodka, but I don’t know if you can get elementary teachers such things–high school teachers perhaps, and college professors, yes, but first grade’s a little early to start drinking. Even for a teacher.

I swung by the local Dunk again because it occurred to me that the bus monitors deserved something, too. From Day One, they had been “working with” Declan on bus manners–Day One being the day they advised him not to be inappropriate, through weeks later when he finally earned his way into Bus Jail, aka “the front seat,” with the monitor.  Since I didn’t think a monogrammed flask would be appropriate for a lady who drives and her partner who’s required to hold up traffic looking for children doing chin-ups on axles while my son Supermans on the top step threatening to fly–they got as much caffeine as is ethical too.

My colleague, who lives in the same town, said, “Did you get something for the reading specialist and the aids?”

No! Nobody told me that. I don’t know these things. We don’t do gifts at the high school. A friend suggested this morning, “We’re lucky not to get the middle finger on the way out!”

Most of my kids are happy customers. If everyone is, they say, I’m doing something wrong. We had a good day, surprise guest in my class, pizza in the cafeteria, and I found a bunch of thank you cards from students in my box on the way out. Made me smile–exactly what I would’ve asked for.

I rushed home to give the monitors their “I-wish-it-were-a-flask” gifts. Declan got off the bus, held up traffic one last time before vacation, and waddled to the door, backpack stuffed with…stuff.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.44.40 PMWhat my colleague didn’t tell me about Christmas in the Sticks is that EVERYONE does something for EVERYONE. Declan had gifts, cards, candy, and notes. And I had to go and mess this system up–I didn’t give a crumb too small for a mouse to even a single classmate.

There were a million candy canes each with a bite out of them then he struck gold. “Oh, look, Mom! A RING POP! How did she KNOW I love RING POPS?”

Um, because they’re sticky and make a mess? That equals awesome!

“That was very nice of her.” I wished I’d thought of Ring Pops. Next time.

For now, I’m letting him eat all the candy since I was a bad mom and didn’t send gifts. This way, he’ll only have to brush his teeth once. Later, I’ll plan my strategy so I can absolutely rock Valentine’s Day and really make the bus team earn that caffeine.

 

[images: homewetbar.com and loveitsomuch.com]

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chaos

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 5.17.48 AMFriday. TGIF. The last day…before Christmas break. The world is rejoicing. We…just…have…to…survive…today.

I brought the gifts I made for my advisory students yesterday. Getting a jump on Christmas, like most of America. I forgot two boys’ things. A “Worst Teacher in the Universe” move. They forgave me. Today, I’ll earn redemption. I have their gifts here.

The kids started Christmas early, too. There were bags, boxes, bangles and bows. Santa hats and shirts. I’ll wear my Santa hat today.

Today, they’ll be wandering the halls with more wrappings, stuffed animals, glitter and ribbons. We, like mini Scrooges, will attempt to keep order.

Chaos will reign supreme. They’ll go to their parties, they’ll hug their friends. Some will rejoice, others will cry. Christmas is not fun for everyone, you know. Homelessness, divorce, difficult family situations, the economy…it wears on kids who know today will be the last day that they see their best friends…on whom they hang for support…for nearly two weeks. Teachers, too.

The halls will jingle, parties will fade. Students, cracked upon candy and pizza, will get on busses that bring them to their lives.

And I hope they will have a Merry Christmas.

 

(You Don’t Have to Guess) What You’re Getting for Christmas

I wanted to simplify Christmas. I’m feeling crafty. I stole my friends art ideas, manufactured things using their concepts and mailed the finished stolen-idea products back as gifts. They’ll never guess I totally plagiarized the ideas because my art is terrible. They won’t recognize it as their own. They’ll think Declan helped, and no one can hate a gift that a six-year-old made from the heart.

He actually did help with one or two. Only he didn’t make all of them from the heart. He made one gift with love–that was the freebie, made out of the Spirit of Christmas. Soon, though, the Spirit of Christmas got drop kicked by the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. After that, he charged for his efforts. As usual.

“I’ll draw these dinosaurs for two dollars and all the change in your jar.”

“It’s for YOUR teacher!”

“I’ll take a handful of dollars instead.” His price is going up.

I give him a handful of pennies and two cookies.  He draws a dinosaur for his teacher.

The boxes of gifts I have to mail are filled and addressed. Only one person, a friend in Wisconsin, will get a late gift. The Boy stole the boxes for a fort. An envelope won’t do.

I venture to the post office and plop the boxes on the counter. It’s the kind of village post office where they’ll soon know my name in the middle of a town that Rockwell painted on the map.

“This one can get there Saturday for nine dollars or Monday for seven.” The postmistress smiles.

“Monday’s fine.”

“This one can go parcel or first class.” Decisions.

“First class would be great.”

“Oh, this one needs a customs form.” Simple enough. I take the form. I read the form. I frown at the form.

What’s your blood type? What are you sending? Did you send anything that could blow up? Did you mail any drugs, plants, exotic animals or your mother-in-law? Does it come from a rated R catalog? Do you like kittens? Are you a terrorist?… List the entire contents of this box and the value of each item.

I write “Christmas gift.”

“Oh, no, you can’t do that. You have to fill it out. ALL the columns.” How can a Christmas gift be a surprise if I’m listing the contents on the front of the box? And if I list the value, my friend will realize I’m a cheap ass who not only stole art concepts but didn’t even spend a lot of money on her gift. 

The post office lady’s tone is serious. Customs people and IRS agents are both hired for their lack of humor. I thought post people were okay…lately. I’m told the job interview for the others consists of watching Monty Python, old Carlin, and the Redneck Comedy Tour. Anyone who considers cracking a smile isn’t hired.

I never mess with customs people at the border. It’s not wise to mess with postal workers during Christmas, either. She interrogates me. I crack.

“It’s a mug I made after stealing my friend’s idea. And some soap made by a twelve-year old entrepreneur who’s awesome. The cup’s value is practically nothing, and the soap could have been expensive but she gave me a volume discount. This gift has no value!” To make myself feel good, I put “$5” on the customs form. I list the two items, forgetting the third. I hope I don’t get caught.

Do we need to be surprised to enjoy the magic of the season? The government says no. Should we lie on the customs forms to make our gifts look more valuable? I’d like to try. I consider putting “Crack, value $6,000.” Wonder if it’d get there faster.  Perhaps, but I’m too afraid of The Man to write that. 

I fill out the form. She tapes it to the box. I say “Merry Christmas.” I pay much more to mail the gift than it’s worth. On the way out, I make a mental note to apologize to my friend in Wisconsin who’s not getting her gift because the post office is out of little boxes.  I make a note to apologize to friends who got cards this week. If you did, it was last year’s I never sent.  

Boxes gone. One more thing helping me gather momentum for the Spirit of Christmas–which keeps getting crushed by the boy and the Spirit of Entrepreneurship.

Who knows. Maybe both can live copasetically. All year long. 

 

 

 

A Spring in the Rear and the New Couch is Here

Aside

 

Meets all the requirements. Looks nice and isn't made of dead things.

Meets all the requirements. Looks nice and isn’t made of dead things.

We bought each other a couch and chair for Christmas. I never bought a big joint gift like that. My colleague says, “We always do Mexico for Christmas in February.” Christmas is December. February is Valentine’s Day. I like presents below the tree.

But getting a couch seemed totally imperative–not imperative like paying the bills imperative or solving world hunger and the problems in education imperative, but important. It’s important mostly because I am such a cool mom.

It’s not that cool moms need stylish furniture. I don’t. I can be cool on milk crates. As a cool mom, not much bothers me, including the type of furniture in the house. I go with the flow. I fix PlayDoh disasters, clean paint spills, and don’t overstress about glitter.

I was cool, in this case, because I let Declan jump on furniture. Who needs a trampoline and extra insurance? We own things that go boing.

Boing, boing, boing…The boy got his athleticism from Rusty and is ADHD from me. It’s a perfectly olympic combination for sports that don’t make him cry. One of these is couch jumping. Boing, boing, boing… after a while, he gets tired. He only fell off and shattered his arm in three places once, and that was years ago–he was three. In his defense,  I interfered–I thought he was falling. I tried to catch him and ruined his perfect-ten landing.

But he got a cool purple cast and some really big shirts to fit over it. What kid doesn’t want to look gangsta for Christmas? That’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Doghair on said couch an hour post delivery

Dog hair on said couch an hour post delivery

Rusty likes things in order. Living in Germany and having been a staff sergeant does that to a person. I’d probably improve my life if I did even one of those things. Enjoying order, he was getting annoyed at the bouncy couch, which was sporting a couple holes, stains, and a divot that swallowed small people. Who knew bouncing on couches ruined springs? Maybe that’s why all the moms yelled at us about stupid things all the time. I always wished they’d lighten up and have more fun bouncing with us.

I, the cheapest person alive, agreed we needed a couch. Letting forty-pound boys jump on stuff breaks it. Two inches from my spot on the couch, a spring had sprung. It was threatening to serve as a proctology exam sans copay. I can’t put some doctor with a half-million in student loans out of work. Time for a couch.

We went to “look and plan.” That usually means we’ve both considered a purchase and something bad is going to happen. I’ve gotten a couple of cool cars that way.
Buying a couch together isn’t simple. Paying is… everyone will take money, it’s the agreeing part that’s hard. Like choosing a baby name or a restaurant…it’s never simple.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
“Doesn’t matter, what do you want to do?”
And so it goes until both parties make a suggestion, then promptly vote each other’s suggestions off the island. We simultaneously converged on a simple brown couch we’d seen before. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember why we hadn’t bought it. It was so nice. Simple. And not made of dead things.
I picked up the price tag. Then, I remembered. I’d been too cheap, and there hadn’t been a proctology feature, hole, or dog stain on our Swamp Yankee couch to inspire me.
Extra seating for those in need of a low-cost option for proctology

Extra seating for those in need of a low-cost option for proctology

We hesitated. The salesman said, “This is on clearance, and I can give you the Black Friday price.” Black Friday was WEEKS ago. I’d safely avoided American commercial greed for most of the season. “And I can give you this coupon with free delivery.”

The only thing he couldn’t do was take the old couch. But he could have it carried to the curb. It looks nice there. We live in the country. I call that extra seating. Or bus stop comfort for Declan. Or maybe a medical exam station for people who haven’t chosen their Obamacare plan and need a low-cost option for proctology.
The Black Friday sale sold me. Now if I have a bad day and someone says “What’s up your butt?” I can honestly say nothing. I am sitting, writing in style.