Santa is Loaded

I mean emotionally loaded.

I mean emotionally loaded.

Can I be frank? Christmas has a history of being an emotionally loaded holiday for me.

My mom lost her battle with cancer on December 21st, 1979. (To my knowledge the Mayans did not predict that event.) I was ten.

It immediately became clear after Mom’s death that she had been single-handedly holding the entire family together and making Christmas magical. Without Mom’s deft talent of redirection, I discovered that we were ill-suited to handle family togetherness and joy.

For one thing, my father hated the holiday. He was a social worker with Child Protective Services and, as any social worker or police officer can tell you, Christmas is a time for killing your loved ones. He spent the holiday marinated. Everyone else was just as miserable.

In front of our Charlie Brown Christmas tree Here I am in an ill-fitting thrift store dress, blissfully ignorant of the impending misery.

Here I am in front of our Charlie Brown Christmas tree in an ill-fitting thrift store dress, blissfully ignorant of the impending misery.

I tried my best to slip into Mom’s shoes and resurrect the Christmas spirit, but those shoes weren’t made for a ten-year old. I started finding ways to desert my family during the holiday. When I got older I would often spend Christmas alone watching depressing foreign films and thinking deep thoughts while wearing a beret.

Reality check: I’ve never worn a beret. They don’t fit my head. However when I picture that time period I see myself as a sad mime with a beret and white gloves, trapped in a box—not a real box that would spare the world the horror of a mime performance but a pretend box so that everyone could suffer through my melancholy along with me. Because I’m a giver.

Sad mime wants to give you a present. How sweet.

Sad mime wants to give you a present. How sweet.

Then I had kids and rediscovered the magic of the holiday. There is nothing more satisfying than hoodwinking a trusting child into believing in that magical bearded toy schlepper, Santa Claus. Against all odds Christmas came from dead last to miraculously take first place as my favorite holiday. Disney could make a movie about that sh!t…oh wait, they have.

But this was a weird Christmas. I’m 43, the age my mom was when she died and that fact took some of the sparkle out of the holiday. Perhaps due to this fact, my current family decided to do a serviceable impression of the dysfunctional family of my youth. They were probably trying to help me work through some stuff. It’s sweet really. Sweet like a bottle of Vics 44 with a rubbing alcohol chaser.

I love these people though they torture me so.

I love these people though they torture me so.

Picture Hubs watching a UFC match while we decorated the tree, complaining that we were blocking the fight, Riley ditching me at the city’s tree lighting ceremony to spend time with her friend’s family, Riley and Conor yelling at each other and slamming doors, Hubs complaining that I was trying to kill the whole family during a manic drive to look at Christmas lights (in his defense it did cross my mind). It was all so achingly nostalgic. And through it all I kept my teeth clamped together in a pained smile and trudged along, determined to make it a joyful holiday.

This child isn't related to me in any way but was kind enough to stand in for this photo depicting a joyous holiday occasion.

This child isn’t related to me in any way but was kind enough to stand in for this photo depicting a joyous holiday occasion.

And it was joyful at times. We had some good moments. Moments when I didn’t feel like Chevy Chase right after he received the certificate for the Jelly of the Month Club instead of his Christmas bonus in Christmas Vacation.

Sure most of my planned activities backfired, Hubs bought himself a midlife crisis motorcycle as if the audio book he received from me was insufficient and Riley lamented immediately that she didn’t get everything on her list which read like War and Peace (seriously, Santa would’ve had to rent a semi to deliver all of her requests). The important thing to remember is that we were all together, nobody got arrested or “voluntarily admitted” and we didn’t actually kill each other.

And one day all of the insanity will make for precious family memories. Like when I tried to explain to Riley why her friend wanted to hang out with her own family instead of us, even though Riley had no problem dropping us at a moment’s notice to spend time with them. I was trying to explain it in an upbeat I’m-too-cool-and-self-confident-to-mind kind of way with just a splash of guilt thrown in because I actually did mind when Riley responded in a stricken voice, “I didn’t realize that I didn’t like you” and then I nearly drove into oncoming traffic. We laughed about that later. Some of us more than others.

Don't patronize me.

Don’t patronize me.

See what I mean? Precious.

Anyway, I hope your holidays were also filled with precious memories or at least adequate Zoloft and I hope this new year is filled with more joy and less sensationalist tragedies.  May we all find a way to nourish our creativity and still get the laundry done.

Mazel tov!

************

Photo Credits:

Dreamstime

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Jesus Wears Nike

Warning: This post contains confusing religious messages and delusions of grandeur.

I don’t want to make anyone feel inferior here, but sometimes God talks to me. I don’t actually hear his voice, which I imagine sounds just like James Earl Jones, but sometimes he sends me little messages, like a spiritual IM. I’ve noticed that I receive more messages after a Venti beverage, which may mean that these are just caffeinated delusions or maybe Starbucks is adding an extra squirt of Jesus in my cup. I’m not here to question. Sometimes those messages are clear, sometimes they’re confusing as hell and sometimes they freak me the f*ck out, but regardless,  I take them and shove them in my little bag of crazy to figure out later.

Take this morning, for instance, I decided to add to the world’s most pathetic Christmas display happening in our yard with a trip to the local hardware store, because nothing says “happy birthday, Jesus!” like an inflatable Santa and icicle lights.

I think Jesus kicked over our tinsel tree in disgust.

As I was driving, sipping on my Starbucks green tea, I heard Charlie Sheen’s response to the statement made by the kid from Two and a Half Men about the show being filth and forcing him to be an incredibly rich, conflicted 19-year-old telling bad jokes (I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea). Anyway, Charlie believes that the kid’s outburst is yet more proof that the show is cursed and he referenced the Heaven’s Gate cult (the cult where everybody committed suicide while wearing Nike tennis shoes) in his statement.

I love Charlie. He makes me feel so sane.

A tweaker, a Seventh Day Adventist and a closeted gay man walk into a bar…

Anyway, I get to the hardware store and on my way inside, this person emerges from a convertible Jaguar with a handicap placard, who was so disturbing that I violently averted my eyes and nearly veered right into the pole holding the handicap sign in front of the store.  In my defense, let me just say that I am absolutely unphased by most handicaps and disfigurements. Sadly, I’m not as adept at handling really bad plastic surgery. I’m not proud of my reaction. I tried to play off my tactlessness, hoping that the person would interpret my rudeness as confusion and joy at my hardware store arrival or a mini stroke.

I say “person” because at first I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was looking at a man or a woman or just a composite of a plastic surgeon’s patient files. Imagine if a wax statue of Donatella Versace melted into a wax statue of Mickey Rourke and then went hardware shopping. This person’s face was stretched and plumped and then generously spray tanned into a look I’ll call Timeless Alien. His (I checked for breasts, that’s how I know) hair was bleached white blonde on top and left dark on the bottom in a classic boy band style and he wore a red and black Nike warm up outfit as if he’d just emerged from rehearsals as Siegfried and Roy’s new stage partner. Given that this is LA, the land of celebrity, I did wonder if he actually was a celebrity like Siegfried or Roy or Melanie Griffith.

Anyway, he was very friendly, chatting up all of the women in the Christmas lights and ornaments aisle and I felt very badly about my reaction. Really I was so overcome with guilt that I could barely manage to grab the last inflatable Santa on sale. I did manage, but I want you to know that there was no joy in it.

Then it struck me. This was the second time that craziness and Nike had been combined in the past half hour. This was a message from God.

Messages are everywhere. Here we have a bedazzled @ss message.

But what was the message? Vanity is its own handicap? Appreciate what you have? Shop locally, age gracefully and watch out for chemical spills? Don’t smoke meth and then visit a plastic surgeon?

If I had another green tea, I’m sure that I would unravel this parable. Of course, I’d also stop blinking and then my heart would explode, so I’m going to hold off on enlightenment for now.

Instead, I thought I’d share the message with you on the off-chance that you were looking for a message from God and hadn’t had the time to make it to your local Starbucks or hardware store. Consider it an early Christmas gift. Ho ho ho.

Sorry I didn’t get you a card.

****

nydailynews

antiquiet

To Overprotect and Serve

Cops can be a little overprotective of their loved ones. It’s not their fault really. They see all kinds of horrifying things and automatically overlay the faces of their loved ones on the faces of the victims. It’s human nature, like nose picking.

(Look, let’s not lie to each other and pretend that we don’t all occasionally mine the nasal cavity. I think we’re beyond that point in our relationship.)

Anyway, Hubs sees disturbing things. Then he thinks about my giant noggin and how much he wants to keep it safe. After all it holds the secrets to which medicines and snack foods each of our children gets. Then he comes home and puts unfair restrictions on me, like telling me that I can’t take the kids and drive around South Central Los Angeles so that I can accurately describe the smell of ghetto in my unpublished work of genius that will one day pay for the kids’ college. Now tell me, how will I ever finish my future best seller without an accurate description of the olfactory qualities of ghettotude? It’s almost like he doesn’t want the kids to go to college.

“It smells like drivebys and Colt 45, you patronizing bourgeois biznitch.” (image via JonathanRosenbaum)

Anyway, yesterday Hubs came home from a long day of collecting parole violators and saw me lying on the kitchen floor with our son’s train set and my smart phone, taking pictures from different angles in order to best capture the joy that the train set could bring to a child who had not suddenly decided to outgrow trains between putting said train set on his/her Christmas list and discovering it under the tree. This hypothetical child’s parents are probably combing Craig’s List in search of an affordable train set right this minute, because they can’t afford to purchase one from Toys”R”Us since they both lost their jobs at the coal mine. Are there coal mines in Southern California? Maybe they worked at the Cheesecake Factory. Either way, it’s heartbreaking.

I explained this to Hubs who promptly told me that he didn’t want me to use Craig’s List because serial killers and child predators cruise it to find unsuspecting housewives for their next victims. Hubs apparently didn’t fully grasp the selflessness of my intentions–that for a mere $20 (or best offer) I could bring joy to an underprivileged train lover and his/her economically burdened parents. Such selflessness transcends personal danger. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil…except boys named Damien who bear the mark of the beast, because I saw The Omen and there’s no way I’m selling a train set to a kid who is pure evil. That would be irresponsible.

“Mommy didn’t get me a train set so I threw her off the balcony.” (image via tvtropes.org)

I helpfully explained that I was avoiding the sociopaths on Craig’s List by omitting “sensual massage” from the product description of my ad. Hubs was not amused. I offered to include “toy comes from a non-smoking, gun-filled household.” Hubs didn’t find that comforting either.

I had no choice but to launch into the speech wherein I explain that I survived 30 years before meeting Hubs because I make extremely good decisions (except for occasionally in my teens and twenties, a fact that I don’t include in my speech because it doesn’t support my argument). I further explained that because I now tote around two dependents and am more burdened informed about the dangers lurking everywhere I am even more cautious and observant in my day to day dealings. Plus I just watched two Steven Seagal movies back to back that were filmed before Steven got fat and started exclusively wearing those Chinese jackets. I’m more in danger, statistically speaking, riding in the passenger seat of Hubs’s decrepit jeep while he practices his agro New England driving skills.

“Are you making fun of my size and fashion choices? I’m going to take off my beautiful jacket and kick your ass.” (image via wikipedia)

I deliver this speech periodically when Hubs starts to worry about the safety of my plans. It does nothing to waylay his concerns but I like to occasionally deliver the speech anyway because I enjoy hearing myself talk. I finally put Hubs at ease by promising not to let anyone come to the house without Hubs’s armed presence. Sometimes Hubs just wants he and his weapon to be included.

Honestly, it’s exhausting to be so well protected. It’s almost enough to make a girl want to shop the Walmart Black Friday super sale with an open fanny pack or go to a Burning Man festival in a Romney/Ryan t-shirt as a part of a midlife rebellion.

Just kidding. I mean it’s not like I have a death wish.

Wrappers Delight

I have no talent for wrapping presents. I’m worse than bad. I’m embarrassing. If wrapping presents were a professional sport I wouldn’t even be in the game. I’d be that ridiculous drunk guy in the stands, inexplicably shirtless and painted the team colors in sub-zero temperatures. Sure he’s dedicated but you’ll notice that no one publicly claims him as family. My wrapping is that disgraceful.

Let's wrap some presents!

The truly sad thing is that I spent years working retail during the holiday season. I was taught proper wrapping technique by professionals who rivaled Martha Stewart in wrapping skills. It just didn’t take. I buy cheap supplies, I’m impatient and I ignore everything I’ve been taught. I can see what I’m doing wrong but I’m powerless to stop myself. It’s an affliction.

My husband, who will not wrap out of principle, leaves the Christmas and birthday wrapping to me. He claims to be worse than I am, but there’s no proof to substantiate his claims. I think he just enjoys watching me struggle while he drinks a beer. I’m entertaining. Like a dancing bear, but with scissors.

I'm going to wrap these presents and then eat your head.

And you know who is left to suffer? The children. Two Christmases ago we had to tell the kids that Santa hired disabled elves to get a tax credit. Terrible, I know, but I didn’t want them to think that Santa just didn’t care enough to do his job properly. It would break their little idealistic hearts.

This year, determined to better my skills and assuage my guilt, I marched out and purchased some extra fancy metallic paper. I pictured our tree surrounded by beautiful shiny packages. In my mind it was very classy.

Behold the classiness of my imagination

In retrospect, the 99 Cent Store might not have been the best place for me to purchase class. Some things are 99 cents for a reason and it isn’t because they are too classy. More often than not the reason is that discerning shoppers wouldn’t pay full price for the product so they take it on over to the 99 Cent Store and wait for naive cheap skates like me to take it home. And along I came, fresh from reading my favorite design blogs(because lord knows I long to be stylish) and, filled with enthusiasm that I often mistake for skill, I loaded my cart with supplies that I truly believed in that moment I could use to make a beautiful Christmas. Sucker.

99 Cent Store supplies in skilled hands. Seriously check out http://www.almost40yearoldintern.com --she's the MacGyver of the design world.

When I took my supplies out on Christmas Eve to wrap the presents, I discovered that the under side of the 99 Cent Store paper was the color and texture of a heavy-duty paper bag–stiff and very hard for an unskilled wrapper like myself to work with. Moreover, the slick surface of the “metallic” side made scotch tape nearly useless. I used twice as much tape to make up for it. The finished product looked as though I’d taken the aluminum siding stripped off a trailer in a tornado and made a tomb for unwanted toys. Somewhere out there Martha Stewart threw up a little in her mouth. I stuck some bows on top in an effort to distract from the white trash effect and put the presents under the tree, hoping that in the excitement of Christmas morning it would all look better.

I say we unwrap ourselves tonight and beat her with the empty roll of wrapping paper.

Then in the middle of the night, despite being fastened with yards and yards of tape, the presents unwrapped themselves as if trying to flee the humiliation. Only instead of fleeing, they just lay there under the tree, wrapping paper flung open like tiny inanimate exotic dancers.

I'm working my way through college.

It was too late to fix the carnage. The kids had already seen the evidence of my dysfunction. I had to throw out some sort of explanation. So like generations of parents before me, when confronted with my own inability to uphold the magic and wonderment of a perfect childhood for my children, I reached back into my desperate brain and grabbed the first plausible excuse I could come up with.

The elves were drunk.

Woohoo! Get out the mistletoe!

Hey, I was tired and under a lot of pressure. Don’t judge me. By the way, if my kids come knocking on your door collecting money for the Elven Rehab, just go with it. I’ll put the money toward their therapy later.