Thursday, December 24, 2009

Waiting on Christmas Eve

As a kid, Christmas Eve seemed to be all about waiting, and at the time, I thought it would positively kill me.

Waking up to Elvis' "Blue Christmas"...and waiting.

Shaking the gifts, the sound an utter mystery...and waiting.

Accidentally eating a red pepper in my cashew chicken during our annual girls' lunch at the New Peking and laughing at all the funny things my aunts and mom had to say...and waiting.

Wearing something dark red and dorky to Christmas Eve Mass...and waiting.

Smiling as my grandma Mume approved my brothers' and my appearance with a nod of her head (and a hint of surprise)...and waiting.

Throwing our heads back and laughing in that shoulder shaking' silent way reserved for church, as my dad sang Adestes Fideles in his booming "opera" voice and Mume pursed her lips and said, "Well, I think he has a beautiful voice"...and waiting.

Spreading my granddad's damsum plum preserves on hot rolls at dinner while listening to Pavarotti and the Boys' Choir sing Ave Maria...and waiting.

Opening gifts from under this funny little tree at my grandparent's house--which was more like a plastic bush--including a denim zipper bag (my first purse? close enough!) that I loved more than it was probably normal to love a denim zipper bag...and waiting.

Driving home past neighborhoods where the sidewalks were lit with brown paper bags, so that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph could find their way...and waiting.

Home in bed watching out my bedroom window for Santa, with Elvis' "Santa Bring My Baby Home to Me" stuck in my head, and my parents noisily working in the attic (why did they always pick Christmas Eve to reorganize the attic?)...and waiting.

Then...morning. Christmas. The waiting ends.

And begins...Not one but 365 days away this time.

J.J. is singing "Santa's coming to town."

He's asking, "Is it Christmas?"

"No, it's Christmas Eve."

"Oooohhhhh," he groaned.

If he only knew, Christmas Eve--with all its waiting--is the best thing about Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Magic Is Overwhelming

Justin and I were talking in the kitchen the other morning. I had about five hours of Christmas shopping to do and was showing him what he could make for dinner.

"When are you going to do your shopping?" I asked.

"I'm all done," he said.

"So you've bought my present," I said.


"And now you're done."

"Uh huh."

"Christmas must be a magical time of year for you," I said.

No itemized lists with crossouts and write ins. No parking, no lines, no checkout workers who don't understand that while opening a store credit card can save you $20, it can also hurt your credit.

"No it doesn't," one girl told me. "It helps your credit." Like I would take financial advice from just anyone. I only take financial advice from one person, and that's Oprah.

Justin said, "Yeah, but you love Christmas shopping."

I do, to an extent. Just like I love holiday get togethers, to a point. Then I start thinking, "Will this merrymaking never end?"

I suspect Christmas is a little more magical for extroverts. There are literally people everywhere. For them, that's a holly jolly Christmas, by golly. For us introverts, we need a breather now and then. A silent night, if you will.

But Christmas is surely the most magical for children. When I came home from shopping, J.J. said, breathless, "A truck came last year (meaning a few hours ago) and brought a box and we opened it and we looked inside and it was a box and inside




I looked at the presents. "Guess who sent these," I said.

"Jesus!" he said.

"Um, no. It was your cousins Brendan and Ian in Boston."

"Oh my gosh!" he said, just as surprised.

I didn't think J.J. was grasping Jesus' role in Christmas. At first, he thought Christmas happened on the first snowfall, so I told him that, no, it happened on Jesus' birthday. Now he was picturing Jesus at the post office, mailing presents.

We went over to our nativity set, where we have these little handmade cardboard painted houses my mom gave me for Christmas last year. I showed J.J. how Mary and Joseph went to every house and nobody would let them stay, so they had to stay in the barn. The angel told the shepherd what was going on. Then baby Jesus was born. At the end, the three kings came with Christmas presents.

He loved it.

"Now it's my turn," he said.

Mary and Joseph went to the first house. J.J. had them ask, "Can we stay?"

"No," said the house.

They got to the second house. The fanciest in the colection, the roof is decorated with strings of shiny blue beads. He had Mary say, "This house has Christmas lights."

Joseph said, "Can we stay?"

J.J. couldn't stand having another innkeeper say no. I mean, how rude!

"Yes!" he said. So Mary and Joseph got to stay in the town's best house--the only one with Christmas lights strung up the night before Christmas was ever invented. It's like the homeowners had ESP. Or had been talking to the wise men.

Then J.J. said, "Jesus was born. The end."

Today, J.J. was going to take holiday popcorn and calzones to people at school. When he woke up, I said, "Do you want to be Santa today?"

He nodded solemnly.

"Okay, get dressed." I handed him his khaki pants and blue shirt.

Tears started streaming down his cheeks.

"What's wrong?"

"Santa doesn't wear these things. He wears red," he sobbed.

I guess he thought I meant, "Would you like to magically turn into the real Santa Claus today?"

I clarified. "You're going to pass out presents at school. You have to wear your uniform to school."

"Could I carry a red bag?" he asked.


"And wear the red Santa hat that's in the attic?"


So he went out the door wearing a Santa hat and carrying a red plastic bag from Target over his shoulder. I even found him a red coat in the closet. Outside, he handed a calzone to the bus monitor.

"Thank you, Santa!" she said.

His eyes twinkled, as if to say, "I knew it. I knew I'd be the real Santa."

Christmas is magical to kids, my husband, and a lot of other people. Seeing J.J. with his bag swung over his shoulder and, earlier, retelling the story of Jesus' birth, only this time new and improved with a nicer inkeeper, I started to feel like Christmas was magical to me, too.

When I came back inside from walking J.J. to the bus, Johnny and Richie were glued to a story on the local news. The news station had given a woman a van to drive her husband and son, who were both disabled. With tears in her eyes, she said something like, "People are so generous, and I never knew it until today."

Maybe that's the magic of Christmas. At Christmas, you see how generous the world is. And every year, it's like learning it for the first time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Santa Letters Through the Ages

Dear Santa,

Who in the holly jolly heck are you? Nobody holds me on their lap unless there is a warm bottle of milk involved. I'm indignant that you didn't know that.

Yours Angrily,
A Baby

Dear Santa,

Please bring me a candy cane. Bring it to me in person, because I think I like you. But keep your distance. I haven't figured out your angle yet.

Yours Skeptically,
A Two Year Old

Dear Santa,

I want glasses. The kind you wear to swim. Also: A dinosaur. The baby kind that is real.

P.S. Snow. Because Christmas doesn't happen unless it snows.

I love you.

Yours Believingly,
A Four Year Old

Dear Santa,

I want a Nurf gun and basketball. I need new shoes but I don't want to waste a present on them.

My mom says I can't end it there, so how's it going? Do you like the North Pole? Do you like Rudolf? Do you like Mrs. Claus? I bet you do.

Yours Briefly,
A Seven Year Old

Dear Santa,

How are you? I found out Rudolf is an urban myth. Ha. That's hilarious. I'm sure the eight other reindeer don't appreciate how he gets all the attention since he is not real.

Thank you for my gifts last year. How is Mrs. Claus? Good, I hope. This year, I would like:

A football (junior size with a good grip)
An under armor shirt (The kind that is tight so you can see your muscles. Not that that's why I want it.)
A Taylor Swift or Christina Aguilara CD (I just think they have pretty voices.)
Shoes (My old ones have holes.)

Yours Forever,
A Nine Year Old

Dear Santa,

How is Mrs. Claus? Tired, I bet. Does she do all the work around Christmas? Just kidding. I thought we should coordinate our gifts. My husband and I are giving the boys shoes and sweatpants, so feel free to bring all the good stuff again this year and steal our thunder. Please make sure the CD covers are appropriate for a nine year old boy. Thank you for the gifts last year. They were a huge hit-even more so than the pencil sharpeners and school pants we gave them.

Yours Resignedly,
A Mom

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Christmas (Music) Means to Me

I thought I’d heard all the Christmas songs. And all the Neil Diamond songs. (I'm a huge fan.) But this year, I heard, “Cherry Cherry Christmas” by Neil Diamond. It’s a new song.

If I were a song salesman, here’s how I would pitch this song:

Are you tired of hearing people say Merry Christmas? Merry, Merry, Merry. It’s all you ever hear. Well, why can’t it be some other word that rhymes with Merry but starts with C.H.?

Look no further. Here’s a song called, “Cherry, Cherry Christmas.” Not that worn out old trope, “Merry, Merry Christmas.” In this song, you’ll hear the phrase “Cherry Christmas,” whatever in the hell that means, 17 yes 17 times.

But that’s not all. You’ll also hear lots of other rhyming words that may or may not relate to Christmas.

Words like choir and fire. True and blue. Wine and Sweet Caroline. These words will come in no particular order, nor will they make any particular sense. They will, however, sound familiar because they’re Neil Diamond’s favorite vocab. words from his other songs.

So…any takers?

Yes, of course every 24-hour Christmas music station is all over it. And so am I. Neil Diamond does melodies like nobody’s business, and if he wants to rhyme a bunch of words from his other songs and call it Christmas music, I’m okay with that.

Plus, he said in an interview that this song took months to write. I love writers who admit how long writing a book or song takes. As opposed to saying, “I dreamed the whole thing and then it was just a matter of typing it.”

I should be happy for those writers. I guess I'm jealous. You see, one night, I thought I dreamed a whole story. So I woke up in the middle of the night and jotted down my brilliant idea.

The next day, I was excited to see what I wrote. Here’s what my notebook said:

I was wrong about Ted.

Like Cherry Christmas, I had no idea what in the holly jolly heck that meant.
But I do hope you and yours are having a Cherry Merry Larry Dairy Frankenberry Scary Hairy Quite Contrary Christmas this year.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Another Perfect Weekend of Wonder and Joy

Not to brag, but my family had a perfect weekend.

First, I woke up Friday night smelling something burning--always a terrifying experience. I bolted into the boys room--it wasn't there. I checked the basement. That's where it was coming from. I woke up Justin and took the boys to my parents house while he investigated. The fire department kindly came over. They couldn't find anything, either.

The next day, a furnace guy came over. As soon as he walked in, he said, "That's electrical."

Justin's first thought was that it had to be my fault. See, our dryer broke last week, I've been hanging wet clothes all over the basement so that they can dry in the damp, cold air. Our basement isn't finished, so we have a rudimentary light switch, with some wires running up the bare walls.

"Do you think you might have touched the wires with the wet clothes?" he asked.


So he changed out that switch.

Meanwhile, determining the dryer to be unfixable, he went out to buy a new used dryer. Now, I was a little tired from being up all night the night before. So I was talking to Justin on my cell phone about the dryer and dropping off a present to Richie, who was at a birthday party I'd forgotten about. While crossing the street in the car, I didn't jog far enough to the left. Instead I grazed the curb and popped a tire.

I needed to make some French food for my uncle's birthday party that night. So the kids and I walked to Aldi's, got the groceries, and acted like the tire incident never happened. Except that I had to tell Justin because he was on the phone with me and heard me say, "Oh, darn," or something like that.

When Justin came home, I was making blue cheese balls. Johnny was making chocolate chip cookies for an extra credit assignment at school.

"Welcome to hell house III," I said.

"How fast were you driving?"

He knows I don't speed in the city. I think it's a jackass thing to do. Kids walk to school in the city. Mothers push strollers while holding toddler's hands in the city. It is no place to speed. So that's my little public service announcement.

"I was going like 10 miles an hour."

"The wheel's all bent."

"Well I barely hit the curb. The tire was probably on the verge of popping anyway."

Justin laughed like he was on the verge of insane laughter.

But life goes on. Justin put a doughnut on the car and we went to the party and had a very nice time. I'd only brought one thing and everybody else had brought thousands of things, so I felt bad. But seeing how I can't hang clothes up to dry or drive, I think I did well for my mental capacity.

When we came home, the burning smell was gone.

Sunday morning, J.J. woke up having a bad asthma attack. Which was the worst part of the weekend. After a few breathing treatments, he was fine. But it bothers me because the reason for the attack was a slight runny nose and cough. We've been doing a bunch of preventative stuff for his asthma, but how do you prevent someone from ever having a cold? You can't.

We went to 7:30 Mass. Well, we missed Mass but had to sell discount cards for Cub Scouts and SCRIP gift cards for the PTA. So we went to the church, where an elderly woman came very close to hitting me with her oxygen tank because I didn't have a Target gift card for $35, only $25. Johnny sold one Cub Scout discount card, so we have 19 to go.

That afternoon, Justin found the reason for the electrical smell, a lightbulb in the garage had burned. J.J. and I cooked all day, because there was a bunch of stuff I had to cook for. J.J. likes cooking--especially breaking eggs. I just hope the recipe called for 1/2 a teaspoon of egg because that's how much made it into the bowl.

Justin hooked up the new dryer, which only cost $100. With the cost of fixing the wheel, which broke while talking about the dryer, it's a little more, but still less than a new dryer.

You probably think I'm being a smart alleck when I say we had a great weekend. But I'm not. Our house didn't burn down. If it had, we would have smelled it and gotten out safely. (There was no smoke, so no alarm went off.) J.J.'s medicine worked, as always. For some kids, it doesn't. I popped a tire, but did not get in a wreck. The church lady stormed off rather than hauling off and hitting me. And finally, the dryer wasn't that expensive.

We flirted with disaster all weekend, but in the end calm prevailed. Now, that's a weekend.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Yesterday, I was the school lunch lady volunteer. A fourth grader came through the line and was cold from being out at recess.

"We can't wear leggings on Mass day!" she said. "So we freeze!"

"Can you wear tights?" I asked.

She looked at me like I was positively insane.

"Nobody wears tights anymore," she said.

"Really? Nobody?"

"Not unless you're in preschool."

Huh. I had no idea how dumb tights were.

It got me thinking about kids' fashion trends. There are the obvious ones: In the eighties, fingertip-less gloves became popular thanks to Madonna. Actually, no thanks. I practically lost all of my third joints to frost bite that year. Then there was Britney's half shirt, which parents of preteens were thrilled about. And now it's leggings, which is a Hollywood trend, too.

Those trends are publicized and marketed. But the mysterious trends are the wierd little ones. They aren't sold anywhere. Nobody makes money off them. They just show up. Like pinch rolling jeans in the 80s and 90s. Where did that get started? And how did it spread throughout the country?

Last year, Katie Holmes wore a pair of pinch-rolled jeans, and fashion bloggers wondered if the trend would make a come back. And everyone was like, "I never wore pinch rolled jeans. I was too cool."

Well, they weren't cool back then. I can tell you that. The cool people pinch rolled their jeans. I have pictures from mixers of kids in pinch rolled jeans and V-neck sweaters. Actually, everybody had the same V-neck sweater. It had stripes along the neck in primary colors. Boys and girls wore it. Always with a turtleneck.

Now, when I see kids, I think, "They dress so much cuter nowadays. The girls have special T-shirts now. They don't have to wear the baggy boy shirts. And whatever happened to acne? Does nobody get it anymore?"

Even the stuff we used to wear--like leggings--look cuter now. Perhaps because they no longer are paired with giant pok-a-dot sweatshirts and enormous hair.

Then again, I remember walking into a Topsy's in grade school wearing Hawaiian shorts (remember jams?), a neon pink shirt, and fruit jewelry, and the woman at the register said the same thing to me. "You kids dress so much cuter nowadays. I never had fruit jewelry."

I guess whatever the trend is, no matter how silly, it looks good because it's new. Even if it's old, it's worn in a new way. Everybody likes bright shiny new things.

That's probably how the pinch rolled jeans got started.

Somebody tried it, and somebody else said, "That's new. How did you do that?"

"Like this."

"Like how?"

"Like this."


And then after you'd invested half an hour figuring it out, you decided you might as well wear your jeans like that, too. And so on and so on.

But I am really disappointed to hear that tights are on their way out. I just bought a pair of neon pink ones to go with my fruit jewelry.