Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I recently talked about traditions. The joy of them, the pleasure of reliving cherished memories. But, there is a dark side. There are those things that once done, cannot be undone, and you suffer through them year after year after endless year, hoping that one day, there will be a merciful end.

First, it was the pajamas.

Every year, the kids get matching pjs for Christmas (from the Elf, but more on that later). Both kids were once happy wearing gender neutral footie pajamas in a T size. All I had to do was find a pattern I liked and order two of them. Easy! Then another year passed. One left the T's behind, so I found myself running back and forth between the toddler boy and the little girl department, but both still wore footies, so life was still good. Another year later, and I had to match a nightgown to a pair of button downs. It took two adults, two laptops, multiple web sites, and a lot of cursing to find a match. This year, I thought the search would kill me. Black Friday? Nothing. I must have gone through a bottle of Visine hopping from site to site clicking on this pair of pjs for him, then that pair for her. Every time, one pair was sold out of the size I needed. This went on for days. DAYS. I even contemplated the wicked expensive ones that coordinate with embroidered names on the shirts, but I couldn't quite stomach the price. Finally, finally, Amazon answered my call. Then, filled with the thrill of victory, I went and found a matching set of pj's for the damned American Girl doll, complete with era-appropriate sleep cap. Who's the dumb shit who will now have to accomplish this hat trick again next year? That would be me.

Then, it was the Elf on the Shelf.

(Side note: our Elf is not the standard issue one, but a miniature green Care Bear with a Santa hat and vest.)

The problem started last year when one over-achieving parent at school started "doing things" with the Elf. (See the link below about how crazy some people get about these dumb things.) So-and-so's Elf left pictures of his family. I dutifully found a close up of a different Care Bear online (so I can claim it is our Elf's "sister"), this one wearing a jaunty scarf and left it lying around. Then So-and-Sos buddy decided to ask her Elf questions. So I dutifully wrote out answers in teeny tiny block letters to such questions as where do you live (Guam), how old are you (186), and what is your favorite color (magenta), which I, of course, dutifully wrote down so I wouldn't forget. I even congratulated myself on acquiring that second Care Bear during the course of the year. The day after Thanksgiving arrives, both the old Elf and the new Elf appears, my son is thrilled, my daughter turns to me and asks, "Where's the scarf?" Oh. Fuck. Me. So what do I do? I get a (very kind) friend to make the stupid scarf. For a stuffed animal that I tell my kids is a magic spy from Santa. It is this type of thinking that gets people put into asylums.

Finally, it is the Christmas Calendar.

When the kids were tiny and still completely adorable no matter what they did, I took hundreds of pictures of them. When one got into the cookie batter, I made sure the whip out the camera, then let the other one do the same so I could get matching shots. Thus, making the end-of-year calendar at the online photo store was really easy. Both were out playing in the snow - January! Both were swimming in the pool - June! You get the picture. (Groan.) Then, I added in individual photos of every family member on their birthday. The entire job would take me roughly one televised football game. You know where this is going, don't you? This year, it took me four days. They aren't so cute covering in food anymore, so I take far fewer pictures.  They also don't do matching activities, so finding shots of both kids doing anything, let alone something relevant to each other and the month in question is incredibly difficult. So, the first day was spent picking pictures. Then another day to try to match in pictures of their adorable cousin. A third day was spent actually uploading the photos and trying to make the calendar itself, pulling and adding shots, moving things around, etc. The final day was spent on the birthday shots and trying to get my BILs photo sharing website to stop crashing long enough for me to illegally download pictures from it. Of course, there was a time crunch as it had to be done by midnight of a certain day in order to get roughly 65 percent off the order. (I also usually have to do two separate ones for each side of the family.) By the time I hit the order button, I was ready to throw my computer through the nearest window. And where do BOTH sets of parents hang this fantastic work of art that I shed blood, sweat, and tears for? On the INSIDE door of the pantry. 

So for those of you who think that going the extra mile this year is a good idea - think of the marathon you'll wind up running before it is all said and done. I'm looking at you, Queen B, who has already posted pictures of your Elf zip-lining across the living room. Instead, follow the example of my very wise SIL, enjoying her first Christmas as a mom, whom, when I asked if I could buy her son pjs to match my kids (for a picture), laughed and told me that if I wanted to drive myself crazy, it was all on me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Once More, with Feeling

Traditions are funny things. One year, you do something because it seems like it would be a lot of fun. The next year, you do it again, and by the third year, you have stumbled into a tradition.

When I was in college, and for a number of years after, my Thanksgiving tradition was to come home Tuesday night and spend all day Wednesday in New York City with my friend T. He and I would go in bright and early, spend the morning wandering the Village, hit Ray's Pizza for lunch, then go to Times Square to buy half-priced tickets to whatever Broadway show was available. While I blank on what we did for dinner, we always ended the night watching the balloons being blown up for the Macy's Day Parade. T was (and still is) a big guy at 6'4", so we never had a problem moving through the crowds and making quick time from block to block. I probably carried nothing more than a wad of cash and chap stick and we walked, window-shopped, and blissfully chatted a day away.

While T and I remain friends, due to distance, time, and our respective spouses (Hi D!), that tradition had to end. What replaced it was one build on travel. Once my husband and I started dating, we started sharing family holidays. In fact, he met my parents for the first time at Thanksgiving during one of the last years we had a big family dinner at my uncle's house, so he got to meet everyone all at once. Poor guy. Until we finally moved to the same state (roughly) as our parents, we spent each year on the road, trying to avoid traffic. Some years we succeeded and made the trek from Boston to either Jersey or Pennsylvania in record time (usually helped along by the fact that we left insanely late at night.) Other years, we got stuck and once spent seven (or nine, we can't remember) hours making a three-hour drive. Once we moved to the area, we split holidays, alternating Thursdays and Saturdays with either set of parents (and siblings on his side, random hanger-ons on my side). As per tradition, we do celebrate my daughter's birthday (as we once did mine) because it falls so close to the holiday.

Now, I've added a new tradition to the mix, spending at least one day with my best friend (my old college roommate and the godmother to my oldest) and her daughter, who usually fly in for a week or two from the West Coast. Our daughters are three years apart in age, but only one day apart in birthdays, which means we get to celebrate them together. The past few years, this meant taking them for ice cream. This year, it meant taking them to NYC and the American Girl store.

Obviously, this trip was a tad different than the ones of my halcyon youth. No Village (though we did get cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery), no Broadway show, and we were all probably in a dead sleep long before that first balloon got blown up, but it was still awesome in its own way. This time, I saw NYC from a child's eyes. Times Square, in all its lurid glory, at nighttime is like being stuck in an overly bright, crowded, and commercial-filled laboratory. It's unnatural brightness made it seem like an alien planet. While the grownups marveled at the tree at Rockefeller Center, a survivor of Hurricane Sandy straight from the Jersey shore, the kids just wanted to know why it wasn't lit yet. They enjoyed the Ferris Wheel in the giant Toys R'Us, but had no interest in looking at toys they weren't allowed to buy. Instead of window-shopping along 5th Ave, they sang and held hands, ignoring the diamonds beckoning from the displays. When we asked them to take a picture in front of a dazzling array of jewels, my daughter looked at the storefront and asked if it would be a good place to buy her new earrings. The store in question? Cartier. The answer, no.

When we finally entered the Holy Land of overpriced dolls, the monument to parental stupidity and indulgence that is the American Girl store, the girls made the most of it. Each one deliberated carefully over her choice of doll and clothing. The adults just made gagging noises over the prices. My daughter was using her own hard-earned money for the doll and one outfit, but still managed to con me and her godmother into buying her additional ones. The other little girl was enjoying the benefits of birthday money from grandparents (and me). We reminisced over the first time I had my eyebrows waxed (a complete disaster), while watching her daughter's new doll get a complicated new hairstyle at the doll hair salon. (Yes, a hair salon for dolls. Dolls!). We finished out our long and exhausting day at the American Girl Cafe, a restaurant on the third floor of the building designed to delight children and adults alike. Honestly, it was the cutest restaurant I have ever seen. The dolls get to sit in chairs at the table and are served little plates and cups, right alongside their new owners. The staff talk directly to the children and the food is surprisingly good and very prettily arranged. Back in college, my old roommate and I would have never missed an opportunity to drink with dinner. While the store had an extensive drinks menu (to soften the edge of the credit card bill, I'm sure), I stuck to lemonade, she went with unsweetened iced tea and coffee. Boy, how times have changed.

Next year, we might take the girls to Radio City Hall and tea at the Plaza. We may even try to include their little brothers. Who knows? But it's been three years, so the tradition of a shared birthday for our girls is pretty much stuck. This is a good thing. One day, the girls will get to old for this, or situations will change and my friend will no longer be able to visit us during the holiday, or any number of things could happen. But I'll always look back on these days as good ones, filled with love and joy, gossip and goofiness. Maybe one day, T and I will do the city again, with spouses and kids in tow, and take our lives full circle. Maybe not. Maybe my old roommate and I will ditch the kids and spend the day shopping, or taking a tour, or getting facials. Who knows what the future will bring? But for now, I will enjoy what I have and take next year when it comes. With or without the overpriced doll.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rise! Rise! RISE!

My husband has a problem. He is obsessed with inflatables.

He doesn't have a life-size blow up doll issue, like Lars and the Real Girl. That would be weird. No, I'm talking about those inflatable monstrosities you see on people's lawns around the Christmas holidays. Except in our yard, we don't wait til Christmas.  This year, we had an inflatable pumpkin and are now proudly displaying an inflatable turkey, which my son keeps calling a chicken. Every night, my kids fight over who gets to plug it in and every night, when I unplug it, the turkey head falls right over like I've just hacked it down with an ax.

Last year, if you recall, my husband was on a mission to find and purchase an 18-foot tall reindeer. Well, I honestly think he spent all year secretly trolling eBay for the blow up decorations of his dreams (and my nightmares.) I have evidence - namely the fact that every now and then, he sent me a random e-mail with no description, just a link to a website. I received notices about multi-hued Christmas trees, Snowman families, and Santas the size of SUVs. But the true quest was that damn reindeer.

So, being a loving and supportive wife, I joined in the search one night. And all I can say is, Santa is one busy, busy (inflatable) man. Name a mode of transportation and Santa is riding it. There is the standard train, plane, and automobile (in your choice of sled, RV, Harley, fishing boat, quad, tractor, snowmobile, helicopter, bi-plane, tow-truck, food truck, dump truck, fire truck, and of course, rocket ship.) Distinctly non-standard but also available are Santa riding a hot-air balloon, sailing a pirate ship, and quite improbably, riding both a polar bear and black bear.

Would you like to display Santa in a more candid scene, straight from his daily life? You can inflate Santa at the stables feeding the reindeer, making toys in his workshop, hosting an ugly sweater party with a group of snowmen, and of course, taking a bath. Who doesn't want naked Santa on their front lawn?

Would you prefer Santa in action mode? He jet skies. He walks the dogs. He plays soccer (in shorts, no less.) He reads a story to a gaggle of small children and he also sing carols with gentle woodland creatures. He checks his mailbox. He makes snow angels. He also obviously spends his off-season down the shore because there are many tableaus of him carrying a surfboard, reclining under palm trees, taking a turn in the lifeguard stand, and driving a Woody.  

For those of, shall we say, less discerning tastes (and I realize what a slippery slope that is in terms of inflatable Christmas decorations), there is also Santa in a deer stand, riding a John Deere tractor, wearing a cowboy hat and gun belt (with our without stage couch), and of course, taking a dump in an outhouse. Really Santa? You can't just use one of the bajillion indoor bathrooms during your rounds? The pinnacle of tastelessness is not a Santa, thank God, but a "redneck" Nutcracker, which has a gut overhanging his pants, a trucker hat, and, I shit you not people, an actual inflatable can of beer in his fat little hand.

Would you like a Black Santa? No problem.

Santa roasting to death while stuck in a chimney while a hapless reindeer tries to work a fire extinguisher? Yes, Virginia, there is a third-degree burnt Santa Claus.

There are also a multitude of Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, and assorted polar bears, penguins, snowmen, and reindeers doing all sorts of odd and bizarre things for your lawn. Would you like to keep the Christ in Christmas? Then you can inflate the Three Wise Men, the Holy Family, and even Jesus Christ himself. (Personally, I think if Jesus is going to deflate and rise again every night, it at least should be around Easter.)

The little plastic figurines of my youth are gone. They've been eaten by the Godzilla-like Santas and snowmen that loom over the tops of houses and take up every square inch of lawn space. Last year, we found a home that displayed the 18-foot tall reindeer of my husband's dreams. The oversized mansion sat on a plot of several acres with the blow-up right up front. When driving past, the wind made its head shake and I think my son almost wet himself in fear. If a creature that size actually existed and tried to pop a squat on my front yard, I'd call down the National Guard.

So, come by the day after Thanksgiving, when my husband ceremoniously blows up the 10-foot tall reindeer (we compromised) and the 10-foot long "Sexy Snowman" (so called because he reclines on his elbows while giving a come-hither look), please come by to take a picture, have a laugh, and watch law enforcement arrive. Will it be the fire department come to make sure I don't Griswald my home into ashes? Will it be the police department, reacting to neighbor complaints and/or gunshots from those hell-bent on bringing down the biggest buck of their lives? Or will it be the town council informing me of code violations? Because I assure you, if there isn't a law on the books in my little town that regulates the size of outdoor decorations on Black Friday, there will be my Cyber Monday.