Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Xmasochism

Every year, about this time, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Just hearing the words, “Christmas list” makes my skin crawl. With four kids to shop for, things can get a little dicey, and by dicey, I mean brimming with self-inflicted pain. The first hurdle is deciding on our per-kid budget; this number serves as both a shining beacon and a source of intense disagreement, not to mention a fair amount of makeup sex.

Once we have the per-kid budget set, we pencil in the budget of the relatives who prefer to give us money to do the shopping for them. This assures two things: The children get everything they want, and we get migraines. The internal conflict results from the double-edged sword nature of this arrangement. We’re very lucky to have generous relatives. So what if we do the shopping for them? Easy, right? After all, they do so much for us, all year long. At least, that’s what I say every year when they hand me the money. Then, on December 24, at around second-bottle o’clock, I change my tune. That’s the time when we pull out our tattered list of gifts and gift-givers, which by now looks like a Cowboys defense, littered with numbers and arrows and cross-outs, and begin our final tally of who is getting what from whom. This usually takes place in our custom-designed wrap room (closet), where I’m sitting on the floor, in my pajamas, sobbing. Just kidding. I don’t wear pajamas.

“This is the last year I’m going to do this! Why do I agree to this? Why can’t I just say NO!”

“Because the kids get lots of great stuff that they really want and doesn’t that feel good?”

“Right. I keep forgetting. But I’m going to need another glass of wine, STAT.”

So what happens between the time well-intentioned relatives hand me the money and my Xmess Eve meltdown? A number of things, starting with the timing of the envelope hand-off. If I receive it too soon in advance of the hellidays, I haven’t had any time to get really stressed out, which means I can’t be trusted to make any decisions, about anything. For example, here’s how it goes down on December 1:

Anonymous relative #1: “I’ve got the kids’ money for you.”

Me: “Cool.”

Here’s how it goes down on December 24, in my closet, I mean, custom wrap room:

Me: “F-word!” Hiccup.

Husband: “There, there. It’s going to be fine. Pass me your glass.”

The other thing that throws a monkey wrench into the theoretically perfect plan for child satisfaction is the logistics, which includes the math. We spend hours upon hours crunching the numbers.

“$20 for that?”

“But it’s 14.8%” I plead, showing my husband the fine print on the bottle of Zinfandel I’m holding in the wine aisle of the grocery store. “Please?”

“Fine. Put it in the basket.”

What causes the most stress is making not only the children happy, but the gift givers. We want them to feel good about the things we are buying with the money they gave us.  Who gets to give the big ticket item? Why is it never us? Then, we try to match up the importance of the giver’s gift to each child. After all, we can’t very well allow aunty to give one of them a new bedspread and another one a flat screen TV, can we? I don’t care if they cost about the same, that’s not fair to the kid or aunty! It’s either got to be all business or all fun, from the same person, for all four. Doesn’t it? And some years, I try to round down the tax, or suggest we absorb it.

 “Why would we do that?”

“Because they don’t have jobs and shouldn’t have to pay taxes?”

We all know what happens next: the head tilt, one eyebrow raised.

Speaking of numbers, I never understand them. This confuses my husband, which can make for a little tension. I start re-adding the totals on my original shopping list with the amounts and cross-outs and arithmetic and by now a little blood and probably some wine. For some reason, I always think we’ve missed something. Sometimes we have. I usually find that in the back of the closet in March.

In the final analysis, when the big morning rolls around, and the kids open their presents, relatives sitting nearby, it’s all worth it. That is, until this:

Relative: “Oh, wow! What’s that?”

Kid: “It’s a PlayStation! It plays video games!”

Relative: “Who gave you that?”

Kid: “You did.”

And another Chrismuchtoorushed is on the books.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Happy Thanksgivememore

I’m thankful it’s over. Thanksgiving. I’m so bored with people who are thankful for the stuff that’s easy. It’s easy to sit around and dreamily think up universal, corny sounding things to be thankful for, like nature’s bounty or family. Even worse: giving someone else the credit for what you have (I’m thankful to [insert favorite deity here], for bringing [insert name of special person] into my life.) Those drive me crazy. Are those same people thanking their favorite deity for the first spouse he or she brought into their life? The one they divorced for blowing the rent money every month on strippers? This guy God gets the credit for the winning moments, but not the crushing defeats? Sorry, but I’m taking the credit for the wins and the losses, thank you very much. I’m thankful that I finally got myself together enough to attract the greatest husband in history. I did that. Thanks, Me.
But I digress.
I’m sure all of the “I’m thankful-for…” posts that people throw up (no pun intended) on Facebook are heartfelt, but are they honest and revealing? Are they representative of how we’re feeling on any given day when we’re in the weeds of life, amid the confusion, frustration, anger and resentment that knocks on our mental door when we’re out of beer? Sure, these feelings are fleeting, with a shelf-life of about two seconds, but that doesn’t make them any less exhausting, which makes them being lifted from our shoulders something we truly should feel gratitude for—right there in the moment, when it counts the most.

I had one of these real thankful moments just the other day, when the kids were all off from school for the holiday. I certainly was not thankful about that, but I was thankful for open floor plans, so that I could boss everyone around while working in my home office. As I was pointing out that I had gone shopping the day before and that there was plenty of soup in the cupboard and leftover breadsticks, and that they didn’t have to have the soup, because there was also ham in the fridge and pizza in the garage freezer and…my husband cut me off! At that moment, I checked myself and acknowledged my gratitude for having a husband who knows where the kitchen is and isn’t afraid to use it. Later, when I found out they had crackers and butter for lunch, I was thankful for duct tape, so I could finish reciting the entire contents of the cupboards and the fridge to him, without interruption, just like my mom taught me to do. Thanks, Mom.
Just a little while later, I was thankful that my husband cracked a beer because his brother told him via text that it’s ok to do so the day before a major holiday, thereby justifying the Irish I’d snuck into my coffee earlier that morning. Thanks, interfamilial co-dependency.
I’m thankful for the death penalty, because I’d have to spend the rest of my life in prison if I acted on impulse and offed one of my kids. Like, just yesterday, when my 16-year old son grumpily sat down to write thank-you notes for his birthday presents. Among the hard-hitting questions he asked me were, “How do you do this?” and “What’s Grandpa’s last name?” So thanks, penal system.
I am always thankful for solitude. On any given day, especially when I’m cooking dinner, I am thankful for long sports practices. No complaining here. Go ahead and keep them through dinner; just make sure practice starts before I start reading a recipe. Thanks, coaches.
I’m constantly thanking the unknown force in the universe that makes working from home a reality. In my pajamas recently, I was thankful that I could hit the sack during a conference call with my boss and not have any explaining to do. And that very same day, I was thankful that the co-worker I was instant messaging couldn’t see me rolling my eyes at her dumb idea. And almost every day I’m thankful for the ‘microphone mute’ button that allows me to pee during a company meeting. Thanks, Internet.
No doubt, being thankful is easy when you want to impress people with mindless gratitude platitudes. But it takes active participation to notice the truly deserving things you should be thankful for.

Try it today, even though the turkey carcass, not to be confused with the houseguests, are finally gone: Acknowledge your gratitude for the little moments of clarity that keep you in the moment and out of prison for another day.