Unexpected Gifts

#5 is sick.

He’s been sick off and on for more than two months and every time we think we’ve figured it out, we haven’t. In the realm of sick kids it is both the worst (vomiting & diarrhea and all the awesomeness that goes with that) and the best (it isn’t a whole bunch of even worse things, and we have really good insurance). He’s a trooper but it’s wearing him down. He’s lost five pounds and for someone who hasn’t hit 70lbs yet, that’s a lot.

When he told me yesterday that the smell of bacon made his stomach hurt it was all I could do to not break down in front of him.

We were at the Children’s Hospital last week to see the specialist and there were some pretty sick kids in the waiting room, accompanied by parents who were as used to hospital waiting rooms as one could be. Parents who, at the moment, were not wild-eyed with fear and were content to watch their kids bounce around the room. Kids who had lost their hair and their coloring and a lot of their energy but could still pop up in front of the aquarium and scream, “Fishie!” I was desperately looking for a direction to turn my mind to that wasn’t all panic and fear, and watching these kids got me thinking about gratitude and unexpected gifts.

Now, I love Christmas. Even when I’m depressed I love everything about it: the decorations, the overly-scented candles, the music, the anticipation, the too many sweets, that goddamn elf, the presents.

Yeah, the presents. There’s some idea running around the intellectuals where I live that you shouldn’t like Christmas presents. That we should all be striving towards more lofty goals of solving world hunger and making peace in the Middle East and that if we get filled with joy when someone gifts us a brightly wrapped package, we’ve merely succumbed to our baser human nature and, oh, we really shouldn’t mention Jesus when we talk about Christmas because it offends all the non-Christians.

But I love the presents. And the baby Jesus.

Yes, Christmas is over-commercialized and our culture is too focused on the material every day of the year; Christmas can be an excuse to go into hyperdrive. But presents- concretely material, unnecessary, wrapped up in pretty paper you usually just throw away- are awesome.

I reconnected with a high school friend on Facebook a couple years ago, and at Christmas he sent my family some pears. You know, those Harry & David ones.

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The gesture really touched me, I’m sure more than he realizes. I thought about our differences: he’s West Coast now, and I’m East; he didn’t celebrate Christmas when we were kids and I did; he doesn’t have children and I have a houseful of them. The note said: I’m glad we reconnected. Now, pears. Big whoop, right? Well, I happen to love them. But the Christmas miracle is that my kids tried them after having rejected the entire pear genre for years. Because Harry & David’s only sends out perfect pears (I picture tiny pear fairies scattering magic dust on the trees in 8-hour shifts), they hoovered them. The case of pears lasted like two days. There is now one more healthy thing my kids will eat, and that’s a big deal. Every time I go to the store, #3 asks if it’s pear season.

Another friend last year gave me this plate. A rectangle plate with a really cool painting on it containing both a dove and an alligator, completely unexpected and entirely perfect.

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I like to think of the dove and the alligator as two aspects of me, and hope that someday the dove will be this much bigger. The plate lives on the sideboard and holds CC’s open wine bottle. I see it every day, and I think of my friend every day. I like that.

Then there’s the skull ring from one of my best friends. Every 40+ year-old needs a skull ring. Mine is particularly badass because she got it in Paris from an artist on the street. It sits on top of my writing desk and I wear it when the muse is fickle.

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It’s on my finger now, and at the end of this long, frustrating day I am reminded that when my friend went to Paris she saw this and thought of me.

We’re on the path to finding out what’s wrong with #5 and getting him well. It may take a while. The greatest gift would be a sudden, complete, magic cure. Perhaps the Harry & David’s pear fairies can put in a good word with the vomit fairies when they get together at the fairy bar. Meanwhile, I’m not turning up my nose at pretty packages with bows on top, because presents don’t have to save the  whole world. Sometimes they make one person smile, and that’s enough to save the day.

What’s the best unexpected gift you ever received?

(Shout out to Elena Aitkin because I totally swiped the title of one of her sweet books- click here: Unexpected Gifts is free for a limited time)

Why #5 Wants a Fake ID (a Christmas post with pictures)

CC and #1 got up early on Sunday, December 11 and drove up a mountain to a place where you can cut your own Christmas tree.

All around the Christmas tree farm are posted signs that read No pets allowed. We have all kinds of wildlife in New Jersey. This is the only place besides a zoo that I’ve ever seen a bear. Not to mention the Jersey Devil (in fact, I’ve never seen one of those in a zoo. Hey, there’s an X-Files episode about that). One might think ahead about these things and know that when going up a mountain to chainsaw down a tree, it may be a good idea to leave your pets at home.

Or not.

At the Christmas tree farm on top of the mountain, the SUV in front of CC and #1 stops at the caretaker.

Yuppies in SUV: Hey, we have our golden retriever. Is it okay if he comes with us?

Caretaker, rolling his eyes: Keep him on a short leash, look out for animals and don’t let him pee on the trees.

CC stops at the caretaker: So I brought my mountain lion. . .

They came back with a truly perfect Christmas tree and the house smells all good and piney and Christmasy. I bet you thought this was the part where I tell you about how the yuppies with the golden retriever got attacked by bears and carried off by the Jersey Devil. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

We go to work decorating.

#5 (running back from the tree to get another ornament): Hey. Can you get a job decorating Christmas Trees?

Me: You mean me, personally? Or do you mean you?

#5 (runs to tree with ornament): I mean me!

Me: When you’re older.

#5: Awwww. (runs back for another ornament) Hey.

Me: What.

#5: Can you get me a birth certificate that says I’m older so I can get a job decorating Christmas Trees?

Me: Dude. I am not getting you a fake ID so you can get a job decorating Christmas Trees.

#5 (runs to tree, places ornament, runs back for another): Well. When you put it like that, it does sound extremely illegal.

The tree looks fantastic when we’re done. And then, inexplicably, all the white lights go out. Not the colored ones. Just the four strands of white. I have to confess that troubleshooting Christmas lights is not high on my priority list. The reason for this is that I spent the past five Christmases doing exactly that. I kept all the stupid fuses and extra bulbs because I figure, hey, I’m technically an electrician and I should just fix these.

Except that they’re all made in China by little girls who are forced to work on their birthdays and don’t celebrate Christmas anyway and so they have the last laugh by making it, frankly, not that simple. So I don’t troubleshoot lights anymore. I buy new ones.

I was fully prepared to strip all the ornaments and  non-working lights and reload the tree with working lights and redecorate it. But I went to four stores and nobody had any lights left. Well, no lights that I would use: seizure-inducing strobing color LED’s, gold lights on a gold cable, three five-foot strands of blue. I should have known the stores here would be cleaned out. This is suburban New Jersey and in my neighborhood, on Thanksgiving Day people replace their giant inflatable yard turkeys with giant inflatable santa-hatted penguins, and then wrap lights around their roofs, bushes, pillars, lamp posts and bomb shelter doors. All lights were gone by the time December 1 rolled around. Ah well.

I’d like to share some pictures with you.

Secaucus Junction, where I catch my train in to work, is a post unto itself. Suffice it to say for now that it is a great representation of corruption in my fair state, and one of the very unimportant results is that it has no electrical outlets. They decorate and can’t light anything up. They are afraid to pick a side in their decorating too, which is odd, because around here pretty much every town center throws up at bare minimum a Christmas tree and a Menorah. In Secaucus they have these:

Donuts? Spare tires?

Oh.

They’re so. . .festive  green. And red. And unlit. As if somehow by not lighting them, they become non-offensive. Also, they’re fake.

From one extreme to the other, here’s a house in my neighborhood.

Sorry it’s blurry, but there’s a damn lot of blinkity-blink happening here and I was trying not to look like a stalker standing on the street taking pictures. Though really, they’re asking for it.

Here’s the poor tastefully decorated house next to it:

I think you need a closer look.

If you need me, I’ll be in the bathroom, bleaching my eyeballs. Merry Christmas.