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)

Love Cat and Prayerboy

There’s a dollar store on the main drag in our town. We used to live pretty close to it; the kids could walk there and it was one of their favorite places to blow their allowances (when we finally paid them).

In addition to candy, they had. . . crap.

Or, if you view the world from #4’s eyes, Glorious Treasures. She’s a generous kid and sometimes would come back with something for us.

These are some of her gifts.

Love Cat, given to us just because:

This is a crappy picture, but it’s a girl bear talking on her cell phone. The caption reads “Girl on the Go!” and #4 gave it to CC for his birthday:

An excellent thing about these pictures is that you can check out my mad housekeeping skills.

This next one isn’t from the dollar store, but all these live on the dresser together. One of my favorite things ever: a Father’s Day gift that she made in Art. She was the only one in her class that needed two pots:

She is the little one in the first pot with CC and I, and says that the one with the split head in the other pot is #1.

I love this one because we share neither his ethnicity nor his level of devotion. Sometimes he’s inspiring. Other times he’s judging me:

This is another “just because” gift:

Seriously. Just Because.

We finally got to buy a house and when we moved, the dollar store was no longer an easy walk for the kids. I drove past the other day and noticed they’d gone out of business. I feel somewhat responsible.