Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Further thoughts on Christmas giving…

December 31, 2008

Here is my mental model of how Christmas gift giving is supposed to work: 

  1. The giver really likes the givee and wants to celebrate by giving him/her something that will add a little joy to his/her life. 
  2.  The giver knows the givee well enough to enjoy finding or making something that the giver feels confident the givee will enjoy. 
  3.  The givee receives the gift warmly, opens it, and is clearly, sincerely pleased with the surprise that he/she finds there. 
  4.  The givee goes forth from Christmas to enjoy the gift according to its nature. He/ she is pleased with the gift, but mainly pleased to be known and understood and celebrated by the giver. 
  5. The giver goes forth from Christmas pleased that he/she has added a little touch of happiness to the givee’s day.

This is the model I learned by giving presents to my grandmothers. When I was 10 or so I embroidered a picture of a mouse holding a balloon for my Grandmother Bean. It was my own design. The mouse was pictured from behind, a clever solution, I thought, to the technical problem of not knowing how to draw a mouse face, much less embroider it. Fifteen years later when I was taking my new husband on a tour of Mississippi to meet the relatives, I saw she still had that mouse in a little wooden frame on a bookshelf in the hall. The glass in the frame was missing, replaced with Saran Wrap. That’s how Christmas presents are supposed to work!

Generally, I really like giving Christmas presents. I like using the back of a Christmas card envelope to make my list of people to “get” for. I like the thrill of the hunt – keeping my eyes and ears open for gifts lurking on bottom shelves at Walgreens or waiting at the end of a winding internet search. I like spreading all the wrapping stuff out on the dining room table and then diving into the chaos of tape and tissue and ribbon. I like the little mountain of bright packages all piled together on and around the coffee table in the living room right before we put them in the car to head off on our Christmas World Tour. I especially like those little bite-sized Reese’s peanut butter cups that come in Christmas colored foil; I usually buy a few bags under cover of Christmas shopping.

Christmas stress for me comes from the expectation described in Point 3 of the model described above. I am a junkie for that little moment when the person receiving the gift is “clearly, sincerely pleased with the surprise he/she finds there.” The eyebrow lift, the smile, a gleeful intake of breath — or for more serious presents — an “Oh!,” a quick look that says “I love it!,” a careful examination of the goods – I live for that. I’m normally a very well-adjusted person with healthy self-esteem, but in that fleeting moment of gift opening I feel like one those scrawny orange kittens with unnaturally huge brown eyes you see on greeting cards at the grocery store. If you opened my card, the message would read, “PLEEEEASE LOVE ME!” The moment passes, and even if it doesn’t go well I usually recover –often with the help of some of the aforementioned Reese’s cups. Still, it’s really best if the recipient likes the gift.

So, I am thankful this year, and every year, for all the grandmothers who treasure all the clumsily embroidered, faceless mice of the world; all the husbands who seem sincerely pleased with yet another blue plaid button-down; all the old friends who squeeze the paw on the singing teddy bear and dance along; all the office mates who immediately rip the blinking Rudolph nose out of its package and strap it on with glee; all the moms who wear their giant Santa earrings year after year; all the mom-in-laws who make a point of saying how much they have used the little kitchen shears you gave them a few years ago, and all the rest of you who know how to give well by receiving well. I love you – God bless you every one!

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I’m dreaming of a Flarp Christmas

December 24, 2008

A couple of Christmases ago I swore off the whole rigamarole of thoughtfully choosing niece and nephew gifts based on age and interest. I replaced it with a new Christmas tradition — the annual “Sack-O-Junk.” The advantages of this innovation are numerous. First, it frees me from the responsibility — at which I was failing — of accurately remembering the ages and interests of my various nieces and nephews. Second, by purposefully not trying to be cool, I side-step the humiliating fate of being the not-really-cool-aunt-who-tries-to-be-cool-but-is-always-a-little- off (aka “the aunt who gives me toe socks”). Third, I avoid the un-Christmassy bitterness I feel when I see my carefully selected gifts cast aside like so much socks and underwear after about 2.5 seconds of well-coached, obligatory feigned interest. Finally, The Sack-O-Junk is much quicker to shop for and usually cheaper.

The “Sack-O-Junk” is, as the name implies, a sack full of junk. Every year I buy identical Christmas gift bags (another fabulous innovation) for each of my nieces and nephews. Four or fourteen, it doesn’t matter, everyone gets the same junk. I fill the sacks with all the gizmos and cheap bric-a-brac from the dollar store that no responsible parent would ever let a kid buy. Nothing can cost more than five bucks the goal is less than two. The only other restriction is there there has to be eight of whatever it is because part of what makes my system work is that everyone gets the same junk. This year’s S.O.J includes glow in the dark stars, blinking Rudolph nose, plastic Kazoo, giant inflatable tennis shoes, cash (these are, after all, the people who will be visiting me in the nursing home someday) and – the shining star of the 2008 Holiday season – Flarp!

For those of you not familiar with Flarp, its full name is “Flarp! Noise Putty.” It is just one of the many icky, squishy, slimy, fluorescent colored petroleum by-products you can buy in the children’s aisle of your friendly neighborhood dollar store. It’s cool and wet and slightly elastic to the touch, like you might imagine the ooze at the bottom of a Dr. Seuss pond to look and feel like. But what separates Flarp from the rest of the glop and gak on the kid’s aisle is not its disgusting texture (a feature so common as to be ignored by all but the most deprived children) but its musical capabilities. The package promises boldly “makes awful noises,” and I am here to report, it delivers the goods.

Flarp comes in a little plastic bottle about the same size and shape as the bottle my thyroid pills come in; therein lies the secret to its enthralling  powers. When you poke or squish the Flarp into its bottle it makes really quite exceptionally realistic farting noises. It is not limited to just one uniform, standardized blast – oh no – with a little practice and a little Flarp any kid with even the least bit of initiative can produce a full, rich range of variations on the theme of “pooting.” It’s like a symphony in a bottle.

For those of you well-meaning  but unenlightened aunts and uncles who have been weighing the comparative benefits of “A Child’s First World Atlas” vs. yet another “Kids Kraft Kit” please allow me to recommend Flarp as an alternative. For about a buck fifty you can help create the kind of beautiful Christmas memories that become the stuff of family legend. My niece Megan, for example,  became quite an enthusiastic and accomplished flarpist in a matter of minutes.  I know I may not be totally objective (I am the doting aunt after all), but I really think she is a flarp prodigy! Believe me when I say, my sister nearly wept with joy.