it IS better to give… if you’re not being told what to give

The Christmas book currently getting the most airplay at our house is The Poky Little Puppy’s First Christmas. My seven- and four-year-olds have been settling in each afternoon for several readings in a row. Yesterday, I was just finishing up my third time through.

MOMMY: “It was only his first Christmas, but Poky had already learned that the best gifts of all–are the ones you give.”

Maggie, hearing this as if for the first time, lifted her head from my shoulder and whipped  around to face me.

MAGGIE: WHAT? What you say Mommy?

MOMMY: “The best gifts of all are the ones you give.”

Maggie looked at me with furrowed brow, wondering how I (and Poky) could possibly have been led so astray when the truth was so obvious.

MAGGIE: (very gently) Mommy. No. They’re not.

She may have a point.

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year, but every year it seems to get more complicated. Right now I have a “Christmas 2011” spreadsheet that I’m checking twice against and a “Christmas 2011 Our Kids” Google Doc, updated daily with Evernote clips and highlights and shipped-tos and not-yet-receiveds. I feel like I’ve been elf-on-the-shelfing it full time since Thanksgiving, and I’m still not done.

And yet it should be easier than ever. Thanks to Amazon’s Universal Wish List (of which I was an extremely early adopter and total evangelist) I know exactly what my brothers and sisters want, my nieces and nephews, even my father-in-law. (Everyone except my husband, the Hardest Person to Buy For In the Whole World, but that is a story for another day.) All this is supposed to my life easier as a gift-giver, and it has, but something is missing.

I’m missing being a gift-giver who gets to choose her gifts.

According to the New York Times, gift registries for Christmas are seriously trending upward. And not everyone is happy about that– not even Dana Holmes, editor-in-chief of, who says that

wish lists should be saved for the kids and for the teenagers… Once you’re an adult, you should be willing to see what other people want to give you and see how they perceive you.

I’m with Dana.

The gifts I enjoy giving, whether to my babysitter or to my children, are the things I see when I’m out shopping, in the real world, and think, That’s perfect. They’ll love it. Watching someone open something they had no idea they’d wanted– that’s the joy of giving. It’s hard to get that warm-and-fuzzy feeling when it’s a bunch of adults in holiday sweaters handing one another the gift certificates they said they wanted because they were at a loss to think of much else.

Back to the Poky Little Puppy, who in an O.Henry turn of events, gives his skunk friend Herman the only present he got for Christmas: a beautiful old rubber boot that becomes Herman’s new home. No registry, just generosity of spirit. Inspired by Poky, I took the kids to our neighborhood toy store, and let them pick out Christmas presents for ten of their cousins. We left the wish lists at home. The kids darted about and shouted across the store and found things that they thought were absolute treasures, such as this sound machine featuring farts and burps  for a sixth-grade boy.

The best part is, my kids have three more days of trying it out in demo mode before we give it away. Is that not the merriest of Christmases?

What’s your take on gift registries for this time of year: lifesavers? or party poopers?

All I Want For Christmas is Stuff I Have Neglected To Mention To My Mother Until Now

While checking Seamus’s backpack for stinky gym clothes last night, I found, in his homework folder, his Christmas list.










Here are my top thoughts upon reviewing said list.

  • None of these items have been mentioned to “Santa” at any previous point. “Santa” has acquired an entirely different, and presumably now less-wanted, toy collection, from a list three weeks previous.
  • However “Santa” is considered both omniscient and magic, and so will know that these things are what Seamus wants most, and will of course, by everything childhood innocence holds dear, come through.
  • “Santa” had considered a “ginny pig” at some length (although not expressly on any Christmas list) but had rejected said pet as too likely to make our apartment smell like Petco after ten minutes. So that’s not happening.
  • The book “The Scar,” to quote the publisher, recounts the tale of how “a little boy responds to his mother’s death in a deeply moving story leavened by glimmers of humor.”

While that sounds like an absolutely necessary, loving and useful book for a little boy whose mother *has* died, it does seem like a strange choice for a seven-year-old who has no need of even contemplating such a sad reality. It seems a VERY strange choice BY that first grader, who, when gently told that it’s a book about a dead mother, responded, “I know, that’s why I want it.” Presumably for those “glimmers” of humor.

That book may or may not be happening.

  • Gold Bond. As in the medicated healing lotion. May I repeat, Seamus is SEVEN. When asked why this particular item (with relatively phallic illustration) made the list, Seamus calmly replied, “Because my friend Victor uses it. And Victor has really soft hands.”
  • Wait, how does Seamus know that Victor has really soft hands? Are they going out? Or is it just general first-grade knowledge that the Softest Hands award goes to Victor? Does Victor make it known? Challenge others to make their hands softer? Should I be using Gold Bond Medicated Healing Lotion to make my hands soft as Victor’s? How will I know if they are without getting Victor to hold hands with me as well?
  • A “black and green T-sheirt.” Here my son has just GOT to be messing with me. Three years ago he vowed that he wanted nothing, NOTHING for Christmas but “a blue Jeep,” and I turned eBay and the state of New Jersey upside down finding the only one that existed outside his imagination.

“Why black and green?” I asked Seamus. “Is there a… black-and-green team that you like?” (At least then I could use that name in an online search.) “Nope,” Seamus said. “They just look good together.”

I thought my Christmas shopping was pretty much done.

If anyone spots a black and green T-shirt in their travels, let me know. Santa is feeling desperate.

Do your kids spring an entirely new list on you ten days before Christmas?

why Jesus is NSFPS (not suitable for preschool)

Four-year-olds like to ask a lot of questions.

My four-year-old likes to ask a lot of questions about Jesus.

In this blessed season of Advent, Maggie is suddenly obsessed with Our Savior and everything about Him. I took her to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular: Rockettes: Magical Journey on Sunday morning at 9 a.m. (yes, all those poor ladies are up and tap dancing at that hour), and after an hour and half of fantasmical Christmas celebration, when the lights came up, the first thing Maggie said was:

“Mom. I’m pretty sure that was the real Santa. But was that the real Jesus?”

“Uh, no, definitely not,” I said. (I mean, our seats weren’t that good, so who can say. But five shows a day is a lot to ask of any infant, even the Christ Child.)

“Oh, it was a different baby,” she said, nodding. “But… was that the real Mary?”

Preschoolers have a tenuous grasp on the notions of History and Time. Maggie knows we’re about to celebrate the birthday of Baby Jesus, but then he’s also a grownup, and he’s also dead, and he’s also God, whatever that means, and she’s short-circuiting a little bit, but she’s still trying to get to the bottom of this whole Jesus thing. Unfortunately, the more questions she asks, the more I realize there’s a lot about the Jesus story that is NSFPS (not suitable for preschool).

Here were a few of yesterday’s questions:

MAGGIE: Why did the bad guys kill Jesus?

ME: Because Jesus was telling people to be nice, and they didn’t like that.

MAGGIE: But why didn’t the police stop the bad guys?

ME: Because the police and the bad guys were sort of the same people. But today, of course, policemen are your friends! Not bad guys!

MAGGIE: How did the bad guys kill Jesus?

ME: Um. I don’t remember.

MAGGIE: No. I mean what did they USE to kill Jesus?

ME: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

A few minutes later:

MAGGIE: Mommy. I think those bad guys used a CROSS to kill Jesus? Right? And it looks like this and it’s big? Did they hit Jesus on the head?

So then I get into the details of the crucifixion, against my better judgment, because  I don’t see another way out. After a few minutes of that:

MAGGIE: But Mommy. How did the police get the nails in between all of Jesus’s toes? Did they have little tiny hammers?

From there, we got into an interesting conversation about how one can slowly bleed to death, and whether 33 was an “old” or “medium old” age to die, and then circled back to:

MAGGIE: But Mommy. When Jesus was borned in the stable. Where was the Christmas tree?

I’m trying to stick with the Tiny Baby Jesus part of things, if possible.  To quote Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights: I like the Christmas Jesus best. Eight-pound, six-ounce, newborn infant Jesus.

But with a preschooler/investigative reporter in the home, it hasn’t been easy.


What Not To Wear: Preschool Edition

I had a meeting yesterday morning, and I was up and showered early, eager to put on something besides jeans and Uggs for a change. I had Places to Go. I was looking Corporate.

Four-year-old Maggie came in my room just as I finished getting dressed. She gave me the once over.


MAGGIE: Mommy… do you…like that shirt?

ME: Why? Don’t you?

Maggie shrugged.

MAGGIE: Well. I like it medium.

I looked in the mirror. This was my surefire meeting shirt. I’d even worn this shirt on TV once. She liked it “medium”?

ME: Why don’t you like my shirt?

MAGGIE: Well, at first I thought it was red. When I saw that it was purple, I liked it medium.

In other words, my blouse’s purpleness was the only thing it had going for it.

ME: Should I take it off? Should I get rid of it?

MAGGIE: (pausing meaningfully) Well. I don’t mean throw it away

This is about when I realized I was letting a four-year-old, who thinks everything would look better with a bedazzled Hello Kitty on it, dictate my fashion choices.

ME: Okay, well, I’m going to wear this shirt, because I like it.

MAGGIE: Are you wearing those black pants with it?

ME: Yes. I mean, I think so.

MAGGIE: Then just make sure you wear high heels.

I dug out my new, sensible, medium-heeled black boots. Put them on. Sure! I just needed the polish of a sensible heel to make the whole outfit pop.

ME: What do you think now?

Maggie sighed heavily.

MAGGIE: Those are not what I call high heels. They should be more long and straighter.

My life has turned into one long episode of What Not to Wear, this one hosted by a preschooler- and it would all be a little easier to take if I wasn’t secretly certain that her sense of style is way, WAY better than mine. I’ll never like that purple blouse more than medium again.

Do your kids critique your fashion?