A Mom’s Truth About Wrapping Presents

Yes, it’s true that on occasion you will wrap gifts while listening to Christmas carols, or perhaps watching Hallmark movies, sipping hot cocoa and wearing fleece pajamas. It’s been known to happen, and it’s lovely.

But more often than not, you will end up hastily wrapping presents while hiding out in your (relatively) cold basement, listening to your husband play with the kids upstairs, holding your breath every time it sounds like the peace may not last much longer. Your beautifully set-up wrapping station—you know, the one you put together so lovingly in July—has now become home to your work, and you will have to contend with losing the scissors among legal files, household budgets, editing projects, and things you need to (someday) scrapbook. As you dig trough last year’s Trader Joe’s bags chock full of crumpled ribbon, you will laugh at the memory of your plan to carefully roll the fabric- and wire ribbon on the closet rod that hangs above your head, so you can easily pick a matching color and whip it into a fluffy and glittery bow.

Your back will hurt from bending over the rolls of wrapping paper and always-lost packages of tape, and you will curse the fact that someday soon your back will hurt even more from assembling a something-or-other that I won’t mention, just in case some cruel person decides to spoil the surprise. In between the curses, you will hear, in stereo sound, your mother’s imagined-but-sure-to-happen admonishments that you should have put the princess dresses in a BOX, instead of lazily wrapping them in their sort of hard plastic covers. But hey, your back hurts and you know she won’t do her wrapping until Christmas Eve, at which point you will feel like the superior mama for being on top of things, otherwise known as working yourself into a tizzy for no apparent reason other than to please children who are happy with an empty box.

You will struggle to remember why in the world you bought your 4-year-old and your fourteen-month-old the joint gift of Hungry Hippo, seeing as how your little guy will simply eat all the marbles. You’ll stress over the fact that your teenager only wants the kind of gift that comes inside an envelope, greatly reducing his unwrapping joy come Christmas Day, and you’ll wonder if anyone will notice that the only gifts shoved inside gift bags with hastily arranged tissue paper belong to out-of-state family members.

And in the midst of all this, you might even write a blog post about your Christmas wrapping, because really, it’s important for everyone to know that they are not alone. I stand in solidarity with you and your fight to create beautiful Christmas memories that will be ripped to shreds and discarded, maybe in the recycling bin, but maybe in the trash, because you can’t really remember if the shiny kind of paper is compostable or not.

Merry Christmas, and happy wrapping!

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Sehnsucht

Tonight, two weeks after our last child’s first birthday, I reinstated my gym membership.

I went through the reenrollment process with a young, sprightly girl who seemed genuinely happy to help me.

“A pregnancy leave! How nice. Congratulations on the birth of your baby! Just fill in the baby’s name and date of birth on this form and he can go to Child Watch while you work out.”

“Great!” I fill out the form and hand it back.

“Okay, you’re good to—wait, don’t you mean October 2013?”

“Er, no. 2012.” Ms. Young and Sprightly stares at me.

I mumble, “There were complications.” (translation: “Life is complicated.”)

She still stares.

“But I’m here now!” small, awkward fist pump.

“Oh. Okay. Well then.” She hands me my ID and looks away.

Thanks, young sprightly girl.

The workout is great. I feel more alive, happier. On the drive home, I can feel the realignment of my spine, my neck. I can also tell just how sore I’ll be tomorrow.

Even though it’s barely after 5pm, it’s dark on the drive home, and store lights shine bright. I can see into Saul’s, where people eat free pickles and over-priced latkes. Twinkling lamps light the place where several years ago a friend—rich, East coast—took me for tapas and mojitos.

In the dark-made-bright, people seem to bustle. They seem fuller, somehow, then perhaps they think they are. Peppermint has replaced pumpkin, and when I get home, Rachel is making her Christmas list.

I start cooking, among other things, winter squash with butter and brown sugar. Nana will return next week, Collin the week after.

Andy and Rachel visit the porch to look at 6pm stars and I’m shooing Aaron away from the stove, wooden spoon in hand.

Tonight the early dark brings joy and something… else. Some frustration that none of this can be neatly pocketed, pulled out when I need it. It is fleeting, incapable of capture. Bittersweet and elusive.

Tomorrow, headed home on a crowded train full of tired people, legs sore and back aching, I will curse the early dark. But in this moment, with stars and vertebrae aligned, sticky smiles shining under a Berkeley sky, I am, almost, happy.

Related posts: The Smell of Pumpkin Lattes Can Only Mean One Thing: It’s Almost Christmas!

Porch view.

Porch view.

The Smell of Pumpkin Lattes Can Only Mean One Thing: It’s Almost Christmas!

Well, it’s October.

A lot happens in October: the World Series; several family birthdays, including two of my children’s; Halloween; football; and wonderful weather.

So of course, all I can think about is Christmas.

Every December 26th, I hate Christmas. I never want to have Christmas again. Truth be told, I kind of start hating it on December 25th. Not the Jesus’ birthday part—I love that. But the rest of it…. well, it’s exhausting.

Yes, the consumerism is problematic, but that’s the least of my problem.

You see, every September I start planning for Christmas. I don’t want to, but I know that to fulfill my role as creator of tradition, passer-down of history, and keeper of all things family, I have to. Despite my seemingly joyful preparation, I am full of dread. I can’t believe I’m about to go through the agony of planning, decorating, creating, and dragging out dusty boxes of clutter for my home.

But then October gets here. I unpack the pumpkins, the seven-foot inflatable Scooby Doo that my husband finally, after all these years, has come to appreciate, the scarecrows, and even some things that glow. Grabbing the decorations from the basement, I see stack upon stack of plastic bins labeled “Christmas.” I go to buy candy corn and chocolate, and mixed in among the jack-o-lantern Peeps, I see peppermint bark. Spiced cider. Pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING. And my heart and mind begin to race with joy.

Normal life goes on the back burner. Birthday prep and Halloween costumes become afterthoughts. I eyeball the house for clear places to put tacky knick-knacks and stuffed animals that sing Christmas lyrics to the tune of famous country songs. Advent is weeks away, but my own personal countdown has already begun. Is the corner clear enough for our 10-foot Christmas tree? Check. Is the wrapping station stocked with tape, scissors, and fine-point Sharpies? Check. Do we have enough money to lavish our kids with gifts and our family with buttery foods? Well, two out of three isn’t bad. My feet and back start to hurt just thinking of all the cooking I know is coming my way, but it’s a hurt I welcome.

For a while, anyway. Come December 20th, I will be emotionally overwrought, financially strapped, and more than slightly cranky. My to-do lists will transfer from desk-sized Post-Its to legal pads, and, at times, I will have to convince both the baby and the dog that the “Get Low” singing snowman is not a threat to their safety.

The shining light in all this (other than the exterior of our house, of course), will be the celebration of Advent and the final culmination on Christmas morning: the ceremonial candle lighting, opening another window every morning to count down the days, singing holidays hymns in the kitchen while night falls early and I relish in the love I know passerbys can see radiating through our open blinds.

It is beautiful.

With each pumpkin latte I know I shouldn’t be buying, I inhale the aroma of cinnamon and spice. The steam fills my heart, tingles my toes, and I know this smell means only one thing: it’s almost Christmas.

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Feeling intimidated.

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Christmas cooking is even fun during a kitchen remodel. Oh, and thanks for stirring, Mom!

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Why this almost-35-year-old mama doesn’t mind wearing beige.

There’s a car commercial that has several women—all of whom are roughly my age and presumably mamas—pulling out of the driveways of their identical suburban homes, getting into identical beige cars, and generally acting like Stepford wives, although they most likely have professional jobs they go to Monday through Thursday, with a work-at-home day on Fridays. The voiceover says something along the lines of “everyone says you need a beige car now to fit your beige life. Break out of the beige and go bold!” (totally paraphrasing here). Then some woman breaks free from beige and shoots down the freeway in a bright red car. The commercial cuts off just before she gets a speeding ticket and a visit from CPS for child endangerment.

While I don’t have a beige car (but want one!), the outside of my house is beige. The inside of my house is beige. (Well, at least the remodeled parts. The yet-to-be redone parts are a shade of grayish-yellow that can’t be found on even the most inclusive color wheel.) Today I am wearing a beige shirt under a beige sweater, and I would have switched to a beige purse but I was running late, and does the woman at the DMV really care if I’m color coordinated?

My baby’s highchair is beige, as is his crib set, as is my kitchen granite, as is my kitchen tile. Someday we will redo our bathrooms in slate grey, another lovely neutral.

Much to my teenager’s surprise, my favorite color is no longer red, but is instead sage green (but red is a close second, mainly because I wish it were Christmas year-round).

So what’s with all the boring neutrals when everything in my life used to be fiery shades of red and bold swaths of black and animal prints? Why do 30-something-year-old mamas have a reputation for being so “beige?”

That’s easy: we must be beige to maintain our sanity.

When you have to hit the ground running at 5:45am after sleeping roughly 4 hours for the 10th night in a row (and no alcohol was involved on any of those nights), and your day is mired in total chaos by 7am, who wants the mental stimulation of zebra pillows and leopard print blankets? Or even a red car? The brain can only take so much. Of course, the number of kids one has probably influences this, as does ones natural resiliency; perhaps I’m just not that resilient.

But let me tell you, my kiddos don’t stress me that much. I mean they DO stress me, no doubt about that. But not as much as they could, based on what other people tell me. Why? Because when you live in a crazy house it’s smart to crazy-proof yourself, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but trust me: it isn’t.

Punk music? Nope.

Bright colors? Nope.

Emotion-laden movies? Nope.

Fist-pumping Irish anthem rock? Well, sometimes.

This is called self-preservation, not boredom.

It’s also why I had the following text conversation with a friend the other day:

ME: “Who is this booby $ person?” (referencing my friend’s recent FB post)

HER: “Huh?”

ME: “You know, this person whose breasts write her songs for her.”

HER: “Kesha!?? Tik tok?!? Oh boy.”

ME: “Hey, you have 3 kids [she has 1] and a husband who isn’t a DJ [hers is] and then see how cool you are!”

HER: “Awww. Where is C going to college?”

[momentary digression]

ME: “You still haven’t enlightened me.”

HER: “About Kesha?”

ME: “Yes.”

(She sends me a Google link, which is not helpful at all, because although I’m too busy to keep up with pop culture, I can certainly use a computer. When I looked her up, I found her debut album was released in 2009, the year Rachel was born. Case closed. Also in my defense is that I strongly dislike the majority of pop music).

ME: “Yesterday I was going somewhere and my husband told me I looked nice. I said, ‘No, I don’t. I look like a 34-year-old mom.’ And you know what? I did.”

She said nice things to make me feel better, then we went on to have a discussion about Capri pants, which she was also wearing. That made me feel somewhat better because my friend is still cool. (Did I mention she only has ONE child?)

The next day I went somewhere where many 30-something-year-old mamas were present. I started to count the number of women wearing Capris, but then I ran out of fingers.

But seriously, I am not apologetic. I am okay with being beige (and no, this blog post does not prove otherwise). You know that poem that tells old, empty-nest women it’s okay to wear purple? I’m here to say that, until your own nest is empty, it’s okay to wear beige.

PS – about 5 minutes after writing this, I realized this post may sound dismissive of the hard work parents of 1 do. I definitely do not mean to do that! Having 1 kiddo is terribly hard, so if you’ve got only 1, please feel free to go beige! (aren’t you so glad to have my permission? ;)) For me, personally, 1 was hard but not as hard as 3, but some people say the more you have the easier it gets! So I guess it all just depends (like most of life.)

No, this isn't beige, but in case there was any question: I was speaking more metaphorically than literally. Mostly.

No, this isn’t beige, but it is neutral. Also, in case there was any question: I was speaking more metaphorically than literally. Mostly.