Posted in Brats, Family, Holidays

Post-Holiday Malaise

I’m not the biggest fan of the holidays. Not a Scrooge mind you—I probably fall right in the middle of the bell-curve. But the time of the year right after the holidays always seems to bring with it a downswing in my mood. And I’m not sure I ever really understood it until now.

When I was a kid, I always thought it was the normal back-to-school lethargy. Then in high school and college I reasoned that the abrupt change in schedule just meant I was tired. As I moved into adulthood I attributed it to the annual belt-tightening that naturally follows a period of financial excess. And then as a parent I thought it was just the post-Christmas poverty.

But now I think I just miss the lights.

I’ve never been a big one for going off the deep end with decorations, but during the holidays our house would probably best be compared to a low-rent casino trying to advertise some new promotion. There are mismatched strands of lights, three different inflatables all dressed as Santa—as if Snoopy, Pooh and Tigger are about to rumble for the right to deliver presents (my money’s on Tigger), trees festooned with unbreakable ornaments—half of which were already broken (which I suppose makes them unbreakable in the same way shattered glass is)—and walkways lined with lighted canes and snowflakes.

I know it sounds like a lot, but I’ve got 4 kids. You try telling one that they can’t have their favorite inflatable in the front yard when the other got their snowman decoration staked out in the front yard. I know I could pull rank, but then we’d just be laying down the law for the entire four-week break. And what fun would that be. Parents don’t get the luxury of good taste.

And out house wasn’t even the brightest on the block. The house down the street had a nativity set that not only lit up, but he blanketed the front yard with net lights. The resulting lawn grid made the whole thing look like a manger scene from The Matrix.

Yes it’s all gaudy, and tacky, loud and obnoxious. But now that it’s all gone, the street is just so plain. On a street where all the houses look pretty much the same, mime is no longer distinguished as the one that most interferes with star-watching. Instead it’s the one with the arch in the garden, that you really can’t see because it’s too dark. What fun is that?

It’s all rather like being in Disney World long enough to see them power down the rides for the night.

Posted in Holidays

Stocking Stuffers

What’s your favorite part of Christmas?

Is it giving presents? Getting presents? Mistletoe? Carols? The glut of Christmas movies? The crispness of the air? The Christmas feast? Egg Nog? Children with that haunted, anticipatory, desperate look of a junkie in rehab? Christmas specials? Family? Memories? Anticipation? Sneaking peaks at your own presents? Office parties? Office after-party gossip? The kids obsessively watching the news hoping for snow before they go back to school?

It may seem odd, but my favorite part of Christmas is stocking stuffers.

I was an only child, and generally spent Christmas with at five to eight adults, depending on what relatives made the trip in a given year. But as the only child I had to adhere to an adults’ version of Christmas—translation: the family slept in.

Sedatives aside, no self-respecting kid is going to sleep in until 10am on Christmas day, so my family used the stocking to occupy me for the first four hours of Christmas. There was always enough packed in my stocking to keep me busy and relatively quiet until the adults woke up on their own.

I remember plenty of Star Wars action figures, puzzles—I grew up in the age of Rubik, so new puzzles were plentiful—Hot Wheels, Mini Lego sets, paperback books, snacks—though if candy came along it was usually later in the day—and myriad little, cheap, filler toys.

But I always loved the little cheap filler toys. My family used to tell me a story of when my father’s college roommate came into town, and met me for the first time. I was either two or three years old. He and I hit it off, and sometime during the trip he took me to Lionel Playworld and told me I could get anything I wanted in the entire store. I picked a four-pack of Weeble Wobbles.

I just always seemed to enjoy the smaller, less constrained toys. I liked action figures instead of the sets that went along with them. I liked handheld puzzles instead of board games. I liked individual Hot Wheels rather than the full tracks.

And all that great stuff fit perfectly into a stocking.

And now I get to fill them. Five of them to be exact.

I don’t just run out to the dollar store and grab filler, although I do use that stuff to fill in the empty spaces once the real stuffers are selected and put in place. And even though with four kids, there has to be significant amount of balancing—lest someone think they got shorted—I’m always able to get a few special prizes in there that make the stocking more than an appetizer.

So, what’s your favorite part of Christmas?