Making a List

Of the many things I dislike about December, presents rank right near the top. Partly that’s because we, a mixed-faith family (half Jewish, half Christmas), celebrate everything, so the excesses are head-spinning. But I also remain vastly insecure about who I’m supposed to buy presents for. The big ones, I know–family, teachers, cleaning lady–but what about the basketball coach? The music teacher? And must I write a check to the newspaper deliverer just because he puts a self-addressed envelope in the New York Times bag? It’s the best reason yet to ditch the print version and read it online! Perhaps I should start attaching a SASE to every bit of work I do, just in case anyone feels like giving me a little holiday tip.

Plus, I never really know what I want. I’m usually so busy trying to get rid of stuff–particularly stuff belonging to other members of my family–that it panics me to think about acquiring more, although I am rather fond of jewelry, which doesn’t take up a lot of room. My kids have so much crap they can barely muster a holiday list. So I came up with a great plan this year, which I excitedly proposed to the two younger ones, 13 and 9: “Instead of exchanging presents, let’s all go away somewhere!” I suggested. “Maybe we could go skiing, or to Bermuda?”

They looked at me as if I had just slapped them. “NO,” said the usually agreeable one. “Bad idea.” Then she proceeded to add 46 items to the Amazon Wish List I stupidly showed her how to set up. Her big brother scoffed as well: “My friends all get presents and ski trips.” I stared off into space and wondered who these spoiled brats were and when their parents were coming to pick them up. I mean, it’s not like I was proposing they give all their presents to charity for God’s sake! Their sensible older sister would probably have bought into a family trip, but mostly she’d just prefer cash; she’s saving up for her own post-high school European adventure. Without us.

Then my niece sent a friendly email reminding my husband and me to submit our gift lists for his family’s Secret Santa drawing. I had to cobble something together fast. So I went on Amazon and started clicking away. After 10 minutes, I had two things in my gift basket: a light-up makeup mirror with 5x magnification, and a set of 13 pairs of 1.5 magnification reading glasses. I quickly added some earrings and winter running tights just to appear less pathetic. Then I started thinking: maybe I hate presents because they’re just another reminder of my rapidly encroaching mortality! I mean, I distinctly remember the first gift I requested after my husband and I got together: a pair of rollerblades. Eighteen years later, here I was wishing for reading glasses. Why not throw in some orthotics and a folding walker and call it a day?

Depressed, I decided to go bricks-and-mortar shopping instead. The independent outdoor adventure store near us, on the verge of closing, was conducting a massive pre-holiday sale. So Mr. 70 Percent and I took the two younger kids for a look-see. As my son and I were checking out the cross-country skis, I noticed my husband marching purposefully around the store with a trekking pole. “I like this,” he said. “I’m going to get it.” My son, my daughter and I competed for the loudest guffaw. “When was the last time you went hiking?” my son asked derisively. “Yes, I’m sure it will come in handy when you have to trek from the couch to the refrigerator,” I chimed in. He became indignant. “It would have been very handy on that hike we went on last summer, when the kids were at camp,” he said. I racked my brain. “You mean that dog walk we took around the reservoir?” Yes, that’s what he meant.

But I was in no mood to argue. “Fine,” I said. “Merry Christmas!” I plan to put the trekking pole under the tree, along with the cross-country skis my son and I are getting. Where we’re going, there’ll be no need for reading glasses.

About Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg spent 22 years as a journalist for Newsweek Magazine. She now works as a writer, editor, teacher, and parent of three children, with whom she strives always to maintain a varnish-free relationship.
This entry was posted in Family life, Kids, Parenting, Reality check and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Making a List

  1. touche! we were having the shittiest morning around here, competing for the, “who can be nastier to eachother” award before actually getting in the car for school/work. But then, when I read about Mr. 70%, “purposely marching around the store with a trekking pole,” I laughed till tears messed up my make-up and it actually lifted the mood! THANK YOU BILL!

  2. Julie says:

    Every time I think “this time, I probably won’t laugh,” I do. It was the fold-away walker that got me. Thanks, Sue!

  3. YOUR STORIES ALWAYS MAKE MY DAY!

  4. Lisa says:

    Ditto for me. You always make me laugh. I click on your posts the minute they come out – I think I have become a voyeur into your life “I wonder what Sue and Mr 70 Percent are doing today?”
    xo my friend, lisa

  5. Linda Flanagan says:

    Brilliant, Sue! In our house, we have a variation of the trips-in-lieu-of-presents idea. I suggested to Jeff that we ought to visit J Crew to pick out some clothes for Christmas. “For Christmas?” he asked, dismayed. “Why would I want to get them for Christmas when I can get them anytime?” (Backstory: he wore shorts and “shoes” that double as slippers to school today, and doesn’t own a coat that fits. There’s not a lot of shopping for clothes ‘anytime.’) The only acceptable Christmas presents are those that were made to entertain or waste time, something we mothers are always delighted to indulge.

  6. Olivia says:

    I don’t remember how old your daughter is, but I’m 16 and am in pretty much the same position: all I want for Christmas is a plane ticket to Dublin, where my mom’s best friend and her family are staying for a few months. I want to take the opportunity to run around Europe with them over spring break.
    I did the same thing in 7th grade, actually, when my school was organizing a trip. I don’t know whether my mom’s glad I have few holiday wants or annoyed that they’re so expensive, haha.

  7. Jack Ruderman says:

    Amy LOVED this story. So did I. We need to get you a column in the Boston Globe.

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