Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm a cotton-headed ninny muggins...

I stood in the shower last night letting an expensive amount of nearly scalding hot water wash over me as I worked to pinpoint what was missing this year.  I have been trying in vain to get into the Christmas spirit, and even though I have done a stellar job at closely following the directions from “How to Have a Merry Christmas for Dummies,” I am still completely lacking any semblance of seasonal cheer. There are twinkling lights inside and out, delightfully decorated tins of goodies to make your pants become two sizes too small, and a bounty of gifts under the tree that would cause Santa to look like a boozing slacker, yet here I sit full of "Bah, humbug".

I put on a good show. I know how to make others covet my (presumed) joy and feel consumed by guilt because they didn't take time out of their busy lives to decorate gingerbread men with the kids like I did.  I have been dutifully quoting "Elf" on a daily basis, buzzing around like Mrs. Claus jacked up on Red Bull with all of the shopping, wrapping, and even cooking up my late mother's recipes in an attempt to craft the Best. Christmas. Ever.

But, that's just it.  I have created a beautiful, fake holiday world, and I'm ashamed to admit that it's all smoke and mirrors, folks.  I began thinking back to my own childhood to see if I could catch lightning in a jar and perhaps release it into the present day.  What made me love Christmas so much as a child?  It wasn't a decorated house that rivaled Clark Griswold's.  We didn't even have lights on the outside of our house.  It wasn't a pirate's booty of gifts because my parents' lower middle class salary meant that we shouldn't expect to get everything we asked for, and honestly, I can barely remember most of my gifts any way.  What I do remember is watching my mom in the kitchen for hours baking for us the sweet treats we were allowed only once a year.  I remember sitting across the table from her cracking the assortment of nuts that were also a beloved holiday treat and noticing that my hands looked just like a smaller version of hers. I remember catching a glimpse of my stoic, hard-nosed father when he actually smiled and occasionally laughed at the chaos of us kids opening gifts.

And, it was then that I had my Grinch moment.  I realized that even though my house looks like the set of a sappy Hallmark original Christmas movie, it could all be stripped away down to the last can of Who Hash, and my kids would still love this holiday anyway, because they crave what every human craves: love (and Legos).   They want to spend time with me whether or not the lighted garland on the banister is perfect.  They want to sing, "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg...", and laugh like it's the first time they have ever heard it, regardless of whether or not my vanilla wafer cake completely crumbles into a million pieces.  Sure, they want presents just like all kids do, but I'm willing to bet they think snuggling with me is pretty awesome, maybe even as awesome as a Zhu-Zhu Pet.

So, Christmas is finally here.  I am slowly getting the picture that maxing out your credit cards at Toys-R-Us doesn't equal love (unless you're Donald Trump's offspring), and even though I can't  beg/plead/bribe my family to spend the day with me, the three people with whom I share this home will be here.  They will hug me, squeal with delight at every treasure no matter the price, and tell me they love me because that is what Christmas is really all about...well, that, and watching twenty-four hours of "A Christmas Story."

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like (an Anheuser Busch-fueled) Christmas (party)

One of my  favorite events this time of year is our annual Office Christmas Holiday Party. It is an evening when co-workers gather ‘round the buffet table to eat lukewarm mashed potatoes, wilted green beans, and parsley-covered baked chicken in an Opaque Sauce of Unknown Origin. Oh, how I love that special night when you get to watch your fellow cube farmers repeatedly tug at their dusty neck ties, the same neck ties that haven’t seen sunshine in three-hundred and sixty-four days, while you cleverly analyze those mythical, rarely seen creatures – The Spouses.  (I guess money can buy love!) It is but a few magical hours filled with poorly executed line dancing, swilling of cheap (but free) wine, and gawking at ladies in their sparkly dresses who look like they just flew in from a Bedazzling convention.

And I can’t wait.

Our Christmas party is more subdued than the traditional office parties you often see portrayed in the media where drunken salesmen are given a pass for spewing their vodka-soaked Christmas cheer all over the Vice President's wife, or where cute, nearly-jailbait secretaries end up giggling and snuggling on the boss’ lap. Oh, no. There is absolutely no canoodling under the mistletoe at our shindig, and in an effort to keep inappropriate alcoholic revelry to a bare minimum, our company hosts their party after work on a weekday. This is a vain valiant attempt to have employees busy working all day and not getting liquored up in preparation for showcasing their Electric Slide talent. Plus, it's common knowledge that even slightly drunk pencil pushers always slow down the food line with their inability to figure out the mechanics of the sweet tea dispenser and their impaired sense of eye-hand-food-plate coordination, so I'm actually very glad the company is looking out for us that way. (A message to Mr. I-Have-Already-Had-Five-Budweisers in front of me at the bread table: Yes, the Five Second Rule may be invoked for those notoriously tricky and hard to handle dinner rolls.)

I once worked for a company whose Christmas party main event was the employee dance contest. I am not even kidding. What made this so delicious can be summed up in two words: Open Bar. The scene looked very much like "American Bandstand" if  "American Bandstand" was predominantly filled with tipsy middle-aged white people who have no rhythm. It was truly a boost to company morale (well, mine anyway) to see the lower level employees and upper level managers shaking their groove things to Kool and the Gang in unison.  However, our beloved dance contest took a somewhat sordid turn when a few of the liquid-courage-filled contestants decided to show off their dirty dancing prowess.  The dance floor looked more like the set of a porno flick and less like a corporate sanctioned holiday gathering. I was forced to avert my eyes on more than one occasion, and I still have flashbacks of the simulated sex acts I witnessed that year.

Thanks to a few over-zealous Solid Gold Dancer wannabes, the dance tournament was quickly abolished and never spoken of again in mixed company,  however they were kind enough to replace it with a karaoke contest.  It was a stroke of genius. This would offer more control for the Big Wigs as they could preview the list of songs available and ensure the selections were family friendly. Plus, who in their right mind would get up to sing in front of a crowd of people if they had no talent?  This would be entertainment of the highest caliber for sure!

The idea that only trained singers would get behind the microphone works well in theory, but they failed to take into consideration a well-known fact:  Plenty of tone deaf party goers need nothing more than a few drinks to believe they are the second coming of Celine Dion.  Our ears were brutally assaulted with classics such as "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "What's Love Got To Do With It".  We were even entertained with one of my all-time favorites, the "Sponge Bob Squarepants" theme song.  At the end of the evening's festivities, I could only say that I was so thankful these folks had day jobs. I staggered out the door with visions of off key co-workers singing "I Will Survive" dancing in my head.  The rules were changed after that year and only those who signed up to sing before any alcohol was consumed were allowed to perform. Bah Humbug!

Unfortunately, I'm not expecting any shenanigans at my party this year.  We will all smile politely, compliment the rice pilaf and wonder out loud who crafted our beautiful table centerpieces.  We'll be good little boys and girls, spreading the holiday spirit by professing our heart-felt affection for everyone in the room regardless of the fact that they don't return your e-mails and frequently make you question your choice of careers. We'll forgive and forget being passed up for that promotion, and maybe - just maybe - if Santa is watching, he will grant us all the one wish we are secretly hoping for this Christmas:  To see a timid, soft-spoken desk jockey throw off his sport coat and, in a beer-fueled frenzy, bust a move.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I'll be home for Christmas...literally.

My family has a long-standing, deeply rooted Christmas ritual of never celebrating the day together. This time-honored tradition of avoiding relatives during the holidays goes back for generations. I’d be willing to bet that my entire immediate family hasn’t joined hands around the Christmas dinner table since Nixon was in the White House.

As a kid, our celebration included only my parents and five siblings, and my father didn’t even grace us with his presence during the meal because apparently, Walter Cronkite needed his attention more than we did. The logistics for moving a group as large as ours prevented us from traveling much, so unless some brave soul wanted to be a part of the Holiday Dysfunction Junction, we would spend the day without the company of grandparents, aunts, and uncles. This does very little to promote family unity, although it did mean more leftovers for us to enjoy. (Yay, us!) One by one, each child grew up, left the nest, and kept on walking. Our Christmas Day participation slowly dwindled until I, as the youngest, was the last one standing.

There are days when I feel a little melancholy from dwelling on the fact that my children have first cousins they have never met and aunts and uncles they would have a hard time identifying in a line up, but I understand because I have first cousins whose names and faces I can’t even recall. So, while other families are making extensive grocery shopping lists for their communal feasts, drawing names for a raucous gift exchange, and pulling out the sleeper sofa to make room for that long-lost cousin who showed up at the last minute, my family will be rehearsing their standard lines such as “Sorry, we have other plans”, and “We’re just going to stay home this year.”  Don't feel sorry for me, though. I have decided to put a positive spin on our lackluster holiday attendance and list for you...

The Top Five Reasons to Avoid Your Family at Christmas:

1. You Won't Have to Eat Green Bean Casserole - If I’m in total control of the menu, this gag reflex-inducing dish won’t make it anywhere near my table. I don’t know who decided that canned, gelatinous, gray soup is delightful when mixed with green beans, but I’m going out on a limb here by saying it must have been a stoned, cash-strapped college kid rummaging through his cabinet during an attack of the munchies. He found the beans, the jiggly mushroom soup, and a can of fried onions that was left by the previous tenant, mixed them all together and, DUDE! An instant classic Christmas dish was born. So, if no one is coming for dinner, then that means no one is coming for dinner with an undesirable casserole in hand.

2. Silver and Gold and Plastic – With so many bank accounts in the crapper, who among us isn’t looking for ways to save money? If all of my siblings, their significant others, children and grandchildren showed up on my doorstep, that would be three dozen extra stockings to fill, and with my bad luck in shopping at the dollar store, well, let’s just say I’m dodging a big bullet here. Christmas Cheer doesn’t come cheap, people, and the liquor store wasn’t running any Buy One, Get One Free promotions last time I checked.

3. So…umm…how’s the weather? – If you haven’t seen your relatives in a year (or five), then you should go ahead and make peace with the idea that you will find yourself seated on the couch uncomfortably close to a virtual stranger, and a period of awkward silence that makes you sweat from your upper lip will ensue. Maybe there is a reason you don’t hang out on a regular basis. Maybe the only thing you have in common is your DNA, and the single topic you can agree on is how your power bill will take a hit from the approaching cold front. You will struggle to find words that form even the simplest of chit chat, and you may start to question if you were adopted.  It would be in your best interest to just stay away.

4. ‘Tis the Season to Be Congested – I’m already walking on the wild side by not getting a flu shot this year. I would really hate to spend my Christmas by the sink making sure each and every family member properly washed their hands. (Remember to sing the ABC song!) All of that laughing, hugging, hand holding, and close talking are just the vehicles needed for each and every communicable disease out there. Since I’m sure it’s against the rules of etiquette to require all guests to wear a face mask while not eating, this season you should probably stay home and kindly keep your cough to yourself.

5. One Thing Leads to Another – The whole "Celebrating with Family Thing" is a vicious cycle, really. It starts off with Christmas dinner, but before you know it, you are remembering birthdays and even sending cards. Then, you discover that seeing your relatives outside of government-recognized holidays is (gasp) not so awful, and you plan a backyard barbecue FOR NO REASON AT ALL, and everyone comes. It’s a downward spiral from there as you begin to talk to each other on a regular basis and plan outings that actually include family members. (Oh yeah, you’ll be out in public for everyone to witness.) Very soon you’ll hit rock bottom with all the talking, visiting, laughing, bonding and carrying on, and then the whole lot of you will start to look like a close-knit family, and….oh…wait…

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Christmas Nazi

I sometimes have a really hard time getting into the Christmas spirit even though it’s my favorite of all holidays. I think it’s because I tend to be a little crabby when it’s pitch black at 5:15pm every afternoon, and the kids are whining because they can’t play outside in the dark. Plus, running interference between a giant, bumbling Weenie Dog with half a brain permanently set on“Chew Mode” and all those unsuspecting electrical cords that are plentiful this time of year tends to take a little shine off the silver bells for me. And to top it off, I really hate being bombarded with commercials showing those lovely ladies who run from their well-appointed homes to find a Lexus in their driveway topped with a big, red bow on Christmas morning. Finding yoga pants under the tree for me really does not make for a “December to remember”. I’ll bet those Lexus-driving harpies eat Doritos and wear a size zero, too.

In spite of my decidedly Un-Cindy-Lou-Who-like attitude this year, I declared that my family is going to have a joyous holiday season even if it hurts, damn it. So, as I was on my hands and knees cleaning up a gift left for me not by Santa, but from the business end of a dog, I had a Clark Griswold epiphany. I think Clark summed it up for me best in “Christmas Vacation” when he said, “Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re going to press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny f**king Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat, white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.” In that moment, I realized what I had to do. I had to implement a Normandy Beach-style Holiday Home Invasion. I had to become The Christmas Nazi.

I hatched my plan in about the time it takes to spray Lysol on the laundry room floor and scold my dog for his dirty deed.  All I had to do was turn my home into the North Pole of the South and force-feed my kids nothing but Christmas carols, festive outings, marshmallow-laden hot cocoa, and holiday movies every day for a month. (Let me pause right here and give a big shout out to the ABC Family channel for helping me in this endeavor with their "25 Days of Christmas".)  Just as The Grinch launched his assault to stop Christmas from coming, I was on a mission to do the very opposite.  I was poised to inject my family with some hardcore holiday spirit.

My scheme started with the lighting of the family Christmas tree.  Surely this would be an occasion over which we could bond and create beautiful memories, right? As we dragged bin after dusty bin from the garage, I felt my cheer quickly melting like a south Georgia snowfall in March.  Our first "joyous" event had turned into a heated discussion over where the tree looked best, why it was taking so long to string the lights, who got to hang which ornament, and who's fault it was that we were out of brown liquor. By the time the tree was up and lit, the four of us were no longer on speaking terms, and with a healthy Cabernet in hand, I quickly retreated to the bedroom to wrap gifts and sulk.  (Note to family members: Don't be surprised if your present looks like it's from the Unabomber. After a couple of glasses of the grape juice,  my hand was a little unsteady with the scissors and tape.)

After my unsuccessful attempt to bring the family together over the old Tannenbaum,  I decided we should try again with a trip to a local botanical garden that has an amazing light display, a place where we could drink decadent hot cocoa and put in a good word with Santa. In theory, my plan sounded great: the four of us bundled against the unseasonably cold weather, a jazz band playing Christmas favorites, and a merry spirit so thick you could almost hold it in your hand.  Yeah, that would have been such an awesome evening if I hadn't spent the entire afternoon on a fruitless quest to find a pair of size two pink inline skates.  After three hours of searching in a post-Thanksgiving weekend crowd, I was mentally and physically unstable.  I  walked into the house as it was time to leave for our perfectly delightful excursion and went all drill sergeant on the three of them.

"You people need to get your socks and shoes on NOW!"

"Put on your gloves!  Don't you realize it's thirty-five degrees, and we are going to be outside, for crying out loud?"

"What did you people do with my comfortable jeans?"

"Who left dishes on the table?  Can you all not clean up after yourselves?"

I single-handedly sabotaged my own best laid plans.  Once my shell-shocked family was in the car and on the way, I turned around to my children and in my best Mommy Dearest voice said, "You need to have fun, understand?"  They both quickly nodded in compliance knowing that Der Kommisar was hungry and having a bad hair day.

Everyone in the house is on high alert because the Christmas Nazi is actively on patrol.  I have even managed to recruit my six-year-old into the army.  Just last night she came running down the hall and said, "Mommy, do you know what J is watching?  It's not a Christmas movie.  It's iCarly." We marched down the hallway, an army of two, and demanded that the channel be changed to "The Santa Clause" or else.

I am certain that my brilliant plan for the Most Awesome Family Christmas Ever will result in one of two outcomes:  Either I will succeed in creating beautiful memories that we will cherish for a lifetime, or I will find it impossible to wave to my traumatized family as they carry me away in a straight jacket.  Seeing as how it's only December 3rd, and my hands are already trembling, it could go either way.