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The FB Question I’m Not Answering

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Life can be hard. It can be lonely. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes we all need to remind ourselves of who we love, what we love, and why we love them. This post is a love-fest. Who makes your days worth living? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What makes you smile even though/even when everything else is falling to pieces?

I rarely respond to such Facebook question-posts, even one phrased as contemplatively as the above, which was posted by the (adult) daughter of a friend. For some reason, I was in the mood to respond:

Who makes my days worth living: All the kind, witty, intelligent people I know. Also, some of the assholes – I want to live long enough to see them get their due.

What gets me out of bed in the morning: the dang cats – I mean of course the adorable kitties – need to be fed.

What makes me smile even when everything else is falling to pieces: the knowledge that, if I hold on long enough, I will, eventually, read or hear a really bad pun and/or fart joke.

Yep, she got me. Not only did I respond, I…wait for it…began to think (gasp!) about the possible responses to those questions.

I thought about how complaining is easy…not to mention, sometimes fun.  [1] Also, with The Way Things Are These Days, ® if you’re not complaining about the terrorist/politicians/greedmongers, it’s likely you’re not paying attention.

Then I thought about how kvetching about the world being full of/run by asshats is easier than noticing or remembering how many remarkable, fantastic people are out there, wearing a different kind of hat.

And I don’t mean remarkable as in curing brain cancer or discovering a renewable, non-polluting energy source. [2] Remarkable as in the quiet and consistent kindnesses from, and perseverance of, seemingly unremarkable people.

 

 

 

I was thinking specifically of those people who, without announcement or fanfare, without seeking publicity or credit or even recognition on behalf of a religious or business institution, regularly and consistently help other people.

“I am a humanist, which means in part that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”
(Kurt Vonnegut, in his essay collection, A Man Without a Country,) 

I continue to meet humanists and Freethinkers who devote a good portion of their lives to helping individuals and the larger society – they seek to fill what gaps need to be filled, not because they are motivated by any kind of punishment/reward dogma, but because it’s the right thing to do.  They do good for goodness’ sake, often helping, for example, the Hungry Old Man who would gladly accept a free meal and then turn around and just as gladly condemn the driver of the home meal delivery van to some kind of unpleasant afterlife if Hungry Old Man found out the driver was a “godless atheist” who does not profess any religious creed.  

It’s also incredible to truly consider the ramifications of  people going about their day, trying to live simply, do good, minimize harm, and live out their rational, Freethinking beliefs, when they are a minority, [3]  surrounded by superstition and irrationality, in a world which often seems to champion ignorance and obedience over knowledge and free inquiry.

I see these people; I am lucky to meet and know them. And I read about those who live in other countries and pursue the same goals, doing good and fighting for the right to live Bright, in societies and cultures where it can mean death to disbelieve or even question…and I am humbled and grateful.

And I think to myself, like the song says, what a wonderful world.

Let’s all pause for a moment, as unicorns of peace, harmony, happiness and appreciation fly out of our butts.

 

th-th-that's s-s-s-oooooo b-b-b-beautiful.

th-th-that’s s-s-s-oooooo b-b-b-beautiful.

*   *   *

May you elevate yourself from off of your haunches on this beautiful spring day;
May you deem the day beautiful no matter the weather and get yourself outside;
May you be fortunate enough to hear the call of the red winged blackbird,
and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

  *   *   *

[1] And also life extending: the more you complain, the longer you live. Or rather, it just seems longer to everyone around you.

[2] Not to discourage such efforts – if you’re working on solutions to those problems, yee haw and keep at it!

[3]The fastest growing minority, but a minority still.

The Common Ground I’m Not Seeking

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On Tuesday MH and I were discussing the Hillsboro School Board meeting to be held later that day, during which the board would be taking public input regarding the topic of providing family planning services at school based health centers. We each separately emailed the board members with letters supporting the proposal. [1]

Two of the current school board members work at the same company as MH. I remembered asking MH, when those individuals were first running for their school board seats, what he knew about their respective political beliefs and temperaments. This led to a brief back and forth about the qualities we’d want to see in a decent, effective politician – even one running for a (allegedly) nonpartisan position, ala school board member. The ability to seek common ground or “reach across the aisle” was high on the list.

Many are the times I have considered how I lack a temperament (or even the desire to temper my temperament) which is even marginally suitable (read: electable) for public office, even an office as “small potatoes” as serving on a school board. I occasionally attended several meetings of my school board when I was in high school. What with the issues and tenor of the times,  [2] the meetings could get quite…entertaining…which made me wonder how the relatively sane members of the board managed to sit next to the whackadoodles, let alone have a rational discussion about educational policies.

That memory/idea must have gotten stuck in the space between my ears, because when I awoke the next morning (Wednesday), this was the first thought that came to mind:

I have no desire to seek common ground with morons.

schoolboard

*   *   *

Department of Despair to Come

We’ve a ways to go until the political parties hold their conventions, I know. Still, when I think of the prospects, I get a lump in my throat. I call it the Clump Lump, a mashup of the most likely two choices I do not want to choose.  Clinton, or Trump? Please, my fellow Americans, [3] don’t do this to me. Or to yourselves.

Clump. Clump. Clump. Thump.

 

ckump

 

Of course, there would be no contest re my choice of the Clump. Having not recently had a lobotomy or the intellectual equivalent of a compassion colonoscopy, it’s easy: I know Hillary R. Clinton is up to the task and I would gladly cast my vote for her.

But I wanted something new. Something Else.

Look, I know that much of what I think I may know about Clinton comes from 25 years of Republican slavering attack dog tactics:– “a quarter century of visceral GOP hatred.”

But, here’s the thing. What she said just before Nancy Reagan’s funeral – she did that all by herself.

I get it: you’re getting ready to attend a funeral of a public figure, you have to say something nice about the deceased.  But you don’t lie; you don’t forget or twist history.  I won’t belabor the point and you can look it up here and elsewhere, but Clinton’s WTF statement about Ronald and Nancy Reagan spurring “a national conversation, before anyone would talk about it,” [4]  about AIDS?!?!?!

 

REALLY

 

So. Pathetically. Astonishingly. Not. True.

And I can’t think why HRC would say that…other than staying true to what seems to be a (political) life-long habit of saying what seems to be convenient and/or expedient.

*   *   *

Department Of Parents Are Never Too Old To Go Apeshit
Over Reminders of Childhood Cuteness

It has been a week of many celebrations, both national and personal. Belle is home for Spring Break. Pi day. The Ides of March. That Irish-American Thing. [5]  Many if not all of these festive days call for special feasts. I asked Belle if there was any special dinner she’d like, in honor of…whatever. While she was pondering her options, MH showed me a list Belle had made, quite a long time ago. He found it written on a (unfortunately, undated) notepad he discovered as he was going through old papers in the attic:

 

Sadieundatedmenu

 

I told Belle all she had to do was say the word and we would endeavor to come up with a speshl desert and froot salid…and lots of Yum.

 

*   *   *

Department of They Said It Would Never Work

Content warning, PETA supporters: contains arguable mistreatment of select arthropods.

For the past couple of weeks, every morning I’ve come downstairs to the sight of a black ant – or sometimes two or three – creeping about the kitchen or dining nook. Like the steering wheel around the pirate’s genitals, it’s driving me nuts.

We have no idea how/where the ants are getting in. They find their way to the kitchen counters, where they are summarily and enthusiastically squished by moiself, a paper towel becoming their white shroud of doom. At most it seems as if they’re sending in a few “scouts” at a time. It’s isn’t a horde…but I know they’re out there.

So.

As a warning to its tribe, I made an example of one scout. There was more than a bit of eye rolling skepticism from my family when I set the warning on the counter at night before going upstairs to bed.

The next morning was the first morning in over a week when there were no ants in the kitchen. Not a one.  Vindication was mine. [6]

 

ant

*   *   *

Pearls From Sand: How Small Encounters Lead To Powerful Life Lessons

pts

 

I recently read (and very much enjoyed)  the above book, written by My New Friend. As the title indicates, it is about how everyday, seemingly mundane conversations and encounters can lead to profound insights that shape how we act toward and think about ourselves and others.

The book’s Chapter 7 is titled Introverted is Something You Are, which got me to thinking [7] about that most common, and perhaps most commonly misunderstood, personality type division: that of Extrovert and Introvert.

It has long been my observation that the world can be divided into two types of people: those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t.

 

 

 

But seriously, Ladies and Germs, y’all know about one of the more popular “personality type” tests, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ? Chances are you’ve taken the test for fun, or at some point in your working life, when the new/overenthusiastic member of your company’s HR department decided it was a fun tool to use in that most jaw-clenching and tedious of workplace events, the Let’s All Try To Understand Each Other ®  workshop. [8]

 

personality

 

 

The MBTI aims to elicit psychological preferences in how a person perceives the world and makes decisions. It does this through the use of a self-report questionnaire which then ranks your personality type based on your preferences in each of the test’s four dichotomies. Your preference in each dichotomy is also ranked as to its strength; e.g., your answers indicate you tend to be slightly, moderately or distinctively expressed in that categories.  One of the four dichotomies is Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

I’ve taken the test a few times over the years, [9] noting that, like most people who do so, my scores have varied within each dichotomy. One consistency over the years is that in the E/I dichotomy, I test as an E. This would come as no surprise to friends, family and co-workers, who’ve pegged me as an Extrovert over the years.  If the choice is I or E, she’s definitely an E. What might come as a surprise is that my scores on the MBTI Extraversion scale have been, consistently, only slightly expressed.

Moiself has never claimed the Extrovert label. [10]  I find it interesting that someone who would be (self- or otherwise identified as) an extrovert would chose the life/profession I have chosen, where I am alone for the majority of my day.

While no one enjoys time with friends – whether one-on-one or in group activities – more than I, my activities and interests tend to be solitary, or those which can be done with one or two people (e.g. reading, hiking, kayaking, archery, masturbation, [11]  KenKen and crossword puzzles). I try to avoid meetings/committees of any kind, and would rather trim my nose hairs with a week whacker than  give a reading of my work or do other writing-related professional appearances.

So, how do I think of, or label, moiself? Thanks for asking. I’ve yet to find my dichotomy: I am a Gregarious Loner.

Stick that in your MBTI pipe and smoke it.

 

 

ENTPjpg

*   *   *

May your personality dichotomies by freely expressed;
May you find words to praise the dead without lying your ass off;
May you find pearls in sand but no sand in your sandwich,
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 *   *   *

 

 

[1] We’d planned on attending the meeting, but Life events ©  intervened.

[2] It was the mid 1970s…Patty Hearst could have been hiding anywhere.

[3] I use that term not as an indicator of USA chauvinism – which I’ve been accused of on more than one occasion when doing so. I realize Canadians and Mexicans are (North) Americans, too. But our country has a rather clumsy name, especially when it comes to monikers for its citizens. If you live in Germany you are German; in France, you are French, In the USA you are…USA-ian? United Stateian? I’ve yet to run across a less clumsy descriptor than the one that uses the last part of the US of A.

[4] The Reagan reaction to the HIV/AIDS crisis is what phrases like “deafening silence”  and “turning a blind eye” were invented for. Reagan would not utter the name of the virus until late in his second term, and Nancy even refused to help her friend Rock Hudson get treatment when he was dying of “the gay disease.”

[5] On March 17 real Irish people in Ireland apparently do not affix paper shamrocks on their foreheads, don Kiss Me I’m Irish underpants and drink until they vomit green beer on their faux Leprechaun shoes and call it a celebration of their heritage.

[6] A wonderful feeling, however temporary. But really, the damn thing worked for about 12 hours.

[7] I tried to lie down on the couch; alas, the thinking continued.

[8] This is not another footnote. Move it along, folks – nothing here to see.

[9]  Mostly for fun, and mostly when for some reason it has been mentioned by someone – a friend who’s used it at work, for example. I find any sort of personality test somewhat rigid but think such tests can be useful as a starting point to understanding other people, as well as yourself…as long as you don’t take it as the be-all and end-all of psychological analysis. Many people claim the Myers-Briggs test has helped them become more aware of the differences between people, and to see such differences as just that –  different, not “wrong”…even though I remember reading somewhere that most of not many of the dimensions measured in the test have failed to hold up to consistent  research.

[10] nor have I vehemently denied it, so…yeah. What she said.

[11] Just checking to see if you’re reading, Belle and K. If so, your mother did not write that, okay?

The Ring I’m Not Wearing

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Last Friday when I started my car this dashboard warning light became illuminated:

 

airbag

 

It was a light I’d never noticed before – one that had never lit up in any of our previous vehicles. Given the graphic representation of the warning light, I figured it was alerting me to one of three possible scenarios:

*  WARNING!  Someone is about to throw a beach ball at your lap!

*  WARNING!  The car’s airbag may be malfunctioning!

*  WARNING!  You have unexpectedly become nine months pregnant!

It turned out to be a loose connection in the passenger airbag wiring – dust it off and tighten the connection. However, almost everything auto-repair wise is electronic these days, and the mechanics had to run their special diagnostics program to discover this simple solution to what could have been a complex problem.

The minimum charge to run the diagnostics program is $120. That’s a grrrrr-worthy charge, but much less than it would have cost to fix a faulty airbag. [1]  I decided to look on the bright side: such an expense is like a Kardashian – totally doable.

 

*   *   *

Department of Simple Pleasures [2]

I made a new friend this week! [3]

 

I’m aware that this kind of announcement is something you’d expect from a five year old reporting the excitement of her first day at kindergarten…or, perhaps, from an adult flustered by unexpected good-fortune.

 

sally

 

 

Guess what? It’s still exciting when it happens to a Person Of A Certain Age and, IMHO, carries even more import.

Observation: By the time you reach your 40s -50s, they’ve (mostly) become established in careers, neighborhoods, and in their family and social lives. If you value your friendships and in turn want to be a valued friend, you spend time cultivating and maintaining those relationships. If you wish to add someone to your buddy circle, your desire to do so doesn’t change certain natural world realities, like the earth’s rotation cycle. That is, there are still only 24 hours to a day, and still only so much time for each and every thing.

 

 

I give that segue a 7 on a scale of 1 to meh.

I give that segue a 7 on a scale of 1 to meh.

 

 

Not to get carried away or over analyze the phenomenon, but I’ve heard others my age bemoan the difficulties of meeting new people and getting to know them past a certain surface level of acquaintance. [4]

Once again, I digress.

The new friendship came about via a letter I wrote to The Oregonian, in response to a letter in that same’s op-ed section written by yet another blithering willfully ignorant religious idiot a sincere but sincerely misinformed man who claimed that our constitutional “freedom to believe what we want to believe” is a “religious idea.”

The Oregonian’s editors ran my letter, which they titled The US Constitution Mentions No God, For Good Reason , in the 2-28-16 print edition, and also online. The next day I received an email from my Soon To Be New Friend, who wondered if I was the same Robyn Parnell who’d written that letter and if so…

I’m writing just to thank you for stating so lucidly and concisely what so many people do not seem to understand regarding what the U.S. Constitution has to say about religion and gods.

Awww, shucks. He had me at lucid and concise,  [5] and also when he went on to mention that I might be interested in the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization which works to promote and uphold the constitutional principle of separation of state and church.  STBNF had no way of knowing that the FFRF is an organization I’ve mentioned many times is this blog, and which MH and I are longtime members of.

I responded to STBNF, and we began exchanging emails, discovering other common interests and perspectives.  Besides being an intelligent, witty, perspicacious, charitable and socially responsible freethinker, STBNF is also a writer (whose works, [6] I’d wager, truly merit praise ala lucid and concise). Also like moiself, STBNF has written a self-described “bad” country western-type song…although, unlike moiself, STBNF has actual, demonstrable, musical talent.

STBNF and I met in person this week, for a two hour chat fest lunch. He has offered to possibly help me with a demo of my song, and I have introduced him to the wonderful world of footnotes. [7] I seem to have (so far) gotten the best of this deal.

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department of BTW

I like Sally Field. I really (sorry) like her.

*   *   *

One afternoon about a year and a half ago, MH told me that, in case I hadn’t noticed, he’d stopped wearing his wedding ring…and in case I had noticed, he wanted to assure me as to why. A combination of The Aging Process © and decades of tapping digits on keyboards had given him arthritis-like symptoms, specifically pain and swelling in his fingers. He removed his ring, hoping that doing so might alleviate the pain, and fearing that if the swelling increased and he left it on, he might have to have the ring cut off.

I hadn’t noticed his wedding band-less finger. After his revelation I decided to commiserate with his situation in the only way that seemed logical to me: by removing my own ring. This has caused just a wee bit o’ eyebrow-raising from people who’ve noticed. I assuage such concerns thusly: my removing my wedding band is not a harbinger of marital discord; rather, it’s a reinforcement of its importance and mutuality.

Up until my marriage I’d never worn rings of any kind – unless you count the Man From Uncle spy decoder ring I had for two weeks in the fifth grade.

 

unclering

 

 

MH and are both married (to each other – how convenient!). I have always refused to be unequally yoked: We chose our wedding rings together; neither of us wore an engagement ring. I would have gently but firmly refused to wear an engagement ring had MH given one to me, [8] unless he had also agreed to don a similar ring.

I’d never understood the practice of a woman wearing an engagement ring while the man’s ring finger remains unencumbered, except as a nod to our culture’s pathetic history of patriarchy. The solo engagement ring tradition is, to me, a vulgar declaration of possession (See the ring? She’s taken; she’s off the market; she’s mine), akin to a dog pissing around a fence post to mark his territory.

Yep, I’m a hopeless romantic, what can I say?

 

taken

 

Look:  you’re both engaged to be married, right? So why the visual representation of the impending change in marital status only for the woman? Which got me wondering: how do gay couples handle this issue? [9]

Speaking of vulgar, despite the stereotype of the ring-coveting female, I’ve yet to have a woman flaunt her engagement ring to me. I have, however, lost track of the number of times I’ve been at a social gathering, been introduced to an engaged couple and had the guy grab his fiance’s left hand, thrust it in my face and demand I admire the huge rock on her finger.

Uh, yeah, dude, I get it: the size of her ring is inDICKative of the size of your ____ (paycheck; ego; penis).

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I spent many years working in women’s reproductive health care, wherein I encountered several married couples who did not wear wedding rings. The no-ring-thing was sometimes for job-related reasons (rings can be safety hazards for jewelers, mechanics and others who work with their hands), sometimes due to dermatologic allergies, and for women, sometimes due to pregnancy-induced swelling (which occasionally led to a permanent change in ring size).

I’ve met more than one married couple who’ve chosen to have their wedding bands tattooed on their fingers. Belle, my tattoo-loving daughter, thinks MH and I should do likewise, and has volunteered to draw up a design for us, based on our original gold bands.

 

 

She's got the talent – this was Belle's own design, which impressed even the veteran tattooist.

She’s got the talent – this was Belle’s own design for her first tattoo, which impressed even the veteran tattooist.

 

 

I thanked my lovely and talented daughter for her generous offer, even as I reminded her that her father’s twin aversions – tattoos and pain – make such an idea unlikely to translate into a reality.  Perhaps if it were someplace on a less sensitive part of the body….

 

wedding_skulls_tattoo_on_chest

*   *   *

May life’s warning lights be entertaining as well as informative;
May your friendships be ever evolving and your yokes be equal,
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi! 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Which is, of course, past warranty.

[2] Which may also include gardening, flower arranging, sitting over the drain in the bathtub when the water runs out….

[3] Yep, I’m talking about you, KW.

[4] The friendly man in your pottery class or the genial woman who volunteers alongside you at the Food Bank.

[5] Two adjectives not frequently applied to descriptions of my prose.

[6] A semi-retired software consultant, his books include the Software Requirements series, the go-to manuals on defining and managing requirements for a software or systems project.

[7] That is, their usage in personal correspondence and blog posts. As a writer of nonfiction and technical manuals, he is already well versed in documentation.

[8] He didn’t, as he knew my feelings on the matter.

[9] Lemme guess: with a lot more panache than us straight folks.

The Gifts I’m Not Authenticating

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Department Of Almost Feeling Guilty

Imagine the conundrum for a socially conscious political cartoonist, comedy writer and/or comedian: As a good citizen you want the electorate to make rational, informed choices; you want your fellow voters to consider the issues at stake when weighing a candidate’s qualifications for elected office and not be swayed or misled by hyperbole and fear. On the other hand, [1] you can’t help but savor the guilty pleasure arising from your knowledge of the inverse proportion between the level-headedness of a presidential candidate and the resulting opportunities to ply your trade.

I refer of course to the embarrassment of satirical riches – the material for monologues, jokes, cartoons, videos, memes, animated GIFs, you name it – to be found re the current primary season. Oy vey, what a dilemma. You of course want the best for your nation, but for your profession, the more Dan Quayles, [2] Sarah Palins, Ted Cruzs, the better.

And I will gladly suffer the WTF?!?!? barbs from people residing in the rest of the civilized world (What is wrong with your country, that such people can even be considered for president?!), as long as those people keep supplying us with gems like the following:

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Last Saturday MH and I attended NARAL-Pro Choice Oregon ‘s annual dinner buffet/auction benefit in Portland. Since we had tickets to a theatre matinee (also in Portland) the following afternoon, we decided to book a hotel room and make a night of it. The benefit was entertaining, the buffet items tasty, and it was even fun to force myself to get dressed in something other than a tie dye shirt and yoga pants. Also, the people-watching opportunities were prime – you couldn’t spit without hitting a local or state politician (and believe me, I did try). During the auction, MH and I mused about one day being able to bid on the high end items, once we stop our “bidding” on college tuition.

On the way from our hotel to the benefit we had a little time to kill, which we did by watching A Guy On A Horse [3] Ride Up And Down The Steps Of Pioneer Square © . Because, Portland.

 

horse

 

After the event wound down we cruised downtown Portland, taking in the street sights and allowing ourselves to feel superior to the line of tourists outside Voodoo Donuts. Feeling in the mood for something else, [4] we stopped in at a Portland institution, Huber’s Cafe .

This was our first visit to Huber’s. Fortunately for us newbies, the people sitting at a nearby table ordered the café’s signature drink, a Spanish Coffee, which, the café boasts in the culinary understatement of the year, is “flamed tableside with great flair.”

The bartender approached the table with his tray of accouterments. He managed to hold three stemmed goblets between the fingers of his left hand – I was impressed, even before the swirling of liquids and the flaming began – and undulated his left arm as if….

Okay: picture a dude in a tuxedo working on mixing a multi-layered cocktail and then setting it aflame while riding a roller coaster. I don’t even like Spanish Coffee, but I am definitely going back to Huber’s to order one before I die.

The timing must be right, of course. I don’t want to order a Spanish Coffee, and then die.

 

 

 Only two goblets? Amateur.

Only two goblets? Amateur.

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Belated Holiday Pathos

 

This week I’ve been feeling a little bluesy.

 

 

Like this?

Like this?

 

 

No, not in a Bessie Smith bluesy way. More like in the reflecting upon the passage of time, How Did It Get To Be March Already, way – a way that, for some reason, made me think about how and why our post-Christmas cleanup gets easier each year. Now that our offspring are Young Adults ®, there is less gift flotsam there is for MH and I to deal with.

When K and Belle were kidlets, there were many, many, many – and did I mention many? – years where it took us up to four weeks post-Christmas to find enough room in the garbage can for all of the non-recyclable packaging materials which were indigenous to gifts that came from A Certain Side of The Family.

Read: my side. Specifically, my mother. [5]  Mom was abetted in her trashing of the planet abundantly swathed present-bestowing by the good folks at Lillian Vernon. Are you familiar with that catalog company? If so, you have my sympathy.

 

LillianV

 

My mother discovered the Lillian Vernon catalog (too) many years ago. Once she did, there was no turning back for her. The catalog became her go-to source for gifts for her grandchildren, and a more wasteful source I’ve yet to encounter. Why a four inch tin-plated Model T replica needs to be encased in enough Styrofoam insulate an entire Uzbekistan village is a mystery to me…but that, apparently, is the shipping policy at Lillian Vernon.

The excessive packaging of the gifts was one thing. The gifts themselves, ay yi yi. All made in China, of substandard construction [6] –– and almost all items but clothing are accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

 

This is an authentic piece of crap, guaranteed.

This  crap is authentic, guaranteed.

 

 

Most bewildering of all was how inappropriate the gifts were. Not inappropriate as in giving a life-size Uzi replica to a five year old; rather, inappropriate in that the gifts had no relation to what K and Belle actually wanted.

I’ll never forget K’s reaction the year he opened his present from Grandma M, dug through the layers of packaging and…oh, um….yeah…a set of miniature antique automobile replicas? Perhaps for some child somewhere, that would have been a welcome present. K had no interest in “antique replicas” (even those that came with certificates of authenticity).  Thus K, along with his sister, got an early introduction to practicing the art of Present Face.

 

 

 

It was (kinda sorta) terrible to laugh at the gifts, but we did – after I gave K & Belle the usual parental reassuring (Grandma means well). Year after year, my mom gave her grandchildren stuff they neither wanted or needed.  I tried to figure it out, thinking aloud to MH one Christmas, after K & Belle had opened their respective, bewildering (but authentically certified!) LV boxes: It’s as if my mom is using suggestions based on someone’s idea of gender and age; here are gifts for Boy Child, ages 9-11, and for Girl Child, Ages 5-8….

Which, as I would discover, was exactly what my mother did.

In year three or four of the They Sooooo Do Not Want These Things For Christmas (the year of the antique replica cars) phenomenon, I resolved to find out what was going on. I tried to be gentle during my Christmas Day phone call to my parents – I tried to tease out what made them think K would be interested in a set of Ford Model A and T cars? I could have used a verbal sledgehammer, for all of my mother’s obliviousness. [7]

I do all my Christmas and birthday shopping from the catalog, my mother explained. (actually, it was more like bragging than explaining). I have all the categories covered – they list them for girls and boys, of any age. When it’s time for a Christmas or birthday I go to the boxes in the garage or under my bed and pick one out!

Hmmm…yeah. Say, Mom, for next year, how about if you ask K and Belle what they’d like? Or they could send you a gift list, like you used to have me write up for my birthday and Christmas. K really likes to draw – there’s an artist’s pencil set he’s interested in, and Belle loves Legos and….

That’s okay, I already have next year’s Christmas presents picked out!  Birthdays, too! I keep them all in a big stash under the bed. K’s and Belle’s birthday presents are ready to go – it’s so convenient. Oh, here’s Dad….

I was more direct with my father: “This is difficult to say…I want my kids to be grateful for any gift, but Dad, it’s like the presents are from a stranger who doesn’t know them. It’s nothing they are interested in. Why doesn’t Mom ask them what they’d like? They’d love to tell her.” He just didn’t hear me (Well, that’s how she likes to do it.) and changed the subject.

Later that day I sought email counsel from my older and younger sisters. It wasn’t just my family’s dilemma – they’d both dealt with the LV catalog gift gifting issue, and had tried everything from dropping hints to being directly confrontational.  Their advice: Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Learn to live with it.

 

 

sad

 

MH and I raised K and Belle to look at gifts as just that – gifts, not entitlements. We encouraged them to find something about which to feel grateful for any present they received; we advised them to never expect nor request presents, but to be gracious and specific when asked by someone what you’d like.

My parents never asked. [8]

K and Belle dutifully wrote their thank you notes to Grandpa Chet and Grandma M. After year two of getting presents they didn’t want, it became somewhat of a silly family ritual: on Christmas morning, along with our gift-opening accouterments we also set out a direct-to-Goodwill bag for the Lillian Vernon haul, and there was a special ceremonial flourish when a Certificate of Authenticity assumed its rightful place in the paper recycling bin.

Along with the droll (okay, snarky) comments and laughter which became a part of our gift-opening, there were genuine hurt feelings, for both me and my children. It sliced at my heart the first time K and Belle looked at me with sad-round eyes and said, Why don’t they ask me what I want?

It was so effin’ impersonal; it showed no interest in them as individuals. My mother took pride in being done with her present shopping months (even years) in advance…and took no interest in finding out what her grandchildren actually wanted. You can learn a lot about children by asking them what they’d like for a present – it can be a segue into finding out about their hobbies and interests and talents, about finding out who they are and what they like to do.

Instead, it was This Christmas Belle gets something from the Girl Toys Ages 6-9 bag under Grandma M’s bed.  My mother even mixed up the presents one year: K got a gift that was meant for his cousin. The gift tag read, “To X, Love Grandma M” (cousin X, my younger sister’s second son, was the same age as K)!

At my suggestion and with my father’s encouragement, my parents switched to giving checks to their grandchildren a few years back, a practice my mother continued after my father died. Now, the LV catalog present years are the stuff of family lore. Then, it was Yet Another Life Lesson for my children (and their parents) in tolerance, acceptance, and loving people as they are, warts/quirks and all. Looking back, a part of me is even grateful for the experience, which provided us with one of our favorite family code phrases:

Belle: What do you know about that new cafe downtown?
Moiself: I haven’t heard much about them, only that each menu item comes with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Belle: Whoa, thanks for the warning.

ohno

*   *   *

May all of your gifts be authentic;
May your foo-foo cocktails be flaming,
And may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] You have other fingers. No, that never gets old (for me).

[2] I remember reading an interview with a joke writer who worked for a late night comedy show – it may have been The Tonight Show during Carson’s reign – who said that during the Dan Quayle years “…sometimes the monologues just write themselves.”

[3] This was not a mounted patrol officer. Just some random guy with his cool as a cucumber horse.

[4] Which, in my case, translated into onion rings, sautéed mushrooms and a glass of Pinot Gris.

[5] Content reassurance: my mother is alive, albeit in poor physical and mental health. We speak at least once a week; she doesn’t remember our phone conversation from the previous week (nor often what I said five minutes ago). She is a shut in, in her own home, with 24/7 care by patient and loving attendants. She has no access to the internet, doesn’t read my blog, doesn’t know I write a blog, doesn’t know what a blog is….

[6] I was going to write shoddily manufactured…there’s just no nice way to put it. That shit was cheaply made.

[7] And it was my mother’s doing. As was common to many men of his generation, my father gladly ceded the birthday and holiday gift-choosing tasks to his wife.

[8] MH’s usually did.