The Hijacking of a Holiday Classic

‘Twas some weeks before Christmas and all through the town

Halloween decorations came tumbling down.

The very next day signature cups were here

As Starbucks abound brought red holiday cheer.

 

But I’m not ready; I protest you will see,

Thanksgiving was rushed— was passed by easily.

Christmas scenes at malls were quickly erected

Before the plump turkey was even selected.

 

Hold onto your bells and red Santa Claus suits;

With commercialists and marketers in cahoots!

Slow down premature spending for goodness sakes;

We hadn’t had time for giving our thanks.

 

Not to mention out here, all the way out west,

We needn’t a coat—only sweater or vest.

New Yorkers we know that it’s no big charade:

The real Santa shows by ending the parade.

 

Now that the cooking and the feasting’s been done

And our dear guests and family have all gone,

I relish this now, oh so sweet Monday morn

When I sit silent, not any bit forlorn.

 

I need just a day—fine maybe even two

To recover from this before something new.

It’s not just Christmas but New Year’s, too,

And thanks to my mom, I’m a little bit Jew.

 

To gather the gifts and an additional eight,

Which one on what day, when shall we celebrate?

Palm trees do twinkle with festive bright light

Faux evergreens are seen in windows at night.

 

It’s weirdly warm, supposedly normal—

Strapless can be worn to the Christmas formal.

Ready now, I embrace holiday season;

To delay any longer I have no good reason.

 

On browsing! On buying! On wrapping! On giving!

At toy stores and books stores, clothes stores and e-stores:

Shop away! Shop away! Shop away, all!

 

Sam, too, has arrived—our own elf on our shelf,

Each night he reports to the big man himself.

He keeps us in line, or he tries to at least.

But how does a tiny guy tame our two giant beasts?

 

Four weeks more until school is out once again.

That brings a fortnight of true solid mayhem!

The day that I rest, the day of pure glee,

Is way off on 1-7, 2-0-1-3.

 

My effort’s complete; here ends my festive rhyme.

Happy prepping to all, and to all a good time!

 

 

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Tattoos and Piercing

This past weekend was bliss for my family: thirty-one uninterrupted nag-free hours. That’s right, while mom’s away the dad and kids play.  Though they sent adorable and quirky photos of their antics and adventures, while claiming to miss me, I think secretly they cast not one thought in my direction. They love the rare occasions when I take myself out of the equation probably even more than I do.

Those hours, meanwhile, are precious few for me. I hopped the train to LA, a beautiful journey along the coast. However, I didn’t take in much of the scenery as I was engrossed in my latest book The Shoemaker’s Wife— a recommended read for anyone lucky enough to take a long plane trip, sit quietly on a beach or have a few spare moments in the evening. So, probably not applicable to many of you in this busy and hectic life!

I was retrieved at the station by one of my dearest friends from summer camp days (yes, a witness to the haircut). I’ll never forget the day we met– she already a veteran of this eight-week sleep-away camp and I a complete newbie to this east coast tradition.  Confident, sprightly  and engaging, she captivated me immediately and took me under her wing. Fortunately she was able to look beyond the haircut to establish a  friendship that even today slides right back into that comfort of our 8-year-old selves.

The wonderful afternoon rolled into a pleasant evening in Santa Monica with my mother, brother and some special dinner guests. Even more special was the guy at the bar, who apparently forgot to put on jeans that would actually cover his extremely unattractive and completely exposed rear. I did try to capture a photo, but alas, my phone-photo skills failed me at this critical juncture. I invite you to conjure up your own visual.

Early Sunday morning my electric blue shoes took me along the beach to the canals of Venice.  I did contemplate stopping here to revamp my image, but I neither had the money nor the time to wait until it opened:

I sauntered slogged back along the “colorful” Venice Beach as a birthday brunch awaited in downtown LA. There my brother took us to a swanky eatery, and then introduced us to his surrounding neighborhoods. I definitely don’t miss city life, but it’s always nice to be able to picture your friends and families in their habitats once you see how and where they live.

My respite from reality was not complete without a Chinese foot reflexology session. These poorly paid, highly competent people are geniuses at their craft! It’s a good thing I don’t have access to such venues as I would escape much more often, justifying that I’m helping their personal economy.

Back to the Amtrak I went, this time accompanied by my mother. A short two hours later I returned myself to my family, trained to welcome me with enormous enthusiasm. It was brief of course, but lovely while the love lasted.

How quickly we settle back into the routine tasks as chores themselves never go on vacation. As I thought about that phenomenon, I was grateful for having had one night when no one peed in the bed– or if someone did, I wasn’t there to find it.

Oh, and that tattoo? Perhaps next time.

Apples to Harvard

I had a date last night. We met over a steamy hot chocolate. We discussed lofty goals, reminiscing about the past and dreaming of the future. I hope I had a hand in his destiny. I hope he is accepted to Harvard.

For several years now I have been volunteering as a Harvard Alumni interviewer. Upon relocating, I switched from the Princeton chapter to the San Diego committee, and last night I met with my first west coast applicant. He was reserved, initially, and squirmed a bit in his belt-less slacks, non-button-down shirt, clunky black dress shoes– all of which he was clearly not accustomed to wearing. I could tell that this was not his persona. I could tell that he hadn’t been coached for his interview. Not like the kids I had met in the past– those from extreme privilege who know not how fortunate they are to attend respected east-coast prep schools, and have access to personal SAT tutors, essay counselors and interview coaches. Even those from the excellent public schools in the Princeton area felt entitled to the best of higher education, and pursued Harvard sometimes just because they have straight A’s and access to the common application.

This kid, however, made an impression on me. He didn’t claim to have unparalleled intelligence and he didn’t promise to cure the human race of cancer. He did, however, divulge that he worked a landscaping job last summer to fund his own application fees. And when he earned the coveted National Hispanic Scholar recognition for his PSAT scores, he had to call the number on the form to find out what this meant. He didn’t know that this is something a high school college adviser should inform him of, because he didn’t know that they even exist.

Throughout our conversation this kid warmed up and loosened up. I was able to extract meaningful details of his high school education and catch a glimpse into his character. I’m the interviewer who is more focused on the latter, favoring personal stories over grades and scores. The school can see that part on the transcript. Rather, can you look me in the eye and exchange quality conversation? Can you tell me with sincerity why Harvard is the place for you above all other institutions? And can you relay to me, so that I can convey in my words, to the admissions committee why they should select you over thousands? Here’s a tip: don’t say you applied because your mother told you you should.  Yes, I actually did receive that as an answer one time.

I interview these candidates not because I think it will help my own kids’ chances of being accepted. Statistics say they won’t. My small contribution to the process over the years won’t change that, nor would I want it to. I choose to be involved because I’m interested in keeping current with kids in their high school years. Sometimes I’m frightened by what I see; I’m horrified by their lack of diligence; I’m disappointed by the shortage of appreciation. But most of the time I’m impressed, inspired and humbled by the kids’ talents and accomplishments. It reminds me that the only thing remarkable about me at Harvard was that I was/am simply not remarkable. By several accounts I should never have been accepted myself.

I clearly recall my first misstep, and it goes down in family legend. My initial Harvard interview– the one that assessed my preparedness for kindergarten at Trinity having completed my nursery years at Episcopal–was nearly unhinged due to apples. Yes, the simple fruit came close to destroying my whole scholarly future. How many pieces do you get when you cut in apple in half? asked the interviewer.

Four, I answered. Several times I was asked because, I think, she was in utter disbelief. Several times I answered, Four. I wouldn’t budge. After all, every time the teacher cut the apples for snack, there were always– and I mean without fail– always four pieces. It made complete sense to me that apples were meant to be shared in fours. I used logic. My logic based on my experience. Well, at the very least I showed my unwavering commitment to what I believed was right.

Not too much has changed– I see now that an apple cut in half literally means into two pieces. And yes, I have quizzed my kids on that to make sure they don’t commit the same educational crime. No,  I still believe what counts is not how well one can count, and that good character and commitment to what is right propels us forward.

Just before this candidate and I departed, he turned to me and asked with heart-rending vulnerability, Can I ask you something?

Of course, I replied– both interested and concerned.

If I go on to do more interviews, do you think what I am wearing is OK?

I gave him a reassuring smile. I think you look great; don’t change a thing.

Confessions of a Fraudulent Halloweener

Guilt is powerful, paralyzing even. It holds some of us more captive than others, and strikes in unpredictable places. I am prone to guilt, and I worry too much. My husband claims that I worry about worrying, even when I have nothing to worry about. This I can’t deny. On Monday I was wracked by guilt as I swam laps outside, enjoying the mid-70’s sunshine in a pool heated comfortably. I kept company with the retiree water aerobics class, and feasted my eyes on the very tan and equally toned lifeguard leading the crew.  I did so as my friends and family were being pummeled by Sandy, and as the house we still unfortunately own was left to weather the fury powered only by a back-up marine battery. This battery, plugged into the sump pump, is like the little dutch boy’s finger jammed into the hole. Should it give, the system fails and the floods conquer. Only when power is restored are we out of the woods. Still we’ll own the damn house.

At least this time around I’m not stuck inside that house with famished, stinky, cooped-up children. The guilt of my feeling relieved magnifies as I know that others are in dire condition– financially, physically and emotionally. Thousands of miles away from them we carried on with living: school, work and Halloween.

My guilt surged on Halloween night, and not because in the chaos of the day I mistakenly switched my kids’ lunch items which they quickly brought to my attention after each went slightly hungry. Rather,  I was involved with perpetuating a fallacy that was revealed in the thick of trick-or-treating.  We discovered the truth: the California condor is not, in fact, the state bird. The quail won that honor back in 1931 when it beat out the condor for the title.

Not only is the condor frightfully unattractive, it’s also nearly extinct, so two valid reasons for missing out on top honor.  The condor, however, is on the state quarter as consolation prize. Hence the confusion, and one explanation for how we let our creative, crafty and proud seven-year-old don a condor costume and inadvertently dupe the neighborhood. As well as friends, teachers, administrators, parents and passers-by. In the months leading up to the festivities our daughter had announced to anyone and everyone that she would be representing the state bird, the condor, on Halloween. She’d be devastated to know that her costume– her inspired efforts– were inaccurate. I couldn’t tell her right then and there. Plus I needed to be sure.

In the haze of my Halloween hangover the next morning I scoured the internet for all things condor. Remember– the purpose of a sabbatical is for research. I’m now an expert in condor traits and facts, including full knowledge of why they purposefully defecate down their legs. Most importantly I concluded that they are, indeed, not the state bird. When I shared my findings with my condor-loving child later that afternoon, there were tears. I recognized those tears– they were guilt-ridden puddles of shame.

My condor kid truly believed that everyone at school, in the neighborhood and at the party where she had won first prize for best costume would deem her a liar. She even suggested that she should return her grand prize, the highly anticipated and already beloved MG (gaming system) that is en route from China as I type. Worst of all, she implored through her sniffles, Why didn’t you check more carefully?
How right she is, and how guilty I feel.

A stickler for accuracy, I try to triple-check everything. I don’t like to be wrong, and moreover, I refuse to make errors without taking ownership. I figured that she, too, would want to know the truth and to hear it from me instead of being called out by someone else. I’d rather be the bad guy. I’ll wipe away her tears, absolving her of guilt and absorbing it into my own.

There is little I can offer from afar to aid those affected by the hurricane, other than to open our home up for a hot shower (even without electricity we have gas-powered hot water). And we can’t redo Halloween unless we head to New Jersey to partake in the postponed affair on November 5th. The best I can do is to make a subtle modification to an essential part of that costume, and tuck it away in a keepsake box as a reminder that, when having erred, we move forward not with guilt but in good humor.