What Santa is packing in his sleigh

Grey's letter to Santa
Grey's letter to Santa

My son is four years old this Christmas. If you are old enough to find your way to this blog, you’re probably old enough to be told the truth. I was four the year I found out that Santa isn’t quite as corporeally real as we pretend. When I was three, many years prior, I had a desk that had gotten left behind when my parents packed us into a station wagon and drove from Atlanta to California by way of Canada. Mom and dad were never too keen on that “Fastest way between two points” stuff. I digress. I yearned for this desk. (Full disclosure: I STILL yearn for that desk in some tiny part of me and am working very hard not to buy Grey a desk-like-object because the four-year-old in me wants that desk.)

Anyway, it was made abundantly clear to Santa (and daddy) that I wanted a desk for Christmas. My sister and I shared a room in our small house with the walnut trees outside. Christmas Eve came, and two very excited young girls gabbled and bounced sleepless in their beds. I had nodded off when my sister woke me up. A sound of thumping was heard through the wall. “He’s here. Let’s sneak a peek.” And so with infinite subtlety, we snuck open the door and poked rumpled blonde heads out to see the Man Himself.

And there was my poor father, nursing a stubbed toe from placing my desk under the tree. We understood immediately. The door was quietly closed, and we retreated to discuss strategy. We agreed on a pact of silence.

I don’t know how old I was when my PARENTS figured out that I had figured out what the game was. It never made it any less fun to play, but I’m glad they didn’t pretend any harder than they did. I would’ve known the lie. Because I wasn’t really looking for inconsistencies, I hope my parents didn’t have to work too hard. (No buying special “Santa” wrapping paper, for example.)

I’m thinking of it this year, of course. Grey wanted to know if he was sitting on the REAL Santa’s lap. I assured him without hesitation that he was. He announced to me the other day that he’s figured out his goal career. He wants to be one of Santa’s Elves and make presents. He’s ok with the uniform constraints, but admits that he might miss me every once in a while. (All humor aside: it was surprisingly well thought out with the data he had. He had considered quite a few consequences and outcomes of this decision!) We are at the very height of Santa-joy: old enough to make cookies, young enough to not consider the physics of Christmas eve flight.

I’m also doing the last minute planning for the presents. I probably need to do a present-review and see if I’m sadly lacking in any category. You know, are there books, crafts, obnoxiously noisy plastic toys, stocking stuffers, and most of the items on his and Robby’s Christmas lists? In future years, I’ll need to make sure I have present-parity between the boys.

One of the things I’m doing for both boys this year is new-to-them toys. Thane will be getting, wrapped up, some of the toys I set aside years ago from Grey’s room. Why not? The only difference between those and a new toy is packaging. Grey will be getting his first real Legos. We have roughly 30 – 40 POUNDS of Legos from my husband’s childhood. Seriously. A huge duffel bag and a big plastic garbage bag FULL of teeny tiny Legos. At current market prices, that quantity of Legos would cost thousands of dollars. (Seriously, have you SEEN Lego prices lately?) I got overwhelmed by them, and just picked out a nice pile for him.

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to give the boys all their presents without packaging. In our culture, packaging marks the difference between “New Presents I Bought For You” and “Presents Of Unknown Provenance”. When my mother-in-law scores a real find for me in thrift stores, she’ll often say, “And it still has the tags!” since that proves that it’s new. When we give gifts we use that packaging as a marker of newness. It actually gets in the way of the gift experience, though. “Wow, a truck! OK, now give mommy 20 minutes with wire clippers and you can play with it!”. It also conditions our kids to think that proper gifts come with original packaging and proper gifts are new.

I don’t want that. If my son was holding out for new Legos, he’d get about 15 of them for $30 bucks. (Seriously, this set has under 300 pieces for $150 bucks and is not that unusual pricing-wise.) By being ok with pre-loved Legos, he’ll get a big bag for, um, free. I would like that to hold true as my sons get older, too.

I think I’ll make it a point for things that are unlikely to be returned (no sizing issues) to remove the packaging before wrapping it. Yes, it means my sons won’t know when the toy they’re getting is new. But hopefully it means that they’ll evaluate their toys on whether or not it’s fun to play with, and not whether anyone’s ever played with it before. In some tiny way, perhaps that will help dial back the commercialism of Christmas.

What do you think? Do you always keep new toys in their new packages? How hard to you work to maintain the Santa mythos? How old were you when you found out? How did you take it?
Grey's letter to Santa

I am fantastic

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but blogging is really a feast-or-famine kind of thing. You have a great weekend with time enough to think and read a book, and suddenly you have like 6 posts all thought out, including a societal indictment and discussion of good bras. This after the last month where you hoarded and scrimped anecdotes in a desperate attempt to make your life sound interesting, at least to yourself.

Well, I’ve discovered that hoarding good blogging material is a little like hoarding Thanksgiving leftovers — if you don’t use them right away, they go bad. So you might as well whip up a nice tall open-faced turkey sandwich and enjoy already.


This weekend was marked on the calendar as “I am Fantastic” weekend. I put it on the calendar so I would take it seriously. There are always things that need to be done, and making myself look and feel good is usually at the bottom of that list. That’s ok short term, but sometimes you need to invest in yourself in order to give as wholly to the other people who count on you. “I am Fantastic” weekend started at 1:30 at Intimacy Copley Place in Boston. I’ve spent the last 5 years pregnant, nursing, trying to get pregnant, rinse and repeat. The body changes involved in that have made any investment in undergarments a losing proposition. That time is now over, and I was ready to invest.

I figured a really good bra would cost about $50. I added $25 on to my estimates to be safe. I had trouble imagining a bra could cost more than $75. The fitting was interesting. My fitter had a zip up dress so she could model the combination she was sporting that day. (In her defense, it looked great on her 10 months post-partum self!) She sat me down and gave me the lecture on proper care of my bradrobe. (I’m not making that word up.) Then she brought out the samples. I figured I’d start with two — one that would work under anything and one that would be very, uh, appealing.

None of the bras had price tags on them. This should have clued me in that I was in over my head.

I got two bras that were — are! Fantastic. They look awesome and make me feel awesome. One is extremely comfortable, and I suspect the other will be once I break it in.

But man, I totally and completely underestimated just how much a bra could cost. I’m pretty sure if I’d been shopping in a less, uh, intensive environment I wouldn’t have bought the more expensive one. I’m pretty sure if I’d seen a price tag, I wouldn’t have tried it on in CASE I liked it as much as I ended up doing. I find myself ashamed to have paid so much for something — this is a kind of indulgence I don’t really feel comfortable with. The more expensive bra cost $180.

I walked out of the store sort of shell-shocked into this mall that takes it for granted. The beautiful people all around me were likely all wearing $200 bras and $500 shoes. I looked around and I felt like I was all wrong: my shoes are a little scuffed, my pants are not designer. I was wearing makeup (unusual for me) but we’re talking Wet-and-Wild folks. My top, which seemed pretty in the morning, seemed dowdy and unsophisticated in the glare of the marble. My favorite courduroy jacket seemed threadbare in the soft lighting. My purse is hopeless — a $20 Target creation overflowing with children’s toys and touched by white wall paint in the corner. I hugged it close to my body hoping no one would notice me. As I hunted desperately for safe ground (aka Starbucks) I hoped no one would see me or call me out or notice how wrong I was. I wondered just what criteria the numerous lurking security officers used for escorting someone out. (One hopes more than a terrible purse.) I felt like there was exactly one part of my entire self that was ok for this place: the new bra.

These environments are set up to make you feel like you are not good enough. They also try to let you know that your failings are not permanent — if you spend enough money, pay enough attention and do the right things, you might perhaps hope to walk those halls between the Prada store and Monolo Blalik with confidence that you are all right. You are presented with the false hope that this is a winnable path to being acceptable.

I choose not to play that game. I vehemently reject the premise that “good enough” has to do with the right shoes and right clothes and perfection of physical attributes. It was a with a great sigh of relief that I crossed the busy street to Back Bay T stop, to a more normal world where I’m a perfectly ok person.

Did I mention I picked up “Twilight” to read during my sojourn? I enjoyed it as I switched from the Orange to the Red line. You see, I know Forks. My father lived there for a year when I was in my late teens. A boyfriend and I on a date had once wandered our way across the Olympic Peninsula, to many of the spots mentioned. I was that love-lorn teenager wishing to be called out as special in that tiny Northwest town. The bits about the sports — Volleyball etc. — ring very true. She must’ve grown up there too. So in addition to being a fun if flippant read, it made me rather nostalgic. Thank heavens I didn’t encounter it when I was 16 or I would’ve thought that FINALLY someone UNDERSTOOD me!

Anyway, on to my next stop. I got off at Harvard Square, with fading self-consciousness, and went to DHR to get my hair cut. Dale did an amazing job — I think this is the best cut he’s ever given me. I opted not to add some clarification to a rather vehement opinion Rob held about the middle ages (see also: completely monolithic society with total control over everyone — so not possible), and switched conversation safely over to “Red Dwarf” instead (they’re huge sci-fi fans).

And I emerged looking fantastic. I went home and had dinner prepared by my husband, got the kids in bed, and finished reading Twilight in the bath.

Truly, fantastic.

Not sure if you can really see the haircut -- I should've used a better backdrop
Not sure if you can really see the haircut -- I should've used a better backdrop