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Almost Canceled Christmas

There’s a lot to be said, really, for being utterly broke during Christmas.  Not broke as in, “Gee, I guess we have to pass on Colorado this year and go see the grandparents in Santa Francisco instead,” but broke as in, “Gee, I guess a tree just isn’t in the budget this year.”   Truth told, it’s kind of liberating in a way, coming that close to completely canceling Christmas.

For example:

  • Aside from dropping off and picking up my daughter at work, I haven’t been within five blocks of a mall since September.
  • Target, same thing.  I go at 8 a.m. on weekdays for cat litter and toilet paper, missing the whoop-dee-doo and hickory dock entirely.
  • As of Christmas Eve, there were still about a dozen boxes of decorations sitting unopened in a neat stack in the mud room. Normally they’d have been emptied and their contents decking every room in the house by December 1.  I didn’t deck the halls, so my January 6th will be a lot easier than usual.
  • I know for a fact that there is no more “stuff” in my house than there was the day after Thanksgiving, stuff designed to remind that it’s the thought that counts. Not that I dislike getting gifts, but the truth is I’ve gotten, and given, a lot of thoughtless gifts over time.
  • Along those lines, my wrapping paper budget is zero this year.
  • Finally, I’m reminded again of what amazing young women I’ve raised.  We talked weeks ago about our situation and economic reality, leading to the fact that there’d be nothing under the tree this year no tree, for that matter. Both reacted with, “Meh, at least we have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge.”

I’d love to say that, through all this, I learned the True Meaning of Christmas, but that’s not the case.  We did not live through a Hallmark Channel Movie, did not sit around by candle light telling each other what our family means to us, God forbid, we did not return to church!  There was no midnight mass where a chorus of archangels came to my little family, illuminating our souls and opening our hearts to the infinite possibilities promised by the birth of a fictional baby 2015 years ago. It was just Friday, December 25th.  Dinner at some friends’ house and lots and lots of beers.

We did experience a couple of flashes – don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go full Grinch this year.

As mentioned, shelling out $50 or 60 for a moderate tree was not reasonable, but I did have a small artificial one. It’s throwback to a smaller house and a time when we never stayed home for the holidays but wanted to have SOMETHING up.  I finally caved about a week before Christmas and set the tree up, ghosts of past years’ tinsel clinging to the plasticized pine needles, but couldn’t bear to decorate it so it’d sat unlit and unadorned in the front window.  On the 24th, my older daughter was bored and looking for something to do, so I halfheartedly suggested that she invite her posse over to trim the tree. She got an odd look on her face as though she couldn’t decided if the idea was ridiculously dull, just plain ridiculous, or ridiculously sublime.  She made a couple of calls, asked, “Can we drink while we do it?” and before I knew it, we were overrun with 21-year olds giggling like cartoon mice at my family’s collected ornaments. Virtually all of the ones the girls had made in elementary school went up.  The store-bought, shiny, perfect ones stayed in the box for another year and a different kind of tree.  Maybe.

On top of that, friends who know our circumstances have been perfect friends about it. A Target gift card here, Trader Joe’s there, have meant so much more than a necklace I’d only wear on New Years’ Eve or an overpriced bottle of wine, regardless how tasty. I appreciate their effort that that takes- people thinking good thoughts, thereby giving good gifts.

So, here I sit. Christmas is two days past and 364 days away (leap year, people). I have no idea where we’ll be a year from now – hopefully in this same house with a little more to celebrate than 2015 brought – but regardless, I know we can handle it.

And get a load of those faces! tree.jpg

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Dream Car or Nightmare

If I’d known that a 1971 Plymouth Duster would sell today for 50X what I got for 30 years ago, I just might have hung onto it a little longer. Probably not.

The Car Makes the Chick

I believe that everyone should walk into a new car dealership and sign away their soul for 0% down and low monthly payments at least once, but certainly no more than once in their life. I did, and still have a SWEET ’94 Saturn SL-1 sitting in the driveway to show for it.

I’d traded in a VW Rabbit Convertible with a quarter of a million miles on it that I’d bought used seven years before. Would’ve kept the ragtop, too, if I hadn’t gotten pregnant in my mid-30s. The idea of an infant car seat altered the statement that I wanted the car to make, and the notion of picking bugs out of my child’s hair was vaguely repugnant.

Of course I named the convertible. Her name was Betty, because my old roommate and subsequent fairy godmother to my daughter had named his car Barney. It worked. Barney & Betty. If we’d gotten new cars at the time they would have been Pebbles & BammBamm, but we parted company long before that happened. Betty was in four major accidents in the time I owned her, but by gosh, never managed to total herself. Whatever the mean streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles threw at her, she continued to run. (I convinced myself that number of mishaps was all because the car was silver-grey, and with the top down she was hard to see against the pavement. It had nothing to do with my driving.) (Seriously. I’m convinced.)

My mechanic once had to rewire the whole car due to an error made in installing an alternator – and VW electrical systems are fussy on a good day – but she continued to run. When I was pulling off the freeway for the very last time on my way to trade her in, I had to stop at a Shell station and borrow a Phillips head screwdriver to adjust the throttle so she wouldn’t stall out on the dealer’s lot and scotch the deal, but she continued to run and run and run.

The very best run was always down Highway 1 from San Francisco through Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz to Monterey. Highway 1 runs the distance of the state, from Eureka to San Diego in one form or another, but for some ungodly reason, Angelenos refer to it at “The PCH,” short for The Pacific Coast Highway. Joan Baez would never dream of thumbing a ride on The PCH. Green Day couldn’t get up to 100 mph on The PCH. It may have the same highway signs, but at no point is The PCH the same road as Highway 1.

Highway 1. Betty loved it almost as much as I – you could just tell. Top down, radio blaring with my posse along for the ride. This was a good four or five years before Arsenio Hall told us that we were a posse. Many of us were East Coast natives, so they were my girlfriends. We were, all of us, pushing 30, but still very much girls. All wearing babushkas and big sunglasses, playing at being Annette, Sandra, and Shelley heading off to the beach and not so much singing as bellowing along with The Go-Gos or Exene or Chrissie. Girl Power with a great tan and magenta lipstick.

I’ve tried repeatedly to recreate that magic and it’s come close, but never quite the same. Probably because I’ve flown it solo a number of times, and that part of California is best-loved with someone you love.

Maybe if I reserve a ragtop next time..

20th Century Gal ISO 21st Century Gig

Oh, dear Lord – it’s 6:00 a.m. and I have to put on makeup AND a bra for a job interview. Life was so much easier when a telephone interview didn’t involve a webcam and good lighting. Curse you, Skype!

Public Assistance, Just That Easy

Criminey!

I find myself in the very uncomfortable position of jumping through a series of higher and higher-held hoops – some of them flaming – to get my little family some breathing room from the state. Uncomfortable, because it REALLY wasn’t supposed to be like this, but justified because, dammit, because I’ve paid into the system for decades.

Just wish they had that swell language assistance for their English forms…

It’s Hard to Be the Cool Mom From 400 Miles Away

I’d never set a goal to be The Cool Mom – shoot, never set a goal to be a Mom, but stuff happens – so I kind of surprised myself when I realized that I missed my kid, but also missed her friends when they all took off for college. They’re quite a collection of characters, and I’ll always be happy to know that their friends have felt comfortable enough in our home to raid the fridge without asking, that they could name and loved all of our pets, and that counted on our family as an extension of their own.

It goes back to their elementary school days. Sure, I always had a full-time job, but found time to volunteer in the kids’ classrooms. And, sure, the girls were mortified when I showed up for their Hallowe’en parties, tricked out in crinolines and a Marge Simpson wig – what else would the Tooth Fairy wear – with little toothbrushes for earrings and a necklace made of floss, handing out sample-sized tubes of Crest instead of candy. And sure, it was fun the time we made Rice Krispie treats in the shape of giant Hershey Kisses, wrapped them in foil and turned the little paper tab into the girls’ Valentine messages.

Fun until I heard another parent as I crossed the playground snark, “What’s Martha-freaking-Stewart come up with THIS time?” as she carried in a box of chocolate-chip cookies, made holiday special with red sprinkles.

Wait a minute! You’re threatened by ME? As a Mom? Can’t be, I’m no role model. I was a cocktail waitress, for Chrissakes. I swear like a longshoreman when I stub a toe and don’t care who hears it! I have a full time job – I’m no kind of Mom.

My kids sometimes thought it was weird as we were working on those classroom projects, but they always were “we” efforts. If one of the kids came up with an idea for a treat or a party or some craft item just for the hell of it, we’d give it a shot together. Witches’ hands made of popcorn for your Hallowe’en party? You betcha! Let’s go buy a box of clear plastic gloves and see how they turn out. But you’re going to help.

Soft sculpture fairy wands for party favors for your birthday? Why not? Home Depot has a sale on 1/4” dowel rods, and I’ve got a bucket of glitter and nowhere else to use it!

Set up a craft table out back just for days your friends want to come over after school? I’m in! I’d never set out to be a Mom’s-mom but, by cracky, once I had the job I was going to take my best shot at it. Other parents may have been snarky about it, but the ones who mattered – my daughters and their friends – loved it.

And that carried on through their High School and beyond. Their friends know us and seem to like spending time with our family.

Strange to think it, but my daughter and I have grown closer in the months since she left for the dorm life; the responsibilities of looming adulthood now on her shoulders, and the  day-to-day cares now hers, not mine. We’re somehow freer to talk (OK, text) about things that matter and – better still – things that don’t. She’s never been one much for small talk, which is one way in which we differ. Both kids have always found it embarrassing that Mom can chat up anyone, anywhere, and <shudder> enjoys doing it. Especially when the chattees were their friends. “Mom, do you think you could dial it back this time when Jessica comes over?”  Sorry, Kitten, but it’s my house, and my rules. People will feel welcome. Always.

And so, it’s come to this. Our first Christmas break from university, and my daughter is home for the month. We’ve seen the parade of her lifelong pals, all back in town from their far-flung academic adventures. All laughing in the living room or crowded around the fire pit in the back yard, swapping stories that are so different from one another’s but with a common thread of shared lifetimes. It makes me very, very happy.  As a bonus, though, there are new friends!  My daughter’s college roommate is here for the weekend. Even though she grew up in Orange County, less than an hour away, she’d never been to L.A.  I’m not judging, but… REALLY?

Anyway, Savannah’s showing her “her L.A.,” and hoping not to scare the girl. She seems pretty sweet, and they went out with some of my daughter’s high school pals this evening – Venice, I think –  hoping she didn’t scare the girl.  Time to forge new familiarities, and I’m glad to be a part of it again.

As a bonus, though, since this was a “new friend” rather than one of the usual old ones, my daughter went on a cleaning binge before her roomie got here. Top to bottom, cleaning products used, surfaces dusted, floors swept and vacuumed. Wow. I took care of the kitchen – I’m fussy about my kitchen – but when the kids were done with their room and the rest of the house, it was like a little Christmas miracle.

I wonder if I can invite more of her college pals into the fold…

 

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

I receive mailers from my daughter’s school occasionally, reminding me that my teen will feel loved and missed if she gets care packages from home. Naturally, they have a service where all you need is a credit card and they’ll take care of it for you. They even have holiday themes!

I really wanted Savannah’s first care package to be MUCH more meaningful than that, so I sent her all of the crap she’d left in my car.