Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Paula Deen and the Pointless Pursuit of Perfection (subtitle: Christmas with the Inlaws)

If you've ever worked retail, or even if you've shopped at any retail location between Halloween and December 26th, you know that Holiday Season lasts for about two full months. And I should just start by admitting that I'm one of those people that says Happy Holidays to everyone, unless I know for absolute certain that you celebrate Christmas. I remember disctinctly one Christmas when I worked at The Gap and the managers sat us all down and told us that we weren't allowed to say Merry Christmas anymore. "Have a nice holiday" was the preferred valediction during December. Seemed reasonable, all-encompassing and sensitive to all faiths and non-faiths, so whatever. That's I started saying Holiday instead of Christmas. Nearly twenty years ago.

This year, I've felt an alarming backlash of people who are insisting on the Merry Christmas over the Happy Holidays. And some people are really kinda ugly about it.  Did you hear about the teacher that got in trouble for changing the words to Deck The Halls because kids were giggling at the word "gay"? Presumably trying to maintain order, she changed it to "bright", and parents were all up in arms about it. Jeez. Well, ummm... maybe you should teach your idiot children that the word "gay" isn't funny, assholes.

At FoodHole we got a nastygram scrawled in scraggly old lady penmanship that said "Shame on you, FoodHole! It's MERRY CHRISTMAS, not HAPPY HOLIDAYS!" What a crabass. In fairness, it was kinda stupid that FoodHole put up a gigantic sign that said Fresh-Cut Holiday Trees when the only tree-centered holiday I know of is Christmas. Eventually FoodHole fixed the signage to say Christmas Trees. Still, I kinda think that Christmas brings out the worst in some people. Why ya gotta git yer grannypannies all up in a knot? Ya got nuthin better to do? Seems kinda Grinchy to hate on the way people wish each other a pleasant Late December.

For me, December 26th does not offer me the chance to uncoil and exhale. For me, the Holiday stress usually continues for a few more days. My parents arrive tomorrow, and then Tito's birthday is on the 29th. This little monkey - who my longtime readers might remember took forever to potty train - is turning NINE.

My little teeny Tito. I can't believe it. The annual reminders of the constant passing of time make me feel so sad and old. But I'm also glad I had this blog going then, to document my good days and my bad days and the sweet things they did and the crazy things that I still can't believe. Remember the picture of Tito's jelly handprints on Pie's back?

I still can't figure out how. Or why.
Good times.

Anyway, so while most people are in post-Christmas relaxation mode after two months of Christmas pressure, my stress is kicked up a notch. I have to figure out what I'm going to do for Tito's birthday because he just got a whole bunch of cool stuff for Christmas. I have to figure out what we're going to do with my parents while they're here. And I kinda have all of that end-of-the-year stuff to work out, like paying the property tax and getting all the money we have left in our Flex Spending Account. I need new contacts, but my prescription is more than a year old and I probably won't have time to get in for a new exam. I need to get the kids in for eye appointments too, come to think of it. Crap. I've got quite a bit on my mind.

Wanna hear about Karma Christmas?  I know you do.

I'd worked all day on both the 23rd and the 24th and was physically and mentally exhausted on Christmas morning. I kinda auto-piloted myself through the week before Christmas. I got gifts for the boys' regular teachers, TAG teachers (Tito got into the Gifted program this year, which was a really big deal), and PSR teachers, plus I also got a gift card for the nice lady who gave Beeb rides to and from marching band events (Beeb did marching band this year - and yes, she went to Band Camp and yes, she plays the flute). I even knitted gifts for my Secret Santa from work and for Beeb's band directors. I don't know how I did everything. All I can think about is what I didn't get finished. That's just kinda how my brain works.

The Apes were up at 7am, eager to unwrap their gifts. The boys got video games and Nerf guns. Tito got Alien Conquest Legos and Pie got a Nook so he can read The Hunger Games. I got Beeb a silver necklace with a snowflake on it that says "You're one of a kind." I thought it suited her. Her favorite gift was a unicorn Pillow Pet. I got R a Draftmark system. It's pretty cool. Beer is always a tasteful gift, n'est-ce pas?

My favorite part of the entire day was seeing how proud my kids were to give each other gifts that they'd picked out for them and purchased with their own money. I think this is really the first year that they got into giving almost as much as getting. Tito got so excited when everyone opened the gifts that he'd bought. He got Ryan a pocket Nerf gun and Beeb a Glee CD. He got me a rhinestone letter S on a keychain. All of the kids kicked in some money to buy R Batman: Arkham City for the 360.

After the gifts were opened, I got started cooking. MIL had specifically requested that I bring out the Paula Deen Green Bean Casserole that I took out last year. I got most of the ingredients at FoodHole the night before and was ready to put it together Christmas Morning. I had also got R some superfancy expensive bacon to try, so after I cooked it up for breakfast, I sauteed the onions and mushrooms in the bacon grease instead of butter. I thought that was kinda brilliant of me. Paula would applaud my ingenuity.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on here, but years ago, when I was brand new to R's family, Aunt Huggy asked me to bring green beans to some massive extended-family event, and it was not adequately explained to me that I would be the only one bringing green beans to feed about thirty people. Honestly, it probably wouldn't have mattered if they'd explained it to me because I can't do that kind of Kitchen Math, but this is why I'm super-sensitive about making sure there's enough for everyone so that I'm not hideously mortified again. So when I poured the Paula Deen bacon fat soaked green beans into my one stoneware casserole dish that is nice enough to take outside the house, and saw that it was just a little more than halfway full, it unleashed a tsunami of emotion. I stood at the stove, sobbing in the green bean casserole and wiping my nose on my pajama sleeve.

I had more beans, but I was out of the chicken broth I needed to boil the fresh green beans in, and I was just sure that FIL would be able to tell which green beans were boiled in the organic chicken broth and which were boiled in water and Aldi chicken boullion cubes. My options were to take a chance and hope that the beans tasted okay when I mixed them in with the ones made with the good ingredients, or to not take enough green beans. It really sucks when every possible choice exposes me to potential criticism.

I know I'm not perfect. I know I don't get it right all the time, and I know that it's unreasonable to expect perfection from myself. More importantly, I know that it's unreasonable for anyone else to expect perfection from me. But don't try to tell me everything will be okay when you and I both know that there's a really strong probability that it won't be. It'll be okay as in no one will suffer as a result of or be negatively affected by my faux pas... except for me. That's not okay. It's about my not wanting there to be any reason for FIL to give me a hard time, even in jest, because I can't promise that I'll take it well.  I'm getting bolder and, with the encouragement of friends and the professional help of TheraPenny, making my own happiness a priority in my life. Finally.

After the Green Bean Breakdown, we got all of the gifts and stuff in R's new car and headed out to Chez Inlaw.  We hadn't even gotten our coats off when the phone rang. It was R's cousin calling to let MIL know that Uncle Prickly (Aunt Huggy's Husband of 50 years) had had a series of strokes and was not expected to survive. It was weird to watch the family deal with such devastating news. There was a mild freak-out moment, which was really more like "Oh. Huh. Wow. That's too bad." and then it was back to the business at hand. Not that there was anything to be done - I certainly didn't expect to pile everyone back in the car and head to the hospital or anything, but still, it was just weird, and it set an odd tone to the day before anything had even started.

We had ham for dinner (which was excellent) and I'm happy to say that the Paula Deen Green Beans were a hit. I was glad that I made more, using the Aldi boullion. Nobody said anything. I've considered that maybe the possibility of being publicly critiqued exists only in my head, but even if that's the case, it's a 100% learned behavior, taught and selectively reinforced by FIL over fifteen years. MIL asked me about how work was going, and I love talking about my job, so I gladly told her about my Outstanding Customer Service Award and how awesome my store is. We've won a bunch of regional awards and and I'm so proud to be a part of such a strong, inspiring team. But FIL quickly steered the conversation back to something else. Typical.

Now for the good stuff, y'all.  The Aldis continued their long-standing tradition of giving oddly inappropriate gifts. They got Pie and Tito a set of Hot Wheels cars, which they're just about too old for, but... meh, whatever. Then it was Beeb's turn to open her gift from the Aldis. She tore off the paper to reveal a pink and magenta striped box from...

wait for it...

Victoria's Secret.

Oh, I thought, there's no way they got her something from Victoria's Secret. She's fourteen. It must just be something they put in a Victoria's Secret box to make it easier to wrap.

No, no.  It was something from Victoria's Secret.  It was one of those Love Pink t-shirts that high school girls wear. Y'know, the ones that Mrs Aldi won't let Aldigirl wear even though she's less than a year younger than Beeb. Mrs Aldi would probably wear one herself, though. With a leather miniskirt. To a wedding. Think I'm kidding? She wore a black leather miniskirt to MY wedding. When she was pregnant.

Ok, so it wasn't like they bought her lingerie, but it was still creepy to think that one of three equally icky things probably happened:

A)  The Aldis intentionally went to Victoria's Secret specifically with Beeb in mind, thinking was the perfect place to find something for their fourteen-year-old niece

B)  The Aldis were at the mall already and thought, shit, we need a gift for Beeb while they happened to be standing in front of Victoria's Secret 

or C)  Mrs Aldi had a coupon and got it free when she bought something for herself. 

I kinda want to know whether the idea to get Beeb a gift from Victoria's Secret entered their minds before or after they got to the mall. But honestly, it really doesn't make a difference, does it?  It's just pretty fucking gross to think that Reverend Aldi wrapped that gift. Please agree with me that this is completely inappropriate and utterly unacceptable. PLEASE. The fact that one of them thought of it and the other didn't talk them out of it freaks. my. shit. out.

After the cousin gifts, MIL and FIL handed out little cardboard boxes that looked like gingerbread houses along with envelopes with money inside. The kiddos opened the envelopes and counted five perfect, crisp $5 bills. Now, normally they give the kids each $100, usually in some clever way. One year, they gave them each $100 in dollar coins inside a wooden treasure chest. That was kinda awesome.

When the kids opened the boxes and found a cupcake inside instead of $75 more, Pie didn't miss a beat, didn't act disappointed, simply said "Meema's cupcakes are better than money!" Then FIL handed the kids each a plate and a fork so they could eat them.  Pie tore into his like he hadn't eaten in days, and a minute or two later FIL stopped him and told him to see if there was anything strange in his mouth. He put his fingers in and pulled out what looked like a little piece of Trident wrapped in foil. Inside the foil was a $100 bill.

Bravo, MIL and FIL.  Well done.

After the cupcake reveal, Tito was wiggling one of his front teeth and it was squicking me out, so I told him to come to me so I could yank it out. I wasn't really going to yank it out; I just wanted to flick it with my finger to see what would happen. But I flicked it and it fell out in his mouth! He gasped in horror and I laughed like a jackass because I must have looked like the worst mother in the world, flicking my child in the face. It was hilarious.

Oh, and ya know what? That reminds me that I forgot to tell you a story. A couple of weeks ago, when R was done with his weekly phone call to his folks, he told me that MIL and FIL had been at a dinner party where FIL slipped on, of all things, a toasted ravioli. And not only did he fall on his face in front of who knows how many people, he also broke off a part of his tooth.

I know I'm a horrible person, but I gotta tell ya, I laughed my motherfucking ass off when I heard that they would have to pull the tooth. I was hoping to see a giant hillbilly-lookin' gap at Christmas, but I didn't, probably because the man never smiles. I did, however, find it rather interesting that we didn't take the family portrait that we pose for every year and that somehow never gets printed.  I've never seen one.

It's not that FIL's opposed to pictures, clearly, because the next part of the day was the old school slide show of MIL and FIL taking Mrs Lexus, Reverend Aldi, and R to Disneyworld when R was two years old. There were some awfully cute pictures or baby R in there, and it was fun to look at them and figure out which Ape looked most like him in that picture. There were pics of Mrs Lexus' birthday parties and the spectacular cakes that MIL made for them. Weird part, though? There's a bizarre lack of smiles in the four rolls of slides. Really, truly bizarre.

So that was Christmas with the inlaws. Remarkably bearable, but profoundly surreal. 


Trillian42 said...

Victoria's Secret?! For a FOURTEEN year old?! Holy crap. That is so inappropriate I can't even fathom it.

Penny Karma, aka the F-Bomb Mom said...

Thank you. It's a Christmas miracle that I didn't puke.

Batty said...

Victoria's Secret, really? At 14? Don't get me wrong, I don't live in a hole in the ground, I've seen the teenieboppers with said Victoria's Secret PINK stuff. Heck, I've seen the stuff on pre-teens. But that doesn't make it any less inappropriate. Dang. It's a Christmas miracle you didn't kick anybody out of the house.