What I want for Christmas is the dumbest ever.

Here is a conversation I had with my husband, recently. And you know what? I feel for the guy. I really do. He works so hard. And it can’t be easy. I’m not….well, I’m not the easiest person to be married to. I fully accept this. And I get it that he wants to give me thing, and holy smokes do I appreciate it. But honestly? I feel like I’m past the point in my life when holiday gifts make much sense. I have too much stuff. And the things that would actually make my life easier? Well, they’re a little out of reach, at present. Because all of our available funds are tied up in the kids and the house. But mostly the kids. So I told him that I really didn’t want anything in lieu of holiday gifts.

He did not accept this. At all.

HIM: We have to figure out what you’re getting.

ME: I don’t want anything. Seriously.

HIM: Seriously, nothing. What do you want for Christmas? Like wanting things.

ME: I’m not even going to tell you because it’s too expensive.

HIM: I don’t care. I just want to know what it is.

ME: Just get me socks or a subscription to One Story or something.


ME: It’s dumb. What I want is the dumbest ever. But I still want it. But I want not to want it so I’m not telling you.


ME: FINE. What I really want, more than anything else, is a Roomba.

HIM: No way.

ME: It’s true.

HIM: ….
ME: I know.

HIM: You mean the thing that scoots around and pretends to clean.

ME: It doesn’t pretend. It cleans. Not very well, I’ll grant you, but probably better than I’m doing right now. So. Yeah. That’s what I want.

HIM: You’re kidding, right?

ME: Alas, no.

HIM: You’ve got all of Western Civilization before you, with its centuries of perfecting the machine of the marketplace. We’ve got the art of making and marketing and buying and selling to a science so exquisite it deserves its own University system …. and on this, the season in which we slaughter yearling calves on our altars erected in temples dedicated to the gods of consumerism ….. and you want a vacuum cleaner?

(Author’s note: I might be elaborating here. I can’t quite remember)

ME: Yes.

HIM: And you don’t mind that it’s, like, housewifey and stuff.

ME: I don’t care. I want it. I want something to clean instead of me cleaning. I want ONE THING IN THIS HOUSE that does whatever I ask it to, because god knows the kids are hopeless with their books and their independent thinkings. I want something to devour the dog hair and attack the piles of sand that inexplicably appear on the living room floor. I want something to suck the dust away while I’m writing. I also want self-cleaning laundry and a macrobiotic chef and electric slippers. But mostly I want a robot. A best friend robot. A cheerful, always wants to help robot. A hard-working robot servant/family member/mostly a servant to clean my floors and look silly carrying unlikely objects across the floor like martinis and doughnuts and do what I ask and I shall name him Algernon. But I shall call him Ernest.

HIM: That’s a compelling argument.

ME: I know, right?

HIM: Hmmm. Well. How much are they?

ME: Like four hundred bucks.

HIM: Ah.

ME: Yeah.

HIM: So. Socks, then?

Which is fine. I made sure to send him a picture of these:

Rudolph the Farting Reindeer

This morning, the power went out to about 4,000 homes in Minneapolis – mine included.

And it was a lovely morning – gray and damp, with the yellow glow of candles and a fire in the hearth. It was beautiful. And amazingly, though I’m normally hollering to high heaven trying to get these kids organized in the morning, this morning they were dressed, washed, brushed and minty fresh a good thirty minutes early. Leo and Cordelia nestled together by the fire with A Diary of A Wimpy Kid open on their laps, Cordelia reading to her brother.

And, I admit it, I got a little misty.

But the lack of power has consequences – mine being a car packed to the ceiling with kids. Here’s what happened: Because I drive a minivan, and because there were other folks in the neighborhood who couldn’t get into their garages to open their garage door since they only had one door to the garage and, without electricity, it only opens from the inside (D’OH!), my neighbors were desperate. So we shoved a bunch of kids into my car and trundled on into the road.

More kids than seatbelts? I’m not telling.

Anyway, it didn’t take long, in that crush of kids and backpacks and salt-crusted coats, that someone started to sing.

Jingle bells, Batman smells,

Robin laid an egg.

“Oh that is BORING,” one kid said. “Sing this instead:

Joy to the world!

Barney’s dead!

We barbecued his head!

The boys (they were, aside from Cordelia, all boys. It was a mountain of boys, a sea of boys, universes upon universes upon universes of boys) laughed until they drooled.

One boy – a redhead – said: “Do you guys know the Dreidel song?”

I have a little dreidel

I made it out of snow

I put it in the oven


I snorted to that one.

Leo piped in:

Silent farts,

Holy farts,

What’s that smell?

I can’t tell.


“I agree, darling,” I said. “Boys! No more fart songs.”

Apparently, a gauntlet had been thrown. The boys, opened their mouths and sang in unison. They already knew the words. It was as though they had tapped into a fart-joke-hive-mind.

Away in a butt-crack

A baby did fart,

They sang lustily, greedily, with wild abandon.
“That didn’t even make any sense,” I said.

“Yes it did,” they assured me in unison. Even their inflection matched. Then they began to sing again.

Rudolph the farting reindeer

had some very noxious gas.

And if you ever smelled it

You would…..

They stopped.

“We need a word that rhymes with ‘gas’,” one boy said.

“And it should have something to do with farting,” another boy said.

“What rhymes with gas?” still another queried. “Mass, lass….. think of words that have an ‘ass’ in it.”

There was a terrible pause. A car full of naughty minds all turned at once.

I had to think fast.

Up on the housetop, I sang at the top of my lungs.

Yellow snow.

Santa’s reindeer had to go.

The car erupted. And the boys joined in. And nobody swore on purpose. The boys, though potty-mouthed, remained relatively pure.

For now.

It was a Christmas Miracle!





In one of my many forays into the great sucking Time Sink that is these here Internets, I found a link to a Christmas tree made entirely from recycled materials. And it was a beautiful thing.

The subject of Christmas trees is a bit of a sore one in Barnhill-Land. Firstly, there is the question of when to put the thing up (I say ten days before Christmas; he says the day after Thanksgiving); secondly, there is the question of short needles vs. long needles (obviously short needles are superior); thirdly there is the question of the unnaturally full tree vs. the Charlie Brown tree (did you not SEE that show? Does your heart not MELT at the site of a spindly little tree with an awkward star?).

But the main argument is this: Alive? Or Not-Alive?

Holidays are a time in which the Nostalgia regions of our brains swell to the size of cantaloupes and we all become infantilized and illogical and grasping. We become set in our ways. We are uncompromiseable. I grew up with the smell of freshly cut spruce in the house at Christmastime. I remember the sharp smell of sap as my father sliced circle after circle off the base of the trunk, trying to get the thing to fit under the ceiling. I remember the clean smell of snow still clinging to the needles, the very real possibility of critters lurking in the branches, and the float of sawdust in the air.

Smell, after all, triggers nostalgia, and I want my damn nostalgia goddamnit.

Ted, on the other hand, in his infuriating reasonableness, offers numbers and statistics and facts. He talks about “dead trees” and “environmental impacts” and “carbon footprints” and “landfills” and other things that may or may not be nonsense.

He claims to have no nostalgia. And yet. He speaks so prettily about the yearly Christmas-tree-put-together that happened every year after Thanksgiving. No nostalgia, my eye!

Anyway, I may have found the thing that satisfies us both.

This morning, while wasting time (again) on the stupid internets (again) I found this:

Pretty, yes? It’s also a swing!

It was designed by architect/designer/artist, Kyle Martin, and is made from recycled plywood, PET strapping, bolts and lights. You can look at it, sit in it, stack presents inside it, and, granted, if it was in my house, my son would have found some way to destroy it in all of nine minutes, I still love the idea of it. And so did the kids:

“Look at this!” I said to them, and they gathered around the laptop. (Because that’s what we do in this modern era. The way that our ancestors gathered around fires or smoking meat or wise ancient family members or bibles or whatever. We gather around oddly-glowing laptops that are probably giving us cancer. And that’s progress.)

Leo was rapt. “Let’s make that today,” he said.

“So,” DeeDee said. “You can put your presents in there, but before christmas you can keep whatever you want in there. Like dolls.”

“Or swords,” Leo said.

“Or blankets and pillows and books,” DeeDee said.

“Or swords,” Leo said. “And guns.”

“And snacks,” DeeDee insisted.

“Yeah,” Leo concurred, “snacks are good. So are swords.”

DeeDee cradled her forehead in her fingertips.

“How is it made?” Leo wanted to know. I showed him the diagrams and I explained what the materials were. He wrinkled his brow and listened.

“But if we do it,” he said slowly. “We can make it however we want.”

“We’ll add cushions,” DeeDee said.

“And a trap door,” Leo said, folding his hands together and bringing his knuckles to his lips. He smiled.

“Why would you need to have a trap door?” I asked. This was getting good.

“To trap Santa,” he said, as if was obvious.

“Why would you want to trap Santa?” DeeDee asked, but then the realization of it started to spread across her face as well. “I see,” she said. “Well….” DeeDee, of course is my planner. “We’ll need to make extra cookies.”

“Boxes and boxes,” Leo agreed.

“And we’ll need a few bags of sugar.” She shook her head. “No. More than a few. The whole basement.”

“Why will we need sugar?” I asked.

“For the reindeer,” she explained. “They can’t fly without Santa, so they’ll be stuck here.”

“On the roof!” Leo yelled.

“But,” I pressed. “If they’re on the roof, and if they can’t fly without Santa, and if Santa is stuck inside the Christmas tree, then how will we feed the reindeer? We can’t get the sugar on the roof.”

There was a long silence. Leo scratched his head.

“I KNOW!” He shouted. “A crane. Quick mom! Find out how much it costs to buy a crane.”

I googled it.

“But if the reindeer are living in the yard – once we get them down with the crane,” Deedee said reasonably, “they’re going to make a lot of poop.”

“Is reindeer poop sparkly?” Leo asked.

“No poop is sparkly,” DeeDee said scathingly.

“Well,” I said. “This is entirely y’all’s idea. If you want to trap Santa, then you have to accept the responsibility of the consequences. The reindeer will look to you to take care of them, and you’re obligated to do so.”

“We can’t just give them sugar?” Leo asked.


He looked at the photograph of the recycled Christmas tree, an expression of longing and loss on his little face.

“Well,” he said. “I guess it would be greedy. To steal Santa.” He sighed. “Can we get our Christmas tree? Today, I mean?”

And so it begins.