They Came Bearing Gifts

wisemenThree very different women darkened my office doorway today, all before noon, bringing stories and wisdom about childbirth. Perhaps inspired by their own history or the need to help in a helpless situation, they offered what they could and went on down the hallway to the breakroom to warm up leftovers or to have a cup of coffee.

The first woman appeared like an opening act for the trio, with the jingling of bells, wearing a red sweater and matching lightbulb earrings that swung with every movement of her head.    

“Just bringing the Christmas spirit,” she announced.

“Still here?” she asked.  “And you still haven’t delivered that baby?”

It was unclear how she missed the watermelon sized bump resting on my lap.  I wrongly assumed that stupid questions came in sets of three, so I waited for the final one before breaking the silence.

I laughed, “No, not yet.”  

“Ok, then, hang in there.”

Great advice, thanks, I thought dryly.

Only a short while later, a second woman appeared at the doorway.  She wore a turtle neck and a quilted Christmas vest, which was just a slight variation from her usual vest. 

“Hey there,” she greeted me and then came into the office without an invitation.

“I was almost a Christmas baby,” she started. 

Her tiny eyes peered out from behind thick lenses, neither blinking nor breaking her stare.  She had the hint of a wicked smirk on her upturned lips as she continued.

“But my mother was in labor for four days and blew right past the 25th.  She told me that every time I came down the birth canal and saw the light, I went back inside and waited.”

“What a horrible story,” I gasped unable to hide my horror.  I felt my jaw drop and had to consciously pull it back up from the floor. 

“Don’t worry,” she reassured me with her creepy, un-breaking stare.

“She said I was the best baby after that ordeal.  My brother, on the other hand, was an easy delivery and turned out to be the worst baby.”

More great insight, I thought. 

“Thanks for clearing that up.” 

She shuffled off with a nod, happy to have been so helpful.

I was still reeling from the thought of being in labor for four days when the third visitor appeared, the boss of my supervisor, making rounds through the offices.  She gave me a warm smile and leaned against the doorframe.

“How are you feeling?” she asked with genuine interest.

 “Nervous and ready,” I replied, as a woman of few words.

She nodded in understanding, “This will be something that will change you forever.  You will tell your delivery story for the rest of your life.  It will change you in ways that I cannot even begin to describe and it is just the beginning, a rite of passage into the next phase of life.” 

“My only advice is to turn off your phone after delivery, unplug the hospital phone, and just focus on being with your baby and tune out the rest of the world.   You only get to do it one time.”

She winked and turned to leave, but suddenly stopped, “Oh, and send me a text so I know you will be out of work for a while.” 

 

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Package Thieves

Theory

The package that should have been on the front porch was missing. 

I passed the mailman in his little truck on the way home, so I knew that I only missed him by minutes.  Yet, it might as well have been a lifetime for whatever had transpired in that time was enough to change the course of Christmas.

It wasn’t the mailman’s fault.  To his credit, he encouraged us to start using a tote placed inconspicuously next to the door during this holly, jolly package stealing season.  Of course, we procrastinated, hence the Leaf Peeper situation, and now this missing package.   

Fortunately, we did have a square shaped, plastic contraption with a lid meant to keep a hose neatly rolled like thread on a spool.  It was close enough to the porch that the mailman might have tucked a package into the box to keep it safe from any number of dangers. 

I flipped the lid open in hopeful anticipation, only to find a knotted bundle of hose.  Still the package was missing.  I felt a sinking feeling, certain that package thieves were responsible, already celebrating their loot as I began to accept the loss.

After the last Amazon fiasco, my husband’s birthday present ended up in a warehouse in China, apparently still there two months later, according to the tracking number.  Now, his Christmas present faced a worse fate as it was carried off by a roving group of punk-grinches.   

“Not again,” I yelled and shook my fists towards the sky in hopes that the Amazon gods would hear my cry and show mercy on the A to Z claim I was about to file.

Sure, I have a tendency to gravitate towards the dramatic, but this was serious.  

I pulled my key out to unlock the door and found it was already unlocked and pushed the door open.

“Hello?”

Lights were on and old-timey country Christmas music played in the background.  My husband appeared, “Looking for this?” he asked.

He held out a raggedy package with a missing corner.  It felt damp like it was used to clear the snow from the mailman’s windshield before being tossed into the back of the truck, but it was intact.  The missing package was found and Christmas was restored.   

Thankfully, the package thief was none other than the intended recipient, my husband, who had no idea how close he was to unwrapping a potato with an IOU pinned to it come December 25th.

package

Toothbrushes and Towels

truffles

Susie and Ned shared everything from friends to the flu, toothbrushes and towels excluded.  They even shared the same cushion on the couch while watching The Voice or napping.  It seemed like things would continue in shared bliss forever, until the truffle incident of 2017.

Susie shuffled around in the kitchen, finishing up the dishes and putting away the leftovers from dinner.  Ned cooked and she cleaned, sometimes vice versa, but that was the division of labor in their house.  It was one of the many agreements that they reached throughout their time together, more often than not, it was a natural and voluntary arrangement.

Opening a cabinet, Susie shoved a can of tomato soup and another can of peas aside.  She glanced over her shoulder to confirm that she was unobserved.  Sure enough, she was alone.  Ned was in the next room watching tv, Susie could hear Alex Trebeck reading off the final Jeopardy clue.

She extracted a small box tied with a ribbon in the very back hidden under a box of white rice.  Carefully, she untied the ribbon and opened the box with a sigh of relief.  Six perfect truffles were in place, flawlessly round and chocolatey, ready to be eaten, one by one. 

Earlier in the week, the truffles arrived in a larger Christmas box mixed in with pears and specialty nuts.  At the first opportunity, Susie snatched the box and stashed it away, to be shared at her discretion.  Now, it was time to sample her goods.  With surgical precision, she pulled a truffle out and held it between her thumb and index finger up to the light and confirmed, “Absolute perfection.”

The box, she returned to its special place in the cabinet, under the rice and behind the tomato soup and peas. Taking a nibble from the side of the truffle, the rich chocolate melted on her tongue.  It was creamy and satisfying with more than three quarters still to slowly enjoy.  

Then a twinge of guilt struck, somewhere between her mouth and stomach, and she remembered that sharing is caring with the man on the sofa.

She walked out to the living room, “Here Ned, try this.” 

She offered him the delicacy without reservations and watched him take it, anxious to try another nibble from the other side.  Ned inspected the truffle.

“There’s a bite out of this,” he declared and popped the entire thing into his mouth.

Susie’s jaw dropped as she watched her husband masticate the rest of the candy.

“What?” he asked with feigned concern.

“It fell into my mouth.”   

Towels, toothbrushes, and truffles; the unsharables list increased by one that day.

Post Christmas Puke

elf

There is nothing quite like running late for work the day after Christmas.

Everything was a mess from the holiday hustle bustle with rogue boxes on the couch, batteries rolled under the rug, abandoned sheets of tissue paper, and half-finished laundry on the table. Bags and opened packages were dropped in the hallways from coming back late on Christmas night and remained as cheery remnants of December 25/trip hazards in the morning.

Perhaps, most off putting of the morning, we were out of bananas for breakfast. Grocery shopping had not made the to-do list with all of the other shopping and preparations. The only option to save me from starvation was left-over Christmas cookies and old almond milk, the breakfast of champions and night time snack of hipster Santas.

Needless to say, I was not seizing the day. I was stumbling towards my one and only goal for the day: make it to work before my supervisor noticed I wasn’t there.

Fortunately, I had enough foresight to lay out my least wrinkled sweater, scarf and pair of socks the night before to save time in the morning.

After aimlessly shuffling around and getting nothing done, I mustered up the strength to take a quick shower, feasted on cookies and milk and pushed the X-mas junk into a pile for later. I just had to get dressed and head out the door. The sweater was in my hands, a millisecond away from going over my head, when I noticed it was wet. In fact, it was more than wet. There was also a massive hairball and several perfect circles of bright, yellow bile on the sweater. I suppose I should mention that the goo wasn’t contained to the sweater only, it also found its way to my scarf and socks that were meant for the day.

After a quick sweep of the room, I found the guilty party. She was sticking half way out from under the bed skirt watching me cry out in disgust as I stepped into another pile of goo. If she could have giggled or snickered, she would have at that very moment. Her whiskers quivered and her little cat face smirked at me without a hint of remorse.

Just eight hours earlier, I called her my white princess and hand fed her snacks while she purred on my lap. I struggled to understand how she could do such a malicious thing to me a few short hours later.

“Why?” I cried out, partially expecting an answer.

It felt personal, this attack of biological warfare.

Still trying to get a grip on the situation, I cleaned up the mess, found another sweater, and hurried to the office considering what a mean creature shared a pillow with me at night. Maybe it was time that she got her own pillow, I mused vindictively.

When I finally made it and settled into my cube for the day, I looked down at what I was wearing. Stripes and spots, great. I was glad that everyone else had taken off the day to spare them the confusion of my outfit. I cursed the name of my white princess again and shook my fists in the air.

Before I could really start the day, I needed to get ahold of myself. I needed to take a tour of the internet news and check my horoscope and any other links that popped up demanding to be explored to get my mind off of the mess and the sweater saboteur living in my home.

At the bottom of a random page, it said, “It is best to err on the side of compassion…”

I think there was more, but I was already considering the implications of this message for my day. Of course my white princess wouldn’t intentionally sabotage my work outfit. So what if she did, it was probably so we could spend the day together after being apart for Christmas.

Kitty logic, go figure.

Erring on the side of compassion is a mistake that I can afford to make with my darling cat.

Oh hard heart, how fast a well-placed quote can soften your edges.

I’m just not sure if I have enough reserve to do the same with humans.

Christmas cookies and strangers

coo

I was warned of the dangers in accepting baked goods from strangers, like most kids. Likely a pin or a toxic pill would be stuffed inside of an otherwise innocent looking brownie or cookie, waiting to kill the foolish ingestee. I missed out on a good number of bake sales and had to throw out many hand packaged goodies from trick-o-treating. Whenever a kid found a needle or piece of metal in a Snickers on Halloween and it made the news, usually after an unfortunate intervention at the ER, we had to watch the broadcast. I think it was our mom’s way to make us remember the constant and real danger of candy/cookie terrorism; perhaps the most unfair fighting tactic of all and least utilized by the military. Go figure.

To be fair, I was also warned about other normal childhood dangers, such as getting into vans with strangers and falling for the promise of a puppy, or of going to exotic places like Florida with girlfriends for fear of being sold into the human traffic trade. The warning also included going to the mall, public parks, and generally any other place that humans might be lurking. In the cautionary stories that ensued, taking the risk with any of these menaces always ended with untimely death or kidnapping and torture.

Needless to say, I did not travel far from home until I left for college, but I also was not kidnapped or sold into the sex trade. So that’s a big win for fear mongers everywhere by almost certainly proving that in avoiding all risk, strangers and strange places, no harm or misfortune can occur.  However, since that period of fearing all living things, I have traveled to many places and faced many threats. I’ve weighed risk with reward and stretched as a human with each experience. Yet, there has not been a single encounter that went more directly the warnings of my childhood than what happened this weekend.

The day was unusually warm for December, yet no one was out. My husband and I were strolling through the neighborhood admiring the decorations, if that’s what you call inflatable Santas, orange and blue lights and a pack of electronic grazing reindeer.

A strange figure approached us from the opposite direction with what appeared to be a triangle on her head. She made a bee-line for us carrying something in each hand. A meeting seemed unavoidable as she locked her eyes on us. We felt an unsolicited sales attempt was seconds away from being made and started to size up the would-be saleswoman.
She was a teenager that much was clear from her purple glittery sweatshirt and tennis shoes. Her curly red hair was indeed cut into a triangle, which made sense in a Miss Frazzle and the Magic School Bus kind of way. Her glasses were purple, of course, and it appeared that her lenses were in the process of transiting into sunglasses as they darkened and obscured her strange eyes.

As she prepared to speak, I took a breath and prepared to say, We don’t want any, but stopped short when I noticed that in each hand, she carried a plate of beautifully decorated Christmas cookies.

“Would you like a free cookie? We made them for the neighborhood and I’m delivering them.”

What? I stepped back in shock and wondered just how much a free cookie really cost? What kind of trick was this? Cookies filled with poison, perhaps? More likely pins, I decided, based on the research of my dark childhood. And who is this we? I couldn’t help but wonder what drug pusher or psychopath had roped this young girl into working for him. Yes, I am assuming it was a male.

Then I heard a voice in my head, reminding me, “Never, never, never take cookies from strangers.”

I could practically hear my husband thinking the same thing. Taking a cookie from a stranger on the street would be crazy, right? An unnecessary risk to ongoing life, right?

He cleared his throat to tell the girl what I am guessing was, thanks but no thanks, when I stopped him. This girl was strange but she didn’t seem to be a stranger, not the kind that I envisioned would go to the trouble of baking and decorating the most adorable cookies, only to have them laced with arsenic or whatever is used in cookie terrorism.

So I did what is clearly an impulse control issue that needs to be worked on, and said, “We’d love to split one.”

I grabbed a cookie snowman and bit its lovely head off in a good will gesture and expressed our appreciation. Then, I broke off the arm of the snowman and held it out to my husband/partner in unnecessary risk, “We’ll either make it or we won’t. At least we do it together.”

It was kind of like a Christmas cookie pact. We broke from the habit of making automatic decisions based on fear and the negative side of the what-if question. We made a decision in the moment based on a feeling that this girl was only offering good tidings and accepted the consequences of whatever was to come. Still, there was a brief time when we considered calling someone to let them know what we had done, just in case we collapsed on the street, convulsing and foaming from our mouths, as there were no witnesses and soon to be no evidence, either.

Guess what, the cookie was delicious. The icing was amazing. No seizure activity or foaming from the mouth resulted from the decision. Perhaps best of all, we lived to tell the tale with a new type of ending that sometimes it really is ok to take a cookie from a stranger.

The Spirit of Christmas

The man with the golden hair heard a pencil scratching across a pad of lined paper. His eyes had just fluttered shut when he looked up with a start. He brushed a single strand of tinsel from shirt, a remnant from the day’s activities. After a quick scan for more tinsel, he glanced at his wife, checking to see if she noticed.

“What are you writing? You aren’t writing that letter, are you?”

She stared intently at the paper as she wrote fast and furiously. He wondered if she had noticed anything that he had done that night: the twinkling lights, the tree, the presents or the snowflake cut-outs taped to the ceiling. He was most proud of the snowflakes, each one was different. His hand ached from the careful cutting.

He watched her purse her red lips and continue with her task.

There were only a few people left on earth who still communicated by letter and his wife was one. Instinctively, he knew for whom the letter was intended and what it would likely say.

“Come on, now, what are you writing? I have a right to know, don’t I?”

He continued to wheedle the unrelenting writer for confirmation of what he suspected, perhaps in hopes of stopping her or changing the contents of the letter. Surely, he had done enough to make up for whatever wrong she had imagined. He pulled his body the rest of the way up from his resting spot on the couch and felt his heart pounding.

Of course he was nervous; he had a lot riding on this exchange of information. Yet still, the pencil continued to scrawl out letters and words without stopping.

He glanced towards the corner at the tiny tree with twinkling lights and lumpy presents at its base. Its cheery glow reminded him of the reason for the season, the joy of giving, and then of the thing that he never forgot, the bribe.

In a few days, he would make a batch of his famous cookies. From the baker’s dozen, he would pick the most perfect cookie, with chocolate chips evenly spaced and plentiful, not too chewy or crunchy and leave it out on a plate with a cup of milk. Perhaps this year, he would leave out a few more cookies and a bigger glass of milk.

A greater investment should yield a greater return, he reasoned. That is, unless that letter gets to him first. He began to worry again.

“You promised you wouldn’t write,” he said.

The scratching suddenly stopped and the writer looked up. Her pencil remained suspended in midair, filled with endless graphite potential. She pushed a pair of heavy glasses higher on the bridge of her nose and prepared to speak.

“He has to know,” she said. As though he doesn’t already, she snickered. He knows everything, including who is naughty and nice.

She stared out the window as white flakes of snow fell from the grey sky and as paper flakes hung from the ceiling, only thinking of what to write next.

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