Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mrs. Claus

I must admit something to you. I’m not Santa. I know, I know… This comes as quite a shock to a lot of you, but I can’t live a lie. I’m not him. My wife is.

Around our house, my wife makes it all happen. With most holidays, but especially around Christmas, she is on top of the preparations and planning way in advance while I am barely aware that the holiday is occurring even while I’m in the middle of celebrating it.

It’s not that I’m apathetic about the holidays. On the contrary, I love them. It’s just that I’m really, really busy. I have approximately eight minutes of free time each day, which leaves precious little time for me to sit down and think about holiday planning.

Also, since we’ve had the kids around the house, my brain has gotten quite a bit smaller. At least, it feels like it has. I used to plan out an entire week’s worth of activities in advance, keep it all in my head, and never forget a thing. I’d go to Home Depot with a 30-item shopping list in my head, and leave 10 minutes later with absolutely everything I needed for my project. Nowadays, I forget why I was going downstairs by the time I’m on the fourth step. I need to write everything down, no matter how small the list. If I take our three boys with me to a store, I have to write down where I parked the car, so we don’t spend an extra 15 minutes in the parking lot on the way out, and it takes the better part of an hour to buy two nails and a paint brush.

Also, any space remaining in my new, reduced-capacity brain that used to store information has been usurped by a rapid-fire question processing function. When my sons are around I am constantly fielding a torrent of questions like:
“How come Superman can fly, but the Roadrunner can’t?”
“How come there are so many different kinds of hammers?”
“How do they make ceilings?”
“Why are lights bright?”
“Where’s that one Lego? You know… the one with the thing on it.”
“Why doesn’t water go sour?”
“What’s in your ‘adult drink’?”
“How can you hear me with ear plugs in?”

So, with my lack of free time and my severely reduced brain capacity, I have had to whittle down my holiday planning involvement to the bare bones. At this point, I am really only in charge of the car.

You see, most of our holidays involve travel, but we used to fly everywhere. Now since the airlines have started to crack down on what really constitutes a “lap child,” we have been forced to look into other alternatives. I mean, really! Since when is a six-year-old too big to share a seat with me? Come on! He’s only four and a half feet tall. Anyway, apparently now they want us to buy five tickets! Who am I, John Rockefeller? I think not. In light of that unfortunate fact, we are spending quite a bit more time in the car these days. And since I like to enjoy my holidays, I try to keep the car in good operating condition.

My wife will say, “4th of July,” and all I will think about is coolant and Freon levels. My wife says New Years, and all that comes to my mind is windshield wiper fluid and snow chains. Memorial Day… trailer lights. Labor Day… shocks and struts. Thanksgiving… wiper blades and tire pressure.

So, unless the pre-holiday task involves automobile maintenance, it usually falls to my wife. Luckily, I married Mrs. Claus.

If it was left up to me, the Christmas tree would go up at about 9:00 pm on December 24th. Again, please don’t misunderstand. It’s not because I’m scroogish, that’s just when I would get around to it. As it happens, she has me scheduled to drag our majestic pre-lit 8-foot faux Douglas fir out of the storage shed the day after Thanksgiving. I usually balk at that schedule on principle, but still always end up doing it while the calendar is still on November.

She then schedules me to put up the exterior Christmas lights. She knows better than to ask me to do this until it is at least December. You all know how I feel about that task.

In the mean time she has decorated the tree with the kids, baked 2000 cookies and made enough homemade almond roca to fill a mid-sized car from floorboard to roof. She makes cute Christmas ornaments and knick-knacks for friends and family, and assembles treat trays for all the neighbors. Our house has something Christmassy in every single room, including little Christmas bears hanging from the ceiling fan pull-chains. There is no spot in our house where you do not have direct line-of-sight on at least four snowman figurines. It’s an indoor winter wonderland! She organizes excursions to see Christmas lights, and every morning in December the boys get a small gift from a 6-foot by 3-foot “advent calendar” quilt hanging on our wall that she made herself. She truly is Mrs. Claus.

Speaking of gifts, she is in charge of that task for a whole host of different reasons. I like to think it’s just because I’m busy and she has more time to shop, but when I’m really honest with myself, that’s only one of the many, many good reasons. She probably took stock of some of the more notable gifts I’d surprised her with over the years and decided that there was really no way a man with such poor taste and judgment should be allowed to ruin Christmas for everyone. We have small children, after all. We want them to look back on their upbringing fondly. We can’t have their childhood memories of Christmas be filled with depressing scenes of unwrapping hand-me-down socks and sticks of beef jerky.

As far as the boys go, she has brilliantly figured out the Gift Answer Averaging System. Since children between the ages of two and six are wildly unpredictable with their answers about what they want, she has devised a clever way to decipher their desires. Over the course of many months, she repeatedly asks each one of them what they would like Santa to bring them for Christmas. She starts the questioning in the early spring. At first, I thought that was a little early, but after watching the process work, I am convinced she’s on to something. A three-year-old will almost always answer with the name of the toy or object that they played with last.

“What do you want Santa to bring you this year?”
“A squirt gun.”
(Ten minutes later)
“What do you want Santa to bring you this year?”
“A flower pot.”

Every once in a while, though, they have a moment of clarity, and will actually tell you what they really want. The trick is knowing which answer to use. By asking them so many times during the course of the year, she is able to compile a data set that she can then scan for repeat answers. Mrs. Claus happens to have a Masters in Statistics, and she uses it. She’s a genius.

I am only in charge of one gift at Christmastime. It is my job to take the boys shopping to get their mommy a present. My wife has either enough stubborn pride or misguided faith in me that she does not remind me of this task. Consequently, since it does not involve car maintenance and is not on any of my spouse-provided to-do lists, I usually forget and end up frantically pulling the kids out of bed late in the evening, two days before Christmas, to go shopping. For some reason, they’re pretty grumpy when we shop.

That reminds me – it’s pretty late and we haven’t bought her gift yet! I’d better go wake up the kids and get going. If the stores are closed, we can always go to the casino gift shop. Either that or the all-night auto parts place. I still need to buy new wiper blades, too. Hey, wait a second…

Do I hear two birds getting hit with one stone?

Merry Christmas, Mrs. Claus!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2010 Marc Schmatjen

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