Each year teachers send Ittybit home with a family project: a construction paper Christmas tree she is to cut out and we are to decorate together.
They hang them in the hallways of school during an open house and a festival of trees closer to Christmas.
It's quite possibly my favorite "family homework project."
Last year she mostly decorated the tree herself, refusing to let us get our scabby, germ-y, cootie-fied mits anywhere near "her tree." (She was more polite than that, but you get my point. She's got her ideas, and ours were just trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
This year, however, she accepted ideas as well as some help. I pulled out last year's Christmas cards and we cut out some pictures and shapes and glued them to the tree. She did most of the hot-melt glue gunning (No one ever thinks when they shell out $4 bazillion dollars for school supplies every September that they'll ALL. GO. TO. SCHOOL and they'll be left scrounging the house late one night in November looking for a worn down pencil nub and a dried up old glue stick to complete HOMEWORK now do they? Nope. They don't.)
But I digress.
We do have a glue gun with which we can stick stuff to other stuff, and not once did Ittybit shoot herself in the fingertips with it.
Any way ...
She set about filling the tree with stars and stickers and Hallmark sentiments, and thinking of how to use the images she'd had me cut more precisely. We had a wreath, a horse and rider, a photo card from last Christmas with pictures of the family, a cat inside a gift bag and a sleepy little town covered in glitter snow.
She looked at me with narrowed eyes and a crooked mouth.
I reminded her of her love of pop-up books and her brain box started buzzing.
We taped pictures of she and her brother's funny faces barn door-like over the horse on an piece of accordion-folded paper.
She added a cut-out flying Santa as a star. Behind it all were cards to stabilize the tree and a ribbon hanger.
It was so big she had to hand carrying it to school because it wouldn't fit in her school folder.
She didn't mind.
She didn't even worry that kids would make fun of the silly faces that were holding back the equestrian surprise.
I know what you're thinking: A tree? The weekend after Thanksgiving? Are you crazy?
I mean ... Think about it. Are you not the folks who leave their tree up untilFebruary or March?
In my defense I'd like to point out that there have been PLENTY of years where we waited until Christmas eve and either couldn't find a tree or took the saddest little Charlie Brown Tree left on the lot. True, that was before children were in the picture, but it did happen.
In my defense, and in looking at work and school schedules not to mention the need to have a birthday party for Ittybit a week before Christmas, it turns out there are very few weekends between now and then.
So. Why put off the inevitable?
Also ... There's the entertainment value of picking out a tree:
"You aren't going to like my idea," he said, still hungover from a night of playing tiny video games he hadn't meant to play, on a tiny screen that is destined to make him go blind.
"Try me," I said, wishing for more sleep and less talk.
"I think we should turn off the TV, stow the cell phones and just enjoy Thanksgiving."
I suppose I can understand why he'd think I'd protest. Technology addiction isn't exactly like an addiction to chemical substances ... most folks can admit, at least in a social way, they are hooked.
Have cell phone, will check it ... several times ... a minute. It's the nature of the beast.
I didn't mention how irritated he'd gotten last week when I'd accidentally instituted a similar moratorium on electronic communication by forgetting to bring my cell phone to the grocery store. I found the lack of a phone to be refreshing and oddly liberating.
Everyone else thought it an inconsiderate affront to civility.
Not only was Ittybit unable to play Angry Birds whilst we drove, but The Husband couldn't call me several times to ask when I'd be coming home, or if I could pick up an extra tub of ice cream.
*Insert Heavy Sigh*
Truth is I don't want to be tethered to technology. I don't want to compulsively check for messages from perfect strangers. I'm tired of deleting sales pitches and propaganda. I'm tired of distinguishing which is which.
The idea of turning off cell phones and closing the doors on the "entertainment center" as we go about the work of turkey and trimmings is more than nice, it's nostalgic.
We turned on music and danced. The kids exercised their imaginations and their ability to play nice. The Champ turned his coat into a sled, and Ittybit, in turn, facilitated Magic Coat Rides between the dining room and the entry hall.
It wasn't anything special. It just was direct, and without a filter.
Yet we are unable to pull the plug entirely.
At 8 o'clock, we turned on the television to watch "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving." And then we saw exactly what we hadn't been missing:
Eighteen minutes of vintage, values-infused entertainment about the spirit of celebration hacked apart by 12 minutes of commercial "YOU NEED TO BUY THIS TOY" or "STORES OPEN AT MIDNIGHT WITH DOOR-BUSTER DEALS" interruptions.
"Where's Charlie Brown?" she protests the first time Walmart broke in on the entertainment.
"Walmart is holding him hostage until they get a chance to sell us on shopping there."
"Well ... Do we have to shop there to see it again?"
"No, honey. Our policy is not to deal with terrorists."
Even into the depths of the bear's cave, light finds its way inside
There are times, in moments of deplorable weakness, I find myself wishing to be the parent of an "only child."
There are moments when the underlying hum of of ordinary sibling discontent seems deafeningly uncommon.
"He's in my way!"
"She's not moving!"
"I don't want him in my room!"
"She won't let me play with her!"
"He won't give it back!"
"She won't give it back!"
"He won't leave me alone!"
"She HATES ME!"
"I HATE HIM!"
There never seems to be a period I find pleasure in being the referee.
And yet, it is usually during those times, and often when I've thrown up my hands and stalked away in total abdication of my parental responsibilities, that they work out their differences in the most favorable of ways.
They might pull toys out of the bins and disorganize them by size ... or color ... or material of construction.
Or scatter crayons through three rooms, leaving a paper trail of clues in the form of quickly scrawled drawings.
They might build a cave out of couch cushions and take turns being the bear.
And the next time I hear my name, it will sound of joyful noise. And when I look to see what they want, one of them will look up at me in surprise and tell me I wasn't the "MOM" in the game they were playing.
If a leaf falls in the parking lot will anyone hear it?
Maybe, if it's attached to your keys.
This was a quick and easy project.
First I found an old key fob and cannibalized the ring mechanism.
Then I found some earth-toned scraps of felt and cut them in a manner that resembles no leaf found in nature. I also cut a long, rectangular strip of felt, folded it in half length-wise and sewed it along the length with a zig-sag stitch.
Next I threaded the keyring with the "petiole," folded the fabric and inserted the ends in between the two sides of "leaf" at the top. Then I sewed it all together at the point of the axil and continued sewing along the outer edges of the leaf.
I then attempted to sew veins on the interior of the leaf.
On Tuesday the San Francisco board of supervisors passed a preliminary vote seeking to ban toys in kids' meals that are high in calories (more than 600) and that don't contain fruit or vegetables (that aren't deep fried or covered in sugary sauces). If the measure passes next week it will be the first major city to ban a practice of direct marketing to children via fast food.
I know I should probably be rejoicing. Marketing directly to children seems so unsavory, so completely devoid of a moral compass, especially when it comes to things we don't need for survival ...
And there are times I'd like to light the knee-high level of the yogurt case on fire just to watch Dora the Explorer and the Trix rabbit melt in a dairy and plastic inferno.
But I've come to understand marketing as something to which we don't have to be enslaved.
Wanting something you can't have isn't such a bad thing.
Having something that's not good for you, on occasion, isn't the end of the world.
Knowing when someone wants you to see a movie, or try a food substance (called a "product" in some development meeting) ... or buy a bigger toy based on the movie you saw after you got a smaller toy in the cardboard box of food product ... might actually be a pretty good lesson to learn.
Saying "No," can be a soul-building, life-affirming experience. And if you try to let the stress of the whining and the pleading and the begging waft past you to the cleaning products aisle, it can be a refreshing experience for the kids, too.
Saying "Yes," doesn't have to undermine your ability to be a good and effective parent. It can be whatever you make it.
Worrying too much about which takes the lead and when is what seems to be our undoing.
For all these reasons, I don't see the de-mirthing of packaged kids meals as the government protecting people from anyone other than themselves.
If the government was REALLY concerned about the health of children it might look past the quick, short-term fixes that are based on consumer choice and focus more on what choices are offered and why. It would try and make sure fresh, healthy locally grown food was more affordable instead of sugary-foods made cheap by the subsidies in corn. It would focus on why big companies like Pepsi are getting contracts with schools and why schools are courting them. It would really take an interest in the fat content in the meals they provide in school lunches. It would put its efforts into making sure children's health, and not insurance companies' bottom lines, benefit most from health care reform.
Because the real problems we face has little to do with the hunk of plastic in a paper box. The hunk of plastic is just a reminder of the problem.
We are not balanced. There is more commercial than program, more selling than making and more buying than saving. Ultimately there is more cost than value.
Of course, I might be saying all this because I have loved Happy Meal toys since they came out in 1979. I've enjoyed my happenstance collecting of them over the years. It may not be something everyone can understand, but marketing has its place in our memories of growing up as it has in our experience of it.
We'll probably continue to stop by McDonald's every once in a while on our way to work in the mornings. I'll get coffee. The kids will split an order of hot cakes ... and if we like what we see, we'll buy the toys separately (they sell them for roughly $2).