Sometimes, the most-wanted Christmas gift can't be wrapped
What if Santa could bring a new friend or the ability to slow down or stop worrying?
Breaking a bad habit or escaping a taxing chore would also be great gifts for these writers
You have your two front teeth. But what about those other wishes that you can’t wrap up in a tidy package? Real Simple invited five writers to share the one present that would make their holidays truly happy.
A buddy for my husband | by Jillian Medoff
“It’s the lunar eclipse, Mollie!” my husband, Keith, shouted, racing into the living room. “Let’s go see it with the telescope.” Mollie, who is 10, barely looked up.
“It’s Thursday night, Daddy,” she said slowly, as if he were a foreigner and new to our customs. ” ‘Glee’ is on.” Sensing Keith’s disappointment, I offered to go, although I knew I was small consolation: It was Mollie—or her sisters, Sarah, 19, and Olivia, 14—he was after.
“Thanks,” he told me. “But I’m good.” Then, with a fleeting, forlorn glance at Mollie, he gripped his telescope and headed outside alone.
This wasn’t the first time one of our daughters had rebuffed him. But Mollie is the youngest, making her Keith’s last chance at a homegrown buddy. We don’t have any boys, and while this didn’t used to bother him, lately it’s clear he feels like the odd man out. You can hardly blame him: His life is teeming with women. The people with whom he is closest—me, our girls, our mothers, my two sisters—he loves deeply and unconditionally (well, deeply, anyway), but we share few of his interests. Keith is even less keen on ours.
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When the girls were little, he was game for any type of activity. Once I found him sitting on the floor wearing a tiara and playing Pretty Pretty Princess. For their part, Sarah, Olivia, and Mollie loved Keith’s adventures: his astronomy lessons and his tours of the subway stops near our Brooklyn home. But the girls are older now; princesses have been replaced with iPods, shoe shopping and Katniss Everdeen.
We don’t have Keith’s love of science and random trivia, but even if we did, the fact remains: Our femaleness overwhelms him—all those boots, barrettes and infinite lipsticks, not to mention our frequent melodramas. Why, Keith asks, must we feel so much, so often? And why do our feelings mutate so fast? We don’t know, of course. It’s as much a mystery to us as it is to him.
Imagine, then, how happy Keith would be if some guy came along and said, “Dude, what a cool telescope! Can I have a look?” Imagine, too, how happy I would be to relinquish my role as second-rate substitute. While I’m always willing to debate whether a 3× Barlow lens is necessary for viewing lunar details, Keith knows my heart is not in it. He needs an hombre, a Tonto, a wingman.
So in the spirit of holiday giving, what I want this Hanukkah is a brand-new go-to pal for my beloved, beleaguered husband. (Are you listening, Paul Rudd?) He deserves someone with whom he can study the sky, drink beers, eat wings and escape for a while from his inscrutable girls.
Jillian Medoff is the author of, most recently, “I Couldn’t Love You More.” She lives in Brooklyn.
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The ability to unitask | by Monica Trasandes
Recently I found myself walking toward the kitchen with a load of laundry in my arms, two empty coffee cups dangling from my fingers, and car keys tucked between my chin and the clothes.
Oh, and I stopped to clean up a spill, using a fallen sock, which I then kicked into the kitchen. Forty minutes later, as I pulled my fresh-smelling, shiny keys from the wash, I realized I had reached unhealthy levels of multitasking.
This problem has dogged me for years. For example, I never just make pasta for dinner: I put on the spaghetti sauce while cleaning the bathroom, opening and shredding mail and watering the plants. This means I end up with a very clean apartment that smells like scorched tomatoes. I never seem to just drive, either: I simultaneously peel and eat a banana and listen to the news while returning calls for my media-director job (on my hands-free phone, of course).
A man I admire has called multitasking “the enemy of intimacy”—and for me that’s certainly true. Often I do dishes or clear my desk while chatting on the phone with friends. I can’t seem to help myself.
The problem: I’ve always felt guilty about doing one thing at a time. On those occasions when I have, say, carried laundry and dirty dishes on separate trips, my evil inner critic has sneered at me: “Hmm, taking it slow today, aren’t we, unitasker? I guess some of us don’t want to succeed.” To which I should reply: “I want to succeed, evil inner critic! I just don’t want to have to achieve all my goals at the same time.” But I rarely succeed. Usually I give in, reluctantly, to that bullying voice.
So, for Christmas this year, I want to make a change. At long last, I would like to embrace a slower way of life: I’ll read and only read. Drive and only drive. I’ll be fully present when talking to my friends. Because with all the multitasking, I know that I’m missing so much.
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This hit me recently on a business trip to New York. Every morning, a little gray-and-white cat followed me, meowing, from the hotel all the way to the spot where my work event was held. I was vaguely aware of the cat, but it wasn’t until my iPhone battery died on the third day of the trip that I realized with a shock that the cat had been plaintively crying for food.
I bought her a can of food and set it down, and I watched as she gobbled it up. I took a moment to be grateful that, at last, I had listened and been able to help. I petted her. And then I thought, Oh, if only my iPhone were charged, so I could text a photo of the cat to my friends. Maybe I could even film her and turn it into a sweet little movie?
Once an addict, always an addict.
Monica Trasandes is the author of “Broken Like This.” She lives in Los Angeles.
No more worry | by Karen Thompson Walker
For Christmas last year, my husband gave me an emergency radio. This thing is the Swiss Army Knife of radios. It has an attached flashlight and a universal phone charger, and the whole thing can be operated without batteries. In the event of a disaster, a few turns of the hand crank give you instant power.
True, it was an unusual gift. It was also the perfect present for me. I’ve always been a worrier, and this radio was intended to allay some of my concerns.
Growing up in California, I worried about earthquakes. When I lived in New York, my fears turned to terrorist attacks. Now that we live in Iowa, I often picture tornadoes roaring down our street. Thankfully, my fears are not the paralyzing kind—I get nervous when I fly, for example, and yet I fly frequently—but I do tend to be quick to map out how a good thing might turn bad and how catastrophe might bloom in an ordinary moment.
Worry is a habit I’ve never been able to break.
The emergency radio made me feel a little more prepared for all the disasters I envision. But it didn’t eliminate my fears. If only there were such a contraption—with an antenna that could detect my worries before they arrived and swiftly send them on their way. If such a device existed, that’s what I’d like to find beneath our Christmas tree.
My days would be less cluttered by concern. My thoughts would be as clear and bright as the beam of that emergency flashlight. I could board an airplane without a rush of adrenaline and enjoy the sound of summer thunder without checking the sky for funnel clouds. I could look at my husband without worrying that the freckle on his wrist might turn into cancer.
But what might I lose if I gave up all my fears? Worry is part of my personality, and sometimes it has done me good. My fear of failure has pushed me to work harder at every job, and my fear of natural disaster means that my husband and I will always be prepared, should the worst come to pass. What’s more, my fearful habit means I take little for granted. My terror of losing the people who matter most matches in exact proportion my love for those people. I don’t think I could stop worrying about my husband without also giving up a little bit of the joy I feel each night when he walks safely through the door.
So on second thought, maybe I ought to hold on to my fears and instead wish for one more year in which that emergency radio hangs on a hook in our basement, unneeded and unused.
Karen Thompson Walker is the author of “The Age of Miracles.” She lives in Iowa City.
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Unbridled snacking | by Amy Shearn
A confession: I am a snacker. By which I don’t mean merely that I like to snack; everyone likes to snack. I love it. In fact, snacking is the only kind of eating I find truly worthwhile.
As a child, my favorite meal was Snack Dinner, when parental exhaustion led to what I considered culinary perfection: cheese squares, grapes, salami, a leftover pizza slice here, an apple wedge there. Maybe the joy of these “dinners” was inherited from my artist mother, who loved throwing snacks on the table so she could get back to her painting.
Or maybe I, a literature buff from the get-go, was just emulating my inadvertent muse: the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
In my 20s, I dealt with my snacky urges by, well, snacking. I stocked my refrigerator with only bottled beverages and oddball assortments of cheese. I’d plunge from my workplace into the steamy embrace of a street vendor’s pretzel, laden with yellow mustard—a bit of food that managed to soften hunger’s edge without providing an iota of nutrition. One olive-laden cocktail later and I’d have forgotten to have dinner entirely, marking another day in which I hadn’t consumed a single vitamin.
In my current life as the mother of two children under the age of 4, I try to fight this yen. After all, my kids need to learn about things like “nutrition” and “table manners.” And wouldn’t you know it? They only want to eat snacks. Which makes it all the more difficult to force myself to prepare a dinner of organic vegetable stew. For me, the only thing more boring than eating an entire meal in one sitting is preparing it.
Which is why, if I could have any wish, it would be to spend a week or two eating snacks in lieu of breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’d forgo eggs and toast for a latte. An hour later, I’d have half a scone. Then some berries. Eventually, a sausage. Instead of greasy latke pucks and turkey overflowing with stuffing, I’d celebrate the holidays with a movable feast of party fare, prepared—this is important—by someone else: a deviled egg, a pig in a blanket, a toothpick of cheese cubes, a gingersnap.
When you come right down to it, the joy of snacking isn’t just to be found in the food itself. It’s the whole experience. Snacking with abandon is indulgent and irresponsible—all those things grown mothers are not. No wonder it sounds so enticing.
Amy Shearn is the author of “The Mermaid of Brooklyn.” She lives in Brooklyn.
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The end of football | by Judith Newman
These days, almost every conversation I have with my 11-year-old son, Henry, revolves around a Hail Mary to the end zone or a safety blitz sacking the quarterback. At least that’s what his end of the chat consists of.
This is my contribution: “Uh-huh. No, seriously? You’re kidding! Wow, that’s great. …”
Whatever Henry is talking about is great. Or maybe it’s terrible, actually; I have no idea. He tosses off names he’s sure I need to know, too: Sanchez, Tebow, Konerko. No, wait—Konerko, that’s baseball; he’s some guy on the White Sox, Henry’s other favorite team when he’s not gassing on about the Jets.
Why can’t I retain this information? He might as well be discussing subparticle physics, and I am about as likely to grasp the intricacies of the Wildcat formation as I am the Higgs boson.
Henry’s interest in sports is so total and mine is so nonexistent that try as I might to listen to his Byzantine explanations, they all sound like this: Buhhhhh. Probably the way it would sound to him if I explained my graduate studies in English literature.
Sometimes I want to scream, “Henry, how much would you like it if I made you sit through an hourlong discourse on water imagery in the poems of Lord Byron?”
But I don’t. I do what I am supposed to: I nod and look happy. He’s my boy.
So, what do I wish for Christmas? I wish my husband, an opera singer even less interested in sports than I am, would take over my ESPN duties for a few weeks. Forget about jewelry or shoes or cunning scarves; I just want John to sit with Henry through “Monday Night Football” for the rest of the season.
Look, I love my son. Love him enough, even, not to roll my eyes when he sleeps in his football helmet, or sobs uncontrollably when his team loses, or insists on starting each morning with a piece of toast with the Jets insignia singed into it. (If only someone could figure out a way to burn the Jets logo into Brussels sprouts.) I have even learned to see the larger life lessons in fandom. To me, there is a straight line between a child who passionately loves a team that’s on a losing streak to a grown man who sticks to a marriage in sickness and in health.
At least that’s what I tell myself. Please, don’t burst my bubble.
In all honesty, I don’t think Santa is bringing me the gift of sports oblivion now, or ever. For years to come, I fully expect to continue making the Wow, that’s fascinating face when my son tells me there’s a five-yard penalty for an ineligible man downfield. But in the meantime, I will try to remember the gift I am really getting: the trip to Boy Land.
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Kids take you to new places. And even if you never thought about booking that particular ticket, once you’re there with your child, it’s a pretty swell place. As Vince Lombardi once said … oh crap, I don’t know what he said. But Henry does—and he wants to share with his ma. And to me that’s a touchdown.
Judith Newman is the author of “You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman.” She lives in New York.