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  • Thursday, December 23, 2004


    Two-two-two America's Worst Mother™ in one...

    We skipped last weeks AWM™ because...well, we were just lazy. Sue us. So here's a recap:

    Last week Meghan used the fragility of Christmas ornaments to remind the kids (Björk, Antipasta, Glossodynia, and Muskrat) that nothing is permanent, all things fall apart, and we're all going to die someday:

    There’s nothing so well calculated to cheer up a bunch of gloomsters than unpacking old ornaments — with the annual rediscovery of “the elephant!” and “George Washington!” and “the cat with the fish!” — and so it proved again until amidst the boxes and tissue paper Violet came across a purple-painted sparkly clay heart she had made last winter at nursery school, and which had broken within minutes of arriving home. Immediately she curled up around this sacred object on the sofa, and it was only from a spreading damp patch that I realized she was crying.

    This, in parenting lingo, is what’s known as a Teaching Moment.

    “Children,” I announced, “I have something for you.” I opened a box and showed them four new blown-glass heart-shaped ornaments, each beautiful and each different. I resisted the cornball impulse to tell them the ornaments were “each different and each beautiful, like each of you,” but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to deliver the whole evanescence-of-material-goods message.

    “These beautiful things are fragile,” I told them. “Like Violet’s sparkly heart, they will break. If not this year, maybe next. We should enjoy them while they last, but remember, they are just things. Do you understand?”

    Four solemn faces looked at me.

    “Things always break eventually. What doesn’t break is love. Love is the only real thing; everything else is just stuff. Do you see?”

    Four heads nodded. I wondered if I would remember this little homily the next time someone smeared peanut butter on my dry-clean-onlies, and sighed.

    Now, I'm no expert on foreshadowing, but I think Meghan is trying to tell the kids that Daddy is going to be moving away for awhile while he and Mummy try to sort some things out and that doesn't mean that Daddy doesn't love them he just needs some time to himself. Oh, and the person that Daddy is going to be living with isn't going to be their new Mummy even if they do sleep in the same room. They should just call him Uncle Phil...and not mention anything about him and Daddy at school.

    Which leads us to this week where Meghan explains that she can't find anything to get for her kids for Chistmas since they already have every toy that no normal kid would ever want:

    Except in the most blighted households, American children have all the food they need, all the clothes they need, all the pens, pencils, and drawing paper. Even in the most blighted households, American children have DVD players.

    At our house, actually, there is no DVD player yet — we can scarcely manage electronics for ourselves, let alone the children, and not because of money but because I personally cannot bear to read instruction manuals — but our children do have Scrabble, Parcheesi, Monopoly, Battleship, and Diplomacy, plus two editions of Pretty Pretty Princess. We have innumerable picture books, novels, dolls, blocks, trains, princess and soldier figurines, dress-ups, pogo sticks, jump ropes, scooters, Legos, and pretty much everything an old-fashioned child could want, including shiny new bicycles that were supposed to be Molly and Paris's Christmas presents, but which we gave them a month early because the weather was so beautifully warm. We could have deferred this particular gratification for the sake of suspense, I suppose, but then the children wouldn't have been able to use the things until spring, and what's the good of that?

    In short, contemplating the empty acreage under the Christmas tree, I was struck this year by the awful fact that there isn't anything we could give the two eldest that would yield more than marginal pleasure.

    Now, this isn't to say that the older kids, Antipasta and Muskrat, didn't give her some kind of clue:

    Oh, when pressed, any child can come up with a list. Three quarters of mine were able to do it nimbly enough when I asked them to write a note to Santa Claus. Almost-five Violet asked courteously for "a princess castle." Three-year-old Phoebe immediately grabbed my sleeve and requested "a princess castle." Paris, who is eight, carefully printed out: life size robot, surfboard, and gun.

    By contrast, ten-year-old Molly bit her pencil eraser and looked vague. Eventually she scribbled a bit and looked up. "My New and Improved Christmas List, in Order of Desire," she read. "Set of watercolor paints with art pad, money (up to you how much), wallet, clothes (always an option), candy."

    So we see that young Muskrat is bent on becoming some kind of gun totin'-world dominating-surf dude with a killer robot named Columbine, while ten-year-old Antipasta's list indicates that she is just seven cats (each named after a child she will never have) away from becoming Kathryn Jean Lopez. But Meghan, as usual, is too busy reminiscing about her Hemingway years (whoops...wrong one) to catch the subtle signs:

    "Of course!" I yelped, when I saw Susan's entry in NRO's November Gift-Giving Guide. "Rats! I was going to do that years ago!"

    Twelve years ago, to be exact. I was then a foreign correspondent, and before Christmas I spent a desperate day trawling the airport in Nairobi trying to find someone who could fly me into Somalia, where the U.S. Marines had lately landed and into which no commercial flights dared venture. I began bearding every man in epaulets, then every white man in epaulets, and eventually every white man, looking for a pilot.

    Of course, Meghan didn't get to Somalia, which is why Black Hawk Down happened which is, of course, why 9/11 happened...but Meghan doesn't mention that because it would totally bring down her Christmas column.

    Instead, Meghan goes on and on about something called Heifer International which, I suppose, since she was talking about being a "journalist", has something to do with Candy Crowley, but I could be wrong about that.

    Anyway, Meghan puts up a brave front and doesn't mention Mr. Meghan, so I assume that he is having Christmas...elsewhere.

    With Phil.

    Who has a DVD player.

    So, from all the Gurdon kids to you...have a very Merry Christmas!

    Or Xmas.

    Or whatever...


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