Believing Is Believing Revisited

The holidays seem to be sweeter when there are children in the family.  My kids are practically adults now, but it wasn’t that long ago when they were still daydreaming about flying reindeer or bunnies bearing chocolates.  There is something about that wide-eyed wonder that brings out the children in all of us.

One day, however, you might find yourself at an unwelcome crossroads – the day they express your doubts and you’re faced with the major decision of how you’ll handle it.

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What did I do?  Found out in this story called “Believing Is Believing“…

“Aha! I knew it!” I could hear my daughter’s squeaky little voice coming through her bedroom door. She was maybe about 7-years-old at the time.

Emerging triumphantly into the hallway, she began waving something in my face. At first, I thought it was a grain of rice, but her maniacal grin revealed a new gap along her bottom gums.

“Look!” Sure enough, she held one of her baby teeth between her fingers. “I lost this last night, but I didn’t tell a grown-up…and this morning, the tooth was still there…and there was no moneyI knew the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real!

Now, another parent might have buckled. Another parent might have choked. But you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to outfox this fox.

With the cool detachment of a seasoned poker player or sociopath, I said, “Well of course she didn’t come. The Tooth Fairy communicates telepathically with grown-ups. If the grown-ups don’t know you’ve lost a tooth, she won’t know you’ve lost a tooth.”

My daughter eyed me suspiciously. Then declared, “Well, I don’t believe she exists.”

I’m not going to lie (to you). This stung me. She was still so young and I was not ready to see her give up on those charming childhood traditions.

Deciding to push another button, she added, “And I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either!”

Seeing that I was still squarely on-kilter, she pounded the final nail into my mommy coffin… “Or Santa!”

NOOOO! Not Santa! On the inside, I died a little bit that day. But on the outside, there were no cracks in my façade. I knew that my reaction would either prolong those fairy tales for a little while, or make her a cynic well before her time.

Without skipping a beat, I called her bluff, “Gee, that’s too bad.”

“Why?” She looked worried.

“Because when you stop believing, they stop coming.” I had her right where I wanted her. But my girl is pretty cagey, having not fallen too far from the tree.

“Hmm…” she thought for a minute. “What if I fake believe?”

Incredible, I thought. This kid is relentless. But I just shrugged my shoulders and calmly said, “Nope. That’s not how it works.”

“OK, fine,” she grumbled as she left to replace the tooth back under her pillow.

Turning on my heel with my head held high, I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and ran the shower to conceal the sound of my sobbing.

My son is a different animal entirely. He instinctively knew it would be sad for me when he “learned the truth” about Santa. I should probably confess here that when I discovered he’d outgrown Baby Gap and graduated to Gap Kids (as was explained to me by a cold-hearted sales associate with no soul), I literally started crying right there in the middle of the store.

Anyway, it was a few days before Christmas when he said he needed to talk to me. He had that look people get when they know they’re going to tell you something you’re not going to like, but have to tell you anyway.

“I have a confession to make,” he began.

You’re 12, I thought. What could you possibly have to confess? I felt a chill run through me.

He stammered and stalled a little bit. Unlike his little sister, he was trying to let me down easy. “Well…I snooped.”

“Snooped?” I asked.

“I looked under the bed in the guest room…”

I immediately knew. And he knew that I knew. You see, all the presents from Santa are wrapped in distinct “Santa” wrapping paper with special gift tags (written in a curlicue hand that does not resemble mine), and stowed under the guest room bed. He had found his presents from Santa when Christmas hadn’t happened yet. This inconsistency in the holiday timeline could not be wriggled out of. I was trapped.

With wide eyes and a sweet loving heart, he said, “I’m sorry mom. Don’t feel bad. I’ve actually known for a while now.” And he put his arm around me. “But don’t worry. I won’t tell her.” The her he was referring to was, of course, his little sister. He was blissfully unaware that she’d already pulled the plug on me during the Tooth Fairy fiasco.

But now, here’s the funny thing about all this: kids really don’t know everything. If they thought for a moment about all those visits to St. Nick they would know that he does exist.

I have never stopped believing. In fact, every year, hubby and I pay that sweet old elf a visit before we go to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. And every year, he is just as jolly and warm and welcoming as the year before. And every year, as I’m walking through Macy’s Santaland, I am a child again, believing in peace on Earth, goodwill toward man, and the everlasting spirit and joy of the season. It fills me with a kind of love and comfort that can only be described as magical.

One day, my kids will experience this same enchanted feeling again. How can I be so sure?

Because, I believe.

Selfie with elf = Elfie

 

Tidings

image

SNORK wishes you the sort of holiday that makes you blow eggnog through both your nostrils (in a good way!).

Merry Christmas!

5 Steps To Being The Perfect Houseguest

The holidays are just around the corner, and for many of us, they involve traveling. Will you be bunking at someone’s home? Are you wondering if you need a refresher course on houseguest etiquette? Well, today’s your lucky day! Not only do I travel quite a bit, I’m also an innkeeper of sorts, since my house happens to be a popular lodging spot for out-of-town family and friends. With the benefit of all this knowledge, I’ve put together a room-by-room, 5-step guide on how to be the perfect houseguest. No need to thank me. I consider it a public service. Now, pack your bags and let’s begin our journey…

#5. The Front Door (Don’t be cheap)

We all know you should never show up empty-handed to a dinner party. But did you know that when you’re a houseguest, your arms should be so loaded that you have to ring the doorbell with your nose? Its true!

What should you bring? Well, if your hosts don’t have small children, then it’s appropriate to bring something for the house such as a bottle of wine, fine chocolates, a gourmet food basket, a Vitamix Professional Series 750… Sometimes people bring a more personal gift, strictly for the hostess, something like a bath set consisting of expensive shower gel, body scrub, body lotion, perfume and body oil in the Bobbi Brown Beach fragrance, or anything from the Fresh brand of products (available at Sephora), or jewels. You know…stuff like that will surely be appreciated. And no, I am not hinting here at all. I swear!

If your hosts have children, you must, must, must bring something for them! It’s important to be on the children’s good side if you have any hopes of enjoying your stay. For children in the baby/toddler stages, you can bring a cute outfit. If they’re older, nothing but toys will do. A five-year-old welcomes a sensible sweater only slightly more than a poke in the eye. And choose that toy wisely, or you might end up with mashed potatoes in your shoes or “short sheets” on the bed. Which brings us to…

#4. The Bedroom (Don’t be a slob)

Whether your hosts give you a spacious annex with a king-size bed (a/k/a The Presidential Bungalow) or stick you on an air mattress in the basement next to the washing machine (a/k/a The Bob Cratchit Suite), know that:
a. it’s the best they have to offer
b. they’re saving you a bundle on hotels
c. beggars can’t be choosers

Regardless of where you end up, you will coo, “This is perfect! Thank you so much!”

While occupying that space, you should make the bed every morning. Yup, you heard me. Show some respect for your host by keeping your room tidy. And put your clothes away. If you don’t have a closet or dresser in which to put your garments, then contain everything to your suitcase. You wouldn’t want your host tripping over your stuff if she needs to go into your room for some totally innocent reason…not for snooping, naturally.

And for god’s sake do not put your wet towels on the furniture!!!! Moisture and wood go together like pancakes and nail polish remover, while wet towels and mattresses make for musty bedfellows. Hang them in the bathroom.

At the end of your stay, ask for clean sheets so you can strip and remake the bed. You should then deposit your used linens and towels in the laundry room. Make your mother proud by taking this added work off your hosts’ shoulders. Assuming they are hospitable, they’ve probably done enough for you already. And if you’ve been under their roof for more than three days, you might already be pushing your luck. So this small gesture will be warmly welcomed.

#3. The Bathroom (Don’t be disgusting)

The potential for grossness resides no place more intensely than in the bathroom. If you have the luxury of a private bath, you have a little more latitude, but don’t get carried away. This is not carte blanche to leave globs of hair gel all over the floor or neglect to flush (I’ve seen it all.). At some point, someone will have to clean that bathroom. Don’t make them hate you. I’m serious!

If you have to share the bathroom with your host’s family or other guests, you must be even more diligent. Vanities and countertops should not be littered with your junk. Pack a toiletries kit and take it with you when you enter and exit. Capice?

If something has “happened” and the “situation” requires you to scrub the toilet, please do so – including under the rim and seat. Not kidding. I see no need to plunge any deeper into this subject. I’m sure you get the picture, and I will spare you by not posting one as an example. You’re welcome.

The best way to be sure you’re doing the bathroom thing correctly is to make a game out of it. Think of it as a crime scene and you are the perp. Before making your getaway, remove any DNA evidence that could place you in that room – rinse your toothpaste out of the sink, wipe off the counters, look for stray hairs…

And while we’re on the subject of hair, let’s get something straight: unless a hair is attached to a human body, it is gag-worthy. Following your daily ablutions, look around. Ladies, are your lush locks adorning the shower walls? Gents, did you leave the bar of soap looking like a Chia Pet? Are your follicles in the sink or on the floor? They are? Excuse me for a moment while I retch.

If you’ve used a water glass while brushing your teeth, please return it to…

#2. The Kitchen (Get out and stay out)

The kitchen is the heart of a house, and while it may be the place where everyone gathers, remember that it is also sacrosanct to the person who owns it. I don’t know any serious cook (male or female) who is not possessive and controlling when it comes to his or her kitchen. So don’t insinuate yourself there.

If you’d like to repay your hosts by treating them to a meal, take them out to dinner or pick up some take-out. If you’re unwilling to do either, I’m wondering how you got invited in the first place. But if you are that kind of houseguest, there are other ways to repay someone for their hospitality without opening your moth-infested wallet: offer to help make the salad, set the table, fill the water glasses or take out the garbage. If you are incapable of performing any of those tasks, please lose my number.

But let’s say you’re pretty handy in the kitchen and think that your hosts will be overjoyed if you surprise them by whipping up a meal without their permission – you envision their wide-eyed gratitude when they wake up to the smell of a gruyere frittata in the oven, bacon crackling in a pan on the stove, coffee perking away…

STOP! This scenario only plays out successfully in the movies. Why? Because on a movie set, a trained chef is baking that frittata in something other than the host’s prized $300 professional-grade skillet that no one is allowed to touch (or even gaze upon), and an entire crew is busy wiping grease from the stovetop, sweeping crumbs off the floor, polishing surfaces, etc. In the movies, when the hosts glide into the kitchen (looking artfully tousled and rosy-cheeked), the table is laid with fresh-squeezed juice, a gentle curl of steam wafts off a basket of hot fluffy muffins, the pinkest of pink grapefruits gleam in the sunlight and, most importantly, there is not a dirty dish, or a crumb, nor a smear anywhere in sight.

Here's what you envisioned.

Here’s what you envisioned.

Now, here’s what happens in real life: Your hosts stumble into the kitchen, hung-over from the night before. They are visibly annoyed that someone has roused them at an ungodly hour by slamming cabinets and clanging cookware. And as they peer through their half-opened, puffy eyes, they see is that you have violated their space. You’ve used the sacred skillet. You’ve cut the grapefruit directly on their $11,000 limestone countertop (the acid of which has left an indelible scar – not to mention the deep gash from the once perfectly-honed knife that you have forever ruined), everything is covered in a layer of sticky, and to top it all off, they don’t even like frittata. Grateful? That won’t be the first word that pops into their heads.

Here's what you delivered.

Here’s what you delivered.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let me tell you a little story…

There once was a woman, from New Jersey, who had her kitchen completely remodeled (let’s call her Martha). To show it off, she decided to throw a bridal shower for her niece. During the party, one of the guests (who we’ll call Nimrod) took a metal meat mallet to a bag of ice, smashing it on the brand new granite countertops (granite which Martha personally and lovingly selected on a road trip to a quaint little quarry deep in the heart of Vermont). We all suspected something was wrong with Nimrod, as she kept announcing having “to pee” about every 10 minutes. Turns out, she was neither pregnant nor diabetic. Instead, Nimrod was sneaking off to shove cocaine up her nose – giving new meaning to “visiting the powder room.” While that might explain her moronic and potentially calamitous maneuver, it certainly does not excuse it. And that bring us to…

#1. All Remaining Rooms of the House (Don’t be a hot mess)

If you cannot control your liquor, then by all means, lay off the sauce while you’re a guest in someone else’s house. And I think it goes without saying that you should leave all your bongs, ghanja, ruffles, etc. at home as well.

5/20/2007 4:55 PM

If you keep your head on straight, chances are excellent that you will not break anything, throw up on the heirloom Oriental, cause a lot of commotion by getting arrested, or spoil everyone’s good time by requiring CPR during your stay. After all, you want to be invited back, don’t you?

That’s all there is to it, friends. Follow my 5 simple rules and you’ll be the kind of guest that everyone will be fighting over (No, I want her to stay with me!), rather than the one everyone will be fighting over (She still has not reimbursed me for that bail money!)

As Gandhi probably should have said, but didn’t, “Be the guest you want to see in your own house.” And…um…don’t forget that Vitamix.

Related article: Giving & Thanking, A Modern Guide To Thanksgiving Etiquette

What the Dickens?!

Let is never be said that I am a Scrooge during the holidays.  But for some reason, this year, I just can’t seem to get my merriment on.

I first noticed it while picking out our Christmas tree.  Normally, I give the same attention to buying a tree as I do to buying a house.  Every year we wander the tree farm, circle back, and mark possible candidates before making that final cut.  This year, it took all of five minutes rather than the usual thirty.  Here’s how it went down:

Husband:  “How about this one?”

Me:  “Yeah, sure.”

We put the tree up as soon as we returned home and it stood naked in the living room for an entire week.  Finally, I strung lights on it.  Two days after that, I slapped some ornaments on with the same enthusiasm one normally reserves for dental work – I just wanted to get it over with.

At first, I chalked up my lack of interest to fatigue but, since I wasn’t busting my back with all the usual Christmas rigmarole, that was a lame excuse.  Perhaps I was depressed?  Since I’m not prone to the blues, that was unlikely.  Was I just being lazy?  Well, laziness is relative.  By my own standards, I did think I was being lazy, but that was only a symptom, not the cause.  I finally settled on my health as being the culprit.  I’d been fighting a cold for a few weeks.  Maybe it was getting the better of me.  So I decided to take a goodly swig of NyQuil, straight from the bottle, and go to bed.

In the middle of the night, I felt someone poking at me.  It was a young woman in her twenties.  She was wearing a shiny suit with big shoulder pads, chunky gold jewelry and enough Stiff Stuff in her perm to paralyze each and every follicle.

I jolted awake from my NyQuil stupor. “Who are you?”

“I am the ghost of Christmas past,” she explained.

Judging by her outfit, I’d say she was the ghost of Christmas 1983.

“Come with me,” she said.  “Touch my sleeve.”

The feel of her garment suggested a Qiana-rayon blend.  Now I was sure she was from the ‘80’s.

The next thing I knew, we were watching three women, sitting at a kitchen table, making ornaments from cornstarch and baking soda.  I quickly recognized them: my sister, my friend Laura, and me.  This was my first apartment, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Puffing away on cigarettes, we were having the best time shaping and baking and painting the ornaments, while watching It’s A Wonderful Life.  It was colorized that year, but we didn’t know it because our 12” TV was a black and white set.

“I remember that!  Oh, we had so much fun that day.”  I was delighted by the memory.

On the corner of the old kitchen table sat a stack of Christmas cards that I lovingly hand-addressed in calligraphy.  I remember pouring over boxes and boxes of cards, until I found just the right ones.  Drawn in black and white on the outer flap, was a picture of a brownstone.  The only touch of color was a green Christmas tree topped with a  gold foil star, visible from a second floor window.  Inside it read, “A tree glows in Brooklyn.”  I loved those cards and wished I’d saved one.

“There’s more to see,” said the spirit.

Next stop: Rego Park, Queens about 10 years later.  I was a newlywed.  This time my sister and I were in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies with my little niece.  Baking cookies with me had become a traditional holiday activity for my friends and relatives.

Rego Park Christmas

Rego Park Christmas with my sister and niece.

We only observed the scene for a moment before dashing forward to 1998 and the suburbs of New York.  There in the great room of our first house, with my 8-month-old daughter on my hip and a pastry bag in my hand, I was decorating gingerbread men, while my three-year-old son rolled out more dough, getting flour in his hair, his eyelashes, between the slats of the hardwood floors…  That year we had a holiday housewarming to celebrate becoming homeowners.  I baked about 300 cookies to serve and give as gifts.  Seeing it in this vision, I felt the same warmth and pride and excitement all over again.

Housewarming cookies

Housewarming cookies

In the corner of the room, outgoing Christmas cards were piled on the desk.  They were each addressed with an Avery inkjet mailing label and pre-printed return address stamps.

In the other corner stood our big, bushy Christmas tree, displaying many of those handmade ornaments from my Brooklyn days as well as new ones purchased from the store.

Turning around to see more, I found myself back in the bed of my current home.  My husband was out cold, and seemingly unaware of my recent time travels.

Now, I don’t know about you, but once I’m awake, I have trouble getting back to sleep.  So I went downstairs for a glass of water.

On my way to the kitchen, I walked past our Christmas tree.  Even though I still have some of those original cornstarch ornaments, none of them are hanging from its branches.  Nor are the dozens of others that I’ve collected throughout my adult life.  This year, I grabbed the first storage box of ornaments I saw and only those made it onto the tree.

We moved into our current home, a 19th century Victorian farmhouse, back in December of 2005.  That year, I went crazy with the decorating.  A neighbor said, “It looks like Santa threw up in here!”  And it did.  Not a single surface or nook was spared.  It was cheerful and festive for as far as the eye could see.

I’d scaled way, waaaaaay back on the decorating this year. The wreath on the front door was thrown together about three days ago with ribbon and some plastic holly I picked up at the drugstore.  But at least it fairs better than the giant wreath on the barn, which is completely bare.  Not even a bow to sass it up a little.

There are no cookies in the kitchen, no Christmas cards to be mailed.  The happy little snowman village, which I normally display on the kitchen mantel, is nowhere in sight.  No Christmas countdown calendar.  No jolly mural drawn on the kitchen blackboard.  Nope.  There is just a little bit here, and a little bit there.  If you pass by my house, you wouldn’t just wonder if we celebrate Christmas, you’d wonder if the house is currently vacant.

As I looked around, I had to admit something to myself: I completely half-assed our present Christmas.  But there is nothing I can do about it now.  Christmas is just days away.  It’s too late.  Heaving a heavy sigh, I decided to take some more cold syrup and go back to bed.

Just as I managed to drift off to sleep again, a little girl popped up from beside the bed, all excited and bubbly.  “C’mon!  C’mon!  Come see!”

I took her hand and she led me back downstairs.  As we passed the living room, the lights and tinsel were almost blinding.  Every branch was jam packed with glittery ornaments, both old and new.  There were so many packages piled under the tree, wrapped in shiny paper and bows, that they covered half of the floor.

In the kitchen stood an older version of myself.  I was baking cookies with three of the most adorable little children I’d ever seen.  They were calling me TaTa (my family nickname), and we were all laughing and carrying on.  I could tell they were my grandchildren and was overcome with the most intense feelings of love.  The kitchen mantel was alive with the bustling little snowman village and from the window, I could see the barn, lit up like a used car lot, giant decorated wreath and all.

This is my vision of Christmases yet to come.  I know I will eventually get my merriment back on, bake the cookies, send the cards, decorate the dog, and so on and so forth.  For now, less is more and I’m OK with that.  So I’m taking the pressure off myself, making a cup of tea and heading to the couch to watch Christmas in Connecticut for the umpteenth time.  But before I do, I’d like to wish that all of your holidays are filled with joy, wonder and spirit (whether they be induced by over-the-counter medication or just the pure love in your heart).

Merry Christmas from SNORK!

Merry Christmas from SNORK!

White Christmas

The excitement of Christmas, and all ita wonders, can dwindle for some of us, as we age.  Rather than embracing a time for rejoicing, or devotion (should one reflect on the actual meaning of Christmas), the season can become a drudge of extra chores that nobody needs to add to their overloaded agendas. Often, at this time of year, people become cranky, depressed, and envious of their associates whom do not partake of these traditions.  My friend Vanessa, a Jehovah’s Witness, manages to look fresh as a daisy throughout the entire month of December and feels not a smidge of stress.  I love her, but sometimes that really pisses me off.  But I digress…

I noticed a sag in my own Christmas enthusiasm beginning in my teens.  By then, I well knew the “real” story behind the origin of those gifts under the tree.  And rather than waking up before the sun and bouncing around until we were allowed to rouse my parents (6:00 a.m. and not a minute earlier), my siblings and I would shuffle into the kitchen whenever, put the coffee on, and wait for the last slug-o-bed to emerge (always my brother Michael, even to this day).

Then, in my thirties, something truly magical happened…I had a child.  Not the second Christ child (although my mother might disagree) – just an ordinary baby boy, born in a Manhattan hospital rather than a manger.  Seeing Christmas through my child’s eyes reignited all that joy and anticipation and contentment.  I was obsessed with creating Christmas traditions and memories that my son, and later my daughter, would want to share and repeat with their own families…caroling, midnight mass, Advent calendars, gingerbread houses…

One of the biggest rituals involved Santa Claus.  The first year that my son was old enough to comprehend old Saint Nick, I insisted that the one and only true Santa was at Macy’s in Harold Square.  All those other “Santas” were actually Santa’s helpers because the one and only true Santa was at Macy’s.  Did I mention Macy’s?  The only true Santa…there…at Macy’s (no, they aren’t paying me to say this).  When we’d see a bell-ringing Santa on a street corner, I’d remind my son, “He’s Santa’s helper because, you know where the real Santa is, right?”

“At Macy’s!” my boy would squeak.

So, on an early December Monday at about one o’clock, my husband and I took our impressionable toddler to Macy’s to meet the one and only true Santa.  I was so excited I nearly wet my pants!  I had never been to Macy’s Santaland before.  It was everything I dreamed of and more.  We had strategically chosen a time to go when it wouldn’t be crowded.  Let there be no distractions!  I wanted him to feel like we were the only ones in this enchanted place, so he could really take it all in.  We were all giggles and jitters.  What a moment!

After strolling through this fairy tale, our time had come.  All the build up, all the picture books we’d poured over, all of our (my?) dreams were about to become a reality.  We were ushered in to see the one and only true Santa Clause.  And that’s when this happened…

The One and Only True Santa

The one and only true Santa Claus was a gentleman of color.  He was not the image of Santa pictured in our copy of A Visit From St. Nicholas, or the one that sat atop of our Christmas tree, or the one on all the Coca Cola billboards!  Now readers, I would never lie to you.  So I have to say, this was something of an “oh shit” moment for me.  I had spent weeks telling my son that all the other Santas were bogus and only the one true Santa was this man sitting before him.  It was all very confusing (for me).  My mind started racing now what do I do?  What must he be thinking? How will I explain?

Well, I learned a big lesson that day.  I didn’t have to do or explain anything – and I was ashamed of my reaction – because my little boy didn’t skip a beat.  He climbed up on Santa’s lap, had a sweet chat with the jolly old elf, told him what he’d like for Christmas and gave him a warm hug before parting.  To children, at least mine (and I’d bet most), Santa is Santa, plain and simple.

Since that year, we have seen many Santa’s at Macy’s and elsewhere.  They have come in every possible shade a human being can be.  So, regardless of what you may have read, or heard on Fox News, there really is only one true Santa.  And he looks like love and peace, harmony and joy.