Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stone Soup for the Soul

President-elect Obama addressed the nation the other day, in which he stated we are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions.

Here at home, the toy catalogs are starting to overflow the mailbox.

They pile up on the kitchen counter, where they sit, glossy covers bearing happy, engaged children bent over hand-crafted wooden puzzles and laughing in delight on ride-on tractors, mocking me.

The boys, of course, love them. They pounce on each shiny new collection of offerings from Toys ‘R Us, FAO Schwarz, and Little Tykes with an enthusiasm I usually reserve for the latest advert from outta-my-league travel company Abercrombie and Kent. The catalogs have quickly become well-thumbed, every other Star Wars Galactic Hero and Nerf gun circled sloppily for someone’s wish list.

I eye the whole stack warily. Our personal economy? It’s been better, too.

When they finally do sit down to write their list for Santa, I see they’ve each carefully copied down the names and model numbers of several small Star Wars figures in addition to enough Nerf arsenal to launch an offensive on most of the neighborhood, followed by one or two other items (a baseball that records your pitch speed and a glow-in-the-dark ant farm for Nate, a high-tech marble run and, believe it or not, shoes for Calvin…he’s quite the clotheshorse). Toby can’t write more than his name--T-O-B-Y with a dramatic flourish to the end of the Y--and so he enlists Nate to dictate his request, verbatim:

Dear Santa: same as my brwuthers.

Oh, my heart. It’s on my sleeve, just waiting to be pierced by a blond-haired boy, probably with a high-speed Nerf dart. Again.


*****


The boys have all week off of school for the Thanksgiving holiday. They’ve already redecorated their room, finished a video game, and blown through a massive art project that involved butcher paper, empty paper towel rolls, all my Scotch tape, and the tempera paints their grandma got them last Christmas, and which I thought I’d hidden quite well.

And it’s still only Tuesday.

By late afternoon, we go to the mall. Probably a poor choice of activity, considering the state of my wallet, but we’re desperate.

The first thing we see? The North Pole. That’s right…Santa is already in residence, on November 25th. I’m instantly--and surprisingly--irritated. Because I love Christmas. I’m usually one of those annoying people who grins like a kid at the sight of the first decorations springing up just after Halloween. I’m also usually one of those annoying people who have all their shopping done by Thanksgiving. Now, I’m one of those annoying people who grouch about Christmas. How did that happen?

Surely it’s temporary.

I rally. I let them greet the Big Man, despite the fact that they’re likely to bump into him more than a few times yet this holiday season. (And anyway, there’s no line.) They say hi; Nate's getting too old for this, poor guy, Calvin's too cool, Toby's just right, but too embarrassed, now that the moment is upon him, to do anything more than nod numbly at an inquiry into his behavior this year and stick his hand out for the coloring book he’s offered after being ushered past St. Nick‘s throne. It’s entitled, “A Green Christmas: How Santa Reuses and Recycles.” I’m not making this up. I flip quickly through the pages, both relieved and disappointed to see Rudolph hasn’t been replaced by a Prius.*


*****


Toby’s preschool class is making Stone Soup. They read the book last week, and this morning--the only one with school--he proudly brings in two carrots as his personal contribution. His car pool buddy brings the same, and they spend the entire car ride comparing the size of their carrots. I snicker.

I remember Calvin’s class participating in this same project several years ago. By ten am, the kids had washed and peeled their various vegetables, and his teacher had an honest-to-goodness pot of soup bubbling on the kitchen stove. When I picked him up at day’s end, a dozen three-year-olds were happily sipping vegetable soup out of Dixie cups in lieu of their standard fare of goldfish crackers and apple juice.

It’s made me wonder if we can’t make a little something out of nothing around here, as well.

So I make them turn out their piggy banks. No, I kid. But we do take a closer look at the toy catalogs, circling things that appeal in some way or another to everyone. Maybe Toby had a point, requesting what his siblings wanted. At any rate, I figure the Christmas fund will stretch further this way, and hey, they’re happy too…all contributing opinions, vetoing suggestions, and enthusiastically flipping pages. Toby shouts, “Yeah! Cool!” at everything Nate or Calvin point to. We find a Planet Earth Interactive-DVD board game, a telescope, and a book on penguins that Calvin can use for a school report. (Yeah, you guessed it…Discovery Kids came in the mail today.)

They adjust their lists, but I’m under no illusions. I’m sure we’ll still be frantically assembling cheap plastic raceways and painstakingly removing Nerf guns from their cardboard prisons on Christmas Eve, per usual, but maybe, just maybe, on the Stone Soup plan, we’ll have a few less twist-ties to cut our fingers on.

More than likely, we’ll end up buying Planet Earth and cheap plastic junk in packaging ten times its weight. I guess that‘s what Santa‘s bringing me this year, on my list or not…a heavy dose of irony.

That’s ok though. Irony can always be reused or recycled.




* My husband, an employee of Lithia Toyota, would like it stated that Santa could use a Prius or two, given the mileage he racks up per year. He’d be happy to help, and seems to have no qualms about putting Rudolph out of a job.

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