Monday, December 12, 2011

Yes Erin, There Is a Santa Claus. He’s Just Not Bringing You a LalaLoopsy.

Out of all of my 34 Christmases, I definitely remember 1983 best. I was five, my sister eight; and like every grammar-schooler in the known world, we wrote to the big guy and put in big bold letters at the top of the page: One Cabbage Patch Kid, please.

For whatever reason, (most probably the marketing genius that was Coleco) we were dying to be the adoptive mothers to those homely, vinyl-faced cloth dolls that had Xavier Roberts’ signature on their butts. So we waited and behaved – after all, he was watching – and ran down the stairs on Christmas morning, anxiously ripping through packages in pursuit of those odd shaped boxes that held the sweetly plastic and powdery scented dolls.

But while our tree was surrounded by Atari games, Weeble houses, Smurf puzzles and an abundance of other presents, there was nothing freshly plucked from the Cabbage Patch. Just a note.

Dearest Carolyn and Jessica:
While I waited and I tried, I was simply unable to get you those Cabbage Patch dolls that you asked for. I’m sorry, but all of the stores were sold out and my elves just couldn’t duplicate them. I hope you understand and promise you as soon as they become available, I will leave them on your doorstep.


Seriously? A raincheck? My five-year-old self was furious. All of that being good for nothing? Well, I did get Kaboom! and Frogger out of the deal, so I guess it wasn’t a total waste. But really? I never even knew this was an option. Wasn’t Santa so magical that he didn’t wait in line? Didn’t he have some sort of deal with Toys R Us that afforded him first dibs on the really hard to get toys?

Naturally, sis and I healed. Taped some Lionel Ritchie off the radio with our new tape recorder, put in our new banana combs and mended our minds with some Friday Night Videos.

A few weeks later, while we were watching the Olympics, my father told us someone was waiting for us in the kitchen. (Come to think of it, that was pretty cruel. He made it sound like there was an axe murderer in there.)

But we held hands and entered the pitch black room. (Once again, oddly scary Dad.)

Piled one on top of the other next to the refrigerator, there they were: Melinda Barbie and Sally Culotta. (Yes, I remember their names. Somewhere I still have their birth certificates.)

It was February, but it was the best Christmas ever. Just like he promised, Santa came through. It wasn’t until years later that we found out mom battled fist fights, waited in the cold and got caught up in more than one or two November riots.

Thirty years later, I find myself in her shoes.

“Write LalaLoopsy,” Erin said a few weeks ago, directing my key strokes as we wrote our annual email to Santa.

She was sprawled on the floor, 18 catalogs in front of her, circling madly, that dreamy Christmas look on her face. You know the one, when you feel like you can ask Santa to bring you anything, even the impossible stuff, because that’s what he does.

“Which LalaLoopsy?” I asked, grinning to myself, knowing full well there was already one in the basement closet, one I had picked up in August when I was feeling particularly organized.

“This one,” she said, pushing the Target catalog closer to my face, revealing some crazy haired doll I had never seen before.

“She’s got silly hair that I can style on my own,” she smiled.

Crap. Now I have to return this other doll? What a hassle.

I had no idea what I was actually in for.

“Reason for return?” the Toys R Us cashier asked.

“I bought the wrong one,” I replied. “She wants the one with the silly…”

“Hair?” the cashier cut me off.

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?”

“Good luck,” she laughed. “They sell out before we take them off the truck.”

Uh-oh. That’s no good. So I rushed to the LalaLoopsy aisle only to find an empty shelf. Except for the pink-haired one I had just returned. There were 52 of those.

Ok, so no big deal. There’s other stores.

Three hours later, I had crossed two bridges and been laughed at by teenage employees at Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart.

“You should have started shopping a long time ago Mommy,” one especially condescending red shirt said.

That was on December 1.

So I took my crusade to the internet. Only problem was all the big retailers were sold out. I could buy one from Collector’s Heaven. But there, the $30 doll retails for $100. Seriously people? Is there no more decency left in this world?

No way, I said. Absolutely no way am I paying a triple markup. I will find that doll.

So I started stalking toy stores. Arriving at 7:30am, waiting each day in a different retailer’s parking lot until they opened their doors, I actually made some friends. There was this one lady from New Jersey, we had coffee on day three.

But nothing. One afternoon, I had a false alarm when Target mistakenly reported on its website that the Veteran’s Road location had 17 dolls in stock. Me and New Jersey and about five others came face to face breathlessly, only to be informed to try again tomorrow.

My mom, Cabbage Patch finder extraordinaire, is on the hunt. As is the entire staff of the school where she works.

Suddenly, I find myself in the midst of a tragic holiday toy craze. Tickle Me Elmo left a couple of people in critical condition. There was actually a Furby shootout in 1998. And some crazy lady held up Toys R Us with a spork and a BB gun for a Cabbage Patch Kid in 1982. Oddly enough, Mom is very mum about this.

It’s fine though. I’m not reaching for a spork just yet. Santa can leave a note. He’ll drop the right one off in February. Erin will understand.

But that doll. She haunts me. Those button eyes. That medusa-ish hair. I had a dream about her last night. She was laughing. Baking cookies in her cute little yellow dress. Twirling that pink hair, taunting me the whole time.

Come February, she’ll be in my kitchen, standing next to the refrigerator. I’ll probably forgive and like her by then. And for Erin, it will be the best Christmas/Valentine’s Day that she’s ever had.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm Happy, I Know It, But Do I Really Have to Clap My Hands?

When it comes to public performance, Miss Mary is everything I am not. Entertaining, energetic and extremely musical, I’ve envied and admired her general enthusiasm for dramatic displays of song and dance ever since I enrolled my toddler in her weekly music class earlier this year. She sings beautifully, can find a perfectly formed macro rhythm in the simplest of songs and bounces around the studio with a vigor that I can only find after at least 18 cups of joe.

The kids in class love her weekly theatrics and completely surrender to her invitation to be goofy, wiggly songbirds. If only I could do the same.

“Jeremiah’s mommy is not dancing!!” Mary bellowed last week as I did what I usually do during those painful 45-minute sessions – hid in a corner and tried desperately to just simply blend in. A scarf and tambourine were sarcastically thrust in my direction as I was shoved onto the caboose of an invisible choo-choo train.

Apparently, mommies and daddies who refuse to participate or chatter during what is proudly promoted as a “together” class, are forced to do a solo belly dance in the middle of a communal circle after their third warning. So far, I have two strikes.

“Wake up your mouth!”

Really? Without hardly any coaxing, more than a dozen moms (and sometimes a dad) willingly blow raspberries with their two-year-olds. In public.

“Turn on your ears!”

Everybody emphatically complies by dramatically yanking on their earlobes and screwing on an imaginary thinking cap. I pretend like I’m fixing an earring.

“Now warm up those voices: Ba, ba ba, ding-a-ding-ding!”

This is where I draw the line. When I was in grammar school and not at all aware that I was completely tone deaf, I used to sing – buy my parents always asked me to stop. When Erin and then Jeremiah were born and lullabies were in order, my husband lovingly told me that we should probably protect our children from unnecessarily off-key verses of Rock-a-Bye-Baby. (And the Eagles – nothing put those kids to sleep like a couple of verses of Hotel California.)

But now, after enrolling in 10 weeks of hello songs and itsy-bitsy dramatics, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to avoid active participation. I’m happy, I know it, but do I really have to clap my hands in front of all these other unnaturally giddy people?

If you’re not familiar with Music Together, it’s a program of weekly music and movement classes designed to educate infants, toddlers and preschoolers about basic premises of rhythm, harmony and social sharing. I did it with Erin and thought it would be a good way to bond with Jeremiah and prepare him for pre-school. I just forgot how much singing and jumping was actually involved.

“Jump, mommies, jump!”

She can’t be serious.

“Now everybody skip!!!”

I wonder if it’s really possible to die of embarrassment.

For Jeremiah, who completely adores all of this mandatory vocalizing, Wednesdays are now the best days of the week. For me, who has trouble letting loose and getting down in front of 15 other sing-songy adults, this class has been like high school –
I’m doing everything in my power to just look cool.

I suppose it sounds petty – putting my own crazy anxiety before Jeremiah’s enjoyment – but I’ve actually chosen my biggest fear – performing in front of other people – as a way of bonding with my son.

But today, halfway through this awkward semester, amidst all of my inane insecurities, something strange happened. For a brief second, as I watched Jerry giggling and vividly clapping his hands, I actually forgot about my stinky voice, forgot about how that one lady always has whiter socks than me and forgot about how other people were probably judging my stupid wiggly dance moves. And I actually started to dance and sing before Mary threatened me with solo belly dances.

Jeremiah grabbed my hands and we jumped on the invisible choo-choo together. I even continued the performance at home. For me and all of my lackluster tendencies, it was the most awesome of breakthroughs. Even Mary had to stop and applaud.

No solo bellydance necessary.