An Update on Parenting a Teenager, Including Student Driving and Social Stuff

It is time to do an update on parenting a teenager, because I think the last update I gave was when Rob was in the worst part of the transition and I, as my brother remembered it recently, was wishing that either I or the children had never been born. I felt it had been a giant mistake to have children. I felt tricked by biology into doing something completely against my lifetime best interests in exchange for the very brief and pleasant and IRRELEVANT TO THE REST OF LIFE cute stage. It felt like the worst bait-and-switch of all: this PERSON didn’t seem anything like my BABY. I could feel the other four wolves in sheep’s clothing children coming right up behind this awful one, and I didn’t know how we were going to make it through without ruining our lives.

My plan was to find all those posts and link to them, but once again I regret my apparent inability to grasp the use of helpfully descriptive post titles. Here are a few samples I found by searching for the word “teenager” in the year Rob was 13: This is a Stage That Will End; Biological Set-Up; Wan. (I would have SWORN a post called I Didn’t Sign Up For This would be another, but that one turns out to be a PTA complaint.)

The update is that things feel better now. MUCH better. I remember MomQueenBee saying something about each child having One Terrible Teenage Year, and me trying not to hope too hard that it was true. I’m not sure how long it DID last, and it’s not as if everything is lovely lovely all the time lovely NOW, but feelings of regret and questions about our survival have passed off, and it DOES seem like it lasted about a year. And in fact, things are so much better, I now think of the teenager years as one of my Preferred Stages. Like, some people love toddlers but dislike the Newborn Slug stage, while others are the opposite; it turns out that, at least with THIS teenager, teenager is another stage I like better than others.

What I didn’t like was the TRANSITION from Older Child to Teenager. We need a word for that, because I was thinking of that as “teenager,” and it kind of IS teenager, but it also ISN’T. Oh, I guess the word is “puberty,” but I think that’s kind of a gross word, the way some people feel about the word “moist,” and also, puberty can last for years and include several years of non-awfulness, whereas the transition to teenager doesn’t seem to line up with that. I think Transition to Teenager is an okay term, and I’ll just use that for now. Especially since I don’t think I need to talk about it anymore, except to say I hated it to the point where I really, no-exaggeration-for-comic-effect, genuinely wished I hadn’t had children. I say this so that if you get to that point and you feel the same way about it, you won’t feel like you’re the only one, and it may give you hope that it may not be a permanent regret.

But I feel like I also need to specifically clarify that all this surprised improvement doesn’t mean everything is great all the time, even though I know you know that. We have a 6-foot-tall child who sometimes doesn’t realize his voice and strength are now grown-man-sized, and that he needs to be careful how he uses them. He of COURSE thinks we are kind of stupid about a lot of things. He of COURSE thinks we are unreasonable about a lot of things. There are a lot of times when he acts like he has the worst case of PMS I’ve ever seen. He can be super sensitive about things, or super full of himself about other things, and there are still sometimes discussions where I feel like I’m defusing a bomb, and other discussions where I feel like everything was going fine and suddenly I stepped on a mine. But all this is as if I said I loved the newborn stage, which I do, and then clarified that I don’t love blow-out diapers, or when the baby spits up a whole feeding all over me and the recliner at 2:00 in the morning, or when the baby cries and cries and I can’t figure out what’s wrong: of COURSE those things happen, and of COURSE I don’t like them. Every stage has the parts we don’t like, even if we like the stage.

And I do like this stage. I’d rather try to figure out whether he’s allowed to go to the movies with a girl than to figure out if he can have a playdate at a house where the mom expects me to stay and talk to her. I’d rather make rules about curfew than bedtime. I like how little I’m involved now in his homework and his toothbrushing. Little kids say MUCH cuter things than teenagers do, but the trade-off is that teenagers tend to talk on topics I find more interesting. I like when we’re in the car on one of our trips, and he starts a conversation about why people say not-true or not-necessarily-true things (“Boys/Girls suck!” “Girls/Boys only like you until you like them!” “You were too good for him/her!” “He/She is going to be sorry!”) as comfort after a break-up. It’s fun when he says, “Oh, by the way, Josh is dating Abby now,” and then we talk about who Abby used to date, and how it is that all Josh’s exes are friendly with him even though he has so many of them.

 

This is also an update on student driving, because I think the last time I talked about that, the word “hate” was involved, and the tone of the post contained considerable despair. But after the first five hours or so (during which time he also had a couple of hour-long sessions with the driver’s ed teacher, which don’t count toward the 50 hours the parents have to do), things improved considerably, so that now I don’t really mind doing it.

And here’s the unexpected part: it’s been 35 hours so far of spending mostly-pleasant quality time with a teenager. We drive for an hour or so, then stop for lunch, then drive another hour or so. He’s good enough at it now that I can look out the window for the scenery as well as for Potential Death. There’s chatting. There are tacos. We decide where we feel like driving, and we go there; the other day, we went to a beach we’d never been to; another day, we drove past the exit we always take, just to see where a highway went after that. It’s a nice time, and that’s not something I expected when we were still driving agonizingly around a parking lot at 5mph.

 

Another thing I want to update is the social situation. Back when Rob was in 5th grade, I wrote a post about how he said he felt he was “the chosen one”: the kid who always got picked on and excluded. In middle school, sometime in 6th grade, this started to resolve: he made friends with a very social, outgoing, large-friend-network person—or more accurately, that person made friends with him. So then Rob started meeting other people in that group. Meanwhile, a child he’d had to be separated from in 4th grade because the teacher said they could not keep from arguing if they were within 6 feet of each other, turned out to be a “we fought because we were so much alike” type, and they became good friends, and THAT person was friends with OTHER people and THOSE people became Rob’s friends too. And also when he started middle school, there were extracurriculars other than sports, so he joined some of those and made more friends that way. (I wish they’d have some of these non-sport clubs in our elementary school, too: it seems like a shame that kids who play soccer can start bonding in kindergarten, but kids who like math or drama or debate have to wait for sixth grade.) So now he has a very nice central friend group, and also a number of specialized friend groups, and as far as I know he doesn’t get teased anymore than anyone else does.

Gift Ideas for a Swistle

And let’s talk about what I got for Christmas, and/or what’s still on my list.

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Orla Kiely mug. This mug makes my head spin with love. I felt really silly asking for a $17 ($13 plus $4 shipping) mug, but I really, really wanted it, so it made a perfect gift idea: something I wanted very much but would have had trouble buying for myself. Paul bought it for me. I’ve used it every single day since, I think, except for the few days after Christmas when I was still using my Christmas mugs before packing them away. It’s a smallish mug, 8 ounces.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Sienna Sky fox earrings. When I went browsing for fox earrings, I was not expecting to find ones SO MUCH like my hopes.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Texts from Jane Eyre. I saw this on Shelf Love, and immediately added it to my wish list. Paul was peeved because he’d already had this idea himself. Then it arrived and he remembered he’d ALREADY bought it, back when he had the idea. So my sister-in-law also got a copy of this book this year, from Paul.

 

(image from Kiva.org)

(image from Kiva.org)

Kiva gift cards. I love these. And I love having more and more of them, because then the little bits that get paid back add up more quickly and I can make another loan sooner. The very first few times I made a loan, I was completely overwhelmed by the options: I kept determining I WOULD make a loan, then I’d browse loans for awhile and give up. Finally I decided that what I would have to do is browse the loans and try to choose almost impulsively, lending the money to the first person who appealed to me. I’ve mostly had success with that plan. It also helps to use the filtering options: I am just never ever going to want to make a loan to, for example, someone in the U.S. who wants to use it to pay for a wedding.

 

(image from https://www.etsy.com/shop/marmarModern)

(image from https://www.etsy.com/shop/marmarModern)

MarMar Modern Reversible Enamel Earrings. So pretty.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Jewel “Let It Snow” album. Her Joy Christmas album has been my favorite for years (I remember listening to it while wrapping presents in Elizabeth’s room when Elizabeth’s room still had a crib in it), so I’m interested to see if I’ll like this one as much.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Bloom County: The Complete Library. I have a ton of paperback Bloom County books, but the collections are frustrating: a lot of duplication and omissions. After hearing me complain about this, Paul bought me the first hardcover volume of the complete collection for Valentine’s Day, and the second one for my birthday. I want the third volume, and after that I’m not sure: I liked earlier Bloom County better than later Bloom County.

 

(image from https://www.etsy.com/shop/LyndseyGreen)

(image from https://www.etsy.com/shop/LyndseyGreen)

Lyndsey Green fox tote bag. This shop has a ton of cute wildlife stuff, if you are into foxes or bunnies or wolves or badgers or porcupines or owls or bears or binturongs or etc.

 

(image from RiflePaperCo.com)

(image from RiflePaperCo.com)

I’ve tapered off some on my Postcrossing hobby, but I always get re-interested at Christmas when I can send holiday postcards with holiday stamps. I found these Rifle Paper Co. ones on clearance in a gift shop last year, and sent them out this year. I also had We Wish You a Crazy Christmas and Animals at Christmas.

 

(image from Topatoco.com)

(image from Topatoco.com)

Dinosaur Comics books. The book versions of this comic, which I love.

 

(image from Sees.com)

(image from Sees.com)

See’s chocolates. So yummy. In the cold weather See’s sometimes does a shipping deal: $5 flat-rate shipping or free on orders of $55 or more. They’re doing one of those deals right now and I am expecting a box THIS VERY DAY.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Cute sneaks.

Boyhood (the Film)

I finally finished watching Boyhood. It took me a long time to watch it, because it made me very uncomfortable so I kept shutting it off. Also it’s really long.

There were four types of uncomfortable it made me. I’m listing them partly because I want to talk about it, and partly because these are the types of uncomfortable where some people LOVE them and some people HATE them, so seeing them listed out may help you decide if you want to see the movie, apart from whether I would want to.

1. First type of uncomfortable: It had some escalating scenes of the sort where someone is slipping into addiction / violence / mental illness. I hate that kind of thing so much. I especially hate it when it’s adult behavior from a child’s point of view, and you don’t trust the filmmaker/author not to take things to a very bad place indeed. I don’t find that entertaining AT ALL, and it makes me upset about The World at Large. I would have stopped the movie very soon into it, if I hadn’t been extremely motivated to watch it. But I know lots of people do enjoy this sort of uncomfortable. I know it in part because SO MANY BOOKS AND MOVIES are made along this theme.

2. Second type of uncomfortable: Reality/documentary-type scenes where the awkwardness of human existence is allowed to play out in all its excruciating glory. I sometimes love this and sometimes don’t. I find it makes me feel very self-conscious, and I have to keep reminding myself that when I’m PARTICIPATING in similar kinds of reality, it DOESN’T feel that awkward. It’s WATCHING that’s awkward. And TONS of people like to watch reality/documentary shows.

3. Third type of uncomfortable: Time passes, people get old, children grow up, it all goes so fast, there’s nothing that can stop it, we all think there will be more time than there is, but there’s actually less. Sometimes I love this kind of thing and sometimes I don’t. Mostly I like it, in a “good kind of hurt” way. Or sometimes in a “drink most of a bottle of white wine and cry silently and wide-eyed into a handkerchief while watching it” way.

4. Fourth type of uncomfortable: Children going through child experiences: dealing with a mean kid at school, being in a car with a teenaged driver who’s not paying attention, going to a party their parents would never have let them go to if their parents had known, dealing with a kid who’s making them uncomfortable but they feel trapped, being introduced to risky/mature things by other kids, their parents saying something hurtful, overhearing grown-ups fighting, experimenting with alcohol/cigarettes/sex/drugs, dealing with painfully awkward lectures from clueless adults, having very little control over major aspects of their lives and too much control over others. I don’t like it at all. But again: I know lots of people LOVE this and read young adult fiction ON PURPOSE, so what makes me want to break things and run away is going to be CATNIP to others.

 

Other remarks:

1. The director cast his daughter as one of the main characters. She looked so absolutely unlike a daughter of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke that I was confused: I thought that must be on purpose for something the plot would do later (surprise, you’re not the father, that kind of thing), but it wasn’t.

2. I was distracted by the names. The mom and dad are named Olivia and Mason. The kids have peers named Barb and Sheena. It isn’t that no one born in 1968 was named Olivia and no one born in 1996 was named Barb (there were in fact 325 Olivias born in 1968 and 667 Barbaras born in 1996)—but man, what a coincidence to have SO MANY atypical-generation names in one movie (for comparison, there were 49,528 Lisas born in 1968, and 25,148 Emilys born in 1996). Hey. Hey. I have thought of the job for me: Character Name Consultant. Yessssssss. The parents are now Kevin and Michelle, and the kids are Kevin Jr. and Samantha, and the kids’ peers are Taylor and Amanda. Or we could keep ONE name oddity, since those DO happen: the kids’ peers can be Barb and Amanda.

3. I think the main (in fact, ONLY) reason I would see or recommend this movie was its gimmick of using the same actors over a 12-year shooting period. That was a really cool idea. If the movie had been made using aging make-up for the parents and different actors for the different ages of the kids, I wouldn’t have had any reason to see it OR recommend it. Without the gimmick, it strikes me as an overly long and not very interesting movie with a lot of uncomfortable parts.

I Have an Online Shopping Peeve (I Feel Like I’m Not the Right Type to Use “Haz”)

I have some online shopping peeves. I feel as if venting them will improve my mood.

I like to put things into my online cart and then think about them. Or I put things in the cart to see if I have enough to meet the free-shipping-with-minimum-purchase or percent-off-with-minimum-purchase deal, and if I don’t, I close the tab, leaving the things in the cart—because the next time I go back, I don’t want to have to re-find all those items. EVERY TIME I DO THIS, Old Navy sends me an email a short while later saying my cart “has abandonment issues.” EVERY TIME. The first time it was mildly annoying but I could see they were trying to be cute. Now that it’s EVERY TIME, I cringe in anticipation of it. It makes me feel like clearing out my cart, forgetting everything I would have bought the next time. THAT’ll show their automatic email system!

Old Navy ALSO sends me emails telling me the GOOD NEWS that the items in my cart are ALMOST MINE, and how extremely lucky I am that I still have the opportunity to pay for them.

I know I’ve mentioned this before. I KNOW I have. But it continues to bug me. “Everything an ADDITIONAL 40% off!”—but many things STILL aren’t as much as 40% off, which doesn’t make sense math-wise. (I do get it when the things are discounted as they’re added to the cart, or when a coupon code is needed; I mean when the store claims the prices are as marked.) Children’s Place is the one I notice most with this.

“ENTIRE SITE 40% OFF!!!*” “*some exclusions apply” Children’s Place is again the one that bugs me the most often with this, but they’re definitely not the only ones. “Entire site” MEANS no exclusions. If there are exclusions, a word other than “entire” is needed, and luckily there are plenty of those.

“ENTIRE SITE UP TO 70% OFF!” That is, many things are 0% off, which counts as up to 70% off. It’s true! And incredibly annoying/misleading. CHILDREN’S PLACE.

“40% OFF YOUR ENTIRE ORDER!!!” But now the pants that have been $8.99 for the past three months are $14.99. This is a LOT of sites.

“GIANT AMAZING 40%-OFF BLOW-OUT SALE!” One item out of thirty is 40% off—and most are familiar to me as items that were on sale before the GIANT SALE. I do expect a GIANT SALE to include enough items that I don’t feel like I’m panning for gold just to find ANYTHING that’s included. If I go to the site and can’t even tell from the prices that there IS a sale, it is not sufficiently GIANT. (Also, I recommend not using a term like “blow-out” when marketing to people who change diapers.)

“Take an additional 20% off all clearance!” But now the clearance item I added to my cart last week at $11.99 is on clearance for $14.99.

Daily sale emails, especially of the “Only 3 Days Left!,” “Only 2 Days Left!,” “Last Day!,” “Hours Left!,” “Sale Extended 2 Days!,” “One Day Left of Extended Sale!,” “Hours Left of Extended Sale!,” variety. I have even WRITTEN to Lands’ End about this, they were overdoing it so hard. They never DON’T have a sale anymore. I adjusted the email frequency with them when they added that option, and that helps somewhat. I finally had to unsubscribe to Lane Bryant: I WANTED emails from them! I had REQUESTED that they market to me! But they overdid it so severely (and, at least at that time, had no option to reduce email frequency), so I finally and reluctantly asked to be taken off the list. (I filled in the “why are you leaving?” field, even though in my experience marketers BEG for customer feedback, PLEAD for customer feedback, even PAY for customer feedback—and then collect it in a box and don’t use it for anything.)

Yesterday I went looking for boots online. I didn’t add anything to a cart; just browsed prices and options. This morning I got an email from L.L. Bean thanking me for my visit and inviting me to reconsider the items I looked at, accompanied by pictures of those items. That’s creepy. I feel spied-on and followed. I expect the same PRETENSE of privacy online that I get if I go to a store in person: if I’d gone to a physical L.L. Bean store, I wouldn’t want to get a letter a few days later telling me that they’d seen me shopping there and enclosing a list of what I’d looked at in case I wanted to reconsider my decision not to buy those things.

********

To say some HAPPY, NON-complainy things, I am having coffee with a friend today and really looking forward to it. And also, the sky is looking pretty. And also, See’s is having their “$5 flat-rate shipping or free shipping over $55″ deal, which I find entirely satisfactory. (You can choose your shipping date, so I like to order myself some chocolates shipped for Valentine’s Day.)

Gift Ideas for a 15- or 16-Year-Old Boy

I’m combining Rob’s birthday gift ideas with his Christmas gift ideas.

The most surprising success among Rob’s presents this year was this:

(image from Target.com)

(image from Target.com)

It’s just a green quilt! Not even  particularly awesome one! My mom and I were at Target the day before Christmas Eve to buy some Play-Doh to go with one of Henry’s gifts, and we walked through the children’s bedding aisle and they had this quilt at 50% off for $15 (the site says it’s not available in stores, but in a store is where I found it), and Rob’s favorite color is green and we could use a couple more spare blankets so I just bought it. Later I decided to wrap it so he’d have more to open: one of his gifts this year was a phone upgrade, so he didn’t have much to open. What I am trying to say here is that I would have bought the quilt anyway, so it wasn’t REALLY a present. But he snuggled up in it for the whole gift-opening session, and he’s snuggled up in it many times since, and he is practically making a Beloved Blankie out of it, so in short it was a fun and unexpected success.

 

(image from EBay.com)

(image from eBay.com)

Because one of his gifts was a phone upgrade, he needed a new phone case. That’s the sort of thing he might want to choose for himself, but so far he hasn’t been opinionated, and I wanted him to have something to put on the phone right away in case it took him a couple of years to care about a case. I found cases on eBay in the $2-4 range; I got him a solid green, a solid black, and this argyle one just for fun. I also bought him a Google Play card, which is a gift card for buying apps on an Android phone.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. This may be a little SPECIFIC to be a good gift idea, but I still like to see what people got as gifts even if it’s not an idea I can use for anyone I know, and perhaps you feel the same way, so I’m soldiering on. This book was Paul’s idea: Rob wanted to read this book (in English) because of his interest in math, but this year he’s ALSO gotten interested in Latin and is on the Latin team at school, so Paul’s idea was to combine those two ideas. It started as “How about if we get him a book in Latin?,” and led quickly from my ideas of Winnie Ille Pu and Harrius Potter and Hobbitus Ille to this book instead.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Prismacolor colored pencils. I don’t know if you’ll remember, but quite awhile ago Rob wanted to learn to draw anime and I asked for advice. Lots of people recommended Prismacolor, and there was a special manga colors set, even, so my parents bought him that. Anyway, he’s been using those on and off ever since, and this year mentioned he’d like another, bigger set: some of the frequent-use colors are getting used up, and also his set had 24 pencils so there were a lot of times he didn’t have a color he wanted. We got him the 72-color set, along with a sharpener.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Melodica. I had never seen one of these before. It was my brother’s idea: he’s interested in music and so is Rob, so he asked if Rob might want a fun/unusual musical instrument, and I thought it was a good idea, and this is what he chose. It’s like a mouth-powered keyboard. And, unlike his regular keyboard, it’s something he can carry around or bring to get-togethers with friends.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

The Art of the Fugue and The Well-Tempered Clavier. Music books specified by Rob. Good thing, too, because there is no way I could have picked something out for him.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Archives Manuscript Book and The Big Book of Staff Paper. Also specifically mentioned by Rob. He wasn’t sure which he’d prefer, and I thought he’d like trying both to compare. But his favorite is a Piccadilly Music Journal, given to him by a female friend. (My brother tells me it is sexist to say “female friend” or “male friend” instead of “friend.” I think, however, that there are times when the adjective is not sexist but rather IMPORTANT EYEBROWS-UP INFORMATION, which is how I intend it here.) It really is a great book: hardcover and spiral-bound. I’m sure that is why he likes it so much.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Kiva.org)

$25 Kiva gift card. We get a monthly newsletter from William’s middle school, and one of the regular topics is how it’s common for middle school children to develop an interest in charitable pursuits, and how the middle school tries to support that interest with various projects and programs (recycling, collecting winter outerwear, collecting canned goods, etc.). I’ve definitely noticed that happening with William: he’s in 8th grade this year and has become increasingly interested in bringing things in for food drives and clothing drives and so forth. Recently William got very interested in my Kiva account, and started a Kiva account of his own. That’s what got Rob interested, and he added a Kiva gift card to his wish list so he could try it too. If you’ve never done Kiva, it’s a micro-loan thing: instead of giving money to people who need it, you loan the money to people who need it—and you get to choose WHICH loan to help fund. That person gradually pays the money back, and then you can choose a new loan to fund.

Scarf Winner

The winner of the UK scarf giveaway is K, who wrote:

Favorite bits of 2014 include a cross-country move with our four kiddos this summer to a magical place where water just falls right out of the sky, the birth of our fifth–a girl we named Claire, and so many happy little things along the way. My niece just left for the UK as a missionary…would love to win the scarf for her!:)

K, could you email me (swistle at gmail dot com) with the mailing address?

Gift Ideas for an Adult Woman You Don’t Know Well Who Likes Cats and Tattoos

We’ve always sent Paul’s sister Beth a Christmas gift, but now that Paul and Beth’s parents have both died, I feel more of a responsibility about it; she’s not married, she doesn’t have children, she lives far away from all family. I aim for a “Christmas in a box” feel, planning as if our box will be the only Christmas she gets (which is probably not the case, but it gives me the mindset I’m looking for). We used to spend on her about what we spent on my brother; now we spend approximately what we spend on my brother AND his family. Well…*does math*…brother + wife + one kid, something like that.

I remember when I was a child, I liked when the day after Christmas I had something new to wear, something to eat, something to read, and something to do. (If those rhymed I think I’d be suggesting an alternative for that something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read poem, which, like the something old/new/borrowed/blue poem, seems to me to have too much overlap.) So I look for that kind of assortment. I’d like to be able to do a better job than “things I know about her from Facebook,” but that’s what I’m working with. (Paul claims he doesn’t know her any better than that: he left home at 17 and never lived there again, and she was only 13 then; they’re not close, or even really in touch at all.) I know she likes cats and tattoos and coffee. I know she exercises a lot and is a vegetarian. Everything is still pretty much a shot in the dark: just because she likes something doesn’t mean she wants related products; if she DOES want related products, she might already have them. But again, we have to work with what we’ve got, so here’s what I did this year:

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Pen & Ink: Tattoos & the Stories Behind Them. I first discovered this at our library; it put me back in the mood to think seriously about a tattoo. I thought it was really good: a fun general interest book for almost anyone, but specifically nice for someone interested in tattoos, which she is. Each page is a drawing of someone’s tattoo with their story of why they chose it.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Cat earrings. This is going to be one of those “Well, actually it was Wednesday at 2:00, not Tuesday at 1:00″ explanations, where you will be clenching your teeth and wondering why on EARTH it MATTERS, but I keep nervously picturing her finding this post and thinking I got it wrong, so I will give the whole story. The earrings I WANTED to get her are the ones pictured above. She is single but interested in dating, and she likes cats, and she likes silver, so I thought they had a pleasing overall look. But I waited too long and they went out of stock, so I got her these instead: also silver, also cats, but no romance (unless those two cats are checking each other out across your face). But now the ones I DID get her are OUT of stock, and the ones I WANTED to get her are back IN stock, so I’m using THOSE for the post: they’re the ones I WOULD have suggested if I’d written the post during the decision-making process, instead of getting overwhelmed and writing about it in January.

 

saltbook-300x200

The salt-tasting book, the same one I bought for the Yankee Swap. I kind of bought this for everyone this year: Beth, my parents, my brother and sister-in-law.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

See’s Reindeer Box. I did not buy this from Amazon; I bought this from See’s. But, oddly, See’s doesn’t have it on their site (that’s not the odd part) but Amazon does (that’s the odd part). This is a great candy box because it has a nice assortment (chocolate Santas, chocolate balls, candy-cane sticks, lollipops) and the box itself is surprisingly large (notice from the photo above that the picture on the box far exceeds the size of the candy-holding portion of the box). Plus, the reindeer is cute and festive and seems like the sort of thing my grandparents would have given me, and I’m going for a family vibe.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Anna’s Ginger Thins. I didn’t buy these from Amazon for $11.50 but instead from the cookie section of my grocery store for I think $2-4. These seem festive to me. My grandparents used to get a Dutch version shaped like Santas, and so did Paul’s grandparents. Our grocery store has the Dutch ones (shaped like windmills instead of Santas), but they’re the store-brand and so visually they don’t hold up to the Anna’s: they look like Cheap Grocery Store Cookies instead of Gift Cookies. It’s a difficult decision. Maybe I should look harder next year for the Dutch Santas. Or maybe I can take the store-brand windmill cookies out of their package and put them in a pretty bag with a ribbon.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Fancy Christmas teas. I found these at HomeGoods for $6.99. Festive and fancy: each teabag is in a little pyramid-shaped box. For some reason.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Cat oven mitt and pot holder. These don’t look quite like the ones I found at HomeGoods, but they’re close.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Starbucks cocoa. Again, bought not on Amazon for a silly price; the HomeGoods price of $6.99 seemed plenty high enough.

 

 

Other things we considered:

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Cat-a-day calendar. Some people are calendar people and some people are not, and also I didn’t want to overdo the cat thing.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Pusheen book. I wish I’d gotten it for her LAST year; THIS year I was thinking she probably already has it.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Charley Harper Cattitude note cards. Some people use stationery and some don’t, and I suspect she doesn’t; also, not wanting to overdo the cat thing.

Gift Ideas for a 7-Year-Old Boy

Henry was a challenge to buy for this year. He had a list, but it was unusually full of There Is No Way We Are Buying You That ideas (itch powder, cleats for no reason, a giant globe because his friend has one and he likes to spin it). One repeat request from last year was “pizza out with parent,” which we did again this year. That’s fun and yummy for ME, too: I love pizza, and it’s fun to go with just one kid. Both years he’s redeemed the coupon at the very earliest possible meal (lunch on December 26th), and it’s a nice vacation thing to do.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Another list item was Nerf gun. I’d sent Henry’s list to my parents, and my mother reported that my dad had immediately chosen that idea. She further reported that he’d been going to order two (“He needs TWO!”) and then at the last minute ordered THREE plus ALSO a refill pack of darts, and also was considering adding the idea to his own wish list. So “Gift Ideas for a 7-Year-Old Boy or Your Dad.” (Or my friend Surely’s co-workers.) This is a toy that has been in HEAVY use since Christmas. Yesterday evening there was a chorus of surprised screaming; it turned out that the three littles were playing, and Elizabeth had successfully ambushed her brothers. There are darts everywhere: I found one nestled in the branches of the Christmas tree, and several came through the laundry.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Another list item was “squirt gun,” so my brother and sister-in-law bought him a Super Soaker. He’s been allowed to fire it into the tub for now, and is looking forward to summer.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Electric blanket. Last year he was SO JEALOUS when Edward got an electric blanket and he didn’t. Electric blankets went on clearance after Christmas, so I waited until they were 50% off and then I bought one for him and set it aside. I’d thought about giving it to him for his birthday, but May is not the right time of year to fully appreciate an electric blanket, so I saved it for Christmas. (The picture shows two controllers, but the twin-size has one controller.)

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Christmas Craft Fun Play-Doh Set. The week before Christmas, I was looking at the list I’d kept of what we were giving the kids, and I noticed that Henry’s list had LESS—not only in total cost (which is sometimes relevant and sometimes not) but also in STUFFness. The day before Christmas Eve, I went out shopping with my mom hoping that something would seem like The Right Thing. This seemed good: cute Play-Doh projects that didn’t look too difficult. I also bought a 4-pack of basic Play-Doh (red/blue/yellow/white) because the tubs it came with seemed skimpy.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Jar of gumballs. This is not the one I bought him. The one I bought him had fewer gumballs but they were assorted sizes, which I thought he’d like. This was one of his favorite Christmas presents.

 

(image from landsend.com)

(image from landsend.com)

Lands’ End Octopus shirt. He saw this while I was shopping for the space-themed shirts for Edward, and went nuts for it. He’d also wondered if there could be anything as delightful as a shirt that was red AND black, so I bought him this one from Kohl’s and another one (not on the site anymore) on a good sale. I think it’s weird/neat when kids want something I would never ordinarily buy for them. I hadn’t realized red and black together weren’t my taste until he asked for that. I remember when I was little my mom’s style was dresses and corduroy jumpers and turtlenecks, and my style was pants and pink velour; this helped me buy the red and black shirts.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Garfield book, a different one than Edward’s.

Gift Ideas for a 9-Year-Old Boy

I’m extra stressed about flu this year. I read about the strains in the flu shot not being the right ones this time, and I thought, “Well…it’s okay. I mean, the flu is pretty awful but usually survivable unless, like, you have a compromised immune system.” Which is when I remembered that a compromised immune system is what Edward has now. Which is when I smacked my hands together briskly and remembered there is no point getting upset about things that COULD happen but HAVE NOT. Then I went on Facebook and saw most of my local friends have one illness or another going through their families, so then I sealed up the doors with deadbolts and duct tape and no one is going back to school or work.

Let’s talk about what Edward got for Christmas. He had one million ideas, which was good, but he kept changing them, and there were a lot of things I didn’t think he’d actually want/like, and also a lot of them were not sensible: for example, a video game so old it could only be bought used, and for over $100. So…no. One game he wanted had the worst reviews I’d ever seen for a game, but at least it was cheap ($12):

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Paul says Spore is in fact famously bad, a game that had huge build-up and no follow-through, and also is glitchy and incompatible with a lot of computers, and the company has abandoned it and no longer fixes things or does updates. So I was not going to buy this game, and I told Edward all about the problems and complaints, in the hopes that he would not want it anymore. But then about a week before Christmas, Edward said there were three things he wanted most for Christmas—and one of them was Spore. Well, FINE. We did indeed have a very hard time getting it to even run on my computer, and my dad had to bring over two different external disc drives before we could find a combination that didn’t spit out the disc. And it is indeed a very glitchy game, and luckily Edward has a bunch of other stuff to play with so he doesn’t play it often.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Garfield Fat Cat 3-pack Volume 3. I like to get a fun book for each kid, and my favorite is if I can find books that several/all of the kids will want to read, so they can pass them around and I feel like I got double or triple or quintuple value out of it. We have a couple of Garfield books that Rob bought with a gift card back when he was about 9, and they are TATTERED with re-reading, so I got another one to add to the rotation.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. Edward had a lot of video games on his list, and this was one of the most available and reasonably-priced ones ($22); also, Paul wanted to play it.

 

(image from landsend.com)

(image from landsend.com)

It’s out of stock in his size now, but I got him this Lands’ End space-themed shirt. I also got him the midnight navy solar system one, which is now out of stock for boys but still in stock for girls (I wanted Elizabeth to want it, but she didn’t). I’d told the kids about that little want/need/wear/read gift-buying poem, and they were intrigued, and I liked the way it took some of the pressure off to make every gift a Big Wow Exciting one. So although I didn’t follow that poem, I did use it to prepare them to expect at least one clothing gift, which ended up being fun all around. I think knowing they would get one clothing gift made it a fun thing—like, Henry immediately got very excited about the idea of getting a red and black shirt if only such a marvelous combination existed, and Elizabeth said she really wanted a new sweater, and so forth. I think if there hadn’t been the concept of a Clothing Gift slot to fill, they wouldn’t have been excited about the clothes.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

An MP3 player is another of the three things Edward said he MOST wanted for Christmas—and coincidentally, was another of the things I wasn’t going to get him until he said that. I thought he was too young for it and wouldn’t use it, and that he’d lose it and/or put it through the laundry. And I might be right, but so far he really likes it. I suspected he wouldn’t like the earbud things that came with it, so I also bought him these headphones, which went on a lightning deal for something like $7 shortly before Christmas. I might get him a songs gift card for his birthday; in the meantime he has a few of my songs and a TON of Rob’s. (My music is apparently derpy. Rob’s is awesome.)

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Edward has wanted a Minecraft Papercraft set for ages, but I thought he’d find it frustrating. I was completely wrong: my brother and sister-in-law bought the deluxe set for him for Christmas, and he spent the next few days carefully and patiently putting it together. Quietly. All by himself. It was delightful. Also, the pieces were a LOT bigger and nicer than I’d expected. For some reason I was imagining they’d be cubes about an inch on each side, and that’s true of the blocks that make up the characters; but the wood/stone/ground blocks are more like 2.5 inches each side. The tree at its widest point is over 7 inches.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

Our library has a puppet theater and puppets, and Edward loves them, particularly this hedgehog one. He asked the librarian where they’d gotten it, and she said from a library-supplies catalog. I looked online to see if by any chance I could find it, and hooray, Amazon had it. My parents bought it for him for Christmas, along with the mini owl (which today is showing as over $35 but was not at the time—all the puppets were in the $7-14 range, I think), the little cat, the bee, and the emperor penguin.

The Sound of Music

On New Year’s Eve we watched The Sound of Music, a movie I watched a lot as a kid but probably hadn’t seen a single time since then.

 

Things I didn’t understand about the movie as a child:

Why someone as old as the Captain would be looking for a new wife, or why he would be attractive to Maria in any way.

Why the Captain would be cold and emotionally damaged with his children, which I understood was because he was broken by the death of his wife—but then be relaxed and warm and happy with the Baroness and Max. “The children remind him of his wife” seemed inadequate explanation.

The appeal of the Baroness.

Why my mother kept making remarks about how Liesl is more like 29 going on 30.

Why my mother was so annoyed by the near-instant transformation of the terrible naughty children into perfect delightful ones.

Why my mother (a former teacher) was annoyed by the children’s instant and full grasp of the principals and applications of music. Teaching is easy! All you have to do is explain it once and demonstrate it once and that’s all there is to it! Instant gifted musicians!

Why Rolfe is suddenly cold to Liesl after being so sweet to her before.

Alllllllll the Germany/Nazi stuff.

Why singing Eidelweiss at the festival was a big deal, and why the Captain choked up.

Who on earth Max was, and why was he THERE?

 

Things I didn’t understand about the movie as an adult:

Why the Captain called Maria repetitious in her request for play clothes for the children, when it was her first time asking. (Theory: cut scenes.)

Why the Captain would be cold and emotionally damaged with his children, which I understood was because he was broken by the death of his wife—but then be relaxed and warm and happy with the Baroness and Max. “The children remind him of his wife” seems inadequate explanation.

Why the family hides in the nunnery and then goes out the back door, instead of going out the back door to begin with, or else staying in hiding until the soldiers leave.

Why Liesl’s dress is SO DIRTY when she comes in from the rain. (Paul says “from climbing the side of the house,” but it’s also dirty all over the back.) (Theory: unexpected fabric complications; dyes running, multiple-take mishaps, or whatnot.)

Why Maria gives Liesl something of her own to change into, instead of going (or having Liesl go) to her room to get something of Liesl’s own.

Where Maria’s “he can’t take his eyes off you in that” dress comes from: she didn’t make it from the fabrics she was given, and it’s not something she brought with her.

Why Liesl is not a teenager, but instead a grown woman talking in a breathy baby voice.

Why a nun sings the song about having adventures and following your dreams.

How Maria can be so relentlessly, amazingly perfect in every way, never a single moment of not wanting to fully interact with all those children, never a sharp word or moment of impatience. Just boundless, delightful energy and love, always knowing the right thing to say and do, always interested in teaching and playing and having fun. And the children respond by being absolutely perfect and delightful, and never mouthing off or misbehaving or being cranky, and hanging lovingly on her every word. The teenager consults her for advice, then takes it, then offers words of love and appreciation. DID NO ONE WORKING ON THIS FILM KNOW ANY ACTUAL CHILDREN?

Who on earth Max was, and why was he THERE?

 

 

I certainly felt differently about Christopher Plummer’s appeal this time around. Also, the Baroness was a more understandable character to me. As a child, I saw her not only as old but as obviously boring and unpleasant (doesn’t want to PLAY??? not charmed by someone else’s seven children??? obviously she is completely without merit), but as an adult I saw her as charming and pretty, with an understandable desire not to toss a ball around. I appreciated the way the Captain and the Baroness had a warm and affectionate and flirty relationship: I’d expect a movie of this sort to show their relationship as a burden of duty to the Captain and clearly a terrible idea, rather than something that would have been fine.

As for the perfection of Maria, while I was looking at information about the movie and the von Trapp family, I found this:

Far from the sweet and demure woman depicted in the film, Maria von Trapp recalls her stepmother Maria as being moody and prone to outbursts of manic rage. “[She] had a terrible temper. . . . And from one moment to the next, you didn’t know what hit her. We were not used to this. But we took it like a thunderstorm that would pass, because the next minute she could be very nice,” she stated in a 2003 interview.

I immediately felt much more as if Maria were a real person.

I’d forgotten how FUNNY the movie was. I’d remembered liking the songs, but I’d forgotten all the witty dialogue, physical humor, funny facial expressions, etc.

Well! Most of us liked it, and I suspect we’ll watch it again next New Year’s Eve.