Sock-pocalypse: This full house contains no pairs

“Everybody bring me your socks,” I yelled, because I was on the verge of finally solving a crime. The crime is single socks. The tower of them on my dresser was finally threatening to overtake the room, and they had to be somewhere, I reasoned to myself. They had to be.

I have 21 single socks on my dresser. 21. I can’t even make up fraternal pairs with that number. Our current household has 4 people living in it, though Ari, 19, was home over Christmas for a month. I have a method. As I haul laundry out of the dryer, random socks get neatly deposited on top awaiting their mate who no doubt caught a later load.

After the singles have hung out on the dryer for a couple of weeks, I bring them up to my room, reasoning that some other laundry-doer in the household doesn’t know the rule. I see family stroll by me wearing mismatched socks, and I yell that they are the cause of all my problems. A willingness to accept sock mediocrity is surely a sign of the apocalypse.

I have checked the corners of fitted sheets, duvet covers and lint traps. When I take the machines apart with a screwdriver to clean them, I often find orphan socks and wonder where they think they’re escaping to. I’ve checked under beds and dressers and couches, and I’ve checked inside big socks for small ones. Gym bags, backpacks, suitcases. I know for certain the surest way to find the matching one of anything is to throw out the mate. With that in mind, I’ve put the singles in a bag and pretended to throw them away. I’ve been reduced to faking out socks. Once a year, I throw them away for real, accepting failure.

When Ari moved to school, I discovered a bunch of single socks in his drawer; he was obviously leaving them behind. I stared at them. One of them had little rubber grippers on the bottom; he’d had those socks when he was 2.

I’d already texted Ari at school to see if he had any stray socks. He replied that he didn’t, but that he’d mistakenly brought back some of Christopher’s Christmas underwear. “I went to get dressed and they fell to my ankles. Underwear for giants!” he texted back. Christmas underwear is underwear they get every year at Christmas, not underwear festooned with reindeer and elves. He had no extra socks. He claimed.

Pammy, 22, was doing her homework when I barged into the room. She is Christopher’s girlfriend, and the closest thing I will ever have to a sock ally. She’s willing to wear unmatched socks, but at least she’ll aim for the same brand and style. “I need help,” I told her, depositing an armload of socks on the bed. Christopher walked by and laughed. “You won’t throw them out, will you?” he asked. “Even though they make you crazy.” I glanced at my son, who wears flipflops to put out the blue bins in a snow storm. Yes. It’s the socks that make me crazy.

“Go through your laundry, I’m throwing these away now if I can’t match them up,” I told her. Behind me, I heard Christopher begin to open drawers. Pammy looked into the pile, just as a sock fell from the sky.

It was a match. I snatched it and another rained down. Christopher was going through his dresser, finding lone socks.

As he did this, my very serious son was singing and dancing.

The song? All the Single Ladies.

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You are a miserable neighbour and a miserable dog owner

Good fences make good neighbours. Maybe. But good dog owners make better neighbours. I know this to be true because I would have to stop and ponder the nature of all the fences I share with many neighbours, yet I can instantly tell you what kind of dog owners some of them are.

Let’s begin at the beginning. I live in a high-density area. My yard connects to many other yards and while most of us are not visually aware of each other, I can tell you many things about my neighbours based just on what I can hear.

You tune out most things, as a case of good manners and also to retain your sanity. I call it the Raccoon Theory: late one night years ago, a huge ruckus erupted one yard over, awakening my sons. Two raccoons had fallen into a pool in the midst of starting their family. I told the kids the noise had been raccoons arguing while they had a swim.

Raccoons can swim, so my Raccoon Theory essentially reinforces that I don’t much care what you do in your own home as long as nobody gets hurt. It has served me well, until now. Now, I have a problem.

You bought a dog about two years ago. I’m sure you thought it would be a terrific pet for your kids, because everybody thinks that. I can’t tell you what kind of dog it is, only that it is probably medium sized. I don’t know if you ever take the dog for a walk — we don’t share a street, just an adjoining yard. I do know that every morning you let it out, and every morning you ignore it barking at your door. Sometimes you ignore it for an hour. Every night you let it out, and every night you ignore it barking at your door. Usually this just goes on for 45 minutes. Guess you want to get to bed. Good thing: I do, too.

I’ve stopped sleeping with my windows open in good weather. You keep me awake too late, and you wake me up too early. Note I said “you.” I blame you. Your dog barks incessantly because you let it. You are a lousy dog owner. I want to write you a note or knock on your door and have a conversation. I thought about this, until another friend of mine did exactly that: calmly asked the woman down the street to stop letting her dogs out at 6 a.m. on weekends to bark for over an hour. She got a face full, as my late mother would have said.

I’ve been told to call Animal Control. I hate this for several reasons. You should be responsible for your pet. If I can hear it barking, so can everybody else — including you, a fact that admittedly mystifies me. As a neighbour, I should be able to address the fact your dog is consistently destroying my tiny piece of peace. And as a taxpayer, I resent spending money to basically tell you to stop being a miserable neighbour.

I’ve gritted my teeth and closed my windows until now. But now, the temperatures have dipped too far, and the fact you are leaving your dog outside in record cold temperatures for this long in the morning and at night means all bets are off. I don’t care if the novelty of having a dog wore off, or if chucking it out back twice a day lets you feel responsible.

I’ll call Animal Control. And maybe I’ll just slip a raccoon into your house every time your dog is being ignored.

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Trying to sleep better? There’s a nap for that

There are four updates awaiting me on my iPad for something called Mermaid. I have no clue what this is. I’m too scared to open it, because every time I open something I’m not familiar with and agree to the little update things, one of my sons yells at me. They yell at me because if I open something I shouldn’t and everything goes to hell, I yell at them until they fix it.

A couple of months ago, my iPad told me it needed updating. Being somewhat bored, I pushed the button. I live on the edge. It immediately went dark, and I presumed I had killed it. Ari, 19, told me to put it down and leave it alone, it was doing mysterious things and didn’t need my help. I continued to poke and prod when he wasn’t looking, and it finally bubbled back to life.

It had a new screen and a new font. I hate change. Hate it. The first thing it asked me for was a password. I don’t have a password. I sit with it in bed at night, and the only ones I share it with are the cats who play that mouse game on it. When it’s their turn, I don’t feel it’s right to make them remember a password.

Unsure, I stabbed in a password I use on something else. It asked me to repeat it. I did. It now said that was my password. I never wanted a password, but it appeared I now had one. When the internet connection wouldn’t work, I called Ari. “Why is it asking for a password?” he asked.

“It made me do one,” I told him. He rolled his eyes. He jammed in some numbers, guessing my password immediately. This household is the height of subterfuge.

The New Year has brought even more apps for phones and computers. There is pretty much nothing you can’t do better with an app, if you ask people who make apps. You can count every bit of food you eat, every step you take, every cigarette you smoke and every drink you down. There are apps to record your every thought, and it will helpfully record where you had it and what the weather was like.

There are apps that will troll for job postings as you desperately count the moments until you can get out of the one you currently have. There are apps to find you a parking spot, to find you a date, and the restaurant you’re searching for. There’s an app that turns your phone into one of those “you are here” entry point markers at a mall, but it can do it anywhere. For the directionally challenged among us, this app is quite useful.

Someone put an app on my phone that will steer me around traffic jams. I think it might be useful, but I haven’t figured it out yet. “It’s so easy, you’re gonna love it!” lying people tell me, right before they load an app onto my phone. I have insomnia. My doctor told me about an app that lets you rest your phone on your bed at night, and it records each sleep phase and how well you slept. I’ll tell you without an app if my phone is on my bed I’ll be tossing all night worrying about it falling on the floor and shattering.

I don’t want a smoking app, a singles app, a yoga app, or an app that finds other apps.

But don’t think I’m not pondering that mermaid app. Hard.

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Baby, it’s cold inside

“Mom, I’m freezing…”

I glanced up at Christopher, 22, who was huddled beside my bed; well, as much as a 6’4” lad can huddle. I was not freezing, because I’d quite intelligently gone to bed at 7pm, where there are flannel sheets, an arctic duvet and 3 cats that make excellent bed warmers.

“This house is so cold! I stood by the side door, and I could feel the wind!” He looked ridiculous. He had on a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, and he’d plunked his headphones on over it. You would think anyone wearing a headset would be helping jets to land, but he is just playing some online game. I told him the best way to fix the problem was obvious: don’t stand by the side door.

This house was built in the 1950s. Several things were not invented by the 1950s, chief among them insulation, on-line games and closet space. I have podged together fixes over the past 17 years of home ownership, picking up where my parents left off. My father was born in the middle of the prairies in a dirt floor shack, and kept our house at was, at least to him, a balmy 66°F (19°C). My sisters and I would cry to our mother as our soup froze over, and she would inch it up when he went to work.

A funny thing happened between being a kid and paying the bills: 66°F started to seem reasonable. I’ve fixed a leaky basement, redone a bathroom and added another, replaced the furnace and most of the appliances. Better insulation is on the list, the magic list that unfurls like a cat playing with a roll of toilet paper. In the meantime, the only people who are comfortable here are my menopausal friends.

There is one corner of the kitchen that is the coldest spot in the house. I watch enough TV to know it means one of two things: I need to better insulate that corner of the garage, or someone was killed on this very spot. I go with the macabre, because it makes me less responsible for fixing it. If it’s windy, Maggie the cat will not cross this spot because she blows over.

Very rarely, Christopher will do this imitation of making manly decisions. I will return from a trip, and he will explain why it was imperative they used my credit card for some purchase. He has a low voice, and he infuses it with authority because that always fools people. He’s great for telemarketers and door-to-door energy people, less so when he tips over my budget.

Several times over the holidays I awoke from a deep sleep to a weird sensation: I couldn’t see my breath. One night, I finally did more than assume I was having a Caribbean dream. I trundled downstairs where Christopher patiently explained in his President of the United States voice that he’d cranked the heat for “the kids”. His girlfriend Pammy lives with us, Ari, 19, was home from school, and another of Pammy’s friends has been living here too. He was only thinking of the children.

The apparition at my bedside now was a result of being told to quit jacking the thermostat. With his most pleading eyes, he shivered dramatically. Four sets of eyes peered up at him from deep in the flannel. The cats, bored, turned over. I took in the hood and the SpongeBob SquarePants blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

And his bare feet and shorts.

We’re not only going back to 19°C, I’m putting in a dirt floor. I’m only thinking of the children.

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So let them eat cake

Cowgirl is 50I turn 50 today.

I’m not much of a celebrator of anything. I don’t care a great deal about anniversaries or holidays unless they force a long weekend and I have to keep an eye on those What’s Open and What’s Closed listings. I celebrate something if I feel like it, not if the calendar tells me to.

I barely note my kids’ birthdays, though theirs were far more painful than mine. They happily ignore mine, too, which is good because by 50, I don’t want stuff I have to dust and I don’t like flowers. I expect a hug every time I see them because love is best experienced like a time-release drug: a little all the time, instead of one big moment followed by too many moments of waiting for more. I’m incredibly low maintenance and you don’t have to remember much, except that you love me. We have days they need reminding.

I can flip through the decades now, like the cards we’d get at the variety that showed Popeye punching Bluto and saving Olive Oyl, if you sang your thumb over the edges just right. Drop the deck and spend the rest of the day putting them back in order. Kids today have no idea how hard it was for us to watch a movie.

At 10, I was heading into grade 7, pleased in my back-to-school wardrobe from Towers, but envious of people who had Levis and Earth shoes. They forced us to take music and art and phys ed and home ec, because this was still a time when it was okay to discover you were good at something other than math which was most helpful if you were not good at math. This was the Confusion Decade; nobody will remember much of me, yet it set the tone for how I thought of myself.

By 20, I was finished university, working for myself and a couple of side jobs, plotting a future without end in a world without edges. I believed I was flying free, though it would take becoming a parent myself to realize how close my own parents flew with me; I was Wonder Woman, they were my invisible airplane. This was the Fumble Decade. Not much riding on this game, so it was a good time to drop the ball. Over and over.

At 30, I was watching my three-year-old ask if he could hold his new baby brother. I took too many pictures after swearing I never would. Good thing, too. It wasn’t long before they were plotting each other’s demise upon awakening each day. This was the Endless Decade, forced to finally come face to face with all that confusion and all those fumbles. All those pictures of a phoenix never show the child tucked under each wing.

By 40, that invisible airplane was long gone, and I’d discovered not only did the world have edges, they were devastatingly sharp. It also was the beginning of an era, a time to push past fear of failure and remember that falling backward was worse than stumbling forward. I’ve liked this Revelation Decade, when I’ve learned I can survive both loss and love. I’d tell that 10-year-old she was right to be confused, forgive the arrogant mistakes of that 20-year-old, remind the broken 30-year-old it was worth it, and have the 40-year-old remind me to sit back down because I’m due a good hand, any time.

So, cheers, 50. You’ve a bag of memories and lessons and steely shards to work with going forward.

It will be interesting to see what 60 has to say about you.

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Warming up hearts while you warm up the car

“Wait until your father has warmed up the car,” my mother would yell into a draft of cold air as we disappeared out the front door. If we didn’t hurry, we’d miss the best part.

As he opened the rear door to get the snowbrush, we’d dive past him into the station wagon. Our breath would hang in the shrouded cold, even the sound of the lumbering engine seeming otherworldly. We knew he’d started clearing snow from the roof first, but the game was where he’d go next. We’d dash for opposite ends and sides of the car, eager to be right, eager to be first.

We’d strain to hear his footsteps, following the muffled sound as he rounded the car. If we heard the creak of the ancient garage door, he was getting a shovel, and the scrapings were messing up his recently clear driveway.

A thick curtain of snow would drop from the first window, and a ray of weak winter sunshine would enter. After that, we’d race from window to window, as he used the snowbrush to create a life-sized advent calendar. We considered our giggling faces the prize, though we knew the ultimate win would be Dad smiling back. We were playing; he was working. This intersection was the best place to find him, a man who turned most things into work yet had children who could turn anything into play.

If you had a question – and you always had a question – you would creep a window down, a small red plaid arm futilely trying to prevent a wall of snow from entering. “Put that back up!” he’d yell and you would, desperately cranking, realizing you’d forgotten to ask if you could come out and help.

“You’re getting snow on the seats!” I’d yell at my sister, because I was older and could. We’d furiously brush snow onto the floor, failing to realize there was snow everywhere, anyway.

With no rear defroster, we’d rush to help when he started scraping the back window. We’d push our faces to the glass, panting and laughing believing we were melting the ice. We’d pull off mittens and hold our hands against the window, small handprints disappearing as quickly as they formed. Sometimes, rarely, Dad would mirror the gesture, his rough ungloved hand dwarfing mine as we briefly shared that ancient symbol of both connection and separation.

The windshield was always last, giving the defroster a chance to labour against the ice. We’d scramble to the front – do not touch the pedals, do not touch the key – and jam our hands to the base of the window, desperately seeking heat. He’d yell at us again and tell us to let the defroster do its job. We’d yell through the glass that the defrogger wasn’t warm yet, knowing how funny we were.

As he chipped away, I would prise open the tiny triangle window we called a nose draft, and ask if I could put on the radio. The answer was always don’t touch anything and I wondered if music slowed down the car’s ability to warm up.

We’d head to our seats when the fun was over, daylight filling our snow cave which was now what it always had been, just a station wagon. Mom would come down the steps and Dad would stamp snow from his boots as he pulled the complaining garage door back down. He’d finally slide the bar to heat, though I knew in my heart that a car only heats up when you’re two blocks from where you’re going.

It’s funny, sometimes, to realize the things that keep you warm.

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Do you hear what I hear?

Gia Lindo and boysWhen a colleague posted a picture of his newborn on Facebook this past October, the response was predictable, but deserved: you’d be hard-pressed not to smile at a beautiful little girl being doted on by two older brothers.

Adjusting to life with baby Gia was revealed through a smattering of updates, some I saw, and probably more I missed. As always, the most revealing statements tumble from the mouths of babes; her two older brothers were providing the best running commentary, ever. “I held her and didn’t even drop her yet”; “When you change her diaper she has a BER-GINA”; and perhaps my favourite, “We need to buy her a turtle”.

But one evening, the tone was different. “Our baby girl was diagnosed with severe hearing loss and will be getting baby hearing aids soon.”

For John Lindo and his wife Soulla, phrases like “virtually no hearing” and “rest of her life” punched home each new revelation. A poorly administered hearing test at birth had signalled enough concern to be followed up, but as John said later, “you can’t make sense of it. She looks perfect. She is our best looking baby so far!” John admits to a numbness settling over him. But for Soulla, the realization that her baby had never heard her singing to her, never heard the hundreds of I love yous delivered even in those few short weeks, was devastating.

Following an uneventful pregnancy, it seemed the rigors of a ten-year-old and a three-year-old jockeying for position in the new family order had seemed like the most demanding part of getting baby Gia settled in. Instead, her parents found themselves thrust into a whole new arena, which daily produced more questions than answers.

“Music is a huge part of our lives; would Gia be able to hear music? How would her speech develop? Would she ever be able to hear us?” Doctors explained that as sound works on frequencies, baby Gia has virtually no hearing that picks up speech. While doctor’s appointments were piling up – changes made early produce the best results – Soulla and John made some decisions on their own. They realized that regardless of next steps, learning sign language was an important start. As they discussed this, two little boys set off on their own journey.

Logan, 10, and Carson, 3, ducked beneath the wave of emotions John and Soulla wrestled with; the idea of talking with their hands was intriguing, especially for children who were free to consider only the upside of a new way to interact with their tiny sister.

One morning, they noticed Carson signing “I love you” to Gia, followed by the similar sign for “plane”. Asked if he’d learned it at school, he said no, Logan had taught him.

Logan had downloaded an application on the iPad (My Smart Hands) when they’d gone to bed the night before. The boys had begun to teach themselves sign language. Each morning, they show their parents the new words they’ve learned, and Logan has mastered the entire American Sign alphabet.

For Logan, who splits his time between two homes, his bond with his little brother has found a new foothold. For John and Soulla, watching the outpouring of love and support from the boys has made John now consider this “a little speed bump at this point in our lives.”

For little Gia’s first Christmas, I want her to know there is still a world of people who consider her a most perfect baby.

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She knows if you’ve been bad or good

I was trying to add up the number of things my Mom baked every year for Christmas. I tend to forget the things I didn’t like – coconut tarts, poppy seed roll – and dwell lovingly on the things I miss the most: mincemeat tarts and fruit crescents.

There were the things we were totally involved with, like decorating the sugar cookies and stuffing mini quiches. And there were the dangerous things that usually involved a candy thermometer and the entire kitchen table; it was years before we were deemed old enough to help pull the hot lava of peanut brittle with forks.

Shortbread, thumbprints, rumballs; blueberry tarts, butter tarts, lemon tarts; the loathed fruit cake and the adored fruit crescents. I’ve lost count of all she made each year, though I remember the stockpiling of ingredients that would begin early on and the flipping through magazines for new finds that might make the cut.

The problem, of course, was keeping it all away from us. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but having a house that smelled like a bakery for so many weeks was more than my father could bear. Mom would put out a decoy plate for him to find when he got home from work, the rest carefully spirited away in the freezer. She would layer everything between sheets of waxed paper, stacking tins under things like frozen tomatoes and hamburger.

It didn’t always work. She made the poppy seed roll for my Dad. He’d find it in the freezer and haul it out, and when she found half of it gone, she’d ask why nobody in this family could wait for Christmas, and didn’t we know this was for guests? My Dad would shrug and say nobody likes it but me, so who cares?

About the only thing my Mom succeeded at was making me prefer to eat baked goods frozen. I’d steal a tart or crescent from the hidden tin, careful to put all the vegetable camouflage back in place. Waiting for something to thaw out was not just impossible; it always raised the risk of getting caught. My father wouldn’t have gotten caught if he’d used the method my sisters and I used: spreading around our larceny between the many tins.

By the time you’ve arranged 20 different somethings on a platter, you only need a few of each. She’d ask us to help, and we’d try to put mostly fruitcake out for guests so we could save the good stuff for ourselves. Mom would right the balance and tell us to smarten up. My father would steal the poppy seed roll before the guests came, usually as he sipped egg nog. I spent many years wondering if he was my real father.

One January I found a walnut roll that had miraculously survived the season by slipping down into some crevice in the freezer. The only thing better than purloined goods is a miracle baby. I’m sure my father tore apart the vegetables searching for its poppy seed sibling.

I was probably 11 or 12 the year I was put in charge of assembling some tray for guests. Taking my job quite seriously, I aimed for a balance of colour and shape. As I carried it into the dining room, Mom thanked me, and then stopped.

“There’s no walnut roll,” she frowned.

“I couldn’t find any, “I told her. She rummaged in the freezer, and then started yelling for my father. I admired my handiwork once more, and waited for the guests to arrive.

Dad hadn’t eaten the walnut roll.

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The silent squeeze on your heart teaches you things

She is tiny, black, and feral. She has made my sister’s home, her home, though she lives all around it and not inside it. Nature teaches you things.

Mama CatFor months now, she shows up morning and night, shadowboxing the cats on the inside and waiting for them to be fed. She knows she will be fed too, though she darts for cover when the door is opened, then returns to the only safe part of her day.

She refuses to be tamed, this little one. Her stature belies her experience, her wary knowledge of how her world works. There is frustration that our imagined solution – the better way, the only way – doesn’t fit as neatly as you’d like. Perspective teaches you things.

The clipped notch in her ear could easily have been from a fight, but it’s not; it’s the signal that she’s been spayed, a city doing its best to help those trying to help the creatures they can’t ignore. In care for a week, upon recovery she bolts in a flash, her wildness intact, her trust shaken. Discovering your limits teach you things.

Her last and final litter is gone, plucked from her early enough to avoid her fate. In her blanket lined bed one morning, there is a new kitten. This mama is fostering, taking care of the vulnerable as she herself is being taken care of. Wild creatures teach you things.

She’s gone for two days, and you know the truth outweighs any imagined happy ending. She hasn’t found a new home, she isn’t on the inside looking out. If she’s still alive, she’s hungry. Fear teaches you things.

When she’s back, you know nothing, wondering if the silent squeeze on your heart means you’re too soft, but also knowing relief when you feel it. You realize how little you control, but you also realize how these creatures who aren’t yours still are.

It only takes a few moments to discover thousands of kindred spirits. “Keeping feral cats warm in winter”, you ask your computer. The response is overwhelming, stories and videos and pictures, all with the same goal, all from a tribe of people you didn’t know existed yet now belong to. The Internet teaches you things.

From the outside, she watches. She watches the careful consideration for insulation, for drainage, for waterproofing. Your new tribe is thrifty; they’ve discovered the best way to protect a cat that won’t let you pet her, who you’ve found a way to love nonetheless.

Straw, it seems, is the way to go. Not hay, you’re cautioned. In the middle of downtown Toronto, you are looking for straw. The big chains shrug at the request, but at a tiny, unassuming gardening centre, the owners nod at the three cats lounging around the store, knowing exactly what you’re doing. “There’s some out front, but we sell it by the bale,” they say. You wonder what you will do with a whole bale of straw.

What you will do is stand on the sidewalk trying to put a garbage bag over it to get it in your trunk. The bag won’t fit, so a woman running a convenience store will run out and give you a larger one. Another man passing by will help you put it in the trunk. You will be grateful; restored faith in people teaches you things.

Watched pot never boils, you hear your mother say. So you put the house out, and walk away. Discovering a small face peeking out a little later, you realize that love comes in many forms, but it always teaches you things.

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All I want for Christmas is less

“I mean, I’m already working two jobs. How the heck am I supposed to find this magic extra money for Christmas presents?” I glanced at the man sitting beside me. He was maybe 35, married with a toddler and the clutches of extended family that come with uniting two people who have paired up before. “I would love for us to be able to buy a present for everybody; I’d buy them all 5 or 6 if I could. I can’t.”

The jack-o-lanterns bumped into Santa displays this year, because everybody knows it’s never too early to start the countdowns, the ramp-ups, the come-ons and the bake-offs. I’ve stood in his shoes, that man facing too many expectations with not enough resources. He joked that at least his 3-year-old would love anything, and that reminded me of something I’ve always essentially believed: if you’re capable of being disappointed, you’re missing the point.

My kids don’t make lists, because I never let them. When they were small enough to want everything they saw advertised, my reed thin budget was carved in stone: I literally couldn’t budge it. They knew the family motto – you’ll get everything you need, and some of the things you want. I’m more driven to consider those who can’t manage the first part of that motto. We’re living in hard times.

There were years I’d get swept up in an undertow of guilt or depression and put a very merry Christmas on a credit card. It was always a mistake, and it was never worth it. Listening to the man beside me, I was aware he wasn’t contemplating doing something that stupid. In this consumer driven climate, I inwardly applauded him.

The best gift I received in recent years? Overhearing one of my sons explain the history behind every ornament on the tree. And here I thought they hadn’t been listening.

I was big on imagined hardship when I was young. I’d read the Little House on the Prairie books and be desperate to prove that I, too, like Laura Ingalls, could be happy with a button and a piece of lint for Christmas. I’d picture the cold wind blowing through a house made of sticks and spit, while Ma made critter dumplings or something. I know that’s why I got so many books as presents; my mother knew I’d disappear into them and find a hundred answers to “what would you like for Christmas?”

Dofasco used to do a huge holiday party for their employees, and we’d wait eagerly each year for the magic tickets to show up in the mail. You’d trek to an offsite location, and buses would ferry you in to the massive warehouse. A riot of colour and noise, my father detested it. You would line up at your designated booth, say, Girls 8-10, and stare at the overwhelming display. My mom would be thinking of that crowded bus back. “Rainey, there’s a nice watch,” she’d say. I’d invariably choose something that was bigger than I was. She’d shuttle my sisters to their booths, praying they chose watches.

It was lost on me at the time, this discrepancy between Christmas ideals. I want my sons to value family dinners and decades old ornaments, yet we wave the shiny electronics at kids and wonder why they don’t want buttons and lint. I crave peace more than I crave things, and I hope the man beside me finds a way to navigate that trail.

I can’t tell you a single thing I got from those overblown festive parties, but I still have most of those books.

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