The Christmas Mess – A Daddy Tribute

“Daddy, whatcha makin’?”

“Oh, just makin’ a mess.” he said

That little white lie started a family tradition fondly known as “The Christmas Mess”.

The year was 1966.  The asker was three-year-old me; the responder – my Dad.  He was in our garage, hammering, sawing and sanding, creating a gift for my sister and me, a few nights before Christmas.

Every year since then, Dad makes a “Christmas Mess”. The design is always original. The “Mess” is hand-made, from wood and beautifully finished.  Over the years, he has become very official, using brass tags to name the year. He makes a “Mess” every year, for all four of his daughters.  My sisters and I proudly display our “Messes” throughout our homes.  I have given many “Mess” tours for admiring friends.

I wonder what my “Mess” will be this year?  It is my favorite gift and I’m thankful for a “Mess” making Dad who loves his girls.

Bringing Prohibition Back for the Holidays

Not alcohol prohibition – are you kidding?

A few years back, I proposed and miraculously implemented a cease and desist from all screen entertainment beginning with Thanksgiving Day and ending on New Years Eve.  When I say miraculously, I mean I got my husband to agree to it.  The kids, of course, violently opposed my proposition.

When I was in third grade, my parents built a small cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  Small is the operative word here. My dad was a man ahead (?) of his time when it came to TV.  He hated it.  He did everything he could to prevent us from watching it.  When they built the cabin in 1973, Dad insisted that it be TV and telephone free.  My sisters and I were allowed a record player; a concession my parents likely regretted due to our love for Donny Osmond. “Hey…there…lonely girl” 

As my children entered their teen years, I found it increasingly difficult to compete with the computer, cell phones or TV for family time.  There was always a game to watch, a message demanding an immediate response or a loud cable show making a grab for their attention. Being my father’s daughter, I blamed it all on the media and devised a plan to prohibit screen entertainment for the greater good of the family.  As I presented my case to my husband, I pulled out all the stops:  the kids are growing up; they will soon be gone; we won’t be able to get back the time; will we really remember all the sports games we watched together?  He’s a sentimental guy and had coincidentally (wink) just eaten his favorite dinner.  He agreed.

On the first Sunday afternoon of our Prohibition, they sat griping at each other.  My husband was actually experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms, wringing his hands in the kitchen, not sure how to eat his sandwich without the soothing images of the gridiron. I suggested a card game and dove for the laundry room under a barrage of shouts and dirty looks.  It was ugly.

Eventually, their total boredom forced them to action.  After school, the kids began to grudgingly discuss their day and their homework.  The older ones advised the younger ones on techniques to master certain classes or assignments.  They got into baking and decorating Christmas cookies. They blew the dust off the board games and cracked the rule booklets. Shockingly, they completed a puzzle. We parents had time for a media-free glass of wine by the fire.

Lest you think I’m a complete tyrant, we did have some exceptions to our Prohibition.  Facebook/texts could be checked once a day for 10 minutes.  We watched our traditional movie on Christmas eve.  My husband listened to a football game or two on the radio as he did stuff around the house.

Do we do this every year? No. Will my children do this with their children?  That remains to be seen.

Halloween – Takin’ Care of Business

The arrival of Halloween signifies the formation of a temporary division within our family’s corporate structure – the Department of Candy Management and Distribution (DCMD for short).  I am the Executive Project Manager.  I work closely with my team of professionals to develop a strategic plan for the timely and effective distribution and reduction of seasonal candy acquisitions. The stakes are high; the family’s dental health hangs in the balance.

When I started in this position, my favored approach as the DCMD manager was to assume the role of the Candy Cop.  The Candy Cop rations candy to the team – one piece at a time, after meals and for quality job performances. As I gained valuable experience, I concluded that the job of Candy Cop was bunk.  All the whining, pleading and phony promises from the team led to disunity and strife.  To restore order, The Candy Cop was forced to cut off distribution, which in turn led to more whining, pleading and phony promises. The arrival of Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter (the Motherlode of Chocolate) reduced the Candy Cop’s effectiveness and increased the candy inventory resulting in even more whining, pleading and phony promises.  The temporary assignment morphed to a permanent, year-long position with hazardous job conditions. Not only was the Candy Cop crabby and irritable, but she was in grave danger of losing her girlish figure due to the hypnotically enticing aroma emitting from plastic Halloween buckets. It was often impossible to resist, especially during the day while the team was away at school.  Just ask the dog.

The team hard at work in the boardroom

Instead, as an experienced DCMD manager, I adopted a superior approach to the inventory reduction problem – the Feeding Frenzy. To speed up the process and reduce my numbers, I give the team (crazy-eyed sugar fiends) permission to eat all they want for one night only. Of course, I first take my cut. Almond Joys? Mine. Snickers Dark? Straight to the pocket. MilkyWay Midnights? Come to Mommy. After that, the team is free to cram any amount of candy into their gooey little mouths in the allotted amount of time.  All sorting, counting, and trading is permitted as I recline by the fire, sipping a hot beverage and enjoying the perks of management.

When bedtime arrives, it’s over.  The team stumbles off to the showers with instructions to brush their teeth and eat a Tums.  I sweep the up the remaining inventory, depositing all rejects and wrappers in permanent removal receptacles. I return to the couch. Another successful year with the DCMD. Belly aches are a small price to pay this kind of job satisfaction.