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Last Friday night, we were supposed to go see the Harry Potter movie.  I am someone who has been a diehard HP fan since 2000, when I borrowed the first three books from my sister’s friend, and read them all in a long weekend.  I went to a release party at Barnes & Noble for Book 4, pre-ordered all the others, and have seen every other movie in theatres. 

But I didn’t want to go to the movies Friday night.  I was in a dour mood, brooding over a student I’d seen that day at school. She, who doesn’t volunteer many ideas in class, and generally keeps to herself all day, opened up to me Friday afternoon during our session.  She confessed to me about how she’d been picked on at her old school, bullied by exclusion, and how she avoided someone at this school who used to go to her old school.  Though I felt I’d done right by her by listening and letting her know she could always come to me, I couldn’t get her out of my head, and my melancholy threatened to befoul the entire weekend. 

As our peanut butter reserve was running low, I began thinking of a different activity to get us out of the house that didn’t involve Entertainment.  There’s a new peanut butter restaurant not so far away, and they grind the PB fresh in front of you.  The spread is so good, Mr. Apron (not a big PB fan) confessed some of it “fell into” his mouth soon after I brought it home.  And scarcely 5 days later, the jar was almost empty.  The PB store was dangerously close to my favorite Anthropologie store, so I thought a combined trip would cheer me up. 

Too bad they closed at 8pm.  It was 7:48pm, and we had no chance of making it.  The website said the downtown store was open till 9pm, so we rushed downtown, scored a dream parking spot, and were greeted by bolted doors barring our entry to the well-lit interior yumminess.  No signs on the door proclaiming the true hours, so, dejectedly, we went into Barnes & Noble to read strange magazines. 

Because things always seem better in the morning, the next day I had my unrequited Anthro trip, and we scored a fresh jar of PB, too.  While perusing the sale rack, I spotted a beautiful brown skirt, appliquéd in myriad earth tones with a birdie on the front, and a ruffle on the hip.  “Oh, buddy, look at this one!” I called.  “Cute!” he said, encouragingly, “see if they have it in your size.”  Of course they didn’t.  Only 2’s and 4’s.  But I moved on, half-heartedly scanning for anything else to catch my eye.  It was pretty slim pickings that day, even on the regular price racks.  Aside from being impress by the bed-frame made of pipe, a ladder, and hung with a canopy of antique doilies, we were pretty non-plussed. 

Yesterday as I came home late, after a long meeting, Mr. Apron greeted me excitedly.  Seems my final Hanukkah package had at last arrived in the mail.  He made me open it that night, even thought it was my “big one” and it would be, as I often put it, “blowing your wad” to open it before the grand finale last night of Hanukkah.  I pulled out of a non-descript cardboard box some non-descript brown tissue paper.  Inside that was the skirt, in my size, that we had seen at Anthro last weekend. 

“But when did you go?” I demanded.  “When did you have time?  They didn’t have it in my size!” I protested.

He had gone to the store some weeks earlier, on a day off, and found the skirt.  It was not in my size then, as now, but he’d inquired if it could be ordered from another store.  The sales lady had called 8 different stores before finding it in my size, in Massachusetts.  As I was flipping through the racks last Saturday, Mr. Apron knew I’d never find it in my size, but he also knew it was trucking along the roads, merrily chugging towards our door. 

It is great fun to have a spouse who is not only a scheming, conniving, devious, generous man, but also a fantastic secret-keeping gift-giving actor.

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Gift-giving in my family has always been a strained topic.  (For proof, see here and here and here.)  My brother, with his December 25th birthday, always got shafted anyway for separate birthday/Hanukkah gifts.  He always wanted, yet rarely received, expensive electronica.  My father is impossible to shop for, and as a result, has more neckties and shirts that he can wear in a lifetime, and a stack of dry, “Daddy books” by his bedside, waiting to be read.  Mom, on the other hand, is very specific about what she wants, and does not hesitate to let us know, in writing, as an e-mail or card in the mail.  As she does this about a week before the event, we have to scramble to coordinate the shopping, shipping, and chipping in, lest she become very disappointed. 

Ah, yes, disappointed, that all-too-familiar feeling associated with Hanukkah.  Year after year, I’d make a wish-list, as we were encouraged to do, and time after time, the hopeful expectation has turned to doom and dread as I unwrap The Misunderstood (non) Turtleneck Sweater, The Wrong Birkenstocks, and The Hideous (non) Pea Coat That Looks Like a Men’s Blazer, and The Clothing That Would Not Fit.  And those are just the gifts I wanted.  I also end up with piles upon piles of crap I never wanted, little trinkets and tchotchkes that have always filled out the Hanukkah piles, as we opened one a night for 8 days: piles of socks, weird “gourmet” foods from TJ Maxx, stuffed animals (into my 20s), and clearance merchandise from Ocean State Job Lot with holes, stains, or “ready for crafting”.  My sister tries to keep these things at bay, fighting not to let them cross the threshold of her apartment, while I make trip after trip to Salvation Army, and jump at the chance to make a few choice contributions to other people’s yard sales. 

I’ve heard of large families who all pick names out of a hat and choose one person to shop for.  I’ve heard of the $20 limit.  I’ve heard of the themed gift giving extravaganza.  I’ve read Cathy and “AAaack!”ed my way through well intentioned agreements not to exchange gifts.  I’ve hemmed and hawed over who needs to be on my list.  Yesterday, a coworker revealed that her family actually does not exchange gifts.  As I strive each year to find homes for the piles of acceptable crap that enter my house after birthday and especially Hanukkah, I would genuinely welcome a truce on my family’s gift-giving quagmire.  Mr. Apron is stressing  because he has not started shopping yet for my Hanukkah gifts, and I’ve promised not to get him the full 8 this year.  For our anniversary in October, he was in the throes of play rehearsal, and I’d just emerged from a birthday, so we kept it delightfully low-key.  No fruit, or china, or appliances, or linen, or paper.  Just a bouquet from the florist who did our wedding flowers, a picnic at the township park where we were married, and dinner from Wegman’s.  I bought tickets to go see Peter and the Wolf at the symphony, and he scored seats at a live recording of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”.  That was it.  As soon as we’d accepted our own failures to procure the “perfect gift” for each other, we relaxed and had a great anniversary.

After our wedding, I was so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of “stuff” from our registry, I swore off consumerism for a good, umm, season.  The “Holiday Shopping Season” gives me hives. The endless pop Christmas songs blasting through store speakers, the 80 degree stores that leave me stripping off winter layers from the 40 degree day outside, the snaking cash register lines, the commercials to buy, buy, buy, and the overflowing tables of Isotoner gloves, Dearfoams, plaid pajamas, cashmere sweaters, and keychain/flashlight/iPod speakers, set up by gender, age, and dollar amount so you can blindly pick out a “perfect gift.”  It’s all too much for me.  While I was on my double-boiler pursuit this weekend, I was greeted by packed parking lots, eager shoppers, and early sales.  I wanted to bolt, run home, bury my head under the covers, and stay that way until December 26th

It is so much harder to be a gracious recipient of a crap gift, than it is to give a gift you’ve put any thought into.  It’d be easier, period, if my family could accept that all us kids are “grown” and won’t be crest-fallen not to see the huge pile of gifts again.   Ever.  I think we’d actually be elated to be free of the guilt of fulfilling Mom’s wishes, finding something (anything) for Dad, and shopping merely out of obligation.  Though the Salvation Army might suffer for it.