Wednesday, December 07, 2011

SUPERXmas! Day 10: Christmas is the time to say "I'm sorry about that homemade gift I gave you."

For SUPERXmas! last night, we decided to show the people who really matter in our lives just how little they really matter, via a homemade gift.

The people who really matter in our lives are the boys' teachers and other people responsible for their instruction. Sorry, family! But you kind of knew, right?

The boys, Mr Bunches and Mr F, have twenty different people responsible for their instruction, not including Sweetie, who does the work of 25 people, and not including me, who undoes the work of all 45 of those people.*

*That's the 20 actual people, plus the 25 hypothetical people that Sweetie is doing the work of. If you need a pencil to keep up with the math, say so.

Those people include their school teachers: Mr Bunches has two in his 4K classroom, while Mr F has (according to my best estimate) 4, maybe. (At parent-teacher conferences there were two, but at the meeting for his special-ed classes there were five people, of which I'm pretty sure one was the principal, so I'm guesstimating here). It includes their bus drivers -- four total, one each on the way to and from school, including the one with the weird name, it's something like "Kye," who I secretly** hate because not only does he have a weird name but he's really good-looking, which means every single day a single, young, good-looking guy drives up to our house while I'm at "work" eating Pixy Sticks, and I frankly do not need the competition.

**Not so secretly, now that I posted it on the web.
And then there are the in-home therapists who come every day, 4 hours a day, and who work with the boys at a "camp" on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, teaching the boys to talk and write and share and not roll themselves up into a tiny ball when they have to change their routines.

It doesn't take a village to raise these kids. It takes a platoon.***

*** I actually have no idea which is bigger, a village or a platoon. But you get the point.

These people are charged with turning our boys into responsible citizens. That is, to be sure, primarily my and Sweetie's job, but with Mr F and Mr Bunches, that job involves more than your usual parenting.

"Your usual parenting" involves, really, a few very simple tasks: You have to teach kids not to hit each other, you have to pretend that school is important, and you have to at some point get them to stop borrowing money from you. Judging by the progress of our three older kids (Oldest, Middle, and The Boy) Sweetie and I are batting 0.300 on those goals.

But with Mr F and Mr Bunches, you have to teach them such an alarming variety of things, things ranging from "this is why we talk" to "you shouldn't hit yourself in the head with a spatula and here's why", that we need that platoon. And the platoon-- the bus drivers, special ed teachers, therapists, other people whose jobs I'm not even sure of-- work amazingly hard. I play with the boys for a few hours each night and I am exhausted all the time. These people do it every day with not just our boys but others, too.

And they make virtually nothing. Teachers, therapists, all these people are earning more or less minimum wage despite having college degrees.

So for Christmas, we decided to do something nice for the billions of people who help raise our kids, and what we resolved was that we were going to give them some money.

But when you give money you can't just, you know, slip someone a ten as they go out the door. Nobody stands around just handing out twenties as a thank you; this isn't Congress, after all. So we needed something to put the money in, and what we decided on was: personalized coffee mugs with some candy in them and then the money tucked into it.

In my mind, this was a beautiful gift. As I'm sure all homemade gifts are, right? When you first set out to make a homemade gift, in your mind it's always beautiful. That's because, in your mind (or at least in mine) you are talented.

In real life, you do the one job you were capable of landing given the fact that you have absolutely no useful skills and once almost lit your patio on fire (accidentally).*4

*4 I am obviously referring not to you, as such, but to me.
The fact that you (I) have no useful skills doesn't deter you (me) from making homemade Christmas gifts, of course, because we are all convinced that we (I) are (am) much better at things than the evidence actually proves us to be. If you doubt that you are not as good as you think you are, try this:

Tape yourself singing, a capella, the song Common People by William Shatner. William Shatner, as you know, is both amazingly cool and a godawful bad singer. If you cannot sing as good as William Shatner, you should not sing out loud.


I did this recently: I actually put on my headphones, and played the song, and taped myself singing Common People without accompaniment, and then later I played the tape for Sweetie, and Sweetie said "what's that?" with the inflection that most people use when they discover something they previously hadn't noticed between their toes*5, and I said "It's me singing," and then added "I'm pretty good, right?"
*5 or is that just me?

And Sweetie said "Um." Which is Sweetie's way of complimenting me.

So if you think you are a good singer and then the evidence shows that you are so bad that your singing actually sterilizes small animals, as mine probably does, then what does that say about the other skills you think you have?

Or did you think you work in an office producing nothing and doing nothing functional because you chose to do that?

So here was our plan for making Homemade Mugs to Give The Teachers: We would buy a mug -- or, in this case, 20 -- but not just any old mug. We'd buy the ones I'd seen at the Dollar Store that said you could write on them with permanent marker.

And before you judge me: remember, the real point of this gift is the money. So, yeah, "Dollar Store Mug" and yeah, "permanent marker", neither of which says "classy" or "dignified" or "something someone would actually want", but ...


The point of the gift, remember, is money. The mug is just to hold the money in because when you give someone money, if you put it in something, it's a gift. If you just hand them money, it's a bribe.

And also: How much are you supposed to spend on a coffee mug, after all? It's a mug.

So Monday night, we went to the Dollar Store and got the mugs and the markers, and that took long enough that we couldn't do the rest that night, and thus last night was "Let's Decorate The Mugs" night, which was complicated right off the bat by the fact that Mr F had to poop.

I had planned that we would decorate the mugs after dinner, and so right after dinner I went upstairs and got the box of mugs and markers while Mr Bunches headed off to the computer to watch toy commercial videos, and Mr F headed off to the bathroom to poop.

When Mr F poops, though, it's not a quick thing. It's a process. He has to go into the bathroom, and then remove from the bathroom everything that might distract him from pooping, which usually means that rugs, hand towels, sometimes the soap, and certainly his pants are thrown out of the bathroom.

Then the door is closed, and we hear humming, or tapping, or sometimes lifting up the toilet seat to peer inside, and sometimes nothing, for as long as a half-hour, or whatever length of time Mr F decides it's going to take.

Because we're still working on getting him toilet trained, we don't like to interrupt the pooping, and Mr F is smart enough to know this, which means that when he realizes you're going to make him do something like decorate mugs, he might decide to go poop and stay in there a long time, periodically coming out to get a drink of water *6 and then rushing back in and sometimes coming out to look at toy commercials with Mr Bunches and then rushing back in.

*6 Pooping is thirsty work.
After about twenty minutes, I decided that the pooping was a dodge and called a halt to that, because we needed to get going on Project Mug (my code name for it) and Sweetie and I had gone as far as we could in setting things up, Sweetie dividing the mugs into three groups.

"What are the three groups?" I asked.

"They're sorted out," Sweetie told me.

"Are they sorted by who signs them?" I asked. Some mugs were for Mr Bunches' teachers only, and he was going to sign those. Some were for Mr F's only, and he was going to sign those, and the ones for the shared teachers were to be signed by both.

"No," said Sweetie, who then declined to share with me how they were sorted.

Again, in my mind, the mugs were beautiful. I'd sort of pictured that we would be writing, say, the name of the teacher/therapist on there, maybe making a little Christmas-y design, and then having the boys write their names on the mug. Like a decorative gift bag only it's a mug, not a bag. (Are you with me so far on that concept?)

So when we sat down with the boys and the markers, I had high hopes that this would be a great project. And then we realized we had to take the labels off the mugs: Each mug was labeled with a sticker that proclaimed it "READY TO DECORATE!" only the mugs weren't "READY TO DECORATE!" because the sticker that said they were took up 90% of the space on the mug.

Sweetie, who is surprisingly good at taking stickers off mugs, took about 17 of them off, and then finished removing the remainder of the stickers from the three I had done, too, while I supervised Mr Bunches, which I did by going to fetch Mr F back from the kitchen, where he kept going to play in the silverware drawer.

While I was occupied by the silverware drawer, Mr Bunches took the opportunity to write his name on the first of three mugs, which Sweetie pointed out to me, and to which I responded "I'm in the kitchen, which makes it hard for me to see what he's doing."

Convinced that he was done, Mr Bunches then went back to watching videos on Youtube, and I focused my efforts on Mr F, who did his best to not write on mugs by crawling under the chair, or under the table, or under both and then back out through the side over by Sweetie.

I did, though, get him to focus long enough to write his name on the mugs, which went about as well as you'd expect given that (a) Mr F can't really write his name, and (b) the mugs are curved surfaces.

I tried to help Mr F write his name, but that required that I sit him on my lap and work the hand with the pen in it - -trying to help someone write is like trying to help someone do their tie: You can't do it unless you almost literally get into their shoes -- and that was not a thing that Mr F wanted to do.

While we did that, Mr Bunches wandered around the room, playing golf. My supervision is wonderful.

With each mug that we did, too, I was told by Sweetie who I should write the message to. So we would write something like "To Miss Amy, " and say who the mug was from.

About halfway through, I finally voiced what I'd been thinking earlier: "Should we maybe do a Christmas design or something, like a star, or tree?"

"No," said Sweetie, who was busy sorting out the candy that was going to go in the little candy gift bags that would go with each mug and would hold the money, too.

We hit a hitch when we got to the bus drivers' mugs: Sweetie knows the name of only two bus drivers, one woman and the hot guy*6

*6 weird how that works.

And (she claims) she didn't know how to spell the Hot Guy's name, so she was going to wait on those mugs until she could gather that information -- but I suggested just writing "Merry Christmas from..." and the boys' names on them for those because honestly, I was regretting ever coming up with this idea in the first place. We should've gotten 20 McDonald's gift cards and called it a night, plus I could've gotten an Egg Nog Shake.

With Mr F's part done, I had to wrangle Mr Bunches back to the table to do the rest of his mugs, which was tough because he thought he was done and he was therefore sitting on the kitchen counter trying to subliminal me into doing something else.

Mr Bunches is into subliminal messages: When he wants to do something but figures I won't want to do it, he mumbles the message in a low, almost inaudible voice, hoping that I won't be able to directly make out what it is he's saying but that my subconscious will leap into action. So our conversation went like this:

Me: Mr Bunches, time to come do the rest of the mugs.

Mr Bunches: tron.

Me: What?

Mr Bunches: tron.

Me: I didn't hear you.

Mr Bunches: tron.

What he was saying was "Tron" which is a preview on a Spongebob DVD he likes to watch -- he wanted to go watch Spongebob, which I was all for at that point but having started with this stupid homemade gift idea I was going to finish it if it killed me *7 and so was he. That's parenting.

*7 The spirit of Christmas! In my family, at least, Christmas is best exemplified by the motto: We will do this even if it kills us.

He finally consented to signing his name to the rest of the mugs, and I had to finish up the naming of the mugs, which is when when I learned just how truly useless my brain has become.

My brain, which was educated at various very good educational institutions for 19+ years, and which is responsible for ensuring that I can provide for my family by helping people with complex legal problems, has been crammed so full of useless trivia, comic-book excerpts, song lyrics, half-baked thoughts about dark matter, and other nonsense over the years that it has stopped being a working organ and is now more of a second appendix. For example, this morning, I used my phone to send a text message and set it down, after which -- immediately after which -- I wandered out to the living room and began picking things up off the desk.

"What are you doing?" Sweetie asked.

"Looking for my phone," I said, before remembering that I'd just set it down on the kitchen counter.

My brain had a good laugh at that, but not as much as it did at the second-to-last mug I made. Here's what happened: The last teacher to get a mug is named "Amanda," and when someone says Amanda I immediately remember, because this is all my brain is good for anymore, the old prank phone call that goes:

"I'm looking for Amanda? Her last name is Huggenkiss."

So that the person on the other end calls out "I need Amanda Huggenkiss."

I'm sure that has never actually worked, but, nonetheless, that is the association my brain automatically goes to when someone says Amanda, and so if you are named Amanda and you are talking to me, that is all that I am thinking. Doesn't matter what you're saying, what you're doing, or where we are. In my brain, I am repeating that joke over and over and over.

So as I began writing "To Amanda, from" I thought "I should tell that joke to Sweetie, who probably has never heard it before" and I wrote:

You can see that my brain decided to take its foot off the Stupidity Accelerator with just two letters left in that name.

I feel compelled to note that Amanda's last name is not actually "Huggenki" or any variation thereon.

We had only one blank mug left -- the one for the teacher we're not sure will still be here at Christmas, and so rather than use that one right away, Sweetie went with Plan B, which for some reason was "PLAN B: RELY ON BRIANE's ARTISTIC ABILITIES" and she asked me to draw a shape or something over it.

This is what I came up with:

Christmas-y! We are not so uncivilized as to use that cup. Instead, we started with the other, optional mug and Amanda NOTHuggenki will get the same high-caliber mug that the other get, to wit:

Meanwhile, I put the Blue Amoeba Of Christmas mug into the dishwasher so that I could use it today, and this morning I learned that "Safe For Washing" means something other than "Safe For Washing" when it's printed on a Dollar Store Coffee Mug label:

Which means that the teachers are getting Single Use Coffee Mugs Of Thanks, after which they will simply have a bland, rather small, blank mug in their dishwasher that someday will remind them of ... probably nothing. I expect that next year there will be a large secondary market in somewhat-smudged manila-colored coffee mugs at yard sales.

We are also giving them twenty bucks each. So there's that.

Prior Days:

One: Putting up the yard decorations

Two: Making a Christmas list

Three: Sleep, Actually

Four: How to make popsicle stick (SUPER)Xmas trees, in 437 easy steps.

5 & 6: It's a SUPERXmas! Miracle.

Day 7:
Santa, Babies.

Day 8: When Christmas was corykilverty

Day 9: Mr Bunches covers Katy Perry


Grumpy Bulldog, Secret Agent said...

I always thought a platoon was like 25 people and a company 100 and a division something like 15,000 and a squad is only 10 or so. But I might be wrong about that, which I probably am.

I don't think I've made a homemade gift since I made a mix CD for my mom one Mother's Day.

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

I have to admit, if I got a personalized coffee mug stuffed with candy I'd say "thanks but no thanks". I'm just not a fan of that stuff. But I'm honest, I'm not going to lie. It wouldn't impact my friendship, and I'd explain that to you. But I just don't want that junk. I prefer to just know you are my friend without having to take home crap I don't want.

Andrew Leon said...

I can't even wrap my brain around a project of that magnitude, and I've done more than my share of homemade gifts (at my kids school, I am often referred to as "the crafty one").

Personally, I liked the big blue star.