Wombat turned five on Saturday, so that makes it…*dactylonomy* five years since I started trying to make Christmas stockings for the boys. I lovingly handpicked the fabric while I was hugely pregnant in 2008, but I didn’t get them sewn that first year because I was hugely pregnant, and then I didn’t get them sewn the second year because I spent all my time making an heirloom-quality birthday banner, and then I didn’t get them sewn the third year because I had a two-year-old, which Fox reminds me daily is no Sunday picnic in the park unless you’ve happened to bring along eight bichon frise puppies born addicted to Bennies, in which case living with a two-year-old is exactly like that.
In 2011, I finally “finished” the stockings, with heavy emphasis on the air quotes, not just because they still (still! two years later!) have raw hems and strings hanging from the edges but also because they’re completely, definitively hideous. I somehow managed to sew the cuffs inside out and upside down and mirror-reflected; they’re shaped like no foot of man or beast I’ve ever seen; and the overall execution would cause Nina Garcia to clutch her designer jewelry and make a face that hides exactly zero percent of her disgust, which is…not much of a stretch because that’s how she always acts. In 2011, I “finished” the stockings in a rush so we could take them to Salt Lake with us for Christmas, and when we went to Southern California last year, I accidentally on purpose left them home so we could use my MIL’s loaner stockings rather than suffer the indignity of parading my failure in front of the in-laws. This year I dug them out, hoping they were not as bad as I remembered them (wrong) and then reluctantly hung them on the mantel over the blazing fire, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there or else they’d catch on fire and light up like an unwatered tannenbaum and that would be the end of that.
Today is my own personal Cyber Monday, and one of the things I’m shopping for is Christmas stockings that will end this particular cycle of self-inflicted madness once and for all. A few weeks ago I asked the Prowl community to help me find some, and although they had great suggestions (I love these! and these! and these!), there’s an awful little holiday gremlin whispering in my ear about the importance of handcrafting every single inch of my family’s holiday memories, and SHUT UP, YOU; NO I DON’T. That’s one elf I’d like to put on a shelf behind locked doors.
Now, because I love a good deal more than I love…well, pretty much anything, I’m looking at stockings from Target, where I can get four for the price of one Etsy creation. (“I said ‘handmade,’ not ‘handmade by ME.’”) I wish I could tell you it was as simple as “I went, I saw, I bought,” but nooooooo, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time researching online and making pro/con lists to help me decide which scheme I should follow. A stocking scheme. This is what happens when I finish up my work projects and have an entire week to get Very Serious Indeed about Things that Absolutely Do Not Matter. It’s ridiculous! And yet I persist! And invite you into my virtual living room to view a slideshow of my neuroses!
So: A or B?
Scheme A is getting four different stockings, and letting the kids have their pick of something cutesy (within reason), along the lines of this:
Scheme B is getting four matching plain stockings and–so help me god–embellishing each one differently, like with bells or snowflakes or felt trees or whatever.
Scheme A is the fastest and, likely, cheapest option. Scheme B is the gremlin’s pick because it means MOAR KRAFTING and the creation of magical holiday memories, and maybe even, at last, a chance to bring some semblance of style and order to a home–and life, actually–that is more or less a hodgepodge of stuff–tangible and intangible–that we’ve mostly just picked up the way a katamari collects miscellanea by no design other than random proximity. All those perfectly curated magazine-style rooms that somehow exist in real life and belong to people you know? We don’t have any of those. But these classy, matching, handcrafted-in-a-competent-way(-at-least-in-my-imagination) Scheme B stockings…they might let me achieve at least a magazine-style fireplace vignette for a few weeks out of the year, and I would enjoy that very much.
But, dammit, it seems I’m no longer as good at pleasing just myself than I was before I had kids whose little faces glow with delight more readily at cheap, tacky, mass-produced products, whether they be hand-me-down jammies from Carter’s or ugly plastic toys from the consignment shop or terrible books from the dollar bin at the grocery store. I like to think I have taste, but I’m apparently one of those parents for whom it all goes out the window once my kids are old enough to smile and wave at the stupid light-up, musical sun on the ugly Toys R Us bouncy seat. In this house, smiles trump style. Honestly, I think that puts me in the happy majority, but oh, sometimes I dream about a bookshelf restricted to exquisitely illustrated classics and punctuated here and there with a vintage wooden toy of superb design, even though I kind of want to shake the people for whom this is a reality because it appears as if in curating their child’s life, they have given very little thought to the actual child.
To wit, one of my kids’ current favorite things is a big plastic Christmas cuckoo clock my buys-everything-from-QVC grandma gave us two years ago. On the hour, the clock lights up with multicolored LEDs and Santa pops out of the doors at the top and heaves a hearty “Ho Ho Ho” before one of a half dozen carols bleats forth electronically as if from the bowels of hell. The boys LOVE IT. At “Ho Ho Ho,” they both drop whatever they’re doing and skid through the house in their stocking feet to stand at the base of the clock and watch, slack-jawed with wonder, as the turntable of elves cranks around and around to, hopefully, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” because that makes Simon and me laugh because it ends on a flat note. (Flat notes in electronic music are one of life’s great mysteries.) This dumb Christmas cuckoo clock is tacky and annoying not something I would ever have in my house on purpose. It’s the worst, and–you saw this coming, yes?–also the greatest thing ever. Their little faces! Joy! Delight! Wonder! When I’m home alone and the clock goes off, my heart swells for them. That is the magic of Christmas, and of children all year round.
Tender moment of clarity and morality time: The secret to a memorable childhood isn’t recreating a scene from your design magazine, nor is it filling a house with handmade, one-of-a-kind hipster nonsense. It can be those things, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s about memories. It’s about traditions that give us something to build our memories upon–traditions that give a child’s memories, and his memory, something to hold on to. I had a Garfield stocking for many years, and I had a Big Bird one before that. You’d never see anything so gauche in a Pottery Barn catalog, but they’re featured prominently on several pages of the catalog of my life. I know which magazine I’d rather read.
As for our stocking scheme, the good news is that I care about it a thousand times more than anyone else in the house ever will (see: 1,400-word blog post), so it doesn’t really matter (to them) whether I buy the cutesy ones or the plain ones or just take a Sharpie to some paper lunch sacks and duct tape them to the wall. As with books and people and Sees candies and Christmas gifts under the tree, it’s what’s inside that counts. My kids don’t know it, but they’re counting on me to make it count, to make the matter matter.
This is where I tell myself to take my stocking scheme and stuff it.