Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Letter from California-December 27, 2004

Like most people, you probably have about a quarter-ton of used wrapping paper stuffed into a refrigerator box out on your curb about now. You might even be feeling guilty that you’ve thrown away enough brightly colored litter to ruin a medium-sized State Park. Once when I was in elementary school, a classmate didn’t turn up for the first couple of days back from Christmas break. After much consideration, we came to the solemn conclusion that the missing kid, rather small and weiner-y anyway, had been accidentally discarded with the Christmas trash. How would anyone ever know, we wondered. When he finally showed up, we asked him what the Garbage Fairy looked like and why she didn’t leave him there with the Frosty the Snowman wrapping paper and the half-empty stewed tomato cans. Ok, I asked him that, and everyone else just piled on. Anyway, it taught him a valuable lesson: if he planned on visiting his mother’s relatives in Ohio again, he should expect to be teased about it.

In hindsight, it wasn’t a valuable lesson at all, but it seemed important that he know it at the time. It’s clear that Christmas Mischief had simply taken hold of us. Everyone pays attention to the long run-up to the Big Day, but we rarely discuss the phenomenon that happens among children once they’ve been armed with the toys, goodies, and weapons they’ve asked for. Imagine a seven-year old riding a shiny new bike, wearing Yu-Gi-Oh pajamas and an unscratched USC football helmet taking potshots at trees with his new air gun at 6:35 AM. It could only be Christmas!

I’ve noticed though that Christmas Mischief has gotten somewhat tamer over the years. In my own Santa Days, a cross between a Present Show and a Battle Royale always developed around 10 o’clock or so once all the neighbor kids brought their new stuff out to play. Fights broke out between various Star Wars action figures. NFL logo jackets were displayed as though we were walking the runways of Paris. One of my friends tells how his childhood buddy wanted to demonstrate the indestructibility of the portable radio that Saint Nick had just brought him by standing on it. Apparently, it had only been designed to take the full weight of a somewhat younger child, so it collapsed like a Jenga puzzle. My fourth grade pal, Mike, took the award for simplicity though. It seemed like every year, some pyromaniac relative of his thought firecrackers made a fine gift. Mike just strolled through the neighborhood lighting them one by one and tossing them onto the porches of decent people. Danger was afoot, all thanks to Christmas Mischief. Of course, we might well have looked tame compared to previous generations. My friend’s father-in-law, for example, tells of taking his Christmas pellet gun to the railroad tracks. He waited until the freight trains rolled by and shot at “tramps” through the doors of the railroad cars as they helplessly went past. Now that’s Christmas Mischief even Firecracker Mike couldn’t match.

Perhaps my own kids haven’t gotten old enough to exhibit the symptoms yet, but so far, we’ve seen almost no tormenting of vagabonds, firebombing of neighbors, or destroying of radios. Milder symptoms have appeared, however. No sooner had my son broken out the new Monopoly board that I noticed he had something in his hand. It was a paintbrush for Making His Own Plate. He barely understood what “Community Chest” was and he had already moved on to other presents. No sooner had he set the correct time and date on his electronic bookmark than he was already cropping his little sister out of photos he’d taken with his new camera. His thimble was just a few spaces away from my hotel on St. Charles place and I was tired of waiting for him to roll. Just then, I heard a medium-sized crash from the bedroom. I ran in to see my 25-pound daughter falling off a portable radio. Apparently, it was built to withstand the weight of a preschooler, so the damage was light.

Christmas Mischief in the age of car seat laws and Gymboree may have become a watered-down version of what it was before, like Yoo-Hoo compared to chocolate milk. Whether that’s good or not depends on your point of view. As a parent, I’m relieved that I won’t have to spend Christmas morning explaining to Homeland Security why my son and his armed and helmeted band of bike-riders put a mysterious green Play-Doh-like substance in the Reservoir. As a kid, I might want to kick up my heels a little more than going straight to the Intermediate level Brain Teasers and skipping those Basic puzzles. Then again, I don’t really want them firing on the homeless or stomping on the Home Audio equipment either. It’s a conundrum, so I’ll just keep my eyes on it next Christmas.

One year heavier, my daughter’s almost sure to take another run at that radio.


Post a Comment

<< Home