What I Do

So I'm driving around in the car with my 13 year old and we're talking about all the random nonsense you talk about with your kids in the car; somehow we got on the subject of college, and he quite nonchalantly informs me that he isn't going to college, like ugh mom. I reach over to take his temperature, just to be sure he isn't delirious with The Fever, and then ask him oh, re-heally? This child looks at me and, with his mouth I spent nine months making for him, actually says, "Yeah, I'm just going to do what you did. You turned out fine."

He then had the honor and great privilege of being strapped into a moving vehicle he could not escape from while listening to his mother talk in very loud tones about exactly what is was that she did, and:

•   how hard it was;
•   how much cheap macaroni and cheese we ate for like ever while i was *doing it*;
•   how many nights I was up until 4am working at a bar and back up at 8am with him and his brother;
•   what it felt like to know I could do something really amazing with my life I just had no idea what it was or how to start;
•   how long I had to wait and how hard I had to look for the opportunity to get out from behind a bar and into the workforce;
•   how lucky I was that the opportunity ever came my way or that I had managed to piece together enough skills to take it when it did;
•   and how much easier my life - his life - would have been if I had ever had the opportunity to further my education.

(...and yes, I said all of that without breathing, uphill, in the snow both ways, because that's what mothers do.)

Getting from where I started to where I am was exhausting. Where I am now is exhausting in a way that waiting tables never was; the mental walls I hit every day hurt so much more than my feet ever did, but the pain is so good. I love working in Silicon Valley. I love being an integral part of the virtual revolution. I love science and I love tech and even still, I would not wish the path I took to get here on my worst enemy, or even a teenager.

No one told me to pursue more (or any) education. I never had a parent, or a priest, or a mentor who said I had to go learn more stuff. I had teachers who said it, but I didn't listen because they're teachers...they HAVE to say that. My boyfriend jokes about and/or purposely hides his "useless" liberal arts Ivy League degree but being on the other side of it, I can see in ways he'll never understand how not-useless a degree is. Knowledge, training, education - they are more than tools, they are gifts we give to ourselves. That degree is a gateway to more than just a better job or a career path - it's the gateway to the self-confidence you'll need to go out and find your place in the big wide workplace.

I'm always going to be one step behind my colleagues -- always working that much harder to keep up, to grasp the concepts, to speak the language, to figure out what they know. Even if they don't know it, I will always know it. I want my children to know better. I want them to know every single little thing about that which inspires them. I want them to drive forward, not keep up. I want them to grasp concepts as much as they grasp tasks. I want them to think differently, bigger, broader, and deeper than I did. I want them to have the gift of instruction, of education, of knowing what is out there for them, beyond what they see everyday, more than what I can teach them.

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Behind the Wheel of a Large Automobile

32.9 miles exactly how far I will walk, and by walk I mean drive, just to be the mom to keep the magic of Christmas alive in this house. 

I've been procrastinating buying my son the one and only gift he has asked for this year, the one that makes his eyes 15 year old completely-over-it-emo eyes go all -

Puppy dog eyes.gif

because I don't even know why. There is no reason. I just haven't bought it because, and now it's sold out across like America and I didn't find that out until I tried to buy it online today, 17,204 months after he told me Santa bringing it to him would make his life

Yes, Santa is still bringing him presents. The first rule of Christmas Club is we don't talk about Christmas Club. When you stop believing in Santa, he stops believing in you. Santa brings you what your heart wants the most and what his heart wants the most isn't available at a single online retailer until the Ides of March and oh my god, I don't even know what to DO.  

So what I did was start pretending that I don't know how The Internet works and I called (like, with my phone and everything) (I KNOW) every (the) Best Buy in town, and they searched every Best Buy in the city, and then I did the same thing with Target, and then I did the same thing again with Gamestop and by the power of Greyskull, it WORKED. They found one for me at a Gamestop 32.9 miles from my house. Guess how long 32.9 miles from my house takes to drive? Oh, you know, an hour and a half.

The Far East Bay giveth, the Far East Bay taketh away. 

I know it's probably not smart to be hyperfocused on one child's Christmas gift when there are five children waking up on December 25th under my roof this year, but in three years this one is off to college and he'll spend one of the two Christmases I get with him before then with his father, so this is the 2nd to last round for him and me and Santa.

This is not my beautiful wife. 

I think I'd drive a lot further than 32.9 miles if it meant I got a few more years to torment him with Christmas pictures on Santa's lap, of baking cookies to leave out, of truths we dare not speak aloud lest we break the spell of childhood magic. We've never once, not beyond his very elementary years, talked about the existence of Santa Claus - we believe unitedly in the notion that someone out there delights in delighting us, and making sure he knows that that is worth all the tanks of gas on earth. 

A Time to Give

In the amount of time it takes me to drive from my house to my office, I could drive in the opposite direction and end my drive in Tahoe. We live in the sticks of Northern California because we have to. We have five children. We have to put them all somewhere.

When my boys were little, we lived in a crappy little basement apartment (which I loved so very much) in the middle of Denver. We hardly had enough space for us, let alone a bunch of kid stuff. For this one tiny little sliver of my life, I was Über-organized. I rotated toys in and out of circulation so they frequently felt they had a fresh supply of things to play with. I did the same with their clothes.

They had one toybox which they could keep full of all the action figures and Legos and Hot Wheels and Nerf guns and puzzles and dinosaurs and Dora the Explorer toys they wanted (because gender roles are for sissies, and Dora was *awesome*), but it wasn't to overflow. All their toys had to fit inside that one toybox (which really was just a big Rubbermaid crate with a bunch of stickers and shit on it) and if they didn't, some would have to be donated to charity. Not just any toys had to go, good ones were donated, ones a child who maybe didn't have enough money to buy new toys would be happy to find at the local thrift shop. 

Same went for Christmas and birthdays. Each year at the beginning of December, we brought out all the toys, all the games, all the Erector/construction sets, and we started making tough choices, because if Santa was going to leave presents, we had to make room for them. Each year I explained to them that not every family is lucky enough to be able to buy their children Christmas gifts, and that we could help make those kids' Christmas' a wonderful time by giving our best toys, the ones we have cared for and kept together and played with delicately, to the local thrift shop so a family who needed to find wonderful gifts for their kids at the thrift shop, would. 

My children (and really, every child ever) were delighted at this prospect. Yes, giving up toys they loved sucked for them, but they loved the idea of giving another kid a good Christmas, and I loved them for their kind little hearts. 

Of course, those little boys are not little anymore, and they don't really play with toys anymore. We don't have toyboxes, we have cable bins. We don't rotate stuffies, we rotate game systems. We have a great big house a million miles from no where that can store you won't believe how many crates of Legos and Airsoft guns and vintage handheld game systems. There are no more gently used toys to pass on to a new family, but the ritual of it is still important. These men-and-women-in-training need to have it instilled in them that thinking of others, that giving while they're busy receiving, is as much a part of this holiday craziness as turkey and trees and 33% off sales with free shipping.

Wanting to give isn't nearly as easy as wanting to get, until you learn how freaking amazing giving feels. 

The first Tuesday in December is #GivingTuesday. After school, we are heading out to the mall, where each kid is going to pick one gift that they want to get under their own Christmas tree this year. They're going to bring it home and wrap it gorgeously. We're going to take it our of our family budget for Christmas gifts, and count it as one of their personal Christmas gifts, and then we are going to give it away to someone else.

Maybe it will go to a local foster child, maybe to a family who's having a rough time getting by or rebounding financially. It won't be worth a ton monetarily, because we don't have a ton to give, but it will be something. It will make a child's Christmas brighter, and it will give my children the greatest gifts I can think to give them - humility and humanity.

Join the giving movement here and find ideas for giving here.