Oh what fun it is, especially when it's good news or a special occasion.
"Surprise, happy birthday!"
"Surprise, it's a girl!" (Guess the ultrasound was wrong.)
However, surprise Mom, I need to bring two dozen brownies to school tomorrow, doesn't exactly make me want to shout joy to the world.
Neither do I like those irritating little surprises that seem to crop up at cripplingly inopportune moments.
"Surprise!" Now that I've scrounged up a box of brownie mix, why not, we're out of eggs.
The twins are having a costume party Tuesday? As in tonight this Tuesday and your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shell is ripped?
Being a well-seasoned mom, I feel like I'm somewhat of an expert on handling household disasters. I know now that I don't have to dash into the broom closet every time a surprise plops itself squarely on my shoulders and transform myself into Sheera, Queen of Quilted Two-Ply. One of the handiest ways to ward off evil surprises is to ditch my Super Mom cape and allow my family to realize that not everything is my problem. They need to know that poor planning on their part doesn't mean a mommie 911 on my part.
So, I delegate as often as possible. I like to think that I'm empowering them to be responsible. I'm also not above bringing a package of, GASP, store bought Ho-Ho's to any event. Truly, if it doesn't come out of a box, I'm doomed. I wish I could say that I'm a power rangerette in the kitchen. Really, anyone who can make yeast levitate at will impress me. I don't make pies, and my baking skills? Remember what happened to Clark Kent when he got near a chunk of kryptonite? Let's just say that phrases like "caramelize" and "whip until stiff peaks form" terrify me. Last time I tried to make something entirely from scratch, cinnamon rolls, I think they were supposed to be, it took me two days to clean the kitchen and I had to throw the pan away. I am infamous, however, for my homemade hockey pucks.
I'm what my husband affectionately calls "domestically challenged." If it can't be fixed with 10-pound test fishing line (it matches anything), duct tape, a staple gun, hot glue, a hanger or a welding torch, it simply cannot be fixed. Carpooling makes me nauseous and I only resort to clipping coupons if it's for frozen pizza rolls.
And before I can say, "Take out," Shazzam! Fear not, there he is now, my husband, Mr. Incredible to the rescue!
He can produce a delicious platter of brownies faster than a speeding kidlet can dash a washcloth. He's able to shovel the snow off one-story buildings and leap over Lego cities in a single step. He can also operate a washing machine and sew a straight seam. My guy is secure in his masculinity, and he proudly asserts that he actually wears the apron in the family.
Unfortunately, like many families here on the peninsula, we have a two-and-two schedule. For some reason beyond my mortal comprehension, all the baking emergencies seem to fall on my shift.
In a diabolical twist of fate, he will be home for Christmas in the nick of time, but not in time to help with the baking.
That's fine with me though, because I always get to feeling a bit sentimental and strangely domestic this time of year. There is something in my female DNA that makes me long to reach over the counter and into a bag of flour and come out in my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen, a place where mittens and stockings were hung to dry over a crackling woodstove and the air was spiked with the spicy fragrance of roasted cardamom.
I can still feel my mom's and my grandmother's hands gently guiding mine as we mixed the batter for their famous Finnish "pulla" bread. While we worked, they wove in stories about coming to America, how Great-Grandma and Grandpa managed to raise 19 kids and how a little baby was born on the very first Christmas day.
Together our 30 oiled fingers formed the glossy ropes of the sweet dough that would be neatly braded and set to rise on the stove. Grandpa would hitch up Clyde and Bob and outfit the sleigh with bells so that us kids could go caroling. I think we loved to bellow out "Jingle Bells" the most because we truly believed that it was written specifically for old Bob. We sang out loud and clear, in a glorious screeching H minor. The fact is my cousins and I sang about as well as I bake. Grandma liked to say that our family couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, that's why we had to use a sleigh.
I miss those days so much it makes me kind of bleary-eyed and girlishly sentimental reminiscing about those wonderful Christmases past. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to recreate those special, not so silent nights. Christmas at the Michels house usually involves stacks of dishes, something burning on the stove, babies, dogs, dog hair, stinky diapers, shredded wrapping paper and enough general chaos, dust and dirt to qualify me for a scholarship at the Martha Stewart reform school.
Then someone will find that Robert Earl Keen CD and start singing "Merry Christmas From the Family." After several refrains of "Feliz Navidad," they will eventually break into a capella versions of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Everyone will join in. The dog will howl. Things will get crazy and something will get broken; the only thing we'll bother to mend is a scraped knee or bruised feelings. We'll sit down to feast and someone will do something disgusting at the table. The laughter will only be interrupted by long distance calls and a repeat performance of the annual Thanksgiving whipped cream food fight.
Come to think of it, I can't remember weather or not there was dust on my grandmother's coffee table or if the bread rose like it was supposed to. I certainly do remember my mom and my grandma making everyone pitch in and clean up. Maybe Christmas hasn't changed that much after all. It's still about sharing, working together as a family and telling the stories of Christmases long ago. And, remember children, the very best gifts don't come in a box, except perhaps a decadent Sarah Lee cheesecake, that is ...
Jacki Michels is a freelance writer who lives in Soldotna. Stay tuned for next month's episode, when Wonder Mom and her trusty side ache, The Eighteen Hour Girdle tackle, the F word.
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