gillis and her big mouth

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Month: November, 2012

I Have Met the Elf on the Shelf and it is Myself

I need someone with greater anthropological insight than I to explain to me the cult of The Elf on the Shelf. What the hell is going on people? I keep reading posts about friends and acquaintances who have spent more than ten dollars (ten dollars! that’s a really good glass of red wine at a very nice restaurant!) on this item. The shelf elf has a pseudo-retro appearance with a Kewpie-esque face and it wears a red onesie outfit and elvish hat. See how hideously ridiculous that sentence was? I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say beyond sharing just terrifying The Elf on the Shelf is to gaze upon. It gives Chuckie a run for its money.

And people are putting The Elf not just on shelves, but also tables, cribs, Christmas trees-you name it. Some even move their elf around in order to keep their young children on their toes. The Elf is watching you. Always watching you. See that? He’s in the kitchen now watching you steal your sister’s pop tart. He just saw you slurp your milk. Don’t look now, but he beat you to the bathroom, you better wash your hands if you don’t want the wrath of The Elf to be unleashed upon you. It doesn’t matter if you name The Elf something adorable like Tuck, Midgie, or Ochocinco, he’s still a stalker who can’t be reined in once you let him out of the box. He’s got but one mission in life and it is to keep tabs on children and catch them being naughty.

The photographs of children interacting with the shelf elf are all very suspect. The Elf is aloof, he is not about to pal up with your kid, unless your kid is the social equivalent of a CIA operative on the preschool playground. Then maybe there could be a meeting of the minds. Otherwise, trust me, The Elf is not baking, coloring, wrapping gifts, or reading with your cherub. The Elf is gaining intel for the coming apocalypse. Stop worrying about zombies people, and start worrying about plush decorations that resent only being let out once a year. Stock up on water, batteries, and David Sedaris holiday essays in preparation for the battle over the soul of Christmas future. The war is coming. You’ve been warned.

What Walmart Needs is a Jacob Marley Moment

The other day I shared a newspaper article with a friend about the money Walmart has spent to appeal a seven thousand dollar settlement in a trampling death in 2008 at one of their Black Friday sales. I mentioned thinking that it was a poor use of money. I would have shared that they are culpable for this death and whatever injuries others incurred due to their pricing policies and lack of adequate staffing. Certainly no one goes out to shop for gifts expecting life-or-death situations. But before I could share my thoughts, my friend stated that the money they spent was necessary in order to “keep all the weirdos from coming out of the woodwork to make claims leading to a hideous class action lawsuit.”  In her view, this was just good business practice.

I said nothing further, but flashed back to the time I spent working at a consulting firm with people who, like my friend, made their living by helping businesses large and small maximize their profits in a variety of ways. During my tenure, I saw some sketchy things. Occasions when intelligent folks talked themselves into doing things that were not always ethical or even decent in order to serve their clients’ needs. In many ways, the consultants were the mirror image of the litigious attorneys they reviled – each on one slippery side of the equation out to get what they could. Opposing strategists enjoying a chess game which has the potential to push all of us into a darker, less human landscape. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that helping businesses get off the ground and stay afloat, finding ways for businesses to create and market their brand, are real services that keep our economy moving. This is what I imagine what friend’s company does for businesses. But Walmart doesn’t need any help in maximizing their profits. Walmart needs help in seeing how they could revolutionize retail in ways that would help society. Walmart needs an editor to help them pull their story out of its repetitive rut.

Imagine if you can, thinking about Walmart and feeling warmly towards them because they are known for respecting and celebrating their workers -the way Ben and Jerry’s once did. Can you picture a humane, joyful Walmart? I can. They have the money to be creative and generous, so why aren’t they?  Whether or not they realize it, businesses create their own narrative in how they relate to the world around them. They can hire consulting folks to write their story, but the real narrative is being written and edited with each transaction, each court date, each hire, and each fire. Walmart can give millions of dollars to charity and publicize that in order to garner postive press, but if you and I don’t know anyone who has loved working for Walmart, the story reads like a fantasy and we don’t buy it. Walmart is the main character in a Dickens tale and each time they have the opportunity to reverse the plot, they resist, so the protagonist learns nothing. The story remains flat, boring, and unreadable for most. No one wants to read about Ebeneezer Scrooge sitting alone in a dark room counting counting counting his money. We want Scrooge to see what that money could do to create life and community! Then we want him to join that community -without trying to control it for his own purposes.

I stayed out of the stores yesterday. I have no desire to support business practices that encourage, or at least allow, barbaric behavior in the pursuit of a bargain. I am a very infrequent Walmart shopper, perhaps 2-3 times a year when I cannot find a needed item elsewhere for a dance recital costume or class project. There are several big box stores I do shop at and I realize that their business practices do not necessarily reflect my worldview.  As my children grow and need fewer things like diapers, I will visit these stores less and less frequently, and for that, I’m thankful. I know that there are many others out there who are compelled to shop at Walmart because their budgets and geography make it difficult to impossible for them to choose differently. I hope I’m able to see Walmart have its Jacob Marley moment in my lifetime. If they became true community members, others would surely follow and the retail landscape could be a technicolor place.

Thank You, Thank You Very Much

Just as I’m becoming almost unbearably whiny and self-centered, Thanksgiving pops its head up to remind me that I’m still on the top side of the dirt and things are actually quite lovely around here. In no particular order, here are some of the things that have vexed me lately and how I’m turning that frown upside down to see the bright side of life (cue the final song from Monty Python’s Life of Brian complete with whistling sequence please).

My husband’s car has expired at the time when we are most financially strapped. Ach. Although, that’s not accurate, we’ve been much more financially strapped than we are right now. We were in worse shape the year we lived in a sketchy neighborhood in Chicago. We were paying twice what our apartment was probably worth, making very little money and seeing little of the city’s sights because it took us months to unravel the mess created when my identity was stolen the week we moved into town. That year we nearly bartered a winter jacket for a Christmas tree. We became resourceful and scrappy, but we weren’t yet stupid enough to give up a vintage Woolrich for the temporal delights of a fir tree. I think we may have decorated a twig we found in lot down the street that year. I know we’ll figure out how to get by on one car for awhile, or we’ll scrape up the down payment (Hey, is there still a black market in China for kidneys? Hypothetically speaking?) on something that will pass inspection. For now, I’m thankful the junk yard is offering us $250 for the car instead of asking us to pay for its tow.

This past weekend my 3 year old son, who is deep in the throes of potty training, had some hideous stomach ailment. I grew tired of the clean up cycle, and my frustration bubbled over into absolute panic when he flushed the toilet while I was trying to rinse a pair of his soiled underpants in said toilet. As I watched those Thomas and friends underpants swirl down into the vortex, and stared in disbelief as my son hit the flusher again laughing, all I could do was watch helplessly, shamed by my slow reflexes. After I cleaned the rest of the bathroom up, hosed myself off, and took some deep breaths, I went online to research my options. In the end, I decided I would do nothing about it. Nothing. I’m thankful that so far the toilet has continued to flush and nothing seems to have backed up. I’d be lying if I didn’t also say that I’m thankful they were the Percy underpants instead of the James underpants. James may be the vain steam engine, but his personality is more vibrant than steadfast Percy. Have I mentioned how thankful I am for DVD players yet?

Other things I’m thankful for include the idea that I don’t mind buying certain things, like clothing and salt, and therefore don’t feel compelled to cultivate or make these things myself. Friends and acquaintances who are incessantly posting handcrafted items, things felted from wool that was shorn in their sheep meadow, ornaments made from egg shells gathered in their chicken coops, and salt dried out from ocean water collected at their beach homes are just a few of the items I’ve seen lately. Really makes me feel like a slacker, until I realize I’m keeping the local economy humming with my purchases of eggs, salt, and sweaters. Not to mention I’m keeping tiny shreds of my sanity intact by not trying to care for things that can’t tap me on the head to wake me when they need feeding or watering. Although I suppose chickens might have that ability too, but if they tried it, I think I’d have to bread and saute them. So thanks all of you wacky pinners and facebookers with all of your Martha Stewart leanings. You manage to exhaust me vicariously.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I feel at least a little grateful that I’m not compelled to turn to marathon running and other extreme sports in mid-life. Sure, I’d enjoy the results of the efforts – the runner’s high, the trim physique, and the increased energy. But in order to achieve all of those things, I’d have to give up the joys of driving my kids to practices, games, play dates, and dance classes around the clock. Imagine how flat my life would be. Thanks to all of you who keep sharing your new personal bests week after week. Knowing that it’s never too late for me to get back into running or cycling helps me to put it off for another decade or two.

I’m also grateful for blogging. So much cheaper and more convenient to put my thoughts out here for like-minded readers who will leave occasional comments than it is to go into therapy where someone might suggest I make changes to improve myself, then charge me money for a service I’d rather not have received. Many many thanks bloggers and readers. Happy holidays.

Small Pieces of Brain Lint

This has been a week of personal growth for me, I’ve learned many new things about myself and the world through which I navigate. I share these here in no particular order.

Sometimes people surprise us and do not vote for insipid people just because they’ve been bombarded with media images of them for months on end, countless images of their smiling family faces forever burrowing into minds like terrible 70s love songs. I’m talking about you Scott Brown. I have done nothing to you in this lifetime to deserve the amount of glossies you’ve filled my mailbox with this year. Receiving three -distinctly different- oversized postcards from you on the same day was over the line, I nearly filed a restraining order. Luckily, I will not have to listen to your flat, Southie-esque accent any longer. Here’s hoping you take a job as a lobbyist (perhaps for the pick up truck industry) and you stay in DC so we are not subjected to seeing your wife deliver the news on local television ever again. Let it be so.

Wearing a mouth guard to bed in order to curtail clenching, grinding, and other forms of dental destruction is far less glamorous than it sounds. There’s really nothing exotic about it, so if you’ve been considering trying it for recreational purposes, I’d advise against it. It may trendy in some circles, but it’s far less sexy than it sounds, and the wearer often sounds a bit like Darth Vader with a head cold which young children do not find comforting during their night terrors. And ps – my teeth are still killing me this morning.

There is nothing wrong with going on a group outing with coworkers for the sole purpose of getting away from your family for a day. Even an outing to a place that specializes in the manufacturing, marketing, and retail sales of candles will have something for you to enjoy. Even if you are the shortest one in the group and therefore must sit in the “way back” of the minivan. You may find joy in the Chocolate Cottage or the Christmas Barn if you give it a try. If all else fails, the restaurant with the organic food produced on the farm located behind the candle shop will delight and surprise you.

Here’s hoping the upcoming week has as many delights and surprises in store…

That Time of Year Again

This is the time of year I always feel unsure of how far I can take things before the equilibrium of our family dynamics changes irrevocably. I tend to push it too far sometimes. I’m not always sensitive to the feelings of my loved ones when I become so singleminded. And as my children become older, more savvy and sophisticated, I can’t get away with as much. It’s not as obvious the first few times I cross the line, but after about a week of siphoning off the best Halloween candy from their treat bags, the kids start to notice that something is up. When all they see is a sea of Tootsies and Dots with the occasional lonely, depressing Crunch bar thrown in there, they start to suspect that there’s more at work than just their limited munching taking the treat count down exponentially each day. Sure, I can convince the 3 yr old that he really only had Skittles and candy corn left in there, but the 11 yr old knows better. Much better. She can smell the cheap chocolate hanging in the air,  my feeble attempts to stuff a hummus-laden carrot in my mouth to mask it no longer fool her. Suddenly I see that I should have gathered all of the shreds of candy wrappers, put them in an opaque bag, and thrown them away at school. Will stuffing the wrappers under a wet Pull-Up be enough discouragement for a super sleuth on the candy trail? Or have I gone too far? Time will tell…