wish list blues
Every year around the end of November/the beginning of December, I fall into an existential funk. I could blame it on the weather here in Washington, because the forecast is uninterrupted rain until Thursday, April 9, 2021.
I could blame it on our permanent dusk here in the cloudy northwest, where the sun “rises” at 7:30 am and “sets” at 4 pm, and the only way you can tell that the sun is up is because you can see the impenetrable gray blanket of clouds more clearly.
I could blame it on the impending end-of-year report card that I always write for myself, in which I compare the starry-eyed dreams of day one, 2018, to the glassy-eyed, eye-twitching, pathetic rule-bending realities of day 332:
Per my new year’s resolution of 11 months ago to eat more fruits and veggies, I have eaten a cheese bagel with cream cheese for breakfast.
Question: Does coffee count as a vegetable infusion? Coffee is a bean, after all. Beans are practically vegetables.
I’m counting it.
I didn’t have 9 cups of coffee this morning.
I had 9 antioxidant-rich beanwaters.
But I don’t think any of that is really what I’m bummed about. I think I’m bummed about my wish list. My Christmas list is a real fucking bummer, dude.
Remember when you were a kid and you LUSTED after things? I remember falling asleep imagining a new Barbie dreamhouse, its pink plastic molding and stickered-on backsplash.
Now, I fall asleep imagining more sleep. As far as wish fulfillment goes, it’s efficient, but grim.
My kids have asked for Monster Jam tickets, Pokemon trainer kits, Batman Lego sets, dinosaur costumes, pianos, rock tumblers, and stuffed unicorns with glittering fur and enormous golden eyes.
The way they ask for these things gives me a deeper understanding of the genius of Will Ferrell in Elf:
Ask any parent and they’ll tell you: a child’s joy is the greatest gift in the world. We are privileged to have unfettered access to their joy at all times of the day and night. Give a kid a stick of gum and watch them fall in love with you, gum, the world, unicorns, Jesus, and LIFE, in that order.
Also: ask any parent and they’ll tell you: a child’s joy can really make you feel like an empty sack of shit. Or, I guess that doesn’t make very much sense. A child’s joy can really make you feel like a shit sack that has already been emptied. Yes, a once-full shit sack with little dingleberries clinging to its insides. An empty sack pilled with poo. That is you. Or rather, me. #SecondPersonProxy #TalkingToMyselfHere
I TOLD YOU I WAS HAVING A CRISIS, PEOPLE.
It’s not that I begrudge my children their joy, it’s that I want to JOY with them and I cannot imagine unwrapping anything in a box that would give me the same shot of pure dripping ecstasy that LOOKING AT PICTURES OF LEGOS ON THE INTERNET gives my children.
But Christmas is a gift-giving holiday and hell yes I like presents, so every year in November I try to think of things to want at a range of prices so that I can give my family a wish list.
Here’s how that goes:
Internal Voice: OK, what do you love doing?
Well, I love sleep.
I mean… Really? Okay, sure, let’s start there. Lots of things to buy for good sleep. Some new sheets perhaps?
I have sheets. Good on sheets.
A fresh set of pajamas? These are cute! They have little coffee mugs on them!
Mmm… (teenage girl shopping with mom face) … mm mm. Have you found the RBG nightgown yet?
I found this RBG tee-shirt with plaid pajama pants?
NO. I told you what I wanted: a black, 3/4 sleeve, knee or calf-length modal nightgown with a white dissent collar EMBROIDERED on it. EMBROIDERED, bitch. None of this iron-on shit.
Alright, well… that… still doesn’t exist, so… how about a white noise machine? An essential oil diffuser? Slippers?
The essential oil thing sounds cool…
Holy shit, there are like 9,000 essential oil diffusers. I’m getting the comparison shopping sweats.
Well, that’s okay, calm down, take a breath and let’s just look at the reviews. Look! This one has 450 5-star reviews!
Woah, woah, this person said it’s “noisy.”
You know who else is one person? ME. I AM ONE PERSON. Look, if I want to sleep next to industrial machinery I’ll camp at the goddamn quarry. Fuck the diffuser.
Okaaaaaaaay… what else do you love?
I love writing.
Great! You DO love writing! See? You aren’t an empty shit sack!
I didn’t say I was an empty shit sack.
Of course you didn’t! Because you’re clearly NOT ONE, ya writer! So what do you need for writing?
A fancy pen?
I need time.
Ooooh look! A Girlboss nameplate for your desk!
No, what I need is 9 hours a day and non-gendered labels for people in positions of authority.
How about this fedora? It looks arty.
Let’s come at this from another angle. What do you want to DO this year?
I want to finish my book.
Awesome! What do you need for that?
These earbuds light up.
Cool. I’ll wear them to the Hannah Montana concert I’m not going to ten years ago.
Wanna take it down a notch? What else, other than writing a book, do you want to do this year? Do you WANT anything?
Of course I want things. It’s just, they’re hard to explain…
Try me. I am, after all, your internal voice. Odds are pretty good I’m gonna get it.
I want to fix American democracy, raise two healthy kind well-adjusted intersectional feminist sons, and have a clean house all the time. I want to connect more deeply with my friends because there’s a little part of me that wonders if I am capable of sustaining friendships because I never let people all the way in. I want to I want to go on dates with my husband and have adventures together. I want to be less angry. I want to join a team. I want to read a book on a beach. I want to save the Earth from pollution and baby wolves from execution and refugees from tear gas. I want to run a marathon.
These running socks are nice.
They don’t have any seams, so—
Sure. Put the socks on there.
Fantastic! So your wish list is now… socks.
Don’t look at me like that. There is literally nothing that you want that can be given to you as a gift.
I asked you what you love and you said sleep and time and fucking saving the world. COOL. I’ll just ask your mom to SLAP A BOW on EIGHT HOURS of TIME and SAFE WOLVES. How about an Apple watch? Apple watches are cool.
I guess. But it won’t make me happy.
JESUS H. BALLS. FINE. FINE, YA WET SOCK. WHAT IS BROKEN IN YOUR HOUSE AND NEEDS REPLACING.
Right off the top of my head? The pepper mill.
Pepper mill, check. I put a nice one on there so they’ll feel like they’re actually buying you a present.
Cool. Oh! I need some more clothes hangers.
What the hell, it’s Christmas. Also, my whisk is old.
Fuck. Okay, a whisk… I guess…
And I’m out of under-eye concealer.
YEAH, you are.
Um… we could use some more band-aids…
Katie, are you reading off the grocery list?
When I was a kid my desires were bottomless. One of the things I yearned for was adulthood, the golden age of life in which I’d possess the freedom to eat blueberry pancakes for dinner, watch rated-R movies in the theater, drink wine whenever I wanted, stay up reading until midnight, kiss boys out in the open without getting grounded, and drive myself anywhere I wanted to go. I guess I feel a little sad that as a child, I already knew all the best parts of adulthood. As an adult, it’s hard to think of things that will make me happy. If the weather were better, I might be able to think of that as good news, perhaps even evidence of my self-actualization. But it’s raining and my wantlessness makes me wonder if I have passions. It makes me wonder if I have interests. It makes me wonder if my life is empty. It makes me wonder if I have a life at all.
But then I ask myself what I want and what I love, and I don’t restrict myself to price points or items that are available on Amazon prime. That list is long. I love a lot. I want a lot. It’s just that the things I most want aren’t things at all: they’re relationships, security, time, and space. They are the kinds of things that loved ones will write coupons for, but I’ll never cash in.
It’s hard to resist the urge to chase the memory of childhood Christmases, when I lay awake and tried to listen for sleigh bells over the thundering of my heart, when I snuck out of bed at 2 am to check the tree, when I gasped in delight at the sight of my lumpy stocking, and unfamiliar packages in wrapping I’d never seen before. “From the Elves,” “From Prancer.” Santa’s handwriting looked like Dad’s calligraphy. Weird.
I still want that Christmas: the wished-for gifts, lovingly wrapped. The joy when the paper falls away. The perfect thing.
And guess what? I’ll still get that Christmas.
It’s just that those wished-for gifts? They’re not for me. They’re from me. I’m on the other side of the joy now, the plain brown dirt that holds the seed and brings it to life. I’m the one stashing the secret Santa paper and smiling when I imagine the look on Chicken’s face when he unwraps the rock tumbler that he’s been staring at in the dog-eared MindWare catalogue for the last 2 months.
It’s okay that you don’t want things anymore. It’s okay to ask for what you do want: time, space, love. Those are the things I give my kids all the time, so they don’t need to ask for them. I do need to ask for them. It’s okay for your wish list to be time, space, people you want to love. It’s okay to GIVE those things, too. Just make sure that you actually book that shit. Put it on your calendar: Movie with Sister, Hike with Love, Book Club, Swim Team, Writing Workshop.
Give yourself a break, get the hell out of the rain, and don’t be mad at yourself for falling into bed at the end of a long day in which you won a hard-fought half-an-inch on those well-adjusted kind healthy intersectional feminist sons you love so damn much, and falling asleep dreaming only of more sleep. That’s fine.
It’s also fine to get those velvet hangers. Those are nice.
If you know someone who might have the wish list blues, share this post so they can get an Elf gif AND a Die Hard gif, which is what we in the biz call TWO IN THE BUSH. (There’s a joke… a bush joke… about Bruce Willis and Will Ferrell… come on… come on, Katie… you’re right there… nope, I clenched. It’s gone.)
Thank you, and give yourself some sugar from me today!