Last night the kids and I went to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve. I was disproportionately grateful to be included, because I still see myself as the lonely waif being ostracized by Australian JAPs in elementary school, even though those girls are totally my Facebook friends now! #IronicExclamationPoint (Also they’re not girls.) My real-time friend is a beautiful, talented and all round badass single mother, who jetted between kitchen and serving area, where she had put on the entire spread for thirty people by herself. She floors me, not only with her wonderful gathering of family and friends, but also cheese. Lots of cheese. Mountains of artisanal cheeses that made me disregard my lactose intolerance in a blaze of gassy glory. And that was before the pâté…
“Can you have this one, it has pork?” my friend asked me.
“Of course! I love pig. I don’t like pork chops but I love prosciutto,” then added breathlessly, “Sometimes I eat the entire plastic container of prosciutto before I even get to the checkout at the supermarket.” She laughed. Later she asked me if I could eat the seafood soup.
At this point I would have to categorize myself as an Ethnic Jew, more than a religious one. I say the “Sh’ma” prayer before going to sleep, but also eat pig in aisle six. I lit four out of eight Chanukah candles, but “dated” a lot of non-Jews this year. (Who knows what species some of them were, let alone what ethnic background?) I go to Chabad sometimes, but always end up leaving feeling like a depraved slut in need of confession with a Catholic Priest.
So, pretty standard for a modern L.A. Jew. Lapsed as fuck.
The giant tree was bedecked (that’s the correct term, isn’t it? “Bedecked?”) in tons of sparkly shit (another technical term.) It seems like the Gentiles compete fervently for how bling-y they can get the thing, the ones on Facebook were each so huge and bright, that I started to wonder what #filter they were using. Your eyes don’t make things shine like that, do they? That has to be an electronic starburst effect… and yet how can the lowly Menorah compete? It’s barely a foot tall (except the ones at Chabad which are taller than human height, that they use mosquito repellant torches to light, so this diminishes the effect) and there are no presents under it. Then for eight days G-d says you have to eat fried food, which begs the age-old question, does the Old Testament G-d want me to be fat?
So last night, after carousing with the other Christmas children, my brilliant kids finally noticed the tree and the TEN THOUSAND presents below it, and it dawned on them that once again they had been short-changed by living in a supposedly secular country that is, in reality, Christian. In this particular family, they open the gifts the night before Christmas and the daughter is an only child, so all the guests had brought her something. At around 9 p.m. it had begun (Rollerblades! Dolls! More dolls!) My nine-year old started to cry.
“Chanukah is my favorite holiday and you didn’t even get me anything,” he spat accusingly.
“What do you want?” I asked, putting him on my lap and feeling like I might die of guilt, because when you divorce your kid’s dad, you never run out of guilt. “Other than that new iPhone your dad got you, and all the baseball cards, and the clothes I got, and the other baseball cards and… what? What do you need?”
“I didn’t want that iPhone, he just got it,” replied my Millennial which, if life had hashtags, I would immediately label #WhitePeoplesProblems or maybe #TrophyGeneration. My sons have all the electronics, sports equipment and skateboarding crap that anyone could ever ask for, what the fuck else do they want? Should I immediately spirit him to a homeless shelter to ladle soup into bowls, or could I understand that a kid sees another kid getting presents, when he already feels excluded by being surrounded by people who celebrate Christmas when he doesn’t, and he’s just being a kid?
It emerged that because nobody had wrapped his presents and ceremonially presented them under a coniferous plant, that he felt ripped off. Well, shit. I will resist the “In my day…” speech but my kids get stuff ALL YEAR ROUND, especially from their dad. And I often present them with cards I made ‘just because.’ Nevertheless, the message was clear, this Chanukah had sucked because I didn’t wrap eight different shitty gifts, as is the American tradition, with one big gift at the beginning (or the end? I don’t know. It’s not my custom?) Silly me, I thought cooking them meals every day, lavishing them with affection and refraining from killing them was enough.
On the way home, I explained to my kids that they had two parents who loved them, and sometimes the presents under a Christmas tree may or may not be making up for other things. But inside I was determined. Next year, I’m having the world’s largest Chanukah bush (not like that, you dirty fucks) or maybe as we had in the former Soviet Union, a “New Year tree.” In fact I may go and buy one right now while the kids are with their dad, because what is a Jew if not someone who can grab a tree for half-price after the holiday? I may just re-appropriate an actual family tradition. If anyone had stuff to make up for, it was those Soviet alcoholics, nevertheless I have beautiful memories at age three hanging gorgeous glass ornaments on the tree before we left Russia, minus the whole Santa thing. The truth is even as a sober mom, my mood swings alone should net these kids a treasure haul.