Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ho, Ho, Harrumph

Have you heard this one before? Her birthday is on Christmas, and she’s Jewish!

Since the season is upon us, I thought I’d share a little rant about what a drag a Christmas birthday can be. In case you haven’t guessed, I know from experience. Yup, I’m what the world refers to as a Christmas baby. Whenever I need to supply my birth date, the response is, “Oh, a Christmas baby!” Then, with barely a pause, the person will add, “You must get screwed on presents.” (Really, they say, “You must get gypped,” but that is not politically correct, and I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, especially not in a post that is partly about my taking offense.)

“I’m Jewish,” I used to say huffily. “I don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“But,” they would always say, eager to help, “you don’t have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas,” (which, by the way, is not something a Jew would ever say).

I’ve reached the age where I’m no longer offended. Nowadays, after the expected reaction, I’m likely to mumble something like, “Oh yeah,” or, “You bet,” so we can move on gracefully.

What I haven’t outgrown is how lonely I can feel on my birthday, even though my husband goes out of his way to try to make the day special for me. The problem is that he can’t make the rest of the world not celebrate Christmas. Stores aren’t open, most restaurants are closed. I understand; people want to be with their families. But it is a little sad that on my special day, everyone else is otherwise occupied.

My little family usually spends the evening of my birthday with my parents and my sister’s family. They come over for dinner and we order Chinese food. My mother brings my favorite cake from the Royal Pastry Shop in Lexington. (The cake part is nothing special, but the frosting is to die for, creamy with a slightly crusty layer on the top. It’s pure sugar, delicious.) There was one year, when I was around ten, that we didn’t get back from a ski trip on time for my mother to pick up the cake from the bakery before it closed for the holiday. There was no joy in mudville that year.

And I don’t recall ever having a birthday party as a child. My little friends were busy eating their figgy pudding and breaking their new toys. To be fair, I don’t recall my siblings having birthday parties either so maybe the day on which I was born had nothing to do with it, but it sure didn’t help.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, my final complaint has to do with presents. I hate it when someone gives me a present and says, “This is for your birthday and Christmas.” It makes it painfully clear that if I did celebrate Christmas, when it came to getting presents I’d be screwed.

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Kids are 24/7

One day, when I was in first or second grade, I walked home from school by myself, which was not all that unusual an occurrence back in the day. My memory may not be entirely accurate, I read a study recently saying that they rarely are, but I feel like it was later than the normal release time because the sidewalk was empty, and there were no other kids around. We didn’t live far from the school, maybe it was a ten minute walk for an adult, but I remember thinking that day that I would never be able to make it home. And then I saw my mother’s car approaching. And then I watched my mother’s car drive past. She didn’t see me jumping up and down and frantically waving, and she didn’t hear me yelling for her to stop.

I doubt that scenario could play out today. We gave our daughter her first cell phone when she went to middle school. It was the idea of her crossing a very busy street without a crossing guard that pushed us over the edge. Maybe we thought if she got hit by a car she could call us. That was five years ago, and we had held out longer than most. Today, I’m betting most kids in elementary school have their own phones before they hit first grade.

With the phone came a couple of rules; she was to call us when she left school, and call us again when she got home. We were both working, and we wanted to know that she had gotten home safely. She didn’t mind keeping in touch that way. As a matter of fact, she called a lot more than we asked her to. For instance, if we were supposed to pick her up somewhere, she would call us before we had left to remind us. Then she would call to ask if we had left yet, and she might even call to ask if we were almost there. There was no way we were going to drive past her on the sidewalk.

For the first year that my daughter had her phone, I wondered why we were the only people she ever called. I was worried that she didn’t have any friends to call. It took us a while to figure out that kids don’t actually talk on the phone. They text. Once we sprang for a texting plan, it turned out she had lots of friends.

Working parents love texting. They can communicate with their child while they’re in a meeting. It only takes a second to tap “no” and hit send, and it doesn’t interrupt the meeting the way a phone call would.

Kids love texting, too. Our daughter texts my husband when she has a question, needs information, wants to know why I’m not answering my phone, or is just plain bored. And therein lies the rub; not only can we stay in touch with our children, we can not get away from them.

I am not saying that my mother saw me that fateful day and chose to ignore me. Really, I am not saying that. Nor am I saying that there are days when I wish I could ignore my child. If, however, my mother did see me that day, and chose not to stop, well, I can almost see how it could happen. That’s all I’m saying.

iPhone for twelve

My husband has an iPhone. He’s on his third or fourth. He got his first one the day they went on sale in the summer of 2007. Or rather, I got his first one the day they went on sale. It involved getting up early in the morning and waiting in line all day, but that’s a story for another time. When he upgraded to a newer iPhone he tried hard to convince me to use the one he was retiring. I resisted. I had a phone. I still have it; a little flip phone that sports a Cingular logo. It does what I need it to do, make and receive phone calls.

This past summer, in yet another attempt to encourage me to embrace the iPhone lifestyle, Andrew set up one of his decommissioned iPhones to receive my email. I began to see the light. As long as I am in the vicinity of WiFi I can use my iPhone to do everything iPhone users can do – except make phone calls.

After I learned to obsessively check my decommissioned iPhone for email, I started to explore the games that Andrew had left behind. Some of them were variations of ones I had been playing elsewhere. Regular readers of this blog will remember my not-so-dirty little secret: I was a closet Webkinz fan, in it for the games. I have now graduated to a much smaller screen, with more than four primary colors.

I’ve even learned to download my own games. One addition to my gaming repertoire is Words with Friends. It’s just like Scrabble, without the threat of trademark infringement. You play a word, choose send, and now it’s your opponent’s turn. This game differs from the traditional face-to-face board game in a couple of disconcerting ways. If you play a set of letters that turn out not to be a word, you are invited to recall them and try again. No penalty. Perhaps even more egregious is that if you can’t make a word from your letters, you can play any old combination, without having a clue what you’re spelling. If it turns out to be a legitimate word, your score goes up, and it’s your opponent’s turn. There is no need to bluff, and there is no one to challenge you if you are bluffing. This is Scrabble for morons. And I love it.

Here is one of my new words: Qi. I have no idea what it means, but it comes in very handy in Words with Friends, especially if you can play it on a triple letter, or triple word spot.

Recently, I’ve begun using a free texting app. The first time I texted my daughter she replied, “Who’s this?” Once we’d ironed that out, I began to appreciate how convenient texting her could be in certain situations, like when she didn’t want to be overheard talking to her mother on the phone. Technically I can text on my little flip phone, but it takes much longer since, for instance, to type the letter ‘c’ you have to tap the number 2 key three times. I may be reaching my own personal tipping point regarding my iPhone turned iTouch. That costly data plan is still a deterrent, though. I’ll think about it for a little while longer and when I decide I’ll call you. Or maybe I’ll text instead.

How can I give up my morning paper?

I am one of the last 205,939 subscribers to The Boston Globe who still get it delivered to their home. My husband reads it, but he does it the way he eats ice cream – if I buy it – or watches television – when I turn it on. He claims he only does it because it’s there. It’s true that he doesn’t need the Globe to get the national news; he’s been reading the New York Times online for years. When they finally started restricting free content, he gave in and bought a subscription. As far as he’s concerned, we get the Globe for me. The charge appears on his credit card though, and I have to admit, he’s been relatively good-natured about the cost, because it’s pretty darn expensive.

The paper itself has been steadily shrinking for months. Each day when I pick it up off my porch it feels a little lighter. After I remove the sports section, which gets tossed without so much as a glance, and dump out the advertising circulars, I am left with precious little to read with my morning cereal.

When I commuted to work, I drove at least an hour a day with NPR on in the car. I was one of those people who started conversations with, “Did you hear that piece on NPR?” Since I have been without a commute, I have become even more attached to my daily newspaper. Without it, I fear my world will shrink too much and I will no longer be able to participate in cocktail conversations.

Also, I confess, I read the obituaries. It’s not a case of, “I read the obituaries and if I’m not in them, I eat breakfast.” After all, I’m not that old yet. And I’m not an indiscriminate obituary reader. I scan the names in a few key towns, including the one I grew up in and the one I live in, looking for names I recognize. For the most part, they belong to parents of friends and schoolmates from my youth. Since obituaries list the next of kin and where they live, it’s a way for me to peek into the lives of the kids I remember as the grown-ups they’ve become. Obituaries help me feel connected to the world.

I realize that obituaries are online, along with the rest of the paper, but I don’t want to keep a computer on my kitchen table. I could carry my breakfast up to my office and eat in front of my computer. Or I could pay for a data plan so I can eat my breakfast in the kitchen while reading the news on a tablet, which I would then need to buy. However, today, these alternatives do not appeal to me. I know that it’s only a matter of time before an obituary for the print version of the Globe appears online. That day, I will probably be standing on my porch wondering why my paper has not yet been delivered.