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Man of the House: Thanks for the parenting tips, kids

Chris Erskine's children have some suggestions over the holiday dinner.

January 01, 2011|Chris Erskine

It was an especially good week to be 8 years old. First, the little guy got a barrage of presents. Like waves of Union forces over the rural fences of Georgia and Arkansas, the gifts kept coming. Just when you thought, "That's it, right?" there would be another three or four under the tree.

Baseball bats and sweatshirts and electronics that only an MIT professor could understand. The little guy got this one game, I swear, that was so impossible to assemble that I finally gave up. I am not the quitting sort, but I do value the next 12 to 15 years of my life.

So I put a bounty on putting this gift together. At Christmas dinner, I say, "20 bucks to the little Einstein who can get the stinkin' basketball arcade together," and three hands shoot up.

"Good," I say with relief, "because I was willing to offer a hundred."

The lovely and patient older daughter immediately pulls her hand down, saying, "I'm waiting till he offers the hundred."

"Me too," says her little sister.

"Me too," says her brother.

Fortunately, there was a spat a short time later, in which all the kids and all the adults at the table — there were six — got in a big fight about who should be giving advice to whom in our family, a valid enough subject matter but probably not one suited to a candlelit Christmas dinner, a $60 goose waiting for his moment.

Anyway, sometimes it's not what you say but how you say it. With it being Christmas dinner, we are all on our best behavior, and several of the children are even wearing shirts. But it gets a little catty. I don't blame the kids, necessarily, for there is something about the air in the house over the holidays — a storm front of scented candles, sweaty candy canes, dog hair, brandy and stinky feet — that begins to wear on you. It's probably what set off Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."

So, we're enjoying a nice debate over parenting at Christmas dinner. My ideal Christmas? Probably a farm in Vermont — snow-covered barns, skaters on the millpond. Second only to that would be sitting in a ranch house in the suburbs and listening to my children discuss parenting.

Finally, the college girl stomps away in a huff, going off to assemble the basketball game and collect the bounty, which never went higher than $20. I sense one of those win-win-win-win-win situations.

I move on to the kitchen, where I help my wife, Posh, with the dishes for 90 minutes. The holidays have been filled with opportunities to spend 90-minute sessions drying dishes and putting them away in the wrong cabinet, only to be told which cabinet they should really go in, meaning I'm putting everything away twice.

On Christmas Eve, we had "a few people" over — I counted 100 — and that involved several stacks of dishes as well. The marble counters were so sticky with Champagne, Cointreau and grenadine that, rather than sponge them down, Posh decided to have them all replaced.

Now, it's hard to find someone to do that kind of work on an emergency basis, late on Christmas Eve. But if you're willing to pay, anything is possible.

As I always say: How do you put a price on money?

Did cash ever hold you when you were sick, or wrap its clammy hands around your neck to wish you Merry Christmas?

With that in mind, we try to rid ourselves of cash at every opportunity.

So, yeah, we went a little crazy this holiday season.

Two favorite moments stand out. The first is when the college girl and her older brother stay up late Christmas Eve. As the lovely and patient older daughter sleeps, they graciously change her Facebook profile.

For instance, under favorite activities, they write: "The most fun thing for me is when my little sister braids the hair on my back."

We have raised a generation of young people who move their lips when they comb their hair. But they can accomplish almost anything with a laptop: sabotage, embezzlement, slander.

The other special moment is sitting around the tree first thing Christmas morning. One kid has on a cocktail dress, another is wearing several layers of Victoria's Secret underwear. Kids today, huh? Mine are like the precious velvet angels they sell at year-round Christmas shops.

Anyway, the older boy is complaining about being kept awake by the soft snoring sounds the dog makes, which leads to a discussion of the soft snoring sounds their grandma makes when she's completely awake.

"Like she's idling," one of them explains.

At which point, everybody laughs.

Happy holidays, Grammy. Obviously, you're never very far from our thoughts.

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