It’s Raining Underpants. It’s Raining IN the Underpants. The Underpants are Reigning Over Me.

This timely T-shirt available at Amsterdam Gifts on!

This timely T-shirt availabe at Amsterdam Gifts on!)

The week between Christmas 2012 and New Year’s Day 2013 will be remembered in this household as the week of Underpanting the Piddle Producer. Next Monday, Gbot merges with preschool, and dropping the diaper is part of the deal. And so we are working on becoming a four-underpants kind of family. We’re almost there, but I admit to procrastinating. Diapers are easier. So an all-out effort to direct piddle into the potty had been postponed. Yesterday we were a nine underpants family, but as Noah knew, things must get wetter before they get drier.

As we gain underpants, we are also gaining pedals. Mbot received a letter from Santa this year:

A handwriting analyst would nail Santa as a kind, patient, tired, right-handed forty-five year old woman.

A handwriting analyst would nail Santa as a kind, patient, tired, right-handed forty-five year-old woman.

This morning, the pedal bike was under the Christmas tree.

“I am the luckiest boy in the world!” Mbot pronounced.

And that’s a take.

Other things that happened today that probably will not occur on New Year’s Eve, 2013:

1. While making Gbot’s bed, with his help (in theory), I found under the bed a.) Gbot and b.) twenty-six Swedish fish beside an empty bag labeled “Swedish Fish.” I had been wondering where my Swedish fish had gone.

2. In an unrelated incident, while oohing and aahing over Mbot’s new bike, I heard plaintive calls of “Mama, Mama,” from the bathroom. Investigation revealed that Gbot had climbed onto the bathroom counter, where he’d conducted a thorough investigation of the medicine cabinet and, apparently, brushed his teeth, and could not get down.

3. In a completely unrelated incident, except that it again involved Gbot, Gbot applied my new concealer, which I’d had heart palpitations while paying for last week, across his lips in an effort to make him “as beautiful as you, Mama.”

Am I beautiful when I'm angry?

Am I beautiful when I’m angry?

4. In another completely unrelated incident, except that Gbot was found at the site of the incident, Gbot was caught, before breakfast, standing on a toy suitcase in order to reach the gold-wrapped chocolate coins on a high counter. When he was told to get down, he replied, “I was not getting into trouble. I was just doing my exercises.”

5. In a fifth and completely unrelated incident, except that once again, Gbot was there, both bots embarked on a “Look, it’s raining small, clean clothes!” extravaganza, and so instead of going outside to ride a new bike, they sat on their beds without talking (in theory) while I picked up, folded, and returned to the drawers so many miniature shirts, pants, and pajamas that, by the time I was finished, both guilty parties had fallen asleep.

2012 December 31 007

Exhausion sets in after the fifth misdemeanor.

Exhaustion sets in after the fifth misdemeanor.

May safety, happiness, and peace rain in your home in 2013!

What the Directions for Your LeapPad Don’t Tell You

During the LeapPad Introduction Session, Husbot forgot to tell Gbot one important thing.

During the LeapPad Introduction Session, Husbot forgot to tell Gbot one important thing.

That when The Backyardigans doesn’t come on, you should not–repeat, NOT–apply a wooden boat ornament to the screen forcefully and repeatedly.

We will be holding a memorial service for the LeapPad later this week. In lieu of gifts, please send cash donations to:

Gbot’s second LeapPad fund, c/o Gbot’s mother.

And so three Christmas lessons have been learned: 1. If you are frustrated with your LeapPad, do not assault it enthusiastically with a wooden boat ornament. 2. Spend only half of what you can afford on a gift for your three-year-old, especially if it is electronic, because there is an excellent chance that you will soon be purchasing a second one. 3. The day after Christmas is apparently an extremely popular day for shopping. If, on this day, you find yourself in the market for a popular electronic device for three-year-olds, do not bother to attempt to actually shop for it. You may find yourself having a conversation like this:

Recorded Voice: “Please continue holding. There are (pause) FOUR (pause) guests ahead of you in line.”

Person, twelve minutes later: “Customer care, how can I help you.”

Me: “Hello. Could you please tell me if you have any LeapPad2’s on your shelves?”

Person: “I’ll check on that for you.”

Eight minutes later: “I’m having a hard time getting that information. Hold please.”

Six minutes later: “It’s hard to tell in our system.”

Me: “Umm…Could you look on the shelf?”

Person with obvious irritation: “Honey, if I walk across the store, fifteen people are gonna stop me to ask for something.”

Me: “Okay! Sorry! I didn’t know!”

Person: “No trucks delivered yesterday, because it was Christmas. The day before was Christmas Eve. The shelves were vacant. Check back tonight. There is a truck due in. Something might be unloaded. There’s a chance.”

Me: “Okay! Okay! Thank you! And I’m so sorry I even considered paying the company you work for for a product built for three-year-olds that can’t even withstand a bit of fisticuffs with a wooden boat ornament! Keep your shipload of WimpPads!”

(I did not actually say that last part out loud.)

Meanwhile, the perpetrator of the original incident had fallen asleep in the back seat. I had let him think that That Was That, no second chances for someone who doesn’t use the Accompanying Stylus to communicate with one’s LeapPad, and perhaps the tears and trauma had worn him out. It was the first nap he’d taken in five days.

I can’t honestly say it wasn’t worth it.

Boys R Us, or, Getting Back Whatcha Give

Christmas shopping with bots can be as unpredictable as setting out to make marshmallow snowmen with them.

Christmas shopping with bots can be as unpredictable as setting out to make marshmallow snowmen with them.

I experimented this year: I took each bot to the toy store by himself, to buy a present for his brother. I realized that, with a four and a half-year-old and a three-year-old, my optimism might have been slopping over into the idealistic. But I just had to try. I figured Gbot might be fairly easy to persuade into picking out what I thought he should pick out. I thought Mbot might throw a small sputterfuss about one or several things before we settled on a compromise.

Since Gbot had the sniffles and I couldn’t foist him off on anyone, he went first. At the toy store that I hate but that is the only one within about ten miles of us, he bounced from Legos (me: “they’re for bigger boys”) to a FurReal bunny that made chewing noises and moved its hind legs when you rubbed its back (“let’s keep looking”) to bubble machines (“it’s too cold outside for that”) to the toy guns (“no”) to a giant, spherical, plush, hot pink, butt-ugly cat pillow (“let’s look at the other stuffed animals.”)

At long last, he settled, at my urging, on an enormous fluffy stuffed doggie that looks like it could be Junepbear’s half-brother. It was not stitched by a fair-trade artisan out of organic cotton. In fact, it was so affordable that I see much seam-repair in my future. But Mbot, whose favorite word at the age of sixteen months was “fwuffy,” and who continues to seek out fwuffy experiences, will be thrilled.

Gbot lugged the thing, which is as big as he is, up to the front of the store, happily talking nonstop about how Mbot would love his new doggie. It was fun to see him so happy about something for his brother. That was two days ago, and he hasn’t yet spilled the beans, in spite of the fact that this morning, we wrapped it (but only after he ran to get a blanket to spread in the bottom of the box).

Yesterday I took Mbot. As I’d predicted, it was more of a challenge. I hadn’t considered the fact that, after walking in and within fifteen seconds identifying a cool Thomas the Train quarry complete with crank elevator and roundtable, that would have been perfect and was on sale, no less–he could happily spend three days examining every item on every shelf within reach in every aisle of the eight billion acre store. Or that he would want to get his brother the six hundred-dollar four-wheeler (“that’s way too dangerous”) or the fifty-dollar plastic bat-cave that I know would provide a great seven minutes of uninterrupted fun before boredom set in and they never looked at it again. Or the remote control helicopter (“that’s for bigger boys.)”

Gbot might hurt his finger on this, too....

Gbot might hurt his finger on this, too…. (

What I didn’t foresee was how either protective he would be or how eager to assert that Gbot is a baby–every time I’d point to something that looked like a possibility, Mbot would find a health reason to boycott it. “Gbot would choke on those pieces.” “Gbot might break that and hurt himself.” “Gbot might cut his fingers on that part.”

“How about a stuffed animal?” then, I asked, because one of the ways I’d lured Gbot out of the store the day before was to tell him that maybe Mbot would buy him one, too. “Noooo!” howled Mbot. “how about we go back to the fun aisle.” And now of course I must entertain the possibility that he won’t like Junep’s giant half-bro. But distanced from the overwhelming profusion of crap, I’m quite sure he will.

What I also didn’t foresee was how I would hear myself mimicked back to me. Every few minutes, if I was lingering in an aisle with appropriate items, I’d here, “Mah-ah-ahhm. Don’t diddle-dawdle.”

“Okay, I’m coming,” I’d say, in a reversal of roles.

If he’d vanish around a corner and I didn’t follow, he’d backtrack and admonish me to stay close.

And once, as we were perusing the remote control aisle, I must have been lagging, because he suddenly said, “Come-come,” using exactly the same word in exactly the same sing-song tone I use to call the antique cat.

Finally, I enacted a “choose one of these two things,” rule, and a time-limit of two minutes. He chose. The Thomas the Train Quarry won out.

So: success. Except that now Gbot keeps talking about a remote control stuffed doggie and Mbot keeps wondering what toy Gbot got him.

One reason I even let the boys do this, in addition to the “Christmas is about giving” angle, and instead of making something or visiting the dollar store–is that the bots don’t get piles of toys for Christmas. I see them playing more happily with the Trios, or with pipecleaners, or with their small bin of Legos, or their stuffed animals or blankets for forts or plastic bin lids for television screens–than I ever see them play with actual plastic toys.

And it was a good reminder to me, hearing Mbot repeat back to me my own words, that lots of times, you get what you give.

Dear All: Our Year Was Better Than Your Year

Annual Christmas letters. I mentioned them yesterday because I got a chance to edit my sister’s. It passes muster in my book because 1. it’s funny and 2. it mentions her daughter’s ear infection in Hawaii. But we’ve all received them: the hyperbolic records of children’s achievements, professional successes, and dreamy vacations on which everyone behaved and no one hyperventilated when the Amex bill arrived.

Not long before I met Husbot, I sent out my First Annual Christmas Letter. I will copy it here, in case you’d like to use it as a model for yours at the close of 2012.  Its virtue is that it won’t make anyone hate you.

This man apparently did see the parrots of Telegraph Hill. (photo by janinsanfran at

Dear All,

Apologies for the mass-mailed “Christmas Letter,” but so much has happened this year that it seemed the most efficient way to go.

Abruptly single again last November, I started drinking an extra glass of wine every night (my friend Solveig said it was okay to start in the morning, but I rarely rose before noon). Seeking a more fulfilling life path, I applied, again with the help of my friend Solveig, for several jobs as far away as northern Idaho and New England. I did not get them. Nor did I finish my novel.

Meanwhile, I began plucking a growing hedge of gray hairs from my temples and upper lip.  The good news is that many of my new hairs are hidden in my deepening wrinkles. My friend Solveig says that these wrinkles are my fault; that if I had used sunscreen in my youth, I would still be smooth as the top of a fresh pumpkin pie, but I disagree—it is genetic, as is my progressive hearing loss.

Solveig told me that traveling would help, so I visited San Francisco. I looked for the parrots of Telegraph Hill but did not find them.

As for the pets, my cat, Tesserwell, didn’t seem to mind moving four times after we hurriedly left the yurt that came with the job I had to quit when my boyfriend left me. My dog, June, didn’t mind the moves either except for the last time, when she had explosive diarrhea for three days. We’re in a nice townhouse now, and Solveig says that it’s healthy that we’re no longer in the basement with the vermicomposter, or the condo with the unemployed Vicodan addict, or the guesthouse of the rich man who kept asking for blowjobs (he did not get them). And unlike the yurt, the townhouse has plumbing!

I have high hopes that the new year will bring a wonderful man into my life. Solveig says I deserve someone with whom to share my unique outlook and way of facing life’s challenges.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


*   *   *

What’s your Christmas letter look like?

Sending Up Cool Words

Eyes and throat behaving (almost) normally at last. Midgets behaving completely normally: yesterday morning, Gbot squeezed hand cream all over a box and Mbot shook Gbot’s milk-filled sippy cup into the mouth of the tyrannosaurus but the milk mostly ended up all over the rug. In the aftetrnoon, Gbot doused himself in cold coffee that I’d forgotten to remove from Midget-level and the cup crashed to the floor. Body fluids were mopped from the floor, fortunately, none of them blood. No one listened on our walk, making me marvel at the selective deafness of all three (both Midgets and the dog). I thought briefly of the Christmas cards I’ve been trying to send out. I suppose now they will be New Year’s cards. Or President’s Day cards or Valentine cards. Bastille Day. Columbus Day.

I wouldn’t bother but I believe they’re important. I don’t want to be one of those people who people forget to care about because we apparently don’t care enough about them to keep in touch. But keeping in touch sometimes stretches my abilities. I have to remind myself how important it is.

Mbot just came into the room and climbed up onto the bed. I think my blogging moment for the day is over.

“Mom, there was a little tiny battle in my nose. It just taked for a little bit of years, a whole bunch of years. I had to get some…some blood that was not good for the other cilia and silly looking blood cell guys, so I had to get it out of my nose.”

“Did you need a tissue?”

“Yeah, I need to get another one off.” Pause. He scooted close under the covers to look at the computer screen. “Yeah, those are cool words you’re putting on your computer. Are those computer words? Are you sending up the words?”

“Yes, Bug.”

“I have a secret, mom. I love you. I don’t want Tesserwell to get cranky with Gbot because I love Gbot. I keep him safe and warm. When he gets cold, I spread a blanket over him.” Oh. Maybe that’s why he was pushing a big pillow on his brother’s head yesterday.

The day’s begun. The blog post scooted out under the wire but don’t bother checking the mailbox for a New Year’s card yet. But at least I got to send up a few words.

Are you sending up cool words today?

And on the Ninth Day, She Blogged.

If I have time to write a (belated) letter to Santa, then certainly I can summon the resources to write a formal apology to my followers for the unannounced nonblogathon I completed the week around Christmas. Those of you who read “Dear Santa” will understand that it was a busy time. But it’s not like I was in a coma or anything. I have been busy in the past and managed to blog. So what was different this time? (And no, I still  maintain that any lapse is NOT because I was watching back-to-back episodes of House, really. Netflix only allows me one DVD at a time and doesn’t stream the good doctor.)

But for the sake of clarity, let’s do a differential diagnosis:

Mental fatigue

Physical exhaustion

100 notable things occurring per hour

It’s a short list. Everything points to hyperinput in a weakened state, causing a crash in the system. I kept noticing things, and even grabbing scraps of paper and scribbling down quotes and observations. But there was so much. And at the end of the day, and at the beginning, so few resources to process it. What do I blog about? I would think each day. And then: What do I not blog about? And no one, even my mother, although she would refute it, really wants to read the unabridged version.

In the 2000 movie Wonder Boys, Michael Douglas plays a professor and acclaimed novelist who’s been writing his second book for years. It’s reached over a thousand pages. A student finds the unfinished behemoth in his desk, reads it, and says something to the effect of: “You always tell us that writing is about making choices. But…you didn’t make any.”

Blogging has taught me many things. Time management is not among them. But this is: that writing is about making choices. Writing’s not much different from cooking, or getting dressed in the morning for that matter: a little bit of this, and an awful lot of not that. A lot of the work is in deciding what to leave out.

This morning, on the last day of the year, the Midgets made purple hand prints on the New York Times after painting rocks. I insisted they wear smocks (two maternity tops that come to their ankles, worn backwards and tied around the waist). Gbot calls his smock a “Monet” because Mbot has told him that Monet always wore a smock to paint in. “He has a tiger smock. He got it at Chuckee Cheese’s. Mom, did you know that Monet started out as a talking billy goat?”

I did not. But I know that two months ago, Monet was really really small, and he was a really really old mouse named Googy. When I told Mrs. Pursell this during the parent-teacher conference, she smiled and brought out the photograph of the painter that she’d been showing the class. It was about 1 1/2″ inches high. We all agreed that Monet, if not a mouse, was at least really really old, and really really small.

When you remember this day, this year, what will you leave in? What will you leave out?

Dear Santa,

Dear Santa,

Thank you for coming to our house and all the other day. Thank you, on behalf of the Midgets, for the Krazy Kars and Mickey Mouse umbrellas and the foam swords. Thank you that they were not poisonous foam swords or sharp ones, because Gbot has taken ten or so bites out of each edge of his blade. Oh, and thanks for the froggie rain boots that have, although I know it seems like a physical impossibility, upped Gbot’s cuteness by a factor of 1,000. Thank you for leaving the Imperial Storm Trooper Gun at someone else’s house. Thank you. But I really wasn’t looking for a one-night stand.

Where were you the next morning, when I really could have used some help picking up the wrapping paper and boxes and ribbons, and maybe someone to keep the Midgets from climbing the tree to get to the candy canes while I was using the bathroom? Where were you the morning after that, when I had to pick up all over again because the Midgets, taking a break from their new toys, decided to decorate the living room? Where were you that evening when the kitchen counters were still piled high with baking sheets and mixing bowls? I did not see a second dishwasher under the tree. Or a laundress. Mbot is running out of Superhero underpants. I have noticed that you are not on any superhero underpants. I am beginning to understand why.

If this letter finds you–which it might not, because there might not be any postal service in your part of Bali, which is where I suspect you might be spending the months of January through November, living off your endorsements–please know that mothers everywhere simply wish that you would practice what you preach. Is it naughty or nice to disrupt entire lives for weeks ahead of time, then just drop in, fleeing the scene like a bad guy on CSI, leaving pandemonium behind you?

I know I sound like a bitchy ungrateful middle-class American mother, but I also know that I speak for all BUMCAMs when I say: next year, please, stay awhile. If you would only help me catch up in my life after Christmas, I promise you, you’ll get your own line of underpants.



Hallelujah! (toot) Hallelujah!

I drove over an hour just before Christmas to hear Handel’s Messiah. I grew up listening to it on Christmas Eve after bedtime, as my parents brought our gifts down from the high loft in their bedroom and arranged them under the gargantuan bull-pine we’d carried in from some subarctic marsh or another. As a child I thought the nearly two-hour oratorio was one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’d ever heard. I was a young adult before I realized I could listen to it all year ’round. And I did.

The first time I saw the whole thing live was a frigid night in Washington, D.C. I was in my early twenties and didn’t own a car. I rode a Metro and then a bus and then walked for almost an hour, uphill, to get to National Cathedral. A stone pier separated me from most of the choir. I spent a lot of time worrying about how to get home without freezing. But the music sounded better than it did on my Walkman.

Flash forward to a rainy afternoon in east Phoenix, to a large and relatively new church designed, I believe, for acoustics. I was embarrassed at the tears that sprang to my eyes during the overture. It was almost unbearably beautiful. I’d been the last to arrive at the sold-out performance, and my seat was a padded folding chair against the back wall. In front of me, in the last pew, was a family of five, a mother, father, and three little boys whose ages must have ranged from two to six. The youngest fell asleep almost immediately on his father’s lap, then slept until nearly the end in his mother’s arms. When the hand-off took place, she stared into her son’s tranquil face for about twenty seconds, touched her lips to his forehead for another twenty. When the choir sang “For unto us, a child is born…Unto us, a son is given…,” the dad turned his head and gave his wife a conspiratorial grin, as if those lines had been written just for them.

They had been. My beliefs in the realm of spirituality run more to the Buddhist and Shinto end of the spectrum, and I tend to consider the idea of a god that thinks at all like a human to be not only arrogant but insulting (for the god) but I find it wonderful that the Christian story is couched in a tale of a holy infant. And of rebirth in the face of death. Humanity’s faults lie not in the infants, but in the men and women they become.The infant is mankind’s link to peace and hope and the everlasting. Our perpetual failure, as a species, to attain the first does not deter us from keeping the second or achieving the third.

My own body had to undergo the chemical metamorphosis triggered by giving birth in order for my brain to understand the holiness of the infant, the power of that holiness, and humanity’s need to worship it. Becoming a mother gave me a chemical connection to the power, to the glory–a mainline to the everlasting.

During the Hallelujah chorus, the six-year-old stood on the pew in front of me, bopping his head in time to the music just as I felt myself doing. In the pause between the second-to-last “hallelujah” and the last one, he let out a soft fart. Both hands grabbed the seat of his pants and he whipped his head around in alarm for the paternal reaction. His dad shot him a conspiratorial grin. He grinned self-consciously back.

So easily the sacred becomes the profane. The two shift and change places before our eyes; to remind us of the sacred that’s often as elusive as if it were writ in infrared, we tell a story. We sing a song.


The Oatmeal Eskimo

the chimney jesus ornament by orsobear.

I have failed at my goal to post every day, much less to write the blog from five to six each morning. Some of you may have noticed. I notice. On the days I’ve remained silent, it’s not because I’m watching back-to-back episodes of House. I’m adhering to the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Or the other one, “Shut up and listen. You might learn something.”

It’s also because Christmas is kind of a busy time of year. What with all the overachieving, trying to create a holiday worthy of the ones my mother created all through my childhood and adulthood, and still does.

Sadly, Christmas at my parents’ house will not be the same this year because, for the first time in nearly forty years, their tree will lack a grimacing, fur-trimmed Eskimo face made out of what we’ve all speculated is oatmeal, that my brother made in grade school. David’s wife must really love him, because she took it back to Japan last year after their Christmas visit. It’s either love or my mother paid her off.

Either way, I will miss the nasty old thing. The legacy has been passed on; now his children get to poke fun at him and move it surreptitiously to a branch on the back of the tree and wait to see how long it takes for someone to notice.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a story about ugly Christmas tree ornaments, especially when I started out saying that if I didn’t have something nice to say, I wouldn’t say anything at all. But my brother would be the first to agree that the oatmeal Eskimo is long on fiber but short on beauty.

What’s the ugliest thing on your tree, and why’s it there?

The Amazon Way: Adventures in Gift Wrapping

The Box of Shame

I went inside Amazon last week. That’s right: inside Santa’s distribution center and birthplace of the Kindle. Building 3.

The “ooh, ahh” factor was considerable. Approaching and entering Building #3, a behemoth windowless block longer than five football fields, was like what I imagine boarding the Millenium Falcon might be like if it landed just west of Phoenix off the I-10. Disappointingly, Harrison Ford didn’t greet me at the door. No one else did either. Don’t get me wrong–others were present, in the form of  two uniformed personnel behind an elevated desk and several others busily working the airport-like security exits, bag search windows, and full-body turnstile entries, but no one greeted me. No one acknowledged my appearance in any way. I looked down to see if I had turned invisible somewhere between my front door and theirs, but no, there at the bottom of me were the comfortable shoes I’d been instructed to wear, in the email from Mbot’s school PTO leader, who’d organized this fundraising event which involved a five-hour stint wrapping gifts. In exchange, Amazon would give 75 cents per gift to Montessori to buy more turkey basters or tweezers or paper for books about the biomes of the wetlands.

Volunteer wrapping gifts at Amazon. Not.

When I’d happily agreed to participate, I’d imagined a relaxing afternoon around a large conference table making friends with other mothers while we honed our folding and taping skills. I estimated that by the end of five hours, I’d wrap perhaps seventy gifts and have more friends. In my fantasy, we were all sipping mochas, too, but I realized even then that might be pushing it.

In reality, ten or eleven men and women, none of whom I recognized from Mbot’s school, stood in front of the metal detectors, looking as confused as I was. My wrapping fantasy flickered, like in The Matrix, when there’s a break in the continuum and you realize that what you thought is real might not be. They seemed to be shuffling one-by-one through a metal detector, and I followed the crowd, shuffling past a log book in which I listed the personal electronic devices on my person. No one had actually spoken to me yet, so the only way I knew to do this was to flip back a few pages to see what other people had written. I passed through the metal detector and stood with the others, who were finally communicating with one another, mostly to express how strange our gift wrapping experience had been so far, even though we hadn’t actually started wrapping gifts.

An enormous banner hung high across one wall reading: “No Running Allowed,” and all around us, employees were fast-walking across the concrete floor of the massive space, whose metal roof was slit with skylights and higher than a field goal kick, and whose east wall I could not even see, it was so far away. While I contemplated the wonders of contemporary engineering, a woman appeared and ushered those volunteers who had “done this before” out of sight into the indecipherable maze of the machine. Several minutes passed. Then a tall man arrived; he didn’t  introduce himself, just mumbled a few indecipherable words and passed out nondisclosure agreements. I dug for a pen and wondered if I was breaking any rules by leaning my agreement on a pallet of hardcover copies of some book I’d never heard of. I read both sides of the agreement and signed it. In doing so, I promised not to give away  any of Amazon’s secret processes.

The tall man led us westward for over a minute until we finally reached a wall, with a door in it that led into an office, where we were instructed to leave our personal items. We could keep our phones, but were admonished that talking on a cell phone and gift wrapping were not to be done simultaneously. Then we were led–again, for well over a minute–back out into the main space and into a maze of high aisles of segmented, numbered, metal shelves that continued into infinity. Each held items of all description and groups of people moved with carts among them and among clusters of low-tech machinery, tables, ramps, etc. The main impression was of movement, constant and everywhere.

Our small, confused group finally came to a halt across from loading bay #126, where a small, businesslike and perpetually moving person introduced herself as Dolores, and proceeded to briskly and impressively demonstrate The Amazon Way of gift wrapping. There’s a way to wrap a Kindle, a way to wrap a CD, a way to wrap Boxed Items, a way to wrap books, and a way to wrap Large, Unwieldy Gifts (LUGs). So as not to disclose nondisclosable details, I will just note here that The Amazon Way involves neither a conference table nor mochas nor paper, scissors, or small plastic rolls of Scotch tape. 

Dolores endeared herself to us right away, possibly because she was the only person yet who had made eye contact, smiled, and had a name. Was this a deliberate strategy employed by Amazon? Were we meant to feel intimidated and unwelcome by all but our immediate superior so that we’d pledge undying loyalty to her? After all, without Dolores, none of us would be able to find a restroom, much less our personal belongings or the way out.

Each volunteer found a station for him or herself, checked for the appropriate tools, and went to work. I was again reminded of The Matrix, where Keanu Reeves’ real body was plugged into a giant power plant. My station was beside two stations shared by heavily pregnant best friends, the only others, I’d learned, who were also wrapping for Mbot’s school. We three formed the end of the line.

For those of you considering such a diversion yourselves, I can reveal the most important secret without breaching my nondisclosure contract, and it is this: position yourself at the station as close to the front of the line as possible, so you can pick and choose what to wrap before undesirable, difficult, time-consuming items get rolled down to you. One woman, obviously a veteran, was up at the front hand-picking the Kindles. The Kindle, and I hope I’m not disclosing any nondisclosable details here, arrives via conveyor belt at your station accompanied by its own custum wrapping box with a pre-taped ribbon. If you get to exclusively wrap Kindles for five hours, your school will be able to buy enough paper for a million books about the biomes of the wetlands.

Standing beside a perpetually moving conveyor belt, I magined myself taking a wrong step and ending up in one of the giant blue bags designated for LUGs or taped with no more than three pieces of tape into a box and sent to Scottsdale. Perhaps with a card like one I affixed to a beribboned something-or-other, labeled, “Merry Christmas Fartpants and Sophia.” Maybe at the end of the day  (but when do the days end, inside Amazon, at this time of year, when employees work eleven-hour shifts around the clock?) some uniformed security personnel might blearily notice that a volunteer had entered, carrying a personal computer and a cell phone, and never left. He’d assume I was still at my wrapping station. By the time the shift, and the next, rolled around, the narrow line containing my name and descriptions of my personal electronic devices would become lost under new pages of new volunteers and their personal electronic devices. I would only be discovered, lifeless but not yet bloated, thanks to Amazon Prime, the next day by Fartpants and Sophia. They’d never be really the same again.

I watched my step, and met the challenge of a thirty pound La Crueset dutch oven that trundled down the conveyor belt. But the Lady Gaga coffee table book almost bankrupted Montessori. In an interesting paradox, while the Kindle is the easiest item to wrap at Amazon, home of the web-order book, an old-fashioned book is the most difficult. Old-fashioned books come in all those inconveniently different sizes, and have all those pokey, pointy corners. Eight of them, to be exact, each one ready to tear a carefully folded pre-cut sheet of wrapping paper, sometimes again and again.

Torn wrapping paper is not The Amazon Way. 

Neither is using more than three pieces of tape per gift. Nor is crinkling. Nor is unevenness or crookedness of paper, ribbon, or card. Nor is the blue ribbon with the green paper. Or the blue paper with the beige ribbon. But when in doubt, use beige. “Beige goes with everything,” says Dolores. She and Burberry know.

As the two pregnant ladies and I toiled, giggling over each other’s mediocre wrapping skills and high-fiving our triumphs, Dolores appeared among us, one hand raised high above her head. In it was a gift–one that had been tracked via a nondisclosable computer code to our row. The package looked like something Mbot might have wrapped. Its gold paper was crumpled at one end, which was affixed by three large pieces of tape.

“The Box of Shame,” I intoned under my breath. The pregnant ladies and I turned shamelessly to find out who might claim it. We speculated not quite quietly that it was surely one of the women handpicking the Kindles. That those women needed the Kindles because they had no genuine wrapping skills. No one fessed up, and Dolores picked someone, at random, although I don’t think completely at random–Dolores was on the ball–and gave a lecture and (another) wrapping demonstration as the rest of us not-so-guffawed ungraciously.

Twenty minutes later, quality control arrived again, in the form of Dolores holding another gift high in the air–this time, a small, blue-wrapped box. I squinted to see what was wrong: Aha! the tag had been applied sideways. Again, the Montessori mothers denied responsibility with smirks of superiority. Half an hour went by. I wrapped a felt pocketbook-making kit, a history of war, and a block of suet.

Dolores appeared a third time, now shaking her head and threatening us. In her upheld hand was another gold package–this one with a large tear on the side. Even worse: the tear had been taped! Not only was the responsible party a shitty wrapper, but she was trying to get away with it!  I started kind of feeling sorry for this person who apparently was genuinely really, really, bad at wrapping presents. Give ’em the Kindles, the pregnant ladies and I agreed. With those genes, their kid would need the private education more than mine.

After three full hours of wrapping, and quite a bit of standing around because the gift volume was down that afternoon, we were told we could go. There simply wasn’t enough work for all of us. I counted thirty tags to add to the Montessori pile. In three hours, I’d made $22.50.

The pregnant ladies had chosen to stay an extra half hour, so I was chaperoned to the turnstiles alone, where my chaperone disappeared, but no one could tell me how or where to retrieve my personal belongings. My chaperone had to be called back to lead me there. With personal belongings in hand at last, I then proceeded to bungle the exit procedure. I made every mistake in the book, and the uninformed security personnel let me. First I tried to push through the turnstile instead of going through the X-ray. They let me almost get through without giving them my bag. And then my cell phone. And then I was directed to turn on my cell phone so they could ascertain t wasn’t hot off the shelves. I am sure they didn’t let me make every mistake in the book for their own amusement–I think they’d just forgotten that anyone alive might not know The Amazon Way.

As I drove home on the interstate just before rush hour, I thought about The Amazon Way. Amazon had charged anywhere from $3.99 (for a Kindle) to $5.99 (for a LUG) for every item we wrapped. I did the math. On the average, this left Amazon not only with the $4.24 per gift after Montessori’s take (minus supplies and cost of conveyor belt), but also with whatever it was saving by not actually hiring people to gift wrap. Meanwhile, I’d made $22.50 for Mbot’s school. I hope it goes to buy more paper to make more books illustrating biomes of places, maybe other than the wetlands.

“There are the plants that reach and reach high and high to the sun,” Mbot had said when he brought home the first book.

“There are plants that stay down under,” he told me when he brought home the second book.

“Wetlands are stinky!” he announced when he brought home the third book.

I will keep them forever. It’s my way.

What’s yours?