Where Hemlines and Water Balloons Belong


What’s wrong with this picture?

This morning we watched Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, and Gbot identified what is wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys:  “Her dress is too short.” Mbot heartily agreed. “It is definitely way too short,” repeated Gbot.

I gave thanks that my two boys know that a crotch-skimming skirt is unacceptable attire, even for a toy.

Also thankful that yesterday I caught them while they were not very sneakily sneaking a giant water balloon into their bedroom closet. They had named the translucent green, five-pound blob Georgie the First. With bated breath, I gingerly conveyed Georgie out the front door, explaining that the natural habitat of water balloons is OUTSIDE. Hemlines do not belong at the hip, water balloons do not belong in the closet.

Also thankful I had the wits to inquire if there were Georgies the Second and Third.

And that Georgie the Fourth (the runt) survived the drive to the speech therapist’s office in Mbot’s pocket.

And that I live with people who name water balloons.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Swabbing Santa’s Cup


At right, the Christmas List Launcher.

It’s been two and a half years. So much has happened since I last showed up here that I’ve retitled my URL “superherounderpantsandbeyond.”

And beyond…..The bots no longer wear superhero underpants. They’ve moved onto Skylanders Swapforce and Angry Birds (Gbot) and penguin prints (Mbot) with a silly little button over the silly little pocket in front. In spite of Husbot’s warning about the fragility of the bedroom fan, the underpants frequently fly like superheroes, launched gracefully into the air by the velocity of the fan blades from which they are regularly hung like baubles on a Christmas tree. It’s one of the bots’ favorite ambushes. At least, by now, both bots have proven they can stand on the top rung of the bunk bed ladder to position the ammunition without breaking an arm. Although the post-superherounderpants world has survived a broken arm.

Last night from the bottom bunk, Mbot announced a plan to find out who Santa is. I was surprised to hear him musing about it, because, well, Santa is Santa. “I know!” he explained from the bottom bunk. “We’ll put out cookies and milk for Santa, and then in the morning, swab the edge of the cup and test the DNA.”

While Mbot was plotting, Gbot’s eyelids were drooping up in the top bunk, where his dark head rested against a double-roll of paper–his and Mbot’s latest Christmas lists–which was poised delicately on his Angry Birds launcher, ready “to shoot into Santa’s hand.”

It was the Bunk Bed of the Eternal Paradox: On the top, we need a great unknown to believe in. On the bottom, we need a mystery to solve. And through the air, a rain of underpants, because we need to reach beyond ourselves, and to laugh.

I’ve missed sharing the laughter I found in this space, to reach beyond myself and connect. So glad I can do it without launching my underpants at you.

What Kind of Creature are You?

Mbot Fly 4

After a recent bath, Mbot, in his winged Red Fish towel, realized he might be wearing a garment that would allow him to fly. “Mom! I’m going to fly!” he announced. He mounted the steps of his bunk bed.

He raised his arms wide.

He leapt.

He landed. Ker-plop.

I waited.

He said: “I think I need to start from higher.”

He climbed higher.

He raised his arms wide.

He leapt.

He landed, ker-plop.

He said: “I think I need to flap my arms faster.”



Mbot Fly 3

He climbed up again. He raised his arms wide. He leapt. He flapped.

He landed, ker-plop.

He looked at me. He said, “I think I’m more of a gliding creature.”

And that was the end of that.

I thought, my heavens, if everyone figured out the truth about their own natures–and accepted it–so readily, what a different world we’d live in. I wondered about myself and some of my own unfulfilled ambitions, the terrycloth fins I spread.

Even if we dream of being flying creatures, is it so bad to discover that we are only gliding creatures, in the end?


Mbot Fly 2

Dear Easter Bunny, Enough with the Rejoicing

Rejoice, for new life bursteth out of the egg (or the bed), and will astound you with its very aliveness, no matter what the hour. (Come back later for an explanation on the outfits.)

“Rejoice! For new life bursteth out of shell and room, and will astound you with its very aliveness, even in the darkest hour.” (Madeupians 3:30) (Come back later for an explanation of the outfits.)

Dear Easter Bunny,

I realize that Easter is a time for rejoicing, but next year, I’d like to do a little less of it.

Next year, please do not stop at our house first, like you did this year. I appreciate your thinking that, with duty done, you could sleep peacefully through the night, eliminating a 5 a.m. wake-up call for basket dispersal, but it did not work that way. This is how it worked:

Mbot woke up at 2:30 a.m., discovered his Easter Basket and called out to me gleefully. I staggered, still half-asleep, to his room chirping, “Wonderful, Sweetpea!” to find him in a fully lit bedroom; I had never before realized that we’d installed stadium lighting. I squinted in the glare at Mbot, fully animated and investigating the contents of his Easter basket with his tonsils. After joining him in rejoicing in his good fortune for ten minutes, I convinced him to return to bed, curled up with the stuffed snake the Easter bunny had brought. I turned down the lights.

I went back to bed, rejoiceful. And if that is not a word, it should be.

At 3 a.m., I was just drifting back to sleep when a high, joyful call pierced my semi-conscious state. Gbot. I stumbled down the hall again, chirping, “Wonderful, Sweetpea!” and into the stadium lights under which both bots now crouched, unwrapping chocolate bunny bars with vim. I pulled up a chair and sat, in order to rejoice with a lower heartrate–one that might mimic the forty beats per minute of sleep. I exclaimed happily for ten minutes, after which I convinced them back into their beds. I turned down the lights. I went back to bed. I rejoiced at this.

At 3:30 a.m., I tried to tell myself that the familiar footfall marking Gbot’s approach down the darkened hall was just my imagination. “Mom,” he said softly, dispelling my fantasy, “Spruce Bear is not in my bed.” I remembered that at bedtime the night before, I hadn’t been able to find Sprucie, and put Gbot to bed hoping the absence would not be noted. Fat fluffing chance. I rose. Together, we went looking for Spruce Bear, who we eventually found, reclining in a particularly beautifully dark corner of the living room. I rejoiced with Gbot at finding his bear.

I went back to bed. I rejoiced again.

At 4 a.m., Gbot’s angelic voice entered a dream in which I was superbly prepared and extremely confident. “Husbot,” I said, “Could you please go this time.”

Husbot pretended to be asleep, but I knew he wasn’t, because he’d just hacked up something that his allergies had deposited behind his uvula. I repeated myself.

“He’s calling for you,” said Husbot. He’d gone to bed grumpy with me for being grumpy with him for something that, due to lack of sleep, I can no longer clearly recall.

“Please,” I said.

He rose, muttering, and shuffled out into the hall. I sank back into my pillow, highly rejoiceful. I tried to re-enter my dream, unsuccessfully, but apparently sleep found me, because the next thing I knew, Mbot was on the bed, telling me it was morning! Not just any morning, but Easter morning, and the Easter Bunny had come. A blissfully soft natural light glowed through my closed lids from the bedroom window. I rejoiced at soft natural lighting.

Husbot took the bots in the car to get special juice. I have never rejoiced so deeply in the existence of special juice or, for that matter, cars, or Husbot. I lay unmoving for another forty-five minutes, rejoicing in the marvel of the modern mattress.

So, Easter Bunny, just as a recap: Please stop at our house last next year, so I can rejoice in the exuberance of life, the joy of the new, and the miracle of transformation of one’s bedroom from barren to brimming with never-before-allowed-candy — after six a.m.

I’ve Been Thinking About the Brady Bunch

Look, it's smiling! Oh, no it's not--it's just a robot.

Look, it’s smiling! Oh, no it’s not–it’s just a robot.


I’ve been thinking a lot about judgment lately. About how, usually, the one who stands in judgment doesn’t think he (or she) is judging. They just know they’re right. I didn’t learn this until as a freshman in college I read a book called The Children of Pride, which contained transcripts of letters written by Confederate civilians during the American Civil War, so certain that they would win it, because they knew that God was on their side. 

I’ve been thinking about the limits of knowledge. About how a person who knows nothing about, for example, Tarot cards might be fearful of them because they believe someone who consults them might make a life-altering decision based on a picture on a card. About how a person who knows nothing about them could not possibly know that they are often used to stimulate thought in a direction it might not otherwise go, like the daily WordPress cue for a blog topic, or to offer perspective–like, for me, getting on an airplane and looking out an oval porthole that shows the world I know from ten thousand feet off the ground, reminding me of the vast Sonoran Desert, the barren Indian reservations, the wideness of space beyond my kitchen sink filled with yesterday’s dishes.

I’ve been thinking about trust. When I was nine or ten years old, a neighbor found some drunk from the harborside bar down the street asleep on her couch, and we started locking the front door. I remember my mother talking about burglars and murderers. I remember picturing the steak knives in the kitchen cupboard, which was unlocked, and wondering why we, the ones behind the locked door together with all those steak knives, weren’t afraid of each other. After some thought, I concluded that we trusted each other because it was in our best interest, both individually and as a group, not to hurt each other. We trusted each other also because there was no history in our immediate family of anyone knifing anything other than a T-bone. We trusted one another to be rational. “Rationality is not universal,” writes Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. “Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it.” Whether you love or hate Ayn Rand, you have to concede her an extreme clarity of thought, and anyone who’s ever lived with a four-year-old knows these words ring true. But to accuse an adult of acting irrationally is to pass a grave sentence. It assumes that you have access to all relevant information. And that you recognize what is relevant. It denies the accused a chance to explain themselves based on logic because it renders their premise crazy. It may say more about your lack of knowledge than their lack of rationale. Ayn Rand also famously wrote, “Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

I’ve been thinking of acceptance. About accepting the things we do not understand, and of recognizing the things that are not ours to change.

I’ve been thinking lately about strength. About how sometimes the stronger someone is, the greater the burden they can bear and the more quietly they can tolerate it and the longer they can endure. And the more surprised and indignant others are when they say, at last, “Enough.”

I’ve been thinking about times of hardship. How historically, during plagues or famines, a social group turns on one individual, or a small group of individuals–who are different from the rest, to persecute them for not following certain conventions of society, certain rules. Consider medieval witch trials, during which intelligent women, often women who were healers using herbs the medicinal properties of which the community did not grasp, were burned or drowned.

I’ve been thinking about times of need. My mother once told me–when her children, jokingly, pressed her to choose her favorite among us, “My favorite child is the one who needs me most at any given time.” I’ve always loved that answer and now, as a mother, I am learning that I cannot always know which of my children needs me most at any given time. It is not always the one who comes whining to me. 

I’ve been thinking about the Brady Bunch. About how they are not real. They are on TV. They are two-dimensional and never to go to the bathroom.


(And no, Husbot, if you are reading this, this is not about you. ;> )

In Flight En Route To Tomorrow

2013 July 4 049

Shock of water like

knowledge of fragility

can buoy or break

On Monday, with 95% of the lab work in hand, an oncologist delivered the positive news of the negative: negative for cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Negative for invasive cancer in the breast tissue. Our road trip to Idaho would proceed as (re)scheduled! I’d been putting off booking a hotel room for the night in Cedar City, Utah, the halfway point, but now I did.

On Tuesday, my surgeon received the last 5% of the lab work, and delivered the negative news of the positive: positive margins at the excision site, meaning that abnormal cells–still noninvasive–had been found too close to the edges of the removed tissue, so more would have to be taken. I’m scheduled for a second surgery Tuesday. I cancelled the hotel room. I was further from the half-way point than I’d thought. A heavy disappointment told me that I’d let my positive thinking for a best-scenario outcome turn into expectation.

Note to self: Work on keeping these two separate and under control at all times.

Self to self: BWAAAAA ha ha ha ha. Whatevs.

Control’s not working so well these days. Which has forced me to investigate alternative coping methods.

A few days before the first surgery, I sat in the gray-toned waiting room of an outpatient clinic waiting for the “radioactive seed localization implant”–a painless procedure in which a tiny, ever-so-slightly radioactive chip of metal is implanted at the site of the DCIS-afflicted tissue, (for the surgeon to locate with a Geiger counter). And I decided that one reason–among many–like, say, having a radioactive piece of metal injected into my breast–that this whole experience with DCIS was so unnerving is that it brought me into strange and foreign places and unfamiliar situations.

Having had that thought, I was moved to a second waiting room, this one tiny, with two curtained-off dressing cubes, gray speckled Linoleum floors and walls the color of Silly Putty. My view was onto a hallway on whose wall was embedded an indecipherable piece of machinery. I decided to consider this place a foreign country, with its own strange architecture, customs, language, and way of dress. Like Paris, but without the good butter, crusty bread, Mansard roofs, and generally short men.

This helped a great deal. In fact, when I arrived home, there was a Skpe message waiting for me from my friend Solveig: “think of this as a big adventure–your one and only lumpectomy!”

“Like Disneyland, I wrote back. “Except instead of the Teacup Ride, it’s the D-Cup Ride!”

This frame of mind–or framing of events–is working quite nicely, but at some point, my subconscious begins to wonder why I am in Disneyland, and why I feel so unprepared to be here.

And so I’ve started to read about the most effective ways to assimilate such situations. I am not much one for rah-rah-rah self-help books, but I’m always open to suggestions. A dear friend suggested Pema Chodron‘s writings, and I’ve begun When Things Fall Apart; the same friend sent this URL to Brene Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Because behind my dreams–about Angry Birds costumes; about my sons, ill and injured; about leaving glass shards on the floor between me and my sleeping children; of tracking ink on my sister’s carpet–are feelings–absolutely and completely irrational feelings, mind you–not only of vulnerability and fear but of guilt, and shame, responsibility, and inadequacy.

Frankly, it’s a pain in the ass.

But I’m in a place of growth and learning. And so far, even including my deductible, it’s cheaper than grad school.

Now, on the morning of my second lumpectomy, I will keep this image of Gbot in mind:

2013 July 4 045

This belly flop is

beautiful! Style! Form! And the

laughter afterward!

What’s Underneath the Surface

Mbot: Blast off!

What’s underneath the surface?

One morning in May, I entered the bathroom to find both Gbot and Mbot standing together on the footstool. Gbot held a tube of some overexpensive, undereffective face cream and was nanoseconds away from squeezing. “Gbot,” I warned, “If you squirt that out, then I’ll look like an ugly old hag.”

Mbot looked up from the nail clippers he was attempting to use. “Why will you look like an ugly old hag?” he asked. “Because that’s what you really are?”

I think the babysitter had been reading them old-fashioned fairytales, in whose archetypal plots lurked witches disguised as beautiful maidens.

No, I told them. I’m gorgeous inside, but my skin is getting wrinkly, so the contents of the tube will keep me as lovely on the outside as I am on the inside.

That was at the end of May. The next week, I received a letter in the mail. I was being called back for a follow-up mammogram. “Heterogeneous tissue in the left breast,” read the letter. Do not be alarmed. Only four out of every thousand mammograms detect something bad. Two days later, I was staring at a black-and-white image of my left breast, magnified by four hundred percent, and Dr. Green, a radiologist, was pointing out a cluster of white specks that she called “calcifications.”

The next day, I was lying face-down on a biopsy table while twelve miniscule tissue samples were suctioned out for further study. Beyond the translucent shades of the corner room, the sun glanced off car roofs two stories down as they navigated the parking lot. Inside my own story, it was very quiet. I felt within those beige walls like part of an elaborate pop-up book, a parallel universe whose covers were these walls. Afterward, I smiled at the staff, because it was polite, but no one smiled back.

The next day, a woman’s brisk voice on the phone announced that she would put Dr. Green on the line to explain the biopsy results.

She used words I had never heard before, and other words I had heard before but not in the context of my life. “Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, Grade 3.” “Abnormal cells in the lining of the milk duct.” “Lumpectomy.” “Radiation.” “Hormone therapy.” “Tamoxifen.” And these, which I clung to: “Early detection.” “Not life-threatening.”

The rational part of my mind was not worried. I was grateful. During daylight hours, I packed lunches for summer day camp, swam with bots, made dinner, read Harry Potter, went to the Children’s Museum, oversaw time-outs.

The other parts of my mind were not so cooperative, especially at night. I began writing my dreams down in Haiku. Pressing the labyrinthine plots into the three brief lines of a poetic form I’d learned in childhood allowed me to, literally, synthesize my fears, understand them, and begin to assimilate them.

Dream #1

Hung over, wine glass

shards glinting, last night’s chicken

still out, breast sliced white.

Three days later, I celebrated my forty-sixth birthday by meeting with my OB/GYN. This sort of thing–early detection–probably noninvasive Stage 0 calcifications–is what gives breast cancer a good name, she told me. You’ll be fine. The chances of your dying from this are less than getting hit by a bus.

I drove home looking sideways at buses.

Quite unexpectedly, I found I had acquired a team: a breast surgeon, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. Every time I succeeded in forgetting about the disease I had, but could not see or feel, someone would call wanting me to make an appointment or register or preregister: for appointments. For a chest X-ray. For a radioactive seed localization implant. In spite of good medical insurance, everyone wants my credit card. I am earning air miles. I have a complimentary tote bag, heavy with literature and complimentary DVDs for cancer survivors. I have a new label.

Dream #2

I’ve promised to bring

the Angry Bird costumes but

they’ve all been rented.

Less than three weeks after the initial diagnosis, I was in surgery.

That was Wednesday.

The next day, we went to the circus. My mom’s in town–she’d planned the visit months ago, and bought the tickets in April as birthday presents for the bots. We’d planned to drive up to Idaho for the month of July. We will leave a week later than planned.

Dream #3

My son, three, standing,

neatly gutted. I wasn’t

there when it happened.

Both the lumpectomy incision and the incision close to my armpit, where two lymph nodes were removed for further study, are small, and in a few weeks will hardly be noticeable. Yesterday in the shower, I shaved my armpit and I might as well have been pulling the blade across the pork shoulder I’d cooked for dinner: nerves damaged during surgery had yet to repair themselves. Today, there is tingling.

Close Shave

We are not entitled

to feeling good. Or, to

feeling anything.

Results from the pathology lab will arrive Monday, and at this point the prognosis is very good. I’m lucky.

Dream #4

Gwyneth Paltrow is

having swimming lessons. What

an unflattering view.

I choose to interpret this last one like this: even though she doesn’t look great having swimming lessons, Gwyneth Paltrow is still the most beautiful woman in the world (according to People magazine). Ergo, although parts of me may look ugly as seen on a mammography film, I’m still not an ugly old hag.

Hair Trouble Starts Early

Gbot, this morning, scowling in front of the mirror and wildly smoothing down his hair, which I’d just brushed into floofiness: “No! I look like a baby!”

2012 March 19 Sun Valley 026

Gbot, seconds later, after I’d help smooth his floofy hair flat against his head: “Noooooo! I look like a rich old man!”

Cheney Rumsfeld_Bush

Personally, I’d go for the baby look over the other any day of the week.



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 Cafepress.com!

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

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!

Because it is That Time Of Year, and Also

because the bug finally got me, in a big bug way, instead of writing a new post, I am reprinting one from last December, in which you will learn all about how the gifts are wrapped at Amazon.


The Amazon Way (Adventures in Gift Wrapping)


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

Approaching and entering the behemoth windowless block of Building Three was an experience similar to what I imagine boarding the Millenium Falcon would be like:  momentous and foreign. Disappointingly, Harrison Ford didn’t greet me at the door. In fact, no one did.

In spite of the presence of two uniformed personnel behind an elevated desk, and several others busily working the airport-like security exits, bag search windows, and two full-body turnstile entries,  no one acknowledged my appearance in any way. I looked down to check if I had turned invisible on the I-10 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, $.75 apiece to go to Montessori to buy more turkey basters for turkey basting works, or materials for books about the biomes of the wetlands.

I had happily agreed to participate, imagining a relaxing yet enjoyably competitive afternoon around a large conference table making friends with other mothers while we honed our folding and taping skills. I shrewdly estimated that I could wrap perhaps seventy gifts, that I’d be a better gift-wrapper by the end of the afternoon, and that I’d have more friends. In my fantasy, the mothers were sipping mochas, but I thought maybe those wouldn’t be allowed, what with Amazon’s strict “no stains on the presents” policy.

The fact that of the ten or so unacknowledged and confused looking-individuals milling before the entryway, I recognized none, made my fantasy flicker, as though somewhere in it, a wire had come loose. Like in The Matrix, when there’s a break in the continuum. A bit perplexed by this, I followed the crowd, shuffling past a log book in which I listed the personal electronic devices on my person. No one actually told me to do this, and there wasn’t a title on the book, like “Personal Electronics Device Log,” but flipping back a few pages I saw that that is what I was expected to do with my allotted line. I then passed through a metal detector and stood with the group, whose members were finally communicating with one another, mostly to express how strange an experience it had been so far, even though we hadn’t actually started.

I spent several minutes of watching employees running (literally) past us across the concrete floor of the massive space, whose skylit metal roof was higher than a field goal kick and whose north wall I could not even see, it was so far away, and contemplating the wonders of contemporary engineering like a medieval peasant who lived in an earthen hut probably did upon entering Chartres. Then a woman appeared and ushered those volunteers who had “done this before” out of sight into the indecipherable maze of the machine. After a few more minutes, a tall man arrived, did not introduce himself, 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 piece of paper 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 blab about any of Amazon’s secret processes. I would not reveal what made the reindeer fly.

The tall man led us–and we walked for well over a minute–through a door and into an office, where we were instructed to leave our personal items (we could keep our cell 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 moving with carts, moving among clusters of low-tech machinery, tables, ramps, etc.–the main impression I’m left with is  of movement, but when I caught a glance of an enormous banner across a wall reading: “No Running Allowed,” I realized that the running was just an impression, too.

Our small, confused group came to a halt across from loading bay #126, where a small, businesslike and perpetually moving person named Dolores introduced herself (actually), 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. So as not to disclose an nondisclosable details, I will just note here that The Amazon Way involves neither a conference table nor any props of the traditional sort, like snowman-festooned rolls of paper, scissors, and small plastic rolls of Scotch tape.

Dolores, perhaps simply because she had a name and a smile, endeared us to her immediately. I speculate that our reaction was completely engineered by Amazon, their goal being to intimidate us with The Machine so that we would pledge undying loyalty to our immediate superior. Without her, none of us would be able to find a restroom, much less our personal belongings or the way out.

I imagined myself tripping or taking a wrong step and ending up in one of the giant blue bags designated for Large, Unwieldy Gifts, taped 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.”* 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 astute security personnel might blearily notice that a volunteer had entered, carrying a personal computer and a cell phone, and never left. They would 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 be lost within the book. I would only be discovered, lifeless but not yet bloated, thanks to Amazon’s amazing coordination with United Parcel Service, the next day or the next. Fartpants and Sophia would never be really the same again.

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 pregnant best friends, the only others, I’d learned, who were also wrapping for Mbot’s school. One had a son attending the morning session, which is why I hadn’t recognized her. We three formed the end of the line, literally.

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: take 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 roller 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 swimming in quarters.

I enjoyed the challenge of a thirty pound a La Crueset dutch oven, but the Lady Gaga coffee table book almost bankrupted Montessori. In a fascinating 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. As old-fashioned books come in all those inconvenient sizes, they do not arrive on the roller belt accompanied by custom wrapping boxes. And they have all those pokey, pointy corners. Eight of them, to be exact. Each one ready to tear your carefully folded pre-cut sheet of wrapping paper. Again and again.

Tears are not allowed.

“Biege goes with everything.” –Burberry and Dolores (www.dailymail.co.uk)

Neither are 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 on the green paper. Or the blue paper with the biege ribbon. But when in doubt, use biege. “Biege goes with everything,” says Dolores. She and Burberry know.

As the two pregnant ladies and I toiled, giggling over each other’s wrapping skills and high-fiving our ultimate triumph (if I do say so myself) over each superbly turned-out gift, Dolores appeared among us, one arm raised above her head. In her hand was a gift. One that had been tracked via a nondisclosable computer code to our row. It looked like something Mbot might have wrapped. It’s gold paper was crumpled at one end, tamed by three large pieces of tape.

“The Box of Shame,” I intoned. The pregnant ladies agreed. We watched, without shame, to see who the culprit was. We muttered not quite quietly that it was one of the women handpicking the Kindles. That they needed the Kindles because they had no genuine wrapping skills. Since no one fessed up, Dolores picked someone, at random, although I don’t think completely at random–Dolores was on the ball–and gave a lecture and wrapping demonstration as the rest of us guffawed. We toiled to avoid producing a Box of Shame ourselves.

Twenty minutes later, quality control arrived again, in the form of Dolores holding above her head 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 again, now shaking her head and threatening us. In her upheld hand was another gold package; this time, it featured a large tear on its side. Even worse: the tear had been taped–thus indicting the culpable party not only of shoddy wrapping but of trying to hide it.  I was by this time beginning to feel sympathy for the poor sucker who was really, really bad at wrapping presents. Give ‘em the Kindles, we agreed. With those genes, their kid would need the $.75 more than mine.

After three full hours of wrapping, and quite a bit of standing around because the gift volume was down that afternoon, I counted thirty tags to add to the Montessori pile. I’d made $22.50.

I was chaperoned to the turnstiles but no Amazonian knew how or where I could retrieve my personal belongings. My chaperone had to be called back to lead me to a small office far away. Then, because no one told me what to do, I bungled the exit procedure. I made every mistake in the book. No one helped. The entry personnel let me try to go through the turnstile instead of the X-ray. They let me almost get through without giving them my bag. And then my cell phone. And then not turning on my cell phone to make sure it wasn’t hot off the shelves. It was an extraordinary example of what happens when a slice of the population comes to take their way of being (The Amazon Way) as The Only Way. It was as though, although they were aware there were volunteers in the building, they could not fathom our not knowing The Amazon Way.

As I drove home on the I-10 just before rush hour, I thought about The Amazon Way. The pregnant ladies had repeatedly expressed their amazement that Amazon was raking in from $3.99 to $5.99 extra for each item we wrapped. I did the math. On the average, this left Amazon not only the $4.24 per gift after Montessori’s take, but also with whatever it was saving by not actually hiring people to gift wrap. ‘Tis the season for giving to Amazon. But Amazon is also giving back to our community. The company doesn’t have to have a program that obviously no one there quite knows how to deal with.

I do applaud Amazon for giving it a go, although it is far from perfect. And maybe my $22.50 will result in an education that cannot fail to catapult Mbot into a chair in Amazon’s  boardroom.

Or maybe the money will just buy more paper to make books illustrating the biomes of 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 he’d made. “There are plants that stay down under,” he told me when he brought home the second book he’d made. “Wetlands are stinky!” he announced, when he brought home the third book he’d made.

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

What’s your way?

*Sophia was not her real name; I changed it here to protect the wife of Fartpants