Sunday, December 22, 2013

All I Want For Christmas is a Free Pass

For the first time in 23 years, my husband and I have decided to forego exchanging Christmas gifts.  We have a lifetime of cheerful holiday memories but a long history of misfires when it comes to giving gifts to one another.  There was the year he bought me a vacuum cleaner.  Or the Christmas I gave him a Kenneth Cole button-down that he never wore, because he insisted I had accidentally purchased a woman's shirt.

It all began during our first year of dating.  With giddy expectations of our first Christmas together, I proposed the idea of presenting one another with gifts that were not purchased but handmade, inspired by our new love.  For several days, I created a mix tape of romantic ballads that memorialized the progression of our relationship, and filled an entire poster board with handwritten sentiments about how grateful I was to have found my soul mate.  (Mind you, this was 1991, and I was seventeen.)

On Christmas morning, we met for the momentous gift exchange.  My naive, teenage female brain had already concocted so many hopelessly impossible scenarios that I'd already unwittingly set him up for failure.  Even so, nothing could have prepared me for what I received: a solid wooden cylinder holding a toothbrush, with a plastic tube running from the head to the opening of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste attached to the end.

He proceeded to explain how the requirement to make a present had given him a huge amount of stress all week, and that on Christmas Eve he still had no gift and no ideas. He had paced all night and finally walked into his bathroom (apparently to brush his teeth), at which time he was suddenly inspired to invent an all-in-one toothbrush that dispensed toothpaste with one swift pump. 

I'm not making any of this up.  To this day, there are no words to adequately explain what was going through his seventeen-year old brain that night, confounded by a combination of sleep deprivation and sheer desperation.  I still have the contraption in a box labeled "Our Mementos", because someday I will give it to one of my sons when he has royally screwed up with a girl he loves.  I will show him the wooden handle where my husband wrote my name and scrawled a little heart in bright blue marker, and I will tell him: "Look, this is what your dad gave me for a Christmas present.  And I still married him."

But to be fair, our history of poorly chosen gifts is a mutual one.  It's not even Christmas, and 2013's gift-giving debacle already belongs to me.  It can be summed up in two words: Hoodie Footie.  

If you’ve never heard of this trademarked article of clothing, the Hoodie Footie is a plush one-piece pajama that comes with attached booties and a hood.  Or, as I like to describe it: It's a little piece of heaven on earth.

I purchased one last winter after realizing I’m the only person who constantly feels cold in the house.  The kids, on the other hand, spend most of their lives at home not wearing shirts, even in the dead of winter… because boys, I suppose, need to cool off from constantly jumping off furniture and swinging from stair railings.  And since I’m outnumbered, I'll never win the battle over the thermostat.

Then one day, I received in the mail a Pajamagram catalog featuring the Hoodie Footie on the front cover.

The marketing for the Hoodie Footie always makes me laugh.  There’s usually an attractive blond woman wearing one in pink (or leopard print), with an alluring look on her face… as if there is anything remotely sexy about a Hoodie Footie.  But never mind the disingenous advertising.  The plush microfleece fabric, built-in slippers that zip on and off, and thick wrist cuffs with thumb holes were all too tempting to pass up.  In haste, I ordered myself a Pajamagram, which arrived a week later.

I was not disappointed.  I wore my pink Hoodie Footie all last winter without complaining once about the cold, and I found myself napping a lot more often... both of which were positives, in my opinion.  So this year, I ordered my husband a blue Hoodie Footie as an early Christmas gift and told him he was about to experience a little piece of heaven.

“I don’t think so,” he shook his head reluctantly, when I presented it to him.

“Trust me,” I insisted, “You will thank me for this later.”

"Well, why don't you wrap it up and give it to me on Christmas?" he suggested.

"Because it's cold enough for you to wear it now," I exclaimed happily. (It was early November.)  "You can enjoy it for two whole months in advance!"

One Saturday morning, he informed me that he was headed to the gym after finishing a book assignment.  I slyly suggested he might be more comfortable reading in a Hoodie Footie.  He muttered something under his breath but finally agreed to try it on.  Before I knew it, he was out cold.  Four hours later, we had the following conversation: 
Me:  You’re still sleeping?  
Him: What time is it?  This Hoodie Footie is like kryptonite.  
Me: Isn’t it fabulous?   
Him: No, it’s not.  I missed my run.  I feel lazy.    
Me: Napping is like hibernating.  Now you’re all recharged for Spring. 
Him: Hibernating is for bears. 
Me: Well, you look adorable.  Like a giant blue smurf.  
Him: This is horrible.
He wore it only two more times after that.  On both days, I found him languishing from oversleeping.  A few days ago, he handed me the blue little piece of heaven. 

“I think I’m allergic to this,” he remarked.  “You’ve got to put it away.”

Having struck out on the early Christmas present, I attempted to make a last minute replacement this week by buying him something from Lululemon Athletica.  Apparently, this company claims to have invented a fabric that neutralizes sweat, such that you can perspire in the same shirt over and over without reeking of body odor.  At least that is how he explained the $100 price tag for a t-shirt he bought last year.  (I believe these were his exact words: "I can run in this shirt every day for a whole week, and only wash it once on the weekend.  Think of all the loads of laundry we save.")

The first problem with buying a present from Lululemon Athletica is that the store is so exclusive and trendy that it does not even have a name in front.  Like the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, Lululemon Athletica is apparently not spelled out but only designated by a symbol that looks like the Greek letter Omega.  The store is like an underground club that only stylish, athletic types know about, and I am obviously not a member.

I spent over half an hour just trying to locate the store.  For some people, strolling through a shopping mall the week before Christmas makes for a pleasant opportunity to window shop and try samples of perfume.  For me, dragging a two-year old through crowds of holiday shoppers--while trying to find some elitist clothing store without a name--sucked every last ounce of Christmas spirit out of me.  

So when I finally arrived at the store, I was already not in the mood to shop.  Two minutes later, I walked out empty-handed, still in shock from every price tag I examined ($15 for a pair of gym socks?!?) and slightly annoyed by the svelte, young saleswoman in a skin-tight yoga outfit who kept asking me to feel the material of the men's shirts.  

"I have no Christmas present for you this year," I confessed reluctantly to my husband that night.  He stiffened in surprise.  

"I thought we weren't exchanging gifts this year," he replied.  "Remember, you gave me a free pass?"

This is true.  Back in March, I proposed this arrangement as we were standing in front of a jewelry counter choosing my birthday present.  ("It's too expensive," I remember saying, admiring the bracelet he would later wrap up as my gift.  "If you buy it, why don't you have a free pass for every other holiday this year?")

"No, I remember," I nodded, "You're definitely off the hook.  I just thought I could have come up with a nice present for you."

"Don't worry about it," he smiled.  "Really."

He meant it.  When it comes to presents, he's always cared a lot less than me anyway.  The Hoodie Footie might possibly be the worst gift I’ve ever bought him.  At least the Dyson vacuum cleaner gets a lot of use around here.  

But alas, every mistake in life can be redeemed for a noble purpose.  I plan to lay the blue Hoodie Footie to rest right beside my homemade toothpaste-dispensing toothbrush.  And someday, when one of my grown sons needs a reminder, I will take it out and say: "Look, this is the ugly Hoodie Footie I gave your dad as a present one year.  It was a bad idea from the start... but it never truly mattered and we had a good laugh about it.  Because, son, there's so much more to a good marriage than what fits inside a box."