We all have human failings, right? Please tell me you said yes or I do not believe I can go on.
Today I am sharing one of mine with you, in the category of “Things that other people do beautifully, normal everyday things that everyone does even without practice.”
I’m sharing in the hopes that there’s another one of you like me out there, another person who cannot do a simple household task, no matter how many degrees you have, how many gifts you have, how many skill sets you’ve accomplished. I don’t want to be the only one.
My failing? Nine times out of ten, I cannot open a Kleenex box without ripping, shredding, mangling the first three Kleenexes in the box.
Let me show you:

That is even better than my first-opened box of Kleenex usually looks.

Compare that to how an un-afflicted Kleenex-box opener prepares the box:

My Buddhist friends explain that life is full of challenges that really are gifts to us disguised so we get the fun of figuring out what’s so damned great about our struggle. Well, woo-hee!
I understand the truth in what they say and I know ALL of us, even the perfect Kleenex box opener, face challenges with daily-life tasks. I have a friend who cannot cook. She tried once but her whole family found her meal inedible, including the family dog who growled at the glop when she put it down on the porch.
My sister has the talent of somehow picking up the toilet seat liner with her butt cheeks when she stands up. She doesn’t know how it happens or how to make it stop. When she complained to me about it, I suggested that she find a way to make that talent work for her. She did not appreciate my optimism.
I’m told it doesn’t matter so much what happens to you but rather what you do about it. Hmmm. If I can’t fix the plumbing, I call in a plumber. My electrical system, an electrician. However, I’ve never seen a professional Kleenex box opener listed in the yellow pages.
What I’ve decided to do instead, is do my very best (see photo above), laugh, thank the universe for my gift, and if worse comes to worse, use cloth handkerchiefs.
I’m great at running the washer and dryer. And in the meantime, I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

Christmas Treasure


On my knees in my under-the-eaves storage space, I pawed through the box of Christmas books stored there where they’d been stuck five years ago when we moved to this house.
I searched for something to read at a friend’s tree-lighting ceremony later that night. As the real candles on the tree were lit, those assembled would listen to thoughts gathered on Christmases past by those long past celebrating.
I found a book, Christmas Treasures, and before I could begin reading the poems and essays to find just the right one for the party, I saw several sheets of folded, yellowed notebook paper stuck into the pages of the book.
Pulling them out and scanning them, I saw the writing of my high school English students from long ago, so long ago I couldn’t remember exactly how far back. I read them once again, this time not having to worry about editing and grading. In my hand resided poems and favorite Christmas memories. I saw their young faces in my mind’s eye.
One of the young writers wrote about his favorite Christmas memory up to his ripe age of 16. His parents had bought him the motorcycle he wanted. He’d seen it beforehand and assumed his father had bought it for himself. Then when his last gift was opened, it was a key, and he knew his wish had been granted.
If you have a teenager, you know how difficult it is to wring much information from them, especially one that involves emotion and gratefulness for family. Here was an opportunity for me to pass on that information. Enlightenment 20 or so years later is still enlightenment. I knew what I would do.
Back downstairs, out of the attic and standing upright again, I looked up his parents’ address, put the paper in an envelope, stamped and mailed it.
Continuing to read through the book of Christmas Treasures, I found just the right poem to share with fellow celebrants at the festivities that night.
Even so, it came to me that though I’d found my piece by a professional writer to read, the real Christmas treasure of the day had been a son’s 16 year-old favorite memory I could gift to his parents.

The Best Gifts


Lingerie, perfume, slippers—the usual presents for women can’t hold a Christmas candle to the best gift I received back when we were a younger family and our son was still at home. The gift had no wrapping, and because it came disguised, I didn’t know what I had received at first.
My husband, son, and I rode the train from Portland to visit my parents and sister in La Grande. We chugged into the cold, icicle-clad station, irritable and rumpled after the six-hour trip.
Looking out the train window onto the dark, snow-frosted platform, we saw among the large crowd a Santa Claus waving. The mittened hands of my father and sister held a white banner with broad black letters reading, “Welcome: Karen, Neal, and Sean. Merry Christmas!” With that, my exhaustion dissipated, and a lump formed in my throat. My sister and my dad and…where was my mom? Why wasn’t she here too? I supposed that she stayed home, baking sugar cookies for us to frost, or preparing spicy, chunky chili as only she can make it.
I wove my way down the aisle, through departing passengers and bulky luggage. As I stepped off the train, Santa Claus, who was handing out candy canes at the train exit, stuck a candy cane in my coat pocket. “Merry Christmas,” he said, in a gravelly voice.
“Thanks,” I muttered, thinking that this was a great service Amtrack was providing, and rushed off to meet my family. We all hugged and helloed. To my surprise, I noticed that Santa Claus, who hadn’t gone inside the station with all the other disembarking passengers, embraced Neal and Sean.
Then Santa sidled up to me, hugged me, and said, “Merry Christmas!” again.
How nice, I thought, and hugged my dad and my sister again. Santa continued to stand next to me. “Why is he still standing out here in the cold with us?” I wondered. “Isn’t this overplaying his role a bit?” I kept chatting and all the while Santa remained at my elbow. Why was Santa so attentive to us?
I couldn’t figure it out. The chatter died out and my entire family stared expectantly at me, then laughed as Santa pulled off his beard. Only then did I finally understand. In my excitement I hadn’t seen what they had seen. I screamed and threw my arms around the red and white padded body. You see, Santa Claus was really my mother.
My vision always blurs when I think back to this incident. It taught me two things. First, presents don’t have to be wrapped to be just what you need. And secondly, parental acts of love don’t stop when you leave home, but continue the rest of your life in the form of some of the best gifts you’ll ever receive.