There may be alternate realities, but I can’t see why I should care.

My approach to life is “prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” an outlook I like to think of as pragmatism rather than pessimism. There are definite pros to going through life with your psyche braced in the crash position but still singing show tunes, and while I’m often mortified, I’m rarely shocked. Since I’m constantly running horrible hypothetical situations in my brain’s background, when bad things actually happen, instead of panic, I experience more of an annoyed, “well, here we are then” resolve. Blood has little effect on me, even the sight of my own or my children’s, but there’s one sound that momentarily paralyzes and punches me with a wave of nausea. I imagine the sound of a child’s head hitting a hard surface is, for me, the emotional equivalent of someone with testes taking a blow to the groin.

I use to love trips with the kids to the grocery store, but I fear I’ll never again enter the market with anything other than dread and hypervigilance. Traveling lighter than usual with just the girls, I didn’t think twice about putting both of them in a regular cart since no two-seaters or buggies were available. Linda is the default strap-in, with her impressive and perfectly lady-like upper body strength, so she rode up front while Sally enjoyed the roomy “back seat.” Always the alert mother, I corrected Sally each of the countless times she started to stand up, gently tugging on her hood to sit her back down. That is, until I carefully positioned the last item in the her food nest, at which point she grabbed the edge of the cart with both hands, hoisted herself over two gallons of milk and did a full flip before landing on her head and back like the sack of potatoes Linda was chewing through while cradling like a baby.

Several workers responded immediately to my “OHMYGOD!” followed by Sally’s wails, and all three became slightly unhinged upon learning of the accident. My gracious decline of their offer to call for an ambulance and calm demeanor while I comforted her unsettled them further, even though she stopped crying after about a minute. I gently checked for lumps, redness, and dents, found none, and thanked them for their concern as we proceeded to checkout, Sally now being carried and immensely happy about it.

Once we finished our errands, picked up Billy the Kid from preschool, and unpacked the groceries back home, the inevitable nausea I’d stifled for the sake of appearances caught up with me, and I started off the afternoon with a wonderfully empty stomach. It occurred to me to call the doctor and see if they’d like me to bring her in, but then I remembered that I’m her mother and know when my children are absolutely fine. In fact, she began walking on her own for the first time several hours after the incident and put away a half dozen fish sticks for dinner.

I appreciate how fortunate we were today, but I’ll sleep just fine tonight in spite of the scare. While an optimist might stay awake after the fact, tormenting themselves by reliving the incident and imaging all those dreadful what-could-have-happened’s, I’ve efficiently gotten my self-inflicted mental anguish out of the way ahead of time, and the inevitable occurrence was much less horrific than my imagination’s various outcomes. I really can’t say enough about the magnificence of planning ahead.

Tidings of Spendy Cheer!

Once again, it’s time to stifle our own material desires for a month and go shopping solely for others. If you’re lucky (I most certainly am), the ultimate recipients of your selections are individuals you at least like and preferably adore, and gifting any of the following items will leave you nestled in good graces for another 365 days. If there are any special people in your life for whom Christmas is your opportunity to passive-aggressively send a snarky message, the suggestions below would be completely inappropriate, and you’d be better off bestowing a certificate for laser hair removal, a Proactive regimen, or a basket brimming with Dr. Scholl’s products. But for the good boys and girls on your list, especially those with any culinary flair, here are a few items certain to delight and enchant.

Chef’n Strawberry Huller $7.95, Williams-Sonoma
I usually avoid single-purpose kitchen tools, having a small kitchen and CCD (Compulsive Chucking Disorder), but if you know someone who loves serving food in other food, this is a must. I’m not sure with what you’d stuff the strawberries, or how you’d get them to stand upright for serving, but the recipient won’t even think of these quandaries until well after you’ve received a glowing thank you note.

Rösle Garlic Press $39.00, Williams-Sonoma
Is forty dollars too much to spend on a garlic press? Not if it’s the Carl Lewis of garlic presses. The perforated bin flips out for easy cleaning, and you don’t have to peel your cloves before pressing. I do anyway, having received my press from gift-giver extraordinaire, Mr. S, but knowing that it’s unnecessary gives me a tingle of smugness.

Stainless Steel Breading Pans, Set of 3 $34.95, Williams-Sonoma
If I have to use two dinner plates and a shallow bowl to flour, egg, and bread my schnitzel once more, I may wash my hands of the whole thing. This would be a hint to anyone who’d like to get something for their humble content provider. A little costly to buy for oneself, these are priced to be gifts, so let’s remind ourselves why we came to the mall in the first place.

Kaiser Stainless Steel Cookie Press Set $49.95, Chef Tools
Best to keep this one in the immediate family, so that you can enjoy the fruits of the giftee’s labor, again and again.

Small Treat Boxes $3.29/3, Wilton
Anyone who goes the homemade route at Christmas with coworkers, friends and family would be beside themselves to receive a few dozen of these bad larries. Never again will they have to shop at dollar stores for the least atrociously decorated tins, and now they can throw away that intimidating Incoming/Outgoing Tupperware log.

AK Bullet Ice Tray $6.99, Amazon
I don’t often go in for novelty cookware, even though the Tardis Cookie Jar would work so well with my kitchen’s blue and yellow color scheme, but ten dollars is absolutely worth being able to ask your companion if they’d be so kind as to pop a couple of caps in your Diet Coke.

I didn’t mean so fresh that it argues…

Billy the Kid, the lovely and charitable Mrs. S, and I went to pick up the goose today at Antonelli’s on Federal Hill in Providence. A Christmasy nip was chapping faces, so my mother and BK waited in the car while I very nearly ran to the tiny market, and opened the door to find the thin strip of floor space in front of the counter crammed full of people. As soon as the door closed behind me, I was in the middle of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I asked the woman with whom I was practically dirty dancing to point me toward the back of the line, and she directed her young son to explain the process to me. I was to take a number and wait in line. Everyone was in line. I heard loud chatting in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, and had a moment of tilde shame before plodding on.

Having called weeks in advance to order the bird, I assumed there must be a VIP area and walked toward the rear of the shop, where I could make out bright lights and several figures behind a plastic curtain. As I stepped in, the closest twenty heads turned to me briefly, and the gleam in everyone’s eyes struck me as odd, as did the thick, pungent odor that took a moment to punch me in the neck. As bodies shifted and my line of sight cleared, I noticed several hundred various live chickens, turkeys and geese stacked up in a tower of wire cages like something from Brazil, as well as a great deal of attention being paid to a point just beyond.

Since I was obviously not in the preorder area, I exited before getting hooked on the show; I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stare my dinner in the eye. Back in the featherless area, I realized as I glanced around for a clerk that my intent on circumnavigating the queue was garnering some nasty looks from the hoard. So I went outside and got my mom. Billy the Kid and I hung by the exit as my mother marched up to the register, spoke quietly with the cashier, and then returned with one twelve-pound goose, freshly cleaned and butchered.

Mrs. Get-the-Job-Done Smith somehow manages to find time for a career while routinely coming to the rescue of my immediate family, and I plan to do my part in making that easier for her by eventually moving back to RI. Several of the more memorable anecdotes starring my mother’s archangelic efficiency involve single-handedly (literally) stopping her Saturn wagon from rolling down a driveway with my brother in the back while appearing totally unphased; shaming my high school into running AP French in my senior year even though I was the only student; and a short-lived but terrifying policy under which shoes left out were considered trash and thrown away.

So, thank you Mrs. S, for making our Christmas feast possible, and now let the performance anxiety nightmares of burnt goose begin.

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