I am the youngest of seven, and I have 16 nieces and nephews. Eleven of those nieces and nephews have children of their own. A new grand-niece is on the way, and one of my nieces has two grandchildren already! As my husband Mike Knezovich likes to say, “It’s not a family. It’s a nation!”
Buying Christmas gifts for this brood is out of the question. So we pick names instead. But here’s the rub: you have to make a gift for the person you choose.
Mike chose our six-year-old grand-niece AnnMarie this year. Our dear friend Siobhan might describe AnnMarie as suffering from “verbal incontinence.” In polite terms, we might say that AnnMarie has strong verbal skills. When Uncle Mike tires of hearing AnnMarie talk, he gives her a maniacal look and repeats, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” until AnnMarie stops blabbing, shrieks in laughter and runs away. Works every time.
Through the magic of the internet, Mike discovered Target sells $12 DIY snow globes. “Our Photo Snow globes are fast and easy; No gluing required. Just follow the included template to cut your photo or artwork, and slide it into place.” What made this particular DIY snow globe that Mike found especially special was that one could make a recording, too. The lucky recipient of this gift can press a button on the bottom of the snow globe and hear your personalized holiday message.
Mike the maniacal Christmas elf got to work. He slid his close-up photo into the globe, recorded himself repeating “blah, blah, blah” over and over, and wrote an instruction card for AnnMarie:
- Step 1: Press the button on the bottom.
- Step 2: Run away!
And you know what? It worked! AnnMarie opened her gift, laughed at the funny picture of Uncle Mike, pressed the button, shrieked, and ran away! She did this so many times that her mother finally had to take the snow globe away from her with a promise she could play with it that night when they got home.
Without the Blah Blah Snow Globe to distract her, AnnMarie started talking again. I called her over. “Have you ever heard of this word?” I asked her, pronouncing e-a-v-e-s-d-r-o-p-p-i-n-g slowly enough for her to take in each and every syllable. “People who are blind like me are pretty good at it, you don’t look at the people you’re eavesdropping on,” I told her. “Just close your eyes, be quiet and listen.” I demonstrated. Keying in on a conversation behind us, I heard AnnMarie’s Uncle Ben mention a man’s name to Mike: Robin Ventura. Next it was Theo Epstein. Rebuilding. “They’re talking about baseball,” I whispered to AnnMarie. “They say the new year will be interesting to watch.” She said “oh” and raced off to play with her cousins.
Our little family really scored with the homemade gifts we received this year. Our great-nephew Grant made a desk lamp for Mike, and our son Gus will stay warm in Watertown, Wisc. Wrapped in the Snuggie his Godmother Caren decorated with Milwaukee Brewers logos. My present from AnnMarie’s dad isn’t quite finished yet, so I got a “substitute” gift: With the help and patience of her big sister Anita, AnnMarie read and recorded the book The Night Before Christmas for me to listen to.
I am not a weeper, but I about cried as AnnMarie turned the pages for me to listen to her recorded voice reading that poem. How thoughtful! How sweet! The Night before Christmas is no easy read, and it’s fun to hear this little girl struggle – and succeed—at reading phrases like “droll little mouth” and “nothing to dread.”
My 95-year-old mother, Flo, enjoyed listening to the book with me, too. Flo sat right next to me the entire night, describing each homemade gift as it was unveiled: jigsaw puzzle, barbecue rub, homemade play-doh, bracelets, painted pint glasses, a fleece blanket decorated in school colors. Even Whitney got a gift: my sister Cheryl bought her a homemade fleece pull-toy at a craft fair. My personal favorite (after the Blah, Blah Snow Globe, of course!) was the energy drink my nephew Brian made for his cousin Colin. The drink is called “Colinade.”
After the festivities, Flo brought up more serious stuff. Her good friend Dorothy had died on Friday. Dorothy had always been a big help to my mom, very caring, always wearing a smile. “You’re going to miss her.” Flo nodded, then reached out to hold my hand.
My friend Denny and his sister Maureen had lost their mom on Friday, too. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to attend both funerals. Flo understood. Babies cried, wrapping paper was collected, teenagers called out NBA scores from downstairs, and Flo squeezed my hand until a certain six-year-old tapped my arm to interrupt the moment.
Me: AnnMarie! I didn’t know you were there!
AnnMarie:I was eavesdropping.
Me:What’d you learn?
AnnMarie: You were talking about funerals.
She left then, and the chaos continued. And so, life is too short, friendships are precious, we learn far more by listening than we do by talking, and it is a joy to be around those we
love. I could go on and on about how poignant this particular holiday season has been for me, but hey, we don’t want to make poor Mike feel pressured to make another Blah Blah Snow Globe for me this time, right?! I will end here instead, leaving you with the final line of one beautifully read holiday poem: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.