My mother was a big Mark Twain fan. She had the collected works. I think she memorized The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The reason I think this is because she was a genius at getting me to do things by making them look fun, kind of like whitewashing a fence.
She had me ironing small items when I was so little, I had to stand on a chair. She also taught my sister and me, very painstakingly and at a very early age, to wrap gifts, and she did not wrap a single present again for the rest of her life. This is genius.
Of course, it can backfire. It’s because of my mother that I never iron anything if I can help it, preferring to look like someone who sleeps in her clothes. I tried to convince my own offspring that ironing was more fun than Chuck E. Cheese, if that establishment had white-hot bits on which a child could, with care, be severely burned. It didn’t work. My own kids laughed like maniacs and informed me that I could buy fabrics that never need ironing. They knew this stuff when they were four. I think it’s one of the things they teach on Sesame Street. “Buy polyester, kids; it never needs ironing.”
Wrapping Christmas presents was a different matter. Wrapping presents is a wonderful form of artistic expression that is all the better for being ephemeral. I fold and crease and tuck with painstaking precision. I will not give in to the siren-song of the gift bag, the temptation to shove some tissue paper on top of that carefully-chosen gift and call it quits. (Unless the carefully chosen gift is round. Round things were not meant to be wrapped. That is why we do not give people cantaloupes.)
I have obsessed over Christmas wrapping for so long that I never once gathered my offspring and tenderly taught them to make a decent triangular fold.
Now, of course, I reap what I have sown, since only one of them can figure out how to cover even the most rectangular of objects with colorful paper and ribbon. The youngest daughter routinely creates packages that look like her dog wrapped them, with ribbon covered in goo and tape over more of the surface area than the actual wrapping paper. She takes pride in this. As for the Boy, he has eschewed the utility of boxes, preferring to wrap things naked. He has taught us that it is possible to wrap a set of maracas in such a way that they look exactly like a set of maracas, covered in tape. ¡Qué sorpresa!
Now people who should be ironing my shirts and wrapping my presents are showing up with bags of unwrapped items and hopeful expressions. This is not how it’s supposed to work, and I feel that somewhere Out There my mother is shaking her head in disappointment. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” she would say. Well, unless you’re teaching the kid to iron.