Tip was smarter and Teddy was sweeter. They had heard it since a time before memory. Sweet and Smart or Smart and Sweet. Either way it should have been a name of a magazine for teenaged girls or a brand of hard candy or a sauce for crispy duck. The teachers in their elementary school said it when the boys were a grade apart.
"Tip is one of the smartest little boys this school has ever seen," the teachers would confide when Doyle came in for conferences. "But Teddy is just so sweet."
--- Ann Patchett, Run
And, in so saving the most precious comment for the end---best for last--we reveal what we value most: sweet.
The truth is, I think, that the majority have a taste for sweet, but fewer have a taste for smart.
That's how I always knew my sister was better---because she was prettier and sweeter. Like Tip and Teddy, we were Smart and Sweet, Smart and Pretty. She had layers, outward assets. I was just smart. Smart got you in trouble. It made you ask questions that got you snapped at, "Don't be smart!" Smart makes people want to take you down a peg or two, let you know butter will too melt in your mouth.
Mostly we admire smart obligingly. It's a chore, something you are supposed to do, like write thank you notes. But we admire sweet from the heart. Sweet is the thing we all crave and appreciate, it is the thing that touches us.
Smart is usually more practical than touching.
And as Smart, I am generally more on the side of efficiency and good use, too, even when it comes to Christmas and gifts. It doesn't occur to me to take precious family treasures, such as photos of dear and departed, and create a gorgeous memento scrapbook which I then reproduce in full color, one for each member of the family. It doesn't occur to me to write a special poem, celebrating the love of family, nor do I think to hand-tie to a tin of ingredients Grandma's treasured recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I don't spend lovely memory-making moments with my kids baking treats which I deliver to every person who provided me a service of any sort over the course of the last year.
As Smart, I give gift cards to teachers because they are practical and efficient. I give books and music, because they are useful and enjoyable. I make donations because it is in the spirit, and necessary (if not me, who? if not now, when?). I give toys that are fun and teach something important. My children's toys all hit the major academic areas: art, music, reading, writing, physical education, math and science.
It's a tie which subject has been the most popular toy. Persistence is sleeping with her math toy (10 little birthday cakes with candle slots, for counting and simple addition and subtraction, plus color sorting, plus sharing and trading, plus---if you spot the pattern---multiplication tables). But she is playing with her car and train tracks toy frequently and for long periods of time. Patience is in ecstasy over her moon sand and play foam and has constructed wondrous sculptures. But she set up her soccer skill toy in the back yard and has asked that her friends come over for a game. Our house is littered with their drawings, and signs from Patience, such as:
Helo Nana and welcum to r haws! We lov yu!
She drew with her new pencils a lovely picture around these words. And she hung the small sign, carefully, by the door, on the inside.
That's very sweet. Smart can be sweet, too. It just needs space, and direction, and observant people who can spot the tiny gestures...gestures maybe not as overt as handmade or sentimental or big or in the direct line...gestures perhaps not always within the traditional definition and thinking of sweet, or maybe within it, but loosely and subtly.
December and Christmas always bring me obstacles to overcome, physical, mental and emotional. I know that this is the Season of Sweet, the time of the Cheerful. While my own brand of quiet happy mixed with moods and introspection, and my own type of kindness mixed with practicality works other times of year, I expect it to get overshadowed at the least and mowed down at the most this time of year. I expect to be entreated more than usual to "lighten up" and "get happy" this time of year. Although I am consistent, who and how I am is less tolerated this time of year. People like more this time of year, more cheer, more excitement, more fluff. The pressure is intense to make this the most wonderful time of the year.
I realized by December 24 that I was clenching. I was grinning and bearing it. I had my head down and was plowing through, my jaw steeled. I was, once again, just endeavoring to get through it. As one might try to finish a football game with an injury. Play through the pain. So I let out a deep breath, dropped the expectations, found my center and...relaxed. And we enjoyed, smart and sweet as we are.
We enjoyed family gatherings, sharing memories, making new ones, talking about what's to come (new babies in the family, new jobs, new houses). We traded gifts and appreciated the practical and the pleasurable. We ate too much food that was too good, and took lots of family walks and bikes rides to try to compensate.
The kids plied us with adorable moments and precious comments. They valued being someone's special someone (or lots of someones). They loved their gifts and the gatherings, but said the joy came from the love. In the end, isn't that what we all crave most: to be special?
We had, after all, a merry Christmas. Now we look forward to a happy new year. And we wish the same for you.
Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are some photos of the fun we had:
Enjoying the lit luminaries on our street, and the block party (bonfire and hot cocoa):
Enjoying opening a gift on Christmas Eve:
In parting (for now) I want to tell you the outcome of Patience's letter to Santa: disappointment.
As you can see in the impish tongue-stuck-out photo of Persistence (family shot), Santa was unable to deliver a gift of Make My Sister Calm Down. He also brought no puppies or kittens.
However, she has decided to forgive and forget. Magnanimously. She also decided to Enjoy Christmas Anyway.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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