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Someone's special someone for the holidays

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:

Christmas Eve in front of the tree.

Putting up the luminaries for Christmas Eve.

Enjoying the lit luminaries on our street, and the block party (bonfire and hot cocoa):

Enjoying opening a gift on Christmas Eve:

Enjoying Christmas Day:

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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Angie McCullagh said…
I don't think one has to be all sweet or all smart. I prefer a dash of this and a pinch of that. Your Christmas looks lovely.

Anonymous said…
We have the opposite issue. We always feel in our families that smart is way more appreciated and sweet is treated as the consolation prize.

Unknown said…
Wonderful photos! So lovely to see your beautiful face, to put a smile with your words! Have a wonderful New Year and looking forward to reading you in 2008 my friend!
Liv said…
I set down my double latte to submit to you that smart and beautiful is the hardest of all. Nobody expects anything from pretty--re-read Gatsby-- and if you add smart to it, it just appears smart-assish and unapproachable. And to the smart person who is visually appealing, it is super annoying that they are constantly credited with being beautiful, while it's not noted that they're also intelligent. Sweet never enters it.

My Peep is sweet--sweet and funny and effervescent. I admit to valuing that in the same way that Daisy Buchanan hoped her little daughter would be a "beautiful, little fool" and not know the horrors of the world. Impractical, yes, but a tempting notion.

Nice post....oh, and Persistence? Love the pluck.
Girlplustwo said…
smart and sweet when needed?

merry holidays, sister.
S said…
This post was exquisite, friend.

I always found sweet a useful cover for smart, when necessary.
Christine said…
i know what you are talking about in this post, Julie. i do have a slightly different perspective, though, because as a child I was always "smart, smart, smart." but i've changed a lot. i supposes i am still smart, but now i am perceived as "sweet." and i like all the "fluff" you noted. i make and deliver cookies and gifts, and i like carols, and we actually make a point of celebrating for 12 full days.

I don't try and impose this on others who don't share in this view and approach to the season.

I guess fluff is what i need at what has often been a very difficult time of year for our family.

it is hard to win, i guess.
Julie Pippert said…
Christine, sweetie, I worry that possibly you have taken this the wrong way.

I mean no criticism at all---stated or implied---in my post about sweet or the sweet things that are so valued, such as the homebaked goodies and handmade gifts. I don't use fluff as a pejorative.

Those things ARE sweet and valuable. We all (me too!) value those things. As I said, sweet is the thing we all crave because it touches our hearts.

My point was there are other layers to sweet too, and we are all more than just one thing.

Some of us are more subtle, and it may not occur to us to do those things or being able to do them might not be our gift but we have sweetness in the things we do, too. I hope my postman doesn't hate me because I don't set out a basket of cookies for him at Christmas and I hope he knows I may not be cookies but I am the lady who brings him a bottle of water in the summer.

And that was my value sweet and smart together in all their various incarnations.

That is also what I wanted our photos to show. Our brand of sweetness.

I know this is a tough time for you and I'm sorry you've had a lot of challenges. I very much understand.

That's why it is important to me that my post not be another thing that adds to that. That's why I hope you understand that my post was valuing both smart and sweet and asking that we all consider that although one might appear dominant at times, there is space in us all for more than one thing, and thank goodness for all the different types of smart and sweet we have.

(HUGS) Julie
Julie Pippert said…
SM, thank you. Yes, it can be, if necessary. :)


Jen, yes, both. And to you too.


Liv, well said, and true. :) Yes, my girls have pluck but Persistence has it in spades.


Thanks Momish. :) And ditto to you.


Ah Emily, either way, out of balance is out of balance. Here's to you breaking the mold and having and valuing both.


Angie, I completely agree. :) I'm glad you understood.
Christine said…
You know, I think my comment didn't come out right. I was a bit negative. Really, there are many different layers of sweet/smart and this society should value them all. Just because a person doesn't cover their house in garland or bake 12 types of cookies, doesn't mean they aren't kind, good people who do wonderful things for those around them. And just because a person enjoys caroling and makes homemade ornaments it doesn't mean they are not intelligent or smart people.

sweet and smart can work together beautifully--we just have to open our hearts and minds to each worthy approach to the world.

Christine said…
oh--and i understand subtle, too. your postman probably appreciates being thought of ALL year, not just in December. And knowing you, you do kind, good things like these to those around you all the time. big gestures aren't always the best or most meaningful ones. often the actions some people see as "small" are the most powerful and perfect.
Kyla said…
This is the reason Smarties are the perfect candy. Sweet and Smart. ;)

Glad you had a wonderful holiday. I love the photos of your street, how cool.
Karen MEG said…
Lovely holiday photos... your little girls are obviously smart and sweet.
This was a great post. I also grew up being the "smart", gangly, gawky, bit of a grouch sister. I excelled in science and Latin. Baby sister was the cute, sweet, adorable, tiny VERY artistic one, who always stole the show. The one voted "the best smile" in high school. Yeah, how do you compete with that LOL!
But over the years we've come to realize that we both admire each other for the very traits that we resented growing up.
Hope you enjoy the rest of the holidays with your family. I really enjoy your blog, you're such a wonderful writer.
Kellan said…
This was a lovely post, Julie. My sister and I were the contrast of smart and sweet - I will not tell you who was which. These are beautiful photos of your beautiful family - and looks like you had a wonderful Christmas. I will see you soon. Kellan
Unknown said…
Thanks so much for posting the pictures... It is so nice to see you and the family. And parquet floors! I love them.

I can guess that you would guess that I like both a little smart and a little sweet at the same time! Or at least, that I think that broadening out definition of what constitutes sweet would be a good idea. (You might also guess that I have been labeled with the "smart" label myself. Sometimes I liked it, but sometimes it seemed like a way of designating me as "other".)

You'll always be Sma-weet to me!
Aliki2006 said…
Wonderful post, Julie. And I had to laugh a little about the disappointment over Santa's inability to fulfill THAT wish!
We had smart and sweet in our home as well... (hint: I wasn't known for my adorableness!)

Lovely photos!
Kyla said…
PS: The photos and the girls (even this impish one) are entirely adorable!
flutter said…
I don't no nuttin bout smrt ur purty.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for putting my sentiments and milder frustrations about the holidays into words. I often spend the better part of the holidays feeling "guilty" that I am not running around with wild-eyed holiday enthusiasm, as many people would like me to be. I am finding, more and more, that the way I "enjoy" the holiday best is by treating myself to ample amounts of alone I can think and breathe and simply be.
Maisy said…
Thanks for sharing your photos. And I love that it's diversity that makes our world work.

painted maypole said…
i would call you both smart and sweet, as was your Christmas. and merry, too.

JCK said…
Great post! Always a and sweet. I think both are in the same person, but some people are weighted more to one side. Happy Holidays!
Melissa said…
I also tend toward the "smart" at this time of year. It's just easier and more natural for me.

Great pictures! Looks like you had a great day.

Oh, and Santa didn't bring us a snake,either. I guess he doesn't have a license to transport animals. :)
dharmamama said…
I read Christine Kane's article on being present for the holidays,
( and it made me realize that as much as I value living my life as presently as possible, when it comes to being around some of my family, I close down and as you said, put my head down and plow through. It's exhausting! I wasn't able to open my heart much this year... too much damage over too much time... but your experience of breathing, and enjoying, will stay with me, and may help me approach things differently when I have a chance to.

I'm glad you found your center. And wrote about it. lol
niobe said…
What a sweet post. ;)
atypical said…
Um, would it surprise you to know that I have oscillated between the two extremes pretty regularly throughout my lifetime? Would it further intrigue you to know that, very rarely, did I actually "feel" whichever one was making an outward appearance at any given time?

I have too often allowed myself to be controlled by the "should" principle, and not often enough simply breathed deeply and "been."

How's that for grammar?

I am glad you had a smart AND sweet Christmas. The pictures made my day.

Casdok said…
Your photos says it all!!
What a completely beautiful family! It looks like good times were had by all.

So, how did that Moon Sand work out for you? My nephew came over to my mom's with his brand new package, and we were vacuuming moon sand out of the carpet within 10 minutes. Talk about a recipe for mess-i-pe!

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