I hope December is off to a good start for you, with the drumbeat of the holidays approaching, the things we love about them, and the things that concern us. I’m still frantically looking for last minute gifts for my kids. It was a lot easier when new bicycles and special dolls were the order of the day!!! I was remembering the other day that we used to hide all their gifts in the basement (gifts for 9 kids!!), and would haul them all up four flights of stairs to the top floor of our house, after the kids went to sleep on Christmas eve. My husband and I would spend hours, dragging everything upstairs, and then assembling toys, playhouses, bikes. It was a lonnnggggggggg night with very little sleep, and it seemed like only minutes after we finally got to bed, when they’d all be awake , squealing with amazement and delight. It was a lot of work, but SOOOO much fun!!! It’s hard to reproduce that kind of excitement and innocence once they’re adults. We play a game after dinner now on Christmas eve, where everyone brings some small silly gifts to the table (as ridiculous as possible), and people get to choose them (I think you have to guess who brought the gift and if you guess right you get to keep it and get another turn, but future guessers get to steal the gift away from you if they want it and win their turn). It involves choosing, and then stealing a gift from the others. And it gets funnier and funnier as people steal totally absurd gifts from each other. The prize objects last year were a Chewbacca backpack that my youngest son refused to give up, and a monster hat my youngest daughter loved and kept stealing back until she got to keep it. We all laughed a lot and loved it. You find yourself doing battle over some crazy object you would never have wanted otherwise. I provided a book on swear words in several languages, which was highly prized!!! The lucky winner was then able to insult all of us in Russian and Japanese. It’s a funny game one of my daughters introduced to us a few years ago, and it’s a big hit. Although everyone is grown up now, we still leave out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer (all of which disappears by morning), and I still write everyone a letter from Santa, which they find with their stocking in the morning. And last year Santa left me a letter too!! It’s sweet hanging onto our old traditions, no matter how grown up they are!!! It reminds us all of the simpler days when they were younger.
I had a special treat this week, and a really fun time. I give a women’s Christmas lunch for my good friends every year, to start off the season. I used to do it in San Francisco, when I was married and lived there full time, and invited about 20 women, and now I do it in Paris. It’s smaller, and I still do it with my favorite women friends. There were eight of us this year, and four more couldn’t come. They are a really interesting group of women, and being an observer of human nature as a writer, several things struck me afterwards as I thought about the lunch. And also the things that bond you to people, and that you have in common alter slightly over the years. When your kids are young, most of your friends have children the same age (which is still somewhat true today), and often just time and history is enough to keep friends close, and with time, you need to have more in common, and common interests which cement that bond of friendship. When I thought about this year’s group after the lunch, it occurred to me what a lively group of enterprising women they are, and all have interesting careers. At the lunch this year, there were 2 writers (and another writer couldn’t come as she was away to promote her newest book), a book publisher, a woman who just started her own clothing design company, after working for years in fashion, a book editor, an attorney (who practices law in 2 countries, England and France, and lives in 4 countries), a woman who has run luxury companies for years and has just started her own, and a woman who owned a famous restaurant for years. Their age range was from 45 to 60, and all of them have really interesting jobs. On further thought, 6 were French, one English and one American. 5 are married, 3 divorced (which is probably representative of national statistics in most Western countries these days. And all 3 were divorced after long marriages), only one has no children, and among the other 7 of us, we collectively have 25 children, which is a lot of kids (and 3 are grandmothers). The age ranges of our children were from 12 to late thirties. Most of them have 3 kids, which is also interesting since they are all working women and have fairly big careers, so we all have in common the juggling act it has been to have children and work. We talked about politics, which is pretty common in Europe, business, our kids, life. No one talked about fashion, and contrary to what most men believe about women’s gatherings, no one talked about men or sex. (I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with other women about sex, except maybe once with a close friend.) Men always think we talk about them, or about our sex lives, which I have never found to be true. Most women are a lot more discreet than men think, and keep those subjects to themselves. There was no bitchiness at the lunch, they just aren’t bitchy women (I can’t stand bitchy women, and am careful to stay away from them!!) the atmosphere was supportive and interested. There was no tinge of jealousy, or ‘the desperate house wives of Paris”, everyone was interested in what the others are doing. All are good looking women who take care of themselves and are in good shape—and as a trivial detail, I noticed that not a single one of them (including me) has had a face lift or looks like they use Botox. They still have their ‘original’ faces and looked terrific and younger than their age. (By contrast, in the States, I recently had lunch with three friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and was startled to see that all 3 had had major face lifts, and I hadn’t. And even my daughters’ friends in their early 20′s already get Botox, which shocks me. Most European women don’t do that, although some do, but the majority doesn’t. I think they look more natural and prettier without plastic surgery (I’m too cowardly to ever do it!!!), and I think if you had seen any of the women at my Paris lunch, you would have thought them attractive, and even beautiful, without a face lift!! So many women overdo that!!). And all of them have interesting side activities as well, one of the busiest women in the group, aside from her law career, travels to high schools, as part of a group, to have open discussions with teenagers on the subject of discrimination, to dispel the prejudices against people of other races and religions, to try and stop racism among youth before it takes hold, and despite diverse backgrounds. It’s an amazing project, and was fascinating to hear about it. All of them are engaged in either some kind of charitable or philanthropic activity, and have a passion of some kind. It was a terrific lunch and I loved it, and being with them. It was energizing and fun. It was also further proof of the old adage that ‘birds of a feather stick together”, all of us in that group are busy, active women, engaged with our families and working hard, and trying to do some good in the world, in interesting and different ways. It was wonderful being with them, they have no axe to grind, no one was angry or bitter, they were just warm, interesting women, engaged in interesting pursuits. I have my share of friends who don’t work too, and I love them, but it’s exciting to be around people, men or women, who are excited about life, and trying to make a difference either in their own worlds, or the broader world, like the friend waging the fight against racism among high school kids. It was a really great experience having lunch with them. I see all of them frequently throughout the year, but it was nice to be all together at one table. It gave me a real boost to see them. Good friends are a powerful positive force in one’s life, and I am grateful to have them in my life. They make my life a better place!!!
Other than that, I’ve been wrapping Christmas gifts—-I wrap like a 5 year old, with tape all over the place and messy corners. My daughters wrap gifts exquisitely, I almost hate to open them, they look so beautiful. Mine look like the dog could have wrapped them better. And now, I’d better get busy finding silly gifts for our game on Christmas eve. I hope all is going well with you. Paris is looking beautiful with all the Christmas decorations and lights. Christmas brings out the child in me. Corny is always better!!!
lots of love, danielle