adventcalendar-1Every November 30, you can find me sitting in agony at the dining room table. It’s not a pretty thing as I press my fists into my eye sockets, bite feverishly on my pen cap and, occasionally, moan in pain, something no one hears because no one is home. The day’s task? To write eight mini poems, which serve as scavenger hunt clues for Gabrielle’s advent calendar.

It all started years ago when Gabrielle and I went Christmas shopping in London. After making the requisite and delicious stop at Pool Supply, we went on to White Lily, where we spotted an advent calendar in the shape of a schoolhouse marked with 25 little doors. Inside most of the doors were fuzzy little ornaments in the shapes of stockings, Santas and presents. But eight ornaments were missing and the schoolhouse was a steal at 60 percent off. Ahhh, 60 percent off. I still relish in that sale. Anyway, we were thrilled with our deal and took it home.

Early on, I would fill the empty doors with little treats for Gabrielle. But after she grew out of Shopkins and Polly Pockets, which was almost immediately, I realized the doors were too small to fit anything else. I tried Smurf figurines, but after they arrived from Amazon, I realized even they were too big, so I was forced to hide them elsewhere, filling the door with a clue as to where to find them instead.

This proved a big hit and advent opening instantly graduated into a scavenger hunt. But what kind of scavenger hunt is it if the clues aren’t written in an amusing way? And what makes writing amusing? That’s right: rhyming.

So there I was, reduced to poetry, which has never been my bailiwick. Oh, I like it well enough when someone else is writing it, but if it’s me, it’s painful to produce, no matter how lighthearted. But I persisted and eventually discarded the idea that the gifts needed to be small in size. That’s how, over the years, I’ve come up with:

“If a girl’s going to write

She needs the right tools

So here is a set

That will make you look cools

Find me where the junk lies.”

Or:

“Perfect birds in flight

Folded up just right

Sing her to sleep

Each and every night

Now new paper to make more

We thought it was right

Find it by Pap’s bench

And the Christmas tree light.”

Of course, the pain is definitely worth it when 15-year-old Gabrielle runs down the stairs squealing in the morning because she’s excited to open her advent. I’m not sure if you realize this, but it’s pretty hard to make a 15-year-old happy about anything before 8 in the morning.

My mom was always good about advent calendars too. Of course, ours was the more traditional one with the cardboard door and window flaps. Oh, but I loved locating the number and opening the flap to find a festive chocolate lying in wait. When I was a kid, there was no currency more powerful than chocolate, and I would luxuriate in the treat not only because of its sweetness, but because I was allowed to eat it before breakfast.

Of course, the best part of the advent is that every day you’re inching closer to Christmas. Never underestimate the power of a good countdown, with its ability to, at once, make you nearly die of anticipation but also force you to stop and appreciate each day that’s bringing you toward the final event. I don’t think I ever appreciated that properly when I was a kid — I was too busy eating — but I definitely do now.

Tomorrow will be Gabrielle’s first gift: a T-shirt with a squirrel on it that is just campy enough to be cool (I hope). I can’t wait to watch her read her clue and search around the house for it. Which makes me realize that, especially around this time of year, it’s the little things that make you happiest.

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