Tell Santa

My kids are outgrowing Santa. It makes me sad. Now, the only way I can get them to go along is if we go on pet night to take the dog.

I have a lot of fond memories of our Santa visits.  One of my favorite visits was when my son was five. He was friends with a little girl in his kindergarten class.  On an early dismissal day I decided to take them to see Santa.  The mom of the little girl asked me if I would eavesdrop or somehow get her to tell me what she wanted for Christmas. Apparently she had heard about Secret Santa and was taking the whole thing quite seriously. She refused to tell anyone what she wanted for Christmas.

I devised a plan. On the way to see Santa they could practice what they were going to say, in case they got star struck when they were face to face with the Big Man. It worked!  She told me from her buckled seat in the back of the car that she wanted a horse with a cowboy rider and when the button is pressed…  Here my son interjected, “It self-destructs.”  She paused and looked at her male companion with a mixture of confusion and mild disgust that no doubt would be a staple expression in her later years. “No the horse puts its legs in the air and makes the horse noise.”  She mimed the action and provided the whinnies.  My son insisted that the horse would be better if it shot missiles like the Star Wars X- Wing Fighter he had in mind. Despite our excursion to planet Mars, I returned to Venus and asked where she saw this horse.  She replied “I made it up.”

I returned her to her home and wished her mother good luck.

Now my oldest is fifteen. The only reason he is going this year is because he loves his younger brother and the chance of hijinks with the dog at the mall are pretty high.  My nine year old has big plans for Christmas and they involve Nerf. He belongs to an organized group of 8-10 year olds that have Nerf wars once a week.  Before the battle begins, there’s a lot of discussion of weaponry.  The boys all aim to improve their arsenal with Santa’s help, and they discuss which of the latest Nerf guns will best suit their needs.  Among them is a weapon that can shoot sixty feet and it has become a bit of a legend among the group.  I have no idea how or why, but they believe this gun is called “The Big Wang.”  I just can’t wait for Santa to hear from several boys between eight and ten that tops on their list this year is a “Big Wang.” 

I’ve tried to tell my son that I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but he and his cadre insist there is a legendary Nerf by such a name. So I’m afraid this Santa visit may be our last, but I think we are going to go out with a big bang, or wang, as the case may be.         

 

The Unwelcome Mat

I am the only female in my house, even my beloved pooch in his surgically altered state is technically male. The other inhabitants, two boys and one husband care little for the cozy aesthetic that transforms a roof and walls into a home and so I am left to battle alone against functional ugliness.

The first shot was fired one ordinary Tuesday when my husband ordered a rubber backed black mat from an industrial catalog. Without mercy and with a sense of a job well done, he banished a hand looped imported accent rug and replaced it with a standard rubber mat that viciously smacked the travertine tile when he put it down. Its unapologetic nonslip rubber backing ensured its near permanent grip on the floor.

Gone are the autumnal hues and fleur-de-lis that once greeted guests who enter through the garage. Now they are assaulted with the odor associated with a tire store. My homemade mélange of cassia bark and jasmine oil potpourri is no match for the stench. The black mat is a disgrace to all that is cozy.

That’s when I knew that I had to strike back. This polypropylene factory-forged monster literally has its foot in my door.  I decided I needed a goose feather interior designer foil. Indeed, the decorative pillow is my last line of defense against a house full of men. 

That is why despite protests that there is nowhere to sit or nowhere to lay down, there are pillows: lace pillows, faux fur pillows, sequin pillows, holiday pillows, and seasonal pillows.  Like the battery operated candles that are often accused of needlessly gobbling batteries, the decorative pillows serve absolutely no purpose but to provide a pop of color and a dash of feminine charm.

I will fluff them, arrange them, and buy more of them to guard against the kind of decision that led to an industrial rubber mat in my hallway.

 

Mom Might Be Green, But She’s No Fool

I need to call a foul on Team Green.  I’m on the side of Mother Earth, and I think she would agree with me.

This is about recycling and responsibility. To explain my frustration, I want to recollect a school fieldtrip that I chaperoned for my third grader’s class. It was at a nature center where we manhandled milkweed pods, acted like trees, and pretended to migrate. It was all standard.  There was nothing unorthodox or militant about it. Then, it was time for lunch.

Sixty plus children nibbled sandwiches and sucked juice boxes dry. Then an elderly man appeared with six white buckets and big ideas on how “we” were to discard our lunch trash. With deadly serious expression and stern commands he launched into a complex set of instructions: Separate dirty napkins from clean napkins. Separate caps from bottles. Separate the bread from the innards of uneaten sandwich remnants.  He wanted us to take special note of the peanut butter and jelly variety of sandwich, as if this menu item doesn’t suffer enough stigma and regulation. Peanut butter can be composted but jelly cannot. He added a footnote to his manifesto. There were too many wasps by the compost.

At this point I wondered who had the Epipens.  I wondered if he had ever spent time with children.  I wondered if discarding our lunch would take well past three o’clock dismissal.

Undaunted by the growing looks of panic and frustration by the moms in the room, he heaped even more instructions on the youngsters. Yogurt cups should be licked clean and placed in bucket three. By the way, all buckets were nondescript, white, and sans number identification.  And then the final straw (pardon the pun) was the Capri Sun sleeves.  The straw should go in bucket three, the wrapper of the straw in bucket one, and THE SLEEVE NEEDED TO GO BACK HOME because it had an entirely different method of recycling.

Guess who would become the steward of that sticky envelope? I’ll give you a hint.  She goes by one name, and it’s a palindrome. I wanted to stop him right there and yell No!  Did he realize he was addressing wiggly children who have to keep three records of what they read each day and record the minutes? Did he know they must do a sport, learn an instrument, take religion classes, and engage in free-range play? Was he aware the other members of the audience, public school teachers, are now responsible for cleaning their own rooms, charting the progress of each student on some cockamamie standardized test, and just trying to hold their families together on a pittance?  Finally, the moms who were about to take trash home  probably did more work before six am than it took to wash all of those godforsaken buckets.

All I’m saying is that recycling cannot be more complicated than a tax return. These “simple” extra steps become the responsibility of guess who?  A MOM.  And I got news for you earth inhabitants, her plate is full.  If I did everything I was supposed to do in a day, I’d still be in the shower doing a self-breast exam.  Instead, I’m hawking pizzas and chocolate bars for a school fundraiser.  I’m organizing carpools and trying to find a dinner that everyone in the family will eat.

The current trend of recycling isn’t practical. I cannot perform minor surgery on my garbage.  I cannot maintain a rotting mass of pig slop in my yard. I cannot have seven different pails of trash in my garage when I have three cars, five bikes, two scooters, and 47 deflated balls.

Somewhere along the way the consumer got tricked. The onus is not on the consumer (who inevitably is the Mom), it is on the manufacturer.  Moms have enough to do.

Mother Earth will tell you herself, you cannot rely on Mommy to do this for you, someday she may not be there.

 

 

Packed Lunch

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Every day I pack a lunch for my boys.  And every day it’s an experiment in what you want out of life and what you actually get. If I packed what my boys wanted to eat in the scant twenty minutes they are allowed to partake of sustenance, then all I would need is a cache of Snickers bars and a case of Dr Pepper.  Of course, I would never indulge this sugar encrusted fantasy, but a happy medium has to be reached.   

There are a few considerations to take into account when assembling the contents of the lunchbox.  First, the kids have got to eat something.  It’s bad enough when they get home they eye up everything from the sofa to the dog with ravenous and predatory eyes.  

Second, you must face the reality that people are watching.  Teachers, lunch lady volunteers, moms who hang out at school are assessing your experiment and adding a new hypothesis of how this food translates into your child’s behavior.  Chances are their child is sipping water and nibbling broccoli while nursing a backache from toting home Dickens’ entire oeuvre.

And so the delicate dance of aspirations and reality are played out in the confines of Storm Troopers and insulated vinyl.  I pack a sandwich because I have not completely given up. I pack a stick of cheese because the sandwich always comes back with only minor abrasions.  I pack a juice box because they have a water bottle at their desks so who the heck would want more water? I pack a sweet, cookies or a pouch of yogurt, because pessimism has been a guiding principle in my life and why would it let me down now?

Finally, each and every day I pack a vegetable or fruit. It is the most time consuming of all the contents.  I take the stems off the grapes. I peel the oranges and put them in little containers. I slice cucumbers and provide dip. But each and every day, that fruit comes back. The truth is I send produce on a one hundred and eighty day walkabout.

I keep hoping we are all a little wiser when it’s done.      

I Love Sharks

I love sharks. I love shark movies. I follow tagged sharks on Twitter. I think Shark Week is one of the greatest television feats in history. Great whites are my favorite, they are stealth killers, a “perfect engine- an eating machine” as Hooper says in Jaws.  Sharks are real life living monsters with all the authentic proportions of something the Ancient Greeks could have imagined, a mammoth jaw filled with jagged teeth and dead eyes as black as the devil’s heart.  They are living myth. Plus, they have the kind of size that makes dinosaurs so irresistible.   

And I CANNOT get enough of them, which is weird because most aspects of my life are riddled with anxieties.  You would think that someone who would drive miles out of her way to avoid a left turn at a busy intersection  would not take a fancy to the sleek nightmare fuel that is the Great White, but you would be wrong.

I love them.  They embody my fears like no other creature on the planet, the lurking, the incredible speed, and a badass theme song.  A shark could be ten yards away from a swimmer and that swimmer wouldn’t know it until his legs are the side of fries with the shark’s seal burger. That’s the kind of scenario I envision in each and every mundane encounter in my life.  Disaster is always seconds away!   

The difference with sharks and why I hold them dear to my heart is the fact that they are contained. In my landlocked Midwest state it’s so easy to avoid sharks.  Unlike cancer, and bullies who might convince my children to commit suicide, and gun violence, and the opioid epidemic, and the painful changes of globalization, and drunk drivers, and tooth decay, and ageing, and stock market crashes, and tick borne diseases-  I can exercise my control over this fear.  All I have to do is stay the hell out of the water!  It’s such a wondrous simplicity.  It is so easy to talk myself out of this fear.  In fact,  as I write this with my back to the window and my feet dangling off my chair, I am confident  that I will not be eaten by a Great White. My loved ones who are out of sight are still safely on land,  and they won’t be eaten by a Great White either.

The thought of the shark actually makes me happy.  I have fear and I have control.  What a wonderful, singular situation.

Happy Shark Week. Happy trails to you, Mary Lee, you beautiful, awe- inspiring, scary as hell monster. 

 

Sweet, Sweet Nothing

This year, when my family asks, what do you want for Mother’s Day? I can truthfully answer “nothing” because…

The fact that my living room furniture does not include plastic anything

The fact that you do your homework without me screaming my head off

The fact that you think crawling into bed with me is as bad an idea to you as it is to me

The fact that if you want to play outside I don’t have to go outside with you

The fact that none of the snacks in my house are squeezable

The fact that we can go to the movies and stay the whole time

The fact that no one has pooped their pants in a very long time

The fact that I can talk on the phone or pee and no one seems to care –

That’s my Mother’s Day.

The fact that when I serve something you don’t like, we can all honestly agree that nobody cares, and then you eat it anyway

The fact that I don’t know the cartoon line up on Nickelodeon

The fact that when we go shopping the only one who may end up crying is Daddy

The fact that the cashier at the McDonald’s drive thru does not know our names

The fact that I can go to the dentist or get my haircut and it doesn’t involve a neighbor, a teenager, or a family plan

The fact that on a Saturday or Sunday I can sleep till whenever I want

That’s my Mother’s Day.

The fact that you realize I am not interested in seeing what you built on Minecraft

The fact that your annual flu shot is not something either of us has to mentally prepare for

The fact that when you are tired, you go to bed

The fact that a stroll down the cereal aisle can no longer be equated with an extreme sport

The fact that I can wear white, or dangly earrings, or things that must be dry-cleaned

The fact that I don’t wipe your nose

The fact that you agree that bees should not cause the same level of alarm as, let’s just say, a pit viper

That’s my Mother’s Day.  

The fact that if I step in a pile of goo we can all comfortably blame the dog and our integrity will remain intact

The fact that I no longer have to hide the permanent markers

The fact that we drink out of actual glass

The fact that no one has brought pudding or other snacks into the toilet in more than one calendar year

The fact that I don’t have to sing silly songs to get you to perform basic hygiene

The fact that I can carry a small purse

That’s my Mother’s Day. 

Kylo Ren and Us

chasing stormtrooper

What I most love about Disney is the unexpected magic.  Last time I went to Disney a super fan and imagination collided at the intersection of childhood wonder and storytelling.  It was sublime.

I love Star Wars, as does my son, but we keep it in check. Sure, I’ll abandon my children and run toward a spontaneous sighting of Stormtroopers, but no one is going to question my grasp of reality when the day is done and the park is closed. That’s not the case for everyone- as I soon found out. I was at the Star Wars museum or Launch Pad or whatever they call it, and the lines were unusually short.  This was our chance.  I grabbed the only other willing member of the family, my nine year old son, and scooted in the queue for Kylo Ren. 

In front of us a perspiring young man of about twenty darted about while examining helmets, suits, model ships, and other film paraphernalia encased in glass. His movements were frantic and jerky, and like his sweat glands, they were a touch outside of the bell curve.  He took pictures of absolutely everything.  My son and I paused our casual banter at the spectacle that was unfolding before us. The line moved forward. He paused to catch his breath wherein he removed his shirt, used said garment to wipe his dripping brow, and revealed a sweat soaked tank to us and the other befuddled patrons waiting to shake hands with the new Darth Vader. I was speechless. If I could have uttered a word, I think it would have been cocaine. And it would’ve come out like a question.  My son, also rendered speechless, gave me the side eye. 

The character meet in greet is set up so that Kylo Ren is behind cool looking space doors that slide open. Cast members in film-extra garb, wait at the door to prevent a log jam of visitors.  Well, when our sweaty little friend got the ear of these hapless employees, he barraged them with facts and questions that did not require responses despite their grammatical syntax.  The doors opened much to their relief and, as a trio, we were escorted in.  An unsuspecting and unprepared Kylo Ren awaited.

I’m certain that in most instances, Kylo Ren takes the lead and you just do as he tells you and go about your merry way. That’s not what happened here. The young man first ensured that pictures would be taken.  Documentation was of the upmost importance to him.  It was agreed. Just as Kylo Ren appears, the young man gets down on one knee, bows his head, and covers his eyes as if it’s medieval times not space times. He utters the most cohesive string of words I had witnessed him put together.  They were a type of futuristic fealty that included liege, pledge, and master. And they were definitely the product of much craft and practice. 

My mouth is agape.  The cast members’ mouths were agape.  And my son is taking this whole scene in like only a nine year old boy can.  The sweaty super-fan exits. The air is charged with frantic energy and confusion.  Now it’s our turn.  We step forward.  Kylo Ren in his mask altered unnerving voice instructs us on where to stand.  My son, a rule follower, misunderstands Mr. Ren and gets down on one knee and begins to repeat the whole awkward scene.  He thought that was what he was supposed to do!  I yank on my son’s arm and pull him up while explaining that the other guy was crazy and we don’t do that. Kylo Ren, maybe limited by voice control buttons, attempts his spiel again. My son and I return to a normal fan stance when Kylo Ren leans down close to our faces and declares, “My condolences.” This is the first sentence he has said that I’ve understood since we stepped forward so I ask, “To my husband?” and he retorts, “To the Resistance.”    

I start laughing, the employees start laughing, my son is still in awe and mild confusion.  A gentleman hands me my phone and we are escorted out another set of space doors. 

My nine year old and I had an awkward encounter with a super villain. Does vacation get any better than that?

 

Shout Out Drugs

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When your kids are young, you have a lot of control over who they choose as friends -because they are the children of your friends.  As they get older, this safe method of controlled interaction falls by the wayside.  They pick their friends, not you.  And to add insult to injury, they decide social events and socializing in general are best executed in your absence. 

This seemed to come up on me suddenly.  I took note of the erosion of control I had but it didn’t really hit home until my son decided one ordinary Friday that he was going with his friends and just needed to be dropped off.

Dropped off?  You mean somewhere not on our street? You mean out in the world?   You mean I’m supposed to stop the car, you get out, and I drive away?

I needed Valium.

As a parent you know this day is coming. And let’s be honest, there were times you fantasized about this day. There were days your kids established residence in the crack of your ass and the idea of them wandering out into the world without you seemed like a five star resort vacation.

But then they actually do it!

Good God, you think, did you prepare them enough?  I mean you talked about marijuana, but at the time they were making a Lego dinosaur.   You talked about the dangers of unprotected and casual sex but that was after a particularly saucy episode of Scooby Doo.  But now, this all seems too real. The rubber is hitting the road.  The poop is hitting the fan.  The jig is up!

As my husband pulled the car to the curb to let my son out, I looked out at the throng of teenage primordial ooze before us and I had one last bit of advice.  My son, sensing a percolating smother volcano, jumped out of the car and was now about ten feet away.  Desperate and undaunted, I shouted after him, “Don’t do heroin!”

My husband shook his head in dismay but not in disbelief.

I settled back in the passenger seat and confessed, “I saw an episode about heroin on Sixty Minutes.”

“I’m not sure you had to tell him about that now,”  he said.

“I did.  I do have to tell him now.”

 

The Pet Equation

Math has always been my mortal enemy.  I’m not sure Math can say the same about me.  I’m not a worthy adversary, I think I would be more properly classified as a petty nuisance. 

Math always confounded me with its hard and fast rules and its inflexibility.  Word problems used to cause me the most consternation.  The situation presented seemed ripe for creativity and yet the correct course of action was multiplication or its drab ilk.  Take the iconic two speeding trains leaving a station and which would arrive first.  I always preferred to delve into the question like:  Who was on the trains? Where were they going?  Why were they in such a hurry to leave?   Were they lovers divided by a war torn country?  Were the trains speeding away because of plague, or even better, a zombie apocalypse?   I always thought these unanswered questions were far, far better and more satisfying than any calculations about rate and time and distance. I once pointed this out to my Math teacher who decided his best course of action was to remove me from advanced math.    

As I’ve gotten older and word problems have become all but a distant memory, I have found use for the simplicity and irrefutable truth of the math equation.  The rich life experience which has led me to this conclusion is pet fish. 

Fish suck.  They are bar none the worst pet that there is. Fish are supposed to be a low maintenance pet but that is a big misconception.  An aquarium is really a rectangular pool of chemically balanced water for you to throw your money into. You must calculate the proper PH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, the amount of food pellets, the temperature, the salinity… the list goes on and on. PH too low, buy this, Nitrite problem, buy that. The fish have Ich, there’s a $remedy$.  Mind you, this is all to keep a 99 cent fish (who doesn’t offer an iota of affection to you) alive.  And here’s another oddity, we eat fish.  Pets in general don’t make the menu- except fish.  So when a fish dies you are either throwing good food or good money down the toilet.   

In fact, death is the bulk of the pet fish experience. Aquariums are in a perpetual cycle of death.  You become painfully aware of the warning signs.  A troubled fish may start swimming vertically as if revving up to spring out of the tank in some aquatic hari kari and then losing its nerve at the last second and swimming back to the bottom. Next, it resembles a self-propelled elbow macaroni.  Finally the poor bastard gives up the ghost, but your work is not done.  You have to scoop out the corpse quickly or you are going to have an awkward conversation with little Timmy about cannibalism and how Swimmy’s friends will eat his dying or dead corpse cuz that’s just how affectionate fish are. 

Here is where the black and white simplicity and irrefutable wonders of Mathematics comes into play.

This is an equation that I developed for my kids to ponder every time there’s a free fish prize at a carnival or every time we go to the pet store to buy my legitimate pet some food.

Kids + Fish (reduced to its simplest form) = an expensive box of wet stink.

This gives rise to my theorem that can apply to any pet that your child desires.

The Love > Stink.

The love you receive from said pet must be greater than the stink that emanates from the animal.  Thus, no hamsters, spiders, lizards, rats, turtles, AND ESPECIALLY FISH can be tolerated in my household.

Now dogs are more than welcome in my house because:

The love > Stink   every day and twice on Sundays. 

 

Costco Karma

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Last week I experienced what can only be described as Costco Karma, which is weird because I’m not a big believer in Karma and you don’t normally consider a whole sale warehouse to be the dispenser of cosmic justice.

Until that fateful shopping trip, I was uncertain Karma even existed. Sure, when some wretched bastard finally comes upon their demise it is a delicious moment that makes you say Aha, Karma! There you are, you sweet son of a bitch.  The truth is in your euphoria you are temporarily blind to all the other times the good guy finished last and the bad guy triumphed.

Costco has the same unreliable quality. You can get a bona fide deal on anything from hearing aids to fish sticks. The problem, of course, is that everything is sold in an SLU (shit load unit).  Right now, in my medicine cabinet I have a drum of ibuprofen from 2003. I guess I’m hoping Karma and Advil will cure me of my headache.   And to this day my children recoil in horror at the mere suggestion of eating cheddar bunnies after a 40 count box terrorized their lunchboxes for the length of a Biblical probation.

And to be honest, I’m not sure Costco believes in cosmic justice either because before you leave you have to present your receipt to a team member who mixes friendly chit chat with cynicism and suspicion while inspecting your cart and deciding whether or not to release you with an authoritative stroke of a hot pink highlighter.

Despite this high tech security measure, I have shoplifted, more than once from the store.  Let’s be clear.  Both times were by accident, both times lacked criminal intent, and both times involved an SLU of recyclable water bottles.  The first time I stole a magazine.  I didn’t realize what I had done until I got out to the car and hoisted the heavy slab of water bottles into my trunk. There at the bottom of the cart was a glossy cupcake magazine. Now here’s where it is my fault, and Karma can start assembling an arsenal.  I didn’t go back in, show them my membership card, march over to customer service, and hand over the jack.  In my defense it was a blustery winter day in North Eastern Wisconsin so I said, “Fuck it!  It is just too damned cold out here. I am not walking another step.”

Today was a little trickier.  You see, both Costco and I were in the wrong. Just as before, I hoisted the SLU of water bottles up and into my trunk, and lo and behold a set of children’s thermal underwear was unintentionally secreted beneath the heavy and unwieldy package. I took a moment to contemplate my expanding shoplifting portfolio that now included apparel. My child will be warm but also an accessory to petty theft.

This time, I cannot say the weather was a contributing factor in my moral failure.  It was mild day and the cold air had yet to fully develop its sadistic personality traits that turns normal people into hibernating hermits.    This was a conscious decision to steal children’s underwear. I drove away.

When I got home, and parked in the safety of my garage, I opened my trunk and the gallon of milk I had legitimately purchased had leaked all over. A slit in the top from a box cutter was the hidden culprit.  Costco had sold me a defective milk.  Everything was coated with a filmy white including the black spongy carpeting that is the staple fabric of my budget vehicle.  Being the mother of two children I am acutely aware of the aftermath of spilled milk.  And I can tell you now that spilled milk in your car is something to cry about. I was about to be trapped with a rotting stench not unlike my moral failure.

Karma claimed its victory, spiked the football with tiny pools of milk, and trapped me inside my only means of escape. I had plenty of time to think about my sins while I waited as my car was detailed.