Every year we all say that “next year” will be the one when we won’t stress as much during the holidays, and that we won’t “do so much.” There’s sometimes even crazy talk after a glass of mulled wine about doing a “handmade-only gift exchange next year” but anyone who’s tried to handcraft a gift for a teenage girl who doesn’t happen to be building an Amish hope-chest understands that this is what I refer to as “crazy talk.” No, sir! you protest. Next year will be different! Well, that’s bullshit and you know it and I know it, but for the sake of not wanting to alienate a reader, I’ll let the assertion stand.
But you know you’re lying; by this time next year your holiday gift list will have grown exponentially and you’ll probably be hosting that neighbourhood mixer you swore you’d never participate in. And what’s that? Oh yes; I even see a cookie exchange in your future. So yeah; you’re a liar, but it’s okay because so am I, and I’ll be right there with you trading Air Miles for something “Extra-Blaster-Turbo-Action-Starter-Pack” for my son despite the mountain of gifts for him already under the tree. We mean well and what counts when the fiery end finally comes is that we meant well, right? (I am no fun at Christmas parties.)
With so much to get done during the holidays it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Once you factor in baking, decorating, and wrapping gifts, there’s hardly any time left for sobbing into your eggnog because the only Christmas card you received was from your divorce lawyer.
In case you “swear-ta-God-cross-my-heart-stab-me-with-an-icicle-if-I’m-lyin’-I’m-dyin‘” mean it about less stress next year, here are some tips to get you started.
Elf on the Shelf
Get rid of it. If you’ve got more than one kid, the truth is you don’t need an Elf, unless it’s a real one who brings you chocolates and knows how to fix the dishwasher – we could all use more of that in our lives. If your children have siblings, you’ve already got a built-in Elf on the Shelf every day of the year. I’ve got two kids, and I’ve even given them incentives for reporting unsavoury behaviour. For example, one tattle earns a square of toilet paper. Two tattles? You get a sheet on your bed tonight! Three? That’s the big time, helper child, and you just earned yourself a full glass of non-powdered milk with dinner. During the holiday season nothing happens in this house without me being aware of it, and if something is so well thought out that it involves both children, I don’t want to know.
Just say no. Seriously, does anyone even do this anymore? If you must participate in this tradition, make it easy for yourself: simply drive around the neighbourhood with your car windows open, cranking an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas CD.
Today’s home chef has the ability to make treats rivaling those found in European bakeries. Thanks to specialty shops and pushy friends selling Pampered Chef products, you too can churn out delectable, gorgeous treats just like those in a bakery. Have I said “bakery” enough times to indicate you should just GO TO A BAKERY? No one will know. Jab a few holes in the cookies with your finger, and maybe throw a couple into the toaster oven to burn the bottoms if you’re worried about appearing too perfect. I wish I had your problems.
Fancy papers, ribbons and bows, personalized name tags…Where does the madness end? You’re already getting a present. Now you expect me to spend 30 minutes carefully wrapping it in gold foil paper with coordinating hand-punched calligraphy name tag? Take a cue from my ex-husband: wrap everything in the bag it came in and seal it up with whatever roll of tape is in the junk drawer. Some of the nicest things I ever got came in duct taped Walmart bag. (And by nice I mean “okay.” And by “okay” I mean “not good at all.”)
Right now my lawnmower is sitting out, mid-lawn, where it ran out of gas in August. I just threw some lights on it and called it a day, so maybe go elsewhere for decorating tips. I hear they do that shit over on Pinterest.
Planning nutritious meals for your family while you’re busy with things like shopping and crying, or wrapping and crying, or trimming the tree and crying can be hard. Fret not, friends, and wipe those tears away! Blow your nose on your light-up Christmas sweater because I bring to you one of the greatest gifts God ever bestowed on the Universe: the grocery store rotisserie chicken. This golden BBQ bird has saved my hide (and potential calls to Children’s Services for suspected neglect) many, many times. In fact, in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” the verse “partridge in a pear tree” was originally “A chicken in my buggy.”
Make your parties “BYOBAFAYNLUEICU”: Bring Your Own Booze and Food and You’re Not Leaving Until Everything is Cleaned Up. Enforce this. Take people’s coats, their keys, whatever items you can pillage from their pockets during hello hugs, and hide them under piles of crusty dishes and empty wine bottles. When guests help clean up the mess, they find their stuff! This is also a great way to keep guests entertained, and eliminate the needs for additional party games. Win/Win. Plus, you’ll secure a reputation for being the “hostess with the mostest” by employing this technique.
So there you have it! A season of merriment awaits you. And please, add your tips in the comments if you’ve got some to share. We’re in this together.
*this post was modified from a post I originally ran on December 20, 2012. I changed a few things and thought I’d offer it earlier in the season this time around, while there is still time to run for your lives. You can also see by this that I’ve learned nothing.
When we change the clocks for Daylight Saving Time it becomes evening here at 4pm. I won’t run out for a head of garlic in the evening because the last clove fell under the stove drawer and no one comes back from there unscathed in sunlight for another five months. It’s cold and dark when I get up in the morning, and it’s cold and dark when I go to bed. The small blue light on the coffee maker is piercing and hurts my eyes in the morning gloom, and because the kitchen faces north even in the summer our large trees in front shade the windows. In the winter they block any effort from the sun and only gray diffused light pushes against the edges of the tree’s silhouette. It’s not enough to warm the kitchen and so I make lunches, inspect heads of hair, supervise responsible breakfast choices, and pack knapsacks under the yellow glow of a pair of 60 watt incandescent bulbs.
Then I drive my daughter to high school, see my son off to the bus stop, and return home to sit at a keyboard where I proceed to think through my fingertips. I make mistakes – a lot of them; for a writer I am a horrible typist and my screen is often filled with additional characters. Ampersands and percentage signs break words in half and numbers and symbols from another language appear where they do not belong and where they are not welcome. This is seems completely appropriate.
It’s after 7pm now and all traces of daylight have been gone for hours. I am again in the kitchen and the window is a sheet of dull black, save the small white points of light reflected from the neighbours Christmas bulbs. They are LED lights and they are far too bright. They’re too harsh for a season I take part in but don’t fully celebrate. These are impressive lights and while I don’t begrudge them, they make me feel woefully inadequate for not having my own display, but ugh, ladders.
I know my ennui will pass. It always does and there are things to look forward to and I keep looking forward. We laugh everyday and I thank god or the creator or whoever wished me into existence that they gave me a sense of humor. When it’s dark at 4pm you need it.
I know that many of you haven’t even had your first turkey of the year yet, but the Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone and we’re already well into the Christmas season here. Can I get a community “Ugh?” up in here? Let’s wait a bit; frankly, I can’t handle the cumulative jolly and by December 15th or so the introverted side of my brain is making “devil on my shoulder” plans to slip something lethal into Santa’s hot chocolate. (Note from behind the scenes: Firefox wants to auto-corrected “Santa” to “Satan” so it’s fairly certain they’ve got a customer for life here.) I’m working on a reading engagement right now which should be a lot of fun – come out if you’re near Toronto to Diaries and Dissent and say hello – so my post today is a redux of sorts from December 2009. Everything still applies.
Beat the Christmas Rush
This past Sunday I went to Canadian Tire (think Home Depot but with winter clothing and friendlier staff with health benefits) to stock up on discounted Halloween decorations and additional disguises for my son. Turns out I was too late for the Halloween bargains – they were all gone; replaced with items deemed more “seasonably appropriate.”
What I could buy however, was a 6-foot inflatable Santa Claus in a helicopter with operational chopper blades. Store staff wore elf hats, and I could detect a mulled cider odour coming through the ductwork. Immediately upon entry my children began talking of their “Christmas lists” and started pleading for Nerf Vulcan Blaster machine guns, 6000 piece Lego kits and $700 pure breed lap dogs. I checked my phone, and yes, it was indeed still November. Which, for those of you confused by Daylight Savings Time, is not the month of Christmas.
When I got home I noticed my neighbours pulling ghoul and goblin figures off their rooftops. Halloween is over and they were clearly done. But a few hours later, I noticed they had been replaced with 12 brightly painted plywood reindeer.
I love Christmas too, but what about the concept of delayed gratification?
Why the hurry? Starting the Christmas celebration before December 1st means that there will be what? 148 days of Christmas. I’m not sure I can think of 148 rhyming verses for a Christmas song, although I have some suggestions, all of which include the refrain “a man from Nantucket.”
It’s bad enough that the Sears Wish Book was delivered in August and my son has committed the toy section to memory. I’m fairly certain when we visit Santa at the mall, my son will just start shouting page numbers: “I want a page 345, a page 406 – but the blue one! And a page 452! Don’t forget the turbo blaster action starter pack!
Last year, I got into “the spirit” way too early. By the day after Christmas I was so sick of holly berries, spray painted pine cones and glitter balls that when the kids returned home from a visit at their Grandmother’s house, they found me struggling to the curb with a naked Christmas tree and bags of used tinsel. At the door were 6 large Rubbermaid bins of Christmas decor waiting to be jammed into the storage shed. I just wanted it GONE.
Not until all the Halloween candy has been eaten and I haven’t yet raked the fall leaves. My lawn mower is still parked in the middle of the backyard, waiting for me to either gain ambition or succumb to the circulating neighbourhood petition. And you want to me to hang lights and a wreath? I still have a 4-foot black tarantula with a skeleton head and red light up eyes on my front door. And I like her there! I haven’t had a solicitor or religious converter knock in two weeks. Maybe for Christmas I’ll just stick some holly in her eye sockets to make her more seasonably appropriate. I’ll tell the kids she’s the “Christmas Arachnid” and that she delivers gift and goodies in her egg sack to well-behaved children, and eats the bad ones. And the kids who insist on playing “Alvin and the Chipmunks” Christmas CD on loop rotation for the 6 weeks that sandwich December 25? She spins them in a web. It’s a good thing Alvin doesn’t have his front teeth, because if he did, I’d punch them out.
Please don’t think that I have a “humbug” attitude or that I am just too lazy to change the seasonal décor. It’s more than that. I am perfectly happy with calendar pages that still show wicker “horn of plenties” spilling harvest vegetables, not glittery Christmas scenes. I am in no hurry. I live in Canada, remember? It gets cold here. You need to buy your kids their winter jackets at the end of August and they can maybe take them off for 5 minutes in April. I do love Christmas, but I love it more in December. So can we please take November off? I just got over sewing Halloween costumes and I’m sick of turkey. I want to cozy up on the couch with a heating pad, a mixing bowl of guacamole, and M*A*S*H Season 5 on DVD for a few weeks.
Because if in the next two weeks I smell a spiced plum candle, encounter a shopping mall Santa, or get an angel-shaped sugar cookie from a well-meaning neighbour, I’m gonna lose my damn Christmas crackers.
It’s hot here this week. It’s so hot that today I said “Hot enough for ya?” to our mailman and when he opened his mouth to say “F*#& off,” he vaporized from the effort. So yeah; it’s hot. It’s not even the heat really, it’s the…say it with me… humidity. I am such a asshole in this heat.
Here’s a current screenshot from my Weather Network app:
Because of the heat we’ve been spending most of our time indoors. We have a few friends with pools, but they’re on to me come May 1st when I start trying to repair all the damage I’ve done to our relationships over the winter. I really should be nicer to people year-round. Ugh; being nice is hard, especially when it’s so damn hot outside.
Being inside has given me a chance to catch up on some paperwork (Income tax returns 1994 through 2000 – FILED!) and I’ve started going through my son’s writing journals from last year. I always look at them before they go into the recycling bin since they’re usually good for a page or two in the memory box. I think I hit the jackpot this year with one of his entries, and in the future he can use this piece as his online dating profile:
How do people who live in tropical climes do it? Dry heat I can handle. Too hot? Go into the shade and drink a pitcher of mojitos. Desert nights are cool, almost chilly even. I can handle that. But this oppressive humidity covers everything like a pudding skin.
The heat has everyone on edge, especially my teenager. It’s one thing for one of us not to tolerate it well, but when it affects us both, all of a sudden we’re two squirrels with our tails tied together fighting over the last nut inside a burlap sack/ 900 sq. foot post-war bungalow.
Lately she’s been sleeping until 2pm because she’s up at night escaping the heat (and her mother). But we’re all waking up at the smell of burning cheese when she makes her “lunch” at 1:30am and this makes being pleasant difficult. The nocturnal activities were driving me nuts until I remembered that was exactly how I spent my 14th summer, and it was glorious. You had the house to yourself, you could cook or eat whatever you wanted, and the remote control was yours alone. It all ends too soon, doesn’t it? Because the next summer was spent handing out resumes for minimum wage soul-killing jobs and babysitting children who’s parents insisted they be fed and cared for. I’m finding dealing with 14 a bit of a challenge and the longer she sleeps, the less she’s getting on my nerves and vice versa. I tried being patient and not taking the bait when she’s seeking an argument. When dealing with teens I’ve heard you should not try to be their friend. I can assure you; THERE IS NO FEAR OF THAT HAPPENING.
For now I’ll blame it on the heat – it’s not hormones, it’s the humidity. Maybe if I let her stay up really, really late tonight, she’ll sleep until October.
Here’s how I’ve spent summer so far, by the numbers:
- 7 days off school
- 7 days of rain. Format: torrential
- 17 hours sleep/day by 14 year-old
- 2 clothing changes (son)
- 56 clothing changes (daughter)
- 14 cries of “I’m booooored…”
- 14 internal primal screams
- 14 grapefruit and vodka “medicinal tonics”
- 3 requests to go to the water park
- 3 discussions about the very real health risk of hepatitis, floating band-aids and standing in lines wearing wet bathing suits
- 4 shouts of “Screw-it-all-everyone-get-your-ass-in-the-car-we’re-going-to-the-ice-cream-store“
- 88 towels laundered
- 5644 Freezies consumed
- 1 cheese-curd-factory-smelling car
- 122 introspective conversations with self re-evaluating attempt to work from home
But it hasn’t all been bad; not at all. There was a quarter of an hour last Wednesday when the rain stopped for a few minutes and both kids read quietly. Then a fruit fly farted and the world’s axis shifted and everything went back to normal. To break up the boooooredom yesterday, my son had a few friends over. They were busy building something lethal from Hot Wheels track in the living room and I was getting some work done until I heard my son say, “Okay! And then you defend yourself with the axe.”
At that point I went upstairs, where I locked myself in the bedroom and took a nap. I’ve found that these things are best sorted out among the participants themselves.
Then on Monday I was happy to learn that I had been chosen by a panel of judges as a Blogher 2013 Voices of the Year in the Heart category for my post Spilled. What an honour! I have a ticket to Blogher and was hoping to attend this year’s conference in Chicago but it isn’t going to happen. My daughter needs braces and I’d like to get them on her before she starts high school in September, so every nickel is currently being squeezed until the beaver poops. As much as I would love to meet all the women whose blogs have made me want to become a better writer – whether for spite or more honourable reasons - I just can’t justify it this year. But it’s all good; that’s the thing about annual conferences; they hold them every few years or so.
I also received a lovely email last week from TorontoMomsNow.com to tell me that highly irritable was nominated as one of the Toronto Area’s favourite blogs. That’s very flattering because I am not normally put in a sentence with the word “favourite.”
As I write this, there is a flurry of activity going on behind me. This is my office area:
Behold! The elusive blanket fort troll!
How many of you are lucky enough to crawl through a fort to get to work? Didn’t think so.
It’s Sunday and I’m laying in bed next to my nine year-old son. We’ve just finished a serious discussion about him picking up some additional responsibilities around the house now that summer is here. First up, mastering the Keurig and bringing me coffee in bed.
One of my favourite things about the end of school is sorting through the pile of school work these kids bring home for our annual “Lunchbox/Knapsack/School Work Bonfire Extravaganza.” I sort through it because there are always some pieces I like to keep for our memory boxes. Except the math sheets my 14 year-old daughter brings home. Those look like schematics for the International Space Station, and I can’t look at them long; they make my head spin and they burn first.
I especially love reading their writing journals. My son hasn’t fully developed his “filter” so I often need to assure his teachers that I am not the world most negligent mother. And believe me, he didn’t make it easy this year. When asked by his teacher what his plans were for his birthday, he told her that his mother was “just gonna make me watch her baseball game and then she’ll probably take me to the bar.”
I assured her that our beer-league baseball games are most delightful to watch and the chicken wings at the bar are one of my son’s favourites.
But I’m hoping this note I found in his journal reassured her that I’m not entirely horrible at motherin’:
Here are some other things I wrote this month at MamaPop
And this post by Kira about “single” parenting really resonated with me:
I hope you have a lovely long weekend, with all the “brought to you in bed coffee” you can drink.
Do you have a child between the ages of seven and “I-stopped-counting-after-the-third”? Did you also make the huge mistake of giving them access to electricity? Do you provide opportunities for that child to have social contact with other human life forms? Do they shout random terms like “Butter!” and “Creeper Lava Diamond Pig!” even before you give him a dose of Benadryl on the drive to Gramma’s house? If you answered “yes,” to any of these questions then it is likely you know my pain. My gigantic, cubic, vertigo-inducing pain known as Minecraft Mania, or “MM” for short.
Note: If your child has not yet asked you to download this game, you should close this window, find your family’s passports, and make immediate plans to relocate to North Korea where internet access is sketchy at best. WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?
MM has been going on at our house for some time. I first became alarmed when several friends inquired as to the prognosis of my child’s “medical issue.” I was confused until I realized that every time they saw him, he appeared to be attached to the wall by an electrical device charging plug, thus giving them the idea that he was on dialysis of some sort. The truth is that he lives with constant fear of a dead iPod, because something – something – Zombie – Pigman – Diamond – Sword – BUTTER!
My son awaits Minecraft updates with more anticipation than he does Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Because those guys? Meh. Board games and chocolate eggs have nothing on TNT and crafting tables. My nine year-old cannot be trusted to flush a toilet, but he can build a city better than a Mayan aristocrat, and that’s what will matter instead of pesky social graces when trying to secure a life partner.
We have a problem with MM you guys, and it’s sweeping the continent. It’s not even the game itself that forms the crux of the issue. I’m pretty strict with my kids about the games they can play and in researching Minecraft I’ve come to understand that it can be a great learning tool. Players get to be creative and tech-savvy, and they can build friendships with unseen online players in damp basements all over the world. Minecraft also allows parents to have alone time to get dinner made, or a pile of laundry folded, or have sex with a partner who doesn’t require batteries. Nope; the real problem is this, and it’s approaching our house faster than my neighbours with a “cut your lawn” petition:
There are only so many synonyms for “cool” and if my calculations are correct, I’m due to run out at 7:16pm on June 28, 2013. Which, as the cruel fates would have it – is the last day of school here. I cannot spend eight weeks of summer showing continual awe over TNT and lava explosions without compromising my already fragile mental state.
Let’s help each other. Here’s a list I’ve compiled in case you’ve exhausted adjectives feigning interest in Minecraft:
- impressive (non-beginner parents only, please)
- FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST I SWEAR TO YOUR HOLY ENTITY OF CHOICE YOU BETTER GET THAT IPOD OUTTA MY FACE OR I WILL RUN IT OVER WITH THE CAR WHILE YOU WATCH AND I WILL LAUGH DOING IT
Sometimes you can get away with using a term more than once if you alter the inflection. (But be careful; I went too far turning “cool” into the three syllable “kewwwwll” and lost street cred with my son’s Minecraft gang. Related: Guess who found pee all over her new bathroom mat?) I will also warn you against pulling any smart-ass moves like using words that would appear in a freshman college paper. Words like “fascinating,” “riveting” and “enthralling” are best left to the pros, lest any sarcasm seep through. You can try “nifty” and “cats-pajamas, ole chap!” but only if you take blood pressure medication and could pick Slim Whitman out of a line-up.
I don’t ask for help often, but I am calling in all favours now. Hit me up with your terms and coping strategies parents, because if you’ve got a Minecraft kid, I know you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve (and also probably some tear-soaked tissues.)
I’m in the bath (don’t bother trying to visualize; it’s not attractive and my grout is cracked). I’m trying to relax after a sugar binge over the weekend has me coping with a three day headache. But it’s increasingly hard to “go to my happy place” with the heavy hammering and sawing noises coming from the living room.
We’re not under construction. I have not hired workmen. There is nary a DIY project in sight. This is alarming then, no? I should probably get out and see what’s going on but strawberry bubbles.
My 14 year-old daughter is home, but she is in her room, exhausted from a day of eye-rolling and the tiring work of judging a mother who seeks only to love her. She’s probably planning her third – yes, third – shower since yesterday. If this girl farts she changes her clothes and burns her bedding. So unless she’s sawing an escape hatch, it’s likely not her. I’ll check though, just to be sure.
The noise can mean only one of two things: a) a neighbour – no longer able to stand the sight of battered recycling bins dotting the edge of my driveway two days post pick-up – is building me a shed; or b) my nine year-old son has returned from his friend’s house and is doing, you know, “Nothing, Mom!”
There are 24 days until school lets out here. I have 24 days until I am eye-rolled and sighed into insanity. Twenty four days to find hiding spots for my hammers, saws, drills, staple guns, and all other items I refer to with a numerical system from 1 to 5 based on their injury risk; ie. Saw – 1 (Band-aid) Drill – 2 (Stitches) and finally Hammer and Nails 5 – (Get Comfy In This Sticky Germ-Crusted Hospital Waiting Room Chair.)
That leaves me just over three weeks to figure out how I’m going to continue to work from home in relative peace. I should probably start practicing how to maintain a calm and measured voice while still relaying urgency in the message “THAT’S A LOAD BEARING WALL!
Twenty four days.
It’s tax time which means math time which means headache time, which means grouchy time which means liquor store time which means needs money time which means work time which means income time which means tax time.
It really does all come back to death and taxes.
In “moving ever closer to death news,” I turned 40 on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is the absolute worst day to have a birthday because people can now forget both days at once which is time-saving and convenient if you’re a positive thinker and reason for a rampage if you’re not. I heard from all the people I cared to, and the ones I didn’t don’t matter. So, so far, 40= apathy.
Being 40 is about as good as I expected it to be which is not-at-all good, although that feeling of “no longer giving a shit” all you 40 years old+ people told me about is kicking in, and so far it’s very refreshing.
And, well, 40 is not dead (yet) so there’s that.
This is depressing me, and likely you, so go read the funny I wrote at MamaPop.com recently. I’ll be back soon with more of my trademark inspirational jibber-jabber.
This post contains words but says little and is written primarily out of guilt, much like a birthday card from a distant relative
But I do like tradition. A few days ago it was my most favourite day of the entire Holiday Season. It was the day when I fling my Christmas tree onto the front lawn and yell, “Toodle-loo, MOTHAFUCKA!”
I love Christmas, but no longer wish to impale my feet on pine needles trying to turn on the television, and having my house smell like a cinnamon stick factory next to a pine forest was getting old.
A few days ago, my friend Katja asked me if I was writing a New Year’s post on my blog. At first I was like, “I have a blog? Oh, crap! My blog!” and then I ran here to make sure it was still alive. Really, this thing needs more attention than a naked toddler near a basket of clean laundry. I haven’t posted since before Christmas and the break was lovely. Not that I don’t enjoy writing – I do, almost more than anything else I do.*
*I don’t do much.
So Katja and some other Internet friends (not the kind who size you up for making blazers from your skin..I think) have been busy coming up with their words for the year. They range from serious to funny and everything in between. These are the words they will focus on and remember in their endeavors in the coming 12 months. While I’m not quite sure what word I will use for 2013, I do happen to have a list of words for the departing 2012.
- Hey, 2012! Go &%$# yourself!
- Excuse me? 2012? Eat $%(* and die.
- (Holds 2012 in a choke hold.)
- Hahaha SPITE
I let you know when I’m ready with my 2013, so I guess for now it’s just “WAIT.”
What’s your word?