You’d think that technology or social media or violent video games or predators were the biggest threat to our children. It’s worse, folks. The biggest risk to our children’s well-being is much more insidious and it hides in the skin of a hungry and vicious wolf. It is “fun,” and fun will eat your children. Because fun? Fun is really, really bad for kids.
If something isn’t “fun,” kids don’t want to do it (mine included). Unfortunately, a large majority of things that need to be done aren’t fun. Society’s relentless pursuit of fun aka Let’s Make Life A Giant Carnival Cream Puff Bouncy Castle is hindering my ability to effectively parent my children while imparting any sense of reality about the world. This “fun” shit? I don’t like it. Not everything is meant to be fun. Like “work” for example. If – as a consequence of its nature – your job happens to be fun, that’s great! You’re one of the lucky ones. I’m happy for you; really. Now piss off and get back to the candy-tester factory. My point is that not everything is fun, or should be fun. When we try to fool our kids into thinking it is, we’re setting them up for some serious disappointment when they leave our homes for the real world.
The other day I told my kids we were going out for dinner. Their response should have been something along the lines of “Thanks, Mom! It certainly is kind of you to take us for a dinner out. What a rare and unexpected treat! We love you best!” Instead, I endured a 20-minute conversation about restaurant selection based on the most important criteria of all: which establishment offered the best treasure box after the meal. The food could have been fabulous, the service impeccable, but if my kids weren’t walking away with coloring books and crayons after, it was all for naught. This is not the type of discerning diner or future dater I wish to raise.
Some things are not meant to be fun; like a trip to the dentist for instance. I should have realized dental care was becoming too much fun years ago, because whenever I announced a check-up appointment my children would high-five each other. At our dental office after each successful cleaning appointment, children are taken to the “Prize Table.” The prize table is huge and covered with all sorts of crap that will soon be living in my vacuum canister in a dusty heap with errant Cheerios, Lego pieces, and my hopes and dreams. Sitting in the dental chair for an hour twice a year now earns you a Sponge Bob pencil and a Gooey Eyeball. That Gooey Eyeball was in my son’s pocket for less than an hour before it found a permanent home on my bedroom ceiling, where it is now stares at me with a lint-covered cloudy pupil when I’m getting dressed. Thanks, Dr. Brown! You make me long for the good old days when dentists hated children.
I don’t have a complete aversion to fun. Fun is important, and when I see it forming organically, I don’t shut it down. If my kids find a way to make taking the garbage to the curb enjoyable, or cutting the lawn bearable, I let them roll with it. That’s self-created fun, and it’s an excellent coping skill for the future. Kids need to learn that sometimes (most of the time) the result is the reward. Work hard and enjoy the benefits which arise from that effort. Maybe the outcome will be fun, and maybe it won’t. Maybe the only consequence of a dogged effort will be knowing you did your best and that will have to suffice. I’ll throw you a party on your birthday and for your graduation, but don’t expect a festival because you earned a new belt in Jiu Jitsu. You won’t get a bubble machine or a cake, but you can break a jerk’s arm in six different and painful ways, and really, is there anything better than that?
My daughter complains constantly that her chores are not fun. I take this with a grain of salt because she is 15 years old and nothing is fun except going to the mall or making Vine videos of opening a grilled cheese sandwich. I am fully aware that emptying the dishwasher and dusting bookshelves are not fun; I’ve been doing these things for over 35 years. They’re not fun. They never were, and they never will be. I hate doing them, and that’s why I make her do it. It’s the circle of life and I’ve assured her that one day she may be lucky enough to have children to do her chores as well. I’m pretty sure it’s all that keeps her going. It’s also furnishing her with pragmatic expectations for the future. My kids aren’t perfect. (Seriously; I have stories). But they work hard most of the time and they know: I don’t pay for grades, I don’t turn mind-numbing chores into scavenger hunts, and I don’t give rewards when they acquiesce to vaccinations. You want a gift for sitting still for your tetanus shot? Okay! Here’s some “Not Getting Lock-Jaw” for you!
It’s time to take artificially constructed fun out of childhood, because we are creating a gratification-seeking populace who won’t do anything unless there’s the promise of a chocolate milkshake afterwards. I can reasonably assert that our kid’s future middle-management supervisors are not going to offer them a trip to a treasure box for cardboard crowns when they close the Anderson file.
If we tell kids to pretend they’re scullery maids in a King’s kitchen when they’re scrubbing pots and pans, we are removing their chance to create their own fantasies. Doing dishes can be a time to sing show tunes or imagine ways to run away, or to just do the dishes. By making every chore and job fun we prohibit a child’s ability to seek joy on their own terms. If someone tells you what to pretend, is that pretending at all? That’s imagination restriction, and that blows. If kids make fun on their own while working, that’s awesome! But parent’s constant pursuit of fun for their children is a misguided attempt to bring joy to kid’s lives and while it’s admirable, it’s very harmful. It’s like Charlie Sheen continuing to make sitcoms; we may understand the motivation behind the endeavor, but ultimately it’s better if no one is exposed to that shit.
This was my backyard about a month ago. We had an ice storm here in Ontario just before Christmas and along with losing power for a few days over the holidays, we also lost a lot of tree branches. My property isn’t huge – although a big lot by “suburb” standards – but we have several large maple trees over 50 years old. Nature pruned them for us courtesy of sleet and ice and the upshot is my son has a hell of a lot of fort building material and we won’t want for camping firewood for years to come.
It was a strangely gothic albeit pretty scene during the winter. Bare grey branches stuck up out of the soft snow like bony fingers through a blanket. But because it snowed almost constantly for the last few months we never realized the extent of the damage until the melt, which only just finished.
Now my lawn looks decidedly less mystical and actually quite horrific. The grass needed a good cut in late October but it never happened because the snow came swift and early. Now it’s long and matted and flopped over like a bad comb-over. The garden hose is looped around old scooters and a camp chair and rakes and snow shovels are still propped against the house. Dead leaves that blew in from under the fence are soaking wet and likely sheltering new forms of aquatic life in the newly formed sludge hole at the back of the yard where the ground is naturally lower. I tried to get to the shed today at the rear of my lawn, but lacking a dorsal fin made the journey difficult and I gave up.
It’s bad back there; a real shithole, as it were. Because it’s finally warm today I thought to assess the damage and see what I’d have to do to get this place in shape for spring. I can see now that “matches” will feature high on the list.
Maybe we’ll just move.
I am looking for work. When I am looking for work, looking for work is my work. I send the kids to school, fire up the computer, and then I go online in search of employment suitable for my experience and educational background. I don’t have high expectations. I would like a short commute or a work-from-home position; I expect a reasonable amount of courtesy in communication; and I would like to be challenged and given room to expand my skill-set. Oh, and I would like to be paid.
It is this last point – the “paid” part – where I generally run into trouble. I am a recent University graduate from a well-respected school and I have a decent portfolio and references who will tell you you’re a fool not to hire me. I am professional, I work hard, and frankly, I am a fucking joy to be around. I usually find several jobs per day for which I could apply. So why don’t I? Because they are unpaid. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Yep; they are “Thanks for everything; here’s your nothing” jobs. Great! I’ll use my non-existent pay cheque to buy invisible kids shoes and some ghost groceries.
I can’t count all the ways these types of job postings state they are “sadly, unpaid at this time.” It’s actually funny in a lot of cases, because the responsibilities and qualifications are laid out and described exactly like a paying job – sometimes even resembling pretty intense, high-level responsibility jobs. The slam comes below the fold, after you’re hooked because this one sounds like the one, you guys! I’m not against internships of all stripes. I think internships can be a great way to learn about an industry, and time spent interning can be a great addition to a resume which also includes paid experience, and appropriate educational background. Networking and showcasing your talent is a good thing, but hey, why not pay people something for it? Even a pittance. Something.
If unpaid internships are offered as part of an educational program – say, a University degree, or college diploma program they are useful and often act as a springboard for a career in that field. Auto mechanics, welders, and other tradespeople often work between bouts of schooling, and they are almost always paid for their labour. Their wages may not be commensurate with their responsibilities at that particular point in their career evolution, but they can look forward to fair wages (hopefully) once they receive a trade ticket. If a company is willing to pay an intern “at some point in the future” for the same work they are doing now “provided they meet our (subjective?) standard” then PAY THEM NOW, JERK.
Summer internships and those specifically for students are sometimes unpaid. Okay; if they’re not full time then a student can generally work also, or perhaps they are also receiving student loans, etc. Because I am a writer, I have been searching the editorial/creative field for work and I am shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at the amount of work I’ve seen which is to be compensated solely in “experience” and “exposure.” This no-pay structure comes through internships or because those seeking the material or content do not wish to pay anything. I was married to a business owner. I know how difficult and costly it can be to get a business up and running. I know that business owners often do not take a salary themselves until a profit has been turned. But I also know that not one single utility company, fuel provider, tax accountant, restaurant, cleaning person, maintenance company, delivery service, dog walker or liquor store will provide you with services and/or products free of charge for promise of “giving them a platform upon which their work will be exposed to hundreds of people.” If that were the case, I’d be chugging Chilean Merlot in a strip mall parking lot and yelling into car windows how this stuff is the best goddamn wine I’ve ever tasted so Shop at Bob’s Liq-R-Mart!
By comparison, I am “old” in a vast sea of debt-riddled new graduates. But the young ones can’t afford to work for free either. In fact, it may be worse for them because life hasn’t yet sanded smooth the edges of their hopefulness and they are still sickeningly full of optimism. I have some equity and it is likely I won’t starve to death if I cannot find full-time work soon. Job-searching is soul-crushing at the best of times and I honestly don’t know how young graduates – kids! – pay their rent. I understand why so many have to move back in with parents and I really hope the climate changes by the time my kids graduate, although my daughter is headed for a science/math degree and no one wants an unpaid engineer building their bridges so she’ll likely find work. I don’t want to regret my English/History degree because it shaped my thinking and I call upon the analytical skills it enforced every single day. But when I am being brutally honest with myself I admit I’m tempted to visit every University Fair within a 50 mile radius and tell all prospective Liberal Arts students to “RUN FOR YOUR FUCKING LIVES!”
I am a decent writer. I have even been told that I am sometimes a pretty good one, and I believe it. That’s not hubris. There are a lot of things I don’t do well and that list is much longer than the one of things I can do. I would never apply to nursing school. I would never try to get a job as a school bus driver, or a server in a bar, because I wouldn’t do those things well and my exit would likely be marked by lots of flames and probably a lawsuit. I write, I edit, I social media-lize. I don’t posture myself as a Nora Ephron, or an Anne Lamott. I am Jeni Marinucci, and I would like to be paid.
*Disclaimer: I do have some recurrent writing jobs, so please, no panicked email from family members. I would also like to say that any work I post links to (or otherwise promote, be it through buttons on my blog, etc.) I have been paid for or otherwise compensated fairly. I continue to be grateful to all those who give me a platform, and a pay cheque. I have – in the past, on occasion – provided second-run and re-print article free to various websites.
**Photo courtesy of WikiCommons
Babies cry. Sometimes they cry a lot, and sometimes for seemingly no reason. You’d think that most people would understand this, but even I wasn’t aware until I had my second baby. Because Baby Number 1? She didn’t cry. Like ever. One time, she made a sound that I thought was a cry, but no. It was a squeaky toy. That baby was awesome and glorious and so easy! But she was a curse, also, because being spoiled by her temperament was a huge slap in the face come time for Baby Number 2 – or, as we called him affectionately- “Scream in a Diaper.”
This boy cried long and loud and the noise didn’t stop until the minute he turned 85 (this is a projected date). When he cried, we did what we could, which was comfort him however he wanted, because my ex and I aren’t assholes. But some people don’t pick their babies up when they cry and if you don’t believe that, come with me to Walmart on a Saturday morning. We can hang out in the yogurt aisle where it is apparently more important to choose between Vanilla Greek Non-Fat and Lime Coconut Sugar-Free.
I understand that you can’t always get to your baby immediately and there’s nothing wrong with seeing if whatever the problem is will work itself out for a few minutes. But when it escalates to ear-splitting levels, do something. DO SOMETHING NOW. Because if there’s anything worse than the sound of my own baby crying, it’s the sound of your baby crying.
People don’t always know what the crying is about, but since 1998 – and the meteoric rise of the internet – Western civilization needs to know the answer for everything. Nothing is off-limits to scientists or savvy entrepreneurs, who’ve invented everything from battery operated marshmallow roasting sticks to diapers that analyze a baby’s urine. Some parents will buy anything in the pursuit of “better” parenting, and people know this, because not only can you now analyze your child’s waste, you can also interpret their cry. I’m picturing a magic 8-ball of sorts here, but it’s actually much more complicated. CTV News says of the process:
“The system operates in two phases. During the first phase, the analyzer separates recorded cries into 12.5 millisecond frames. Each frame is analyzed for several parameters, including frequency characteristics, voicing, and acoustic volume. The second phase uses data from the first to give a broader view of the cry and reduces the number of parameters to those that are most useful. The frames are put back together and characterized either as an utterance – a single ‘wah’ – or silence, the pause between utterances. Longer utterances are separated from shorter ones and the time between utterances is recorded. Pitch, including the contour of pitch over time, and other variables can then be averaged across each utterance. In the end, the system evaluates for 80 different parameters, each of which could hold clues about a baby’s health.”
Yeah. Dumb. I don’t think we need this, and here’s why: it sounds complicated and stupid and almost entirety pointless, as well as expensive. The resulting analysis won’t be converted to actual words, like “I ‘m being stabbed by a diaper pin, moron!” so even in medical applications I don’t see a lot of value in something that researchers just say “could hold clues.”
I’m going to save science a whole lot of money here, and supply you with your own printable list of why your baby is probably crying. I call it:
Why Youse So Sad, Baybeez?
Step One : This is the most important step, and the one that will end 67% of all crying – PICK THE BABY UP. Do not rock his car seat with your foot, do not say “shhhh…shhhh” while shaking his stroller, do not ignore baby while everyone else in the canned foods aisle plots your death, do not ignore the baby. Babies cry because they can’t talk and if they could they’d be saying “Pick me up, you lazy bastard!” Picking up the baby will automatically alert you as to whether or not the baby feels too warm, or too cool, or if their tiny arm was stuck inside their onesie in a twisted configuration. It also enables you to look closely for teething issues or other discomforts. Attend to discomfort accordingly.
Step Two: Baby still crying? We’ve got this! Take a deep breath and check diaper for uncomfortable levels of stuff often found in diapers. Rectify.
Step Three: Still crying? It’s okay; it happens. Try offering baby food of some sort. A boob, a bottle, a Philly Cheese Steak if that’s what they’re into. Whatever. Give nourishment. Continue rocking movement while administering food and love.
Step Four: Secure baby in approved car seat and get in the fucking car. Drive around for a bit. If after a hundred miles the baby is still crying, re-route GPS to a.) your Mom’s house; or b.) the doctor.
So there you have it. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I think that science sometimes makes life more complicated with it’s crazy inventions and “progress.” (Except for blenders; if you think I’m smashing my ice for a frozen blueberry vodka lemonade manually, you’re sniffing glue.) If scientists insist on putting time and resources into machinery which will help to explain the great mysteries of parenting, I would ask them to consider creating a machine which would actually serve some purpose. How about a special pair of glasses that can decipher why my teenager rolls her eyes?
* This post was originally published last year on MamaPop, soon after my 40th birthday. I just turned 41 on Valentine’s Day and I think I need a refresher. Maybe you do, too.
I turned 40 recently, and it was everything I expected it to be. Which is to say it was horrible.
Friends and family asked if I wanted to celebrate this milestone event with a party, but “milestone” sounds too much like “headstone” and so I chose instead to spend the day laying on the floor crying over pictures of my children as infants and eating Nutella with my fingers. This is probably why I don’t get invited to many parties.
People told me not to worry; that this was a common reaction to turning 40 – an age which, when represented on fertility charts, marks the spot where my eggs jump off a cliff. I think they don’t jump at all but rather are pushed by the vibrant 30 year-old eggs in skinny jeans standing there with smoky eyes and sullen looks.
My attitude about turning 40 had nothing to do with a decline in my ability to procreate, or even the new crepe folds starting on my neck, or the inability to sometimes remember why I had entered a room. I already have two lovely children, and as long as they love me enough to help me not feel bad about why I put my car keys in the refrigerator, then I’m good. This was more about the fact that who I was at 40 was still too much like who I was at 35. And 25. And 16. And 10. While this was okay in some respects, it was not in others, and I wanted it rectified immediately.
I decided that this half of my life was going to be different. I was going to change the way I interacted with people on a daily basis in order to preserve my dignity and increase my happiness. The second half of my life was not going to be spent sitting down. And please don’t tell me that 40 isn’t nearing the halfway point; that my friends, is BULLSHIT. Even with advances in cryogenics, how many 120 year-olds do you know?
40 was going to mark the fork in the road. From now on, I wasn’t taking any more bullshit.
I wasn’t going to smile and nod when people said offensive or ignorant things and I wasn’t going to look the other way when the most important person in my life – me – was treated poorly. I refused to continue modelling this for my children, particularly my 14 year old daughter. I don’t want her stuck in a similar frozen state of placidity when it came to defending herself or standing up to people who treat her poorly. Our girls especially are taught to “be nice,” even when being nice means “take this here bullshit, and please smile while doing so.” Screw that. I was done.
For my 40th birthday, instead of an 80′s party or Botox, I gave myself the gift of taking no more bullshit, effective immediately, no return policy, no exchanges. So the next time someone on my co-ed softball team remarked that I hit “pretty good for a girl,” instead of smiling and biting my tongue I told him he was perpetuating a sexist stereotype (and then maybe I called him a patriarchal asshole). And when a semi-estranged family member told me life was “too short” for me to be hurt over a serious issue, I agreed. Life is too short to keep taking bullshit. Why is this so hard, especially for women? Even writing this, I feel like I should be editing it to make it “softer” in stance, but then I’d sort of be giving myself bullshit and taking it, and I think that’s how wormholes are created.
So far, this is the best birthday gift I’ve received, and I once got a gorgeous gold painted macaroni necklace.
I already had a preset bullshit tolerance level, but I wasn’t honoring my limits. Sometimes I probably look like an asshole for sticking up for myself over things that don’t bother others. I try not to be rude or irrational about it because I’ve also discovered that a message delivered with a sincere and level voice is more effective than a screaming match. But if I do get passionate or start yelling? TOO FUCKING BAD. I’ve got a lot of years to make up for. I’m sick of being passed over for things I worked hard to earn. I’m tired of being complacent when an occasion calls for spirit, and no longer will I be idle when I should be throwing verbal scrotum-punches. I don’t know everything, but I do know some things, and if you’re wrong, I’m letting you know.
If people don’t like what I have to say, or get upset with me for speaking my mind, well, that is no longer my problem. Frankly, I don’t give a shit. I refuse to be an emotional sponge, soaking up the hurt feelings of others around me. If you want to be treated better, start exhibiting behavior that deserves that. It’s simple really; bullshit isn’t necessarily about getting the wrong order in a restaurant, or being cut in front of in a line-up. I’d be exhausted if those were battles I chose to fight every day. I mean the big things; the things that keep you up at night and go against what you stand for. Things like sexism, racism, ageism, or getting the wrong muffin at Tim Hortons for the 458th time. Yep; I’m more interested in taking a stand against things that get me at my core and erase any joy my cold heart allowed in for a minute. Like witnessing someone berate a child, or people who don’t use placements at the dinner table. Because we are not barbarians.
This freedom – this essentially no longer giving a fuck – it’s glorious and it’s liberating and it is everything I want the rest of my life to be. There are few truly scarier things in the world than a 40 year old woman who’s realized she doesn’t need to take your bullshit sitting down. Because nothing good ever comes from sitting down. (Or bending over; but that’s another story for another day.)
I am not a positive thinker. Never have been, never will be. Some people call this line of thinking “defeatist,” or “nihilistic,” but I don’t agree, because these people are head-in-the-clouds dreamers who refuse to acknowledge that bad stuff happens all the time and that it’s not going to change ever no matter how hard you wish on a star. Being a pessimist from the day I was born has served me well the vast majority of the time; I am almost never disappointed because I don’t expect things to go as planned anyway. I am a pessimist; being prepared for the worst is what sort of I do.
It turns out I’m correct in touting the benefits of pessimism as a life ideology. In 2012, German researchers conducted a study of elderly citizens and concluded that pessimists are often happier in the end. The study reveals that “understanding that although things are fine right now, they might get worse” seems to have “a positive effect” on their quality of life. The study notes that pessimistic people can actually benefit from a this outlook. The researching psychologists acknowledge that while the results “fly in the face of ‘positive psychology”” the results make sense because being pessimistic helps you prepare for bad things, even if they never come. I agree completely. Pessimism is at the heart of why we contribute to retirement plans, build well-stocked pantries, make us wear sunscreen. I dread the hard times, but dreading them makes me think about them and thinking about them makes me DO something. A dreamer – a true dreamer -doesn’t worry about these things too much, instead choosing to spend energy on other pursuits like making wildflower bouquets and starting mason jar Pinterest boards.
But don’t cry for me, optimists! While I will never be a member of your club, I may come to your annual picnic if I’m invited. I’ll be the one with a rain cover, bug spray, poison ivy cream, and extra water bottles. Who’s going to be okay when the skies open up and killer bees hunt you down on your nature walk? Me, that’s who! Because I knew these things were likely and I made provisions for them. I’ll be dry and bite-free while you’re trying to sooth your itchy, hungry children with songs about magical fairies who shit jelly beans.
Pessimists constantly have to defend their ideology. I’ve had the negative/positive ying/yang debate more times than I can count and because life is what is it (which is not not great sometimes,) I fell in love with a an wonderful, positive thinking idealist. This, I believe, is my punishment for my one day of positive thinking back in 1992. He’s a wonderful, caring, slightly-delusional dreamer of a man and I’ve explained to him several times that pessimism is often borne of a need to protect oneself. If nothing good is likely to happen, then nothing is lost in the process. When something good occurs (but it probably won’t) then that’s a bonus. I call this outlook “conversation without expectation,” and it hasn’t failed me yet. But I will be ready when it does. He sometimes lovingly calls me things like “dream-suck” and “spirit-killer,” which I’m currently having an optimist of a friends cross-stitch onto a pillow for me.
The horrible, inconvenient truth is that life sucks – it sucks hard, and it sucks hard a lot. Pessimists know this and there is no hiding from this cold-hard fact. But we are not all joyless, defeated suckholes. I have a great deal of joy in my life and every day holds good. I can laugh at almost everything and my very dark sense of humor is a gift that I’ve found most pessimists have. I appreciate this immensely because life demands you tolerate a a lot of bullshit and if we couldn’t laugh at it we’d all be in a lot of trouble.
Being a pessimist is not for lazy hacks, either. This outlook isn’t chosen for ease or for the sake of just being able to simply dismiss notions of good, thereby ensuring a cocoon of “I told you so.” Pessimism requires effort and tenacity. It demands attention and it criticism. You can’t lay on the couch watching porn with a trough full of Cool-Ranch Doritos if you’re going to call yourself a true pessimist. Those nacho-munchers are poseurs; they’re pessimoseurs. True, authentic, unadulterated pessimism requires and inspires action. Troops aren’t called into battle because “Eh, probably nothing bad will happen.” Armies are formed and trained under the possibility of worst case scenarios and this is how wars are won. Pessimists – to borrow a line from Tina Fey – get shit done. While you optimists are seeing everything through rose-colored glasses and building your dream house “vision board,” we’re laying figurative sandbags in preparation for the impending storm.
So lovers and dreamers, chill the fuck out and stop telling me to think positively. Instead, why don’t you come over to “the dark side” and join us on the pessimist bench? We’re wearing black t-shirts and talking about silicone window caulking, because it looks like a storm is coming.
I’m moving from a wordpress.com site to my own self-hosted site and it’s likely I’m currently either:
a.) drunk or getting there;
b.) pulling out my hair in frustration; or
c.) engaged in some ugly-cry combination of both.
I’ll probably delete this post once all the wrinkles are ironed out or I figure out what the hell ‘css” is and where the hell all my blog followers went. Until then, sit back and enjoy the mess. Because css coding can’t be that hard to learn from scratch in a weekend, right?
I don’t even know if you can read this, so maybe I’m really trapped in some fourth dimension somewhere. I don’t smell burnt toast, so things can’t be that bad. Either way, I’m using this whole moving thing as an excuse to eat pizza for the next week.
(If you can actually read this, I’d love it if you could make a quick comment so I can make sure that’s working. I asked Chris to do it, but as enticing as his “There once was a man from Nantucket” comment offer was, I’d like to keep this site PG. Or at least a mild “R.”
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.
I have two children. They’re…well, they’re many things but the point of my post today is my son. He’s nine and has a name with letters in it and the word means something in Greek or Italian or Latin I’m not sure which but boy did we pick the right one for him. Other suitable name choices would have been “JustGiveMeFiveMinutesPLEASE,” “OhferChrist’sSake” or “IAmBeggingYouAtThisPointToGoToBed!” Anything in that family. He is a conventionally beautiful child. This is meant to trick you. He will have you with his pretty hair and his pretty eyes and his full lips and he will hug you with his lean, dry arms and he will squeeze every goddamn ounce of your energy and then he will make you thank him for the honour.
Today he needed socks. He needs socks every day because for some reason he puts holes into every piece of clothing his body touches. New winter coat? BAM! Sleeves ripped in a week. Fresh shirt? KAZAM! Caught it on a chain-link fence. Clean socks, right from the dryer? PRESTO! His feet shoot laser beam points of concentrated light, firing holes into the deep pocket of the formerly snuggly toe compartment.
Why can’t he find socks today? All the laundry is done. Every single piece of his clothing not currently on his back is washed, pressed (haha; just shitting you; I “press” nothing but my luck) and are tidily folded squares in his drawers and look like the small colourful flags on the front page of an atlas. His sock drawer right this very minute contains no less than 12 pairs of sweet-smelling boy socks. They are tiny and dwarfed next to even my lady socks. But all of these socks in his drawer are new, because as I said, he goes through socks like Charlie Sheen does girlfriends on a weekend bender.
“I don’t have any socks,” he reports methodically. I know this tone.
“You have many socks. They are all in your drawer.”
“But these are all new. I can’t wear these.”
“Then wear the ones you already have on,” I reply, pointing to his already swathed foot.
There’s a hole in the toe (OF COURSE THERE IS) but Jeni? Jeni no give a shit anymore. I keep his hair tidy, his teeth clean, his belly full of food, I provide social experiences and homework help and pleasurable outings and gifts and extra-curricular opportunities and a soft place to fall and a bosom to cry into and a lap on which to cuddle and hands to hold and I am tired. Hole-y socks no longer register on my parenting-rage meter. They don’t even move the needle past “Meh.” I. Simply. Do. Not. Give. A. Shit. If you ever see my ragged-footed son and think “What of his parents?” know this: I am a good mother but I have my limits.
But uh, oh. So does he, and these horrible, too-new socks are it.
“I can’t wear these ones because my toe pokes out too far. You threw away all the perfect holed socks and the rest in here are brand new!” So, too holey socks aren’t any good, nor are good new socks. He explains all of this in a voice normally reserved for those in the drunk tank or the alarmingly obtuse (Of which I am currently neither.) He says that “new” socks feel weird because they are too new and don’t sit right. The heel isn’t broken in and the toes are too tight and the cuff is stringy and there’s a weird thing in the bottom and…
I listen. I understand and I am sympathetic. I’m sensitive about some things and we all have our quirks, but after having one child who would wear, do, eat, say, or participate in anything I merely gestured at, it is with great surprise that I find myself – at 40 years 10 months and 20 days old – standing over a washing machine in an attempt to “break in” a load of tiny striped sweat socks for a pint-sized oligarch.
I’ve had a pretty productive week considering my writing commitments are lean right now. I suppose I could lie and say things are great but the truth is they’re not. They aren’t horrible, but they’re certainly not great. But I am querying like a mad woman and all my writing friends know what a picnic that can of worms is and I just mixed a metaphor dear Christ someone give me some work like right now before I say “alas” or “sadly.”
I am fine, so please don’t worry. I have a man who loves me and he worries himself into insomnia over me already and that’s more than anyone should but sometimes he says “ergo” non-ironically and so I call it even. Things will get better because they have to. I’m too spiteful to not have success on some level, because isn’t it true that assholes always win? I think that’s how the saying goes. Between the querying and applying and self-indulgent potato eating I now have more time to blog here and aren’t you so lucky now? WAIT; DON’T GO! I’ll put pants on, I swear! It’s fine! Here; I’ll prove it with this handy list of things I’ve done or learned this week:
- Memorized all the words to Travelling Wilburys “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.”
- Created an elaborate solo interpretive dance to “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.”
- That it’s in people’s best interest that I am never left unsupervised.
- Home haircuts can be classified as self-harm, and as such, having them remedied should be covered by your provincial health care plan.
- I can fit an entire Terry’s Chocolate Orange in my mouth.
- A grown human woman can fit inside two laundry baskets.
- The mail delivery woman is very understanding and probably won’t report you if you yell “No fucking cheques today either? JESUS!”
- If you run out of toilet paper, coffee filters will work in a pinch.
- If you run out of toilet paper and subsequently offer a friend a coffee filter to wipe their squishy bits, you’ll eliminate the need for toilet paper and also reduce that pesky human contact people are always forcing on you.
- Six: Potatoes you can eat in one day; Times you can crank call your neighbour before they stop answering; Instances per minutes Bethenny says “AMIRITE, ladies?” in one episode; Kleenex used in average “I’m gonna die in a refrigerator box beside the furniture store dumpster” crying jag.
- Using only an iPod, a large piece of black organza left over from Halloween, and your teenage daughter’s hairdryer, you can recreate any number of Stevie Nicks music videos.
- The guy who pushes a shopping cart down the street and rummages for glass returnables on recycle pick-up day is surprisingly well-read and a very nice young man in general.
Let’s finish this on a high note, shall we? How about one of my favourite recipes the whole family can enjoy. It’s a super easy version of that current treat food fad all over Pinterest called “Cake in a Mug.”
First, get a cupcake. Then, jam it in a mug.
I’m here all week, folks!