Things to Help You Avoid Your Holiday To-Do List



So, Kid President made this graphic of my words and it might be the best Christmas present for a full-blown narcissist like myself. It comes from something that I said in an interview with CNN’s Kelly Wallace and can be read here. But it’s pretty much cribbed from something GK Chesterton wrote that I have always believed. “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Anyway.  Christmas is quickly approaching and we are driving to Denver to see my family. A trip that might kill us. So, we will see how much I even update this blog.  I hope you all get to spend some time offline listening to your children whine for more cookies, which is what the baby Jesus wanted when he was born this week on Hanukkah and fought the Maccabees with his fists of fire.

Here are some links:

Merry Holidays! Thanks everyone for being so nice to me this week and for reading this dumb site and reading the things I write. I really appreciate it so very much. It means the world to know that the thing you love means something to someone else. Or is at least good for a hate read or two.

I Don’t Even Know


When I came to school to pick up my daughter, the teacher pulled me aside.

“Do you have a princess ring?” She asked glancing at my daughter.

I blinked. “Um no.”

“Well, she says you forgot her princess ring and she’s been upset about it all day.”

We have many princess apparel items and princess accessories, but my three-year-old owns no princess rings. Nor did she mention wanting a princess ring. Nor has she ever mentioned wanting a princess ring. I shrugged at the teacher. “Look, I have no idea what is going on.”

My daughter lives in her own world, with her own rules and her own requirements. On any given day, I am met with a list of demands and rules that constantly baffle me. No one wears black on Mondays. Princesses only drink milk at lunch. Dresses with foxes on them are only for the library. Syrup doesn’t belong on pancakes. Or on planet earth. We don’t have enough beans. Socks have to go inside out. And mom is not allowed to sing any songs that appear in the movie “Frozen.”

She declares these rules with a toss of her head and just the tiniest hint of an eyeroll. Like I should obviously know that spiders only play the tuba. DUH. How could I not know that?

I wasn’t kidding when I told the teacher I have no idea what is going on.  Because I don’t.

At school, when I fished my daughter out of a group of her friends, she smiled at me and told me that she didn’t miss me at all because she was too busy having fun. In the car, I asked her if she wanted a ring.

“What ring, mom?” She said, her eyes wide.

“Didn’t you ask your teachers for a ring?”

She shook her head and started singing a song about baby chickens who want to go to Wisconsin on vacation. Then, when we got home she asked me to pick up a giant, imaginary jewel off the ground. When I mimed picking it up, she frowned. “No, you got a baby chickie!” I went through this mimicry four times, before I gave up. “Get your own jewel,” I said.

She began sobbing. If she didn’t get the jewel she would get eaten by a Jaguar and it would be all my fault. I gave her a hug and put her down for a rest.

Sometimes, parenting feels like watching over someone who is just high on drugs all the time. Or being a nurse in a mental institution. After a while, I forget who is the sane one and who is the three year old wearing underwear on her head. Look, I don’t know much about life, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not a good idea to feed the baby dried macaroni and sequins. Rest time, is when I get to recalibrate. Remember that life is more than just chickens, jaguars and Wisconsin. So, while my daughter warbled a song from her room, I sat on the couch to try to get some reading done, but I made sure to make some room for all those baby chickies.


You Don’t Need To Make Christmas Magic


Two weeks before Thanksgiving, it was snowing and my three-year-old turned to me and said. “It’s so beautiful! Can we make Christmas today?”

I’m usually a “No Christmas until after Thanksgiving” kind of person, but how can you turn down a three-year-old in a tutu who just thinks everything is magic? We put up the tree. The entire time, she was twirling and dancing and singing. “Oh it so beautiful!” she said every time I pulled out some cheap plastic ornament I bought from Target on clearance. “It so beautiful!”

I almost cried just because she was so happy. A scrappy, stringy little tinsel, that I bought from a garage sale seven years ago, was deemed “pixie, Christmas dust!” I let her toss it around and you would have thought that I had given her Christmas day itself.

I know things get more complicated as kids get older. There are more expectations. More pain. More hormones. More temperaments and tantrums. But right now, Christmas is so magic simply because it is. My daughter has been asking for a tuba. She’s been begging Santa and telling everyone who will listen, that all she wants is a tuba. I’ve been in the throes of anxiety about it because, well, kids tubas are hard to come by cheaply. I’m so worried I am going to disappoint her and ruin Christmas and ruing everything. But yesterday, I pulled out some dollar-store play-doh that I had hidden away for an emergency and it was an emergency. The baby was experiencing a lot of bowel pain, probably a result of sucking on the hand soap,  and I couldn’t put him down. My daughter kept saying, “Why don’t you hold me too?” So, because I couldn’t, I gave her play-doh. When she saw it, she clasped her hands over her mouth. “Is it today? Is Christmas today? OH FANK YOU! FANK YOU!”

I don’t know. Maybe this is because I don’t buy presents just because. This is not a value judgement. I just don’t usually. I am cheap. I have to budget out a new set of markers just to find the baby sucking on them two days later, so I don’t. The most I have on hand are stickers, new colored paper and maybe some watercolors. Maybe.

But just seeing how excited she was over that play-doh made me realize I was projecting on her. She will be happy with whatever. A tuba or a wooden flute. I am going to try and get a tuba-like apparatus. But I think us adults get into this trap of trying to make everything magical for our children, when it’s not necessary. The magic is already there. You just have to let it happen.

My best Christmas as a child was when I was about seven and my dad lost his job. We had no money. My parents were really struggling to keep us in our house. I’m sure they were wracked with all the worry and guilt most parents would face in that situation. What they did was they made us Pirates of Penzance marionettes and a marionette stage. It was amazing. We spent all day singing Gilbert and Sullivan and acting it out with our wooden puppets. My birthday is five days before Christmas and that year, all I got were paper dolls. And I don’t mean “All I got.” I loved paper dolls, I was estatic. Also, my dad spent the whole day with me cutting them out. As one of eight kids, that special attention was the best gift. And I remember those gifts and love them more than anything else I’ve ever been given.

I keep seeing articles about how to make Christmas special or tips and tricks for making holiday magic. But  I think that’s just us being adults. For us, the holidays are minefields of family tensions, pain, money worries and expectations. We work so hard at magic because we can’t find the magic ourselves. But to a kid, especially a little kid the Christmas magic is ubiquitous–the anticipation, the decorations, Santa–it is just there.

One of my favorite writers, Laurel Snyder, writes in Any Which Wall, “Common Magic exists in the very unmagical world you yourself inhabit. It’s full of regular-looking people, stop signs, and seemingly boring buildings. Common Magic happens to kids who have curious friends, busy parents, and vivid imaginations, and it frequently takes place during summer vacations or on rainy weekends when you aren’t allowed to leave the house. More important, it always starts with something that seems ordinary.”

Common magic, Snyder writes, only happens when you are noticing. And most people are too busy to notice. I suspect at this time of year, we are too busy making magic and stressing out about the cost of magic to just notice the magic that is already there.

I’m sure all of this gets harder the older your child gets. But right now, I’m just enjoying the beautiful little common magic singing a song about gingerbread house we made from a cheapo kit and the off-brand chocolate in the Advent calendar.


Update: I have gotten some feedback about this post. A couple people emailed me to tell me they think it contradicts my post from last year about buying my kids all the presents. Which is a fair enough viewpoint. I (of course) don’t think they contradict. I am still buying my kids all the things they want this year. I’ll probably keep it up as long as I can, until they start asking for drones and real estate. Their wants right now are so simple. And I see getting them the things they want as part of how easy it is to make Christmas magic for them. I mean the baby wants cars and the 3yro wants drums and a play burrito. Boom. Done. I understand that the previous sentence about this being “easy” is a statement of privilege. It’s not always easy for every family. And part of Christmas for us is trying to help other families and kids have the Christmas magic that we have. We do this as a family and try our best to keep our giving private.  But as they are little, this magic of making their wishes appear is part of the magic for them and me. Bleh. I explain it better in this post. Ultimately, if you think they contradict, I respect that. I think I see this as multiple points on the curvy line of parenting.

Of Baby Vomit and Forgetting


One night a few weeks ago, I heard the baby crying. It was late, I was up finishing an article on a deadline. My husband was also up finishing some work for an early meeting. I snuck into the baby’s room to give him some Tylenol. He just had his 15 month shots earlier that day and he was in pain, poor kid.  I opened the door and was overwhelmed by the smell of vomit.

My poor baby was lying in his own puke, whimpering and clinging to his blanket. He had vomit on his cheeks and in his tiny pudgy fists. I felt it in my stomach. That growl of love that comes from the same deep place as hunger and fear.

I picked him up and held him to me. Stripped off his stinky pajamas, washed the puke out of his hair. I snuggled him and held a towel to his mouth while he puked some more. My husband came to rock him, while I changed the sheets. Did the wash. Scrubbed puke off the crib rails.

When we finally crawled into bed, so tired our skin was buzzing, it was two in the morning. The day would begin at 6:30. As I pushed out of my mind fears about my deadline so I could sleep, our three-year-old crawled into our bed because she thought crocodiles might eat her. I didn’t even argue. I opened up the covers and she crawled right in, snuggling her head under my chin. She still fits there. In the crook of my body, in that place closest to my heart.

If anyone else described that night of parenting to me, I would groan in pain. “How awful,” I would say. “I’m so sorry. You must be tired.” But as I lay there, watching my daughter sleep, still smelling my son’s puke from somewhere, I wanted to remember everything. I wanted to remember the curve of her cheek in the light that filtered in from our blinds. I wanted to remember the way my baby curled into me and sighed when he finally stopped throwing up. There are so many things that slip from me. Like the way my three-year-old used to say provolone or how my baby used to gently pinch my arm while I nursed him. Or other things I can’t list, because I forgot them already.

As I lay there in bed, I didn’t wish for more sleep or more time for my article. What I wanted was to always remember that sweet little voice saying, “I fink dere might be crocodiles eating me. I need some lovins.”

Don’t get me wrong. Some things about parenting are mind-numbing and exhausting. Things you wouldn’t even imagine, like opening the fridge—a supposedly easy task until your newly toddling baby comes running in from three rooms away to body slam himself into the olives every time you reach for the milk. And I have to tear him out of the bottom fridge as he screams, “CHEEEEEESE!” (He is a good Midwesterner.) So, there are those things.

But there are also these moments that should be awful, but really aren’t because they are your children and they need you and you love them so much you can feel it in your skin.  I cling to these little things. These small moments: Sleepy eyelashes, desperate snuggles, freshly washed hair. I put them in my evidence bag; clues to a mystery that still lies before us.

Tome Club: Don Quixote The Final Chapter

This is final installment of #TomeClub, where me and like two people read Don Quixote, and the rest of you stopped reading the blog.

Don Quixote by Kevin Middleton

I finished Don Quixote two weeks ago. I haven’t had time to write about it because of Thanksgiving, mass consumerism, and of course, the writing I actually get paid for.

So, I apologize for this lateness. But this was fun. I’ve never finished one of my yearly classics so swiftly. Of course, it could have been the poop jokes. The vomiting. The hilarious asides. Or how about that moment when Don Quixote says if they’ve crossed the equator that all the lice on Pancho’s thighs will be dead. So, Pancho sticks his hands down his pants and says something to the effect of, “Either we haven’t crossed the equator or you are wrong.” And then he washes his hands in the river. I laughed so hard.

And in the end, my heart broke. Fir over 900 pages, I’ve watched Don Quixote be a buffoon. I’ve watched him hilariously attack windmills and defend the honor of a woman who doesn’t exist, except in his mind. Sancho’s been beaten in a bag and pooped in the dark. They’ve both vomited taking a magic healing potion. They’ve seen honor where there was evil, castles instead of poor inns, and princes when there were just shepherds and paupers. In the second half, DQ descends into a cave and claims to have seen an enchanted world, where all of the things he’s imagined he’s seen so far gather together.  Sancho flat out refuses to believe DQ. Later, as they imagine they are riding through the sky on a wooden horse, Sancho claims he’s seen magnificent sights. DQ grabs Sancho and tells him urgently that just as he wants to be believed about the sights in the sky, so Quixote wants to be believed about the cave.

It’s this moment in the narrative when things begin to unravel a little. When the veil of credulity is pierced, when I begin to wonder if Sancho is as sane as he professes or if DQ is as insane as we believe. Due to his fame, all around DQ and Sancho are used as the pawns in the games of bored rich people who play tricks on them–the wooden horse flying through the sky is one. Sancho getting a “governorship” is another. But here again, the line between what is real and what isn’t is blurred.  A woman honestly appeals to DQ’s knighthood to avenge her daughter. Sancho actually delivers decent judgement as a governor.

In the end, DQ is dying and he comes to his senses and laments his life wasted in madness. The people around him, who have spent the entire book trying to convince DQ he is wrong, suddenly miss their mad knight and try to convince him otherwise. At some point, the imagination has become manifest. It’s very much the Hamlet question: Was the madness a ruse only to become a reality?

I think of the Kundera in Unbearable Lightness of Being, who wrote that all individuals organize their lives according to the laws of beauty, even in times of greatest distress. Don Quixote, in his madness, has given so many people an organizing narrative in their life. He’s stood for honor when there was none. He stood for love when it had been usurped. He fought giants when there were sheep. He saw adventure, when there was just a waterfall. A friend writes of Quixote, “…for it was his great good fortune/ to live as a madman, and die sane.”

I think of our own ill-conceived quests. Our searches for the abstract of truth and beauty and hope and happiness. How much of us seeing these things is the world is part of our own willful madness. If we actually accepted things as they are, would it be bleak? Are willful delusions the thing that bring us beauty? Or is beauty there but only for us to find among sheep, shepherds and diarrhea in the dark?

And what is real–our meaning that we force on the narratives of our life? Or does meaning happen because we place it there? Are we all a little mad? I hope so.

In the news recently, I’ve seen people out on their own quests for truth and justice in the cases of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Some people say they are tilting at windmills others see the giant menace. And maybe it’s my own madness, centuries of history prove me otherwise, but I don’t believe this fight is in vain. I do believe things can change.  I hope things can change. And maybe this is how we create something out of nothing. Hope from ashes. Beauty from pain. I don’t know.  But in a senseless life, we have to string together meaning like beads on a necklace. Otherwise, we really will go mad.

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