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.

How To Raise Your Children According to the Rules of Literature


1. If you are a mother, you need to die or contract a disease that leaves you bed-ridden but also lovely.

2.  If you are a father, you need to marry an evil woman as a mother substitute for your children. The occupation of woodcutter is preferable.

3. Chronically neglecting your children means they will have delightful adventures which don’t always end in death.

5.  Abandon them in the woods.

6. Orphan them, but in a shipwreck. Or find an evil practitioner of black magic to off you. Really, you are holding your kids back.

7.  After death, appear to them as a magical creature and give them cryptic advice.

8. Sew them dubious red garments.

9. Send them on errands in the woods.

10. If you aren’t a woodcutter, are not married to a woodcutter, you better know one.

11. Buy an investment property in the woods. Raise your children there.

12.  It is preferable to be very poor. The worse of a provider you are, the better parent. So abject poverty is the goal here.

13. If you are rich, marry your girls off to men who have beards and a lot of missing wives. Your sons are probably screwed. Or swans. I bet they turned into swans.

14. Treat the younger child worst than the oldest.

15.  Forget college, always send them off into the world to seek their fortune.

16. If you find a bear, fish, or other woodland animal in a trap, let it go.

17.  Accept that at some point, one or more of your children will transform into an animal.

18. Teach your children to talk to the bleeding heads of donkeys with respect.

19. The best dowry is an invisible cloak.

20. If your daughters are doing something suspect, have them followed by a poor soldier.

21. Your child’s hand in marriage is a pretty good solution to ending most wars, strife, threats from beasts who speak with a human tongue, or other minor annoyances.

22. Black magic.

23. Do not under any circumstances let your daughter’s sell matches.

24.  Your daughter who only wants a rose is the best one. The others are garbage. Burn them.

25. The youngest is probably the best one. But you have to hate him. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.

26.  Fear the huntsmen.

27. Wishing your daughter to be beautiful will incur the wrath of witches, queens, and evil fairies.

28. Always vaccinate your child against sleeping illnesses.

29. Should your child fall prey to a sleeping illness, create for them a bower as if they are dead. Solicit men to kiss them.

30. Stop being a jerk, of course you kid will win the golden ticket.

31. Ensure that your child has shitty, rich cousin to make his or her life miserable. If you refuse to die, this is really the next best thing for them.

Once I Had a Little Church


I once had a little church. Did I ever tell you about it? Dave and I and three other families started it four years ago. Dave and I were coming out of a church where we had seen leadership do some pretty disheartening things–treat women with blatant disrespect, mug for the camera inside the house of someone poorer, because look, we’re doing it for Jesus. And of course, when we tried to talk about those things we were met with a stonewall. For example, the leader we approached told me that none of these concerns had been raised before. When I said I knew they had. He vehemently denied it and asked that I out anyone who said anything to the contrary. I wouldn’t. That’s when Dave stepped in and said, “Look, we aren’t outing anyone. We know they are telling the truth.” And with those words, the leader caved. He apologized to Dave for lying. He apologized to Dave repeatedly.

We left.

We were tired. We had been to so many churches in town and either found ourselves unwelcomed or in a place where we didn’t feel comfortable. We left one church after the Pastor blasted The Da Vinci Code from the pulpit as “ungodly and evil.” We left to go see the movie. Afterwards, Dave said, “He should have just told us not to see it because it was bad.”

One church sent elders to our home at 9am on a Saturday. This was before we had children, so I answered the door in my pajamas. I was asked if the “Man of the house was home.” I told him, I was as man as they get and shut the door. They prayer walked around our home for fifteen minutes. Presumably, casting out the demon. The demon stayed. [Read more…]

Mom Dating



Yesterday, I typed up a text message then deleted it. A few minutes later, my baby clinging to my legs, screaming, I tried again. It didn’t seem right. When my husband came home, I asked him to look over the text. “Is this too needy? Too desperate? Should I wait 48 hours to send it?”

He blinked so hard, I could hear his bewilderment. “Um, aren’t you just texting a new friend?”

Not any new friend. A mom friend.

Finding a friend is hard enough, in our increasingly digital and isolated world. I have many friends from college or friends from my old jobs, who I email, call and text on any given day. But staying home with my kids is sometimes a lonely job and really, the baby is terrible at discussing “Game of Thrones” with me. I need to talk to a human, an adult, someone who can pour me coffee and say, “I’m sorry your baby threatened you with a knife.” But, finding the perfect mom friend for impromptu playdates to the park and commiserating over coffee while our kids throw blocks at each other is hard. It requires the perfect confluence of proximity, schedules and childrens’ ages. Also, your kids have to get along.  I once had a perfect mom friend, who enjoyed discussing “Downton Abby” and what’s wrong with the animals at Bever Park (a favorite topic of mine). But my daughter decided her daughter was a horrible witch who was casting mean spells on her. My friend’s daughter responding by shrieking and kicking my kid in the shins. The relationship didn’t last long.

This year, I’ve found myself irrationally angry at mom friends who dared sign their children up for preschool on alternating days than my children. “Why wasn’t Tuesday/Thursday good enough for you?” I found myself yelling at a friend the other day. She patted my arm. “I will miss you too.”

Finding a new mom friend is often like dating. You go to parks and groups, trying to scope out someone who doesn’t look like they’re going to judge the fact that your baby has a face full of dirt and your three-year-old is sobbing because her stick isn’t magical. Someone who might be able to talk about minivans and books and shrug when you say your kid was three when she finally gave up the pacifier. And not newly-minted three. And unfortunately, I was never good at dating. Of the four people I dated before my husband, three of them are married to men now.

But the other day, I bumped into a mom at the mall after my baby tried to push hers. We started talking and discovered that we have all the right elements—she lives in the neighborhood, our schedules match, and our kids seem to like one another. Not to mention, she can talk to me about books and some of the crime procedurals I enjoy. I mean, she hasn’t seen every episode of “Criminal Minds” twice, but no one is perfect. Best of all, she’s new to town, so she’s just desperate enough to need a friend. We exchanged numbers and I immediately made a playdate.

So, it appears I have a new mom friend. Which will last until my daughter decides her daughter is a witch. I lose more friends that way.

Disclaimer: I wrote this originally for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, but it has become really timely, so I republished here. Yes, that makes me lazy.

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