Belle Is Not The Problem, You Are

Two weeks ago, we threw a princess birthday party in honor of my daughter who specifically requested that everything be made pink. And it was. Pink tulle hung from the banisters, pink tissue paper flowers hung from the ceiling, pink balloons were taped to the archways. And the party was perfect. We had princess tattoos, crowns, jewels and at the end we cleared the floor for a big ball.

I’ve struggled with letting princesses into our home. I didn’t want them here. I thought they would be a bad influence. But at two-years-old, my daughter began refusing to wear pants and declared herself a princess.  Ever since then, it’s ballgowns and necklaces everyday. Once at the grocery store, as Ellis twirled in the aisle in a white Easter dress, a lady asked, “Oh are you going somewhere special?” My daughter just looked at her and said flatly. “I am ‘pecial.”

E and Bubs

Equal opportunity royalty in this house.

She is special. And white fluffy Easter dresses are just normal Tuesday attire in this house. Occasionally, I get her to wear something less formal for school or the park. But the moment she comes home she rips off her pants and slips into something a little more formal–A princess Belle dress with gloves, perhaps.

I suppose I could regulate princesses more carefully. I could return every Princess™ that entered our home from well meaning grandparents and doting aunts, but I am not going to. Because I don’t think princesses are the problem. I think we are the problem.

We still live in a country with a gender pay gap, but that’s not Rapunzel’s fault.  There are deep gender divides in this country about sex, division of labor and healthcare, but we can’t pin that on Snow White. The commercialization of everything pink and everything princess, becomes and easy scapegoat. It’s so much easier to say, “Blame Disney!” than take a long look in the mirror and examine our own biases.

In her essay in New York magazine, Yael Kohen wrote:

“And what’s wrong with girly, anyway?  Rolling our eyes at pink feels like another way of treating female culture on the whole as a niche interest, somehow secondary to male culture — a.k.a. the mainstream. And when it comes to our toys there’s an implicit message that the pink doodads are only second best to the tough dude versions in black, camouflage, and blue. (A boy dressing up like Iron Man, a narcissistic arms mogul turned superhero, won’t be seen as nearly as silly as a girl wearing a Queen Elsa costume, even though they play to the same fantasy impulses). If we’ve made pink the most visible representation of girl culture, and also treat it as a symbol of frivolity, then we’re unwittingly telling girls (and boys) that the girl world isn’t important.”

I believe the same thing about princesses. By denigrating princesses we are in fact telling our daughters that what interests them isn’t important. By foisting the world that is traditionally boy on them instead, aren’t we telling them that “boy things” are okay, but princesses aren’t. And since when is a toy gun less dangerous than a tiara? Lately, my daughter has been turning all her wands into guns and walking around saying, “SHOOT! I SHOOT YOU!” But I’m not going to stress about that either. For children, fantasy play is just that, pure fantasy. My blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter identifies herself with Belle and Mulan more than Rapunzel or Aurora. Why? Maybe the dresses? The side-kicks? Who knows. But what I do know is that she understand the fantasy and the reality a lot more than I give her credit for.

It’s easy to make Belle and Cinderella culpable for our societal shortcomings, but the truth is, they aren’t the disease they are the symptom. Gender bias doesn’t begin with crowns and gowns, gender bias begins within us. A study done by New York University asked parents to guess the incline of a slope that their 11-month old babies could climb. The study showed that while both girls and boy babies had the same level of physical ability, parents vastly over estimated their sons’ abilities and underestimated their girls’ abilities. Think you are too smart for this inherent bias? Think again. A study done by Yale University had male and female scientists rate the competence of a job applicant. The scientists were given the same application, the only difference was half had an application with a female name the other half had an application with a male name. Overwhelmingly, both male and female scientists favored the male application.

Ultimately, gender bias begins long before you child sits down to watch “Sleeping Beauty” and yet, Sleeping Beauty is what we wring our collective hands over.

A whole generation of girls (myself included) were raised obsessed with princesses and somehow we came out okay. I remember spending hours trying to flip my hair up out of the pool water so I could be like the Ariel singing, “Part of Your World” to prince Eric. I know more Disney songs about love than I know Shakespearean sonnets. But that was just a phase. Much like my Nietzsche phase when I wore all black and took long walks with my journal contemplating how superior I was to all the other riff raff of High School. Or my Bronte phase when I wore tight buns and wanted to walk the windswept moors of England so bad I cried. It’s just a phase.  I didn’t become the Übermensch and stab anyone any more than I married an abusive man with a wife locked in an attic.

In her essay on Slate, Allison Benedikt wrote, “The pink phase will pass like anything else, and if it doesn’t, well, then, you have raised a human being who really likes pink. Which is the same as raising a human being who really likes green. The meaning of the color is what we make it mean. By steering our daughters away from the pink aisle to subvert dangerous gender norms, we’re reinforcing them.”

The truth is for children princesses and pink, they are just things. It’s we adults who imbue them with meaning. But instead of crucifying all things pink and princess on the cross of our collective feminist anxiety, maybe we ought to reexamine our own attitudes and deeply held beliefs about children long before they can even reach for that wand.

PS For more reading, I really liked this article. 

Three

Yesterday, I was emptying the dishwasher. Ellis sat at the kitchen table coloring and watching me. As I picked up a bowl and opened the cupboard door, Ellis shouted, “Two hands!”

“What?” I asked.

“Two hands, mom. Or else, you drop it.”

Last week, I had broken a bowl doing just that same thing. Game. Set. Three year old.

Princess Anna

This week she sobbed because a friend of hers mixed her paint colors. Also, every time she spills a little water on her gowns (she only wears gowns) she throws her head back and wails, “Oh no! It ruined! Everyfing ruined!” And then, she gets mad when you laugh at her and tell her it will dry. In this exchange, I see my future.

On a side note: Because of rampant illness this past month, like many American families, we’ve been watching “Frozen” almost on loop. It’s ridiculous. It’s consumed us. Ellis and I have a pretty good “Love is an Open Door” duo going. I can sing the song to the bonus feature and Dave and I have been discussing aspects of the movie, like the character development of Hans, instead of talking about real things like why the floor is sticky and where the hell is that plane? Three nights ago, Dave decided that he approved of the Midwestern values espoused by the movie: Conceal, don’t feel.  And he decided that we needed to teach our children a little bit more about good, old-fashioned Norwegian repression. Seeing as how getting cheeto dust on her fingers calls for full on tears of anguish, I agree.

Three is big. She is no longer a toddler. And we’ve been talking about how the pacifier fairy will come to take her pacifiers and leave, in their place, a big gown. The pacifier fairy hasn’t come quiet yet, because she heard that Ellis has been sick for almost a month straight and the pacifier fairy didn’t want Ellis’ mom to lose her ever-loving mind.  Good old, pacifier fairy.

She’s also been telling us that we need a bigger house, because she’s going to grow “bigger, bigger, up to da sky!” She needs a bigger cup because she’s big. She needs bigger clothes because she’s big. But at night, before bed, she insists, she’s still “wittle, still berry wittle.” Today, at breakfast she broke it down for me. “I a little bit big, but not totally big.”

Totally.

She is also the world’s best big sister.  We’ve been sleep training Jude (yes, again, for the fifth time, that kid) and last night, as he cried at three in the morning, I could hear Ellis calling from her room, “Bubby! I sing for you! TWINKLE TWINKLE WIDDLE STAR! Dat help bubby? TWINKLE! TWINKLE!”

It didn’t.  But it was sweet. And she is sweet to him. Today, while he was playing on her floor and I was putting away clothes, she dumped all her doll stuff in his lap, so he wouldn’t have to be alone. When he started chewing the hair of Pinkalicious, she said, “It okay, mom. I just sharing wif him.”

Yesterday, he was crying in the bathroom while I brushed my teeth. She ran in and said, “Bubs, you don’t need to cry. Your princess will aways be here and always protect you.”

He stared at her for a brief moment before he resumed wailing.

“Mom,” Ellis said, “I can’t handle dis crying. I’m leaving bubs.”

She calls him her “bubby” and likes to explain everything to him from how you eat Cheerios (“Just put dem in your mouf!”) to how babies come out (“Dey get pooped out! Is dat silly?”). She also get’s mad at him for not following the rules, like when he wiggles and kicks her, she shakes her finger and says, “Bubs, we don’t kick people in dis house!”

Then, he laughs. How he loves her. She can always make him ridiculously happy. Until she terrifies him. But usually, he’s happy just to see her in the same room as him. Just to have her hand him a toy.  And these are the things I’m going to cling to when they are randomly checking each other into walls.

E and Bubs2

She’s begun lugging notebooks around with her and scribbling in them with pens. She asks me how to spell Ellis, Daddy and Cinderella. I tell her and she repeats the letters back to me. Then, she says she’s writing things and I need to leave her alone. I think this is my revenge. It’s coming. I’m not afraid. Maybe I should be, but I’m not.

We often have the fight where, I’m telling her to set the table and she says she can’t because she set it “lasterday” and I say, “don’t fight with me.” And she says, “I’m not fighting!”

“Yes you are.”

“No, I not!”

“Yes!”

“I just telling you I did it lasterday!”

I lose. I lose every time.

And as I write that, it occurs to me that it’s getting close to time to start editing more what I share about her on the internet. In January, I started a journal for both Jude and Ellis and I fill it with the little things I notice about them during the day, things I want to remember. Things I want them to know. Their brilliant moments. Their intense sweetness and silliness. And sure, sometimes hilarious poop incidents. Things that probably shouldn’t go up on the internet, or many other places really.

I love the person she is becoming. I love how silly she is. How precocious. How determined and how law-abiding. During our 150th showing of “Frozen” she said, “Princess Anna jumping on da couch and dat not good. She need to go to time out.”

“Exactly right,” I said.  Speak truth to power, girlfriend.

I love her persnicketyness. Her insistence on ball gowns and high heels. And how she loves to cheer people up. “Don’t be sad,” she tells me when I’m frustrated, “I’ll feel you better!” And then she smiles and then it works.

Happy birthday, three year old.

Happy World Down Syndrome Day

In honor of World Down Syndrome Awareness Day I’m reprinting this post that I wrote about my brother Noah over on Squashed Mom a few years ago. I don’t write about Noah for many reasons, for one he is 17, he’s a grown up and the hero of his own stories. Also, writing about Noah is hard. It’s hard to explain the frustration of loving him. And I don’t want to be overly sentimental and gloss over the reality of what his life is. It’s too easy to put people with disabilities into a box where they are angels, perfect, misunderstood blessings from God. And while he is those things, he is more than that. And I don’t want to deny him the full power of his personality, of all he is, both good and bad and funny and sweet. He is my brother, he is human. He has flaws. But he is also special needs. But he is also, just Noah.

Do you see what I mean? It’s difficult.

Noah at Christmas. He is really cool and loves Minions. This picture was taken by my 6 year old nephew who is better at pictures (and most things) than me.

Noah at Christmas. He is really cool and loves Minions. This picture was taken by my 6 year old nephew who is better at pictures (and most things) than me.

I have seven siblings. One is perky with curly hair. One is hilarious and likes to play with legos. Two are good at art. One dedicates her life to serving others. Another dedicates her life to giving people great hairstyles. I have a brother who is in the Army and can run a mile in six minutes. I have a sister who is the best message therapist I’ve ever met. She’s also the most sarcastic person I know. And then there is my youngest brother, Noah.

Noah loves to snuggle. He loves to watch Toy Story and collect army men. He once got kicked out of school for dancing on a table. He also got kicked out of school for yelling at a teacher. Noah is sweet and a little spicy. And among the many things that he is, Noah is also Downs Syndrome.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. Noah also has other disabilities. He is 17 and he doesn’t talk much and still has a hard time going to the bathroom by himself. And as much as I hate it, those are the things that define him to most people.

To most people, Noah is not my brother who got kicked out of school. He’s not my brother who carries around a Sheriff Woody doll. Or the brother who gives the best hugs. To everyone I meet he is Noah my disabled brother.

But to me and my siblings he is so much more.

My brother Noah was born on June 12, 1997. He was three months early and was so small my dad could hold him in the palm of his hand. But my dad didn’t do that. He carried him with both hands, cradled against his chest, while all seven of us siblings circled around so happy that Noah was part of the family.

Two weeks after he was born were told he had Downs Syndrome and six years later, we would find out that he also suffered from additional complications that meant he’d never be able to hold down a job or live on his own.

I was thirteen when Noah was allowed to come home from the hospital and I would often sit by his crib, watching him breathe. Making sure he was okay. When he woke up, his blue eyes would watch the ceiling fan circle round-and-round his head.

Maybe he will make fans one day, I thought before remembering that the doctor had said he may never have a career. I ran downstairs and crawled into an old sleeping bag, hiding my tears and my horrible thoughts. It doesn’t matter how good he is, no one will give him the chance.

Before Noah was born, I had known a girl with Downs, her name was Janna, and every time I saw her she would tell me about her boyfriends. “I kissed them!” she would yell and I would sneak away. “Go play with Janna,” mom insisted. But I hated every minute of it.

I hated the way she smelled of mothballs and body odor. I hated the way she laughed at everything and hugged me. I hated that she was twenty and could barely read. Most of all I hated the way people looked at her as she loped along, oblivious to their scornful stares.

I didn’t want Noah to be like that, but most of all I didn’t want to think of him like that. I fell asleep in the sleeping bag and woke up to my mom kissing my forehead. “It’s okay to be mad,” she said. “I know you love him.”

And that’s what it is to be a sibling of someone with special needs—you exist simultaneously in a place of love and acceptance and frustration and guilt. But I wouldn’t ever choose anything different.

I’m older now and so is Noah. But I still get angry. I get angry when I don’t know how to talk to him, when I have a hard time understanding what he wants. I get angry when he comes for a visit and then leaves and I feel like I didn’t get a chance to tell him that I love him and what he means to me. And I know he gets frustrated too.

One by one, his brothers and sisters are leaving home and leaving him. He uses sign language to tell my mom to call us. And when he sees us, he just wants to sit and hug. And I do sit and hug him, but it’s never long enough and that makes me mad too.

Noah is so many other things. He’s the kid who tried to flush the dog down the toilet. He’s the kid who can eat his weight in Cheetos. He’s the brother who influenced one of my sisters to become a teacher and another to become a social worker. He’s the brother that taught me patience.

He’s also just Noah, my brother.

What Moms Do When They Are Alone

Disclaimer: Yes, this post is sponsored. And sure, I’m getting paid for it. But I honestly love my Cartwheel app and my dates to Target alone.

What moms do when they are alone in no particular order: 1. Sleep. 2. Clean up your crap. 3. Cry. 4. Eat all the candy. 5. Go to Target and stay there for a long time under the guise of running errands.

Target Photo

Breastfeeding sometimes makes me feel like I’m tethered to the wall. Want to have lunch? Sure let me ask my captors, the boobs.  Boobs, can I go out? What? Sure, you can leak every time we hear a baby cry as long as I can have two minutes without someone mauling me. Deal.

When I do get the chance to escape – when hungry babies have been satiated and the toddler is under adult supervision and I tear out of the house, shoving my coat on as I yell, “See you suckers!” and slam the door – when that happens, do I run to go frolic in a meadow? Get a massage? Do I grab some drinks with the ladies? Hell no. That would require pants and all I have are leggings and a sweater and shoes that might match.  I go to Target. Why? Coffee. Also, deals. Also, there is something so soothing about being able to browse aisles of attractive and affordable throw pillows that gives me an inner peace. Maybe the zombies will come. Maybe my kids will kick me in the shins when I get home, but I’ve got some coffee and a coupon for bras. Bring it on, Universe.

Basically, what I’m saying is I’m just one minivan and two soccer players away from suburban momdom. But, I’m okay with this. I’ve made peace with this aspect of my life one relaxing latte and Market Pantry box of brownie mix at a time. I remember my mom would go grocery shopping and be gone for hours. What took her so long? Why did a run for milk take two hours? Was she actually visiting her secret second family? What else could she possibly want to do away from us for so long? Now I am a mom. Now I understand. Now the chance to grocery shop alone feels like going to the beach after days of trench warfare. I’m covered in spit up, blood, and I smell faintly of fecal matter, but who cares? I’ve got coffee and coupons and no kids.

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping alone and while I was out at Target, I stood in line scanning my items with my phone in case the Cartwheel app had a deal and they almost always do. Even nursing bras, which almost never go on sale. And let me tell you about the time I was able to use a coupon for K-cups, plus they were on special, plus Cartwheel had 10% off. It was like the holy grail of momness. (Sidebar: Cartwheel  has more that 700 coupons to use on in-store purchases, and can be used on your desktop, tablet, mobile web or iPhone or Droid apps. You start with 10 spots to fill on your Cartwheel list, but you can get more spots by earning badges, which are awarded by reaching savings milestones–$10, $25, $50, I’m working on the $100–and interacting with Cartwheel (such as adding an offer from one of the app’s item collection to your list). I’m now addicted to getting badges because that’s how fun my life is.)

So, while I was scanning my app, a lady came up behind me with three items in her cart. “You can go ahead of me,” I said.

“Oh no,” she said. “I’m fine.”

“No, really. I’m out without my kids. I’ve got nothing but time.”

She laughed, “I have two-year-old twins at home. I’m staying here. Behind you. Because I’m on a date with myself.” She won.

 

What do you do when you somehow manage to leave the house alone? Leave a comment below and you will be entered in a drawing for a $1,000 Target GiftCard®. See the rules below.

 

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Flotsam

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Every night, I clean up the house. I start in the kitchen and pick bangles off the counter and fish a wand out of the sink. I use the broom and brush up a few extra cookie crumbs and bits of dried noodle that spilled out of the bowl of pasta I let Ellis play with while I cook. Then, into the dining room. Under the table are dried grapes that I missed from the night before, a Princess Anna doll and an Aladdin with a missing head. In the living room, I step on Sophie the Giraffe and I curse and hop over and step on a butterfly teething toy that vibrates and then I feel weird, because the vibration on my toes feels kind of nice. The living room has rings in the sofa, head bands under the couch, some days, in a rage of cleanliness, I take bikes and boxes (“ships” as we call them) and move them to the basement. They always meander on back up. In an old jewelry box is a bunch of chalk (“Wook, diamonds!”) and in a piggy bank are small cardboard books. In the box that holds the cardboard books are plastic coins for the piggy bank. I pick up each piece of wreckage from our day and return it to the box, the basket or the shelf where it belongs. Some nights, I venture into the playroom, but more often, I reach inside and turn out the lights without even bothering to look at the floor.

I am not a clean person. I live in a perpetual state of rubble. I have a habit of leaving mugs by the computer and CDs out of their cases. The clothes in my drawer aren’t often folded and there is a pile of hair bands behind the headboard. But having children has made me understand the need to pick up.

I try not to clean during the day. I have only so many hours. When the kids are quiet, I rush to the computer and write as fast as I can until I hear the first babbles of need and cries of “I need to poop a wittle!” Some days that time is only 15 minutes. Other days, it’s as long as two hours. But the clutter needs to be contained before it overwhelms me. So, I try to take 10 minutes before bed and clean up the mess.

Some days, I clean angrily. I’m upset that this is my job. Upset that I’m the picker upper of shit. Dave helps when reminded, but he need reminding. On the angry nights, I huff and puff and toss and grumble. I hate this part of parenting. The janitorial service. I have Ellis clean up her messes, but sometimes it’s not enough. Mickey is in the food basket and there is a ruby red slipper in the blocks.

Other nights, I like the ritual. I like to pick through the pieces of flotsam and jetsam and remember how the baby chewed the crown and made the 2 year old cry. I pick up some food of the carpet and remember how she tried to feed him milky Cheerios from her breakfast. Do NOT feed the baby! Keep your milk at the table! I find a cup stuffed with aluminum foil and remember that she made me coffee with it and I had to pretend to drink it. Then, when I told her it was delicious she scoffed, “But it’s just pretend coffee!” At the time I felt like I couldn’t win, but the act of picking up–foil in the trash, cup in the kitchen basket–makes me feel like maybe I really did win after all.

Some days the clutter consumes me. I cant sit until order has been restored and that plate full of rubber bands (“It noodles, mom!”) has been cleaned and the rubber bands returned to their proper resting place. Other days the clutter comforts me. It reminds me that we were here. These little moments happened.

I had a writing instructor who once told me that “Detail is devastating.”  So, I think about that every night as I get ready for bed. There is a piece of cracker in my bra, although no one has eaten a cracker all day. A sock on the floor. A Tinkerbell band-aid on the wall. All of these things make me want to laugh and curse, because I’m the one peeling a band-aid off the wall at 10:30 and because the person who put it there told me the wall got “a hurt” because she ” ‘frew a ball at it.”

In the Bible the Israelite on their journey out of Egypt set up monuments at places that had significance. Where the golden calf was sacrificed. Where the water flowed from the rocks. I sometimes think the mess in my house, each misplaced toy and lost object, is a monument to insignificance. The small little pockets of time that are the building blocks of my day. It’s all so small, so messy, so beautiful and overwhelming.

We Don’t Hammer Our Sisters

photo (1)

This is what happened when I ignored my kids and tried to make a doctor’s appointment. Crying baby not pictured.

Besides the sleep, eating a whole meal by myself, and not smelling like puke, the thing from my pre-baby days that I miss the most is adult conversation. It’s gotten worse since I quit working. Because even though I worked from home, I was still able to sustain a 15-minute phone conversation without having to stop and tell someone to stop picking their nose. Now? I’m lucky if I can get out an entire sentence before I have to interject with don’t lick the baby!

I have seven siblings and I used to get so irritated when I’d call home from college and phone conversations with my mom would go something like…

“Mom, I’m on the honor roll and…”

“Oh, honey that’s great. Caleb, put down the matches! No. NO! Not on your sister.

“Mom, I was asked to write for the…”

I will seriously ground you if you don’t stop kicking! Enough. Boogers are not funny. Honey, your father and I are very proud of you. When is your next break? Can you send me your schedule?”

“I sent it yester…”

Those are not for eating!” Click. Dial tone.

Now, I understand. Ostensibly, I go to play dates in order to talk to another adult while my child plays with another child. But that never happens. Last Friday,  Ellis went to play at a friend’s house and when I came to pick her up, I tried to chat with some of the other moms. One mom sat on the floor and during our brief five-minute conversation, she had a whistle shoved in her mouth, a raspberry blown in her face, her hair pulled and her shirt lifted up.

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “How are you doing? Ellis, stop picking your nose!”

Her: “Great, we have…mrfghlghs...No, don’t put that in my mouth!”

Me: “Don’t lick your friend! We don’t lick our friends! Did you have a nice Christmas?”

Her: “We did, we stayed here and Santa…Uh uh! Don’t hammer your sister.

Me: “Sit on that chair until you can stop taking toys from the baby. Now. NOW! We traveled and…Don’t stand on the chair. SIT!”

Her: Why do we bother? PUT MY SHIRT DOWN!”

And Dave doesn’t really understand this lack of conversation. He will come home and I’ll be all, “I haven’t spoken to a human in days!” And he just shakes his head and says, “Didn’t you go on a play date today?” Then, I hurt him.

But once Dave comes home, dinner is consumed and the kids are in bed and the house is quiet, having a conversation is the last thing I want to do. Dave will sit next to me on the couch and say, “How was your day?”

And I respond by lovingly telling him, “DO NO COME ANY CLOSER! DON’T TOUCH ME! DON’T TALK TO ME! JUST DROP THAT REMOTE CONTROL AND SIT IN THE CORNER!”

People wonder why there are so many “mom bloggers” on the internet? Here is your answer. Because writing this blog post is the first time I’ve actually been able to finish a complete thought. Now, if you will excuse me, the baby is trying to eat a power cord.

11 Signs I’m a Grown Woman

It took having two children, but I realize now, I’m a grown woman.

I think it happened this year, when I found myself asking people about insurance and actually caring about their answers. I heard myself say things like. “This applesauce has no high fructose corn syrup!”

“You guys! Towels are on sale.”

“I really love my Shark! My floors are sooo clean.”

All without irony. And said in that really high excited voice I used to reserve for the opening of a new wine bar or a novel by my favorite author. I still love those things. But Chris Adrian hasn’t come out with anything new in years and I can really only handle one glass of wine these days before things get dicey. It’s a rule: Once you have two kids and you have a glass of wine, both kids will wake up at 4am and then you will have a headache for a week. Whatever, guys. Downton Abbey is worth it.

I remember being in High School and looking at my mom and the moms of my friends, who all seem really interested in decorating with Mason jars and where the silk flower arrangement should go–the mantle or the table or maybe the buffet?–and whether to use butter or margarine, and I wondered how did that happen? These were intelligent women. They all had a college degree. And all their brainpower was going toward deciding whether that last cup of Earl Grey would keep them up all night. Or maybe they should just have chamomile? Yes, or maybe a lemon zinger? Wait, does that have caffeine?

I’m less smug now. Mostly because I overhear myself saying:

“I have a coupon for socks!”

“We use only vinegar and water on our floors.”

“Do you have Earl Grey?”

And there is a part of me that is really disappointed. But there is that other part of me that’s all, “Wow, a coupon! FOR SOCKS!” And then we high-five.

Here are other signs I’m a grown woman:

  1. I say the word “brunch” a lot.
  2. I like coffee mugs and find them charming.
  3. I’ve thought about my grave plot
  4. I can have a 20-minute conversation about Spanx.
  5. All my pantyhose are “control top.”
  6. I get really excited to go to Target at 8pm. Alone.
  7. I can’t decide whether my decorative Mason jars should go on the buffet or the mantle.
  8. I tell people to use applesauce instead of oil in all their baking recipes.
  9. I don’t even need a recipe to make a casserole.
  10. The idea of jumping for any reason sounds terrible. Don’t make me tell you why. See also: I cross my legs when I sneeze.
  11. All my friends post “daily encouragement” in their social media feeds. You don’t need daily encouragement if you are 20 and can still wear a bikini.

6 Holiday Candle Scents That I Need This Year

candle scents

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but it really makes me want to light things on fire. In early November, I make an annual trip to Target, where I grab a coffee, make a complete lap of the store, before finally stopping in the home section to smell all of the candles and decide what will be the scent of my winter. Will it be a classic evergreen? A spritely cranberry? What scent do I want to waft across the noses of my guests and family as they enter my home?

This year, I decided that the candle scents offered by your run-of-the-mill retailers are not enough. I need a scent that communicates so much more than, I’m-not-actually-baking-pie-but-I-want-you-to-smell-it-anyway. Here are the scents that I need.

1. I’m better than you: This would be a stately mixture of sandalwood, library books and hundred dollar bills. The combined scent evokes a subtle hint of “you are inferior, now grovel.”

2. Trust me, I lost the baby weight: I want a scent that evokes the aura of skinniness without me actually giving up my daily binge on banana bread and wine. Maybe it smells like bran and sweat and Jillian Michael’s hair.

3. Get out of my house: What better way to signal to guests that it’s time to leave because you value “Criminal Minds” over human relationships than by lighting a candle that smells like disgust and loathing? A mixture of Axe body spray, unwashed sheets,  and a boot to the rear.

4.  Falalalalala, jerks: A blend of evergreen, campfire, really boozy eggnog and your middle finger–this candle tells people that no, you really love the holidays. They are great. Super. Awesome. You love nothing better than decorating your house in cheap glitter and glass things that your kid will destroy and then making a thousand cookies just to have your husband eat them all in 30 minutes. Joy to the world.

5. Elephant in the Room: This actually just smells like poop. You light it and dare anyone to bring up the lingering smell of feces. It’s an exercise in repression. Note: This candle might not work if you live on the East Coast or in any other region where emotions are communicated.

6. We did not just stop fighting the moment you stepped in the door: This candle smells of roses, marital harmony with only a slight undertone of bitterness and all the wine you are going to drink.

The Story of Christmas

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This is the story I like to tell:

My entire family is sitting around the oak table my dad affectionately calls the aircraft carrier. It has been refinished almost as many times as there are people sitting around it: 15. My siblings and I make 8. My parents: 2. My grandma: 1. And our friends and their 2 children: 4. My mom has decorated the house with fresh evergreen branches. It’s our second year in South Dakota after moving there from Texas and my mom is excited for things like snow, evergreen branches, and fresh sap that makes our hands sticky when we decorate the tree. She festooned the house weeks ago and now the needles drop to the floor every time we walk by the fireplace mantle. In honor of the day, my mom has lit brilliant red candles all over the house. She lit them, just before we bowed our heads to pray.

As my dad intones the “Amen” the son of our friends looks up and in his laconic teenage voice he says, “Is that normal?” We all follow his gaze to the mantle where flames are shooting up from the evergreens. My mom screams. My siblings yell. Someone knocks over a glass of water. I think I hear someone else swear. Jelly stains the table. The baby and my big sister are crying. Now my mom is running in and out of the dining room. “CARL!” she screams my father’s name. “CARL!”

My dad stands and walks slowly over to the mantle. He inhales and with one breath blows out the flame. Then, he walks back over to his chair and begins to serve himself turkey. He is taking his first bite as my mom rushes in with a pitcher of water and douses the singed branches. That’s when my brother starts laughing.

I like this story because it says all the things about my family that I want to believe. When I tell it, I leave out certain details.

Half of the house we are in is stripped to the lathes and a sharp cold wind is penetrating the plastic barriers that are duct-taped up in the doorway between the kitchen in the dining room.

There has already been a fire in the oven that day.

There has already been screaming that morning and my eyes are swollen from crying.

That story is one of those that live on in family lore. “Is that normal?” is something we say when we see impending disaster. It always makes us laugh. Each person in my family tells the story differently. Some include my mom setting the oven on fire that morning. Some don’t mention the pitcher of water. I’ve been told the pitcher of water never happened. My mom likes to clarify that she was trying to find the fire extinguisher and not  just running around with her hands in the air in a blind panic. I like my version better.

But no one includes the crumbling house. No one includes the screaming. No one remembers my wet exhausted eyes.

It’s almost Thanksgiving and then almost Christmas. I love putting up my Christmas tree and the wreath that I spent hours hot gluing. I love braving the mall to take my daughter to see Santa and slurping candy canes while we wait in line. I love making cookies every Monday in December and letting Ellis’ face turn red and green from licking icing from the bowl.  I love the Grinch doll that bounces and sings a mechanical song as my daughter presses the button over and over. I love Christmas music and shouting about donning gay apparel in the car, while Dave winces and bears it. That is the Christmas story I want to believe in.

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There are no swollen eyelids. There are no scream fights in the car. No one ever has to make the choice between sitting next to the person who assaulted them at Christmas dinner or being left alone in a hotel. No one has panic attacks in the closet while the turkey is in the oven.

I always feel torn between the details I tell and the ones omitted. Because there are so many lovely moments. So many good memories and so many more to be made. So, I try to prune. I help set an idyllic scene–candles, trees, artfully wrapped presents, Pinterest-crafted reindeer snacks–but some corner of the house is crumbling. Some part of the scene is on fire.

Over the holidays, family feels like an exercise in submerging a beach ball. Throwing my body on top, trying to push the ball beneath the surface of the water, to pretend it’s not coming up over and over and over. To pretend the house isn’t in a state of disrepair. To pretend I’m not crying. Living in fear of the moment someone calls out, “Is that normal?” And we all scream because we can’t ignore the disaster in front of us.

I do love Christmas, genuinely and wholeheartedly. But we have to make room for the real story. For the real pain. For the ugly details on the periphery.  Some people will spend the holidays explaining their divorce. Some will spend it in the hospital. Some will spend it telling their relatives why there is no baby or smiling like their grandma doesn’t think they’re going to Hell.  Me? I’ll be sitting at the table, my eyes still stinging, wondering why this has to be normal.

PS I would like to just acknowledge Captain Awkward’s post on the holidays and it’s influence on this post. A friend recommended it to me and I love it. I think I’ll be reading it a lot this month.

10 Things I’d Rather Talk About Than Babies

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I’m 37 weeks pregnant and while this isn’t a baby blog, that is what this has become because this is where I am in life:  barefoot, pregnant, running after a toddler, eating all the burritos. But I do think of other things and do other things that aren’t baby related. Here is a list.

1. Has anyone ever seen Howie Mandel and Pitbull in the same room? EXACTLY.

2. Last month, I sat with a 9-1-1 operator for three hours on a warm Friday night in spring, and all I heard were 5 passive-aggressive calls about really loud dogs barking in the neighborhood. Iowa, we need to talk about your fun skills.

3. Does anyone besides Hannibal Lecter know what the hell is going on in “Hannibal“? Also, why does Bryan Fuller tweet in all caps during the show? Is he really  60 years old, or just that angry?

4.  Dunkin Donuts sucks. Their coffee is awful. So, no, no I am not excited that we are going to have Dunkin Donuts in this town. Why can’t we have anything nice here? I mean, things were great when we had a Sonic. But now that’s gone and my life is a meaningless hole. We used to have a Gap too. And you know it’s dire when someone is mourning a Gap, because, it’s a GAP. Gap is not that great. But all of these things are better than that overrated Dunkin Donuts.

5. I’m all out of TV shows to watch on Netflix. I need suggestions. And they need to involve murder. And if you suggest “Call the Midwife” I’m kicking you off this website.

6.  Let’s discuss how much I love Bryan Fuller‘s body of work. Except, “Heroes” that show was just awful the second season. Having multiple personality disorder is not a super power. Also, having a super power that “absorbs” all super powers makes everything in the show moot. There have to be rules to the universe, Fuller. RULES!  But “Dead Like Me” and “Pushing Daisies” are just so gorgeous and wonderful and wounded.

7. When will Chris Adrian come out with a new novel or story collection? I  am dying.

8.  Does Joyce Carol Oates know how many books she’s written? Can anyone count that high?

9. In order to save even more money this month (for our meth addiction, obviously). Dave and I temporarily moved to an all cash system. This week, I spent $84.10 on groceries.

10. What is your favorite book about crime? Either true or fictional? Let me know in the comments. Mama’s making her late-night-feeding-and-book-reading list.

Bonus What I’ve Been Up To On The Internet: I’ve had some essays published: one in Geez magazine that I am very proud of and one forthcoming from The Hairpin, which is my favorite site on the Internet. Neither one of those deal with babies. Just homeschooling and crime, which are kind of the same thing. I also had a blog post published in the Babble e-book, Parenting, Uncensored: Straight Talk from Real Moms and Dads on Pregnancy. And it will be anthologized in a real book too!

You want to talk about babies?  FINE. Go over here and get your bets in on the baby pool.

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