Every day, somewhere in suburbia, an exhausted, unshowered mother wrangling one or more small children is confronted by a thoroughly rested, impeccably groomed older woman and told to “Enjoy every single minute! It all goes by so quickly!”
Whenever this happens to me, I am tempted to reply:
“Really? Every minute? How about when I am digging vomit out of my ear at 2 a.m. while my sick child cries in anguish and her sibling comes running into the room stage whispering, ‘Did she barf again? Where is it? Can I see it?’ Is that your idea of a good time? Is it, Brenda? IS IT??”
Of course I would never respond that way. And to be honest, I understand what they are saying, even though it is — in my opinion — a dumb thing to say to someone who may be having an incredibly difficult time responding to the demands of parenthood.
Most parents I know are appropriately grateful for their children. They understand there are plenty of people who want children but can’t have them and many who have had children and lost them. They are aware these people would gladly give their right arms to experience even the hardest parts of parenting.
But you can have gratitude and still find the experience of parenthood overwhelming at times; the two are not mutually exclusive. Spending every single minute in a state of grateful maternal bliss is mentally and physically impossible, at least without a lobotomy.
Also, it’s incorrect to suggest time passes more quickly when you have children. The good times do. The hours spent cuddling and laughing, playing games and reading stories are over way too quickly. The birthdays and Christmas mornings are finished before they start.
But the hard times drag. When your children are ill or in pain, when they are scared or sad, it doesn’t feel like time is flying. When you haven’t had a decent night of sleep in years, can’t remember what it’s like to eat a hot meal uninterrupted, or think of hygiene as spritzing yourself with body mist, parenthood stretches ahead of you in an interminable purgatorial sentence.
My children are 7 and 9. When I look back at their baby photos, I am amazed at how much they have changed over the years. But not once have I thought the time has whizzed by or exclaimed, “Hot damn, those days when you used to crap your pants and then smear the walls with your feces were over way too quickly!”
I may get slightly sentimental when I hold up their newborn onesies, amazed that they were ever so tiny. I may miss those baby giggles and what it felt like to rock them to sleep in my arms.
But I also remember the hard parts: the hours of colicky crying, being constantly on call, the lack of sleep and free time, the frustration of not being able to understand what they needed.
I’m sure that as my children grow, the memories of the hard times will fade. When they move out and on with their lives, and all that longed-for free time comes my way, I bet I will miss even the worst times. By then I’m sure it will feel like their childhoods went by in the blink of an eye.
However, I vow never to accost a bewildered young mother and tell her to enjoy every minute. Because if she’s having a bad day, she doesn’t need to feel guilty for not enjoying it. If she’s having a great day, she doesn’t need to be reminded that it will all be over soon.
Instead, what I find myself telling young mothers is, “Hang in there. You are doing great.”
Which may or may not be a compliment coming from a woman with mismatched shoes, a smear of poster paint across her forehead and a crazed glint in her eyes.
Between so-called “Christmas Creep” — the season starts in October — and the fact that every retail outlet now has a Santa, if you find yourself waiting in line to see the Big Guy, you will know you are doing it wrong.
This year my children have seen Santa at the mall, the YMCA, the park, the pet store, and even stumbled over one in a hotel lobby. Each time his handlers were practically grabbing children as they passed by, so desperate were they for visitors.
2. Breakfast with Santa
Just as waiting in line to see Santa makes no sense, neither does paying for the privilege. This is particularly true at an event such as “Breakfast with Santa,” as it involves multitasking, a skill set most children have yet to master.
We recently paid big bucks to attend such an event and regretted the decision pretty much the second we walked through the door.
The shrieks of toddlers assaulted our ears as we shuffled to find an empty seat in a dance studio crammed with more than 100 people. Families stood like starving dogs by the buffet table waiting for pancakes that were being produced in a back room at the rate of four an hour.
To help us pass the time, the organizers had helpfully left out coloring sheets of Christmas scenes, along with a cup filled with crayons. Our cup contained six black crayons and an orange nub, which made for some macabre-looking pictures.
Still, if you really, really must have breakfast with Santa, may I suggest asking ahead of time whether live entertainment will be provided. If the answer is yes, run.
Because the last thing our jolly morning meal needed on top of crying children, people knocking into each other whenever they moved, and a perky MC shouting into a microphone (yes, shouting into a microphone) was a troop of pre-teen girls taking up precious space and oxygen with a dance performance to “Feliz Navidad.” But that’s exactly what we got, followed by a bizarre scene from The Nutcracker, in which the prince carried a cell phone and my son added to the narrative by calling out, “Yay, Clara! You go, girl!”
3. Any sort of “History of Christmas” presentation.
Many historical societies will stage these events, which can be great if done well or mediocre if done where I live.
To be fair, any historical society is really going to have to up the ante if it wants to capture the interest of people under the age of 20 because Christmas has never been more showy, glitzy, and over-the-top-fan-f**king-tastic than it is right now. Children accustomed to light shows and dancing reindeer might find a look back in time more alarming than cheer inducing.
We paid $40 to attend such an event in a local historical home that began with a 20-minute lecture on how Santa’s costume has changed over the years. Seriously.
We then watched two women with outfits from different centuries prepare to roll out Christmas cookies on a cutting board after rubbing it down with Chlorox disinfecting wipes. You know, like the pioneers.
A young volunteer who had removed the rings from her nose but not the purple from her hair directed my children’s attention to an old mantelpiece from which hung a sagging line of striped socks. She explained that Santa filled the stockings with fruit and nuts.
My son’s eyes went wide.
“Because the kids were bad?” he asked.
Oh these first world children. The volunteer explained that bad children received switches. She then had to give a brief explanation of corporal punishment to my wide-eyed children, who need only the threat of losing their iPads to cease acting like boneheads.
On the car ride home the children were subdued, occasionally asking questions such as “Did they have enough to eat back then?” suggesting they saw the presentation less as an interesting look back in time and more of an “Aren’t you lucky you were born in the 21st century?” teaching moment.
4. Attending a performance of The Nutcracker
Although this Christmas ballet is an annual treat for some families, I avoided taking my kids until this year because I’ve seen it one too many times and just the opening notes of the overture are enough to make me want to shove a sharpened candy cane through my eye balls.
Still, it’s important to take children to the theater if you can swing the price of admission because they need to learn how to be bored. And culture. They need that, too.
This year I bought us tickets for an abbreviated version staged by a local ballet school. Unfortunately, the producers abbreviated the ballet by cutting out some important details, resulting in a performance that can only be described as Dadaesque, despite a heavy-breathing narrator trying to fill in the blanks.
(“Is that God?” my son asked when the man’s voice first blared through the sound system. “God wouldn’t have left so many holes in the plot line,” I replied.)
Instead of ending the Stahlbaums’ party by showing guests leaving, the producers simply shut off the lights. When the lights came on again, the stage was inexplicably a snowy forest, where apparently the Cure was getting ready to play because troops of children in black were dancing around.
Then, holy crap! there’s Clara on a sofa. In the woods. Only then did the mice and toy soldiers fight it out. And then there were dancing snowflakes.
When the curtain fell on the first act, my son asked “Can we go now?” I almost didn’t hear him because I was crawling under the seats toward the exit.
5. Watching any Christmas movie made after 1967 (with the exception of Muppets Christmas Carol and The Snowman)
Look, I’m sure some good children’s Christmas movies have been made since How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, I simply haven’t seen them.
We tried watching Home Alone, which is billed as a Christmas classic on Netlfix, but the plot line made no sense to my thoroughly modern children.
When little Kevin McAllister’s parents freak out because they left him at home, my children seemed confused.
“Why don’t they just call his cell phone?” my son asked.
“Not many people had cell phones back then,” I answered, thinking of the shoebox-sized contraptions we thought were so cutting edge in 1990.
“Email?” my daughter suggested helpfully.
Also, the family is beyond obnoxious. My kids sat in open-mouthed silence during the first few scenes when the siblings call each other idiots and use the phrase “Shut up” approximately 30 times.
Finally, it’s craaaazzzzyyy violent.
“That’s really disturbing,” my son said when Joe Pesci’s head ends up in the path of a blow torch.
“Tell me about it,” I replied. “Such a talented artist and he had to take roles in schlock like this just to pay the bills.”
My son nodded.
“Yeah and his head’s on fire,” he said.
6. Elf on the Shelf
Over the years, many people have tried to indoctrinate us into this tradition with the promise “It’s so much fun!” I’m not buying it.
For those unfamiliar with the tradition, the elf is brought out at the start of the Christmas season (October) and is placed on a shelf to keep an eye over the children in order to report any bad behavior to Santa. To make it seem “real,” parents are supposed to put him in a different place each night, so that the children think he has moved.
I have some friends who object to this tradition on the grounds that they don’t want their kids fearing an inanimate narc who presides over their home like a hawk-eyed Stasi officer.
For me, it’s less about that and more about the work involved. It’s bad enough that at this time of year I have to mail the Christmas cards, shop for and wrap gifts, bake, decorate, have breakfast with Santa, attend abstract ballet productions, watch an overrated child actor bash two grown men with paint cans and reassure my children they won’t be getting switches in their stockings, now I have to remember to move a creepy-looking doll every night?
In the words of Kevin McAllister, “I don’t think so.”
The neurologist, young and eccentric, says he knows exactly how to help my daughter. Follow his recommendations, he says, and she’ll be talking, using the toilet and behaving like a typical five-year-old in no time.
I am giddy with relief.
It’s a feeling all special needs parents know well. In a world where no one “gets” our kids — and some just get them flat-out wrong — when you encounter someone who not only gets them but knows how to help them, it’s like Christmas, your birthday and the season premiere of The Walking Dead all in one.
I call it the Annie Sullivan Effect, for the woman who taught a blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate. Like Sullivan, these women and men come into your child’s life and flip a switch you didn’t even know where to look for.
We have been lucky enough to know several Annie Sullivans. They hold a special place in our hearts and prime real estate in our prayers.
But as much as I adore these people, there is a massive drawback to meeting a real life Annie Sullivan. It makes the disappointment that much greater when someone who appears to have Sullivan potential turns out to be a JAGBA, (Just Another Giver of Bad Advice).
If there is one thing special needs parents have in abundance it’s JAGBAs. They leap out at us whenever we venture forth in public with our children or post about them on social media.
“Do you speak with him?” one woman asked when I explained that my then-3-year-old son couldn’t talk. “I mean, maybe if you modeled speech it would help.”
I was beyond tempted to reply, “No, we communicate entirely in mime. Look! He’s doing the ‘I’m-trapped-in-a-giant-invisible-box’ routine! Haha. Good one, buddy!”
While JAGBAs exist for all moms and dads, they can be particularly vexing for special needs parents because, unless the person speaking has a degree in neurologically atypical development, he or she has about as much chance of giving appropriate advice as I do of being crowned Miss Argentina. (It could happen but the circumstances would be very suspicious.)
Even once you do explain your child’s condition, some JAGBAs refuse to accept that this negates their words of wisdom. That some kids are wired differently challenges, well, apparently everything they believe about the universe.
Having seen up close and personal how differently some children develop, I can very comfortably say it is more bizarre to believe the “one-size-fits-all” line of thinking than it is to reject it.
Take my son and speech. Everything that helped typical kids learn how to speak, such as modeling speech, didn’t work for him. And trust me, we modeled out the wazoo. At his pediatrician’s request I narrated everything we did, much to the concern of people who found themselves near us in public. “Here we go up the stairs,” I’d say, as people inched away from the crazy lady. “Up, up, up the stairs.”
Even things that helped the majority of atypical kids learn how to speak, such as speech therapy and sign language, didn’t work. (And no, despite what some JAGBAs argue, learning sign language does not discourage kids from speaking. It’s not like they have the keys to the kingdom being able to sign “milk” and “potty.”)
So what did the trick? A new neurologist and an occupational therapist who determined the problem was with my son’s vestibular system. (Essentially, his sense of balance.) Instead of trying to get him speak, this therapist focused on movement. She pushed him on platform swings and swung him in circles. Within a week, he said his first words. Probably to get her to stop.
When you witness something like this, you don’t just drink the neurologically atypical Kool-Aid, you chug it.
That’s why I am ready to follow every recommendation this young neurologist gives. He has already built a reputation within the local special needs community for “thinking outside the box” and getting results.
His first suggestion is to take a stool sample so he can prescribe a course of probiotics and supplements for my daughter. Sounds good.
He then sends us across the hall so his nutritionist can devise a special diet for her. I am THRILLED. Eating has been a major issue for my daughter ever since she started chemotherapy and the constant nausea and vomiting turned her off food.
Toward the end of her cancer treatment she was fed entirely through a tube. When she began her recovery, her doctors recommended a liquid meal replacement drink to help her gain weight and grow as we gradually reintroduced solid foods. It has helped us tremendously but we would love nothing more than for her to enjoy eating again.
Unfortunately, the nutritionist is no Annie Sullivan.
The trouble starts when this woman — let’s call her Twiggy — enters the room, turns sideways and disappears. Okay, I’m exaggerating but she was worryingly skinny. I know it’s not nice to be prejudiced against anyone for their weight but I have a really hard time trusting anyone who doesn’t seem to enjoy food. Especially a nutritionist. I mean, what was she going to teach my daughter to eat? Altoids and laxatives?
She asks for a list of foods that my daughter consumes on a regular basis. It’s a short list and when I mention the name of the supplement beverage, her head snaps up and her eyes grow wide over protruding cheek bones.
“That stuff is poison,” she says. “It’s full of sugar and sugar feeds cancer.”
“Her oncologist recommended it,” I reply. “Her tumors have been steadily shrinking the entire time she has consumed it.”
She looks surprised.
“Ok, well, let’s get her off that,” she says and then lists on her bony fingers several nutrient-dense foods I would be thrilled for my daughter to eat but I’d be lucky to get my husband to try.
“Great!” I chirp. “How do I get her to eat all this?”
She looks at me blankly.
“We have a lot of trouble getting her to try new foods,” I explain. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“Just put it in front of her,” she replies, pulling out her phone because apparently we’re boring. “She’ll eat if she’s hungry enough.”
That’s when I knew it was all over. Because yes, most children will eat foods they don’t particularly like if the alternative is going hungry. But kids with sensory issues or oral aversions won’t, especially if they are too young or developmentally delayed to make the connection between hunger and food.
Her advice was the equivalent of Annie Sullivan telling the Kellers, “Just force Helen to develop a concept of language and a method of communicating.” Great in theory, but how do you get there?
In that instant it became apparent that, although this woman was well-versed in nutrition (she could correctly pronounce “quinoa”), she was pure JAGBA when it came to eating and the neurologically atypical.
I wasn’t alone in this assessment. A few months later, the neurologist added a feeding therapist to his staff so children could learn to eat these incredible diets being created for them.
And once again I was reminded that they can’t all be Sullivans.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. Two years on and my daughter has almost caught up developmentally, even without the help of kale. Some people have asked why I even bothered with all the therapists and doctors if she would eventually get there on her own. The truth is, we had no idea if she would.
Also, as a parent you see your kid struggling with the basics and you want to help. You want your child to enjoy everything other children her age do: giggling with friends; the sweet, sunshiny taste of an orange; the pride of not crapping her pants.
Although there is far less call for Annie Sullivans around our house these days, I will probably always be on the look out for them. This is largely because I feel so out of my depth as a parent to the two unique, fabulous people that are my children.
So to any and all the Annies out there, thank you for what you do.
And call me if you have any suggestions.
This entry is dedicated to the miracle-working Ms. Lee. Thanks for being our first Annie Sullivan.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Sullivan was a 19th century educator who taught a blind and deaf child how to communicate with the outside world, paving the way for the latter’s life as a speaker, writer, activist and all-around badass.
The child was, of course, Helen Keller.
While both Sullivan and Keller have been lauded for their achievements, there’s someone else who deserves credit for Helen’s greatness.
That person is, of course, her mother.
Don’t worry, this isn’t some saccharine tribute to a complete stranger simply for giving birth. Rather, it’s an overdue and sincere apology to a person who deserves more credit than she’s been given. At least by me.
I have been borderline obsessed with Helen Keller since childhood. What can I say? She’s one hell of an icon.
And while long ago I placed Helen and her teacher on pedestals, I dismissed her mother as sweet but useless. This was mainly because I was a judgmental a-hole before I had children, with an unmatched ability to dismiss people I’d never met and experiences I’d never had.
In my defense, most of the books written about Helen Keller mention her mother only incidentally, focusing instead on her relationship with Sullivan.
The most in-depth portrayal of Kate Keller comes from the 1959 play The Miracle Worker, which chronicled — what else? — the early days of Helen’s relationship with Sullivan.
In the ultimate good-cop/bad-cop set up, the play portrays Kate Keller as kind but weak willed and dangerously indulgent of her child. This is in stark contrast to Annie Sullivan, a fiery yankee with a no-nonsense attitude who swoops in to instill order in the Keller household.
There’s no reason to believe these characterizations are far off the mark. Kate was the mistress of a genteel Southern household. Sullivan was the child of Irish immigrants and spent a large part of her life in a asylum for the poor.
What the play makes clear early on is that to thrive, Helen needs less of her mother’s kindness and more of Sullivan’s tough love.
A child lost
Although a work of fiction, The Miracle Worker is considered, for the most part, an accurate depiction of what occurred when Sullivan moved in with the Kellers to teach their daughter.
When it opens, 6-year-old Helen is depicted as near feral. Without the ability to understand what’s going on around her, she has been left in a protracted state of infancy. She is filthy and disheveled. One can presume — if one is me, anyway — that she is in diapers.
In the first few minutes, she attacks another child with a pair of scissors. A few minutes later, she tips her baby sister out of her cradle.
There is yelling and crying, and like the setup in a bad reality show, the Kellers are depicted as a Family in Crisis.
The audience learns that Helen’s parents have been advised to put their daughter in an asylum for the mentally ill. So far they have resisted but unless they can get Helen under control, they may have no choice.
Sullivan quickly identifies, of all things, Kate as the greatest obstacle to Helen’s success. Kate refuses to discipline or train her child. She dispenses hugs and cuddles instead of punishments and allows her daughter to run wild, stepping in only if the child has hurt someone or could hurt herself.
When Sullivan attempts to instill some discipline in the child, Kate frets that she is being too harsh.
Sullivan decides the only chance she has of getting through to Helen will be if her mother is out of the picture.
She’s right. It’s only after Sullivan moves into a small house with Helen and works with her one-on-one that she is able to teach the child the concept of language, thus changing her life forever.
What a kick to the maternal nuts.
What Kate did for Helen
While there is no denying that Sullivan changed Helen’s life for the better, I believe Kate’s contribution was as great, if not infinitely more subtle.
Helen Keller is inspirational not only for finding her voice despite physical setbacks but because that voice was so remarkable.
Her writing and speeches — which are still quoted today — show a soul filled with wisdom, joy and compassion. This is astounding when you consider she spent the first six years of her life in what was practically solitary confinement.
Until she learned how to communicate, Helen largely knew only silence and isolation. She had no way to express her feelings or even understand them.
She was also aware of the fact that she was different. In her early years she would feel people’s faces while they were talking and move her own mouth in imitation. She knew she was missing a piece of the puzzle. She also had to sense that few people wanted to be near her. Even her father and older brother gave her a wide berth.
But because of Kate, she also knew affection and comfort. Her mother’s kindness and total acceptance taught Helen that, as different as she was, she was still worthy of love. It’s difficult to imagine who she would have become without that knowledge.
Kate also showed a heroic amount of empathy and patience. While most people dismissed Helen as wild or even insane, Kate looked beyond her behavior and tried to understand what was going on in her child’s head. She knew Helen didn’t act out because she was a mean child. She was frustrated. She was lonely. She wanted desperately to fit in but she didn’t know how.
Kate Keller did more than just defend and mediate for her daughter. She kept her tethered to humanity.
That’s some hardcore parenting right there.
Could she have done this and still instilled some discipline in the child? I guess. Hell, she could have been a real super hero and devised a system of communication for the child as well but she didn’t.
All I can say is, from one mother to another: Kate Keller, I get it now. I’m sorry I didn’t get it sooner.
Every summer, across the country, thousands of privileged, middle class kids are forced to attend institutions known as “summer camps.”
The travesties they endure in these cleverly disguised tear factories cannot fully be depicted in writing. Suffice it to say, “campers” are coerced into such “fun” activities as swimming, making crafts, playing games and singing songs, all when they would much prefer to be at home rolling around on exercise balls.
Forget what you think you know about pediatric suffering. Forced labor, starvation, domestic violence — nothing can quite compare with the indignity of lanyard making and games of “Hot Potato.”
The choice is obvious: children should be allowed to play video games for eight hours straight or trail two inches behind their beleaguered parents mumbling, “Bored, bored, bored,” every single day of summer vacation if they prefer, instead of being subjected to the hyper happy ministrations of attentive teenage counselors with names like “Tinkerbell” and “Meatball.”
Until recently, experts were divided as to who was most at fault for the existence of these licensed pits of despair.
Some blamed the school system for ceasing to hold classes for 12 weeks every year. On further scrutiny, it became clear that teachers forced to direct and focus the energy of the nation’s children year round would, in professional parlance, “lose their s—t.”
Others faulted parents, who selfishly refused to drop everything — or cease employment — for three months to direct and monitor the activities of their children every waking minute of the day.
Still others, mainly those who raised their children decades ago or don’t have children of their own, have repeatedly claimed this concern over filling children’s time is ridiculous. This group of experts, many of whom never removed the cigarettes from their mouths while putting their children to sleep in lead-based-paint-coated cribs, have said children should entertain themselves, playing outside with friends, roaming the woods, riding their bikes.
Of course, in this day and age this option is only available to parents who live on quiet cul-de-sacs with trusted neighbors not listed in the sexual offender registry who are within walking distance of woods not being used as shoot-up galleries by junkies. And then only if the children wear helmets, are slathered in factor 70 and checked thoroughly for ticks in the evening.
Even those who do enjoy such a prime real estate location would more than likely find any efforts to encourage this enjoyable independence in their children stymied by bystanders — mainly those who raised their children decades ago or don’t have children of their own — who would report them to authorities for neglect. (Click here to read about the arrest of a mother who let her 9-year-old walk to the local park unattended, or here for the woman investigated because she let her three children play in their own backyard while she folded laundry inside.)
Still, children shouldn’t be forced to suffer just because modern-day parents pretty much suck balls no matter what decisions they make.
Sign here to stop the madness. And consider our other petition against the indignities endured by teenagers whose parents drop them off right in front of the movie theater instead of around the corner, BECAUSE THAT IS SERIOUSLY F—KING EMBARRASSING.
Tell your child it’s time to plan their birthday party. They will no doubt have tons of ideas and it is your job as the Person in Charge to effectively steer them in a direction which is both realistic and affordable. I wouldn’t call crushing dreams a perk of motherhood but — oh, ok, I totally would.
Explain that the kid in his class who had laser tag, a magician and a bouncy castle at his party was, in fact, compensating for something, perhaps the fact that his parents are dead inside and don’t really love him.
If you have venue options, list them now. In our house those venues are limited to home or the YMCA. We once looked into having a party at the science museum and discovered it would cost more than our wedding.
(That’s not saying much since we eloped and our wedding cost $300. Still, keep in mind that you are planning a children’s party, not a ceremony that legally binds you to another human being.)
If you must book a venue, you’re already about two months too late. All the dates and times you want will already be taken, and you’ll be lucky to get their 5 to 6:30 slot on a Sunday.
Party planning tip: Some parents will tell you now is the time to choose the theme for the party. This is a HUGE mistake, at least if your children are as fickle and obsessive as mine. Because I can guarantee that even if your child insists that she loves Dora the Explorer and definitely wants a Dora the Explorer party and let’s make everything Dora the Explorer, the night before the party she will loudly announce that Dora the Explorer in fact sucks balls and Elena of Avalor is the only character who brings any real joy into her life.
Four weeks out: Draw up a guest list.
Numbers will depend largely on where the party is held. My children know if they choose the YMCA, the sky’s the limit. If they want to do it at home, they are limited to eight friends. This is for the very simple reason that, in this day and age, many parents will stay at the party with their children. Some seem to think the the entire family has been invited. This means that for every child invited, you can expect between two to five guests, depending on how many siblings exist and whether grandma is visiting.
Three weeks out: Send the invitations.
Personally, I always do electronic invitations, not because I’m a huge ecowarrior but because I am lazy.
Some people will finalize the theme now so the invitations will match. Big mistake. I just go for a generic “Holy Crap! So-and-so is turning (fill in the age)!” in primary colors.
Two weeks out: Choose a cake
Really organized parents will have done this much earlier, especially if they want one of those fancy cakes that are popping up at kids’ parties these days. (Think fondant and hand painted edible flowers.)
I either buy from a grocery store bakery or make one, especially since my kids have really strange requests when it comes to cakes. This year my son wanted his to feature the star of the “My Big, Fat Zombie Goldfish” books. (Which are awesome, btw.) Try asking Costco if they make a zombie goldfish cake before being removed by security.
One week out: Finalize the guest list and shop for decorations and favors.
Hahahahaha, omg, I’m totally kidding. I mean, you can look at who has RSVPd but technically you’ll never have a real guest list until after the party. This is because some religions forbid people from RSVPing. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for not clicking “Yes” or “No” on an evite.
After reminding your kid this is it, no going back on the theme, load up a basket with themed cups, plates, napkins and banners. Place a balloon order. Look at the final bill and realize this party will cost more than your wedding.
Two days out: Start getting the house ready.
Of course, this is only the case if the party is at home, which is in itself a major argument for having it elsewhere.
Have your children assist you in putting away stray toys and cleaning up their rooms, even though their rooms will be off limits during the party. Realize you have become your mother.
The night before the party: Stuff the piñata.
Smile a little to yourself because “stuffing the piñata” is one of those domestic chores that sounds vaguely dirty, like “icing the buns” and “beating the rug.”
Stuffing the piñata. Giggle.
The morning of the party: Hang the decorations.
This is when you realize that birthday banners are either way too short or two long. Too short and you can’t find a doorway to hang them from. Too long and the guests will be clothes-lined when they come through the door, even though they are only four feet tall.
Two hours before party starts: Clean in a blind panic.
As tidy as the house seemed before, you are now seeing it through the eyes of a guest.
Decide the kitchen counters need to be clear of items. Realize the books on the shelves look sloppy. Ask yourself why you never noticed what looks like a blood stain on the skirting board.
When you are finished, realize your house hasn’t been this clean since when the previous owners showed it.
At the party:
If you are at a venue, everything will go swimmingly.
If you have the party at home, you can expect the following:
All four children who RSVPd will arrive, all with their parents, some with siblings. In addition, the other four children WHO DID NOT RSVP will also show up, along with their parents and siblings, forcing you to make do as best you can, grateful you bought extras of everything.
One particularly obnoxious pint-sized sibling WHO WASN’T INVITED will sniff at your homemade cake and declare “This is way too small.” Consider whispering in his ear “Nobody likes you.” After all, there would have been PLENTY OF CAKE had this little tax write off’s parents not INVITED their extended family WITHOUT RSVPing.
When it comes time for the piñata, explain to the children there is extra candy inside the house, so there is no need to kill each other over the chance to pocket the last roll of Smarties, which suck anyway. They ignore you and proceed to reenact various scenes from “Lord of the Flies.”
Cut the cake into postage stamp sized slices so there will be enough for everyone. The kids will finish in one bite and lick their plates, looking at you plaintively as if they are in an ad for UNICEF.
Some people will advise that now is the time to open gifts but I never do this at the party because my children are terrible liars and will give their honest and ungrateful opinion on every gift, even the good ones.
One minute after the last guest’s extended family has left the party:
1. The idea of a recital is better than the reality.
Don’t get me wrong, it is beyond fantastic to watch your little tyke in the spotlight, wearing an enchanting costume and appearing more groomed than you’ve ever seen her (or him) in her (or his) short life.
But your joy will deflate into butt-numbing despair as troop after troop of pint-sized Pavlovas stumbles on to the stage for their turn.
Heading into Hour 3 of this extravaganza, you will die a little inside when yet another class assembles to perform an interpretive dance to the extended version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
2. These things are ridiculously expensive.
On top of the tuition you’ve paid all year, you will be expected to fork over for a costume, and, in some cases, a recital “fee” to cover the cost of a venue.
For my daughter’s show, those charges were $95 and $75 respectively. I paid less than $95 for my prom dress. Some of the older students had three or four different costumes, so I can only imagine what their parents had to pawn to cover the cost.
Add in professional photos and the obligatory bouquet of flowers and you will walk away from the theater feeling like you’ve been mugged.
3. The otherwise normal and lovely staff at you child’s dance school will turn into lunatics.
I can’t even imagined the pressure these people are under to put on the perfect show. In addition to the fact that parents can be over demanding a-holes, the whole event serves a marketing purpose for the school. Personally, I wouldn’t want the fate of my business to rest in the hands of a 3-year-old’s ability to execute the perfect jazz square to “Hakuna Matata,” but that’s just me.
The woman who runs my daughter’s school is lovely and kind and speaks to the children in a calm voice and makes each one feel special.
During the week of rehearsals leading up to the show, it was as if she ate guano for breakfast.
Her staff shrank in her presence. She yelled at a mother because her 4-year-old child’s ballet shoe lace had come undone. She screamed at the narrator, who I believe is her grandson.
The night before the big show she sent out an email at 10 p.m. that was so desperate you could almost smell the gin on her breath through the screen:
Please, please, please, send your child in with CLEAN tights — no rips, holes or stains.
Please make sure your child’s hair is slicked back OFF HER FACE. Stage makeup should be applied in advance.
PLEASE BE ON TIME.
The subject line was “Listen Up, You F—king Idiots: I’m Not Going to Have My Business Ruined Because Your Children Are Borderline Feral.”
Ok, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea.
4. You will find yourself getting a little offended by something.
Maybe this is just me.
In my daughter’s show, several classes danced to parts of the overture from “The Sound of Music.” Because presumably we wouldn’t get that, even though it was printed in the program and introduced by the narrator, there was a segue number featuring a pack of teenage girls dressed as nuns pas de boureeing across the stage.
I’m not particularly religious, but when I saw this during dress rehearsal, I had to push my mouth shut. It just seemed a little irreverent, even though the nuns were executing lovely adagio moves and not break dancing. All I could wonder is, what’s next, a rabbi kick line? Imams executing the perfect splits?
In addition, at least one number in every dance recital will feature little girls looking really… unlittle girlish.
When a pack of 8-year-olds in harem pants starts twerking, you know that someone’s lost the plot.
5. The best place to be is backstage.
This year I volunteered to supervise my daughter’s class backstage. Was it stressful? A little. Boring? Not at all.
Me and the 14 six-year-olds in my care had a blast, even though it takes a lot to keep kids that age from rioting when they’re hyped up but have to wait two hours for four minutes on stage.
After rousing games of “Simon Says” and “I Spy,” they were edging towards “Lord of the Flies” territory until I remembered my son’s favorite Internet page featuring kid-friendly Christmas jokes.
Or so I thought.
“What’s Santa’s favorite sandwich?” I read from my phone.
“Peanut butter and jolly.”
“What does Tarzan sing at Christmas?”
They guffawed. Shouting to be heard, I called out:
“Who is Santa’s least friendly elf?”
Then I read the answer and my eyes went wide.
“Who?” they all asked.
“Um, Jeff. It’s Jeff,” I lied.
They pretended to get it. I switched off my phone. The real answer was “Gof—kyourself.” Seriously.
6. No matter how broke and exhausted you are by the time it’s over, you will look forward to the next one with great anticipation.
It’s a given: all parents are inordinately proud of anything their children create. From the first rudimentary crayon etchings to the hand-made popsicle stick picture frames, we simply live to marvel over anything they’ve put their hearts and minds to.
I’ll never forget the absolute thrill I experienced when my son produced his first “drawing.” You see, according to my sleep-deprived, slightly deranged mind, this was the first sign that he was communicating with me. Up until then, I had been doing all the talking, keeping up a non-stop stream of conversation in which I asked and answered all the questions, made all the observations, cracked the best “A priest, a rabbi and a lawyer walked into a bar” jokes.
When he finally put Crayola to paper and left a permanent imprint, I felt like, for the first time, I was privy to what was going on in that sweet little head:
I know, I know: he’s a friggin’ GENIUS, right?
When he started preschool it became my daily thrill to dig through his Thomas the Train backpack and pull out his drawings, his paintings and his collages.
The excitement only grew when his sister started school. Now that they’re old enough to write, opening their backpacks every day has become even more interesting.
My son has become a particularly prolific author, although his earlier work tended to get bogged down with details:
Chapter One spring break
It was spring break and Alice was going to Ashley’s house. I can’t wait to be there Alice exclaimed. All right calm down said her father. She was 9 1/2 years old and Ashley appeared to be 10 or 11 years old. But Ashley’s half birthday was tomorrow. She’ll be 10 1/2 tomorrow her father exclaimed. Her father was 47 3/4.
It evolved as he discovered new elements of punctuation:
Chapter 2 It Begins to Snow Let’s read books said Ashley! Okay said Alice! You read! said Alice! Chapter 1 Piano Lessons! Ohhh! said Ashley! one day Lily was going to get piano lessons. She was 10 years old. Ohh! just like you exclaimed Alice! Then Mr. Handmachine stepped up to Lily!
(He also obviously had issues with chronology. And I don’t even want to know who Mr. Handmachine is.)
After reading six pages of the following, I had a talk with him about pacing:
For a while, many of his stories focused on super heroes, such as the high-concept character known as:
And the dignified:
When he began reading ghost stories his own writing focused more on the macabre. Let me tell you, as a parent nothing makes you prouder than to know your 8-year-old produced the following:
“Thooommmassss and Crrrissss haavvveee a nice triiipp, moaned the ghost. And the ghost got out a razor blade and it cut out Thomas and Cris’s stomach and blood was everywhere. The End!”
So stinkin’ cute.
The real hero in this situation, though, is his teacher. Not once has this lovely man suggested professional help or called my son a psycho. Instead, he writes the sweetest, most encouraging notes in the margins.
Considering the following passage:
“It was a dark and stormy night and Thomas and Chris were heading back to their house. And when they opened the door and their parents were hanging on the wall.”
If you squint you can see that his teacher wrote the following:
“I bet they were surprised!”
Of course, my son isn’t the only talented author in the class. Two of his friends have written a series of novellas dedicated to my son recounting the adventures of a hamburger named Sesome (deliberately spelled incorrectly, they assured me). I must say, Sesome is one of the most three-dimensional characters I’ve come across in recent memory.
Consider this passage:
“One day Sesome could not get out of bed. He could not stop thinking about Mrs. Frenchie. She was hot, well, at least to him.”
They are truly masterful authors to let the reader decide whether Mrs. Frenchie was, indeed, “hot” by objective standards, or attractive only to Sesome because of some detected spark between the two.
Nearly as impressive is their ability to weave modern American slang into their prose. Consider this passage, after Sesome successfully thwarts a bank robbery:
“…Sesome grabbed the bag and ran. He gave it to the PoPo (police).”
Aren’t kids awesome???
This isn’t to say that they limit themselves to the short story genre. Here is a poem my son wrote and then tried to charge me for:
My mom’s poem My mom is cool because she is really nice. She let’s Stella the cat in. She is 40 years old. She is very nice to us. She cooke’s dinner. She stays healthy and calm! The End!
You know what? I am cool. And nice. And I do spend all day letting the cat in and cooking dinner.
But he didn’t get a dime.
Then there was this public service announcement masquerading as fiction:
Chapter Two The Very Ughly Lady Once upon a time there (three) sister’s. Two sister’s were good. But the third was smoking. She was super ughly!!! The End
I could be wrong here, but I think he is trying to say that smoking is bad and anyone who does it is not only bad but ugly. Not just regular ugly either but UGHLY, with an “h.”
Of course, I don’t always understand everything I pull from his bag. Since I’ve never played dodge ball (let alone “doogeball”) in full protective gear against an angry village mob, this threw me for a loop:
And I’m beyond curious as to what is happening to the unfortunate creature on the right:
This is not to say that my son is the only one who makes my heart burst with maternal pride. The following missive recounting our cat’s hygiene practices was penned by my daughter and shall remain in my possession for eternity:
Just. So. Proud.
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My family doesn’t have a great track record with pets. Until recently, our one and only foray into animal ownership was with neon colored fish who kept dying at the worst possible times.
While everyone kept telling us a dog would be therapeutic for the children, I was concerned it would be less-than-therapeutic for me, since I would no doubt bear the brunt of feeding, walking and cleaning up after the thing.
I’ve wanted a cat for years, but my husband is “allergic” to them in that he hates them.
He managed to get over his “allergies” when the children and I fell in love with a sweet white cat with dazzling green eyes who began lolling about in our garden shortly after we moved into our new house.
“Can we keep her?” my kids asked.
I desperately wanted to say yes, but didn’t want to “take” her if she belonged to someone. We put up posters around the neighborhood and tucked hand made fliers in people’s mailboxes. I joined the neighborhood Facebook page and posted her photo but heard nothing.
So, one day I scooped her into a cat carrier and took her to the vet. It turns out she was microchipped and did belong to someone, who didn’t seem at all surprised to hear she was out making eyes at another family.
“She just never bonded with us,” her owner explained, when I called her from the vet’s office. “She comes in at night when we are asleep to eat but otherwise she avoids us.”
I realized I was holding my breath. My children were crazy about this sweet cat, especially Jack, who would spend hours sitting by her side and talking to her.
I was hugely relieved when the woman said we could keep the cat, who my children had named Stella.
To say Stella has brought joy into our house is an understatement. The children adore her. They argue over who gets to feed her, they are thrilled when she chooses to sleep next to them.
As a mother, anything that makes your children happy that isn’t bad for them has a special place in your heart.
But I’ll admit that I have selfish and slightly unhealthy reasons for loving this cat. She is, after all, the baby who will never grow up.
My children are still at the age where they like me. I know that will all change. As part of their growth and development they will need to break away from me, and nature’s preferred method seems to be a spontaneous and organic lobotomy that convinces adolescents their parents are lame idiots who exist merely to embarrass them.
Oh sure, they’ll pass through this phase. (I hope.) But it will never be the same as it is now, when they throw their little arms around me and tell me I’m the best mommy ever, or fall asleep cuddled up next to me, or run to me in excitement to show off the drawings they’ve made or read me the stories they’ve written.
I get that it’s all a part of a healthy emotional development, that without this rebellion they could end up living in my basement as adults, making suits from the skin of slaughtered invalids.
I get it. It doesn’t mean I like it.
Raising children is like being madly in love with someone you know will some day break up with you. You just hope that, in the aftermath, they’ll still want to be friends.
But pets? Pets are different.
As long as I keep the Meow Mix coming, Stella will like me.
With Stella, my kisses won’t suddenly become “lame.” I won’t embarrass her for reasons unknown. I won’t be pinpointed as the cause of her irrational fear of clowns, just because I happened to jump out of the closet in a Bozo suit dripping fake blood and screaming her name as a prank those five nights in a row back in kindergarten.
Of course, because cats are part angel, part a—hole, there are times when I wish we could rethink this unhealthy relationship. While all cats chase and kill small animals, Stella is somewhat of an overachiever in this regard.
Not a day goes by when the carcass of a bird, mouse, rat, lizard or squirrel doesn’t turn up by the back door. Unless I bury their corpses incredibly well, she will DIG THEM BACK UP and play with their rotten, maggot-infested bodies. And then come inside for kisses smelling like death.
One day I discovered she had tucked a couple of lizard corpses under the front door welcome mat and so I tried, unsuccessfully, to sweep them into the bushes. Because their lower halves had been flattened into the front step, their heads flopped back and forth like windshield wipers. I finally managed to scrape them off with a trowel.
It almost made me reconsider the wisdom of making her my emotional crutch.
Aw, who am I kidding? I’ll forever be a sucker for that adorable, contempt-filled face and sociopathic spirit.
As any parent will tell you, March and April are brutal months when it comes to kids’ birthday parties. Starting around February your inbox will be flooded with eVites so numerous you’d almost welcome a plea for help from a member of Nigeria’s royal family.
The past few weekends my husband and I have hardly seen each other in our quest to get both kids to their designated party points. I spent spare moments wrapping gifts. Our bank called and asked if we wanted to do a direct deposit every month to Toys R Us.
In some ways, these parties are great because they give your kids something to do, neatly killing a little bit of dead time with minimal effort on your part as a parent.
But unfortunately, these days it is assumed that you will stick around to keep an eye on your kid and make awkward conversation with relative strangers. (Kind of like modern play dates.)
By now, I’ve watched countless magicians — or “illusionists,” as they prefer to be called — ply their trade, wondering if they date much. I’ve seen scores of little girls lose their minds when they come face to face with teenage girls in Elsa costumes. I’ve enjoyed the banter of pint-sized athletes as they go face-to-knee with the refs at basketball games. (“I guess we’re not calling traveling?” a 6-year-old asked the teenage boy overseeing the game at a party last weekend. I looked into adopting him but his parents didn’t go for it.)
It can be fun if you know the other parents but that’s pretty rare. It can get uncomfortable if alcohol is served and a parent overindulges and acts weird, such as the dad at a party last year who kept bugging me to admit I was Jewish. (I’m not, he was. I took his assumption as a compliment, although it got old the fifth time he slurred, “Are you sure you’re not Jewish?” “Pretty sure I’d remember being one of God’s Chosen People,” I replied.)
But lately, a new kind of party invitation has been coming through my inbox. Among the details of date, time and location, parents have been adding a note along the lines of, “Please leave your child here and pick him/her up when the party finishes.” You know, the way birthday parties used to be.
The first time I received such an invitation, I almost wept with joy. It was a double score because I didn’t know the hosts well and the party was near a superb shopping center I don’t go to much because it’s so far away.
I was so excited to have an hour and a half to myself I considered slowing down and pushing my daughter out of the car when we arrived at the birthday girl’s house just to save time. In the end, I walked her to the front door, rang the door bell and jogged backward down the driveway blowing kisses. (“Have fun! Be good! Love you!”)
For the next 90 minutes I lived like a rock star. That’s right: I went to a Marshalls Homegoods store. It. Was. Awesome.
When I’d had enough of that I sat in a coffee shop and read a book. It was one of the most relaxing Saturday mornings in recent memory.
Coming up this weekend I have another “drop off only” party and I can’t wait. This one is for three hours so you can only imagine the shenanigans I’ll be getting into. That’s right, Burlington Coat Factory, prepare to be DOMINATED.