Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas at Our House

I love Christmas.

In our house growing up Mom always had the house decorated to the nines. The holiday countdown would begin in early December with advent calendar opening, tree trimming, and a host of other merry goings-on. I'd spend the entire month in an excited frenzy singing carols under my breath at school and shaking presents under the tree in an attempt to discern their contents. It was, you might say, the most wonderful time of the year.

As an adult and a mother I was determined to make Christmas an equally exciting and meaningful time for my own children. I longed to give my own offspring the same gift my parents gave to me by introducing them to the magic of the season.


Allow me to present you with a brief tour of my Christmas Wonderland themed home:

A few Saturdays ago we put up our Christmas tree. We lovingly decorated it with ornaments, many of them treasured keepsakes from our childhood homes.

Approximately six minutes later the children set about on their epic campaign of devastation. 

The ornament below was one of the first to go. During its brief life upon our noble tannenbaum it had whimsical arms that bounced jauntily.

Then this happened...

The poor guy's face kind of sums up his brief experience in our home.

WHY??? Why did you have to let the two-year-old get me!!!!!!!

The boys quickly moved on to the delightful hobby horse that has been in my husband's family since the early seventies. 

My older son exclaimed, "A bridge!!!" before he snapped the bottom off and began using it as a jump for his matchbox cars. His brother took this as his cue to begin snapping the horses legs off.

Now it waits in a long line of limbless and massacred ornaments waiting patiently for a date with my hot glue gun.

No such luck for my Christmas Santa mug (not pictured) which my younger son removed from the dining table one afternoon and threw onto the ground without warning. When I asked him what could have possibly inspired him to do such a thing he responded jauntily:

"I wanted to broked the Santa!"

Mission accomplished.

The delightful novelties that had once decorated each surface of my home were disappearing at an alarming rate.

I used to be a Santa themed candle snuffer. 
Then I was used as a sword and broken over the head of an unsuspecting baby.

The advent calendar has been another bone of holiday contention. Meant to be a day-by-day representation of the coming of the Lord, in our house the ritual has become less than reverent.

Do you remember the part of the Christmas story where 
the angels dive-bomb the wise men? I didn't think so.

At this point I've pretty much given up. I've put scores of decorative tchotchkes back in storage and I've moved all the ornaments to the uppermost branches of the tree.

Bottom of tree with bare branches.

Dozens of ornaments crammed in unsightly manner on uppermost branches.

But even these measures haven't helped. Yesterday the kids seemed to have tired of wrecking Christmas in favor of playing several rousing rounds of "lock each other in the closet" in my bedroom. I used the downtime to rearrange some of the displaced decor and felt a moment's peace in my Christmas-tastic home.

When the sounds of inter-sibling closet-based fun quieted down I became concerned and went in to check on the boys. I opened the door to discover that the kids had moved on to the "tear the sheets on Mom and Dad's bed to pieces" game. 

 Unfamiliar with the game? It involves ripping our bedsheets to shreds while laughing hysterically.

At least I know their destruction is not personal to Christmas. It's a year-round urge. Perhaps we can consider this the good news and the bad news....

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The War of Christmas

My parents have a lovely and remarkably peaceful marriage.

Growing up I rarely saw them in conflict. They generally spoke to each other with respect and almost never raised their voices in anger.

Except for one day of the year...

...the day we put up the Christmas tree.

Our Christmas season began each year with an outing to the Christmas tree farm to select the perfect noble fir. Dad would secure the tree to the roof and we'd all head home blaring carols on the radio and feeling festive.

Things would start to go downhill pretty much as soon as we got home. Dad would struggle to get the tree off the top of the car and into the house. Once inside, Mom would fret over the trail of pine needles he was leaving in his wake. But the real trouble always started as Dad would secure the base onto the tree. As he pushed it upright year after year, Mom would let him know that it wasn't straight.

Dad would crawl back under the branches to adjust the tree. As Mom's alignment instructions were translated into adjusting the three screws holding the tree in place, things would go more and more awry.

Eventually Mom's helpful suggestions became more strident and Dad's replies from under the tree became tinged with frustration. 

Some years, things got pretty heated.

Eventually the tree would get aligned to everyone's satisfaction and the fight would end well before dinnertime. Holiday merriment would recommence and it would be smooth sailing until the following Christmas.

I thought David and I could avoid my parents' yearly fight by purchasing a fake tree. While our "Augusta PineTM" has the slight downside of being made of plastic, it has the major upside of being straight as an arrow right out of the box.

What I failed to anticipate was that my beloved and I would simply replace my parents' yearly holiday battle with another of our own:

David and I fight about the Holiday Card.

Each December I am determined to produce a smiling holiday greeting capturing all the joy of the season through my children's whimsical cuddling and extra-merry smiles. The problem is that I have a four-year-old, a two-year-old and a 10-month-old, which means obtaining such a photo is statistically impossible.

Understanding this reality does nothing to dim my enthusiasm -- I remain determined to try.

I am the photographer, which leaves my husband in the role of "kid wrangler". I stand behind the camera and instruct my spouse to pose the children all together in front of the tree. He does so and then rushes to stand behind me and starts yelling to get their attention and make them smile.

ME: OH! They look so cute! Our kids are the best!
HUSBAND: I know, I love Christmas!

This is pretty much when the fight gets rolling.

ME: NO! You're standing too far to the side! I need you behind me so the kids are looking at the camera!

ME: Honey, stop telling him to yell "CHEESE"! He looks crazy! They need to be looking at me!
HUSBAND: I'm trying!

HUSBAND: Kids! Where's the garbage truck?!

(Sons both jump up and run toward the window in search of said phantom garbage truck)

ME: Honey, what are you doing? Go get them and put them back!
HUSBAND: Here, guys! Come play with these ornaments by the tree!

ME: The baby is escaping!
HUSBAND: I see her, I see her!

ME: THEY HAVE TO BE LOOKING AT THE CAMERA!! Why did you give them ornaments??!!
HUSBAND: I thought it would help!
ME: Well, it didn't!

ME: There goes the baby again!
HUSBAND: Alright, just hold on a second!! [Insert highly un-merry cursing]

ME: Alright that's it! Get out of the way! Get out of the way!!
HUSBAND: I don't have him in place yet!!!
ME: I don't care! This could be our only chance!!!

ME: You know what? Nevermind. Our children are terrible.
HUSBAND: I hate Christmas.

Since 2009 we're 0 for 3 on getting a usable group shot of our kids and 3 for 3 on going to bed the night of the picture-taking plotting spousal murder. 

Another great holiday tradition passed down through the generations...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Nag

Throughout my life I've seen depictions of the nagging wife. 

And I have to say I didn't really get it.

As a single person, it was beyond my comprehension why anyone would ever scream at a person they were supposed to love over needless minutiae. 

Then I got married...

...and I started to understand.

There's a picture that has been going around Facebook for the last couple of weeks that sums up the epidemic of nagging so perfectly:

What I didn't understand as a single person is that of course I didn't need to nag my boyfriends. Because they were BOYFRIENDS. Their role in my life was quite simple:
  • Take me out for fun dates
  • Listen to my tearful and lengthy thoughts about my feelings
  • Make out with me
Before getting married I kind of assumed that my relationship with my husband would just be a lifelong version of the above.

This was wrong.

Having a husband is not like having a boyfriend. It is more like trying to run a major corporation of which the two of you are the sole employees toiling under a team of unrelenting maniacs who are all under three feet tall.

The reality for me is that maintaing a home with three small children takes an enormous amount of work. And doing that work takes two people. And sometimes I think of the entire proposition as involving:

Employee Number One: ME
Employee Number Two: That guy who needs to be constantly REMINDED TO FIX THE #(*$& TOILET FOR THE FOUR HUNDREDTH TIME!!!

I'm sorry, what was I saying?

The nagging, it kind of sneaks up on you. I am generally a fairly reasonable lady, but now and then I suddenly find myself overtaken by an overwhelming certainty that my husband cannot function without my constant and highly detailed direction. 

Even in my more rational moments it seems that getting things accomplished in the house can involve a choice between:

a. Nagging


b. Setting traps

Let's say you ask your husband to, I don't know, say FIX THE #(*$&; TOILET SEAT, to pick a completely random example.

The next step is, with 100% certainty, that your husband will forget this request approximately ten seconds later.

You accept this.

Which means you now you have two choices:

a. Gently remind husband of the task you wish him to complete


b. Wait and then become enraged when he does nothing

There is no happiness down path number B! We've already established that he's not going to do it! He hasn't thought about it once since you first mentioned it! He may well remember the number of his favorite NFL player's high school jersey, but he DOES NOT remember the thing you asked him to do. I promise.

So you remind him.

And then nothing happens.

At which point you have two choices:

a. Gently remind him


b. Wait and then become slightly more enraged when he does nothing

Except for it is almost impossible to gently remind someone of something the second time. So your tone tends to change a little bit. It gets just a little, you know, EDGY.

So you remind him a bit less gently. He smacks himself in the head. He completely forgot. He'll get on it right away. THIS IS NOT TRUE. He will not, in fact, get on it right away. Instead he will attempt to remember where the current center for the L.A. Clippers went to school, thus forever wiping any remnant of your request from his brain.

At which point you have two choices.

a. Remind him with great aggravation 


b. Wait and then become enraged when he doesn't do it

You'll choose option number A and you'll officially be welcomed into the wonderful world of NAGGING.

It's like an insane inter-sexes trap that it is almost impossible to avoid. I'm telling you people, it's hard not to nag. So for now, I'm merely trying to limit the number of items I choose to bother my beloved about.

Yes, I need him to fix the toilet, but I probably don't need to remind him every 65 seconds to bring the leftovers to the office tomorrow. I can just hand them to him on his way out the door, or I could even imagine the possibility that even if he forgets, my almost 40-year-old husband will be able to figure out a way to feed himself as men have been doing for thousands of years.

This food will eventually, I can only hope, give him enough energy to remember to fix the toilet.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Billboard Jungle

My children are becoming increasingly aware of the world around them...

...which has caused me to become increasingly aware that the world around them is positively littered with UNBELIEVABLY HORRIBLE AND DISTURBING IMAGERY.

On Sunday I was watching some football with my 4-year-old and attempting to impart to him the finer points of the game along with  the recurring life-lesson that Daddy's team is THE WORST

Throughout the morning CBS was running promos for "Criminal Minds" on heavy rotation, and my husband and I realized that we'd be watching the games on DVR-delay from now so that we could skip commercials rather than having to explain to the kids in-between snaps why "those ladies are always being hog-tied and menaced by a series of knife-wielding maniacs". 

I find myself constantly attempting to translate this world of adult images to my children in language they might possibly understand. As we drive around our urban Los Angeles neighborhood, my kids delight in finding new things for me to notice and explain!

There's a cat!

It's a BIG blue garbage truck!

Look!!! A blimp!

Mommy - what's that?

Well, let's see. I mean, it's a giant billboard featuring a young blond girl dragging her hand along the wall creating an immense blood trail. But wait! There's more! The gory drippings reveal a demonic face as they make their grizzly way towards the floor. 

Me: WOW! She sure is making big mess!

Child #1: Is that chocolate?

Me: Yes! Yes it is.

Child #2: Yeah! Chocolate!

Look at the cool balloons outside that store!

A firetruck! A firetruck!

Mommy, what's that?

Hmmm, well guys, that seems to be an enormous picture of a Nun bleeding what appears to be some sort of bubonic plague-based goo from both of  her eyeballs.

Child #1: She's crying!

Me: You're right. She's crying!

Child #2: Why? 

Me: Because she's sad.

Child #1: Why is it black?

Me: Because she is extra sad.

Child #1: Why?

Me: Because she lost her dog.

Child #2: That IS sad.

Look at that fast ambulance!

There's a doggie in that car!

What's that?

ME: a butt.

Child #1 and Child #2: Laughing all the way home while yelling "Butt!" over and over and over.

Rather than going all One Million Moms on the subject, I'm trying to just kind of put all the stuff we encounter in some sort of understandable context on a case by case basis. 

Mommy, what's that?

And then every once in a while, when explaining just isn't really  an option, we just change the route we take home from school until the posters change again.

Cause I mean really - what the hell is that?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Toddler Justice

I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, which means that the fighting in my house is pretty much NON-STOP.

A train with one wheel left? My kids will roll about the floor in an epic battle of wills to secure dominion over it. 

Buzz Lightyear doll missing an arm? Suddenly represents the fulfillment of one boy's every desire the instant his brother touches it.

Broken Peach Crayon? IT'S MINE!!! I HAD IT FIRST!!! Allow me to attempt to rip your ear off to convey the depth of my conviction!

I tell you, folks, feral animals fighting over a carcass in the street could teach these kids a thing or two about decorum. I've come to accept that the dynamic is not changing anytime soon, so now I'm just trying to define my role in the arena.

My four-year-old obviously has a size advantage over his younger brother, so my initial instinct when the perma-fighting began was to intervene in order to protect the two-year-old from his older bro.

I'd watch the four-year-old just saunter over and flat out MUG his little brother for the race car he'd been playing with and I would rush to get involved.

"Hey! Give that back! Your brother was playing with it!"

Brother #1 would then reluctantly hand said car back to Brother #2. Perhaps a coerced apology would be issued. Peace would be restored for exactly FOUR POINT EIGHT seconds.

At which point Brother #2 decides to put the race car down. Then Brother #1 picks it up, thus breaking Brother #2's heart and resulting in frenzied and high pitched cries of:

"MINE!!!!! MINE!!!!!! MINE!!!!!!"

At which point I am rendered utterly confused. I mean, whose #*&;^$@ turn is it now??? I'd carefully established that it was Brother #2's turn. But then when he decided to put it down, I have to think that some sort of abandoned property statute would have come into play. Right? I don't know -- by now both children are shrieking so loudly that I'm having trouble forming thoughts.

I've entered the murky world of TODDLER JUSTICE.

It all goes wrong so quickly. 

Let's say I decide that Brother #1 should have a 5-minute turn and then it will be the Brother #2's turn. 2 minutes and thirty five seconds into his turn, Brother #1 abandons the toy and Brother #2 claims it. Now begins the 5 minute turn of Brother #2, right? Except then he puts it down 3 minutes in. HOW MUCH TIME IS LEFT ON THE CLOCK?

I spent several weeks lost in the morass of it all - grabbing toys away and redistributing them with a great sense of fairness only to end up with everyone in the room furious at me.

I was beaten.

So I've learned for the most part to leave the boys to their own devices. Sure the older one is bigger, but the younger one is wiley and is not afraid to use "the world's most annoying scream"TM to his advantage. So really, it's a pretty fair fight. 

Any form of violence is shut down and appropriate time outs are issued, but otherwise I'm retired from the toddler justice business.

For good.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Evolution of a Costume

Halloween at our house starts rolling on September 26th. 

Snood's birthday is the 25th, and as soon as all the birthday-related merriment has concluded we move directly into full-time SPOOKY mode. I pull out the cobweb table runner and the oversized decorative pumpkin, I hit Trader Joe's for a bunch of mini gourd-type items, and I hang our paper skeleton "Seymour Bones" jauntily from the front door.

Then it is time to start talking costumes.

When I was little, my mom was the queen of Halloween costumes. She would start taking orders in late August; then for the next two months the sewing machine would be rockin'. The resulting costumes were nothing short of extraordinary. She made a clown outfit for my brother with giant foam shoes and a red mop wig. She crafted a Statue of Liberty costume for me in the third grade using half a dozen hand-dyed sheets. She transformed my sister into Wonder Woman complete with golden lasso and bulletproof cuffs.

The woman was an artist.

For my part, I have long since decided that I will not be following in my mother's footsteps. And not only am I not  making lovingly hand-sewn costumes, I am taking things a step further and actively steering my children towards choosing costumes that are as easy as humanly possible to get my hands on.

Snood's first idea for Halloween was Max from "Where the Wild Things Are". While I applauded the literary aspect of the choice, I quickly realized that "Pottery Barn Kids" had seemingly secured the exclusive rights to sell Wild Thing costumes. Rather than drop close to a week's salary on three costumes I instead began actively trying to steer Snood towards an alternate choice.

"How about a race car driver?"

"NO! I like Max."

"How about a Police Officer?"

"I like 'Where the Wild Things Are'!"

I continued to make desperate counteroffers, all of which were rejected with extreme prejudice. But then one day in mid-October, completely out of the blue, Snoodie had a change of heart.

"Mommy, for Halloween I want to be Strawberry Shortcake!" 

He had it all figured out. His brother could be "Cupcake the Dog" and the baby could be Strawberry Shortcake's infant sister "Apple Dumpling".

I was significantly less worried about the weird looks I'd get at the Halloween parade than I was about trying to figure out how the hell to make that crazy hat. 

Still, I thought with a red wig, some jeans, and a striped T-shirt I could probably pull it off. Then a dog costume could be ordered, and the baby -- well, she was already a baby, so done. I was semi on-board.

Then one night in the bathtub, after a night of watching fire truck videos, Snoodie suddenly announced, 

"Maybe I'll be a firefighter for Halloween."


I was ALL OVER it. I hit up, and soon two Fire Chief costumes were speeding towards my house. My sister came up with the genius idea of making the baby their trusty dalmatian, and I knew with joy in my heart that Halloween was DONE DONE DONE!

Days later three large plastic packs of costume-y goodness arrived and we were insta-ready for the big day.

We happily counted down to Halloween. I even channeled my mother a bit and made hand-crafted ID tags complete with photos for the boys' firemen outfits. I felt great. We were all-set for a night of super-fun Trick-or-Treating merriment!

But first I had to record the wonder of my children's outfits with the perfect all-child portrait...

Which made me extra-glad I hadn't spent several weeks bent over a sewing machine. The above photo is the best one we got.

Better luck next year.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers - Part Two

I've written before about how, as the mother of three children four and under, I must often rely on the kindness of strangers. I hand my baby to women sitting near me in restaurants when the two-year-old needs a diaper change. I ask random teens milling around the playground to keep an eye on my four-year-old when I need to give chase to one of his younger siblings. I borrow wipes from other Moms when my three kids tap out my supply with their relentlessly filthy ways.

Yesterday, Snood and I were returning from a mom-and-son trip to Chicago. We had a noon flight, so we arrived at Midway airport around 10am. We picked up some lunch, brought it to our gate, and set up a little picnic on the floor as we waited to board.

As we looked out at the planes coming and going, we marveled (as people who live in LA's weather-free climate tend to do) at the impressive rainstorm that had commenced outside. It wasn't until I saw lightning strike the control tower that it occurred to me that "exciting weather" is not really what one is looking for when one is at the airport.

At 11:30 an announcement came over the loudspeaker that our plane had been diverted to St. Louis on account of the storm. Our flight would now be leaving at 2:25 which meant we had nearly three extra hours to kill.

Luckily the Southwest terminal is chock full of people movers, which we availed ourselves of for the better part of an hour. Then we hit up Ben and Jerry's for some emergency ice cream, and before we knew it, it was time to head back to our gate.

We arrived back only to discover that the flight was delayed again. 

Back to the people movers!

This time we saw plenty of other folks from our gate with young kids of their own. We gave each other knowing looks and exchanged groans in acknowledgement of our shared fate as we slid by each other slowly in opposite directions.

By 3:30pm the people movers had nothing left to give. We slumped back to our gate and learned that our flight was delayed yet another two hours. Everywhere you looked, the three dozen or so kids waiting for their flights were squirming in their seats, chasing each other around the garbage cans, and generally going stir crazy.

And then something awesome happened.

Other passengers -- the ones without kids -- started leaning a hand. I noticed one older couple playing peek-a-boo with a pair of toddlers near the snack stand. Folks began digging in their bags for snacks and toys they might offer to the children of people sitting near them. A mother of some older kids actually purchased a small Chicago Bulls net that stuck to the window and organized an impromptu basketball game using balled up bits of newspaper.

At some point Snoodie tired of the basketball game and began yelling loudly,

"I don't like this aiport anymore! I want to go home!"

A young man (I mean, this kid could not have been older than 21) waved me over. He asked if it would be OK if Snoodie watched "Thomas and Friends" on his computer. 

"Do you like trains? he asked.

Snoodie's face lit up.

"I LOVE TRAINS!!!!" he answered.

The kid handed over his laptop complete with fancy headphones and let Snoodie watch episode after episode until the plane was ready to board.

You know the story of the Loaves and the Fishes? I always thought of it as one of the "magic trick" stories from the Bible. In it, Jesus has been talking to a large crowd when it gets late and people need food. None is apparently available until a young boy brings up his five loaves and two fishes and offers them to share, at which point Jesus transforms them into enough food to feed the crowd with several baskets left over. 

But recently I heard a different interpretation of the story, which suggested that everyone in the crowd had probably brought enough food for themselves, and that when they saw the little boy offer everything he had, they were all inspired to share what they had brought with people around them. 

Seven hours after we had arrived at the airport we got on the plane. As I looked around the terminal and saw everyone waving goodbye to the kids they had befriended during the wait, I thought of that version of the story.

And I thought it seemed about right.