My mom loved a good family photo. If one popped up on social media or via text, you bet your ass you were getting a coffee mug, mousepad, blanket, phone case, wall plaque, coasters, and a set of pint glasses with that picture on it for the next 7 Christmases.
Occasionally she would go old school and print it out and frame it. Like this one I came across when I was home for the holidays.
Hmm, I thought. I don’t remember us going to downtown Seattle to see Christmas lights. The only time we did that it was not such a good time. Clearly these people were having fun! They were making memories! Starting traditions! You could practically smell the peppermint infused cocoa on their breath. Wait, that’s definitely Bailey’s wafting off the mom.
But that was definitely us. And that was the downtown Macy’s Christmas star so the time of year and place could be identified. And then it hit me. It was a shitty night! And to round out the shittiness of the evening, Bart and I forced the child to take one goddamn selfie in front of that goddamn Christmas star and goddamn it if I wasn’t going to post that shit on social media for the whole goddamn world to see. Look at that happy, festive family making some goddamn Christmas memories! LOOK AT US.
The picture lied. The reality of that day went something like this:
Bart and I thought it would be fun to take the child downtown to look at lights, have dinner, eat junk food, ride the carousel, visit the Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Park Hotel, see the gingerbread creations at the Sheraton, crowd into Pacific Place mall at 6PM sharp to be covered in fake sudsy, snow while the tinny sounds of carols played through a subpar sound system with stranger’s elbows jammed into your kidneys as we all raised our smart phones to take festive selfies TO CAPTURE THE GODDAMN MEMORIES. If someone’s internal organ gets bruised in the process, so be it!
The child had other plans. He didn’t want to go. He wanted to watch YouTube. It was cold outside. Why couldn’t he look at lights on YouTube? He doesn’t like teddy bears. Maybe another time? Like tomorrow? He’s tired. He’s already seen Christmas lights. And teddy bears. Can’t we just order a Zeke’s pizza and be done with it?
But Bart and I can’t read a room so we said, INTO THE CAR WITH YOU! We let him bring his stupid iPad, but only for the 7 minute drive downtown.
I was excited. They don’t call me Mama Christmas for nothing. And for the record, only 3 people have called me that. The 3 people who joined us on a trip to Leavenworth, WA four years ago. Mama Christmas couldn’t wait for her child to BE AMAZED as the whole town of Leavenworth lit up at night! Leavenworth is the inside of a snow globe. It’s a Hallmark holiday movie come to life. It was even snowing, for christ sake! But alas, the child was not impressed. In fact, he cried. He begged to go home. Mama Christmas was devastated and cranky. How could the offspring of Mama Christmas not love Christmas? Two days later the child was diagnosed with Hand-food-and-mouth disease. Oops. Mama Christmas CANNOT READ A ROOM.
So maybe this downtown excursion was a do-over? What kid doesn’t want to experience all the commercialized magic Christmas has to offer? Well, my kid. It just wasn’t his night. He thought the teddy bears were creepy, gingerbread was gross, cocoa was too hot and peppermint too minty. Seen one giant 160 foot Christmas stars and you’ve seen them all. No one was having fun that night. I think we even skipped dinner. But we did get that one photo and my mom and 87 of my Facebook friends who didn’t know the backstory freakin’ loved it.
Every photo on social media tells a story. Some are fictional stories and some are very creative nonfiction. WE KNOW THIS! And yet, I always fall prey to these perfectly curated snippets this time of year. I love the holidays! It’s really important that my kid has great memories like I did as a child. Scrolling through feeds, looking at the holiday gatherings of friends (and the 549 interior designers and architects I follow on Instagram), I find myself thinking, Damn, look at them getting a head start on that whole making memories thing. We should bake more or entertain more or AirBnB the entirety of the Faroe Islands for all our friends and family to spend the month of December.
Don’t get me wrong. We do our thing. We have our traditions. We are having fun. But social media always makes your things feel subpar. No one is posting the videos of the screaming match they got into with their partner over how many inches to cut from the Christmas tree trunk. No one feels sentimental about detangling 193 strands of non-LED Christmas lights. No one talks about how they didn’t have baking soda or vanilla but were determined to bake cookies anyway that no one ate because apparently a teaspoon of vanilla is more important to a cookie than calcium is to a bone so all 93 were slammed into the trash and everyone went to bed in tears. But that picture of all you in your matching aprons with dollops of flour on the tips of your nose? Priceless! GET AFTER THOSE MEMORIES, GIRL!
Oh, there’s definitely a story there. Just maybe not the one you are lead to believe. But that’s okay. Post that shit because you might even trick yourself with like I almost did. And one day, 40 years from now, the child might come across this picture and think, Wow, what great parents I have, taking young, grateful me downtown to see the Christmas lights and bedbug ridden teddy bears. I must have loved that!
Ten months before preschool graduation, Quinn informed us he was never going to kindergarten.
“Why the hell not,” I asked. Oh shit, I was thinking. He’s starting to believe all that, “Kid’s a goddamn genius” nonsense the grandparents spew. Sorry, kid. You don’t get to pass Go if your drawings of people still have arms coming out of their chins and you refuse to acknowledge 12 is a number.
“I don’t want to go,” he whined. “I never want to go!”
“But why? I pressed. “Kindergarten is fun! It’s just like preschool except you will learn even more stuff. And you’ll make more friends. And you get to take classes like art and music and…” Actually I don’t really know what happens in Seattle public schools. Do they still fund art?
“I don’t want to learn!”
“Great. In 14 years you can go to the liberal arts college of your dreams, but until then, you will go to kindergarten. One day.”
That did not appease him. One day could be in 6 years or 8 minutes. Kindergarten was coming for him. Kindergarten had his number. And that number was not 12.
The anxiousness wasn’t surprising. He’s an emotional and occasionally fearful kid. Sometimes I use that to my advantage.
Never go near the monkey bars! You will break your arm!
Never eat a grape unless it’s cut up into 1,592 small pieces!
Never walk across a parking lot unless you are holding Mommy’s hand!
Sometimes he wakes up from a sound sleep to ask if there are any clowns in the house.
“The hell? Of course not!”
“What about werewolves?”
Then there was the great weather obsession of 2016 and with it a fear of floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
“We live on a hill. Flood free! Don’t worry!”
“What about volcanoes?”
Hmm… too soon to tell him about the Ring of Fire?
But the world’s most active volcanoes had nothing on kindergarten. For the next 10 months, the child reminded us he was not going. He would never go. He wanted to stay with his preschool friends forever.
“But all your friends are going to kindergarten too,” I said.
“Well, no. There are lots of kindergartens. But you’ll have a whole bunch of new friends to hang out with.”
Then said friends were starting to talk about it. They were excited.
He graduated from preschool with great fanfare and promises of big boy adventures ahead.
His best friend in the whole wide world was going to his very same school!
SORT OF APPEASED.
We tried a variety of tactics to get this kid excited for school. Bribes, emotional warfare, pep talks from cool, older kids. Finally, I just accepted the nerves and let him own it. I told him it was totally normal and that every kid going to kindergarten was nervous too.
“Of course! None of them have been there before. It’s new to all of you!”
I reminded him he’s been in daycare since he was three months old. He’s done the whole new class, new friends, new teacher deal multiple times.
“Some of these kids have never been in a school!” I said with wide-eyed disbelief. “They don’t know what a cubby is. They’ve never pooped in front of eighteen other kids. They never almost had lice!”
“Nope. So you might actually have to help the teacher and be a leader for those kids. When you see someone upset or crying, maybe you could help make them feel better?”
“I could say, ‘Hi, I’m Quinn. Want to have lunch me and my friend Maddex?’”
Damn, if that wasn’t some A+ Pinterest parenting shit right there. Nailed it! Not only was my kid going to kindergarten, he was going to be the prince of elementary school.
But alas, the kinder ambivalence continued. It occured to me that perhaps he didn’t actually know what kindergarten was. Sure, he hears people talking about it, but in what context?
Maybe he thought kindergarten was where the bad kids go?
Did you hear Aiden went to kindergarten? That’s why we don’t see him around anymore.
Damn…Never should have pushed Molly off that slide, man.
Maybe he thought kindergarten was a potato farm or a Himalayan mine where he’d be forced to get up early and pluck grains of salt from the Earth and shape them into mass market whale tail lamps and earrings. But nope. He got it.
“It’s like preschool, but not fun and LAME!”
We pulled out even more tactics. Books, talking to friends who were couldn’t wait to start kindergarten, playdates with the incoming class, open house to meet the teacher and see his class, A PRIVATE TOUR of the school set up by the outgoing PTA president and her two kids (a THIRD GRADER and a FIFTH GRADER!) who created a scavenger hunt taking him all around the school and granting him Pokemon stickers for when he found such amazing treasures as the library and music room and his classroom!
We tried excitement. Yay, Kindergarten!
And apathy. Whatever, Kindergarten.
I took him back-to-school shopping and replaced his perfectly good backpack, lunchbag, and water bottle with even better ones. I even let him pick out his own clothes and shoes.
He choose these:
He was drawn to those shoes for inexplicable reasons, but if a pair of Spanx and some Air Wick scented oil intrigued him, I’d have packed his new Justice League backpack full of it.
The grandparents sent him cases (not hyperbole) of lunchbox sized Goldfish crackers, Fig Newtons, Animal Crackers, and Ritz Bitz crackers. Then days later more cases arrived filled with Nutter Butters, Oreos, Sour Patch Kids, and Chips A’hoys.
Still no dice and we all gained 7 pounds in 3 days. The night before school started, bedtime took an hour and a half. The kid did not want to go to sleep knowing when he woke up, that black-hooded academic ninja would be waiting for him. Soon his anxiety rubbed off on Bart and I. We threw Lunchables at each other and argued over Teddy Grahams or rainbow Goldfish for his lunch snack. I thought he should wear short sleeves and a sweatshirt. Bart thought long sleeves and camo shorts would be more appropriate. Bart thought his water bottle was too heavy. I thought his backpack was too big. Maybe Quinn was right and this whole kindergarten thing was just plain stupid. Could he go to summer camp all year long?
We got up at the crack of dawn the next morning– a full hour earlier than any of us were used to because we had a schedule now. Kindergarten, that bitch, was messing with us all. It was still dark outside. Bart cried on his way to the shower. I stood in the hallway confused. Where did we keep the damn waffles in this place!?
“Good morning!” I sing-songed, upon waking up that sweet, peaceful child. Even I could tell I was faking it.
“Do I have to go to kindergarten today?”
“You get to go to kindergarten today!”
He rolled over and shut his eyes. “NO!”
“Let’s get up and watch Peppa Pig! And eat waffles and cereal bars! TODAY IS JUST LIKE ANY OTHER DAY!”
But it was no use. Today was different. We both agreed if Peppa didn’t want to go to kindergarten no one would make that damn, bossy pig go. We were jealous of Peppa.
I felt bad. Guilty, like I was doing him a disservice sending him to kindergarten. I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. I’m pretty sure his preschool teachers would eventually notice the kid three times bigger than his classmates who always showed up in sunglasses and a fedora. I couldn’t homeschool this kid. He’d learn vocabulary from the Real Housewives (“Jackie told Gizelle to brang it. Teresa called Danielle a prostitution hoo-wah. Vicky and Tamra will whoope it up majorly!) and math from The Price is Right (“No, honey, stackable washer and dryers do not cost one dollar. That man was being a douchebag.”)
His best friend arrived to walk with us and was full of spunk and enthusiasm and apparently whatever Kool-Aid kindergarten was shilling.
“I’m excited to learn lots of things and meet new friends,” he told me when I asked him what he was looking forward to.
“Maybe you could share some of that with Quinn?”
He looked at his best friend hiding behind a dining room chair. “Umm, no.”
We live only 9 houses from the school and I never knew there were so many kids who either lived on our street or walked past our house to get to school because I was still asleep when the bell rang. But it was a regular old-timey parade of waving neighbors on front porches, oohing and ahhing over smartly dressed kids holding chalkboard signs commemorating first days and little Emily’s desire to be a panda when she grew up.
We joined the flow, caught between every other kid’s joyful oblivion and Quinn’s desire to lay down in traffic. As we made our approach, the school loomed before us. We’ve played on this playground for years. How have we never noticed this giant, menacing stone edifice? Quinn’s grip tightened on my arm.
“I don’t want to go,” he said. “Please, Mommy.”
“It’s going to be great,” I said.
We were told to look for his teacher who would be holding a sign with her name on it. She was lovely. Kind, warm, and thankfully blonde because my boy born of 100% brunette ancestors has a thing for the fair haired. We recognized several kids from the aforementioned playdates including the twin girls who lived 2 houses up the street and the little boy from across the street– all of whom were in his class. I pointed them out to Quinn like I was a guide on a whale watching tour.
“LOOK QUINN! IT’S TYLER! OMG HE’S BREECHING!”
And then the tears came.
Okay, I fully expected my kid to cry. Honestly I was surprised it took that long. I expected lots of kids to cry. Like maybe all of them. But god dammit all to hell if my kid wasn’t the only one crying. Like literally the only one. Not even a crying mom in the bunch!
Bart swooped in, gathered Quinn into his arms and lifted him up. I’m not talking in a spiritual or Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warner sort of way. I mean he picked his crying child up off the blacktop and nestled him into the ripped seams of that goddamn 19 year-old Kenneth Cole bomber jacket he refused to part with. But I digress. It’s not about the jacket. This time.
They say you turn into your mother one day and that day was the first day of kinder-f’ing-garten. Right there in the shadow of my child’s brick and mortar nemesis I became the mother practiced in the art of Hideo Ochi, tough love, and the ability to wipe that goddamn smile off your face with the slightest lowering of an eyelid. The ol’ pinch to the tricep worked too.
“Put him down,” I sneered through clenched teeth. Damn! I didn’t even know I could do that!
“What?” Bart said, marveling at my ventriloquism.
“PUT. HIM. DOWN,” I repeated through a fake smile.
“I know that. Which is why you need to put him down.”
“He’s upset!” Bart answered, clearly startled by my transformation.
“This is kindergarten, motherf*cker. There’s no coddling in kindergarten! Drop him!”
“LET GO OF MY CHILD!”
Okay, so maybe we should have talked strategy before Bart and I went all Kramer vs. Kramer in front of the PTA. For at least 13 seconds every adult on the playground thought Bart was a predator and was ready to pounce. But I stood by my convictions and left Bart reeling on a four square court.
Bart checked on Quinn’s best friend while Quinn’s teacher checked on us.
“I need help holding my sign,” she said, bending over so her luscious blonde locks fell inches from Quinn’s sad, wet face. “Can you hold this for me?”
The kid hated kindergarten, but damn if he didn’t love a job. My baby was like a border collie and for a few blissful seconds, he forgot how much kindergarten sucked and double-fisted that yard stick handle.
Then the bell rang and a surge of Ooooooooohs erupted from the parents like they had just witnessed a last second overtime goal. To Quinn it sounded like the kick off to the Hunger Games. He really lost it. Still clutching the sign, his little body was shaking with sobs. Big tears careened down his face. I planted my feet firmly on the blacktop to stop either Quinn from making a break for it or Bart who would surely impale himself on a yard stick in his attempt to protect our child from the evils of public school.
“WE GOT THIS!” I yelled to Bart, who knew we very much did not have anything. “Everything is GREAT!” I saw his leg twitch and immediately shot my hand up like a crossing guard to oncoming traffic. “Take one step and I will divorce you!”
“You’re so brave!” I yelled to Quinn. “Everything is so great!”
All eyes were on my child whom I now realized was standing in front of his whole goddamn class waving a 6 foot sign and crying instead of tucked discreetly in line.
The teacher took Quinn’s hand and led him away. The other 19 kids eagerly followed, their giant backpacks smashing into the faces of the person behind them like superhero branded air bags. Quinn looked like a juvenile prisoner headed off to maximum security. He was resigned, head down, tears making puddles on top of his new loafers. Goodby my brave, bear. You’re gonna crush snack time and free choice.
And just as he was about to disappear into the double doors of the abyss, he turned around, giving me one last chance to fix this dreadful, horrific mistake. Maybe he saw a crack in my foundation. Maybe he had beaten me down. Maybe he saw his father being comforted by a group of fifth graders. Whatever it was, he saw his last chance and made a break for it, still holding the sign, and headed right for me– his mother, protector, sanctuary, source of all that’s comforting– who was yelling, “Get away from me, child!” as she braced for impact.
He charged with the strength of 19 tiny gladiators in Old Navy sweatshirts backing him up.
“NO!” I shouted, taking him by the elbow and leading him and the pack back to school. “This way!”
But my child was determined. He managed to get a hold of me and still keep a grip on that sign. (I told you– border collie.)
“NO!” he yelled, grabbing my sleeve.
“YES!” I yelled, swatting his hand away after taking a yard stick to the forehead.
He’d find another hold, I’d parry left. He grabbed the strap of my purse, I abandoned it. It was all cling, slap, grab, swat, sobs, promises that things would be fine. His face was so wet. There were so many tears, so many calls for MOMMY. You got the wrong guy!
We were still tangled in that bizarre dance as I propelled him closer to the entrance. The swell of 19 eager children pushed me forward.
Distracted by a classmate’s flip sequin shirt, he loosened his grip. In a beautifully choreographed maneuver, I managed to spin him around and give him a little shove through the doors.
“GET. IN. THERE!”
“MOMMY, NO! PLEASE!”
The momentum of 19 children who were promised graham crackers and Pete the Cat was getting stronger. We were out of time. The second bell rang. Oh no, was that shadowy figure the principal? We will be making a huge donation to the PTA after this.
“Why, Mommy, why???”
“IT’S THE LAW!” I hissed, giving him one last shove.
And then he and the sign were gone, disappeared in the crush of bobbing headbands and hoodies. It was over. I was Han Solo knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlacc Pit. I was victorious.
I turned around to find a few straggler parents and a mortified Bart, horrified by his son’s trauma and his wife’s grotesque lack of empathy.
“It isthe law,” I repeated. “Isn’t it?”
Seven tense hours later the head of his after-school program texted to say the kids arrived safely via school bus and they all had a fantastic day.
“Even Quinn?” I asked.
“Even Quinn,” she said.
Sure enough when we picked him up he regaled us with stories of his triumphant day. He was line leader, had music class, got to pick out a book from the teacher’s extensive library. Even made two new friends. Kindergarten was awesome! I looked at Bart, a bit smugly. Not today, kindergarten. This too shall pass quickly.
I couldn’t wait to wake him up the next morning. His camo shorts and long-sleeve shirt were already laid out.
He rolled over and with sleepy eyes asked, “Do I have to go to kindergarten today?”
“Yes, of course!”
“NO! I’m never going back! I hate kindergarten!”
Okay what the actual Groundhog’s Day was happening here? Did I have to write “Recess Rules” and “Line Leader for Life” in sharpie on his forearms?
“No,” I said. “You like kindergarten. Remember how much fun you had yesterday?”
“NO! I did NOT have fun! I AM NEVER GOING BACK!”
I returned to our room, turned on the TV, watched an episode of Peppa Pig by myself, and waited for Bart to get out of the shower.
There appears to be a huge developmental leap between the age of 5 and 6. I swear sometimes I’m talking to an adult– an adult with a really high-pitched voice that still can’t pour milk directly into a cereal bowl without saturating 87% of our house.
In the last few days, I’ve said the following things to my child:
*Please put your penis away. *I saw where you touched the dog so please wash your hands. *That’s mommy’s bra and I didn’t say you could wear it. *Who told you six was the new sexy? Do you even know what sexy means? *No, anus-hole isn’t technically swearing, but it’s still a mean thing to say. *Would you want Puppy to do that to you? *How many Slurpies have you had this week? *I don’t sound like that! (Editor’s note: Bart said that’s EXACTLY what I sound like.) *For the last time, your penis goes in your pants! *Sure, you can change your name to John Cena. *Yes, I know lots of words that rhyme with tuck. *No, YOU tell your butthole to go to sleep. You’re the one it’s bothering. *STOP ASKING ALEXA TO PLAY OLD TOWN ROAD! *The one who smelt it, dealt it, sucka! *GO TO BED, JOHN CENA!
We have “free tables” at the office. Every floor has one. It’s where people dump stuff they think their co-workers will really love. Kind of like Goodwill if Goodwill had to flee in the middle of the night and could only take 99% of their best stuff. It’s a crapshoot. Usually erring more on the side of crap. Occasionally you might find some Magic cards or a stack of Entertainment Weekly’s from 2013 and sometimes you get a half eaten bag of microwave popcorn and a litter box.
Today Bart found this little gem on the free table and brought it straight to me. I’m sure he thought I’d be all, “Gross! Get rid of this nonsense!” but HA HA! Joke’s on him. I KEPT IT! Why? Because it’s gold! Also, I think it’s my bizarro family.
Just take a look at the photo, will you? The similarities are uncanny!
*There’s (presumably) a mom, a dad, and a frightened looking child who is wondering what he did in a past life to end up the spawn of these two yahoos. (And that kid looks eerily like my own child.)
*The dad is wearing super flowy, high waisted beach pants. Just like Bart!
*The child is sticking an elbow right up his dad’s very bulbous butthole. Also an occurrence that happens a lot in our house.
*The mom is working! She is not relaxed!
Other things to note, the back cover copy suggests the following:
*The principals highlighted in this video are on “the crest of a healing wave of the future!” You heard it here first! Massage is going to be really popular one day! Book your sessions now!
*By massaging your friends and family in your own home, you can heal them “through the gift of touch!” Add massage to your next dinner party or poker night. NOT CREEPY AT ALL. You’re doing them a favor!
*Bring a new level of family closeness by sticking your bony bits into the deepest crevices of your most familial.
*This DVD costs $39.95. And Bart got it for FREE! That alone deserves a massage!
Friends, don’t wait! Get in on this healing magic today! We were going to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tomorrow night, but no way. Bust out the flowy beach pants. It’s family bonding time.
He used to live at Target, where I took Quinn to buy (more) Halloween decorations. Halloween, as it turns out, is the new Christmas when it comes to decorating our house which means Christmas is the new “holy-shit-its-balls-out-bananas-up-in-this-illuminated-like-Vegas-on-acid-gingerbread-abode.” I can’t wait!
Anyway, we saw Fred, who at the time was just an unknown plastic skeleton heaped in a pile of other unknowns. He was meant to be an outside decoration. Maybe sitting on chair, bony hand raised in salutation, or maybe crouched on a tree ready to lunge at the school kids who walk by. (Which will do wonders for our newly minted kindergartener’s social game. “You want to play with the kid whose mom dropped a plastic skeleton on your ass? Umm, no.”)
But, nope. That was not to be Fred’s fate. Quinn yanked him off the shelf and no sooner was a friendship borne.
“I love him,” Quinn said.
“That’s fine,” I said. “Love is love. Put him in the cart.”
“He’s almost the same size as me.”
“Eh, your body types are similar, but you’ve got a good four inches on him.”
“I’m going to carry him,” Quinn said, putting Fred’s arms around his neck. “Let’s go Fred!”
Yes, beat feet, Beetlejuice! I had purple lights and giant plushy spiders and maybe a pair of upended Frankenstein boots buy. Let’s go, kids!
Quinn carried his skeletal friend around Target. They held hands, put their arms around each other’s shoulders, pushed all of our groceries, Halloween decorations, and $582 worth of subliminally selected merchandise I didn’t know I needed, but now can’t live with out, aside so I could push them in the cart like they were two-bit councilmen up for re-election in small town Forth of July parade.
“What’s this guy’s name?” I asked.
“Fred,” Quinn said. “Definitely Fred.”
While I loaded the bags into the trunk Quinn buckled Fred into the backseat.
“Fred wants McDonald’s,” Quinn said. “He’s never had it before.”
“Oh, unfortunately Fred doesn’t have a stomach so I’m afraid it would just fall out.” Which, come to think of it, is what happens to people with stomachs who eat McDonald’s.
When we got home, Quinn brought Fred inside, straight past the porch chair I imagined him sitting on, past his acquaintance whose body parts we planted on the lawn, past the Happy Meal Bart must have picked up for his lunch while he was out running errands.
“This is my room,” I heard him say. “This is your room too. This is my box of action figures. This is where we keep the Legos. You can sleep right…here.”
They hung out together the rest of the day. They Face-timed my parents, watched three episodes of Peppa Pig, even took a bath together. Fred hit the 25% off mass market Halloween decoration lottery with this kid. That floppy mess of plastic was practically beaming when he got out of the bath more likely because Quinn washed him with my luxury, salon-grade, for color-treated hair mask. But whatever.
Oh yes, Fred may have been dead but he was living the life.
Until the incident.
Never good. Nope. Never. That’s when my fight or flight instinct takes over and I run for the front door.
“You have to help Fred!!!”
Oh, it’s Fred! Fred I can handle. No offense, Fred, but at least there won’t be blood.
Quinn ran down the hall with Fred in one hand and Fred’s right arm in his other hand.
“It just came off!” Quinn said, handing me Fred’s appendage.
“I can fix it!”
First rule of parenting 101: Never say “I can fix it” before you’ve properly assessed this damage. Fred’s arm was toast. It was a clean break ripped right out of the socket. I saw my future and it involved another trip to the seasonal section of Target. And maybe a chevron throw pillow. And an acacia wood server. And an artificial succulent in a brass pot. And a bed for Puppy. And new booties for me. And a bathing suit for Quinn in case Bart ever enrolls him in swimming lessons. Goddamnit, Fred! Couldn’t you keep your hands to yourself?
Before I could say “get your shoes on” Quinn had Fred propped up on a kitchen chair.
“Know what’s scarier than a skeleton?” he asked. “A ONE ARMED SKELETON! Fred’s the coolest!”
Wow. Good attitude, kid. Not today, acacia wood platter. (But definitely another day. You’re gorgeous.)
The next day Quinn introduced his buddy Maddex to Fred. I heard “Cool” and then “MOMMMMMMMMMMMMY!”
Both boys ran down the hall brandishing one of Fred’s arms.
“Now we each get a skeleton hand!”
Then they ran off to slap each other with their new hands.
He’s had a rough 24 hours.
Fred can’t itch his nose or eat a bowl of cereal.
Fred needs rest.
Also, someone should have told Mommy that Fred was resting on the couch before she sat down.
The child and I have arrived in upstate NY for a little Grandparent action. If you are the only grandchild to the World’s Most Adoring Grandparents in the History of Grandparents you are in for the BEST VACATION EVER because you get to:
Swear on all things holy that you will NEVER eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich your mother offered to pack for you only to DEMAND a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the super expensive vegetarian kiosk at SeaTac airport.
NOT eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the overpriced vegetarian kiosk at SeaTac airport because there is one person on board with a peanut allergy and they happen to be sitting next to US.
Spend 3 hours and 34 minutes of the 3 hour and 51 minute flight to Detroit telling your already anxious mother how much you want to GET OFF THE PLANE AND JUST BE THERE ALREADY!
Refuse to put your shoes on to use the airplane bathroom because clearly a LAVATORY isn’t covered in pee and feces.
Insist on killing time in Detroit by riding up and down a random escalator but wholeheartedly REFUSE to pee.
Forget that cool Storm Trooper roller bag you love so much and laboriously packed a purple marker, Peppa Pig keychain, 4 Goldfish crackers, and a fart (or so you claim) in 6 times before making your mother just f*$#ing carry it.
Refuse all the food options presented to you because YOU ARE NOT HUNGRY.
Definitely NOT eat the chicken tenders and fries from Popeye’s we waited 16 minutes for because YOU ARE NOT HUNGRY. Ask for chicken tenders and fries from Wendy’s as you board your connection.
Double over in pain on the jetway because your stomach hurts so bad DEFINITELY NOT because you are hungry.
Cry on the connecting flight because you are in fact SO HUNGRY. Make your mom unfasten her seatbelt and stand up before reaching a comfortable cruising altitude–in turbulence–to get the 4 Goldfish crackers from your stupid, G*#D@&%M Storm Trooper roller bag.
Spill your water all over your mom’s Us Weekly.
Complain because you are thirsty and have no water.
Get off the plane, ditch your mom and all the bags you promised to help carry, and run down the hallway into the arms of your beloved grandpa. Make 2 TSA agents and another grandpa cry in the process.
Eat 4 cookies before we even get our luggage.
Negotiate a trip to your favorite toy store (Five Below) before we’ve even paid for parking.
Bring 6 more cookies into Grandma Juju’s bed and make her buy 3 episodes of Peppa Pig from Amazon.
Discover “Gekky’s Magical Vending Machine” (a.k.a. “the “Snack Closet”) and consume 3 packs of M&Ms, a Kinder egg, 74 cheese puffs, 4 mini blueberry muffins, a pack of Butterscotch Krimpets (or rather, just peel the delicious frosting off their heads and leave the spongy carcasses for your mother), and a bag of Raisinetes. Because fruit.
Make your grandparents blast We Will Rock You at 12:30AM so you can show them what you learned in drum class.
Download one more episode of Peppa Pig.
Finally agree to go to bed with the promise of early pool time tomorrow.
Fall asleep watching SpongeBob cartoons and whatever inappropriate show probably came of after because your mom fell asleep an hour before you.
NOT stay on your side of the bed in favor of shoving your mom so far over she woke up with her forehead on the nightstand.
Get up at 8:15 EST (that’s 5:15 your time, dear child), say, “Bye, Mom” as you head downstairs to get in bed with the Grands, place an order for a waffle and glass of chocolate milk, and watch Peppa Pig.
The grandparents say, “He’s better than advertised.” The child claims to want to stay here for “100 days and forever.” The mother got to be alone in a T.J. Maxx for 42 minutes. It was been quoted by multiple sources that this is fact the world’s greatest vacation.
This may not seem like news, or rather something that should be implemented 4 and 3/4 years after said child’s birth, but it’s happening. It is swift and merciless and makes me feel like a fantastic mother!
But why now, you ask? Great question.
The other day in the heat of some old-school disciplinary action, I was looming over the child, threatening to suspend our weekly Saturday Target outings unless he put on some pants and stopped trying to feed the dog Legos, when the child looked up, shook his head, and said, “Jesus, you’re mean.”
I’m sorry, wha?
Seriously, kid. I was mean, but where’d you hear about Jesus?
“Repeat that?” I asked him calmly.
“Jeeee-zuuuuu–sssss, yeeeeerrrrrr meaaaaaaan,” he said real slow because his mom was deep in middle age and kind of slow herself.
“Wait. You think I’m mean?” I asked. “Or Jesus is mean?”
So much to unpack here.
“Well, that’s fine. You can call me mean, but you can’t just go around saying Jesus, okay? Great. Good chat, kid.”
“It’s not appropriate.”
“Because it could offend people.”
“But why?” Quinn asked again. “What’s a Jesus?”
“Well, let’s see,” I started. “Jesus was…uh…a guy who some people believe was a really good person who did some really good things and saying his name like that is disrespectful.”
Nailed it! (You can totally crib that for your own kids.)
This might come as a shock given my very articulate and educated description of Jesus, but I’m not religious. I believe I’m what an online dating site would call spiritual but not religious. Religion to me should be crafted like an la carte menu. Believe in something from column A, dabble is something from column B, and dessert. Just try to do the right thing, don’t suck, watch out for karma, earn good juju, put it out to the Universe, come back as a friendly ghost, learn from past lives…that kind of thing.
My parents made my brother and I go to church, Sunday school, get confirmed, have a first communion, cash a bunch of checks from relatives, and eventually only go to church on major holidays like Easter and Christmas Eve. Neither my mom or my dad goes to church now and while they definitely have their beliefs, they’re not what I would call religious. That is until something seemingly innocuous like not getting married in a church or having the cleric from your D&D game act as your officiant or NOT BAPTIZING THEIR GRANDCHILD causes them to burst into spontaneous religion.
The baptism…good lord.
This is how it was apparently supposed to go down:
Quinn exits my body
We immediately rush him to the shores of the holy river and cleanse that helpless child of all that icky original sin (And here I thought it was cradle cap.)
I guess we were just too selfish and preoccupied with all those trips to see lactation consultants and occupational therapists and car seat experts to grant our poor son guaranteed admission inside the pearly gates. I mean, what a life, right? Who wants to give that up? But whatever. When we went home to visit eleven months later, my parents got a friendly priest to do a baptism on a Thursday afternoon and I got Quinn a lovely blue seersucker suit. RITUAL COMPLETE!
After he called me mean (which I admit, I found hysterical), I told my own mom (whom was called much, much worse by her own offspring. Sorry, Mommy) the story.
“YOU TOLD HIM JESUS WAS SOME GUY?” she yelled.
“I’m not sure exactly what I said. But that’s not the funny part. It was the context–”
“Jesus wasn’t just some guy! TEACH HIM ABOUT JESUS!”
“Uhh, okay? But he’s four and just starting to wipe his own butt so maybe I’ll hold off on the Things to Know About Jesus talk.”
“He needs to start learning now! He needs a basis! Can I send him books?”
I already knew how this ended. There would be books. So. Many. Books. But I reminded her again of his age. Sometimes Peppa Pig goes over his head so I’m pretty sure the Old Testament might be a titch advanced, but okay. I’ll try to get her books into the rotation. We read to him every night before bed. Were these stories that much different than Thomas the Tank Engine getting schooled in responsibility or Wonder Woman putting some tiger thieves behind bars?
God bless Amazon Prime. Two days later The Miracles of Jesus and The Big Book of Bible Stories were on the porch.
“Juju got you some new books,” I said, trying to build up the excitement. “About Jesus. That…uh, guy I was telling you about. Shall we read them?
“Nah. I want to read The Duck Who Played Kazoo.”
“Okay,” I said. “Another time.” It is really hard to compete with a kazoo playing duck.
The next night I brought up the Jesus books again.
“Hey, want to hear about a super cool miracle?”
“Nope,” he said matter of factly. “Not reading those. I want to read Teen Titans.”
“You know,” I said, unsure of why I was working this so hard, “Jesus was kind of a super hero. I mean, he apparently had some pretty rad powers. He could walk on water. Turn water into wine. Communicate with animals.” (Actually I don’t know if that last one is true. I might be getting him confused with the druid in my D&D game.)
But this kid wasn’t buying the loaves or the fishes.
Oh well. I tried.
While Bart read Teen Titans, I cozied up with one of the Jesus books and read about Noah and the great flood. It was one of the stories I actually remembered because it was about animals boarding a giant boat by way of a rainbow gangplank. Pretty much the stuff all my favorite stories were made of.
Or so I thought.
What in the actual hell?
Here’s a slightly paraphrased version of Noah’s Ark from Quinn’s new Jesus book:
God said, “I hate all the people and they must be eliminated. I can totally do better next time! People are stupid and violent. I’m over it, ‘k?”
Noah said, “Sure God. I get it. What can I do to help? I also hate people.”
God said, “Get 2 of each animal (male and female because duh. Hubba hubba), your family, all the food you can store, and get on your boat. I’ll, uh, let you know when things are finished here.”
Then God wipes out ALL THE PEOPLE AND ANIMALS! NOT A BIRD OR A BUNNY OR LITTLE BOY WAS LEFT! Goodbye stupid, violent people! The slate has been wiped clean! Good riddance! Noah sat on his ark for 601 million years before God remembered him out there and finally told him–by way of a bird holding a stick in its beak– that it was safe to come home. Order was restored. People got stupid again.
That one’s gonna be a hard no. Definitely not right before bed.
Where was the peace and love and animal procreation? THERE WAS NO RAINBOW! How did I not know God was eliminating every stupid, violent living thing? Who is reading these books to children?!
Well, it’s a good thing my parents had us both baptized because neither of us was getting into heaven on our test scores.
You will never find a happier, more hospitable, more generous me. I make gingerbread from scratch every year, each time forgetting how gross it is and deck my halls before the Thanksgiving turkey has even been ordered. Give me fake snow, LED curtain lights, and all the Candace Cameron Bure holiday vehicles. I am so in.
I come from holiday-loving stock. My parents only desire was to make sure my brother and I had a better Christmas than the previous one. Oh yes, they brought us to church where we learned all about the real “reason for the season” too, but even a magical pregnant virgin couldn’t compete with flying reindeer, misfit toys, and little elves who could build the exact same Lite Bright that was in the Toys R Us catalog. Every December 25th, my brother and I woke up to a living room filled with Rock Em Sock Em Robots, Legos, and Barbie’s Dream Gated Community. Didn’t matter that some of the toys had Kmart price tags on them or that Santa had the exact same chicken scratch as our mom. What mattered was the cookies left on the mantle had been eaten and the tuft of stuffing near the front door indicated Rudolph was almost positively definitely inside our house.
It was pure magic.
Now I am the parent of a four year-old who is just beginning to understand the magic of holiday fallacies. And because I’m me, we totally bought into the whole Elf on the Shelf deal last year. If you’re familiar, the Elf comes to stay with your family sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas and returns home to the North Pole every night to give Santa a rundown on the day’s activities. The next morning the child delights in finding their elf residing in a new spot around your home.
Pure magic, right?
Well, sort of.
As it turns out the little imp is rather contentious. A lot of people despise this thing. Like hate it’s stupid, stuffed, little guts.
I of course am not one of those people. I revere our elf almost as much as our son does. When she made her return trip Thanksgiving morning, my son could barely hold it together. He woke us up, nearly in tears, and dragged us to the living room where I was certain he’d point out our dead cat (she’s been tormenting the dog for years) or the ol’ bearded one himself ass up in the fireplace. But nope. He pointed to the dining room table where the rosy cheeked “Elfalina” sat perched on a Mason jar.
“She came back,” he whispered.
Do you not see thePURE MAGIC here???
Well, magic mixed with animosity. For some reason people aren’t digging a stuffed doll that not only airs your dirty laundry, but tells Santa it took you six days to fold it. Perhaps you’ve heard the hateful allegations lobbed against elves. Perhaps you’ve been deterred from inviting your very own shelf-sitter into your home. But wait! These are also holiday fallacies (the bad kind) and hold as much water as a tree stand from a dollar store. (Pro Tip: don’t buy a tree stand from a dollar store.)
Fallacy: It’s Too Much Work
Fact: I have a full time job, a demanding kid, and a DVR full of Bravo television that isn’t going to lay on the couch, moderately buzzed, and watch itself! I’m super lazy and yet, I still manage to muster the physical strength to pick up a three ounce doll and move it from a houseplant to behind a canister of coffee.
Yes, I’ve seen the Pinterest pages and Instagram accounts dedicated to the elite elf movers and shakers. There’s one riding away in a bouquet of candy cane colored hot air balloons! Oh look! There’s an elf who was up all night baking and decorating miniature sugar cookies! Oh har har, your neighbor’s elf poops Hershey Kisses. So cute. Hey man, whatever works because your the one setting expectations. Maybe your elf never leaves her perch. Maybe the elf prefers to communicate through Instagram posts. Your elf, your rules.
Fallacy: It’s Creepy
Fact: If your elf is creepy, stop right now, get the box it came in, and READ IT! Does it say Chuckie on the Shelf? Little Girl from The Ring on the Shelf? High-Profile Man in Hollywood on the Shelf? Because our elf is a straight up stuffed, side-eye-giving toy with a cute backstory. If you’re worried about the creepiness factor, have your elf debut with a small offering for your child. Works like a charm. Santa’s been pulling that schtick for years.
Fallacy: It’s an Invasion of Privacy
Fact: “I don’t want that thing watching us!” They shriek. “What message is it sending to our kids?” I heard those arguments from a mom who constantly shares photos of her toddler daughter in the bath and her son’s potty training progress with her 649 Facebook friends. I’m pretty sure they didn’t sign a release.
First, the elf isn’t really watching you. (SEE: Stuffed toy.) The same can’t be said for the roly poly dude who has built an empire on voyeurism, bribery, and some light home invasion. You know, that guy who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake? Hello, stalker! They learned it from watching him!
Fallacy: It’s Sending the Wrong Message
Fact: Sorry, what message are we talking about? The one where you’re supposed to be good for goodness sake? Again, our boy Santa is already perpetrating that myth. And really, what’s wrong with asking your kids to clean up their mess, eat a vegetable, and maybe not moon their grandparents when you’re Facetiming? Trust me, having a little imp to tag in once in awhile is pretty awesome.
See? The Elf on the Shelf is basically like having a free au pair your kids are sort of afraid of. At least for the month of December. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to figure out how to make a zipline from my son’s bedroom door the Christmas tree. Pure magic.
While visiting family in the Chicago suburbs, Quinn’s Great Uncle Mike handed him a silver dollar. Quinn thought that was super cool. He’s starting to understand money. You get it, you trade it for cheap plastic toys, repeat.
Later at the hotel, we were all chilling on the king sized bed eating Chex Mix and watching Beach House Bargain, when Quinn started squirming.
“What are you doing, buds?” I asked.
“Trying to get my money out,” he answered.
“Out of where?” I asked like a stupid, dumb, moron mother. I mean, duh, Mom. Out of where do you think an almost 4 year-old stashes his money?
“Out of my butt,” he said.
Oh for f*ck’s sake, I thought. It’s finally happened. Sticks and stones and broken bones and coinage stuck in a pooter. Some kids stick marbles in their noses, some kids swallow magnets, of course mine is going to treat his butt like an ATM.
“What the hell, kid?” I asked, trying to remain calm. We were in the Chicago suburbs. There had to be what? 8? 9? 362 urgent care centers around us? Someone within a 2 mile radius will be way more equipped at digging coinage out of my son’s butt, right? (EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesus, woman, did you just say that?! Your kid will be a teenager one day! THE INTERNET IS FOREVER!)
More equipped like perhaps my life parter and baby daddy who was laying 2.6 inches away from his son’s currency-filled crack. But yeah, its hard to be able-bodied when you’re face-down in a dirty hotel pillowcase laughing your ass off. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Ass? Really? Because this is a story about butts? Lame joke, honey! You’re better than that! We’re better than that!)
“What money did you put in your butt, dear child?” I asked. “Or rather, who’s? Because stealing ain’t cool and even less cool is stealing and then hiding the goods in a sacred orifice.” Again, super calm because there was no need to get the child worked up and tense. Tense would be about the worst thing to happen here. Tense is what’s going to happen at the Urgent Care center. We don’t need tense right now.
“The money Uncle Mike gave me,” he answered with all the nonchalance of someone answering the question, “Where do you keep the Vaseline and tweezers?”
Oh, sweet relief! Okay. A silver dollar, you say? I admit, I’m not the most spatially gifted girl. If you ask me the distance between my home and Trader Joe’s, I would tell you 13 miles (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s .04 miles) or how tall Quinn is I might guess maybe 2 and a half feet (EDITOR’S NOTE: Or 3.6 feet. But what’s an entire foot when talking about your child’s physical appearance.) But even I could ascertain (EDITOR’S NOTE: Oh good lord. How long has it been since you wrote a freakin’ blog post. ASCERTAIN? Because it sounds like “ass?” It’s not even spelled like that!) that a silver dollar could not fit into an almost four year-old’s…well, I don’t need to paint you a picture. But OMG, what if I did? What a horrible picture! (EDITOR’S NOTE: MOVE ON!)
So I helped Quinn out of his PJ’s, shook him a bit (EDITOR’S NOTE: You can’t shake babies, dummy! Use a different word!) Umm…okay so I jostled him a titch? And wouldn’t you know it, there dropped the silver dollar! Jackpotty! (EDITOR’S NOTE: Okay, jackpotty is actually pretty funny.)
“Disgusting!” Bart yelled, muffled because he was still guffawing into his pillow.
“Honey Bear,” I started, again in my calm mommy voice. “Please don’t put money anywhere near your butt. That could have been scary.”
“But why?” He asked.
“Because money is dirty. And if anything gets stuck inside your body, we’d have to go to a doctor to have it removed. And that might not feel too good.”
He looked appropriately repentant which pleased me. Got to grab those teachable moments when they jump in front of you and down your kid’s Thomas the Train pajamas.
And then he said, “Smell it.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Smell my butt coin!”
“OMG, no. This was a TEACHABLE GOD DAMN MOMENT! I’m not smelling your butt coin!
“No, baby bear I will not. Not ever.”
“SMELL MY BUTT COIN!”
“Please leave me alone, thank you.”
“Jesus Christ on a cracker, GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!”
“Mommy, smell it!!!!”
I jumped from sleeper sofa to bed to desk to shower stall back to bed to hallway to sleeper sofa and back again trying to shake the little loot tooter. But he was buoyed by his love of butts, poop, farts, being disgusting, and his dad’s encouraging hysterics so he was relentless.
“I’M YOUR MOTHER!” I yelled. “YOU DON’T TREAT MOTHERS LIKE THIS!”
In our house we have a saying. “Moms are for snuggles. Dads are for farts.” What was happening here was not normal.
“SMELL IT. SMELL IT NOW!”
“Make your dad smell it!” I shouted. “GIVE DADDY YOUR BUTT COIN!”
I…I…I don’t know what else to say. I can’t explain. I said that– no I yelled that. I know our neighbors must have heard it. Give daddy your butt coin.Go on, sweetie.Give daddy your butt coin so he can get you a Pepsi and some M&Ms. (EDITOR’S NOTE: How much are butt coins worth???? In a hotel vending machine that order is at least $4.75) Or If you can’t take care of your things you need to give Daddy your butt coin right now!
I know you want to know how this situation was resolved. My god you read this far you deserve to know the ending. I didn’t smell the butt coin, but I took possession of it. What choice did I have? I yanked it out of is gross, little hands and ran to the bathroom with it where I scrubbed it down with Marriott branded body wash, shampoo, and conditioner. Then I hid it in Bart’s toiletry bag.
“Aw, Mom!” Quinn pleaded. “I need it! Give me back my butt coin.”
“Sorry, kid,” I said, pouring hand sanitizer on his arms, neck, torso and face. “Your money is no good here.”
“Mommy, snuggle me.”
And just like that my baby was back. Mommy’s are for snuggles. Wow, I guess butt coin was a short phase. I kind of expected it to last a little longer. Sugar and spice and butt coins and lice.
I grabbed my soft, gentle, little sweetness and cozied up to him and about 8,945 filthy bedbugs on our king size hotel comforter.
Not true in our case. My son fell in love with the blonde nurse in the hospital seconds after he was born. And then he fell for my blonde co-worker. Oh, and then there’s Ingrid, his adorable blonde classmate.
I’m a brunette in case you forgot.
But I’m right up there in his affections.
Or at least parts of me are.
Last night Quinn and I were playing his version of volleyball. He stands on one side of the room, I sit on my ass about 6 feet away. He tells me I’m “the net” and I toss a rubber ball to him. He tries to hit it back. I catch it and “serve” it to him. This goes on until he says he wants to be “the net” and switches sides with me. (I’m still not sure what it means to be “the net” as it appears to be very similar to “not being the net” and also nothing like a real net.)
I don’t suck at this game and it’s one of the few non-violent games he’s into lately so I readily play whenever he asks. Plus I enjoy sitting down.
Last night while tossing the old rubber ball back and forth we had this conversation:
QUINN: You’ve got some moves!
ME: (Grateful he noticed!) You like my moves? Why thank you!
QUINN: No, your boobs! I like your boobs!
ME: Oh. Umm.
QUINN: I’M GOING TO MARRY THOSE BOOBS!
ME: Oh my god… BART!
People, this is a kid who was so breast-feeding challenged he literally cried at the site of my boobs. And now he wants to marry them? Umm, no. They have feelings, kid. They remember. Show some remorse for goodness sake.
I can not take my future. Can’t we go back to the “penis and butthole” days? (Great name for a tavern, no? Or maybe some buddy cops?)
If you’re looking for me I’ll be the one wearing 4 sports bras and a suit of armor.