A Cheerful Christmas Story (or How Santa is Being Used and Abused)

This entry was originally posted on December 23, 2013 — thought I’d post it again now, being Christmas-y and all. And since I spent a better part of the weekend shopping, it sort of sums up the frustrations I encountered from the endeavor. I know, I know, it’s a lazy way out…what can I say, I’m tired — but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.  Bet you’ll reconsider my whole Krampus idea after you read it.  

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A Cheerful Christmas Story (or How Santa is Being Used and Abused)

Time for a rant. So, my daughter and I were at the Fresh and Greens the other day and we saw this little girl, maybe 5 years old. Well, first we heard her. We didn’t see her till later. And that would be because she was in the walkway at the end of the cash registers on the floor. You really couldn’t see her unless you looked for her….or was trying to say…leave the store (since she was blocking the walkway). You could certainly hear her though.

Being the time of year it is, it was about Christmas. Of course….it had to be, right? She was repeatedly yelling that she wanted presents for Christmas and for Santa to visit her – all in that whiney little voice that only a child’s own mother can tolerate. I was a little late to the party here, but I gathered from the cashier that this precious little light of mirth had demanded candy or whatever and her mother said no. Not only that, the mother had poured a healthy amount of salt in that wound by additionally threatening that Santa wouldn’t visit unless she behaved. Bad move, mommy. That bold-faced lie unleashed the kraken hiding within her doe-eyed daughter turning what may have been a manageable tantrum into full on psychosis displaying itself for all to see on the floor of this grocery store.

We all have our parenting style and I’m not (fully) criticizing what this mother did next. I’m just saying that it’s not something I would do and leave it at that. So the kid is screaming full blast and this mom, rather than step away from her conversation with the cashier, decided instead to proclaim to the child, “NOW, Santa won’t visit or bring you presents unless you get up off the floor.” Right.

Well you would have thought that she’d sent an electric shock to this child. The little girl splayed herself across the floor with flailing limbs that resembled an 80’s break-dancer and her voice reached a pitch of whine that I thought only possible in a machine shop. And, almost impossibly (but I swear it’s true), her repeated demand that Santa must visit her and must bring her presents, got even louder. It was truly a sight to behold.

Unfortunately the first possible collateral damage entered the scene in the form of an elderly woman who had had enough and had decided that no matter how curious she might be to see if this demon girl’s head was going to start spinning she’s got other things to do and tried to make her way out of the store. She had to gingerly make her way past this kid without having a leg taken out from under her and breaking a hip. Wonder what Santa would’ve said about that!?

And the mom of this lovely floor ornament? Well, the mother, to her credit, was not the least bit fazed or concerned, certainly not enough to become a proactive participant in this wild scene. In fact, you’d barely know she had a child at all. Instead of physically removing the child from the aisle so the elderly woman could get by safely (which would have been the LEAST of my kids’ problems had this been them), she simply continued repeating her mantra ….”Santa won’t visit unless you get off the floor” from the relative safety of the checkout line. What kind of idiotic bribery is this? Good grief, the parenting skills that people use today! Oh wait…skills implies talent or useful abilities. Scratch that. Good grief, what passes as parenting these days!

I mean, really? Let’s do a little play-by-play. First the girl misbehaves. Next, mom pulls out the Santa’s Watching card. So of course the girl’s natural reaction is to throw herself down on the floor. Santa’s watching after all, right? Magically though, now Santa visits tantrum throwing kids just so long as they don’t throw their tantrum while flailing about on the floor or take out the elderly woman trying to exit stage left. Talk about a bit of holiday spirit perversion. I think Santa would be appalled if he knew he was being used in this manner

I wish I could be a fly on the wall of that household when the natural dynamic of this mother and child hits the teenage years. Now that should be a party! Bet Santa’s invite to that one gets lost in the mail.

naughty list

Christmas Nerds

So this Christmas is going to be a somewhat lean one for my kids and me – and that’s okay. It’s not something we can’t work through. As we were talking about gift giving for the upcoming holiday, we decided that we’d choose presents we could sort of give to ‘each other’ to share – communal presents as it were, within a certain cost range.

Rather than purchase several gifts for each of us individually, we would choose a special gift that my son and I would give each other to share that would benefit the “whole” and, likewise, a gift that my daughter and I would give each other that would benefit the “whole.” You get the idea.

Anyway.

The choice of presents was theirs and theirs alone…I left that up to them and figured I would be content with whatever they decided. I just wanted them to be happy. They could’ve chosen anything. Here’s what they came up with. Needless to say, they did my geeky little heart proud. Our mutual love for Marvel Comics and Doctor Who runs deep. I love, love, love my Christmas nerds!

Sarah's Choice (to add to our Marvel collection)

Sarah’s Choice (to add to our Marvel collection)

Jake's Choice (we're all Whovians in this house)

Jake’s Choice (we’re all Whovians in this house)

The Family Car

A little while ago I saw a Facebook thread from a friend who lives in New York about the transportation system they have there. (Feel free to jump ahead if you know everything there is about the train operations already). She was talking about how during the week on commuter trains, there are special sections called Quiet Cars that adhere to particular rules. You can probably guess what they are based on the name: No Families. Read between the lines and the rule is saying “we don’t want your stinkin’ kids.” This is only during the week, apparently.

She went on to say that kids are allowed on weekends and she was complaining about how noisy and chaotic and hectic it was having these kids ripping around the aisles like they’re at Disneyland. That’s when the brilliant idea hit her—why not have Family Cars all the time? All the kids can be herded there and leave the rest of the riders in relative peace and quiet.

I get where she’s coming from, but the reality of this solution is questionable at best. Peace and quiet? It’s New York for god’s sake, the crème de la crème of somewhat loud train riders. I mean really, any large city is going to have trains with loud people. People on cell phones having wildly inappropriate conversations during rush hour, drunk people having conversations with everybody, rowdy people who just like to make noise or those weird eccentric people who talk to themselves. It’s not just kids who are loud on trains.

However, my friend doesn’t mind the loud adults, apparently. They’re okay in her book. But show her a mother reading aloud to their kids to woo them into a mid-afternoon nap (or at the least an attempt to keep them occupied on the train ride) and she’s got issues. She’s my friend and all but really?  Parents reading Horton Hears a Who is more annoying than a guy who had a few too many at happy hour and he’s now expounding loudly to all and sundry about his Fantasy Football lineup? Oh please, please, please let that be his Fantasy Football lineup he’s talking about.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate screaming kids just as much as the next person; so the idea of the Family Car isn’t falling on totally deaf ears. Just muffled. As much as people annoy me (and they do so annoy me), I am well aware we don’t exist in self-contained bubbles where we’re free from any and all interactions that we don’t approve beforehand. Annoying people will always have access to us. Sometimes these people will happen to be children. Sometimes they’ll be full-fledged adults. You can’t get rid of everyone. That’s just life. Deal with it.

Trust me, I wish we had the technology to change this. Oh how I wish we did! I dream of living in the “Get Smart” days where I could ruthlessly activate a “cone of silence” over those irritating people who think train-riding time is also very-loud-and-very-private conversation time. Or hell, even at the cashier lane! Or in a restaurant!

I don’t want to know about your medical procedures. I don’t care about your husband’s toenail fungus. And I really, really don’t want to hear about what you found in your tissue when you blew your nose this morning. So what if your boss hates you?  Who doesn’t?  And who really cares? “Cone of Silence – Activate!”

Getting back to the Family Car vs Quiet Car why restrict it to certain ages or people?  Why not make it Loud Car vs Quiet Car and then stick every LOUD person in the one and every QUIET person in the other, whether they’re kids or families or not?

I mean there are quiet families.  They do exist.  Why should we “good” parents with well-behaved kids be thrown into that pit of vipers anyway? We hate the screaming and the noise and the misbehaving just as much as anyone.  That’s why our children know how to act in public.  So instead of making it a Family Car, make it a Loud Car.  Drunks, loud talkers, unruly kids and their parents, stick them all in there.  Quiet people of all ages – we get the Quiet Car.

It certainly makes as much sense as the original idea which was basically to throw families willy-nilly into one car assuming they’re all loud and unruly, while keeping childless adults on a Quiet Car because, as we all know, they’re sooo unobtrusive and well-behaved (nary a loud talker or rowdy one in the bunch!).  Yeah.  Right.

Mushroom Musing

I’m sure I had you all fooled, but believe it or not I might not have been the smartest kid in the world. Shocking, right? I wasn’t exactly getting invited to join MENSA on my fifth birthday or beating Deep Blue at chess matches in my free time, and that’s okay. I wasn’t a child prodigy but I was still smarter than my brother and during those precious years of childhood that was all that mattered. In hindsight it wasn’t even a fair fight. He was gullible as anything (which in most cases is an endearing trait but when you have siblings it’s a death sentence) and it didn’t help matters that when I was young, I looked like a sweet angel with nary a devilish thought in her precious little head. It didn’t take me long to realize that the way I was being judged on the outside could certainly be a benefit in successfully getting away with whatever mischievous acts my prank-filled head came up with.

A perfect example of my brother’s credulity comes in the form of a story that’s often told around my mother’s table as a cautionary tale about me. I’m not sure I think that’s fair. But you can judge for yourselves.

One night way back when, we were all out at a restaurant called White Coffee Pot Jr. having a nice family dinner. My brother ordered Salisbury Steak complete with gravy and mushrooms. I, on the other hand, did not order Salisbury Steak complete with gravy and mushrooms.  It didn’t take long though for me to wish very much that I had.

Now, it was quite obvious that my brother was enjoying the hell out of his mushrooms.  So naturally my first thought was to find some way to spoil it so that he would end up giving me his mushrooms. I desperately wanted those mushrooms and had to make him so disgusted at the thought of them that he’d just give them up. Yeah, well, don’t cry too hard for him. Remember, he’s the older brother so you can be sure he messed with me on a daily basis. This was just karma rearing its ugly head. No matter that I was only six years old at the time. By then I was already a well-honed grifter. For those of you with siblings, I’m sure you understand.

I started out playing it coy by planting just a little seed of doubt in his head which quickly escalated to a full on sequoia of uncertainty (after all, I had to get to him before he ate them all or they got cold). A few of the well-timed and expertly calculated phrases included the following:

“Hey, are you suuuure those are mushrooms?”

“You know, I think maybe the cook made a mistake. I’m not sure I’d eat them if I were you.”

“They kinda look a little like toadstools to me.”

“Do they taste funny?”

“You know, you’re looking a little peaked…”

I tossed out all of these questions in a nice, easy-going conversational tone with very subtle yet significant pauses in-between. As the inquiries mounted so did his scrutiny over the dish. I watched his hesitance blossom as the inquisition went on, each question hammering away at his defenses. And voila! The mushrooms were mine.

Big Brother: 0 Little Sister: 1.

It was a very convincing performance if I do say so myself. I’m no Meryl Streep but I really do think I should have an Oscar on my mantle.  The good side to this social experiment, besides my victory with a reward of mushrooms to celebrate, is that my brother lost just a tad bit of his gullibility. I gave him a life lesson free of charge and do you know that to this day he’s never even thanked me? So ungrateful.

ME in blue dress

never judge a book by its cover

Mom & Pop Music

Cats and dogs. Fire and ice. Oil and water. When it comes to music, parents and kids are supposed to stay at opposite ends of the appreciation spectrum. Parents are expected to shake their heads and raise their fists in silent fury, or not so silently, when they hear that “racket” coming from their child’s room. The kids are expected to roll their eyes when a golden oldie or classic rock song comes on the radio that their mom/dad turns up and starts snapping their fingers too, often out of rhythm. At least, this is what we’re conditioned to believe.

I’m supposed to stick to my Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Eagles, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, among other 70’s & 80’s classics. I have nothing against these musical icons (and let’s be honest here, they are icons), love them in fact, but I have to admit that I also kind of like my daughter’s music. Yes, I like music that is made for teenagers. I admit it…but…I also stand behind it. There’s some good stuff getting made right now and she’s got a pulse on it and I’m happily riding her coat-tails. Imagine Dragons, Mumford and Sons, Phillip Phillips, Fall Out Boy, Passenger…they’re great!

Yes, here I am a…cough…somewhat middle-aged mother of two and I can honestly say that I love the pop music that’s getting massive airplay. My son’s taste in music is another thing, he’s into rave music. I can’t exactly get behind what he listens to, but my daughter and I, much like our taste in movies, books, and TV shows, are predictably simpatico with our musical preferences as well.

Comes and Goes in Waves” by Greg Laswell is an absolutely beautiful song. “All about that Bass” by Meghan Trainor drives me nuts (in a good way) with its crazy upbeat tune. “Timber” by Pitbull and Ke$ha is another one that I can’t help but turn up when it comes on. God help me, I can even sing along to Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.”

No, I’m not trying to be the “cool mom” either (if anything, I’m the geeky, dork mom).  If one of those songs comes on, I blast the radio even if Sarah’s not in the car with me. I truly do enjoy the sugary addictiveness of songs like “Roar” (Katy Perry) and “Brave” (Sara Bareilles). There’s an extensive list of other songs I could go on and on about but it would make this blog far too long for its own good.

I’m just hoping that I’m not the only parent out there that can find the merit in some of these songs. I’ve never wanted to be the kind of mom that tells their kids to “turn that crap down” and thankfully I don’t have to pretend not to be that. I can, in all honesty, say that I often find myself saying the opposite.

Instead I’m the nutjob bobbing her head in the driver’s seat yelling at her daughter to “turn it up!”

 

The Wailing Child

My neighbor has a daughter that’s roughly somewhere between three and five years old. Honestly, I’m not a good judge of age so I’m going to stop at that pretty wide estimate. She’s small, much like a kid around that age should be, but this girl has got a set of PIPES on her. Holy heaven she can wail like a banshee.

The other day the weather was so nice I decided to enjoy the breeze so I popped my windows open to catch some of the nice aromas of the surrounding wilderness. Piercing through the serenity of the great outdoors came this unnaturally loud bellow. It was the little girl, just letting loose everything in her superhuman lungs. She was standing maybe five feet from my bedroom window (where I was trying to relax) yodeling away. If she would have told me she was trying to communicate with life on another planet I would’ve found her volume level perfectly acceptable and understandable.

The real reason she was letting out this blood curdling shriek? She was calling—nay, screaming—for her friend who lived all of two doors down.  Let me step back for a second and explain that prior to the aforementioned assault on the senses, these two girls had had a loud conversation (also right next to my bedroom window) that centered round the one girl having to go home for dinner and that she’d be back later. The wailing child (aptly named) was apparently not thrilled with this plan. So. She waited all of five minutes to start the kind of howling that would make any banshee proud.

Maybe she wasn’t allowed to leave her yard alone, hence my guess at her young age. Maybe she was super lazy and didn’t want to walk the twenty seconds it would take to reach her friend’s front door and knock on it. Who knows? All I know is that after a half hour she had gifted me a fresh migraine and frayed nerves from all the yelling she did.

She was screaming so loud I couldn’t even tell what she was saying. Her volume was so high that the message couldn’t get through the deafening barrage of sound. I made out her friend’s name but that was it. Besides that, it was all gibberish. Extremely loud gibberish.

And there I am in my house, dumbfounded that she’s able to continue on like a raving lunatic for sooo long. Where the hell were her parents? I know I’ve written a few times about people who have questioned my parenting methods. Allow me to turn the tables and tell you all that I certainly think her parents could use a little tune up in the personal decency department. I would never have allowed my kids to stand out there and just randomly scream like that. It’s not exactly what I would call neighborly behavior.

When I got pregnant (both times) everyone told me “oh this will finally make you realize how great kids are.”  Yeah, my kids. They’re awesome. Other people’s kids? Not so much. They still haven’t rubbed off on me quite yet and probably never will if they keep on trying to raise the dead outside my window. Remember kids: Silence is golden.

The Scream by Edvard Munch

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Summer Nostalgia

Summer is well under way and with it comes a wave of nostalgia. Usually these memories stay happily dormant in the back of my head only to be brought up at family dinners where too much wine is flowing and too many “back in the day” stories are being told much to the embarrassment of my brother and me. I thought I would share a bit here with all of you. Bear with me as I know this is longer than my usual entry but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

So as luck would have it, my parents grew up together — so before they were even betrothed their families were close. It sure made visiting easier when my brother and I were young. Whenever we would spend summers with them in West Virginia, it was always a two-for-one deal. Two sets of grandparents in only one trip.  Both sets of grandparents lived off the beaten path, to put it nicely. More like the boonies or boondocks, which made for an interesting time as a kid.

My paternal grandparents lived way down a gravel road that curved around past their house and into a darkened wooded area that was always creepy as hell even on the brightest of days. Their house was surrounded by over 20 acres of pasture with a very cool barn directly behind the house.  I delighted in wandering through the pastures because it was so beautiful and quiet and reeked of adventure to anyone with an imagination.

My maternal grandparents lived in a “holler,” their home nestled cozily between two mountains. Let me tell you, it was no easy feat to get from the main road down to their place. You took a leap of faith off the hard road, onto a shale covered dirt road barely big enough for one car, over a rickety home-made wooden bridge to their house.

Oh, and I say a leap of faith because when you went from the hard road to the dirt road, the front tires of your car hovered in midair for a moment before connecting with the dirt road. Fun times. Then while one side of the car was snug against the mountain, the other side merely flirted with…well…nothing.  Seriously, you could’ve opened the passenger side door and just stepped out into air.  My brother and I used to torment my mother to no end by scooting over to that side of the car and jumping our little butts up and down to see if we could make the car fall over the edge.  Honestly, I don’t know how she held onto her sanity sometimes.

My Mom’s childhood home (Grandma Mooney and clan) sat in the low center of the holler.  The house itself was set up higher than the road.  To keep the yard from simply eroding and falling into the road, it was shored up in the front with a rock wall that was even with the yard but about 3 feet high off the road – a rock wall from which my brother, in pure locomotive action, accidentally catapulted himself when he was little….hanging in midair like Wile E. Coyote before gravity overtook him and he finally fell to earth… waaayy on the other side of the dirt road. I still grin when I think of it.  Not sure what that says about me.

There were distinct differences at the two places. At my Dad’s place we had a lot of freedom.  My mother had only two rules really: 1)Always keep the house in sight (didn’t quite follow that one) and 2)Stay away from the bull (definitely paid attention to that one). When I got old enough to ride the ATV there was another rule: 3)Don’t wreck and run over yourself (fair enough, right?). And the only thing I can think of is that this must have happened to a cousin at some point in time because otherwise, why need that particular rule?  Luckily I never did quite figure out how you could wreck and run over yourself at the same time.

Looking back, I think my mother gave me a lot more credit than I probably deserved. I don’t know why she thought I had more common sense than I did, but those three rules seemed to be enough for her.

Had she known what little sense I actually had she’d have made more rules. Perhaps one would have been centered around not chasing cars down the gravel road when you’re riding your cousin’s bike which is too big for you, especially when there’s a steep decline right by an apple tree that has dropped slippery decayed fruit onto the road turning it into a stretch of goo that bike tires can’t really handle. Maybe the rule would revolve around that. I don’t know, I’m just spit-balling here. Don’t worry, the scars didn’t last. And surprisingly, my mother’s sanity held.

Things were a bit more regimented with my grandparents who lived in the holler. The places we could go were more clearly defined.  For instance, we could wander along the shale-covered road all we wanted but we couldn’t go up the hard road alone.   We could go down to the creek to hunt for lizards and crawdads, but we had to watch out for water moccasins. What can I say, life in the country does involve taking into consideration that a poisonous snake might jump out and sink its fangs into your shin at any given moment. In an odd way I kinda miss that thrill.

The rules here were just as practical and served the same purpose as the ones for the “pasture house.” They were all instituted so we wouldn’t accidentally kill ourselves or be destroyed by wildlife.

The rules for the holler were: 1)Watch out for water moccasins, 2)Don’t go up the hard road alone, 3)Stay off the grapevines, and 4)Watch out for and avoid bears.  The fourth rule only applied when we were going up the mountain back behind the house.   Like the bull, this was a rule we all happily obeyed. Rule #1 was pretty easy to follow as well. Generally speaking, any rule where the punishment was an animal killing us, we stuck to it.  Rule # 2 was another one we didn’t have an issue with… mainly because there was nothing to do up the hard road anyway.

The grapevines rule…well, not so much. The vines were thick and ran up the sides of trees. Most of the time, the vines could hold a person and you could use them as a rope and swing.  But it was boring just swinging around the base of a tree…usually scraping the tree in the process or else boomeranging back and whacking the tree full force.  Lucky for us, there was a spot up the road where the grapevines reached out over a ledge…we had our friend CW (may he rest in peace) to thank for the lowdown on the secret location.

Well, kids being kids, I’m sure you can guess what we did next. Yep, we’d use those vines to swing out over the side and into…empty space. Like Tarzan of the Jungle. It never occurred to us that they might break midair or that we could get seriously hurt as we leaped out into that void. All we knew was the sheer joy of feeling the wind as we flew.

As a parent myself, with the world as it is now, it seems like those summers are a lifetime away, and I guess they are.  It never seemed like we were living life on the edge or putting ourselves in mortal danger but I suppose in a way we were. Still, we survived. We survived the wildlife and the angry bull, the ATVs and the unstable grapevines.

Not only did we survive, we thrived.

I wish my kids had been able to enjoy such freedom and fun as we had during those summers. I mean, nowadays, we warn our kids…look both ways before you cross the street,  keep an eye out for strangers, stay together when wandering through the mall, take your phone and text me when you get there.

I would have loved just once to yell after them as a wooden screen door slammed behind them: “Hey!  Watch out for bears!

 

June 18, Bear in Yard