An Elf’s Guide For Momma’s Holiday Survival


These days, it seems to be a holiday requirement for each home to possess their own Elf on the Shelf. And, if you’ve been paying attention, you will notice how every single household is trying to outdo the others in ways of creativity, cutesiness and cheer. Parents are going into full-blown planning mode, months and months in advance, all so that they can come up with new and interesting ways to hide these ubiquitous imps. And frankly, folks, it is turning into insanity!!

I have seen my fair share of moms break down and lose it over a bad Pinterest picture, a plagiarized hiding spot or a momentary creative block. Luckily for me, our family has a very different kind of elf. And he has a very different message! Here are the nuggets of wisdom our elf has imparted to us – tips that have helped me to survive this season:

Unavailable Be Unavailable

Anyone and everyone comes calling during this time of year. Whether it be the invitations to boring office parties, the loathsome sight of carolers, or well-meaning fruitcake-toting acquaintances, folks are all about getting up in your space. And, worse than that, they don’t seem to know that a locked door, closed blinds or an unplugged phone mean “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!” Somehow, that gets lost in translation and people, being so transfixed by the blaze of twinkling lights, believe it’s their duty to just try you again later. Yes, they mean well, but if you let them, they will rob you of your time…and possibly your soul.

So just, you know, take a chill pill and tune them all out. Be unavailable. If they don’t get the message at first, they will soon enough. And if you are ever confronted about it later on, just say you had the flu. If they’re truly jolly and Christian, they will have to believe you!

Green Be Green

Millions and Billions of trees are killed each year for our excessive desire to write things down. And for what?! Most of our paper-based holiday activities, such as Christmas cards, are pointless, time-consuming, are just plain wasteful. I mean, seriously, doesn’t it seem silly to send a card wishing someone a “Merry” this or “Happy” that when, let’s be honest, you never give a second thought the rest of the year?!

So, cut the crap. Simplify! Put your environmental (read cheap and/or lazy) foot down and stop cutting down more trees just to keep up with the status quo. Instead, make up one e-card that you can blast to your colleagues/friends/neighbors. Don’t worry about making it perfect. If they’re anything like you, they won’t even look at it. And, as for the elderly folks in your life, just tell them that you sent a card but the G.D. post office must have lost it. Their anger will distract them from questioning you further.

Resourceful Be Resourceful

The holidays often equate to an increase in kitchen time. And typically there are four reasons for this:

1) Kids love gingerbread. And, they look forward to the season where they can create an entire gingerbread metropolis that they can destroy.

2) Schools want what you’ve got. They’re always fund-raising and assume that they can leverage more guilt/shame to make you either spend your money or your time. Not that you don’t have time. Or money. Right?! But usually there is a standard that feels best met by concocting home-made goodies. So, in order to keep up with those other bitches in the PTA, why not build a Sacher-Torte for a new pee-wee T-ball stadium or a meringue pie for the A.V. club. Whatever. It’s for your child. Or some random kid, anyway. And the pat on the back you will receive, as a result, will last all of three seconds. Your time will be SO worth it!

3) Misery loves company. That’s right. It’s the only clichéd adage that is true. Statistics will show that most people gain a bit of weight during the holidays. As a result, everyone will try to offer a baked goodie from their kitchen to plump you up so they won’t feel so alone in this process. And the added bonus for them is the idea that you will have to comply by making something for them in return. They will get to have their cake, eat it, and then blame you later for their weight gain, too. It’s really a brilliant system. Too bad you already see through it.

4) Families expect to be fed. That’s the worst part of any occasion, isn’t it?! And I’m not just talking about the folks who live under your roof. The holiday season somehow has become synonymous with the concept of grand-scale feasts in which every half-witted half-cousin is invited. And the more family you have, the sooner in the year you can expect talk about that upcoming year-end session of gluttony…at YOUR house. If you make it good, they will salivate over it all year long, expecting that you have just created a new “tradition.”

To all of these four things, I have two words: STORE BOUGHT! Store bought cookie dough. Store bought baked goodies. Store bought meals. Store bought everything! Sure, it might be a little more expensive at first but how much is your time worth? A lot more than the $2.99 five-pound tub of Ore Ida potato flakes. Most people won’t even know the difference between a Pepperidge Farm cookie and your own. And, if someone calls you out, you will know which box of goodies to sneak a laxative into…next year!

Realistic Be Realistic

Kids want everything! And somehow they are born with the idea that every small desire equates to a grand and dire need. Sometime between the end of Summer and the early part of November, they start putting together a Christmas wish list. For those of you who have experienced this phenomenon, you can attest to the fact that these “lists” are sometimes long scrolls of paper, large enough to wallpaper an entire room. Yes, and let me mention that at least 90% of the items on these lists are useless, flimsy, mass-produced junk that will only get about a week’s worth of play. And that’s being optimistic.

So, when doing your Christmas shopping, try to scale back and use your children’s weaknesses against them. Rewrap presents you gave them last year or the year before. You know, the gifts they just had to have, that you searched all over creation to find, just so they could open them on Christmas morning, look mildly amused and then chuck them into a pile (a pit, really) of forgotten toys in the back of their closet. Yeah, those toys! If you’re feeling extra motherly, you can wrap them up with special, shiny wrapping paper and put colorful bows of your choice. Just the bright and shiny objects surrounding the toys should be enough to distract them from the déjà vous of the moment.

This works especially well for younger children; BUT, if they are older, more observant, and do happen to figure you out, just play it cool. Divert their attention. “Look,” you can say, “Santa noticed that you hadn’t played with the toys he got you last year so he was just giving you a reminder. Your real presents will come next year. After you have cleaned your room and done your chores. For now, kid, just be grateful for central heat and a stocked refrigerator.” Then sit back and pat yourself on the back. Not only have you gotten away with the biggest hoax of the century, you have also done your part in creating one less, self-entitled spoiled asshole. And isn’t that the best gift of all?!

Charity Be Charitable

Another thing that the holidays is good for is guilt. And everyone is eager to make you feel bad for something. When you walk into a department store, the Salvation Army Santa is ringing his bell in discontent that you are consuming and not sharing. Phone calls for Charity X and Charity Y ring you down like bill collectors, offering “plans for giving” as though it were your obligation. And, sure, when you live in a warm house with a healthy family and food in your belly, the guilt does start to creep in. But, sometimes, every once in a while, it’s nice to give that bit of guilt the finger.

Life is not always a cake walk. For anyone. Truth be told, in all of my years with central air-conditioning, a working dishwasher and all ten of my fingers, I have still endured some truly shitty moments. Yes, I acknowledge that it’s lucky for me to have all of my limbs. No my husband doesn’t beat me. And, the only land mines I walk through daily are the square blocks my son lines on the living room floor.

So, while I might seem to have a charmed life, I could list other statistics that would make you cry. My deaf left ear. My smooth and sickly cat. The fact that my car was stolen one day when I was having lunch with a friend. Or the fact that the same friend told me I looked fat in my favorite purple sweater. But, whatever. We all have problems. And we all have guilt. And don’t feel bad if this holiday season all you feel like giving the world is a piece of your mind, a grumble or a big thumbs down rather than a dollar.

Merry Be Merry

I used to have a friend named Mary. She was not the sharpest tool in the shed and she liked to drink. A lot! But, if there was one good thing you could say about Mary, it was the fact that she was always the life of the party. This was true primarily because she always did whatever she wanted without worrying about other people’s thoughts. In other words, she had no decorum, manners, shame, OR dignity. And, while all of those traits sound like a bad thing, you know, sometimes there is a virtue to being “that kind of person.”

This year, if stress is getting you down or the expectations of the season are getting to be too much, it might be time to be more like Mary…and be Merry. While it’s true that it might not feel good the next day, baby, living life in the moment always feels AWESOME! WOOOHHOOO! Just one tip to remember, though – make sure your festive behavior doesn’t get caught on film.

Irreverent Be Irreverent

For some people, this time of year is the ultimate holy season. A lollapalooza of all things Christian. And then there are other people who just like to build snowmen and drink hot chocolate. No matter which team your friends are playing for, there is only one thing that is certain: they all expect you to be just as reverent and respectful of their “season” as they are.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a little irreverence. That’s the very thing that makes life interesting and comical. But, a word of advice from someone who knows – pole dancing around Christmas trees is harder than it looks. In other words, know your audience and know when to attempt such feats – otherwise, you may have a pine scented hoo-hoo and about twenty less friends for absolutely no reason at all!

Just Be Just Be

This one should be simple, but in this day and age unfortunately it is not. Most people in our culture have forgotten this one, very important tenet to true and utter happiness. Just be. That means every once in a while just turn it all off. That’s right. The TV. The phone. The iPad. The radio. All of that noise that constantly fills our space. Turn. It. All. OFF!

And then what, you might ask?! This is where it gets interesting. Just sit with your thoughts. Enjoy the silence. Be in the moment. Notice the small things. Live. Breathe. Repeat. It’s not imperative that you check your Facebook page every two minutes. The world won’t fall apart if your Twitter twits don’t know what you had for lunch. And the nonsensical, time-wasting emails can wait. Just sit back, take some time for yourself, your family, and your kiddos…and, you know, drive each other nuts the old-fashioned way!

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The Opposite Of June Cleaver


june cleaver

Yesterday I reached an epiphany, an awareness about myself that was as startling as it was obvious – I am the polar opposite of June Cleaver. My hair is not set in any particular style. In fact, I am lucky if it sees a brush once a day. I do not clean house in dresses and heels. Actually, I rarely wear anything other than pajamas and bare feet. Pearls never drape around my neck. Only burp clothes caked with dried snot and baby food. My house, though tidy-ish, is not necessarily “company ready” at any given second. I usually require advanced notice of a day or two before someone “drops in.”

My meals, though the aim is nutrition, sometimes burn, sometimes fail and sometimes come out of a box. I’ve never made a roast anything. I’ve never been successful in getting my family to eat their peas. And, sadly, our dining table is a mere charade filling a void in a useless room. We eat our meals – all of our meals! – hunched over the coffee table, in front of our TV, just as I always vowed I would never do.

And that is just the surface stuff. My list of failures and low-points could trail on in a seemingly endless barrage of pathetic details. Episodes that would be funny were they not true.

Yesterday held one such example. During his afternoon nap, my nine-month old son managed to grab an almost empty lotion bottle from his changing table. I had no idea his small arms could reach so far – but they could, and they did! When he awoke and I got him out of his crib, I noticed the bottle in his possession. Then I realized he had apparently had his way with it and had (I assumed) eaten a small portion of the remaining lotion.

In a frenzy, I told my daughter to go play in her room while I did something for a moment. I didn’t want to tell her what was going on because I didn’t want to scare her. More honestly, though…I really just didn’t feel like answering her potential questions. (What happened? What are you doing? Why did he eat the lotion? What’s in lotion? What’s going to happen to him? Is he going to die? If he does, can I have his room?) So, I left her in her room, with my son in my arms, while I went to call Poison Control.

As I sat on the phone with a wonderfully calm professional, my daughter started to yell in the background. It wasn’t a cry for help, though. Instead, it was that all-too-familiar yell for “Momma!” In the background, it grew louder and louder, increasing in pace as much as in volume, with no feasible break in between for me to helpfully reply. As her screaming for me grew more and more desperate, my embarrassment grew with it. I imagined that the man on the phone from Poison Control thought we lived in a crazy house. All of that yelling. The sounds of an unhappy and restless baby. A mother asking, in frazzled tones, about her child eating lotion. By the end of it, I was almost certain that he had one finger on 911, just in case this picture turned ugly.

Sure, I wanted to attend to my daughter. But with no break in her screams, and my intention to make us seem decently normal for the man on the phone, I did the only sensible thing – I shut doors and burrowed further down the hall of our house, as far from the yelling as I could get. By this point, I had made my way into the laundry room, completely at the other end of the house. Any further, and I would have escaped through the back door. It was pathetic. But the worst part hadn’t even come yet.

After I got off of the phone (and after finding out that the lotion would not harm my son), I ran into my daughter’s room to see exactly why she had been yelling. She replied “Nothing. I just wanted to ask if we were going to have dinner soon.” Really?! The yelling, the banshee screams, the frantic shouting of my name while I was on the phone was for that?! THAT??? And that was the moment I lost my shit. Big time!

I lashed out at my six-year old baby girl. I growled at her in a voice so guttural that even a demon would have been scared. I shouted the worst, most horrible profanities that even a drunken sailor would swear were cruel. And, the anger, the overwhelmingly uncontrollable ire, just poured out of me like water from a broken dam. In that moment, as I delivered such a horrible display of parenting, I stood beside myself in angst, living an almost out-of-body experience. I knew it had all gone wrong right as it was unfolding, and yet I couldn’t stop any of it from happening. The tone, the words, the whole moment was something that had spilled out of me too easily. And it was a moment I could never take back.

She and I sat in silence in her room, unsure of how to proceed, for a few minutes following. Just awkward and hurt, disappointed and upset. And sad. We both shed many tears over the incident. We both made our apologies. We hugged and moved on with the day. But, even after we returned to smiles and happier times, I still couldn’t shake what had happened. And that was just one day. There were other times. Other things. My weaknesses, my impatience, my desire for control, my inflexibility – all of them, causing conflict, upset, discord, problems. It seemed a constant and recurrent theme.

And then June Cleaver appeared. On TV. There she was! “Leave it to Beaver” was on. Barbara Billingsley stood, reprising her famous character – the nurturing, loving mother. Buoyant. Chipper. Flexible. And endlessly patient. No. Matter. What. Though fictional, her representation of motherhood was one that I could recall from childhood, steadfastly holding it in my tiny mind as the ideal. The goal. The patron saint of matronly endeavors. So, after the defeat of the day, I did what came naturally. I said a little prayer to June:

Mrs. Cleaver, June, mother of all mothers, please help me to be wise like you.
Coif my head with gentility and open-mindedness.
Line my lips with a darker shade of self-control over my words.
Help me to stand tall in the heels of better judgment.
Give me the courage to wear a smile that bears true happiness behind it.
Lend me an apron to shield me from the messy nature of life.
And, endow me with pearls of wisdom that will get me through situations gracefully.
Though I will never be like you, please help me not to be so much like myself.

However, it took me a full day, when I finally wrote out the words of this little prayer, before it finally dawned on me – the difference between me and June is not that I’m a failure and she is not. The difference is that I am real person and she is not! If I had stylists making me beautiful, wardrobe artists dressing me up, set designers arranging my house, writers crafting my dialogue, and directors instructing me on how to act then perhaps I would have a picture perfect life, too. Our TV culture has done us in by the way of offering false realities for us to compare ourselves to. And I have bought into it, just as much as the next person.

Well…no more! Though I still love “Leave it to Beaver,” and though I still idolize how easy June Cleaver makes it look, I now realize that I should not compare myself to her any more than I would to Botticelli’s Venus or Michaelangelo’s David. Yes, I make mistakes. In fact, yesterday I made a big one. But, for every one of those moments I have hundreds of other more picturesque “good Mommy” moments that go unnoticed. Times like last week when my daughter and I made cookies together, laughing, licking wayward icing off our fingers. Or a few days ago, while I was holding both of them in my arms, reading them a story, spontaneously kissing their foreheads in between words. Or the airplane motions I have to make with my son’s spoon in order to coax another bite. Or the bandaged boo-boo’s I clean with the care of a surgeon. Or the love notes I pack in my daughter’s lunches. Or the countless games of Go Fish. Or hide-and-seek. Or peek-a-boo. Or listening to the same Barney song for the umpteen-millionth time! My love for them is everywhere. And my love for them is real. Because I’m a mom. Their mom!

Yes, I am the opposite of June Cleaver. Not because I’m a failure. But because I am real. I am what motherhood really looks like. And, barring a few exceptions, for the most part I’m pretty good at it. In my actions, even my worst ones, my children learn that a mother, like all people is a person who makes mistakes and gets back up, someone who is constantly analyzing, learning, trying to be better, though sometimes failing. A mother is also a person. And people have feelings. I am not so stoic that their bad behavior goes unnoticed. And I am not always so flexible to work around something that goes outside of my plans.

I’m trying. Every day I keep trying to be better. Every day I say a little prayer for improvement. However, from now on, those prayers will no longer be to fictional characters – and they will no longer be prayers to help me not be so much like myself. Instead, they will be prayers to help me to be my best self. When it’s all said and done, that is more the ideal, the goal of parenting, than any false image or TV reality.