Daddy & Daughter

My husband and my daughter have created a game: he holds her hands and she jumps as high as she can while he propels her up even higher, then she swings her legs up and over and ends up doing a complete flip, sticking the landing with a huge thud. I call this game “Give Mommy a Heart Attack,” they just call it fun.

When my husband and I first found out we were having a little girl, my husband was beyond thrilled but he was also a bit panicked.

“I don’t know what girls play; I don’t know anything about girls.” He was so worried.

“Girls are just like boys, minus the innate knowledge of how to make machine gun noises with their mouths which boys always seem to have,” I reassured him.

On the day our daughter was born, all my husband’s fears completely disappeared. She was his girl from day one and he has always known how to hold her and comfort her and even how to play with her, despite all his previous fears.

Now those two are thick as thieves. She is the very image of her father: brown hair that turns slightly reddish in the summer, big brown eyes that seem to be an extension of their smiles, and best of all, she has her father’s adventurous spirit and never-say-quit attitude.

The other day the two of them were outside playing in the snow and I stopped by the window to watch them.They were making a snow fort: my husband shoveling snow into a pile and my daughter already making snow balls for their impending snow battle. They worked together so easily and so happily. I turned to grab my boots and join them, but then I decided no. They need times like this, just the two of them, playing and conspiring and laughing, just daddy and daughter.

I kept watching them though and thinking how important this father/daughter relationship is. My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and have lots of fun, but it’s different. I worry and tell her to be careful and get scared when she climbs too high. My husband tells her to climb higher while never leaving her side and cheering like a madman when she reaches the top. She learns to take risks with him and as much as that scares me, I know how important it is for her to learn.

My husband plans “dates” for the two of them every so often. Sometimes they go bowling and out to lunch, sometimes it’s dinner and a movie. She always wants to dress up in her fanciest dress and she insists that he wear a bow tie and a jacket. He never even falters. He has worn a bow tie and a jacket out to Red Lobster before and loved every minute of it. My daughter just thinks these are special fun times with Daddy, but I know better. He’s teaching her how a man treats a woman and what respect looks like.

My daughter has also learned trust from her father. When she was learning to ride her bike, she was petrified. She made Daddy promise not to let go of her. And he didn’t. He ran up and down our street fifty times, keeping pace with her pedaling, the grin on his face just as big as hers. But he also knows when to give her a push and let her go on her own; like the time she first sledded down our hill by herself. I had been trying to get her to sled by herself but she wouldn’t do it. After a day with Daddy, she ran into the house and yelled excitedly, “Mommy, I went down the hill all by myself!” I quickly asked my husband how he finally got her to do it and he smiled slyly and said, “I just gave her a quick push instead of getting in the sled with her.” He knew exactly how to get her down that hill and her trust in her daddy is so strong she knows nothing bad can ever happen to her when he’s there.

Yes, sometimes my husband and daughter get a little wild and a bit too loud and their acrobatic antics scare the heck out of me, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

Prisoner of Christmas Vacation

Ah, Christmastime. A time of peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and figgy pudding (whatever figgy pudding might be). This is the time of year children covet, not just for the toys that Santa crams down the chimney, but for the glorious two-week vacation from school that accompanies all the merriment.

I, too, got swept up in the excitement of my daughter’s two-week respite from school. As the last day of school approached, I thought, How fun! We will sleep-in and frolic as a family for two whole weeks!  I was so excited that I decided to keep a journal to forever remember our family Christmas.

December 21: First day of Christmas vacation! My daughter woke up a little earlier than I expected, but that’s okay—she must be as excited as I am to get the fun started! Today we are going to make candy!

December 22: Candy making was a success! And by “success” I mean my pants no longer fit comfortably. Oh well, calories don’t count at Christmastime anyway and I have plenty of yoga pants with extra stretch in them. Today I have invited my daughter’s best friend over so the two of them can play and decorate cookies together!

December 23: I’m still picking sprinkles off the dog after yesterday’s cookie decorating. And I just noticed there is frosting on my chandelier. Oh, but listening to the two of them talk about Santa was priceless! 

December 24: I can’t believe it—Christmas Eve! I have planned a meal the likes of which have never been seen before! Mostly new recipes, but I love cooking for my family. I also have a ton of wrapping to do tonight, but I love wrapping as much as I love cooking. My stomach is feeling a bit queasy but I’m sure it’s nothing, just all the excitement of the holiday!

December 25: The best thing I can say about yesterday’s dinner is that it was edible. At least that’s what my husband told me. The cooking is kind of a blur because I spiked a fever. I don’t know, something had nutmeg in it and there might have been a potato dish. I spent the evening with my head in the toilet. One thing is for sure: no one holds mommy’s hair when she’s down for the count. Nope, I just kept vomiting while cursing my fate. At one point, a tomato got lodged in my nose so I made a solemn vow to try and chew better in the new year.  My husband had to take over and do all the wrapping, which means the presents looked like a crumbled pile of yuletide rubble but when you’re in my condition you just have to accept it. Or complain nonstop, which I did.

December 26 – 28: Fever, chills, vomit, repeat. If I don’t find the strength to crawl out of bed and take a shower, surely my home will be condemned.

December 29: I feel well enough to venture into the living room and see the damage my husband and daughter have done while I convalesced. Oh sweet mother of pearl. I’m going to need a shovel to clean this place. Maybe we will just move. Oh, look at that pile of dishes in the sink. Yeah, we will just move.

Dec. 30: I have recovered, the house is clean, and my mommy guilt has taken a firm hold of me. I wanted to do so many things with my daughter and then I got sick and was out of commission for so long. Well, I’m making up for lost time now—today is craft day! 

Dec. 31: Craft day fizzled out after about twenty minutes. We set out to build a castle, but what we ended up with is a pile of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners that slightly resemble the large intestine. I have also been thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur, so I’m keeping them simple this year. My goals are: to gain weight (already started that), accrue more debt (started that one too), and swear more (this one won’t be a problem either because the longer Christmas vacation goes on, the more patience I lose; the swearing will be inevitable—a real win/win situation).

Jan. 1: Happy New Year! New beginnings and new adventures await! Oh, who the hell am I kidding? It’s just Wednesday.

Jan. 2: I have been playing my daughter’s favorite pretend game, known simply as “Bear Family.” This game entails me being the voice of fifteen stuffed bears and their assorted “cousins” from the animal kingdom. I’m pretty good at improv but my daughter keeps yelling, “Cut!” and redirecting me. I can’t work under these conditions. 

Jan. 3 – 4: I have been the voice of all the stuffed bears for so long now that I fear my sanity may have suffered a severe blow. I attempted to use the bathroom by myself today but was headed off by my daughter and the dog. I should have known better.

Jan. 5: I made it. School starts tomorrow. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Wait, I also see snow…

Jan. 6: School was cancelled because of snow. I can’t be the voice for any more bears. I can’t. I must escape. But where? In a bold move, I make a break for the bathroom, grabbing a book as I lunge for the door and lock it. Great, it’s a medical textbook. I grab the shampoo bottle and read it instead. If school is cancelled tomorrow, I swear I’m going to drop my daughter off at the superintendent’s house for the day.

Jan. 7: School today! I can’t stop smiling. Today I get my sanity back. I took my daughter to school then came home. I walked passed her room and saw all the stuffed teddy bears on her bed. I choked back a sob and thought, ‘I miss my baby. When is spring break?’

 

I Still Believe in Santa

I believed in Santa Claus until I was twelve-years-old. I blame my parents entirely; they were really good at being Santa. Like the year we moved into our new house. I was five and I secretly asked Santa for a new swing set. Christmas morning came and presents sparkled under the tree like diamonds, but I ran for the back door to see if the swing set was there. I was heartbroken to find the backyard was completely swingset-less. My parents were just as heartbroken when they learned I had asked Santa to bring the surprise swing set.

Despite the upset, Christmas morning was still a big success. The next day, while playing with all the new toys, I heard my dad in the backyard swearing up a storm. My mother rushed me outside to see what was the matter. My father was pointing at something. There on the roof of our house was a swing set, still in the box, right by the chimney.

“Santa must have been in too much of a hurry to set it up!” My father exclaimed.

I was in awe. It wasn’t until many years later that my parents told me about the ordeal of going out the day after Christmas and finding a swing set, hoisting it up onto the roof, and all the while keeping me distracted. Like I said, my parents excelled at being Santa.

But let me tell you, the elementary school playground is a rough place to be when you’re the last sixth grader who still truly believes. I suffered the slings and arrows of all my classmates who had long ago given up on Santa. But I didn’t care; I had Santa on my side.

Lucky for me the real hazing didn’t take place until right before Christmas vacation started. I usually tried to keep a low-profile with my Santa belief, but somehow I would always let it slip out.

A friend of mine once said, “I want the new Barbie Townhouse with the pull-string operated elevator, but my mom says it costs too much.”

“Santa will bring it to you!” I blurted out, opening myself up to prepubescent ridicule and degradation within seconds.

“You believe in Santa?! There’s no Santa! What are you, four-years-old?!” All the classic taunts along with the prerequisite laughing and pointing—the elementary school equivalent of torches and pitchforks.

I would have to convince them of Santa’s magical presence with logic.

The carrot! Yes, the carrot! My mother had tried to throw away my carrot from last year stating it was a health hazard, but I knew it would come in handy at a time like this, which is exactly why I put it in a ziplock baggie and labeled it, Santa Evidence: Exhibit A. “See, it’s a carrot left over from last year. Here’s where Dasher nibbled it.” No one in their right mind would dare argue with such hard-hitting, irrefutable evidence such as this.

“That’s an old carrot your dog chewed on!” some kid with overactive glands shouted.

Blasphemer! He was surely getting a lump of coal in his stocking this year. But it became clear that a factual approach was lost on these Santa-mockers.

As Christmas drew closer, I had to give up on trying to convince everyone of Santa’s benevolence and focus on my own survival. I was quickly becoming the focus of every kid’s pent up aggression and I had to think of a defense. This is when I really started honing my smart-mouth skills and learned that words really are weapons. It actually wasn’t too terribly difficult to prepare myself for the onslaught of verbal assaults from the kids with IQs half of mine.

“That’s the dumb girl who believes in Santa! Are you going to wait up all night for Santa and see if he brings you diapers, you big baby! If he’s real, why doesn’t Santa come to my house?!” Target acquired. This half-wit was about to be on the receiving end of my newly sharpened tongue.

“Actually, I didn’t ask for diapers. I asked Santa to bring me books because I like to read. I know that’s not a skill you possess but it probably won’t be necessary when you’re forty, balding, and working at the carwash applying Armorall to my tires. As for why Santa doesn’t visit your house, well, I can only assume it’s because your mother drinks too much and the empty Wild Turkey bottles on your front lawn scare the reindeer.”

I never realized how powerful words could be until that very moment. That kid backed away from me and never dared to slander Santa in my presence again.

As it turns out, that was my last year believing in Santa as an actual person. I came to understand that he’s not so much a real person as he is a feeling of excitement and a reminder that a little magic can ignite a whole lot of imagination.

Pop Rocks and Yoga

Yoga. It’s primal, earthy, and peaceful. Basically it’s everything I’m not. But there’s just something exciting about stepping out of your comfort zone and into a completely new world. Well that, and the fact that everyone I know does yoga and I was beginning to feel left out which led me to have flashbacks of when I was a kid and my friends were eating Pop Rocks but my mom wouldn’t let me eat them because she said I would die. Even now when I see those crystalized particles of death (as my mother called them) I long to try them but fear stops me every time.

But fear won’t get the best of me with yoga. I decide it can’t be any more dangerous than Pop Rocks so I sign up for a class and prepare to enter the esoteric and transcendental world of yoga.

I walk into the International House of Yoga (at least I think that’s what it was called) with all the enthusiasm of a woman with a brand new yoga mat and I try to blend in. A woman so small I could fold her up and put her in my pocket smiles and tells me to grab two blocks, a bolster, and a yoga strap.

A strap? This is getting a little too Fifty Shades of Grey for me. Great, I’m out of the loop again; I never did read that book because it was clearly written for women who don’t fear Pop Rocks. If it weren’t for the $40 I spent on this new yoga mat, I’d be out the door. But I really want to take the plastic wrap off of this thing, so I forge ahead.

I take a spot in the back of the room because I don’t want to block anyone’s mojo or unbalance someone’s chakras and hopefully no one will hear any foul language that might escape my lips during this adventure way back here. I tear the plastic off my new yoga mat and attempt to spread it out, but it just keeps rolling back up. I try to look yoga-cool as I roll the mat out then throw my body on top of it, flailing my arms and legs to each corner in a desperate attempt to flatten the mat out before the class starts. I lay there for a moment hoping everyone will just think I’m meditating when a woman stops and asks if I need help.

“Oh no, I’m okay. I just like to stretch out a little before class. It’s a yoga position from the old country. My grandma taught me. It’s called ‘Awkward woman on new mat.’ It’s quite invigorating, but not for those who embarrass easily.”

“Just relax and have fun. You’re going to love yoga,” says the woman then adds, “My name is Cascade.”

“Oh, like the dishwasher detergent!” I blurt out like a mom with no life, which I am.

Cascade’s smile fades and her eyes narrow. “No, like a water fall in a pristine forest high in the mountains untouched by the ugly hands of the logging industry.”

“I don’t like logs either,” I stammer. “Cascade always leaves my glasses spot-free, just like an unlogged forest. I mean, it’s nice to meet you, Cascade.” It’s at moments like this that I wonder why I am allowed to leave my house and mingle with the public.

The instructor gets class started and I feel pretty confident until we get to downward dog. A couple bits of advice for any yoga newbies: 1) don’t lotion your hands right before yoga class. This will cause you to slip slowly, inch by inch, into a convoluted version of downward dog, resulting in an immediate loss of dignity; 2) always wear a tight shirt to do yoga as a loose-fitting shirt will end up covering your head and thereby exposing those problem areas you were trying to camouflage by wearing your husband’s old college tee shirt in the first place.

But I’m nothing if not resilient; I wiped off my hands then tucked my shirt into my yoga pants and gave it another try. Other than the four times I almost passed out trying to breath like the instructor said to breath, I felt pretty good. Yoga is actually quite relaxing and very empowering. When class is over, I feel like I could take on the world…or even a package of Pop Rocks.

Well, let’s not get crazy.

 

The Dentist

The smell of the dentist’s office—so familiar it’s almost comforting, but yet repulsive and terrifying all at once. If impending doom had a scent, it would be the same as the dentist’s office.  Contrast that with the sweet voices of the receptionists at the dentist’s office. I have never encountered a dental receptionist that didn’t have the voice of angel. It must be a job requirement meant to distract the patient from the all-too-painful whirring of unidentified, electric dental tools.

Even the most faithful flossers begin to perspire as they walk into the dentist’s office. I consider myself well above average in the oral hygiene department but I still get nervous. And that dental office decor only adds to my anxiety because I can never stop wondering how they managed to get my grandma’s old sofa into this tiny office. I pick up the May issue of Glamour but the summer swimsuit collection isn’t really going to help me now that it’s November and 40 degrees outside. I decide to amuse myself by focusing on the guy across from me who looks really nervous. I look over and whisper, “I hope the tools are properly sterilized here or we could all get dysentery and die.” Nothing makes me feel better like making someone else feel worse.

That sweet-sounding receptionist gives me a scowl so I quickly get back to reading about which bikini will look best on the Thanksgiving turkey. I get up and walk to the bathroom to wash my hands because pre-read magazines always make me feel dirty. There is complimentary floss and mouthwash in the bathroom. I imagine the poor, desperate soul who uses this stuff. If you have been shirking your flossing duties, you’re not going to fool anyone here with this last-ditch effort. But they are travel-size so I grab a few and put them in my pocket—perfect for the flosser on the go.

Soon enough it’s my turn for the power chair and the sassy clip-on bib. The dentist and her assistant shove tools, hands, and enough cotton to knit a sweater in my mouth then begin asking me questions. I try to answer with a clever combination of hand gestures and eyebrow movements but I’m afraid the hygienist may think I am propositioning her. I switch all my answers to a throaty gurgling noise. Thankfully my dentist is fluent in throaty, gurgling noises. All too quickly my chair is back in the upright position and the dental verdict is in. “You need to see an endodontist.”

An endodontist, I learn, is a root canal specialist. In other words, a doctor who specializes in torture. Another appointment, another office. Only this office was not the same. Where my dentist had my grandmother’s couch from 1986, this office has a roaring fireplace, a crystal chandelier, and a self-serve wet bar. My travel-size floss pilfering seemed so amateur compared to what I could pilfer here: soda, water, little granola bars. This is how the other half of teeth live!

My excitement over the opulent office soon wanes as my appointment time comes and goes. I become more and more anxious as I come to terms with the fact that this office must have tools whose sounds I’ve never even heard before. My imminent root canal suddenly feels more like a death sentence and I start looking for an escape route. Too late, the nurse calls my name and before I know it, I’m sitting in that horrible dentist chair. Only this one’s not too horrible because it’s heated and and is massaging me. But not even a heated massage can distract me and my terror grows.

That’s when I was introduced to the three most glorious words in the English language: “free nitrous oxide.” The doctor saw how nervous I was and had the nurse get the nitrous. I was apprehensive because I had never had the stuff before, but the nurse smiled slyly and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll like it.”

Like it was an understatement. A little cover over my nose and a deep breath later, I was one happy root canal recipient. As it turns out, nitrous oxide is just like drinking your favorite cocktail but without the bourgeois hassle of lifting a glass. It’s unadulterated drunkenness and all you have to do is breath. I almost hyperventilated—twice.

That’s the day I no longer feared the dentist. I never miss an appointment and even though they assure me a routine check-up doesn’t require nitrous oxide, I request it anyway. If only this stuff was available at the gynecologist’s office.

 

Mommy Martyrdom

The other day at the store I saw a mother and her adult daughter in a tense discussion. As I got closer, I saw that the mother had a cast on her leg and was using one of those scooter-carts. The daughter was refusing to return the scooter once the mother rode it to the car. In all her martyr glory, that mother looked at her daughter and said, “Don’t worry; I can just hop to the car.”

There is a magical transformation that takes place when a mother first holds her baby. Women change from mere mortals to mothers with powers we never knew lived within us: the power to function on two hours of sleep, the power to wear our hair in a unwashed ponytail for weeks, and the power to be completely unfazed by the spit-up that covers everything we own. It is during this transformation into mothers that we are also endowed with the magnificent gift of martyrdom.

Moms sacrifice a lot for their families and we do it happily. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t wield that fact like a super power every now and then. We want our families to notice and appreciate everything we do for them and we are not above simple manipulation to get the recognition we so rightly deserve.

Last week I had a cold (the same cold my daughter and husband had the week prior but of course mine was much, much worse). Being sick puts a mom at high risk for playing her martyr card anyway but my husband only worsened the situation by telling me to stay in bed and rest. He said he could handle everything. He can handle everything?! He thinks cleaning means moving the pile of magazines from the living room to the bedroom and I’m pretty sure he has no idea where we keep the washing machine.

A non-martyr would possibly let him take a crack at the chores or just resign herself to the fact that she will have to do them later when she feels better. A martyr does things differently. I got out of bed, put on my robe and shoved a bunch of tissue up in my sleeve, grandma-style. I announced to my husband that I couldn’t stay in bed and rest when there was so much to do.

“Honey, I’ve got this under control. Go back to bed,” he said and as I looked around, the house seemed in order. But this only angers a martyr because she can never be outdone.

“I have to clean the windows,” I said and sniffled pathetically.

“The windows haven’t been cleaned in four years,” he replied.

“I know. I have failed my family for far too long. I can no longer force you to look out dingy windows. No, don’t worry about me, I will clean these windows today,” I coughed for effect and rummaged in a drawer for a towel and grabbed the Windex.

The only thing that can thwart a really great martyr-manipulation-moment is the husband who will call the martyr’s bluff.

“The windows don’t need to be cleaned right now but go ahead if you want to,” he said. This is not the response I was going for. I wanted him to weep with admiration and throw roses as I descended the stairs to clean so selflessly for my family.

Too stubborn to lose the momentum of this martyr episode, I walked outside and got to work on the first window. I saw my husband so I sneezed repeatedly and leaned against the window with all the passion of a high school theater student. My husband was completely unimpressed.

I ended up cleaning every window that day thanks to my husband and his refusal to be manipulated by my martyrdom. What I was hoping would be remembered as “The day mommy selflessly cleaned the windows so the family could truly enjoy the fall colors even though she had a temperature of one hundred and four” suddenly became “The day mommy went crazy and wiped all the windows with a dirty towel then fell off the stepladder, blacked out for a minute and came to with the dog chewing up all the tissue from her sleeve.”

If I’m still sick tomorrow, I think I will be forced to go out and chop some firewood. My husband will bow to my martyrdom when I start up his chainsaw and head towards the tree holding up his hammock.

 

The Elf on the Shelf

I had a nightmare about one of those little Elf on the Shelf toys last night. It seemed one had gotten into our house and kept trying to attack my daughter so I attempted to drown it in the dog’s water dish–it wouldn’t die. I then wrestled it to the ground and tried to reason with it–it wouldn’t listen. Finally, I had to dismember it’s stuffed body parts and scatter them William Wallace-style across the living room. There was also a penguin riding a tricycle in a Richard Nixon mask. I’m not sure how that last part fits in, but I wanted to be thorough in my retelling of this dream.

I think I am still recovering from all of the Elf on the Shelf antics from last year. One cannot nonchalantly enter the realm of Pinterest with hopes of finding a recipe for figgy pudding and a stiff holiday toddy without being inundated by the images of that Elf compromising himself in all kinds of shenanigans.

I have never seen a picture of that Elf on an actual shelf, but I have seen pictures of him playing in a box of cereal–oh, you cheeky Elf! I’ve seen him spill a box of crayons–what a scamp! And of course there’s the time he drank all the vodka, shaved the dog and blamed the neighbors then threw up all over the stairs. Yeah, this Elf is a rascal!

As I understand it, the Elf is designed to be a mystical presence that keeps kids in line during the holiday season with the looming threat that this Elf reports back to Santa. But how can he accurately report children’s misbehavior if he himself is constantly misbehaving? It certainly calls into question Santa’s standards and training practices. When I was a kid, Santa knew what I was doing every minute of every day simply with his Santa magic, now he has outsourced a good portion of his job to poorly-trained elves whose misdeeds end up plastered all over the internet.

That is why this holiday season I will be marketing: “The Elf on the Shelf That Watches Your Other Elf on the Shelf and Tries to Curb His Poor Decision-Making.” Clearly, the name is a work in progress, but the idea is solid. This Elf will come with a choice of three facial expressions: a motherly smirk, a disapproving frown, or the dreaded mom scowl. He will also come with prerecorded tried and true mommy phrases like, “Do you need a time out?” and “I’m counting to three!” and the mother classic of all time, “That’s it!” This Elf will keep that mischievous little other Elf out of your good china this year and spare that glorious new gravy boat your grandmother gave you.

I’m also working on a prototype for “The Elf on the Shelf’s Older Brother.” This one will ridicule the younger Elf on the Shelf mercilessly while punching him in the face with his own fist. It’s a bit more extreme, for those families with elves (and children) who are seriously close to getting nothing but coal (or jail time) for Christmas. For those families where behavior is a moderate concern, there will be a “Passive-Aggressive Elf on the Shelf.” This Elf will watch the other Elf with a judgmental, superior air and utter phrases like, “Well, if that’s what makes you happy.”

My goal is to make this holiday season a cheerful one, devoid of any Elf misconduct while still properly frightening the children of the world with that creepy little Elf face perched on a shelf near you.