Hey Elf, Don’t Be Creepy!

Last year around this time, my older son asked me if we could “do” the Elf on the Shelf. I responded the way any smart, rational, overtired mother would. I backed out of the room slowly and came back five minutes later with a big bowl of freshly popped popcorn.

I.R.D. (Ignore-Redirect-Distract.) Elf crisis over.

I saw way too many blog posts, status updates, tweets, and memes about that smiling little prick. That spirited shit show ruined relationships and destroyed families. That perky piece of crap took the merry out of Christmas. I survived nine years of motherhood without the Elf on the Shelf, and damn it if I was going to give a f**k then.

Fast forward a year.

“Mom, can the Elf on the Shelf comes to our house this year?” This from the nine-year-old with the big puppy dog eyes who will be double digits in a week.

“Can he please?” This from the seven-year-old who finally sprouted permanent front teeth.

I’ve lost my enthusiasm for a lot of parenthood-related things, like birthday parties, science fair projects, and back to school night, but I’m painfully conscious of the fleeting nature of childhood innocence. One day, your kid is writing a letter to the Tooth Fairy and the next day they’re begging for a Snapchat account.

My days are numbered. This I know.

It was impossible to wrap my arms around the concept of moving an elf around the house until Christmas, especially since I sometimes fell asleep before my kids (my husband was quick to point this out), but I caved because childhood… and innocence… and Amazon Prime.

“He doesn’t just show up.” Suddenly I was an expert. “You have to invite him.”

Ten minutes later, both kids handed over formal invitations (on index cards meant for practicing multiplication facts) that I was to put in the mail.

From the nine-year-old:

Hey Buddy, I would like you to come so you can play funny tricks! You seem so famous! This will be my first Christmas with you!

From the seven-year-old:

Hey elf come i love you

I promised to bring the invitations to the post office the next day and made a mental note that, in doing so, an overpriced dog toy would wreck my December and there would be no one to blame but me. Unless the dog ate the elf. Then, I could blame her (note to self).

The seven-year-old looked nervous. “Mommy, is the elf going to come in my bedroom?”

Why is everything magical also creepy?! “No, sweetie. The elf will hang out in the family room. Maybe the kitchen.”

Nerves turned into fear. “I don’t want him to come.”

Crap. “How about if we have a house rule that the elf has to stay downstairs? Okay? The elf won’t be allowed to go in anyone’s bedroom.” Were we talking about the Elf on the Shelf or stranger danger?

His faced relaxed. He left the room and returned a few minutes later with a revised invitation.

Hey elf come i love you

Dont Be creppy OK

Dont go upstairs elf

and dont hide in my bed OK

Turns out I was nervous, too.

elfonshelf

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Filed under boys, Christmas

The Million Dollar Mistake

“The Million Dollar Fuck-Up” is probably a better title.

Spoiler alert: This story doesn’t have a very happy ending.

The weather in northern New Jersey has officially shifted from fall to winter. Chilly mornings and sunny afternoons have given way to bitter cold, cloudy, and windy days with occasional snow flurries. In other words, it’s time to wear pants.

At bedtime last night, I told my sensory sensitive seven-year-old son who hates nothing more than wearing pants that he would have to wear them to school in the morning.

“Will you pay me six thousand dollars?” His blue eyes sparkled with mischief.

I loved games. “Yes!”

“Will you pay me a million dollars?”

“Of course! I’ll write you a check!”

I didn’t anticipate how easily he would get dressed (in pants!) the next morning. I also didn’t anticipate that he would believe the printable check for kids I found on the Internet was real.

check

Like, really real. Like, he couldn’t wait to brag to his friends. Like, he thought we’d go to the bank after school, deposit the check (“like Mommy does”), and receive a million dollars in cold hard cash (like Mommy does?!). Like, for real.

It seemed like such a good idea the night before. That morning, not so much. When I confessed that the check was fake, my son was heartbroken. He was Lloyd Dobbler in “Say Anything” when Diane broke up with him and gave him a pen.

I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.

I gave my son a fake check. I gave him a fucking pen.

Needless to say, things got worse before they got NOT BETTER AT ALL. I apologized for inadvertently hurting his feelings and tricking him. Tears squirted from his eyes, he threatened to take the pants off, and he wouldn’t budge from the staircase. Our surprisingly easy morning turned into a shit show, complete with a stand-off, irrational negotiations, and some miserable but necessary tough love.

Outside, the wind whipped. I was desperate. “If you keep your pants on, I’ll take you to the toy store after school.”

“I’m wearing shorts and you’re taking me to the toy store because you lied to me!” Ouch.

This grueling back and forth went on for a long while. In the end, he kept his pants on, but we were late for school and he refused to hold my hand on the walk from the car to the main office, which was his way of giving me a pen (and stabbing me in the heart with it and twisting it in both directions).

Did he need to wear appropriate clothing for the weather? Yes. Did I inadvertently lie and hurt his feelings? Also yes. Did I take him to the toy store after school? You betcha. Guilt is expensive, and for the record, I paid with cash, not a check.

The lessons in this cautionary tale require bullet points.

  • Kids are literal thinkers. Don’t forget this important nugget. Ever.
  • Don’t write checks you can’t afford.
  • Never break someone’s heart and then give them a pen.
  • Don’t judge parents. We’re all doing our best, especially on Monday mornings.

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Filed under guilt, motherhood, parenting, school, sensory processing disorder

Replacing Buts (Not Butts)

storm

I’ve started seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist to address my anxiety. I’ve done a lot of traditional therapy over the years, but this is the first time I’ve approached my excessive worry from a behavioral standpoint. I’m only a few sessions in, but and so far it’s been kind of mind-blowing.

I crossed out that “but,” because one of the strategies I’ve learned is to replace “but” with “and” to remove negative bias. For instance, if I say, “Dinner was delicious but the service was slow,” I let the pessimistic part win. I diminish the fact that the food was good. If I say, “Dinner was delicious and the service was slow,” I still feel pretty good about the meal I ate. It’s a small tweak that has an enormous impact on my automatic thought process, which tends to thrust me down a perilous rabbit hole of fear and negativity.

For example: I have a headache. I don’t usually have headaches. This is weird. Something must be wrong. I must have a brain tumor. I’m going to die.

My fellow anxiety suffers, amirite?

I do this dangerous dance often with my health. In my defense, when you try to have a baby but (and?) get cancer in your uterus instead, an onslaught of irrational worry isn’t so farfetched. It happens with my writing, too. Imposter Syndrome is a beast. Another breeding ground of angst is my children, both of whom are anxiety triggers I lovingly live with day in and day out.

As any parent will attest, kids are a constant source of concern, but and when you have anxiety, concern occasionally turns into calamity without warning because anxiety is a shitty friend.

Lately, I’m fixated on school because I have one child, in particular, who is incredibly bright but detests school. Hold up. I have one child, in particular, who is incredibly bright AND detests school. Better.

I’m a successful product of public schools and my kids are enrolled in an excellent public school district, but parenthood has woken me up to how kids with learning challenges, sensory differences, and special needs struggle to fit in the neat and tidy boxes for which most classrooms are equipped and teachers are trained.

Did you catch that? Classrooms are crap! Teachers are crap! My kid is going to slip through the cracks! His spirit will be crushed! He’ll fail out of school!

I’m ridiculous. Let’s try that again.

I’m a successful product of public schools and my kids are enrolled in an excellent public school district, AND parenthood has woken me up to how kids with learning challenges, sensory differences, and special needs struggle to fit in the neat and tidy boxes for which most classrooms are equipped and teachers are trained.

Can you feel the difference? I turned out great and my kids are in an awesome school AND there are challenges. Now, the positive and negative parts of this story have equal value, and I’m empowered to tackle the problems and advocate for solutions. Everything’s going to be okay, but and I have a serious “but” problem.

School is important, BUT there’s too much homework, BUT there’s not enough recess, BUT there’s too much sitting, BUT there’s not enough STEM, BUT the classes are too big, BUT the classrooms are too small, BUT handwriting skills are ignored, BUT no one is teaching the kids how to type… I could go on, but and I won’t.

It’s hard to see anything positive from behind all of my “buts” (not “butts”). Not only am I hyper-aware of my own “but” problem, but also I’m starting to notice other people’s “buts” (not “butts”), including my kids’ “buts” (not “butts,” although their butts are adorable).

“The Amazon Jungle is the biggest jungle in the world.” My nine-year-old school-hater surprised me with this random and unsolicited outburst of knowledge.

“Is it bigger than New York?” My seven-year-old son’s curiosity was unleashed.

“Of course it’s bigger than New York.”

“Is it bigger than Texas?”

“Yup.”

“Is it bigger than Earth?”

“How can it be bigger than Earth when it’s on Earth?” He was smug with 4th grade superiority.

My seven-year-old, who will always be two frustrating years younger than his big brother no matter how hard he tries to catch up, matched his jungle and raised him a cloud. “Did you know clouds are heavy?”

 “How heavy?”

“Heavier than a grown man. More than 105 pounds!”

“Wow, that’s really heavy.” I stifled a giggle.

“If a cloud falls on you, you’ll die.” The older brother added his two (morbid) cents.

“Mommy, do you know how rain is made?”

“How?”

“Water evaporates from the earth into the sky, it forms clouds, and then water falls out of the clouds,” and then, “but that means when it’s raining, God isn’t peeing on us.”

but

There was a mix of satisfaction and disappointment in his voice. He was proud of his newfound knowledge, but and his imagination got truth bombed by science.

I knew just what to say. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s true that God isn’t peeing on us, but and it’s still God playing the drums when you hear thunder.” (For now, anyway.)

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Filed under anxiety, health, molar pregnancy, motherhood, parenthood, school