Category Archives: Can’t Get a Break

A Santa Surprise

I didn’t think we’d visit Santa this year. Having a third-grader, I thought he’d deem telling his Christmas wishes to the man in the red suit too babyish. So when my son announced he did want a visit, of course we made a last-minute holiday dash. This, after all, will surely be the last year for him, and I couldn’t let the last opportunity to have both of my kids visit Santa together slip by.

At the head of the line, large signs displayed the rules: no personal photography. Now frankly, I’m cheap when it comes to buying photos of my kids. If I spend money, they better be good. I don’t want to shell out $20 for a picture of my kids on Santa’s lap even if it is for the last time. I’ve bought school pictures of my kids in hopes of quality material only to get squinty eyes and a goober grin that makes my kid look like a constipated, no-lipped goof. I don’t like paying for that mess. And I don’t like paying for Santa when I used to be able to snap my own unposed shots for free. I want candid photos of them talking to Santa or clamming up or whatever the experience may be.

I asked Santa’s helper whether I could snap a few of my own pictures because we always have. Sure, the girl said. Did I want to buy any? Um, no, not really.

So while my kids chatted with Santa, I vied for position with some other lady to get snapshots of them. There wasn’t a lot of time to spare, and this lady and her camera kept getting in my space. Angling for a better view, I was about to nudge her out of the way, those being my offspring after all, and I thought, “Why is she shooting pictures of my kids?”

She leaned toward me, beaming, and whispered between her own shots, “That’s my son.” I guess moms are proud of their kids no matter the age or what they do, and that includes being mall Santa. At least she didn’t have to pay either.santapic

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The Holiday Party

All along my husband said the dress for the holiday work party at his new job was pretty casual, slacks and a blouse. Two days before the party he learned women would be wearing cocktail dresses.

“What? Cocktail dresses? That’s not casual,” I said. Panic set in big time. The outfit I had planned wouldn’t cut it. I don’t own anything that resembles a cocktail dress. That all went to Goodwill ages ago when my whole body shifted after having kids. Not to mention the fact that half the clothes in my closet have rotted on the hangers and shoes have literally busted on my feet. I still can’t escape the embarrassment of leaving a trail of one-inch rubber crumbs at my son’s first-grade play when my heel exploded the minute we got there. What’s a girl to do? I hoped the last big chunk would just hang on until we got outside.

“You can wear the dress you have. It will be fine,” my husband said. I’m no fashionista, but even I know that you cannot wear a sweater dress to a fancy shindig.

“You don’t want people to think you have a frumpy wife,” I said.

“But you’re my frumpy wife.” Uuugh!

I emailed my neighbor about my fashion crisis. Could I wear a skirt? Did I have to buy a cocktail dress? She said she would kill him. I raced to the nearest department store because I knew the ladies there would know what to do.

There I was, skirt and sweater in hand. No, no. That would not do, the lady told me. She walked me to the dresses. It had to be a dress. They all had flowers and ruffles. Things that are not me. Price tags that are not me. Where was a bargain rack when I needed one?

I grabbed some dresses, picking the saleslady’s brain about hose and boots and heels. I didn’t have time to look for accessories. Women spend weeks on this stuff. I had only an hour to shop. And nothing ever fits me. But something did and it looked pretty good. It was on sale, and by golly, I had a coupon!

When the big night arrived and we walked in the room, I saw a mix of all kinds of fashion, everything from fancy and festive to khaki and preppy. Apparently, not everyone got the same message. I could have worn any damn thing I wanted and played dumb.

But for the first time ever, my family was cleaned up and we planned to make an evening out of it. Though I prefer jeans and sneaks to hose and heels, and hiking trails to ballrooms, it was fun playing dress-up with the kids. And after a little wine, nothing much bothered me at all.

My son will be nine soon and seeing what lies under that layer of dirt with hair neatly parted and nice duds, it made me proud. He’s a handsome little man and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at him, in wonder of the handsome fellow he’ll one day become. You don’t see it every day when your kid fusses at you, rolls in the dirt with a football, or tells a dozen fart jokes, but there’s a handsome, calm being in there and it’s a sight to behold.

My husband took my daughter to the dance floor and for many reasons, it makes you love the man you married a million times more and cherish your baby girl who will one day do the same with her daddy in a big white dress. I tried to drag my son out, but I think he feared I’d perform some of the same spastic dance moves I’m known for in the kitchen.

When most of the good songs were over and it was about time to go, we finally got both of the kids out for the Twist, and then my daughter and I did the YMCA song. I think I even had my C backward. A vision of elegance, I’m sure. No dignified foxtrots for us. But I can’t think of three dates I’d rather have, and it was all done in true Karen fashion.

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The Holiday Card

Come hell or high water this year, I was getting a picture for our holiday cards. It was going to be good. OK, it was going to be decent. And I had to get it done quickly and with the least amount of tears possible.

In years past, it started out well: The kids suited up in coordinating outfits with hair neatly brushed. I had a host of clever tricks to distract them at the first sign of distress: sighs, groans, questions, slumped poses, sloppy smiles. I could manage.

If only the kids could pose as patiently as this guy.

Lately, the taking of the holiday card photo has been surrounded by high drama. Mention getting dressed for the picture and tears flow. Hair brushing is done at a quick trot. Before anyone has struck a pose, the mood is ruined. I admit it. I use bribes, lots of bribes. The kids have caught on. They do not like the holiday picture.

The kids used to sit patiently as I snapped pictures of them on the porch or in front of the holly bush.

A few years ago, things went terribly wrong. It was like choreographing the stooges. One kid smiled, the other collapsed the moment I clicked. My daughter kept making funny faces, closing her eyes. When she smiled, my son looked dazed. I knew I had a short window of time. My son now despised having his picture taken. I ended up with a series of blooper-style photos, and only one decent picture.

Last year, the kids were in tears before I took two shots. I mentioned the words “holiday card” and they lost it, knowing they were in for an hourlong modeling session.

I had already made one attempt at the picture this year at a festival. I made the mistake of saying, “Let me get your picture for our card.” My son smiled and my daughter quietly boohooed. I urged her to get over it so I could quickly snap a picture. It didn’t go so well. My son kneed my daughter for not cooperating. That saga ended in a family meltdown. Over a photo.

This week with time ticking away, I knew I had to get that photo. After school in a slow drizzle, I took the kids outside in their dingy, mismatched school clothes, stuck hats on their heads to cover unbrushed hair, and told them to sit on the fence. If I made the photo black-and-white, everything would look great. Maybe.

“If you’ll just cooperate and smile, it will be quick,” I reasoned with them.

They asked for a gumdrop afterward. “If you don’t whine or fuss through this,” I explained.

Game on.

I clicked away, urging them closer. My daughter smiled beautifully. My son gave a few smiles but mostly looked like a limp fish. After six shots, he started to get antsy. “Let me just get a good one for the card,” I said.

“This is for the holiday card?” he whined.

Great. I blew it. Things began to unravel. He wouldn’t smile. “The fence is hurting my butt,” he complained.

Then he tore off his hat and scarf and threw them to the ground. That’s OK. I can work with that. I would keep snapping. But he screamed, grabbed his mouth, and ran. He had bumped his lip on the fence. Game over.

When he came in, he still wanted his gumdrop. “Did you fuss or whine while we were out there?”

“No, not during the pictures,” he said.

“I meant during the whole process,” I said.

“Oh.”

Maybe I should have been more clear.

The pictures? Thankfully, I have something to work with. And in black-and-white, everything does match.

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The Top 10 Reasons I Can’t Wait to Get Home From a Trip

Our recent Thanksgiving trip reminded me of the joys we face each time we travel. We do it to see loved ones. We do it for fun. We do it because we can’t spend 365 days holed up in this house together. Why not take our craziness on the road, spend a load of cash, and wonder why we don’t do this more often? That’s what I’m wondering by the end of every trip….

10) My daughter, who can hold it all day no matter how much I beg, suddenly has to go when we’ve reached the rural part of our trip and no businesses can be seen for many miles.

9) When the cooler is empty, the kids can’t agree on which disgusting fast-food restaurant we’ll dine at. Then whoever picked it will inevitably not like their dry, crusty meal. Someone always has to return to the counter for sauce, and the workers don’t see you standing there no matter how long you patiently wait.

8) At any roadside location the bathroom stalls, hardly large enough for me to turn around and squat in, can be excruciatingly small when you are trying to avoid the liquid on the floor, cover the seat with tissue, and keep your daughter’s pants from touching anything. Somehow I have managed on past trips to hold an infant on my hip, expertly maneuver button and zipper with one hand, and keep my toddler standing and out of said puddles with my patented whisper-scream all in this 1-foot-by-1-foot space. Oh it can be done.

7) The kids fight for the top bunk, bottom bunk, left side of the bed, or right side of the bed, and the loser makes sure the night is ruined for the rest of us. One kid wants the light on; one wants the light off. One wants music on; one does not. Just GO TO SLEEP!

6) The later the kids go to bed, the earlier they wake up in the morning.

5) Forgetting my husband’s deodorant means he has to use mine. He smells lovely and breezy for a few hours. When I use my tube the next day, I find some really, really long hairs glued to it. Gross.

4) No matter what thrilling event you have spent hours planning for the next day, the kids will gripe that it’s boring and their feet hurt, and you can forget any educational stuff you looked up. They don’t want to hear it.

3) The last hour of the trip, they must ask every two minutes, “When are we going to be there?” Now I know how my dad felt.

2) When we finally pull in the driveway, the kids can only carry one thing and they both have to go to the bathroom—the same one—at the same time.

1) Man, I don’t care how much laundry there is. There’s no place like home.

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Sometimes the Kids Win the Battles

It has been weeks now since she’s seen it, asked for it, given me big blue eyes swelling up with tears. I try to stand my ground, be firm and strong. But those kids know how to break me sometimes. And sometimes, they win.

With my kids being 8 and 6, I felt like the days of noisy toys were behind us. On a shopping trip this month, my daughter fell in love with one of those annoying toys that barks and moves when you walk down the aisle. No, I said. A firm NO.

She has asked for that dog several times since, batting her eyelashes at me. Giving me puppy dog eyes so sweet that I have to turn away and think about how horrid she becomes when she screams about her homework and how mean I am for making her do it. “Please, Momma,” she whimpers for the little brown dog.

She already has something similar…that I hate, that she doesn’t play with. The answer is and always will be no. I won’t buy it, and even she can’t buy it. She cannot put it on her Christmas list.

But kids have a way of chiseling through a mom’s tough outer exterior. They chip and chip away. They wear down that enamel, tear through the layers. They beg and plead so much that I am sick to death of hearing about it. They break me down like a prisoner about to sign a confession to a crime I was nowhere near just to stop the harassment. Yep, those kids know what they are doing all right. And I had taken all the batted eyelashes and puppy dog eyes that I could until I found myself saying, “Put it on your Christmas list.”

What was that about? Ugh. She got me. She broke through and now I’m going to have to live with that annoying puppy dog yip and squeak for weeks until it breaks or she grows tired of that stupid toy and it ends up at the bottom of her closet.

I broke down. I gave in. Just get the stupid thing. I can’t take it anymore. Sometimes my kids wear me so completely down, it’s just not worth the fight at all. Parents are supposed to pick their battles, and I do. But it’s rough when you realize that after putting up what you think is a good fight, you realize you were outwitted all along and you just never really had a fighting chance. I should have saved all that energy for a battle that really mattered.

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The Strange Case of Hyde and the Four Green Beans

We’ve had a few rough afternoons lately. Sassy mouths. Crying fits under the kitchen table. Rude remarks.

I’d blame it on the full moon, but that’s already passed. Is it the promise of an insane amount of candy in a few days? A sugar high from the vapors escaping from bags of it hiding in the pantry? Whatever it is, it sits, pent up all day to the point of boiling, until 3 o’clock when the kids release this energy like a mad teapot.

Yesterday, I felt pretty proud of myself when, after a day of back-to-back-to-back meltdowns, I actually didn’t lose my cool, managed to handle my kids without yelling, and sent them to their rooms for a very long time to calm down.

I relayed the events of the afternoon to my husband only when asked, and it was the short story, not the long version.

He then told me that when he pulled up to the house after work, our daughter was standing at the front door crying. I wondered what she could have been crying about. Oh, green beans.

“I didn’t know whether to just keep on driving,” he said.

He didn’t. He asked her why she was crying and she pointed to the green beans on her plate. All four of them.

I was upstairs telling my son, Mr. Hyde, why we don’t talk to adults that way as I bit my tongue hard not to mouth at him in return. It was difficult, but I was good. I deserved an award, a trophy for Mother Who Kept Her Mean Thoughts to Herself. They have those, don’t they?

Just when it seemed everyone had kissed and made up, those damn green beans ruined everything. Withering away on my daughter’s plate. I had told her to try them. She was going to make it difficult. While she screamed at my husband in a way I have rarely seen her do (no doubt picked up from her brother a few hours before), I hung over my plate laughing and fighting back tears in the same sad breath because after the day I’d had, I really didn’t know what was about to come out of me.

Bedtime can never arrive fast enough on days like these. But no matter what has happened or how infuriated or exhausted I am, I take a breath, march into their rooms, read to them, and tell them I love them. Then I skip out of there as fast as I can and hope tomorrow is a better day. And that Jekyll is back. And that I don’t forget that I will not be serving green beans for a while.

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Another Goal, A Different Story

As I sat watching the mass of 28 feet desperately battering the ball, I realized I couldn’t even see the goal. My husband was out of town and if my daughter scored her first goal, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to give him the play-by-play. But surely that won’t happen, I thought.

The couple next to me looked away during their conversation and missed their son’s first goal. That’s really a shame, I thought, reliving the glory of my son’s first goal a few days earlier. “Did we miss it?” they asked me. “Did our son just score and we missed it?” I was almost certain he did, but we sat on the opposite end of the field and the five- and six-year-olds huddle around the ball like vultures around a dying cow. It was hard to see exactly what happened.

My daughter played awesome defense. She fought for position against the boys to get a crack at kicking the ball. And then something happened. She kicked it toward the goal. And it was no accident. I craned my neck and sprang to the edge of my seat for a clear view. She was there, she kicked it with force, and it looked like it went in, but then a teammate came and kicked it in farther. Who made the goal?

She looked over at me, smirking. Bewildered, I clapped and smiled and gave her a big thumbs-up. The couple next to me asked, “Did she get it in?” I was thinking the same thing. Great. Now I had possibly missed out on the big rush of my daughter’s first goal because I hadn’t a clue as to whether she made one or not. It all happened so fast.

I figured I’d play it safe, see what she said after the game. She was no help. “Mommy, I almost made a goal,” she told me. “It went behind the goalie and then David kicked it in more.”

“Was the goalie in the goal?” I asked, now revealing my doubts.

“Yes.”

“Well then you made it.”

Another parent congratulated her. I figured he had some clue, maybe better than the parents next to me who had already missed their son’s goal. We asked her coach to be sure. He said it was on the line and rolled in, but I couldn’t help feeling a little suspicious.

So we had to tell my husband that we thought she made a goal, reenacting it at home, trying to put together evidence. The verdict? Either way, she was right there and she did great and she knows it.

I hate that her big moment sort of fizzled out by so much uncertainty. I wish her coach had congratulated whoever made it in the moment. But my daughter saw an opportunity and she took it. And I have a feeling this won’t be the last time she pushes her way through a pack of kids and scores big.

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