Category Archives: motherhood

The Elf on the Shelf Debaucle

It sounded like a good idea. All my friends on facebook were doing it. All my church pals who had little kiddos were talking about it.

The Elf on the Shelf.

I decided that this year Christmas would be extra magical. There would be decorating of cookies, our annual Nutcracker trip, tree trimming, present wrapping…and now there would be a stealthy elf who would hide in a different spot every night. Jackson would wake up, find him (maybe even with a little note or an advent present), and be the happiest kid ever.

That didn’t happen.

It all started this Thursday. I put Darcy down for her afternoon nap and Jackson and I went and played on his iPad on my bed. (Disclosure: I dozed while he played on his iPad. It happens.) But before we retreated to the master bedroom, a package arrived. I spied inside and saw the box set, complete with cheaply made toy elf and the classic book that explained his mythology. While Jackson was getting out his iPad, I snuck over to the tree and put it in plain sight.

When Darcy woke an hour later, I walked out in the livingroom and the act was on. “Jackson! Something came from the North Pole.” He ran out, little socks trying in vain to grip our parquet wood floors.  “What is it?,” he said, eyes filled with wonderment and glee as he held up the box. I grabbed Darcy from her crib and sat down to read him the book.

“I bet some of your friends already have one,” I smiled. But then I realized that he might ask why we only just got a scout elf . Think fast. “I knew we would get our elf when Darcy came along.” (If you’re keeping score, that’s friendly fib number two.)

I read the book with such feeling. I highlighted all the parts about how the elf is magical and comes alive at night. For those of you who don’t know the Elf’s mythology, here’s a quick run down…

  1. He’s from the North Pole. (or Amazon.com)

  2. You have to give him a name. (Saves money on personalized box printing.)

  3. He comes alive every night and visits his friends in the North Pole then goes all inanimate during the day. He’ll always be in the different place though. (Think Toy Story when humans are around.)

  4. He reports on his child’s behavior to Santa.

  5. He comes every year on Thanksgiving night and leaves after Christmas.

  6. You cannot touch him. His magic will fade if you do.

So I made sure to highlight the magical-little-elf-who-comes-alive-at-night part. I knew Jackson would have a blast looking for him each morning. I downplayed the whole Foucaultpanopticon part. We won’t have any Big-Brother-is-watching-you crap in this house. Besides, Jackson is good–and not because he’s afraid of some fictional portly man who lives up north. Jackson behaves because he has a healthy fear of me and C.K. Duh. Like when I say I’m going to vacuum up his legos if he doesn’t pick them up…NOW. And then I walk to the hall closet. Jackson gets his little butt on the floor and scoops all those precious legos into their bin. Why? Because I actually will vacuum up those little legos. Anyone who has stepped on a lego with bare feet will know how insanely gratifiying vacuuming up legos might be. Eff those legos.

But I digress. We read the story. His face was so precious, so full of awe. He took the directive about not touching the elf very seriuosly, using it as an excuse to boss around his 10-month-old sister. “Don’t touch Mr. Elf, Baby Darcy. No presents for you!”

We read the book a second time. Jackson was still completely plugged in. Then I suggested we call his grandmother to tell her about this most magical event that has transpired. “Yes! Call Meema.”

And that’s when it happened. Not five minutes into that fateful Facetime call, Jackson’s mood changed. “I don’t like him,” he whispered, a grim expression on his face.

Jackson realized it–something we all know about the Elf on the Shelf. That shit is creepy. He’s small. He grins all the time. He wears a ridiculous hat. He watches your every move. And then, the worst of it, he comes alive when you sleep. Now, supposedly the Elf just goes to the North Pole. But Jackson doesn’t know that. Maybe the Elf breaks your toys, vacuums your legos, climbs into bed with you, takes your soul. Who knows?

“I don’t like him. I don’t like his magic,” he cried. Now there were tears. I told my mom I’d call her right back. And then the lies just poured out of me. “He’s a good elf. He’s not a bad elf.” (Shit. Now he thinks there are bad elves.) “The elf is just Santa’s helper.” “The elves are making your Skylanders.”

“I don’t want him!” Jackson screamed, really terrified now. I called my mom back thinking she would help. He adores his Meema. Surely, she would play along with this amazing little fib.

But she was no help. We’ll leave it at that. No, we won’t. Not only did my mom yell at me to get rid of the elf, she could barely contain her laughter that this had gone so horribly wrong for me.

All the while, Jackson is now hollering at the top of his lungs, “Get his magic out of the house!” And my favorite line: “Give the elf to the poor kids.”  This was a clear sign that another advent activity was going wrong. I want Jackson to pick some toys to give to Salvation Army or Any Baby Can. I’ve been prepping him slowly for this painful decision. I want him to know that others don’t have as much and so it’s important to make some efforts to take care of others. Evidently, he’s not absorbing these values.

 After getting off the phone with Meema a second time, I had to come clean. “He’s just a story and a toy. He doesn’t really come alive.”

And that was all it took. Now “Knob” the elf is a happy addition to our home. And every few hours, Jackson asks me to hide him again. He shouts, “Let’s play Elf on the Shelf!”

Jackson did agree, however, that we should keep the magic part for Baby Darcy. And for Daddy.

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Our Heroine Goes to the Pool

Recently I’ve added pool time to my stay-at-home-mom daily routine. It breaks up the afternoon and simultaneously gets us out of the house and out of the heat. As I float around today with my two babies, I can’t  help but ponder my pool times before the arrival of these cherubs in my life. Back then, my main objective was to look good in a bathing suit. Now, vanity plays a much lesser role. I smirk as I wonder “Does this count as my shower for today?”

Before kids, I would see how I could weasel another drink out whoever was dry enough to go inside. Oh hey, are you getting out? I’ll take another beer. And then there’s the internal monologue that ensue when nature calls.  Damn, I have to pee. That means drying off, going inside, wriggling awkwardly out of my bathing suit then pulling the wet suit back on. Would anyone really know if I just peed in the pool?


But any young parent knows that pool time with kids is different, much more than sucking in your gut and debating the ethics of swimming pool urination.
There’s the hyper vigilance of having to keep your children alive. There’s the cramp in my left arm that’s cradling my 21 pound six-month-old as she kicks her chubby thighs frantically through the water. There’s the repetitive, ridiculously loud exclamations of my four year old. And then there’s me, pacing back and forth in the shallow end, trying to engage in whatever deranged narrative Jackson has created for today’s play and employing phrases like “use your walking feet” whenever Jackson scampers dangerously around the cement edge.

And you know what? Pool time is pretty awesome. Today Jackson wants to play a live action version of Plants vs. Zombies. Darcy and I are the “plants.” I am equipped with a green beach ball that I pelt at Jackson as he repeatedly swims from the stairs to my location. Even with the aches in my back and my four year old droning on about how he wants to eat my brains, I’m enjoying his laughter. And even though he thinks he’s a zombie, I’m watching him teach himself how to swim as I move farther and farther away each time we restart the game. And Darcy is happy too. She’s floating in my arms, breathing the summer breeze, and feeling the contrast of the Texas heat and the cool water.  As a typical second child, Darcy has no pool toys of her own. Still the baby contently chews on Jackson’s old water wing. And she’ll take a nap when we return home.

I’ll take it.

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Toddlers are funny (The Library Edition)

Jackson planking in gymnastics class.

First full week of being a stay-at-home mommy. Since this would usually be my first full week of teaching, I find myself haunted by this eerie feeling that I’m supposed to be somewhere or I’m forgetting something.

But mommying is fun.

Exhausting but fun.

Jackson was introduced to storytime this week. We attended a session at our town library on Thursday and then one at a local town’s library on Friday. Both proved that Jackson needs a little more practice at structured group activities.

On Thursday he wanted to run the show. When the teacher asked if anyone knew “what to do if they’re happy and they know it,” one little girl answered “CLAP HANDS” and Jackson said “SING ABCs.” My girlfriend very kindly noted that Jackson was just offering an answer but I knew better. He was issuing an order. Sing ABCs now, lady. Or else! (Side note: At least he didn’t scream “Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle YEAH” because Jackson certainly knows what to do if he’s sexy and he knows it. And cue shame at the frequency with which we listen and sing along to LMFAO in the car.)

Later on, he walked directly up to the librarian, tapped on her leg just as she was about to start another song and said “Idea! Sing how many monkeys jumping on the bed.” (He’s taken to saying “Idea!” before announcing what he wants to do. Other ideas include “Idea! No nap! Only play!” and “Idea! Chocolate milk!” as he hands me back a juice box.) The librarian very skillfully deflected his demand and I thought to myself “That’s right. You gotta shut that down.”

On Friday Jackson got the Idea! a little better but story time was not without social faux pas. While the librarian read Animal Boogie to the group, a book with a rhyming refrain boogey-oogey-oogey, Jackson announced “I got boogers!!” I think he thought that all the animals in Animal Boogie had boogers. Boogie. Boogers.

Still I explained that “to boogie” is to dance with glee and “a boogie” is that green crap in your nose. I think I sufficiently clarified that one. It was a teachable moment.

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Mommy & Novelist…Or Maybe the Other Way Around

Jackson prepares for the Mud Run.

Alternate title: “How To Write and Market Your Novel, Be a Stay-at-Home Mom, and Deal with the Pull of Guilt from Both Your Literary Baby and Your Real Baby.”

I started writing North Shore South Shore in 2007 when my husband was relocated to Los Angeles. I was working as an editor for AOL’s TV Squad. I joined a writer’s group with my husband just to fill some time. I took the relocation hard and didn’t have many friends in L.A. or much to do for that matter. But I drafted the first iteration of my novel.

We moved home just a year later, I started working as a high school English teacher, and North Shore South Shore collected figurative dust filed away on a USB drive. Plus I started back pursuing my second Masters. For a solid year, the novel was just a large file, forgotten and finally moved to make room for lesson plans and graduate work. I looked at it a few times during school breaks. I had to revise much of it and add a fourth narrator. But I couldn’t even get to writing because I would have to read the whole thing before I could put fingers to laptop.

In 2010, I had Jackson and finishing North Shore South Shore looked unlikely. But in the summer of 2010 (five-month-old in tow) I buckled down during naps and after bedtime. North Shore South Shore was “coming along.” I even started posting about it on my facebook page (because if you don’t mention it on facebook, it’s not real). By the following summer, I had something of a manuscript and an active, charming 15-month-old. I had also finished my second Masters. My husband’s voice was now a familiar refrain: You need to finish it. How many people say they are going to write a novel and never write one? You have over 100,000 words. You never know–it might get published.

Jackson takes the road not taken.

And I have him to thank for the completion of North Shore South Shore. My refrain was something like this: I don’t have the time. I have the baby to care for. I have a part-time teaching gig still. It’ll never get looked at anyway. But, despite my best efforts to convince myself NOT to finish the novel, I finished it. I created this blog to document the process. The book became an old friend that I would catch up with whenever I had the chance. I looked forward to times when I could work on it the same way I looked forward to taking Jackson to the zoo or the playground.

While writing the book was a focused, intense process, marketing my book to both buyers and literary agents is a multi-headed monster, like the mythical one that Hercules kills in his labors. But Hercules killed his wife and kids (ain’t no Disney ending there) and therefore is suspect as a role model for this process. Talk about missplaced rage.

Still, I’m left with the task of fitting it all in (and without mythical role models). Oh, and I should mention we’re potty training right now. My days alternate between the guerilla marketing of North Shore South Shore and taking care of Jackson. I confess, sometimes I just want to focus on caring for and playing with him. When I’m working on novel stuff, Jackson beckons “I play you, Mommy” and grabs my hand. (Cue pang of guilt.) I feel like I’m missing something. He’ll never be this age again. “It goes so fast so enjoy it,” said the lady in the diner peering over her walker with tennis balls on the bottom and I get this eerie feeling that my octogenerian self is warning me. (It should be noted that before said lady walkered over to our table, I was trying to make Jackson sit in his high chair and he was calling “Help! Help!” to other diner patrons.)

But if I’ve spent the whole morning with Jackson, my literary baby beckons.

So my days include (but are not limited to) potty training, updates to the novel’s facebook page, emailing queries to agents, cutting up fruit for snacks, play dates, formatting the book for release to eReaders, scouring Pinterest to fill out North Shore South Shore‘s Pinterest page, tweeting, emailing, diaper changing, playing with blocks or trains or play-doh, and the occasional art project.

And despite every expectation that I should not be able to accomplish both, things are getting done. I’ve had several requests for full manuscripts from agents. My kickstarter project started two days ago and is already 31% funded. My facebook page has over 300 fans. And the book is finished and will be released in October.

And my laundry is done. And my apartment is (somewhat) tidy. Because mommies can do anything. After all, we gave birth. That s*** was ridiculously hard.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll allow for some advice (not of the sage variety but advice nonetheless):

1. It’s okay to want to work on your work, especially if you’re creative like me. Just as my child is a living, breathing being in need of my love, North Shore South Shore is an ever-expanding and contracting text that has taken on a life of its own via twitter, facebook, and kickstarter. Taking care of both babies feeds my soul in different ways. I’ve learned I’m learning to be at peace with working on the project.

Jackson paints a blob.

2. Do something meaningful with your child (either once or multiple times a day depending on the age). I find that Jackson’s attention span for me is only about 20-30 minutes. After that, his interaction level decreases and he moves on to something else. So I try to do a few activities in a day with him. We paint, craft, build block towers, pretend play with Go Diego Go toys, build Thomas Tracks, and read books. Some days I spend a few hours in the morning with him at the Botanical Gardens or the Bronx Zoo and then I spend more of my afternoon marketing North Shore South Shore or doing quick stints of proofreading.

3. Get in some work when your child is napping or eating. The naptime work session is obvious. But I get in some writing after I set Jackson up with breakfast or lunch. I find it takes toddlers at least a half hour to eat anything. He is a gourmet who savors each cheerio, each bite of penne, each strawberry half. By contrast, I eat lunch standing at my kitchen counter, putting away dishes with one hand and stuffing a sandwich in my mouth with the other. Because of my obsessive need to multi-task and damaged relationship with food, I can get plenty done during his lunchtime.

4. If you feel like there’s something you want to do, DO IT. Write the book. Start the business. (I have a friend who makes beautiful invitations from home and another who crafts adorable bows for little girls.) Finish the degree. (I have two friends working on their dissertations right now.)  Just do it. I certainly believe you can.

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