Valentine’s Day! The perfect opportunity to exorcize your pent-up craft-making demons. It’s been WEEKS (maybe) since you packed away your handmade Christmas ornaments, and we know that glue gun has been burning a hole in your craft holster. Spending an “leisurely” afternoon crafting with your five-year-old ought to put those demons to rest, just follow these seven easy steps…
Spend two weeks scouring Pinterest for the perfect, handmade Valentine idea for your daughter’s class Valentine party.
Blow $50 at the craft store: $20 on necessary supplies and an additional $30 on cute stickers and glitter she INSISTS she needs. Ignore the fact that store-bought cards for 30 kids would have run about $10.
Set up your craft station, aka Production Zone, and outline the plan to your 5-year-old.
Within three minutes, realize that any sort of “plan” was pure fantasy as your 5-year-old spends the next 20 minutes covering the first card with 80 stickers and an inch of glitter glue; declares she’s “done” and gets up to leave.
At this rate you will need two months to finish 30 cards. Steer her back to the table and kick into high gear. Begin furiously shuffling fresh cards in front of her like a blackjack dealer in an attempt to get at least one child-made mark on each card. Sensing you have less than five minutes before a craft-induced meltdown, break out the stamps (even though they are Christmas themed), arm her with one in each hand, spread out the remaining cards and direct her to stamp away! Whack-a-Mole style. Bribe her into signing a total of four cards before giving up completely.
After she goes to bed, open some wine and complete the rest of the cards. Toast your whimsical composition and fresh color palette. Decide that you have truly missed your calling as a powerhouse Pinterest craft-blogger. Instagram your project and make a mental note to tweet pictures to @thistlewoodfarm. Consider misplacing her cards in favor of yours.
The next day at the class party, notice several children have clearly signed all their own cards. Tell yourself that they began their cards right after Christmas.
This post originally appeared on Bonbon Break.
If you are a Christmas tree aficionado … If you wait all year to let your inner Martha Stewart run rampant with ribbon and garland and tinsel, oh my! … If you summarily reject ornaments because they are not the “right” shade of Christmas red … If, to put it mildly, you are a Christmas tree-decorating perfectionist … then these are the words that will strike fear into your holly jolly heart like a candy-cane shiv:
Mommy! I wanna decorate the tree! By MYSELF!
So there we all were — me, my husband Stewart and our 7-year-old son Fletcher — the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We’d just polished off the leftovers my sister had sent home with us from her grand feast. And once the last of the sweet potatoes and stuffing and cranberries had been scraped from their plastic containers, Stewart decided it was Time To Put Up The Tree. Nothing shakes off a tryptophan stupor like testing tree lights and schlepping boxes of ornaments down from the upstairs closets.
Regular readers know that I attach no religious importance to this particular symbol of the Christmas holiday. I am an atheistic Jew, married to an atheist WASP. We put up a tree because A) it’s pretty B) I love the scent of pine — even if it’s just that stuff we spritz all over our fake tree like perfume, and C) because even though I am not crafty or even particularly artistic, there is something about Christmas that brings out my inner interior decorator.
Alas, my inner decorator is also a bit of a bitch. With a wicked case of OCD.
Despite the lack of Christmas tradition in my traditional Jewish upbringing, I have seen the Hallmark movies. I know how this tree-decorating thing is supposed to go. I get that families are meant to decorate the tree together, drinking hot cocoa as Bing Crosby sings about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But to my mind that’s like asking for Christmas chaos. I have a system. I have a process. I have a plan. It’s very possible I also have a Christmas Tree Decorating Disorder.
It bothers me when there are too many snowflake ornaments clumped together. I start twerking like Miley if the proportion of bows to balls is off. I’ll spend days rearranging extra ornaments in a glass bowl, shifting the balls around and around till I find the right distribution pattern of reds to golds to silvers that looks like I casually tossed them together in a moment.
“DON’T PUT THAT THERE!” I’ll snap when my husband starts hanging ornaments, willy nilly. “Hanging ornaments, just anywhere? Are you mad, man?!?”
And that would be his cue to back slowly out of the room and go hide out at Loews, leaving me to drive myself crazy decorating the tree in peace.
But while I can roust my husband from the scene — he’d rather be doing manly things at Loews anyway — I couldn’t very well deprive my child of this seminal childhood experience. How else would he grow up to know why his future wife was yelling at him for doing it all wrong?
“ALL THE ORNAMENTS ARE GLASS, so be careful,” I cautioned as Fletcher and I carried box after box of ornaments down the stairs. He didn’t even hear me. He was finally old enough to really decorate the tree, and he couldn’t wait to tear into the boxes and find the treasures within. Within moments of the last box being set on the floor, the living room was a mess of red, gold and silver glass balls, green wire hangers, shreds of garland and glitter. I felt my blood pressure starting to rise.
“Spread them around so they’re not all in one place,” I directed as Fletcher started to hang the glitter snowflakes on the tree. I tried to remember to breathe.
“I KNOW, Mommy.” I could hear the annoyance in his voice. But before it could fully curdle into 7-year-old attitude, Fletcher let out a delighted squeal. “Oooh, Mommy!” He held up two ornaments, one orange; the other blue. “Where should these go?”
I felt my OCD shift into overdrive. Stewart had brought these particular ornaments home from Target a few years before. They were bright. They were festive. And they clashed completely with the red and gold baubles I dressed our tree with each year. I hated them.
Most years I conspired to keep them buried deep in the ornament box.
“Hmmm. Let Mommy think while I pee, okay?”
I beelined it to my own bathroom, shut the door and sat on the toilet.
It doesn’t have to be perfect … It doesn’t have to be perfect … It doesn’t have to be perfect I chanted to myself, fingers pressed to my temples.
Who was I kidding? OF COURSE the tree had to be perfect. I wanted it to be perfect. That’s the joy I get out of the holiday. No matter how crazy I made myself and those around me in the process.
But then I thought of Fletcher in the living room, happily hanging shiny ornaments willy nilly, utterly unbothered by the fact that three gold balls were hanging right next to each other. I sighed. Oy gevalt, as my Jewish grandmother would say. It wouldn’t be the first time I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas.
Suck it up, Buttercup, I said to the me in the mirror.
So I took a deep breath, wrestled my inner Martha into a strait jacket, and said the Christmas tree version of the Serenity Prayer for good measure:
Grant me … the serenity to accept the ornament arrangements I cannot change … the stealth to arrange the rest of the ornaments as I can … and the wisdom not to rip the tree apart and do the whole fucking thing over again after the kiddo goes to bed.
Then I headed, bravely, back to the living room. Fletcher was using a kitchen chair as a step-stool to hang ornaments from the highest branches. I cringed when I saw that he’d hung the hideous orange and blue ornaments just where I’d see them every time I walked past.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, I reminded myself.
“Mommy! Guess what I found!” Fletcher looked up excited. “All the decorations I made in nursery school! Let’s put those on the tree!”
It doesn’t have to be perfect I reminded myself as the magic-markered reindeer and the paper circles strung with ribbon got added.
“Ooh! Remember when I got this at Lego Club?” Fletcher held up a clear plastic ball containing a scattering of tiny multi-colored Legos, the kind I usually throw in the trash after a model is built.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, I said as he found a place for it at eye level on the tree.
“And look! Mommy!” Fletcher reverently lifted a large plastic, silver ornament the size of a softball out of the box. It was covered in colored-pencil scribble and paint and dotted with peel-n-stick foam pieces. He’d decorated it at a street fair last year. It is truly one of the ugliest “art” projects I have ever seen.
“I forgot about this one—” he said dreamily. “THIS one definitely goes in the front.”
I gritted my teeth and swallowed hard. Then I climbed on the chair and busied myself with the enormous white and gold ribbon that tops our tree. It doesn’t have to be perfect … it doesn’t have to be perfect. Still, I fussed with the loops and the long ties till that damn ribbon looked exactly right. I climbed back down and stood next to Fletcher as he looked over his handiwork. And I realized that braided through the branches was the brief history of his own short life, with ornaments marking every Christmas season he was able to remember celebrating.
“How does it look, Mommy?”
The Christmas tree wasn’t perfect. But, as it turned out, it was beautiful.
In the interest of maintaining your sanity on those daily car trips around town with your toddler, we’ve come up with new lyrics to some of the most popular and mind-numbing toddler tunes. Sing them gently to yourself (or scream out the window – your call!) to drown out the tedium.
There comes a time that I adore
And naptime is its name-O!
Go the F to sleep
Go the F to sleep
Go the F to sleep
Cuz’ mommy needs a break-O!
The Song that Never Ends
Three is the age that never ends
How bad it gets? Well that depends!
They said that two would be the age to make me lose my head
But they were wrong, so here’s this song
To help you through instead
(repeat ad nauseam for 365 days)
This Old Man
This small child
Wets the bed
Every night at half past ten
New sheets, new clothes and a’stumble back to bed
Let’s do this at four again
Stop scratching at the door
I need a minute more
Trust me, it’s boring
Each time we go through this
No, you don’t need a kiss
I know you miss me
Everyone does it
Me – in the potty
You – on the duvet!
Some day you’ll pee here too
And even have a poo
Please God, let that be true
I’m peeing, peeing, I’m peeing…
Wheels on the bus
The food on your plate goes in your mouth
in your mouth
in your mouth
The food on your plate goes in your mouth
Not on the floor
The pockets in your pants get emptied out
The pockets in your pants get emptied out
Take out the rocks
The coat on your back goes on the hook
on the hook
on the hook
The coat on your back goes on the hook
Yes, every time
Get back in bed before I scream
‘fore I scream
‘fore I scream
Get back in bed before I scream
Mom needs her wine
Can we all agree: Homework is HELL. Raise your hand if you DREAD it each night. Can someone please explain why the volume of our children’s homework directly impacts OUR stress levels? And when did THEIR homework slide onto OUR plates?
There was a reason we didn’t have homework back when we were kids, till we reached fourth grade. BECAUSE KIDS CAN’T DO IT ALONE before then. And as we know, anything a kid’s gotta do, mom’s gotta be sitting right next to them, doing it too. Which is why our school weeks look like this:
Mom’s Homework Log:
Monday: Beginning at 3:30pm, wrestle your first grader to the ground in preparation for his “twenty minutes” of reading. Fight the urge to scream, “FOCUS!!” one thousand times in a row as he interrupts himself in the middle of every other sentence to tell you something about a TV show. Fight the urge to storm out of the room after one hour. Plan for this twenty-minute task to take a minimum of two hours.
Tuesday: If your third grader has two math sheets comprised of twenty basic arithmetic review problems and five word problems, how many times will she cry, “This is baby work!” followed by, “I don’t get it! This is too hard!!”? Trick question! Receive an email from her teacher alerting you that she hasn’t handed in her math homework for the past three weeks, which you then find crumpled under her bed. Vow to redouble your homework espionage.
Wednesday: Your first grader has had two weeks to complete his “About Me” poster, complete with extended family photos, family tree and a personal essay. It is due tomorrow. He mentions it at 8pm.
Thursday: Your fifth grader’s science fair project is due in one week. While he has actually completed the written assignment all by himself (hallelujah!), the project will require supply-gathering trips to the Petco, Home Depot, Staples, Michael’s Craft store, Target, and the local dump. Complete these trips today during the brief window your preschooler is actually IN school, between 9am and 11:15am.
Friday: Relax! It’s Friday! Of course there’s that report on the Federal Reserve due for your third grader’s Great American Economy Pageant next week. Better get crackin’.
Saturday Extra Credit (not!!): Today you are snack mom for your preschooler’s nut-free, processed sugar-free playgroup at 10am. You are also snack mom for your daughter’s gluten-free, dairy-free basketball game at 2pm. You are ALSO snack mom for your son’s nut-free, sugar-free, dye-free, gluten-free, soy-free scout meeting at 4pm. This will require making stops at four different grocery stores before 9am. No problem, you’ve been up since 5am!
Oh, bedtime! That precious moment when you can finally turn your little perpetual-motion machine off for the night … and then kick back and enjoy some desperately needed Me-Time. But first! You must run the Bedtime Stalling Gauntlet. Never fear. Here, we attempt to give you a leg-up on that challenge by outlining the Top Ten Toddler Bedtime Stalling tactics. Preparation is half the battle. The other half is a solid wine buzz. Good luck out there!
“But, I’m SO huuuungry!”
Usually from the child who has refused all meals, and eaten nothing but one goldfish cracker and half a grape all day long. Especially effective coming from girls, who appear to survive on air for days on end.
The child who generally hides by simply covering their face while standing in the middle of the living room suddenly becomes a master of camouflage when the sun goes down, nowhere to be found.
The wet noodle
When you finally get your hands on them – schoop! – right through your grasp, onto the floor, and off like a shot.
“But, I’m not tired!”
From the child who just gave up their nap, swam for three hours and played hard for another four, they’ve passed the point of exhaustion and slipped into mania. Symptoms include: dilated pupils, stumbling, shrieking, wet nooding.
Oh, you’re gonna be if mama doesn’t get back to Real Housewives before the shit goes DOWN.
Every tooth must be thoroughly brushed and flossed, hands and face washed until squeaky clean. It’s really hard to argue with this one. If only the child who usually looked like Pigpen from the Peanuts showed this level of care on their way out the door.
The endless parental cabaret act
“A song! Patty cake! Another song! A Book! NOOOO! In Elmo’s voice!” Your bedtime act can extend an hour or more. And guess what? There’s NO INTERMISSION. Ever.
“But I missed you ALL DAY!”
Guilt. You’re never too young to start.
Selecting the longest book known to man
Just one book, mama? Berenstein Bears Treasury, it is!
“I want to try the potty!”
Sigh, of course you do.
When I was growing up in South Florida, the best thing about the suburbs was leaving them the first chance I got. After a brief stop for college in an Ohio cornfield, I bee-lined it to New York City, determined to make it as a magazine writer.
I loved New York like Dorothy loved Kansas. It was my home, and there was no place like it. But almost 15 years later, in the aftermath of 9/11, I was racing westward in a rental car, out of the city and toward the rustic house on a deserted Nevada mountainside where the man I’d eventually marry lived. In a matter of days, I went from living in the heart of Brooklyn, where I was steps away from everything, to an isolated mountain where I was miles away from anything.
It took some getting used to.
Four years later, when we (finally!) traded our mountain retreat, with its crap-shoot utilities and trickle-down showers, for the house in Greater Orlando where we’d have our baby, I was far too smitten with the on-demand electricity and fierce water pressure to even notice I was back in suburbia. But once the sheer delight of not having to hook up my husband’s car battery to a generator just to turn the lights on dissipated, suburban life began to chap my city-girl sensibilities. Hey, some people warm to the charms of well-manicured lawns. Me? I’ll take the concrete jungle any day.
So it was wonderful to find a kindred spirit in former New-Yorker-turned-New-Jersey-suburbanite Tracy Beckerman, the writer behind all things Lost In Suburbia — the syndicated newspaper column, the incredibly popular blog and the hilariously relatable book. We talked city-girl to city-girl about learning to make peace with the suburbs.
Norine: Tracy, I completely related to your book Lost In Suburbia. I worked in magazines, rather than TV, but I share your love of New York City. I, too, once had an apartment so teeny-tiny, I had to climb over the bed to get to my desk. My wardrobe contained so much black, my mom used to say I was ready for a funeral at a moment’s notice. And while I never really stopped working after my son was born, living in Greater Orlando, I’m still pretty heartbroken that I’ve yet to find a decent bagel around here.
Tracy [laughing]: I’m sorry you can relate! But I think that’s why the book did well with a lot of working women who stopped to have kids. “Lost in suburbia” is a metaphor. I was lost geographically because we moved from the city to the suburbs. But I was also lost existentially because I moved from somebody who was defined by their career to somebody who didn’t have a career anymore. I had a hugely vested interest in how I looked and what my job title was and how much money I made. When I didn’t have those things anymore, I’d go to parties with other people who were still working, and they’d ask what I did, and when I’d say I’m a stay-at-home mom, the conversation would stop.
So here we are in a society where people are telling us the best thing we can do is stay home with our kids, and then when we say that we’re doing that, no one wants to talk to us. We thought we were doing the best thing we could for our families — and we thought we’d get such joy out of it. We didn’t realize our whole identities were going to be flushed down the toilet. It’s like we’re not valued anymore. I thought it was so ironic, and yet I had the same expectation of myself. I was “lost” in suburbia in terms of being lost in my identity. And I had to get to place where I felt really good about the choices I made to stay home with my kids. And I did get there.
Norine: So, how long till you got your groove back?
Tracy: I’d say about five years. I think your toughest time is when your kids are home. Once the kids started preschool, I had a couple of hours a week to myself. I could write, brush my teeth. I had a bit of room to try to get some balance and get back on track. In the beginning, when they’re really little, there is no balance. It’s all about the kids. You’re so grateful if you can go to the bathroom by yourself for 30 seconds.
Norine: I’d be grateful for that TODAY. My kid’s 8! He still insists on barging in to talk to me.
Tracy: Finally, the kids don’t barge in on me anymore. But the dog does. At least he takes a mouthful of toilet paper and leaves. They’d stay in and start pointing at things.
Norine: Although Lost In Suburbia is about so much more than being a mom, it is subtitled a “momoir.” And in many ways, I think it’s every mom’s story whether they live in the ‘burbs or not. There is just no way to prepare a first-time mom for the upside-down-ness that occurs after the baby arrives … and the complete identity shift that follows. You go from being your own individual self to being YOUR CHILD’S MOM. I am Fletcher’s Mom. That’s what I’m called at school. That’s my name.
Tracy: That change is something you can’t get your arms around until you’re in that place. My husband and I often talk about how going from not being parents to being parents is like going through the Twilight Zone. It was that vastly different. Never in million years did I expect I’d be a stay-at-home mom because my identity was so intricately tied to the work that I did. And yet, I was back at work three weeks, and I was miserable. I just felt like I was blowing it. I would call the nanny to check in, and she’d be like Oh, he did this today and it was so cute. She was having a better time than I was. Within three months after that, I quit my job. I didn’t want someone else raising my child. I wanted to be the one to raise him and have these experiences with him.
Norine: Oh, I had the same kind of nanny envy you talk about. I was still working, but as a freelance writer, I worked at home. So, while I was upstairs in my office, I would get to watch my nanny swim in my pool and play in my backyard and take my kid off to Disney World for the afternoon. I felt like I was missing out on all the fun.
Tracy: But then you start being home with your kid and you start to think, Maybe it’s not so much fun. So that’s part of it.
Norine: We get squeezed. We feel like we’re not doing our best at work because we want to be at home. And at home, that’s not all that we thought it would be, so we want to go back to work. It’s the constant push-pull of modern motherhood.
Tracy: It always amuses me when I hear about Mommy Wars — Stay-At-Home-Moms versus Working Moms. If it works for you to be home with your kid and you’re able to do that while your husband works, great. You should do that, and you’ll be a great mom while you do that. If you’re not able to do that or you’re not happy being at home full-time, you should definitely work. A happy mom is a great mom, and if you’re happy when you’re at work, then the time you spend with your kids is going to be so much better. I’m an advocate for do what works for you. My judgment of people really has more to do with when moms stay home to “be with the kids,” and then they hire a nanny and go shopping at the mall. That’s not really the point. If you’re going to stay home with the kids, stay home with the kids. Don’t spend the whole day playing tennis and shopping.
Norine: You made peace with the suburbs.
Tracy: I moved to New Jersey. I was too follically-challenged to have big hair. I didn’t want to walk around wearing a track suit that said Juicy on my butt. And I couldn’t drive a minivan. It just wasn’t me. I needed a way to be ME here, with my short hair and my trendy black clothes and my funky car, and have that be acceptable to people. I did accept certain suburban things. I waited in the car pool line, and we did play dates. There are certain things you can’t avoid when you’re a parent. But I don’t think you have to sell out your individuality either. I don’t want to look like everyone else. And the funny thing is that now, I’m a funky suburbanite. But when I’m in the city with the real cool city people, I don’t fit in anymore. I look like I’m from the suburbs.
Norine: But you’re no longer “lost.” You’ve created your space on your terms and you still write very funny stories about being just a bit of a fish out of water. What have you found to like about suburbia?
Tracy: The quiet and the space. When we lived in the city, it was always really loud and hard to have a lot of space. That’s the whole reason we left in the first place. My son was about 18 months old; I wasn’t working anymore, so we only had one income. And on only one, not-very-big income, we couldn’t afford more than the one-bedroom apartment we had, and we were just bursting at the seams. Little kids come with so much stuff. We had three different kinds of strollers and a bouncy seat and an exer-saucer and a jumper and a high chair. It looked like an explosion at Toys R Us. And we knew we weren’t done either with the one kid. We knew there were more coming. When we got to the suburbs, my biggest joy was going to Costco and buying the 36 rolls of toilet paper and 24 cans of soup.
But now, I’m going through a career shift all over again. My son is in his freshman year of college. My daughter is looking at colleges, and she’ll be gone in a year and a half. I’ve spent the last 18 years identifying as this stay-at-home mom. I built my life around that and built my work life around that. And that will cease to be in a year and a half. So I have to reinvent myself all over again. I’m out of the realm of moms with young children. I’m not talking about diapers and meals to make for young kids and how to get them to eat their vegetables. I’m dealing with issues like paying for college and sniffing my kid’s breath when he comes home after midnight to make sure he hasn’t been doing anything he shouldn’t have been doing and driving while he’s doing it.
You don’t stop being a mother, but your responsibilities just change over night, again. And if you’ve spent all this time with this job, this role, and you don’t have it any more, you’re like, Well now what? We may not even stay in the suburbs. My husband is talking about moving back to the city. I’m like, Just yank the rug out from under me, Honey. So, as abruptly as it started, it ends again. I don’t have to be at home any more. I can go to an office. We can move. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time.
Norine: Isn’t that where the most exciting writing comes from?
Tracy: Yes, but it’s also scary because I have a niche, and I have an audience built around that niche too. I have to move from an audience of young mothers to transitional women like myself. But my Lost In Suburbia blog and newspaper column has never just been about being a mom. It’s always been about my life in the suburbs, being married, being a mom, having a dog and appliances that explode, watching woodchucks mating in my backyard, being stopped by a cop while I’m driving in my bathrobe. So as my kids got older and didn’t want me to write about them anymore, there was still lots of other stuff to write about. For that reason, I don’t think it’ll be as traumatic a transition for me. Over the years, I’ve gotten used to not writing about my kids. It was actually more traumatic when my dog died, and I didn’t have him to write about anymore.