When You Hate The Holidays


The sun sets on a grey November day. Rain held out, but the air was wet with the want of a downpour. It’s cold now, and the days are so short and scant, I grasp on to sunlight as if I will never see it again, like an old, close friend who is about to move far away. The ground, soggy, and thick with mud, has a faint putrid scent of decay. The lady downstairs from me is already playing Christmas music on loop, and stores have begun to drag out their artificial trees, tacky green and red socks, and send out glossy flyers in the mail. I once read an article that stated more people commit suicide during the holidays than any other time of the year. I can relate. Not about the suicide part. Since I’m lucky to be blessed with two adorable sons, have a great set of knockers, and have never been to Exuma,   I would never hurl myself off a building, or swallow a handful of diazepam, but I can sympathize with the feelings of depression and weariness.

It used to not be this way. When I was a kid I loved the holidays. The bustle of people, decked out in their finest wool, dropping over the house to drink rich, creamy eggnog and eat my mother’s homemade pies was fun. My father’s bus company would hold it’s annual Christmas party, complete with a hot dog cart, Italian subs, and a buttercream sheet cake done in NJ Transit’s iconic blue, orange, and magenta colors. My sister and I, dressed ridiculously as elves, would aid Santa in handing out gifts to the children, then we would commence our yearly hot dog eating contest, stuffing ourselves with garlicy Sabrett’s, then complain to our mother about our stomach aches. Santa was real, family was plentiful, and money was one of those things only adults had to worry about. It was a magical time.

Fast forward to my forties, and things don’t look so cheery anymore. Although I truly am a twelve-year-old girl deep inside, I’m the one worrying about money, and shopping, and preparing, and figuring out how the hell I’m going to cover the cost of a holiday ham, Star wars battlefront games, and pay the gas bill. I want the festively decorated house, the Pottery Barn wrapped gifts, the from scratch cookies, but as a single mother, I barely have the energy to slice up one of those lazy person cookie logs, let alone make the peppermint spiral cookies I used to churn out years ago.

But I want it to be magical for my kids. I don’t want them to get the slightest glimpse of sheer panic when I tear open the Amazon bill, or sense my forlornness when my parents can’t make it up from North Carolina one year. I don’t want them to catch my eyerolls as I see another Every Kiss Begins With Kay jewelry commercial. So I fake it, as much as a wear my heart on mine sleeve kinda girl can fake it. I paint on red lacquered smile and try to pass off boxed mashed potatoes as the real thing. At least they don’t have lumps. Real mashed potatoes have lumps…and so do real mothers. We may vow to get our shit together this year, but chances are, we will lose it somewhere around late November, on a dank evening, right after Thanksgiving. And in my case, on my birthday. We will lose it, because all is not perfect, and magical, and people fight too much, park to crappy, and the tree looks crooked, and the wrapping paper is too expensive. It’s ALL too much.

But then a little person, with flushed cheeks, a smooth forehead, and your eyes, wanders barefooted into the messy living room where you are catching up on season 6 of The Walking Dead. They sidle up next to, tuck their toes in the crack of the cushions, and rest their head on your arm. They teeter on the edge of little kid and big kid, looking at you with concerned eyes when an older kid with a stupid hair cut asks them if they still believe in Santa. That’s when we mothers still see the magic. We realize, there is magic.

Then this little person passes gas and says, “My butt just said hello.”

And suddenly everything is right in the world.


A Hotdog Stand In Tamarindo

DSC00456.JPGHe was an ornery boy with matted down flaxen hair, small plump toes, and crooked teeth  inherited from his father. In bunchey wet board shorts and ill-fitting flip flops, he turned his head, straining to take in the odd menu scrawled in loopy letters on the cafe wall. A jagged bone white shark’s tooth suspended on an azure rope had caught his attention from a street vendor the day before, and now hung from his neck. The rope was a perfect match to his eyes.

Having been playing in the wild, white frothy surf of the Pacific, and feeding stray dogs his nutrigrain bar, the boy was decidley hungry. The menu, written mostly in Spanish featured delectables such as Nutella smoothies laden with ripe bananas, and authentic tacos which bore little resemblance to the ones the boy ate at home. Such fare was far too unusual for a child who munched on colorful goldfish crackers and breaded chicken from a box.

His older brother, easily adaptable to change, customs, and a tropical holiday in the little seaside town of Tamarindo, found delight in the food and settled for a smoky dish of shredded pork, plantains, and a velvety smoothie.

Mare, the comely owner of the soda hovered amiably by the table, eager to suggest something plainer and more American for the boy to try. He wasn’t having it. With lips pressed thin, like a string bean, and eyes cast down, the boy shook his head impatiently, pressed his small hands on the table and said,

” I want a hotdog.”

This was Costa Rica. It would be hard pressed to find Oscar Mayer products stuffed in white bread. Even back at the modern, turquoise and ecru decorated  boutique hotel, the chicken tenders were hand dipped in homemade bread crumbs lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil, and served with plantains. Not exactly fare for a French fry and chicken nugget gulping 10 year old. My desire to introduce culture, cuisine, and perhaps a vegetable to the boy would not be quenched.

This trip, although much needed, was fraught with fights, and complaints, and tantrums, and many dramatic eye rolls not only from my poor older son who had to deal with his obstinate brother, but by me as well. I had envisioned scenes much different than what was playing out in front of my weary hazel eyes.

I had planned a trip, the three of us- it was always the three of us- a fortieth birthday present to myself, which in reality was a consolation prize for the fact that I was still single at this age. With wounds still fresh from a broken engagement, I flung myself at adventures such as sky diving, volcano trekking, and food truck sampling. My friends marveled as I took on the new role of free, fearless, nomadic single mother, but the truth was I never felt so scared. Traveling with children is a challenge in itself, but traveling with a child who elder ladies with coral lipstick stained mouths call quite a handful, takes a certain amount of blind bravery. Or stupidity.

But I wanted to be brave. Wanted to prove to myself that I could navigate an airport, a far-flung Costa Rican village, and most importantly the minefield of single parenting. Although I was shaking in my sensible yet still stylish sandals, I wanted to show my children, I can do this.

But like the last five years of my life, our respite was not going as planned. The evening before, balmy and blushed with a vivid pink sunset, begged for a dip in the hotel’s elegantly curved pool. As my children splashed, I attempted to sprawl out on a pale blue lounger, sip some sort of adult beverage out of a glass void of any Marvel heroes, and marvel at the beauty of the lush jungle. With the sound of Howler monkeys laughing in the trees, and the pleasant murmuring of people conversing  in the outdoor restaurant, I began to slip into a place where I felt a warm sense of okayness. I planned this trip. I trapezed through a foreign airport with great aplomb, two children in tow. I schooled myself in knowing how much 100 colones were worth.  I felt that I may not be failing at this solo parenting thing after all.

Then the screaming began. The older one must have made a snarky comment to the younger one, and being as sensitive as he was, he began wailing louder than the hyper monkeys. The two carried on intensely despite my angered hushing through gritted teeth. It took me, red faced like a cranberry and unnerved, pulling them out of the pool by wet flailing limbs before they simmered it down to a manageable roar. As I ushered them past the dining area, back to our room, a lanky blonde in a fitted silk skirt took interest in our scuffle. She sat with her dapper husband, enjoying a cocktail, and remarked in a clipped accent.

“Thank you for such entertainment.”

I was mortified.

At least the sunset had been pretty.

Because of my nervous nature, fear of raising crass men, and deep concern over what other people thought, the ugly pool scene stung like vinegar on a fresh cut. Trying to keep composure when you are filled with rage and humiliation over your own child is a feat not for the faint of heart.

But today had been different. The mood of the previous night had been lifted by the backdrop of the sea, shaved ice as blue as pool water, and a really good day exploring a volcanic sand beach. I had watched my boy push his stubby toes into the glinty  black and gold flecked sand and wait for the waves to kiss his feet. With a pointed finger he would draw snowmen and Santa’s hat, write his name in bold capital letters, then run, attempting to shoo the water away from his creation. Then draw it again a little further up the beach. Each time the surf erased his name he seemed genuinely surprised and crestfallen, but rejoiced quickly in the chance to do it all again.  This both  broke my heart and filled it with a surge of love so strong it scared me. The brevity of life, of innocence, of time being washed away so very quickly was  being metaphorically played out in the bright hot sun before me. It was overwhelming, but perfect.

So as we sat at that little soda, I did not brace myself for a tantrum. I did not squirm, worrying if the raven haired girl seated next to us would deem me a weak mother when I calmly turned and told my son,

“Then we best find a hotdog stand for you young man.”

And we did.


In the 80’s Families did Dinner time; Here’s why I Fail at This

imageThanks to  Netflix’s Stranger Things, my son has discovered Corey Hart. He digs him. People don’t say that anymore do they? But he does. Dig him very much. He even made a cool edit of the show’s most intense moments using the synthetic sounds of I Wear My Sunglasses at Night as background music. I dug it.

I must say my son’s penchant for Corey Hart came as a surprise since he tends to be drawn to louder, faster, hard hitting soul shaking music such as Guns N’ Roses, but I understood the appeal since when I was, well about his age, I too was drawn to the moody song. Ian listening to Cory Hart brings me back to the 8o’s, which apparently is where Ian wants to be.

We are sitting on our crumb covered couch, the accent pillows of course are strewn about the floor. Why the hell did I buy a couch with pale green accent pillows?  Ian is picking the hard frosting off a Pop Tart and he tells me he wishes he grew up in the 80’s.  I’m intrigued. This could be a chance to get into my son’s hard to reach thoughts. Having to always use the backdoor when it comes to trying to hammer out his feelings, I jump on the juicy topic like a Blanche Deveroux on a man.

“Why do you say that?” I ask him. His little feet are tucked between the gap in the cushions, his freckles still prominent from August’s intense sun.

He presses his thin, pink lips together before answering.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like a better time, you know, the music was better and kids could play outside and the neighbors would know you, oh and families would have dinner time. ”


His answer stuns me. Did he really see the times he is growing up in in such a dim light that he would surrender his beloved IPhone, tablet, and constant viewing of some dude name Pewdiepie for life in the 80’s? Did this mean I had to start cooking? The guilt of swinging by Wendy’s on the way home from work starts to work its way into my heart. I start to think about what dinner time was like when I was growing up. It certainly looked quite different from the hurried task of speeding through the drive-thru; or when I have the energy, a quickly thrown together meal which I end up eating standing up as I load the dishwasher. Dinner time growing up had a more important theme in our house when I was a child. My sisters and I would set the table. I can’t remember the last time a table was set in my house. Maybe it was last Thanksgiving. My mother would cook from scratch, and except for Friday pizza night, there would always be a side of fresh vegetables. I haven’t found a vegetable that both of my sons like so our store bought rotisserie chicken is usually sans sides. I remember my parents  making us clean our plates even if it was something we hated.

Although I don’t completly agree with that rule, I wondered what it would be like to make a meal without ending up scrapping most of it off of plastic plates. Oh, and my parents never did plastic plates. It was always real dishes and a cloth napkin for my very fussy father. It was kind of nice. I start to think, maybe I should give that chicken casserole I saw on Pinterst a whirl.But then I remember I can barely manage to boil water without having to take a Xanax, and think, there must be an alternative. Can my family bond without an official bells and whistles dinner time?

That night I attempt to cook pasta. About half way into al dente, I realize in my frenzied culinarian state, my son does not do sauce. This means having to prepare a separate butter and cheese mix for him. Shit! More bowls to clean. I’m already up to my eyeballs in cutting boards, knives, and one wayward can opener. I panic, but I’ve already committed to this. Mommy’s making dinner!

I ask the boys to set the table. They fight.

I put out glassware. My son spills the lemonade and breaks the glass. Shit!

I dole out the hot slippery linguini. The older one bitches that it has too much sauce. He takes a napkin and methodically wipes each linguini strand clean.

I burn the garlic bread, and the boys complain the house smells like farts.

I don’t end up eating the meal at mealtime, because it’s all too stressful. I score a xany, pour  myself half a glass of wine and end up shoveling in a few bites while unloading the dishwasher at 9p.m.  Clearly I’m defeated. I can’t even do one night of family dinner! My mother would be ashamed. I kinda don’t care. But I do wonder if my son is disappointed.

The next night we get sandwiches at QuickChek and eat them on the couch while watching Stranger Things. Ian happily picks off shreds of lettuce with precision as my older son crams smoked turkey in his mouth. We watch Eleven sacrifice herself to kill the Demi-gorgon, and discuss the Duffer brothers nod to E.T. Everyone is satiated and relaxed.  I have nary a dish to clean, nor a pot to soak.

The 80’s rocked, but they can keep their formal dinners. We’ll bond over Corey Hart.


My kids bonded over the Clown Sightings

imageThey bonded once. My boys. Just recently actually, and it stuck with me for a week, allowing me to move buoyantly through my work days, and fold laundry without getting frustrated at the amount of mate free socks. They bonded over clowns.

Normally my two are at each other, bickering like a soon to be divorced couple. The subject of their fights sometimes amuse me, sometimes make me want to pull out mousey brown hair in clumps. Usually it’s the feet. The younger one has a thing for feet, deeming them gross and not worthy of being without a proper covering. The older one gleefully knows this treasure of information and uses it to deploy torture tactics on his pedi phobic brother.

“MOM!! He did it! He put his foot on my knee again!” Ian will scream as if the foot was a large scaly snake complete with fangs, and forked tongue.

David, without fail, will laugh like a madman, watching his brother’s full soft cheeks turn cranberry red, and azure eyes well up with fat goopy tears.

I then of course will scream at both boys, remarking on how ridiculous all this fighting is and then ponder if I had spaced my pregnancies apart better, would they hate each other less. I ponder if they will grow out of it, and then answer my own question when I look back at their track record of getting along; it doesn’t exists. When Ian was an infant David used to run into the room on thick padded feet, yank the binky out of his poor brother’s mouth, and run out, cackling like a shriveled old witch. Ian was no saint either, once going as far as slapping himself sharply on the arm and then insisting the red welt that formed was created by his brother, and certainly not by his own devious hand.

But it happened. They bonded. And over the oddest thing. Our area, along with several others had been inundated with stories of horrific clown sightings. The internet was (and still is) on fire, spinning tales of machete weilding circus creatures, their smirk evil beneath that familiar red nose, terrorizing children. Even the boy’s school bus driver warned them to “go straight home” one drippy Tuesday afternoon.

Now my two heathens were on a mission. Protect the home from clowns using as many homemade weapons they could find. A large walking stick, pale and smooth like a bone became the favorite weapon of choice. They each would hold their sticks close to the body, then in a stealthy move, BOOM, hit the clown in his creamy white temple. Soon they were drawing out stragetic battle plans if they encountered more than one, and researching clown sightings on their Ipones and googling Pennywise. It was heartwarming for a weary mother of two normally ball busting boys to see. There seemed to be a genuine need to protect each other from the clowns, and both boys had some solid ideas on how to rid the town of any potential clownings. I was impressed. And touched of course. As far as I’m concerened Frick and Frack can bond over clowns, as long as they are bonding.