Oh, Hole-y Night

Ours was a Christmas Eve full of wardrobe malfunctions:

  • Katie wore the same red dress she has worn for the past three Christmases. “It’s okay, Mom. If I cover it with this sweater, no one can see where it’s pinching my arms.”
  • Lizzie selected her blue dress from our costume dress-up box. Since the back zipper was broken, she went to church with a row of five safety pins holding it up.  When those irritated her, she changed into an Ohio State t-shirt she found in the car.
  • Henry took off his Christmas vest midway through the service, threw it at his sister, and cried when I said he could not have a granola bar.
  • I wore my drab, black funeral dress, since my cheerful, red holiday frock no longer buckles or zips.
  • Dad realized the white shirt he found on the closet floor was not as clean as he originally thought.  Though the largest stain turned out to be white wine and not pee.

I was surprised no one turned to us during the homily to inquire whether we, too, had been born in a barn.

Lizzie requested pancakes for dinner. Katie begged for Indian food. Henry lobbied for macaroni and cheese.

We chose a Japanese restaurant where nobody got what they wanted – except for mom, who did not have to cook – and somehow everyone was happy.


Here’s to noodles and soup, shirts without buttons, and clothes that don’t zip.

Whether your holidays thus far have been good, bad, or nutty, don’t forget we all have it pretty darn good.

Happy sushi to all and to all a good night.



There Went Santa Claus

We have not visited Santa this year. We have entered no shopping malls, paid for no photographs, and endured not one single moment of waiting in any faux wonderland.

Instead, as is the tradition in this merry little town we now call home, Santa came to us. In a little red sled, on a big brown trailer, pulled by a grey pickup truck. And flanked by a police escort.

If the setup sounds wacky, that is only because you have not seen the magic firsthand. Sirens and lights roused us to our windows, as a cruiser drove along the street announcing, “Santa is coming. Santa is coming.”

My kids grabbed hats and coats and tumbled out into the darkness. Sure enough, moments later, Santa rounded the corner–going maybe nine miles an hour–and the whole party stopped right in front of our house.

My kids got down to business one, two, three.

Katie requested a Science kit.

Lizzie presented an itemized list with “PURPL UNNECORN” printed at the top.

And Henry, the littlest one, gazed at the cars and trucks all aglow, and quietly asked if Santa would drive him to visit his grandparents in Ohio. Santa chuckled, smiled wearily, and said, “I really wish I could, buddy. Maybe Mom can help with that one.”

Henry pondered this as he hopped away with a candy cane.  I liked that Santa suggested Mom was powerful, too.

The kids presented the whole entourage with a paper plate of homemade cookies. And Katie added, “I also wish for everyone else to get their wishes tonight.”

“No one has ever asked me for that before,” Santa replied.  “I’ll see what I can do.”  Then the bedazzled Christmas train lumbered off into the darkness.

It seemed to me that Katie was confusing Santa with a genie, as though she could keep wishing for more wishes, the ultimate Christmas loophole. But Santa saw the loveliness in her request, and had honored the goodness in all three of my children, something I often fail to do.

The whole visit lasted only a few minutes, and was like a page from a storybook–one of 1001 tales you might tell late at night. About that time when you were a kid, and Santa came to your house, promised you a unicorn, gave you some candy, and drove away in a little red sled, on a big brown trailer, pulled by a grey pickup truck.

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Oh Christmas Tree?

This story originally appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered.  


Our Christmas tree gets uglier every year. It’s not the tree’s fault. This year we sprung for a Fraser fir, cut fresh at a local farm. It has soft needles, that ideal pine-cone shape, and a pointy top perfect for holding a star. But when we got home, I felt like apologizing. This tree did not deserve what we were about to do. We re-cut the bottom, mounted it in its holder, and gave it water. For about five minutes, our tree looked beautiful. Then came the decorations.

My wife and I watched as our two children vandalized the bottom half of the tree. Katie hung multiple baubles on the same limbs, causing them to bend and bow, as though the tree was gesturing “why me?” Ornaments were shoved directly onto branches: An angel dangled by its halo; a smiling Santa impaled through the nose. Our 2-year old, Lizzie, sat chewing our Nativity scene, throwing body parts into the tree.

To be fair, my wife and I are partly to blame. We suffer from that common seasonal malady I call ugly-ornament-itis. We can’t seem to throw any away, especially those made by our kids. Or anyone’s kids, really. More than half the construction-paper-and-popcorn curios are mine. When I left home, I inherited these homemade gems from my parents, who were eager to regain their own tree’s dignity. I see the 30-year-old hunk of dough my wife attempted to shape into a wreath, and a mouse-like creature I vaguely recall molding from melted crayons.


This year, our 6-year-old was in charge of the lights. Katie looped them tightly around the trunk, as though dressing a wound. In a way, I suppose she was. When the strand ran out, she dove into a bag of Mardi Gras beads. Shiny purple necklaces now hang in bunches from the middle limbs. In third grade, my wife wrote an Arbor Day poem titled: “What does it feel like to be a tree?” Today, she thought she heard the answers whispered through those laden branches.

About halfway up, the tackiness halts. Cotton-ball snowmen and pipe-cleaner candy canes give way to glass stars and holly sprigs. The effect is a bit schizophrenic. It’s as though our tree got tipsy one night and started decorating itself but passed out halfway through. If I lined up photos of my childhood Christmas trees, I bet I could arrange them chronologically by how high the ugly goes.

Some day, my wife and I will get our tree back. The kids will move out and inherit their own boxes of Christmas tacky. I picture the two of us in our holiday cardigans, sipping port by the fire, gazing at our tree. It will be elegant, majestic, refined. Then, one of us will venture into the attic to retrieve the box kept behind. We’ll hang Katie’s clothespin Rudolph, Lizzie’s headless baby Jesus, and every last memory we find. And somehow, I know our tree will thank us.


Free the Elf

…with apologies to my troll-loving friends…

The Christmas season is here which means it’s time for the annual release of the holiday kraken. It is time to unbox the Elf.

From now until Dec. 25th, my Facebook and Instagram feeds will be overrun with whimsical images of red- and white-clad pixies wreaking havoc on my friends’ homes. Here is Sprinkles mismatching the family socks. There is Squeaky throwing marshmallows at the dog. If I were to unfriend every friend who posted a photo today of that playful puppet with Chuckie’s smile…well, I would be a lonely gal indeed.

I have girlfriends who swear by the magical and voyeuristic properties of this tiny troll. He is rumored to report directly back to Santa. Thus, children of the house are more compliant with the Elf’s beady eyes upon them. A blessing, my friends call it. Creepy, I reply. The Elf is like a nanny cam we use on ourselves. But it’s not just the surveillance component that rattles me, it’s the relentless choreographed merriment.

Did I miss the meeting when parents decided it was our job to perpetually entertain our children? Why not ship the Elf in an extra-large cardboard box and have kids spend December moving that around the house? I find it flabbergasting that anyone ever looked at the Christmas season – with its shopping, wrapping, baking, singing, and decorating — and thought, It’s just not enough. Our kids need more.

I would be willing to put up with the spying and shenanigans if I felt like the ritual at least improved us. But, in the end, I think Rascal is merely another diversion from the real work of the season. Whatever your denomination, no matter your beliefs, this time of year beckons us all with bounty and light. As a mom, I want to teach my kids to share this bounty and spread their light.

I would like the Elf more if he interspersed the clowning with little assignments – “Go clean your room. Fill a bag with clothing and bring it to a shelter downtown.” But that’s not very festive, you say.

But what, I ask, makes more sense? An Elf who for 24 ½ days rotates around your house unstuffing the sofa pillows? Or an Elf who spends nearly a month reminding children that they can make the world a better place?

Free the Elves, folks.  Let the real Elves be us.dadvmom.com_freetheelf_iceskatelizzie dadvmom.com_freetheelf_katiegirlscanchangetheworld dadvmom.com_freetheelf_henryelf