Lemons and Lemonade

Day 4: Rain

We arrived at the motel too late last night to do anything more than share a frozen pizza and tumble into bed. “We’ll swim in the morning,” I told my tired crew.

“Okay, Mom,” they said.

Of course, this morning, it was raining. The kids were crestfallen.

We had another long day of travel ahead of us. Ken and I knew the kids needed to play.

“Well, we are going to get wet anyway. Who wants to go swimming?!” We all donned our suits and went outside.

I’m not gonna lie. I felt ridiculous walking across the rainy parking lot while other, more sensible, travelers packed their cars and hit the road. This feeling was compounded when we arrived at the pool gate only to discover it all chained up.

The kids looked first at me and then at Ken. “Sorry, you guys,” I said. “It looks like the pool is closed.” Rain-soaked, Ken led us back under the motel awning.

Katie was the first to speak. “That’s okay,” she said. “I didn’t even really want to swim anyway.”

Katie had very much wanted to swim. All of us had. But she was convincing herself she did not want to because she did not want to be sad.

A big part of parenting is helping kids deal with disappointment: plans that are canceled; changes that must be made; hurt feelings when a swimming pool is closed. Situations do not always go as we wish. We want our kids to learn how to appropriately deal with frustrations and setbacks.

But an even bigger part of parenting, I think, is agency: teaching kids to take charge of their world, to determine their own outcomes, to make their own luck. The world will put plenty of walls in the way. It is our job to help our children find the ladders and windows. To teach them possibility.

Instead of heading back to the room, we all marched into the front office. The kids asked if they could swim, and a kind woman named Tammy assured us that, of course, she would unlock that gate around the pool.

We tromped back into the rain and, one by one, jumped in — looking even more ridiculous all together — and laughed and splashed and carried on in that age-old way about how wet we were getting in the downpour.

Sometimes defeat is accepting disappointment.

Sometimes victory is swimming in the rain.






Wallowing in a Winter Wonderland

So we stood in line to see Santa yesterday.

There were some problems.

For starters, the Santa-to-child ratio. I’m no mathematician, but my estimates put the number of kids ahead of us at just under 17 million. Number of Santas ministering to those children: one. Those were crap odds.

We know that Santa is clutch. He’s up against heftier numbers on game day, and he always comes through. But that must be due to his crackerjack support network — the elves, the Mrs., the deer. Our Santa… he had staffing problems.

From what I’ve researched, elves are of paramount importance to this whole seeing Santa business. These green-clad minions move folks along. They keep the action merry. But there were no polar aide-de-camps working our line. No one in or out of tights jingled a bell or cheerfully hinted we were getting any closer to the Big Dance. There were no elves staging photographs. Terrified children stood in awe of Santa and/or picked their noses, allowing precious seconds to pass. No elves hustled anyone off of Santa’s lap or hurried families through a candy cane exit.

Seeing Santa is not work you want left to parents. If we wait all that time, when it is finally our turn, we want the perfect shot. We have Facebook pages to update, and friends to Instagram with photos of our kids in complementary reds and greens. We want Santa to hear everyone’s complete list, even little Timmy’s. He is shy, but if you just give him a minute or two, he’ll open up and tell you everything for which he is quietly hoping. The choo choo train. The blocks.

In short, parents are Santa hogs.

Which is why, after an hour-and-a-half, my kids and I were still nowhere near the jolly man in red. I tried bribery. “How about some kettle corn?” And cajoling. “Wouldn’t it be way more fun to see Santa next week at the mall?” I even tried to dash hopes. “Seeing Santa isn’t that big a deal anyway. Who wants hot chocolate?”

My 9-year-old wavered when I mentioned a beverage, but sensing my desperation, insisted on a pizza, too.

My 2-year-old had already bumped into everyone in line near us, so he was eager to break out of the queue to knee-cap new victims.

But 5-year-old Lizzie would not budge. Her eyes were full of hope. She wanted to ask Santa for a Barbie doll. “I know we’ll make it, Mom. We just have to believe.” What could I say?

So for 93 minutes we believed.

But then Santa left for a smoke break.

And there was some sort of program involving hand bells, and carolers, and a speech about a Christmas tree. I tried to watch. But we were standing in a line that was no longer moving, waiting to see a fictional character who was no longer there.

I lifted the red velvet rope and gently tugged my children out into the darkness.

There was crying on the way home. Also an argument over burritos. I tried to engage them in conversation. “If you had been able to see Santa, what would you have asked for?”

“A new mother,” came the first response. It was fair. They could not be angry with Santa. They could only be angry with me.

dadvmom.com_wallowinginawinterwonderland_heartcandyanesAt home, after a dinner that was neither pizza nor burritos, we wrapped presents for a family whose name we’d pulled at church. A Barbie doll, a train, some matching jammies in red and green. For a little bit, anyway, we played at being their elves.

We drank cocoa and laughed when Dad tried to play “Jingle Bells” on his ukulele.

We told each other what we wanted for Christmas.

And as I snuggled with my children on the couch, once they had determined they no longer hated me, I decided that Santa Claus could kiss my ass.

Originally published on the Huffington Post.