All’s Fair in War and Christmas: Weapons Make Great Gifts

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

These are some of the parts we will combat in building this weapon.

In my family we don’t give gifts. We give aggravation. No one likes a Yankee Swap where people regift candles to an unsuspecting aunt. That’s small time. We’re far more clever than that.

Anyone who’s come near our family has suffered the wrath of the gift. There was once a plastic silverware sorter that got regifted for years indicating the fact that the recipient had been tagged with shame and would have to wait gift it to the next unsuspecting victim.

We gifted twelve packs of socks, individually wrapped because everyone took one turn before the next person went–this meant you knew you had twelve turns of socks to find and all the disappointment, discovering boxes you thought had something cool had…another sock wrapped so cleverly that a customs agent wouldn’t pick up on the contents if it were a sock filled with drugs.

I’m not sure how Christmas became a time for pranks rather than generosity, but that’s the way things are. We had good stuff below the tree, too, but it was always bulked up by things that people needed that were saved and wrapped for Christmas, like food items. Most families just grocery shop for food and eat it. Our family wrapped it and put it under the tree. Pepperoni, olives, candy bars, treats, ramen noodles…it’s all been there.

This isn’t normal behavior I’ve discovered. It’s why my husband was mystified to unwrap barley this year–he likes my mushroom barley soup so I wrapped barley. My son, however, loved that I wrapped marshmallows and chocolate Goldfish crackers. He’s going to fit into the gift spirit just fine.

This whole gift thing got particularly nasty when everyone had kids. Instead of individually wrapping socks, we tried to give gifts kids would love but would secretly torture parents. Mess, noise, disaster, global conflict and warm–all’s fair in war and Christmas. The more parts, mess and batteries the better. Directions in Japanese–a plus. I started studying Japanese. Mostly I can order beer and talk about the day, but soon I’ll be able to build a hybrid from a manual and defeat any toy.

This year, I tried to win by sending the boys science stuff and socks. They cringed at the thought of getting clothes for Christmas but everyone needs socks. I was tired. Socks are beginner strategy. So two decades ago. I set myself up for a big loss.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Ali (names not disguised to protect the guilty) sent us the mother of all gifts…the trebuchet. Or as Declan calls it, “The Cannonpult.” It’s not just a trebuchet The Cannonpultcapable of launching rocks and things a full 30 feet through car and house windows, it’s a build your own trebuchet, complete with wood glue and about a million parts with multistep directions. That makes them the clear winner in this year’s gift category. Although the cannonpult came with a harmless rubber ball, everyone with a brain knows that it’ll never be used to launch that ball. The ball has exactly one flight before it’s lost in the woods forever. After that, we switch to rocks.

“Mom, is it hunting season?” Declan asked.

“It’s over in a week.” Surprised I know that. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, if my cannonpult ball goes into the woods, I don’t want to get shot. What happens if I get shot?” he asked. Fair question.

“It’ll hurt. Try not to get shot. And don’t shoot your cannonpult into the woods.” Good solution. He scrunched up his face. “If you lose your ball, I will get it,” I said.

“But then you’ll get shot.” I’d thought he’d realize I could go Matrix and avoid the bullets.

“Don’t worry about it. I have life insurance. If I get shot, you’ll be fine.”

“Too bad you don’t have State Farm. Like a good neighbor…” He began to sing and lecture about my choice of insurance companies. I have USAA. Somehow being paid out by a good neighbor would make things better than a random lump sum by a company which doesn’t have a song?

So, we–no, I–set about building the trebuchet that will get me shot and give someone other than State Farm something to do. Declan sanded pieces of wood he could not destroy and I carefully read directions in seven languages and glued parts together, bonding with the boy by saying, “Don’t touch,” and “NO!” while being filled with gratitude for things like pre-drilled holes for hardware.

I discovered this project was going to take a couple days. That’s a fantastic learning experience for a six-year old, although the cannonpult box clearly said “Twelve and up.” That really means (translated into Japanese and back) “Even someone as old as dirt can’t possibly put this together. We’re laughing at you for trying.”

We had to let the parts dry. When he slept, I glued the second stage together. I told him it was an elf so he wouldn’t get mad that I did stuff without him.

Today, we’ll go out and toss rocks into the woods and break a car window or two. He’ll have fun with his cannonpult. I’ll smile. Not because I’m happy about getting shot and breaking windows, but because I’m already planning my revenge for next year.



I’m Gonna Write about You

When I started writing, I was told never to befriend a blogger because I wouldn’t know when I’d end up in print. Next, that I hadn’t made it till I woke up and found myself in someone else’s blog. Both are true. The first time I woke up in a blog or had myself retweeted, I was horrified. Now, I realize it’s par for the course–fun even.

Now, I do it to other people. Sometimes I leave clues so the people I’m writing about can find themselves, and other times I disguise them completely. Once in a while, I mention them by name. I haven’t found my close group of friends has dwindled out of fear, but I do wonder if my son will hate me one day. I tend to write about him a lot. He doesn’t listen very well and he has a mind of his own. That part he gets that from me. His athleticism and ability to blow up in a second–that’s the other side of the family. It can be a great combination when it goes well–creativity, intellect, athleticism, and entrepreneurial drive. Or, it can be quite deadly–stubborn, rage, digging heels in–a recipe for a lot of time out.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 10.02.23 AMOne day, I’d reached my limit. I looked him square in the eye and intellectualized. “You do realize I’m going to write about you.” The ultimate punishment. Worse than time out. A permanent record of misdeeds. He didn’t seem to notice. Only pictures get his attention–a picture is worth a thousand words–for him, it’s worth a thousand bucks. He charges for pictures whenever he can.

He saw the picture I posted on the first day of school, and the words below. I hadn’t paid for the rights for the photo so he insisted I read the caption. I’d written that while most parents get a smiling picture of their Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 9.59.23 AMkid coming off the bus, mine was receiving an admonishment for being inappropriate. My troublemaking friend shared the picture, saying “Don’t listen, buddy. Always be inappropriate. Be highly, highly inappropriate.” Declan smiled. I should have told him it said, “Always listen to the bus monitor.” I was stupid to read it.

“I like your friend better than you, Mommy. I’m going to be inappropriate.” He references that quote often. He lives up to it. His life in the public eye.

Six-year olds are fickle. They’re becoming sentient beings. He is aware. He gets embarrassed and doesn’t like people to laugh at him. We left basketball tryouts in shame because he felt the world was laughing. That’s either narcissism or paranoia. I probably need to get him treated for both.

I use it as a threat. “If you keep that up, I’m gonna write about you.”

“DON’T WRITE ABOUT ME, MOMMY!” He stopped the bad behavior. I reneged–I’m writing about him now.  The way I see it, this will be a nice chronicle of childhood for him when I leave this planet. Before I do, however, it’ll be a series of links to send all future significant others and maybe his future spouse. I told him my plans.

“When you get married your family can read this.”

“I’m not gonna get married. I’m going to be a paleontologist. But I think I’ll marry you, Mommy.” I explain that while paleontologists can get married, only Oedipus can marry his mom. It’s a problem. I told him he’d have to wait till he was older to hear why.

“When I’m a teenager?”

“Yes. Maybe.”

“When I’m a teenager, I’m gonna do whatever I want. I’m going to watch Total Drama Island and swear. I’m going so say ‘shit’ when I’m a teenager. Teenagers can do anything you know.”

I explain that he can do anything when he moves out or hands me a rent payment. I pay the bills and I set the rules.

He puts a quarter on the table. “I have lots of money.” That’s true. He got it fleecing me for pictures and walking around the house and car scouring for all money not deposited in a bank.”Can I say ‘shit’ now and do whatever I want?” This is going badly. Very badly.

“No. Save that money. I’m not saving for college, you know.”

“I have to go to college. I’m going to be a paleontologist.”

“There’s a shovel outside. Dig. It’s cheaper.”

He grumbles and whispers “shit” just one more time. I correct him and he says, “I was saying ‘ship.’ You know, like the ships that go in the water?” I’m vaguely aware of what a ship is, and that he has not said ship. He does something similar using a couple other words that cannot be said. I tell him to knock it off. He smiles the sneaky smile that indicates if I give this more attention it’ll continue.

I tell him, “I’m gonna write about you.” I’ll win this one in the end.

He asks, “Will you write the word ‘shit?‘” I glare. I’m not winning. “I mean, ‘ship?'”

Yes. I guess I will.


Even the Devil Gives a Moment of Peace

Screen Shot 2013-12-28 at 7.01.57 AMHe puts his little arm around me. I snuggle in. He sighs. He smiles. Then…laughs. A manic laugh that only a little boy dreaming about whatever little boys dream about can laugh. He recites his favorite TV show. He laughs again–staccato. Loud. My heart skips a bit in that moment where I was about to resume a good dream. My mind returns to the darkness and checks. All is well. Relax.

Every night since we’ve been in this house–precisely fifteen months–I feel it coming. Step, step, step, door opening. Silence as he ninjas on the rug. Then, boing, boing, hop. Like a gymnast on the vault. Perfect ten in the middle of the bed. I get whacked in the face with Fluffy–the grey-once-white-sheep with the pink bow that is “definitely a boy.” Contradict and risk the wrath of God. Next…silence. Until the laughter and sleep talk begin.

I never allowed such things in the old house. Kids have their own beds. I read parenting books. I took advice. I got up every time and put him back into his bed from the beginning when I’d pick him up to feed him and tuck him back in with all his “buddies” in the days before Fluffy emerged as The One Not to Lose.

“You cannot sleep in Mommy’s bed,” I’d say, “Sleep in Declan’s big boy bed.” He stayed. I told him it was magic. It had special jumping powers.

I’m the best parent in the world. Couldn’t help but high-five myself. We escaped the pacifier and co-sleeping. My kid was going to be amazing.

Amazing–it’s not quite the word. He sneaks dog biscuits and licks the dog’s face. He does “science” experiments while we dare to rest for a moment. Yesterday, he mixed chemistry kit chemicals in a corner of the farthest room. Fake snow and giant silicone balls poured from beakers and vials. I saved my computer. To hell with the ski slope in the house–maybe we can market it and make some cash.

Night falls. Just when I think it’s safe, boing boing boing, hop. He’s in my bed again. His room isn’t close for the quick toss-and-return. And I’m sleeping sounder these days for the twenty minutes anyone lets a mother sleep. He can stay. For now. At least that way, for an hour or two of my life, I know that no one is lighting the house on fire or using all the soap products in the house to make bubbles or “clean the dog.” And I can rest. Until the giggling turns to maniacal laughing again. He quotes Dickens. He argues with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Then, all’s quiet. Briefly.

I’m awake. I smile. I pick up his little hand. I hold it.


“Yes, buddy…go to sleep. It’s the middle of the night.”

“I snuck in your bed.”

“I know.”

“Mommy…” He takes his hand back and puts his whole arm around me. “I love you.” In the dark I can see that he’s smiling. The world stops…for a minute.

“Enjoy these moments. They’ll be gone before you know it,” say all the empty nesters. They’re right. It’s hard to appreciate when I’m getting shot with a homemade dart gun constructed from pom poms and wrapping paper tubes. Can’t I spread the “enjoy” over a longer period instead of cramming it into one?

Hahahahahaha, I GOTTCHA, Mommy!” I’m trying to write for a moment. Must I be ready to defend myself at all times? The answer–an unequivocal “yes.”

But now it’s dark. Silent. Peaceful.

“I love you, Mommy.” The kind of I love you that has no agenda, wants no candy, isn’t asking to stay up later. It just is. I give him a kiss on the nose–it’s what I find in the dark.

“I love you, too, Declan. Be a good boy. Get some sleep.”

He rustles. He sighs. In two more breaths, he’s fast asleep.

I look at the clock. I get up to write while the world is still quiet…because even the little devil gives a moment of peace sometimes. Coffee on my desk, sun rising–I take advantage of every second I can.

That’s what moms do.

Video Games Are Not for Girls My Age. No Exceptions.

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 6.55.58 PMI’m the proud owner of a gaming system. It’s a hand-me-down gifted by someone who couldn’t believe we didn’t have a gaming system. It was as if he found out we didn’t have food or had only one pair of socks to share between us. He had extras and gave us an X-Box 360. I wrapped it and put it under the tree–it was a hit. I’ve never owned a gaming system. Correction. I have owned one. Pong. We had advanced Pong, which came with a skeet shooting game–there was a duck option, too, before that’d get you killed by PETA or DCYF, because guns certainly are not cool these days.

I used to hole up behind the couch and wait for my unsuspecting younger brother to play squash or tennis. At just at the right moment, I’d sniper the ball. The ball would disappear, and he’d lose. It was really funny. I was a good shot. The game was too primitive to realize the gun didn’t go with those games.

The good Lord rewarded my malice by never gifting me a gaming system. My brother got a Nintendo, and all of my friends had Ataris, but I had nothing but books. Look where it got me.

So, now that we have a gaming system, I find there are a lot of nifty things I can do with it, like finally get my movies on the flat screen TV we bought when we moved into this house fifteen months ago. I’d have skipped the TV entirely and gone with the books, but turns out that wasn’t one of the choices.

I tried to set up the X-Box myself, but I’m not certified. It seems to be a gender-specific operation for boys from the ages of 3.5 to 30. I’m not in that demographic. Video games are not for girls my age.

Nerd #1 helped me yesterday, but it was taking too long and I was getting upset. If I can calligraphy the Gettysburg Address faster than I can turn on a device and make it work, then someone in Silicon Valley or Japan has to get on the stick and make it more moron proof. It’s just not keeping up with me. I needed a break.

Nerd #2 came to the house today, giving me a hands on tutorial on how to use the controller. It’s a pain in the ass. I painstakingly entered in every single letter of my entire history, arrow by arrow, erasing and starting over more than once. Then I got this gamer ID issued to me–one that I cannot possibly remember. I snapped a picture of it. I don’t think anyone wants to play games with me, but if they do and they don’t shoot me immediately, I’ll need to remember my own name.

Really, though, I don’t want to kill anyone or shoot rainbows out of my butt. I just want to keep my promise. I told Declan he could play Skylanders.

Two hours later, the X-Box is set up. The house is quiet. The boy is watching Netflix–which he was watching on the computer just this morning. But now that he has the Netflix-X-Box, I’m getting to do some work after all. The X-Box 360 has bought me some peace. Just wait until I figure out how to put Skylanders on. It’ll be even quieter.

Declan told me he was going to give me what I wanted for Christmas–world peace and an end to human suffering. Turns out, he has given me an iota of it after all.

No Card for You: First Annual Holiday Blog Wrapup

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 8.08.50 AMI didn’t send you a card.

Not because I don’t like you. I never finish my cards. Ever. Somewhere in the recesses of a closet lies a box of unsent wedding thank yous from a dozen years ago–I was so appreciative I wrote novels. I paused to include black & whites hand-picked specifically for each note and found small mementos requiring a slightly bigger envelope, which I hand-calligraphied…

Defeated by vision and distraction, the cards lie in wait.

This happens every Christmas. Some years I plan cards for New Years. A couple of times I aimed for summer solstice. This year, I skipped cards entirely and sent a pile of small boxes and gifts.

I got a few cards from people who are much better than me. Cheryl, Cat, Herb and Su, and my Mom always send a real card. Elly, my dear friend and accountant includes a calendar so I remember to I pay my taxes on time.

The bulk of the cards on the mantle are from Declan’s classmates. I pretend they’re mine. It’s tough to hang holiday emails.

I love cards with pictures of families, but I wonder why parents always cut themselves out. We get old, too. I have five grey hairs containing the wisdom of 2013.  I want to show them off. I look like an adult now. I don’t get carded often. I’ve aged gracefully. I clean up well if I have to. That’s what you’d see if I sent you a card.

I wish I saw people in person more. I’ve promised not to say that anymore, because the truth is, life gets away from me no matter where people live. I rarely see my friend an hour down the road, and I’ve been texting my friend two doors down. That’s only slightly more forgivable than texting someone in the next room.

It always seems easier to visit tomorrow and send a text or email today. I check Elly’s calendar to find “tomorrow,” so I can block out visits with real people. I keep hunting, because “tomorrow” isn’t anywhere on the pages.

Phone calls are no better. These days, I schedule them. I caught up with one childhood friend this week but have a call pending that’s been hanging out there for two years. If that seems excessive, just know it’s been a busy two years.

An assistant won’t help. It didn’t make me any more organized in my first life, but it was cool to hang out and get reminded of all the work I didn’t do.

“Did you finish your cards?”


I like cards with holiday newsletters, especially the ones people sign in human form–I authenticate signatures. My mom sends one. Since I already know what happened, I read it to see if I got more mentions than my brother and sister. That’s how I know I’ve had a good year.

Since I didn’t send cards, here’s a post including links from Christmases past. Pull up some egg nog. Enjoy the blessings of this and all the other holidays I haven’t properly acknowledged. Be well, be blessed. Savor the gifts of the universe, be they small or great. Thank you for sharing this year with me and being among my greatest gifts.

“Best Christmas Posts from The Last Two Years When I Didn’t Send Your Card.”

Here’s where I complain that customs ruined Sarah’s Christmas surprise, and next I fail to send gifts for Declan’s classmates at school. Speaking of zero surprises, I bought a couch this year, which can’t be wrapped and put under the tree. On Christmas morning we’ll see the dog didn’t eat it. We’ll yell, “Surprise! Merry Christmas!”

In this post, I forget what I ordered from Amazon, so it feels a little like Christmas, even though it’s fall. Here, I try to organize the list but fail. Here’s where I promise to finish your cards in order of religion, not alphabet. Epic fail again.

The boy is still reciting Scrooge by the version now and asking why there is no sequel. He does this all year. Our snow has been melted by freakish weather. I’m reminded by Sarah, the Australian, that Christmas isn’t owned by New England, and some people decorate with sea shells and wait for Beach Santa.

These 2012 and 2013 posts reflect upon the day before Christmas vacation–a tough one for teachers. I’ve kept my vow never to use glitter again.  Reading through posts, I see my mind’s in a better place this year, though I’m thrilled Declan wants to give me–“world peace and an end to human suffering.” It’s much appreciated. I sit by the fake tree looking at the ornaments that remind me of my childhood trees. Putting up the tree this year was a joy–a three-piece fake tree with lights included. Not one argument. Declan is trying to be good for Santa, although not so successfully at times. Last year, a chance run in with an elf helped carry the momentum. This year Santa sent an email.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a Joyous 2014.

I hope you enjoyed your “card.”

Bad Mom Ruins Elementary Christmas

I’m an urban secondary educator who’s moved out to the sticks. Although I grew up in a small town, Christmas changes from location to location. Things definitely aren’t the same in the city.

I got Christmas all wrong.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.42.05 PM

What I wanted to give as gifts…What they deserved…

I knew I must get something for Declan’s teacher, the saint who calligraphies two-paged notes prolifically, ending each with, “But I know tomorrow will be a better day.” I negligently missed the collection the parents organized, but no mere collection could equal the amount of hell Declan’s put that teacher through, so we made something with love and loaded as much caffeine as possible onto a nice coffee card. Everyone in Rhode Island has stock in a Dunkin Donuts, so I figured that’d raise the local economy.  This teacher really deserved a fifth of vodka, but I don’t know if you can get elementary teachers such things–high school teachers perhaps, and college professors, yes, but first grade’s a little early to start drinking. Even for a teacher.

I swung by the local Dunk again because it occurred to me that the bus monitors deserved something, too. From Day One, they had been “working with” Declan on bus manners–Day One being the day they advised him not to be inappropriate, through weeks later when he finally earned his way into Bus Jail, aka “the front seat,” with the monitor.  Since I didn’t think a monogrammed flask would be appropriate for a lady who drives and her partner who’s required to hold up traffic looking for children doing chin-ups on axles while my son Supermans on the top step threatening to fly–they got as much caffeine as is ethical too.

My colleague, who lives in the same town, said, “Did you get something for the reading specialist and the aids?”

No! Nobody told me that. I don’t know these things. We don’t do gifts at the high school. A friend suggested this morning, “We’re lucky not to get the middle finger on the way out!”

Most of my kids are happy customers. If everyone is, they say, I’m doing something wrong. We had a good day, surprise guest in my class, pizza in the cafeteria, and I found a bunch of thank you cards from students in my box on the way out. Made me smile–exactly what I would’ve asked for.

I rushed home to give the monitors their “I-wish-it-were-a-flask” gifts. Declan got off the bus, held up traffic one last time before vacation, and waddled to the door, backpack stuffed with…stuff.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.44.40 PMWhat my colleague didn’t tell me about Christmas in the Sticks is that EVERYONE does something for EVERYONE. Declan had gifts, cards, candy, and notes. And I had to go and mess this system up–I didn’t give a crumb too small for a mouse to even a single classmate.

There were a million candy canes each with a bite out of them then he struck gold. “Oh, look, Mom! A RING POP! How did she KNOW I love RING POPS?”

Um, because they’re sticky and make a mess? That equals awesome!

“That was very nice of her.” I wished I’d thought of Ring Pops. Next time.

For now, I’m letting him eat all the candy since I was a bad mom and didn’t send gifts. This way, he’ll only have to brush his teeth once. Later, I’ll plan my strategy so I can absolutely rock Valentine’s Day and really make the bus team earn that caffeine.


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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chaos

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 5.17.48 AMFriday. TGIF. The last day…before Christmas break. The world is rejoicing. We…just…have…to…survive…today.

I brought the gifts I made for my advisory students yesterday. Getting a jump on Christmas, like most of America. I forgot two boys’ things. A “Worst Teacher in the Universe” move. They forgave me. Today, I’ll earn redemption. I have their gifts here.

The kids started Christmas early, too. There were bags, boxes, bangles and bows. Santa hats and shirts. I’ll wear my Santa hat today.

Today, they’ll be wandering the halls with more wrappings, stuffed animals, glitter and ribbons. We, like mini Scrooges, will attempt to keep order.

Chaos will reign supreme. They’ll go to their parties, they’ll hug their friends. Some will rejoice, others will cry. Christmas is not fun for everyone, you know. Homelessness, divorce, difficult family situations, the economy…it wears on kids who know today will be the last day that they see their best friends…on whom they hang for support…for nearly two weeks. Teachers, too.

The halls will jingle, parties will fade. Students, cracked upon candy and pizza, will get on busses that bring them to their lives.

And I hope they will have a Merry Christmas.