Tuesday, December 18, 2012

when the elves come....

Have you ever wished you had your own little elf helper? Apparently lots of people have. 
It's only natural. These days we have such crazy busy lives. But this isn’t a new phenomenon.

Even when I was a kid - back in the 1900s (as my daughter says) – we were always rushing out the door for one activity or another. Sometimes that meant things around the house were left undone – clutter in the living room, clothes unfolded, dishes unwashed.

That was fine until we got home. Standing on the front porch, my brother and I moaned and groaned about how tired we were, hoping for a chore reprieve.

Then Mom would remind us of our favorite wish:

“Well, maybe the elves have come!”

In our world, elves were benevolent creatures who – if you were really good - might mysteriously show up at your house and do your chores for you.

My brother and I crossed our fingers as Dad opened the door, hoping this time the elves had come.

They never did, but that’s probably a good thing. If we’d seen elves in our house, we probably would never have slept peacefully again.

But apparently we weren’t the only ones who wanted to outsource our chores to elves. Even Santa is taking advantage of his workforce.

Because now there are new elves in town.

Not the cookie-baking or toy-making kind.

The spying kind.

These new elves run reconnaissance on innocent children in their own homes while they sleep.

I guess I’ve been under a rock, because I only recently became aware of this new infestationtradition. So I put on my research hat (i.e., I went to Google) to find out more. What I found looked surprisingly familiar.

These little pixie elves aren’t new. My late mother-in-law had a whole elf colony she used to hide around the house on candlesticks, light fixtures, door frames. They didn’t do any undercover work. They just sat there and looked cute.

But apparently a few years ago an enterprising mother/daughter team took the initiative to turn these little Germanic pixies into Navy SEALS for Santa.

It’s a brilliant idea. Creepy, but brilliant.

And at $29.99 plus tax, I wish it had been my idea.  

But truthfully, any elf I would have come up with probably wouldn’t be as marketable. Or even child friendly.

My elf would probably be too acerbic, more sarcastic than sappy. He would be a shy loner of an elf, the kind of elf that spends too much time with theater people and indie book store owners.

Picture David Sedaris as Crumpet the Elf in “SantaLand Diaries.”

Not wanting to bother Santa, he would take things into his own tiny mittens and whisper well-intentioned but disturbing warnings to the kiddies.

“Psst, Tommy – do you know what Santa does when a boy pulls his sister’s hair? Let’s just say it’s a good thing your dad still has a job…or does he?”

“Wow, Sally, hiding candy wrappers under the bed is a novel idea! By the way, every time you hide a wrapper, a fairy loses its wings.”

“Bobby, have you ever noticed how your dad takes out his teeth?  I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think your parents could be zombies…”

“Oh, Jane, you really shouldn’t take that money from your mom’s purse…seriously…put it back…ok, I won’t tell, but if you wake up tomorrow and all your furniture is gone, don’t blame me.”

When my elf became bored, he would quote Joan Crawford movies and old sitcoms.

He would have conversations with imaginary friends.

He wouldn’t wash your dishes, but he might rearrange them.

And in the still silent hours before dawn, sitting alone and forlorn in his hiding place, my elf would start crooning like an old blues singer on helium, his high little voice cutting through the night like a rusty knife.

I’m afraid my elf wouldn’t last long.

Sometime during Advent, he’d probably find himself used as kindling. See the happy family gathered around the fireplace to watch his paint and felt go up in festive pink and green flames?

Nothing unites a family during the stressful holidays like a common enemy.

To keep up this happy tradition, every family would need to buy a new sarcastic elf every Christmas for the annual elf burning. A modern-day version of the Yule log.

Hold the phone!

My sarcastic elf might be lucrative after all, especially in urban areas. Even city dwellers not into cutesy or kitschy enjoy tradition and an extra hand where their kids are concerned.

And whoever stated that “sarcasm is imaginatively bankrupt” obviously never read the New Yorker. Or followed David Sedaris’s book sales.

One of my friends knows Mr. Sedaris. I think it’s time to do a little Christmas networking and get my copyright going. I smell a new tradition spawning.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

i am an egg...?

How do you respond to adversity?

I have to admit when the going gets tough, I don’t so much “respond” as “react”. My fight-or-flight urge kicks into high gear, and tends to be at one extreme or the other.

Sometimes my innards scream “Run away!” (a favorite quote from Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”) and I take off for parts unknown, because anywhere must be better than here, right?

Sometimes I put up my dukes (and my hackles) without so much as a brain cell kicking in.

And sometimes I do both simultaneously, limbs and attitude flailing vigorously as I run. Usually in a circle.

These kind of extreme reactions are ok if someone is chasing you with a knife or someone you love is being threatened. You should let the adrenaline kick in if it’s a matter of saving life and limb. It’s ok to run screaming like a maniac, punch the villain in the mouth, or pick up the car if you’re trying to avoid death or dismemberment.

However, except in cases of extreme danger, none of these reactions are very effective.  I usually end up causing some kind of damage, real or perceived, which then is added to the pile of stuff to be dealt with. Yippee.

We’ve all seen the little ditty that compares how we deal with adversity to eggs, carrots and coffee. If you haven’t, here you go:
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.
Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see."
"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma the daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently.
  • The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
  • The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened.
  • The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"
(I don't know where this story came from. Maybe some mother was just using a situation to teach her daughter how to cook and it got turned into a psychology lesson. Sneaky moms…sometimes you use what you’re given.)

If I took this story at face value, I’d say I am an egg – the fragile thin-skinned individual who tends to get hard and unyielding when placed into hot water.

And not just a regular egg, but one that already had some kind of flaw before going into the water (so human of me). The kind of egg that leaks air bubbles when the water is heating, develops cracks, and leaks its egginess into the water. It’s ugly and gross – useless as an Easter egg, not even that great for egg salad. And it coats the rest of the eggs with a really nasty scum.


If you’ve boiled eggs before you know what I mean. It isn’t a pretty picture.

Maybe I’m being a little hard on myself (no pun intended).  How about you – how did you fare?

Ok, now forget all that.

The more I think about the device used in this little story, the more its reasoning starts to fall apart.

(Especially since everybody knows you start eggs and carrots in cold water...)

First of all, unless you’re a bodybuilder, who wants a raw egg, or one that doesn’t firm up when it’s cooked? I like mine fried in butter, over easy so the yolk is just runny enough to sop with my toast. Even better, I like to cut up my runny eggs and my bacon and then mix them up in my grits, just like my daddy taught me. But I digress....

Secondly, while I like raw carrots on occasion, they work much better in soup and other dishes when they’ve softened a bit. Boiling carrots works ok, but I prefer sautéing mine in a little butter. (Butter is wonderful, BTW) Either way, you really need to peel those carrots first to take off the bitter skin. Don’t know about you, but skinning seems way worse than boiling. Using both is positively medieval. 

Finally – and this is a BIG one - you don’t boil coffee. Ever. Unless you know nothing about coffee, or just like really bitter, nasty coffee.  If that’s the case, please let me know when you invite me over.  I’ll pick up a Traveler from Starbucks before I come.

So, what is the point of this story anyway? 

If it’s helpful or gets you thinking, great. We could all be healthier if we monitor our reactions, consider the clean up involved with radical responses, learn more effective ways of dealing with everyday stress and strife.

But truthfully, none of us react the same way every time something bad happens. And what we perceive as “bad” changes from day to day, hour to hour, based on our environment, our hormones, our outlook, the traffic, whether we’ve had our (unboiled) coffee....you name it.  

If you think you could handle stress a little better, find a way to do it. We can change the way we think, the way we react, even whether we “react” or “respond” to a situation. They aren’t the same thing.

So, as for this little fable, I’m going to take my little lesson and pitch the rest. Because I’m not that simple. You aren’t that simple. Life isn’t that simple.

And, girlfriend, the cooking advise is atrocious!

Monday, December 03, 2012

bad mommy moments (or, thank heaven for little girls)

Have you ever had a “bad mommy” moment?

I had one today.

I picked up my daughter at carpool. Normally she rides with another family to her 3 ½ hour Irish dance lesson on Monday. Since class was cancelled today due to a weekend competition, I decided to surprise her with takeout dinner and a trip to see the latest Bond movie. Sneaking off to the movies in the afternoon was a small mommy/daughter delight.

That part was good.

It was dark when we came out of the theater. We held hands and laughed as we walked to the car. On the way home we talked about our day. We called her dad, who was traveling, and they laughed together on the phone.

That part was good, too.

She told me about an upcoming field trip to see a holiday show. She is excited to be big enough and old enough to be a “front seat” rider in the carpool to the theater. She wondered who she would be riding with, and hoped it wouldn’t be with “the little kids” again.  She’s so good with the younger kids, but wishes someone else would get that responsibility for a change.

She started talking about school and who was friends with who. Two of her best friends at school happen to be boys. She seems to get along better with boys. Less drama, she says. Only, some other girls at school tease them, calling them “lovebirds”. Like girls and boys can’t be just friends. I told her that girls and boys can be great friends, and that a good friend of any gender is a special and wonderful thing.

Another good part.

Then she brought up a term that I abhor, one that you see everywhere on t-shirts and backpacks and slap bracelets and necklaces.


I get so tired of that phrase. Maybe because I don’t understand it. I’ve had girlfriends. I am friends with other women. I would do anything for them, and I know they would do the same.

But when I think of BFFs, I think of girls who spend every waking moment together, finish each other’s sentences, have each other’s back 24/7. Sorority sisters who stand up at each other’s weddings and take girls only trips every year. Other than a brief time during my junior year of high school, I’m not sure I ever experienced that kind of girl closeness. Maybe because I never looked for it. Or accepted it. Or offered it.

So when my daughter brought up that term, I guess I bristled.

I asked what she meant.

She explained that while some of her friends were boys, she had three girl BFFs. I asked who they were, and she named them proudly.

Now, each of the girls she named are great girls and are her friends. But I don’t see any of them having the kind of affection for her or the exclusive relationship that goes with a BFF designation. And I guess knowing my little girl wants something so badly that seems elusive and that I have no control over brings out the tiger mama in me.

Without stopping to think or filter or realize there was no need to be too serious about this, I stated my opinion bluntly.

“Baby, you don’t have any BFFs.”

Bad mommy moment.

If I could have sucked the words back out of the air, turned back time and unsaid them, waved a magic wand and made the previous 10 seconds disappear from history, I would have.

But I couldn’t.

I saw her face fall, felt the joy drain out of the car. As we pulled into the driveway, she quickly grabbed up all her stuff. I turned off the car and she reached for the keys to let herself into the house. I heard her sniffle as she ran to her bedroom.

Deflated and needing time to think, I let the dog outside to do her business while my daughter nursed her hurt feelings.

Why did I have to say that? Am I just projecting my own insecurities onto her? Does it matter what title my daughter gives her friends? Isn’t it enough that she has friends? More importantly, isn’t it wonderful that she knows how to be a friend to everyone she meets?

She greeted me as I came back into the house, her eyes rimmed in red. I apologized as she fell into my arms. I told her I had no right to say what I did, and that I was sorry I hurt her feelings. She smiled and gave me a big hug. She said she forgave me. And she told me she loved me.

My girl is going to be ok. Actually, better than ok – she is going to be great. Even though my mama’s heart will leap in front of her at the slightest threat, I know I don’t need to worry about her.

She knows how to love unconditionally. Yes, this will expose her to hurt and disappointment, but it will also open her up to the most amazing opportunities. She will always have friends because she knows how to love unconditionally. Anyone who lets her be their friend will have a friend for life. The extra special people who decide to return her affection will be doubly blessed - the luckiest darn BFFs ever.

Hopefully that will always include even bad mommies like me.  

(PS - This blog post is daughter approved :)