As any Christmas fan has noticed, the number of Elves on the Shelves has increased markedly in recent years. The beloved holiday helper–sent to families across to country to help keep an eye on children and report fastidiously back to Santa as he prepares presents for the naughty and nice–is in high demand.
The Elf on the Shelf tradition began in 2005, with initial production of just 5,000 dolls. By 2017, more than 11 million elves had been adopted into homes around the country and were available in more than 10,000 stores.
Such growth has been a great development for children hoping to impress Santa with their exemplary behavior–and parents hoping to encourage it–but has had an unexpected cost: too great a drain on elf magic.
Elf magic originates in the North Pole, direct from Santa’s workshop, and allows the Elves to report back to Santa on children’s behavior and Christmas wishes. It also enables the Elves to move to various hiding spots around their families’ homes each night.
However, one night early in the 2018 holiday season, Santa’s helpers noticed a short in the magic, briefly stopping all North Pole-bound communications. Immediately, Elf on the Shelf headquarters worried that growth had finally outpaced capacity and shorted the system permanently.
Fortunately, several creative Christmas thinkers–some have alleged that Rudolph the most-famous reindeer even got involved–came up with a brilliant solution: the “Elf Shift”.
Starting this Christmas season, Elf on the Shelf communication and movement magic will be divided into two shifts, one at night and one during the school day, to allow all elves to take care of their holiday business without overloading Santa’s system.
Children around the country may notice that their elves, who previously moved only at night, may now sometimes switch locations during the day while they are away at school. This is part of the new two-shift system.
Headquarters notes that, in order to maintain an equal system and ensure that no Elf can be caught by developing a routine in daylight hours, the shifts will vary so that they cannot be easily predicted by their adoptive families.
Santa’s helpers and other Christmas experts are pleased with the Elf magic innovation, noting how important it is to preserve Christmas magic and allow the number of elves to continue to grow to accommodate all of the families interested in adopting them.
Remember, dear readers: the magic continues! So whether your elf moves in the night or the day, Santa will continue to get a full report. Make your bed, share your toys, do your homework, and stay on the nice list!
No, not from Halloween (though if there is a way to become a hero by eating fun-size Snickers bars and Kit Kats, that might be a contributing factor). I am for real: my mad parenting skills are not just impressive–they are superhuman. For example:
I can shift time. We’re one week into end-of-daylight-savings-time. Or, as many parents-of-toddlers know it, “[redacted] kids wake up crazy early day.” But I now have seven years’ experience getting children–and now a baby animal–who have no concept of time to adjust their entire lives by an hour, simply by yelling and locking people in their sleeping areas. In just one month’s time, I can get my children entirely recovered from Daylight Savings, waking again at a reasonable hour. Probably. By Christmas, for sure.
I can do things while asleep. While we’re waiting for the full effect of #1 power, I use this: my ability to parent and run a household half asleep. I can ask people to get dressed, authorize extra early morning cartoon screen time, and like photos on Instagram all while mostly still asleep. For example, D2 was a 5:30am riser for a long time. I don’t remember many details, because I think I have PTSD-repressed them, but I do remember the lingering emotion between MI and I about “who’s turn?” and “who’s idea to have another kid…” that added drama to that year. I also remember one morning when she was about 18 months old and loved fruit snacks. She found a new box in the pantry, right across from where I was laying on the couch. She loved them, but she couldn’t open them. She brought them to me, her sleeping guardian, and I gave them to her as a pre-breakfast snack. 7 times, apparently. I woke up in a pile of wrappers. See–I can even feed them while asleep.
I can both clean all the time and have the house be a total disaster. I straighten the house for hours a day. Days a day, even. The kids make so much mess that the only way I’ve found to keep the house neat is to minimize the amount of time we are awake there. Before we had kids, it took me a while to put away the clean dishes because, well, I didn’t feel like doing it. Now putting away dishes is the best because it is easy, I could do it peacefully in the kitchen while listening to a podcast on my headphones, and it is one of those chores that immediately shows results. But, no, it still takes forever in our house to put away the dishes because that is supposed to be a kids’ chore. So even though I’d happily just do it, my chore is to make them do it; SO. MUCH. HARDER. I mean, asking them to pause making messes in the living room so they can come bicker while slowly putting spoons in the fork slot–that is TOUGH. Sometimes it takes two days. Sigh.
Poop does not phase me. I love to tell a good poop story. Kids provide so very many. Even puppies have nothing on toddlers, I’ve found so far. Single friends listen, horrified, and tell me “I just can’t do that.” But when you’re alone for bedtime and your kid poops in the tub, well, you can’t just leave it there. And there is no service call for that. Even if you wanted to just move, you have to clean to show the house. So you deal with it. You wash your hands and get it over with. Now, after 7 years, I am immune to shit and can keep my cool when others lose theirs. For example, a few years ago at a race, one of my friends had a very unfortunate port-a-potty visit. She responded by screaming and texting people about the woeful state of humanity. I was the one who dealt with it–someone else’s poop, someone else’s shorts, public restroom, no big deal. Superhero.
I can make two kinds of dinner in 12 minutes. I am like a short order cook. I really like to cook; I like to play with recipes and cook with vegetables and make things that are healthy and creative. But when we get home from work and school, everyone is starving and I have 15 minutes to get an adult meal and a kid meal on the table. I know that they say not to do that–it should be one meal for the whole family. But I won’t eat quesadillas every day and I cannot figure out how to get the girls to eat food with vegetables or anything red or anything with sauce or anything where multiple ingredients are mixed together. So there are two versions. If you think about it, I cook 14 dinners a week. Unless we order pizza. And go out to eat on Saturday. And eat cereal on Tuesday…
I was recently talking with other parents about a pain we all well know: that of convincing young children their day has ended, their bodies need sleep, and their beds are the place to do it. Such a tough sell.
I once described bedtime as “my life’s hardest job, every single day.” I stand by that, especially with a child who is two, or three, or four. Sometimes five or six. (Maybe older, too, though now I am just speculating).
I have read books that infuse humor (like this), read blogs that give a sense of comraderie and more good laughs (like this), and posted on social media in hopes of distracting myself from the misery that can be someone repeatedly calling your name while you hide in a dark closet. (No, I don’t do that. …Don’t you?)
But those books can only help so much, and mostly one must slog through. I started to notice, though, that some of the best bedtimes were–inexplicably–the ones that probably seemed to go most badly to the outside observer (oh, please let there be no outside bedtime observer). Yes: the nights when bedtime included a bit of (child) sobbing were often some of the easiest over all.
For real. When bedtime went awry and my kids ended up crying, they were expending their final energy reserves. Using all they had. And once they calmed down, they fell insta-peaceful asleep like Dorothy in a poppy field. (When I first typed that, I wrote “poopy field” and almost left it. hehe).
Not one to waste DISCOVERING MAGIC, I now sometimes leverage this weakness in the system to speed things along. I have convinced myself we are all benefiting in the long run.
Step one: provoke crying
Sooo, sometimes when they are rightrightright on the edge of losing it–we all know that moment, when the adorable laughter and sillliness has an edge of insanity and the eye of the storm is passing–I throw caution to the wind and push them right over. In the most loving way. Like when the one favorite jammies are dirty, offer the most hated pair as an alternative, indicating that you’ll ‘probably do the laundry tomorrow.’ Or when a snack is demanded, respond with a long speech about healthy eating, the chance to consume proper nutrition at dinner, and that child’s woeful lack of nutritional performance that day, such that maybe they should lose the ability to have snacks tomorrow. You know, rational things that kids canNOT DEAL with.
Once they are crying, you walk away. You are mad. They have betrayed you and your logical parenting solutions. –But you’re actually FINE!! This crying doesn’t faze you–you createdit. It is your tool. You expected it, and now you go read your book.
Let it go long enough that they are probably really sorry and absorbing a great lesson about rotating clothing or eating vegetables at dinner.
Step two: Provide comfort
They’re so distraught over the terrible pajamas–blue, two pieces, with pants, and Mickey Mouse at Christmas!?!–or the loss of tomorrow’s fruitsnacks that they need comfort. From anywhere.
You swoop in and they will accept your hugs and back rubs, even though you created this storm 90 seconds ago. Don’t overdo it, and avoid dialog. Just soothe, and smile peacefully, and imagine how hard it really must be to be three years old.
Step three: make a small concession
While you are comforting and the crying has turned to whimpers, close the deal. Maybe would your child like to sleep in their NUMBER TWO FAVORITE pajamas while you start a load of laundry RIGHT NOW? You could help them change! Would they like a healthy-but-tasty bowl of carrots and a glass of ice water? And tomorrow they can help cook dinner so they can make sure it has something they LOVE?
In my experience, the right combination of concessions will get you pajama compliance, vegetable eating (or at least an end of food requests), a future dinner helper, and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–silence. The crying stops. The pj’s go on. They usually choose sleep over carrots.
And then, well, just count down from 100, bedtime warrior. Because you’re almost there. Just remember:
Some of you readers may have noticed a significant slowing of posts in recent weeks: sorry about that. I have been doing minimal “screen time” lately–computers, TV, reading humorous-but-meaningless lists on Buzzfeed–because three weeks ago, I suffered a concussion. I thought I’d had concussions before–once in seventh grade at recess, once in high school at gymnastics practice–but I realize now: I have never had a head injury before; not like this one.
I am tired all the time. I get killer headaches–still!–if I try to think too hard or stay awake for more than 8 consecutive hours. I nap like a one year old baby–long, hard, and often, with bouts of whimpering and feeling sorry for myself.
How did I get a concussion, you ask?
D2 headbutted me. (You should try telling people you have to miss work for a week because your three-year old headbutted you. It provides an excellent study in human facial expressions and people’s ability to say something other than what they’re actually thinking.)
I was up early with D2, like often happens. We were in a playful, loving mood, and she had just woken up, so had lots of energy. We began to roughhouse on the bed–D2 loves to roughhouse. Tickling and being pretend thrown or used as a pillow … the toddler usual. But that fateful morning, roughhousing went awry.
It was time to get ready and I tried to get up. D2 climbed on my back. I kept up with the roughhousing game, gently trying to shake her off. She clung tighter, slightly constricting my flow of both oxygen and patience. I shook her off a bit harder and reached around to unlatch her vice-grip hands. She saw it coming, though, and headbutted. I don’t think it was in malice, but she was on my back and I couldn’t see her face. All I know is that her hard-headed forehead cracked me in the soft place behind my right ear. Hard.
I knew it was bad–worse than the usual child injury. It even hurt worse than when Ella broke my nose at church earlier this year at the altar during communion (this is the best parenting year, too, by the way. For real.) I have since had many parents–most parents?–tell me that their children have kicked/headbutted/punched them in the face or some other sensitive spot. One person even got a broken nose! For me, this was my cheap shot.
I shook it off the best I could, got ready, and launched into the summer camp/school/work morning routine. About an hour and a half later, though, my vision got funny. I couldn’t focus and whooshy white dots danced across my line of sight. I was driving at the time, but was close to work, thankfully, and parked quickly. (As a note, I think such circumstances bring me in line with the skill and behavioral norm in Washington, DC, am traffic. I am mostly looking at you, drivers from Maryland.)
In my morning meeting, things didn’t really make much sense and I had a hard time following what we were talking about. This, in and of itself, isn’t uncommon for a first-thing-in-the-morning government bureaucrat meeting, but I found myself drifting. At one point, I leaned my head against the cool metal door jam and considered a nap. (We all know this isn’t an outlandish mid-meeting desire either; it was exceptional only because I actually did it, rather than just wished I could.)
When it was my turn to talk–and I cannot really confirm this because I don’t remember the specifics–apparently I talked nonsensically about the movie Frozen. THE MOVIE FROZEN. Oh, the injustice. That when I suffer a brain injury, inconsistencies in the plot line from the movie Frozen are what start to come out–my subconscious, leaking out without filter. Insult to injury. People exchanged looks and I won a free teammate escort to the nurse’s office. (Yes, we have a nurse’s office. It is exactly like the one I had in elementary school, where you get Tylenol, a band-aid, and an ice pack for everything. All it is missing is kids with braces brushing their teeth after lunch.)
The nurse declared concussion and told me that MI could pick me up, or she could call an ambulance. I briefly thought the ambulance sounded pretty cool, but was not hit on the head hard enough to ignore the complete mortification of being carried out of one’s workplace on a stretcher after being headbutted by a toddler. Even if she’d hit me hard enough to knock my head clean off, I needed to walk out of there myself to maintain my dignity. (In the end, I limped out of there, leaning heavily on MI while holding the nurse’s ice pack on my head. Dignity is relative, right?)
Hours and days and even weeks passed and mostly I slept. I took five hour naps. I went to bed at 5:30. I woke up at noon. I feel asleep in the car (shotgun, Maryland, you can only sleep while in shotgun!). My kids learned to creep carefully and quietly around the house and be extra nice to me on account of my “brain owie” (which D2 does not know she was responsible for. I should ask her, actually what she thinks happened to me. It is probably hilarious.)
I can’t work a full day yet and get bad headaches if I try to do almost any adult activity; last week on vacation I had to miss seeing a summer blockbuster movie in the theater because it was too large a screen and too intense a soundtrack and I couldn’t handle it (just like when we took Ella to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Except we went… so much screaming. So many tears…) And yet, it has been pretty fantastic. My kids are soooooo nice. MI is taking care of me in a way that I haven’t experienced maybe since we had kids.
Sure, my job is about thinking, which I can’t do as well anymore. And I am going steadily more stir crazy without my usual workouts. And I know there are words I used to know that I can’t come up with anymore (shortly after the injury, I called a plate a “dinner circle,” for example). But I get to sleep all the time and am surrounded by the best version of my family–caring, kind, and a bit more quiet.
Plus, I have convinced myself that eating ice cream is the only way to ice your brain from the inside. Time for my treatment and my nap.
Right now, because it is afternoon, but they don’t really nap anymore.
Later this afternoon, because they won’t have had dinner yet.
In the late evening because they ARE NOT TIRED.
Tomorrow, because it will be a school day.
And, just generally, because they are children.
I haven’t decided if all of the sobbing is because they are deranged, emotional messes who cannot yet control themselves, or because they are still in touch with the true meaning of life and capable of feeling deeply and so expressing without shame.
Either way, they are exhausting, but often hilarious at the same time.
Reasons, of late, my kids have completely lost it:
She remembered–after waking up in the dead of the night–that the piece of cake she was given at her classmate’s birthday party last week fell over on its side and she couldn’t see the frosting.
I unzipped her dress when it was stuck over her head. (She could have done that herself.)
I did not come immediately to help when it turned out she could NOT do it by herself.
I said that we would never get a pet rabbit.
I explained *why* we would never get a pet rabbit–they like to hop freely in the green grass with their families–and she cried that other people could be so cruel as to keep pet rabbits.
I told her that her shoes were on the wrong feet.
I threw away her broken Easter basket in July.
Her sister sprayed her with the hose when they were outside, naked, playing with the hose.
I said she could not have pasta for breakfast.
I played the Kidz Bop version of “Shake It Off,” instead of the real version by Taylor Swift.
I took the HOV lane, when she wanted to follow the red car in the slow lane.
Today is Tuesday. She hates Tuesday.
Her sister forgot to refer to her by her pretend name of “Disney Toy Collector.”
I would not drink the fairy pond water in the pink plastic teacup that was “just for me.”
D2: The cupcakes should be purple.
Ella: The cupcakes should be pink.
D2: The cupcakes HAVE TO BE PURPLE.
Ella: Purple gives me a headache!
D2: No it doesn’t–and grandma already told me they could be purple.
Ella: If they are purple, I will not eat them. Not. at. all.
D2: Fine, I will eat them all myself because purple is my favorite.
Ella: Mooooooom, its not fair! She said she was going to eat ALLL the cupcakes.
She begged to go to gymnastics camp, so I signed her up for gymnastics camp, and then made her go to gymnastics camp.
Her mermaid doll can not stand up by itself on the tip of its tail.
Her book does not stand upright in the carseat cupholder.
I threw away the pink pig she made yesterday out of a paper dinner plate. (Apparently it was a special pig that we were supposed to keep forever.)
She asked me if we could move to Florida, and I said, “Not today.”
I decided to wear slacks to work instead of a dress.
2008-9: Small, new, baby–too small even to watch television–arrives. I have never seen Dora the Explorer. My world is about to change.
2010: Family trip to Asia with an 18-month old in coach. I unveil the magic of television watching for the first time, hoping it will be a spellbinding gift that will buy hours of peaceful time on the plane. 18 month old watches Dora the Explorer–in English and Korean–for about ten minutes. Seems. . .unimpressed. Crushing maternal disappointment for the first–perhaps only?–time that my kid will *NOT* watch TV. The flight is so very, very long. (Its completion is still one of my top five lifetime accomplishments.)
2011: Dora–and general TV watching–finally take. At first she silently observes with saucer-wide eyes and the slightest of smiles. By the end of the year, mini-marathon sessions are possible–30 to 45 minutes of free hands for parents!–and the characters have become well-loved family friends. We love music and know all the songs. (Not hard. One is just the word “backpack,” repeated 37 times with different inflection.)
2012: Someone gives us a plastic, purple, talking backpack and a book that does not fit on the shelf and includes 12 micro Dora figurines. The backpack sings its own theme song, or name, or life mantra: “backpack, backpack;” we listen again and again, longing to uncover the mystery. The figurines possess a strong sedative power but, if they are lost, as they often are, sleep is a stranger to us. We learn the best places to search for objects lost by the nonsensical and barely verbal, the best ways to distract emotional toddlers from unpleasant realities, and the occasions when you just have to cry it out.
–Suddenly, mid-year, the Dora love dries up: Swiper the rule-breaking-Fox is no longer cute in his capers. He is a dangerous social menace who can’t be trusted. We develop empathy for Dora and Tico and Roberto the Robot–who are often the victims of Swiper’s TRULY SENSELESS crimes. Hysterical crying makes even the most innocent-seeming episode a bridge too far. So we focus on reading books and playing with other kids and Dora briefly exits our life.
2013: A new toddler enters the scene, seemingly born knowing how to stream from Netflix, and she wants to watch Dora. She sits, saucer-eyed and smiles; but her older sister continues the Swiper-the-Fox freak out. So it is that they learn to fight over controlling the television, to tease each other about irrational fears, and to pretend nothing happened when parents arrive, skills that–as I remember it–will be heavily used in coming years.
2014: A trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house–CABLE! Nick Junior!!–reveals the existence of “Dora and Friends,” in-to-the-ci-ty. A catchier theme song and more mature content (Dora is a tween! in the city! with a changing wardrobe!), make this an instant hit. Upon returning home to our basic-TV-channels-only home, we begin learning the rule that we don’t always have and won’t always get all of the cool things other people have. This lesson is hard, and they test it weekly, just to make sure.
2015: We finally get cable. Not for Dora; I feel confident no one does that. It is maybe for MI to watch baseball, or to allow more movie recording options, or just so I feel hip (irony of using “hip” to be hip is not lost. The irony of “being hip” by getting cable during the 2015 cable-cutting era was lost, though, until MI pointed it out while proofreading. Whatever, haters.) We now have to and can record Dora and Friends in-to-the-ci-ty. The entertainment grail. We must now learn the secret of moderation–a lifelong human pursuit that applies to everything except smiling and cookies. We learn about finishing work before play, turning things off when it is time to leave, and not singing theme songs around people who are hungry.
They’re growing up, and the lessons are getting deep. It struck me how Dora has been woven through the early years of my children’s development in a way the show’s creators perhaps didn’t anticipate. We didn’t learn about passing first through the Coconut Forest, past the place with the bubbles that can be repaired with duct tape, to the big red hill that is actually a large chicken. We already knew that. We learned about family and fears and relationships and compromise…
…and this pearl of wisdom, which I heard Ella passing along to D2 at dinner:
Dora and Friends is not just a show. Dora and Friends is actually a non-fiction movie. It is about 2060 years ago, about *real* life, told in a fun, fiction-like way so that kids can understand. It. is. REAL.
It was nearly time to leave. Five more minutes, and I was trying to sneak in a few more dishes, clear a few breakfast plates, and speed blow dry my hair for work. Five minutes.
I asked D2 to put on her shoes. I asked her to pick up the toys on the living room floor. I asked her to finish her breakfast. I asked her to brush her hair.
She could not. She was unavailable because the only thing she could do was find Christmas ornament Princess Anna, so that it could accompany small, plastic Queen Elsa, who needed someone similarly sized with whom to play.
I knew where Anna was. I’d seen her in a toy bin earlier that week. We needed to GO. I spent two of the five minutes explaining why we did not have time because WE ONLY HAD FIVE MINUTES, then finally caved when I realized she cared more about finding Anna than I did about my plans at work. I found Anna. Just because toddlers are small and have different values doesn’t mean they are ridiculous, right?
Wrong. They are ridiculous.
I started to go upstairs for the speed hair styling–nope. Called back down to remove a tag that was stuck to Princess Anna, obviously making her impossible to play with. Maybe even impossible to touch, given the freak-out crying that was going on. [Why are we playing with a Christmas ornament in April? Why did it still have the tag on it? Why does Disney even make clay Christmas ornaments in characters that are only going to appeal to small children? What diabolical person first invented glitter?! I do not know.]But nothing could go on until there was no tag.
As I removed the tag, I took the chance to remind D2 about how this was *not* a plastic Anna.
This was no magiclip. This was BREAKABLE ANNA, and she COULD NOT drop it because it would break. She had to be sooooooo careful. (I knew this was true. Because Anna used to be one of a set; may Christmas ornament Elsa rest in peace.]
As I handed Anna over, tag-free, I asked
“Can you please be so careful? And make sure not to drop her?”
” I will be sooooooooo sooooooo careful. I will not–” [drops Anna.] “Oh! It is ok, she is okay! She did not break.”
“Ok. She did not break, but you dropped her right on the rug. If you drop her on the hard floor, she will break.”
Whatever. We both knew. I knew it was Anna’s last day. Anna knew it was her last day. Nothing could stop fate.
What D2 knew, though, was something else entirely: her mom was over-dramatic and clearly dropping the figurine was NBD. Parents.
Moments–seriously MOMENTS later–D2 quietly approached me in the bathroom where I was blow drying my hair any way, even though we were late. Clenched in her right hand, Anna’s body, coated lightly in glitter. In her left, Anna’s severed head, still primed with a white string to hang from the Christmas tree. Decapitated within 2 minutes.
As D2 told me that she was sooooooooo sorry (which is the same as being sooooooo careful, I’ve found, in terms of shaping children’s future behavior), I thought about how children were so hard sometimes because no matter how many times you said something or how seemingly simple the task–‘hold this one small thing that you wanted in your closed hand until we get to the car’–it never worked. And there was breaking and crying and lateness.
I left decapitated Anna on the bathroom counter–Toddlers, ye be warned!–and we left for school with only plastic Elsa, sad and alone once more.
Throughout the day, though, I realized that as rough as parenting toddlers can be, I am pretty flake-y myself. My follow-through, pretty toddler-like, in fact. The work project that I hadn’t sent out specifics for on which other people were waiting. The appointments I needed to call and set up, the chores I needed to do, the errands I needed to run, the more chores I needed to do. The puppy I decided I wanted yesterday, only to realize that . . we can’t have a puppy, so I had to back out and disappoint people, including myself. Today, even, the hour I should have spent prepping dinner and straightening the living room that I instead spent watching Disney Toy Collector and sneaking chocolate chips out of the pantry. Flakey.
I guess the world is too big and the tasks too many, and we are only really able to focus on the handful of certain things that really matter. And the trick is figuring out what those are and doing them well, rather than scrambling to hold all of them.
When I picked D2 up from school, she was running through the playground with a pack of friends. When she saw me, she ran straight over and, with a huge hug, presented me with “the longest piece of grass ever!” She had found it herself almost an hour ago and had been clutching it for me the whole time so that it wouldn’t get lost.
I added the precious grass to my nature jar, which is full of sticks and pine cones, grass and dry flowers that my girls have given more over the years. There was once a period spanning almost two-months when toddler-aged Ella saved me a handful of grass every day (similarly clutched for hours) so that I could share the best part of her day.
We don’t have a whole Christmas ornament Anna anymore. And I did a pretty mediocre job cleaning and planning my work project. But I have the longest blade of grass ever in my nature jar, which seems like evidence of us holding on to the right things.
Ever since I can remember, I wake up with a song in my head. Sometimes it is a song I heard the evening before. I imagine that it must have been swirling all night through my dreams, waiting for me to wake up and hum along again.
Or the pop song of the moment, which usually is by Taylor Swift or Maroon 5, whether I like it or not. (I like it.) The mind, after all, is a sponge; mine soaks up the most frequently presented pop wisdom of the day–See proof of Taylor’s wisdom–and stores it to be called upon in a time of need.
Every once in a while, the song in my head is something older. Something from my past that I haven’t heard any time recently that I can recall. These songs always seem special, like they were buried deep in my memory and fate surfaced them for some reason it knew before I did. Songs that would be the soundtrack I needed to guide me through that day.
My mantra has long been shaped by my internal, magically selected score.
UNTIL MY CHILDREN HIJACKED MY SOUNDTRACK.
At first, it seemed natural that sometimes the alarm would go off and my first conscious thought of the day was “Rise like the break of dawn! Let it go, let it g….” I mean, I had listened to it the day before (and before and before and before) and it was everywhere, so it was bound to sneak in sometimes. I embraced it. I would belt “Let It Go” out in the car and I didn’t always stop it immediately after daycare drop off. I kinda liked it.
But then the variety stopped. It was Frozen every day. Mostly “Let It Go” in my head all the time. I found myself singing it in the elevator. I whisper hummed it in the hallway at work. I tapped it out absent-mindedly at my desk. Sometimes–don’t tell anyone this–when I was sure I was completely alone in my office hallway, I pretended to be Elsa raising up an ice palace out of nothing to a grand swelling of the orchestra. Acted. it. out.
I started wondering if I should talk to other people. I wondered if it was fair to keep showing up for my adult brain–oriented* job. I wondered if I wasn’t maybe a little bit like the deluded, thinks-she’s-cool mom from Mean Girls.
I couldn’t get it to go away, so I decided we had to drill it out. After some (months of) cajoling, we listened to something else. Sofia the First. I liked it. My Little Pony. Really liked it. Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Meh. It was just nice to have variety again. Sometimes I was signing about puny pirates, sometimes I was the Rainbow Dash-half of the My Little Pony duet on the Best Pet contest. (It’s hilarious, for real.) I had new things to think and sing and hum.
But the pop music and the old music and the songs my mom sang to me when I was little, they didn’t come back. I remember the morning my mind arose with “Choo, Choo, Chugga, Chugga, Big Red Car” from the The Wiggles (if you don’t know it, don’t google it!! Keep your innocence and feel pleased with your life choices.), and I knew we had to make deep changes.
I started asserting my rights to sometimes choose the music for the commute again, listening to grown-up stuff on headphones while I did the dishes, and paying close attention to what they were dropping in the grocery store. Didn’t matter. My soundtrack was for the under-12 set.
I read an article on Common Sense Media that made me think my sub-conscious has made this soundtrack adjustment for parenting reasons. Apparently, it’s a good idea to:
1. Model listening to tame music. Check. My new edgy is the Ursula song from the Little Mermaid, since we had to take out most of the bad-guy arias from the other soundtracks because they were too scary.
2. Ask your kids to play their favorite songs for you. Double check. The challenge for me, frankly, is to ask them not to play their favorite songs for me. They both have figured out how to operate my smart phone’s playlists and my portable speaker, so they play their princess favorites for me all the time.
3. Discuss music messages. Like how someone asks me every time “What is happening in this part of the movie?” “Why is Anna sad?” “Is this about when Merida’s mom turns into a bear?” “Why do they say ‘Kill the beast?” We even talk about the messages in the instrumental numbers. We take our music messaging seriously.
IT WILL ALL BE OKAY
In just the past few weeks, the girls have started to request some pop music on their own. Katy Perry, inexplicably, is a favorite. And instead of feeling excited, like I thought I would, I feel a bit sad. I am the person who wants to listen to My Little Pony and sing the different parts.
My new cartoon-ish mental soundtrack reflects that fact that my whole being switched over to being a mom of awesome, smart, small people; kids who are so cool, I want to like what they like. And I want them to stay little so they they can stay mine.
I am going to see if me singing Disney songs all the time can make that happen. Either it will work, or it will make them think I am crazy, kind of embarrassing, rather out-of-date, and secretly cute in my parenting naivete. I think that is the next step, any way. Taylor Swift would definitely appreciate the wisdom of it.
*That’s right. I used an ‘en dash’ for the compound modifier in my blog post. Boom, grammar aficionados; Frozen didn’t take everything in this brain.
My brilliant gymnastics teammate from college, Carolyn, is a real-life actress. And I really love one of her recent comedy sketches about children as the “Literal Police.” First, check it out:
So, this video hit close to home because I always use hyperbole, and my kids have literally become the Literal Police at our house.
Just a Minute
There is no possible way to parent without saying, “Just a minute!” I feel completely certain and confident about this. I also feel confident that it is completely impossible to remain calm when a small person starts counting to 60 after you tell them to wait a minute. You just have to completely lose it. It is the only way.
After all, “wait a minute,” is secret, polite-sounding parenting code for, “I have to/want to do something else, you won’t leave me alone, I sort of hate you right now, I wish were by myself.” So, when your adorable, adoring tormentor stands right next to you and counts slowly to 60, well, I am actually so annoyed just remembering times when this happened that I can’t finish writing this sentence.
I blame the whole thing on Frozen. (I feel internet readers nodding their heads in understanding approval. I mean, I’ve heard some children–like my sister–did the ‘count to 60’ thing back in B.F. (the time ‘Before Frozen’), but I can’t remember specifics about the era before Frozen, and suspect it is all just legend). Other parents of Frozen fanatics, do you remember the part of the movie where Anna tells Olaf to wait ‘for a minute’? Then Olaf counts to 60 before barging in? I remember seeing that scene unfold in the theater for the first time like it was yesterday (I think I did see that scene yesterday, like I see Frozen scenes most days. But I remember the emotion of that first time: the foreboding; the horror).
“1, 2, 3 . . .”
“Nooooo. Disney would never teach children . . .”
“OH, NO. You. Did. Not.”
Yup, Disney did. Within days, Ella was counting to 60 when I asked her to wait for a minute. I quickly converted to “moment” but it was too late. A whole world of literal-ity had literally been born. And I had paid Disney for it.
I’ll be right there. Just one more minute. We’ll talk about that later.
I am almost ready.
All of a sudden, there was no safe way to talk about time or the future. All was lost. Forever.
But, after a minute of reflection, I see the other side of my kids’ taking me literally: it can be wonderfully hilarious. I love the way their minds work. For example, Ella had her first soccer game earlier this week. She was excited. I was nervous. It was her first game, her first team sport, maybe her first time listening, and I didn’t know how it would go since she doesn’t have . . . an established track record of strong athletic performance or a record of listening to anyone ever.
On the way to the game, I tried to build up her confidence and impart my sports wisdom. Engage with her team. Pay attention to her coach (MI). Run fast. Be aggressive with the ball. Listen to instructions. Be fierce.
The game started and she really got in there, running with the feral pack of other six-year olds arrayed in an electron-like circle around the ball. She was an outer electron, to be sure, but she was responsive and generally moving with the atom, so I was happy.
Except her run. She was running in this wild way, swinging her arms in front of her body, in strange arcs above her head. Her fingers were spread and rigid, scrunched like talon-ed claws. She looked pretty much exactly like Max when he dances with the wild things.
When her (dad) coach finally subbed her out, I whisper-yelled for her to come over and asked her what she was doing with that crazy run. So looked confused and answered that she was just doing it how I told her to.
Uhhhh. . . when did I say, run like Grendel? Zombie manicure barbie? Deranged beekeeper? Raptor in the Jurassic Park kitchen?
She clarified: I told her to “BE FIERCE.” Animals are the things that people usually describe as “fierce.” Fierce animals are hunters. They have claws. So, to be fierce, you need claws. If a soccer player wants to “be fierce” she should channel the behavior of a cat of prey, and run with her outstretched claws.
How do you respond to that? I gave her her water and went back to cheering for her team, looking closely for other kids who were as strange as mine. (There were several. I love kids.)
Ella’s team needs to discuss and practice some of the basic principals of soccer, and I should probably stay out of it until the basics have solidified.
“Just a minute” is no longer a safe place for me, so I need to just hide in the bathroom sometimes.
“Frozen,” beautiful American cinematic animated masterpiece that it is, also has the power to ruin lives. Watch with care. And Disney, teach no pranks, complaints, or annoyances if you want me to buy any more beaded plastic shoes or princess-branded pink yogurt. (As I typed that, I realized we already need to not buy plastic shoes or pink princess yogurt. So that’s, like, take-a-way 3b.)
Lessons: Yes, your baby can be naked in PF Changs, though people get judge-y. Two sets of clothes, always two sets of clothes. Never bring the small pack of wipes. Everything is a wipe in a time of crisis.
One of my favorite commercials ever is from the ‘First Kid, Second Kid’ series by Luvs diapers. They nailed this:
Not that I was THAT much crazy for my first kid. We don’t own that many umbrellas and they hadn’t yet invented squeezy baby food bags. (Seriously. HAD NOT INVENTED. I think I feel about that the way housewives of the 50s must feel about cooking dinner before the microwave: like, why did I even bother to start so early?) But I have some great first-time parent stories.
1. The first time I took Ella to church. I dressed her in a WHITE VELVET dress (Why
do they even HAVE those??) with white tights and a onesie that contrasted perfectly with the dress detailing. And little baby shoes (why do they even HAVE those!??). And a matching hair bow. And she looked beautiful–angelic–and I was ready to show her off and feel perfect and proud. We got there and we sat down and reached in to pull her out for the Pride Rock-esque unveiling.
Sliding my hand under her to lift her out–wait, slimey? So slimey. Oh. OOOOH. Immediate retreat to mother’s room with carseat and slime baby. Can it be washed? No… Can they be saved? No. Do I have anything else…. No. We emerged 40 minutes later, both still somewhat slimey and the baby in a diaper… and a hair bow.
Lessons: no white, no shoes, always extra clothes, try not to leave the house.
2. My first time taking Ella to meet a friend at a REAL RESTAURANT. I had learned: stocked diaper bag, change of clothes, stroller, baby toy. I was ready.
As I parked the car, I checked to make sure everything was in order. And a good thing!! Her diaper was full and her pants a bit un-fresh. NO worries. I have a portable changing pad and extra clothes, so I will just take care of it right here. I am so prepared; she will still be so cute.
We enter the restaurant, friend admires, we order. Then Ella promptly has an adult-size bowel movement made out of baby slime poop that is immediately everywhere. So… we retreat to the bathroom. The ever-so-mildly dirty first pants are out in the car, out of reach; these *ARE* THE BACKUP PANTS!!! I don’t have enough wipes! How do you get paper towels while not leaving your baby unattended?? Should I just throw it all away? That’s wasteful…but this is a restaurant, in America… Can your baby just be naked in PF Changs? Is that allowed?
Lessons: Yes, your baby can be naked in PF Changs, though people get judge-y. Two sets of clothes, always two sets of clothes. Never bring the small pack of wipes. Everything is a wipe in a time of crisis.
3. Calling the doctor to see if my baby was sleeping too much. Yes, I made this call, when Ella was about 4 months old. She slept until 8:00, woke up, ate, went back to sleep until noon, woke up ate, went back to sleep until 3. Two days in a row. I was used to her eating every 90 minutes so this sudden constant sleeping… was she okay? Was something wrong? Was she in a sleep coma because she wasn’t getting enough food? Did she need me to wake her up to eat more often? Was she over stimulated? Was she under stimulated? Should I wake her up to feed her or to stimulate her baby mind more…or less?
Lessons: Babies are almost always fine. Do not ask *why* the baby sleeps; say a quick prayer of thanks, turn on the TV, flip through a magazine, have lunch using two hands, make yourself some brownies. Never wake napping baby.*
Flash forward: Today I had lunch with several friends who have children younger than mine and find themselves still navigating the ‘First Kid’ stage. How far away those problems felt. Worries that needn’t be worried; issues that would sort themselves out; kids who would be just fine.
Gone, for example, is my one-time paranoia about proper bedtime attire and whether the house was too cold and if I could use a blanket or instead needed a baby sleeping bag and what kind and zippers-or-snaps and…
[Me, calling up the stairs, halfheartedly] How is getting on your pajamas? [Silence.] HOW IS GETTING ON YOUR PAJAMAS?! [Silence.] PAAAJAAAMMMAS!!!!!!!!! I am . . . getting ready to put on my pajamas.
… I’ll take it.
The perspective change I’ve already had post-infants probably implies that my updated set of current kid worries will also probably sort themselves out. Time to grab a handful of cheerios and brace.
*This advice is intended to be funny and ironic, not medical or universally applicable. For example, some people have gluten issues with brownies, real or imagined, and I get that. Modify as appropriate for you and your family.