I didn’t know he had it in him. I never thought he could do what he did, but he did it. Well. This week I was sick. Well, three of us were, anyway, one at a time. First Rose got it – stomach bug – I’ll spare you the details of cleaning it up, but it started at 5 a.m. and continued through the day. Next day, gone. Two days later, Matt got it – same thing, misery for twenty-four hours, next day, gone. Two days later, I got it. Woke at 4 a.m. with the “brick” in my stomach that Matt warned about. In the morning, I told him I had it.
My husband, Matt, spent Tuesday night at a bar watching the big bowl game for his alma mater, Virginia Tech. He was with a bunch of other Tech alums, and they all cared about the game. I stayed home with the kids that night, and you know what? I didn’t mind at all.
Matt’s obsession with Tech football is beyond my comprehension. The man is freakin’ crazy. So crazy that he talks to me about Tech ball all the time. He knows how little I care. I don’t even listen to be polite anymore but the guy just won’t get the hint. He even backs up game footage for me to see key plays.
I went to the University of South Florida and, though they have a pretty good team now, they did not have football when I was there. So I never watched college football – never cared, still don’t. He is constantly telling me “You guys beat Notre Dame,” and I say, “Who’s YOU?” Then he explains that “you” is “my” team. I’m glad they’ve got a good program now, but their wins mean nothing to me.
Back to Matt. When we first started dating, he took me to a Tech game. We met some friends down in Blacksburg, Virginia, tailgated and watched the game. The game was a blowout, the stands were freezing; the highlight was the fun we had spiking our sodas with smuggled liquor. But all in all, it was fun. And Matt jumping up and down screaming at the top of his lungs for his team was appropriate to the situation. Afterwards, we went to the book store to buy Tech gear. I was totally onboard. Matt was overjoyed that I willingly participated in his self-proclaimed crazy obsession.
I didn’t watch any other Tech games with Matt at the beginning of our relationship. We were both Dolphins fans, so when we watched football together, it was NFL. After about six months of dating, Matt’s apartment “allegedly” caught fire (but that’s another story) and he moved in with me. That’s when I saw his true maroon and orange. Every Saturday, and some Thursday nights, he’d watch a game, jumping up and down and screaming “COME ON REF! HOLDING!” or “BLOCK IN THE BACK! WHAT THE HELL?” Then he’d tell me, in great detail, how the officials cheated for the other team. This happened – happens — every single game.
So I went from liking the game experience to hating the drama every Saturday. The years went by. We got married and got a house so we didn’t have to be in the same room during games. Then we moved to Seattle. When we bought our house here, we specifically chose it because of its potential for a Man Cave. Matt created that Man Cave – bar at one end, maroon couch with orange pillows at the other. I told him that the Man Cave was his place to watch Tech games and he heartily agreed.
Well, Matt does not watch his games in the Man Cave. I think that in the three years we’ve lived in the house, he’s watched maybe four games down there. He prefers to watch games in my living room. And it makes me miserable. Instead of having his lunacy safely tucked away downstairs, it’s flagrantly displayed up here, where I could be watching “Sex and the City” if this maniac wasn’t taking up my space.
But I guess I should be happy about his personal interest in the game. One of the big issues in my last marriage was that my ex-husband had no interests of his own. He said he liked dressing up all medieval and sword-fighting, but he never made an effort to pursue it during our relationship. I hated carrying the burden of all of his social and entertainment needs. I had softball, and he had nothing to do with that. In fact, if he attended a game he’d read until I got up to bat. I finally told him not to come to games at all. And it was good to feel like I had my own thing.
Once I shooed my ex off the bleachers I enjoyed softball more, probably because it was mine again. And that’s why I have issues with Matt’s Virginia Tech obsession. He tries to include me in it even though he knows I’m not interested. And I don’t want to be included.
I love his obsession as long as he enjoys it without me. And that’s what happened this week. When we first moved to Seattle, he’d go to a bar every Saturday and watch games with other Tech fans. And I loved it. But once the kids came, he had this crazy idea that he needed to be home “for the children,” even though he’d wake them up with all of his crazy yelling. He has taken advantage of the time at home, though. This year he stained the living room ceiling while listening to games on the radio. And he does take the kids to the gym some game days, to give me time to write the blog. (He wanted me to say that. What he didn’t want me to say is that those times, the game’s not on TV here so it doesn’t really matter.)
So this week, when he asked if I’d mind his trip to the bar, I said no, not at all. I’m hoping I can encourage his outside interest to stay outside our home, but unfortunately, this is the last chance I’ll get until next season. I’m thinking of launching a campaign to make him watch “Sex and the City,” by backing up to key scenes and discussing the girls’ love lives with him at length, asking questions about “a guy’s perspective.” If that doesn’t work, I plan to redecorate the Man Cave as a writing room with my antique typewriter, bookcase and framed articles on the walls. Or maybe a dress-up room for Rose, complete with princess castle. If that doesn’t work, I’ll be the one to go to a bar during his games.
I’ve coined a new phrase: Shower the gifts and spoil the child. I told it to the family in many different ways, before Christmas, but they must have misunderstood me. They must have thought spoiling was the objective and not the problem.
It all started Christmas day. The kids woke up, headed for the tree, and stopped to take it in. There was a treasure chest for Rose and a ride-on construction truck and a pirate ship for Christian. Rose, remembering our threats the night before when she was acting up, was really happy that Santa came at all. (We’d been using Santa as a discipline tool for months and he was losing his edge.) She opened her treasure chest and found a Princess Jasmine Barbie doll and accessories, a Disney Princess notebook and a sheet of Princess magnets.
“I didn’t even tell Santa I wanted this,” she exclaimed, holding the still-boxed doll, her eyes wide, “He knew!” She took out her notebook and magnets and examined them. She was happy. We showed Christian how to ride his toy and immediately he started pushing the buttons, making driving and construction sounds. He was happy.
I wish Christmas morning could have ended there.
We broke their reverie by telling them, “There’s more. You’ve got gifts from Yiaya.” We hadn’t put them under the tree because we wanted to distinguish each set of gifts and their sender. We also feared getting robbed – no thief would have been able to help himself if he saw how many presents we had.
So Matt went downstairs and made his way through the box and gift-bag-stuffed guest room and brought up Yiaya’s gifts. Rose opened the box of four specialty Barbies – Doctor Barbie, Ballerina Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie and some other Barbie – and waved it around. “Barbies!! Look Mommy, Barbies!!” She unwrapped three more gifts, squealing about each one, and we were done with Yiaya’s batch of toys. Christian opened his gifts and went back to his construction truck until we could get the new ones out of their plastic prisons.
Rose was happy. She asked us to free her Barbies from their plastic pods, but then we said, “There’s more.”
“More?” she said, wide-eyed as Matt went downstairs.
“These are from Grandma,” Matt said as he struggled to find the steps under a mound of boxes and bags. “I’ve got to go back down for Christian’s,” he said, as he dumped the haul in front of Rose.
Rose opened a “Little Mermaid” baby doll, at least two “My Little Ponies,” some clothes, a huge Barbie Winnebago, and others too numerous to remember, all from Grandma. Christian opened a “Little People” safari truck, an animated Cookie Monster, some clothes and a “Thomas the Tank Engine” self-propelling train, and some other stuff I can’t remember. Matt left three large toys intended for Christian downstairs so Rose wouldn’t think that he got more than she.
When Rose finished opening Grandma’s presents, she asked, “Is there more?”
My greedy little girl. “Yes there are,” Matt said, heading downstairs. When he came up he told her they were from her aunt, uncle and cousin.
My brain was so fried at this point, I don’t even remember what they got, but at the end, when Rose was surrounded by a haul even royalty would envy, she said again, “Is there more?”
“No, Sweetie, that’s it,” we said.
“Awwww!!” She said, stomping her foot.
Therein lies the problem.
Where was the little girl we were so proud of? The one who was happy with five gifts for Christmas? Where was the little girl who was grateful that Santa stopped at our house after all? Where was our sweet girl who was delighted with Jasmine? Washed away by the tsunami of Christmas gifts, that’s where.
Grandparents like to “spoil” their grandchildren, but usually spoiling just means giving/allowing something that Mom and Dad wouldn’t. They do not intend to make their grandchildren selfish, materialistic, ungrateful brats. But that is what happened at our house. Rose was happy with her Santa gifts. We should have stopped there and given the rest of the toys away. That would have been responsible parenting. But we knew how much the grandmas wanted to give the presents they sent; and we wanted to give them credit for sending them; and, more important, if we didn’t how would we handle that uncomfortable Christmas phone call?
We didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. It turns out that we spared feelings at the expense of our children. It’s true that the more you have, the more you want. Someone once told me that it’s impossible to explain appetizers and desserts to someone from the Third World. They’re just happy to have food at all.
Rose asks for dessert every night. While I don’t want my kids to know Third World poverty, I do want them to know gratitude. And if such a bounty is thrust upon them every birthday and Christmas, they’ll learn to expect it. And they won’t be grateful, they’ll keep asking for more.
I don’t fault the grandparents for wanting to “spoil” their grandchildren. It doesn’t help that they live all the way across the country, and most of the time, giving gifts is often the only grand-parenting they can do. Good-natured “spoiling” is ok, but what we see every Christmas is destructive. I’m sure they don’t want their grandchildren to become insatiable materialistic brats. And I’m sure that they want their grandchildren to learn gratitude. But what their grandmas really want them to appreciate is their grandparent relationship. And relationships are born out of love, shared experiences, and wisdom. Maybe we need to read “The Grinch” to them on Christmas Eve. Maybe the’d see that grandmas don’t come from a store, grandmas, perhaps, mean a little bit more.*
*Adapted from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” by Dr. Seuss.
It may be too late to bitch about Christmas, but if I can save even one person holiday heartache now or next year, it’ll be worth it.
You either love the holiday season or you hate it, but one thing transcends your opinion. No matter your view of the holidays, you’re always busy – too busy if you ask me. You think it’s necessary but it’s not. It’s really not necessary to make yourself crazy stressed just because Christmas is coming, or Chanukah or Kwanzaa, but mostly Christmas. Let’s face it, the other holidays don’t demand half as much as Christmas does. So here’s my plan to streamline your holiday season.
Trim the fat. So many things you do during the Christmas season are unnecessary. Take Christmas cards. Do you really have to take on the task of writing and addressing cards to 52 of the friends you see daily on Facebook anyway? And it’s one thing if you write personal messages. I know someone who still does this and I admire the shit out of her – not enough that I would want to do it, but I do admire her. All but one of the cards we’ve received are addressed to us and signed by hand. That’s it. Do I really need a card to tell me that we’re still friends or family? And don’t tell me you’re thinking of me during the holidays. I know you’re really thinking, Dammit, I’ve got to get these F-ing cards out! And it’s worse for people who send holiday pictures. It’s nice to see how they’re aging and their kids are growing, but they went that extra step to get their family portrait taken. Again, I admire them but wouldn’t want to be them.
My solution for Christmas cards? Don’t bother. I know you’re thinking of me when you’re reading my Facebook status, and whenever something reminds you of me. That’s enough for me. If you really feel the need to reach out and touch someone, send an email , but not an e-card because no one trusts those anymore. It’s totally cool if you want to contact me after the holidays, when things calm down. I almost feel guilty receiving your cards because I know you worked hard on them and I’m going to throw them away after Christmas. Don’t make yourself crazy.
Another thing you don’t need to do is take Santa pictures. I expect some controversy for saying it, but do we need them? I recently found eight Santa pictures from two years ago in a desk drawer. We never sent them to anyone. Nobody ever saw them. This year we didn’t take them. I know I run the risk of hearing “Why didn’t we ever take Santa pictures?” from my kids, but unless you get in before Thanksgiving, you’re going to wait an hour or more and your kids will be cranky and you’ll buy expensive pictures that you’ll never see again. I may rethink that next year if I get in line in time but for now, who needs ‘em?
Christmas cookies. That’s right. I said it. I have heard so many people talk about the stressors of getting the cookies done in time that I’ve deemed cookies unnecessary. Buy them. They make perfectly adequate Christmas cookies and you can get them at any store. If they must be “homemade,” get the refrigerated cookie dough with the snowman and tree insets that you could never have made yourself. That cuts your time down from hours to minutes. Totally worth skipping.
Christmas events. These, in my opinion, are the fun parts of the holidays, but to some, they’re not. Simple rule. If going to holiday office parties, special concerts, or Christmas villages stresses you out, don’t do it. If you do, pick and choose, and skip the ones that happen during the last week of the Christmas rush.
There you have it. Hereditary Insanity’s stress reduction plan for the holiday season. I know it’s last-minute, but now you have all year to rethink your Christmas activities. I hope that the culmination of your holiday season brings you something – whether it’s joy or relief.
Rose wants an American Girl doll. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re high-end dolls that can be customized to your tastes and there are tons of expensive accessories to go with them. They’re really not that different from regular dolls, except that they have that je ne sais quoi (French for marketing) that makes every girl want them.
I had no intention of buying one. I really didn’t. But then came the pacifier challenge. Rose had to quit using her pacifier, and I happened to discuss the issue with one of the country’s leading childcare experts (one of the perks of writing magazine articles), and he suggested we use an incentive program. What did Rose want more than anything? That’s right. An American Girl doll. Normally, I wouldn’t buy my four-year-old a 105-dollar doll, but given a choice between her and orthodontia, the doll, although not covered by dental insurance, seemed much more economical.
So we began the process of quitting the pacifier. We did not make her cut down on use. We’d already gone down that road and we’d already backslid, so we really needed to cut out the pacifier altogether. The only real problem area was sleeping. Rose really needed the pacifier to fall asleep, but we dug in our heels and she went to bed without a paci. The first couple of nights were hell. She cried and whined, “I want a paaaaaciiii,” but we didn’t crack.
I kept going into her bedroom and saying, “Do you want the American Girl doll?”
She’d creak, “Yeeeess.”
“Well, if you go two weeks without a paci, then you can have the doll,” I’d say.
“Ohhh kaaaay,” she’d say, frowning.
Once she got over the initial shock of it, she was doing really well. The last time we’d tried to give up the paci, she’d steal her brother’s pacifiers, out of his mouth, waking him up in the middle of the night. This time, we put a child lock on the outside of his door so she couldn’t get in. We also told her that Christian would be giving up his pacifier too.
“Christian doesn’t get a paci either?” she asked, worried about her source, but pleased that her brother had to suffer.
“No, he won’t,” we said, and we fully intended to wean him off of his pacifier.
But we didn’t. Christian isn’t the good sleeper that Rose was. He’s fifteen months old and his sleeping pattern goes through cycles. He’ll sleep through the night for a week at a time, and then he’ll get a new tooth and he’s back to waking up at 2 or 3 a.m. We are desperately trying to train him to sleep through the night and to take away his pacifier during this process would be devastating to all concerned.
For a while, we told Rose that Christian would indeed give up his paci, and we meant it, but then he got three teeth at once and we needed that sucker so badly that weaning him was out of the question. Rose was on top of this and she began to steal pacis, just like last time we tried to quit.
She’s a really smart kid, but she’s not very good at deception. Every time she had a paci, she’d tell me, “I don’t want songs or a hug,” before bed. Or “I don’t need a book” before her nap. And up until just recently, she’d hide the purloined pacifier under her pillow, every time, making it pretty easy to find when I went in to take it away. Did I take it away every time? No. I did at night, but naps were so tenuous that sometimes I just let her fall asleep with a paci and pulled it out of her mouth when she was sleeping. Sometimes I didn’t even do that. But when I found her with a paci, I’d tell her, “Well, now your two weeks for your American Girl doll start over.”
“Nooooo,” she’d cry.
“I didn’t make that choice. You did,” I’d say, as she burst into tears.
Well, after a month, Rose is still stealing pacifiers every chance she gets, but we’ve gotten sneakier about hiding them. So I’d say she sleeps with a paci about 20 percent of the time now. We know that until Christian quits using his paci, Rose won’t quit either, but we just cannot afford to interrupt his sleep right now, or ever, unless he somehow develops a consistent sleep pattern. At first, Rose was angry that he still had his paci and she couldn’t have hers, but she quickly saw the advantage. So she won’t complain about the inequity anymore. What bothers me is that we lied to her. We didn’t mean to. We really thought we’d wean Christian off of his paci too, but given a choice between sleep and no sleep, we just couldn’t.
When Rose was younger, I always kept my word to her. It was a point of pride to me. I said I won’t lie to my little girl. Now it’s “I wanna hear the SpongeBob songs!” and “I’m sorry, Sweetie, that CD’s not in the player right now and I’m driving.” It is in the player. I just don’t want to hear it. But that’s a lie she believes. When we failed to wean Christian off the paci when we swore we would, we went back on our word, and she knows that. I want her to trust us, and how can she if she knows we lie?
Maybe it’s not such a big deal to her. Maybe this is that earth-shattering moment when she realizes that we’re not perfect, although we’ve given her countless opportunities to learn that already. It had to happen sooner or later, right? I just hope that since our lie works to her advantage, she won’t focus on the fact that we lied. Instead, she’ll focus on the fact that she can still have a pacifier once in a while. That’s not such a bad compromise, is it?