I was standing in line at Dunkin Donuts behind a mother and her pre-school son, Thomas. They were discussing the family dinner plans. Thomas, like most kids today, was under the impression that his voted counted. Oh, I thought to myself, this should be interesting.
Mother: We will discuss what we are having for dinner when we get home and can include your sister in our decision.
Thomas: Jessica got to pick dinner last night; it’s my turn to pick dinner.
Mother: Yes, that’s true, but we will discuss it as a family so everyone is happy.
And there is the first mistake…the discussion and subsequent negotiation over dinner plans made between a 40-something-year-old and her 5-year-old son.
When I was growing up, my mother gave me two choices when it came to dinner: TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. My happiness didn’t come into play. If I had friends over, she never asked if they wanted curly macaroni or flat, crusts on or off, or this….which I swear one of my friends asked….do you want the napkin folded in a square or a triangle? If my mother had ever asked me how I wanted my napkin folded, I would have run out of the room screaming, thinking an alien had taken over her body.
One thing has become abundantly clear to me. From the time children are in pre-school, they are seasoned negotiators. We foster it. We allow it. I never negotiated with my parents. Their way or the highway? You betcha.
I didn’t learn how to negotiate until I was married.
Do you ever remember asking your parents “why” when they told you to do something? WHY? My mother would say. Now, let’s repeat all together people of my generation…WHY? BECAUSE I SAID SO! No negotiating, no family consensus, no family hug. If my face showed that I wasn’t happy about the decision, I would be told again, folks. Let’s repeat together, “STOP CRYING OR I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT.”
I remember actually asking my kids what time was fair for a curfew. Are you kidding me? My mother, who always sits on my right shoulder, was frantically whispering, “Who is the parent here?” While growing up, my curfew was never up for negotiation. Was yours? There was one choice only: be home by the designated time or, or else. No negotiation or consensus necessary. Was I happy? No. Did my parents care if I was happy? No. Was I home by the designated time? No. But that’s a different article.
When did we get to the point we are today where everyone needs to be happy or you feel like you have failed as a parent? Kids today don’t know what it’s like to be unhappy. They barely ever hear the word NO and they feel they deserve the last word, or a word, in the ever-present family negotiations.
Nothing was discussed with me or my siblings and guess what? We had awesome childhoods! We had plenty of our own decisions — kid decisions. Like, would I ride my bike to school or walk? Would my brother play baseball or soccer? Would my sister play with Sandy or Doreen after school? We weren’t asked our opinion on dinner, on where we went on vacation, or what color should our next car be. We heard the word no and lived with it. We expected it. And if you asked me to name one adjective to describe my childhood, it would be the word HAPPY with a capital H.
We were better off and better prepared for life’s disappointments.
So, if I could have interrupted that mom, I would have told her that her child isn’t quite a lawyer ye, that she can actually say no.
And that when she got home, she should use another line from my awesome, happy and filled-with-the-word NO childhood: “SOMEDAY, WHEN YOU ARE MY AGE, YOU WILL UNDERSTAND.
NOW EAT WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOU.
BECAUSE I SAID SO.”
— Tracy Buckner
Tracy Buckner contributes periodically to the Observer Tribune Newspaper of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills Newspaper, serving Madison, Chatham and Chester, N.J. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can see read other pieces and sign up to follow her on her blog.
Today at breakfast my 11-year-old son informed me he had good news and bad news. Not only was he finally allowed to bring his recorder home from music class but he was going to take his first puberty class at school.
I’m still trying to figure out which was the good news.
Later that afternoon after he slid into the backseat of the minivan and played a few notes of “Hot Cross Buns,” I immediately began plotting how and when his recorder would meet a tragic fate. As soon as we came to the first stop sign it was clear I wouldn’t have to wait very long for the “when” part.
“Hey Mom!” he yelled, in between rapid huffing and puffing and what sounded like a mockingbird having an asthma attack. “Guess how puberty went today!”
There was that word again. Instantly, my mind seized up. **DANGER! DANGER! RED ALERT!** Abandon all innocence! Kiss it goodbye! It’s all over now!
I tried a distraction tactic. “Hey, how ’bout you play some more music? You take requests? Know ‘Smoke on the Water’?”
“I SAID guess how puberty went, Mom!”
“Guess how you and Bert went?”
“Phew, a birdie? Yes.”
“What? I can’t hear you.”
“PUBERTY! PUBERTY! PU – BER – TY!”
Worst chant ever in the history of the world.
“Oh yeah? So how did that…uh…go?” I asked and held my breath.
“Terrifying,” he sighed from the backseat. “Absolutely terrifying.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
“Okay, ” I said. “That’s okay. It’s good we’re talking about this. This is what I’m here for. We need to communicate because it’s healthy. Yeah. Very healthy. Sooooo very healthy….” Now it was my turn to sigh.
“So today we found out about uteruses! All girls have one,” he said.
“And the uterus gets really big when the baby grows.”
“Yes, it does. Big uterus. Yep, indeed. Big big uterus.”
“So…” I peered into the rearview mirror. “Any other questions that you have for me? Because I would be…” I slowly dragged my hand down my face and took a deep breath. “Because I would be happy to answer any y’know…” I cringed as a few more gray hairs sprouted on my head “…any questions you may have. About where babies come from. They told you right?”
“The teacher told you how the baby gets inside the uterus?”
“I don’t think so. I must have blocked that part out. Maybe she’ll tell us tomorrow.”
“Hmm…well, tell you what. You can tell your father all about what you find out in puberty class tomorrow and he’ll answer any questions you might have, and I’ll listen to you play “Hot Cross Buns” as much as you like the rest of the day. Deal?”
“Okay,” he said and the car was once again filled with the Devil’s elevator music.
Sometimes being a mom requires making the tough choices.
Actually, this was an easy one.
Ask me again tomorrow after my first puberty class is over.
— Darla Richter
Darla Richter is a writer, blogger and mother of two. She lives in the deep woods of Maine, loves to laugh uproariously and makes a mean grilled cheese sandwich. She’s middle-aged, and her eyesight is failing at an alarming rate. Her ridiculously popular blog She’s a Maineiac is a WordPress Featured Family Blog and was Freshly Pressed five times. She also won third place in a baton competition in the fourth grade. Please visit her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.
There’s a graveyard in my basement.
The lower level of my house is the final resting place for dead and discarded kitchen appliances: those innovative, time-saving, cunning devices you buy in a flurry of anticipation and eagerness, convinced they’ll transform you into a domestic goddess.
My basement shelves are stacked with gimmicky gadgets that no longer work, never worked, or never even made it out of their boxes. In my defense, many of these items were gifts. But if you want to chart three decades of culinary trends, well hey, come on down!
I present you the forensic evidence: the Zojirushi bread machine. The fondue set. The panini press. The pasta maker. The Crock-Pot, s’more set, smoothie shaker, Salton hot tray, Big City Slider Station, yogurt kit, electric carving knife, George Foreman grill, ice cream maker, food vacuum sealer, wine aerator, Bialetti espresso pot, coffee bean burr grinder, Excalibur food dehydrator (to make what? beef jerky?) and three — count ‘em, three — cappuccino machines.
Best of all?
The blow torch for caramelizing crème brûlée.
“Who’s going to use that?” my husband demanded.
“I will,” I lied.
But wait! There’s more! as Ron Popeil used to say. You remember Ron, king of the infomercial. He gave us the Veg-o-matic, the Inside-The-Shell Egg Scrambler, the Showtime Rotisserie and the immortal phrase, “Set it and forget it!” You know his gadgets. The ones that Slice! And Dice! And have a million and one uses! The cuter the name, the less functional.
Yet even my sensible husband has fallen prey to a manic sales pitch. “I bought Ginsu knifes,” he confesses.
I console him. “No worries. I ordered a Salad Chopper.”
Bought with such zeal and high hopes, only to be consigned months later to the abyss of our windowless basement. Why did I succumb? What inner kitchenista was I channeling? Betty White in her role as Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens? Top Chef? Did I see myself as a braless earth mother in Birkenstocks, baking sheets of cookies to serve with milk from the cow in the backyard? Or as Nigella Lawson, stirring up sensual, simmering reduction sauces?
Kitchen gadgets have sex appeal. They’re all shiny and new. You think they’ll change your life, and of course they rarely do (though I still swear by my Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Hand Blender.) They’re just countertop candy. More affordable that a midlife Ferrari, but in the end? Kitchen porn that teases but doesn’t deliver.
Because, really: what’s the sense in having a gadget that chops everything in half a minute, when you then have to spend the next 20 disassembling, hand washing and reassembling it?
Last night we finally hauled out the never-used Panini Press still in its original packaging and checked the directions. “Practical hints: it is recommended to adapt cooking according to your own taste.” Duh. It also advised, “Apply a thin coat of oil to the heating plates.” To a nonstick grill? But oil it I did. That sucker really heated up. It was smoking. Made pretty nifty grill marks too. It took five minutes to eat our fancy sandwiches, and four hours before the thing cooled down enough to clean.
“It would be a heck of a lot easier to clean if they’d designed it to remove the grill plates,” my husband grumbled. “How are you supposed to get rid of the soap when it says you can’t submerge the unit? I’ve been over this thing with a wet rag three times!”
“How do restaurants clean their grills?”
“Maybe it’s like a wok?”
“It doesn’t get that hot.”
“Au contraire.” I offered my blistered finger as evidence.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to toast the sandwiches next time?” he asked.
Back to the basement it goes. Rest in Peace, Panini Press. We hardly knew ye.
— Liane Kupferberg Carter
Journalist Liane Kupferberg Carter’s work has been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Parents, Babble, Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Humor Times, Grown & Flown and Better After 50.
Since I am in the holiday spirit (and, having just consumed a mug of hot toddy, a glass of eggnog and a nip of cheer, the holiday spirits are in me), I have once again decided to follow in that great tradition of boring everyone silly by writing a Christmas letter.
That is why I am pleased as punch (which I also drank) to present the following chronicle of the Zezima family, which includes Jerry, the patriarch; Sue, the matriarch; Katie and Lauren, the childriarchs; Dave and Guillaume, the sons-in-lawiarch; and Chloe, the granddaughteriarch.
It sure has been an exciting 2014 for the Zezimas!
The highlights of the year were two big birthdays: Jerry turned 60 and Chloe, who already is smarter and more mature than her Poppie, turned 1.
Jerry thinks this is the best time of life because, at 60, you can still do everything you have always done, but if there is something you don’t want to do, you can pull the age card. That’s why he finally hired a landscaper. Now he has time to do stuff that keeps him young, like playing with Chloe.
Since his mind (or what’s left of it) is perpetually immature, Jerry won Punderdome 3000, a pun contest in which he beat out 16 other — and much younger — contestants. The champ received a fondue maker, which he gave to Sue because, as he explained, “It was the least I could fondue.”
And even though his body is perpetually pathetic, Jerry tried to recapture his youth by playing baseball, which he hadn’t done in half a century, and golf, which he had never done. After being put on steroids for a throat infection, Jerry went to a batting cage to see if he could become a home run king like other steroid users. Unfortunately, mighty Jerry struck out. Then he went to a golf course to take a lesson on the driving range. His efforts were, not surprisingly, below par, meaning he will never win the Masters. “If you want a green jacket,” the club pro told him, “you may have to buy it yourself.”
Jerry had a brush with the law when he received an $80 ticket after being caught by a red-light camera making an illegal right turn. He fought the charge in traffic court but lost because, the judge said, he didn’t come to “a full and complete stop.” Those are the brakes.
Jerry managed to avoid further trouble when he drove Lauren and Chloe to Washington, D.C., to spend the weekend with Katie and Dave. Sue flew down the next day. Katie and Dave, who earlier this year moved to the nation’s capital, also work there, Katie as a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, Dave as an editor for the American Public Media radio show “Marketplace.”
Washington was the site of the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Jerry, incredibly, was elected president. He didn’t meet the U.S. president or any members of Congress, who were busy with the important work of fighting with each other, proving that they, too, are less mature than Chloe. But Jerry did get a ride around town from a cabbie who was on his first day on the job. The cabbie got lost, but at least he didn’t get a ticket.
After returning home, Jerry got a new car because his old car was 10 years old and had 206,000 miles on it. The car also needed new rear brakes (he should have used that as an excuse in traffic court) and didn’t have air-conditioning for the last three years. Jerry is so excited about the air-conditioning in his new car that he turns it on every day, even when the temperature dips below freezing, just to make up for lost time.
On the health front, Jerry had a kidney stone. Over the years, he has had to number them, like Super Bowls. The latest one was Kidney Stone IV. This, too, did pass.
The greatest medical challenge was faced by Guillaume, who at 32 was diagnosed with lymphoma. All through his treatment, he has shown dignity, grace, determination, courage and good humor. So has Lauren, who has undertaken the often uncredited but important role of caregiver with boundless love and energy. It’s uncommon for a young person to have this disease, but awareness, research and financial support can help find a cure. And for Guillaume, the outlook is great: The latest scan was clean. No signs of cancer. It’s a true blessing at a blessed time of year.
That’s the news from here. Merry Christmas with love, laughter and gratitude from the Zezimas.
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written two books, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won five humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
First of all, just as Dickens declared that Marley was as dead as a doornail in “The Christmas Carol,” I must emphatically state for my little Christmas story that the theft I’m about to disclose wasn’t premeditated.
I will also add that you know you love someone when you’re willing to stuff your couch for his Christmas visit.
It took place before Matthew and I were married. After talking to each other on the phone for a few months we had met and dated in San Antonio, thanks to my sister Annie introducing us. Now I was back at my parents’ home, preparing for Matthew to come up for our first Christmas together.
One afternoon Dad and I laughed hysterically together, because I was up to my shoulder in the back of our overturned couch, trying to re-stuff it to an acceptable point of cushioning. It was well-used or well-loved, if you’d rather. But I didn’t think it had the right amount of oomph, so I was shoving old (clean, mind you) clothes into the back of it, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed when my beau showed up. If I had been smart, I would have scented those clothes with lavender spritz from Bath and Body Works. Then while Matthew and I canoodled on its lumpy but cushy surface, he might suddenly have said while staring deep into my eyes, “What is that heavenly scent my nose doth detect in your presence?” I, of course, would have answered, “It is me, and you are in love!”
It’s funny that this is one of my best memories of those last few months in my parents’ home — Dad and I laughing our heads off over the little details that matter so much when you’re infatuated with someone, like a well-proportioned couch.
Another great memory has to do with that little matter of the theft.
The soon-to-be-purloined item arrived in a Christmas package from Virginia, a package full of thoughtful gifts from my big sister Vinca who always remembered everyone. This year she had remembered Matthew. She knew my guy was coming to Idaho for his first visit with our folks, so she had gotten him the best gift she could think of — lacking a background check on him, a list of his childhood hobbies or a network of relatives to report on his daily habits. She had gotten him chocolate, and Bravo! There is no better gift that says, “I don’t know you, but you’d be a fool not to enjoy this.”
But curiosity killed the gift — Dad’s and my curiosity, you know. We just couldn’t figure out why Vinca would send a present to someone she didn’t know and who wasn’t officially a part of the family. I mean, really, I hadn’t actually married the guy yet…and even then Christmas gifts are kind of probationary for the first year or two.
Dad and I studied the rectangular package beneath the tree for a couple of days until we just couldn’t stand it anymore.
“We should see what’s in there,” said Dad.
I don’t remember who did the honors of ripping off Vinca’s impeccable wrapping job of tasteful, quality paper. Of course we were going to make it right. We just had to peek, that’s all….
Oh, no! Chocolate! It was a box of chocolates. From that moment I think we both knew what was going to happen, but we intended to fight our naughty chocolate-foraging instincts.
We laid it carefullyon the kitchen bar, just so we wouldn’t forget it.
“We’ll wrap it back up nicely later,” said Dad. “Or put it in a festive gift bag.”
Sure, but until then we walked past it several times that day wondering what kinds of fillings were in it. A cordial cherry or two, perhaps? Ooh, maybe a few truffles. And who doesn’t like those crunchy little nut-flaked ganaches? Yum-yum. Were there any dark chocolates in the picture on the box?
“Matthew will never know,” Dad said to me that evening as we stared at each other’s pinched faces.
“He wasn’t expecting anything!” I responded too loudly. “He doesn’t even know Vinca. Maybe by name….” But a Vinca by any other name is still the sister of just a girlfriend.
The voice of reason was there: Mom.
“Shame on you guys! Don’t do it,” she admonished. “Vinca sent that for Matthew. He needs presents under the tree, too.”
“I got him something,” I pointed out.
“I’ll get him something,” said Dad, smirking.
We looked at each other. Then we slid the chocolate off the bar, ripped off the cellophane packaging, and while sitting on the newly overstuffed couch together, pigged out happily on our purloined chocolates. We had warm feelings for Vinca’s thoughtfulness that day.
Did I tell Matthew about his absent gift? Not that Christmas, no, but I did a few years later when I suddenly remembered and had a good chuckle by our own Christmas tree. Okay, yes it was very wrong…but wrong never tasted so sweet.
— Hillary Ibarra
Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.
This just in: A mandatory 10-step training course has been implemented for all soon-to-be parents. If you skillfully and successfully endure the various challenges involved, while being tethered to a lifelike, hungry doll that cries often, you will be prepared for bringing home a newborn. If you fail, good luck to you.
1. Sleep Deprivation: All participants will experience a level of sleep deprivation the likes of which they have never known before. You will occasionally be allowed 40 minutes of sleep at one time, but you will be quickly roused by the wails of your lifelike doll.
2. Women: Overnight, your breasts will enlarge to twice their size and become sore and hard as rocks. They will leak throughout the day and night. There is nothing you can do to prevent this.
3. Men: You are not allowed to enjoy said enlargement. Not only has the sleep deprivation taken its toll on you and your spouse, but one of you is always tethered to the crying, hungry doll. You will have to wait [at least] six weeks to express prolonged physical affection.
4. Entertainment: On a beautiful Saturday evening, you will be forced to walk by several of your favorite bars and restaurants. You will be hungry, tired and in need of a strong drink, but in order to successfully complete this task, you must keep walking, with the doll strapped to your chest. You will go directly to Babies ‘R Us and deposit your entire month’s paycheck there.
5. Diet: You are allowed to eat only the following items: granola bars, frozen pizza, crackers and brown casseroles brought to you by elderly neighbors. All food will need to be consumed standing up, hunched over the kitchen counter, as fast as you can, while enduring shrieking cries from your practice doll who is waiting to be fed again. Bonus points will be awarded for participants who hold the doll in one hand and eat with the other.
6. Bathing: Neither adult participant is permitted more than one shower for the duration of the training course. During this shower, the doll will remain in the bathroom with you and begin crying as soon as the water starts. To complete this task, you need to bathe as fast as you can to get out and comfort the doll; this means no shaving, no deep conditioning and, for heaven’s sake, no shower gel.
7. Attire: Keep the clothes you are currently wearing as clean as possible because you will not be provided with fresh, new clothing at any time. You will need at least 10 outfits for your practice doll, however, as it will expel simulated poop and spit up on its clothing like clockwork at every single feeding.
8. Toileting: Every time a female participant sneezes, she will pee a little. Depending on the neediness of your practice doll and your tolerance for screeching wails, going to the bathroom may or may not be your only alone time in any given day.
9. Grooming: All participants will quickly notice more gray hair sprouting from their heads. You are permitted to use tweezers on these new strands, but you will likely be too depleted (see #1 and #5) to use them. No haircuts, no make-up and certainly no toenail trimming will be tolerated during the training course.
10. Escape Route: There will be times when you want to run away with your hands in the air, laughing like a lunatic, or hide in a dark closet tucked into a fetal position, but remember this: there is no turning back. Despite the practice doll’s powerful life-sucking abilities, you will come to love it more than you thought possible, and you might even get used to having spit-up on all of your clothing.
We wish you the best of luck.
— Julia Arnold
Julia Arnold lives in Minnesota with her husband and two young children. In her world, the counter is always sticky, and the floor is never clean. She writes about “the less glamorous side of motherhood” on her blog, Frantic Mama. Her work has been featured in various publications, such as Mamalode and What the Flicka, as well as in the recently released humor anthology, Clash of the Couples.
You can tell that a writer is trying to hide something from you when you run into one of those “Full disclosure” parentheticals in the middle of an article. Example: “Full disclosure: My views on the monetary roots of inflation have been tempered since supermodel Heidi Klum smiled at me in line at an ATM in New York.”
The trick to the “full disclosure” rhetorical device is to reveal too much and too little at the same time. Parsing the subtext of the above disclosure, one can translate it thusly: “Full disclosure: My knowledge of the American banking system is limited to the balance on my ATM slip, and the last time a woman came on to me was when Paula Ferguson handed me a note in 8th grade that said ‘I think you’re a dreamboat.’”
The full disclosure/non-disclosure trick is common in financial advice columns. “Full disclosure,” the stock market analyst writes. “I hold shares of Acme Techinfotronicsmatrix in my IRA.” What he doesn’t tell you is that he’s the love child of the CEO and Wanda Turner, a woman who temped at the company 35 years ago, and is looking to dump the stock like a hot rock as soon as suckers like you buy it.
The political “full disclosure” is usually intended to puff up the credentials of the writer as someone who is so close to the white-hot blast furnace of Washington power that his plastic “Fred Thompson ’08” water bottle melted. E.g.–“Full disclosure: While I was not actually alive at the time of the 1945 Yalta summit, my ideas have generally been credited as the inspiration for Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech and the theme song of The Pinky Lee Show.”
Scientific “Full disclosures” are often little more than attempts to intimidate potential critics of the writer’s views. “Full disclosure,” writes a proponent of the controversial “cold fusion” theory — “I am the spawn of shape-shifting mud vipers from the planet Glzorp, who have been cross-bred with blood-sucking humanoids. So watch it.”
Once you understand the sinister intent behind this highly deceptive device, you’ll be better prepared the next time you bump up against the left parentheses of a “Full disclosure” scam to plumb the author’s hidden agenda.
Full disclosure: Web “Cookies” have been implanted on your computer while you read this article, and I have applied for a Home Depot credit card in your name.
— Con Chapman
Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.
The month of December is one of my favorite times of the year.
I love the beauty of the holidays when homes are bedecked in their Sunday finest of red velvet bows and twinkling lights that festoon every open inch of space in a house, transforming the simplest of abodes into charming and inviting.
The weeks leading up to December spent dusting, wiping, cleaning and gussying up the house for the season of joy remind me of when I was exfoliating, exercising, dieting and highlighting my tresses for my wedding day. Finally, the big day arrives, we’re married off or our holiday visits begin, and the hours of deep-down cleansing pay off. Our audiences are pleased.
Every year, I pull off getting my house nutcrackered and garlanded in the 11th hour. Exactly like the three pounds I lost by 10 p.m. the night before my wedding. I breathed the same sigh of relief at the sight of my flat tummy behind the princess-cut yoke as I do when I gaze upon my holiday spirited home. Just as I did then and do now, I congratulate myself with a tumbler of Irish Crème in my hand on a job well done, even if delivered under the wire.
The season of good tidings and cheer is inescapable, and so is the drop-in company that inevitably rings our door bell. I say let the season surround us, surprise visits and all, although that is something a lot easier to say when my house looks ready for the unexpected guest. Which is for all of 24 hours since I have three children who fail to recognize the days spent in holiday house preparation. Exactly 25 hours after I have done the work of no less than three sugar plum fairies on my own, my house is back to being a storage closet for our winter garb. Moving from living room to bathroom is back to being a deft dance of foot forward, push debris aside, next foot forward, push more debris aside. We eventually make it across the kitchen to the bathroom, but it’s much faster and painless if we have our slippers on.
When company stops by after Day One of maybe standing a chance to be seen in House Beautiful, the surprise visits become mildly sweat inducing, depending on who they’re from. When it’s five days post-holiday decorating and my household is ankle deep in half-started Rainbow Loom projects, math homework graphing paper and torn-open Lego Advent calendars, well, that’s when you can count on the quick fixes listed here to whip that home back into one that’s ready to face the shouts of Surprise! from your front porch.
Start with Quick Fix Number One: Accept the state of your home. Your family is in the thick of the holiday season, and your attitude can be contagious.Welcome people into your house as if what they see before them is the most normal thing in the world, underwear and pajamas and athletic socks abound.
Proceed to Quick Fix Number Two: When the door bell rings, instruct everybody in your house to hit the sofa and chairs. Have blankets at the ready and throw them over yourselves. The one drawing the short stick has to answer the door just a wee crack, hoarsely whispering that you’re all sicker than you’ve ever been and the doctors at the ER were very interested in your cases. No worries; your company will be on their way just like that. (I can’t take credit for this one, it was my mother’s favorite go-to.)
Now is the time to believe in magic: Believe that the one at the door just really came to see you and nothing else. Close your eyes and click your heels and believe that your company is the type who will not see the madness around you. This is the true reason behind the wooden placards covered in glitter that you can buy at every craft store in town that read BELIEVE.
Next hat trick: Open the door. Say “Pardon the mess but we have had to turn this house upside down looking for the diamond pendant my husband gave me last Christmas. It was his grandmother’s and I don’t know where it is and it’s been lost for two days now and we are looking under every nook and cranny…but Grammy Wilson wouldn’t want us to give up!”
Greet your guests with a look of relief on your face: No matter who it is say, “Oh, thank God, I was hoping it was you because you, you over anybody else in the world, understands and would never mind a mess! It’s why I love you so …”
Take your guests aside after you let them in: Side whisper of the bout of mental exhaustion you’re recovering from after the holidays spent with your relatives and how you did have an appointment for this morning, an emergency one at that, with your therapist, but she canceled and it’s all you can do today to just get out of bed. This works best if you laugh and cry at the same time.
Hand the surprise visitor a glass of wine in exchange for the glasses on their face. Or beer if you’re in Wisconsin. Place a Zinfandel in their hand and don’t even wait for their gloves and coat to come off. When they get up to go and trip on the box of your winter socks and they say it must be the wine they had, don’t disagree, and wink while reassuring them their secret’s safe with you.
When all else fails, resign yourself. You’ve survived worse things than a messy house. The holidays are truly a wonderful time of the year. This is a special season that charges in and leaves your house looking like a beautifully tinseled hurricane. There’s nothing shameful about that, so let the perfection go and the visitors come. Let those that must, and there will always be those that must, say what they will. You just go about your merry Elfen way, enjoying the special magic of the fleeting moments of this time of year. The evidence you see around you, bits and pieces of a family living together in anticipation of welcoming those we love into the bosom of our 3,000-light-lit-up home, give the season its meaning. So, embrace this once-a-year joyous opportunity to let your house shine inside out with the love we feel for one another.
Happy holidays to all!
— Alexandra Rosas
Alexandra Rosas is a storyteller for the nationally acclaimed The Moth, as well as a contributor to several anthologies and weekly columns. You can follow her on twitter @gdrpempress and on her blog.