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Full disclosure:
I’m not telling the whole truth

Con ChapmanYou 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.

Surviving holiday guest drop-ins
with style

Alexandra RosasThe 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.

Fear, freedom and a fight club quote

Abby HeugelI have a funny post to share with you, but that will have to wait a couple more days. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I did that annoying vague status update thing about something rather life-altering happening Friday, and not in a good way, and that I might need a little time to regroup my funny.

While I never do things like that, for once I needed support and you guys came out in such a way that I was actually emotionally touched, which rarely happens. And even though I owe you a “thanks” and not an explanation, you’re getting both instead. Plus, writing is my therapy.

*Here’s where you can click away if you don’t want to read a ramble and instead come back next time for normal neurosis (waits for the room to clear.)

quoteOkay. Let me start with a little story…go grab a drink.

I don’t talk about it a lot, but when I was much younger I was in a relationship with an older guy for more than five years. He wasn’t a bad guy, but it was a very bad relationship for me that left me feeling trapped and has contributed to many of the issues I still have today. At a time in my life when that should have been carefree and fun, I was miserable.

I cried myself to sleep way too often.

So why did I stay in a situation that I knew was wrong, that was making me sick and unhappy? Because at the time, I was naïve and craved that stability and safety. Even if it wasn’t ideal, it was something that I could depend on. I would finish college, get married, have financial stability and the “normal” that we’re told we need to achieve.

When we finally broke up, I was devastated. I mean, I was “cry your eyes out the world is going to end” devastated but not for the obvious reasons. It wasn’t that I was going to necessarily miss him as a person, but rather that the stable future I thought I could depend on was gone.

I panicked. I cried. I did the normal 20-year-old freaking out thing.

But you know what happened? In less than a week, I woke up and everything was fine. In fact, it was awesome. For the first time I had the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. I got a job as a cocktail waitress and had the best summer of my life, making new friends and doing things that made me happy — for me. It took losing who I thought I had to become to finally learn who I was — as much as you can know at age 21.

What does that have to do with me now?

Friday I lost my job.

I’m still a little in shock and I’m sure it hasn’t completely sunk in yet, but the enormity of the situation is obvious. My benefits run out at the end of the month and I have to apply for unemployment all while trying to pay my mortgage, bills, etc. all on my own. That’s huge. Enter panic and “oh my God the world is going to end” initial reaction.

But while you don’t need to know the details, I will tell you that the situation was not healthy and in fact bordered on abusive on several occasions.

And I know I was damn good at my job. Hell, two months before I was told I was great and my job was mine as long as I wanted it, which is why this was a surprise (but not unheard of, seeing as they’re a small company and more than 20 people had come in and out of that office in six years.)

But more than external praise, I know how hard I worked and I’m proud of the quality that I produced, the effort that I gave and the way that I conducted myself, despite an unhealthy situation. So while right now I’m trying to decide how to decorate the cardboard box I might end up living in, there’s also a small sense of…unfamiliar relief?

Although it’s still raw, there’s a sense that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and that maybe this is just what I needed to find something that is healthier for me — physically and mentally. Maybe this will allow me to actually do something that means something to someone other than the only person making the profit.

Because much like that relationship mentioned above, I felt stuck in this job, but yet I never left because I didn’t know what else I could do even though what I was doing wasn’t making me unhappy.

So I’m taking this as a sign.

If I wasn’t going to  seek out the respect and fulfillment I deserve, the universe decided it would step in instead and throw a high-speed curve ball at my head. Now I have no choice.

That’s not to say I’m not scared, that I won’t miss my coworkers or that things are going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Right now there’s a little bit of fear. There’s a little bit of panic. There’s this whole long ramble nobody probably read. But there’s also no walking on eggshells. There’s no sitting at a desk and counting down the seconds on the clock.

With my security stripped, there’s also an unfamiliar freedom.

Maybe it will take losing who I thought I had to become to finally learn who I am — as much as you can know at age 33.

— Abby Heugel

Abby Heugel is a professional writer who runs mental marathons in yoga pants and blogs her brilliant insights. She makes you feel normal. She’s the author of Abby Has Issues and Abby Still Has Issues.

Holiday drama

Aline.Weiller“Can I just be the video guy this year?” my husband Mark said last December 25. He was referring to his role in my family’s annual Nativity re-enactment. Mark’s been a willing participant for a good quarter of a century and wanted a reprieve from the spotlight.

“You know the deal…everyone’s in the play. Just go with it,” I said.

Mark didn’t respond, but instead was in hushed conversation with my European brother-in-law, Luigi, who seemed to share his sentiment. My mom saw their hesitation and caved — she allowed Mark to film the show and dubbed Luigi the narrator, who later delivered a distinguished prelude. The two of them hail from quieter Christmases and preferred their involvement not require a wardrobe change. Conversely, Dan, my remaining brother-in-law, is a trooper — an only child who enters into the fun.

My family is a creative bunch. Raised by a drama teacher and lawyer, we are a verbal brood. We revel in holiday happenings and each Christmas, my mother directs a home pageant, complete with authentic costumes and a loose script. Improvisation is encouraged. Guests often marvel at our production. This theatrical display is our norm — just another day in the life of our family — but for outsiders, it’s deemed uncommon.

A usual holiday boasts a minimum of 25 relatives, a few friends and the occasional new spouse, significant other or child. We have a rolling admission policy — visitors are welcome year-round; at our Christmases, there IS room at the Inn.

Presents are exchanged up front, then the play begins between the main course and dessert. It is a palate cleanser of sorts, the sorbet of entertainment. I bring costumes and props that have been housed in my basement for a year — shepherd’s garb and angel wings, among the dormant outfits. We then sardine into my mother’s living room for the distribution of colorful attire — striped ponchos, sturdy staffs, earth-toned scarves, and headgear to include herdsman’s hats fashioned from draped fabric and rope. I scatter stuffed animals amid the makeshift manger.

My mother appoints the roles and most graciously accept, with the exception of a few last-minute trades among the disappointed. The younger actors are told to get in costume, stand on the stairs and wait for their cues, giving more weight to their entrances. Mark, the pleased documentarian, takes backstage footage rife with hammed-up poses and faux interviews in a “VH1 Behind the Music” vein. Perfect fodder for a “best of” compilation.

“The townspeople and Wise Men were off in the distance, peacefully making their journey to meet the newborn Savior,” my mother may say, in an effort to quiet off-stage chatter.

With six grandchildren — five of whom are boys — we’ve been flush with baby Jesuses over the years, but they’re now teens and are beyond fudging it. My sons, Grant and Cameron, took rotating turns and had a good decade run. The new understudy is an American Girl doll named Madison, nabbed from my niece, who I swaddle in a timeworn Gymboree blanket.

With long brown locks, I’ve reprised my role as Mary several years running, and my two sisters, make for spirited angels, one who can actually sing on high. They even don their wings pre-show to get into character; they’re full-on method.

My brother, with his built-in beard, is usually Joseph, and the nephews and sole niece vie for the power-trip worthy Three Kings’ spots. It’s all about the crowns. First we had those of the paper Burger King ilk, but they’ve been replaced by plush, bejeweled numbers akin to those that magically appear in old Imperial margarine commercials. The kings also sport fur-lined, velvet Lillian Vernon capes for added street cred. Last year we went Hollywood and sprung for Santa and Mrs. Claus suits, commercial characters we now incorporate at the show’s close.

My mother, Gloria, is a storyteller at heart. One drama class in graduate school changed the course of her life — and in turn, that of her offspring. Still vibrant at 76, she is a dark-eyed, dark-haired Colombian who carries herself with a quiet elegance and love for play. She revels in fun. My father died 15 years back, but was always game for a repeat performance. He saluted my mother’s efforts and was often head shepherd in residence.

With age, some relatives have grown a tad less enthusiastic about our production, now eagerly offering to take pictures or be stage hands, but are guilted into, at the very least, a villager’s part. The grandchildren still willingly join in, but it’s the first-time guests — like a cousin’s girlfriend — who double as scene stealers; they approach their portrayals with refreshing fervor and have been known to use an old timey accent and dramatic gestures for added effect. They relish their newfound fame; perhaps to seek redemption for not being cast as the lead in a grade school play. Or maybe it’s an experience that’s escaped them altogether. Regardless, they want in. And my mother, who prompts our lines, knows how to bring out the best performance in everyone and affirms our delivery.

“Then Joseph questioned the Inn Keeper…” she’d say.

She’s a director’s director; everyone’s a star on Christmas.

Our holiday pageants take on a different spin each year, some are marked by surprise bloopers, others by poignant moments. One year we spontaneously broke into song — a heartfelt rendition of Little Drummer Boy — when my Uncle Johnny kept a steady beat with newly unwrapped toy bongos. Our annual renditions, unique but at the same time similar, are sealed in the albums of our memories.

A teacher first, my mother has a penchant to educate with an artistic flair; the holidays take on the aura of a play-based preschool. Our productions themselves are touchstones, constants upon which we can rely. They are the very essence of home. So, too, our plays provide the comfort of routine, rooted in tradition. They are, at once, the core of our gatherings — the means by which we celebrate not only the season, but also our collective talents and the force that is our family.

After the show, I gathered costumes haphazardly strewn about and glimpsed Mark giving the dessert crowd a proud preview of his newly minted film.

— Aline Weiller

Aline Weiller is a journalist, essayist and guest blogger whose work has been published in Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, Mamalode, Scary Mommy, Grown and Flown, Skirt and Your Teen, among others. She also the CEO/Founder of Wordsmith, LLC, a public relations firm based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

Suburban haiku: wrap up

Peyton PriceThis time of the year
don’t forget what’s important:
Scotch tape and scissors.

We do not bag gifts.
We wrap our gifts with gift wrap
‘cause that’s how we roll.

Won’t this be charming?
Gift wrap made by my children.
(“Keep stamping. No breaks.”)

Here, let me show you
how to cut out a snowflake.
“We YouTubed it, Mom.”

One more gift to wrap.
Oh wait! One more gift to buy.
One more gift to wrap.

Bless them, every one.
I’m praying for those poor souls
pinning “Gifts to Make.”

— Peyton Price

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, or looking for the Scotch tape.

Confections and miracles

Anne BardsleyIt was Christmas Eve of 1958. I was 6-years-old. I’d woken up in the dark to pull up my covers closer. The wind was howling as the tree branches smacked against my window.

“Dear God, please don’t let Santa freeze tonight,” I prayed. I prayed for everything. Sister Mary Matthew, my first grade teacher, said this was a good thing to do. Just as I finished my prayer, a blazing light shot across the sky. “Was that Santa?” I sprang out of my bed to see.

The girls at school were spreading rumors that Santa wasn’t real. “Wait until I tell them I saw his sleigh.” I shook with excitement and scooted back under the covers.

The next morning, my 4-year-old sister, Pat, woke me early. She’d already gone down the stairs and peeked under the tree. She was bouncing on my bed screaming for me to “wake up! wake up!” I was rubbing my eyes when I noticed there was white stuff on my bed.  It looked like snow.  How did that get here?  There were footprints on my carpet, too. We followed the prints down the stairs, through the dining room and into the kitchen. That’s when we saw it.

“Uh–Oh!  Somebody is in big trouble,” Pat said seriously.  There were cookie crumbs all over the table and the floor. Gran’s favorite miniature Irish tea cup from Donegal was on the table, too. We were never allowed to touch that cup in case we broke it. It was a treasured possession all the way from Ireland. My little sister’s high chair was pulled up to the table. Three phone books were on the seat.

What the heck was going on?

Mom and Dad came into the kitchen as we chimed in “We did not do this! And we didn’t touch Gran’s tea cup either.” Mom was looking at us with a doubtful expression when my dad said, “I did it last night.”  Oh, he was so brave to admit that! Pat didn’t care. “Let’s open presents!” she shouted.

My dad said, “Okay if you don’t want to hear about the elf that was here last night, go right ahead.” I couldn’t believe my ears! An elf?!? An elf was in my house?!?! “Tell me! Tell me!” I jumped up and down.

Dad said he was driving home late from work when he saw something moving in the snow. He thought it was a dog, but as he got closer, he was shocked to see it was an elf.  “He was cold and scared. His leg hurt really bad, so I took him to Doc Morrison and he put a bandage on it.”

I had so many questions.

“Where did he come from?”

“How big was he?”

“What was he wearing?”

“What is his name?”

“Dad! Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“I did try to wake you up. You must have had sugar plums dancing in your head. You didn’t even feel Charlie kiss your cheek.”

This was too much for me! “I’d been kissed by an elf named Charlie?” First, I saw Santa’s sleigh and now an elf had come to my house and kissed me! Wait until I tell the girls at school!

Dad continued to weave his tale. “Blitzen must have leaned too far to the left, and the elf just slipped off. I guess he didn’t notice and kept on flying with the other reindeer. The poor little guy was so scared when I found him.”

Mom suggested we open some presents and talk more about the elf at breakfast.

At breakfast, Dad talked more about Charlie, the elf. He told us how he rode on our puppy, Towzer. “Dad,”I said, “elves don’t ride on dogs.”

“Well this one did, ” he said. “Then he had some hot cocoa and cookies. He loved snickerdoodles! Blitzen came back for him at two a.m. I heard a tapping on the window. Boy, was I suprised to see a big reindeer at the window. Charlie was so happy to see him. I helped him back up onto Blitzen. He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Thank you, Jimmy. I’ll try to stop by again next Christmas. You have yourself a Merry Christmas.’”

Later that afternoon, my dad was falling asleep on the couch. The Christmas lights twinkling. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” played on the radio. I leaned over the top of his head, so we had upside down faces. I kissed his forehead and whispered, “This was the best Christmas of my whole life.” He smiled and said, “Mine, too, Anne. Mine, too.”

Some gifts you just can’t buy in a store or online. Merry Christmas everyone!

P.S. This tradition has continued with all my sisters and our kids — and now their kids. Every Christmas Eve we buy a 10-pound bag of confectioners sugar and dip a doll’s foot in it to make the prints. I’m sure my Dad is smiling in heaven every Christmas Eve.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

How a stingray saved my vacation

Megan WoolseyI will admit that I did terrible job packing for my family’s weeklong Thanksgiving vacation to Southern California. As the designated momager to four small children and a husband, I am in charge of wardrobe planning and activity bag packing. Along with clothes and shoes, there are medications, special blankies and outdoor activity gear.

If you are a mom, you know this packing job sucks.

I was utterly uninspired for the packing tasks that lie ahead for this trip. I shoved long-sleeved clothes in for everyone. I packed those imitation Uggs. There were winter coats, sweaters and jeans included. I even packed myself these ridiculous flannel leggings and a wool sweater instead of my bathing suit.

The problem was, we weren’t going to Minnesota for Thanksgiving — we were going to Los Angeles. The weather was supposed to be in the 80s all week.  The sad part is that I was privy to the weather report for the week, and I still chose to pack like an idiot.

My poor packing had burdened us along the way, but we had made it work. Boots and long pants on the beach were definitely a bummer. We looked like the Griswolds vacationing in Southern California, but it was working OK for a while.

Fast forward to our last day of our Thanksgiving break vacation. We drove to Huntington Beach to visit my brother-in-law and his family.

The day was so incredibly beautiful and the beach so pristine and vast with its white sand and perfectly shaped waves that we decided for an impromptu beach stop.

My husband doesn’t always do impromptu well. He is very timely and he likes everything to be planned out perfectly. In other words, if he were the momager in charge of packing, there would be flip-flops instead of Uggs and shorts instead of pants on the beach.

Nobody had their bathing suits on so we piled into the disgusting beach bathroom with our too-small beach bag that was shoved with towels, bathing suits and sunscreen. The bathroom had just been hosed down by maintenance so it was disgustingly sopping wet from floor to ceiling. No one wanted to stand on that floor without shoes. We couldn’t get to the bathing suits because they were at the bottom of the too-small beach bag. We couldn’t put the beach bag on the ground because the ground was wet.

My husband stood in the bathroom loaded from head to toe with beach paraphernalia, my purse, kids’ shoes and socks and various other sh**.

He was fuming. I could almost see the steam escaping in full force out of his ears in fury. In the past, my husband has had a few vacation meltdowns prompted by the stress of schlepping four small children around everywhere. It is no small feat catering to the demands and moods of six-year-old triplets and a high-maintenance 10-year-old for a week away from home.

“I cannot believe we don’t have beach shoes!” was his first outburst.

“Do we not have a single other beach bag other than this one?”

“I can’t stand how we never bring enough beach towels! There are four towels for six of us!”

“This whole vacation the kids haven’t had a single pair of shorts!”

“This is the worst packing job I have ever seen!”

Now I was fuming.  I had already admitted earlier in the week that my packing sucked, and now at a low point in our lives he was throwing it in my face.

I responded like every wife in her right mind would and shouted “THEN YOU SHOULD’VE PACKED FOR ALL THESE KIDS YOURSELF!” Do you think it is easy packing for five people for an entire week of vacation?”

Then he said what NO husband should ever say, “well I would’ve done a better job.”

Then I called him an a**hole.

Then we walked to our beach spot and ignored each other for an hour while we watched our children run and jump in the waves and enjoy that very moment of the perfect day despite their crappy mother who can’t plan or pack properly.

My husband went into the ocean to swim. As I watched him, throwing daggers at him with my eyeballs, I suddenly noticed him grab his foot and almost fall.

He probably stepped on a rock. Big baby.

stingrayA few minutes later he walked up to me and said he thought a jellyfish stung his big toe. We walked over to the lifeguard station and that is when he learned that he was really stung by a stingray. A stingray? You mean the same animal that pierced its poisonous tail through Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter and killed him instantly?

Suddenly all our anger and hostility over my poor packing faded away. I loved my husband. He is the best husband and father in the world; he just doesn’t handle poorly planned impromptu situations well. My husband spent the next hour in pain with his foot in a bag of hot water.  The kids came by to ask if they could take his stingray first aid bag that his foot was soaking in so they could use it for sand play because “they reallllyyyy need it.” We reminded them that the warm water was the only thing helping subdue the pain from getting stung.

That pretty much summarized the ups and downs of the family vacation.

Just a little story of the day a stingray saved our last day of vacation, and maybe even our marriage.

— Megan Woolsey

Megan Woolsey blogs at The Hip Mothership. When Megan is not raising her four children (including triplets) or writing, she likes to take long walks, practice hot yoga, obsess about travel, cook, wine and dine with friends, and spend as much time as possible in the sun (wearing sunscreen, of course).  Her dream career is travel writing.

Mommy coffee time

Brandi HaasThe mommy coffee meeting. A sacred event held on rare days when a group of moms, against all odds, somehow manage to coordinate nap times, babysitters and school events long enough to cull out 30 minutes to simply sit back with friends and complain about the price of milk and to chuckle over the latest PTA gossip.

These times are rare because all it takes is one feverish child to bring the whole gathering to a screeching halt. Other common reasons mommy coffee meetings are canceled include: vomiting, diarrhea and head lice.

Even if just one mom has to cancel, the entire coffee dynamic is altered, and you must work to avoid the awkwardness of being left alone with the one annoying mom in the group. That mom who only talks about how fabulous her child is.Timmy is the best reader in his class.Timmy knows all his multiplication tables.Timmy has a secret laboratory in the basement where he is working on a compound that would completely eradicate cooties. I get it, okay? Your kid is on the fast track for a Nobel Prize, and my kid still picks her nose and eats it. No one wants to be left alone for coffee with this woman.

Weather is not a factor in canceling mommy coffee meetings. Mommies will forge snowstorms and navigate surging rivers to get to sit down and talk with their mommy friends. Unless the weather results in school closings. Then everyone involved is totally screwed.

But sometimes the stars align — school is in session, the kids are not sick, and the annoying mom is on vacation. It’s officially mommy coffee time!

So when I got a call from a friend I hadn’t seen in a while asking me to meet her for coffee, I jumped at the chance. She said there was this great new cafe that served amazing coffee. When I arrived, she was already gazing at the menu, excited about all the coffee choices. I glanced at the menu and realized that coffee was all that they served.

The greatest irony of mommy coffee time for me is that I never actually drink coffee. I usually just get some kind of weird tea and let it sit there while I chat with my friends.

The reason: I don’t drink coffee. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good caffeine jolt every now and then, but I prefer to get that jolt from a soda. That way I also get to reap all the negative health benefits of extra sugar and empty calories. And, I’ve simply never developed a taste for coffee.

But here I was, stuck in this cafe that had the nerve to only sell coffee. My friend was so excited about finding this new place that I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I hated coffee. (What are friendships for if not to lie and hide our true selves from those we call friends?) And besides, sometimes it’s good to step out of your comfort zone and force yourself to drink a bitter beverage that you have tried at least a hundred times before in a hundred different variations with the hopes that this time you will actually like it.

I got to the counter and panicked. I had no idea what to order so I gave it the old, “I’ll have what she’s having.” We sat down and my friend started drinking. I gave my coffee a tentative sip and to my surprise it wasn’t completely horrible. I matched my friend sip for sip as we caught up and before I knew it, we had been there an hour and my coffee cup was completely empty.

I guess I wasn’t ready for the amount of caffeine in that little cup of coffee because as I drove home, I felt my pulse quicken and I swear my heart was about to beat right out of my chest. My eyes kept darting back and forth uncontrollably and I felt nervous like right before you go into the dentist’s office and you haven’t flossed in a month or two.

I got home and spent the next four hours cooking a week’s worth of meals, reading all about the Panama Canal while jogging in place, and making a few dozens calls to my husband insisting that I was having a heart attack.

“You’re not having a heart attack, honey,” my husband tried to assure me.

“Yes, I am. Hey, did you know it takes 20 to 30 hours to get through the Panama Canal? But it only takes me 30 seconds to run through the entire house. Oh, and we are having spaghetti and meatloaf for dinner. Unless you want tacos, because I made those, too.”

“Goodbye, dear,” he said completely dismissing the obvious signs of the myocardial infarction I was displaying.

The next time we meet up for coffee, it’s going to be at a bar. Because I’m pretty sure I could have handled tequila shots better than I handled that cup of coffee.

— Brandi Haas

Brandi Haas is slightly neurotic and extremely sarcastic and loves writing about her adventures in the suburbs. She writes a blog, Tales from Suburbia, and has published her first book, Tales from Suburbia: You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Live Here, But it Helps. It’s a collection of hilarious stories about surviving motherhood.

Reflections of Erma