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Posts from the ‘holiday’ Category

the truck effect

Tom got an F-150 around Christmas, and it’s been a topic of considerable amusement for our friends and family. Myself, I’ve moved through various emotional stages with the truck.

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1. Magnanimousness: Tom works hard. He’s driven my POS 2003 Ford Escape for a long time. He can’t even fully extend his legs in the POS 2003 Ford Escape. He needs this truck. And so he shall have it.

2. Annoyance: Why won’t Tom stop talking about the truck? Why does he spend our evenings in the driveway, alone inside the truck? Isn’t that kind of strange? How can his truck console already be filled to the brim with stuff like mouthwash and Clif bars, when he’s only had the truck for a week? How come I can’t eat in his truck, when he eats his food in my car, and then leaves the wrappers on the floor? When I return to the house after being away, why does Tom rush to the door and ask me if I saw his truck in the driveway, and doesn’t it look good? What is a bed cover? Why does Tom’s truck need a bed cover? Why does Tom need to tell me about a bed cover while I’m at work? Why would I care that because his new bed cover folds in three, I will never have to take it off? Why would I ever need to take a bed cover off of a truck? What am I, a fucking cowboy?   

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3. Jealousy: Ok, that didn’t feel good when my kids called my car the “Old Car.” It also didn’t feel good when they asked why it feels so small. In fact, it kind of stung. My car is not small. I can’t even park it by myself in my parking garage! And once I hit a post with my far mirror because I didn’t realize how big my car was. It is that big. And by the way, it’s only a year old. And it has stuff that the truck doesn’t have, like this chrome trim here on the gear shift. As anyone will tell you, chrome = luxury. And the truck doesn’t have this ambient lighting around the cupholders that I can change to turquoise or purple. And this push button start! Never mind that I can only tell 50% of the time when my car is turned off and that I’ve accidentally left it running for two hours at the mall. It can come in handy, that push button start. Like if I’m ever being chased by a criminal, I can run to my car and start it just by pushing a button. I don’t even have to find any keys. Tom’s truck doesn’t have a push button start. It also doesn’t have these cool sunglasses that I keep in my handy sunglasses keeper.

Ok, the truck has a sunglasses keeper, but it doesn’t have these cool sunglasses.

4. Resignation: Well, this truck is here to stay, apparently. And sometimes it’s blocking my car in the driveway and I have to drive it. So I better figure out how to park it. Let’s take it to the gym, where there are big parking spaces.

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5. Acceptance: Wait a second, I LIKE this truck. Hot guys do double takes when I jump out of this truck. They never do that when I jump out of my Explorer. On the road, cars move out of my way when I merge. I’ve been trying to get them to do that for years! I like that when I open the door, I have to hold on to the steering wheel just to hoist myself into the driver’s seat. That’s burly. And speaking of burly, I like that this truck goes with my distressed jeans. Think I’ll turn up the Willie’s Roadhouse and go haul something.

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pants on fire

On the list of undesirable behaviors, lying has never seemed that bad to me. I mean, I’m a mom. Honesty may be the best policy, but sometimes, lying is just easier on everyone. Like when my seven-year old croons “I put your faith to the test, when I tore off your dress” along with Jason Isbell in the car and then asks me what the song is about. There’s only one answer to a kid’s question about the meaning of a country song. “America,” I always answer, looking off into the distance, imagining I’m in a Chevy commercial. Seems appropriate.

Anyway, it’s January. And January means resolutions. This year, I’d settled on “chew slower” when I overheard Finn and Cuz talking about lying. “I never lie,” Cuz said. And boy wasn’t that the truth. Three weeks ago, I’d passed by her on the stairs in a new backless top, late for a party. “How does it look?,” I asked, twirling.

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cuz and me, new year’s eve

Cuz made a face and looked pained. “You aren’t tan enough,” she offered, apologetically. Changing in my closet, I cursed her under my breath while pulling on a mechanic’s suit that covered every inch of my mid-winter skin. But Cuz was right. And if she’d lied, I’d have inflicted my pasty back on a whole room full of party-goers. So maybe there was something to this honesty thing.

Over the next few days, I thought more about resolving not to lie. Maybe it was time to go back to the basics. After all, I’d lied recently to a total stranger and it had gone very badly for me.

My car was in the shop and the dealership had shuttled me to a rental agency. There, I met Kevin, the most falsely chipper employee I have had the misfortune to meet. You know the type. Sunshine on the outside, but inside is a black, rotten core, and it’s cursing your mother. I endured about three dozen of Kevin’s questions at check-in with a stoic calm. Right up until Kevin asked for the name of my employer.

“Why do you need that info?,” I asked, incredulous. “For the computer, Ma’am,” Kevin answered, his fake smile slipping just a hair.

I don’t know why, but I did not want to tell Kevin where I worked. For what possible reason would Enterprise Car Rental need to know where I worked? They had my name, my address, my telephone number, my credit card on imprint–why?? WHY?? And now he was calling me MA’AM?

Something inside of me snapped.

“I don’t have a job,” I said to Kevin. Once told, the lie felt bold and bracing, as if someone had splashed a bucket of ice water on my face. It felt wild and crazy and amazing. Until, that is, Kevin gave me a fake look of sympathy and said, in a stage voice three times as loud as the one he’d been using up until then: “I’m sorry, Ma’am. It’s a tough time out there.”

What the hell. Why would he assume I was looking for a job, and not happily unemployed, like a good portion of the populace? Was Kevin fucking with me? Was he purposely trying to embarrass me? I turned around and noticed, for the first time, four other people in the line behind me, who had observed my testy exchange with Kevin and were now leaning in for more. Did these people think I was jobless? I wasn’t jobless. I had a job. I had a job!!!!!

I turned back to Kevin and leaned over the counter. “Actually,” I said, “I have a job.” Kevin raised a skeptical eyebrow that I visualized wiping off his face via shovel. “Yes,” I said, loudly. “In fact, I’m a lawyer.” I heard a snicker behind me, followed by a loud throat clearing and some shuffling. The four eavesdroppers were standing so close behind me that I could feel all four of them breathing on the back of my neck. “No really, I am,” I said, to Kevin, but mostly to the room. At this point, I was fully aware that I sounded like an ass hat, but there was no turning back. “I’m a lawyer. I really am.”

“Uh huh. Ok, ma’am,” said Kevin, not even bothering to ask me for the name of my fake employer. “Would you sign here for the rental protection?”

Back to my resolutions. I’d lied at Enterprise Car Rental, and the result had been ignominy. But that grown-up lie was certainly different from the little white lies I told my kids. Wasn’t it? I’m thinking now about the twenty or so little lies I told my kids TODAY, starting with “Bummer, the person in line in front of me bought all the cake pops” and ending with “All toy stores are closed on Mondays.” What will I do when my kids are older? They won’t buy these lies forever.

So. I am resolved. Slower chewing. Less lying to the kids. Bring it, 2014.

lying to your kids about santa

Tate asked me this morning if today was Christmas. It’s November 26th. It’s going to be a long month. Especially since my kids won’t stop grilling me about Santa. Below, actual questions I’ve fielded about Santa in the last two weeks, and my actual responses.

Q: “Is Santa real?” A: “What do you mean by ‘real’?”

Q: “Is the Santa I saw last year for pictures real?” A: “He was kind of real.”

Q: “If that Santa is not real, who is he?” A: “He’s the real Santa’s brother.”

Q: “What about the Santa we saw at Lloyd Center, was he also Santa’s brother?” A: “Yes.”

Q: “Can Santa fit down a chimney?” A: “Yes he’s very flexible and squishy. Like playdough.”

Q: “Can Santa fit down a chimney that has a wood stove, like ours?” A: “Usually. But sometimes he needs to use the front door.”

Q: “How does he open the door to the wood stove from the inside?” A: “There’s a handle on the inside.”

Q: “How does Santa get to every house in the world in one night?” A: “He flies super fast. Plus, the concept of time is malleable.”

Q: “What is a malleable?” A: “It’s something that’s very bendy.”

Q: “How does Rindy (my kids’ elf on a shelf) fly back to Santa every night if he can’t move?” A: “He can move. He just can’t move while you are looking. And he gets picked up by Rudolph.”

Q: “We left 8 carrots on the plate last year for the reindeer but there were three left. Why didn’t the other reindeer eat the carrots?” A: “What the hell? I don’t know. But carrots give you night vision so you guys should try eating one sometime.”

Q: “How powerful is Rudolph’s nose?” A: “Powerful enough, buddy. Powerful enough.”

Q: “How does Santa eat all the cookies that all the kids leave for him?” A: “Santa doesn’t eat for days beforehand.”

Q: “How can he do all that work on Christmas eve just by eating cookies when you say cookies have no protein?” A: “Well he has to stay awake all night and there’s a lot of sugar in the cookies and sugar can be good in situations like that.”

Q: “Well maybe he would like meatballs instead. Do you think he would like meatballs?” A: “I’m pretty sure ‘Santa’ would love meatballs.”

Q: “Where do all the elves live?” A: “In apartments.”

Q: “The North Pole has apartments?” A: “Yes.”

Q: “If I wake up on Christmas Eve and come downstairs, will I see Santa and be scared?” A: “Maybe. That’s why you should never wake up in the middle of the night.”

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naked in a korean spa

When I was young, my mom would break out a little red mitt every few weeks and scrub my skin in the tub. The red mitt was like a sandpaper envelope that she stuck her hand into. She’d leave me soaking in the hot water, then pull out an arm, and then start scrubbing the shit out of it. And I’d watch as my dead skin would fall into the tub in gray rolls. Then I’d shower it all off, and feel reborn.

Ok, that’s a lie. When I was a kid, I didn’t feel reborn, I felt harassed—nay, tortured. But now, I crave that feeling. That feeling of being clean, stripped of all the dirt and grime and sweat that a body can accumulate, just from the business of being alive. There’s only one place you can get that feeling as an adult, and that’s at a Korean spa.

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I’ve been to Korean spas in Seoul, LA, and NYC, but I forgot about them until my friend Kathryn mentioned that she’d heard of one near Seattle. Around the same time, my mom and her friends started taking day trips up to Federal Way and would return with pink, glowy skin and bags full of Korean groceries. That’s when I really started paying attention. You know a Korean spa is legit if a bunch of Korean moms will drive two hours to get to it.

Kathryn and I started planning, and made the spa the first stop of a girls’ weekend up in Seattle with Linds. Linds was working on Friday and couldn’t go to the spa anyway because she’s preggers, but it was clearly for the best, because the first thing to know about a Korean spa is that you have to be nude in order to partake. There are numerous hot and cold pools and steam rooms and showers and everyone moves between these things buck naked. I’m not 100% clear on the reasons WHY you have to be naked all the time, but rules are rules. Anyway, Linds would rather pull out her fingernails than be naked in front of other people.

For some reason, I only remembered the nakedness on the day before the spa. I’d be naked all day with Kathryn, whose standards for personal grooming generally seem a lot higher than mine. I texted Linds in a panic.

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Too preoccupied with my own panic, I forgot to mention the nakedness to Kathryn until the drive up to Federal Way. Kathryn is pretty game, but she refused to believe that she would be required to spend a spa day naked with someone she’d have to see again. “Wait,” Kathryn said, shaking her head while navigating I-5. “I’ve been to a Korean spa in Santa Monica and they gave us these pajama things.”

Santa Monica? I didn’t have the heart to tell K that no self-respecting Korean would go for a scrub in Santa Monica. I highly doubted the spa had even been Korean. More importantly, my authority on the matter was being questioned. I couldn’t believe that K had the nads to believe that she knew more about Korean spas than me, a real Korean. It was as if she’d offered me a recipe for kimchee.

“No, you have to be naked the whole time,” I said. “That’s what my Mom said.” I felt proud of myself for leaving off the “So there.” K still wasn’t buying it. “No, but not the ENTIRE time, right?” I stopped being annoyed, and started to be concerned. Because she sounded nervous and unsure. And she was about to be naked in that mind state, for four hours.

Once inside Palace Spa, we were each handed a pink shorty pajama set. “See!” Kathryn said, the relief palpable in her voice. We received a tour of the facilities, and peeked into the wet area. “No clothing allowed in this section,” our guide announced.

Whatever. I was fully on-board with the nudity by this point. None of the women walking around were exactly hard-bodied. Plus I’d noted at check-in that the shorty pajama set had an elastic waistband and a high v-neck. I knew what I’d look like in that outfit, and what I’d look like, wouldn’t be female. I’d happily be naked all day if it meant I could avoid that outfit.

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you’re not entirely naked. you also wear this hat

Kathryn and I spent the next hour getting our skin nice and wet for our scrubs and trying to avoid one another. I steamed in the steam room, sliding around like a trained seal on the wet tile benches. Kathryn alternated between cold and hot plunge pools, where I overheard another woman asking K if she was a triathlete. I felt happy for my friend. Getting asked if you’re a triathlete while you’re naked has to be the equivalent of winning the damn lotto. I wouldn’t know. No one asked me if I was a triathlete.

At 2:00 pm, we met up in the communal scrub room, which consisted of a long row of massage tables. Kathryn was already face down on her table, being pummeled by a short Korean woman wearing nothing but a black bra and panties. I barely had a chance to absorb the indignity of it all before I was told to lay down on my table, by another Korean woman wearing surprisingly saucy lingerie. Don’t get excited. The women have to dress that way because for the next hour, they will be scrubbing your skin with wet mitts and sloshing hot water on you with buckets. Wearing clothes while doing that work would be pointless.

How to describe the scrubbing? Let me just say that at one point, when the lady was working on my shinbone, I imagined my leg gleaming like fine alabaster in the midday sun, to divert myself from shrieking in pain. Worse was when she unceremoniously threw my legs open and got her scrubbing mitt uncomfortably close to my lady parts. She flopped me over and scrubbed my back before shoving her elbows into my neck for some light reflexology. Face down, I wiggled my fingers and felt my fingers graze something. My eyes opened to see what I’d grazed. Little pieces of black stuff all over the table.

My dead skin. Nasty!

No longer part of me! Glorious.

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scrub glow. much easier to attain than pregnancy glow

That night in Seattle, K kept asking me and Linds to feel her elbows. “You guys! Feel my elbows!!” I understood her excitement. Every part of me felt immeasurably softer, cleaner, glowier. Not even Kathryn’s alarming discovery that her spa lady had scrubbed freckles off her chest could kill my buzz.

And all for $99!! We are hooked. And we’ll be back.

ski hazard

I’m sitting in the lodge at Timberline, having dropped my kid off at ski school an hour ago. Now I’m waiting for him to actually leave the building so I can hit the buffet. I’ve already strolled by the ski school entrance 17 times to check on the ski schoolers, who are all corralled in front of a TV, which we have two of back at home. The check-in guy, who greeted me warmly at 8:45, told me he liked my Timbers zip-up at 8:55, and assured me that “we pee before we ski” at 9:15, now has his eyes trained on me as if I mean to steal a child that isn’t mine.

What the hell are they doing? This day is costing me like $40 an hour, if you factor in gas and the babysitter I’ve paid to sit at home with Tate. But breathe, I tell myself. This is a primo opportunity to work on my new year’s resolution of not rushing. I’m always rushing. I can’t finish one thing without being stressed about the next. I’m the kind of person who puts down her fork at lunch and asks what’s for dinner. So, less rushing in 2013. Less rushing for myself, less rushing of Tom, less rushing of (and on behalf of) my kids.

Then again, I can start on all that tomorrow. Why ask me to check my kid in at 8:45 if no one is intending to ski until 10:15? WHY? I left Portland at 7:15 to get here with 10 minutes to spare. As usual, my meticulous planning and perfect execution are being completely foiled by someone else’s low standards and rank incompetence. Whenever I complain about this type of thing to Linds, she says it’s because I’m so high-functioning. I brush her off, but I totally agree.

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I tell myself that it’s worth the aggravation to get Finn up on skis while he’s too young to know better. The older you get, the more you realize that the concept of skiing as a leisure activity is totally insane. When you’re young, you hear about people hitting trees and dying and you laugh with the brashness of youth and think, “no way is that happening to me.” When you get older, you start thinking about statistical odds and probabilities and realize that if Sonny Bono can die skiing, you are as likely a victim as any.

It’s important to learn early because when you’re young and you fall on skis, it’s not a big deal. You get all snowy and your skis fly off but they don’t weigh much, and it’s all very inconsequential. When you’re an adult and you fall on skis, things are totally different. The snow, which seemed so fluffy and happy when you were a kid, now seems hard, sharp, and cold. So hard, sharp, and cold, in fact, that you want to avoid falling so desperately that you ski tentatively and end up falling even more. Since you now create more velocity as an adult, when you fall, your skis snap off 30 feet up the hill from where you stop tumbling, so that you have to hike up in shame to retrieve your skis. This doesn’t happen to me often, of course. Only when I ski under a chair lift packed with cruel teenagers.

When you’re an adult, you stop making fun of ski helmets and start buying the ones with the most padding. You get muscle aches so distressing that you spend the next day worrying that you tore your ACL, wherever that is. The snow that seemed so fun when you were a child now creeps its way up your sleeves and down the back of your pants, melting down your crack and pooling in the crotch of your underwear.

When you’re older, in addition to the dangers faced by your own body, you also have the bodies of loved ones to worry about. Last year at Mt. Bachelor, Tom showed up 45 minutes late for a rendezvous at the bottom of the slope. After the first 25 minutes I hiked to Ski Patrol and had his name blaring from every PA system on the mountain. When he finally skied down to me, he had snowy formations hanging off his face and looked like he’d gotten down the mountain by rolling. And he was wild-eyed, like he’d been through something really traumatic. He basically looked exactly like this, except with ski clothes:

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Aware that he was 45 minutes late and in deep shit, Tom went for the nonchalant approach. “What’s up, babe?” I looked at him, said not a word, and erupted in tears. From anger, partly, but mostly from relief. Because for that last half hour or so, I truly thought he might be dead. And then I’d be stuck with the kids on vacation by myself.

So. Why ski at all? Because when it’s sunny and there’s fresh powder that isn’t too deep and you are carving turns and you can feel your toes and fingers and your underwear is dry, it’s lovely. Nothing better. Plus you can technically only get to apres-ski if you ski first. And apres-ski is my favorite thing in the world after Korean barbecue. The hot tub, the wine, the car heaters on full blast as you massage sensation back into your extremities. That feeling of warmth, of coziness, of feeling like you had a DAY–it’s worth whatever your miserable body paid to get there.

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finn at three, with dad

bad parenting, winter break edition

My kids are on winter break, which is two weeks in duration but feels like it’s not a day less than 57. We are currently on day 7 and have another week to go. We’ve made gingerbread houses, gone to the playground, shot Nerf guns, constructed Legos. And then it was December 26th and we ran out of things to do. So we bowled, one day. Finn’s preferred method of bowling is to heave the bowling ball as hard as he can into the ground right at his feet, but he got the job done with the help of some bumpers. Tate played with a ramp and doubled my score.

Flush with success from the bowling, the next day, I suggested roller skating. Tom cringed and gave me one of those looks that indicates that he wants to say no but is powerless to do so in the face of my enthusiasm, which can morph very quickly into rage when challenged. Still, he tried: “I think maybe we should go ice skating instead? It’s easier.”

I humphed. Easier for whom, exactly? Tom grew up in Michigan where everyone ice skates from an early age. I ice skated for the first time when I was 24 and almost broke both ankles, which was an unpleasant surprise given that Koreans are historically very good at Olympic short track. Roller skating, however—now that was the stuff. I grew up skating at the Skate World out in Hillsboro, and I was really, really good. I mean, not to brag, but I was shooting the duck and skating backwards and I hokey pokey’ed on wheels even better than I did in regular shoes.

In spite of all that, in the face of Tom’s doubt, I wavered. The ice skating rink was much closer, and also inside this mall, which I love. But no. I’m not in the business of doing things I suck at in my leisure time. “The ice is cold when you fall,” I said, with an edge of steel in my voice. “I think we should go roller skating.” So we went roller skating. Not just us and our hapless children, but with poor Aunt Susan, Uncle Matt, and Grandma in tow.

The first sign of trouble at the rink came when we were handed our skates at the rental counter. It was comforting, in a way, to realize that roller skates had evolved not at all in the twenty years since I’d last skated. Tate’s pair weighed like ten pounds, which is approximately a third of his body weight. I shrugged off the first seeds of doubt and strapped them on. And Tate seemed excited. All three of the men in my family have the trait where they can picture themselves doing something before they actually do it, and they are AWESOME in their mind’s eye. Once he had his wheels on, Tate was ready to roll.

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Until he moved his legs. He fell like eighty times and we were still on the carpet in the rental area. I started to sweat a bit, but laughed and soldiered on. I’d chosen roller skating when everyone else wanted to ice skate, and what that meant was that by God, these boys were going to skate if it killed me. I grabbed Tate under his armpits and skated him to the rink between my legs.

We gingerly rolled onto the rink and attempted to merge into traffic. If you’ve not had the pleasure of skating or skiing with a kid between your legs, it’s a fascinating lesson in physics. Your kid will put all of his torso weight backwards and lean into you, which propels their bottom half forward, so that the skis or wheels shoot forward at a faster speed than either of your bodies. Too complicated? Picture Tate, laying almost on his back, being held up solely by my hands under his armpits. From a distance it probably looked like I was pushing a wheelbarrow. We made it one lap around and my quads were on fire. I was sweatier than I’ve ever gotten in hot yoga.

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I looked around for Tom and Finn. Surely they were having better luck. I spotted them across the rink. Finn was between Tom and Aunt Susan, pulling on both sets of grown-up arms in an effort to avoid falling down. Tom shot me a look that said “Welcome to the hell you have created.” Yikes. I left Tate with Grandma and skated over to them. I took Finn’s hands from the front and skated backwards while pulling him forward. He was skating! At least for a few seconds. And the look he gave me from those amazing brown eyes—hope, elation—is what will stick with me from our otherwise traumatic roller skating experience. Not my back, which I’m pretty sure I threw out, or the image of Tom, powerless to stop, running a kid into the wall and shouting “I’m sorry!!” over his shoulder.

Ok, maybe I’ll have two images that stick with me.

the best of the season

I like creativity. But I crave order. And nowhere is this more apparent than during our annual holiday cookie bake. Linds comes over, for a full day. We bake approximately 400 cookies. We wrap our precious booty in tins and cookie boxes. We are a FORCE. The day requires coordination and two people who have cooked together enough to have figured out a rhythm.

This year, my boys wanted to help decorate the cookies. But I am very specific about my cookies, having learned years ago from the best of the best, my sister-in-law Susan. I strive for elegance, consistency, and precision in my cookie decorating. I abhor cutesy cookies and stick to a limited palette of holiday-appropriate colors. My kids don’t care about any of that. They just want to slide their feet around in flour, eat raw cookie dough, and sprinkle stuff.

Tate wanted to decorate a cookie. He ignored the red and green sprinkles we’d laid out, and did his own thing. And the end result was my worst holiday cookie nightmare, but it’s alright. It’s the holidays. He can have his blue and pink cookie. But I have to do my thing too. And I have a cookie platter to worry about, and my platter doesn’t do blue and pink. So I admit that I made Finn eat Tate’s cookie first.

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It’s been a stellar December. My husband gave into two years of begging and went to a Zumba class with me today. It took approximately 45 minutes of psychological warfare but I got the job done by requesting his presence at Zumba as my Christmas gift. Having given in, he shook his head and muttered under his breath as he slowly pulled on his gym clothes. “I am a sad, sad man.” Climbing into the car, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, accusingly, “Men all over the world have lost something today.” He was so down about it that I almost called the whole thing off, because Zumba is not a downer. It’s a party. But we made it to class. He stood in the back and I was worried he’d try to escape but he grinned throughout the hour and I grinned too, watching his long arms flail around in the mirror.

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What’s not to grin about? He loves me more than his pride. For that and so much more, I, in turn, love him more than is rational. And permit me this moment of emotion–love really is the best Christmas gift of all.

Happy holidays everyone.

full house

It’s the holidays and our house is bursting at the seams. Cuz has been living with us since September; my Mom is visiting from Seoul through January; Tom’s family arrives in a matter of days.

It’s all good. I say that to myself a lot these days. Like a prayer.

December started with a healthy dose of fear. Fear for everyone’s sleep, for example. Our house was built in 1910 and it features the world’s creakiest hardwood floors. On the mornings when I leave for yoga at 5:30 am, I have to walk from the third floor to the first floor, without waking Tate, who is a light morning sleeper.

The most distressing mornings are when we wake up and we can tell that Tate’s been up for hours, playing by himself. If we’re lucky, he hasn’t crapped his pull-up and spread his business all over the house. Last week he came upstairs at 6:30 am and haughtily informed us that there was poop in the playroom, as if it had been deposited there by someone else’s ass. Anyway, what was I talking about? Right, my floors. When I tiptoe downstairs for yoga I am careful to shuffle and slide across the floor in an irregular rhythm, kind of like how the Fremen walked across the sand in Dune, to avoid waking the terrifying sandworms. Sandworms have nothing on pre-dawn Tate.

Now that I have semi-permanent houseguests, I don’t just have Tate to worry about. We also have to try to avoid waking Cuz and my mom. Cuz, after three months in Oregon, has just recently adjusted to Cuz Standard Time (CzST), which sits somewhere between PST and EST, and means that she wakes up at 9:30 AM most mornings. My mom wakes, I believe, somewhere around the same time (MoST). My boys, given ideal circumstances, wake up at about 6:30 AM. You do the math. If you have boys, you know how difficult it is to keep them quiet in the morning. We can’t even turn on the TV, because no TV before school is pretty much the only Montessori guideline we manage to observe with rigor at home.

We all do what we can. Tom and I beg and cajole. Cuz and my mom wear earplugs, and have complained not once about the noise.

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The thing is, we’ve settled into a rhythm, this full house. On Finn’s birthday earlier this month, we were all here to share shabu shabu and ogle Finn’s gift from Grandma—a printing calculator!—and all that extra love made his birthday so much better.

Cuz moved to our uncle’s house in Vancouver a week ago to free up some space for Tom’s mom, who arrives tomorrow. We thought we’d be glad for the reprieve, but we all miss her. Tom misses his TV buddy. I miss having someone around who eats vegetables with gusto, or who eats vegetables, period. Tate will occasionally bolt upright while playing with his Legos to ask, “Where’s Aunt Bora?” And even Finn misses Cuz. Finn and Cuz have had some epic power struggles over the last few months. We think Finn is confused about Cuz’s role as an authority figure because she kind of looks like a kid, despite being 26. But they’ve come a long way from those early days.

On the way to school this morning, Finn asked when Cuz was “coming home.” Dunno, I said. “Shall we go get her?,” I asked. Finn gave a firm nod. “Yes,” he said.

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the elf on the GD shelf

The Elf on the Shelf. Either you’ve wrestled with one in your life, or you have friends on FB who are wrestling with one and lashing out by posting photos of their elves doing unsavory things. Either way, the epidemic refuses to be contained.

The EOTS is a small bendy elf figure that “watches” your kids and supposedly flies back to the North Pole every night to rat them out to Santa. The idea is to trick your kids into behaving less like wild animals throughout the month of December than would otherwise be the norm.

Simple enough premise, right? Right. Personally the thing I dislike most about the EOTS is that I didn’t invent it. I’ll give credit where credit is due, and whoever invented this thing and then boxed it up for sale is a freaking genius. Because once you buy one, you’re committed to an annual tradition that inspires such dread that you’d swear the thing was created by Satan himself, if that sentiment didn’t seem so anti-Christmas. You hate it so much that you can’t help talking about it, and then other innocents go out and buy one for their families out of sheer curiosity, and pretty soon, you’re looking at world domination.

Our EOTS is named Rindy. Finn named him two years ago when he was four and that’s all I have to say about that corny name. Personally I’d have gone with “Succubus” or “Evil Malingerer,” but Finn wanted to write “Rindy” down in the little space provided for the elf’s name in the associated EOTS hardcover book, and that was that. The doll itself has a vintage charm that in the light of early morning looks positively demonic. Spindly little legs and arms and a face dominated by large cracked-out eyes, the better to watch your kids. The EOTS is creepy enough that I’m always nervous that I’ll come downstairs in the morning and Rindy will actually be running around, rearranging ornaments, or that he will swivel his head towards me and giggle, “Yoona, you’ve been a verrrrrry naughty girl!”

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The EOTS has to be moved every night, to maintain the fiction that he flew back to the North Pole at night and flew back for a new day of surveillance and tattling. But by bedtime, Tom and I are so tired and depleted of mental resources that we always forget to move Rindy before we go upstairs, which means that when 6:00 AM rolls around and we awaken to the peaceful sound of Finn screaming at Tate to get out of his room, one of us has to race down to the first floor and move Rindy before the kids make it downstairs. We have forgotten to move him a couple times and Tom had to spin a complicated yarn about Rindy choosing the same spot as the day before because he really liked the view. Ahhh. Nothing says Christmas like a web of lies.

Here’s the other thing about moving the EOTS: you can’t just cram him anywhere. With the EOTS, placement is all. He has to be high enough that the kids can’t touch him, because imagine the hysteria that would ensue if someone accidentally jostled the EOTS and he fell lifeless to the floor. That has never happened but you can be damned sure that I’m neither emotionally nor intellectually equipped to explain the situation to my kids, if it ever does.

In moving the elf, you also have to be careful to orient the EOTS’s eyes towards the space in the room where people would normally hang out. I learned this the hard way when I told Tate that Rindy would tell Santa if he didn’t eat his eggs. Tate shrugged. “Rindy’s not looking at me.” I looked up and saw that Tom had placed Rindy on top of a painting, with eyes facing towards the windows. Shit! Geez Tom, do I have to do everything??

Finn’s six now but he’s still on board with Rindy. Let’s face it, Finn would be on board with Strawberry Shortcake if she led to presents. If I need the EOTS to help keep anyone in line, it’s Tate, who approaches life as if he is Godzilla and the rest of us are the cowering city of Tokyo. But of course Tate is immune. Last week, he walked past the EOTS, muttering to himself. “Stupid Rindy.” I started to tell Tate that Santa wasn’t going to be happy that he said “stupid,” but I didn’t have the heart to continue the charade.

2012 may be curtains for our elf.