A Turkey Story

A Turkey Story
Originally published: Wed, 23 Nov 2011


I’m making Thanksgiving dinner this year. All by myself. It’s times like these that I feel like a real grown-up, like I’ve earned my spot side-by-side with the matriarchs in my family, the women who always smelled like dish soap and had standing weekly appointments with their hair dressers. I’m a big girl now.

Most years we travel to either my family in Tennessee or my husband’s in Virginia for Thanksgiving dinner, but this year I volunteered to host and my perfectionism is beginning to do me in. I started putting together the menu more than month ago, collecting recipes and debating on what to include. Fortunately, I decided to scrap my plans to make my now deceased ex-step-grandmother’s famous homemade sour dough bread. Doing so would have meant starting the starter weeks ago and feeding it every day, so … I’ll be serving store-bought, frozen yeast rolls instead. But everything else will be 100 percent homemade. My menu includes an 18-pound turkey (brined overnight), gravy, sausage-apple stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, green beans, kale, cranberry sauce, cranberry relish, orange salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and coconut cake. And yet it still seems like I’m forgetting something.

This will be third time in my life that I’ve tackled the big meal alone. The second was a few years ago when my husband was deployed and I didn’t feel like traveling, and the first time I’ll tell you about right now…

It was 2002 and my husband and I had just gotten engaged. He already lived in Fayetteville and I was still living the sunny, single girl beach life in south Florida, so we didn’t get to see each other much. Worse, he had been on a short deployment and was scheduled to fly back on Thanksgiving day on a commercial airplane. A buddy of his was responsible for booking his flight and he managed to find him a flight that landed in Miami in the wee hours of the morning, with a connection that wouldn’t leave until the evening. We’d get about eight hours together on Thanksgiving Day and I was determined to impress him.

Thanksgiving for me, as for most Americans, is all about the home-cooked meal, so having the mother of all dinners in a restaurant was not an option. I was going to have to cook. Besides, I am a good cook. I love to cook. I have a blast in the kitchen, I really do. But I had never before made Thanksgiving dinner. At most I’d made one side dish or a dessert to take to someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner. I’d always thought of Thanksgiving dinner as the Super Bowl of cooking, a task best left to the pros – the old ladies, the women who own roasting pans, the sorts of women who don’t use measuring spoons and who actually plan meals. My cooking adventures usually turned out well, if eclectic. If I was in a sweet mood, I might make four pies and a cake. If I was in a vegetable mood there would likely be no meat served. If I was in a meat mood, you can forget side dishes. So you can imagine my anxiety over flying solo and having to make the biggest meal of the year for my new fiance.

A week before the big day I called his mother and asked her what foods he likes on Thanksgiving. At least I had enough sense to know that not every family does Thanksgiving the same. Fortunately she didn’t name anything that sounded too difficult to make – and she seemed pretty pleased that I planned to cook for him. She’s told me since then that I scored major points with her that day. I bought a whole turkey and all the other ingredients and I started cooking four days in advance. I figured that by starting early I could make everything in my tiny apartment kitchen and serve the meal on time without cutting into the precious few hours that he and I would have to spend together. Everything was going swimmingly until I got to the turkey itself.

I had never roasted any kind of bird and didn’t even know where to begin, so I did the most sensible thing I could think of – the night before Thanksgiving I called my grandmother.
“First you need to put your hand into the cavity and remove the organs,” she said, not even bothering to hide her laughter.
“The cavity, the hole. Oh, Hell,  just stick your hand up the damn turkey’s butt!” she said.
I looked at the headless bird and tried to picture it with a head so that I could figure out which end was the butt. It is not as obvious as you might think.
“The organs?” I asked.
“There’s a little bag in there that has the neck and gizzards and stuff in it,” she said.
And sure enough, there was.
“Pull out all the organs and throw them away, unless you want to make giblet gravy.”
“Umm, no. I bought gravy. I’ll just throw this, umm, stuff away,” I said, pinching the bag between two fingers and eyeing it distastefully.
“Now you just want to rub the bird down with butter real good,” she said, adding, “Make sure you soften the butter first.”
I was glad that she’d mentioned that.
“Then slice an orange in half and shove half of it up the turkey’s butt.”
A lot of butt shoving was going on with this turkey. Who knew Thanksgiving dinner started so intimately? My grandmother went on to help me figure out how long to cook the turkey for and then she asked if I needed help with any of the side dishes. She gave me a few tips on the stuffing and the sweet potatoes and wished me luck, telling me to call her when it was all said and done and tell her how it turned out.
I cherish that conversation. She was diagnosed the following year with an inoperable brain tumor. The memory of her laughing as she explained how to cook the turkey is one of my favorites.

His flight arrived at 5 a.m. I got dressed in a really sexy outfit, heels and all, full make-up, the whole shebang, and planned to meet him at baggage claim. But when I got there the stupid Miami airport wasn’t even open. I think that airport has been under construction since like 1975 and Thanksgiving day was no exception. At that hour on a holiday even the parking lot was closed. I had to just keep circling the airport until he called to tell me that he was standing on the curb. I tried to get out of the car so that he could at least see how cute I was, but he was tired and just wanted to leave. I’m not sure he ever actually noticed my sexy outfit, come to think of it. Seems like a total waste of discomfort to me now.

Thanksgiving was wonderful, though there so many leftovers that I was eating turkey and the trimmings for weeks. When it was time for him to go back to the airport I put the pies – pumpkin and pecan – a couple of forks and a can of whipped cream in the car so that we could eat them on the way.

Come to think of it, our whole married life has been kind of like that: Best of intentions always altered by a mad dash out the door.


Originally published: Mon, 20 Jun 2011

IMG_3663I’ve been laughing since yesterday afternoon when my sister Kim sent me this picture of my father’s grave. And, yes, I do realize that “laughing” and “father’s grave” are not words one normally uses together. Allow me to explain:
The past few Father’s Days have been melancholy for me. Like many people who’ve lost a parent, I’ve had to fight off the urge to feel sorry for myself, especially after seeing pictures on Facebook of friends hugging their dads and celebrating together. I even got irritated with my husband yesterday when he snapped at our daughter for hanging onto him. I snapped right back at him: “She just wants to spend time with her father. I wish I could.”
(I’m cringing now admitting that I actually said that.)
My sister Kim was apparently also feeling maudlin yesterday and she sent me these pictures of my father’s grave:

IMG_3665 IMG_3666


(That’s Dad’s truck behind the tombstone. She was feeling maudlin enough to drive around town in it, apparently.)

She also sent this text message:
“I have been to Dad’s grave several times and there was no foot stone. I am riding in his truck for old times’ sake and went by the grave. They do have it now. I think he would be pleased.”

To which I wrote back:
“Umm, yeah, except that they got the year wrong. Dad died in ’08.”
And then the laughter started — and it hasn’t stopped. Chalk it up to a dark sense of humor that started several generations back on my father’s side and continues right on into my children and nieces and nephews, but the fact that Dad’s tombstone is wrong is perfect — the perfect end to a hilarious story.

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you may recall reading this before. I wrote this post in October 2008, but it bears repeating now.

Read on:
Posted: October 28, 2008
Back in the summer I promised that when more time had passed I would tell the story of what happened the day my dad died. I needed some time to pass for it be more appropriate for me to share such an irreverent chain of events. Well, it’s been three months – which may or may not be enough time, but here goes…I’m going to skip over the sad part because I don’t want to go there right now and you all probably aren’t in the mood for it either. This is just the funny stuff.

First off, I was the only one in the room with Dad when he died. My brother John had stepped outside to call our two sisters to let them know that it was the end. All of us had spent the entire weekend sitting by Dad’s bedside and they had to get back to work on Monday. Dad died that Monday morning, July 21st. The hospice nurse arrived just after he had taken his last breath and she began ushering me through the what-happens-next process. My brother gave her the name of the cemetery where Dad was to be buried and the nurse called the funeral home at the cemetery to ask them to come pick Dad up. As she was calling the funeral home, my brother and sister Laura met up to drive over there to begin planning the funeral.
Over the weekend we had all decided that Laura should go with John because John is notoriously frugal. Like my Dad, my brother has never found a penny he couldn’t pinch. Dad told John weeks earlier that he didn’t want us to spend more than $10,000 on his funeral. He was insistent – $10,000 and not a penny more.  And if you’ve paid for a funeral recently you know that $10,000 doesn’t go very far. Dad had the money to pay more, but he just couldn’t stomach the idea – even in death – that he might have paid too much for something. So John started casket shopping a few days before Dad died. John was very disappointed to learn that he hadn’t started his hunt soon enough. Apparently if he’d planned a bit more he could have bought a heavily-discounted casket at Costco.

(Who knew that Costco even sold caskets? Not only can you self-cater your wake with Costco, but you can self-plan your funeral there, too.)

Unfortunately the Costco in Nashville didn’t have any caskets in the store and we knew we didn’t have time to wait for one to be shipped. John went around town all weekend casket shopping, looking for the best deal. He came back and said that he had gotten a really good quote on a wood casket and asked how we felt about wood. We all said that a wood casket, provided that it was pretty and of good quality, would be fine.

“Great, then the one I found will work – so long as it doesn’t rain on the day of the funeral,” John said.
“What do you mean? Why does rain matter?” I asked, my voice getting suspicious, high-pitched and borderline hysterical.
“Well, it’s MDF. The salesman said that it might swell and could possibly come apart if it gets wet,” John said.
I was furious.
“John,” I said, “You cannot bury our father in a MDF casket. I won’t stand for it.”

That’s when John said he was just kidding. He’d really had me going but I think he actually would have looked for a MDF casket if we’d all signed off on it. That’s why we said Laura had to go with him to make the funeral plans.

Anyway, so Laura and John were on their way to the funeral home just as the funeral director was on his way to the house, where I was sitting with Dad’s body and the hospice nurse. The funeral director came into the room and introduced himself. I looked up and nearly fell out of my chair. He looked exactly like the only boy in high school that my sister and I had ever fought over, a fight that I, incidentally, won. The funeral director said his name was Josh, the same name as the boy from high school. It took me a few stunned minutes to collect myself again and to realize that my ex-boyfriend wasn’t my father’s funeral director.

My mother came into the room sometime around then and helped Josh take Dad away. After that Mom and I just sort of looked at each other and didn’t know what to do. After months of working around the clock to manage our lives and help Dad, we had nothing to do. It didn’t feel right for her to go back to work and I didn’t have anything else that I needed to be doing. It was around noon at that time and she asked me if I wanted to go get something to eat. We went to a trendy, noisy restaurant and had just been seated when my cell phone rang. It was my sister Kim, calling from her work.

“Well, is there any change?” she asked me.
“What do you mean?” I said, confused.
“With Dad,” she said. “Has his condition changed any?” she said.
“Kim – Dad is dead,” I said. “Didn’t John call you?”

All of this while waiters are barking lunch orders in the background. I stepped outside to tell Kim all that had happened. Dad had been dead for a couple of hours at that point and I felt awful that Kim was just then hearing it from me. I’d already sent a text message to all of my friends and my mom had made sure that pretty much every member of their high school graduating class has been informed of Dad’s death, all before his eldest daughter even knew. It turns out that Kim was the first person my brother called just as it became apparent that Dad was about to die. John just never followed up with Kim to tell her that it had happened.

(He later said that he didn’t think he needed to call her back because he figured that she would just assume that Dad had died. “It’s not like she thought Dad was going to get better,” John reasoned defensively.)

Kim, surprisingly, was not upset that she was the last to know. She was pretty nonchalant about it all, in fact. I went back into the restaurant and sat back down to eat my food. That’s when my mom’s cell phone rang. This time it was Laura, laughing hysterically. She said she and John were still at the funeral home and that she had excused herself and was calling from the bathroom because she said if she had stayed in the funeral director’s office any longer she would have laughed so hard that she might have pee’d her pants.

Laura said that they started out the meeting with Josh, the funeral director, when he came into the office and greeted them solemnly, offering his condolences. John interrupted him by saying, “Let’s cut to the chase. We’ve done a lot of business with you all and we expect some discounts.”

(Some background: Five years earlier my grandmother died and was buried in that cemetery. The same day as her funeral, my aunt died and was also buried there. Two years after their deaths, my grandfather died and was buried there. My grandfather’s funeral was a disaster. When we got to the graveside the hole hadn’t yet been dug and we all had to stand around – in January – and watch and wait as they dug the hole. And there were other problems with his burial, as well.)

So my brother went on to tell the funeral director that we were regular customers, that we’d had some bad experiences and that we expected some price breaks.

“Five years ago we even had a double header here,” he said, referring to the funerals for my grandmother and aunt.

Laura said that when John used the phrase “double header” she knew it was going to get ugly. She bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud right then and there.

John then reminded Josh about all that went wrong at my grandfather’s funeral. Josh excused himself to get the file on my grandfather and learned that, sure enough, his staff had completely screwed up. So he came back into the office all apologetic and ready to bargain. He knocked quite a bit off the price of funeral but it still wasn’t enough to satisfy my brother.

This is where it gets really bad – and really funny.

John told Josh that he needed to do much better than that if he wanted our business.
(Remember, at this time Josh’s staff had already collected my father’s body and they had Dad on the premises.)

John said to Josh, “If you can’t work with us on this we’re prepared to walk.”
Laura said she nearly busted out laughing at the thought.

“Sir,” Josh said, “Your father is already here. We brought him here a couple of hours ago.”
To which John said, “I don’t care. I’ve got a pick-up truck and some Mexicans I can call and we’ll just take him somewhere else ourselves.”

The way Laura tells it, Josh didn’t know what to say to that. She said she was reminded of that scene from “Summer Vacation” where they tie Grandma’s body to the roof of the car. Josh – having been reminded of our “double header” and previous bad experience and having learned that my brother is perhaps the least sentimental person on the planet, came way off the price.
Dad, I’m sure, was rolling on the floor laughing in Heaven. He must have been so proud.
And now this, a screwed up tombstone which may well mean we get even a little more money back from the cemetery. For my Dad, that’s gotta be the best Father’s Day gift ever.
In the meantime, Kim took it upon herself to correct his tombstone using some stickers she bought from Staples. I think the “Oops” is an especially nice touch.

Elf Surveillance, Just What Deployed Parents Need

…In my house we do it all. Jesus, Christmas tree, stockings, Santa, Mrs. Claus, flying reindeer and the Elf on the Shelf. This year we even added a second elf. The reason is simple: As a Must Have Parent, I need all the help I can get. Two elves and Santa watching mean that for one month out of the year I get the benefit of six extra eyes. And what parent hasn’t wished for an extra set of eyes?…

Read the rest HERE

11 Holiday Hacks for Deployed Parents

…Must Have Parenting is never easy and the holidays make it even harder. But I have picked up a few tricks that take away a bit of stress and free up some time. Ordering presents online is the biggest one, but here are 11 more:

Holiday Hack #1 — Skip the cards.

Everyone loves receiving holiday cards, but very few people actually expect them anymore. If it’s going to make you sad to send out a family picture with one person missing, or the idea of spending hours ordering cards and addressing envelopes makes your pulse quicken, just don’t do it. You can try again next December. No one who really cares about you will hold a grudge.

See the other 10 HERE

From the Vault: A Christmas Chronology

Originally published December 25, 2008

medium_42145211818 p.m. – Bathe the kids and start getting them ready for bed. Tell my son that he needs to hurry because he has to be in bed before Santa gets to our house, otherwise Santa won’t leave him any presents. My son asks where Santa is now so we pull up the NORAD Santa tracker online. I gasp and tell him that Santa is already in South America and we’ve got to move quickly because North America is next. He runs upstairs to his room and jumps into bed. I follow him and ask what book he’d like to read. (Normally he wants to read five or six each night.) “No books, Mommy. Santa will be here soon.” Okay, I say, then let’s just say prayers. “We gotta pray fast, Mommy.” We race through “Now I lay me down to sleep” and it’s lights out. I don’t hear a peep from him for the rest of the night.

9:30 p.m. – Feed the baby and try to coax her into sleeping.

10:30 p.m. – She’s finally asleep. I put her to bed and crank up the waterfall sounds really loud so that any noise I make won’t disturb her.

11 p.m.  – Turn my attention to Santa duties. Go to the basement to retrieve presents and congratulate myself on picking out such awesome toys. “I am the coolest mom ever!”, I say to myself.

11:15 p.m. – Buy “Fred Claus” to watch from On Demand and set up all the gift wrapping supplies. Decide that gift wrapping will be much more fun with Peppermint Schnapps. Pour myself a shot, thinking, “Schnapps are so festive!”

12:21 a.m. – Gifts are wrapped and under the tree. “Fred Claus” is a funny movie. Schanapps are making me feel great. My husband calls, so I pause the movie to talk to him.

12:30 a.m. – Decide that I might as well make some breakfast casseroles so that I won’t have to cook much in the morning. Assemble the ingredients, mix it all up and put the casseroles in the refrigerator.

1 a.m. – Sit back down to finish watching “Fred Claus”. Decide to have more Schnapps.

2 a.m. – Put the video camera battery on the charger and go to bed. Miraculously, neither child has stirred.

7 a.m. – I am the first one up. I think I’m more excited than my son. I know I’m more excited than the baby. I wake up the baby and feed her.

7:30 a.m. – Make coffee, put the casseroles in the oven and go to wake up my son. I can’t believe he is still sleeping. “He definitely won’t sleep in next year,” I say to myself. I take the video camera and film him as he wakes up, stumbles down the stairs and sees all the presents. His eyes bug out and he is adorable.

7:35 a.m. – The camera stops recording. Apparently I have run out of tape and have no idea if we have any more tapes. I grab my cell phone instead and use it to take pictures. Curse myself for not knowing how to use the video function on the phone.

7:45 a.m. – Gift opening is over. My husband calls and my son tells him all about the toys. Casseroles are cooked and out of the oven. My son won’t eat them. He doesn’t know what a casserole is and pronounces all casseroles “yucky”. Decide to turn on the Yule Log channel for festive holiday background music. For some reason the Yule Log channel isn’t working, so I start trying to assemble the super cool robot Santa brought.

8:30 a.m. – Still trying to assemble the robot that Satan, I mean Santa, brought.

9 a.m. Robot is (finally!) put together. Flip the on switch and realize that it doesn’t have batteries. Have to disassemble it to install the batteries. It requires seven (!) batteries. I don’t have seven new batteries so I take the batteries out of the camera and all the remote controls. Stupid robot still doesn’t work. I am starting to cuss now, quietly.

9:15 a.m. Give up on the robot. Turn my attention to the really cute penguin toy. The penguins are supposed to climb a staircase and then slide down a luge that ends at the bottom of the stairs. The slide is a major pain to put together. Quickly realize that I need a “D” battery. Don’t have a “D” battery. My son is dejected. Kids aren’t supposed to be dejected on Christmas. I remember that the baby swing has “D” batteries. Now where is that stupid tiny screwdriver?


9:30 a.m. I’m in the basement digging through the toolbox. Finally find the screwdriver. Voila! The penguin toy works. It is adorable! But it makes a continuous chirping noise. Think to myself that that noise might get annoying after awhile.

9:45 a.m. Trying to build a really cool marble race with the awesome (and intelligence enhancing) wood block marble race set.

9:55 a.m. Have built an amazing marble race for my son. Can’t wait for him to try it.

9:56 a.m. Marble race blocks are scattered all over the room and marbles are everywhere. My son thought it would be more fun to destroy the structure I’d built than to race marbles down it. Not sure what this says about his intelligence or if the marble race can help him.

9:59 a.m. I hate the robot. I hate the marble race. And I would really like to go back to the basement to get the hammer so I can smash the penguin toy to make it shut up.

10 a.m. The caffeine from the coffee is wearing off and the sugar from the French Toast casserole is wearing off. I am experiencing a caffeine crash and sugar low at the same time. My son goes to the bathroom and comes back without pants or underwear on. Refuses to put on either for the rest of the morning. Says he wants to “Porky Pig” it – borrowing a phrase his father uses to describe wearing a shirt with no pants. I give up. Who says a kid has to wear bottoms at home, anyway?

10:30 a.m. The house is trashed. There are boxes, zip ties, and torn wrapping paper everywhere. The penguin toy works too well and the robot doesn’t work at all. My son tried to make the robot work and now there are robot pieces everywhere. The baby is (THANK GOD) asleep. Huge casseroles sit mostly untouched in the kitchen. I’m exhausted and really regretting the Schnapps.

10:35 a.m. My son gives me a big hug and a kiss and tells me this is the best Christmas ever. He says, “I’m so happy, Mommy.”

10:40 a.m. Lay on the couch, close my eyes, smile and think to myself that Christmas is awesome. What a great day. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.



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From the vault: Christmas Magic

Originally published, December 2009


Wedding planning was a nightmare for me. I wanted the whole shebang and, while my husband wasn’t resistant to the fuss, he had never once attended a wedding. Not one. He didn’t have a clue what was involved. Worse, we had just found out that he would be deploying soon and we wanted to get married before he left. We had six weeks to plan a destination wedding with 75 guests. (Because I refused to budge on having a real wedding.)

At every decision, instead of simply voicing an opinion, he asked a question – even about the things that you wouldn’t think were questionable. When I told him to pick some groomsmen, he asked me why. I explained that I had bridesmaids and they needed groomsmen to balance them out. Then he asked why I had bridesmaids. Up until a few days after the wedding he thought the bridesmaids were supposed to come clean our house. Seriously.

He wanted to know why he had to wear a tuxedo. Then he didn’t think his tux should match the groomsmens’ tuxedos because my dress wasn’t going to match the bridesmaids’ dresses. After that line of questioning I bought him a book called Grooms for Dummies or something like that, and every time he had a stupid question about a time-honored tradition I just referred him back to the book. Too bad Wikipedia wasn’t around then.

All of that’s to say that I’m starting to realize that incessant questioning is probably a genetic trait.

If you should drive by my house now, you’ll notice that it looks awesome. It is bedecked with garland, bows, wreaths and little white lights on the outside. On the inside there’s a fully decorated tree, more garland, stockings, some nativity sets and various other Christmas junk. I’m feeling a little smug, I gotta admit. But the decorating hasn’t been easy because at each step of the way Bo, my five-year-old son, has asked me to explain everything. Ev-ery-thing.This is the first year that he’s really been aware of Christmas and he is maxing it out.

“Why do we have a Christmas tree?”

“Why do we put ornaments on the tree?”

“What are stockings?”

“Why would Santa put gifts in a stocking?” and

“Why are they on the fireplace?”

And so forth and so on.

It has forced me to rethink all of the holiday traditions. I’ve read enough about Christmas history to know some of the back stories but, really, when you think about it, it all is pretty weird.

We chop down a tree, haul it into the house and then hang little figurines and lights on it. We put giant socks that no one could ever actually wear in front of a fire so that a fat bearded guy in a red suit can put presents in them – after he slides down the chimney, oh, because his flying deer are parked on the roof, you know, because that’s the fastest way for him to get to every house in the entire world in one night.

At my house we also have a little elf that comes and goes every night to report back to Santa about Bo’s  behavior and the elf plants himself somewhere different every morning. And we do it all, why? That’s right — because the Messiah was born in a barn in Israel 2,000 years ago.

What do we take these kids for, idiots?


But it’s fun for the kids and the adults, so we keep doing it every year.

This year I gathered all of our Christmas books into a pile and every night before bed I read Bo a different Christmas story – just to hammer all the magic in. Last night I read him The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my all time favorite stories. For those who’ve forgotten the story, a little boy gets a stuffed rabbit doll for Christmas and then he loves it so much that the rabbit becomes real.

On average I’d say I eked out about four words before each new question. I stopped counting the questions at 32. It was a 25-page book. The questions started with “What is ‘velveteen’?” (My answer: “It’s like velvet.” Which was followed, of course, with “What is velvet?”And have you ever tried to explain velvet? A few more months of this and I could write a dictionary.)

Anyway, as the story progressed Bo’s questions increased right along with his horror. (“They’re going to burn the bunny? That’s mean! What would they burn the bunny? What are germs? Why don’t they just put him in the washing machine? Why don’t they have a washing machine? When were washing machines invented? Who invented them?”) So I thought that Bo would be placated and comforted and all would be well when we got to the part where the rabbit becomes real. Bo has at least a dozen stuffed animals in his bed at any given time and he likes to pretend that they’re all real, so I thought he’d really be into the end of the story.

Oh, no, no, no.

To his little mind The Velveteen Rabbit was just a Victorian version of the movie “Child’s Play”. I didn’t pick up on his fright right away and so I stupidly asked him if he would like for his toys to become real some day, thinking that the mere suggestion would throw him into fits of sugar-plum Christmas magic. Instead, it sent him to the sort of place where Haley Joel Osment saw dead people.

“No,” he said, his eyes wide as he slowly shook his head. “Toys are toys, Mommy. They shouldn’t become real.”

“But don’t you want your toys to be real?” I asked.

“No,” he said, definitively. “They outnumber me. They might take over everything and destroy the house. And the teddy bears would turn into real bears and they would growl at me and eat me.”

I had to admit that there was a certain logic to what he was saying.

“Mommy, I don’t want my toys to become real,” he said. “What can I do to make them stay toys?”

“As long as you don’t love them you should be okay,” I said, instantly feeling a little guilty for warping the Christmas magic.

But this new approach to toy ownership might make life much easier for me come spring cleaning/consignment sale time. And I can’t imagine that Bo is going to beg me to drop another $50 in Build A Bear Workshop anytime soon.

Which is magical enough for me.

From the vault: Christmas 2009, Speaking Parts

Originally published December 21, 2009


Three Kings

My son was really excited after church Sunday because he said he had been the loudest one in his Sunday School class’ nativity reenactment. His teacher agreed.

“He was the loudest one we’ve ever had,” she said, smiling.

The teachers had assigned roles for each child to play in their lesson about the birth of Jesus. Bo, apparently, had played his part with great enthusiasm.

“Which part did you play,” I asked him, thinking that if he described his role as “loud” maybe he had been the angel with the famous, “And lo, from the east …” line that is something of a rite of passage for every American child. But who was I kidding? As if any teacher would look at Bo, who is always either tormenting some other child or dreaming up new forms of torment, and think, “Angel…he’s perfect for the Angel part.”

“Guess,” he told me, but I couldn’t think of any other speaking parts.

“Were you Joseph?” I asked, hoping he’d say no because Joseph is the usually the most shafted character in the nativity story. Sometimes he is left out completely. I have several nativity sets that didn’t even come with a Joseph. It’s like it was simply Joseph’s job in the Bible to lead the laboring Mary and her donkey to the stable, rearrange the hay in the manger and then just stand off to the side and let history play out, never to be heard from again. Actually, I guess that was exactly Joseph’s job in the Bible. Anyway, I don’t recall Joseph ever saying anything in any Christmas program I’ve ever seen. If Bo had been a “loud” Joseph then the whole scene had probably been a disaster.

“No. Guess again,” Bo said.

I went through all the characters – wise men, shepherds, Mary, Baby Jesus, but Bo said no to all.

Finally I gave up and said, “Bo just tell me which part you played.”

“I was the cow,” he said, with great pride. I cracked up laughing, picturing my little boy being the loudest, most enthusiastic cow to ever witness to the birth of Jesus.

“MOO!!!!” he screamed, demonstrating. As if I needed an example of a loud holy cow. He moo’d the whole way home, reliving his stage debut, I guess. By the time we got back to the house I was sorry that I hadn’t seen it for myself. But (and here comes the sappy part) such is the parenting experience.

We never get to see every little thing our children do. Even those of us who are lucky enough to spend lots of time with our kids still miss huge chunks of their lives. I learned of Bo’s first steps on a daily progress report from the teachers in his mother’s day out class, which he only attended for three hours on one day each week. He had chosen those three hours as the best time for him to step out into the world. Right beneath the details of his bottles and bowel movements that day one of the teachers had scrawled, “Bo took three steps today.” I pasted that form into his baby book in lieu of a photo of the momentous occasion.

I was very sad to have missed seeing those steps. That’s why the saddest thing for me during deployments is all the stuff that my husband misses seeing. I’m a pretty good story teller and I try to recount in as many details as I can everything that happens so my husband will feel like he was there, too. Sometimes I tell the story so effectively that months or years later he recalls the details and we both forget for a second that he didn’t actually see it happen. But, when something amazing or amusing happens while he is deployed, my first thought is always how sad it is for him that he didn’t get to experience it. My second thought is how sad it is for the kids that he wasn’t there to share the moment with them. And my third thought is how sad it is for me that I don’t have anyone to nudge and laugh with over what just happened. I suppose my fourth thought is how I will describe it when I get a chance to talk to him again.

This Christmas, like many before, lots of families are separated by distance and war. Lots of kids have been performing in Christmas plays that one or both parents have had to miss. Lots of kids will be fighting with their siblings for the attention of the one parent who is home. Lots of moms will be trying to balance a video camera while installing batteries in new electronics or fumbling with the maddening zip ties that keep toys shackled to cardboard boxes.

And “over there”, lots of soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors, civilians and contractors will have one all-too-short phone call during which to hear as many details about their families’ Christmas celebrations as can be recalled. They’ll check their emails several times throughout the day, in hopes of receiving bleary-eyed Christmas morning pictures. They’ll get off the phone and tell their buddies with pride about all that’s going on back home, including as many details as they can, telling the story as if they had been there themselves. Then they’ll go back to work and hope that the day – and the deployment – passes as quickly as possible.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and especially to those of you who are spending Christmas with your loved ones on the phone. Whether it’s your first or your fourth (or more) Christmas apart, may it be as merry as possible. To those at home: Take and send lots of pictures and note and share as many details as possible. And to those away: Please stay safe and healthy, and remember that it won’t be like this forever.

‘Tis the Season for Purging

My latest Must Have Parent Column:

Five hours into sorting Barbie shoes and Legos I had an epiphany: What if this year we were a military family who really embraced the idea of giving?

And by that I mean, what if this year my family looked for ways to give our possessions away?

I have ulterior motives here.

My kids have way too many toys — and this month they’ll get even more. This fact kept painfully presenting itself in the form of Legos embedding into my bare feet.

We have no room in the playroom for more dolls or Nerf guns. No shelf space for new games and puzzles.  No empty bins in which to store this year’s freshman class of Squinkies, My Little Ponies and Pokemon cards.

READ MORE HERE: http://www.military.com/spouse/relationships/parenting-tips/for-military-families-tis-the-season-for-purging.html?ESRC=spouse.sm

The Must-Have Parent



I get to write a parenting column for Military.com?!!

And I get to use it to talk about Must-Have and Must-Do parents?

Say it ain’t so, Jethro.

Parenting ain’t always 50/50. Many (most?) of us have to divvy it up differently.

So check out my new column. I really want you to join me in this new adventure and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.


The power of dads

I’m so proud to be married to a ‘Daddy’ like the one in this post. We recently took an amazing trip to Fiji that required first flying to L.A., but we got Zone C on our sold out Southwest Flight on Christmas Eve  — so there would be no sitting together. My husband ended up in a row with a boy who was about 2. I sat in the row behind him. The boy squirmed and made noise, and hubs didn’t mind. But I knew he’d be fine with that. Then the real test came: the mom opened a pumped bottle of breast milk, and the milk sprayed all over my guy. (Yes, a stranger’s breast milk.) He just smiled and quietly wiped it off. She apologized profusely and reached for a cloth to help him clean up, but to get it she had to ask him to hold the toddler — who, it turns out, had already leaked through his diaper, leaving my husband with a wet lap, as well. (More bodily fluids from strangers — and all of this during the first few minutes of what would be more than 24 hours of traveling. He wouldn’t have a chance to shower or change clothes for a long, long time.) I watched it all go down through a crack between the seats — with amusement, horror and pride. Finally the little boy started to nod off, but it soon became clear to everyone that the kid would only stay asleep if he held on to my husband’s finger. And so that’s what he did — all the way from Baltimore to L.A. Love that man!