Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Santa

This week I found Seamus crying quietly in his bedroom.

ME: What’s the matter, honey?

SEAMUS: I’m just not even going to worry about Santa this year.

ME: What? What do you mean?

SEAMUS: ‘Cause what’s the point? I know I’m not going to get anything.

I couldn’t believe it.

ME: …Because you’ve been so bad?

SEAMUS: (wretched sobbing)

ME: Honey! You haven’t been that bad of a boy this year!

SEAMUS: Yes, I have.

Yes. He has. 

ME: Seamus, all Santa really cares about is that you’re trying to be good!

SEAMUS: No, Mom. TRYING doesn’t count. It’s what you DO.

ME: Well then, let’s think of all the GOOD things you’ve done this year!


Seamus starts to cry again. 


I eventually talked my eight-year-old off the No-Toys Ledge of Desperation, but it wasn’t easy. At one point I considered just telling him the truth– we both know he can get a lot more past his mother than some omniscient Kris Kringle would put up with.

But I decided that would be worse. My son really really wants to believe even when he claims otherwise, as I discovered the hard way when he tentatively disavowed the Tooth Fairy. He wants Santa in his life; he’s making new lists every day.

I still want Santa in our lives too- I’ve seen my son trying his very best not to irritate his older brother and his younger sister every single minute of the day. I mean, he still does, but he’s taking an hour off here and there. I appreciate even that much effort.

But there was some rethinking of Santa involved. My child’s conception of Santa was a very Old-Testament one: a judgmental bearded man, sitting on his candy cane throne, inscribing all children into the books of either the Toy-Worthy or the Damned. No Purgatory here either, just a Naughty/Nice dichotomy.

I tried to reshape this into a more New-Testament/Zen Buddhist/my yoga teacher sort of Santa: someone who sees the best in each child and really wants them to achieve their goodness potential so that they may be rewarded with the bounty of their most fervently held wishes.

Still, life is short and brutish, so I made sure to not get Seamus’s hopes up. No matter how good he is, I told him, he won’t be getting a Umagine Doctor Dreadful Zombie Drink Lab. A jolly old elf has got to have some standards.


Do you have believers in your house? Anyone on the high-risk list for coal this year?


Thanksgiving: so who’s cooking? Wait: ME?

Thanksgiving is the day of the year that makes me feel more like a grown-up than any other.  Every year I hoist the raw bird onto the countertop and wonder what adult is going to show up and magically make it a meal. It takes me a moment to realize, with a not-inconsiderable amount of shock, that somehow time has marched on, and I’ve become the one in charge.

I mean, it’s not that hard. “You don’t have to make the turkey,” Maggie helpfully explained to me yesterday. “People kill it, and then you get it at the store, and all you have to do is warm it up.” Why don’t you spend all the day in the kitchen ‘warming it up,’ I wanted to reply. But the truth is, that’s pretty much all there is to it, and when I plattered my first golden turkey, about five years ago, I felt like I had crossed the threshhold into adulthood at last. Then my husband got out the electric carving knife and became like, a DAD, and that was a little mindblowing I must admit.

There’s no question I have it easier than my mother did (and does- she’s making a turkey tomorrow too). My recipes are on Evernote, not on yellowing and gravy-spattered newsprint. I’ll have my iCatcher podcasts to keep me company while I stir. And– oh, yeah, I almost forgot– I’ll be buying stuffing and gravy and pumpkin pie all ready-to-go when I pick up our turkey later this morning. But the standards have gotten higher over the years too- I’m looking at you, Pinterest Real Simple Delicious Thanksgiving Recipes. You too, Thanksgiving Turkey Bento Box Kids’ Craft.

However a cook manages his or her Thanksgiving, it’s still a full day in the kitchen, sleeves up, four burners going. It’s hard work. But when I get Thanksgiving dinner with the six sides (two just for my picky eater) on the table tomorrow afternoon, I’ll feel as proud as I do when I’ve written something well. While I’ll never be a truly great cook, on Thanksgiving I get it. Cooking is a creative act, too.  You make something beautiful and delicious– even if it’s not quite Pinteresting– and with the work of your hands, you can make the people you love happy.

Are you cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year? Do you love it? Hate it? What’s your favorite make-Thanksgiving-easier tip? Please share it in the comments. (Here’s mine: make your mashed potatoes in the slow cooker.)


I loved this NPR interview with Sam Sifton, author of the new book Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. It will make you laugh, it will help you manage your expectations. Take a listen while you chop.

a lady’s prerogative to change her mind

Before I became the mother of a little girl, I was certain about one thing:  my house would never explode into Pepto-Bismol pink. There would be no princess- ification of everything from a bath mat to a sippy cup. If I ever had a girl—which after two sons, seemed to me nearly impossible— my daughter would be, above all, an independent thinker.

When I took my two sons—then two and four—to the Magic Kingdom, and they got to meet Buzz Lightyear, I literally wept.  But all the little girls in their stiff polyester finery, and prom updos from the Bibbity-Bobbity-Boutique, just made me roll my eyes. First of all, it’s a little hot in Orlando for synthetic fabrics. But to me, these little girls didn’t even look cute. They looked mass-produced. Tacky. Boring.

I conceived my daughter two weeks after getting home from that trip to DisneyWorld. Before she was even born, I had named her Maggie, after the tough little heroine in The Mill on the Floss. But also after Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams, and Maggie the unrepentant spinster in this play I had done once. All this was insurance against my daughter loving pink and passivity. Anyone named “Maggie” would shout and jump and tomboy her way through life. She would be nobody’s princess.

Two-and-a-half years later, Maggie was the very definition of self-esteem, a force who did gymnastics all day long– not in the muted gray French jumpers I had chosen, but instead (without fail) in the fuchsia polka-dot bathing suit her babysitter had given her, paired with sparkly tights for your cooler temperatures. This early-Belinda-Carlisle look was not what I wanted my daughter to wear; but it was most unquestionably what she wanted.

Still, I had managed to keep princesses at bay. If she saw Snow White on a potty seat, she’d crow, “That you, Mommy!” “Yes,” I’d answer, “yes, that is me.”  But my hubris would soon have its comeuppance.

That summer I took Maggie to a swimming pool, and tossed on the chair next to us were a pair of Disney Princess pink plastic wedge high heels encrusted with statement jewels. The young owner of these shoes didn’t appear to be around, so I asked Maggie if she’d like me to help her try one on. The shoe fit her dainty foot perfectly, and in that moment my daughter became Cinderella, claiming what had been rightly hers all along.

And I? Became at peace with the inevitability of it all. If my daughter wanted a horrible, tragic Sleeping Beauty light-up backpack, if it made her feel confident and special, why did I care? I mean, I wanted her to choose cooler things so that I, as her curator, could seem hip and cool by association. But one Tinkerbell toothbrush does not a Honey Boo Boo make. Plus, it was just a phase. It would all be over soon.

This year Maggie turned five. One day she brought home Olivia and the Fairy Princesses from the school library.

booksI had always loved Olivia, the independent-minded piglette in robust red, and I looked forward to her wry take on the entire sub-genre of princesses who can ALSO fly around on tiny gossamer wings.

But this book was about how Olivia was soooo much cooler than all the other girls in her class, a bunch of vapid lemmings who just wanted to be princesses for Halloween. I read this to my daughter- four days after she *was* a princess for Halloween.

A week later Maggie was invited to her best friend’s princess dress-up birthday party. We were driving across town when Maggie announced from the back seat:

MAGGIE: Mommy. You know I don’t really like pink anymore, right? Now? I like just gold.

After another crosstown block’s journey:

MAGGIE: And I don’t really like princesses anymore either.

ME: What are you talking about?

MAGGIE: I’m too big to like princesses.

We stopped at a red light. I turned around to face her.

ME: Maggie, you DO like princesses, and that’s okay.

Green light. We drove another block.

MAGGIE: Mommy. You know my pink princess dress?


ME: …yes?

MAGGIE: We should give that to a baby.

The day was coming when my daughter would no longer value princesses or pink above all else. But she was telling me all this from her CAR SEAT. She is a baby.  What if she thinks she has to change who she is to meet some arbitrary notion of what’s acceptable? And what if being a princess was protecting her from that all along?

I blame you, Olivia. But I blame myself too. When my daughter said she didn’t like princesses anymore, I think it’s because we made her feel like she kind of had to say that.  And all along: all those years of bedtime fairy tales had been warning me: be careful what you wish for.

Maggie and I got to that princess party. She hung close to me for a few minutes, hesitating, unsure what the properly restrained response of a five-year-old should be. Only when she saw this place was magical, was safe, my daughter chose a gown in her new favorite color—just gold– and dangly earrings, and for ninety minutes more, she was a beautiful, baby-bellied princess.

And anyone who wants to take the power of that sparkly scepter away from her? Is gonna have to go through me.


Ring a Ding Ding at The New Victory: how children’s theater should be

I love theater. I don’t usually love children’s theater; too often it is “good enough” but not more. Take a familiar story, noodle around on the synthesizer writing songs for an hour, throw it up on stage with game actors and a grab bag of colorful costumes, whatever! You’ll sell tickets. Call it a day. (I say this with authority because my first acting job, out of college, was a year touring with a children’s theater company, wearing unitards and aqua socks and dumbing down Shakespeare for sixth graders. We did The Bard no favors.)

Sure, kids like those shows well enough; last year my daughter was on the edge of her seat for an adaptation of one well-known children’s book that made me want to blow my brains out. But what if they had actually bothered to make good theater?

The New Victory Theater, in New York City, answers that question. They’ve been presenting world-class, sophisticated theater for the “children in all of us” for fifteen years. Thanks to MamaDrama, my almost-five-year-old daughter and I received tickets to their latest production, Oily Cart‘s Ring a Ding Ding. Both Maggie and I were thoroughly enthralled.

“Ring a Ding Ding” tells the story of a girl who loses her dog and then finds him. That’s it; that’s enough (I mean, I’ve seen $100-a-ticket Broadway musicals with less conflict). It’s in the way Oily Cart tells the story to its audience, seated not in rows of bleachers, but around a huge circular turntable that the children can touch. And SPIN.

The characters in the play are both actors and puppets (any child who talks to herself while playing with dolls or LEGO figures does the same thing). The puppets and props are made out of household objects, with an appealing kitchen-table-made and childlike quality. A pirate ship clearly read “COOKING OIL” on its side (albeit upside down). There is incredible live music, played by a friendly man named George riding a bicycle tricked out with every sort of homemade instrument you can imagine.

Ring a Ding Ding is completely interactive, charming, and from the moment it begins, utterly hypnotic. Here’s a short look at the show:

Tim Webb, artistic director of Oily Cart, says this about his very young audiences: “It’s great when they laugh. But it’s best when they’re filled with wonder.”

That’s true of any theater, for adults or for children– and Ring a Ding Ding has wonder to spare. If you’re in New York City before November 11th, do yourself (and the battered NYC economy) a favor and see this show. The New Victory (and Times Square) were relatively unaffected by Hurricane Sandy, but can certainly use all of our support now that shows are running again.

Tickets ($20, a serious bargain) can be purchased here on their site, or by calling 646-223-3010.

Thanks to MamaDrama for the opportunity to review!