Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Like the Song Says, I Will Survive

So Christmas is over and my mother-in-law has gone home. I've put all the empty bottles in the recycling bin, and we're digging out from under a mountain of presents. The kids have new toys and books to entertain themselves with, the grown ups have lots of bills to pay, and my house is, once again, my own.

I survived. And I even got a little insight out of it all.

On the plus side, my mother-in-law gave my kids her undivided attention and adoration for hours on end, taught my oldest how to do crossword puzzles, brought the kids two elusive and much-desired Zhu Zhu pets, took us out to eat twice, and listened to endless stories about things she has zero interest in (i.e., their friends, their classrooms, their dance teachers, their pet frogs, their toys, their theories on fashion and popularity). AND, after 11 years of marriage, I finally see where my husband gets his propensity for sighing and eye-rolling when he doesn't like the topic of conversation! So I've got that going for me.

On the negative side, I had to listen to her wax poetic about her son (yeah, I get it, he's Mr. Wonderful. I married him, remember, so I must think he's great, too. But YOU aren't picking up his stinky socks and dirty underwear off the bathroom floor anymore, lady. And if you'd taught him how to do it himself, maybe I wouldn't have to!) and use that annoyingly exaggerated tone of voice usually reserved for newborn babies or really, really stupid sales clerks when speaking to my (highly gifted) 5- and 7-year old. I had to endure comments like, "There are so many toys all over the floor that I'll have to take a circuitous route to the other side of the room. Do you know what a circuitous route is?" To which my Kindergartner replied, "Uh, yeah, I gotta go to the bathroom now," and bailed - throwing her older, more patient sister (who actually cares for social conventions and doesn't want to hurt her gramma's feelings by being rude) under the bus, and culminating in a seven-minute lecture on the origin and meaning of the word "circuitous". (See? "Culminating"? That's the way we talk around here. So I'm pretty sure they already know the meaning of just about any word you throw at them! And even if they didn't, they are FIVE and SEVEN! They don't need a lecture on word origins!) Add to that the near-constant hovering and the endless "Well, when MY kids were young..." - never mind that maybe the fields of medicine and education have undergone some advances in the, oh, I don't know, FORTY years since she gave birth. It's a wonder I didn't spend the entire week drunk off my ass.

So I started wondering if perhaps it's just because my MIL isn't local and has to sleep here (for days and days and days without leaving ever even once) when she visits. Would smaller, more frequent doses (without the 24-hour commentary on how I run my household???) be easier to take? Not according to my friend Michelle. She has a local MIL who is constantly underfoot, undermining her authority, undoing her best parenting. When I told her that I'd have to start faking sick pretty soon, since I couldn't be drunk 24/7 while my MIL visited, she said, "Why not? I've pretty much been drunk since 2002!"

(Before the AA people or Social Services get their tighty-whiteys in a bunch, I am NOT advocating that mommies drink to deal with their problems, their in-laws, or their kids. It's a joke, people. It may have a grain of truth in it; it IS much easier to take my MIL's thinly-veiled criticisms and creepy adoration of her son if I've had a glass of wine or two, but I am in no way advocating alcoholism as a panacea for the ills of extended family. Jeez. Relax.)

It's easy to say that any time you have visitors, it's stressful. But that's not necessarily true. My husband is the first one to admit that having my brothers, my sister's family, or my girlfriends and their kids is much easier and pretty much no-stress. Just a good time, even with 3 or 4 extra people under foot. Even having my own parents around is easier. For one, they stay in a hotel and just sort of come around for meals and occasions, so everyone has a little "time off". (And besides, my parents may be certifiably insane, but it's a familiar brand of crazy. I grew up with it, I understand it, I'm used to it. They may talk about their church and their health all the time, but these stories are actually new to me. They don't follow me around telling me the same stories over and over and over.) And having his mom here drives my husband up the wall, too. He's constantly on edge, irritated, irritable, looking for ways to escape for a few minutes. I've had to institute a few rules for when she visits:

1. You may not work late. For any reason. In fact, take those days off.
2. If you leave the house, take her with you.
3. You may not go to bed early and leave me alone with her.
4. If you break any rules, no sex for the duration of the visit. No exceptions.

Of course, even though she bugs him, too, my husband gets a little defensive when I rant and rave behind closed doors. I need to vent in order to make light of the situation and be able to calmly deal with his mother, and he's the one who's going to have to hear it. She bugs the crap out of him, too, but then he feels guilty about it. Which led to my latest revelation: You know how our moms can make us feel guilty REALLY, REALLY easily? Like, they can just raise an eyebrow and we are suddenly ten years old and KNOW we're in trouble? Well, the interesting thing about the mother-in-law scenario is this: There is no guilt. None. Nada. Zilch, zip, zero. No matter what she does to show or voice her disapproval, I just don't feel it. Our own parents can push the guilt buttons from across the room. Heck, they installed them; they know how to find them. But in-laws? It's like they don't even know the guilt button exists. Mother-in-law deflectors, activated!

Slacker Mom Says...whew! It's over and I survived another visit. Yes, it was only 6 days and yes, it was the right thing to do. But it was still hard. It still sucked to have to share my kids during an entire week of vacation, to have to smile and nod and listen to her unbridled, and frankly, a little too Oedipal, adoration of my husband. But my kids don't have local relatives, and it's good for them to see their grandmother. It's good for them to see us all together as a family. I can take just about anything for a week; this, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Always Happy Hour SOMEWHERE in the World...

My mother-in-law arrives in a few hours for her annual Christmas visit. I'm pretty much all set: The guest room is clean, the bathrooms are immaculate, the floors have been washed, her gifts are wrapped and under the tree...and I'll fire up the blender approximately 30 minutes after she arrives. I mean, come on, 2:00 isn't too early to start drinking, right? As my friend Jeanne says, it's already happy hour somewhere!

In the immortal words of Grace Adler, "Mother deflectors, activated!"

Don't get me wrong. She's a lovely woman, she means well, and she spoils us rotten. For Christmas, she bought me the coffee table I've coveted for months. She brings the kids more than Santa does, and she worships the ground my husband walks on (which is really the crux of the issue, but we'll get to that later). She offers to babysit, do dishes, and take us out to dinner. So what, you ask, is my problem? Why the "ungrateful, bitchy daughter-in-law" attitude?

I think it has to do with the hovering. (I mean, really, do you NEED to follow me into the bathroom? I get enough of that from my kids!) Or maybe the criticisms disguised as comments and questions. ("Is that the way YOU do it, dear? Oh, how... interesting.") Or perhaps it's the endless stories of how perfect her son is and what a treasure to the world he is. Or it could be the comments like, "You expect him to do dishes? He's the King of his Castle! He worked hard all day! He shouldn't be doing dishes; here, let me!" Because we all know that I just sat around on my butt all day, eating bon bons and watching bad daytime television.

When I was first married, and I worked at least as many hours as he did (and left for work before he was even awake, by the way), those kind of comments really pissed me off. It was OK for ME to work a 10-hour day and come home to cook and clean, but Mr. Wonderful? Not on your life! During one of her visits, while I was 8 months pregnant with my first child, I (gasp!) asked my husband to get me a glass of juice. She (and I am not exaggerating here) leaped off the couch, ran into the kitchen, and said, "He's worked all day and is TIRED! HE shouldn't have to get up!" At which point I elbowed my husband in the ribs so hard that you'd have thought I was back in my glory days, throwing elbows at LA dance clubs in order to be front and center on the floating stage. Tired, my ass. You try carrying around a 10-lb baby in YOUR uterus all day and then talk to me about tired. If I can deal with being kicked in the bladder all day and night, puking for 4 hours straight, and lugging around a belly so large that strangers regularly ask me if I was having "my triplets" anytime soon, then he can get off his butt and get me a freakin' glass of orange juice! OH. MY. GOD!

Other memorable mother-in-law moments, in no particular order:

1. The time I asked her if she'd like a fresh towel 3 days into her stay, and she said, "Don't you give my son a fresh towel every day? At HOME, I give him a fresh towel each morning!" Now, I don't think my husband has ever changed the towels. Unless the towel got up and put itself in the hamper, I don't think it would occur to him to get a new one. He's pushing middle age, lady, I think he knows where the towels are.

2. The time she insisted on going to the grocery store with me so "I can pick up his favorite foods for him." Apparently, 3 years of dating and 2 years of marriage hadn't properly prepared me to stock his favorites. Sure, Mom, you go ahead and buy our groceries for us. More beer money for later.

3. Telling me for the 319th time about what a "considerate" baby he was for not causing any morning sickness after I'd just spent the better part of an hour throwing up non-stop - while she watched. Like the baby has any control over it. I wanted to say, "Well, that may be, but his devil spawn is making me puke 24/7 and I've lost 16 lbs this trimester, so what do you say to that?" but I was too weak from the afore-mentioned vomit fest.

4. Getting off the plane for her first visit since the wedding and commenting, "Oh, dear, you've put on a few pounds, haven't you?" Yes, actually, I gained a whopping 5 lbs in the 6 months since I was too busy planning a wedding to remember to eat. And thank you for noticing AND commenting. Because that's what every new bride wants to hear. (And may I add, at 5'7" I wore a size 6. What a cow.)

5. Commenting to me (in front of my sister and best friend, so I have witnesses) what a "great physique" her son has. In my sister's words: EWWWW EWWWW EWWWW!

Now, I'm not a drinker by any definition of the word. I have the occasional glass of wine, a beer with Mexican food. Now and then I'll do a few tequila shots with my friend Isela, but she's from Mexico so that doesn't really count. I've pretty much left my drinking days behind since having kids. I mean, just my luck, the night I tie on one and get totally ripped would be the night one of my kids has a burst appendix and we all end up statistics with Social Services.

But in order to keep the peace and bite my tongue as my MIL tells me how perfect and wonderful a child her son was, I definitely need to self-medicate just a bit. A glass of wine with dinner leaves me just warm and fuzzy enough to smile and nod when she starts telling me for the 813th time what an easy child he was, or says, "You have him well-trained!" when he pushes in his own chair or offers to put the kids (HIS KIDS!) to bed to give me a break. When I was a younger, less experienced wife, I'd get all bent out of shape at her comments - which she never seemed to make in front of my husband, oddly enough. I'd go hide in my bathroom, run the bath water loudly to mask my tears, and call Nina to complain about her latest barbs. She made me crazy; I had to work hard to be polite and deflect with grace. But as I've been married longer, had my kids, grown up a bit, I've realized something.

It just doesn't matter.

Here's this woman, who gave birth to the man I love, a man who then left her and moved on with his life. She's nearly 80 and all alone; we have each other. She needs to feel part of our family, part of his life, like she still holds a piece of him that I don't. She had him for 28 years before he was mine; she's just staking her claim. For a week or two each year, I can give her that. It may take a pitcher of mojitos and the occasional gin and tonic, but I can give her that.

Slacker Mom Says...cut the MIL a little slack. For her, I will always be "the other woman." We both love the same man, and I get him all year long (for better or for worse). She only gets him for a few days each Christmas and Easter. I hold on to the fact that she created the person I love, shaped him into the man he is today. After all, she gave me the man of my dreams, the father of my children. For that alone, she deserves my gratitude.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Much I Know

Writing teachers and critics always say, "Write what you know." It makes sense, if you think about it. After all, I'm not going to write a dissertation on the history of bowling in the United States. Bowling doesn't even seem like a sport to me. I mean, you put on funny shoes. You roll a ball. You drink a beer. You sit down. Lather, rinse, repeat. That pretty much sums it up.

So here's what I do know:

Motherhood is hard. It's lonely, isolating, demeaning, and often mindless. (Get baby up. Change baby's diaper. Feed baby. Burp baby. Clean up baby's spit up. Repeat 12 times a day.) It's exhausting, inconvenient, messy, and smelly. It sucks to be elbow-deep in poop while wearing your last clean tee shirt, knowing that you won't be able to do laundry for at least an hour because someone will need something at this exact moment in time that only Mommy can provide. It sucks to realize that you have spit up in your already-greasy hair a half-hour before you're supposed to meet a friend for coffee for the first time in nearly a year. It sucks to watch your daughter cry because a mean girl called her stupid and ugly, and to know that no matter how many times you tell her she's beautiful and smart, you can't erase the pain of that one casually cruel remark.

Motherhood robs you of your sanity, your fashion sense, your personal space, and your dignity. It's hard to be dignified when 3,492 medical professionals have had their hands up your hoo-ha to determine if you're ready to push or not, or to have 12 different lactation consultants grab your boob and show you how to nurse. And if you've been able to pee alone since giving birth, let me know your secret. I lock the door, but they keep coming to it and banging on it. Even the pets want in on the action. It sucks to go from intelligent, well-spoken, well-dressed career woman to babbling moron in baggy maternity clothes (3 months postpartem) debating the merits of various types of pacifiers and diaper disposal systems and which stain removers get out that lovely yellow newborn poop.

Motherhood means the end of your life as you know it, the end of your marriage as you know it, and the end of your freedom as you know it. Motherhood means putting someone else's needs ahead of your own for years and years without being resentful. And it's hard to just pick up and go when you have to remember the diaper bag, car seat, pack and play, stroller, and oh, yeah, the baby. Hard to have sex whenever and wherever you like, because let's face it, we can't just shut off the mommy thing at a moment's notice.

And you know what? I wouldn't trade one single second of it. Because along with the wiping, dripping, babbling, drooling, and puking comes that indescribable feeling of holding your child in your arms for the first time. The bliss that comes from knowing that, for better or for worse, this baby is yours forever and ever and ever! That life-altering moment when you realize that THIS is what it's all about, that you would do, literally, absolutely anything to protect this little person in your arms. I know, with absolute certainty, that if something threatened my children, I'd be able to defend them to the death. My death, that is, because I would rather die than let anything happen to them. And motherhood leads to some of the best friendships of our lives, because motherhood, with its trials and tribulations, is about the universal, collective experiences of women from all walks of life. My best friends share my mommy experiences in a way that my husband cannot.

Motherhood is a journey that will take us outside of ourselves. It's hard, yes, the hardest thing I've ever done. But it's also the best thing I've ever done. I had no idea how much I could love someone until I met my children. Sure, I love my husband, but I'm almost certain there are things he could do that would change that love for him. But my kids? Never. There is nothing that could change the depth of my love for them. It grows stronger and deeper every day I know them.

And that is motherhood. Messy, inconvenient, exhausting, wonderful, rewarding, amazing, and never dull. We're making little people here. We're responsible for the future. We are mothers.

Slacker Mom Says...this is what I know: I plan to enjoy every minute with my children. Every year passes more and more quickly. I swear, I was JUST changing diapers, and now they're asking for privacy in the bathroom and their own email accounts. My friend Katie says that when her son is 15 and towers over her, she's going to remind him that his hand was once smaller than her pinky finger. It goes fast, so take lots of pictures and remind yourself what you already know: this is the best gig we'll ever get.

Medalling in Motherhood

A few weeks ago, at the pediatrician's office (for the third time that week, but that's another story), I overheard the following exchange between three moms who clearly knew each other - probably from some really exclusive playgroup that I'd never be invited to join because I don't have a $300 diaper bag identical to the one they all carried:

Mother A, gushing: How nice to see you! (OK, me here. Really? "Nice to see you" at the doctor's office? I wouldn't say that to my worst enemy. Who wishes a sick kid on anyone?) What are YOU in for?

Mother B, sighing: Little Greer has an ear infection. We were up ALL night!

Mother A: Poor thing. My Jackson has a DOUBLE ear infection. I haven't slept in DAYS!

Mother C, cooing: Oh, that's too bad. My Sadie has a double ear infection AND strep throat!

I really, REALLY wanted to jump up and yell, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! It's Mother C by a landslide!" But since my kids were with me, I didn't. (I just wrote down everything they'd said instead, and saved it for future use. Hey, Slacker Mom's material comes from many sources. No one is safe.) It was weird, like these moms were COMPETING to see who had the sickest kid. And who, exactly, wins at that one?

As a teacher, I wrestled with the issue of competition and kids for years. In education, there are endless debates about competition vs. cooperation. Does competition encourage kids to work harder? Or does it damage their self-esteem instead of helping them do their best? Shouldn't we only compete with ourselves? Is cooperative learning a better way to teach skills? After all, we're more likely to work on a project WITH our co-workers than against them, right?

But after 8 years of being a mom, it occured to me that perhaps I've been thinking about the competition issue from the wrong angle. Perhaps the most damaging type of competition isn't so much child against child. It's mother against mother. And if you think for one second no one considers motherhood a competitive sport, think again.

Think about it, ladies. It starts early, during pregnancy and labor. Too many mothers try to "one-up" each other. We all know a mom who corners us with her pregnancy symptoms and her birth story (bloody, gory, TMI!) - and NOT in a "sisterhood of women" kind of way, but in a "Oh, you were in labor for 15 hours? And had an epidural? I was in labor for 27 hours! AND he was breech! AND I had an all-natural birth!" kind of way. (And by the way, just so you know, calling your drug-free birthing experience "natural" implies that there's something "unnatural" about using meds to limit pain. If you opt out of the epidural, that's fine, but I signed up for the drugs the second the stick turned blue. So bite me.)

It only gets worse as our kids get older. Milestones like teething, sleeping through the night, crawling, walking, and language development bring out the competition in even the most rational mothers. Then our kids start school, and it really takes off. The mom who has to sign up to bring one more item for the class party than any other mom. The one who says, "Your son got straight A's? Mine had 100% in every subject!" The hyper-competitive neighbor who rushes over on the day gifted program acceptance letters came home: "Did your daughter get in? What was her score?" And why does ANYONE'S tricked-out, $60,000 Sequoia have more kid-related magnets and bumper stickers than she has kids? Really? Four kids and 12 stickers? You're doing too much, lady. Yeah, we know, you're busy and your kids are superstars. Give it a rest.

Where does it end? Are we defining ourselves as mothers through the accomplishments of our children? And is it worse for stay-at-home moms, like we're saying, well, we don't work and see the fruits of our labor, a finished product, so our children become our "work product", something to show for all our efforts each day? It's as if we must be better at this motherhood thing than anyone else ever was, and the only way to keep score is by listing our kids' achievements. I mean, really, are you a better mother than I am because your child is on the travel team and mine likes to pick flowers in the outfield? Really? And isn't that a lot of pressure to put on our kids, for them to "make" us proud - and whole - through their accomplishments?

Slacker Mom Says...why not let our kids take credit for their own achievements? Let's be proud of them regardless of their IQs, points per game, medals won, scholarships bestowed. Every child has something unique and fabulous to give. My daughter is brilliant, truly gifted - but what she DOES with that is all hers, not mine. I can encourage and support her, but ultimately her successes and her failures belong to her and her alone. I am not a better mother for having a smart, or athletic, or talented, child. Motherhood shouldn't be about competing for first place; it should be about supporting each other as mothers, as women, and helping each other be the best moms we can be. That's the best way to be sure our children succeed, whatever path they choose. If I can raise a happy, productive human being who contributes something positive to society, isn't that what it's all about?

As Howard Jones Says, Things Can Only Get Better

For the past few weeks, Slacker Mom has been on illness-induced hiatus. From everything. Since Thanksgiving, we've struggled through sinus infections, seasonal flu,unspecified viral illness (doctor code for, "Sorry, Ma'am, we really don't have a clue what's wrong with your kids, so keep bringing them back every 2 days until we figure it out. And thanks for the $20 co-pay each time!"), and a bout of pneumonia that landed my youngest in the hospital in the middle of the night (and prompted the ER pediatrician to try to talk me into going to medical school when I am, and I quote, "done raising your kids." Really? When I'm done raising my kids, I'm taking a nice, long vacation to Fiji and not leaving a forwarding address.) I've spent an inordinate amount of time trying to disinfect the House of Germs; trying to do my Christmas shopping with two sick kids under feet (note to online manufacturers: do NOT put your company name on the outside of the box!); rescheduling everything other than kids' doctor's appointments; taking the "perfect" Christmas card photo despite illness, a reluctance to wear Christmas jammies ("Too babyish! Duh, Mom!") and a complete refusal to put on a fancy dress (with a bow! Oh, the horror!); and baking dozens of cookies without letting Germ Girl or her sister, Infection Incubator, anywhere near the bowl of dough. I'm beat, and I haven't even wrapped a single gift. And my mother-in-law is due in two days. I'm just thankful my husband hasn't caught anything. We all know how much fun THAT is.

I'm even rethinking my intimate relationship with Purell. It's just not working for me. I'm nearly ready to embrace my mom's philosophy on germs. You know, the credo of mothers who raised their kids in the 1970s and can't believe all this "nonsense" about cleanliness, car seats, and lead paint. She loves to remind me that there was no Purell, no antibiotic hand soap, no drug-resistant bacteria, and heck, we hardly ever remembered to wash our hands. She firmly embraced the five-second rule. When someone got the chicken pox, every mom in the neighborhood sent her kids over to play and just catch it already and be done with it. We came home from the hospital in her arms, not an armor-plated infant protection system with side air bags and memory foam. We ate lunch (without ice packs and mini bottles of hand sanitizer)out of Spider Man and Wonder Woman (her boobs flying everywhere)lunch boxes coated in lead paint. And we used plastic bags to hold our Cheetos, Oreos, and peanut butter sandwiches, not BPA-free re-usable containers - and no one was overweight, allergic to peanuts, or diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. But I digress.

So here I've been, stuck at home. I haven't left my house in two weeks, except to go to the hospital, the pediatrician's office, or the pharmacy. I've watched every Christmas special on my DVR, and I can recite all the words to every single Phineas and Ferb episode on any of the 3 Disney Channels that DirecTV so thoughtfully provides. I've memorized dosages for Tylenol and Motrin by age and weight, speak medical-ese with confidence and authority (thus the "just chuck it all and go to medical school" comment), and the receptionists at the pediatrician's office know my voice and recognize my number on their caller ID. I haven't had a decent night's sleep in weeks, and my poor husband is getting pretty sick himself - of sharing our bed with a feverish child night after night after night.

But here's what I got out of it: It could have been worse. And things can only get better.

While I'm sitting up nights watching my sick daughter simply breath, I've been thinking about parents with truly sick, terminally-ill children, the ones who won't be home for Christmas - parents who are watching their kids die and can't do anything about it. I've been thinking about mothers who don't know how they'll pay for their kids' medical bills or find time to shop for their other children in time for Christmas. I've been thinking about mothers with kids at war, who don't know when - or even if - they'll see their children again.

And I feel pretty damn lucky. I got off easy. A few trips to the ER, a couple hundred dollars in co-pays, but my kids will recover fully from these fairly minor scrapes, and I'll get back to "normal" soon enough.

Slacker Mom Says...it's so easy to get bogged down in the "my life is so hard" rut. We've all been there. And it IS hard, this parenting thing. It's dirty and messy and inconvenient and heart-breaking and exhausting, and sometimes it's downright scary. But it could ALWAYS be worse. No matter what I'm going through, I have reasons to be thankful. No matter how bad things get, I still have my babies to hug and kiss and annoy me with their middle-of-the-night appearances. And for that, I'm grateful. So I'll take my mom's (unsolicited) advice with a grain of salt (and maybe a very large margarita) and keep doing what we moms do: take care of our kids the best we can, and be grateful for each and every day with them. Living the dream, ladies, we're living the dream.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'd Like to Say Yes, But It's Not Really Up to Me

As Santa is making his list and checking it twice, I'm not sure which list I'm going to be on. I mean, I try to lead a good life. I'm a nice person, I let old people cut in front of me in the grocery store, I obey traffic laws and never flip off even the most obnoxious drivers (and I'm from LA, home of the freeway shootings of the mid-80s). But this morning, I told a lie, I committed forgery, and I may, quite possibly, be guilty of identity theft.

Let me start with this: I am a first-time offender. I don't usually make stuff up and I've never forged anything before (except once, in 1986, on Senior Ditch Day). OK, yes, I may have told the girls that if they didn't stop fighting THIS INSTANT that I'd email Santa and they'd end up with a lump of coal instead of new Barbies. And I've been known to eat a few cookies on Christmas Eve and say that Santa did it. But I'm not afraid to say, "No chips!" instead of lying and saying, "Chips? Nope, all out!" I've never unplugged the TV and told the kids it wasn't working. I have no problem telling my girls that no, I won't drive 2 hours to see the Jonas Brothers in concert - unlike my neighbor, who told HER kids that the Jo Bros had swine flu and cancelled all their concerts, world-wide. (Can you call the Jo Bros "world-wide"? Are French girls lining the streets of Paris shouting, "NEEEK! NEEEK! Je t'aime, NEEEEK!"??)

But since it's Christmas and all, and since it was just the one time, I think I deserve clemency. I may be guilty, but a jury of my peers would never convict me.

So what was it, you ask, that led an otherwise-upstanding citizen into a downward spiral of shame? My oldest daughter, almost 8, asked Santa for an interactive doll. Now, I'm not going to take on the huge toy companies by bad-mouthing their merchandise here, but let's just say that this particular doll is a huge piece of crap. For $60, I'd expect the product to, oh, I don't know, WORK, but I can't find a single positive review. Parents are trashing this doll all over the Internet. One dad, a software engineer, reported, "I tried to install this software using each of the 6 computers in my house, and after 14 hours, I couldn't make the f-in' thing work!" So I am NOT about to spend that kind of money (or 14 hours!) on something that I already know won't work, only to have to take it back anyway ("How did you get the receipt? Santa doesn't give receipts!") and fight the post-Christmas crowds, then stand at Target for an hour while she tries to make up her mind how she'll spend all $60 RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE. No way.

So for the past few weeks, I've tried everything I can to dissuade her from putting the doll on her Santa list. I showed her reviews online. I had her talk to a neighbor who returned the doll 3 times, and never got it to work. I suggested American Girl dolls, Barbie dolls, baby dolls, even an iPod, in the hope of changing her mind. My best friend, Nina, reminded her, "Sometimes Santa doesn't bring you everything on your list. Sometimes he doesn't HAVE all that stuff in his toy shop." Her response? "But I only ask for a few things, so he ALWAYS brings them! And he can get ANYTHING! He even got me the Beauty and the Beast DVD one year while it was still in the Disney VAULT! Remember?" (Oh yeah, I remember. Did he mention that he paid three times the retail price for that DVD? Stupid Santa. Stupid freakin' Disney vault.)

Finally, in desperation, I committed the crime: I faked a letter from the Big Man himself. Yep, I wrote it in red ink, signed his name, even used my North Pole postmark stamp, and snuck out the the mailbox in the pouring rain at 5 AM. "Santa" told her that even though she'd been a very good girl, he wasn't giving anyone that doll due to its flawed materials and poor workmanship, but he'd be sure to leave her something even better on Christmas morning. As she read, I watched, waiting for the tears to start. After all, she'd been talking about this doll since August.

But to my surprise, and to her credit, she just said, "Hey, Mom? Santa says that this doll doesn't work, so he'll give me something else." And then she ran off to play with her sister. No tears, no argument, not even the dreaded, "STINK!" (which is, apparently, the replacement word for my childhood "bummer, dude").

And I was left thinking, really? That's it? One letter from Santa and she's over it? What have I been doing wrong all this time? What had I been trying to tell her? Am I just some moron who doesn't know anything? Does my opinion mean nothing to her?

Well, honestly, pretty much, yeah. I'm just her mom. What the hell do I know? Santa is, after all, the ultimate toy expert. What he says, goes. Which got me thinking: If it was THAT easy, was it such a bad idea to let someone else take the fall?

Slacker Mom Says...sometimes it's OK to take the easy way out. I'm sick of always being the bad guy, of playing the heavy. I'm always the one saying, "No ice cream before dinner, you have to wear your helmet when you ride your bike (even though none of the other neighborhood kids do), and yes, you DO have to ride in a booster seat - in the BACK - until you're bigger." When it comes to health and safety, there's no negotiation. And IF they get an explanation, that's just bonus, because they aren't entitled to anything more than a "because I said so" at this point. But sometimes it's easier - for us AND for them - to let the expert deliver unwelcome news. If the dentist says I have to help with brushing until she's 9, then I'm no longer treating her like a baby; I'm just following the rules. If the teacher tells her to study her math facts every night, I'm no longer trying to ruin her life; it's just part of her homework. Kids like rules; kids adore experts. If it takes a bogus letter from Santa to ease the pain of not getting her precious doll, then I'm OK with that.

And I'm pretty sure Santa'd be OK with that, too.