Elf Help

Last year, Elf on the Shelf came to live at our house–a gift from Grandpa. And it was a godsend. Big became immediately obsessed with it, and carted it around everywhere with him. The elf even went with him in kindergarten, and seemed to have a somewhat positive effect on what was otherwise a rather uphill slog toward appropriate behavior.

I was a little dubious, at first. After all, I am a Pinterest Denier, so I certainly wasn’t going to make more work for myself moving that elf all over the Fun Apartment every night. After all, there’s just not that many places to hide things around here. How many times can we hide the elf in the cat’s litter box before that gets old? But after only one time of nearly getting caught with the elf stuffed under my pajamas, we worked out a solution. Luckily, it seems we have an elf that is lazy and kids with low expectations. We don’t have to stay up all night stuffing the elf into unlikely incriminating situations. Instead, he stays put and just writes them notes in my handwriting. And he only does it sometimes. When he remembers.

And I was mildly uncomfortable ceding my authority to six inches of plastic. And I don’t love the dynamic of it: Shouldn’t the motivation to not grab from one’s brother be “Grabbing isn’t cool”? Not when the elf is there. Then it’s “Don’t grab because this elf has his overly-large eyes fixed on you. And he will report you.” And there’s this whole thing, too.

In the end, I swallowed my reservations last year, and the elf really did help, however dodgy the whole thing seemed.

This year, I was kind of looking forward to having the elf back me up on some discipline issues. The elder lad seems to be have some background application running, that doesn’t free up enough memory for him to pay attention or self-regulate. This rough patch was starting to get ugly and I was kind of looking forward to elf-regulation, instead.

Maybe I should have gotten a tougher elf. Do they make one that had a few inches of rubber hose, or some brass knuckles, a very deep voice and lots of interesting scars? Because it only took about two nights of “The elf is watching!” before the elf became less of a magical holiday friend and more of a snitching party-pooper. Before our first week of holiday preparations was up, the boys played a game in which the elf was stuffed in a bucket and sent to Africa.

No elves were (permanently) harmed in the taking of this photo.

No elves were (permanently) harmed in the taking of this photo.

At least it was a holiday-themed bucket.

I’m relieved and disappointed all at the same time. I don’t necessarily want kids that slavishly follow a plastic doll’s instructions. (Or if I do, then I want a film crew in here now to capture the whole thing and turn into blockbuster!) But I wouldn’t mind a little fear of repercussion once in a while, or a little back up on the obviously empty threat of no Christmas presents.

That would really help on the elf control around here.

 

 

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Hey, thanks!

Now that the rest of the world has moved on to some new holiday, I thought I’d reflect on the last one, because I come late to every party.

Here’s how we celebrate Thanksgiving at the Fun Apartment:

I better get a rake. . . .

I better get a rake. . . .

Throughout November, every night at dinner. we each say what we’re thankful for that day, and write it on a leaf. So the tree starts out bare and ends up full of happy-thanky little leaves. It’s like watching Fall happen in reverse. I’m not sure where I got the idea, but I probably stole it from a magazine.

And it’s kinda fun! When we started, the oldest could barely articulate his thanks, and I think his leaves usually featured “Mommy” or “Cake.” But now he can write his own thanks, complete with illustration! And I do think he (mostly) grasps the concept of being thankful, even if he isn’t thankful for the usual suspects (Quick Poll: is anyone else in the world thankful for shipwrecks? Just checking. . . .)

Our younger fellow is now in the early stages. Most of his leaves maintain that he is thankful for “Lightning McQueen” or some other inane thing for which I am decidedly unthankful. But we’re getting there.

And it does help, after a wretched day of whining or after-school meltdowns, to pretend to be thankful for something. Because, usually it leads to being actually thankful. And if not, hey, fake it til you make it.

So, did we host a 14 person dinner here at the Fun Apartment? Not with our four chairs we didn’t. Instead, we joined some family upstate in a rambling house that slept all fourteen comfortably. It was like a wonderful dream! There was turkey! There was a fireplace! There was wine! There was snow! There were leftovers! There were games! There was more wine! It was a very “It takes a village” situation, because every time my kids wandered into the kitchen, someone fed them. And one day we all stayed in our jammies until nightfall, when we went out sledding. That may have been one of the best days ever.

The house was so big that I sometimes went hours without seeing my kids. They were content to play with their cousins, and seemed to never know boredom. It was brilliant, but I also kind of missed them. And by the end of the weekend, they were kind of falling apart. It was as if so much freedom made them dizzy. Despite all the tremendous good times, I think we were all kind of glad to be snuggled up together back here.

So, as always, I am thankful for the Fun Apartment.

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It was the best of times, it was, well, you know. . . .

Sometimes it feels like this.

Sometimes it feels like this.

I have an awful confession to make. It’s horrible.  Get ready to hate me. Put on your judging pants.

I don’t love being a stay at home mom all the time. In fact, sometimes I don’t like it at all.

Go ahead and call child services, or the pound or whoever. I’ll wait.

This is something that is not supposed to happen to stay at home moms. They are supposed to be full of gratitude and joy for all the special moments, boogers, rainbows, smeared peanut butter, and glitter that their children offer them every day.

But me? There are days when we walk by a ground floor conference room in our neighborhood where a meeting is going on and I want to smash down the door and sit down in front of that PowerPoint, eager to take notes on the sales goals of some random industry, rather than go home and play Chuggington again.

Bad Mommy, right?

See, I stay at home with the boys (Or boy, I guess, seeing as how one is in school all day). And really, when I made the choice to leave my job, it was a no brainer for me at the time. But I wish I had known a little more about what it would do to me, before I jumped into it.

Like I wish I had known that having a job makes you feel like a person, a contributing to society person, an economically empowered person, a thinking person, a skilled person. Because I didn’t realize having a job gave me all that until I didn’t have any of it.

I also didn’t know just how absorbing and all consuming being a stay at home mom could be. I figured I would take care of the boys and we would play and do fun stuff and then I’d have time to do my own stuff, you know, fun stuff for moms like vacuuming and calling to make doctor’s appointments. Nope let me tell you, these bosses are demanding. Being at home with them means being At Home. With Them. And if I am in the same room (and since this is the Fun Apartment, pretty much anything outside of the bathroom constitutes being in the same room) then I am on duty. It might be heavy duty, or it might be light duty, but it’s ON.

And it’s that ON-ness that’s so wearing. Because I’m ON for everything. My boys are actually pretty independent, but even so, there’s just so much needing going on. Sometimes, horrible mother that I am, I just want to be by myself. I don’t want to be Miss Bossyboots. I’m tired of feeling like the kitchen staff on Downton Abbey. I want to walk up the stairs without UN level negotiations. I don’t want my purse to contain enough snacks, toys, and books to teach six months of kindergarten. I want to be a person people listen to.

Am I saying that I wish I hadn’t chosen to stay home? No, I don’t think I’m saying that. I just wish someone had sat me down and told me honestly what staying at home with two kids in a tiny apartment would really look and feel like. Then I would have stocked up on more box wine. So, my Present Self is telling my Past Self. However, I’m starting to think that my Past Self may have been a little slow on the uptake. . . .

Am I saying that I want to go back to work tomorrow? Well, not tomorrow. But next week sometime, maybe. I would kind of like to go to a meeting once in a while. I’ve got this exciting new skill set, you know. (I am, of course, convinced I will never work again. Maybe you could chime in here, Future Self?)

For now, I suppose Present Self had better quit moaning about the life choice she was lucky to have and get back to it. After all, fun doesn’t make itself happen here at the Fun Apartment. It’s time to kick back and eat bonbons.

Now for the obligatory disclaimers:

1. Of course I love my kids. I love them beyond all reason. A hummingbird of joy flies between my heart and my throat as I watch them sleep. But why do I even have to say this?

2. Working moms have it even harder. And they are all awesome, way more than me (I?) But I am sometimes insanely jealous of them, because someone thinks they have value and expertise beyond wiping dirty orifices. And they pay them for it!

3. As I have drafted and rewritten this over the last couple days, the boys have been perfect angels and the fun at the Fun Apartment has reached record levels. Hypocrite much?

4. HR has announced that Stay at Home Moms Company Holiday Party will be held at the pub round the corner from the Fun Apartment again this year. Hope to see you all there. I’ll be the one in sequins with the feather boa that has peanut butter on it.

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Field Trip!

Lately, I have realized that despite living in one of the world’s greatest cities, we never spend much time in it. Not really enjoying it, doing New Yorky type things, all four of us together.

Since that’s kind of the point of the Fun Apartment, and we seemed to be missing it, I planned an outing. “We’ll go to IKEA!” I thought. “All together! What Fun!”

(Believe me, the irony of going to visit a Scandinavian Megabox Superstore with a giant parking lot as a New York activity is not lost on me. But I’m cool with it.)

So off we went. And here’s something cool about visiting the Brooklyn IKEA: Sure, you can be a regular person and take a car or bus there, but why would you, when you could take a water taxi?

Rollin' on the river.

Rollin’ on the river.

We as a family have always been suckers for boat rides. In fact, I’ve always been a little surprised that we don’t live on Staten Island. Also, once the man of my dreams discovered that the water taxi stopped at the home of his mistress, we had to physically restrain him from diving off the boat before we reached the dock.

And we disembarked in the giant wild IKEA parking lot for our adventure. “Yay! Family activity! The kids will love this!” I thought. All those pretend rooms! We will have to pull them out of here with pliers!”

This store has chairs!

This store has chairs!

However, upon entering, all my vast hopes were dashed. The yahoos spotted the playroom. And after that tantalizing sight, the charm of the little rooms went out the pretend window. During our long progress through the showroom, I had to answer the question “When can we go to the playroom?” a number of times that I have no idea how to express using scientific notation, not being a math person.

OK, there was a small amount of fun in the pretend rooms. And I wasn’t even that into them, either. There must be something wrong with me. Is IKEA-mmunity a thing? No new and novel ideas jumped out at me. We will not be redoing the Fun Apartment with unpronounceable accessories. Kinda surprising, considering I’m pretty Swedish.

Hmm. He was just here. . .

Hmm. He was just here. . .

Although the section with kids beds was a bit of a revelation. Everyone was very intrigued by these trundle bed drawers. But if we got one, the bed in the drawer would block the door to our bedroom, so scratch that. Or are you allowed to push in the drawer while the kid is sleeping?

But finally we proceeded to the playroom, where the tired kids had to wait in a long line to enter paradise through the eye of a needle. Smarter people, I assume, not being one myself, bring their kids there straightaway, and then dash off, load up those enormous bags on funky carts and reclaim their offspring somewhere near the hot dog part of the outing. As it was, the hot dog line seemed to expand to outrageous proportions every time we went near it. (Although only one of us likes hot dogs. It’s the little guy.)

Eventually, we claimed the children, our box and obligatory impulse buy, along with a package of apple cookies for our return journey and IKEA spit us out into the giant parking lot. Dazed, we made our way in the rain back to the water taxi.

All in all, after we stumbled in late for dinner and long past bath time, the outing wasn’t a complete wash. The resident architect made several notes and is over on the couch sketching on graph paper. (Or possibly drafting a divorce agreement.) While the whole shebang was a good faith effort, I think next weekend we might try something a little more manageable.

But we did secure this:

Traytable

Tray tables in their locked and upright positions.

Awesome, right? It has solved the racetrack, play kitchen, and Lincoln Log storage problems in one fell swoop! The man of  my dreams won our storage solution contest! And I didn’t even know he liked squid.

Except, now I think we might need another one. Maybe two.

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The Downward Spiral

Have I mentioned the Fun Apartment has an extra feature to make it even more fun? It’s on the fourth floor! That’s three flights of stairs!

You probably know not to ask, but I’ll answer anyway: Nope. No elevator.

That’s right, it’s that New York City exclusive: the fourth floor walk-up. And honestly, the stairs don’t really bother me that much. Coming back from Trader Joe’s, I groan inwardly to look at them, but for the most part, they go by quickly enough. Thanks to the free babysitting at the Y, I’m not gasping for breath at the Fun Apartment’s door. Also, imagine the health benefits for the kids! After all, they have been scaling the heights for years now. Little demanded to climb them at a shockingly early age and I’ll be honest, I was happy to let him. I just walked up slowly behind him as he scooted after his big brother. Aside from the horrible morning when he, at eleven months, decided he’d also like to go down and did so in a barrel roll, he’s never expressed any hesitation.

Until now.

IMG_1036

You know how your day has pinch points in it? Times when you have stuff that has to happen before anything else can happen? I’ve found that my kids have been remarkably astute at finding the pinch points. And flopping down, howling, in the middle of them.

And that’s what Little is doing now. He sits at the bottom of the stairs and loses it. Sometimes he wants to be first one to the top, but the colossal size of his fuss distracts him from actually moving until his brother has been inside the apartment for ten minutes. Other times he wants to play “visitor.” That’s when he sits at the bottom of the stairs until I have come up. Then he comes and rings the doorbell. But if there is any hitch to his game, like say, me leaving the door open so I can keep track of him, then he throws down like a boss.

(Confession: one day last week, it was so bad that I was really, actually tempted to close the door, lock it, and not open it until the man of the house came home from work, three hours later. I didn’t actually do that, so I suppose that’s a win.)

We have really nice, understanding neighbors here at the Fun Apartment. And they have to put up with a fair amount of our kid business anyway. I don’t want to subject them to any more. But right now, they are getting a good hard look at the hopeless poopstorm err fine art of parenting.

Usually, the little guy and I go on several daily outings. Now, with this insurmountable stair problem, I am tempted to stay locked up here in the wonder palace until the siege has ended.  At least it’s New York City. They deliver anything here.

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Sit on This.

A development here at the Fun Apartment: A New Couch!

I always think our living room is like a dollhouse living room.

I always think our living room is like a dollhouse living room.

Actually, I think technically it is a chair and something called a “sectional.” But for our purposes, it’s a couch! It’s not exactly new, either. We got it the way the Mister and I get all of our furniture: someone else decided to get rid of it. In fact, this is how we got our previous couch, although someone had taken the trouble to haul that one all the way down to the street.

This new couch never spent any time on the street, so it has that going for it.

But it fits perfectly in the couch place! Perfectly! We all fit on it comfortably! And I can put all the board games under it! It opens up the whole room! We are in heaven! I think we could possibly accommodate overnight guests on the new couch, but that would probably have to be some sort of emergency situation, because the guest would either have a very early bedtime, or would have to spend an hour whispering with us on our bed, in the dark. (Sounds cozy, doesn’t it? Do let us know if you’re visiting!)

But in our new living room world order, our coffee table doesn’t fit. It’s too long and wide. It’s got to go.

The Man of My Dreams and I are not totally on the same page about its replacement. He sent me a picture of a tasteful small square table , with another table under it. What the hell can I store in that, I ask you? I sent him a picture of a tall, wrong color stand-y sort of thing with shelves and drawers. He said it’s too tall. But look at the storage! I urged him. Imagine all the things we could put away in there! He couldn’t see it.

So, he wants something to look nice, with lots of crap around it. I want something that might look a bit off, but with no crap around it.

Clearly, our value systems are clashing.

Also, our budget for filling this need is somewhat limited. It pretty much consists of my leftover birthday money.

I feel like we should have an open contest. Anyone who finds a solution that looks ok and holds a bunch of stuff wins! We’ll put up a plaque with their name on it and I’ll knit them a squid.

See! Airbnb, here we come!

Your name here.

I wonder if we should get rid of the coffee table, just to light a fire under ourselves. Imagine the space! (Imagine all the toys without permanent homes!) Imagine the open floor plan! (Imagine that open floor disappearing under Lincoln logs and race tracks and pretend food!)

You see the problem, right? I’ll start working on the squid.

 

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Box whine

Before I had kids of my own, I always heard people talk about the terrible twos. I began to mentally prepare myself.

After I ended up with my own little you-know-whats, I dreaded the older one turning two. The terrible twos are coming, I would tell myself. But how could the terrible twos alter this angelic guilelessness? I would ask myself. How is that even possible?

And when the first set of twos sailed by mostly without incident (potty-training being a major exception for which I blame myself for, you know, wanting it to happen), I congratulated myself for being such an awesome, non-alarmist parent! See, that was a breeze, I told myself. Bring on the teen years!

Ahh, my hubris. I did not realize, not being much for math, that three comes after two. And three is what I should have dreaded all along.

Because when kids are two, they get fussy. They have preferences. They want stuff. They get frustrated. They are not rational. But they are distractable. “I know you don’t like to eat a broken banana, sweetheart, but . . . Look! There’s a bunny on your shirt! Yay! Oh, you want a banana? Here!”

But when they are three, they have all that same stuff as two year olds, but they are not distractable anymore. And they’re stamina for tantrums is much greater. You try to distract them with their shirts and you get a look that says “$&%# your bunny! This banana is broken and I will not eat it!”

I did survive my first throw-down-threes, emerging with only a vague dread of odd numbers. Looking at my sweet, innocent second child, I would swear to myself that he couldn’t possibly mean me any harm. It will be different, I told myself.

I apparently have a great capacity for self-deception.

Sure enough, three came after two.

And then came the whining.

Ugh. The whining. At Fun Apartment, there is no escape from the whining. There is no “other room” to which I can escape. There is no mysterious soundproof zone that the whining cannot penetrate. There’s just the Fun Apartment with whining in it. (I suppose there is the bathroom. But it smells like vinegar in there.)

I have frighteningly few strategies for dealing with the whining. I tried what worked (miracles) with the older brother :”Mommy can’t understand what you’re saying when you’re whining. I just hear a strange buzzing noise. Can you say it in your big boy voice?” (The older brother is a little un-savvy, I have to admit.)

There is ignoring. That doesn’t stop the whining though. I still have a floppy boy in the middle of the apartment whining my name. Ignoring usually goes like this:

Little: Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . .  (repeat until duration of 8-10 minutes)

Me: W.H.A.T.

Little: Answer my question!

Me: What is your question?

Little: . . . . uh . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . . Moooommmmeeeeeee! . . . .

(There seems to be no maximum number of times that this scene can be repeated within the Fun Apartment on any given day.)

I suppose there is patience. I could have patience. Perhaps some day I will.

Until then, I have box wine. And a crazy straw.

Cheers.

Cheers.

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