Ding, dong, it’s December. And for many people that means snowmen and snowball fights and the dazzling white of the first snow and did I mention snow? But here in sunny Southern California, winter looks a little different. Sure, it’s a brisk 45 degrees out right now as the sun comes up, but I’ve got to dress the kids in light layers at school because it’ll be 70 and sunny when I pick them up at noon. And I’m bringing POPSCICLES to school for my daughter’s birthday. Basically, snow is not on the menu this December. And I’m not even a little salty about it.
I found out I was pregnant with my first child just before my 30th birthday. It was a stupid deadline in my head, so besides the “We’re having a baby!” excitement, I also was celebrating hitting my silly goal. As we were setting up for my “Casino Night” theme birthday party, I was on all kinds of highs.
Then my husband said, “Enjoy it! It’s basically you’re last birthday.”
Today’s Micro Hustle won’t actually make you any money, but it can save you big bucks, and isn’t that kind of the same thing? Also, it’s a Hustle on your kids, which – I think it’s safe to say – we’re all on board for every once in a while! Enjoy!
Ask any Mama what she loves about the fall, and nestled somewhere between a Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte and putting on a cozy sweater will be taking the kids to the pumpkin patch. Because kids and pumpkins are adorable. Need proof? Fine.
The pumpkin patch is AWESOME. Whether yours is in the middle of a city and has carnival style rides, a petting zoo and a concession stand or is out in the country and has apple launchers, a corn maze and homemade cider, every one is full of fun for the family.
Also, EXPENSIVE PUMPKINS.
Yes, the seedy underbelly of the pumpkin patch operation is insanely expensive pumpkins. And while you’re there for the adorable photo ops, your kids are probably there for the expensive stuff – like the rides, treats, and pumpkins. The pain that I feel in my heart – and my wallet – as I hand over a credit card to pay $20+ for a pumpkin that I can get for $3.99 at the grocery store is palpable. But what else can you do? It’s a pumpkin patch – you can’t just leave without a pumpkin!
But you canleave without a GIANT pumpkin…..
Enter…..The Pumpkin Fairy!
Oh you don’t know about the Pumpkin Fairy? Well let me introduce her to you! Because she may very well change your life at the Pumpkin Patch this year! You see the Pumpkin Fairy is a beautiful and magical fairy that can turn tiny (read: cheap) pumpkins from the pumpkin patch into big, beautiful pumpkins – overnight!
Confession: The Pumpkin Fairy isn’t real, folks. But it can be real in your house this year if you follow these steps!
First – you gotta sell this to your kids. Start laying the groundwork immediately. Tonight, when you put them to bed, don’t forget to tell them about the legend of the Pumpkin Fairy!
She’s beautiful, with orange hair and a dress made from pumpkin seeds and the stringy stuff inside the gourds! And every October she visits all the little children to turn their baby pumpkins into big magical pumpkins! (This may be harder if your kids are used to picking out a giant pumpkin at the patch, but you can talk them into it – I believe in you! I mean, who wants one of those big pumpkins, when you can have a pumpkin that has been made out of magic???)
Then you go to the patch. Remind them of the new plan – tiny pumpkins kids! The cheaper smaller, the better! Let them pick any pumpkin they want out of that bargain bin!
When you get home, find a nice easy spot to put your pumpkins! Don’t do something stupid like put them under pillows. The Pumpkin Fairy is a LOT bigger than the Tooth Fairy and isn’t as good at sneaking around- especially after a glass of wine or two. The porch is an excellent spot.
Then, tuck the kids in.
Have a glass of wine and watch Real Housewives while you wait for them to fall asleep. You’ll be kicking yourself next year, and spending big bucks, if you get caught. Then – swap out those pumpkins with the grocery store ones you’re hiding in the trunk of the car. If you want to get REAL fancy, sprinkle some glitter around. Fairies are notorious for getting glitter on everything.
And that’s it! You saved a ton of money and made a Pinterest-worthy tradition that will have you looking like a) a money saving genius and b) Mom of the Year
As a proper 21st century Mom living in a Pinterest world, I start thinking about Halloween in about March. Not because I’m going to do anything crazy like come up with handmade family costumes that I’m going to start working on or anything. No, I’ve just got to come up with a concept so that by the time September rolls around I have a fully flushed out idea of what kind of family costume I’m going to buy. Because every year I have it in my head that THIS is the year that everyone’s going to want to collaborate on something. Plus, October is BUSY. Like, super busy. We have our wedding anniversary, my birthday, oh, and I was due to have a baby October 5th. So I figured if I could get us all organized, you know, BEFORE I had the baby that would be ideal.
2016 was the year of 1,001 ideas. We were going to have Mommy, Daddy, 3 year old Cole, an almost 2 year old Evie, and a tiny baby girl – who we estimated would be about three and a half weeks old. And man – OH MAN – did I have ideas!
Zootopia: Daddy – Chief Bogo, Cole – Nick Wild, Evie – Judy Hopps, Mommy – Gazelle, BABY AS BELLWEATHER! (Side note: I DIE for babies dressed as lambs!)
USC Inspired: Daddy -Coach, Cole – Football player, Evie – Cheerleader, Mommy – Referee, BABY AS MY YELLOW FLAG!!!
Wizard of Oz: Daddy – Scarecrow, Cole – Cowardly Lion, Evie – Tin(wo)man, Mommy – Dorothy, BABY AS TOTO! How cute would that be???
But alas, NONE of my ideas stuck.
I spent hours, days, weeks, begging my kids to tell me what they’d like to be. Something fun, cool, creative! But Cole wanted to be a ghost. I took to Pinterest and showed him every ghost I could. I scoured Amazon, Costco and eventually Halloween stores. Nothing. That was not what he wanted. He wanted to be just a regular ghost. Not a scary ghost or a happy ghost or Casper the friendly ghost. He specifically wanted to be “a sheet ghost.” I tried to change his mind up until about 3:00 on Halloween afternoon. I just knew he was going to change his mind at the last minute. He swore he wouldn’t, so I went and found an old white sheet. I held it up and showed him and he said, “Yep, just like that.” I asked what to do and he instructed me to cut two eyes – and that’s it. That was how he wanted his ghost. We adjusted the length, and ended up cutting slits for his arms.
As we got ready to go trick-or-treating, I grabbed his Buzz Lightyear costume and shoved it in my purse – just in case he got tired of his ghost costume, or decided once he saw all kids dressed as Catboy and Spiderman and all the Paw Patrol dogs he’d be wondering why he was just wearing a freaking sheet.
But I was wrong.
LORDY was I wrong.
The kid was the happiest ghost you have ever seen. He ran from house to house, LOVING Halloween. He was soooo proud of his costume and would announce at every house, “I’m a GHOST! But not a real ghost – just pretend!” And as I watched him, and laughed, and just LOVED that little boy, I realized that’s what Halloween is about.
It’s not about the perfect family costume. It’s about finding pure joy in a busted old sheet.
Now sure, most of us do, but I’m brave enough to admit that I can be kind of, well, obnoxious about it. I’m also incredibly stubborn. I know, it’s an incredibly attractive combination ain’t it? But I try, oh how I try, to not say, “I told you so.” Especially often. Especially to my husband.
Lucky for me, said husband is also phenomenally stubborn, so we’re really two peas in a pod. He also is one of those delightful people that has to learn things the hard way. There is no amount of talking that will convince him that his way is not the right way.
So while I fretted about our trip to the cabin for weeks, he quickly dismissed my concerns, telling me not to worry about it. We were going with some of his family, and the quarters are somewhat cramped. I asked him repeatedly to make a couple calls to find out what the sleeping arrangements were. I do better being able to visualize where I’m going to sleep, where my kids are going to sleep, and depending on their proximity to me, how much alcohol to bring to survive.
He said we’d figure it out when we got there and it wouldn’t be a big deal. I took a deep breath, and chose to trust him.
I was worried about my husband’s expectations for the week…he wanted to take Cole fishing. He wanted us to go on a family hike to the Wishbone tree – a 45 minute hike each way. He wanted us to stay up and cook s’mores and share his love of the great outdoors with our kids. I worried about the record breaking river levels and it’s speed. I hate hiking and was skeptical our 2 and 4 year olds would be up for the trek. I warned that if we let them go too many days without a nap and staying up late they’d turn into actual literal monsters. They may grow horns and extra eyes, I don’t know, I just know that it’s not advised to try.
He thought I was just being negative.
He grew up at the cabin. He knew what he was doing. I’d see.
Now this is where you have to decide, dear reader: Which of us stubborn ass people won the day and got to be right?
Have I built up enough suspense??
Okay, I won’t make you wait any longer…..
That’s right. Me. This is NOT one of those posts where I realize that my kids are lovely, that my husband is capable and thoughtful, that I just need to take the road less traveled and be brave and bend the rules and not be such a rigid, negative, naggy B of a wife.
No, this is a post where the moral of the story is TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!
Because here’s what happened our first night: The baby was asleep, a minor miracle with all the excitement of a new place, the kids were just finishing up a movie, their beds set up, and we had almost made it to bedtime. And then it happened: My husband’s Aunt and a carful of teenagers pulled up. They came in the house, guns of excitement blazing, woke up the baby, amped up the other kids and killed any chance my husband had of being right.
We had arrived first and taken the “Master” room, as it was the largest room and we, the largest family. But apparently that room wasn’t to stay ours for long and we had to cede it to the Aunt who basically complained until we gave up. So then we had to move the beds – the ones we had set up for all three of our kids, shown to them, explained how this was the place they’d be sleeping, etc. – to the other, much smaller, room. The teenagers were to sleep in the attic via a ladder. A ladder that the teens had to go up and down one hundred thousand times in the first seven minutes of being there. A ladder that is VERY enticing to 2 and 4 year olds. 2 and 4 year olds that are supposed to be going to sleep even. Especially?
Three hours later, we had the baby back down and the other 2 were wavering between complete and total exhaustion and an undeniable desire to be outside around the campfire with their cousins. A delightful combination let me assure you.
The first morning went a little better…because pancakes are generally a uniting force no matter your age or how much sleep you got the night before.
And then we hiked.
We slathered on sunscreen and deet, I put the baby in her carrier and we put the 2 year old in the hiking backpack. Off we went! And everyone LOVED it.
For four minutes. We got hot, but we trudged on. The kids got heavy, but we trudged on. We got hungry and THIRSTY, but we trudged on. And then we found a GOD DAMNED ROTTING MOUNTAIN LION CARCASS. We did not trudge on. Cole burst into tears, and stubborn Daddy started to crack realizing this whole thing was a terrible mistake. I may have never loved him more than when he latched onto the giant dead animal on the trail as an excuse to turn around and head back.
As we walked back Daddy said, “Well, you’re a trooper.”
“And this has been kind of a mess.”
“And it’s been a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”
“And? Come on…give it to me…..”
“And you were right.”
God, I love to be right. But sometimes I really wish we didn’t have to live out all the wrong to get to the right…
Ahh. It’s the weekend. Everybody’s home, there are activities galore, and it’s time for a well-deserved respite from the day-to-day. The kids feel the difference in the air, and they start putting in requests. After all, there are no limits today- you want a popsicle? Sure. 76 hours of Peppa Pig? No problem. You want to ride your bike allll the way to park? Do. Your. Thing.
But… first you’re gonna have to let mom and dad do a little logisticking. Cause we got stuff to do, too.
I’m not sure this is a popular thing to say, but around here our weekends are not necessarily for togetherness. I mean, it creeps in plenty. There are meals together, and trips to the park. But for us, that’s not the point of the weekend. The weekend is for getting stuff done, and everyone getting a chance to do what they want to do. We divide, and we conquer.
At our house, weekends mean that it’s time for the grown-ups to have their dreams come true, too. You want to binge watch Netflix? Let’s make it happen. Mama wants to sit at Starbucks for an hour ALL BY HERSELF? Go for it! The cars need washed/you have to go clothes shopping/you have to do any task that sucks when the kids are along for the ride? Oh, it’s going down.
Which is why, right this minute, I am writing this from the lobby of a McDonald’s fine dining establishment, enjoying a Diet Coke and French fries, both the size of my head, and both deliciously, gloriously, mine-all-mine. There are no children poking me, I’ve got my creative pursuits spread out across a booth that belongs just to me, and I am getting the full use of their free wifi on all three of my devices, which no one is begging to use to watch toy videos. It’s not always McDonalds, and it’s not always just quiet time. Mostly, it’s just my chance to get out of the house, do some grown-up stuff, and pursue my own interests for a minute. And if you think about it, an hour and a half a week is definitely not too much to ask. So why shouldn’t we be focused on making it happen? And this quality time with little old me is just one piece of the pie.
Maybe later today I’ll take the kids to the gym for an hour or two so he can watch his movie, and tomorrow he’ll take the kids while I duck out for a quick haircut. I’ll take my turn with the kids and so will he, and together we’ll engage in a delicate dance where the kids get fun time with each parent, without them even knowing that the other one is getting a much deserved break. So we spend a little time apart, and when we get back together, we are refreshed and rejuvenated. We are ready to change the diapers, and read the same book 74 times, and push the kids on the swings for a hundred years, and make three complete dinners because little miss decided that tonight she is EXTRA hungry.
But none of that is gonna happen yet. Right now I’m gonna put on my headphones, drink a few Diet Cokes, and bust out the blogs I’ve been trying to get finished since last Wednesday. I’ll read a few chapters of the RBG book I’ve been wanting to get through, spend a few minutes catching up on texts and Facebook messages, and then I’ll close up shop and head home to my family, where, if I’m being honest, I’m gonna be much less grouchy and a lot more relaxed than I was a few hours ago. I’ll probably get a warm welcome, like I’m a soldier returning from battle, instead of someone who spent just shy of 90 minutes in a fast food joint. There will hopefully be a few hugs and kisses, and then we’ll leash up the dog and head out en masse to go conquer the park. And this time, we’ll be ready to take that one on, together.
Once you’re running around with a herd of kids, some things just don’t happen if you don’t make them a priority. If you don’t give them the sacred status of a “family tradition.” Plans can be cancelled, but you don’t F with tradition.
And so it is that every Saturday morning, rain or shine, feeling like it or not, we load up all the kids and head to our local breakfast spot, The Potholder. (Or as Evie says “Popholder”) We went once on a lark, when we had just two kids. Evie was still a bucket baby that we could take in her carseat as she – God willing – slept peacefully while we ate.
We had a good breakfast, but more than that we had a good meal. The next Saturday, we decided to try it again. And again. And again. Before we knew it, we had a tradition. We had our spot. We had our “thing.”
Those early days were a fun time to focus on our firstborn, give him some attention while the baby slept. Dinners as a family were touch and go….Mommy exhausted from a day of doing all the things, Daddy tired from working hard to take care of us. Cooking was a chore that prevented me from embracing the meal that followed, restaurants even worse.
Saturday mornings seemed to be just the ticket. We were refreshed and looking forward to all the weekend had to offer. We had the confidence of parents that were going to tackle it all together – starting with breakfast.
Until it Just. Didn’t. Work.
As Evie grew, we had mornings that were absolute nightmares. More food on the floor than in anyone’s stomachs; jelly wars leaving everyone sticky and grumpy; bitter battles fought over the potential stacking of creamers – an activity that inevitably ends in an explosion causing you to ask, “how can there be SO MUCH CREAM in that thimble???” I felt the eyes of the other patrons burning into my soul, sure they were asking themselves why, OH WHY, we thought it was a good idea to go out in public with these kids. We left big messes – and even bigger tips -in our wake, shouting both apologies and promises to see everyone next week.
…..some days are like pure magic. Our kid are polite, the people in the neighboring booth smiling at us as though we’ve done something right. They happily share pancakes, not even fighting over the melting glob of butter they both covet. The fold their hands and wait for the food, Evie squealing “our food is coming!” with a look that contains more excitement than the grown up me knows how to possess anymore. They play games we made up as we wait for our food, making us laugh and smile and wonder how in the hell we got so lucky to have these kids. And that’s what we call “The Sweet Spot.” It’s an elusive moment when everyone is pleasant. It’s fleeting, so sometimes I feel afraid to blink and miss it.
So we go when the kids are terrible. We go when they are lovely. We go when I feel like I could take on the world. We go when I ask Taylor, our regular waitress, to administer an IV drip of hazelnut coffee. We’ve gone when I was 40 weeks and 4 days pregnant. We’ve gone with a five day old.
But we go.
Someday we’ll stop going. And it will probably break my heart. So for now, we go.