October 5, 2017

Am I trying too hard to be the cool Auntie? (Giving gifts to the kids in your Childfree life)

The Production poster for the original Broadwa...

Original Annie on Broadway (Credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE: For some reason this post got lost in the holiday mail!

I’m too excited to sleep! On Saturday I’m taking my goddaughter to see Annie on Broadway for her 9th birthday. It’s going to be the best birthday ever – just like it was my best Christmas gift ever when I was nine and my parents took me (31 years ago)! I think. I hope.

Am I trying too hard because I don’t have kids of my own? Nope. I just want to be the cool Auntie, like my idol the Savvy Auntie. I want to be the best godmama in the world every time I see my godchildren (four and counting). There is no way that I could sustain this level of pressure 24/7.

Am I forcing my own wants on this little girl that I love to bits? Perhaps. Last year I bought a rare Barbie – because I loved/loooove Barbie! The year before it was art supplies and jewelry and a fancy dress, all things I craved as a kid and still do. No complaints from the recipient so far.

Am I trying to buy love with gifts? Maybe. I had a cool aunt who bought the best gifts and she was my favorite until she had little girl of her own. (Me? Jealous?)

Am I trying to influence this poor child into becoming more like me? Ha! Isn’t that what “real” parents do? (I still want to be my mom when/if I grow up.)

Still, I can’ t help thinking: what if it’s the worst birthday ever and she winds up in therapy because she really wanted to see Mary Poppins on Broadway instead but, no, I MADE her see Annie? Gah! To be continued…

Hey WNKsters what did you get your nieces, nephews, godchildren this year for Christmas/Hanukkah?

UPDATE PART 2: No one cried or died! Hooray! Success. Now how do I top it?

Why No Kids? Elf on the Shelf!

Elf on the Shelf T-Shirt (Credit: Sweeneyville)

Elf on the Shelf T-Shirt (Credit: Sweeneyville)

If you’re a parent in the US, you’re likely already acquainted with The Elf on the Shelf. If you’re childfree (or childless) you might have missed out on this latest holiday marketing bonanza with eerily Orwellian overtones. Consider the following…

The Elf on the Shelf… is the very special tool that helps Santa know who to put on the Naughty and Nice list… Santa sends his scout elves out to Elf Adoption Centers. Waiting for their families to bring them home, these patient elves hibernate until their family reads The Elf on the Shelf, gives their elf a very special name, and registers their adoption online. Once named, each scout elf will receive its Christmas magic… these scout elves are the eyes and ears of Santa Claus… the elf will always listen and relay messages back to Santa. Taking in all the day-to-day activities around the house… these scout elves take their job seriously… after the family goes to bed, the scout elf uses his magical Christmas powers to fly back to the North Pole. Once there, the elf will make his or her daily report to Santa… Before the family awakes each morning, their special scout elf will fly back… to hide in the freezer… the fireplace mantle or hang from the chandelier… (Elf on the Shelf > About Us)

Spooky, right?

On the one hand, I tip my hat to Carol Aebersold, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts who’s charm, vision, hustle and business savvy is inspiring. Bravo for transforming the publishing industry’s risk averse, survival-oriented error into an entrepreneurial success story!

The the elf story? I find it a little creepy.

Okay, when Aebersold recounts the back story, a family tradition which helps her defeat an almost paralyzing psychological defeat, I’m rooting for her. When mother and daughters team up to revitalize the magic of Christmas, I’m rooting for all three of them. And when they decide to self-publish The Elf on the Shelf because traditional publishers couldn’t quite grok the market value of a catchy product tied to the sellingest holiday of the year? I’m cheering for Aebersold, Bell and Pitts.

Elf on the Shelf Ambushed (Credit: livinglocurto.com)

Elf on the Shelf Ambushed (Credit: livinglocurto.com)

But then there’s a snag. Buy a spy? Infuse Christmas anticipation with selfconsciousness and anxiety posed by a sneaky, lurking voyeur? There’s something threatening and decidedly un-jolly about a tattletale with super powers sneaking around young children’s homes. A miniature Big Brother. Frankly this “tradition” feels a bit un-Christmas-like to me. But then again, I’m not a parent. I don’t need to threaten and bribe my tribe to behave or else…

And then there’s the potential for distorting this latter day Christmas tradition. Consider Stephen King tackling this Elf on the Shelf theme. Or Alfred Hitchcock. All sorts of terrifying Peeping Tom elf scenarios come to mind. Even the whole adoption center prologue creeps me out. Not only do elves have super powers once they are adopted, but until then they hibernate?!?! Like bears, I suppose, or rattlesnakes or laptop computers. Weird.

It turns out I’m not alone.

I hate the Elf on the Shelf. I hate his evil, dead-eyed sidelong smile. I hate that he invades innocent children’s homes without compunction. I even hate his full name. “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” I hate how it sounds like it’s a threat, like, “I’m not just the Elf: I’m the Elf who will return every goddamn Christmas of your life…” I hate how he seems to become more powerful with each passing year. (Salon.com)

That’s Mary Elizabeth Williams (@embeedub), the author of Gimme Shelter and dauntless chronicler of her cancer crusade. Her article, “Santa’s evil Orwellian spy” nimbly sums up the equation.

Today, the Elf is a best-selling, full-blown industry. He floated triumphantly this year at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and he’s been all up in our faces ever since. And why not? He’s eminently marketable. Like American Girl dolls, or Cabbage Patch Kids in days of yore, part of the Elf’s allure is his customizable nature. There are girl elves and boy elves, blue-eyed elves and dark-skinned elves, all waiting to be “adopted.” Right, like I’m going to adopt a narc. (Salon.com)

Elf on the Shelf: The gift of giving... (Credit: articlesofabsurdity.com)

Elf on the Shelf: The gift of giving… (Credit: articlesofabsurdity.com)

Thank you, Ms. Williams. Christmas is supposed to be innocent and slightly goofy. Giggles and jelly bellies and flying reindeer. Christmas is about hope and forgiving and generosity and loving. Christmas is about family and intimacy. Not spying and tattling. Do we really need to infiltrate the last bastion of whimsical childhood naivety with this malicious, eavesdropping drone? Again, I defer to Ms. Williams:

Part of why I dislike the Elf is the same reason I dislike Facebook’s privacy settings — he’s an Orwellian nightmare. Let’s teach our children that privacy is meaningless! I may have grown up with a Santa who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, but my Santa was never lurking around in my house, keeping tabs on me for weeks at a time. I don’t know, I just find the whole concept of an advent-long period of intense scrutiny by some judgmental little voyeur in a pointy hat creepy. (Salon.com)

If you’ve concluded that Williams and I are cynical, anti-Christmas Grinches (when it comes to Elf on the Shelf, though little else,) we’re in good company:

If you are unaware of the tradition of Elf on the Shelf, it is where parents get a creepy looking little elf doll and put him all over their house to act as their children’s parole officer. The Elf then flies to the North Pole each night to report to the big guy himself on whether the kids’ behavior is good enough to land them on the “nice” list. It is a genius idea for behavior modification through gratuitous lying. (Sweeneyville)

The elf creeps me out. I said it. I said what you might have been thinking. His smug grin and vintage eyes creep me out. He’s playing tricks and sneaking around our house. CREEPY. (whitehouseblackshutters.com)

Holy crap, y’all. It was working! I had accidentally implemented a moralistic police state in my own home… That got me thinking about the other 11 months of the year…. After much consideration I’ve decided to introduce another Big Brother-type helper to our family. (Rants from Mommyland)

Would it shock you to discover that our home is not and will not ever be a haven for this little Santa snitch? … It made me uncomfortable to wield the Santa weapon over my children’s head…. It makes already anxious children even more paranoid around this time of year… And this physical representation is placed in their home! It is there to scare them into submission every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas time. It invades the child’s one safe place where nothing will harm them, the place where they are encouraged (rightly so) by their parents to feel protected from all the ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ things out in the world, the place where they are loved unconditionally for who they are and not by what they can or cannot do nor for what they do or do not do. How can this sanctuary remain so when there is something sitting there on the shelf or mantel staring at them and judging each behavior every minute of each day from November 25th until December 25th? (Lunar Wisdom)

Enough. You get the point. Why no kids? Elf on the Shelf!

Childfree Christmas

English: Christmas-themed check mark

Childfree Christmas? Check… (Credit: Wikipedia)

While Christmas is arguably the most family-centric holiday of the year, it poses discomfiting challenges to those of us Aurora Bordeaux (author of the perennially engaging childfree blog, Baby Off Board) dubs “Childfree martians”.

Being surrounded on all sides by kids kids kids makes you a little raw by the end of the day. Kids don’t bother me most of the time unless they’re being loud, but what nags me is… [that] I begin to feel like a Martian…

This is something I go through every year, but this year is different… I’m more adept at dodging or ignoring questions about the status of my aging uterus. I am more comfortable with who I am, plus I have this widely read blog to sound off on. I may be temporarily out of my element, but the minutes tick by a lot faster when I consider that tomorrow I’ll publish this and at various points across the globe, other people who I’ve never met may identify with my Martian status.

So, fellow childfree Martians… You’re not my family, but that doesn’t mean you don’t mean a lot. I’m glad you’re there, wherever there is, because when I’m in the midst of the in-laws, deep down I can remind myself that I’m not the only one of my kind. (Family Vacation, Part I: I am Martian)

Bravo, Bordeaux! You nailed it. Christmas remains one of the most un-childfree times of the year. Or maybe the most childfree misunderstood times of the year. I suspect that much of it hinges upon the conventional understanding of what constitutes a family.

Is a childfree couple a family? Hell, yes! (Sorry for the profane affirmation, folks, but the sacred is always sexier when coupled with the profane, no?) Childfree families are no less families than divorced families or deceased grandparent families or gluten free families or homeless families…

And yet my bride and I are frequently told, “Well, you don’t have a family, so…” Read: no kids equals no family, and no family equals no real Christmas. After all, Christmas is all about the children, right? Perhaps. At least for parents who sign a pledge the day they reproduce that they will henceforth live through their progeny; they will henceforth sublimate their whimsical, carefree desires while bending over backwards to provide same for said offspring; and they will henceforth swear that they’ve known no greater reward than sacrificing for their mini-me’s (usually expressed after a lengthy vent about their baby “buyer’s remorse”.)

Childfree Christmas Secret

So, yes, perhaps real Christmas is for children. But the really cool secret of childfree families is that we’re still kids. No, not all the time. We’re card carrying members of the adult club — in fact, we’re afforded a boatload of VIP only perks denied to parents — but we’re also lifetime members of the kiddy club. Which means, Santa Claus and the Easter bunny (and sometimes even the Tooth Fairy) still believes in us and vice versa. And trust me, this is good. This makes for much anticipation leading up to Christmas and one heck of a romantic Christmas morning. Unfortunately, parents, we childfree families also sign a pledge that includes the clause:

We do solemnly swear to keep mum about the emotional, erotic and mysterious indulgences of childfree Christmas eve and morning.

Sorry. We don’t want to upset the social balance. After all, we depend on parents to keep the species around, the economy up and the childfree lines short. We depend on parents to soak up the stress and cynicism so that we have room to dream and fulfill our dreams. I know. Selfish. We hear that a lot. Yes, at Christmas too. While we do have a few opinions about who’s being selfish in the grander scheme of things, Christmas isn’t the best time to sound off. Parents are fragile right now. We get it. We’re sympathetic. We’re grateful.

Childfree Christmas Wishes

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

“Pretend” Santa Claus Photos (Credit: Wikipedia)

So we’re giving you a free pass now, but there are a couple of matters we’d like you to consider while we’re celebrating Christmas among childfree families. Cut us some slack in the “You’re not a family” department. At least until after New Year’s. Scratch that. Until January 2nd, because childfree families really like to party on December 31! Check out Laura Carroll’s “The Art of Childfree-Parent Conversation at Holiday Parties” for some pointers.

We’re coming into holiday party time, and as the childfree know, at these kinds of gatherings often people’s kids are a major topic of conversation… Parents often talk a lot about their kids because it is secure social conversational terrain for them. (La Vie Childfree)

We’ll talk junior news for a bit, but let’s find some common ground after you’ve covered the basics. It’s one thing if we dive in, ask questions, encourage you to wax on about Jillian’s poopy progress or Preston’s playground prowess. But if we don’t, if our heads begin to bob and our eyes glaze over, try something else. What are you reading? Seen any interesting art lately? What about concerts, opera, foreign lands, exotic restaurants? You get the picture. Almost anything!

And a closing thought, again culled from the bodacious Bordeaux.

The Santa experience doesn’t seem to be as much about the child now as it is about the photograph… Many parents seem obsessed with creating a magical photo that outshines the season, one that’s concrete proof that their precious little one experienced the whimsy and grandeur of the holiday rather than waited in line for hours with a bunch of other crying kids with H1N1 who don’t understand what the hell is going on. (Baby Off Board)

Childfree families really, really don’t get this ritual. We’re not judging, but it’s totally antithetical to the way we live. As outsiders, parenting sometimes seems to include a lot of “pretend” moments immortalized in photos and anecdotes. Pretend we love being parents and don’t ever regret it. Ever. Pretend that photo of a catalog-perfect family wasn’t taken after a 15 minute tantrum, a slew of bribes and a gangplank of threats. Pretend it was worth wasting a sunny afternoon that you could have spent skiing or quaffing vin chaud to get that darling snapshot of Jillian and Preston on a red nosed Santa’s lap.

Again, we’re not judging. But a quick glimpse is plenty. Even no glimpse if you’d rather share with another parent better attuned to pretend pictures.

A very merry, holly jolly childfree Christmas to you!

Child Photo Christmas Cards

American card, circa 1940

You're darned tootin' (Image via Wikipedia)

Are we all getting an abundance of holiday cards right now?  Are many of those cards pictures of our friends’ very cute children?  We must admit that they are, oftentimes, very sweet photos, but is anyone else but me wondering why more parents don’t put their own images in their cards?  Admittedly, kids photograph much better than the rest of the aging population, but it seems to me that cards with pictures only of the children sends a negative message.  It negates the importance of the parents, like they are non entities.

It’s obviously harder to find photos we like of ourselves as we age but do we need to look like models to our friends?  It is interesting to see how the children grow and resemble their parents in different ways each year but I like to see photos of my far away friends, not just their children.  Even grandparents seem to be sending pictures only of their grandchildren these days.  Of course they are proud, but they should have more to show for themselves in their golden years than the offspring of their offspring.

News of my friends also seems to be vanishing in their letter updates.  So much verbosity is wasted on the excruciating minutia of their children’s lives that little or no room seems to remain for me to learn of the parent’s lives.  Okay, so little Bob likes soccer and his sister is excelling in ballet.  Enough, that’s all I need to know of them.  Are their parents still at their same jobs, traveling, or still  skiing avidly?  Are they happy?  Hard to know.

Parents:  We do enjoy pictures of your kids.  Even when they are in their awkward stage we still like to see them because they are products of you, our cherished friends.  But, really how are you?  What do you look like? What rocked your world this year (other than something your kids did)?  By the way, the picture of your baby with food all over his face – so adorable to you – not  so well translated into a holiday card.