Ho Ho Huh?

IMG_8346So Starbucks has found itself in the middle of a brouhaha (more like a brew-ha-ha, amirite?) over its austere red ombre cups for the holidays. Internet outrage abounds. Not only are some people offended by the lack of vaguely Christmas-y doodles on the new cups, but other people are offended by the fact that people are offended.

And even though I think this news has run its course, Donald Trump — arbiter of all that is rational and compassionate – is weighing in, so I can’t let it go. Trump suggested boycotting Starbucks. Good luck with that. He also promised that if elected, everyone will be saying “Merry Christmas” again. Which begs the question that I shout at the TV to Trump and all other politicians again and again: how exactly are you going to do that?

Ok, here’s the thing. If today is one of the 364 days of the year that is not your birthday, I won’t walk up to you and say happy birthday. Similarly, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I won’t wish you a Merry Christmas. If I don’t know you well enough to have insight as to what you celebrate in December but want to wish you well nonetheless, I’m going with happy holidays. That just seems to make sense, right?

Starbucks chose a simple red cup to acknowledge the upcoming holidays. This should not impact anyone’s holidays. I think the bigger question needs to be why are corporations so deeply involved in our families’ celebrations in the first place?

Just as I don’t need a pumpkin spice latte to let me know it’s fall, I don’t need a decorated cup to let me know the holidays are coming. Nor do I need Lexus suggesting that a luxury sedan wrapped in a big red bow is a reasonable gift this time of year. Instead of worrying about whether or not companies use the word “Christmas,” why don’t we push back against their efforts to whip us all into a gift buying frenzy in the first place?

We consistently say the holidays aren’t about the gifts, they’re about people – family, friends and those in need. Therefore, the most important thing to be spending this season is time. Time with people we love. Time helping others. Time cultivating gratitude. This isn’t news. We all know this. I’ve even written about it before (although in a much more profane way) in this post.

But it takes blinders, earplugs and an iron will not to succumb to the message in the media. I’m glad Starbucks’ cupgate happened in early November so I have a head start in thinking about what’s truly important this season and how my family will celebrate. I simply want time with them. Maybe even at a Starbucks, sipping hot chocolate out of a plain red cup.

Happy holidays, may you spend wisely this year.

I’m an ASH

My name is Jennifer and I’m an ASH: awkward social hugger.

I’m guessing a few of you out there are ASHes too. We’re pretty good at spotting each other in a crowd, often giving poorly timed high fives and age-inappropriate fist bumps; our own little band of outsiders avoiding hugs in an overly touchy world.

Don’t get me wrong. I love hugs. But you need to fall into one of two general categories before I give up the goods. Either 1) I gave birth to you, am married to you or we’re somehow related, or 2) you’re a close friend who is celebrating something wonderful, mourning something awful or is departing somewhere far-flung.

In most other instances, I’m pretty sure “hi” or “bye” coupled with a casual wave will suffice. And yet, people insist on squeezing me, uncomfortably mushing our squishy parts together and stepping on my toes. I can’t tell you how many enthusiastic folks I’ve accidentally punched in the stomach by offering a handshake at the exact moment they’re coming in for a bear hug. Total ASH move.

As I see it, I have two choices. I can continue avoiding hugs by using barely plausible excuses such as, “better keep your distance, I think I’m coming down with something,” or I can learn to embrace the embrace.

The best way out is always through, says sage Robert Frost. So this month, instead of hanging back and debating if I’m in a situation that warrants a hug, I’m just going for it. Every single time. Like I’m notorious hugger Richard Simmons working the crowd at a Sweatin’ to the Oldies convention. Side note: will someone please buy me this for Christmas?

But I’m only devoting the month of November to operation ASH-no-more. We’ll see how it goes and then re-evaluate. That gives you 26 days to come at me, arms outstretched. I might cringe, but I’ll be ready for you.

New Favorite Song

He flopped into the car, exhausted and sweaty from a late-night basketball practice. It was the last stretch of my inane day where I seemed to do nothing but chauffeur kids, run errands and burn almost a half tank of gas in the process. Both of us too tired to talk, I flipped through stations on the radio.

The opening riff of a song caught our attention.

“This is my new favorite song,” I confessed, turning it up.

“Me too!”

I smiled and glanced over at him, watching his face as the realization hit: mom and I like the same song. He was trying to figure out if his musical taste was lame or if mine was cool – the only two possible explanations for this newly discovered commonality in our Venn diagram.

Undaunted, I started to sing along, catching only one out of every three words:

Mmm and lied, mmm mmm so bad
La la la vow, never get mad

He laughed, knowing he could do better. Too tired to be self-conscious and protected by 8pm darkness where no one could see in the car windows, he joined in.

I nudged the volume up a bit and added steering wheel drums. He cringed – nothing is more embarrassing than my steering wheel drums — but he kept singing.

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite

The song ended, as did our spontaneous moment of musical bonding.

Anyone who hangs out with me knows that I spend a lot of time grumbling about the pace of life with big kids. They’re old enough to have talents and interests and a desire to pursue them. But they’re not old enough to drive themselves to the never-ending practices and games that take place in far-flung locations at all hours of the day.

It’s insane. But just when I’m ready to crack, life offers a crystalized moment of raw love: a connection over a song while driving home from practice; a good talk after a disappointing loss; a sweaty bear hug after a game-winning shot. It’s all there, tucked into the pockets of quiet within this loud, busy life we’ve created.

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite

 Message received.

I know I’m lucky beyond words. I know this time is short and that in a few years they’ll be independent and I’ll miss all those miles on roads to kids’ activities. I’ve always known these things but sometimes it helps to be reminded. Recharged and refocused, I’m changing my tune… but keeping the steering wheel drum solo.

The C Word

Like most people, I appreciate a good four-letter word. I try to use a modicum of discernment around my kids, but let’s just say my language has helped them build a robust word bank to tap into for just about any situation. For the most part, their language didn’t faze me – until the day my daughter used the C word.

Let me back up. She dropped her phone. Cracked the screen. It wasn’t a surprise. In fact, I was astonished the phone remained intact as long as it did.

“Oops, that was the third time today I dropped my phone.”

See what I mean?

She refused to use a drop-proof case. She scoffed at the suggestion of applying an extra layer of protective glass. She didn’t carry a purse, yet the phone traveled wherever she went, often barely tucked into the back pocket of her jeans or precariously perched in the palm of her hand.

She’s at the age where I can’t micro-manage anymore. I’ve attempted to raise kids with minds of their own, encouraging them to be leaders instead of followers, assuming that those kids grow up to be interesting self-actualized adults. The caveat is that kids with minds of their own are not always the easiest to parent.

So she didn’t listen to my suggestions and she broke her phone. Just like I said she would. This is why I am grateful for what the parenting literature calls “natural consequences.”

When I saw the cracked phone, it took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to skip around the house singing, “Neener neener neener I told you so. Now it’s your problem, sucker. Listen to your old mom next time. I’m not as dumb as I look.”

Instead, we talked about those pesky natural consequences. Well, I talked. She mostly rolled her eyes. I explained that I would drive her to the store but she was going to be the one to chat with the sales clerk and gather the information necessary to figure out the most cost effective way to fix her phone.

Then she dropped the C word:

“So I just go in there and be cute?”

WHAT? CUTE?

No! You go in there and be CONFIDENT. You go in there and be COMPETENT. You ask intelligent questions and make an informed decision. CUTE? Where did that come from? Who is this kid?

Well, she’s a 13 year-old girl. And she’s discovering the power of pretty.

It’s a fine line, especially at this age when self-confidence swells and shrinks faster than Taylor Swift’s list of frenemies. I want my daughter to recognize and appreciate her beauty while at the same time understand the difference between recognizing it and relying on it. While the former might bolster confidence, the latter is simply a crutch – an unstable one at best.

So what’s an overthinking mother to do? Acknowledge what’s in front of her – an undeniable cuteness – while coaxing out the more lasting qualities that will serve her daughter long after the cuteness shtick gets old. I gave it my best shot.

To her credit, after I stopped lecturing, my daughter walked into the store, used her big kid voice and got the information she needed — no hair twirling, uptalking or giggling necessary. She eventually paid half the insurance deductible with money she earned over the summer and got a replacement phone.

These days, her new phone is carefully ensconced in a sensible drop-proof case instead of a super cute pink plastic one. Substance over style. A choice I hope she makes again and again.

Payback

A thank you note I should have written 30 years ago…

Dear Mom,

Thank you for all the times you took me shopping, especially back to school shopping.

Thank you for enduring the underage dance clubs masquerading as clothing stores, complete with nonexistent lighting, migraine-inducing music and sales girls who serve as bouncers deciding if you’re cool enough to wear their employer’s clothes.

Thank you for resisting the urge to say things like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe denim overalls (or MC Hammer pants or crop tops) are back in style. I wore those when I was your age.”

Similarly, thank you for not buying yourself a pair of shoes just like the ones I picked out because they really are both cute and comfortable.

Thank you for enduring hours in dressing rooms buried under piles of rejected clothes that needed to be hung up and put back on the racks.

Thank you for not ordering a shot of tequila when we finally took a lunch break.

Thank you for biting your tongue and letting me choose my “signature look” which unsurprisingly, resembled every other kid hoping to fit in at middle school.

I know that after a day of shopping, I would breezily offer a “thanks mom” while shuttling bags of new loot up to my room, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I fully understood the patience, love and emotional energy that went into a day at the stores – I guess they call it retail therapy for a reason.

So today I say thank you — for everything — as well as start my own 30-year countdown until my daughter can do the same.

Grapefruit Campari Sorbet

dsc_0991What do you do when you serve a perfectly delicious gazpacho to your family and one person groans and calls it “g-ASS-pacho” and another complains that the shrimp in the soup look like the tails of hairless cats? Move straight to dessert. A boozy dessert.

Grapefruit Campari Sorbet is the perfect summer treat — zippy, refreshing and laced with just enough alcohol that the kids have to leave it alone. In addition to tasting like frozen sunshine, this sorbet is a spectacular pinky-coral color that most definitely needs to be O.P.I.’s next nail polish hue. That’s right, I said it. I want to paint this stuff on my toes. I’m obsessed.

Campari is bracingly bitter, but don’t let that be a deterrent. As I frequently remind my husband, cloying sweetness is bland – in both spouses and desserts. You need a little bitter to keep things interesting. He just rolls his eyes. But he does like the sorbet.

The recipe is an easy mix of grapefruit juice, Campari and sugar. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can pour the base into a glass 9×13 dish, pop it in the freezer and scrape the mix with a fork every 30 minutes until you’ve made granita. Can’t be bothered to scrape ice crystals every half hour? Pour the mix into popsicle molds instead.

Sorbet, granita or popsicle – this recipe is worth a try. It’s delicious, easy to make, and apparently much better than my gazpacho.

Grapefruit Campari Sorbet
Recipe from the ice cream king himself,  David Lebovitz

3 cups fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice (I was able to get almost 3 cups of juice from 4 grapefruits and then just topped it off with a splash of orange juice from the fridge)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup Campari

Warm 1 cup of the grapefruit juice and the sugar over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat and stir the mixture into remaining grapefruit juice. Add the Campari and stir well.

Chill the mixture and then freeze according to your ice cream machine’s instructions. Or make granita. Or make popsicles. Just make it.

Let It Go

I didn’t snap until May, which is damn impressive considering the movie and its earworm of a soundtrack had been out for six months.  Despite the fact that my own kids weren’t that enamored with Frozen, the rest of the country was, and so we suffered.  All of us.  Until inspiration struck during a car ride on Mother’s Day.

We weren’t even listening to the Disney Channel or KidzBop or any other station that panders to pint-sized tyrants with horrible taste in music.  And yet, the familiar opening notes of Let It Go started to fill the car.  I groaned.  And then impulsively blurted out:

“Hey kids, here’s a fun fact.  Did you know that this song is really about farting?”

They looked at me, horrified yet curious.  “Just listen,” I told them.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried!

I heard giggles from the back seat.

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

 Bigger laughs fill the car.  By the time we got to the chorus, they were roaring.

 Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

The song finished, cementing another bond within our family: a juvenile, gross inside joke.  I made them promise not to repeat it and made my son pinky swear to keep it together when his teacher plays the Frozen soundtrack during free choice time at school.  They agreed, and considering that I didn’t receive any phone calls from the teachers, I think they kept their word.

I frequently lament the fact that time with my kids has passed way too quickly.  I miss the details about life with little ones: footie pajamas, counting to “eleventeen,” the smell of baby shampoo.  Predictably, I’ve turned into the weird lady at Target who grins way too enthusiastically at anyone under the age of two.

But as much as I miss the baby stage, big kids have their advantages.  Aside from the obvious stuff like not pooping on themselves and knowing how to start the coffee maker for me in the morning, it’s also been fun to give them a glimpse of me as a person, not just me as a mom.

They’re old enough to be able to handle (and perhaps even appreciate) that I have a dry sense of humor and a fondness for the occasional, well-placed curse word.  It’s time for them to understand that I cry shamelessly at all happy, sad and sappy occasions. Especially the sappy occasions.  And they need to know that I will never, ever be a morning person.

It’s kind of a relief to outgrow my role of angelic caretaker and become more of a camp counselor – still in charge but also able to bend the rules occasionally.  I don’t think I’ll ever get over longing for the baby days, but when I’m feeling nostalgic I’ll try and remember that toddlers never would have laughed with me about poor flatulent Elsa encouraging little girls everywhere to just let it go.