Category Archives: Crazy Talk

“Don’t Lie to me, Mom! I know you’re Santa!”

It’s almost the end of February, and, as is the custom in my house, there are only two or three straggling remnants of Christmas left to put away: The green, plaid dishcloth with snowflakes; holiday doormat; and the silicone ice-cube tray with Christmas tree shaped cutouts. Once they find their way to the basement, the house will finally be completely sanitized of the holiday spirit.

However, in a way, it already happened:

My eight-year-old son sat next to me at the table last night, working on his homework while my husband and I ate our dinner. Our 14-year-old son stood nearby, trying to engage us in a discussion about his inaugural shave that morning. As I tried to eat my salad and NOT think about baby hairs and peach fuzz, my head swung back and forth between the merits of his Gillette-Power-ProGlide-Core-Infusion-Venus-Flytrap razor blade and answering our 8-year-old’s homework questions. Naturally, I felt like I was at a tennis match.

“Oh,” I announced suddenly. “Someone please remind me…I need to send that ping-pong table back.” Had my 12-year-old daughter been there, she’d have popped up from the table and written the reminder on the magnetized memo pad we keep on the fridge for just such spontaneous thoughts. However, she was practicing piano.

The eight-year-old gave me his “why are you such a crazy lady” look. I’m used to that look — especially from my tween daughter — so I just kept right on talking.

“When I took the ping-pong table out of the box, there were pieces flying everywhere. I don’t think they drilled the holes right. That’s probably why it sags in the middle.”

My husband dipped out of the 14-year-old’s follicular analysis and added his own brilliant assessment of the ping-pong table: “Totally cheap,” he said.

Again with the stare from the eight-year-old.

“What?” I said, expecting my youngest child to point out, as he’s prone to do these days, that I’ve interrupted him.

“But..I thought Santa brought the ping-pong table,” he said. Blink. Blink. Sniff.

“Oh,” I said, sitting up straight, realizing I’d blatantly blown my cover. “You’re right. Santa did bring it.”

I attempted my best eye roll (the one that screams “You know me…there I go being an idiot again”), then quickly turned back to the parmesan shavings in my salad. I wanted desperately to turn back time and erase my thoughtless comment and tune back in to the morning’s shaving play-by-play.

“Mom?” the wise, young one said, tugging on my sleeve. “Santa brought the ping-pong table, right?”

Don’t let this moment happen, I thought. I’m not even ready to think about the impending facial stubble on that one, let alone stumble through a come-to-Jesus talk about how I’ve been fabricating the existence of an obese visitor for the last eight years of this one’s life…

“Absolutely, Buddy,” I said, waving my fork with the nonchalance of an heiress. “Santa brought it.” Ugh. He knows.

I tried hard not to think of the perfect Christmas morning we shared just 8 weeks ago. After the five of us opened all the presents in the living room, I’d asked the eight-year-old to run down to the basement for a fresh roll of paper towels, knowing he’d be the first to find the Sharper Image foldable ping-pong table sitting in the middle of the basement, assembled and ready with a huge red bow on top. I tried not to think of how he screamed from the basement, “OH! MY! GOD! You GUYS! SANTA LEFT US A PING-PONG TABLE!!!”

“What?” I yelled from the living room in mock shock.

“There’s a ping-pong table?” the twelve- and fourteen-year-olds shouted, running toward the basement stairs.

“There is not a ping-pong table!” my husband yelled, winking at me and handing me my coffee cup.

“IS TOO!” the eight-year-old yelled. “Santa left a ping-pong table!”

The four of us reached the basement stairwell, cramming our necks down to see the eight-year-old walking slowly around the miniature ping-pong-table. He didn’t even notice the garbage can I’d strategically placed underneath it to keep it standing upright; that “foldable” ping-pong table was a piece of crap from the second I pulled it out of the Sharper Image box.

“This is AWESOME!” my young son yelled.

“Wow, Santa must really think you’ve been a good kid this year,” my husband said.

“Ahem,” I corrected. “My guess is, Santa brought this for all the kids,” I said. The two older ones looked at me with knowing sideways glances, smiling. “Who wants to give it a try?”

“I found it!” the eight-year-old shouted, then immediately realized how that sounded. “I mean, can I be one of the players?”

“You sure can,” I said, taking a paddle. “I’ll serve it to you.”

My son’s sternum was only a paddle’s-width higher than the top of the table, but he stood as tall as he could, ready for the first serve of the first game on the new present from Santa Claus. I bounced the hollow white ball on my end and tapped it lightly toward his side, but it hit the net — which promptly popped out of its flimsy housing and crumpled on the table. After a frustrating minute of rigging the net so it stood back upright, the timer on the oven went off — the Christmas morning casserole was ready. I attempted another serve, and as the ball bounced to the eight-year-old’s side of the table, his swing came from above (rather than the side), nearly crushing the ball flat on the table. His two older siblings gasped in horror (as only older sibs can do with such dramatic flair) at his gross misjudgment of ping-pong form. The eight-year-old shot a death glare at the older two, placed his dimpled hands on the table and pursed his lips together…but as soon as he put his weight on the table, the garbage can shifted and the table began to collapse.

“Breakfast!” my husband announced, heading up the stairs to turn off the timer.

__________________

Never mind that after Christmas morning, the ping-pong table was used exactly two times. Never mind that it’s been in its folded-up position next to the furnace for almost two months. Santa brought it, so it’s awesome; its delicate (a.k.a. junky) construction has been respected in all its Santaliciousness.

And now, at the kitchen table, in a moment of careless task-mastery, I’ve blown that Santaliciousness to bits, watching it flutter away like weightless bits of charred paper floating up a chimney.

“Dad?” the eight-year-old quivered at the table next to me last night. As my husband continued listening to the Mach IV revolution that occurred on the teenager’s upper lip that morning, he held up a finger, signaling the universal parenting sign of, “I’ll be with you in just one sec.”

“Dad,” he repeated louder, undeterred in his quest to uncover the truth. “Did you buy the ping-pong table?”

Imagine this slow-motion scene unfold:

I open my mouth to say to my husband, “Don’t answer the question!” just as he turns and says to our younger son, “Nope.”

Oh thank you God.

“Your mom bought it,” he finished. “I think she got it at…Hammacher Schlemmer, right?”

I sit frozen.

“No?” he asks, looking at me quizzically. “Was it Brookstone?” he asks, tilting his head.

I stare, shaking my head left to right, eyes closed and my mouth slightly open as he hammers the nail in deeper. “Oh wait,” he declares. “It was Sharper Image, right?”

Before I can say a word, the eight-year-old is off the stool and out of the room. I hear his little body take a flying leap toward the living room couch, knowing exactly how he buries his face in the cushions when he’s truly upset.

“He’ll be fine,” my husband says, looking slightly nervous. We both knew that was that.

Santa was no longer.

“Oh no,” I said with a heavy sigh.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“Don’t worry about it? He just figured out Santa’s not real!” I hissed. “We need to go talk to him.” I know I sounded hysterical…because I was.

I’d been through this before with the fourteen-year-old, and it did not go well. He’d learned the truth about Santa when he was 9. Here’s how that went down:

Nine-year-old: Mom, I know Santa’s not real. You don’t have to lie anymore.

Me (wondering how these kids always throw me the curveballs and heavy-duty emotional stuff when I’m alone): What do you mean, Honey?

Him: Don’t lie to me, Mom! I know you’re Santa!

Me: What do you mean? (Who told him? This is my first kid. I’ve never done this before. Did I even know the truth at his age?  Should I tell him the truth or maintain the facade? Will he tell his younger siblings? Why doesn’t my husband get stuck with these questions?)

Him: I want the truth. (I check his expression and determine he’s ready for the truth)

Me (once I hear the word truth, I spill my guts): You want to know the truth?

Him: Yup.

Me: Okay. (Here goes nothing) I think you’re finally old enough now. I still believe in Santa, and so does Dad, but we’re the ones who get all the presents.

Him: I knew it! Get out! You’re a LIAR!! LIAR!! LIAR!!

Me: But… (guess I misinterpreted his expression. He’s definitely not ready)

Him: You’ve been lying to me my whole life! I bet the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are all fake, too!

Me: Well, they’re not technically lies. They’re all about the spirit of —

Him: And the Nap Fairy’s probably fake, too, right?

Me: (I clench my jaw. My mother made up the Nap Fairy as a way to get the grandkids to go down while she watched them. Sounded great at the time. Who knew?) You know, what, honey? Let’s–

Him: GET OUT NOW! You’re such a LIAR!!

So, that’s how it went down with the teenager back in the day. Thank God our daughter’s reaction was different. At 8 years old, as I tucked her into bed, she’d asked me, point-blank, if Santa was real. I braced myself for impact and answered, point-blank, “No, he’s not.” Her reaction was sheer glee.

“I KNEW it!” she’d squealed with giggles, then ran off to write a story about it.

Last night, I walked into the living room and sat down on the couch next to my grieving son. His entire body faced the back of the couch, away from me, from the fireplace — where we’ve always laid out the cookies and the milk and the notes for Santa and the carrots and the water for the reindeer — and from the lies. My husband lingered in the kitchen, wiping down the counter from dinner (not just because I’m horrible at that job, which I am, and not because we’d left a huge mess, which we did not); who could blame him for keeping clear of the emotions in this living room?

This is the moment we’ve never discussed as parents: our youngest child asks if Santa is real…and wants to know if his parents and his siblings are all in on the whole charade. It’s all so heartbreaking. Why did we ever think this was a good idea?

Gently, I nudge his back. He jerks away, shaking off my contagious, dishonest arm.

“I still believe,” I say, meaning it.

He turns toward me with tears on his bright red cheeks, his head slightly sweaty from being buried in the couch cushion. I know he’s ashamed of his anger, ashamed of not figuring it all out sooner, ashamed of being mad at a mother who loves him. I see this confusion in his eyes, especially when he says, “What do you mean, you still believe?”

“I mean, I believe in Santa. I’m 43 years old and I believe in him. When I was your age, and I found out my parents delivered all the gifts…that Santa wasn’t the one who came…I was sad, just like you are. But then I learned it’s okay to still believe in him, even when he’s not here. Because Santa’s here in spirit. That’s the truth.”

I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t turn away from me. Thankfully, he did not.

We moved the screen away from the fireplace. Left a trail of coal. Cleared out the cookies and the food for the reindeer. The note was for the eight-year-old and his two friends, who'd collected money for the big man, hoping for more presents...

As my husband takes a seat on the couch, my son says, “So it was always you guys who moved the fireplace screen?” My husband props his feet up on the coffee table and looks to me.

“Yup,” I say, scrunching my nose with guilt. As our son continues to pull at our heartstrings, the Santa myth keeps unraveling, breath by breath.

“So those presents that said, ‘To Nate From Santa’ were really from you guys?” he says. I think I see a tear.

“Yes,” I confess, looking him in the eye. Wait, that’s not a tear. It’s more of a glint. Could he actually be glad to know what’s been going on?

“If you really think about it,” my husband says, “it’d be awfully hard for a fat man to squeeze down this chimney. Just look at it.” He points to the shallow space in the hearth where the coal basket sits. This house has a narrow, coal-burning fireplace, de rigueur when Queen Anne rowhouses like this one were built. “He’d have been stuck for sure, don’t you think?”

Our son pauses in thought. “What about all of our Christmas cookies? And the milk? And the carrots for the reindeer?” He’s definitely not mad; more like something halfway between curious and WTF.

My husband raises his hand, admitting his complicity. “I ate all the cookies,” he says, rubbing his belly. His broad smile is an older version of our son’s, whose smile I’m still hoping to find tonight.

“You ate the carrots, too?” the boy asks us.

“No,” I say, “but we fed them to the rabbit.” I shrug my shoulders, hoping his eight-year-old heart understands we did this all out of love. Monsters don’t feed carrots to rabbits on Christmas Eve, right? He’s got to know that.

I watch my boy as he thinks and, in this moment, I am unsure if more tears — or acceptance — will follow.

Just then, the smooth-lipped teenager strolls into the room. “What’s up, li’l rider?” he says to his little brother.

With a stony-eyed look on his cherubic face, the eight-year-old announces, “I know everything.”

“About what?” the hairless wonder asks.

“About Santa,” poker-face says, pointing to his father and me.

“Oh, Dude. I kind of remember when I found out! I kind of–”

I remember when you found out,” my daughter says to her older brother, cracking her knuckles as she walks into the living room. “You were sooooo upset!”

“I was?” the teenager asks, looking to me for confirmation. I nod as his sister continues.

“Yes, you were,” she says, arms folded across her chest. She looks at the younger brother — whom she claims to despise — and winks. “He cried so hard!” she says, pointing to the teenager. The younger brother sits up straighter, stealing a sideways glance at the older brother he idolizes.

“You cried really hard?” the young one asks incredulously, covering his mouth with his hands.

“Like a little baby,” the sister reports — as if she’d been there herself (which she most certainly was not). She’s heard me tell the story many times, particularly when she’s been tempted to tell her younger brother the truth about Santa. I’d remind her how devastated her older brother had been, and that it was important not to ruin the magic of Christmas for her younger brother.

The moment has arrived. Each of my children are now aware there is no Santa Claus. The “secret” is out, and I’m shocked at the relief I feel not to carry this non-truth any longer. In fact, I’m shocked my third child still believed in Santa until he was 8, though I suspect he wanted to believe as much as I wanted him to.

Such a rare moment. This is where the true magic is.

It’s in moments like this that I try to find the collective good that comes out of life’s toughest situations. For instance, all three of my kids were gathered in one room, engaged in a non-combative manner. In that moment, they were connected by a common thread (granted, that thread was the “lie” I’d been telling for 14 years running, but still…).

I still believe in the magic, the emotion, and the spirit of the season, and I hope my children will embrace these emotions, as well. And that’s the truth.

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Even Homecoming Queens Get Depressed

I was the 1985 Homecoming Queen of Hoffman Estates High School near Chicago, Illinois.

What I didn’t realize then, that I only see now at 43, is that I suffered from depression at seventeen years old.

In 1985, a 17-year-old didn’t know as much about depression as a 17-year-old does today. In 1985, we didn’t have access to the Internet, nor did we talk openly about “being blue”.  In 1985, a 17-year-old couldn’t Google “I feel sad” or “my life sucks” or find a blog about someone’s similar experience. We’d have to go to the public library or use the Encyclopedia Britannica our parents collected with grocery store stamps to look up the term “depression” yet even then, depression was all about the crazy-haired kooks who laid in bed all day drinking Sanka and snacking on toenails.

It’s now 2012, and I’m here to tell you: depression affects anyone at any time.

I’m also here to tell you that it gets better.

At 17, I was emotional.  I cared deeply—often too much—about everything, and I tried to please everyone: parents; friends; friends of friends; boyfriends; teachers; boyfriends’ teachers; coaches; boyfriends’ coaches; the senior citizens I played bingo with; even my cranky boss at Baker’s Square Restaurant.  I rarely felt good enough or that I tried hard enough, which always left me feeling exhausted.

From the outside, I came off as the consummate over-achiever, the go-to gal willing to fix, mend, take charge or carry the load when no one else could or would. Inside, however, I never felt I gave 100% of my efforts to any one thing (excellent preparation for motherhood, but how was I to know?).

To my surprise, I was nominated to the Homecoming Court my senior year in high school. I should have been on top of the world, right?  But, the honest-to-God truth was that I never once understood why I was on that damn court. I never felt I belonged. I didn’t feel pretty enough. Tall enough. Smart enough. Nice enough. Worthy.

The afternoon of the Homecoming assembly, the ten members of the Homecoming Court (5 guys, 5 girls) were excused from their regularly scheduled classes to primp and fuss in the locker rooms. The 5 of us girls smiled nervously at each other as we reached for our long dresses, hanging in plastic bags suspended from the open, upper lockers. My dress was a satiny, fuschia number with big, puffy shoulders to match my permed, soon-to-be-Aqua-Net-crusted hairdo. While I couldn’t read the other girls’ minds, I still remember my own dizzying thoughts as I waited for the butane to heat up my portable curling iron:

Why am I even on the Homecoming Court?

Kari should win because she’s sporty and smart and doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.

Simone should win because she’s the kindest, sweetest person.

Kim’s going to win because she’s so smart and nice to everyone.

Tracy ought to win since she knows who she is and isn’t fake at all.

This is insane. Why should any one of us even win? Who’s to say one person is better than another?

Some teacher probably felt sorry for me and fixed the voting to get me onto the Court.

I can’t wait to see the water fountains they’re putting up in the gym. I hope I can see them in the dark.

I bet I’m only here because I’m one of the shortest kids in the school — all the short kids must have voted for me.  Oh, and probably all of Beth’s [my sophomore sister’s] friends, too.

As the five of us prepped for the assembly in the locker room, I thought about how I’d known these girls my entire high school career, if not longer. We’d sat through classes together; rode buses together; stood in cafeteria lines, crossed our arms across our budding chests on the sides of the school swimming pool so the totally disgusting boys in their gross Speedos wouldn’t stare at us; researched papers with them; held doors for each other, jockeyed for mirror space during passing periods, sat through assemblies and cheered at bonfires with them. I’d seen each of them at Woodfield Shopping Mall with their boyfriends or their families, buying salted pretzels from Hot Sam or walking out of Chess King with a pair of parachute pants. I’d noticed how nice/quiet/friendly/moody/beautiful each of them could be on any given day. Most of all, I envied each one of those girls for what they were and for what I was not.

Yet, as the clock clicked closer to the assembly’s start, I felt an ironic sense of distance and tension. The five of us, alone yet together in this vast locker room, were all that we had, yet we barely spoke a word.

“You look so pretty,” someone said.

“No, no, you look gorgeous,” another insisted.

“I love your dress,” one of us said.

“This? Oh, but look at yours.”

Not an ounce of cattiness was detected. Just deference — and an urgency to get this thing the hell over with.

The ceremony itself remains a blur. The packed gymnasium was dark and noisy. Worst of all, I couldn’t get a good view of the fountains. I thought about the kids who’d spent countless hours decorating the gym, wondering if they, like me, wished someone would turn up the lights, even for a few seconds. I knew my mom and my stepfather and my six-year-old sister were somewhere in the audience. My fifteen-year-old sister was definitely in the audience: I heard her (and all of her friends) calling my name. I wondered if my biological dad was somewhere nearby — possibly drunk – as well.  Sure enough, he was (nearby — and possibly drunk) but that’s another story altogether.

The chorus sang. The King was crowned. My name was called…and as someone hung a white satin sash across my fuschia chest for everyone in the gym to see, I crumpled into tears. A local newspaper photographer ensured my twisted grimace was captured forevermore.

The King and I took our “victory lap” around the dreamy, faux path created by the Decorating Committee. We walked quickly — just as all of us on the Court had been instructed to do earlier in the day at the Homecoming Assembly Rehearsal – stepping in time with the music, past the spurting fountains, heading back toward the starting point so we’d land it just as the song wrapped up, exactly as we’d been told to do.

Ever the pleaser, I’d be damned not to hit the mark a second beyond the final note of the song.

My King and I clung to one another, elbows locked, along our faux path as the crowds in the bleachers yelled and screamed. I wanted to cry the entire time.  I looked at my four Court-mates who should have strolled along with me. I wanted to say, Can’t you see? This is all so ridiculous! Come walk with us. This is so embarrassing. My King cracked heartfelt, smart-ass jokes that left me laughing until tears rolled down my face. I must have looked elated, but I was crying for real inside. It’s been my coping technique ever since: happy on the outside and they’ll never look deeper at the sadness within.

Before today, I’d never told my children about being named Homecoming Queen. I never felt it mattered, never felt I deserved it, never thought it was something to be proud of. Instead, I thought of it as some popularity contest I didn’t sign up for, one that I somehow won out of pity.

And that’s what depression can do. Even when the world is your oyster…even when things fire on every cylinder…depression has a way of whispering doubt and self-loathing so quietly that you’re almost able to convince yourself you didn’t hear it…until you start listening for it. You try to hear that whisper so intensely that, when it floats like steam past your tightly-wound psyche and evaporates before you can deal with it rationally, you feel sucker-punched and exhausted from the effort of it all.

—–

Someone in my family recently told my daughter I’d been voted Homecoming Queen in high school. I pulled out the sash and hung it across my middle-aged chest, the same chest I used to hide with embarrassment, the one I nursed three children with and the one that now swells with pride when I see those children today at 14, 12 and 8.

My 12-year-old daughter looked at the sash with awe, and then said, “What exactly IS a Homecoming Queen?”

“You know,” I said, smiling. “It’s just a silly thing they do in high school.” While I’m glad she hasn’t lived in the shadow of a mom fixated on the notoriety of something as superficial as a homecoming title, I must remember to look for any shadows of depression she (or either of my boys) encounter. I know so much more about how it can be maked. Blended. Hidden. I know depression strikes anyone at anytime. That it hurts. That it feels like it will never end.

But I also know that it’s okay to talk about it. Not to be ashamed. Give myself permission to retreat and recharge. Let myself cocoon when I need to, and to accept that I am human like everyone else.

I tucked my homecoming sash back into the small cardboard box I store it in, a box that once held a corsage from some event I’ve long since forgotten.  It’s been years since I thought of that sash, and even longer since I’d pulled it out; I suspect it won’t come out of that box for many years to come, but I no longer feel ashamed of it.

It’s taken me 26 years to accept the honor of my title, and while there is no white satin sash for depression, it is yet another title I carry that I am no longer ashamed of.

What I Say When I’m Asleep

What my daughter sees when I'm asleep.

One of the benefits of having an eleven-year-old daughter with a sense of humor is that she writes down what I say while I’m sleeping.  Here are her notes from last night.  And yes, it’s become sport (for her and the rest of my family) to track and discuss my nocturnal ramblings:

Daughter: Mommy, where’s the bandaids?

Me: Hmmm.  In my purse in my wallet which is in my red and white sailor dress.

Daughter: (Looks for dress, then realizes Mom is “crazy talking” again.)  Mom, you’re crazy talking.

Me: NOO!

Daughter: Mom, yes.  Now where are the bandaids?

Me:  Blue Harbor Monte Carlo.

Daughter: Okay, but where are they?

Me: BLUE HARBOR MONTE CARLO GOMEZ!

Daughter: What?!

Me: That’s where I got them.  Blue Harbor.

Daughter: No, but where do I find one? I need one.

Me: (Sing-song-y tone) Some are in the bushes.  Some are in the trees.

Daughter: Good night, Mom.

Me: Feed the bunny, honey.

Daughter: Mom, you’re scaring me.

Me:  Nightie night.