Damn Elves


The first sign that I had trouble with my elves came by way of a text message.

“Thanks for thinking of us with a Christmas card, but the envelope we received was empty.”

Nice one, I chided myself, recalling the frantic 6 a.m. addressing-and-stuffing spree of a few days earlier. Chicken Little and I, not actually locating any elves on the premises, had tackled the job ourselves. Apparently at least one of us hadn’t had enough coffee.

Thank goodness we’d only missed one.

But then came an email. “My dad says he got an empty envelope from you. Were you sampling too many Christmas cocktails or were the kids helping?”

Both. The answer is both. 6 a.m. cocktails are my favorite.

But now I was alarmed. I’d sent humbugs to two households that I knew of. How could I know there weren’t more? I held my breath and waited for additional notification of failed mail.

It came from the post office.

A bundle of seven bent and smashed up envelopes, bearing a blunt inked message: “no contents.” Apparently the sorting machines had caught ahold of these unsealed gems and punted them back to me.

Little and I had a little chortle at that one. Oh, we’re such silly-heads! Silly silly silly-heads!

By now I’d noticed a pattern. Anyone with last names in the F-H section of the alphabet on my master list was potentially a victim. So when Captain Daddy texted the news that his high school girlfriend (last name: G) had received an empty envelope, I replied, “Saw that coming.”

I readdressed, stamped, and this time, stuffed, envelopes, trying to be grateful that the fallout from my overwhelmed holiday multitasking was only a little humiliation instead of, oh, I don’t know, accidentally leaving the kids at the mall.

At least not yet.

Before I stuck the cards in the mail, I inked a short message on the back: “Damn elves.”










What Happens in Hawaii, Stays in Hawaii

Ever gone on vacation and wished to pretend to be someone else for the week? Just really get away from it all, including yourself?

My oldest daughter spent our Hawaiian vacation being a boy.

Chicken Noodle, nee’ Elizabeth, most often known as Libby, announced upon arrival in Honolulu that she was now to be referred to as Eli. And that she was a boy, and would only do and wear “boy things.”

Given that the day before we left, she’d undergone a radical haircut, and also that Eli/Libby/Noodle has a rather forceful personality we’re all long accustomed to, the transition was fairly seamless. Chicken Little gave a brief nod. I—total fan of masquerade and espionage, myself—gave my approval.

Grandma took a half-second to get on board, but then she was there all the way. “Eli, would you like to play a game of Rat-a-tat Cat? It’s gender neutral.”

Eli wore the same clothes every day—that which we’d brought that was “most boyish.” Life is Good tee-shirt, black shorts.

I’d promised both chickens new swimsuits. At Macy’s in Ala Moana Center, the sales lady automatically pointed Little in one direction and Noodle in the other. I followed Eli to the boys section where we purchased a crisp new pair of Quicksilver board shorts and some black flip-flops. (Little selected a fine Hello Kitty floral bikini and a plumeria barrette for her hair).

At the beach, my children taught themselves to boogie board. They met a new friend named Grace. Little introduced Grace to her brother, Eli. The dynamic of being both oldest and male gave Noodle even more reason to boss everyone around than usual.

At our favorite beach bar, where we get drinks with pineapple and umbrellas on top, the waitress called Eli “sir.” She was elated. I grinned and agreed that it was awesome.

I was slightly less amused when my daughter got booted out of the ladies room a few minutes later by a self-righteous middle aged guest. I asked Noodle what she said to the lady who’d demanded she vacate the premises.

“I told her I was waiting for my sister,” Eli replied.

“You could have just told her you’re a girl,” I pointed out. Eli hadn’t considered that option.

Near the end of our trip, we went to Chinatown. There were a lot of pretty dresses in Chinatown. I saw Eli’s commitment to boyhood waver in the face of all of those flowing tropical prints.

She selected a fringed sarong, albeit in blue.

On the plane home, I said, “So who’s going back to the second grade? Eli or Libby?”

She wasn’t sure.

“Hello, Eli!” Captain Daddy (who had been kept abreast of the situation via text message) greeted her back at home.

“Daddy, it’s Libby!” she corrected and threw herself into his arms.

Macy’s issued a full refund for the board shorts.


A Better View

Awhile back, I promised I’d post this essay, which was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters this year. It’s all about the antics which ensued when Chicken Noodle and I traveled together when she was two. Seems especially appropriate given our recent mother-daughter quest to Hawaii (which was not without challenge, I might add).

A Better View

As my two-year-old daughter and I arrive at the airport on a cold January morning, I am thinking that in the next dozen hours, practically anything could happen. If ever there is a time to fear one’s own child, it’s at the outset of a full day of air travel.

She could play quietly with the tantalizing distractions I’ve so selectively packed. She could be so mollified by going up in the air, in an actual airplane, that she sits peacefully, eventually slipping into a nap.

Or she could refuse her toys along with any of two dozen snacks I carry, become over-stimulated and hungry, and begin to scream and flail and cry.

In short, I fear that my child will morph into a miniature blond devil, people will stare at me and shake their heads in shocked disapproval of my obvious shortcomings as a mother, and in response, I will succumb to a full-blown panic attack, the grips of which won’t let up for my entire vacation.

Traveling with children takes some getting used to. After nearly three years as a mother, I don’t think I’ve adapted yet.

Up until I gave birth, I believed (as most reasonable people do) that vacation was supposed to be easier than regular life. The first time I traveled with Miss Libby, however, I instantly found myself wanting to run screaming back to the tiresome simplicity of my own home, where the outlets were already covered with safety protectors and the sleeping arrangements were blessedly segregated. As my sister puts it, vacationing with children is your regular life, only harder, but with a better view.

If there is one thing I know after nearly three years of living, loving and traveling with this small person, it’s that on this journey as all others, I should expect the unexpected. Most everything I’ve planned for won’t occur, and things I’d never been able to imagine, will.

So, when, once we’re in the air, my daughter refuses goading for a nap, I am not surprised. When she chooses to eat only cookies, I hand them over, non-plussed. When, a thousand miles west of the Oregon coastline, she starts whomping me on the head with her open hand, I tell myself: saw that coming. After all, she’s been deprived of sleep, the high fructose corn syrup has just kicked in, and we’re strapped into 24A and 24B. I feel like having a little tantrum myself.

As the blows rain down, it occurs to me that perhaps my greatest challenge on this journey is also my greatest teacher. For aren’t the secrets to a successful vacation welcoming new experiences and doing whatever one wants? And aren’t those the two mantras that Libby daily embraces, right down to her teeny tiny red polished toes?

Today has already held several excellent examples of Libby’s lifelong search for the fresh and the indulgent. When the Brasilia EMB 120 started taxiing out of Redmond—novelty, indeed—she buckled up and began hollering, “Is it time to blast off?” Soon, she was doing her very favorite thing of all time, watching that 21st century parenting godsend: the portable DVD player. She wasn’t even the slightest bit surprised that some stranger offered her a complimentary beverage. “Where’s that lady with my apple juice?”

So what can I learn here? I am determined to succeed at this vacation, as well. It’s the first time I’ve visited Hawaii in years, I’ve left Libby’s 11-month old sister home with my doting spouse, and we’re destined for Grandma’s (and therefore, plentiful help for me). This is the closest I’m going to get to time off in quite a while.

Embracing the new, I decide, will mean rolling with the punches (even the literal ones). Doing as I wish will require letting Libby do as she wishes, because pleasure surely does not result from wars waged against one’s own progeny. Also, I will have to stay alert to the easy moments when they arrive so as to remember to enjoy them.

Suddenly, I realize that Libby’s attention has reverted to The Little Mermaid, and therefore one of those easy moments is now. I crack open my mystery and sit back with my seltzer water and lime.

An hour before landing, Libby purposefully shuts her movie player, announces, “I want to take a nap,” plops her head in my lap, and falls immediately asleep. She even sleeps through the crash-bump landing.

The unexpected and the pleasurable. These shall be our themes for the week.

Once we’re happily settled at Grandma’s, Libby refuses the fancy stickers, coloring books and ABC puzzle I packed for her and instead plays with my mother’s turkey baster, refrigerator magnets and calculator. Her small, vacation-special shirts and shorts never leave the suitcase; instead she wears pajamas at all times and everywhere, including the zoo. Her new sunglasses are tried on and discarded. The bright new cherry-speckled swimsuit—which, incidentally, she wore for three straight days back home, where it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit—will be worn exactly once before the superior appeal of the beach in one’s birthday suit takes hold.

I paste a dazed grin on my face and acquiesce to almost every whim. I become that mother whose child runs barefoot at the aquarium and consumes cereal for every meal and takes a bath only every three days. In exchange for these slovenly low standards, I get a child stricken with delight at her mother’s leniency and, therefore, the opportunity to collapse in a pool chair, one eye cracked to make sure she doesn’t drown, while she picks all of the flowers off of the bougainvillea.

The next day, she leaps waves at the beach, her ice cream pajamas pulled to her knees, hollering “whoo hoo! Whoo hoo!” At the zoo, she refuses to go and see any animals but instead ducks under a grouping of gigantic palm and fern right by the entrance and says, “Is this the jungle?” I slump on a bench, turn my face to the sun, and smile.

When she naps, I don’t do the dishes. I don’t do the laundry. I don’t read the important novel I am supposed to be reading for work. I don’t write an essay. I read trashy fiction. I eat greasy chips from the bag. I stare stupidly into the middle distance.

It’s the best vacation we’ve ever had. We are two wild girls, far from home and feeling frisky. At the beach at sunset on our last night, I drink two mai tais—two!—while Libby holds the hem of her tie-dyed dress up around her head and swings her pantied behind at all of the caramel-tanned tourists. She flashes a ketchup-covered grin and spins, singing “the sun is going down! Down!” And it does, and it’s beautiful, and I am happier than during any romantic sunset I can recall.

Eventually, the good times have to come to an end. As Libby launches a full-throttle melt down because I won’t let her get on the airplane in her kitty cat pajamas, I get a glimpse of the messy habits I’ll have to overcome when we get home. A week ago, this fit alone would have sent me into a panic. But now, I just take a deep breath and wait for whatever will come during the 15-hour journey we have in front of us. I bet that, somewhere in there, I’ll be able to find the pleasurable and the unexpected

By the time we get on the plane, she’s content. By the time we reach our third layover, when by all measures we should each be hysterical, Libby lays her blankie in the middle of the nearly deserted hallway of the Portland International Airport and tells me it’s time for a picnic. We eat nine kinds of pretend pie, lollipops, and popsicles. It’s delicious.

We are not bothered at all by the occasional suited traveler winding his way around our feast. When we’re finished, my daughter crawls into my arms, kisses each of my cheeks and then my lips, and says, “Thanks for going on the airplane with me, Mommy.”

I think, maybe the unexpected and the pleasurable are the very same thing.





© Copyright Kim Cooper Findling: Oregon-based Writer & Author - Designed by Pexeto