Things to Read - Seven Interesting Articles From Around the Web (on mom friends, Chris Rock, the most powerful woman in the free world, the central sadness, busyness, college admissions, and Elf on the Shelf)

1. (Mom Friends) - Meaghan O'Connell's article about needing to make mom friends after having a baby reminded me of how hard those early years can be (it really does get easier - kids, babies, mom friends, the whole thing).

" 'Well, are any of them cool?' my friend asked me.

Actually, I said, yes. Most of these women are cool individually. One woman at story time had these great sparkly shoes. Another is a midwife. One woman started her own company and is really funny. Another writes for the Times. Collectively, though, they are mothers. They park their goddamn strollers everywhere and they are alternately dressed like shit or way overdressed for someone who has nowhere to be at all. They’re either miserable or fake happy or smug. They’re lost, too, scrambling for affirmation that they’re doing things the right way, that their kid is going to be okay. Okay or a genius. They’re knee-jerk judgmental, compensating for their own lack of conviction, a little defensive, hiding their deep fear just below the surface. They’re tired. Their clothes don’t fit. They miss work, miss people, miss drinking. They have no idea what they’re doing and have spent way too much time reading about it on the internet. They are, I’m sorry to say, just like me."

2. (Chris Rock) - I feel like social media is abuzz with talk of Chris Rock's New York magazine interview, but have you read it yet? The whole thing is quite brilliant. As in every quote.

"I don’t think I’ve had any meetings with black film execs. Maybe one. It is what it is. As I told Bill Murray, Lost in Translation is a black movie: That’s what it feels like to be black and rich. Not in the sense that people are being mean to you. Bill Murray’s in Tokyo, and it’s just weird. He seems kind of isolated. He’s always around Japanese people. Look at me right now."

3. (The Most Powerful Woman In the Free World) - And speaking of influential people, the New Yorker has a fascinating profile of Angela Merkel, "the most powerful woman in the free world."

"She once joked to the tabloid Bild Zeitung, with double-edged self-deprecation, “The men in the laboratory always had their hands on all the buttons at the same time. I couldn’t keep up with this, because I was thinking. And then things suddenly went ‘poof,’ and the equipment was destroyed.” Throughout her career, Merkel has made a virtue of biding her time and keeping her mouth shut.

. . . .

Merkel, at sixty, is the most successful politician in modern German history. Her popularity floats around seventy-five per cent—unheard of in an era of resentment toward elected leaders. Plainness remains her political signature, with inflections of Protestant virtue and Prussian uprightness. Once, with a group of journalists at a hotel bar in the Middle East, she said, “Can you believe it? Here I am, the Chancellor! What am I doing here? When I was growing up in the G.D.R., we imagined capitalists with long black cloaks and top hats and cigars and big feet, like cartoons. And now here I am, and they have to listen to me!” Of course, there’s something calculated about her public image. “She’s so careful not to show any pretensions—which is a kind of pretension,” the senior official said."

4. (The Central Sadness) - New Yorker also published a wonderful essay on "the childless, the parentless, and the Central Sadness."

"I thought I’d undertaken volunteer work with kids because I was, above all, a realist. I thought it showed the depth of my understanding of my own psyche. I thought it was a way of turning my limitations, specifically my reluctance to have children, into new and useful possibilities. I thought the thing I felt most guilty about could be turned into a force for good. But now I know that I was under the sway of my own complicated form of baby craziness. Wary as I’ve always been of our culture’s reflexive idealization—even obsessive sanctification—of the bond between parent and child, it seems that I fell for another kind of myth. I fell for the myth of the village. I fell for the idea that nurture from a loving adoptive community could erase or at least heal the abuses of horrible natural parents.

I’d also tricked myself into believing that trying to help these kids would put the Central Sadness on permanent hiatus, that my husband and I could find peace (not just peace but real fulfillment) in our life together. Instead, we continued to puzzle over the same unanswerable questions. Were we sad because we lacked some essential element of lifetime partnership, such as a child or an agreement about wanting or not wanting one, or because life is just sad sometimes—maybe even a lot of the time? Or perhaps it wasn’t even sadness we were feeling but, simply, the dull ache of aging. Maybe children don’t save their parents from this ache as much as distract from it. And maybe creating a diversion from aging is in fact much of the point of parenting."

5. (Busyness) - Another great article on the "disease of being busy."

"Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just . . . be?"

6. (College Admissions) - Another article on "letting Harvard go."

"Q - How do I motivate my child to get straight A's? (I wish, actually, the question was: how do I set reasonable academic expectations for my child?)

A - you don't. Encourage your child to do his or her best work. Check in often to feel out how much and how well they're learning. Offer support if your child is struggling. And when your child gets a B, C, or D -- or even if he fails -- don't overreact. Review mistakes. Ask the child to fix them, even if it's not for credit. Ask how he feels about his performance and what he might do differently next time. Never express disappointment, but it's okay to encourage improvement. There's a line, and you know it. Expecting A's is pressure. Expecting learning is awesome."

7. (Elf on the Shelf) - And finally, this article on why "Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state" sounded absurd, until I read it. And now all I can say is "ummm??? (Full disclosure, we are an "Elf family", my children know no other way).

“I don’t think the elf is a conspiracy and I realize we’re talking about a toy,” Pinto told The Post. “It sounds humorous, but we argue that if a kid is okay with this bureaucratic elf spying on them in their home, it normalizes the idea of surveillance and in the future restrictions on our privacy might be more easily accepted.”


Things to Do - 12 in 12 (December 2014)

Now that I can't walk or drive (annoying broken foot), my days have slowed down considerably. I have a lot of work I should be doing - finishing up final edits from end of November photoshoots, reworking my website to showcase newer photos, newsletters, business cards, taxes, branding. But I don't have a laptop and I'm supposed to keep my foot elevated as much as possible. So I took the week off . . .

Don't forget to check out Not-So-SAHM and Where the Watermelons Grow to see how their Fridays went.

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7:45 am - Our elf isn't as creative as some of the other elfs out there, but at least he moves around a lot.

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8:15 am - The kids unwrap fake mustaches for day 12 of the countdown to Christmas. These prove to be a HUGE success.

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8:45 am - My friend picks the kids up to walk them to school, since I can't really move that well.


9:15 am - I elevate my foot and finish the last episode of Puberty Blues, Season 2 on Hulu (probably the best show ever on TV, you can read my review of Season 1 here).

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11:45 am - My friend, Ann, picks me up for lunch at Busboys and Poets.


1:30 pm - Back on the couch. This time I alternate between reading The Paying Guestsand watching Broad City on Amazon Prime (that show is HYSTERICAL!!)

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2:30 pm - Take a selfie of myself on the couch, just to take a picture of something.

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3:45 pm - F makes root beer floats for everyone after school.

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4:30 pm - Kelly picks us up to drive to playgroup. Unlike us, she has TVs in her car, which enchant my children. (I know you can't see the whole ensemble that well in this photo, but there is NOTHING in the world cuter than a toddler in a shark jacket/costume).


6:30 pm - Friday night playgroup at Julia's. Wonderful salad, wonderful friends.

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8:00 pm - Drive by some crazy Xmas lights on the way home. Apparently the house has its own AM station, but we just stay long enough to get the general idea.

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9:00 pm - P trying to delay bedtime for just a few minutes more.


Things to Do - Gravity Maze GIVEAWAY!!

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I have a friend who loves making marble runs with her kids - they own runs in every size and color imaginable. But me? Well up til now I've always been more neutral on the marble run experience. Yes, it can be fun to build a little roller coaster of sorts, but after awhile the whole process seems a little redundant. Until now.

Over the past year or so, Thinkfun has asked us to try out a variety of their new toys and games and we've always been rather impressed with their offerings. But Gravity Maze is the best yet. The puzzle/game comes with 60 challenges, ranging from beginning to expert. And it is up to you to arrange various translucent "towers" in such a way that the ball rolls from A to Z.

Gravity Maze is designed for children 8 and up. P (my 8 year old) loves solving the challenges both with me (as a team) and on her own. Whereas, T (my 5 year old) prefers to let me do most of the problem solving, while he drops the ball to see if we're working in the right direction.

All in all, this is a great pre-dinner activity, especially during the LONG LONG nights of December. Think Fun has offered to giveaway one gravity maze to a No Monsters reader (US addresses only). To enter, just comment on this post. Please include your email address in the body of the message (so I can find you). This giveaway will close this Thursday night (December 18th).


Places to Go (Vacation) - Bourbon Street & A Broken Foot (New Olreans, LA)

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These are my best friends. I don't see them as often as I'd like. But when I do see them, we have fun.

I really don't think there's any better place for a girls' weekend than New Orleans, LA. Especially when you're edging 40. Because you can: drink outside in December, dance to a live band singing "Don't Stop Believing", and (miraculously) find yourselves some of the youngest women in the room. Vegas just can't give you that last part.

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Everything became fuzzy after the hurricanes (granted there were several margaritas before the hurricanes even began).

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Apparently we drank more.

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And more.

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And danced.

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Night two was much more mellow due to an ill-placed pothole colliding with my right foot (I actually fell in said pothole while checking my fitbit steps, oh the irony).

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After walking proved difficult, we ended up at the hotel bar, with its overpriced drinks and eclectic clientele.

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Wine numbs the pain.

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And if a stranger tells Allison she has big hair, as in "really big, like Texas, hair" . . .

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Then she will find a way to make it bigger.

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And bigger.

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So Saturday was sort of a bust. But after 4 hours in the New Orleans emergency room (not a place I'd recommend), they told me my foot was definitely broken, gave me a coolio boot, and sent me on my way.

Still a great weekend. And that says a lot.


Things to Do - 7 Ways to Ward Off the Gimmies This Holiday Season

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Every year my friend Tara puts together this amazing event called the Gifts That Give Hope gift fair, where kids can "shop for unique and meaningful teacher and grandparent gifts personalized by your child, learn more about 15 locally based nonprofit organizations, enjoy festive holiday music and refreshments, visit with Santa, enjoy facepainting and kid's activities, all while teaching children the true meaning of giving by shopping at our Children's Gift Fair."

Usually, we're out of town for the fair, but this year we can't wait to participate. If you're interested, Gifts That Give Hope will take place this Saturday from 10 am til 2pm at Calvary United Methodist Church (2315 S Grant St. Arlington VA 22202).

In the meantime, check out Tara and Katherine's wonderful article about how to avoid the holiday gimmies.

7 Ways to Ward off The Gimmies This Holiday Season

For many of parents, the kids’ first glimpse of the glistening holiday display at the mall ushers in a side of the holiday season that triggers a pounding headache: The kids come down with a case of The Gimmies.

It’s hard to blame them. The television, the radio and—good grief—even the mailbox are full of ads for items add to their ever-expanding wish lists. “I want a bike,” “I need a Transformer,” or “I’m going to ask Santa for an American Girl doll.” Often, the appeals come from kids who would never nag for a toy, outside of this increasingly amped-up season draped in snowy wonder.

In the age of thoughtful parenting, many of us wrestle with how to deal with it all — not just the gifts, but how to merge family traditions without making the whole month of December into a celebration of decadence and spoiling. What none of us want is a collection of rotten kids to live with for 11 months of the year, when the guests have gone, the Elf on a Shelf has moved back north and the family routines return to normal.

Here are seven ways to ward off The Gimmies, many of them borrowed from friends and loved ones who, like us, are wishing for oodles of holiday joy, but hoping we can get through it without create little monsters.

1. Make the holiday season about more than presents; make it about experiences. These don’t need to be elaborate, Facebook-ready photo-ops. Instead, put away your to-do list. Slow down. Take a holiday light drive. Bake cookies with the kids, and then sit down to enjoy one yourself. Be sure—throughout the month—to talk about gratitude for all that you have and all that you can do.

2. Get rid of the catalogs. They fill your mailbox, pile up on your counters and are menus for The Gimmies. Instead, steer kids—and gift givers—to activities like skating lessons, outings and other memory-makers.

3. If you have indulgent family members, ask them to limit gifts. This can get tough. However, at the end of the season, mom and dad have to be the Curator of the New Toy Collection. Muster all your diplomacy and ask for their support. Hopefully, they’ll understand that you’re doing your best to raise good-natured and appreciative children.

4. If you wind up overwhelmed by generosity, tuck some gifts away, if you can do it without hurting anyone’s feelings. Save them for the summer—or even a big spring snowstorm—when they won’t get so lost in the holiday deluge.

5. Let the giving be the receiving. Have the kids help pick out presents and talk to them about giving thoughtfully. When it makes sense, help them make
some gifts, even simple ones. (Read: Don’t look at Pinterest first. Construction paper snowflakes and glitter are still adorable.)

6. Talk about the meaning of the holidays. If you are Jewish, teach your children about the miraculous menorah that burned for eight days. Explain the significance of eating delicious food cooked in oil, like latkes, and invite friends over for dinner. If you are Christian, make Advent and the coming of Jesus a significant part of the December narrative. Get to a Christmas pageant or see a live Nativity. Think of ways to get through to the little ones: Why not bake a birthday cake for Baby Jesus? Whatever your beliefs, use them to start a conversation with your kids about the traditions of your holiday.

7. Be generous yourself. Talk with your children about adopting a family or contributing to Toys for Tots. Remind your kids that not everyone has a lot. We adore the charity Gifts that Give Hope, which hosts alternative gift fairs online and in the United States and Canada. There, shoppers can purchase acts of kindness for loved ones, rather than another sweater. These conversation pieces at the holidays can remind everyone—young and old—about the value of supporting charities that help the homeless, sick children and others who need a hand.

- Tara Bibb and Katherine Shrader are Arlington, Va., moms, and board members at Gifts that Give Hope. They are doing their best to discourage The Gimmies, but know there will be plenty of moments that test them between now and New Year’s.


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