Category Archives: Holidays

Who deserves a vacation?

Of all the titles I thought I’d have throughout my life, Illicit Vacationer was never one of them. And yet, here I am, with my Instagram feed defiantly full of photos of me and my family cavorting on a beach in Maine.

In my defense, I didn’t read Michelle Singletary’s piece in the Washington Post titled “If you’re in debt, you don’t deserve a summer vacation” until after I got back. So, you can imagine my surprise that I somehow managed to get away with sneaking off to the shore without my student loans grabbing me by the ear and hauling me back home while they lectured to me about financial irresponsibility.

If you haven’t read the article, it’s all right there in the headline. But it’s the “deserve” that got me the most. Interesting word choice, considering that the vast majority of Americans are in debt. Luckily, she clarifies what she means by “debt” with the definitely not condescending sentence “I’m sorry to tell you that you don’t deserve a summer vacation if you’re a hot financial mess.”

Ah. Thanks, Michelle. Hot financial mess. Got it. So…everyone then?

But perhaps my favorite bit was when she goes on to say you don’t deserve a vacation even if you saved up for it. Because we should all be using that money to pay down our debt. Because, honestly, how long is it going to take you to become completely debt-free? What, 30, 40, years? You can vacation in your 80’s.

In HER defense, though, she does graciously offer a solution to us mere commoners, us plebs who frivolously spent our stagnant wages on unaffordable higher education, child care, housing, working vehicles and medical procedures. That solution being, of course, the luxurious and also definitely not condescending concept of the “staycation.” Because everyone knows how relaxing it is to hang out in your filthy house that you hang out in every other day of your life. But, as she so kindly reminds us, don’t spend your valuable time off cleaning and attacking that mile-long to-do list. You’re on vacation, afterall. Act like it. Just step around the piles of laundry and dog vomit.

But enough of Michelle’s Very Helpful Tips for the Working Poor. Let me tell you who I think “deserves” a vacation.

Everyone.

Everyone deserves a vacation. Full stop. Everyone is stressed out. Everyone is busy to the point of exhaustion. Everyone is struggling, in some way or another.

I’m sure even rich people get stressed out from time to time. I don’t know, maybe their third Porsche didn’t start today and now they have to have their butler take it to the mechanic and it’s become like a whole thing. I get it, man. It’s rough.

Which is why we all deserve a break.

Do you know what’s so amazing about vacations? It’s somewhere away. Away from home. Away from your problems. Away from the world’s problems. Just for a bit. Just long enough to breathe and take in a lungful of life.

Because by being away, you get perspective. Say, perspective about how you were not put on this Earth merely to work hard and pay your bills.

And you don’t need a big fancy vacation for this perspective. All travel changes you for the better. We only went an hour and half away. In the off-season. For only five days. Because that’s what we could afford. Most of the time it was 55 degrees and rainy.

But it was heaven. Because it was away. Because it was the four of us, laughing and exploring and eating absolutely nothing of nutritional value and remembering that in the grand scheme of things, all the rest of it is just the small stuff. Life is big and should be treated as such.

Because do you know who deserves a vacation the most, in my opinion? My children. They deserve to run around on beach when they’re young enough to scream in delight and slight terror every time a wave touches their foot. They deserve carefree days full of sandy kisses and sticky hugs that leave their lollipops hopelessly tangled in their mother’s hair. They deserve the pure joy that can only come from hopping in the car and setting off for destinations unknown with happy parents.

Debt will always be there. Even if I finally do pay off all my current debt, my car is 14-years-old. We’ll need a new one soon. At some point, someone will break a leg, or get really sick, or need surgery. Eventually, we’d like to own a house instead of renting. Someday my kids will likely go to college. There will always be more debt.

But you know what there won’t always be more of? Time. This time, right now. Where my kids are young and my husband and I are less young but still young enough to chase them through the streets of a charming seaside town with delight.

I can guarantee you that when all of us are on our deathbeds, we won’t be thinking “man, I’m so happy I got all that debt paid off, what a life well-lived.” We’ll be thinking instead about how we sat and watched the waves on a freezing beach that one day in May. And then we came back to our little oceanfront cottage and made s’mores by the fire, with a peace settling upon us that was interrupted only by spontaneous hugs that left fragments of sticky marshmallow hopelessly tangled in my hair.

So, take that vacation, my friends.

You can’t afford not to.

 

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A (rented) room of one’s own

They looked bigger in the pictures online. The rooms. My compliments to the photographer.

The pictures also managed to somehow downplay the whole floral aspect of the room. Which is quite the accomplishment as well. Did you ever sleep over at your grandma’s house in the 1980’s? It looked just like that. Complete with the four-poster bed and the beige, eternally out-of-date, carpet. And, of course, the floral wallpaper. The floral curtains. The chair in the corner covered in clashing floral upholstery.

I didn’t even know flowers had it in them to be so aggressive.  

But this room, it’s mine. For two nights at least.

My husband kicked me out of the house. The beautiful bastard. He had silently watched for months as the daily grind wore away at me, chipping relentlessly at those parts of me that were buried underneath the gargantuan title of MOM.

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He watched and watched and then said enough. Take three days. Go somewhere. Just you.

There were a thousand reasons not to go. Seven hundred of them, at least, being things that had to be done IMMEDIATELY. He let me spout off a mere handful of these reasons before interrupting me with perhaps the two most beautiful sentences ever uttered in the English language: “I don’t care. You’re going.”

As I type this I have a Harry Potter marathon on the supernaturally tiny TV they provided. I’m reclining on a ridiculously comfortable bed (with floral bedsheets) surrounded by books and graphic novels and back issues of magazines and newspapers that I wouldn’t be able to finish even if I had three months.

I keep waiting for an interruption. For a knock at the door. For a feral howl of my name to reach my ears. For…anything.

It never comes.

I’m so happy.

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Remember your room from childhood? From when you were a teenager? How it was your sanctuary? The place you could dream in, wonder and plan who you would become. It was perhaps the only place where all the possibilities and all your potential was allowed out in the open.

It has been a very long time since I had that feeling.

“What are you going to do?” my friends asked me when they heard I was temporarily running away from home.

Nothing.

Nothing?

Nothing.

Or perhaps everything.

I don’t know and it’s delicious.

In the end, I do things. And then I don’t do things. And then I think about doing more things but just lay in my beautiful but possibly haunted rented Victorian bed for a bit longer because sometimes just thinking about doing things is better than actually doing them. I keep checking the time. An old habit from my old life, with kids. It’s going slow, the minutes and hours crawling forward, in no hurry to get anywhere. I briefly debate stealing this precious clock.

And then, perhaps the most magical thing of all happens. I start to miss them. My family.

It has been a very long time since I’ve had that feeling.

It’s lovely.

And, I now realize, vital.

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I don’t know how I can ever repay my husband for this gift, for these three days he gave me to remember who I was, who I still am, underneath all the MOM. And to remember all the reasons I decided to take that title in the first place.

But should he ever feel the need to run away from home, I know a place.

 

Honest Christmas Letter

Greetings, friends and family and people I barely know anymore but still have your addresses saved so what the hell!

I hope this year has been good to you (she types like she hasn’t stalked over half of you on social media late at night with a glass of wine in her hand…definitely-not-creepy haha!).

It’s been a wonderful year here at the Brandon-Huddle household. At least I think it has. If I’m being completely honest, I can’t remember what it was like before the Vague Plague swept through our house, reducing all of us to coughing, feverish, snotty shells of our former selves. You know, that mysterious illness that hits one family member and then passes through all the rest until the first one finally gets better right as the last one is coming down with it, thus passing it back onto the first one, on and on and on until none of you can remember what it is like to breathe through one nostril anymore, let alone two. It has no name but is somewhere in-between a cold and the flu. Unless, of course, the man of the house gets it, in which case it is a Very Serious Case of Almost Certain Death.

But although our collective health is currently drowning in a tsunami of snot, everything else is a fantastic mixed bag of tragicomedy.

Ryan is working hard as usual. Some would say too hard. And by some I mean me. Awkward haha! Because I reach a certain point in the evening where I simply cannot “mom” for one more minute. But at least he’s smart enough to know that if he walks through that door past six he is to have a bottle of wine tucked under his arm for me. Maybe also a cheeseburger. And a taco.

But it’s not entirely his fault. You gotta make a living, right? Kids are expensive. And he’s really good at what he does. Plus, during those brief twelve minutes we have together in-between the kids going down and us passing out on the couch after watching the opening credits of “Sabrina” on Netflix, we are reminded how much we love each other as we grunt and stare vacant-eyed into the other’s rapidly aging face.

As for myself, I completed a half marathon this year, which has been a dream of mine ever since my friend Emily texted me “wanna do a half-marathon?” and I drunkenly texted back “hellz yesh!” The race was awful. Just truly awful. Why do people like to do this? What is wrong with them?

But the point remains that I did it. Which I now tell anyone standing within earshot.

I’ve also been keeping up with my writing. I’m even trying my hand at writing a book. Which means I rapidly swing from “I can do this, I can totally do this” to “I’m an idiot. What is a plot? Whet r werds?” on a daily basis. I definitely think I need new hobbies.

This has also been a big year for our oldest, Riker, who started preschool this year. He loves it. Now. In the first few weeks there was some atomic-level leg clinging during drop-off but now he can’t stop talking about school. At least I think he’s talking about school. His stories aren’t always coherent. They pretty much start somewhere at the ¾ mark and then jump backward toward the middle with a brief glance at the beginning while the ending has apparently escaped through some window, never to be heard of again.  

Allow me to share his latest. It’s so cute. I think…?

“So then Ethan is a bad guy, but a friendly bad guy, and we chased the ghosts on the swings and Mrs. Ferris says, but Momma, it’s always important to share, and remember, Momma, when you first get to the classroom, we have to do our arrival jobs so we walk quietly and carefully to our cubby and put away our things and then sometimes Elena hugs me too hard and I don’t like it but that’s ok and now I’m a big boy, not a baby, which is why the vampires were hiding in the closet.”

Speaking of babies, our baby isn’t a baby anymore. Mae turned 2 in July. She is just turning out to be a fantastic little person, albeit one who drinks what has to be an unhealthy amount of bath water. We are a bit nervous about her arch-villain tendencies but, as they say, raise the children you have, not the children you want. Even if they scare you a bit.

And last, but certainly not least, is our dog Buffy. He’s 13 now! Can you believe it? I certainly can but then again I am constantly reminded thanks to his old man dog farts, which are numerous and aromatic, to put it politely. But the vet says he is in great shape and super healthy and only charged us $600 to tell us that.

All in all, we realize how lucky we are with our beautiful little family and a roof that only leaks sometimes over our heads. Although if anyone is wondering what to get us for Christmas, a nap would just be fantastic.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

Apparently the Tooth Fairy got a tax break too

Considering my oldest child is only four, I admit I’m still fairly new to the parenting game. However, I’m not so new that I don’t already have unnecessarily strong opinions on how the rest of you are doing this wrong. (Oh, shut up, you know we all do. The second that baby came out of my body I was immediately critical of how the doctor was holding him.)

Now, let me clarify, I don’t care how you raise your children. I don’t care what you feed them. I don’t care what they watch or their “screen time” limits or if they do chores or how you discipline them. I don’t care what you name them or if they’re on a leash or free range or home schooled or fancy private schooled or even if they are buttheads (because, hey, my kids also have butthead tendencies).

I don’t care about any of that. You are the expert when it comes to your own kids.

But there are certain things that affect all of us parents. Certain things that we are all in together. And some of youse guys are completely ruining it for the rest of us.

Take the tooth fairy, for example. When I was a kid, the going rate was a quarter per tooth. So, you can imagine my surprise when I was scrolling through Facebook and discovered that some kid got an electric train set from the tooth fairy.

AN ELECTRIC TRAIN SET. For sitting there and letting a body part fall out of his head. And not even a useful body part that can be studied for science or something. Just a gross useless one covered with the ghost dust of a thousand dead Goldfish crackers.

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Even worse, I found out the current monetary rate for a baby tooth is now apparently $20.

Twenty American dollars.

Do you know how many teeth there are in those little heads? Well, me neither, but it’s a lot. Who are you people? Don’t you have bills? Student loans? Is Grandma footing this expenditure?

I mean, I could understand if this was like a limb fairy or something. I can see giving them $20 for an arm that falls off. They only have two of those.

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“Oh, but it’s my choice what I give my kid from the tooth fairy,” I hear you other parents haughtily declare as you spread diamond jelly on your artisan bread in front of your shrine to Gwyneth Paltrow in your newly renovated kitchen.

But it’s NOT your choice. Not this. Because do you know what happens when your adorable Sharpay gets an electric train set from the tooth fairy? She tells all the other kids and then they come home to us demanding to know why they only got a dollar. And let me tell you, answering “because the tooth fairy hates you” is NOT the correct response no matter how annoyed you are by their whining. In fact, there is no good response to that.

It’s the same thing with Christmas. You want to get little Luxx an iPhone for Christmas? Great. Fantastic. I don’t care. But don’t say it’s from Santa. Because not all “Santas” can afford iPhones and/or think a 6-year-old should have one. Take credit where credit is due and make the jolly fat man give them a ball or some stupid crap.

And then there’s Easter. Can someone please tell me at what point Easter became “Christmas: The Sequel”? For the past five years, I made a drinking game out of scrolling on social media and taking a shot every time someone posted a photo of the loot their kids scored from the Easter Bunny. We’re talking tricked-out bikes. Barbie Jeeps. Tickets for Disney World. And, again, iPhones because Apple must give massive discounts to mythological creatures.

Needless to say, I’m usually drunk within 12 minutes.

Just give them a basket of sugar and some gross eggs and call it a day, other parents. Come on.

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And yes, I do understand that we all have to somewhat keep up with inflation. I don’t even think they make buffalo nickles anymore or where you would find a ha’penny. But they’re kids. They have very little concept of modern economics. We can underpay them. They have no idea. And they are very unlikely to form a union considering most of them haven’t even fully mastered the spoon yet.

So let’s keep it simple. Kids shouldn’t be able to afford a semi-fancy bottle of wine because they lost a tooth. They should be able to buy gum. And not the good gum either. That crap that taste like fruit-flavored chalk.

Because childhood is already inherently magical. And because children actually like that disgusting cheap gum. And because it’s hard enough to parent without raising kids who expect high-end luxury goods for simply being kids.

 

The swimming pool incident

Guys, it took me a long time but I finally found…hang on…sorry, I need a moment. I just get so choked up about it, you know? But I finally found…sigh…a friend with a pool. Like, a legit pool. In-ground and everything.

Better yet, I found this friend with a pool in time for the FOURTH OF JULY. She had a cookout BY THE POOL. I have pictures. We all look like we belong in a fancy beer commercial.

And when I think back on all those dreadful Independence Day celebrations I had to sweatily endure. YEARS of them. Just sitting there in the hot sun, water-less, hating all my stupid family and friends gathered around me with their non-pool-having asses. Yay, America or whatever. Sure, I’d love to have another beer so I can immediately leak it out of my pores, leaving me sober but with belly bloat and a slight headache, thanks.

But now…well, now, as I might have mentioned, I have a friend with a pool. And I ain’t letting her go. I mean, I wouldn’t anyway because she’s a great person, as are her husband and kids, and blah, blah, blah. But, yeah, the pool. I could find out she likes to go on Arctic cruises and club baby seals for fun while on vacation and I’d be like, cool, cool. You’re clearly an awful human being and I have every intention of stopping being your friend…in October. Mid-October at the very latest if it’s one of those really warm autumns.

There was only one drawback to this otherwise amazing, life-changing, event. Which, if you’re a parent, I’m sure you can relate. I mean, don’t you guys hate that awkward moment when your kid tries to kill your other kid? In public, no less?

We were all having such a good time too. Before, you know, the attempted murder and all. Laughing and splashing and screaming at everyone to stop splashing. My 2-year-old daughter was standing right next to my 4-year-old son on the steps leading into the pool. Then I blinked, like an idiot, and BOOM. The little one was facedown in the water.

Luckily there were multiple other parents in the pool and since every parent is a low key superhero, roughly six of them immediately dove toward her and she was scooped out of the water within mere seconds.

Still, she was hysterical. Because drowning isn’t fun at any age but especially at the age of 2. She was fine though. Everything was fine. I was cuddling and cooing and comforting and ready to chalk the whole thing up to childhood shenanigans…

…when, lo and behold, I heard one of the other kids say “he pushed her” and I instantly knew who that “he” was. Which is how I went immediately from feeling grateful that my one child was alive to worried that my other child wouldn’t be for long.

Because I was going to kill him.

It’s an interesting feeling, that one. As a mom, you’ll do pretty much anything to protect your family. Until that moment comes when you have to protect your family from your family and then you’re just angry and confused, a panting Momma Bear who is growling at everything because you’re no longer sure who to strike out at.

I’m happy to report that there were no casualties that day. Mostly because my husband took one look at my face and then quickly removed my son from the scene so as to have a chat with him about why we don’t drown our sister under any circumstances.

And within an hour we were all back playing in the pool. Because, let’s face it, you can’t let a little thing like sororicide get in the way of a good time.

If I sound a bit callous, or a bit too casual about the whole thing, it’s probably because I am. Even I was a bit shocked at how quickly I shook it off. But I learned three very important lessons that day.

One, drinking sangria your friends made that would put most frat houses to shame helps blunt the edges off the never-ending stress of being a parent.

Two, being surrounded by other parents when something like that happens, parents who have been in the trenches, parents who are hardened veterans, parents who have seen things, man, helps you realize you are not alone and that your kids aren’t the only kids who have ever tried to kill each other.

And three, in order to survive these precious but clearly hazardous child-rearing years, you have to learn how to brush things like this off. Like, oh, ha! Baby’s first attempted assassination. How adorable. Did anyone get a photo?

Because when it comes down to it, we are all raising tiny psychopaths.

They’re learning. You hear that a lot as a parent. You tell yourself that a lot as a parent. These kids, they hit and bite, they throw stuff and spill stuff, they can’t control their emotions. Because, hey, they’re learning. How to human. How to handle. How not to murder.

Which was clear the next day when my two kids were happily playing together again, no thought of murder on either of their minds. Just lots and lots of thrilling suicide attempts while seeing if they could fly by jumping off the kitchen table.

 

That Old Dad Magic

My husband once told me that what I do is like magic. He came home from a long day of work, put his stuff down and suddenly noticed that the formerly gigantic haphazard pile of mail that had littered his desk was now in nice, neat, organized stacks. How did that happen? he wondered. For that matter, what happened to all those dirty dishes? And when did those formerly filthy street urchins living in our home become the squeaky clean von Trapp children?

Oh, he told me, it must be magic. Mommy magic. The thousand little things I do daily to keep this family ship from running aground.

It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. He truly saw what I did when no one was looking and sometimes, as a parent, that’s all you want at the end of yet another long day (besides a glass of wine the size of your face).

But dads have their own particular magic. And so, for this upcoming Father’s Day, I wanted to let him, and all the other dads out there, know that what you guys do each and every day is noticed and appreciated and loved.  

Like, for instance, how on any given family adventure, dads are the shoulder ride mules, the piggy back stallions and the sleeping toddler plowhorse, wrapped all into one.

They are the bad joke tellers. The world needs bad jokes and dads across this great nation of ours have heroically stepped up to the plate, never wavering in their devotion to that post-joke groan.

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You want grilled meat for dinner? Don’t worry. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these former cavemen from their appointed duty of artfully charring animal flesh. And they will be wearing some pretty snazzy cargo shorts while doing it. Yes, even in the winter.

They are the pool throwers. If there is a pool with children in it, nine times out of ten there is a dad in that pool who will spend the next 90 minutes hurling children down into the water with a giant splash. They do it to their own children, and your children, and all the random children who show up and get in line to also be thrown. No one knows who these kids are but it doesn’t matter. These dads never deny a kid a good throw. And these dads never complain. Even when their shoulders ache and their back is screaming.

They are always willing to do battle…with customer service. They will spend hours on hold, sometimes even holding two phones to their ears (a move my husband calls “insanity in stereo”) in order to finally talk loudly at another human being because, at this point, it’s really just the principle of the thing.

They are the mice hunters (and dead mice thrower-awayers). They are the spider smooshers and the snake beheaders. The “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT THING!?” investigators. And, in many cases, the “we are not getting a dog” nay-sayers who end up loving that ridiculous ball of fluff more than anyone.

They are the illicit snack giver, ruining tiny appetites before dinner because, hey, ya gotta let them babies live a little.

They are the turkey carvers and the toy assemblers and the resigned wearer of the Jabba the Hut suit in the family Star Wars Halloween costume.

They are the big, over-the-top, baritone finish at the end of every Happy Birthday song.

They are tall and short, thick and thin, tattooed and tie-wearing. They are the men who are gentle enough to cuddle with a newborn and brave enough to change a sick toddler’s diaper and strong enough to fix any boo-boo and loving enough to let their toenails be painted and wrestle on the floor no matter how exhausted they may be.

They are dads.

And we love them.

Thanks for all the magic, boys.

Mom is always right, even when she’s wrong

To my dearest, dearest children,

You two are the light of my life. I love you both so much. Which is why I’m writing this even though it’s…difficult. Very difficult, in fact. For me. Your mother. To admit this. But it’s important you know this so…

Sigh…

Listen up and listen hard because you will never hear this ever again.

I was wrong.

Long exhale…

BUT I AM RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE. AND ALL FUTURE THINGS. ALL OF THEM.

However, ok, yes, I was wrong about this ONE thing. You guys were actually wonderful on our recent vacation.

I spent all that time moaning and whining about how awful I expected you guys to be; the likely sleepless nights we’d share, the public tantrums you’d likely have, the running off and disappearing into the ocean you’d likely do, tarnishing my reputation as a mom forever.

And then…nothing. You guys behaved. Not only that, you were charming and sweet and loving. It was like living in one of those old black-and-white photos of the Kennedy family on the beach.

Now, in my defense, it’s easy to assume the worst when it comes to children. Because I’ve seen your worst. On multiple occasions. And I think we can all agree that when it’s bad, it’s BAD. So bad. All the bad. And neither of you is shy about proving it.

There’s the dual meltdowns in restaurants where I have to scream to the waitress over your screaming “AND THE KIDS WILL HAVE A GRILLED CHEESE AND I’LL HAVE AN ENTIRE BOTTLE OF JACK DANIELS, THANKS!” The waiting in line at the store where you’re hitting each other but not the normal little kid hitting. Oh no. The “reenacting scenes from ‘Atomic Blonde’” level of hitting (no more playing with the remotes anymore, by the way, kids). And, my personal favorite, the night-night time “I don’t want to brush my teeth!” freakouts that end with me screaming so loud I’m worried my neighbors now know what kind of mom I actually am.

But nope. None of that. This vacation was everything a vacation is supposed to be. Fun. Exciting. Even, believe it or not, a tad bit relaxing.

I mean, you slept. You both slept. Through the night. Every night. You slept so well, in fact, that I was worried you had maybe both been replaced by changelings. (Luckily a third glass of wine made me realize that I was totally ok with raising the changelings instead of you as long as they kept up these fantastic sleeping patterns.) 

You didn’t complain about the food. You even ate some of it. Which allowed me and your dad to eat. And eat we did. We ate everything. We ate whatever is the scientific amount of calories you can eat in one sitting without dying. And we did it three times a day. Every day.

You occupied yourselves. You played together. Without us. Which allowed us to sit back and drink the aforementioned wine from the big fancy box we had brought like the big fancy people we clearly are.

You were polite to every cashier, every waiter, every little old lady who stopped and gushed over your red hair for 15 minutes.

You were…simply wonderful.

Which leads me to the conclusion that, clearly, the key to an amazing vacation is to dread it. (And to put that dread into writing. And post it online. For all to see.)

And as such, I look forward to dreading many more vacations with you.

Love,

Momma