Krampus on the Shelf

Good evening folks, happy Post Christmas, House Looks Like Toys-R-Us Exploded Here Day!  And to any of you who may be thinking “Geez Ashley, our house doesn’t look like anything exploded, because I am a functioning adult human who spent a whopping 10 minutes cleaning up,” to you I say FEH. And also? Stop being so functional and adult. It’s annoying and it makes people dislike you. Hashtag the more you know.

This afternoon I am sitting on the couch, wearing the same brand new Christmas Jammies that I have been wearing almost exclusively since Friday night (there was a walk, there were pants for the walk… there were baths, there was a shower, and a church service but…. Yeah. Besides that, Jammies.) I am sitting in my Christmas Jammies that now feel like maybe are a little gross and I shouldn’t have told you about, warming myself next to a Netflix Special movie of a fireplace and Christmas music.*  Next to me is Wonder Woman sitting astride T-Rex. Because it’s Christmas, dang it.
Don't Mess. 
I know what you’re thinking, but this weekend hasn’t all been luxurious self-indulgence and laziness. I have in fact, accomplished a great many things. For example, today I have already ready the first 100 pages of A Game of Thrones. And I fully intend to read more. And Saturday evening, I spent 3 hours watching youtube tutorials and learning how to master the Rubik’s Cube. So yeah, I’d say I’m pretty happy with how my life is turning out.

HOWEVER. My current state of comfort and joy is not the reason I am here today. I am here to talk with you about a close friend of yours that recently moved out of your house. A strange guest that showed up just after Thanksgiving, and who spent the month of December terrorizing your home while threating your children and refusing to be touched. You know the guy. Always smiling. Rosy cheeked in a way that makes you think he’s probably been hitting that egg nog a bit too hard. Poops Hershey’s Kisses.

I am, of course, talking about The Elf on the Shelf.

A few years back, this cheaply constructed little red smiling creep showed up at Target, and suddenly every 3rd family I knew was explaining to me how this Taiwanese made tiny stuffed weirdo had been “part of our family traditions for generations”.

So like, first off? Liars. All of you. You found it 3 minutes ago on a Target end cap display just like every other mother in America. Stop the cultural appropriation. This isn’t your elf. You didn’t build that. Stolen valor.

But second, and truly, the elf, in a roundabout way, actually has been a part of European Christmas culture. For generations, little blond haired children were terrified into good behavior by talk of Santa’s malevolent little helper. Everyone knows that Santa has a grasp on what to do for good kids. But the bad ones? That’s not really Santa’s domain. Santa outsourced that crap to someone, let’s say, more well suited. Austria called him Krampus. Germany named him Knecht Ruprecht*. My own great-grandparent country people had Zwarte Piet***. And modern day North America has The Elf on the Shelf.

You think I’m being sarcastic or crazy. You think I hate the Elf because I am a lazy human person who DOESN’T NEED ANOTHER TINY ENTITY TURNING MY HOUSE INTO AN EVERLOVING DISASTER EVERY GAL DANG DAY GEEZ IS IT NEVER ENOUGH. And I mean, obviously you’re right. I think it’s terrible. But it’s not just that. I am also like 100% right about the Zwarte Krampus on your Shelf.

We try to make them cute. What with their shiny faces and smiles and ridiculously curled toes, but Santa’s helpers have never been there for fun. They have never been nice. That’s what Santa’s for. He’s the nice guy. The helper is there to make you wish that your naughty little ars had never been born.

And I gotta say? Kids get it. This year at my mother’s house, my children were introduced for the first time to Santa’s favorite little mantle-riding Snitch. They thought it was cute, they named it Elfsa (because Frozen. Obvi.) They registered it on the internets so that, I don’t know, Santa can now track them via Wifi, and they read the story of the Elf. Then, when they learned that the little blighter was supposed to fly through the house at night, they all insisted their bedroom doors be shut tight until sunrise. Because seriously? That crap is terrifying. And when they saw that it was in a different spot the next morning, their little illogical brains all exploded****.
He sees you when you're sleeping.
The first morning post-elf, my 3 year old had been caught lying. (That’s right, we start ‘em young here.) He was later found in the living room, crying and talking to Elfsa.

“I so sorry, das da first time I did dat! You got to tell Santa I am good!” Over. And over. And over again.

Which? Also a lie. That wasn’t the first time. That probably wasn’t even the twentieth time. That child is turning into an Elf-manipulating sociopath.

Last week at our church Christmas party, I got to play the elf. Which is why a little girl their started telling me about the elf that inhabits her own home.
I'm watching, Children! I'm waaaaaatching.
“One day, we woke up and it was in the bathroom. I couldn’t go for 2 days.” 

Because who is going to poo in front of that thing? IT TELLS SANTA EVERYTHING. And also? Even a kid knows a total perv when she sees one.

So if your kids were having Christmas nightmares, don’t be surprised. We took away the horns, the black face, the chains, and the cloven hooves, but we still have the Demon. And he sees you. He. Sees. EVERYTHING.

Well that’s about it folks. Congratulations on surviving the holiday in whatever fashion you did so. And also? Congratulations on packing up the Creep on the Counter. And now till next December 1st, live it up! Because bro, no one is watching.

Probably.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*It is called Fireplace and Melodies for the Holidays, and it does not disappoint.
**Wikipedia told me about it. It means Farmhand Rupert and is the dorkiest of all Christmas demons. Nice try, Rupert. Now go do my taxes.
***It means Black Pete. And yes, we are all super, duper sorry about it.

****Ockham’s Razor, kids. Get smarter.

Yesterday, and my legal obligation to visit Santa.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity* to go and visit Santa Claus. But not at the mall or at a family Christmas party. Like normal people. No no, we got to go see Santa at the social worker's office, because although the year is nearly done, the adoption we were assured would be finalized last summer is still in limbo.

Quick aside for anyone not in the know: Our second oldest child joined our family through foster/adoption in August of 2015. Her biological family lost their rights in an unpleasant court proceeding over a year ago. This adoption is now uncontested. All of our paperwork and fingerprints and birth certificates and employment verifications and health physicals and left pinkie toes have been sent in, and we are ready to go. But we are not a high priority, and at this point, I'm hoping the adoption is finalized sometime before, say, our 6 year old turns 18. Fingers crossed.

So yes, we are still In The System, and because of that, and because the social workers don't always enjoy making their monthly home visits, a few times a year they compel us all to come to them instead. In December for example, they make us go see Santa.

Now, I really hate to say everything I'm going to say, because this is about a holiday event for sad little orphan babies. But the holiday event at the social workers office is the single most depressing part about Christmas. The holiday event shows up, and it's like "Heeeeeey Christmas party people! Remember Sad?" And you're like "Oooooh yeah.... Sad. I'd almost forgotten about Sad but here it is, suddenly clinging to my pant leg and spitting up on the floor."  It's like that terrible Christmas Shoes song comes to life and wipes its snotty little sadness nose on your sleeve. That is pretty much exactly what it is like to attend the child welfare Christmas event.

But if you don't really jive with my snotty-sleeve-wipe description, I'll walk you through a step-by-step of the whole experience. Upon arrival, you sign in, give the people your name, your assigned social worker, and write your reason for coming today. I put "Santa". I thought about putting "legal obligation so you don't yell at me again and take my kid away", but the box for your reason was quite small. So Santa won.

After you've signed in, please feel free to have a seat in the Waiting Room of Sadness. The room is white but like, 20 years ago white, plus dirt and sad feelings. It has some chairs for grown ups and a small table and chairs for the tiny children of sadness.

Eventually, your social worker shows up, frees another family from the festivities and takes you and the children back through a maze of cubicles, to the room where you first signed the papers stating you wanted this kid in the first place. But now the giant table in the middle of the room is covered with hundreds of printed Christmas coloring pages, and 15 broken crayons. I'm sorry. 15 broken colored wax sticks.  They ask you to sign in again, this time with your name and the number of children you have, and then direct you to a table in the corner that has half-pint bottles of water, and plastic sandwich bags each filled with 2-3 store bought cookies.

Then the kids go find a place to sit or stand around the giant table and see if they can secure themselves a coloring page and a crayon. Sorry. Wax Stick. And you go stand with your back against the wall because 1) there aren't nearly enough chairs, 2) there isn't nearly enough standing room, 3) having your back against the wall means people can only bump into you from one side, and 4) standing is better anyway. The room gets full. And the room gets hot. And it's better to have the elevation to breath above as much of the sadness as you can manage. There are also two television sets in this room, Wheeled in on those carts they used to use when you had a substitute teacher in elementary school and she was just hoping you'd stay relatively quiet until 3pm. The televisions are not on. One can only assume they are there exclusively to make the place feel homey.

While you're there, you get to chatting with a woman who looks to be in her early 50s. She tells you her story, that she quit her job so she can adopt and raise 6 of her 7 grandchildren. You look around the room and realize this is almost exclusively the story of every single family in this room. Almost every new mommy was once that same baby's grandmommy. And you remember Sad. Then the lady's grand(son) comes over and won't stop punching you.

After anywhere from 30-90 minutes (based on my personal experience), your name is called, and you and your children are escorted to the next room, which your child has been to hundreds of times before when visiting her biological family members, but today has been emptied of toys and decorated with a paper fireplace and Christmas tree. And let's be honest, you're a little bit impressed because it's cuter than it was last year. As you walk in, another festively dressed social worker brings a handful of gifts to the fake-bearded Santa who is seated  next to the paper fireplace. He calls the name of your adoptive child because it's the only one he's been told. He hands her a wrapped gift, and to the rest he hands stuffed animals that, even though they still have their original tags, look like they've been left in someone's attic since 1993.

You tell the kids to smile. You take a picture. As you leave, the social worker catches you to state that she's still not getting around to your adoption paperwork. But maybe next week. Except she's hoping to go on vacations. (She added that s, not me.) So maybe in January. But definitely... sometime. Also? Have a Merry Christmas.

Last note. I gotta say, the kids seem to have a really good time. Except for all the waiting, and the fact that I don't let them go back for seconds on the cookies. Kids are mostly immune to sadness, it seems.
The Weirdos and the fat man. Smiles for days. Also, sorry for the face-star, but it remains until the government checks the box saying we can keep her.
*Stabs out eye with fork

Me and Bama.

So, I was perusing through the Twitters yesterday, and I happened upon my grandfather's profile. Now let's be clear. My grandfather is in his mid-eighties, and he has a Twitter profile. His wife, my grandmother is relatively active on Facebook, as it lets her keep in touch with the out of town family. What I'm saying here is that my grandparents, in their eighties, have decided to become more computer literate than half the people currently in congress. I hear.

In contrast, my other-side-of-the-family grandmother never trusted the fact that her husband even purchased a computer. Once when he asked me to help connect him to the internet and learn how to use it (we're talking start with the power button and take thorough notes), she kept walking by the room and glaring suspiciously at us. When she overheard some someone suggest once that the computer might have a bug, she started screaming to throw the computer outside, that she would not have anything bringing bugs into her house.

This sounds like I'm joking. I promise you, I am not. It went pretty much exactly like THROW IT OUT! TAKE IT OUTSIDE! I KNEW YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE BOUGHT THAT THING! I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING WITH BUGS IN MY HOUSE!!

But also, this TOTALLY FEELS like how someone in their seventies or eighties should respond to the internet. It is exactly how I intend to respond to all new things once I have passed retirement age. Stay off my lawn. Kids these days. Everything is the worst. See? I'm all set.

But back to the point here, my 86-year-old grandfather is on Twitter. The first time I saw him tweet, he said, "How does one receive tweets?" And I'm pretty sure he won the whole internet, times infinity. It's my favorite thing ever. So last night I checked in on him. And I just so happened to notice that Grandpa is following 2 people.

One is me.

The other one is the President of the actual freaking United States of America.

Which, I gotta say, straight up blew my mind. It's like my grandfather came onto the internet, looked around, and said wow. There is a LOT of crap out here. A lot of people saying a lot of things that I have no interest in whatsoever. What a bunch of horse pucky. But you know who I DO care to listen to? You know whose thoughts and feelings I WOULD like to know more about? One Mr. Leader of the Free World, Barack Obama.

Also?

Ashley.

That's it, forget everyone else, because everyone else is the worst. Just Barack and Ashley and that is all.

And after I thought about that for a while, my mind went to math. Like it do. Because now, there is a set that exists in the universe, whose cardinality is 2. And that set is, {Ashley Miller, Barack Obama}. People my grandfather wants to hear from on Twitter. I am, exclusively, in a set with the president.

Now pardon me while I go warm up my coffee in the microwave for the 3rd time today. I need a minute to bask in the warm glow of my new famousness.

I live in a pile of garbage. Hashtag parenting life.

Once upon a time I was a young married woman with nooooooo children. My equally young and childless husband and I lived in a 2000 square foot house that we rented. Far too much room for just the two of us, we knew.  In that house, we vacuumed about once a month, scrubbed the bathrooms down every couple weeks or so, and the only way you could tell people lived there at all, was the few dishes we'd left in the sink, and the occasional pile of clean clothes that no one wanted to fold. So sure, we were showing signs of being garbage people already. We didn't "work hard" to "improve our quality of life". Instead we did our jobs, ate out frequently, and we made sure that our dirty clothes landed in the hamper at the end of the day. When we moved out of the house, it was so clean and well taken care of that the landlady had a new family in there the next day. We lived a beautiful, naive, and wonderfully simple little life.

Smash cut to: TODAY. Because today is different. Today we have four children and a 1400 square foot house that we bought because that 4 bedroom was just so, so very much space. In this home, there is no room. There is no storage. There is hardly any visible floor space. There is. No. Escape.

Which is not to say that we're not trying, of course. We do dishes multiple times a day, but it's still been years since this house had a clean spoon lying in the silverware drawer. Nope. Our utensils go from dishwasher to sticky fingered child, and right back again. We wash clothes every day. We pick up constantly. We sweep CONSTANTLY. Our vacuum is used so frequently that it seldom finds its way back into the hall closet, and yet I'm still starting to forget what color my carpet is supposed to be.

Of course, most of this is probably my fault. Like I said, my first inclination was to be a garbage person. I'm trying to be better, sweet Mary, I swear I'm trying. But when you add my natural garbage-ness with the 2 parent working household, plus the homeschool issue, you get a situation wherein the tiny sticky humans are always here, everyone is always busy, and exhaustion rules the day. It's bad. Trust me. It's super bad. But then you get my personal convictions involved, and suddenly, it's so very much worse.

See, I want my kids to learn to do chores. Partially, because I think kids who don't participate in serving others turn very quickly into fermented piles of walking cow dung, and I don't want my children to be poop. But more practically speaking, I want to live in a world wherein I am not the servant to a bunch of walking cow dung. They participate a very great deal to the mess. Plus? As it turns out, (Shh. Seeeeecret) I am rather lazy about housework.

As of today, my children are 7, 6, 4 1/2, and 3. They are responsible for picking up their own toys, cleaning their rooms, making their beds, picking up dog poo, folding and putting away their laundry, cleaning and sweeping under the kitchen table (where it would otherwise look like that scene from Casper), and occasionally: emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, and wiping down the bathroom counters.

My kitchen floor. Basically.
Fun story: my kids are very bad at their chores. It turns out that young persons are better at making a mess than fixing a mess. Their beds mostly look ridiculous. Their clothes are shoved into their drawers in ways that leave them nice and wrinkly. Por ejemplo:
My sons' bedroom drawers. They were super proud of putting their clothes away. 
Once, I asked the girls to clean out the cat's litter box. They did. Well, they half did. In the end, most of the poo wasn't scooped, and I found a trail of urine soaked kitty sand that led through half my house, so now they never have to clean the litter box again! I mean, it was a diabolically smart move. I spent a half hour re-cleaning the house. Because for sure, I'm going to draw the line at urine trails.

In my last post I encouraged my kids to keep trying, and keep failing. And despite the fact that sometimes they break my dishes, and sometimes they track urine soaked kitty sand through the house, I stand by that. They are learning. They are growing. And some day, they will be responsible, respectable grown up humans who don't expect other people to serve them. And best of all? Their lives will have meaning and value. Because that's what hard work gives you. That's what serving others gives you.  So yeah. I'm going to continue living in a pile of garbage. Because we're overworked and underpaid. Because the house is too small with too many people and too little storage space. And because we value the kids' participation more than we value things being done "right". Also, I'm still lazy. But hush about that. Remember? We're calling it values.

Which, of course, also means that last night when my 3-year-old found the half-filled cereal bowl at the table that had been abandoned in our rush out the door to church that morning, and tried to carry it to the sink by himself but instead dumped the warm milk/squishy cereal combo all over himself, the table, and the floor, I take a deep, deep breath, and say, "Thank you so much for helping, buddy."

Thank you so much for helping. Now pardon me, I need to go grab a mop.

My kids are dumber than Facebook.

So I'm sifting my way through the Facebooks this evening, like ya do, when I came across a picture a friend of mine had posted. The photo depicted her toddler-aged daughter, and by toddler I mean, basically, fetus, and the Van Gogh level art project she had just completed.

UGH. Crap not again.

Now, for truthiness sake, I looked closer and was very pleased to see that some of the more intricate aspects of the picture were actually constructed via stickers, but the picture was still, like, straight up fabulous. In a world where I can't convince my 4 1/2 year old to utilize a second friggin Crayon to enhance his doodles, this embryonic creature is creating totally comprehensive works of baby art.

Would you like to know what this picture is? So would I. It's for Santa. Love, Kaden. 
Now let's all be honest. We all freakin LOVE to brag about our kids. No mother ever existed who doesn't love to brag about her smarter than yours, cuter than yours, more talented than yours, children. It. Feels. Amazeballs.

Of course, there's this whole other side to that equation. And it is called Less Than. It's being the other parent. The parent whose kid struggles to get a C when yours has straight As. The one who cannot score a goal to save his little life. The one who isn't good with peers, when yours is a social butterfly, who can't walk into a room without crashing into the furniture while yours is some kind of ludicrous ballet savant, the one who still struggles to construct a sentence while yours is reciting Hamlet.

OLYMPICS 2028 BABY!!

So yeah, everyone wants to be the mom that can brag about their children's exceptionalism. But there's this other thing for me, wherein I am homeschooling my kids. When people ask how my kids learn stuff, I have to say like, from MY BRAIN. Stuff I know. Stuff I can learn a few hours before I teach them. What if my kids don't look like pre-pubescent Rhodes scholars? Whose fault is it, I ask? MY BRAINS FAULT, OBVIOUSLY. And that is terrifying. I don't like it. They have to be smart so as to prove that I am smart. They have to be talented and attractive and outgoing to prove that... wait now. Just wait. Because I've remembered something for the seventieth time this evening: my kids' lives are not about me. Not me. Not me. Also? Grow up, probably.

BRIGHT SIDE: There is a Secret Truth to the internet. And the Secret Truth of the internet is this: All those smart kids? Not that smart. All those good kids? Not that good. Because they can't be. Because they're humans. Because they're small. And because frequent failure is an integral part of growing up. Failing is like, the actual JOB of childhood. So rock on, my crazy bunch of weirdos. Keep trying. Keep failing. Because it makes you better. And because, in the mean time, it's hilarious. Just plain hilarious.

Oh, but before I go, here's a list of ways in which MY kids are particularly exceptional. Ways in which you might be jealous of the tiny Einsteins living in my house.

The Official List of things my kids are good at:

1) Being nice to other kids. Really. They are like, crazy nice. And I think it's superb.

2) Telling jokes that involve their butts. And anything that comes out of their butts. I'm not sure how this skill is going to play into their business school admissions, but... probably it will. I've got hope.

3) Dancing like no one is watching. Around the house. Unceasingly. Also? Singing. Also? Screaming.

4) Reading. Sometimes. On the off chance they feel like it. But during those times? Yeah man.

5) Eating their own boogers. Even when I try to convince them that this is the most disgusting thing ever and they are NEVER GOING TO  HAVE ANY FRIENDS IF YOU KEEP DOING THAT.

6) Chewing off their finger and toenails. Zero friends EVER. Same story as above.

7) Conflict resolution. I mean, fewer and fewer arguments are punctuated by one kid punching his or her sibling in the face. I'm rewarding progress here.

8) Operating household electronics. I am old, so this is still fascinating to me. Kids these days know all about that magic computer internet box. Point and Click their way straight into the future.

8) Swimming. Except of course, for my kid who was born with a panic-enducing fear of large or medium sized bodies of water. He is happy to stay on the step. Or on the deck. Or inside the house. Please don't ask him to swim.

So in the end, sure. My kids are definitely, and will always be, dumber than Facebook. And so are yours. Let's celebrate those failures, friends. Because it's the failures that keep those weirdos interesting.
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