The Making of a Suburban Santa


I take pride in my shopping efforts. In fact, I refer to myself as the Suburban Santa because over a 12-month period, I amass a closet full of presents for darn near everyone I know in Sugar Land and beyond. Seriously, my closet is bursting in gifts from antique jewelry to silk scarfs to vintage rare books. Yes, I admit that is at least one standard deviation from normal (probably two), but I have my reasons. First, I am pathetically poor at remembering birthdays, and so Christmas is my way of making up for this gift-giving blunder. It’s not that I don’t remember when, say, my brother’s birthday is because I do. Unfortunately, I remember a day too early, or 6:30 AM or 10:30 PM the actual day when it is way too late to send a gift or way too early to make a phone call. My brothers and longtime friends do, however, enjoy a rousing version of “Happy Birthday” the following day. Well, sometimes. That is, when I can remember.

Second, I grew up attending a church called the Church of the Epiphany. The Epiphany is a day that celebrates the three kings or magi (I almost never say wise men for fear of using an oxymoron) and their long journey to meet the Christ child and bring him precious gifts. I like to believe that the magic of the Magi has rubbed off on me because I feel everyone deserves a little something for Christmas. By everyone I mean Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders, basketball coaches, neighbors (even ones I’ve never met), the guy who sold me my minivan, my pharmacist, all the mental health people I touch base with weekly, my phlebotomist, the garbage lady, the grass mowers, the parish priest, my hair dresser, my favorite barista, and the lawn crew. (I might be exaggerating just a wee bit.) People are often shocked that I give a gift to all my children’s teachers (e.g., band, computer, PE, art), the school staff members, and the office personnel. This year that came to 39 people.


I’m sure that in therapy I would find that this excessive gift-giving to school folks stems from my teaching days when I received more snowman mugs than I care to count and almost as many dollar-store statues of everything from puppies to iridescent hands holding, you guessed it, iridescent flowers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an ingrate. I truly did appreciate all the gifts my students gave me, especially since most were 9th graders who usually spent their own money on these treasures. Besides, I was just thrilled that these 13 year-olds would even think of someone besides that person they would see in the mirror every morning.

Another reason for my neurotic generosity is my children. The Turner kids are not the quiet students sitting in the back of the room dutifully taking notes and keeping track of all their assignments. Nope. My kids come from a long line of knee-jigglers, pencil-tappers, and mindless hummers. Annie, Katie and Will tend to be like their mama who is a bit scatter-brained and talkative. Believe me when I say I spent many a recess in Mrs. Kearny’s kindergarten punish chair because I couldn’t keep my thoughts to myself. Later detention would replace that punish chair. I’m currently working on this same issue with my kids, especially my daughter Katie. I’m always telling her, “It’s okay to have a thought you don’t express.” This has cut down on priceless statements such as, “Annie, your hair is, like, SO super greasy,” and “Mom, this chicken looks just gross.” My favorite example of the importance of holding one’s thoughts came from my oldest daughter. At her first middle school dance, some poor boy walked up to Annie and asked her to dance. Her most gracious response was, “Oh gross, NO!” (I signed her up for Junior League Cotillion classes the next day.)

I digress. *Sigh!*

What I’m trying to say is any teacher or staff member that spends more than 15 minutes a week with my children should be thanked properly.

My husband believes that I am just bat-%*&$ crazy with all my gifting. Just last week another Amazon box smiled at me from the doorstep. (No, really, the box smiled at me.) Unfortunately, Mike was home when it arrived, and he asked what I was doing with the same 10 small books. “Oh, they are presents for my prayer group.” I could read his mind. He was thinking, “You give presents to your prayer group?” But, Mike never asked that question. He’s given up trying to talk any sense into me, and we are years past guilt strategies. Now I only get the dropped-head-slow-shake response.

woman-with-santa-cap-in-office-cartoon-business-characters_fyadx1du_lBefore you sensible people start a petition to have me committed, I want you to know that even though I manage to play the Suburban Santa, I have honed my shopping and bargaining strategies so well, that I spend very little per person, AND each still receives a nice little present. So, I encourage you to check back in a few days to learn just how I do it.

Voting and other sad thoughts

(This was written before the outcome of the Presidential election.)

Today, I voted. See that picture of me? They don’t just give those stickers out to anyone. (Well, in fairness, it would be quite easy to swipe one if I just wanted to impress you.)

img_1642So, I checked in with myself, and the dialogue went like this:

Me: So, Self, how are you feeling about voting in this election?

Self: Thanks for asking. I actually feel many emotions all at once. I am proud that I voted because as busy as I have been, I could easily have forgotten. I mean, last week I forgot to take my morning medicine three times, forgot to sign a field trip form four days in a row, and even forgot my bra one day. (Thankfully, I spent that day at home.) So, I feel pat-me-on-the-back pride for remembering to vote.

Me: Yep. I’ll agree you are busy, but really how much credit can you take when the entire city is littered with campaign posters?

Self: Hey, don’t judge me, Me, or I will retreat to that pit in the bottom of my/your stomach.

Me: Okay, no judgment. What else did you feel?

Self: Relieved! Relieved that this is the end of what has to be the most embarrassing election season in American history. Relieved that I will not have to wonder if what I am reading about the candidates are lies, half-truths, or fiction. Relieved that I don’t have to listen to my friends and family drone on about the merits of one candidate. Relieved that I do not have to feel indignant every time someone brings up a “woman’s issue,” like sexual harassment, bitchy women leaders, and misogyny in general.

Me: I couldn’t agree more, but you do realize that even if the election is settled this evening, not one of those issues magically vanishes?

Self: *Sigh* I know. I just wanted the illusion of sanity for just 24 hours. Which leads me to my next emotion, hopelessness.

Me: Now, now. Don’t go there. You are an intelligent, innovative woman capable of making change. Don’t use the big H word.

Self: I can’t help it. The United States’ political system is beautiful in theory—three branches, checks and balances, constitutional rights and all. Great stuff those forefathers came up with. However, when I was in graduate school, I learned a great deal about how politics really work, about how hard it is to pass a bill, and even if a person’s initial intentions were pure (e.g., health care for everyone, not just the rich; higher standards for education), the actual bill looks nothing like what it was intended to be. Special interests attach themselves as provisions for, say, a new highway in Pennsylvania or money allotted for research on the ant population in New Mexico. In what way are these actions connected to, say, employing more teachers?

Me: I know, but that is part of the game.

Self: Well, it shouldn’t be a game. Lousy metaphor. Lobbyists should not have so much influence, Congress “lifers” should not die in the Senate chamber, and no elected official should be allowed to abstain from a vote. And, can we get rid of that term “lame duck”? Really, the president of the free world should not be likened to waterfowl, and a disabled one at that. Pretty sure that is not PC anymore.

Me: Yeah, that is a bit disrespectful.

Self: And, no one with any sense agrees that the Electoral College is the most fair and accurate way to vote, but no one will change it. Same old, same old. I feel hopeless because the legislative and political system needs some serious overall, but no one has the guts to change it.

Me: But, you have to admit, it is hard to make such systemic changes, especially when people can’t seem to agree on basic constitutional rights.

Self: See what I mean? Hopeless.

Me: Yeah, I see, but I’m a glass-half-full kinda girl who wants to believe that Americans of all people can make changes for the better in a thoughtful, civil manner.

Self: Girl, take off them rosy glasses. I don’t know what generation we are—Gen X, Y or Z—but my generation is disillusioned. How can anyone compromise when no one respects a differing opinion? How can officials make changes when they can’t stand the sight of each other because one called the other a name, or bent the truth or distorted facts in order to get elected? Would you want to give in or work with someone who did that to you? I wouldn’t. It’s just ugly.

Me: Let me get this straight. You think political races are ugly and no better than expensive platforms to spout hate and lies.

Self: Yep. This election could have been so different. It could have been quite exciting because we had Donald Trump—a political outsider like the proverbial Mr. Smith with a larger bank account—willing to head to Washington to change the status quo of what politics as usual looked like. And, we had the first female presidential nominee—someone extremely knowledgeable about domestic and foreign affairs who also happened to have lived in the White House once. Something new on both sides. Yet, both candidates took the path most taken, the path of pathetic political “strategery,” name calling, scare tactics, and flat out lies. And, just to add a bit more drama, Russia inserted itself in the campaign and the FBI was dragged and dragged again into the story. The writer’s of Saturday Night Live had so much material to spoof, I’m sure they could have put out a skit every 12 hours. And, all of that is just…

Me: Sad?

Self: Yep. Sad.

Me: But, look at it this way, it’s almost over.

Self: It’ll be over, but just as a hurricane passes over land and water, this political campaign more than most will leave behind a great deal of damage both personally and nationally. For the sake of the country, I hope that the parties and the people as a whole become struck with selective amnesia so they can forget about the name-calling, the lies, and the malice. After all, they have a job to do. An important job.

Me: *Sigh* Yep. Still feeling that sense of pride?

Self: Um, not so much now.



Just Another Night in Paradise


Three kids with ADHD typically equal chaos, but last Thursday I had two extra kids, plus my two crazy dogs, and Mike was out of town. Normally, this would not be a problem, but the stars were not aligned in my favor.

Fascinations with a Stiff Critter
I should have known the evening would be a far cry from the mundane when Annie and Charlotte, our visiting six-year-old, came running inside, panting like Shaggy and Scooby fleeing a ghost.

“What’s going on?” I ask in innocence.

“Coco [our dog] killed a squirrel,” screamed Charlotte.

“Oh yeah?” I said as I looked into Annie’s 13 year-old eyes hoping for some common sense clarity.

Instead, I got a wide-eyed drama queen saying, “No, it’s true, Mom. There’s a dead squirrel near the trampoline.”

I was not in the mood for theatrics. I still had to check homework, fold several loads of laundry, and cook dinner for five kids, one of whom is a diehard vegetarian. (Obviously not one of my kids since they have perfected a dramatic rendering a of anaphalactic shock at the sight of green on their dinner plate.) While I was pondering this, I heard Annie say to Charlotte, “Come on. Let’s go bury it.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, “You are not touching a dead squirrel.”

“Why not?” Charlotte asked in a pitiful tone with puppy dog eyes. “It’s dead. We have to bury it.”

Before I could respond, Annie jumped in telling Charlotte that, in fact, they should not touch the dead squirrel because it might have diseases—like what? —Like rabies or something.

Piggybacking I said, “Yep. That’s right. Charlotte, their dad will be home tomorrow and he is the dead squirrel picker-upper. Why don’t you all just play inside?”

But, Charlotte was not so easily placated. The next thing I know she is lying on the tile, sideways, with her mouth wide open. I stared at her hoping she wasn’t having a seizure and said, “What?”

“Mrs. Turner, this is what the dead squirrel looked like.”

“Oh okay, well that is a bit disturbing. Why don’t you go upstairs and play with Legos.”

Flu Mist for Pups
The other kids were still working on homework so I wrestled with some laundry for a half hour and then headed to the kitchen to piece together some meal that was for vegetarian and meat lovers alike. As I was setting the table, Annie and Charlotte marched down the stairs looking for markers, glue and dye, but all I could hear was, “Has Coco and Freckles (our dogs) had their flu shots?” Flu shots?

Annie was quite animated saying, “Oh yes, they’ve had their flu shots.” I’m still puzzling over why dogs would get flu shots when Katie, my sarcastic one, wanders in and says, “Actually, they prefer the flu mist.”

“Good one, Katie,” I whisper aside. Flu shots indeed! “Do you mean rabies shot?”

“Yes,” said Charlotte with a deep furrowed brow, “babies shots.”

Annie must have seen I was about to explode in laughter, so she tried explaining, “Charlotte is afraid Coco or Freckles will get rabies from the dead squirrel.”

Thinking I don’t need a six-year-old meltdown four hours before her mom can come get her, I quickly turn to Charlotte and say, “Oh yes, our dogs always get their rabies shots. They are fine.”

“Good because what if Freckles jumped up and bit me? I’d end up like this.” She proceeded to do her dead squirrel imitation again.

“Okay then. Charlotte, first I’m sure the dogs did not kill the squirrel. It probably fell out of the tree and hurt itself. Second, the dogs would never really disturb a dead animal.” Of course, I know differently (See my post “The Vanishing Varmit”), but a little white lie seemed the way to go. Unfortunately, my little lie would come back to haunt me.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive,” I said. I sent them back upstairs to play not even caring that Annie was carrying Elmer’s glue, markers and food dye for their “project.” I was finished with talk about dead animals.

Other Worldly Revenge or Just Bad Dogs?
I then walked into the den, and spied the deflated carcass of Will’s stuffed animal. (I was sensing a theme.) Then I stood back to take in the entire room, which was covered in the innards of Will’s stuffed puppy. Annoyance coursed through my veins because I knew this was Freckles’ handiwork. (Although for just a blip of a second, I wondered if the dead squirrel had a vengeful ghost targeting stuffed dogs.)

“Hello!” I say to Charlotte’s sister, Olivia, who hadn’t moved from her lounge chair for an hour and a half. “What happened here?”

“Huh?” she said looking clueless. She was finishing the last chapters of what she called a “really good” book so Olivia never even noticed the dogs ripping the limbs off “Puppy.” She had no idea they had redecorated the room with fluffy white entails. “What happened?” she asked. I said nothing, just stared at her thinking, “Really?”

untitled-design-5Nothing chaps my britches more than stuffed animal guts all over the den. It’s a pain to pick up, and the little pieces float in the air landing all over the house. So, I did the only self-preserving thing I could think of. I ignored it. Instead, I called all the kids down for dinner, which was a lovely combination of turkey noodle soup, curried lentils with wild rice and sautéed zucchini, and a big bowl of watermelon. Quite eclectic and not necessarily award winning, but I must say they all found something to eat.

The kids were just chatting away about which grade was harder, 7th or 8th grade, with Charlotte declaring it was definitely 1st grade, so I slipped out of the kitchen with my broom and dustpan. It took me a while, but I was able to pick up all of those white gauzy pieces littering the den. I told myself that after dishes were done, I would search the house for the fly-away remnants. In the meantime, Annie, Katie, Charlotte and Will went upstairs to play. Only Olivia remained downstairs.

My White Lie Comes Back to Bite Me (Not literally)
As I swept up the leftovers of the poor stuffed animal, I chatted with Olivia about her book. Then I turned the corner into the dinning room and stopped dead in my tracks (that was a bit of foreshadowing; a little creepy music is cued). What was staring back at me was the dead squirrel just as Charlotte had described it, lying stiff on its side with its mouth wide open. I stopped midsentence, shivered and called Katie downstairs. Katie is like the man of the house when her Dad is gone.

Olivia could see my spastic reaction, and she kept asking, “What? What is it?” I was so skeeved out, I could only wave her over. When Olivia saw the fresh carcass, she squealed and then started laughing. “Not funny,” I thought. “It’s not funny that there is a dead rodent in my dinning room.” Then, I started cursing Mike in my head because he was out of town, and it was clearly in his job description to deal with dead or unwanted animals in the house. It’s listed right between “take out garbage” and “kill spiders and roaches.”

Katie was not much help. When she saw the squirrel, she too burst into laughter. Meanwhile, I waved my hands to hush the girls because I didn’t need Charlotte coming downstairs acting all Sherlock Holmes with her questions. I turned to Katie and said, “Katie, do something.”

Of course, she looked at me like I had three heads, and said, “What do you want me to do?” On cue, Olivia reappeared with a small empty box, just the right size for our dead rodent friend.

“Ok, Katie, you hold the box, and I will sweep it into it.”

Even though she was still laughing, Katie nodded in agreement. My hands felt weak. Sweat formed on the back of my neck. I was so afraid that the darn thing would move if I touched it, but I managed to sweep the dead squirrel into the box. Then, I did the oh-so-grown up thing, and ran to the other side of the room shaking out my arms, whisper-screaming, “Oooo! Ooooo! That was so gross.” Apparently, Katie thought my behavior was quite amusing, and she started cackling so hard the darn squirrel popped out of the box.

When I saw this, I wanted to cry. I said, “KATIE, what did you do?”

“I’m sorry. I was laughing so hard, the thing flew out of my hands.”

“And, what do you mean by ‘flew’? Is that damn rodent alive?”

“No, I just dropped it.”

My stomach started turning because I had to touch the thing again, but that was the least of my problems. When Katie and I were doing the squirrel shuffle, Olivia went upstairs to tell Charlotte not to come down.

“Brilliant,” I thought.

The next thing I hear is, “Mrs. Turner, can I come downstairs? What is going on down there?”

“Nothing Charlotte. You and Annie just keep working on your project.”

“Oh, we’re done, Mrs. Turner.”

“Fabulous,” I thought. The last thing I wanted was a shaken 6 year-old or worse a Charlotte saying like a broken record, “I thought you said the dogs wouldn’t touch dead animals.”

I turned to Olivia and in my best angry loud whisper said, “Go up there and make sure she does not come downstairs.”

Still laughing, Olivia said, “Why me?”

With a heavy whisper scream and one eye bulging, I swished her out of the room with a “You know darn well why.”

Thinking I had only minutes for Olivia to contain Charlotte, I turned to Katie, “Come on, Katie, let’s do this.” So I swept the furry carcass into that box like a pro—a professional what I don’t know, but at least I did not squeal and dance around like the last time. “Now take this outside and throw it in the garbage.”

Just then Olivia bee bopped down the stairs wanting back in on the squirrel action, but neither one wanted to put it in the trash. “I don’t care what you do with it, just get it away from here,” I said as I literally pushed them and their cardboard coffin out the door.

That was just in a nick of time because Charlotte came running downstairs asking to see the squirrel. Now I knew Olivia had sold me out. “Oh sorry, dear, Katie and Olivia went to give it a proper burial.”

“BUT I WANT TO SEE,” screamed Charlotte. “I want to sing a song and put flowers on its grave.” Any other day, I would have found that charming. Not that night.

In my head I just said, “Um, no.” But, out loud I said, “They had to go all the way across the street, and it is too dark outside for you to be running after them. Besides, they are probably already on their way back.”

Annie chimed in, “Why don’t we go upstairs and say a little prayer for it?” I could have kissed Annie when Charlotte said, “Ok.”

Thirty seconds later, Katie and Olivia came in and slammed the front door shut. They were visibly out of breath, but I couldn’t tell if it was from so much laughing or running. If Annie and Charlotte were Shaggy and Scooby, then Katie and Olivia looked like kids in training for Ghostbusters. “We took it to the ditch and dumped it,” Katie said.

“You dumped it where?”

“In the ditch.”

“You mean next to the house with the three young kids? (Nod, nod) With or without the box?”

“Without. That’s on the front porch.”

What could I say? I told them I didn’t care what they did with it, but I did wonder how the ditch was any better than the garbage can.

The Giant Dog Slobber Sponge
I finally settled everyone and started sweeping up the floating innards when I heard, “Um, Mom? Can you come up here?”

Now, I am beyond annoyed. “Noooooo, I’m still cleaning up the dogs’ mess.”

“But, Mom, I think you are going to want to see this.” It felt as if all five kids were jumping on my last nerve.

“For God’s sake, just tell me what happened,” I yelled up the stairs.

“Well, you know Will’s bed?” That’s all I heard. Annie didn’t need to say another word because I knew that the bed, with the memory foam topper, was left exposed while I washed Will’s sheets. “…a big hole in the middle of it, and stuff everywhere.” If the dogs had been in front of me, I would have seriously considered pouring them a big old bowl of anti-freeze. Lucky for them, they made themselves scarce.


While considering canine homicide, Will half walked and half fell down the stairs with the remnants of the ripped up memory foam topper on his head. Four giggling girls followed him carrying more foam debris in their hands. Will threw the foam pad over the stair landing, and the half eaten mattress topper flopped irreverently on the floor. While I’m simultaneously rubbing Will’s rug burn marks and scolding him for throwing the topper over the landing, Charlotte laid down on it telling me she was ready for bed. All I could think about was that Charlotte must be laying in a giant sponge soaked in dog slobber. There’s no way her mom would be happy with that.

“Charlotte, honey, you can’t lay down on that.”

“Why not? It’s comfy.”

“Yeah, but I need to put it in the garbage can.”

“Can’t I sleep on it first?”

Again, I thought, “Um, no,” but said, “Annie wants you to sleep in her bed.”

Those were the magic words because Charlotte would do anything for Annie. So, I called up to Annie saying she should help Charlotte get ready for bed. Like a dutiful babysitter, Annie handed Charlotte her PJs and promised to read her any book she wanted.

Put-a-Fork-in-Me Done
Once my little visitor went upstairs, I scooped up the rather heavy remnant and dumped it into the garbage can. I stood draped over the garbage can, alone except for the mosquitos, for at least five minutes just trying to collect myself. I was put-a-fork-in-me done. Done with messes and carcasses, done with overly amused teens, and done with little white lies. They all needed to go to bed.

But, when I walked inside, all I could hear was noise—Charlotte asking questions, Katie and Will fighting over the laptop, Annie singing obliviously while getting her room ready. So much noise. The only one not making noise was Olivia who was trying to decide which book she should read next. (Sounds simple, but it was truly a puzzling dilemma for her.)

My patience had not worn thin; it had been thrown into the ditch with the dead squirrel, so by this point, I turned into a screaming lunatic. I’m sure I looked like Cruella Deville minus the spotted coat. “That’s it! Settle down! Everyone get ready for bed,” and I stamped my foot for good measure. Do you know how invisible I felt when no one stopped what he or she was doing? I could have thrown in the proverbial towel and gone to bed myself, but instead I talked myself into persevering. So, I marched up the steps to scream louder—proximity had to help. I called each child by name and told him or her to get ready for bed or else. That “or else” thing still worked for my kids.

I didn’t have time to follow up because just then the phone rang. It was Lisa, Olivia and Charlotte’s mom. I stared into Olivia’s grinning face as I flagrantly lied to her mom. “Fine. Everything is totally fine. Quiet actually. Yes, low-key night. Yep, they finished their homework. She’s in bed with Annie listening to a book. Okay see you in 30 minutes.” Olivia just shook her head. I wanted to say, “Don’t judge me, child,” but I did not have time.

Thirty minutes. That’s all the time I had to do all the dishes, sweep up all the memory foam bits, make Will’s bed, and check the last of the homework. I was putting way the last mug into the dishwasher when Lisa tapped on the front door.

I asked her about the concert she went to as we walked up the stairs to retrieve her precocious six-year-old. We found Charlotte and Annie asleep wrapped in each other’s arms. Lisa said, “That’s adorable.” All I could say was, “Yep.” Olivia gathered her books while Lisa tiptoed downstairs with a sleeping Charlotte in her arms. After the “thank-yous” and the “no-problems,” I stood at the doorway while mother and daughters walked to their minivan. The last thing I heard was Olivia saying, “It is so much fun staying with the Turners.”

“Oh yeah, in what way?” said her mom.

At that point, I shut the door and turned off the porch light, and whispered to no one, “Just another night in paradise.”