Volunteers make the world go round. Whether you work with your kids’ school, your church, the local Boy Scout Troop, the animal shelter, or even with an international organization like Shot@Life, your time and efforts makes all of the things possible.
Buuuuuuuutttttttt . . .
We all know—especially those of us who have been chairpersons—that not all volunteers are cut from the same cloth. There are the fakes, flakes, and troublemakers who make volunteering as painful as a Brazilian bikini wax administered on a fire ant hill. Volunteers need to work as a hive and if too many bees go rogue, the honey is just not getting made.
Don’t worry, we’re going to stop with the insect analogies there. Shifting gears, to completely illustrate our commandments for proper volunteer etiquette, we have created this entirely FICTIONAL school event—The Annual Penguin Craft Party. Once again, this event is entirely made-up, but if something strikes a chord, perhaps it is time for a little reflection. We’re going to be honest, failure to follow these simple rules will rightfully earn you the title “Monarch of the PITAs“.
Without further ado, we bring this meeting for The Annual Penguin Craft Party to order.
1.Respect the planning period! If while setting up for an event that has been planned for months, you try to push in another direction because of the idea that just popped into your head . . . DON’T!
Count to ten. Think of something completely relaxing and indulgent . . . you, know, like sitting down after the penguin party is over. DO NOT utter your brilliant thought NOW. That ship has sailed. Here’s a little example to illustrate our point. Say, you are in the gym hanging streamers for the Annual Penguin Craft Party. Now is not the time to rally support for the idea that this shindig could be so much MORE if it just had an actual dogsled race and the kids worked together to carve a true-to-scale igloo.
2. But don’t be an idea killer DURING the planning period! Nothing breaks hearts and quashes spirits more than the simple phrase:
“But we’ve always done it this way.”
DO NOT let these words leave your lips during a PLANNING meeting. This is the time to let the creative juices fly! It really might be fun for the kids to toss live mackerel into the penguin’s mouth! Builds hand-eye coordination and deadens olfactory sensitivity! Give every dreamer her (brief) moment. Every golden idea was a dusty little nugget at some point.
3. Execute your own ideas! If you throw an idea out there, be ready to catch it, and run with that ball. DO NOT expect your vision to magically happen. If your brilliant idea is going to take 50 million woman hours to pull off, you should think about putting in a lot of those hours yourself, not just patting yourself on the back for how creative you are. Start Googling how to make that igloo! Look up dry ice dealers! Be ready to drag that dogsled yourself.
4. Just worry about yourself! Everybody is a volunteer. Nobody is getting paid, and everyone has someplace else to be. You’re hanging with the heroes. If you spend more time complaining about all the people who never volunteer than you do making those papier mâché penguins, you are bringing us all unpleasantly down. Stop griping! Get pasting!
5. Follow the 10 second rule! If you have called your event chair four times in the past hour, take a deep breath and put your cellphone down. Perhaps you can solve this problem yourself!
We believe in you!
Think for 10 seconds! Remember you are competent and bright. Acknowledge that your chairperson, though in charge, is still just a volunteer. Envision your sweet little cherub’s face and remember why you’re volunteering in the first place. Use the time you just saved NOT making that phone call to cut out some more penguin bills.
6. Keep any urge to cat fight to yourself! If you start a spat worthy of a middle school cafeteria (even if you ARE standing in a middle school cafeteria) in the midst of the snow cone booth, you are a PITA. Period. It is NOT proper etiquette to squirt blueberry syrup down your fellow comrade’s shirt no matter how many eye rolls she gave you or how satisfying it may feel.
7. In fact, bring a great attitude. Chances are that inspirational posters promoting just this very thing are lining the school halls.If it applies to the kids, it applies to the adults. You don’t have to whistle while you work, but don’t swear, moan, or gossip. The penguins don’t like that. Makes ‘em cranky.
8. Do what you say you are going to do! There is no credit for great intentions. We’ve heard there’s a pathway to hell paved with these. The only thing that matters is results. Nobody cares if your uncle is the Chief Penguin Wrangler at the local zoo unless you get him there. If you volunteer him to show up and talk to the kids, he better be there with some of his feathered friends even if you have to drive him to the event yourself. In a dogsled. It’s all about the follow through.
9. Clean up after yourself. We all have kids. That’s what got us into this mess. When our kids leave a path of destruction in their wake, we feel like kicking a kitten. When you do it, we just feel like kicking you. You’re not royalty. Don’t act like it.
Nothing tarnishes your “Volunteer of the Year” crown awarded for cutting out 200 snowflakes like leaving your confetti scraps on the floor for someone else to sweep up.
10. Keep it up. Don’t be a One Note Nelly. Consider doing a little something to make EVERY event a success. Every time you put down that glue gun, another volunteer has to pick it up with the third set of hands she doesn’t have.
But, seriously, every hour you donate makes your kids’ schools, churches, youth groups, teams, and world better. Thank you and keep up the good work!
Every four years it’s like a civics lesson all over again: What the heck is the Electoral College? Wait, that’s not accurate. We only truly care we are not actually voting for a president—but for a slate of electors—when the popular vote does not jive with the electoral college votes . . . like it did in 2000 (Bush winning over Gore) and 2016 (Trump winning over Clinton). The Electoral College/popular vote disharmony happened in 1876 and 1888, too.
Since Clinton supporters are petitioning electors “to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for [former] Secretary Clinton,” and I have these pesky offspring who ask questions that matter, I have found myself delving for hours through the internet, books, and ::gasp:: the Constitution. Yes, the ACTUAL Constitution printed on ACTUAL paper. This post is born out of the desire to not wash, rinse, and repeat this research when my youngest is able to vote in her first presidential election in 2020 because spoiler alert, I’m pretty sure the Electoral College will still be a thing.
The Basics of the Electoral College
There are 538 electors (one elector equals one vote), and a candidate must win 270 votes to become President. The number of electors for each state is determined by its congressional delegation: the number of Representatives in the House plus the two Senators. So, for my home state of Maryland that makes 10.
Such an unwieldy filter for direct democracy must be mandated pretty clearly in the Constitution, right? Nope. Different states choose their electors in different ways. Some states have nominations for electors during party conventions, while others choose their electors in primaries. It’s a hodgepodge free-for-all. The only two things that can really disqualify you from being an elector is holding a federal office or having engaged in some sort of insurrection against the U.S. government. In general, electors are loyal party members who can be counted on to cast a ballot that’s in line with their state’s popular vote.
However, only 29 out of 50 states, and the District of Columbia, have passed laws binding their electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their state. (Doing the math, that means there are 21 states where no such law is present at all.) Yep, the most powerful position in our country is really meted out on a wave of tradition. So what happens if an elector breaks rank? Uh, they get a fine, get called a “faithless elector,” and sometimes . . . become a folk hero. In 1972, Roger MacBride, the treasurer of the Republican Party of Virginia, was a pledged elector for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Instead he voted for the Libertarian candidate. That little move got him the Libertarian party presidential nomination in the 1976 election. There have been others who have broken rank, but it has never really made a difference.
In general though, the electoral votes in each state are allotted to the candidate who nabbed the popular vote there in a winner-take-all scenario . . . but there are special snowflake exceptions. Those crazy kids, Nebraska and Maine, decided to let each congressional district determine its own candidate while still awarding 2 electoral votes to the state winner (these account for the 2 electoral votes given to each state because of Senators). Although Maine and Nebraska have been using this system since 1972 and 1992, respectively, split votes have only happened once for each state. Nebraska’s electoral vote was split in 2008 with Barack Obama carrying a congressional district centered around Omaha, and his Republican rival, John McCain gaining the state’s other four votes. This year’s election marks the first time that Maine will split its electoral votes with one of its four votes going to Trump. It’s didn’t make much of a difference in either election, but maybe this split vote thing could make a difference in states with a greater number of electoral votes?
So when are these votes cast? Right after the election would make the most sense since we have the news outlets telling us who won the election by 2 am, but nay, nay. The chosen electors all meet at their respective state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their votes. (Seriously.) The votes are then counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6. Yeah, and the Inauguration is held on January 20th (20th Amendment), so by all appearances it is just for pomp and circumstance.
Why We Have the Electoral College
Since it seems like the Electoral College is just a bunch of curlicues and flourishes and is the very definition of “extra,” why do we have it?
The easy answer is that while we often throw around the word democracy, the United States is actually a representative republic because the creators of the Constitution valued federalism—meaning that power is divided between our federal government and our state and local governments. So in the most idealistic terms, the Electoral College was supposed to prevent a power grab by a tyrannical majority. Alexander Hamilton indicated in “The Federalist Papers” that the point of the Electoral College was to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president was chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”
So that’s the very verbose ideal, but while the end product of our government’s creation is pretty amazing, it was founded by real men with real prejudices and real self-interests. In 1787, at the Philadelphia Convention (where the Constitution was created to replace the Articles of Confederation), the Pennsylvanian, James Wilson, proposed direct national election of the president.
However, James Madison figured out that in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) could not vote. The Three-Fifths Compromise was enacted to count each male slave as three-fifths of a person to determine representation in the U.S. House, and consequentially a state’s number of electoral votes. Of course the only “representation” was of pro-slavery interests since slaves were still not allowed to vote. (Did they actually listen to themselves?) States were basically rewarded for the number of slaves they bought and bred. Because of the Three-Fifths Compromise, for 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slave-holding Virginian occupied the presidency. (The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, abolished the three-fifths rule and granted (male) former slaves the right to vote.)
The Electoral College Was Almost Immediately Obsolete
So it seems obvious that a system birthed out of political slight of hand to gain advantage by abusing the rights of human beings might not be something we need today? Heck, before we exited the 19th century, the Electoral College became a clunker. The 12th Amendment establishing the Electoral College was ratified in 1804. So let’s just consider the noble reasons for it, and assume it was developed to prevent “the tyranny of the majority” and because people across the vast United States would lack information to make intelligent decisions when choosing a president. It was around the same time of the 12th Amendment ratification that our two party system began to emerge providing more balance to prevent tyranny, and effectively tying presidential candidates to state and local governments. The development of standard political platforms meant “the people” would know who and what they were voting for.
All pros and cons aside, the biggest reason we still have it is that it would take a Constitutional Amendment to change it. After including the whole “Alcohol is illegal! Nope, it’s legal again!” in the (18th and 21st) amendments of the founding document of our government, constitutional amendments are a hard sell because we are thankfully a bit more discerning now. (It literally takes an act of Congress, see below.)
Another bugaboo is that when the electoral votes don’t reflect the national popular vote, the party in power is the one that benefited from the Electoral College. Yeah.
In a more positive point, there are some analysts who insist that the Electoral College ensures that middle and rural America will not be ignored by presidential candidates, and that urban centers won’t determine elections. They argue it ensures that the President represents everyone.
Then there’s the ever popular “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Our electoral system has been stable for over 200 years. By all results, the Electoral College has effectively preserved federalism and prevented chaos. That is nothing to sneeze at. Building onto this thought, some believe that the Electoral College supports the power of the states in determining our president and ensures that presidents receive support from a diverse array of people around the country.
But Really . . .
The only “real” argument for why the Electoral College will endure is because it is in the Constitution. It is intentionally difficult to change the Constitution: two-thirds of both the House and Senate would need to vote to repeal it via a Constitutional amendment, AND THEN three-fourths of state legislatures would need to ratify the amendment.
However, there is a loophole to convening a Constitutional Convention: The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). In a nutshell, the compact is designed to ensure that the candidate who wins the most popular votes is elected president. Several U.S. states and the District of Columbia have adopted the agreement to award all their respective electoral votes to the candidate winning the popular vote. So if you use this election as an example, each state in the NPVIC would award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote—Hillary Clinton—no matter if the state itself went red or blue.
So why is this not happening? Well, only ten states and the District of Columbia have joined for a total of 165 combined electoral votes. You can see a map of which ones have joined here, and by the way, they are all blue states. There needs to be enough states signed on with enough votes to make it to that magical number of majority: 270.
Oh and there is one more litttttttle thing. Even if enough states join, it may require Congressional approval. Article I, Section 10 of the US Constitution states that: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power. . .” HOWEVER, it is being heavily debated in legal circles whether this article would actually apply to the NPVIC. While the legalities are convoluted, the takeaway is simple: the NPVIC is not an uncomplicated or straight path to circumventing the Electoral College.
Why the Electoral College is an Unnecessary Dinosaur
1. Small states don’t need the protection. First, states with smaller populations receive an unfair “bump” in voting power with the Electoral College, and that goes beyond “protection.” For example, there are 711,723 Californians for every Electoral College vote that state casts in the presidential election, but in Wyoming, there’s one Electoral College vote per 195,369 residents. How does this happen? Because no matter what the population, a state still gets those 2 electoral votes tacked on for its 2 senators.
So what about the argument that urban centers on the coasts would determine the elections without the Electoral College? I disagree. With just a quick look at population numbers (I realize not everyone in the census count can vote, but still, it illustrates the point).
California (38.8 million) plus New York State (19.75 million) equals 58.55 million people.
It only takes 13 red midwest and southern states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Indiana, and Missouri) to equal a population of 62.27 million. (There were still 17 more red states leftover.)
I’m just not buying that if everyone came out to vote, California and New York would determine the President on their own.
2.Hey, the Senate ensures equality. The less populous states don’t need the 2 senator vote count advantage in the Electoral College (explained above) because they are already getting the advantage in the ACTUAL Senate. Every state gets two votes. Each presidential election year everyone seemingly forgets that the Executive branch functions under the checks and balances of the Legislative and Judiciary branches. Our government is constructed so that our state elections (which are direct, one person equals one vote, 17th Amendment) determines our state’s federal power.
3.The Electoral College can actually diminish the rural voice in an economically diverse state. In my home state of Maryland, every four years, five of the most urban counties determine the winner of our electoral votes. This produces feelings of disenfranchisement where farmers, watermen, and small business owners feel like the city of Baltimore decides who our president is going to be.
5. The Electoral College only acts to draw candidates to swing states. It’s also often argued that candidates would only focus campaign attention on huge states if the Electoral College was eradicated. Well, all the Electoral College ensures is that states split 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans (like Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida) get attention. States that are locked into their voting patterns like Texas (red) and New York (blue) get very little campaign attention despite their large number of electoral votes. Candidates ignore where they are hopelessly behind or drastically ahead. Basically, votes in swing states carry more power.
The Main Reason The Electoral College Needs to Go
It creates voter apathy.
Votes are “wasted” under the Electoral College. It doesn’t matter if a candidate wins by 1,000 votes or 600,000 votes in California, they still receive the same the power of its 55 electoral votes. Likewise, every vote for the candidate who doesn’t win the electoral votes goes into the metaphorical garbage.
In Maryland, many of my friends and acquaintances didn’t want Trump or Hillary, but they especially didn’t want Trump. They felt like they could just not vote, thus not supporting Hillary, but knowing Hillary would win our blue state anyway. There had to be Hillary supporters who didn’t vote because they knew it didn’t matter. With or without their votes, Hillary would get out 10 electoral votes. The fact is only 2.37 million people out of 6 million voted in Maryland.
Extrapolate this nationwide. How many people don’t vote because they know how their state is going to go? If more people voted would elections still be cutting it as close as they are now?
The Most Interesting Question I Have Not Seen Asked
If we eliminated the Electoral College would it increase voter turnout?
Only 57.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 election. That left over 90 million votes on the table. Would knowing their personal voices would be heard and not filtered through the Auto-Tune of the Electoral College bring more Americans out to the polls? In our nomadic, global society should our voices be drowned out by the choral “AMEN” of the state we happen to land in or should we all be allowed to sing our own solos? I, for one, would like my off-key soprano to be heard.
Being a mother means being a Jacqueline of All Trades . . . whether we want to be or not. But we will have none of that gobbledygook about “competent at many, but master of none” because we rock just about everything. We’re moms, it’s what we do . . . buuuuttttttt . . . do we really have to rock them all by ourselves? Clearing the sink of dishes or scooping the litter box is not high level functioning.
And sure we support the hard party line of giving our kids responsibilities, but you know when the chips are down, the laundry is piling up, and the lunches still need to be packed, mom is the last line of defense.
So what’s a mom to do? Take a deep breath, repeat the mantra “it’s lovely to be needed,” and have a laugh at your own expense. Here, we’ll help you with thirteen spot-on-laughing-through-the-tears mom jobs we all can relate to.
First, you must know that we, Ellen and Erin, are all in when it comes to kids and sports . . .
Erin:But as I look at the open tabs on my computer right now, my heart clenches. They are all related to youth sports. My clan of five has two track and field runners, two soccer players, and a swimmer this season. My wallet and my calendar cringe.
Ellen: You know what’s cringeworthy? I saw a billboard advertising for Little League starting at age four! Age four? If you have to struggle to get him on the potty, why would you sacrifice your Saturday mornings to see him run the wrong direction around the bases? Why are we starting so young?
I’m pretty sure we’re facing the right way.
Erin: Seriously. You need to pace yourselves for when this mess gets real with travel teams . . .
Ellen: Once again—why, oh why? What is wrong with just playing in your backyard? In your own county? In your own time zone?
Erin:Because this merry bandwagon is a bundle of fun. . . at first.
In the beginning, you’re a little heady about the deep ores of awesome they are mining on these special teams. But that’s before the toxic vapors hit you, and you realize what a gas-guzzling, time-sucking, money-grabbing endeavor the travel team can be.
Wait! Didn’t you just pole vault onto this bandwagon by signing Coco (14) up for a travel volleyball team? If you’ve avoided them this long, why start now?
Ellen: It sure as heck isn’t because we think she’s going to the Olympics. We don’t even own those rose-colored goggles.
Nothing says “vacation” like a three day tournament 75 miles from your house.
Erin:In your defense, your girl entered high school, and she was a swimmer without a swim team. She wasn’t going to leave high school without a varsity letter, so she kicked off her flippers and picked up that volleyball. Too bad she didn’t think of that before ninth grade, but the travel team is providing a great crash course.
Ellen: I guess if we had started her at age four, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. My bad.
But let’s get back to those rose-colored glasses. Can we all just calm the heck down and stop thinking we have the next Michael Phelps/Mia Hamm/Peyton Manning eating their Cheerios at our tables?
Erin:Now, to be fair, SOMEWHERE, SOMEONE has the next superstar throwing his dirty socks on her floor, but sitting on the sidelines, you would think they’re all headed to the big leagues.
Ellen: Or a Division I college.
Erin:Well, let’s talk about college. Many parents jump on this travel team hamster wheel dreaming of the big payout when college rolls around.
So if sports is not the get-into-college-free card of our dreams, why do it at all? The crazy schedules, the extra laundry, and the endless loops to soccer fields and swimming pools don’t make a compelling argument. But here are five reasons sports are more than worthwhile.
Sports gives them . . .
1. A place to fail.
You have to fail to succeed.
Who wants to raise losers? We do!
Michael Jordan said it best: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Erin:I want my kids to be like Mike. Resilient adults bounce back from this thing we call life with humor and grace. We want our Bumbles to bounce when life knocks them to the ground. So we want them to have plenty of practice with how it feels to fall and fail and get back up again.
Ellen: And speaking of practice, sports provides the proof positive that failure is not the worst thing that can happen. In sports, the more you fail, the better you get. Just ask Michael Jordan or any kid who has tried to get a volleyball over the net.
2. A place to shine.
Shine, Baby, Shine.
Erin: Every kid deserves a moment to feel how good it feels to be good at something. As moms, we love to see our kids show the world just how special they are. But sports helps them feel good even if they are not THAT good at it. Even as the world’s worst baseball player on a team that makes the Bad News Bears look like a hotbed of talent, a kid can still have his moment. I know. I was that Bad News Bear. I still remember that moment.
Ellen: It comes down to this: if you could spoon-feed your child high self-esteem, we would all be serving it, but that’s not quite how this parenting thing works.
Sports gives them a steady diet of opportunities instead. Each skill mastered, each hour logged, each competency checked off is feeding the image they have of themselves until they emerge on the other side of childhood with a healthy self-worth in place.
3. A place to feel the pressure.
Pressure: making diamonds for million of years.
Erin: Is this off-limits to say? We’re not Tiger Moms here, but we love that sports forces our kids to bring their A-game every once in a while. My husband says all the time that he loves nothing more than watching his kids out there, seeing them stretch themselves to their limits.
Ellen: Whether you are stepping up to that line, climbing up on the blocks or winding up on the mound, when you have all eyes on you, you’ve got to bring it. Sports teaches you to get out of your head, focus on the essentials, and, to borrow from swimming, “swim in your own lane.”
Erin:Good Lord, sports clichés exist, because they are spot on!
4. A place to feel the glory.
Reaping the rewards.
Ellen: And speaking of cliches, can we talk about the thrill of victory?? Everyone should get to feel that euphoria that comes from pushing yourself and succeeding.
Erin: We know there is a movement against participation trophies and we are standing here with nodding heads and fistbumps, but a real trophy? Earned with hard work and practice? Well, nothing feels better than that.
5. A place to belong.
Where everybody knows your name.
Erin:Yeah, we know there are technically “team sports” and “individual sports”, but in our experience, you do them all with a buddy. Or 50. We are strong advocates for not having “all of your friends in one basket.”
Ellen: Nothing gives your child another group of friends to turn to quite like a sports team. Hanging around a pool deck for three or seventy hours waiting for your event gives you plenty of time to socialize. Nothing bonds friends like sharing a bag of soggy Doritos in between races.
Erin: For my oldest, because he was entering a high school where he didn’t really know anyone, the soccer team was the key to his feeling comfortable. The team gave him an easy entry into the social scene.
Ellen: Get ready because I’m about to lay down another cliché—There is no “I” in team. The world really would be a better place if people could learn to cooperate better.
I struggled with that title a bit because we try to keep it PG around here, you know, for the children. Let’s just say this has been the season of “effits” for me. And it has saved my sanity this Christmas.
It all started with the tree. Wait, that’s not right. It all started right before Thanksgiving with the concussion my youngest daughter was gifted from an accidental punch to the head during handball in gym class. It was worse than at first perceived, and she had to be on complete stimulation lockdown: no music, no texting, NO SCREENS, no reading, no games, no puzzles, no nothing–except talking to her mother in a darkened room . . . and coloring. It was like the worst grounding ever for any thirteen-year-old, except my thirteen-year-old was about to turn fourteen. We had to reschedule her birthday party, too. The sadness was palpable.
This is how I entered Thanksgiving where I also had to make the entire dinner from soup to nuts, as Erin likes to say. Hallmark did not have a card to express my Grinch-esque holiday spirit because they apparently like to keep it PG, too.
But I wasn’t just feeling overwhelmed by worry for my injured daughter and the responsibility of orchestrating a glutinous meal; this was my second year without my mother. I look back on last year and marvel at the way I soldiered through the holidays. I must have been functioning on muscle memory because I was numb. Whereas last year I was wrapped in a muffling quilt of grief, this year I was acutely aware of every moment and nuance of her absence.
So with this curmudgeon essence coursing through my veins, I launched into the first of my effits: “It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving and we’re getting the tree.”
I know this does not seem like much of a stand. Many people decorate their trees that weekend–their ARTIFICIAL trees. But we get a real tree, and we like to keep it up until New Year’s . . . and we can’t be trusted to take it down on New Year’s. In a totally related side note, I have a history of scooping pine needles out of my family room with a snow shovel.
But my baby needed something to distract her from her canceled party, and picking out a Christmas tree at dusk seemed within the realms of non-stimulating activities.
After that baby step of an effit, they continued to flow! I didn’t care what tree we picked out. We were together. Without my guidance it took forever. But whatever, we were grabbing some joy. When my oldest pointed out that half of our family unit was settling on a crooked tree with a bubble butt, I did not enter the fray. I mean, the thing only tipped over once while we were decorating it, but who cares because I was there to break the fall. So behold our tree anchored to the wall with a “ledge” so large we nestled a papier-mâché cat on it to detract from it. It really is the Kim Kardashian of trees.
I really did miss an opportunity to set up a champagne fountain. At least the star is slowly sliding down to earth.
But besides pine needles embedded into my eardrum, I got this takeaway:
Sanity Saver #1: It doesn’t matter what the dead tree we are destined to mulch in four (or six) weeks looks like! Martha Stewart has always ignored declined my invitations to date anyway.
I took this calendar-defying decorating miracle one step further and decked the whole house! My first realization of how other (organized) people live hit me on the head like chestnuts flung by a mischievous Elf on the Shelf.
Sanity Saver #2: Decorating the house before December opens up that whole month to be jammed packed with all of the concerts, parties, baking, and fa la la-ing.
In the past, I had always wanted to have my youngest’s birthday party before decorating, because kids are destructive, yo. This led to me squeezing in the decorating when I could and sometimes left us tree-less into the third week. But she is now a teen, and all they do is hole up in the basement. From now on, decorating is taking place in November and partying is getting pushed into December. Thank you concussion for foiling my procrastination?
Then in true Christmas miracle fashion, a second procrastination buster entered my life in the form of a simple dinner invitation. A friend was flying in to visit family in New York City, and sent out a message asking if any locals could meet for dinner. I raised my hand! I am not local. I am three hours away from NYC. I said effit I am going anyway.
I could not turn my back on this happenstance because the invitation was for December 22nd, the time my mother would have come up to join in all of our Christmas preparations.
Sanity Saver #3: I have found the best way to grab joy over grief is to shake myself out of the groove that highlights Mom’s absence and surround myself with people who feed my soul. Friends are the family you choose.
One of my dear friends, who actually was local, offered to have me spend the night, and I had one of the loveliest evenings filled with good food, and even better laughter. Breaking bread with intelligent, interesting women is a gift.
Ah, but I had labeled this invitation as a procrastination buster too. In order for me to enjoy myself, I needed to have Christmas ready to go. In an unprecedented move, I had all of my shopping done and all of the gifts wrapped by December 21st.
Sanity Saver #4: Not leaving the wrapping until 10 pm on December 24th allows you to actually enjoy Christmas Eve and prevents zombie eyes in the Christmas morning pictures.
It’s not that I always wanted to wrap on Christmas Eve, it’s just that wrapping seemed like the task that could be pushed off until the end.
If this were a Christmas special, a Claymation snowman would come out to tie this up in a shiny bow, but I have to admit my ribbon is a little crumpled. I may have still had to stay up until 1:30 am on Christmas Eve because I was a little too cocky about having the wrapping done, and failed to gauge the time it would take to make the awesome Pumpkin French Toast Casserole I found on Pinterest.
However, I still don’t regret the time I spent snuggling with my family watching A Charlie Brown Christmas instead of clanking around in the kitchen. But I have seen the light because I now realize why organized people are so self-congratulatory. It feels good! God willing, I will rock the holidays even better next year. My family deserves a Stress-Diminished Ellen for Christmas.
Oh yeah, that did stir the pot, but that was awhile ago.
No, our fine friends, we are currently being lambasted for OUR GIFT GUIDES.
See, our gift guides were featured on CNN.com We even got two slides! But it was our board game suggestions that made BoardGameGeek.com lash out like Munchkins with battleaxes.
We are being called antiquated sexists because Would You Rather was listed on the Teen Girl Guide and The Settlers of Catan was listed on the Teen Guy Guide. The comments are fairly vehement, but most didn’t feel strongly enough to leave anything but fake names like “Shame on you” and “Mrs. Mystery Bob.”
“Shame on you for maintaining sterotypes [sic] and suggesting that great boatdgames [sic] are for “boys only”. My daughters love Pandemic, Catan, and Munchkin. It shocks me to see such sexism on this website. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“The boys get Catan & Pandemic, and the girls get Would you Rather? I guess my mom is more sensible than you claim to be. Did you know it’s 2014?”
“Would You Rather is a terrible choice for a board game. There is no reason why teen boys would enjoy more serious fare, while teen girls are stuck playing a game with no thinking involved. Poor, sexist choice. I expected better from this site.”
Yeah, it’s just awful when games and activities are fun. You’re right. Ellen’s daughter should definitely not have a choice to relax with some silliness after studying for AP calculus and biology all week long.
And then there was this:
“I find this list strange and a bit sad. First of all, as a mom of a young teen, I know fully well what her interests and preferences are like and can assure you that nothing on this list would interest her. I know the books and subjects she enjoys, the music and movies she prefers, and the personal care items and clothing styles she likes. What kind of parent doesn’t know their child or take the trouble to get to know them and these details? Certainly not a sensible parent.
Secondly, as an avid gamer I can assure you that “Would you rather?” is an humorous activity and not really a game and that Eat Poop You Cat or Werewolf are miles better fun activities than that title.
My daughter loves games and they include Hive, YINSH, TZAAR, Morels, The Little Prince: Make me a Planet, K2, Hoppladi Hopplada, Lakota, Dixit, and Ticket to Ride. I did buy her a boardgame for the holidays. I bought her 1911 Amundsen vs Scott (because she saw the video of it and was very interested).
This list is offense to independent females everywhere and only serves to perpetuate stereotypes of “Girls like XYZ” and Boys like ABC” and never the two shall meet.
Would you honestly rather ask lame questions of each other or sit down to race to the South Pole?
These lists do more harm than good, IMHO.
And moms, if you don’t know anything about your daughter, don’t buy a gift off of a “Best gifts for my daughter” list, chances are the gift will fail as children are not “one size fits all”. Take the opportunity to speak and share with her and discover what makes her tick, what excites her, what she fears, and what she dreams. That will be a win-win for you both. If not………buy her a gift card which is ALWAYS a welcome gift. [spelling and grammar their own]”
We are sad and doing harm. With gift guides. But the real message is either know your teens really well . . . or just get them gift cards.
And they’re serious about this. They are now tweeting the message forum thread link at us. Yeah, we know there’s a thread with over a hundred posts bashing us or discussing various gender issues. We saw it already because we know how Google and IP addresses work.
There were great comments like this on the thread:
“Really annoyed me to see this kind of sexism being perpetuated STILL. Shame on you Sensible Soccer Moms. Girls like Pandemic, Settlers of Catan, and Munchkin, too. Boo.”
Because apparently making gift guides for girls is bad, but stereotyping us as Soccer Moms and implying it is an insult is okay? So what’s the cut-off age for championing females? We’re not sure, but we’re going to assume it is way before 40.
And then there was this one:
“You know what’s not sensible? A ridiculous URL like that.”
Ouch. Ellen hasn’t encountered that brand of hate since she first started dating her to-be-husband and his ex-girlfriend told her she had an ugly name. To quote T Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
So here are the six diabolical steps behind these polarizing gift guides.
A blogger friend told us gift guides are huge around the holidays.
We thought, “We have kids that like stuff. We could do gift guides.”
We picked things at varying, reasonable price points that were easy to order online.
All the gifts on the lists are things that our teens own that they have enjoyed.
Lists were shared with CNN.
And then we watched the world burn. Mwahahahaha!
So how did we decide to do two lists? Why would we do that? WHY WOULD WE DO THAT?!?!
Well, it all boils down to division of labor. There are two of us running this blog, so we made two lists. We worked on them separately, because that is how two people can get tasks done in half the time. Duh. What was REALLY important to us was that the items were things we authentically loved. We didn’t just pick random gifts off of Amazon. Ellen only has teen daughters so with this criteria, she was only qualified to recommend gifts for girls. Erin has a teen daughter and teen boys, but she took on the gift guide for boys. Because division of labor.
So if the Geeks had bothered to read Erin’s intro, she states:
“With four sons between the ages of 7 and 17, my house is a living laboratory of the modern American young man. With the holidays looming, people ask me often what might make a great gift for their favorite nephew/cousin/brother/godson. Of course, I have a teen daughter too and she loves a lot of this stuff too.”
So here are five truths, and three confessions that might further put this all in perspective. Perspective is so important . . . or so we’ve been told.
1. These are gift guides, not shopping lists. We are not commanding you to go out to the store and buy, Buy, BUY! If you find one item you like, SUCCESS! If you think the items are stupid, move onto the next gift guide. We wish you luck!
2. Ellen was pretty psyched about Erin’s list because it introduced her to “Pandemic.” It truly made her geeky M.D. senses tingle . Plus, she had the added smug satisfaction of picking it off of the boys list and smashing stereotypes! Winning!
3. Our kids have other things and interests beyond what is on those lists. In fact, they have such varied and expansive interests that no gift guide can contain them! Go figure.
For example, Ellen’s STEM track, robotics competing, fiction writing, Science Olympiad participating, Destination Imagination winning, musician daughters build Star Wars Legos, play basketball, volleyball, and tennis, and have a Nerf gun arsenal. Erin’s honor roll daughter is a story spinning, cross country running, marching band maestro who enjoys camping, Comic Con, and Settlers of Catan.
Ellen would never be so jerky as to recommend a $300 Legos Death Star that her daughter received from a benevolent uncle, and quite frankly, she doesn’t love the basketball net enough to endorse it.
And to the person who left this comment:
“Why are there no books listed for teenage boys? Is it “sensible” for moms to want their boys to grow up to be uneducated and illiterate? According to this list, all mom’s should strive to have dumb jocks for sons.”
Erins’s sons are busy being Boy Scouts, achieving the honor of Eagle Scout, serving as legislative pages, putting on plays for elementary school kids, performing in band . . . and reading.
All of our kids have read books from this list. But calm down because these are not the only books they have read. By far.
4. This was not a gift guide for younger children, it was for teens. Much of the ranting was how wrong it is that toys for young kids are separated by gender. We agree. But please note, Ellen is still going to stand by her choice that, in general, the curling iron she recommended is going to please a teenage girl–who likes that sort of thing–more than a fifteen year old guy.
5. This was not a comprehensive gift guide for board games. Not all games owned and loved were represented. Board Game Geek flaming us for not including all the games on our general gift guides is like us criticizing a board game guide for not including Nike Elite Socks.
Which leads us to The Confessions:
1. When Ellen first saw the comments coming in, she thought, “Huh, well this is silly because we have an ENTIRE cabinet full of games. I’ll just post a couple more “serious” games that we all enjoy. Well, apparently those choices weren’t good enough either. There must be secret, extra-judgy criteria for having fun that we don’t know about. But as a side note, if you wanted to brandish pitchforks for Chutes and Ladders, future generations might thank you.
“Was there a change in the matrix? Because right now the list also includes clue and risk.”
“Apparently there was. Since those definitely weren’t there to begin with. Although I think they’ve just gone for a bit of a cop out from the feedback and threw two of the most obvious ones there with some filler text and called it a day. Doesn’t address the original premise of the questions raised here, but I guess it’s a start.”
And as far as “ethics in journalism” being violated, we are constantly updating the guides as new gifts and items come into our lives. And once again, they are only GIFT GUIDES, not Congressional transcripts. But it’s a great idea to let people know we are periodically updating them so that they can come back. Thanks!
2. Ellen doesn’t really like games that take over 20 minutes to play. Gasp! Her favorites that violate this time limit are Clue and Parcheesi, but NEVER ask her how she feels about Monopoly. Trust us. Her personal preferences may have influenced how many games she included on her list. (How dare she!)
3. Erin makes up for Ellen’s ambivalence with her complete and utter LOVE of games! When she has to shoe horn seven people into a van for a seven hour drive to a week long vacation in the Outer Banks, she enthusiastically dedicates precious packing real estate to ALL of these.
Ellen’s daughter, who is currently reading The Crucible, put all this in perspective: “At least you aren’t being falsely accused of and persecuted for witchcraft.” Good point. With a tip of our hats to a famously maligned magical ice queen, we were going to just “Let it go” . . . but it didn’t feel right. Ellen is a strong believer that if you accept praise, you also have to accept criticism. We just did not want to publish the comments under the gift guides because they seemed unbalanced–with a non sequitur vibe– from people who did not read the text of the posts.
But there was something that really struck the match to our Bunsen burner. THIS:
“Oh dear. No matter which gender you are there appears to be socks on the list. What teen wants socks?!? (Yes, I’m being a bit of an age-ist… but as a teen and as an adult I never have had a more disappointing gift than a pair of sock – even my mom’s usual gift of a sock filled with fruit and nuts was more appreciated and desired.)”
Them’s fightin’ words! Someone clearly doesn’t know any adolescents well. We have teens. Who have teenage friends. And teens love socks. THE. END.
So you’ve decided to sign your darling up for a sports team. Unless you have a chauffeur, a nanny, or a flux capacitor to split yourself in two, you’re going to need a mom posse. And if you do have those things, what the hell are you doing? Go get yourself a nap, a merlot, and a pedicure.
In the land of youth sports, it’s the luck of the draw who you get to hang with for the season. You need to swim in the pool you paid for, so to speak. The kicker? You’ve never needed help more. There will come a time when older brother needs to go in one direction, your Pele-in-the-making needs to get to the play-offs in the other direction, dad is trapped at work . . . in Dhubai, and the cat is puking out its pancreas. But this situation goes from doom to doable if you have a mom posse to fall back on to at least take Pele to soccer. You’re on your own with the puking feline.
The secret to the posse is to choose wisely and develop it early.
1. Preparation starts at home. The first practice is not the time to be rocking your best boots, 7 For All Mankinds, and perfect blow-out. It makes you look like you don’t really need the help. If that is the case, rock it out, Sister, but if you do need help, you might want to dial down the mom glam for now.
But don’t let the pendulum swing too far the other way. Holey pajama pants and grungy slippers gives off the impression you feed your kids PopTarts for dinner, your entire family is sharing one towel, and most importantly, you don’t have your shizz together enough to transport someone else’s precious babies. Remember, the posse is all about reciprocity. Aim for approachable – best yoga pants, clean top, and neat ponytail. We’re not suggesting being Ms. Fakety-Fake, just don’t let it all hang out until, let’s say, practice six.
2.Get to the first practice early. Posses are for carpooling so safety comes first. Watch the other parents roll up in the parking lot. If a driver doesn’t at least slow down to 5 mph before opening those minivan sliding doors to eject her spawn, then you might want to mark her off the potential chauffeur list.
3.Follow the herd. When everyone is sitting together like ducks in a row, line your chair up too, Buttercup. If the group decides that selling blood is the best way to pay for the team’s new warm-ups, roll up a sleeve and offer a vein. On second thought, you may want to run, but in most cases now is not the time to be the Lone Ranger. Your kid’s not the only one who joined the team. Every time you make an effort, you’re upping your posse potential.
4.Start chatting parents up to see where they live. Carpooling only makes your life easier if it doesn’t take you a tank of gas to take the extra darlings home. Try not to be creepy scoping out addresses, though. If you can’t ask where someone lives without triggering a background check, work that smartphone. Take a picture of the team and show it to your potential posse member, “Look how cute this is!” If she just grunts, consider the screening process to be in full swing and move on. If she coos, say, “Hey, are you on Facebook? I could tag you in it.” If you become friends on Facebook, you are golden! You not only have access to location, you can make sure they don’t participate in demonic goat square dancing . . . or at least they’re discreet enough not to post about it.
WARNING: Do not scroll through and “Like” every one of her pictures because you’ll be detouring through Creepytown. Remember, you were trying to avoid that?
5. Work your kid. This will go a whole lot smoother if you correlate your connections with your kid’s buddies. Don’t fall into the trap of setting up a carpool with the second baseman who wipes his boogers on your son’s glove. Building friendships is good for your child and good for you and nothing builds friendships faster than sleepovers. Suck it up and send out an invite. Just make sure your bathrooms are clean and you remember to feed the kids. Passing out bananas for dinner doesn’t put you at the top of any posse lists.
6.Be the posse member you want to attract. Offer to help a mom you see in distress, carry that über complete first aid kit so you can save the day, create the hang out spot for the kids on your snazzy waterproof picnic blanket, hand puppies out from the back of a van . . . wait, scratch that last one. Just be a team player.
7. Send up a flare. If subtle action fails, don’t be afraid to beg. In fact, lay out your situation in an email or surely you could work it into a conversation during that 3 hours on the sidelines. It’s time to tamp down that pride, put on your big girl panties, and ask for exactly what you need. The people who respond when they know your chips are down are just the type of people you want in your life any way.
Bottom line: Mom posses make all these extracurriculars “posse”-ble. (Yeah, insert rim shot here.) So get out there and make a carpool buddy today! Friends don’t let friends drive both ways to practice two days in a row!
Sing it with us! “It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . .” Hmmm, let’s not. How about we up the reality on this bad boy season and all download The Final Countdown?
Ellen: Is it crazy that I’m stewing in jealousy because my Jewish friends checked off their holidays in one epic swoop this year: Thanksgivukah? Sure it was a swirling dervish of exhausting festiveness at the time, but now they are done: D-O-N-E done.
Erin:Your spirit must be crushed to be envious of two holidays smashed together. Pushed up against the Shutterfly deadline again?
Ellen: Is it that obvious? I thought squeaking in under their free shipping cutoff was going to be the end of me . . . AGAIN.
Erin:We always poo poo pissin’ contests, BUT I have you beat. I am fighting the machine of the ACTUAL Shutterfly deadline. Like no-money-in-the-world-can-get-you-your-book if you miss this deadline.
Ellen: And the last day to order on most other sites is drawing near. I always feel carefree about shopping when the internet is my safety net . . .
Erin:Until BAM! That safety net is ripped away like Santa scratching your name off of the Nice List.
Ellen:Amazon Prime has lessened my stress considerably, but really, I think it may have exacerbated my procrastinating tendencies. You can’t wrap what you don’t have. I’m predicting my traditional Christmas Eve date with Scotch Tape and Pinot Noir in the unfinished side of my basement will be a “go” again this year.
Erin:I hate to burst your miniscule bubble of holiday cheer, but in a couple of days even Amazon Prime won’t be able to save you because there is no “Bend the Time Space Continuum” shipping option. You’ll have to resort to going into actual stores if you don’t pull yourself together.
Ellen: I feel myself shutting down. So what better way to cope than to avoid my Christmas list altogether and just make fun of stuff on Pinterest?
Erin: I’ll jump on your Procrastination Train! Its Caboose of Denial looks comfy. The stewards to stroke my hair and make shushing noises is a nice touch. Besides, I’m counting on elves this year to save me.
Ten Things Pintershit That Better Not Be Under Our Trees
1. Godfather Gone Wrong
I love the classic movie “The Godfather”, but this pillowcase is taking fandom a bit too far and a little over the top. Fake gore on your pillow just seems so wrong. Plus it would be hard to explain to the six year old.
2. Handbag From Hades
I like a great bag as much as the next girl, but this one is only appropriate for your next party down by the River Styx. I feel like I would need to pack some extra biscuits in it for Cerberus, but it hardly seems big enough for the reed pipe I’d need to lull him to sleep. Save this little beauty for another day or another girl who doesn’t know her mythology like I do. Or for someone you don’t like.
My 13 year old’s classmate brought these to school for a birthday treat. Look closely. That’s right—there are scorpions, real scorpions– imbedded in these bad boys. Supposedly, some of the kids LOVED them. I don’t care if they are prepackaged and gluten-free, I can’t get over that scorpions are venomous creatures. I just shuddered. I repeat, “DO NOT buy this for me.” Unless you want an Erin-sized hole in your front door as I run screaming for my life.
4. Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should
This gives new meaning to the phrase “My dogs are tired.” Why would you make shoes like this?
Ellen: I don’t know, but your octogenarian catchphrases delight me every. single. time. They’re the bee’s knees.
Erin:There is no shame in being well read . . . and I can crash a bridge game like a boss.
Ellen: I have to agree, that is a skill that could come in mighty handy, as handy as hip pockets on a hog.
Erin:Now you’re just mocking me.
5. Sweater With a Side of Surgical Mask
There’s almost nothing I love more than turtlenecks and sweaters during the cold winter months; so I would normally welcome a gift like this. There is just something clinical about the weird way you’re supposed to wear it over your face. It says, “I take my fashion with a side of Ebola virus.” This would make Christmas dinner at the family homestead awkward, especially since I would have to consume my entire meal through a straw. Ham and potato smoothie, yuuummmmm.
6. Wonky Wookie
I like Stars Wars as much as the next person, but this is a little much. Dressing like Chewbacca would just make me feel like I forgot to wax. Don’t tell me it’s for Halloween because I already have a bevy of Hallo-Awkward-Ween choices lined up for next year.
But on second thought, if I wore this, could I get away with just wookie roaring at everyone? Hmmmm . . . or rather Arrrarroowwrrerr.
By the way, special thanks to infolinks for taking my query — “How to write Chewbacca sounds?” — as seriously as I take my writing. I got THE right information for THE right decision, yo. Integrity.
7. Christmas No
Don’t think that just because this sweater embraces more of a yuletide theme that it is appropriate. Just to be clear, this does not give me the warm and fuzzies. It gives me visions of Labradors peeing on my feet. You, know, because I would be a tree.
8. Heck No
Wellllllllllll, I think there is something obviously and freudian-ly amiss with a monstrous shark emerging from a crotch. But really, I don’t care to hate on Ariel or cause little wanna-be princesses angst; let alone inflict my daughters with that much mortification. Who, aside from a Victoria Secret model, can stand that much groin gawking during a simple day at the beach? Although . . . this would be hilarious on a Disney cruise, right? Mwahahahaha.
9. The Gift That Keeps On Drowning
Now that I have a complex about sharks eating mermaids, I would just consider this gift a blatant and aggressive threat on my well-being. Can you actually imagine swimming, I mean, not drowning in this??
But it does provide a nice set-up for the gift of laughter. What do you call a muffin top squeezed up by a mermaid tail? A tuna roll! I’m here all week, folks.
10. Just Take A Baseball Bat To My Knee
My knee is always just one twitch away from needing an MRI. Disability can even stalk me while walking in a straight line on level ground. These shoes would just seal the deal in a slow and tortuous way. Who am I kidding? It would be fast and epic. Regardless, the spikes would make it hard for you to remove my shoe from your arse when I shoved it there for giving me such an awful gift.
However if you insist on giving me that shoe, you know, for my own fashion good, then you’d better gift it with this AT-AT Walker walker. This is a Star Wars gift I can get behind. But now you’re confused, you say? I just dissed Chewbacca and now I’m embracing this? It’s really very simple. You just have to be discerning . . . and read my mind.
Here’s wishing that all your shipping deadlines are soft, your cards get sent out before President’s Day, and no one dumps Pintershizz under your tree!