The Very Best Kid Christmas Gift

I love to give kids books. I love to give adult books. I love to give books. Even if I never read them, or I pretend I will read them and gaze longingly if briefly at them as I pass by an untouched stack on my nightstand or patient row on my bookshelf. I will get to you, I think, and then I buy more books for other people who really will turn the pages before 2020.

It’s a standard gift, a parent favorite and practical choice by child-free friends and family who feel some responsibility to not contribute to the mountain of craplastic toys and $45 tiny, ironic tees made out of organic bamboo something that will fit a kid for approximately 7 minutes.

Photo source:  Photodune

Photo source: Photodune

Books are such a go-to that we have five copies of Night-Night, Little Pookie, countless Goodnight Moons and Bad Kittys and Percy Jacksons floating around, and probably three full sets of Beverly Clearys and Judy Blumes between our four walls and the smaller four walls of our storage space. We have plenty of Sponge Bob and Star Wars books mom friends have gladly dumped off at our house in a big old donation sigh of relief to never have to read it again (and again and again, to the point of grating memorization).

Something to read is even a mandate for holiday giving from my mother. She was probably the last customer who ever stood in line at a Borders and has reluctantly but resolutely turned to Amazon to be sure every member of the family gets every book from their Christmas list each year. Is nary a book scribbled on your suggestions for Santa? Too damn bad, then you’re getting something with 832 five-star user reviews. And you will read it. Eventually.

So why keep giving books, particularly to kids? Because books create moments, nurture imagination, connect us to lives outside of our own, and best of all, inspire a thousand questions. And if I am willing to answer a bullet-spray of inquiries about Taylor Swift or autopsies or weird poop, then I am certainly happy to engage in a conversation about what a word means or what my favorite part is or what in the world a “pizza pie” or “horse meat dog food” is or why phones used to be “attached to the house” (those are for you, Beverly Cleary).

Last Christmas, Santa delivered 25 books to my son, all wrapped individually and hidden around the house to be unearthed from silly, rhyming scavenger clues. I bought sequels to books he loved, new releases from authors he’s loyal to, and took suggestions from mom friends and teachers on series their kids and students devoured. It was a delight to find just the right reads, to see him scurrying around in his jammies to find each of them, and even more, to watch (and listen to) him enjoy that gift all year long.

He’s at the end of that stack, even with reading many other books given and purchased and dug up from his own nightstand collection in between, and I’d love to repeat this fun and simple gift of words and characters and cuddle time and incessant questions.

While I am at it, researching and ordering and getting giddy to give my boy another big stack of wonder, maybe I should also re-gift all those unread books to myself. Perhaps that’s the best present I could give to me, too—time to travel, absorb, escape, imagine, ask. Possibly. As soon as I click to purchase a few more novels and how-tos and board books for my favorite kids.

P.S. Aside from all these books, I am totally, finally, for sure not going to crazy with kid Christmas gifts this year. I swear. Here’s how

This post originally appeared on alpha mom.

20 Super-important Household Items That Need Aa And Aaa Batteries

I came home from a relaxing, luxurious weekend away at a spa. The house was relatively neat. There were no dishes in the sink or laundry left unfolded. It was warm and cozy and quiet.

Except for the sound that makes me cringe several times a year — the BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! of the smoke alarm in my hall. Or was it the one in the stairwell? Or the carbon monoxide detector outside my bedroom door? Who could tell? I couldn’t catch the sound quick enough to decipher which alarm it was and with ceilings far higher than my sole step-ladder can raise me up, I couldn’t pull them down myself to investigate.

What does a single mama do when a smoke alarm beeping crisis occurs? She calls her dad. Mine came to the rescue with a pocket full of batteries in various sizes and stood patiently beneath each alarm in the house until we were satisfied, safe and beepless.

“I knew you wouldn’t have the right battery,” my dad winked at me. He is right. It was a C-battery, and although I am stocked for the Armageddon with AA and AAA batteries, I do not have the arsenal of Cs and Ds that I should.

I’ve added those sizes to the ongoing shopping list on my phone (it’s own mysterious battery included). But just to assure myself of why I am over-prepared with batteries in tiny sizes, I did a quick inventory of what my son and I use regularly that require AA and AAA juice.

This list is long, but not exhaustive. With a little more digging, I am quite sure this single mama and her son can find more items that need battery power. If only batteries could re-set me back into work mode like a bucket of coffee can.

20 Super-Important* Things Powered by AA or AAA Batteries in Our Home

1. Wireless doorbell – My doorbell is one temperamental old lady. So to be sure I catch the UPS guy, I installed one of those fantastically handy wireless doorbells from the hardware store. Even better than the fact that the ding-dong chirps from a cute little plastic bird perched by my desk? It’s ridiculously simple to install — just place battery, adhese, ready cash for the pizza delivery.

2. Remotes – Drained from all of the clicking over from “iCarly” to “Phinneas and Ferb,” I am quite sure. And somewhere, a third one has been hiding for seven months — lucky dog.

3. Digital camera – Remember those? Me either. But when I pull mine out for a refresher in non-phone photographer, it better be ready with batteries.

4. Kid’s digital camera – My son thinks this item is used for spying on adults and for playing the strange app-like game embedded in the giant unbreakable thing. Regardless of what the real purpose is, the kiddie camera takes 67 eensy batteries.

5. Lego clock – Critical since it keeps my kid from calling out to me at 6:15 on a Saturday if he can get out of bed yet.

6. Star Wars game controller – The Wii is safely housed at my son’s dad’s place, so we go old school with a Star Wars game that plugs right into the TV. If we go though scads of batteries on that retro baby, I can only imagine how many are being used up at the Wii HQ a few miles away.

7. Face scrubber – My very favorite way to try to scrub away the stress and seven layers of makeup is a whirly-brush device that is heaven, powered on seven batteries. Maybe four. Could be 12. Who cares?

8. Cordless phones – Another near-obsolete item that I keep around specifically for my kid’s calls with his dad. I just don’t get why a phone that sits on a charger all day, every day also needs batteries. Alas, they do.

9. Clocks – Kitchen wall variety. Something has to keep it tick-tick-ticking loudly enough to be heard 300 feet away.

10. Flashlights – For freak power outages and Lego guy hunting under car seats and in heating vent crevices.

11. Spinning toothbrushes – Times two, minus thousands in cavity fillings.

12. Digital bank – How else would my son track all those dimes he nicks out of the cup holder in my car?

13. Talking United States map – This educational toy was kind of a bust until my son figured out he could make the state announcements sound like rap music by placing the state puzzle pieces in the appropriate place and quickly pulling them out over and over and over again. Hilarious. And semi-educational.

14. Remote-control cars – We have a long, hardwood floor hallway that I knew the first time I walked in this place would be perfect for racing cars. I was right. Many miles have been logged with the mini-Hummer and big, hauling recycling truck and smaller, cheaper race cars — all courtesy of a Costco of batteries.

15. Coffee bean grinder – This may be the only one in existence that doesn’t plug in. But it’s right there, on the counter.

16. Travel alarm clock – I have one tucked among the jars of cotton swabs and fancy-lady soaps on my counter even though I always have my phone handy for checking the time. But it is pink. And so cute. How could I not keep it ticking?

17. Trimmer – Lady-style. You know what I’m saying.

18. Outdoor holiday lights – Battery-powered so I don’t have to allow the elements and all of God’s creatures into my home by leaving the porch door even slightly open to accomodate an indoor/outdoor power cord.

19. The Christmas village – You know the kind with little tidy houses with twinkling lights and ice-skating kids and old-timey cars carrying trees? The kind of place none of us will ever live? I light that pretend town up every year thanks to a few well-placed batteries.

20. The dancing Frosty the Snowman – Inducing giggles in the kid and Scotch-drinking in the grandfather since 2005.

A big thanks to Energizer for sponsoring this campaign.

What are AAs and AAAs powering in your house?

*obviously relative to age and level of procrastination.  

This post originally appeared on

Stop Complaining About My Kid’s Hyphenated Last Name



When the Ms. Magazine blog featured a post on a feminist parenting topic that is recycled more often than plastic deli containers at my mom’s house, I dug in. Again. The post was a forthcoming dissection of the confusion and regret author Careen Shannon feels years after choosing to hyphenate her daughter’s last name.

Hyphenation. It’s a big issue. An annoyingly incessant discussion that parents who choose to hyphenate a child’s name must have over and over. And over again.

I appreciate Shannon’s honest discussion of the downsides of what felt like a logical, equitable feminist decision to name the young Shannon-Solomon, including how often her daughter is called by one of her last names, the order of the names is flipped and the two names are smooshed together. She also says it is tricky and tiresome for her daughter to fill out any forms, from standardized tests to health insurance information, because her name won’t fit in the allotted space. 

These things, the little daily dramas of carrying two names can indeed become burdensome. I should know. I gave my own son two last names. When he was in a daycare co-op, he was the only kid with all those names, but by the time he got to kindergarten in a more diverse school full of liberal and multicultural parents, there were always a few other hyphenaters in this class.

I told him that, LUCKY HIM!, he got a bonus name. I underlined both last names, turned the dash into a tiny star, told him he was special for carrying forward my last name and his dad’s. He bought it all.

Several years later, in third-grade impatient handwriting, he scribbles out his first name followed by the initials of each last name, separated hastily with a hyphen. He doesn’t have the time or patience or concern to write out both last names fully anymore. And because there is another boy in the class with the same first name, he’s bound to writing the rest whether he likes it or not. The funny thing is, the other kids in the class and the teacher shrink down his last initial to just one. Where he might be called James R-K, he would simply be James R (not his name). He didn’t ask for that, didn’t insist on something rushed, but also doesn’t seem to care or even notice the last-last name initial is missing.

In fact, he’s never questioned why he has two names, why other kids only have one.

“Oh,” he’s said sweetly a few times over the school years, “Grandma uses two last names! She’s special, too!” or “He’s hyphenated? Huh.”

But that’s where it ends. It is the other people who’ve been buzzing about my kid’s doubled-up byline since long before he was born. Some of my friends felt free to ask and argue about why in the world I would give my baby such clumsy full name. And when other new mothers and pregnant women I knew were defending that they’d opted to call their babies August and Ruby and Oskar and Emmeline and a new slew of old-timey first names, I was warding off the opinions and questions and heartfelt looks of genuine worry about the 7 lb, 3 oz. boy with oversized surnames.


I heard all of the questions, mostly in all-caps, sometimes in stage whispers like I was passing on cancer or unpasteurized milk.

My answer was always the same. First a smile. Then, “He’s smart. He will figure it out.”

And he is and he has. So far. There’s more to come. Perhaps he will take a stage name or get married or parent with another person with an equally long-lettered last name. Maybe the kid will get really pissed off at me one day and become a Smith or VanHeglund or Wojcik. One day, far in the future, we might laugh over a beer about how my last name was mistake for my first name ten times a week and he will bitch about his own surnames experiences. So be it.

My child might have to squeeze his name into too-few boxes on a form or the last three letters may get dropped over and over again on printouts and passports and credit cards. He will definitely have to spell and repeat and sound out and explain. And I know his calls into the doctor’s office to make an appointment will echo the sentences I’ve said all his life, “Rufus Rodriguez-HYPHEN-McCuddahy” (also not his name). So be that.

He’s smart. He will figure it out.

So to Careen Shannon and her hyphenated offspring, I get it. To all my friends and family and strangers and school mates and after-school activities instructors, I hear you. But the only person I am going to listen to on this subject is my last-name dashed child. And he’s not interested in saying that much about it.

Until then, rest assured that the same answer still holds. He’s smart. He will figure out.

And so can your kid. So can you.

This post originally appeared on

Should Parents Dress Up For Halloween? Even If The Kid Asks?

We were in Party City, green Spandex alien morphsuit Halloween costume in hand. Lil E was studying the pimp costume accessories — “Mommy, would an alien wear a bling cash-money necklace?” / “Maybe not one made out of plastic.” — and I was standing in front of the wall of pictures of people who look too happy to be wearing hot dog costumes or Elmo costumes or hippie costumes.

A mother was standing a few feet away from me, and her three young boys, all under the age of five, were pointing and talking and shouting about the section of women’s costumes.


In tandem, the mom and I glanced to the square where the middle child was pointing.

Sexy Little Red Riding Hood.

The costume model stood in front of a giant, slightly leering man-wolf in the background. She was perky, lacy and super-happy to be wearing a skirt that barely covered her hoo-hoo and an even shorter crap-velvet cape. She had an obvious blond wig and contrived basket.

The mom beside me was, at a glance, lovely — an attractive brunette who was, frankly, far more put together than I’d ever expect a mom of three preschoolers to be.  She didn’t need a wig to be hot. But the costume choice was still startling.

I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

But before that slipped out, I heard the mom say sweetly, “That’s not really me.”

When she heard me, she turned, smiled and confided, mouthing, “Shit, it has started.”

I laughed again but her attention was already back on the boy who insisted his mom go all Mother I’d Like to Fairytale.

“But, Mommy, it is perfect for you! It really is,” he whined.

It was funny in part because it was familiar. My own son has asked me many times, this year alone, what I am dressing up as for Halloween. He knows in the past I’ve rocked Princess Leah and a crazy-looking witch. But those were for costume parties and one adult evening out for the holiday. But I always answer the same way.

“Trick-or-treating is for kids. Kids get to dress up and parents give out candy and take thousands of photos that will never be printed out,” and then I add a little something. “ENJOY!”

His dad doesn’t ascribe to this thinking, choosing to trick-or-treat for an hour in a costume that matches his son’s every year. That’s his deal. There’s also an exception for the dad of a friend who has proudly shown off a generous midsection in a Tinker Belly joke costume while the kids ran from door to door. Still, I stand firm in my belief: Unless it is for a dress-up party or super-good reason (that I can’t come up with right now), costumes to trick-or-treat are for kids.

Sexy versions of Red Riding Hood, nurses, Katy Perrys, goth girls, nuns, hippies, devils, kitties and ketchup are for private parties. Of two. No kids or fun-sized bars invited.

My parental costume rule doesn’t mean that my kid, or that mom’s children or your own, won’t stop asking a mama to get gussied (or hussied) up for Halloween.  But it does mean better judgment should keep you redirecting your attention and plastic cash-monies on a giant slice of pizza costume for your little ones rather than a much-smaller (sexier and sausage) version for yourself.

Hey, breaker of my rule and MILFairytale encouragers: Will you dress up with your kids to trick-or-treat? 

This post originally appeared on