Freedom is a Construct, Not an Absolute

4th of July. The holiday that celebrates the United States as the land of the free. But this year, that idea has caused me pause. It seems that we, as a country, are on very decidedly different pages of what “freedom” means.

Therefore, I’ve been examining what my own idea of freedom is. Because here’s the thing: for something that we stake our identity on, fight wars over, sacrifice lives for…”freedom” is not something tangible. It does not “exist” in reality. It is a construct; something that exists within the mind of each person. Sure, there can be shared social constructs, or mutually agreed upon definitions. But it is also something that can be argued, changed, or altered and technically still be true to the individual or society who chooses to believe in that interpretation. Oh, those slippery slopes. Well, people. We built our entire country on a slippery slope. Continue reading “Freedom is a Construct, Not an Absolute”

Goodbye 2015: Closing the Year by Counting it Down

2015 is about to come to a close. You all have been very good to me this year, as you have in the past. Because of this, I want to just quickly wish you joy, peace, fulfillment, and love in the coming new year…all the things I have received from your support, your comments, and the fact that so many of you continually come back to read whatever it is I put down.

Let’s see 2015 out by recapping the blog posts you liked the most this year. It made me happy to revisit each of these and know they resonated with so many people:top blog posts of 2015

#10 Advice for a Double-Digits Daughter
I became the mom of a tween this year, and my words of “wisdom” to my 10 year old seemed to strike a chord. This post even garnered its own hashtag: #deodoranteffect

#9 Be a Beck: Parenting Advice from the Grammys
Remember when Kanye West was a jerkwad to Beck after he won the Grammy for album of the year? For most, that served as pure entertainment. But I saw the ordeal as a lesson for how to raise my children.

#8 When Social Media Doesn’t Feel So Social
Most bloggers can probably sympathize with this post, which is probably why it got a lot of hits. But it relates to anyone in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What happens when you start to feel like you’re living your life on social media, but not in reality?

#7 The Guilty Conscience: I’m a Working Parent Therefore I’m Neglectful
2015 was the year I became a working parent, adding “author” and “freelance writer” to my resume. Even though I work from home, my daughter had trouble adjusting to the fact that I wasn’t as present as I had been in the past, which was a new dynamic for us to navigate.

#6 Fluid: The Mirage of Beginnings and Endings
My grandmother entering hospice doubled with a visit back to our first home got me thinking philosophically about the passage of time. It makes my heart happy to see this post did so well, especially as I still watch my grandma clinging to this life, becoming less and less of the woman I grew up with. Re-reading this was healing.

#5 “Difficult” Is Not a Synonym for “Traumatic”
This post was a response to a comment I received on a piece that ran on TODAY Parents, where a reader insisted I was traumatizing my son by making him go to kindergarten even though he cried day after day. Her words got me thinking about how we encourage (or don’t encourage) our children to approach difficult situations.

#4 Five Reasons You Should Hug a Preschool Teacher
This post makes me smile, not only because it reminds me of my time subbing in a preschool classroom earlier this year (which inspired the post), but because it celebrates some of my favorite people: preschool teachers. They put up with a lot, y’all…and are still pleasant as peaches.

#3 Suburban Horror Story: The Return of Chuck E. Cheese
I can’t shake this mouse. Once again, one of posts about my long and complicated history with Chuck E. Cheese breaks into the top ten.

#2 Similar Tastes: A Letter to My Daughter on Her Birthday
Search engines apparently love this post…which also means there are a lot of moms out there looking to write letters to their own daughters. And that’s pretty cool.

And…drum roll, please…

#1 THE GOOGLE SEARCH HISTORY OF A 6-YEAR-OLD BOY 
Guys, this was probably the most unexpected success on this blog to date…and I have to give most of the credit to my son. The biggest reason I wrote this was for myself and my husband, as a way to make sure we could always come back and read the funny things Michael searched on Google. And I figured a few other people, especially those who know him, would get a kick out of it (hi, Mom!). I had no idea it would become a mini viral sensation, not only on here, but also over on Scary Mommy, who saw the post floating around and asked me if they could republish it. To top it off, a very kind stranger actually took one of Michael’s search terms and brought it to life in a drawing. That is all that and a bag of chips.velociraptor

So that’s a wrap on 2015. Happy New Year!

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The #NoFilter Christmas Medley: A Music Video for the Season

#NoFilter. It is a trend that has been upon us for some time; a pushback against the photoshopped-perfect culture and Instagram-filtered memories that inundate the media – social and otherwise. And while I am a self-professed accidental “trend-killer,” my appreciation for the intention behind this movement has led me to risk bringing it to a screeching halt in order to take part and apply it to this holiday season.

What if, I thought, the spice-scented, soft glow filter of eggnog-tipsy merriment was removed from all those beloved Christmas songs we cherish this time of year? What if we sang about real life gearing up for the holidays?
Continue reading “The #NoFilter Christmas Medley: A Music Video for the Season”

3 Ways to Show American Spirit Without Pinterest

I don’t know about you, but after the triple threat of Mother’s Day, End of School Year Teacher Gifts, and Father’s Day, I don’t have enough left in my Pinterest Love Tank when 4th of July rolls around. By now, I’m completely invested in my laissez-faire summer mode, so promises of “20 Simple 4th of July Party Ideas” do little to pique my interest. (It could also be that the accompanying images of perfectly sprinkled cake ball sparkler pops and INDIVIDUALLY wrapped and decorated Twizzlers make me doubt the “simplicity.”)

Being patriotic is about more than the perfect red, white, and blue themed party spread. Yes, the ingenuity displayed in pin after pin of creative desserts and decorations is certainly a trademark of the American spirit. But so are Netflix binges and maximizing your pool time. That’s the kind of patriotism I’m all about at this point in the summer. So if you’re on a Pinterest hiatus as well, here are 3 ways you can show your American spirit this 4th of July:

#1 Rank the U.S. Presidents on Hotness Level.  tweet-button(1)blog

The 4th of July is a time to put aside politics and celebrate simply being an American. And what better way to do this than to reduce our commanders-in-chief to their swoon-worthiness? Continue reading “3 Ways to Show American Spirit Without Pinterest”

Let the Games Begin + Giveaway Winner

Happiest of Mother’s Days to all my mama friends out there! As my buddy Kandace posted:

“It took me a while. But, I think I am all prepared for Mother’s Day…. The garbage and recycle are full, the dishwasher has been run and is ready to be emptied, the dog’s water is low, the bird feeder needs to be filled, the toilet paper and paper towel rolls need to be changed, there is a dry load of clothes in the dryer and a freshly washed load in the washer! Let the games begin!!!”

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A-MEN!!!

OH, and congratulaions to Lisa Craven for winning the Jewelry Made by Maggie​ Giveaway! As a consolation prize to everyone else, Maggie is offering 20% off at her Etsy store until June 1st! Just use the code kelly20.

Now go out and enjoy your day and love your mamas!

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The Mother’s Day Hierarchy

Mother’s Day. I recall being a kid and feeling a little jealous that moms got their very own holiday (because kids are too dumb to realize the national children’s holiday is just called “Life.”) I wanted to be a part of that club who got to go through the dinner line first and unwrap gifts on a day that wasn’t Christmas or my birthday. I just knew that once I became a mom, I would have it made in the shade every time the second Sunday of May rolled around.

Little did I know.

The advent of your first bumbling baby may give you the right to be celebrated on Mother’s Day. But what most new moms don’t realize is that there is a certain seniority at play. You aren’t immediately granted a free pass to a day of complete leisure and pampering. That has to be earned through the ranks of what I like to call “The Hierarchy of Mother’s Day.”icecream

Level 1: The New Mom

You will probably get some nice jewelry from your husband, but just don’t even think about putting “sleeping in” on your wish list, especially if you’re nursing. Babies can’t read the universal memo, RE: Mom is Off the Clock Today. And they usually pick Mother’s Day as one of those “special” times when the touch, voice, glance, or even presence of anyone but Mom induces whines, tantrums, and neck clawing. So I hope you like that birthstone necklace. It’s all you’re getting this year.

Level 2: The Mom of Little People

Pinterest was invented for you. Keepsake plates decorated with your children’s adorable artwork. Footprints immortalized in garden stones. Ornaments of your children’s silhouettes. Jewelry charms made from precious fingerprints. Except YOU won’t be the one getting these gifts, because, duh…dads don’t do Pinterest. GRANDMA is going to be the lucky recipient of all these thoughtful and sentimental goodies. YOU will be the one busting your ass to get them all made while your kids try to shove quick-dry cement up their noses and stick their tongues out every time you try to snap a photo of their profiles. Then you get to dress the kids in their Sunday best (because again, duh, dads don’t do fashion) and herd them all to church before heading over to the big extended family celebration with your pot luck side dish (because, you guessed it, dads and Pinterest).  But don’t worry. You are still going to have hella appreciation heaped upon you. Get ready for some pancakes with “secret” ingredients, construction paper cards with indecipherable writing, and glitter. Damn it.

Level 3: The Mom of Teens

During Level 2, you would have given your Target Redcard for everyone to leave the house for the day so you could have some uninterrupted peace and quiet. Now in Level 3, that’s all you get…because everyone is apparently hanging out at Taylor’s house breaking in her new pool table. Well, there was that text you got that says “HMD *heart emoticon, kissy face emoticon, taco emoticon.*

Level 4: The Mom of Adult Children

Mother’s Day is becoming a sweeter affair by now. Your kids make money of their own and can finally start giving you something that doesn’t have a handprint on it. You may even get to be doubly celebrated as a mom AND and grandma, so there are bonus presents. But since your kids are likely busy being parents of tiny tots, working long hours, or just being self-absorbed d-bags (because there’s always one), everyone still looks to you for “the plan.” And it’s just as well, since your own 83-year-old mother broke her hip when she tripped over a Lego castle the last time she was at your daughter’s house, and she might catch any number of communicable diseases if the celebration is held at your son’s bachelor pad.

Level 5: The Eldest Matriarch

You’ve made it to the only level of The Mother’s Day Hierarchy where you don’t have to lift one.damn.finger. Everyone owes YOU. The party’s not at your house. You don’t have to cook a freakin’ thing. You’re first in line to eat. Good news: you are the Queen Supreme of all the Mothers. Bad news: that means your mom is dead.

Son of b. Looks like Mother’s Day kind of sucks for everyone.

Do you like your Mother’s Day with just a hint of truthful snark? Then you are going to LOVE these new cards designed by myself and three other über talented ladies: Emily of The Waiting, Meredith of Pile of Babies, and Ashley, writer at Mommyish. Emily had this great idea to put our heads together to create a Mother’s Day collection of cards that speak to the “real” and often hilarious side of motherhood. You know, non-Hallmark approved. We even made it so you can purchase and download any of these cards at our Etsy store to give to all the mamas in your life. Even better, 100% of the proceeds will be donated to an organization called Every Mother Counts, an non-profit that works to provide safe pregnancies and childbirth for women all over the world who don’t have access to the care and resources they need. So not only do you get to have a laugh at these cards, but your purchase also helps to ensure other mothers get the chance to find the humor in motherhood.

Here’s a sneak peak at the three cards I contributed to the collection:

To see the rest of the collection, go check them out on Emily’s blog, The Waiting, or head over to the Etsy store and get your own copies!

Happy Mother’s Day to all who celebrate it!

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A Christmas Card for You

I’m going to be signing off until 2015, but I just wanted to take a moment to wish all of you Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas! This has been an incredible year for me, and you all had something to do with that. Wishing you lots of love and happiness!20141222093201546_0001

Oh, and Santa came a little early and brought me my very own radio spot this past weekend. You can listen to me chat about Absolute Mayhem, my kids, and self-publishing on The Michelle Esswein Show that aired on KLOU 103.3 in St. Louis HERE (I am the second guest, so start listening halfway through the show).

See all you crazy kids in 2015!

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A Re-Gift: I Am a Liar. And It’s All Santa’s Fault

It’s go time around here. And with our first (of about five) family Christmas celebrations happening this coming weekend, I’m going to pull an old post from two years ago out of my magic sack. But it’s not just any old post. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Besides, at least half of you readers weren’t even around when I posted this. So it’s new to most of you. And with one of my children knowing Santa isn’t real and the other firmly believing in Mr. Kringle without any doubts, I was reminiscing about the year when I had to work a little harder at keeping the faith alive. This is what sitcoms are made of, people. Now, off to address some Christmas cards…

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It can be stressful to have a seven-year-old at Christmastime. Why? Because there is questioning. A lot of questioning. You know, about that plump guy in the red suit.

I have to be honest; Grace’s prying questions about Santa make me more uncomfortable than the few questions she has already asked me about S-E-X. Questions about sex, while a little awkward, haven’t been that hard to answer. I am making sure she has accurate facts, giving her knowledge that not only makes her feel okay about her own body, but will hopefully lead to informed and responsible decisions in the future. I subscribe to the very wise motto of G.I. Joe: Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

But answering all these endless questions about Santa means I am doing the exact opposite: I am perpetrating a lie.

It all started at the very beginning of December. We were in the car, sitting at a stoplight. The car behind us caught my eye in the rearview mirror because it had those little reindeer antlers on either side. I glanced at the driver for a glimpse of this person with undoubted Christmas cheer, and lo and behold…it was an older gentleman, with a round face, a long, fuzzy white beard, and a red shirt. I couldn’t believe my luck! Last year we happened upon a reindeer in our backyard just before Christmas, and now this!

So I announced to the kids, “Look who is driving the car behind us!” They both quickly turned around, and Michael yelled, with an energy like the one that comes from eating too many pixie sticks, “SANTA!!!!!!”

Almost on cue, the man behind us smiled and waved at the kids. It was, for lack of a better word, precious. Just as I was feeling my own giant boost of yuletide glow, Grace said, a bit accusingly, “What would Santa be doing driving around here?” I explained that maybe he was making the rounds, checking up on kids, getting reports from all the Elves on the Shelves.

She was quiet for a second. “I kind of think Santa is real. But I kind of think he is a fairy tale.” Well, isn’t that just Grinchy. And then the questions began…

I know what she’s doing. I can tell she is conflicted. She wants to believe Santa is real, but that maturing brain of hers is feeding her more and more of this thing call “logic.” And she’s not so sure she likes the taste of it. Therefore, instead of coming straight out with the question of whether there is a Santa Claus, she is asking every possible question about his practicality to see how I respond.

Grace: What is Santa’s address?
Me: Just write “Santa Clause – North Pole. The post office will know where it goes because there is only one Santa.

Grace: But if no one has ever seen Santa and his workshop is secret, how does the mailman know where he lives?
Me: (crap)

What am I supposed to do? Tell her that I am incredibly impressed with her abilities in deduction, throw up my hands to the fact that I will likely soon be out-smarted, and say, “Congratulations! I think you have just about figured it out. I will spare you the last two zillion questions you were going to ask me and just confirm what you are hinting at. THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS. And your parents are liars. Merry Christmas.”

Nope. That is not what I do at all. Instead, I conspire with my husband to dig ourselves even deeper in this jolly old lie. Ladies and gentlemen, witness our deception:

Grace's Email from Santa
Grace’s Email from Santa

A few days ago, I was at the computer sending some emails when Grace asked me if the reason Santa knew all this stuff about her and Michael was because I emailed him. I confessed that I had absolutely no idea what Santa’s email address was. So Miss Smarty Pants said, “Just Google it.” I hesitantly typed in the words “Santa’s email address,” fearing that an entry would pop up saying something like “Trick your kids with this fake email address to Santa…because we all know Santa is not real.” Luckily, the first entry was an actual site where kids could send emails to Santa. And it was adorable.

Grace entered her information and her note to Santa, then hit send. A screen popped up with a message that the email was being sent…then it said Santa was reading the email…then it said he was writing one back to her. Within a few minutes, Santa’s email was ready for her to read. She was a bit skeptical that he had written it so quickly, but that doubt was soon squashed once she read the email. It was very personal and even somehow had picked up from what she had written in the free-form comment section the fact that she had a brother. I was relieved to see she seemed quite satisfied.

But apparently her wheels had been turning all afternoon, because at dinner time she informed us she had a sneaky idea. She wasn’t so sure Santa had actually written that email, or that there really was a Santa to even email. So she had devised an “experiment.” She wanted my husband to go back to the site and enter in his name, but say he was 6 years old and from Canada. By her reasoning, if Santa was real and really writing these emails, he would certainly know that Kurtis was actually an adult…and not living in Canada.

Well, *%$#@. But I have to admit, she is kind of a genius. And a little maniacal.

We knew we couldn’t talk our way out of this, so my husband agreed to do it. He went downstairs and started the email. All of a sudden, he came racing back upstairs, whipped into the family room and said in a hushed voice, “QUICK! Get on the Kindle, pretend you are Santa, and send an email to me saying that you know I was tricking you!”

OOOOOH! You handsome devil you!

But there was just one problem. I panicked, “But the site doesn’t send it to your email address! Santa’s email just pops up on the site after a minute or two!!!” But my enginerd had already taken care of that. He had unplugged the router so when they hit “send,” nothing would happen. Then when he plugged the router back in, he quickly opened his email to find this message waiting in his inbox:

Subject: Naughty, Naughty

HO HO HO! You tried to trick old Santa! I know you don’t live in Canada.

Love, Santa

P.S. Rudolph thought that was a funny joke!

I know. The tangled web of lies we weave. But I have to say, it was totally worth it to see the look on her face and hear her exclaim, “YES! The email was really from Santa!”

My Cutest Christmas Angel when she was 1 year old
My Cutest Christmas Angel when she was 1 year old

Maybe I am setting her up for a bigger disappointment when she finally does learn the truth. Maybe I am being selfish. I know that the elaborate lengths my husband and I have gone to in order to keep Grace believing are in part for us. We see her losing pieces of “little” every day. Sure, her innocence still outweighs her worldliness. But childhood starts to look different around this age. It isn’t necessarily better or worse, but change is always hard. Every parent knows that faint tug of longing that comes whenever you catch a glimpse of a photo of your child during younger years. Remember…that squeaky voice…the way that tiny hand felt around your finger…that unquestionable belief in anything that could be imagined…it was adorable.

But seven-year-olds can be pretty adorable, too. Grace reminded me of that when she took a bit of offense to Santa’s use of the word joke.

“It wasn’t a joke. It was an EXPERIMENT.”

Maybe I will remember that line when Grace finally does come to the real conclusion about Santa Claus. It was just an experiment. And to make up for her being the subject of that experiment, I will let her eat the cookies her little brother leaves for Old St. Nick. I might need a lot of cookies.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Believe
Believe

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Ugly Christmas Sweater + Billie Jean = Can Not Look Away

Oh Christmas Sweater, Oh Christmas Sweater,
How ugly are your appliques!

I’m not sure if you are aware, but December 12th is National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. No, you shut up. It really is.

2014-12-11 17.01.41At least, it is according to the “Make the World Better with a Sweater” campaign by the decades old organization, Save the Children. And if people who have been responsible for improving the lives of kids all over the world since 1919 want me to wear an ugly Christmas sweater, I’m going to wear an ugly Christmas sweater. And I’m going to thank Meredith over at Pile of Babies for alerting me to fact that this day even existed. Because if there is anything I love more than wearing my “Bah Hum Pug” sweater vest, it’s helping out kids who are way cuter than it.

So here is how it works. On December 12th, you wear your ugliest of ugly Christmas sweater all the livelong day. Like, everywhere you go. (I bet all of you who have a trip to Walmart on your agenda just breathed a little easier, because you know nobody is going to even look twice at you there. Those of you who have a job interview scheduled, well, you’ll get ’em next time, Tiger.) Then head over to Save the Children and make a simple donation of $5 or more to help support them in their good works. It is the season of giving after all.

Now I will admit that wearing an ugly Christmas sweater all day will be pretty easy for me, seeing as how I am home with two sick kids and won’t have to subject the public to my bad fashion. But as a show of good faith, here is a video of me, for all the world to see, dancing to “Billie Jean” in my ugly Christmas Sweater at a holiday party this past weekend (I have said that I do a commendable Michael Jackson impression for a thirty-something year old white girl):

In addition, I will donate a portion of the proceeds from all copies of Absolute Mayhem that are bought on December 12th to Save the Children. You can find it at kellysuellentrop.com or on Amazon.

So go forth, my children. Be ugly. Save a child.

 

Find out more about National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day at www.nationaluglychristmassweaterday.org

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A Cute Rhyme Takes the Guesswork Out of Holiday Gift-Giving

I don’t know about you, but I am woefully behind on my Christmas shopping. See, there’s this thing called Life, and right now it really seems to have an issue with letting me wander aimlessly down the aisles of Toys ‘R’ Us, looking for things least likely to end up being donated next year during our annual pre-Christmas toy purge.

Thankfully, there’s this little gift-giving mantra that’s been going around which might be of tremendous help to me. A friend of mine was the first to enlighten me to it. She, of course, saw it on Pinterest. Because that is where all helpful and clever and visually perfect things are born into this world. But I have since seen it floating around elsewhere on the internet, mainly out of the mouths of comment sections. So you may have heard it as well. It goes like this: Continue reading “A Cute Rhyme Takes the Guesswork Out of Holiday Gift-Giving”