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Op-ed: In the Holiday Spirit

Op-ed: In the Holiday Spirit


I'm sitting at Starbucks with my kids waiting for our delicious hot beverage treats. Even though we live in Los Angeles, the holiday time always brings out the East Coaster in me -- and I find myself buying into the whole cozy, blustery, cocoa-and-pepperminty vibe that Starbucks is selling. I hand each kid their hot chocolate. Jonah asks if I remembered marshmallows. I did.

"That's what I'm talking about!" he says. I almost do a latte spit-take.

"Where on earth did you hear that?" I ask my 4-year-old, currently looking a little gangsta with his skinny jeans and hoodie pulled up over his head.

"Emerson says that at my school," he says. No doubt Emerson heard it from his dad. It happens to be up there with my least favorite expressions, along with fist pumps and high fives, "chill-ax" and "it is what it is." It's a particularly annoying "straight guy" kind of thing. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends -- well, you know.

I'd love to stop him from ever saying it again, but I have to pick my battles at the moment. I'm about to embark on a quick errand in Target, and I need to do a pre-game strategy with the littles.

"Listen, you guys," I say, "Daddy needs to go into the store and buy just two things: a toy for that birthday party on Sunday and a toothbrush. We are not shopping for you guys. OK?" They are blinking at me. Is any of this getting in? "Santa is bringing a lot of presents on Christmas, and I don't want you to ask for anything while we're in the store!" I make sure I speak slowly, clearly, and patiently, though firmly enough for them to know I mean business.

"We won't, Daddy," Eliza assures me. She then turns to her brother, as is her way, and takes on an a very grown up air of authority:

"Jonah. You can't whine or cry or ask for toys. Not today. This is an errand. For Daddy. It's super important. Don't ask for any thing." She looks at me for approval. I smile and thank her for the backup.

The kids climb into a shopping cart and we race through the crowded aisles. I have to be out of my mind going through Target during a pre-holiday weekend sale, but we can't show up to this birthday party empty-handed, and if I use my sad, flattened toothbrush one more night, the bristles will shed like the pine needles on the discount Christmas tree I talked my husband, Don, into buying.

I grab my new toothbrush and bolt to the toy aisle. I quickly grab a box of Lincoln Logs and toss it into the cart. Time to head to the checkout line.

"Stop!" Eliza yells.

I jump, startled by her tone and volume. Have we hit someone with our cart? Did someone lose an eye? Eliza crawls over and out of the cart. She makes a beeline for a cheap-ass plastic Hello Kitty purse filled with kid lip gloss, nail polish, and glitter. She grabs it and looks up at me.

"Oh, no, sweetie, remember? I'm not buying anything for you guys today."

"Please!" She begs. "Just this once." Oh, man, if I had a dollar for every "once ... "

I am adamant. She starts to scream: "It's the last one!" My heart breaks a little. Bu, I shake my head and turn back toward my cart and start to move. Eliza bursts into tears. I turn back, gently take the purse and put it back on the shelf, explaining again how I'm not buying toys for them, and if they can't make it through an errand without asking for something, then I can't take them on errands anymore.

Well. Of course I shouldn't bring them with me. I mean, asking my 6- and 4-year-olds to make a quick stop in a virtual wonderland of shiny colors and toys and that intoxicating smell of retail. It's not fair. It's holiday time! And everywhere you turn is designed to put you in the "I have to have -that" spirit -- especially given their daddy's inability to demonstrate the same self-control he's asking of them. Talk about hypocrisy! Do I not love the smell of retail? Have the kids not witnessed me unable to resist a last-minute impulse buy? Was I not at home just an hour earlier, trying desperately to get an extremely overpriced pair of boots online and throwing a similar tantrum over its unavailability in my size? "What's wrong with you people?!" I screamed at the computer screen. "I want my boots!" So how else are my kids supposed to act when they too are being taunted and seduced by the luster and allure of more "stuff"?

On the other hand, I am not interested in reinforcing negative, whiny, entitled behavior. "Do as I say, not as I do." Just because they want something doesn't mean they have to get it. In fact, teaching them about delayed gratification and disappointment is an important life lesson. Isn't it? I had to get over the heartbreak over my boots. Although I did plow through a bowl of Gorilla Munch cereal to help me stuff those feelings.

"Daddy, ple-e-ease!!" she wails. Jonah looks at me with a "give her what she wants" expression. He's incredibly protective of his sister. For a split second I wonder if I detected a hint of threat in his tone. My boy is sweet but he could take me down.

Now people are starting to stare. I know they're judging me. Either because I have no control over my hysterical daughter who I've clearly done a horrible job of raising, or they're just thinking I'm an evil Grinch who has no holiday spirit. If they only saw me Christmas morning, the big Jew that I am, tap-dancing in a Santa hat for my disapproving atheist husband.

Suddenly, in my desperate attempts to squelch the hysterical screams by my 6-year-old daughter, I've lost track of Jonah, who has undoubtedly escaped the noise and is trolling the sports aisles for things with wheels or balls or anything that could be used as a weapon. It's a phase he's in, and I'm praying he outgrows it. Or else his gay dads are in some serious shit.

I find Jonah in the truck aisle and scoop him back up and into the cart. Eliza and I have made a deal, that if she calms down and stops crying, I'll let Santa know she wants the Hello Kitty purse and maybe he'll be able to work something out so she can get it. That, and I'll get the kids some sugar-free gum if they just shut the hell up and stick to the pre-game agreement.

Jonah is now in the cart playing with a big electric Lightning McQueen toy from the movie Cars.

"Jonah. Did you put this in the cart?"

"No," he lies. He always lies. I've got to get on that.

"I'm not buying any toys today, you understand?" Jonah makes a mad face and I fear another tantrum. As I grab the toy from him, I accidentally hit a button and a booming, macho, electronic voice from within says: "That's what I'm talking about!" OK. There's no way that toy is going to find its way under our Christmas tree.

We're at the checkout, and I'm sneaking the Hello Kitty purse into the cashier's hands so Eliza doesn't see how Santa "snagged" the last one. OK, yes, and I've managed to sneak the annoying Lightning McQueen as well. I'm no Grinch.

I quickly get each of them a pack of gum and try to end this particularly unfortunate chapter of this day. We got home and the kids, having already forgotten about the toys left at the store, were on to something else. I checked my email to find that one of my online shopping sites had in fact found my boots and at a 30% discount! "That's what I'm talking about!"

DAN BUCATINSKY is a writer-actor-producer known for writing and starring in the indie film All Over the Guy. With producing partner Lisa Kudrow, he runs Is Or Isn't Entertainment, behind the groundbreaking cult comedy The Comeback, and is now in production for the third season of acclaimed docu-series Who Do You Think You Are for NBC. Their current project, Web Therapy, is a new half-hour version of the award-winning Web series exclusively on Showtime. His upcoming book, Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? from Touchstone Books, is due out in 2012, and you can follow Dan on WhoSay and on Twitter @danbucatinsky.

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