My daughter was annoyed with Mrs. Claus - and let her have it.

I took my daughter on the Essex Steam Train's North Pole Express last night.

For those of you unfamiliar, The Essex Steam Train is a 100 year-old functioning steam train and museum run out of Essex, Connecticut. During the year, you can take a ride the train, celebrate your birthday or your wedding on the train, take the special Thomas the Tank Engine tour, and even take the train to their steamboat, where you can cruise the Connecticut River on their old fashioned steam boat.

There are dozens of special rides and events produced all year long, but their most popular option is the North Pole Express, a ride upriver to the North Pole, where Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their elves board the train. Santa hands each child a toy, the elves deliver cookies and hot chocolate, and Mrs. Claus stops by for photos and chit-chat. The train car is decked out in festive lights and garland, and the ride is hosted by an uproarious elf who leads the train car in song, games, and more.

For a child who believes in Santa Claus (as mine do), it is an amazing ride. And the thousands of tickets to these rides - which run from Thanksgiving through December 29 - sell out almost instantly.  

We were supposed to take the ride last week, but the stomach bug hit my daughter hard, forcing us to sell our tickets and reschedule our ride for yesterday,

As fate would have it, the stomach bug then hit my son even harder, providing both him and his parents one of the worst nights of our lives. Unable to reschedule our ride again, we sold Elysha and Charlie's tickets (easily), and with heavy hearts, Clara and I went for the ride on our own.

The ride was spectacular as always. The train car was filled with music and laughter. Children peered into the night with the hope of catching a view of Santa in his sleigh. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the North Pole, a beautifully decorated location along the track (the steamboat port) where we stopped to allow Santa and his crew to board the train.

All was well until the elves arrived with the cookies. Clara is allergic to peanuts, so before I could even ask, she had grabbed an elf and inquired about the peanut status of the cookie. The elf informed Clara that although the cookie contained no peanuts, it was made in a factory that produced peanut products.

As a result, no cookie for Clara. She was disappointed to say the least. And yes, it was just one cookie, but watching a train filled with children eat cookies baked by Mrs. Claus and handed out by elves while you had none wasn't easy.

The best part came when Mrs. Claus boarded the train for photos. When she reached us, Clara leaned in close and said, "Why aren't your cookies made peanut safe for kids like me?"

Mrs. Claus was a bit flustered but recovered quickly saying, "I'm sorry. I just can't guarantee that they weren't made in a peanut-free environment."

Clara's response: "Why not?"

When Mrs. Claus didn't respond, Clara added, "You should fix this for next year. And what's an environment?"

Mrs. Claus did not answer Clara's question. She smiled and moved on. She probably didn't answer the question because there is no good answer. While I don't think that businesses are required to cater to my daughter's allergy or any food allergy, an attraction like the Polar Express, designed specifically for children, should probably seek to be peanut-free given the surprising prevalence of this allergy. 


There are plenty of peanut-free cookies on the market, and they don't cost any more than the cookies produced with or alongside peanuts. Why not try to mitigate a food allergy that has become sadly and inexplicably common in today's world?

I explained to Clara what an environment is, and I promised to write a letter to the Essex Steam Train asking them to consider providing peanut-safe cookies next year.

She thought this was a great idea.

I also promised to bring cookies of our own next year in case they decided to ignore my letter.

Another winning proposal in Clara's estimation.

And on the way home, I bought her a donut at Dunkin' Donuts - a business that can ensure that their products are peanut free and have therefore earned my business.

Though she was still annoyed about the cookie, she felt that a chocolate glazed donut was an acceptable substitute for the sugar cookies that the elves were handing out on the train.

The cat peed and pooped and vomited on our Christmas preparations, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My wife and I left about 80% of our preparations for Christmas until December 24.

  • At the beginning of the day, we had only one gift for each child. We needed more presents and plenty of stocking stuffers. We also had yet to purchase gifts for each other, and nothing was wrapped. 
  • We had not purchased any food or drink or even decided upon the menu for the eight adults and six children who would be coming to our home.
  • We had not cleaned the house in any meaningful way.
  • The Christmas tree still lacked at least two strings of lights.
  • We had yet to visit with Santa for photos.

Maybe it was closer to 90% of the preparations still undone.

This was not a big deal. We had the whole day to complete these tasks, even with our children underfoot. Divide and conquer. Be efficient and productive. Rule the day.

And we did. Everything was accomplished by the end of the day, which for me ended around midnight and for Elysha around 1:00 AM. We even had some fun in the process. We had photos taken with Santa in the morning. Enjoyed breakfast together. Sat down for a lovely dinner as a family. Read to the children before bed. After they were asleep, Elysha and I listened to Christmas music while she baked and prepped and I cleaned and de-cluttered the house.


In fact, the entire day would’ve gone off without a hitch except for one thing:

I blocked the basement door with two empty boxes of Christmas ornaments, thereby blocking the cat door which allows our cat, Owen, access to his litter box in the basement. The door was blocked for more than a day.


As a result, the cat peed in my daughter’s room, on her sleeping bag, some toys, a pillow, and more.

Then he pooped on our bed.

Then he came downstairs, stopped at my feet, and vomited on the living room floor.  

This, my friends, threw a wrench into our plans. A monkey into our schedule. It sucked away vast amounts of time that were needed for wrapping and baking and buying and cleaning.

But here’s the great thing about this horror show:

Elysha and I laughed about it. We almost cried, too, but once that moment passed, we laughed. Worked together. Praised our washing machine’s sanitize cycle. Tossed a few items away. Made liberal use of the Lysol. Consoled our daughter. Moved on.

We even had an amusing story to tell the next day.

I have a friend who thinks my wife and I were insane for saving so much holiday preparation at the last minute. She even offered to come over and help wrap presents. I told her that I eat pressure for breakfast and love a good challenge. I assured her that we would be fine.

But in truth, it has a lot to do with the relationship that Elysha and I have. The perspective that we share. Our ability to work together. The trust we have in each other. The faith we have in ourselves. Our propensity to divide and conquer. Our shared values over what is important and what is not.

It’s why we are able to laugh at our cat’s decision to turn our bedrooms into his bathroom.

It was horrible and gross and enormously time consuming, but it was certainly not the end of the world.

And when the sun rose on Christmas Day and the children scurried down the stairs, they were greeted with a fully decorated tree, piles of presents, stuffed stockings, and a plate of half-eaten cookies from Santa Claus. Both children loved their gifts, and Elysha and I were thrilled with the gifts we received from each other.

image image

Later on, our friends and family came. A steady stream throughout the day and a formal dinner in the evening. We ate and drank and talks and debated and were merry.

We even had a homeless man stop by.


A grand day, thrown together the day before amidst the vomit, urine, and poop of a justifiably annoyed cat.

The holiday season doesn’t have to begin weeks before if you remember what’s important and stop worrying about the little things that no one notices except you.

Santa Claus spent the day at an abomination of a grocery store, and he was BRILLIANT.

My wife and kids ran into Santa Claus at Stew Leonard’s last week. Stew Leonard’s, if you’re not familiar, is an abomination of a grocery store built to make the shopping experience as least efficient and least productive as possible. It attempts to capture some of the feel of an open market, filled with small, specialty shops (which is completely unnecessary) but instead feels more like a bastardized amusement park ride.

I went to this store once and nearly lost my mind. But my kids love it, probably because the only thing less efficient and less productive than Stew Leonard’s is small children.

But Santa was there that day, and it’s always nice to see Santa, and even nicer when it’s unexpected. Even if you’re trapped in an abomination.  

image image

Clara, my five year-old daughter, sat on Santa’s lap. Santa listened to her requests, and he told her that she needs to work harder at cleaning her toys.

“Did you tell him what to say?” I asked Elysha.

“No,” she said. “Apparently all five year olds can’t pick up their toys.”

I loved this Santa – maybe the Santa – both for scolding my daughter about the thing she needs to work at the most and for making me feel a little bit better about having a daughter who can’t seem to pick up a damn thing without being told to do so.

Santa’s the best. 

My younger son, Charlie, refused to sit on Santa’s lap. He was nervous. Probably didn’t want to be told to clean up his toys, too.

Actually, he’s already better at cleaning up than his big sister. Maybe Santa would’ve told him to stop wailing after waking up from a nap.

7 serious problems with the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer television special

As well as the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer television special holds up after 50 years (I still adore it), there are admittedly some serious problems with the special in relation to modern day norms that I noticed while watching the special with my family last night.

1.  Yukon Cornelius carries a gun and a knife throughout the episode.


While I think that the gun (and probably the knife) are poor choices for a children’s television special, the savvy viewer is also left wondering why Yukon Cornelius doesn’t simply shoot the Abominable Snow Monster that is about to devour his friends.

2.  There is massive, pervasive, long-term, adult-sponsored bullying of Rudolph by Santa Claus, Comet and his many reindeer friends.

3.  Rudolph’s father, Donner, at various points in the special rejects his son based upon his physical appearance and inflicts serious psychological abuse upon him.

4. Donner’s relationship to his wife is overtly misogynistic. She barely speaks throughout the special, is told by her husband to stay home rather than engaging in “man’s work” and doesn’t have a say in the naming of her son. 

5.  Although female and male reindeer grow equal sized antlers in real life, the female reindeer in the special are capable of only growing tiny nubs instead of full sided antlers, which strikes me as fairly sexist and consistent with the misogyny that is pervasive throughout the special. 



6.  The female rag doll on the Island of Misfit Toys has no discernible misfit problem, leaving the viewer to wonder why she is on the island at all.

Incidentally, the problem was revealed in 2007 (43 years after it’s original broadcast) on NPR's Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! when the producer of the special, Arthur Rankin, said Dolly's problem was psychological, caused by being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved.

Even if this were true, it doesn’t exactly fit a children’s holiday special.


7.  Our hero’s solution to the Abominable Snow Monster of the North is to concuss him with a boulder and rip his teeth out of his mouth with a pair of pliers while he is unconscious, thereby eliminating his ability to eat small, woodland creatures. 

In a more enlightened age, perhaps the Abominable Snow Monster could have been angry because of a aching cavity or periodontal disease, and once taken care of by Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist, he reverts to a more kind and gentle nature.

This would be more humane, more aligned to Hermey’s desire to help people through dentistry and considerably more child-friendly than yanking out the monster’s teeth while he is unconscious.

image image

Saying yes to Santa Claus and everything else

I dressed up as Santa Claus yesterday in order to entertain a room full of children at a neighborhood Christmas party. A colleague hosts the party each year, and about two dozen children fill her living room to sing Christmas carols and meet Santa.

Her originally-scheduled Santa was unavailable for the morning, so I offered to fill the suit “only if absolutely no one else was willing.”

In the words of a friend, “You’re going to make a terrible Santa. You’re not old, you’re not jolly and you’re too sarcastic.”

These were my concerns as well.

Though I have some acting experience (and in children’s theater, no less), I was typically cast as ogres, evil kings and angry old men. The director of a show once had to tell me to tone down my ogre performance because several frightened children had to leave the theater in tears.

I wasn’t sure if I had jolly old Saint Nick in me.

To perform the role of Santa Claus well enough to convince a room full of little children that I was real, in front of a parents who wanted their children to believe that I was real, made me more than a little nervous.

image image

By the time Saturday arrived, I was actually scared.

This is why I said yes when asked to perform the role.

I say yes whenever possible, but I especially say yes when the request is outside my comfort zone or seems completely impossible.

These are the best times to say yes.

Saying yes under these conditions has changed my life. Thanks to my strict adherence to this rule, I am now a storyteller, a wedding DJ, a minister, a professional speaker, a playwright and a life coach, just to name a few.

In each of these instances, someone asked me to do something that made me uncomfortable or something that I had absolutely no business doing, and the results were extraordinary.

My life is full and complicated and interesting and harried and diverse and joyous because of my willingness to say yes.

In the end, saying yes to Santa was amazing.

As nervous as I was upon arriving at the home, the moment I entered that room and saw those children, all of my nervousness melted away. I sat in a chair beside a Christmas tree in front of a pile of wide-eyed boys and girls and sang songs with them. I laughed with a hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!” I passed out gifts and sat with children on my lap as their parents snapped photos. The children stared, waved, laughed and in a couple cases cried. They said “Thank you” and wished me a merry Christmas They asked where Rudolph was and offered to help on Christmas Eve.

Two of them whispered, “I love you, Santa” into my ear.

Would I play Santa again if asked?

Absolutely. Every day if I could. It was great.

I said yes to Santa, and I will never forget it.

After I left the house, I drove through the McDonald’s drive-thru, still in costume and causing quite a stir. Employees piled into the drive-thru booth to see Santa behind the wheel of his aging Subaru Outback. A couple of them told me what they wanted for Christmas.

“Rent money” and “new tires for my ride.”

I admittedly felt a little sacrilegious sitting in a parking lot in the Santa suit, eating an Egg McMuffin and listening to Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex through headphones jammed beneath my white, curly wig, but even Santa has to eat.

Megyn Kelly of “the very powerful” Fox News is an expert on Santa Claus according to Megyn Kelly. She’s also despicable, at least based upon her non-apology.

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.”


Though the Santa Claus who I grew up with was white, I have seen more than enough African-American Santas to know that his race is malleable depending upon culture.


Regardless of his country of origin and the race of the first Saint Nicholas,  Santa is a make-believe character.

Do we really think that the Haitian version of Santa Claus needs to be white?

Of course, these stupid words (along with the assertion that Jesus was also white) come from a white, affluent, blonde women who is speaking for four other white, presumably affluent people on the issue of race and Santa Claus.

Only on Fox News could you find four white people debate the opinion of an African American writer and her feelings towards a white Santa.

Fox couldn’t find one African American to weigh in on the matter?

Not one?

When I see journalism like this, I always remind myself of these facts:

  • The median age of the Fox News viewer is over 65.
  • Over the past five years, Fox’s average number of viewers has fallen from 557,000 to 379,000.
  • Fox News is speaking to an elderly demographic.
  • Fox New is running out of viewers because they are dying.
  • Fox News will soon be irrelevant. 

Megyn Kelly has since issued a not-apology in which she claimed that her remarks in this “light-hearted segment” were “tongue in cheek, and that the entire segment on her “very powerful news network” was done in the spirit of humor and was not meant to be serious at all.

I actually think her not-apology is more offensive than her initial statement. It’s like the high school bully who calls you names for a week and then claims that he was just joking when the teacher overhears his remarks.