Making the most of Mom fails

An Elf on the Shelf wears a hospital gown and sports crutches

When I get my kids to bed, I should be catching up on work or practicing self-care like yoga. Instead, like so many other weary parents eager to disconnect from a day of overstimulation, I find myself mindlessly scrolling Instagram. Thanks to the platform’s creepy algorithms, I’m being fed a healthy diet of humorous Mom content — mostly, videos from stressed-out parents who are dealing with the overwhelm of raising kids by highlighting the true hilarity of it all. Reels of babies covered in flour from head to foot, boomerangs showing the aftermath of dinner all over the floor, parents reenacting the sibling fights, toddler meltdowns and endless questions. I’m here for it. 

Mostly, because seeing so many other parents struggle in the day-to-day makes me realize that parenting is hard for everyone. We’re all frustrated, we’re all dealing with stress, we’re all bumbling through the day not knowing what the heck we’re doing. And we’re all making mistakes — lots of ’em. 

So, in that vein — and to revisit a column I wrote more than three years ago when Jackson was an only child — I’m sharing some of my biggest “Mom fails.” We all deserve to laugh at ourselves, laugh at others and laugh together. Because, after all, as hard as parenting is, raising kids is also pretty damn hilarious. 

Elf emergency

I love Christmas. I hate the Elf on the Shelf. 

All through December, I set an alarm on my phone every night to remind myself to move the godforsaken thing to a new spot in the house. I have zero energy for the elf — sweetly named “Poopy” when Jackson was a toddler, which has stuck; the most creative I’ve gotten with it was setting up a string to have him zipline through our kitchen. Ashlee, on the other hand, pours her creative energies into elf set-ups. This Christmas, she slathered Elmers glue onto a paper towel roll and covered it with popcorn, creating a “magic popcorn slide” that Poopy was using out of a bag of popcorn into a plastic bowl. Cute. 

What happened to Poopy was not so cute … that night, I was solo with the kids while Ashlee was at work and we were having our usual pre-dinner mayhem: a toddler hanging onto each leg screaming and Jackson peppering me with incessant questions and requests. I started boiling water for mac and cheese and was rummaging through the fridge for something quick to give the twins to stop the screaming when Jackson’s own demands of “Mommy!” got much more high-pitched. Annoyed, I spun around and almost fainted when I saw Poopy’s popcorn bowl aflame! 

I ran to the stove as best I could with the twins still clawing at me and yelled at Jackson to get back — which prompted him to fall backwards off the kitchen stool and bring down the entire box of uncooked macaroni with him onto the floor. As the dog scrambled to eat it and Jackson started screaming in pain, I ran through every fire-safety prevention tip I could think of but the best I could come up with was to toss the flaming bowl into the sink. Knowing that Jackson would be traumatized for decades if I accidentally touched the elf — they lose their magic, obviously! — I quickly shook Poopy through the flames onto the stove and started dousing the bowl. Phew, I thought, as the fire sizzled out. But lo and behold, the gobs of gluey popcorn that had flown out of the bowl onto the stove with the elf were now catching.

Like a maniac, I pulled the faucet hose as far out from the sink as I could and started spraying water back toward the stove, with the flames eventually dying out. Three kids crying, my hands shaking, a kitchen floor full of water and a dog eating her weight in uncooked Baby Shark macaroni … eff this elf, I thought. 

To really add some spice to the night, when I was recooking another box of macaroni (Poopy pushed with a spoon to the corner of the stove to cool and dry off!) and surveying whether Jackson found the incident humorous or traumatic, the twins toddled into the bathroom, giggling and slamming the door every time I tried to come in. I was so shaken up, I pretended to think they were just reading books, just grateful for the few minutes of quiet. Later that night, I opened the toilet lid and almost screamed again: They had emptied the entire contents of the very full bathroom trashcan — along with a cup, a book and a handful of toys — into the toilet. 

This entire night was an epically memorable Mom fail (but at least we had an elf-sized hospital gown and cast that Ashlee found on an after-Christmas sale last year that made the perfect addition to the following morning’s elf set-up!). 

Diaper bag disaster

Today, leaving the house with a 5-year-old and two 2-year-olds is a blood pressure-raising chore — but it’s doable. But for about a year after the twins came home from the NICU, going anywhere outside our four walls meant a solid hour of packing: Avery’s feeding tube and pump supplies we were still getting used to, my breast pumping supplies, formula or milk and bottles for August, syringes for Avery’s medicine, diapers and wipes, snacks for Jackson. Usually, it all went into the diaper bag. 

One rainy Sunday, my best friend suggested meeting me and the kids at Plymouth Meeting Mall, which has a number of kid-friendly activities. I spent all morning packing and planning. And when we pulled up to the mall, I was super proud of one of my first solo trips out with all three kids. And then I realized that in the melee of running each kid through the rain to my car, I had forgotten the Holy Grail: the packed diaper bag. 

I was tempted to turn around and go home, but I figured we had gotten this far … how bad could it be?

August was due for a bottle shortly after we got to the mall, and he quickly morphed into a hangry baby. I didn’t have any of his formula but what I did have was a Chipotle burrito we got at lunch. “He’s starting solids, we’ll make this work!,” I thought. Corn, guac, beef, chips, tortilla — I cut each into tiny pieces for his just-budding teeth, but he spit each onto the floor with a grin before returning to his hangry tears.

OK, scratch that. I had Avery’s feeding supplies since she had been hooked up to her pump in the car — how to get her formula from the feeding bag into August’s stomach? I emptied out my soda cup, got a clean straw and poured a bit of formula into it, hoping August would grasp the concept of drinking through a straw. No go. OK, my turn: I sucked some of the formula into the straw (tasted it accidentally — not as bad as I thought it would be!) and tried baby bird-feeding it into his mouth, ignoring what I knew were bizarre stares from my fellow Chipotle customers. Also a no go. OK, last resort: I pulled out Avery’s pump, wiped off the tube portion that connects to her stomach button and frantically tried to figure out how to pump it into his mouth (the pump pushes out a drip every couple seconds, so after a messy minute, we realized this was also a no go).

Feeling like I was starving my kid, I rushed us through lunch, a quick trip to the arcade, ignoring the need for diaper changes, and whisked the trio back to the car in the now-monsooning rain to get back home to our blessed diaper bag. I was so harried trying to get home that I didn’t realize until I was halfway there on the turnpike that I hadn’t buckled any of them into their seats, pointed out to me by Jackson. I screeched over onto the shoulder, dodged the driving rain and cars to climb through the minivan and secure their buckles before speeding the rest of the way home. I frantically put together a bottle for August as soon as we got inside — and he promptly took one sip, crawled away and ignored the bottle for the rest of the afternoon.

Artists in residence

On a recent Sunday, we decided to pass the post-morning-snack/pre-lunch time by having the kids paint wooden Easter eggs Ashlee had picked up on a Target sale.

The fighting started seconds after we opened the package, divvied up the eggs and found one package of conjoined paint cups. While Jackson decreed that, as the oldest, he deserved first crack at all of the colors, we thankfully had extra paint squirreled away for this occasion. Once we finally got them all set up and handed them their brushes, I was tempted to revel in how cute it was to see them all working on a project nicely together. But, my mom instincts knew better. 

It took less than a minute for the sweetness to unravel. August stole Avery’s paintbrush, while Jackson was determined to get us to acknowledge his painting skills were better than the twins.’ Once Avery got her brush back, she wanted nothing to do with painting the egg and only wanted to add color to our already-colorful tablecloth. August caught wind of that fun and things quickly nosedived — and Ashlee and I gave up on trying to stop the mess — as the tablecloth, high chair trays and eventually their entire bodies were covered in paint. Then it was paint cups thrown on the floor, brushes following, eggs soaring across the table. Jackson made a masterpiece but I think the twins spent about 11 seconds actually painting their eggs, and 20 minutes getting cleaned up.


I may not have been laughing through each of these Mom fails, but with a little distance, I can see the humor in the chaos. And I’ve picked up a few important reminders along the way: No good can ever come from the Elf on the Shelf; I should have let him burn. Never leave home without the diaper bag. And art projects for three kids aren’t art projects — they’re cleaning projects for the parents. Laughs had, lessons learned and maybe a bit of fun along the way — Mom fails aren’t really all that bad. 

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