Now that my five-year-old knows how to read store labels, I’m screwed: “Mom, can I please have it? Pleeeeeeease?! It’s on sale. It’s only $3.50. I’ve never heard of anyone selling a robot for $3.50. It might even be a transformer. I’ll pay you back with my allowance. Please, Mom, please?”

I gave in when she offered to spend her own money on two, one for her brother, “so he’ll be happy, but mostly so he won’t try to take mine.”

Within ten minutes of walking through our front door, the thing transformed from a mildly amusing robot into a hunk of plastic with a broken arm and a button that produces no response. “Mom, we have to go back. Please, Mom. It’s totally busted. I need another one.” When I told her to put it on her wish list for another day, she flew off the handle: “You have to take me back. Today!” I held firm. “This is the worst day of my life. You’re a bad mom. I want a different mom.”

Let me get this straight. I bought her a toy. She broke the toy. So I get screamed at? Oh yes, I remember now: everything bad is Mom’s fault. I’m the jerk who insists that a shirt plus tights does not equal a complete outfit. I’m the scrooge who thinks one chocolate cupcake is enough when seven are desired. I’m the asshole who makes people go to bed when “it’s not super dark yet, and stuffie the cat wants to play.”

We parents work hard at setting boundaries to support our kids’ development and happiness, and they give us a ton of flack for it.

So naturally, when the opportunity arises to bend the rules, to do something special that puts smiles as massive as our mortgages on their faces, what do we do? We give credit to make-believe creatures.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! I wanted a ballerina doll and look what Santa got me! Mom! He got me a ballerina doll!!!!!!”

Who paid enough attention to her ever-changing heart’s desire to accurately guess the one she’d land on that week? Me. Who gets the credit? A pretend guy who works just one day a year and spends half of it eating cookies. A fat, lazy nonexistent man.

“Mom! Mom! I got a silver dollar! A silver dollar! I put my tooth under my pillow, and she came! She came!”

Hey kid, guess how much I spend a week just on pull-ups so that the tooth fairy doesn’t have to wade through a soggy pee-marsh on her way to your pillow? $10. How much for the three organic apples that loosened that tooth? $4.50. The orthodontic consultation that showed you’d need an expander and braces? $275. That little twit gives you one measly dollar, and she’s the hero?

Why do we do this to ourselves? Wouldn’t our kids ooze wonder and delight after receiving these boons from us? Wouldn’t they realize that Mom’s not such a shrew after all?

No, they wouldn’t. That’s why we give the credit to supernatural beings. Because what enables an entirely positive association is their severely limited interaction. After all, the kids are forbidden from even laying eyes on Tubby and Tink. How easy would it be to win “Mom of the Year” at the Kids’ Choice Awards if you only had to be in the same room with the little buggers when they sleep?

Children are just too mercurial, fickle, and self-absorbed to spend time with a real human being and still feel unreserved adoration.

If that’s the trade-off, then fine. Santa can have the magic. Only seeing my kids once a year would be tragic. I’ll pass on the awestruck glee and take our beautifully ugly reality.

About the author: Gail Cornwall is a former public school teacher and recovering lawyer who now works as a stay-at-home mom of three and writes about parenthood. Born in St. Louis and raised in the Bay Area, she’s a serial monogamist of urban living who resided in Berkeley, New York, D.C., Boston, and Seattle before committing to San Francisco. You can read more at


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