Thursday, January 29, 2009

Best Mom Tip #36: Love your body

I am humbled. Today when I was at the gym I saw a woman who looked to be in her late 50s come in with her husband. One of the trainers came over to help them since this woman was in a wheelchair and, as far as I could see, could not completely control any part of her body. Even her mouth moved awkwardly when she tried to speak. The trainer and her husband got her out of the wheelchair and onto one of the weight machines for her regular routine. It took three people for this woman to complete some pretty basic exercises and I have never been more impressed with anyone.

Most days this would have inspired me, but today it was particularly appropriate. Due to the joys of facebook I have reconnected with several of my old friends from high school. Usually this is nothing but fun, but lately I have reconnected with people who live far more glamorous lives than I do. I was feeling particularly down today and I had about convinced myself that there was no point in going to work out since I will never be as fabulous as my friend the Rockette/Broadway star/lawyer-in-training who works for the U.S. Senate. Yes, that really is one person.

I was also thinking that my hair cut looks a lot like the Albino torturer from the movie Princess Bride (see photo below). And that my thighs are horribly dimpled and pasty. And that my skin is bad. And that I'm starting to have wrinkles and pimples at the same time. Really, it was time to eat some cookie dough and call it a day. But I didn't. I still went to the gym and look at what I found. A woman who refused to give up even though her body didn't cooperate with what I'm sure she expected of it.

What kind of example do I set for my daughter when I think badly of myself? I am strong and loved, even if I'm not going on dates with Oscar winners (still the same friend--really). My body deserves some credit and I love every not-exactly-perfect inch of it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best Mom Tip #35: Move like a kid

As I have mentioned, I have put on few dozen pounds since my latest pregnancy. I am working to get it off by doing the standard grown-up things. I work out 5 times a week: 3 days are strength training, two days are more intensive cardio. I might also throw in a pilates class or two. I have stopped eating cookies (my all time favorite food--not kidding) after the kids are in bed. And I'm sure that in 6-8 weeks I will see some sort of weight loss. Or I will gorge on cookie dough because I am too impatient to cook it and just start wearing fat clothes.

For the most part, I enjoy working out. It relieves stress, makes me feel stronger, and increases my flexibility and energy. But you know what? It's not exactly what I would have called fun as a kid. My daughter, on the other hand, sees the world as a jungle gym. She says she's doing exercises, but what she means is that she is attempting to jump from the couch to the chair without touching the carpet. Or that she's going to use the hanger thing in the car to swing out of her side of the vehicle.

She also dances. We were getting the oil changed today and there was an old Mickey Rooney movie on the TV that involved lots of dance numbers and some sort of "puttin' on a show." Little Princess asked me if she could put down her Barbie and take off her coat so that she could dance around the Jiffy Lube a bit better. If I lived my life like that I'd never need a gym membership.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Best Mom Tip #34: Hug them anyway

My kids are not always in the most lovable of moods. My daughter, the princess, is in a phase that involves a lot of stalling, negotiating, and extreme slow motion. Sometimes, when she's frustrated or tired, she picks at me on purpose. She'll act like she wants to snuggle and then covers my nose to see if it annoys me. She'll start kicking me and when I tell her to stop she'll say she's just doing her exercises and her feet need something to press against.

I know that these actions are her way of getting attention when she feels vulnerable for some reason, but they still drive me kind of nuts. This week, I started hugging her every time I get really annoyed with her. Instead of fussing or putting her in timeout, I ask if she needs a hug. She usually says yes and after the bear hugs are over, we can move on.

I'm pretty sure that most of this has to do with her insecurity about her little brother who is still rather new (5 months) to our family. Today she came to the door of the bathroom while I was using the facilities and shouted, "I need a hug from Mama!" When I came out of the bathroom she was gone and playing in her room, but the baby was crying so I picked him up. Little Princess then showed up and said, "you still can't give me a hug" complete with pitiful face and downcast eyes.

I put down my boy and wrapped her up in my lap. We played Sharks in the Water and saved countless stuffed animals from the ravenous sharks that live in the carpet. She can still push my buttons, but I'm going to keep hugging her anyway.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Best Mom Tip #33: Make a mom resume

I've been feeling a bit down about myself lately. I'm much jigglier than I used to be--except in the places that I wish had a bit more jiggle. I don't currently like my hair or my clothes. I don't always have the patience with my beautiful children that I should. I'm not a particularly good housekeeper and I really don't cook all that well. Honestly, I'm not a good housewife.

I AM a good teacher, but I've chosen to leave my profession for a little while to be with my kids and save some money on daycare. I could, of course, return to my job, but as you all know that comes with it's own host of stressful choices. And working or not really isn't the point. The problem is more that I have pretty high expectations for myself and I get really frustrated when I don't meet up to them.

Hence my mom resume. Instead of focusing on what I do wrong--daughter's room is messy, bathroom is worse, laundry is dirty--I've decided to make a list of the skills I possess as a mom. Unlike my real resume that lists the skills I have in the work place, these are things I have become good at since becoming the Mommy. They're not particularly marketable, but they sure are useful at home. So here goes:
  1. I can change a diaper with the fewest possible number of wipes, coat a baby with diaper cream, and redress said baby in under a minute.
  2. I can argue with the insurance company about a wide variety of items that have resulted from their ineptitude.
  3. I can read a bed-time story with silly voices and great inflection in order to thrill a preschooler.
  4. I can kiss boo-boos and make them stop hurting.
  5. I can be the safest place in the world for two small people.
  6. And I can do numbers 1 through 5 all at the same time.
My mom resume is just getting started, but I feel better already. What can you do just because you're the mom?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Best Mom Tip #32: Embrace family vacation

In about a week I am venturing to the land of Mouse Ears with my husband and kids. We will be driving 8 hours from Atlanta to Orlando to visit Cinderella's Castle--I realize there is an entire park near the castle, but my 4-year-old daughter couldn't care less about anything that isn't princess related. Our last semi-extended car ride involved a lot of barf and a good deal of cleaning on my part so I have some reservations about this trip.

But if my own childhood has taught me anything, it's that the unplanned events of family vacations are always the most memorable. There was the time my dad was yelled at for photographing the crown jewels in England. There was the year that we couldn't get through the metal detectors at the airport on our way to Boston. We also saw a male stripper in Scotland, but that's too long of a story for right now.

Most memorably, there was our trip to D.C. that will forever be my number one family vacation. My mom drove into a restricted area of the Pentagon. My brother and I left my dad standing at the entrance to the National Archives security screening because, again, he kept setting off the metal detectors. He was saying "I just want to see the Constitution" the last time we saw him. My parents had us paged in the Smithsonian.

We also watched Bill Clinton get nominated for President on our hotel TV and listened to my mom explain what it meant to her to see someone of her generation get ready to run the country. My brother got sick and our pediatrician called in a prescription from another state--who would do that these days? Right after that my mom merged into traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue (you could drive on it then) and was stopped rather abruptly by the Secret Service riding in a Suburban.

Mom had waited for the police cars to pass, but didn't really pay attention to the limo bearing the American flags behind them. The Secret Service drew their weapons on our minivan. My brother and I hit the floor of said minivan. It is still one of our most talked about family moments (that and the stripper, of course).

So here's to the painful drive upon which I am about to embark. I'm going to spend a lot of money on park tickets and I probably won't get to ride Space Mountain. My daughter is thrilled about the princesses, but she is quite wary of people in costumes. That seems like a recipe for a freak out. Who knows if the cops will make an appearance, but there's a good chance. I am, of course, related to my parents and the Griswolds have nothin' on us.

Whatever may come, it will be a memory for my kids. Our first real family road trip. I can't wait to see what happens.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Best Mom Tip #31: Record your kid-isms

My daughter used to say we were going "upchairs" instead of upstairs. She used to say, "I want budder on da top an' da bomun" instead of "butter on the top and the bottom." We still sometimes say that it is "chiyyi" outside when the weather is a little chilly.

But these kid-isms are fewer and far between as she rapidly approaches school age. She still says "dolly" instead of doll. She occassionally metions something that happened back when she was "free" instead of three. I like that one because it sounds like she's been in some sort of bondage for the last few months. As in, "back when I was free I didn't have to clean my room by myself."

Her last true little-girl word is "clo," which in my daughter's world is the singular of the word "clothes." She came running down the stairs last week and said, "Mommy! When we go to Disney World I'm gonna take a dress-up clo!" I find myself avoiding using the correct terminology so she won't figure out that she is mistaken for a little while.

My beautiful girl now has a little brother who is still in the cooing and grunting phase so I certainly have a few more years of cute kid phrases to remember. But this time I know how fast they pass by. What if I don't remember "upchairs" anymore? What if I start to get those cute kiddie words mixed up and I don't remember who said what?

I don't think my life will be worse if I don't record these somewhere (a notebook, a baby book, captions in photo albums), but I do think it will be richer when I'm older to look back at their frist attempts at language. Until then, I need to go pick out a clo to wear.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Best Mom Tip #30: Wear Sunglasses

Let's say that you've started using make-up brushes and getting your eyebrows done on a regular basis and you're feeling far more fabulous about yourself. But what happens when you have to get a kid to a doctor's appointment on time and someone barfs on you on the way out the door? How are you supposed to look amazing then?

My answer is to wear sunglasses. Get really big, movie star-type lenses that cover the entire top half of your face. No one can see if you've failed to put on mascara. No one will notice the gigantic bags under your eyes that came from staying up all night. No one will be able to tell that you have a look of desperation in your eyes.

Best of all, you can pretend you don't see people if you'd rather not make eye contact. So what if you recognize that woman who always looks perfect at PTA while you're picking up your 4th prescription of the week? If you've had someone else's bodily fluids on you in the last 24 hours, I give you permission to look right through her. Even if you do feel as though you look particularly ragged, acting like you think you look like a million bucks goes a long way toward making you believe it.

This may not work as easily for you if you don't happen to live in the sunny South like I do. Even when the temperature drops below freezing down here you can still be blinded by the sun, so sunglasses are pretty common year round. But if you live somewhere a little darker, you're going to just have to gather your confidence to pull this one off--besides, no one can question you if you refuse to look at them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Best Mom Tip #29: Buy nice lingerie

I'm going to be honest, I haven't actually done this yet. But I am inspired to do so based on a comment my daughter made this weekend. I was getting dressed and she came in before I had on pants. She's learning to read so she was intently staring at my underwear. She said, "Mommy, I like those underwear--do they say Target on them?"

I have no shame in shopping at Target and I did, in fact, purchase those particular undergarments there. But you know what is not sexy? Target underwear. In my defense, they actually say "Fruit of the Loom" on them, but I'm not sure that's better. What's definitely worse are the circumstances under which I bought them.

When I was pushing 200lbs while pregnant with my son I realized that all of my pairs of underwear were making marks on my hips that still hurt even after I took them off. So, off to Target for new undies. I bought the largest, most granny-like underwear in the store. They did come in multi-colored prints so my daughter thinks they are beautiful.

The main problem is that I am still wearing them often because they are the newest, and therefore least hole-y, underwear I own. But they are HUGE. I've lost a good 35 pounds since the baby was born--why am I wearing giant, ugly, underwear?

My mom said recently that she was o.k. when her mother started showing up in the mirror, but she has been pretty shocked lately to see her grandmother in there. We can't prevent eventually turning into our mothers and grandmothers, but we can certainly think "grandma seems to have a sexy secret" when she stops by.'s time for all of us to buy at least one pretty bra or pair of underwear that really fit. And then wear them on a regular basis. We must fight against schlumpiness at all costs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Best Mom Tip #28: Keep your mind sharp

Parenting requires an enormous amount of patience, time, and answering questions. Your kids will inherently know how to push your buttons and make you crazy. And they will challenge your ability to think creatively on a regular basis.

I have been told impossible statements like "Mommy! I bite-ed my teeth!"
I've been asked questions like "Mommy, what does my hand smell like?"
I've had exchanges like this one:

Me: Quit challenging every single think I say!
Kid: I'm NOOoooOOOT! (said with a great whine)
Me: If you question me one more time I'm taking that away!
Kid: Why?

You really only have one option for dealing with this kind of thing--you've got to have entertaining responses. You bit your teeth?--well, make sure they don't fall out. What does your hand smell like?--Your hand smells like jell-O. The trick is to confuse and distract the kid so that they then think about something else and you can continue to try to remember what you needed from the grocery store. When you're stuck in a cycle of why, try to use big words so the kid has to think really hard about what you mean.

If all else fails, you can act like Angela Hoover from and send them to "go ask your father."

Best Mom Tip #27: Remember your tax deduction

There is a lot about being a parent that feels rather like drudgery. There's a lot that feels as though this might be a thankless job (at least until your kids start thanking you for what a good job you've done). That's when I think about my tax deductions.

When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I went away for the weekend with some friends who had kids. Their then-4-year-old daughter barfed in the car on the way down the mountain. The dad, who had paper towels in the car (I was so impressed with that at the time--since our car-barfing experience, I have some, too), cleaned everything up and told us that this was why we get a tax deduction. We laughed at his joke, but I now think he was on to something.

I'm pretty sure that tax deductions have to do with making taxes more "fair" for everyone, but it makes me feel better to imagine it as some sort of governmental "thank you" for raising the next generation of tax payers. Whenever I'm doing something gross or repetitive that no one is going to fully appreciate, I just think "this is why I get a tax break." It makes me smile for the moment.

This morning, for instance, my son had one of those explosive diapers that soaked his PJs, his sleep blanket, the sheet, and the mattress pad cover. While I was rinsing off the clothes in the toilet before getting them in the washer, I thought "this is why I pay less taxes." While I was washing my dry and cracked hands for the 432nd time this week, I thought "I'll enjoy my refund in March." When I finally got him cleaned up and he then spit up in my hand (why did I try to catch it?!!), I thought "maybe I'll spend my refund on a purse."

I'm sure one day, when my children are grown and have their own kids, they'll say thank you for all of the hard work. Until then, I'm going to remind myself that Uncle Sam thinks I'm doing a good job--he even gives me money for it.

The clip from YouTube below includes "The Taxes Song" followed by Vice President Elect Joe Biden's response.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Best Mom Tip #26: Put SEX on the schedule

Yeah, that's right. I said "sex." Hee hee. Sex. Sorry... after teaching high school for several years, I can' t help myself. Now I can move on.

The reality of becoming a parent is that no matter what kind of sex life you had before children, it will certainly be different after the little darlings arrive. Even if you're the kind of person who can offer the name of a good bedroom trapeze company or who can quote stripper pole prices off the top of your head, you're going to have some issues getting your acrobatics going if there is a baby in your bed. Or if you've been up every 23 minutes for the last eight days. Or if you went to bed covered in spit-up because you couldn't bring yourself to bathe. You get the point.

The solution? Put sex on your calendar. I don't mean literally... there is a limit to the amount of information that should be readily available to everyone who enters your kitchen. But make an effort to actually plan to make a little whoopie. Couples make budgets and grocery lists and packing lists--why not schedule a little bonding time for the two of you?

There are generally two different categories of responses to this suggestion and you can find out which one you fall into by answering this question: Which is more important to your overall well-being--having enough Tide in your laundry room or having enough lovin' in your life?

If you answered Tide, you REALLY need to put sex on your calendar. You probably lie awake at night thinking of all the things you didn't get finished today and wondering how you will get them all done tomorrow. For you, sex might actually be the LAST thing on your mind when you crawl into bed. You need to plan for it in order to get in the mood. That might seem unromantic, but you're the one who said you'd rather have laundry detergent than sex so you may not be the best judge of romance anyway.

If you answered lovin' and you can't imagine that anyone would care about laundry over sex, you probably think this seems like a boring idea. Sex should be spontaneous and a response to how much you want your partner--this is true, but it's hard for a lot of people to overcome the pressures of their day and transition into a more romantic state of mind. Knowing that you're going to have sex can actually make you feel more romantic. It's a happy cycle--kind of like when you drink more water you find yourself craving water more often throughout the day. When you plan for more sex, you want to have sex more often. Good, right?

To be clear, I don't mean making every Thursday "Happy Night" or whaterver you want to call it. I mean intentionally sitting down with your calendar for the week and figuring out which two or three days work for you. If you can't wait for the season premiere of LOST and The Others aren't what gets you in the mood, maybe you don't plan sex for that night. But, really, you have TIVO, don't you? And decide what time you'll be getting busy, too. That way you can't stay up too late and then be too tired to do what you planned to do earlier in the week.

I've talked to every woman I know about their sex lives at some point--apparently I know a lot of really free people--and every one of them has talked about the challenges of rekindling the romance after having children. This idea can work--even if you only do it for a week or two. What have you got to lose? Even if your DVR doesn't work and you don't find out if Jack returns to the island, you can probably live without knowing. But you can't live happily without making love to your spouse.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Best Mom Tip #25: Get a job--or stay at home

But whatever you do, be content with your circumstances and stop trying to figure out who's right. I am truly tired of both men and women claiming to know what is "best" for children when it comes to whether or not a woman has a job outside the home. The studies that have been done over the past 35 years have been confusing at best--your kid might be more aggressive if he attends daycare, but he might also have a more advanced vocabulary and better social skills. So for the moment, let's just pretend that we all agree that kids will thrive wherever they are and, instead, focus on you.

I hold degrees in economics and education so not only do I know the practical concerns moms have regarding working, I have also been trained to asses those problems. I once wrote an entire thesis concerning the wage disparity of women in the workforce, so if you tell me that your career will suffer because you stay out of the concrete jungle for 5 years, I absolutely believe you. But if you say you can't possibly leave your kids while you go to work, I believe that, too.

The problem is that there are pros and cons to whatever you choose. I went back to work full time after my daughter was born. The next year I chose to work part time followed by two more years of full time work. This year I have been at home since the birth of my son last summer. Every option has had things I loved and things I wish were different. The one thing that I DO know--because it was true no matter what I chose professionally--is that if you are unhappy where you are, your kids will feel it. And that really can affect their development.

If you have a career that you've invested in and that gives you a personal sense of accomplishment, really take the time to enjoy those feelings. Pay attention to the money you bring in and how it makes you feel to be a financial contributor to your family's team. If you've chosen to give up your job and keep the kids, hug them in the middle of the day and be grateful when you don't have to schedule doctor's appointments around conference calls and client visits.

And above all else, imagine what it is like for the women who haven't chosen your path. If you work, take any stay-at-home moms you know out for coffee. They could use the adult conversation and you probably have an extra $2.50 to spare. If you stay at home, offer to keep your working friends' kids when school is out for the day or help carpool for extracurriculars that begin before 6:30. We're in this together, people. Let's act like it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best Mom Tip #24: Call your mother

Yesterday I was scrubbing the kitchen sink in my bathrobe while my daughter danced around me and my son watched us both from his vantage point on the floor. Suddenly, I had a revelation: I remember this. Except in my memory, I'm the one dancing in circles and it was my mom doing the work. I still dance around pretty often (see Tip #2), but not with the same twirly vigor as that of my 4-year-old.

I had never so vividly felt like my mom before (except maybe when I went bathing suit shopping while pregnant and saw my mom's legs in the mirror). I actually thought, "I am my mother." For me, this isn't such a bad thing. My mom is a wonderful mother--the kind of person that other people's kids ask for advice and words of wisdom. In fact, I still have friends ask me to ask my mom something they're wondering about. She was also an elementary school teacher for 33 years so her understanding of kids is quite astounding.

Still, it is pretty shocking to realize that you are old enough (and grown up enough) to be playing the role of mom in your own memories. I don't feel like a grown-up most of the time. Usually, I feel like I just got to this point somehow and my poor kids--especially my oldest--get to stumble along with me.

But what if your own mom felt like she was just making it up all the time? Doesn't that make you feel better? I'll bet that your mother, however good or bad she may have been, felt that she, too, was just a couple of parenting mistakes away from raising an always-in-therapy-surrounded-by-cats-future-guest-on-Maury. So call your mom. See how it felt to be in her shoes when you were a little girl. She must have done something right--look how wonderful you are.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Best Mom Tip #23: Invest in Purell

Children are disgusting. They are so disgusting that if these people weren't born of your very own body, you would not touch them with a ten foot pole. Personally, I think that they are disgusting as part of an evolutionary plan--their only natural defenses are being both cute and gross. Your baby smiles at you so you don't abandon her at the grocery store. She poops on you to ward off jackals.

Unfortunately for you, they don't really seem to grow out of it. I have seen my daughter lick both the bottom of her shoe and her hand after touching a public bathroom. That latter event was willful--I was saying "don't touch anything, don't touch anything" as a kind of OCD mantra when she put her hand on the wall of the stall. I grossed out so she licked her hand. Serves me right.

Your 6-year-old will spill milk in his room and fail to tell you until maggots are growing in your home. Your 9-year-old will go swimming in a lake in his underwear, let them dry out, and put them back in his drawer because they seem "clean" to him. All children ages 11-13 are so repulsive that educators put them in their own schools in most parts of the country.

As a teenager your sweet daughter will share her lip gloss with her friend Jenny because Jenny's lips are cracked and she usually borrows her boyfriend's chapstick, but they just broke up because Jenny found out he's also been dating Mandy the Slut and they were caught kissing at a party last night and Jenny is so upset, how could she (your daughter) NOT share her lip gloss? It will not occur to your little girl that she has just shared germs with Jenny, her boyfriend, Mandy, and whoever else Mandy has been kissing lately. And don't even get me started on the teenage drink-sharing phenomenon.

Your only way of dealing with the nastiness is to coat yourself in hand sanitizer. Carry it in your purse, your glove compartment, and any other vessel you can think of. Buy gigantic refill bottles of the stuff. Boil things on a regular basis. One day, when they don't live at home anymore, you might have a clean house. By then, of course, it will be the eerie quiet that will drive you nuts.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Best Mom Tip #22: Light candles

And not just in the bathroom. Candles make you feel fancy. They remind you of romantic dinners, wedding proposals, and your honeymoon. They feel like something special is going to happen and that you should be snuggled in next to a fire with a glass of wine.

Granted, those moments are all a little more rare now that I am surrounded by very small people. By the way, that "pitter-patter of little feet" expression is just plain wrong. My world sounds like a herd of thundering elephants. But I guess the "thud, thud, thud of little feet" didn't sound as quaint. Anyway, candles can make you feel elegant even when you're not doing something that's going to make it to Page Six.

For instance, last night we had spaghetti for dinner (sauce from a jar, pasta from the store brand) with raw spinach for dinner. Not one single goddess-like moment in that. But then I lit a single pillar candle that lives on our kitchen table and suddenly, it was a MEAL.

When you light a candle for dinner, you become the Zen master of family cuisine. You have so much extra time and energy that you, beautiful woman that you are, have created atmosphere in your home. Your family will be impressed and will behave as though they are out in public. The parents in your household will feel more amorous. Really, it is worth the 3 seconds it takes to light the match.

Just be careful to put the candle in the center of the table--Zen masters don't burn their kids' fingers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Best Mom Tip #21: Buy makeup brushes

There's not much about my life that is glamorous no matter how many times I spell it along with Fergie. For the most part, I feel pretty schlumpy on a daily basis. It's hard to keep my "head up, shoulders back" posture when I'm lugging a baby carrier, a diaper bag, a balloon from Chick-fil-A, my purse, and grocery bags. I often have spit-up on me and I wipe a lot of runny noses. Last night my daughter told me I needed to start taking showers because my hair smelled funny (in my defense, I DID take a shower yesterday and wash my hair-- maybe I'm just bad at it).

So to prevent myself from totally giving up and buying that horrible blanket with sleeves that makes you look like a Jedi Knight in training, I'm going to keep putting on makeup and using makeup brushes to do so.

Most of the time, my makeup application occurs in the car at stoplights. Yes, I am that person. I realize that I am both tacky and ridiculous, but I do it anyway. Lots of days I forget to wear makeup completely and sometimes I don't dry my hair--these two decisions mean that for the rest of the day I look like I'm getting over a bad cold. Although that may be true of some days, there is really no reason to look like I've been ill just because I got a bit lazy. Makeup brushes can fix all this.

When you use actual brushes to apply makeup, all of a sudden it's not another chore or item that has to be done before you can leave the house. It becomes ART. Well, not really art, but enough like art that it seems fun. You start channeling Carmindy from What Not to Wear and thinking how great you look now that Stacey and Clinton have made you over. You are ready for the red carpet and your Stuart Weitzman heels. Harry Winston has sent over diamonds. Try it and you'll see what I mean. Next up, airbrushing on my foundation.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Best Mom Tip #20: Remember that they learn it by watching you

My little girl does a darn good impression of my frustrated look. She can mimic back my husband's "do you think I buy that?" expression. I'm pretty sure that her dramatic sigh (that I find so very frustrating) is something she's heard around the house before. She doesn't gossip about what's going on in other people's lives, but she may not realize that her father and I do so because she can't spell yet. I am suddenly very aware that everything I say and do is for an audience who finds me to be the ultimate guide in how to be a woman, an adult, and a mom. And that is really scary.

If my kids were to see only my faults and foibles, I could pretty easily wind up raising people who:
  1. Eat out a ridiculous amount to avoid cooking
  2. Leave laundry "on deck" in what is affectionately called Mt. Laundy
  3. Tug on their clothes and frown at their faces in the mirror
  4. Force their spouses to constantly tell them how wonderful they are due to extreme insecurity
  5. Get visibly and vocally frustrated with their children for being so.....very......s..l..o..w..
  6. Watch an inordinate amount of "reality" TV (I'm glad Bob won Survivor)
  7. Waste money on magazines like "Runner's World" even though they haven't actually run in over a year and a half
  8. Feel superior to other people intellectually (I'm hoping you've all stopped reading before this one and I can confess without anyone noticing)
  9. Forget to call friends on their birthdays AND
  10. Obsessively worry if they are good enough at anything for anyone to like them
Now, you may not think that any of these things are all that awful, but remember, I kept all of the really juicy stuff private because I am insecure (see numbers 3, 4, 7, and 10). The point is, we all have these little eyes and ears waiting to see how we deal with anger, frustration, money problems, plumbing problems, heartache, backache, love, and loss. And they will remember. They will learn how to deal with these things based on how we as moms (and dads--hi guys) deal with these things. They will carry our morals and values out into the world.

Sure, their own personalities and experiences will come into play as they grow and learn. But first and foremost, they will learn it by watching you. For all you children of the '80s out there, I've added the original "I learned it by watching you" PSA below.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Best Mom Tip #19: Embrace the Momnesia

Mothers are blessed with a peculiar form of amnesia that erases the emotions, smells, and personal pain of motherhood--I call this event Momnesia. And I think that you need to just let the Momnesia take over and white out all the messy, disgusting, and hurty things that have happened to you as Mom. It helps you to feel less bitter toward your children.

Before I had my first child I wrote a list of things that scared me about becoming a parent. One of these fears was that maybe children really weren't all that great, but that your brain just screwed you over when you gave birth and you could no longer remember all of the bad things associated with having children. It turns out that this is correct to an extent--you remember, but it doesn't seem all that important.

Although childbirth hurt a good amount, I find myself totally believing it was worth the pain and downplaying the effort in my memory. Although I begin to gag when I hear people hock up a chunk of spit, I picked up scoops of barf with my bare hands while wearing heels and a skirt because my baby girl was sick. I have changed feces-filled diapers at gas stations, in the trunk AND bucket seats of my car (the trunk was easier), and on the floor of a Target bathroom. I have not slept through the night for a solid week in four years. I have been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on, bitten while nursing, kicked while sleeping, and horribly embarrassed during a public temper tantrum. And I just don't care.

Momnesia is why, even though we had a recent car ride that resulted in gonzo vomiting, I'm still planning to drive the kids to Disney World, ride on some spinning teacups, and get back in the car for a really long time. Momnesia allows me put the kids to bed every night totally assuming that we will all sleep until 7:30. Momnesia lets the kids snuggle up to me in bed or on the couch even when I know this is the greatest likelihood of someone sneezing in my mouth. Momnesia is why my daughter has a baby brother.

I once really feared that this would happen--that I wouldn't remember how bad things were, but that some biological imperative would convince me that I needed children. I was afraid that I wouldn't be me anymore and that the new me wouldn't even notice that my life was gross. What if motherhood changed my perception of myself and the world around me and I didn't like the changes? I lived a fairly self-centered existence with a lot of free time before my kids--what if I lost that girl? What if I now found myself making decisions for other people instead of for myself? All these fears might be true of my life now, but fortunately for me, I can't remember.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Best Mom Tip #18: Ignore your kid's stats

Your kids will be given statistics to cover every aspect of their lives while they are with you. Height/weight percentiles, IQ tests, recital scores, reading levels, batting averages, class rank, SAT scores. You're going to get Varsity team rosters, honor roll lists engraved in school hallways, and official-looking documents detailing your kid's mastery of scissors. And you, concerned and proud parent that you are, are going to want to share this information with others. I'm asking you not to do it. Just put down the report card and go see what's on Oprah. Because, for the most part, this stuff is crap.

The problem with all of these statistics is that human beings don't really categorize well. Your kid might be brilliant, but be totally unable to carry on a conversation with a fellow 6th grader. How do you quantify that? No teacher ever says, "Billy is in the 86th percentile in non-awkwardness." Of course not--you just find out that Billy can't read as well as 40% of the other kids and then you obsess about why Billy is falling behind in reading and why you've failed as a parent (you've always been an avid reader, but your husband on the other hand...) and how he is ever going to pass his driver's test and get into college and find a wife if he's basically as dumb as a potato. Or something like that.

As a teacher, I have known children with genius IQs and ones that had IQs just above the level to qualify as mentally disabled. Although useful in determining why a child might be having problems in the classroom, these pieces of information did not predict success in life. I have seen kids with amazing athletic ability, but no sign of tenacity who quit at the first sprained ankle. I have known kids who beat themselves up over SAT scores because it meant the loss of Princeton, when they could have gone to a state school for 2 years and transferred with a little more effort. I've known incredibly intelligent kids with no friends and phenomenal athletes with no morals.

My own son came into the world in the 95th percentile for both height and weight. My daughter was in the 5th percentile. They are both average and perfect right this moment.

In the future, I will be proud of their work ethic and how they treat others. I will be proud when they keep trying at something that does not come easily for them. If their IQs turn out to be above average, I will thank God that there is one less mountain they may have to climb and then I will put away the report so that they don't think they are better than other people. At least I'll try--it's hard to keep such amazing talent to yourself.