Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best Mom Tip #166: Ask your mom about her childhood


My mother grew up below the poverty line on a cotton farm outside the town of Cartersville, Georgia.  While Leave It to Beaver was on TV across the nation, Mom went outside to the outhouse when the need arose.  My beloved Aunt Charlotte was 14 before they had indoor plumbing.  My grandfather ran the pipes himself.

On Christmas, Mom remembers how much she loved getting nuts and an orange in her stocking--oranges in winter were a rare treat.  She also got a box of chocolate covered cherries as her special gift from my grandfather.  As far as presents went, my mother remembers her bike as a wonderful gift.  My grandfather had repainted the tin roof of the house that year and my grandmother had recovered some vinyl chairs in the kitchen.  Mom watched Granddaddy repaint an old bicycle with the tin paint and then saw Grandmother cover the worn seat with the leftover vinyl.  On Christmas morning, out came her "new" bicycle and she loved it.  

Tomorrow morning my children will receive brand new toys bought from Target and Toys R Us.  They will open massive boxes containing 47 thousand twist ties so that the toys do not move into unattractive positions while in transit.  They will get a ridiculous amount of candy because when confronted with the tons of candy in the holiday section, 3 bags of miniature candy bars didn't seem like that much.  They are also all getting their own tiny flashlights in the hopes that they will stop carrying my emergency/handy weapon Maglite around. 

When I find myself getting caught up in the hassle-joy of 13 (actual number if counting class parties) different Christmas celebrations, I think about my mom growing up.  I know it wasn't perfect.  My mom graduated from a segregated high school and apparently spent childhood afternoons helping my great-grandmother stock condoms in the bathroom of the rest-stop-style store my great-grandparents ran until Granddaddy Virgil was fired for being drunk on the job.  So, you know, now seems better than that.  And besides, A Charlie Brown Christmas hadn't been written yet.  

But the simplicity of their Christmas celebrations circa 1953 resonate with me.  I think about making sure that my children understand what exactly we are celebrating.  I want them to know that on Christmas Day, Grace entered the world, not just American Girl Dolls and Muppets.  Although I do love the Muppets and bought 4 of them even though I only have 3 children.  I think about trying to remind myself to swim upstream against the tide of our pop culture with Santa and Christmas trees and enough wrapping paper to coat the world.  I think about trying to create memories that my children recount with as much love as my mother does when she shares her bicycle story.  

I think about a baby and a manger and a scared teenage girl just hoping she wasn't crazy to believe that God would do something amazing with her newborn child.  I think about my favorite sentiments from the Bible: Joy to the World, Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men. 

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best Mom Tip #165: Trade in the kid's meal toy

I feed my kids fast food.  Not all the time, but often enough that they ask for it by name.  Their favorite, by a long shot, is Chick-fil-A.  Since we live in Atlanta, the home of the chicken sandwich, there is a Chick-fil-A every 4 1/2 feet.  They rival Starbucks for strip-mall corner dominance.  Which is my kids' second favorite place to go for nourishment.

They also like Schlotzsky's although they pronounce it "Sloch-key" and it seems to be tied to the cookie that comes with a kid's meal.  On a random note, there is a Schlotzsky's in what used to the Death Zone on the East Berlin side of the Berlin Wall.  Jay and I ate there once and I thought that seemed like one of the funniest screw-yous to communism that I'd ever seen.  There is an American fast food deli where once there were only guard towers and creepy Czech-made cars.  There is also a Starbucks.

My kids don't know any of that, however, because we do not take them to Europe because that would be miserable.  But if we did, they would ask to eat at one of the places whose logo they recognize from 500 yards.

To my credit, they don't really know what McDonald's is.  Someone referenced Mickey-D's the other day and Griffin asked, "What's McDonald's?"  Charlotte answered, "it's that place with the big yellow M and the scary clown."  I almost thought about contacting the McDonald's marketing department to tell them that they have failed.

My journeys to various fast food establishments have allowed me to discover one parent-pleasing tip:  You can trade in that stupid toy that comes with the kid's meal for something better.  At Chick-fil-A, for instance, you can get a kid's ice dream instead of the toy/book/whatever.  Don't get me wrong, it's not like I want to pump my kids full of sugar, but if one of them gets the book and one of them gets an ice cream that they can share, I don't have to give away 45 plastic-wrapped books every few months.  I also can be the nicest Mommy ever because I let them eat fast food AND there was ice cream.

Anyway, it's worth asking.  Sometimes I just eat the ice cream as my own reward for having taken that many kids to eat somewhere by myself.  Mmmmmm.....ice cream.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Best Mom Tip #164: Lie to your 3-year-old

First of all, let me say hello to Cheryl. What's up, Cheryl? Cheryl is my wonderful friend who calls herself my #1 fan and reads my blog faithfully. Since she works in television I like to pretend that my writings have been "picked up" by the Cartoon Network because, technically, the same computer that rates Robot Chicken also reads this. So anyway, hey Cheryl. I am resuming writing for you. :)

On to the lying to your children part. One time, when my daughter was 3, we went on a walk to the park that is just under a mile from my house. We got about .8 miles from home and she suddenly decided she needed her princess ball cap more than she needed air to breathe. I calmly explained that if we went back home we would no longer have time to play on the playground. She responded with a sound that I associate with the high pitched whine of civilization's destruction when the nuclear bombs hit.  I then, while 6 months pregnant, drag-walked her the .8 miles back home and put her in time out so that I would not kill her.

When I related this story to my mom, she said, "eh, I probably would have said o.k. and then once we got home told her we couldn't go back to the park."  I was shocked.  You mean, LIE?  NOT tell her the consequences of her actions?  What kind of a child will I be raising? How would she manage in life if I do not present her with reality?

Fast forward 3 1/2 years and two more kids.  My now three-year-old son is in the same phase.  The one where, when things don't go the way he had them planned in his head, he collapses into a puddle of despair.  This is alright if we're at home.  It is more difficult to deal with when we are in the grocery store.

Thus, I find myself lying to him a lot.  Sure, Buddy, those underwear are totally on the right way.  Yes, you have done a nice job wiping off your face.  I will absolutely think about dessert when we get home.

In the car this week we got into a discussion about the validity of flying reindeer.  Now I know that what I am about to reveal is highly controversial, but bear with me.  I do not let my kids believe in Santa.  Are you disappointed in me?  I know Cheryl is.

The thing is, I found Santa confusing.  So I decided that we would present Christmas presents as gifts from us and just ignore the whole your-gifts-are-tied-to-your-ability-to-please-a-stranger-who-looks-a-lot-like-Renaissance-God-in-a-coca-cola-ad part.  For my daughter this was a non-issue.  She didn't/doesn't care and honestly, would have questioned Santa's existence by the age of 4 anyway.  She is a lot like me.

Ah, but Griffin.  While driving to school, Griffin told me he didn't want Santa to be pretend.  Griffin asked me how the reindeer could fly and I said, "Well, they can't.  Reindeer are real, but they can't really fly. That's just pretend."  He got that look.  The one that says, "you are crushing my soul and I will not rest until every vehicle in a three mile radius feels my visceral pain."  The sentiment came out like this:  "BUT I WANT DEM TO FLY!"

So what do I do?  Lie and let him believe that generous strangers pulled by impossible cold-weather mammals are the source of his Mega T-Rex this Christmas?  Can I let him continue his unreasonable desire to believe in cartoons and fairy tales?  Or do I let him have a full-on melt down on the way to school which will result in the teacher physically pulling him screaming from the car?

Turns out lying is actually pretty easy sometimes.  You're right, Buddy.  Reindeer CAN fly.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Best Mom Tip #163: Give in to a rant now and then

I have been grumpy and distracted for the last few weeks. Therefore, I will now complain about random things.

First of all, I think that October's Breast Cancer Awareness has gone too far. Not everything in pink needs to remind us of boobs. There's a plumber with a pink van near my house and every time I see it I think, "why is that giant breast cancer van here?"

The NFL and MLB have both made parts of players' uniforms pink. This is ridiculous. Why should I have to try to explain to my children the reasoning behind pink towels hanging down by sweaty men's crotches that are there to remind women to do breast self exams? Why is the NFL involved, anyway? Because men who watch Monday Night Football also like breasts? Are they hoping that some guy named Bert will yell out, "honey, can you bring me a beer? And, don't forget to feel yourself up in the shower!" I'm not sure that this is on point with the message.

I know that this sounds shallow, but I'm just kind of tired by the entire color and month being taken over by one disease that isn't even America's number one killer of women. Before you decide that I'm completely evil, I would like to say that I lost my beloved Aunt Charlotte to breast cancer and had she been more diligent about her yearly exams it could have made a difference. But you know what, she would never have watched a sport on television and she hated pink.

Secondly, I had the following exchange with Jay yesterday.
Me: I just want to warn you that I started watching a movie you're not going to like. It's that It's Complicated one about the divorced people having an affair. I know how old people sex freaks you out.

Jay: Eh...less and less.

What the hell does he mean by that? I am totally offended, but I'm not sure exactly why. I mean, ultimately I want him to be into me even when we're old, but are we there already? Or can he just see it from here? I don't know, but I certainly feel older and I blame him. I also blame the smug 20-something people who have recently told me (with great pride) that they've never died their hair. Well, good for you. You've also never spent all night with a baby gnawing on your boobs or hours in the mirror trying to figure out why your stomach skin seems to now be a separate body part. Let's just wait and see if your hair virgin status stands when the grays show up. Because I will NOT be flabby, droopy, AND gray while in my 30s. Or 40s. Or 80s. I cannot control the first two, but I can control gray. For $7.99.

Finally, here are two things that annoy me about my kids' schools. Why is the car line to pick up or drop off kids called a carpool? It is not a carpool. I'm not picking up a bunch of kids to drive to a parking lot closer to their houses. We are not saving resources or limiting pollution. We are sitting in our cars with the engines running for 30 minutes in a line of cars. Not a carpool. Also, why are there so many parent volunteer "opportunities" in elementary school? Every single week, you can volunteer for parent reader, parent math help, classroom volunteer, music, art, and morning computer time. You can also show up for lunch, classroom parties, and donuts for dads/muffins for moms. I spent 10 years teaching high school and I never had any parent volunteers. I just feel guilty for not wanting to go--there are only 22 kids in a class and there are 6 slots a week. Ugh. Can't we just let them go to school and see them when they get home? Maybe I am evil.

Anyway, that's it for right now. Maybe I can become a grumpy old woman and take Andy Rooney's job now that it's open.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Best Mom Tip #162: Write that down

This is my kitchen calendar. It is 3'x3' of dry-erase, magnetic, color-coded, organizational fun. I made it myself. I'm sure you have myriad questions regarding my calendar, so let me illuminate you.

First, why is it 3 FEET by 3 FEET instead of a normal sized calendar? Well, because I have a ridiculous amount of stuff to write on it and I need all members of my family to know when they have to be places.

I have a calendar I keep in my purse--that's where I write down the doctor's appointments while I'm in the office or right after I sign up for a kid's school conference. And although this works when I'm away from home, it has it's limitations; the squares are small, I have to remember my own short-hand. But the biggest problem is that Jay cannot (or will not) look at it. If he needs to take a kid to soccer or know that I will not be home for dinner because I am abandoning my family for girls' night out, he needs to know this ahead of time. He does not like surprises that involve me leaving the home suddenly.

The giant calendar hangs right next to our kitchen table so every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I can remind myself what's happening this week. Which is good because any given week is like one of those memory tests they give you to see if you have alzheimer's.

Last week Charlotte had to take between 20 and 100 individually wrapped pieces of candy that had to fit into a special "estimation" jar (which Jay kept referring to as the elimination jar--that seems like pretty intense 1st grade if there are eliminations) and 5 of her favorite photographs of herself. These were due on Monday. I don't have any photos of her that aren't hanging on the wall. They are all in the computer. I had to print out 5 pictures at Walgreens and send Jay to get them with Charlotte. They came back with the pictures and 200 dum dums. I now have 156 extra dum dums. Every day after that she had to remember to take a special item for show and tell.

Griffin had to wear blue on Monday, a silly hat on Wednesday, and a crazy hair style on Friday. Also on Wednesday he had to take 14 individually wrapped snack food items that were peanut-free and not cake or cupcakes. We needed to provide small cups and napkins as well.

Then there were soccer practices, soccer games, the guys fixing my flooded/rotted/mushy kitchen floor, and a well baby visit to the doctor. Thus the need for a really big calendar.

So, you ask, how did I make my amazing calendar? I bought two magnetic dry erase boards for $10 a piece at Michael's and tore the cheap frame off of them. I used a ruler and a sharpie to draw the grid and I left a column to the left for grocery items and to store the magnets we collect for some odd reason when we go on vacation. This keeps my refrigerator clear, which makes me inordinately happy.

I used the green and white strip tape that I used as a teacher to affix posters to cement block walls to mount the thing on my wall--it will totally tear the wall when I take it off so I am never going to move.

So what else is so great about a giant wall-hogging sheet of dates and activities? Well, the squares are so big that if we get invited to something, I can just post the invitation on the date of the event so I know the details when the day arrives. There is room to post baby announcements and Christmas cards until I 1) send a gift or 2) get tired of looking at that family. Sometimes 1 and 2 happen simultaneously. I bought colored dry-erase markers so each member of our family has a color. Griffin, who can't read, still knows when something involves him because of the color. Finally, my calendar runs Monday to Sunday so that I can see my whole weekend right next to each other.

My family actually looks forward to when I change over the calendar--wiping off the name of the month and the dates and adding the new month's events. Charlotte can't wait to see what she has to do for the week or month or how far that makes it until her birthday.

I know that it may be too big or too crowded or too much like a teacher made it (it's hard to let that go), but I really benefit from it. And I remember to bring a brown paper grocery bag, two dozen non-choke-able beads, and a bottle of finger paint to make a Native American for Thanksgiving. Or whatever it is that they're doing with that stuff.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Best Mom Tip #161: Give up bodily functions

I cannot go to the bathroom in peace. I feel that this is going to cause some sort of serious digestive problem for me in the future. I try to time it so that I only go when Harry is asleep and the other two are at school, but Griffin only goes to school 3 days a week so that is quite a challenge on the other 4 days.

Jay does not understand. It has taken me years to get him to remember that if he walks in the door from work and goes to the bathroom, I will freak out. I don't think he understands why, exactly, but he respects the fact that my head will spin around and I will shoot flames out of my ears if, in the first 30 minutes he is home, he has to pee. Poor man. He probably thinks I'm crazy.

But I know what the restrooms are like in his office and I cannot understand why he would wait to go here. At work, there are three stalls. It is quiet in there. There is not enough space under the door for people to stick their fingers. He does not have to stock the soap, toilet paper, or paper towels. For those few minutes, he is alone with his thoughts. Whatever they may be because every time I ask what he is thinking, he says "nothing."

The real problem is that nothing good happens while I'm in the bathroom. I hear things like, "don't worry, Mommy, Harry's o.k." and "we're waving to the man in the yard!" and "Mommy, where are your scissors--oh, never mind!"

I've also heard, "Mommy, I made a cross on the window!" I replied, "that's great, honey."
Then I thought about it. "Wait, with what?" "Just spit." How lovely.

They cannot even seem to watch TV without me if I go to the bathroom. Someone will manage to change the channel or switch the TV input or delete the recording they're watching and then the herd of elephants comes to the door to plead their case for why it wasn't their fault.

Today I managed to use the facilities in peace, but when I came out I discovered opened drawers in my bedroom. Including the one on the nightstand next to the bed that houses....personal items. The older kids were watching PBS, but Harry was wandering freely and he really has no fear of invading my privacy.

I spent the rest of the Curious George episode trying to surreptitiously search the playroom for foil packets before I find my 6-year-old trying to sound out the word "Trojan" later on in the week. I'm terrified that I will find a shiny new addition to Buzz Lightyear's spaceship or the Little People doll house that will cause me to burst into flames. It's going to be a long few years.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Best Mom Tip #160: Watch your back

My children are out to get me. And by get me, I mean they are hoping that they will drive me nuts and I will forget my rules about TV watching, how often we eat out, and wearing clothing in public. For some reason, they are highly adverse to wearing normal clothes in public.

I know they are out to get me because their attacks are too coordinated to be considered coincidences. For instance, while I was standing in the shower stall scrubbing the walls with a bucket of bleach at my feet I heard Griffin yell, "Mommy, is it OK if I umfmmssgrmd? OK, Tanks!"

You'll notice that the key part of that question was completely unintelligible. As though it were asked into a pillow cushion while facing a wall. He knows I can't come out. He's already been on several recon missions to ascertain just how committed to cleaning the shower I really am. He's looked at the fact that I've changed clothes and am wearing rubber gloves and he's decided, "yep, this is as free as it gets. Time to practice my skydiving technique off of Mommy's bed." He yells "parachuting!" while he jumps.

When my mother called and I was distracted by the ringing phone Griffin pulled all of the cushions off the sofa to make a fort. While I was looking at the fort and listening to my mother explain that even though she had been put to sleep at the dentist she was totally o.k. to both drive and talk and that she felt "mellow", Charlotte took cups of milk without lids to the play room for snack time.

When I hung up the phone Harry stole it and headed for the stairs while I tried to unload the dishwasher. When I caught up to Harry I realized he needed a diaper and by the time I made it to the play room after changing him, Griffin had spilled his milk all over his shirt.

While I got Griffin cleaned up (making his shirt the one dirty item of clothing in the house), Harry found the not-quite-empty milk cup and dumped it on the carpet. While I cleaned that up, Harry grabbed my computer and tried to start his own blog.

While I tried to retrieve my computer, Charlotte began to ask me what we were having for dinner and could we please eat out, or in front of the TV, or something fun? She also threw a stuffed animal at Harry and claimed she was just trying to put it on the stairs for later.

Then (and I could end every story with this statement) Griffin climbed on Harry's head.

My only defense is to try to keep them in my sights at all times. Or perhaps get a Sister Wife. Except that she would probably have her own kids and I really don't want to watch them, so I guess I'm just going to have to learn how to see around corners, give up sleep, and only use the restroom after 7:30pm. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Best Mom Tip #159: Use A&D Original Ointment

I spend a lot of my time dealing with other people's behinds. I mean a LOT of time. Most moms do so because of the following reasons:

1. Children poop on themselves, at least for the first couple of years.
2. While potty training, they fail to wipe themselves well enough and get itchy behinds.
3. They somehow fall down and land with their butts on their feet while wearing shoes. That does seem like it would hurt, but how do they manage to do that? (And what do you do when they ask you to kiss it to make it better?)

In all of these situations, they look for Mommy. And, really, I don't want a bunch of other people dealing with those parts of my kids, so it's o.k. But it's also gross. I have a veritable encyclopedia of poop colors (and their causes) that I can never remove from my brain. I know how much of which foods to feed each kid to solve a variety of digestive issues. I don't want to know that about anyone else. I don't really want to know that information about myself.

And I have to deal with diaper rashes. I learned during my first round of kid diapering that you need to sooth the hurt and protect the skin with a moisture barrier to get rid of diaper rash. My kids had unfortunate reactions to antibiotics coupled with weak immunity to sinus infections so I got to try just about everything.

Eventually, I came to use A&D Original Ointment. The ointment creates a barrier to moisture and it is medicated to ease itchy/burning feelings. According to the tube, you can also use it on minor cuts and burns. I've never actually used it on anything else because once a tube of something is used on a behind in my house, it is forever used for behinds only. In fact, it now belongs exclusively to the behind that just used it.

Anyway, the A&D really works. Within a day the rash is better and it eases their little behinds while it works. Also, I kind of like the medicinal smell. Which is weird, but I do. I'd apologize for discussing such a gross subject, but really, what else do I have to talk about? I have a kid on an antibiotic right now and this is my life.

Maybe tomorrow I'll try to kill that damn woodpecker outside my bedroom window and I'll have something else to say.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Best Mom Tip #158: Run in the rain

I am sort of training for a half marathon. I say sort of because I have not actually registered. In fact, the next half marathon that I would be likely to run in is in January. So let's say I'm training for a 10k--that I may run through my neighborhood on a random Thursday morning.

Anyway, the point is, I've started running again. I love running. It makes me feel strong and tough and like I could conquer ANYTHING. You know, if ANYTHING involves jogging very slowly for 3 or 4 miles. Then I would need a break and some water and maybe to retie my shoe and then ANYTHING better watch out. 'Cause here I come.

I have now had enough children to recognize a pattern in my post-baby physical fitness recovery. I have learned that although I can lose the weight within a few months of stopping nursing, it takes me a full year to get my joints and muscles strong enough to run again. I have worked hard in the 14 months since Harry's birth and I am finally back to running. I love my dance classes and weight training, but running just feels different. It is liberating. It makes me feel like me again. It makes me feel like I could crush the really skinny moms with my gigantically muscular thighs. Although I doubt that will come up.

I ran in the rain this week and it was wonderful. Because it was not 95 degrees and because it feels very hard core to run in inclement weather. Granted, the only thing hard core about my life is that I occasionally touch human excrement with my bare hands, but running in the rain feels cool-girl tough to me right now. Like I should get a tattoo. Or go sky diving. Or both--maybe my tattoo should be of a parachute.

Running makes me feel like I could re-tile my water damaged kitchen floor by myself. And that I could probably just hang that drywall to finish off the attic closets while Jay is at work. Jay does not like to hear me say things like this because he occasionally comes home to find bizarre projects underway that result in us eating out for a week. He is right to be concerned.

Next week I will feel like the slowest runner ever and that I will never be able to break 5 miles and that my knees are just one more part of me that is inching toward the grave. But this week? I am invincible. This week I bought smaller jeans.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Best Mom Tip #157: Ignore the other moms, Part 2

In addition to feeling self conscious around more stylish moms (see yesterday), I also feel as though I'm failing as a parent when I'm around the highly active/organized moms.

At curriculum night at Charlotte's school, every mom who signed up to volunteer for something pulled a giant organizer/coupon holder/wallet thing out of her purse. Why is it that big? What else should I be writing down? Why do I not understand the appeal of couponing?

At the bus stop another mom asked me if Charlotte wanted to take chess lessons after school with her daughter. I have nothing against chess. I actually like to play chess. But I was taught by my dad (who never let me win, by the way) and we didn't have to pay 250 bucks a month for the privilege. I'm sure that chess club would help her problem solving skills and her ability to think logically, but I kind of like it that she just comes home. She does her homework. Then she watches TV and then goes outside to play. I call them in for dinner by yelling and banging on the window. It's like my life in 1982 all over again, but without Stretch Armstrong.

Why must I be exposed to the parents who have their kids taking violin lessons and practicing their math skills on Saturdays? Chess Mom also showed me the "easy" 300 piece puzzle her 6-year-old had just put together. She said it was easy because, since it is of the United States, there are words all over it. Yes, but in order for that to be useful, you need to know where Montana is in relation to Tampa. What 6-year-old knows that? This kid also speaks Hebrew and can play the piano. Charlotte's only hope of becoming bilingual is if my mother begins teaching her Appalachian Hill People as a second language.

There are the kids on our neighborhood swim team who also take private swim lessons year round. There were the moms at gymnastics who had serious conversations about scholarship opportunities for college gymnasts. I constantly feel like maybe I'm holding back my kids' potential because I haven't signed up for enough stuff.

Don't get me wrong, they do have some outside activities. It's just that they are only allowed to have one at a time. And I don't assume that they will ever make any money off it, become smarter from it, or suddenly discover a latent superpower. I know that occasionally, making sure that your kid is constantly striving to do better at their extracurricular activity works out for them. Tiger Woods has been playing golf since he was 3 and he's made a little money. Britney Spears' mom had her singing and dancing by 5 or so as well. But, honestly, they both seem like pretty crappy spouses.

I'd rather have my slightly-above-average-intelligence children with healthy relationships and lifestyles than have them be super-rich. Maybe they can be both, but I'm not sure I can think of a billionaire who also seems to have normal kids. Maybe Warren Buffet, but I can guarantee that whatever his mom did, it didn't involve a giant calendar and chauffeuring her kids to 4 events a week. They probably only had one car anyway.

Like I decided yesterday, I'm going to try to stop the comparisons and make my decisions based on my own kids' needs and wants. I hope, when they're adults, they don't have to spend money on a therapist because I didn't challenge them enough. I can just hear them complaining, "I could have reached my full potential if only my mom had signed me up for soccer AND chess club at the same time." Even if they do, I'm certainly not paying for it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Best Mom Tip #156: Ignore the other moms, Part 1

I waste a lot of my mental time and energy comparing myself to other moms. This frequently happens at the YMCA, but it can be just about anywhere I go. I will come out of a class or in from a run looking like my face has been replaced by a giant beet and I inherited my hair from Grandma Medusa and I will see a tall, thin, graceful mom herding her children toward the car. She is slightly sweaty, but really, on her it looks good.

A lot of the super-fit moms are in the running club. This is why the running club intimidates me. They say things like, "I'm going to do 8 miles on Thursday." Then they jog off in their coordinating visors and running skirts. They also bond and chat while they run. I am capable of making one noise while running and it is a sound that, if you heard it coming from your dog, you would go ahead and have the poor thing put down.

I will later see these same moms at PTA and church and the grocery store and I will feel bad that they have long, flowing hair while I am still growing mine out from the decision I made two years ago to have 1-inch-long hair with pink and purple highlights. I'm not sure what I was thinking.

They dress well. They use "accessories." They seem to remember to put on makeup when they leave the house. Even the running club moms. I talked with one mom today who had on eyeliner under her visor. How did she get that to stay on? My actual skin was melting off of my face because it is August and this is Georgia. Turns out her kid sits across the table from my kid in the first grade so I am going to have to continue to feel inadequate in her presence.

I'm trying to overcome this problem. I recognize that my constant comparing myself to others affects no one but myself. I realize that it dings my self esteem and belittles my efforts at health, fitness, and my general sense of well-being. So I'm going to try. My first step is to actually get to know the people who intimidate me the most.

When my beautiful, size-zero friend Jill had a baby and still had to deal with the fact that her clothes didn't fit right afterwards, it made me realize that skinny girls feel the same way I do. We are all just trying to figure out how to function as moms and wives and co-workers and volunteers and feel good about ourselves at the same time. I will try to remember this again later today when I am faced with an amazon mother of 3 and her perfectly toned legs. Really. I'm trying.

Really.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Best Mom Tip #155: Don't let them break you

I have not slept well this week. It is entirely the fault of my children. I have only been able to keep my sanity by refusing to let them break me. It reminded me again how much I think parenthood is a lot like being tortured by the CIA.
My daughter was born in December of 2004, which happened to be right about the same time American soldiers captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The former dictator was found in what became known as a “spider hole” covered in mud and looking more like a crazy guy who sells flowers on a freeway exit ramp than the leader of an oil-rich nation.
What really interested me was how Saddam’s life was different after his capture. The rumors of where he was being held and how he was being treated seemed somewhat familiar to me. That’s when it hit me: being held by the CIA while they attempt to get you to reveal the location of weapons of mass destruction (even if they don't exist) is a lot like being at home with your children. Here's how they compare and how we can all survive.
1. You are pulled out of a safe dark hole: Before you have children, you are the most important thing in your world. Or maybe your spouse is if you’re feeling generous. You can eat rice for dinner while watching Seinfeld reruns and no one’s going to base their eating/TV viewing habits on your actions. In those last few days of pregnancy, you hole up in your own little world, totally focused on your own physical well being. Then your precious child is born crying and fussing, which is actually her way of saying, "greetings from your new master." They are vicious little task masters, what with their need to eat and bathe and poop and get dressed EVERY DAY. I still grieve my self-centered life. Alas.
**Solution: Enjoy your spider hole every chance you get. When you have a baby say “YES, NOW!” when someone offers to come over and help out. While that person is there, don’t talk to them at all, just go take a nap. As your kids get older, actually take people up on their offers to watch them or exchange baby sitting with a friend. I have one friend who has a neighbor come sit with her sleeping children so she and her husband can have date nights. She then does the same for that neighbor the next week and no one has to pay for a sitter. This is important. You need to be able to go to a dark place and listen to the war from a distance.
2. You are grimy and unkempt: No matter how fastidious you are as a woman, the day you become a mom, you look rough. Your hair is matted, you probably haven’t bathed in a little while, and you are wearing your old lady glasses. Although this problem gets significantly better as kids age, I still find myself with half-chewed Cheerios stuck to my clothing and unidentified baby goo smeared in my hair. After they finished showing the world Saddam's crazy hair and checking his teeth or whatever, the CIA actually cleaned Mr. Hussein up. You cannot expect that kind of courtesy from your children.
**Solution: Take a shower. Sounds silly, I know, but the noise of the water is soothing, the heat will ease your aching muscles, and no one touches you for about 10 minutes. The cries of "Mooooooommmmmmyyyy" are also a lot harder to hear and you can't see the tiny fingers under the bathroom door. You will also be clean for 4.3 minutes.
3. Your visitors are limited: Supposedly, Saddam was kept in a sparse room where his only visitors were the 19-year-old soldiers who brought him food. Your social life looks a lot like this when you become a parent. At first, your friends and family bring you food on their way to do more glamorous and exciting things--like bathe. They pop in for a while, chat briefly about how you’re feeling and then leave you with only a glimpse at what the outside world might be like. For those of us who stay at home with our kids, this phase seems to go on forever. It is REALLY difficult to find someone to talk to about something other than your kids. Not that you have anything else to talk about anyway.
**Solution: Talk to anyone who calls you. Even those political town hall survey people. Read the news on the internet. If you can, workout without your children nearby. It doesn't matter if your only piece of outside information concerns which celebrities have named their children after inanimate objects this week; knowing something about the rest of the world makes you feel connected and like a part of society. And even the Kardashians count as society when you have small kids.
4. Your sense of time is altered: A common interrogation tactic is to wake up the captive at random times during the day and night to throw off their internal rhythms and confuse their sense of time. In a windowless cell, this method can quite literally drive people mad. Your children know this. You will get 8 hours of sleep one night and think, “this isn't so bad,” only to have your baby wake at unpredictable times that are no further apart than 45 minutes the next night. You might find yourself awake at 4 in the morning asking your 3-week-old why she doesn't love you. You could go 3 months with great sleep and then have a week where one kid has a stomach virus, one caught croup, and the other just didn't want to miss out on the midnight party. You know, for instance. Not that I have any experience with that.
**Solution: If you've had a really rough night and you can work it in, sleep at any moment that you can. When I was working, I once took a nap under my desk during lunch. Really. If you're at home, put down the laundry and rest. No one cares about the laundry but you. Make your spouse buy takeout instead of cooking; I promise it won’t kill you. And don't beat yourself up if you make odd parenting decisions at night. I cannot tell you how many nights I have rocked, cuddled, fed, and wailed at a crying baby only to find a wet diaper when I finally remembered to look. Sleepy You cannot be held responsible for your actions.
5. You are surrounded by photos to remind you of your predicament: According to one account I read at the time, Saddam Hussein’s cell had a giant picture of President Bush on one wall and photos of his dead relatives who had been killed in the fighting on another wall. I don’t know if that's true or not, but I do know that your home has a similar d├ęcor. The most prominent pictures in a home with kids are not smiling wedding shots—they are, or will soon be, totally of your kids. Toothless, drooling grins will replace that 8x10 of you looking incredibly skinny at your engagement party. All the small pictures will be of your former, now deceased, life where you toasted the New Year with expensive champagne and took spontaneous ski weekends with old college buddies.
**Solution: Remind yourself that childhood only lasts for a little while. You will be out on New Year’s Eve again. You will go skiing again. You will have time to yourself and be able to do things with your friends. My parents, for instance, are planning a trip to Italy. So, you know, there's that to look forward to in 30 years. Until then, create new family-centered memories. Those photos of parties past will slowly be replaced with pictures of princess birthdays and pirate pool parties. And you will love every new kid-covered snapshot.
6. Your world is forever changed: Unfortunately for Saddam, the Iraq to which he returned was run by his enemies and he was hung (and decapitated) for his crimes against humanity. This will probably not happen to you as a parent. What will happen, however, is that you will notice that you see the world through new eyes. Your spouse cannot drive slowly enough when your baby is in the car. You won’t like being in elevators at the doctor's office because all those strangers are breathing near your child. You will be overly specific with your instructions to people who care for your kids in your absence. The world of parenting is both more wonderful and more dangerous than you ever thought possible.
**Solution: Embrace your parent's world view. You’re right to worry about your kids. If you didn’t worry, you wouldn’t be normal. Don’t let it paralyze you or make you one of those crazy moms who never lets their kid spend the night at the slumber party. But understand that you will always feel like a part of you is wandering around outside in the world and you must do whatever you can to protect it. On the bright side, you will also see how magical and amazing the world is when it is viewed for the first time. Christmas lights? Beautiful! Jell-O? The best dessert EVER! Running? The only way to travel! Child-like wonder is truly a miracle to behold and we all have front row seats for years to come.
So bring on the torture because it is totally worth the effort. It may crack dictators and terrorists, but not you. You’re a PARENT—and you can take anything.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Best Mom Tip #154: Edit your vehicle

When I was six I came home with an honor student bumper sticker from my elementary school and I asked my mom to put it on our family car. She looked at me and said, "we're really proud of you for your grades, but putting stickers on the car lowers it's resale value so we don't really do that."
Being six, I did not realize that this was code for "I do not want to advertise your academic achievements on my car because I think that it's tacky." I did, however, internalize a distaste for excessive car stickers. And, honestly, I feel that a lot of people are really excessive.
I have seen Suburbans with soccer balls declaring their kids' names and numbers, school stickers, W support, and neighborhood all at once. I now have enough information about these people to check their kid out of school and all I've done is sit behind them at a red light.
I frequently see a car driven by a woman that has about 20 stickers including a gay pride flag, a pro-choice message, and one that urges all religions to coexist. I, perhaps mistakenly, assumed that unwanted pregnancy would be self-regulated in the gay community. Is it just a sense of feminist-issue solidarity that encouraged her to stick the pro-choice one on her car? Maybe it's like tattoos and once you have one or two you wind up with 50.
At the YMCA, I see a lot of family stick figure stickers. I've seen mom, dad, son, daughter, dog, cat, and today....duck. Really? Duck? At least it looked like a duck. Maybe it was a parakeet. Are there goldfish? Turtles? How often do these animals ride in the car?
I also saw one where the mom sticker was gone. All that was left was a sad, dusty outline of the former stick figure. Is that the final step in the divorce? "Kids, Daddy and Mommy are done and, I'm sorry to say, we're taking Mommy's sticker off the car." Since that one was on an SUV at the YMCA at 10 in the morning it probably just fell off, but it still seemed like a poor message to offer the world.
I also saw a thin middle-aged man with only one sticker on his blah-colored Camry.
It read, I "heart" My Wife.
My first thought was that this was the dorkiest bumper sticker I had ever seen. Then I remembered how many "Kid Chess" stickers I have seen and I changed my mind. My second (or third, maybe) thought was that at least it was a pretty good one-thing-you-want-the-world-to-know-about-you. Much better than the people whose one thing is I "heart" My Yorkie."
I'm not saying you should never have a bumper sticker. In the past, I have displayed my collegiate pride on my rear-view window. Gooooooo Dawgs! (Yes, I realize it is embarrassing that my university's cheer is misspelled. If you think that's bad, you should hear how we pronounce it).
Let's just try to keep the message simple. And, perhaps, make sure it's something you really want to say.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Best Mom Tip #153: Party like it's 1979


Last week I read this article about why parents of the 70s and 80s did a better job than we are currently doing with our own children. The basic point was that parenting was a bit simpler and they did not seem so afraid that we would die/disappear/stop loving them if they made us mad.

Although I didn't necessarily agree with the whole article (I know a lot of people my age whose parents did a crappy job), I thought the section about birthdays was pretty true. The author complained that birthday parties today are too elaborate, what with ponies and bounce houses and the like. We have certainly gone to some pretty elaborate birthdays over the years, but this weekend we hosted a really basic party for Griffin.

Now I will fully admit that this is less of a parenting philosophy statement and more of a "I'm a really bad housewife" kind of a statement. I have been shamed by a multitude of parties my kids have been invited to. There was the one with the pony and petting zoo. And the one where a "train" came to drive all the children around the neighborhood. There's actually a TLC show about crazy kid parties (they have a show about everything).

Even the more tame ones tend to make me painfully aware of my ineptitude as a domestic success. Charlotte went to one party where the theme was Mary Poppins and the mom had made "spoonfuls of sugar" (molded chocolate in spoons) and gave ceramic piggy banks as party gifts (to hold your tuppence).

Griffin asked that his party be Mickey Mouse Fireman with a Toy Story balloon. So he got Mickey Mouse streamers and fire hats. And a Buzz Lightyear balloon. That cake up there at the top of the post? (Thanks for the pic, Cheryl). Yeah, I totally bought that at Publix and stuck some fire truck candles on it. I did make chocolate cupcakes, but I used a mix. And store-bought icing.

There were no goody bags. I just didn't get around to it. I also only invited kids whose parents I like. Griffin is still young enough for me to get away with that.

The result? I had a great time. Jay and I only know how to throw one party--it involves Jay grilling hamburgers and a lot of fruit. But it was fun. We turned the sprinkler on in the back yard and threw plastic cups out there for the dozen or so kids to play with. And I mean the actual sprinkler we use to water the lawn--not any sort of $70 water ball from PBKids. And I mean red solo cups like you stood around the keg holding at parties in college.

Kids ate, they played, there was cake. Griffin said that he had a great time and that his party was "too exciding!'" Obviously I will not be featured in Southern Living any time soon. Martha Stewart will not be offering recipes that begin with "always buy the cheapest cake mix you can find."

I still think it was a good time. And so did my kids.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Best Mom Tip #152: Check the dryer for bees

We recently went on vacation and it was fun. Then we came home and I had to do laundry and that was not fun.

As I pulled the first load out of the dryer, I found a bumble bee. A very dead, crispy bumble bee. It was all black and crunchy, but still fully in bumble bee form. Why was there a bee in my dryer? We'd been gone for over a week. Did it come home in our clothes? Did one of my children think that it would be a good idea to keep a dead bee?

Or, and this is what I really suspect, are bees trying to squat in my home? I picture little bee real estate agents giving tours of our house and saying things like, "now this next one doesn't meet your desire for a honey comb, BUT it has ready access to a heated pool, the location is great, and you'll save a fortune on heating!"

Imagine their little bee horror when wet clothing landed on their home, the earthquake known as the "big one" started, and then the heat. Oh, the horrific heat. They knew the Lord would never FLOOD the earth again, but he didn't say he wouldn't burn everything to a crisp.

Were there bee prayers? Dryer-wide vigils, inadvisable last minute relationships, or just one last wild party?

Or did the bee just go, "Dammit, I will never listen to my mother's directions again."

I also found raisins in the washing machine, but that I could trace back to the raisins we had for snack and the children learning to be responsible and putting their own clothing in themselves.

Before I had children, I never found anything in my laundry but clothes. And the occasional movie ticket stub. Man, I miss finding movie ticket stubs after the fact. They are MUCH better than blackened bees in the lint trap.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Best Mom Tip #151: Enjoy back-to-school chaos, don't just endure it

I try to avoid taking all 3 of my kids shopping at any one time. And I mean avoid like you might avoid licking the hand-hold pole on the subway. Avoid like nudist colonies try to avoid swarms of angry bees. But at least once a year, you have to take them with you, even if you have to traverse the subway, nudists, and angry bees all at the same time.

Back-to-school shopping requires that you have actual children's feet present in order to get the right size. Back-to-school shopping means that you have to have the input of the children who will be using the clothing or you will have drawers full of unworn items for the rest of your life.

There are pencils to buy, forms to fill out, and classroom Kleenex stockpiles to replenish. You need to pre-order yearbooks, join the PTA again, and make sure you understand this year's carpool system. It is enough to make you want to live in a hut. Well, maybe a hut with DVR service. We're not savages.

So how do you dive back into the land of homework and 7am bus pick-up without killing one of your children (or even the occasional innocent bystander)? I suggest you make at least one element of back-to-school season an EVENT.

When I was a child, my mother would have my Aunt Charlotte meet us at the mall for my annual birthday/back-to-school shopping trip. Charlotte was a wonderful third-party mediator. We would wander the racks and she would give me tips on creating basic pieces for my wardrobe to build off of. Never mind that I was 8 and my ideal wardrobe consisted of what I'll call rainbow-brite-meets-covered-in-red-clay chic. I felt special, and adult, and valued.

We would "do" lunch and there was, no matter how strapped for time we might be, always chocolate. I remember these chocolate shavings that came on top of a chocolate pie I ordered for dessert like it was yesterday. You don't forget the first time you realize that chocolate can be a garnish.

You may not have time for an all-out shopping day or you may have all boys who think that sounds a lot like torture, but you can do something that creates that event feeling for your kids. Maybe it's laying out all of the school supplies and packing backpacks as a family. Maybe it's a special day with just your family the weekend before school begins. Maybe you do your own version of shopping fun.

This year, my kids are still really little with one in elementary school, one in pre-school, and one still learning to walk. My mom came with us on our shopping trip and although by the end of it she suggested I rename my kids Flitsy, Hell-Bent, and While-You-Weren't-Looking, they did all get new shoes.

And they rode the carousel and got punch balloons. It was a special trip with special moments made just for them. I hope that they will remember and cherish these trips as adults like I treasure the memories of my own back-to-school events.

So take a deep breath, pull your kid down off of that display case, and enjoy the moment. School starts soon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Best Mom Tip #150: Resist the urge to put your kid on a leash

I will admit that I have recently been fantasizing about putting my son on a leash.

That boy runs off every chance he gets. He always comes back, but it's like watching a cartoon--he runs as fast as he can, then creates a giant arc to run back toward me. He also laughs the entire time.

He hides in clothes racks at stores. He giggles as he runs headlong in a direction opposite that which he is facing. He runs into things a lot. He refuses to look at me when I call his name--my eyes are somehow his disobedience kryptonite. "I could run forever without guilt if only I could avoid Mommy's look."

I thought about just attaching one of those extendable dog leashes to the belt loops on his pants. I would probably be investigated by protective services, but at least I could focus on choosing produce at the grocery store without having to constantly look up to see if he has climbed the meat counter yet.

It turns out, however, that there is actually a rather large market for this kind of product. Based on my non-scientific study (which consists mostly of looking at people at Target), the most popular kid leashes look like a monkey.  You can see one on Target's website here: Monkey Backpack Harness

Technically, this is called a backpack harness, but the monkey's tail is attached to a long handle that the parent holds. Looks a lot like a leash. The particular one I have seen is made by Eddie Bauer and comes with pockets for toys or snacks. Not that your kid could reach them because they are on his back.

The thing that gets me the most about this item is that it is a monkey. How does no one see the irony of putting a literal monkey on your child's back? Every time I see it I hear George Michael singing, "why don't you do it, why don't you set your monkey free."

I have this image of my kid in therapy one day saying, "well, I knew I wanted to become the next Unabomber the day my mom saddled me with a monkey leash filled with goldfish crackers and apple juice. I. Just. Hated. That. Monkey."

If I could get past my aversion to harnessing children I think that I could make some money here. When my oldest was about 2 we used to joke that we needed to "run" her so that she would sleep at night. Probably other parents feel this way. I could get 6 or 7 monkey leashes, hook up the neighborhood kids, and walk them to the park. Sure, they might run around each other's legs and get the lines tangled up, but they would get fresh air and I could make a living as a kid walker.

I am resisting the urge. I'm going to continue to try to get my errant kid to actually listen to me and stay somewhere in my general vicinity without physical restraint. I think.

I mean, the monkey is cute, right?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Best Mom Tip #149: Know what your hair says about you

I am not careful with my hair. In my adult life my hair has been between 2 inches and 2 1/2 feet long. It has been really dark brown (my natural color), red, blonde, pink, and purple. Those last two were at the same time. I have had highlights, bobs, pixie cuts, you name it.

Last night I dyed my hair "warm light brown" to cover up the fact that my highlights were growing out and I can't really afford to keep up $75 every two months. My hair is currently in a bob about chin length and as I blew it dry and carefully styled it I thought, "Hey, I look like me again." This is generally a good thing, but I'll come back to it in a minute.

Before I go any further, I need to share a moment of my life from nearly a decade ago.

In my mid-to-late 20s I was teaching with some of my favorite coworkers of all time. They were (and are) special people who made me laugh, encouraged me to be a better teacher, and shared pina coladas with me by the pool during the summer. One day I was walking down the hall with two other women in their 20s and a male coworker joked that we looked like Charlie's Angels. We all laughed and did our best gun-toting poses.

Then I looked at beautiful, blonde Jill and tall, leggy Katie and thought, "Dammit. I'm Kate Jackson."

Now, I don't have anything against Kate Jackson. And I bet some of you don't even know who I'm talking about. But in the 70s-era Charlie's Angels (that my parents let me watch in syndication for some unknown reason) there were Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson. Here's a picture of them in their groovy glory (Kate is the one on the left.)


Kate (Sabrina on the show) was the kinda sporty, kinda smart one. She's cute, but not glamorous. She was eager and had a big smile, but no one ever fantasized about Kate Jackson...

Back to the present and my hair and what Charlie's Angles has to do with it all:
Right after I thought I looked like me again, it hit me that I also looked like Kate Jackson again.

So what does my Kate Jackson hair say about me? That if there is going to be a photo shoot they're going to hand me the walkie-talkie/tape recorder thing and not the pistol. Which is sad because I would really like to use the pistol.

That I would be a terrible spy who would tell everyone everything I know just so we could be friends.

It says that if you need a party guest who will talk to anyone, I'm your girl. Honestly, I have been told many times that my job at a party is to talk to the uncomfortable people and give them something to say.

You don't send Farrah to make shy people feel more comfortable.

At least I am aware of what my hair is telling the world. I am not glamorous. I'm the friendly face who will ask interested questions and show unbridled enthusiasm about dry topics like the Roman Empire and medieval warfare. I am good at reading stories to little kids (I am very animated and do voices). I can make you laugh in just about any circumstance, even at a funeral.
There are certainly worse things to be than the less-sexy Angel. Bosley, for instance.

So what does your hair say about you?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Best Mom Tip #148: Sing happy birthday anyway

The President and I share a birthday.

His 50th is front page news for some reason. My 35th is mostly remarked upon by my mother and Facebook. (BTW, thanks for the Facebook wishes, guys.) It's not that I don't feel lucky and loved in my life, but I do start to feel like I may not actually be "special."

You know how when we were little kids and our elementary school counselors told us things like, "you are all unique" and "everyone is special." Never mind that those are blatantly untrue statements that grossly misrepresent the definitions of both unique and special. It seemed like a nice thing to say and I always thought I was pretty special, if I did say so myself.

It turns out that, again based on my information from Facebook, I am not. A lot of us seem to be living quite similar lives. We are parents and spouses and employees. Some are divorced, some stay home with their kids. But pretty much, we are all just living our relatively quiet lives.

I somehow do not think that I will be running the nation in 15 years. Nor do I think that in 3 years I will be gracing the cover of a magazine like 38-year-old Heidi Klum is on the cover of this month's Marie Claire.

I get Marie Claire because in a bizarre twist of irony, I am rewarded for consistent recycling by earning random magazine subscriptions. I also get O.

The Heidi Klum article points out that she gets her great shape by "chasing her kids around" and strength training. I am so tired of celebrities who say they are in shape because they chase their kids. Where are their kids going and are they hopped up on drugs that they are so difficult to catch that it burns calories? They also say horseback riding a lot, but doesn't that seem like more of a workout for the horse?

Anyway, I guess I feel old. I am middle-aged. I am not going to be the president or on the cover of a magazine. Although why I am so annoyed by a German supermodel, I do not know. I blame Project Runway and an affinity for Michael J. Fox in Spin City.

My kids, and this is where they really come in handy, are ecstatic that it is my birthday. They have been "decorating." Which I will have to clean up tomorrow, but still. They got out party hats from Harry's birthday and wore them to breakfast. They are thrilled that there will be cake tonight with dinner.

I may not be happy about getting older, but we're singing happy birthday anyway.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Best Mom Tip #147: Read this in New Hampshire

You know how you're supposed to leave questions blank on the SAT if you don't know the answer? Yeah, I couldn't do that. I filled in a bubble on every line no matter what.

It drives me nuts when Jay leaves open the kitchen cabinets because there is now a gaping hole.

In my music appreciation class in college our professor told us a legend about, ummmm.... let's say... Mozart, and how his mom/paramour/whatever woke him up with an unfinished cadence. Like playing "shave-and-a-haircut" but leaving off the "two-bits." Mozart (or whoever this is about) would have to get out of bed just to play the last couple of notes. Obviously I don't remember any other details about this legend except that that would drive me nuts, too.

I have a problem with unfinished things.

Well, unfinished irrelevant things, at least. Pile of laundry on the bed/chair/pool table--no problem. Half of the dishes unloaded from the dishwasher--that's how it's supposed to look.

But putting down a book in the middle of a chapter? Beginning a pattern of anything and not being able to complete it? These things drive me absolutely nuts to the point that I will give up sleep and forgo dessert to take care of them.

So what does that have to do with New Hampshire? Just this: Blogger lets you see a map overlay of where in the world people have seen your blog. Although people in over 100 countries have accidentally found their way here, no one in New Hampshire ever has.

It's the only state not represented. It drives me crazy that the whole map is green...except for New Hampshire. I don't even know what Blogger is tracking when it tells me this and it still annoys me. For all I know New Hampshire doesn't have it's own system and any views from there show up as Vermont. They are really close together. And seem to be hugging.

But, really, no one? Ever? I mean, I have readers in India (what's up New Delhi?!!). And Iran. And once, someone in the Sudan stumbled here. How is it that no one in New Hampshire has ever wanted to buy their mom a "you're the best mom" t-shirt and clicked on my blog by mistake? Go ahead, google "best mom." You'll see what I mean.

So, help out a neurotic and obsessive person. Get someone in New Hampshire to read this so I can move on with my life.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Best Mom Tip #146: Don't take your kids to the doctor

O.k, I guess that you have to take your kids to the doctor. It's probably illegal or something to deny them medical care. I did read an article recently about a woman who remembers being told by her Christian Scientist parents that her chicken pox were only in her mind and that she should pray them away, so I guess that's an option.

Until I convert, however, I have to keep taking them (oftentimes en masse) to see various medical professionals. Today it was Baby Harry and the dermatologist. I don't know what it is about dermatological diseases, but they all sound awful.

I have a friend whose kid had a rash called giovanni crosti (or something that sounds like that-I never actually saw it written down). However you spell it, it sounds like something crusty you picked up on the subway while headed to Little Italy.

We took Harry to see if he had a thing called molluscum contagiosum. Which, because I am a nerd, made me think he had been cursed by a 3rd year from Hogwarts and that clams would soon be spreading across his body.

That's not what he has, actually, so if you were planning on coming to my house for dinner anytime soon there's no reason to throw up.

What I really don't like about taking kids to the doctor is that it involves a lot of intense sitting still. I say intense because I expend a lot of energy trying to keep everyone else still. I bribe them with snacks, electronic games, special toys-all in the hopes that no one will melt down until I understand what's wrong with the sick kid.

Today, as we were leaving, a mom told her very nice teenage boy to get the door for me. The problem was that I needed to unfold the double stroller and in those moments Griffin ran out the open door and down the hall of the office building. I had to put Harry down on the floor, put down my bag, the diaper bag, and the notes from the doctor, and chase him down.

I got back to the office door just as Harry was making his way out. That teenage kid politely held the door open the entire time. I'm sure our exit made all the other patients happy not to be me today.

There is nothing fun about taking kids to the doctor. Except maybe the princess stickers.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Best Mom Tip #145: Spend a day with my son

I'm talking about my oldest son and you can't really spend a day with him unless I already know you and you are offering free baby sitting. But, trust me, he is hilarious.

Griffin is not quite three and I'll be amazed if he makes it to elementary school without breaking a bone. I've mentioned several times that he runs around a lot. My brother says that he just runs until he hits something and that seems to be a pretty good assessment.

I have entered rooms to find him on top of our pool table, hiding in the back of my closet, under the dining room table, under a pile of bedding creating a small giggling lump, and standing in his window sill hiding behind the blinds.

This week he used an entire roll of scotch tape to create "reins" for a pair of horses (2 bar stools) that he was using to pull his carriage (kitchen chair). He uses a set of plastic keys to "start" his rocking moose (exactly like a rocking horse, but 50 bucks cheaper). He pretends to put on his fire hat, goggles, jacket, and helmet every time we get into our mini-van/fire engine.

This is Griffin attempting to squeeze through the bars onto the White House lawn while encouraging his sister to do the same thing. He has very little respect for rules he does not understand. Which is most of them.





This is Griffin attempting to push over the command module from Apollo 11 at the National Air and Space Museum. He seems to think that he can do things like this.




Here's the funniest thing that he has said lately:

Griffin loudly passes gas.
Jay: Do you need to go potty, buddy?
Griffin: Nah, dat's just magic.

I've heard it called a lot of things, but a magical wind that comes from your behind is a first.

I love this kid. He yelled yee-haw when he saw videos of paratroopers invading on D-Day. He offers to fight bad guys he hears about from books/tv/adult conversations. He would love to be an astronaut/cowboy/fireman/football player. He also really loves to dance. I cannot wait to see what he becomes....unless he's in jail. That's always a possibility.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Best Mom Tip #144: Learn Vacation Accounting

We just got home from our family vacation. Here's a recap by the numbers:


3 cities visited with three kids in tow. Philly, D.C, and Baltimore were great fun. We got to show the kids some American history, teach them more about how to travel, and sort of feel like we got to go on a real vacation again.

MINUS (-)
500 dollars over budget because we forgot how expensive it is to feed 5 people when you eat out every meal. Literally every meal. We got pretty creative about ordering three meals to divide by 5 people, buying milk every chance we got so we always had some for Baby Harry, and giving the kids watered down juice to drink.

PLUS (+)
123 minutes spent in the Hahnemann hospital ER in Philadelphia. Harry had a mild case of croup, but the ER was our only real option at that point. That's why I found myself walking along the streets of Philly at 5:58 AM carrying my baby to a hospital I've never seen. I shared the dawn with hospital staff on their way to work and the battered and bruised homeless population heading out the doors to face another scorching day in the sun. It did not help that the preserved historic facade looked like a place where blood might rush out of the elevators and deceased patients may pull your life support plug.

PLUS (+)
8 modes of transportation. We saw two airports and three train stations. We drove in cabs, buses, and vans. We took the Metro in DC and walked miles and miles both there and in Philly. Of all the things we did, I think our kids liked the subway the best because it involved tickets, gates, and poles to hold on to. Finally, we drove on home in our faithful minivan where Griffin fell asleep in 2 minutes. Really. He was asleep before we got to the gate to pay for parking.

PLUS (+)
100 degree weather for 4 straight days. We are from Atlanta and we know what hot feels like. I am used to sweat that trickles down the backs of my knees because just standing outside makes you sweat. I know what it is like to get so hot that you get the chills. It was that hot and we were outside in it with our sweet babies. We made sure everyone drank lots and lots and we went back to the hotel after lunch every day to cool off. My cheesesteak would probably have tasted better if I hadn't been sweating while eating it.

PLUS (+)
261 times we had to pick Griffin up off of the ground because he fell/found something shiny/wanted to crawl into a hiding place/just likes falling. He careened around our hotel room until he ran into the wall and gave himself a black eye. He crawled on the floor of our hotel rooms, the buses, and every museum we entered. Why does he do that?

PLUS (+)
2 reminders of why we don't go on guided tours. We heard a "man" who may have been a really good robot tell us about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theater (while Griffin crawled around on the floor, naturally) and suffered through a description of the room where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed (while Griffin stood over an air conditioning vent giggling and yelling, "dat's COLD!"). We did not realize that either of these events involved listening to a park ranger or we would not have entered. You don't willingly take the bull into the china shop.

PLUS (+)
4 good friends who hosted us in their home in Baltimore. Kim (one of my college roommates) and her family picked us up from the train station, let us play with their toys, fed us Maryland crab cakes, and took us to the airport the next day. We got to tour their lovely town, chat with Kim's hilarious 3-year-old daughter (she has an imaginary deceased husband named Coco), and play some kind of dancing game on the Wii that I loved.

EQUALS (=)
1 great vacation that let us prove to ourselves that one day we might actually be able to return to Europe and show our kids what we love about our favorite places in the world. What joy it will be to get to tell Griffin to get up off the floor of the Louvre, the Coliseum, the Tower of London...


Monday, July 4, 2011

Best Mom Tip #143: Relive the moment

I have been out of town for a while and I was in a horrible vortex where the wi-fi was reeeaaallly slow and my phone's apps wouldn't work. At least there was a Starbucks outpost in the resort. I was surrounded by teenagers because I was chaperoning a trip for our church and they couldn't fix it, either, so I know it wasn't my fault.

Anyway, so instead of focusing on one moment, I thought I'd share a few of the single points in time of the last week that made me smile, laugh, and feel very grateful.

Talking Stuffed Animals:
When I was on my way home from the trip and I texted Jay that he needed to come pick me up, this was his reply:

"I know. Griffin said it was time to pick you up. His moose told him so." I don't know if I should be freaked out that the boy takes information from his rocking moose seriously, but at least it was accurate.

Wildlife Sightings:
Charlotte and I had this conversation:
Me: Look, a bunny is right over there!
Charlotte: It's just like my purple bunny! Except that it's not purple and it's real. And it's a different size. Oh, a BUNNY!

I love that the word bunny is all her stuffed animal and the real rabbit had in common, but for Charlotte it was a love connection.

A Grateful Nation:
At Harry's 1-year-old birthday party, my dad asked my brother-in-law what he was actually doing all day. Since he's in training to be a Green Beret, this is not as rude of a question as it might seem. He (my brother-in-law) said that he was mostly in classes all day at this point, but that it "would be nice to finally get back out to working." You know, where people shoot at him. And other mean stuff. That's what he'd like to get back to doing. I am so grateful that good men stand in the gap for the rest of us in horrible situations here and abroad. And that they are really great uncles when they're in my home.

Misinterpretations:
Charlotte: I know how to get to Aunt Hellen's house, Daddy.
Jay: Good, you can be my navigator.
Griffin: She is NOT an alligator! YOU'RE an alligator!

Way to defend your sister, Bud. Much as it frightens me, I have a feeling you might be one of those men in the gap when you get older.

One Small Step for a Man:
Harry took his first steps this afternoon. There were just a few of them, but they counted. What encouraged him to make that giant leap? Homemade ice cream on the 4th of July. How great is that?

I am lucky and so grateful. The rewind of this busy week has been fun to watch over and over again.

And how was my trip to the beach with no internet access? Pretty good. According to the Panama City Beach ABC affiliate, I participated in the world's largest single-site flash mob. Although, I highly doubt we set any kind of a record, it was great fun. Take a look at it below.




Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Best Mom Tip #142: Go to the movies

I fell in love with the movies in the summer of 1982 when my mom drove around town picking up my friends to take us all to see ET for my birthday. It was brutally hot (because it was August in Georgia) and I was so excited to be riding in a car with several other kids.

There were not enough seat belts, of course, but that was not a deterrent. We got someone from daycare without my mom being a relative or on the approved "pick up" list. We were allowed to go to the bathroom in pairs, but without an adult. My little girl is about the same age as I was that summer and I cannot see letting her take just a friend to the bathroom at our movie theater.

But in 1982 seat belts weren't required, if you told the daycare someone else would be picking up your kid it was fine, and being unsupervised for any length of time was allowed if you were with your friends and in a "safe" place.

I cried throughout the entire movie. In the beginning I was scared of the spaceship and the men running through the woods, in the middle I was so sad that ET had died, and at the end, I cried for joy that he was going home. It was the first time I understood the concept of happy tears.

Jay and I saw Super 8 this past weekend and it took me back to the moment when Steven Speilberg and I began an abiding relationship, the depth of which only I am aware. Indiana Jones was my first crush. I was really worried when the Gremlins started to eat after midnight. I wanted to be one of those kids in Goonies.

I got carried away and taken to a place of magic and possibility. I love fantasy and sci-fi, action and adventure, movies where stuff blows up, movies where there's love and magic, movies where there's strength and honor, movies about WWII, movies about the future or teen werewolves or boy wizards (although that really is born from a love of books). I do not like horror movies.

After Super 8 I had that same warm fuzzy feeling I got as a kid. The alien really wasn't that bad and he was going home. Jay and I held hands and I grabbed his arm every time I jumped from a monster appearance. We got popcorn and coke and m&ms.

I know not everyone enjoys movies like I do, but it is important to have those dates where you lean into your spouse, are allowed to snuggle in public, and get to eat chocolate without sharing any with your children.

I can't wait for our next date night and whatever magic our next movie might hold.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Best Mom Tip #141: Get a lucky number

WARNING: This is not particularly funny. More schmaltzy, with a touch of melodrama.

Yesterday Jay and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary on the 13th of the month. Traditionally, 13 has had a somewhat sordid past. Hotels avoid a 13th floor and Friday the 13th can apparently cause the mass murders of stupid teenagers. I think this bad image has something to do with there having been 13 people at the Last Supper before Jesus was crucified, but there's probably some pagan ritual from the Celts in there as well. I don't really care, honestly.

What I do care about is that we've made it this far. I have lived a lot of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. My childhood, and Jay's as well, taught us early on that life can turn on a dime. Each milestone, each year that we make it without disaster amazes and humbles me.

Both sets of our parents got kicked in the teeth in their 30s. Jay's mom and dad went out on a date one Friday night in February and his father died in the movie theater. Suddenly. We'll never really know why. Jay was 8.

My father began his overt fight with mental illness while my mother was pregnant with my brother. No one knew what to say, his illness wasn't considered a medical disability at the time, and we spent a lot of time with Daddy in hospitals on floors we were too young to visit. My mother had to drag 4-year-old me screaming from the hospital that Daddy is NOT sick, I can see him right there.

But nothing has happened to us so far. We've had three children without incident. We're older than both my mom and dad were when my dad got sick. We are older than Jay's mom was when she became a widow. And yesterday, we were married longer than Jay's parents were before his father died.

Jay is still younger than his father was when he died and I am still younger than my mother was when she developed her own near-fatal illness, but we've passed a lot of the milestones I really didn't think I'd see without some sort of disaster. I wish I could say that I now live without the fear and I just enjoy every day as it comes, but I am not that peaceful.

I am so grateful for what I have and I am stunned that it has all gone so well so far, but I still get afraid of what is around the corner. I'm hopeful for our future, whatever that may hold. I am excited that I get to share my life with my best friend and I am glad I made such a good choice when I was still more kid than adult.

That other shoe could totally fall and beat me about the head and shoulders, but for right now, 13 feels lucky.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Best Mom Tip #140: Cover everything in Lysol

You know what's disgusting? Children.

You know what's disgusting by association? My entire life.

I just scrubbed pee off of the bathroom wall. How my 2-year-old managed to get it higher than the height of his head is quite impressive and I'm sure that gift will win him bets in his teen years. But I don't ever want to know about that.

I don't want to know when other people are constipated.

I don't want to have bloody slobber wiped all over my shoulder because my baby son busted his lip while crawling too fast on the linoleum.

On some days, I manage to forget how gross my life is--I clean things up quickly and work the nasty (and I don't mean the funny/slutty kind) into the sweet and cuddly and it all seems worth it.

On other days, like today, I am so grossed out by my offspring that I am seriously considering going back to work (as a public high school teacher, mind you) just so I will be around cleaner people. That is sad.

I will never be able to touch that bathroom again until after I've coated the entire thing in Lysol. Thus far, I have scrubbed the toilet, the floor, and the bathtub. I've cleaned the sink and the walls. The walls, for pete's sake. I'm glad I had the foresight to use washable paint in there.

I find it disheartening to realize that the only time I will not have to deal with others' disgusting messes are the few years between when they all move out and before they start having their own children. That is at least 17 years from now, so I won't be holding my breath.

Speaking of holding my breath, what is that smell? Ohhhh, it's one of my children. How surprising. Gotta go change a diaper.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Best Mom Tip #139: Repeat what SHE said

Have you ever seen The Office? Of course you have. You don't live under a rock, for heaven's sake. Then you've also seen Michael Scott say, "that's what she said." It's an adolescent sexual innuendo joke that Jay and I use. A lot. I mean a lot, a lot. Here are some examples:

Me: (talking about potty training) It's disgusting and it's so hard.
Jay: That's what she said.

Me: (after a kid threw a towel on me) Why is there a towel on my head?
Jay: That's what she said.
Me: Wait, what? Why would she say that?

Jay: (talking about work) I'm just so tired of this every day.
Me: That's what she said.

Me: (searching through our unfolded laundry) I can't find any underwear!
Jay: That's what she said.

Jay: (commenting on how long it takes to leave the house with all of our kids) It just takes forever.
Me: That's what she said.

Jay: (trying to organize the garage) I can't figure out where to put everything.
Me: That's what she said.

Me: (washing dishes with our broken faucet that sprays water at my stomach) Why do I keep getting wet?!
Jay: That's what she said.

In our world SHE has a pretty bumbling sex life that is confused, chaotic, and possibly involves bondage (what with that towel on her head and all).

But it makes us laugh and giggle and puts our minds in the gutter instead of on our tree-lined suburban street (complete with HOA covenants and reminders to cut our grass).

Throwing in a naughty joke or two draws out the playful side of our relationship in the midst of the nagging problems of parenthood and home ownership. It all comes down to this: Do whatever it takes to make it last...

That's what she said.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Best Mom Tip #138: Buy some dark chocolate

I am incapable of giving up sweets. I can do it for a week or two and once I gave up chocolate for Lent, but that's about it. At the end of the abstinence period I go right back to searching for sugar in my cabinets.

I have tried not buying anything sweet at all so that I won't be able to eat anything bad for me. I just wait for the kids to go to bed before I make up reasons for Jay to need to go to the grocery store and say, "while you're there...buy a half gallon of ice cream and a big bag of M&Ms."

I will also make up sweet things from the dregs in my pantry. Milk and powdered sugar makes a pretty good frosting for Teddy Grahams. Once I just ate chocolate syrup by itself. It was really hard to lick the bottom of the glass. In addition, I have sprayed aerosol whipped cream directly into my mouth like I was a hungover frat guy. Unfortunately, I had to stop doing that when the kids got old enough to recognize the sound of the can.

I've tried buying my favorite sweet things (cookies, ice cream) and just eating reasonable portions. It seems that I do not have an off switch until I feel like I am going to throw up. I will buy a tube of pre-made cookie dough and eat the entire thing with a spoon, somehow convincing myself that they pasteurized it and I will, therefore, not be on the news for dying from salmonella contracted from eating a food that is clearly marked "do not eat dough raw."

I will buy a bag of M&Ms and pound them by the fistful while watching Sister Wives on TV until I notice that the bag is significantly lighter. For instance. (BTW, why did moving to Vegas solve their problem with the polygamy investigation. Is everything really legal in Vegas?)

So my solution is that every week I buy one Lindt 70% Cocoa candy bar. I eat one or two squares at night with my Coke Zero after the kids are in bed. Sometimes I eat one in the middle of the day when I cannot stand hearing someone else say, "mommy."

Sometimes I eat 4 of them and then buy more M&Ms and eat those, too, but that isn't all that often and seems to be tied to potty training.

I realize that I still have some sort of problem with dealing with stress that I am burying beneath a layer of flab and some really wrinkly stomach skin. But at least the flab isn't getting much larger. For now.