Monday, August 29, 2011

Housework Blows

I have heard tales of people whose children joyfully help clean the house; whose homes are neat and organized; who cheerfully fold laundry and scrub doodie out of the toilet bowl with a smile on their faces.

These people are either heavily drugged or liars.

Because I have never, ever, met a real life mom who did not (at least once) feel like it would be easier to just burn the fucker down and start from scratch than to get it all clean.

It's an impossibility. There is always something to do. Get all the laundry done? They wear more clothes. Wash the dishes? They insist on eating again. Mop the floor? Some dog comes along and rubs her impacted anal glands on it and gets butt juice all over the place.

I'm a pretty organized person. I am a clean person. If I lived alone, I could probably manage something close to sparkly. Add in these other people (and dog) and I have to bust my ass to keep us off Hoarders.

Every few months, I call a family meeting and give my State of the House Address.

OK, you guys. I really need you to pitch in! Girls, that means keeping your rooms neat!
Oh, yes, Mommy! We will.
And putting away your clothes.
And helping Mommy clear the table!
Look! Something shiny!

And I lose them.

Like most kids, they help, but rarely willingly. Every time I ask them to do something, it's like the first time.

Hey, guys. Please set the table.
Whaaaaat? Set the table? What do you mean? Why do we have to set the table?
Katie, put your clothes away.
Whaaaaat? Again? I just did that yesterday?

Several years ago, I helped facilitate a women's group aimed at helping mothers grow and develop a deeper spiritual life (totally worked, obviously). One of the catch phrases of the program was 'Ordinary Holiness' - finding joy in the every day. So that when you're folding clothes or preparing a meal for your family, you recognize it as an act of love.

Based on the state of my laundry room, I love my family a lot.

While I appreciate the idea, and do embrace my work in our home on one level, on another level I just want everyone to pick their shit up. Mama gets tired. So the Husband and I have decided to work on it as a family, and he's asked me to figure out what I want done, and how I want it done, and then to ask them to do it.

Easier said than done. So, I'm taking any and all suggestions on what works for your family. How do you get them to pitch in?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

With Friends Like These...

My family moved a good bit when I was a child and, as a result, I never attended the same school for more than two years. So, as Katie enters 5th grade at the same school she's attended since kindergarten, walking into the building is a little like coming home.
First day of 5th grade!
 This school is like a family, and like all families, there are the people you love and the people that you wish would move across the country. With three or four classes per grade level, Katie's been in class with just about all of the kids in her grade by now. It's fun going in and getting hugs from little girls I've known for several years, or taught in a Brownie troop, or helped in class with. It's nice to see little bitties growing into young men and women. They are so sweet, and so decent, and still mostly innocent.


I've always said that I would never tell my children who they could be friends with, as long as the friends weren't involved in dangerous or morally repugnant behavior. I love saying 'morally repugnant'! And really, the worst thing we've run across in our little rural elementary school is the occasional middle finger and one kid who peed in a water bottle on a dare. It has been, at best, low level hooliganism.

Which makes it even harder when Katie has friends that I just don't like. Or, worse, who's parents I just don't like. I can't say, "Hey, Katie. Don't hang out with that person because she's rude and her mom is a bigot." I won't ever disallow my child to be friends with a person based on their race or religious beliefs or where they live or their socio-economic bracket. So I can't disallow it when the kid is just a jerk.

So what can I do? I can't go around kicking asses, though I've said "I'm going to kick that kid's ass!" through clenched teeth on more than one occasion. I can try my best to teach my children to be friends with people who are kind and considerate and polite, at least most of the time. I can tell them what good people they are, so they believe they are deserving of friends who don't treat them like a doormat. I can give them confidence, so that when the day comes that they have to look a kid in the eye and tell them to back off, they can do it. I can teach them to be a good friend.

I hope it's enough. I can't protect them entirely from bullies and hurt and lost friendships and broken hearts. I can give them what tools I can, and be there to help them pick up the pieces when they don't work. I will try to be an advocate when necessary, and stand back when needed. And kick ass, if it comes to it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


My 39th birthday is in just a couple of days, and while the thought of being a mere year away from 40 is not particularly disturbing, it is a little freaking weird.

Because I am clearly not old enough to be 40. Or 39, for that matter.

While I say I'm not affected by the number, I am doing things that show evidence to the contrary. Casually inquiring about the cost of Botox. Using more Ben Gay than normal. Growing hair from my chin. There are some things that  I can not control. Then there are the things that I can. To that end, I've made a list of 39 things I'd like to do while I'm 39.

1. Say "I'm with the band." and have it be true.
2. Purchase new bath towels. Nice ones. I am too old to be using shitty towels.
3. Get paid to write something. Done! Thanks, BlogHer, for syndication.
4. Go on an overnight trip with my husband, without the kids.
5. Learn how to drive a stick shift. That's embarrassing.
6. Yell "And the horse you rode in on!" at someone in a fit of rage.
7. Take a golf lesson.
8. Read "Gone With the Wind" instead of just claiming to have read it.
9. Get diapers out of my house FOREVER.
10. Go camping with my family. Apparently, the Husband thinks it's a good way to 'make memories' and 'bond as a family'. I originally typed 'bong as a family', which sounds like a lot more fun.
11. Catch up on the kids' baby books. This may be the most unrealistic item on the list.
12. Put pictures in all the frames around the house that don't have pictures in them or, worse, have the pictures that came with the frames.
13. Keep up with current events. On a Weekly Reader level, at minimum.
14. Sort through/get rid of all the boxes of toys, books and dolls from my childhood, that I have been moving around (in the same boxes) for the past 20 years. Done!
15. Beat my high score on Tetris.
16. Find something new to do with chicken.
17. Redecorate my bedroom. Or at least hang a picture on the wall. We've only been in this house 8 years, it's time I got to it.
18. Get a celebrity to retweet me.
19.Write letters to the teachers who made a difference in my life, thanking them.
20. Make a better effort to stay in contact with my brothers.
21. Teach Julia to ride a bike without training wheels.
22. Paint my laundry room a ridiculously bright color so my brain will be tricked into thinking laundry is 'fun!'.
23. Throw more dinner parties.
24. Make coq au vin.
25. Learn all the words to Northfield: The Disaster.
26. Spend more one on one time with my kids.
27. Sleep through the night, at least once.
28. Become a "Blog of Note" on Make it so!
29. Drink less Coke. Done!
30. Drink more beer. Done, really well.
31. Make jam, can it and give it as Christmas gifts in an effort to be thrifty. End up spending more on supplies, jars, cute ribbons and labels than I would have spent on a regular gift that didn't take me 4 days to make.
32. Start a fire using only a magnifying glass to harness the power of the sun.
33. Find out exactly how many mini-marshmallows I can fit in my mouth at once. Done!
34. Make something crafty and useful. Instead of just seeing something and thinking "Oh, I could make that!" and then going out and buying it.
35. Plan a huge benefit gala for charity. Done!
36. Fight for my right to party.
37. Have a family portrait made. The last family picture we have features only one child. Done!
38. Be less sensitive to criticism.
39. Play more. Work less.

Some of them are hard. Some of them, not so much. But I'm going to give them all a try, and I'll keep you updated over the next year. Wish me luck!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day Tripping

But first, how do you like the new look? This beautiful design is by the awesomely talented and delightful J. Rose of Cheeseblarg (which, if you don't follow, you should). My guidelines were something along the lines of "If William Morris worked at Pottery Barn. Oh, and birds." Pretty impressive, right? She also sells Cheeseblarg-y things, and does some really beautiful portraiture. If you're in the market for something arty, I recommend her highly. 

Summer is winding down, and we now have less than a week before Katie starts 5th grade. It has been a fun and fast summer, and I want these last few days to leave us all with enough warm fuzzies to get through the winter.

So Thursday morning the children and I drove an hour south-ish to Lazy 5 Ranch, a drive through zoo with zebras, sheep, cows, pigs, llamas, and about 5 million ugly ass ostriches.

Within about 30 seconds of rolling through the gate, the ugly ass ostriches were all up in our shit, coming right in the windows.
The girls started screamy laughing, Julia spilled half of her $3 bucket of feed all over herself, and poor baby Henry was going "EEEEE! ACK ACK ACK! EEEEE!" which is toddler for "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE!" I was laughing so hard I thought I would pee. It was awesome. Once we got over the initial shock of the up close and personal Wild Kingdom encounter, we had the best time. We slowly drove around the zoo, feeding animals, watching, snapping pictures and laughing.
This one's for you, Jodee!

Henry even got a little cat nap.Or maybe it was a llama nap.
 Then today we drove to Raleigh and the Marbles Kids Museum. It wasn't quite as exciting as Lazy 5, but we had a good time.
Ha ha! Safety goggles! It's not like I'd actually allow my 4 year old to use real tools!
Goodbye, Summer.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An Apology to My Brother

My brother Mike is the father of three boys. Three boys who are very boy. I remember clearly one visit to their home, when my youngest nephew was two-ish. I spent the entire time suffering from acute anxiety as I watched the boy scale everything in sight, stand in the middle of the kitchen table and yell, and come thisclose to grave injury approximately every five minutes. It was harrowing, to say the least.

And I judged.

Katie was the kind of baby (and toddler, and child) who would keep you on your toes verbally, but would never even consider getting into, well, anything. Julia presents her own unique challenges, but I can generally turn my back on her for more than 3 seconds without disaster.

Then there's Henry.

When my mom told my brother I was having a boy, he laughed. A lot. Hard. I maintained my superior attitude, and even coached my little babe in the womb.

"You are the compliant child. You listen to Mommy. You are a good boy."

For the first year of his life, he did indeed comply. Mostly. He is a sweet natured boy, very loving and cute and funny and charming. I mean, look at the kid!
The picture of innocence.
Sunday, the Husband and I watched for 20 minutes as Henry threw the mother of all tantrums. He lay face up, with only his feet and the top of his head touching the ground, screaming and pushing himself around the room.

What is wrong with him? 
I don't know.
Is he sick?
I don't know.
Should we take him to the hospital?
I don't know.   

He pushed himself under one side of the crib and out the other. I put him in the bath, screaming. I took him out, still screaming.
Is he having some sort of psychotic break?
I don't know.
Well, what is the matter?
I don't know!

I took him outside, naked, and he stopped screaming. He smiled.

He is nuts.
I know.

The face of an angel, the mind of an benevolent dictator.

He climbs the unclimbable. He opens the unopenable. He eats the inedible (Fireplace rocks? Really?). He misses corners by fractions of an inch a million times a day. He is two handfuls. All the while (usually) maintaining a sweet disposition and impish smile that makes it completely impossible to be angry with him.

I thought of my brother, and my nephews, this morning as Henry pushed his highchair over to the table, climbed up on the table and then onto the tray of the highchair, all in the time it took me to look down and dial the phone. I thought of him when I didn't panic and run, but merely sighed and got him down. Again.

Compliant children make for self righteous parents. My apologies to you, my brother - I hope you're enjoying seeing this one bite me in the ass.*
 *Henry hasn't actually bitten me in the ass. Yet.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fight! Fight! Fight!

A friend of mine with a notoriously sharp wit is in a fairly new marriage. She mentioned today that she managed to suppress her snark in an argument with her husband, taking the high road and diffusing the situation.

Screw that.

The Husband and I have fine tuned our arguments to the point where they don't even require direct interaction.

"What was that look for?" 
And I say, "What look?"
"Oh, you know exactly! What? Now I'm the crazy one? I'm the asshole? Of course, it's all my fault. It always is. You always manage to turn it around and make it my fault."
"I haven't said anything!"
"You don't need to!"

(I will admit to there sometimes being a look. Don't tell him I said that.)

Our fights almost always end the same way. After a brief cooling off period, he will sidle up and put his arms around me.
"You know you can't be mad at meeeeeee."

If I'm the one reconciling, I'll do something like stick my butt out at him and make fart noises and call him a poo poo face. Because I have the emotional maturity of a 12 year old boy. We may differ in our approaches, but the goal is the same.

But here's something we do very wrong - we fight in front of the children. Granted, our fights are generally snippy fits, and don't entail cursing and throwing and stomping. At worst, there may be some intense teeth-clenching or eyebrow arching. But the kids know what's going on.

"Stop it, you guys!" the girls will say. "Be nice to each other! You love each other!"  We look down at those earnest little faces and feel guilty and silently promise not to do it again. And when they say "Now kiss and hug.", we do.

Because showing them how to make up is even more important.

No segue, just a cute picture taken this weekend. Julia is engrossed, Katie is bored, and Henry is bummed. Yes, I did let him eat it. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Advice for the First Time Parent

A local parenting website posted the question "What is your best advice for new parents?", and received the typical responses. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Enjoy them when they're little. They grow up so fast! But no one hit on the really important things, the things that, when you're pacing the living room at 3 a.m. with a screaming baby, you think "Why the hell didn't anyone tell me this?".

And since there are few things I like more than giving unsolicited advice (you may remember my Advice for the New Father), I'll add to the list.

1. No one thinks your baby is as special as you do. Really. He's cute, he's snuggly, he's shoots magical rainbow poo poos out of his butt. But don't get upset if your friends hide you on Facebook after your umpteenth "Junior had a big stinky!" status update.

2. Everyone is an expert. They all have an opinion on everything, from how you feed your baby to how you diaper them, to how to get them to sleep. Smile graciously, say "Thank you so much." and then go form your own opinion. Sometimes people are right, sometimes they're wrong. You'll figure it out.

3. Your mom doesn't remember as much as she thinks. When is the last time she took care of a baby? 25, 30 years ago? Our parents are great resources, and grandparents are such a special part of a child's life, but old people have bad memories. So when your mom starts saying stuff like "You potty trained at 5 months old!" and "You ate pureed hot wings out of your bottle!", see #2.

4. Things will never get back to normal. Because there's a new normal, and you'd better get used to it.

5. You can't spoil a baby. Period.

6. Leave the house, often, with and without your baby. Go on walks. Go to the store. Go visit a friend. Go to a playgroup (and when they're little, the playgroup is totally for you. Everyone there understands.)

7. Research everything, write down a detailed plan, then set it on fire, because it is completely useless. Just when you think you have it figured out, your kid will pull some Jedi mind trick bullshit and you'll have to rethink everything. This is true times a million with subsequent children.

8. Be kind to your partner. It's not easy for them, they don't know what they're doing any more than you do, and you're probably making them feel like a real dumbass. This seems to be especially true of mothers towards fathers, as our natural instincts kick in. As our natural instinct is to think that new fathers are dumbasses.

9.  This is as easy as parenting will ever get. The sleepless nights, body issues, no time for intimacy, postpartum emotions, nipples of fire, overwhelming dread for the future - this is a piece of cake. That's fucked, right?

10. Recognize that all the cliches are true. You used to roll your eyes when people said it's like walking around with your heart on the outside, and now you get all lumpy throated and croak out "It's true!". Resist the temptation to buy inspirational posters featuring kitties.

But mostly, chill out. You are going to screw up so bad, so many times. Everyone does. Our best hope as parents should be to raise children that are loved and cherished, kind and compassionate, thoughtful and considerate. No pressure, though.

Good luck to us all.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course. Unless.

While cleaning up this morning, I picked Julia's plastic horse from up off the floor. It's your garden variety plastic horse, nothing special.

It doesn't move or whinny or light up or shoot realistic horse turds out of it's butt. It is so unremarkable, that I have never noticed one, very prominent, feature. Until I turned it over.

Yes, that is a wang. Based on my limited exposure to horse wangs, it is to scale:
I don't think Mr. Lincoln could have ever imagined his likeness being used in such a manner.

It reminded me of a trip to the Dallas Zoo when Katie was four or five. In the petting zoo, she stood with a horse - giving her best 'ta-da!' pose. But the picture comes across differently:
If you have plastic horses in your house, please go RIGHT NOW and check for weenies. I have to know if this is a widespread thing!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Brown Locker People

As we drove home this evening, I remarked on some teenage skateboarder dudes, hanging out in the strip mall parking lot (which seems to be the preferred hangout for skateboarder dudes since time immemorial). I noted that skateboarding never seems to go out of vogue, and I remember the group of them in our high school.

The Husband, who graduated from the same school several years ahead of me, says - "Ah, yes. Brown Locker People."

In our hippy-dippy, built in the 60s, Northern Californian high school, there were groups of lockers, arranged by color: Orange, Blue, and Brown. Regardless of your assigned locker color, you tended to migrate to where 'your people' hung out. Blue - freshmen, sophomores and nerds. Orange - jocks, princesses and upperclassmen. Brown - mods, artsy people, anyone engaging 'alternative' pursuits (including, apparently, skateboarding). People with asymmetrical haircuts.

"You were a brown locker person." he says to me.
"I most certainly was NOT! I had an orange locker." I replied
"Maybe. But you are a totally a brown locker person."


Then I started thinking about all the qualities I try to instill in my kids, all the things that I tell Katie about peer pressure, and fitting in, and self confidence. Be your own person, don't let anyone tell you what to like, or who to like. Don't be afraid to be smart. Stick up for what you believe in.

If I think back to high school, and beyond, it's those Brown Locker People who seemed to understand those lessons better than anyone. They thumbed their noses at convention, and did things because they loved doing them, and hung out with people who's company they genuinely enjoyed. What a concept! And what a display of courage from kids at a time in their life when conformity is king, and the wrong shoe can be social suicide.

While I was friends with many of those people, I wasn't entirely one of them. Because I was too scared to be - too frightened of being myself at all costs.

It's a fear that follows most of us into adulthood. It propels us through job interviews, keeps us company during endless cocktail hours, and dictates conversation with coworkers, clients and now - as a stay at home mom - other parents. I find myself gauging the sustainability of my friendships by what I can get away with saying. When I lamented my lack of ethnic friends to my Hispanic friend Y-, and said I should put a personal ad in the paper (MWF seeks Non-White Person for token friendship), she nodded with understanding instead of looking at me like I was insane. That is a good friend. When I casually mentioned boob sweat to a newish friend today, she didn't act disgusted, she talked about her own sweat. There is definite potential there.

It's only now, at nearly 40, that I realize most of us are brown locker people. We're just too timid to say what's on our minds, for fear of what someone else will think of us. I mean, who's going to throw boob sweat out as a conversation starter, when 'what I did on my summer vacation' is so much safer?

Let your freak flag fly, friends.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When Being a Little Kid Sucks

Julia has been engaging in non-stop naughtiness for a couple of days now. Yesterday, as we were buckling up in the car to go on a fabulous, fun and exciting trip, she decided she was just going to DIE if she didn't get a drink. The in-laws are standing in the driveway, I have the baby buckled in, and the two big kids in the back seat and it's hot and we're going to lunch first and I don't want to get her a drink. I just want her to zip her trap and sit down and let us get on the road.

But instead, she completely lost her shit. Crying, blubbering, arching her back, yelling. And she is so unbelievably loud. She opens her mouth and emits a sound that is like a tornado siren, "BUT I-I-I-I-IIII'MMMMM SO-OH-OH-OH-OH THIIIIIIRRRRSSSSSTY!" and the next thing I know, I am yanking her out of the car and carrying her inside, where I sit her on the counter, hold her face with my hands and get nose to nose with her.

You are not being a nice girl! You have been naughty all day! You hit your cousin! You tripped your brother! You are yelling and being naughty! What is wrong with you?

She looks at me with big, wet eyes, face streaked with tears, hair plastered to her head and, between great, wracking sobs says "I am only four years old! I just do these things!"


There is something about Julia that pushes every button I have. Whether it's her tenacity (relentless), her volume (supersonic), her temper (ferocious), when she wants to get under my skin, she can do it with lightening speed. I have lost my temper with her a shameful number of times. I have yelled and threatened and been less the kind of parent I want to be with her than my other children. Simply put, she makes me crazy.

Then she looks at me with that angelic face and says something like "I am only four years old! I just do these things!" and I remember that she is this very small person, who - more than anything in the world - wants and needs my love. It is very humbling.

Four is the kind of hard that I have no memory of. Four is just old enough to know what you want, but too little to know how to get it most of the time. Four is too small to soldier on when you're tired or hungry. Four is a black hole, attention sucking vortex. Four has no voice modulation. Julia at four is stuck in the middle, and that's a tough spot to be in at any age. She's spent the past couple of weeks trying to assert her place with the visiting grandparents and cousin. She has plenty of competition for their attention and affection, and it's been hard work for a little kid.

Tonight, everyone else (minus the baby) is out of the house. Julia and I played Hullabaloo and ate pizza and she is waiting patiently for her brother to go to sleep. Then we'll watch a movie together and she'll sleep in our room, cuddling close to me in the big bed. Because she needs to know that, to me, there is no Julia in the middle. That she isn't stuck there, between being the big kid and being the baby. That she is as special and loved and cherished as her brother and sister, even if she spends more time in the corner than either of them combined. She is, after all, only four years old. She just does those things.