Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Like the Song Says, I Will Survive

So Christmas is over and my mother-in-law has gone home. I've put all the empty bottles in the recycling bin, and we're digging out from under a mountain of presents. The kids have new toys and books to entertain themselves with, the grown ups have lots of bills to pay, and my house is, once again, my own.

I survived. And I even got a little insight out of it all.

On the plus side, my mother-in-law gave my kids her undivided attention and adoration for hours on end, taught my oldest how to do crossword puzzles, brought the kids two elusive and much-desired Zhu Zhu pets, took us out to eat twice, and listened to endless stories about things she has zero interest in (i.e., their friends, their classrooms, their dance teachers, their pet frogs, their toys, their theories on fashion and popularity). AND, after 11 years of marriage, I finally see where my husband gets his propensity for sighing and eye-rolling when he doesn't like the topic of conversation! So I've got that going for me.

On the negative side, I had to listen to her wax poetic about her son (yeah, I get it, he's Mr. Wonderful. I married him, remember, so I must think he's great, too. But YOU aren't picking up his stinky socks and dirty underwear off the bathroom floor anymore, lady. And if you'd taught him how to do it himself, maybe I wouldn't have to!) and use that annoyingly exaggerated tone of voice usually reserved for newborn babies or really, really stupid sales clerks when speaking to my (highly gifted) 5- and 7-year old. I had to endure comments like, "There are so many toys all over the floor that I'll have to take a circuitous route to the other side of the room. Do you know what a circuitous route is?" To which my Kindergartner replied, "Uh, yeah, I gotta go to the bathroom now," and bailed - throwing her older, more patient sister (who actually cares for social conventions and doesn't want to hurt her gramma's feelings by being rude) under the bus, and culminating in a seven-minute lecture on the origin and meaning of the word "circuitous". (See? "Culminating"? That's the way we talk around here. So I'm pretty sure they already know the meaning of just about any word you throw at them! And even if they didn't, they are FIVE and SEVEN! They don't need a lecture on word origins!) Add to that the near-constant hovering and the endless "Well, when MY kids were young..." - never mind that maybe the fields of medicine and education have undergone some advances in the, oh, I don't know, FORTY years since she gave birth. It's a wonder I didn't spend the entire week drunk off my ass.

So I started wondering if perhaps it's just because my MIL isn't local and has to sleep here (for days and days and days without leaving ever even once) when she visits. Would smaller, more frequent doses (without the 24-hour commentary on how I run my household???) be easier to take? Not according to my friend Michelle. She has a local MIL who is constantly underfoot, undermining her authority, undoing her best parenting. When I told her that I'd have to start faking sick pretty soon, since I couldn't be drunk 24/7 while my MIL visited, she said, "Why not? I've pretty much been drunk since 2002!"

(Before the AA people or Social Services get their tighty-whiteys in a bunch, I am NOT advocating that mommies drink to deal with their problems, their in-laws, or their kids. It's a joke, people. It may have a grain of truth in it; it IS much easier to take my MIL's thinly-veiled criticisms and creepy adoration of her son if I've had a glass of wine or two, but I am in no way advocating alcoholism as a panacea for the ills of extended family. Jeez. Relax.)

It's easy to say that any time you have visitors, it's stressful. But that's not necessarily true. My husband is the first one to admit that having my brothers, my sister's family, or my girlfriends and their kids is much easier and pretty much no-stress. Just a good time, even with 3 or 4 extra people under foot. Even having my own parents around is easier. For one, they stay in a hotel and just sort of come around for meals and occasions, so everyone has a little "time off". (And besides, my parents may be certifiably insane, but it's a familiar brand of crazy. I grew up with it, I understand it, I'm used to it. They may talk about their church and their health all the time, but these stories are actually new to me. They don't follow me around telling me the same stories over and over and over.) And having his mom here drives my husband up the wall, too. He's constantly on edge, irritated, irritable, looking for ways to escape for a few minutes. I've had to institute a few rules for when she visits:

1. You may not work late. For any reason. In fact, take those days off.
2. If you leave the house, take her with you.
3. You may not go to bed early and leave me alone with her.
4. If you break any rules, no sex for the duration of the visit. No exceptions.

Of course, even though she bugs him, too, my husband gets a little defensive when I rant and rave behind closed doors. I need to vent in order to make light of the situation and be able to calmly deal with his mother, and he's the one who's going to have to hear it. She bugs the crap out of him, too, but then he feels guilty about it. Which led to my latest revelation: You know how our moms can make us feel guilty REALLY, REALLY easily? Like, they can just raise an eyebrow and we are suddenly ten years old and KNOW we're in trouble? Well, the interesting thing about the mother-in-law scenario is this: There is no guilt. None. Nada. Zilch, zip, zero. No matter what she does to show or voice her disapproval, I just don't feel it. Our own parents can push the guilt buttons from across the room. Heck, they installed them; they know how to find them. But in-laws? It's like they don't even know the guilt button exists. Mother-in-law deflectors, activated!

Slacker Mom Says...whew! It's over and I survived another visit. Yes, it was only 6 days and yes, it was the right thing to do. But it was still hard. It still sucked to have to share my kids during an entire week of vacation, to have to smile and nod and listen to her unbridled, and frankly, a little too Oedipal, adoration of my husband. But my kids don't have local relatives, and it's good for them to see their grandmother. It's good for them to see us all together as a family. I can take just about anything for a week; this, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Always Happy Hour SOMEWHERE in the World...

My mother-in-law arrives in a few hours for her annual Christmas visit. I'm pretty much all set: The guest room is clean, the bathrooms are immaculate, the floors have been washed, her gifts are wrapped and under the tree...and I'll fire up the blender approximately 30 minutes after she arrives. I mean, come on, 2:00 isn't too early to start drinking, right? As my friend Jeanne says, it's already happy hour somewhere!

In the immortal words of Grace Adler, "Mother deflectors, activated!"

Don't get me wrong. She's a lovely woman, she means well, and she spoils us rotten. For Christmas, she bought me the coffee table I've coveted for months. She brings the kids more than Santa does, and she worships the ground my husband walks on (which is really the crux of the issue, but we'll get to that later). She offers to babysit, do dishes, and take us out to dinner. So what, you ask, is my problem? Why the "ungrateful, bitchy daughter-in-law" attitude?

I think it has to do with the hovering. (I mean, really, do you NEED to follow me into the bathroom? I get enough of that from my kids!) Or maybe the criticisms disguised as comments and questions. ("Is that the way YOU do it, dear? Oh, how... interesting.") Or perhaps it's the endless stories of how perfect her son is and what a treasure to the world he is. Or it could be the comments like, "You expect him to do dishes? He's the King of his Castle! He worked hard all day! He shouldn't be doing dishes; here, let me!" Because we all know that I just sat around on my butt all day, eating bon bons and watching bad daytime television.

When I was first married, and I worked at least as many hours as he did (and left for work before he was even awake, by the way), those kind of comments really pissed me off. It was OK for ME to work a 10-hour day and come home to cook and clean, but Mr. Wonderful? Not on your life! During one of her visits, while I was 8 months pregnant with my first child, I (gasp!) asked my husband to get me a glass of juice. She (and I am not exaggerating here) leaped off the couch, ran into the kitchen, and said, "He's worked all day and is TIRED! HE shouldn't have to get up!" At which point I elbowed my husband in the ribs so hard that you'd have thought I was back in my glory days, throwing elbows at LA dance clubs in order to be front and center on the floating stage. Tired, my ass. You try carrying around a 10-lb baby in YOUR uterus all day and then talk to me about tired. If I can deal with being kicked in the bladder all day and night, puking for 4 hours straight, and lugging around a belly so large that strangers regularly ask me if I was having "my triplets" anytime soon, then he can get off his butt and get me a freakin' glass of orange juice! OH. MY. GOD!

Other memorable mother-in-law moments, in no particular order:

1. The time I asked her if she'd like a fresh towel 3 days into her stay, and she said, "Don't you give my son a fresh towel every day? At HOME, I give him a fresh towel each morning!" Now, I don't think my husband has ever changed the towels. Unless the towel got up and put itself in the hamper, I don't think it would occur to him to get a new one. He's pushing middle age, lady, I think he knows where the towels are.

2. The time she insisted on going to the grocery store with me so "I can pick up his favorite foods for him." Apparently, 3 years of dating and 2 years of marriage hadn't properly prepared me to stock his favorites. Sure, Mom, you go ahead and buy our groceries for us. More beer money for later.

3. Telling me for the 319th time about what a "considerate" baby he was for not causing any morning sickness after I'd just spent the better part of an hour throwing up non-stop - while she watched. Like the baby has any control over it. I wanted to say, "Well, that may be, but his devil spawn is making me puke 24/7 and I've lost 16 lbs this trimester, so what do you say to that?" but I was too weak from the afore-mentioned vomit fest.

4. Getting off the plane for her first visit since the wedding and commenting, "Oh, dear, you've put on a few pounds, haven't you?" Yes, actually, I gained a whopping 5 lbs in the 6 months since I was too busy planning a wedding to remember to eat. And thank you for noticing AND commenting. Because that's what every new bride wants to hear. (And may I add, at 5'7" I wore a size 6. What a cow.)

5. Commenting to me (in front of my sister and best friend, so I have witnesses) what a "great physique" her son has. In my sister's words: EWWWW EWWWW EWWWW!

Now, I'm not a drinker by any definition of the word. I have the occasional glass of wine, a beer with Mexican food. Now and then I'll do a few tequila shots with my friend Isela, but she's from Mexico so that doesn't really count. I've pretty much left my drinking days behind since having kids. I mean, just my luck, the night I tie on one and get totally ripped would be the night one of my kids has a burst appendix and we all end up statistics with Social Services.

But in order to keep the peace and bite my tongue as my MIL tells me how perfect and wonderful a child her son was, I definitely need to self-medicate just a bit. A glass of wine with dinner leaves me just warm and fuzzy enough to smile and nod when she starts telling me for the 813th time what an easy child he was, or says, "You have him well-trained!" when he pushes in his own chair or offers to put the kids (HIS KIDS!) to bed to give me a break. When I was a younger, less experienced wife, I'd get all bent out of shape at her comments - which she never seemed to make in front of my husband, oddly enough. I'd go hide in my bathroom, run the bath water loudly to mask my tears, and call Nina to complain about her latest barbs. She made me crazy; I had to work hard to be polite and deflect with grace. But as I've been married longer, had my kids, grown up a bit, I've realized something.

It just doesn't matter.

Here's this woman, who gave birth to the man I love, a man who then left her and moved on with his life. She's nearly 80 and all alone; we have each other. She needs to feel part of our family, part of his life, like she still holds a piece of him that I don't. She had him for 28 years before he was mine; she's just staking her claim. For a week or two each year, I can give her that. It may take a pitcher of mojitos and the occasional gin and tonic, but I can give her that.

Slacker Mom Says...cut the MIL a little slack. For her, I will always be "the other woman." We both love the same man, and I get him all year long (for better or for worse). She only gets him for a few days each Christmas and Easter. I hold on to the fact that she created the person I love, shaped him into the man he is today. After all, she gave me the man of my dreams, the father of my children. For that alone, she deserves my gratitude.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Much I Know

Writing teachers and critics always say, "Write what you know." It makes sense, if you think about it. After all, I'm not going to write a dissertation on the history of bowling in the United States. Bowling doesn't even seem like a sport to me. I mean, you put on funny shoes. You roll a ball. You drink a beer. You sit down. Lather, rinse, repeat. That pretty much sums it up.

So here's what I do know:

Motherhood is hard. It's lonely, isolating, demeaning, and often mindless. (Get baby up. Change baby's diaper. Feed baby. Burp baby. Clean up baby's spit up. Repeat 12 times a day.) It's exhausting, inconvenient, messy, and smelly. It sucks to be elbow-deep in poop while wearing your last clean tee shirt, knowing that you won't be able to do laundry for at least an hour because someone will need something at this exact moment in time that only Mommy can provide. It sucks to realize that you have spit up in your already-greasy hair a half-hour before you're supposed to meet a friend for coffee for the first time in nearly a year. It sucks to watch your daughter cry because a mean girl called her stupid and ugly, and to know that no matter how many times you tell her she's beautiful and smart, you can't erase the pain of that one casually cruel remark.

Motherhood robs you of your sanity, your fashion sense, your personal space, and your dignity. It's hard to be dignified when 3,492 medical professionals have had their hands up your hoo-ha to determine if you're ready to push or not, or to have 12 different lactation consultants grab your boob and show you how to nurse. And if you've been able to pee alone since giving birth, let me know your secret. I lock the door, but they keep coming to it and banging on it. Even the pets want in on the action. It sucks to go from intelligent, well-spoken, well-dressed career woman to babbling moron in baggy maternity clothes (3 months postpartem) debating the merits of various types of pacifiers and diaper disposal systems and which stain removers get out that lovely yellow newborn poop.

Motherhood means the end of your life as you know it, the end of your marriage as you know it, and the end of your freedom as you know it. Motherhood means putting someone else's needs ahead of your own for years and years without being resentful. And it's hard to just pick up and go when you have to remember the diaper bag, car seat, pack and play, stroller, and oh, yeah, the baby. Hard to have sex whenever and wherever you like, because let's face it, we can't just shut off the mommy thing at a moment's notice.

And you know what? I wouldn't trade one single second of it. Because along with the wiping, dripping, babbling, drooling, and puking comes that indescribable feeling of holding your child in your arms for the first time. The bliss that comes from knowing that, for better or for worse, this baby is yours forever and ever and ever! That life-altering moment when you realize that THIS is what it's all about, that you would do, literally, absolutely anything to protect this little person in your arms. I know, with absolute certainty, that if something threatened my children, I'd be able to defend them to the death. My death, that is, because I would rather die than let anything happen to them. And motherhood leads to some of the best friendships of our lives, because motherhood, with its trials and tribulations, is about the universal, collective experiences of women from all walks of life. My best friends share my mommy experiences in a way that my husband cannot.

Motherhood is a journey that will take us outside of ourselves. It's hard, yes, the hardest thing I've ever done. But it's also the best thing I've ever done. I had no idea how much I could love someone until I met my children. Sure, I love my husband, but I'm almost certain there are things he could do that would change that love for him. But my kids? Never. There is nothing that could change the depth of my love for them. It grows stronger and deeper every day I know them.

And that is motherhood. Messy, inconvenient, exhausting, wonderful, rewarding, amazing, and never dull. We're making little people here. We're responsible for the future. We are mothers.

Slacker Mom Says...this is what I know: I plan to enjoy every minute with my children. Every year passes more and more quickly. I swear, I was JUST changing diapers, and now they're asking for privacy in the bathroom and their own email accounts. My friend Katie says that when her son is 15 and towers over her, she's going to remind him that his hand was once smaller than her pinky finger. It goes fast, so take lots of pictures and remind yourself what you already know: this is the best gig we'll ever get.

Medalling in Motherhood

A few weeks ago, at the pediatrician's office (for the third time that week, but that's another story), I overheard the following exchange between three moms who clearly knew each other - probably from some really exclusive playgroup that I'd never be invited to join because I don't have a $300 diaper bag identical to the one they all carried:

Mother A, gushing: How nice to see you! (OK, me here. Really? "Nice to see you" at the doctor's office? I wouldn't say that to my worst enemy. Who wishes a sick kid on anyone?) What are YOU in for?

Mother B, sighing: Little Greer has an ear infection. We were up ALL night!

Mother A: Poor thing. My Jackson has a DOUBLE ear infection. I haven't slept in DAYS!

Mother C, cooing: Oh, that's too bad. My Sadie has a double ear infection AND strep throat!

I really, REALLY wanted to jump up and yell, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! It's Mother C by a landslide!" But since my kids were with me, I didn't. (I just wrote down everything they'd said instead, and saved it for future use. Hey, Slacker Mom's material comes from many sources. No one is safe.) It was weird, like these moms were COMPETING to see who had the sickest kid. And who, exactly, wins at that one?

As a teacher, I wrestled with the issue of competition and kids for years. In education, there are endless debates about competition vs. cooperation. Does competition encourage kids to work harder? Or does it damage their self-esteem instead of helping them do their best? Shouldn't we only compete with ourselves? Is cooperative learning a better way to teach skills? After all, we're more likely to work on a project WITH our co-workers than against them, right?

But after 8 years of being a mom, it occured to me that perhaps I've been thinking about the competition issue from the wrong angle. Perhaps the most damaging type of competition isn't so much child against child. It's mother against mother. And if you think for one second no one considers motherhood a competitive sport, think again.

Think about it, ladies. It starts early, during pregnancy and labor. Too many mothers try to "one-up" each other. We all know a mom who corners us with her pregnancy symptoms and her birth story (bloody, gory, TMI!) - and NOT in a "sisterhood of women" kind of way, but in a "Oh, you were in labor for 15 hours? And had an epidural? I was in labor for 27 hours! AND he was breech! AND I had an all-natural birth!" kind of way. (And by the way, just so you know, calling your drug-free birthing experience "natural" implies that there's something "unnatural" about using meds to limit pain. If you opt out of the epidural, that's fine, but I signed up for the drugs the second the stick turned blue. So bite me.)

It only gets worse as our kids get older. Milestones like teething, sleeping through the night, crawling, walking, and language development bring out the competition in even the most rational mothers. Then our kids start school, and it really takes off. The mom who has to sign up to bring one more item for the class party than any other mom. The one who says, "Your son got straight A's? Mine had 100% in every subject!" The hyper-competitive neighbor who rushes over on the day gifted program acceptance letters came home: "Did your daughter get in? What was her score?" And why does ANYONE'S tricked-out, $60,000 Sequoia have more kid-related magnets and bumper stickers than she has kids? Really? Four kids and 12 stickers? You're doing too much, lady. Yeah, we know, you're busy and your kids are superstars. Give it a rest.

Where does it end? Are we defining ourselves as mothers through the accomplishments of our children? And is it worse for stay-at-home moms, like we're saying, well, we don't work and see the fruits of our labor, a finished product, so our children become our "work product", something to show for all our efforts each day? It's as if we must be better at this motherhood thing than anyone else ever was, and the only way to keep score is by listing our kids' achievements. I mean, really, are you a better mother than I am because your child is on the travel team and mine likes to pick flowers in the outfield? Really? And isn't that a lot of pressure to put on our kids, for them to "make" us proud - and whole - through their accomplishments?

Slacker Mom Says...why not let our kids take credit for their own achievements? Let's be proud of them regardless of their IQs, points per game, medals won, scholarships bestowed. Every child has something unique and fabulous to give. My daughter is brilliant, truly gifted - but what she DOES with that is all hers, not mine. I can encourage and support her, but ultimately her successes and her failures belong to her and her alone. I am not a better mother for having a smart, or athletic, or talented, child. Motherhood shouldn't be about competing for first place; it should be about supporting each other as mothers, as women, and helping each other be the best moms we can be. That's the best way to be sure our children succeed, whatever path they choose. If I can raise a happy, productive human being who contributes something positive to society, isn't that what it's all about?

As Howard Jones Says, Things Can Only Get Better

For the past few weeks, Slacker Mom has been on illness-induced hiatus. From everything. Since Thanksgiving, we've struggled through sinus infections, seasonal flu,unspecified viral illness (doctor code for, "Sorry, Ma'am, we really don't have a clue what's wrong with your kids, so keep bringing them back every 2 days until we figure it out. And thanks for the $20 co-pay each time!"), and a bout of pneumonia that landed my youngest in the hospital in the middle of the night (and prompted the ER pediatrician to try to talk me into going to medical school when I am, and I quote, "done raising your kids." Really? When I'm done raising my kids, I'm taking a nice, long vacation to Fiji and not leaving a forwarding address.) I've spent an inordinate amount of time trying to disinfect the House of Germs; trying to do my Christmas shopping with two sick kids under feet (note to online manufacturers: do NOT put your company name on the outside of the box!); rescheduling everything other than kids' doctor's appointments; taking the "perfect" Christmas card photo despite illness, a reluctance to wear Christmas jammies ("Too babyish! Duh, Mom!") and a complete refusal to put on a fancy dress (with a bow! Oh, the horror!); and baking dozens of cookies without letting Germ Girl or her sister, Infection Incubator, anywhere near the bowl of dough. I'm beat, and I haven't even wrapped a single gift. And my mother-in-law is due in two days. I'm just thankful my husband hasn't caught anything. We all know how much fun THAT is.

I'm even rethinking my intimate relationship with Purell. It's just not working for me. I'm nearly ready to embrace my mom's philosophy on germs. You know, the credo of mothers who raised their kids in the 1970s and can't believe all this "nonsense" about cleanliness, car seats, and lead paint. She loves to remind me that there was no Purell, no antibiotic hand soap, no drug-resistant bacteria, and heck, we hardly ever remembered to wash our hands. She firmly embraced the five-second rule. When someone got the chicken pox, every mom in the neighborhood sent her kids over to play and just catch it already and be done with it. We came home from the hospital in her arms, not an armor-plated infant protection system with side air bags and memory foam. We ate lunch (without ice packs and mini bottles of hand sanitizer)out of Spider Man and Wonder Woman (her boobs flying everywhere)lunch boxes coated in lead paint. And we used plastic bags to hold our Cheetos, Oreos, and peanut butter sandwiches, not BPA-free re-usable containers - and no one was overweight, allergic to peanuts, or diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. But I digress.

So here I've been, stuck at home. I haven't left my house in two weeks, except to go to the hospital, the pediatrician's office, or the pharmacy. I've watched every Christmas special on my DVR, and I can recite all the words to every single Phineas and Ferb episode on any of the 3 Disney Channels that DirecTV so thoughtfully provides. I've memorized dosages for Tylenol and Motrin by age and weight, speak medical-ese with confidence and authority (thus the "just chuck it all and go to medical school" comment), and the receptionists at the pediatrician's office know my voice and recognize my number on their caller ID. I haven't had a decent night's sleep in weeks, and my poor husband is getting pretty sick himself - of sharing our bed with a feverish child night after night after night.

But here's what I got out of it: It could have been worse. And things can only get better.

While I'm sitting up nights watching my sick daughter simply breath, I've been thinking about parents with truly sick, terminally-ill children, the ones who won't be home for Christmas - parents who are watching their kids die and can't do anything about it. I've been thinking about mothers who don't know how they'll pay for their kids' medical bills or find time to shop for their other children in time for Christmas. I've been thinking about mothers with kids at war, who don't know when - or even if - they'll see their children again.

And I feel pretty damn lucky. I got off easy. A few trips to the ER, a couple hundred dollars in co-pays, but my kids will recover fully from these fairly minor scrapes, and I'll get back to "normal" soon enough.

Slacker Mom Says...it's so easy to get bogged down in the "my life is so hard" rut. We've all been there. And it IS hard, this parenting thing. It's dirty and messy and inconvenient and heart-breaking and exhausting, and sometimes it's downright scary. But it could ALWAYS be worse. No matter what I'm going through, I have reasons to be thankful. No matter how bad things get, I still have my babies to hug and kiss and annoy me with their middle-of-the-night appearances. And for that, I'm grateful. So I'll take my mom's (unsolicited) advice with a grain of salt (and maybe a very large margarita) and keep doing what we moms do: take care of our kids the best we can, and be grateful for each and every day with them. Living the dream, ladies, we're living the dream.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'd Like to Say Yes, But It's Not Really Up to Me

As Santa is making his list and checking it twice, I'm not sure which list I'm going to be on. I mean, I try to lead a good life. I'm a nice person, I let old people cut in front of me in the grocery store, I obey traffic laws and never flip off even the most obnoxious drivers (and I'm from LA, home of the freeway shootings of the mid-80s). But this morning, I told a lie, I committed forgery, and I may, quite possibly, be guilty of identity theft.

Let me start with this: I am a first-time offender. I don't usually make stuff up and I've never forged anything before (except once, in 1986, on Senior Ditch Day). OK, yes, I may have told the girls that if they didn't stop fighting THIS INSTANT that I'd email Santa and they'd end up with a lump of coal instead of new Barbies. And I've been known to eat a few cookies on Christmas Eve and say that Santa did it. But I'm not afraid to say, "No chips!" instead of lying and saying, "Chips? Nope, all out!" I've never unplugged the TV and told the kids it wasn't working. I have no problem telling my girls that no, I won't drive 2 hours to see the Jonas Brothers in concert - unlike my neighbor, who told HER kids that the Jo Bros had swine flu and cancelled all their concerts, world-wide. (Can you call the Jo Bros "world-wide"? Are French girls lining the streets of Paris shouting, "NEEEK! NEEEK! Je t'aime, NEEEEK!"??)

But since it's Christmas and all, and since it was just the one time, I think I deserve clemency. I may be guilty, but a jury of my peers would never convict me.

So what was it, you ask, that led an otherwise-upstanding citizen into a downward spiral of shame? My oldest daughter, almost 8, asked Santa for an interactive doll. Now, I'm not going to take on the huge toy companies by bad-mouthing their merchandise here, but let's just say that this particular doll is a huge piece of crap. For $60, I'd expect the product to, oh, I don't know, WORK, but I can't find a single positive review. Parents are trashing this doll all over the Internet. One dad, a software engineer, reported, "I tried to install this software using each of the 6 computers in my house, and after 14 hours, I couldn't make the f-in' thing work!" So I am NOT about to spend that kind of money (or 14 hours!) on something that I already know won't work, only to have to take it back anyway ("How did you get the receipt? Santa doesn't give receipts!") and fight the post-Christmas crowds, then stand at Target for an hour while she tries to make up her mind how she'll spend all $60 RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE. No way.

So for the past few weeks, I've tried everything I can to dissuade her from putting the doll on her Santa list. I showed her reviews online. I had her talk to a neighbor who returned the doll 3 times, and never got it to work. I suggested American Girl dolls, Barbie dolls, baby dolls, even an iPod, in the hope of changing her mind. My best friend, Nina, reminded her, "Sometimes Santa doesn't bring you everything on your list. Sometimes he doesn't HAVE all that stuff in his toy shop." Her response? "But I only ask for a few things, so he ALWAYS brings them! And he can get ANYTHING! He even got me the Beauty and the Beast DVD one year while it was still in the Disney VAULT! Remember?" (Oh yeah, I remember. Did he mention that he paid three times the retail price for that DVD? Stupid Santa. Stupid freakin' Disney vault.)

Finally, in desperation, I committed the crime: I faked a letter from the Big Man himself. Yep, I wrote it in red ink, signed his name, even used my North Pole postmark stamp, and snuck out the the mailbox in the pouring rain at 5 AM. "Santa" told her that even though she'd been a very good girl, he wasn't giving anyone that doll due to its flawed materials and poor workmanship, but he'd be sure to leave her something even better on Christmas morning. As she read, I watched, waiting for the tears to start. After all, she'd been talking about this doll since August.

But to my surprise, and to her credit, she just said, "Hey, Mom? Santa says that this doll doesn't work, so he'll give me something else." And then she ran off to play with her sister. No tears, no argument, not even the dreaded, "STINK!" (which is, apparently, the replacement word for my childhood "bummer, dude").

And I was left thinking, really? That's it? One letter from Santa and she's over it? What have I been doing wrong all this time? What had I been trying to tell her? Am I just some moron who doesn't know anything? Does my opinion mean nothing to her?

Well, honestly, pretty much, yeah. I'm just her mom. What the hell do I know? Santa is, after all, the ultimate toy expert. What he says, goes. Which got me thinking: If it was THAT easy, was it such a bad idea to let someone else take the fall?

Slacker Mom Says...sometimes it's OK to take the easy way out. I'm sick of always being the bad guy, of playing the heavy. I'm always the one saying, "No ice cream before dinner, you have to wear your helmet when you ride your bike (even though none of the other neighborhood kids do), and yes, you DO have to ride in a booster seat - in the BACK - until you're bigger." When it comes to health and safety, there's no negotiation. And IF they get an explanation, that's just bonus, because they aren't entitled to anything more than a "because I said so" at this point. But sometimes it's easier - for us AND for them - to let the expert deliver unwelcome news. If the dentist says I have to help with brushing until she's 9, then I'm no longer treating her like a baby; I'm just following the rules. If the teacher tells her to study her math facts every night, I'm no longer trying to ruin her life; it's just part of her homework. Kids like rules; kids adore experts. If it takes a bogus letter from Santa to ease the pain of not getting her precious doll, then I'm OK with that.

And I'm pretty sure Santa'd be OK with that, too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fashion, More or Less

As a mother of daughters, I believe in fostering their creativity, letting them develop their own sense of fashion and design, and encouraging them to choose their own outfits. True, my youngest often heads to school in head-to-toe Gymboree, complete with matching socks and hair bows, but there are also days that I want to pin a button on her that says, "I'm FIVE and I dressed myself today!"

This morning, she came down wearing an ensemble of her own creation: an almost-too-small blue and green flowered dress, black capri leggings, pink polka-dotted Hello Kitty socks, and a brown Hannah Montana sweatshirt. She also sported a ponytail she did herself. And then she put on her pink cowgirl boots, because "these socks don't really match my dress, so I think I need my boots." Yep, pink cowgirl boots go with EVERTHING when you're five. Her much older, much wiser sister (who once went to the library in denim shorts, suede boots, and a red cape) told her, "You look like Harper!" I don't think she meant it as a compliment, but I couldn't really nail her for being insulting, either. (For those of you whose TVs aren't permanently tuned to the Disney Channel, Harper is Alex's best friend on "Wizards of Waverly Place." You know the one - she wears somewhat, um, eclectic outfits that showcase her, um, individuality and personal sense of style. To use the term loosely.)

Now, in my Super Mom days, I'd have sent that little girl back upstairs to find some clothes that matched. Or maybe I'd have marched upstairs with her, to pull out cute leggings and a coordinating shirt, or a dress that says November rather than April, or even a pair of jeans and a plain tee shirt to wear with the pink boots and Hannah sweatshirt. Heck, I'd probably have made her put on the same outfit her sister was wearing. (Yep, I'm one of those "matchy mommies" who buys her daughters matching outfits. At least I used to be. The oldest mutinied about the time she discovered Justice. Lucky for her, they start at size 5, so her sister couldn't get the same outfit. Score one for the kid.) But I stopped myself. Does it matter what she wears to the store? Really, we're getting diet Dr. Pepper and cookies for our tea party. Who cares what she's wearing?

This is a girl who, at 13 months old, refused to leave the house unless she was wearing a Disney Princess crown. Brand conscious even as a toddler, sad but true. At 2, she insisted on a pair of pink canvas Keds that she wore until her little feet wouldn't squish into them anymore. She'd wear her bright pink, feather-trimmed cowgirl hat to church if I'd let her. But in her defense, my mother-in-law (and I swear on my life that I am not making this up) thinks that if it's all the same color, it matches. Pale blue gauchos (yes, I said gauchos; see what I'm dealing with?) and a navy blue shirt that says "blue footed boobies!" on it - well, it's all blue, right? So there you go! And my husband? He just got rid of his circa-1985 black high-top Reeboks about a year ago.

So off we went to the grocery store, my little fashion plate undaunted by the smiles and chuckles of little old ladies and mommies of preschoolers. She thought she was stylin', looking good in her pink boots, feeling good that she dressed herself. And you know what? She had a big smile on her pretty face, she wore a dress she loves, and she was happy. Maybe we should all follow her cue. Wear what makes us happy, wear what we love. Shoot, pink cowgirl boots look good with everything, don't they? If I could pull them off, I'd have a pair, too.

If letting my kid out of the house in a crazy, mismatched outfit is a crime, lock me up. Soon enough, she'll have a clothing crisis every day before school. Soon enough, the world will end if she doesn't have the exact right shade of red lipstick before the prom. Soon enough, she'll realize that the world judges us by our clothes, our hair, our weight, our shoes, our bags, our cars, and everything else.

Slacker Mom Says...let go of the little stuff. Why make mountains out of molehills? In the time it would've taken me to talk her into a matching outfit, we were gone and back and having our tea party. And that was a much better way to spend an hour. Soon enough, she'll develop a sense of fashion that mirrors her peers - but I sure hope she retains that Harper quality that I've come to know and love.

Just Say No to Bad TV

Slacker Mom feels a rant coming on...

After hearing all the controversy about Adam Lambert's AMA performance (which I didn't watch, because, let's be honest, I just don't care, and besides, there's got to be something better on my 800 DirecTV channels than the AMA awards), I decided I'd take a look at the video clip on YouTube. Full disclosure: I've never even once watched American Idol. The only reason I know who Adam Lambert is has more to do with the fact that he and I both hail from San Diego, and I read an article about him at the hairdresser's once when I couldn't find anything more interesting to read, like maybe "HairStyles For the Modern Grandmother." So I went in expecting his performance to be total crap. But I watched it. Twice. And I'll admit that I was shocked.

Oh. My. God. An aspiring rock star uses sexually explicit moves and lyrics to gain major publicity, millions of YouTube hits, and stir up controversy? What is the world coming to? What a ground-breaking move by the former American Idol contestant, to use sex to sell an image, to shock the establishment with his performance and costumes and dancers! Who does he think he is, Madonna?

Come on, people. What is the big deal? Aren't most of us old enough to remember the 80s, when the Material Girl pissed off the Catholic Church and the Moral Majority (and certainly my mother, who objected to her name just on principle) by dancing around in white, singing "Like A Virgin," wearing lots of crosses and a torn-up lace wedding dress? Or how about that MTV Music Video Awards show, where a hairy-assed, midget-sized Prince wore see-through yellow pants? Eww. I object. And it has nothing to do with his sexuality. (It might have to do with the fact that he changes his name/symbol so often that I don't really know what to call him. Who can keep track?)

But Adam Lambert? OK, so the fact that he's from San Diego may help him score some points with me. But really, the boy wears more eye makeup than I do, and he's prettier AND skinnier than me. He spends more time on his hair, too, and uses more product. So right away, he's on my list of guys I can't be bothered to pay attention to. (Ask my college roommates; those are deal breakers, baby. He has a smaller ass than me? Spends more time getting ready to go out? Forget him!) Add to that the fact that I think my cat has more talent than he does, and no, I'm not a fan. Gay or straight, that's not the issue. So he simulated sex. Um, don't you see more action on your typical daytime soap, with actual naked people? My kids have yet to see "Madagascar 2" because of its sexual innuendo. Turn on the TV during an NFL game, and start counting: you'll see more sex and violence (and hear more objectionable language) on the commercials than I saw on that video clip. And no, I didn't watch the "edited for the West Coast" clip. (Which, by the way, was stupid, because West Coasters are a LOT less shocked and upset by that sort of thing. They have to be. It's LA, home of boob jobs and lip implants for 15-year-olds, after all.)

By far the biggest complaints I've heard seem to be of the "but kids watch this stuff" variety. Really? Kids are watching prime-time TV music shows? That seems to me to be the problem. When that show aired, my children were sound asleep in their beds, where they should be, not watching a music-industry awards show during prime-time hours that was aimed at an ADULT audience. And had it been aired at noon on a weekend, they still wouldn't have been watching it. Because they are children, and in my house, I am the parent. I decide what is appropriate, I am the Keeper of the Remote. You don't like what's on TV? Turn it off. Go play a game, read a book, take a walk, phone a friend. Do you let your kids listen to explicit lyrics? Then why let them watch a TV show where it's likely they'll hear those lyrics, and see them performed? Was it really such a shocker that a singer (for lack of a better term) like Adam Lambert did something inappropriate?

Yes, his performance was inappropriate and distasteful. Isn't much of what's on TV these days inappropriate and distasteful? Reality TV where we "swap" wives and then watch the children cry? That's tasteful? Crime dramas depicting rapes and murders and violence against children? If you ask me, it's all crap. Even so-called children's programming is often offensive. Disney shows like "The Suite Life" and "Hannah Montana" contain bias, disrespect, inappropriate language, offensive comments. And let's be honest: Barney? The Teletubbies? The freakin' Wiggles? I OBJECT! They're offensive! They're annoying! And their songs are waaaaay too catchy! NO ONE over the age of 4 should be subjected to that kind of programming.

Slacker Mom Says...get control over the remote. If my kids are watching it, it's because I let them. I won't be blaming anyone else for what goes on in my house, and that includes TV programming. My kids watch TV, sure. In fact, they're watching it right now. But they're watching shows with appropriate content - which varies from family to family, certainly. I don't trust the networks or even other parents to decide what is right for my kids; I am picky, choosy, like those moms in the Jif commercials. I don't want to watch crap; I don't want my kids to watch crap. But common sense needs to prevail. If you don't like it, turn it off. If you're offended, write to the networks and their sponsors and tell them what you want to see. Take action rather than merely complain!

And now, I'll be stepping off my soapbox to go make some pies. It's Thanksgiving, after all, and I don't have to get up early tomorrow. So I can watch the last three episodes of "Desperate Housewives" on my DVR. Inappropriate? Distasteful? Crap? Yep, and I'm addicted. But I'm a grownup, so it's OK.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

There's No "I" in "Mommy"

A recent Saturday morning found my husband (chief of the Indian Princess tribe - don't ask) and daughters getting ready for their "tribal outing": a father/daughter hike and lunch date. I was supposed to have the morning "off", and planned to hit the gym and then head over to Barnes and Noble. First, a pumpkin spice latte - grande, of course - and then a little browsing, in ANY section other than the children's, please. I'd been looking forward to it all week. I even put the sunscreen and bug spray on the kids, packed his backpack, and loaded up the car for him. (Is it wrong to be eager - I mean, helpful and considerate?)

But alas, it was not to be.

Mere minutes before their departure, my oldest decided to clean up her room by throwing her clean, folded clothes into the hamper. I guess she didn't want to put them away - again - but since this was, oh, the third time in as many days, and she'd been told that if it happened again she'd be grounded, guess what? She got grounded. Meaning, in effect, that I ended up grounding myself. My day alone? Gone with the wind. The gym? Nope, they have a Wii in the Kids Kare that would be entirely too much fun for someone who's grounded. My trip to Starbucks? I wonder if pumpkin pie spice would work on drip coffee. Leisurely browsing the fiction section at the bookstore? Replaced with laundry, cleaning, and one angry mommy yelling, "Why? Why? WHY?" Over and over again. At top volume. At least in my head. Out loud, she said appropriate things like, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" and other equally lame-sounding mommy-isms. (Did I mention I always wanted to be a criminal prosecutor? Like Susan Dey on "LA Law"?)

In frustration, I posted something on Facebook about my daughter's transgression. Some mommy friends thought the punishment was too harsh, but my friend Tricia commented, "Glad to see that other parents out there ground for pure disrespect." And that's it exactly: My child was disrespectful. There was a demonstrated lack of respect for me, for the work I do, for my time, for the natural and financial resources involved in re-washing a load of laundry - not to mention the fact that I'd just told her NOT to do that very thing or she'd be grounded. And yes, at nearly 8, she's become much more focused on herself, her wants, her friends, which is all normal and typical "tween" behavior - but that doesn't make it OK to just ignore what your mother tells you. (And if you figure out at what age I CAN ignore what my mother tells me, please let me know!)

Think I was harsh? My husband's friend Jose got tired of constantly telling his boys to turn off their video games when it was time to do homework, chores, go somewhere. He gave them a final warning: If he had to repeat himself, even once, the entire system would be gone. And what happened? You got it: The very next day, he told the boys to turn it off, but they didn't. Jose stomped over, yanked the joysticks out of their sweaty little hands, ripped the wires out of the TV, and threw everything in the trash. Message received. You've never seen such well-behaved children. Those boys LISTEN. (And no, he didn't replace it. Nor did he allow Santa or Grandma to replace it. Game over, boys.)

Some parenting "guru" wrote that not following through with consequences is the same as lying to your kids. (I can't remember who. I might have read it on a bathroom wall.) If you say, "Do it again and you'll be grounded" and then they do it again and you DON'T ground them, you weren't really telling the truth, were you? Can they count on your word for other things? And you've taught them a not-so-easily-unlearned lesson, namely that Mom doesn't always mean what she says. I'll admit, I toyed with the idea of letting her go because I really wanted some time to myself. But that would have taught her that there aren't consequences for breaking the rules, and that she doesn't have to show respect for people, their work, their time. Hard as it was to give up my day alone, hard as it was to watch her disappointment and disbelief as her daddy and sister left her behind, she got the point. She did laundry, cleaned, studied, while her sister and her dad went off together for 4 long hours. And now? Those 4 hours bought me 3 weeks (and counting) of near-perfect behavior from this repeat offender, who has yet to be reincarcerated for breaking the terms of her parole - that is, she hasn't put any clean clothes in the hamper since. (AND she's learned to do laundry, so I've got that going for me. Talk about a two-fer.)

Sometimes it's hard to be a mom. Sometimes it breaks my heart to punish my kids, to take something away, whether it's a toy or the joy of spending a day outdoors with friends. But what's the alternative? Allowing them to do whatever they want? That isn't good for them. (We all know moms who do that, and sure, it's easier in the short term. But Slacker Mom tries to practice long-term parenting. Even when it puts her back in baby jail.) This motherhood thing can be tough. To paraphrase author Carrie Adams, "there's a big difference between wanting a baby and wanting to be a parent. One is selfish; the other selfless." Good, effective parenting strives to be selfless, not selfish. After all, there's no I in Mommy. (But there is a Y, as in WHY? WHY? Dear God, WHY?)

Slacker Mom Says...don't be afraid to disappoint your kids. They'll get over it. Remember our goal as moms: to raise confident, well-adjusted kids who can go out into the world and survive, thrive, WITHOUT us. It's OK to let them know what's expected of them, and then call them on it if they don't meet those expectations. In the real world, they'll have bosses, roommates, friends, professors, husbands and wives. None of these people will consistently let them off the hook; we have to teach them how to live with and learn from the consequences of their actions.

And, after all, there will be plenty more opportunities for daddy/daughter hikes. I'll see to it. I have a date with my friends Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Just" a Stay at Home Mom

Last weekend, we were outside enjoying some beautiful fall weather. Most of the neighbors were out, too, giving me the chance to catch up with my neighbor, Tracey. She works full time and has a 10-month-old, so I don't see her as much as I'd like to. We chatted about babies, sleep, going back to work. At one point, she said, "I don't think I could ever just stay home all day doing nothing. I think I'd get bored."

She didn't mean any offense, and I didn't take any. But I realized that there's probably a gap between what working moms THINK we do all day and what we ACTUALLY do with our time. My friend Beth, who's home with her young baby, says, "Staying at home is harder than any job I've ever had. No lunch breaks to get things done, no bathroom breaks by yourself. Yeah, my career was WAY easier than this stay at home mom gig." Tiffany, whose son just started Kindergarten, says, "As if we sit around watching soaps all day!" And my single friend Bobby Jo says, "I don't even HAVE kids and I could never be bored at home. Too many things to do!"

When our kids are babies, there's so much hands-on caregiving that goes into mothering that it's easy to see where our time goes. Our houses don't need to be perfect; our kids take priority. As my friend Maria says, "I didn't give up my law practice to scrub floors. I left work to raise my kids!" Playing with them, feeding and diapering them, reading to them, convincing them that nighttime is for sleeping, not playing, and it's simply not socially acceptable to wake up happy at 5 AM - it's a full time job. We do all the things that a working mom's daycare provider does, but without the pay. Who has time for chores? But once the kids are all in school? Even I thought I'd have tons of free time once my youngest was in Kindergarten. I'd work out every day! Reclaim my pre-baby body! Get manicures! Have a spotless house! Take time for nooners! Put those baby pictures in a photo album instead of in a shoebox under my bed!

Yeah, right. In the past year, I've managed to meet my friend Jennifer for lunch only twice. We're both "home." So where does the day go?

In a typical 7-hour school day, I spend a few hours on chores and errands, volunteer in both kids' classrooms, write, take care of the pets, start dinner, and prep snacks for after school. Then I pick up my kids, and, if they don't have ballet, tap, jazz, musical theater, basketball, soccer, Indian Princesses, or a playdate, we head home for a snack, homework and school projects. Once that is done, I still have to feed them, help them bathe, read to them, play with them, help them choose (age-appropriate) clothes for the next day, make lunches, pack (organic, sugar-free) snacks, clean and fill their (BPA-free, stainless steel) water bottles, sign homework and reading logs (Teachers! Listen up! NO MORE READING LOGS, PLEASE!), sort through school papers and multiple copies of school newsletters, get them to bed with prayers and songs and kisses and drinks of water and one last kiss, please Mommy please! Then my husband comes home, I make him some dinner, we spend some time together, and before I know it, it's 10 PM and I still haven't finished the dishes. Free time, my (still not a size 4) ass.

Working moms, I think you have it rough. I can't imagine working an 8-hour day and then coming home to work at your "other job." You have to run your errands and do your chores on the weekends, or you have to drag your kids around town after a full day of school and day-care. Either that, or hire someone to do it for you. (Not that I'm complaining - if I worked, you'd better believe that I'd have a cleaning service!) You probably sleep even less than I do.

But while you are working and talking to adults and eating lunch with grown-ups (without having to cut anything up for your co-workers), don't make assumptions about what "at home" moms are doing. Just know that many of us "at home" are actually at school, helping your child with reading and math, or planning the Thanksgiving feast, or rescuing lost Kindergartners on the first day of school, or stapling and gluing endless little books, or making copies for the teachers, or checking in library books, or baking 4 cakes for the PTA fundraiser, or even watching your darling kick a soccer ball during recess because budget cuts mean there are no aides for playground duty. If I were working right now, I couldn't do any of it. And when I go back to work, that's it for me. Game over. But right now, while I can be "home", I'm going to do what I can for ALL our kids.

Slacker Mom Says...be supportive of the moms in your life. Working or staying at home, we are all just moms, facing the challenges of raising a family in difficult times. Those of us who stay home choose to be home, so we won't complain about our job. Those of us who work, whether because we have to or because we want to, are doing the best we can too. Motherhood means making sacrifices, but it's also the best job in the world. Whether we work or not, we all give something up - money, time at home, job satisfaction, financial gain, sleep. Whether we work or not, we all get paid for being moms - sticky kisses, warm little hugs, unconditional love. What could be better than that?

Friday, November 6, 2009

When Mother Knows Best

Before I had my first child, I was obsessed with motherhood. Trying to get pregnant, month after month, seeing babies and bellies everywhere, but it wasn't happening for me. ("Visualize," the books said, "and it will happen!" What a load of crap. As if it were that easy. Heck, Ill just visualize myself as a supermodel with 3 gorgeous kids and no stretch marks. Ain't gonna happen.) I knew something was wrong, but my doctor kept telling me to relax. Relax, my butt. I changed doctors, found out I had a hormone imbalance, and started taking progesterone.

Then I got pregnant. And I got heartburn, all-day-all-night sickness, stretch marks, varicose veins, migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome, pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia, every symptom under the sun. But I didn't care: I was finally pregnant! I was over the moon, elated, giddy with happiness, just the way an expectant mom is supposed to be.

When my daughter was born, I cried tears of joy. She was perfect, beautiful, healthy, AND a good sleeper. I hit the jackpot. I quit my job, I stayed home with my angel, and felt so lucky and so blessed. When she was six weeks old, I sat and cried, thinking how hard it would be to put her in daycare and go back to work.

And then we had a bad day. I mean, a REALLY bad day. The kind of day where you desperately need to go to the grocery store, but everytime you try to leave, you're drenched in spit up. You know, that projectile spit up that defies the laws of gravity, where you're sure she's dying of malnutrition because HOW could she be getting any breastmilk at all when SO MUCH is coming back out? It took an hour to feed her, then change her, then change myself, then change her again when she spit up all over herself, then on me...you get the point.

When we finally got home, 4 hours after we started, the screaming began. She screamed for 7 hours straight. If she wasn't nursing, she was screaming. Of course, my husband was out of town, and of course it was after office hours, and the on-call pediatrician (a Doogie Howser look-a-like right out of medical school) was no help at all. (Yes, you idiot, I DID try feeding, burping, changing her; I DID look to see if she had a hair wrapped around a finger or a toe; I DID give her gas medicine. Do you even HAVE children? A medical degree? A CLUE?) His advice? Just lay down with her and try to get some sleep. Meanwhile I'm thinking that babies don't scream for that long unless something is wrong, so...something is wrong!

Finally, in desperation, I ignored him and drove to the ER - and she promptly fell sound asleep. Which meant that the nice triage nurse thought I was a psycho first-timer who had no idea what to do with a crying baby. "Oh, Honey, babies do cry, you know." Really? You think? I guess after SEVEN HOURS OF NONSTOP SCREAMING, you'd fall asleep, too, Nurse Ratchet!

But I guess I argued loud and long enough to merit an exam by the pediatrician on duty that night, if for no other reason than to get the weeping, leaking, crazy new mother out of the crowded waiting room. He diagnosed my infant with an allergy to my breastmilk, told me to use hypo-allergenic formula and follow up with my pediatrician the next day. I cried all the way home, my dreams of nursing my daughter until her first birthday shattered.

But then I started thinking: an allergy to breast milk? How? I may have been a new mom, but that made no sense to me. Something just felt wrong. How does a six-week-old suddenly develop such an allergy? And what do women in Third World countries do, buy formula? No, they breastfeed. So when she woke up again a few hours later, I nursed her. And in the morning, I nursed her. And then I called my own pediatrician, who said to bring her right in.

When I told the pediatrician, a mom of 3 and breastfeeding advocate, what the ER doctor had told me, she said, and I quote, "That is the MOST ridiculous thing I have EVER heard." She took one look at my baby and diagnosed her with a double ear infection and acid reflux. (And then, much to my amusement, she called the ER and yelled at that doctor for a good five minutes straight and told him he was never to treat any of "her" babies again. So there.)

I ended up nursing her until she was 13 months old. She never had a drop of formula.

Which leads me to this: I was right. I'm not advocating that we completely ignore medical advice, but if something feels wrong to us, we need to investigate a bit more. I'm sure that both the on-call pediatrician and the ER pediatrician are fine doctors who have helped many families, but, as my friend Jill says, it's called "practicing" medicine for a reason. No one is infallible. People, even experts, make mistakes. If I hadn't sought a second opinion, I'd have weaned my daughter 11 months earlier than I wanted to. I'd have spent thousands on formula. I'd have doubted myself and my ability as a mother. I have never doubted myself since. I KNOW when something is wrong. I KNOW my kids.

Slacker Mom Says...this is one area where we can't slack off. There is truth to the old adage: Mom knows best. We know our kids, and we need to trust ourselves. Seek professional help, to be sure, but use your mommy instincts when it comes to your kids. Follow your gut. Listen to that little voice inside. Argue and insist and make people listen to you when it comes to the well-being of your kids. Whether it's a doctor, a teacher, a coach, it doesn't matter - if we don't advocate for our children, who will? Don't let anyone blow you off. NO ONE knows better than Mommy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ask a Stupid Question, Get a Stupid Answer

Our high school teachers were wrong. It turns out there IS such a thing as a stupid question.

Last week, I was washing dishes when my husband called me into the bathroom to ask (and I am NOT making this up), "Did you throw up in the bathroom sink?"

Now, I am neither hungover nor pregnant, and if I had a stomach virus I can give you an iron-clad guarantee that I would NOT be the one doing the dinner dishes, so yes, this was a stupid question. Are you kidding me? Yes, honey, I tossed my cookies in YOUR sink, then came back out to do the dishes instead of cleaning it up. (A sink? Really? Who pukes in a sink, anyway? And trust me, I don't even wash my hands in his sink.)

So yes, there IS such a thing as a stupid question. Want more proof? Voila, a partial list of stupid questions I've been asked recently, and my responses:

~ Do you know what happened to my belt? (I swear to God, if your belt fits me, I'll kill myself.)
~ Where's my thing? (Probably with your other thing.)
~ Is my appointment today? (Huh?)
~ What is there to eat? (Um, I'm guessing, food?)
~ Do I have any clean jeans? (Again, if I'm borrowing your jeans...)
~ How old is my mom again? And when's her birthday? (no comment)

And it's not just my husband. The kids do it, too. Apparently, I am the keeper of all things for all people. I am supposed to know where all the toys and books in the house are (never mind that it's not THAT big of a house - check your room, your sister's room, or the playroom) as well as knowing the phone numbers and addresses for every member of the family and all friends, as well. Library book due dates? Related arts class schedule? Birthday wish lists? Doctor and dentist appointments? You name it, no one else has to remember it if Mom's around.

If only someone would invent something that would help us keep track of all of our appointments and keep our schedules straight, like someplace we could write it all down or something. Wouldn't that be nice?

If only there was some way to keep track of our possessions and be able to easily find our own things when we needed them, maybe with labels and drawers or something. Wouldn't that make life easier?

(Sarcasm aside, I do keep a master calendar in my kitchen, but it only works if you WRITE ON IT. And we have plenty of well-organized storage in every room and closet, but again, it only works if you PUT STUFF AWAY.)

So I'm on "stupid question strike". If anyone asks me a question that a) they could answer themselves or b) I shouldn't even know the answer to, then I just give them the deer in the headlights look and a taste of their own medicine: I answer, "I don't know." (Hey, it's everyone else's FAVORITE answer to many of my questions. What did you do in math today? I don't know. Where are your tap shoes? I don't know. Did you finish your homework? I don't know.) Or, if I'm in a particularly sarcastic mood, they may get a particularly sarcastic answer. (Where's the milk? In the dishwasher, don't you think? I mean, really, did you even LOOK in the fridge?)

Slacker Mom Says...I'm tired of enabling. If they can't keep track of it, they can spend their own time and money looking for it. I'm no longer the Master of All Knowledge or the Keeper of All Treasured Possessions. And if it's left out after the kids go to bed, it goes in my Lost and Found. Need a sneaker for gym class? Missing your library book? It'll cost you, an extra chore, 50 cents, I'm not sure. As for my husband, I'll have to come up with a different payment. It'll cost him, too, but maybe something more than 50 cents...

I am Mommy, Hear Me Roar

Today I yelled at my kids on the way to school. And I mean, YELLED at them. Raised voice, nasty tone, just let 'em have it. Why? I'd had it - the little one had picked her nose and wiped it on the wall, the older one was reading (yes, reading - that's why she got in trouble. We should all have such problems, I know.) instead of brushing her teeth and getting dressed, and no one made their beds or fed the cat or put their dishes in the dishwasher. Including my husband. So I was fighting mad because...because why, exactly?

Because no one listens to me.

Yep, that's it. That's the whole reason I ruined everyone's day at 7:30 in the morning, because no one listens to me. And then I cried all the way home, hating myself, hating that I got so worked up and shouted at two small children, all because they didn't listen to me, because the morning "routine" wasn't smooth and routine, and no one cared what I said or what I wanted.

So, as usual, I started (over)thinking: why is this such an issue for me? Why do I get so upset when my kids and my husband (and let's be honest, it's also my husband - who asked me FOUR times what time we were due at the neighborhood party even though it was on the calendar) don't listen to me, don't hear what I have to say? Is it because I don't work? If I had a job, some feedback from a boss, some underlings to scurry around doing my bidding, would that help? Or is it because my family is my little corporation, and my entire identity is wrapped up in the labels of "wife" and "mother"? And if so, whose fault is that?

I mean, really, is it THAT big of a deal that my third grader was reading a book instead of putting on her shoes, or that she forgot to put socks on before she came downstairs and then had to run back up? She's pretty fast, after all, and at only 7, shouldn't I be glad that she reads on a high school level? Is it really a big deal that my 5-year-old wanted to put out a cereal bowl for her stuffed doggie when she ate her breakfast? No, it's not. At least, it shouldn't be. And most days, that stuff rolls right off me, like the proverbial water off a duck's back. And besides, isn't it fairly normal for the kids to pretty much ignore what I tell them? Granted, I didn't think it would happen until they were teenagers, but I'm pretty sure if you asked my mom, she'd tell you that's what WE did when we were kids, virtually ignored most of what she said unless there was food or money involved. So why did I freak out and get so annoyed with everyone on this particular morning?

I think it has something to do with being heard, and not necessarily in a literal sense. I get so wrapped up in meeting the needs of my family, taking care of my house, creating a home for us all, and then one day, SNAP! There I go. Who's taking care of ME? Who's putting MY needs first? And suddenly I'm yelling at the kids for getting toothpaste on the bathroom counter that I just finished cleaning. It's a bathroom counter! It's there for that exact reason, to hold the damn toothpaste, but I can't see past my own anger: I cleaned it, you messed it up, I'm not the maid around here, clean up after yourself, no one cares about how hard I work, I'm sick of cleaning up after all of you, wipe off your own spit, stop being so inconsiderate, and on it goes. (And I'm pretty sure after the first sentence or two, all they're hearing is the teacher's voice from Charlie Brown - you know the one, wah wah wah, wah wah, wah. They've tuned me out. Hell, I'd like to tune me out.)

And the thing is, my kids are good kids, by all accounts. They make good grades, they are polite and respectful, they are well-socialized. Teachers, parents, and coaches like them. They are kind, considerate, responsible girls who thank me for making dinner and driving them to ballet class. But sometimes, now and then, they act like, well, like ungrateful kids. And then I get mad and everyone hears about it. And it's worse when I feel like my husband doesn't see the effort that goes into keeping the house clean, the laundry done, the kids fed and clothed, the homework and projects and recitals and practices and games handled on time. He gets up, goes to work, comes home again after the kids are in bed, and never sees the actual labor that is involved in running my little business here. Like a stockholder who merely reaps the benefits, he never thinks about what the janitor does or how hard the mail clerk works.

If I went to work every day and saw the results of my labor and my efforts, would I care so much about a little mud on the floor or a bowl left on the counter? I don't really know, because I quit working when I had my first child. But I suspect that if I had a little outside feedback, a little praise for a job well-done, some gratitude and appreciation for my work, I might be more able to let these little things go. Because they ARE little things. After all, how awful would it be to NOT have little muddy cleats in my garage? to NOT have little handprints all over the windows that I just cleaned? to NOT find purple grape juice all over my counters? What a sad, lonely life I'd have without my kids "messing" things up all the time.

Slacker Mom Says...it's time to give ourselves some positive feedback. I'm going to remind my husband to thank me for doing laundry, and I'm going to thank him for working hard to provide for us financially. I'm going to remind my kids to thank me for clean bathrooms and new shoes and playdates, and I'm going to thank them for sticky kisses and tidy playrooms and good manners. I'm going to remind myself that I'm a damn good mother and wife, and that in their own way, they DO appreciate me, even if they don't say it out loud. As my husband says, I'm the glue that holds this family together. I'm the heart and soul of it. I'm the one who knows how to make the monsters under the bed go away; I'm the one they want when they are hurt, tired, sad. I'm the MOMMY, after all. And one day, maybe not until they have kids of their own, but one day, they will call me and say, "Thanks, Mom. You were right. About everything."

And if they don't, I'll feed their kids chocolate ice cream and send them home with extra candy and some of those loud, noisy, talking books. That'll teach them. Payback's a bitch.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking Time Vs. Making Time

Six weeks after giving birth to her first child, my friend Becky (a paralegal) found herself shopping for some new non-maternity clothes at her local mall. Heading into the dressing room with an armload of outfits and an infant car seat, Becky started to undress - only to discover that she'd forgotten to put on panties that morning. My friend Aimee, a former beauty queen, confesses to leaving the house in her slippers more than once while pregnant with her second child. She used to have perfect nails and hair, but now complains that she doesn't have time to wash her hair daily or iron her clothes - although her girls are always pressed and perfect, giant bows adorning their spiral curls.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I once met some friends for lunch with two different shoes on. Granted, carrying a 10-pounder, I hadn't been able to see over my belly, but you'd think I'd have taken the time to check the mirror. And just a few weeks ago, I was driving home from dropping my kids off at school when I happened to glance in my rear view mirror. In my haste to get everyone ELSE presentable, I'd forgotten to put mascara on one eye.

In contrast, I recently saw a picture of my friend Katie, who's just had her fourth baby in five years. It's her "welcome home" shot, where she's walking in the door of her house, her newborn in her arms. Her hair is gorgeous, her make-up is flawless, a glowing smile lights her face. If she took time (because we all know she didn't HAVE time) to look good, why don't I?
So this got me thinking: does motherhood make you sloppy? Does having kids make you forget about your appearance, make you so busy that you truly don't have time to "do" yourself up anymore? Or is that just an excuse? Is it that we don't HAVE time, or that we don't TAKE time? (Don't even say the words "make time". As if we can just flip a switch on some machine and "make" more time in our day. If I had the patent on THAT, I'd be a rich woman.)

Before I had kids, I worked full-time. To quote that Klymaxx song from the 80s, my nails were done and my hair was fierce. I never left the house without lipstick. I wouldn't THINK about walking around in public in a stained tee-shirt or baggy sweatpants. Even my gym clothes were cute. I wore name brands: Gap, Ann Taylor, even the occasional Armani. Nowadays? I'll admit to grocery shopping in Wal Mart sweats and a tee-shirt that's older than my kids - and significantly less clean. I've told myself that it doesn't matter, that we moms are just so busy that we don't always have time to be put together.

But isn't that just a load of crap? What if I still had a job? I might head to my kids' school with dripping hair and chipped nail polish, but would I go to work like that? My best friend and my sister are both working moms, and I've never seen them at the office with greasy hair, in sloppy sweats. At home, sure. On the weekends, without a doubt. But at work? Not on your life. They have kids and husbands and homes AND jobs, yet they manage to be presentable at work. They don't magically have more time than I do; if anything, they have less.

So here's my theory: it's not so much that it's socially acceptable to sometimes be a slob if we "just" stay home with our kids. It's that is more socially UNacceptable to go to work that way. You just can't get away with it, so you don't even try to.

Slacker Mom Says...yes, having babies fries your brain. It makes you forgetful, cranky, tired, and fat...but only for a few months. Then it's time to stop blaming the kids. If I don't take 20 minutes to slap on some make-up and do my hair, I can't blame anyone but myself. What does it say about me if my kids wear clean, pressed clothes and have lovely French braids, but my soaking wet hair is scraped back in a ponytail and my yoga pants were clearly pulled out of the hamper - for the third time this week? If I don't TAKE the time, you can be damn sure no one is going to give it to me! When I was a teacher, I felt like I couldn't get ahead; as soon as the towering stack of papers was graded, I'd have that day's work to grade all over again! Motherhood is a lot like that: No matter how many hours a day you spend doing it, there will always be something more to do. So why not just take a break and take some "me" time? Pathetic, I know, that doing my hair is "me" time, but maybe thinking of it like that will make it easier to TAKE the time that I deserve. My girls look to me to see what a mother means; I don't want them to think that they have to put themselves last once they become mothers. No, I don't need to look flawless all the time, but I'll be honest - I could be more pulled-together.

Besides, soon enough my kids will be in middle school. Then I'll need some way to embarrass them. So I'll save those Wal Mart sweats and the mac-and-cheese stained tee-shirts for awhile longer.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Someday I'll Get 8 Hours of Sleep IN A ROW

My friend Beth recently updated her FaceBook status with, "How come I got the non-sleeping model of infant?" It reminded me of being a first-time mom, and feeling completely exhausted and sleep-deprived. Until you've been there, you have no idea. No, it's nothing like drinking all night and then taking a final. Not even close.

When my oldest child was an infant, I asked her pediatrician about her sleep habits. I mentioned that "all the books" said that, at her age, she should be sleeping through the night. Dr. Aqua, a mother of three/pediatrician/wife of an obstetrician, looked at me and said, "Honey, the trouble is, sometimes the babies don't read the books."

Hmmm. Didn't think of that.

But now, my kids are both school-aged. They can wipe their own bottoms, get themselves a snack, read themselves a book, tie their own shoes. Doesn't it follow that they should be sleeping through the night by now? You'd think so, wouldn't you?

Here's a partial list of the "reasons" (read: excuses) my girls have had for waking me up during the precious few hours I'm in bed (you know, from like midnight to 5 AM):
~ I need a drink.
~ I have to go potty.
~ I had a dream that there was Purell on my hair.
~ Book orders are due tomorrow!
~ My pillow is wet because I washed my hair.
~ I can't find my tissues.
~ I forgot to tell you that I won the race in P.E. today.
~ I think I have Show and Tell tomorrow.
~ Did you pack chicken fingers in my lunch tomorrow? Cuz if you did, I need ketchup, too.
~ Can I some some Halloween candy?
~ I think I might have a fever and should stay home from school tomorrow. No, it has nothing to do with the fact that I have a math quiz and I forgot my study guide, I swear.

So, like a good mom, I squelch the screaming banshee within (she who wants to say things like, "Are you f#&@ kidding me? You walked past two bathrooms to tell me you have to pee/need a drink/can't find a tissue?" or "I already KNOW about the book orders because I'm the book mom, remember?" or "Candy? CANDY? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?")

Or, and I might actually have said this one out loud, "Maybe you're hot because you are wearing 5 sweatshirts. No, you do NOT have a fever, and yes, you ARE taking the quiz tomorrow. Get out of my room."

And, not to be a bitch or anything, but sometimes I wonder how the hell my husband is sleeping through these conversations. How does he wake up if the dog breathes too loudly, but can't hear a screaming child over a baby monitor THREE INCHES FROM HIS HEAD???

Now, it's not every night that the kids come down the stairs in the dead of night. Sometimes we go days without midnight incursions; sometimes it's 4 or 5 a night. Per kid. So I wonder: Is it wrong to send them back upstairs by themselves? Is it wrong to be fighting mad when it's 3 AM and someone is telling me that she wants to paint her fingernails after school tomorrow? If you're sick, if you've had a bad dream, I'm all over it. But most of these seem to be of the "I just woke up and thought it would be fun to go hang out with Mommy" variety. Am I a total slacker because I am too tired to argue with them and send them back to their own beds?

And then I remember that, soon, very soon, these sweet angels wouldn't be caught DEAD crawling into my bed. The teenage years are just around the corner, and then they'll be going off to college, and I might get my wish after all: a night where I could sleep 8 hours in a row with no interruptions. No pitter patter of little feet on the stairs; no warm little body sneaking up between my husband and me, saying, "I need you, Mom" as she snuggles into the crook of my arm. No sweet baby breath on my hair, no one pressing her little feet up against me as she sighs into sleep, content and sure that all is right in the world because she's got her mom and dad next to her.

Slacker Mom Says...screw the books. Yes, they SHOULD be sleeping through the night. Yes, they shouldn't be allowed to creep in during the night. Yes, I'd sleep a LOT better without an extra person (or two) in the bed. But like the country song says, "You're gonna miss this." I know I will, so I'm going to hang on to it just a little longer. Who needs sleep? That's what coffee's for, right?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Birthday Party Madness, Part II

Last night, my best friend, Nina, called me on her way home from work. She's a teacher, a mother of 3, a graduate student, and her husband works out of town 4 days a week. She's ANYTHING but a slacker, but she's the epitome of Slacker Mom - and, in fact, the inspiration behind my Super Mom to Slacker Mom transformation. She makes room for what's important and knows how to weed out what's not, and we all - her kids, husband, students, professors, neighbors and friends - get the best parts of her. She knows what it means to prioritize. Now, it may sound like I'm going off on a tangent, but there's a point - she read my latest post and called with an "I can do you one better" story of her own. Not to beat a dead horse, but I cannot resist relating this story that drives home my ooint.

Nina's girls were once invited to a birthday party for a friend named Abby. (Names have been changed for privacy; otherwise all my friends would stop talking to me in case I used them as material for the blog.) It was Abby's First Birthday (capitals intended), a joyous occasion for any parent. But where most of us have the grandparents over for cake, Abby's mom hired a Vegas-quality magician, a professional artist to paint faces (no, not a professional face painter; a professional ARTIST!), and had a real, old-fashioned hot dog cart. There were nearly 100 guests. I could go on, but you get the point.

But this is what concerns me: is this what is expected of me for a CHILD'S party? I'm exhausted just thinking about it, and my kids' birthdays are months away. I thought it was really cool when I threw a Hannah Montana karaoke "Half-Sleepover" a few years ago. I thought the Garden Party where we painted pots and planted impatiens was awesome. I loved the Lilo and Stitch Luau so much that we did it two years in a row. With the same guests! And the same decorations!

Don't get me wrong - if you have the means and the desire to throw the Mack Daddy of all parties, knock yourself out. If it makes you happy, and you can afford it, go ahead and hire the ponies and clowns and jugglers and fire eaters. What bothers me is that this is becoming the norm instead of the exception to the rule. What bothers me is that some people feel they have to spend money - and time - they don't have in order to keep up with classmates and neighbors. Will my kids be ostracized if they don't have professional dancers at their next ballet-themed party? Do I need to invite every single child my kids know in case someone's feelings get hurt? (Which is ridiculous. Do I cry when two of my friends have lunch and don't invite me?)

I don't think so. One of the very best parties my kids ever went to was in a church basement, with Domino's pizza, crafts, and a cake from the grocery store. They had the BEST time, and I guarantee this mom didn't stress over her child's party. She was relaxed and able to truly enjoy her daughter's big day. The kids had fun running around and playing, and the moms enjoyed each others' company. Appropriate, fun, easy - the perfect kids' party.

Slacker Mom Says...I'm jumping off the bandwagon. No more "keeping up with the Joneses" for me. I'm setting a budget, limiting the guest list to their closest friends, and serving up some old-fashioned fun and games. Goodie bags with stuff you'll use, a pinata, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and Musical Chairs. It's a birthday party, not a wedding reception.

Or I might do what Nina does: no parties, but we can go to Disney for the day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Beware Birthday Party Madness

My sister, who lives in LA, just sent me photos of a birthday party that her four-year-old daughter attended over the weekend. The birthday tot chose a Fancy Nancy theme; the miniature guests were given jeweled tiaras, sparkly sunglasses, and feathered boas. The place cards were printed in a Fancy Nancy-like font, in glittery pastel colors, with each girl's name (Fancy Samantha, Fancy Katrina, etc). But the piece de resistance? A topiary-shaped cake, dirt made of brown sugar, and decorated with sugared strawberries. The whole thing was absolutely stunning, a fantastical, magical party for someone's little princess.

But it got me thinking: what's next? If this is her FOURTH birthday, what will these well-meaning, adoring parents do for her sweet sixteen? her prom? for her wedding day? Can you say "live doves and ice sculptures"?

There's a new virus going around, and it's called Birthday Party Madness.

Whatever happened to Pin the Tail on the Donkey (or the crown on Ariel, or the microphone on Hannah Montana, or whatever) in the backyard? What happened to a nice sheet cake from your local grocery store, or one that your grandma made, with "Happy Birthday Timmy!" and some candles on it?

When did kids' parties start to rival the Inaugural Ball? It seems to me that parents have gone a little crazy with the party planning, the prep, the sheer dollars spent, on a ONE DAY event that, let's face it, the kid didn't ask for anyway. Even an at-home party with cake and ice cream and trinket-filled goodie bags will run you $5 a kid, at least. What do these "parties on steroids", as my friend Tina calls them, cost? What's the going rate for ponies and a bounce house? And what's the cover charge - I mean, how much do I have to spend on a gift? I'm thinking a Littlest Pet Shop playset might not cut it.

I admit, in years past, I've been accused of overdoing it. For my oldest's fifth birthday, we hosted a Tinkerbell party, with a bejeweled, sparkly treasure box for each girl and a hairdresser to create updos ala Tink. Several moms made snarky comments about the "extravagance" involved. But the hairdresser was a close friend who'd asked to come because she loves my kids. The invitations, decorations, and thank you notes were my sister's gift to her niece, also her goddaughter. I bought the treasure boxes at a Michaels sale (2 for $1), spray-painted them, and then glued giant jewels (from a party we'd gone to the year before) over the sparkles. Fun, yes. Extravagant, no.

My favorite party was my youngest's third birthday. We invited all her friends over for a luau and had a Lilo and Stitch theme. Two hours outside on the swing set and in the sand box, some cake and ice cream, a sand bucket with a beach ball inside for each kid, and we were done. Still considered one of the best parties ever by our friends, it was also the easiest and cheapest one I've ever done.

Slacker Mom Says...just say no to Birthday Party Madness! I feel the pressure to have the "best party ever" for my kids every single year. I feel the need to outdo and outspend and outshine the best Martha Stewart mommies in the neighborhood. But it's not about showing up the neighbors or getting compliments for myself. It's about having fun, enjoying my kids, remembering and celebrating the day they entered this world and my life. It's about THEM, not ME; it's about showing them how special they are. Spending $100 or 100 hours making the cake to end all cakes is fine, if that's what you want to do. But birthdays aren't any more special for my kids if I'm sleep-deprived and cranky (and poor!) just to show them (me?) that I love them. They know how much I love them. Homemade cupcakes are just as good (and maybe better, since they get to help make them!) as the fancy cake. And that leaves more time for hugs and kisses - and playing, together, with those new toys.

Friday, October 16, 2009

No One's Puking Up the Tamiflu, So I've Got THAT Going For Me...

My kids have swine flu. Yep, that scary-ass bug that the media has us all convinced is the next plague has invaded my Purell-soaked world. Both kids are flat-out on the couch in their jammies watching "The Barbie Diaries" and drinking grape juice as I write this. And you know what? We're all still alive.

Don't get me wrong; it's been a little hairy around here. When the fevers were climbing and no amount of Tylenol could bring them down, when the hacking coughs started, when I realized that they had EVERY SINGLE symptom on the handy-dandy checklist that my health insurance company had sent me, I panicked. A little. And prayed a LOT. Then I called my pediatrician, a mom herself, and put them in her capable hands. Armed with Tamiflu prescriptions and a little mommy-education, I felt much better about our ability to deal with the devil virus. And then I read the notes on the bottle of blood-red (cherry-flavored?) Tamiflu: "often causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea." Great. Because a little vomiting of bright red medicine is EXACTLY what my couch needs right now. Each child got her own beach bucket (I know what they're getting for Easter next year because those suckers are going straight into the garbage if anyone pukes), and I put a drop cloth on my new family room rug.

So, yeah, the kids are watching a LOT of TV (while I watch them) and drinking a LOT more juice than normal (while I'm sucking down the coffee like it's water just to keep from passing out next to them on the couch), but so far, so good. I haven't slept in days, but I think we've got this thing beat. Meds are staying down, I'm staying up, and we've even started on the make-up work. (Hey, you can take the mom out of the classroom...) My kids may be sick, but my house is the cleanest it's ever been: I have a bucket of bleach and I'm not afraid to use it. And Lysol disinfects everything, right?

But I didn't follow the CDC's protocol: I took my kids to the doctor when their fevers were only at 102. I didn't wait for 104. I didn't wait for extreme lethargy and blueish skin and trouble breathing. I took them when my mommy-instinct screamed, "SOMETHING'S WRONG HERE!" And I'm glad I did. Tamiflu is most effective when taken in the first 24-48 hours of onset of symptoms.

Slacker Mom Says...don't always trust the "experts". We're moms - we're the experts on our own kids. If I'd waited, who knows how sick they'd have gotten. We've escaped relatively unscathed, thank God. Whether it's a bump on the head, a child who just seems "off", or swine flu, we gotta do what we gotta do. We're moms. That's our job.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Defense Rests

You've heard of the Twinkie defense, right? Where you're so intoxicated with sugar and fat and artificial dyes/colors/preservatives that you can't be held responsible for your actions? Well, I've never claimed that one (I'm scared of Twinkies - how can there be no actual cream in the cream center?), but I HAVE claimed the Happy Meal Toy Defense. You know, the one where I'm so sick of crappy little fast food toys overrunning my playroom (yes, MY playroom; kids don't write mortgage checks) that I creep in, in the dead of night, and THROW THEM ALL OUT. Then I adamantly and vehemently deny all knowledge when the alleged crime is discovered the next day by the occupants of said playroom. Originally pioneered by that ground-breaking friend of mine, Nina, it works every time. Seven years of this motherhood thing and I've never even been accused, much less convicted.

The Happy Meal Toy Defense Strategy goes something like this: the kid can't find the beloved McDonald's emu she got in 2003 from a Happy Meal eaten with her grandmother. (Never mind that she hadn't touched it in approximately 924 days - not the point.) Suddenly, it's the "must-have" toy of the moment and she's searching high and low. Finally, in desperation, she comes to Mommy, all-knowing keeper of the whereabouts of everyone else's stuff (as in "Honey, do you know where my belt is?" Seriously? Your belt? Try the closet. Or maybe your pants. Or "Mom? Where's my sneaker?" Um, didn't you just take it off like five minutes ago?? ARGH!) in an effort to locate the treasured Beanie Baby emu. And how does Slacker Mom deflect all suspicion? She answers, "How would I know where it is? It's YOUR toy! If you'd put things away in the first place, you'd be able to find it now!" (Sometimes this is followed up by a nice long lecture about how I'm not the maid around here and I didn't play with it so how would I possibly know where you'd put it and I'm tired of having everyone ask me about all their stuff. The best defense is a good offense, after all.)

Ah, the deception. Yep, I'm guilty - of using their own stupidity against them. How have they not caught on? Do they really not get it? I mean, I have a threadbare stuffed tiger that I got at the San Diego Zoo in 1975, but the Barbie lip gloss from last night's Happy Meal is already missing?

Slacker Mom Says...toss the guilt with the Happy Meal toys. Are any of our kids really underprivileged? How many toys do two kids need? The playroom is bursting at the seams with American Girls and Barbie dolls. And if they can't put away their own crap, then they must not really value it. Some will call me a liar (I am; so are you. Did you tell your kids about Santa and the Tooth Fairy?) and some will say I have no respect for the children's belongings. But when they haven't touched these toys since the day they opened them, and Christmas is only two months away, it's time to get rid of something. So have at it. Call me what you will. I have a great defense strategy, and a jury of my peers (all mothers!) would never convict me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Halloween is For Slackers

Halloween has always been the perfect Slacker Mom-friendly holiday. Think about it: no cookies to bake, no cards to send, no perfect holiday photo to stress over. No special fancy outfits to shop for (and then fight with your kids over, amid screams of "I'm NOT wearing THAT!"), no gifts to buy, nothing to wrap or send or deliver. No parties to cook for, no invitations to figure out how to get out of, no company shindigs where you have to make small talk with people you don't even know. No teacher gifts to buy (an impossible task, even for an ex-teacher). No deciding who to visit and how to break it to the ones you're ditching.

You buy a few bags of candy, whip up a few costumes, and you're done. Ah, Halloween!

More and more, schools don't allow the "H" word to be spoken; everything is "Fall Festival" or "Harvest Celebration" these days. Even easier. Cookies can be bought at the local bakery and dropped off at school with no guilt, since I can't use my special jack-o-lantern cupcake molds anyway. Most schools won't even let parents bake treats anymore; they have to be store-bought and can't exceed "wellness" requirements set by well-meaning (but lame) district officials.

I admit, before Slacker Mom arrived, I used to over-achieve and SuperMom the crap out of Halloween, just like every other holiday. I used to make sure each child had two costumes, one for school (sticky, day-glo orange cupcake frosting all over the fleecy baby lamb costume I spent 10 hours making? I don't think so!) and one for trick-or-treating. But last year, my husband took the kids to the costume store and told them they had 30 minutes to find a costume. They came home as a pretty witch and her sweet black cat. Wading through piles of slutty pre-teen costumes was no fun for him, but it saved me about 15 hours worth of work, and didn't cost much more than I would have spent on materials.

I used to throw an elaborate annual Halloween party for all the kids we know. I had games, treats, crafts, a full buffet, and goodie bags. I'd spend hours making homemade, hand-decorated cupcakes and cookies that were gobbled up in seconds. This year, Slacker Mom pointed out that between school, neighbors, and extracurricular activities, we'd have to invite about 60 kids. And their parents. And their siblings. And it rained on that weekend last year AND the year before. So Slacker Mom convinced me to spend that money on a more worthy cause: a mid-year trip to Florida to see friends instead. Surprisingly, the kids were totally on-board and won't even miss the party that I've prided myself on for 7 years now. Talk about a wake-up call.

Slacker Mom Says...before I know it, I'll be a grumpy old lady turning out my porch light on October 31. I might as well start enjoying this holiday instead of trying to create yet another perfectly memorable, perfectly Martha Stewart holiday. Instead, I'm going to buy costumes and cookies, take my kids trick-or-treating, and get some extra sleep. After all, Christmas is just around the corner. And my Slacker Mom detox program hasn't figured out a way to talk me down from SuperMomming the crap out of Christmas yet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Put Down the Ketchup and Catch Up

So the other night I was watching Jeopardy with my husband. Boring, I know, but hey, that's life as a parent: no babysitter, so you put them to bed and watch TV and call it a date. Anyway, one of the questions was about the Secretary of the Treasury. I realized that I had absolutely NO idea who that was. My mind was as blank as the look my kids give me when I ask them what they did at school each day.

Now, I majored in International Relations with an emphasis in US/Soviet relations and Middle Eastern conflict. I minored in International Business with an emphasis in Pacific Rim economies. I used to know all 12 Supreme Court justices and the year they were confirmed, the names of various ambassadors and United Nations dignitaries, and who each of my senators and members of Congress were. I used to be knowledgeable in foreign policy, domestic policy, our military's presence in any foreign land. Not anymore.

These days, I can correctly name all four Wiggles by color, name, and musical instrument, identify the entire PTA executive board, all 8 Kindergarten teachers, and Miley Cyrus's current boyfriend - but I don't know a single member of the Cabinet or who the lieutenant governor of my state is. What the hell happened?

Motherhood happened, that's what. My priorities changed, my sphere of influence changed, my world shrank, and my reading list changed from Newsweek and USA Today to Goodnight Moon and Hop on Pop. I used to be the most well-informed woman in my neighborhood, and, I'll be honest, I looked down on the rest of them for not keeping up on current events. Now I know: they weren't stupid or unconcerned with what was happening in the world. They were just stuck in baby jail, barely able to find time to pee and throw in a load of laundry so they could go to the store without spit-up on their clothes. That WAS their world. They didn't have time to step out into the "real" world because their lives were so busy with diapers and feeding that, IF the TV went on, it was Elmo, not CNN, they watched. Rather than French politics, they were busy with french fries. Who knew.

Slacker Mom Says...I'm going to make the time to catch up on what's going on around me. I don't want to make my world so small that I forget that what's out "there" is really important, too. I want my girls to be up on current events, to be able to discuss world affairs (but not politician's affairs, thank you very much, Mark Sanford) and the human condition beyond our front door. Miley's boyfriend may be news in pre-teen land, but there's a whole world outside that I used to know and love. Time to recapture it.

But first I have to go figure out who the yellow Wiggle is. You know, the one who took over for Greg.