Friday, August 28, 2009

Pez is a Fruit, Right?

Being the Perfect Mommy, I have an after school routine for my kids: they get the mail, have a snack, talk about their school day, and settle in for homework time. Snack is usually fresh fruit, yogurt, or whole grain (no sugar) cereal. Everyone shares the best and worst part of the school day, grabs their assignments, and gathers at the kitchen table so that I am available to help while I go through the mail and (endless, multiple copies of) school notices. No homework? You may read, practice math facts, or color quietly at the table with the rest of us. That's been our routine since the first one started Kindergarten a few years ago. A little boring, maybe, but effective and predictable.

This year, that routine lasted all of a week. On that fateful day, the girls raced to the mailbox to find a package from their Uncle Brian, who lives in Montana and always sends the COOLEST things (Hello Kitty fruit snacks! MSU tee shirts! A cowboy hat! Pictures of the dogs on a 14-mile hike up a snow-covered mountain! In July!). Ripping open the envelope, they found Disney Princess Pez dispensers...and EXTRA Pez refills! Pink and purple sugar pouring out of their favorite Disney characters! You'd have thought he sent them a million dollars, they were so excited.

Now, normally I would not allow candy right after school, at least not before a nutritious snack balancing fiber and protein for optimal brain power. But on this particular Monday, Slacker Mom had invaded my body. So when the girls' screams of, "Can we eat it? Can we eat it NOW?" pierced the humid air, I gave in.

If it's fruit-flavored, it must have some fruit in it, right?

And I discovered that the world didn't end, that homework got done (albeit a little more slowly, since it's hard to draw the state game bird while clutching Snow White in your sweaty little hand), and everyone still ate a (mostly) nutritious dinner. But the joy on their faces when they saw that gift from their beloved uncle, the simple pleasure of a bit of candy for no reason other than he loves them and was thinking of them, made me think: why do I have these rigid rules about things that, just maybe, don't really matter all that much? Does it really make a difference if they have the "perfect" snack every day after school? Would allowing a little more junk food be detrimental to their academic progress or their overall health, if they eat well the rest of the time? I think the answer is no, it wouldn't - but it might mean a little more fun with my kids after they've been away from me all day. So now, if they want a little ice cream in the afternoon, I'll top it with fresh fruit and let them go to town. Every so often, we'll split a Snapple instead of skim milk, and there's nothing wrong with a little Cookie Crisp cereal now and then, either.

Slacker Mom Says...question the rules. Rules were made to be broken. Shake things up and let them do their homework outside, in their bathing suits, with the sprinklers waiting for them as soon as they are done. Serve cake for breakfast on their birthdays, even if it's a school day. We only have a few short years to enjoy our kids. We're building memories that will last a lifetime, and someday, our kids will tell their kids, "Once, when I was 5, your Gramma let me eat an entire tube of Pez that Uncle Brian sent me. It was awesome!" And your grandkids will think you're awesome, too. Then you can let them eat chocolate ice cream for breakfast, and your kids can't say a word about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Slacker Dad" Is Redundant

Shortly after Slacker Mom made her first appearance this summer, she had a much-anticipated and long-overdue appointment with her colorist. (You know it's bad when your pre-teen says, "Um, Mom, I don't want to insult you, but I don't want anyone thinking you're my grandmother, either." Thanks, kid. I'll remember that when you want your first highlights - and you want me to pay for it.) So off she went to the salon on a Saturday morning, no kids, no husband, just Slacker Mom and her new magazines. (And not parenting magazines, either. Really educational stuff like People, Us Weekly, and Glamour.)

Meanwhile, back at home, Daddy was in charge. Now, during the week, Daddy is rarely home during daylight hours. So, in his defense, he's not always up on all the latest rules and procedures, like "no eating on the couch", or "meals before dessert", or "we brush our teeth at least now and again". The girls were enjoying his, shall we say, more carefree and relaxed parenting style. That is to say, they had Pop Tarts for breakfast (on the couch), used every utensil in the kitchen for their Play-Doh cakes (on the couch), and had Wendy's for lunch (thankfully NOT on the couch). Four hours of mayhem later, the playroom was nearly unrecognizable, and the kids were not much better off. You don't want to know what they were wearing: just watch out for the "what not to wear" column.

When Slacker Mom arrived home, the kids were parked in front of Hannah Montana and their daddy was camped out in front of the computer. Hugs, kisses, compliments for the new hairstyle, a few nervous glances around (mine) - and then the pets scurried off, fear in their eyes, to hide. They say animals can sense danger, after all. That's when I started looking around and saw the damage - the crumbs, the dishes, the fast food bags on the kitchen table, the Play-Doh stuck on the new rug. I could feel my blood pressure rising, the salon-induced warm fuzzies rapidly draining from my once-relaxed body.

The kids were easy to break. They figured Daddy'd be the one to get in trouble, not them. They gleefully ratted him out, sparing no detail. "Daddy let us have TWO Pop Tarts!" Really? "Yeah, AND gum! You never let us have gum!" No, I don't. Because I'm tired of finding it in your hair, on the carpet, on the dog. And on it went.

Finally, my husband looking sheepish and the kids tiring of this game, I sent the kids upstairs to clean up and brush their teeth (and put on clean clothes, I'll admit). I looked at my exhausted, sweet, hard-working husband, who always encourages me to take time for myself and never gives me a hard time when I'm the one hitting the drive-thru or breaking out the sugared cereal, and decided to give the guy a break. To lighten the mood, I said, "So, what? Did Slacker Dad come by here today?"

And my witty husband, who used his fine sense of humor (and timing) to suck me right in when we were dating, looked at me and said, "SLACKER Dad? Isn't that redundant? Isn't the slacker part just assumed?"

Slacker Mom Says...cut the daddies some slack, too. Let them do it their own way, even if it's not the "right" way or your way. No kid ever died from eating a few Pop Tarts or got a mouthful of cavities because they skipped brushing their teeth once or twice, and most dads really don't get the whole "outfit" thing anyway. So if you come home and your daughter's hair looks like something Madonna tried in the 80s (don't pretend you don't remember) and your son is wearing his diaper backwards, get over it. Hey, that's one diaper you didn't have to change, and the 80s are in again, right? Dads need to find their own style, their own groove, without us always telling them how to do it. And besides, sometimes daddies are just more relaxed, more easy-going, more fun. They can be. The "slacker" part is assumed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I May Be the Boss, But Nobody's Listening

The other day, my husband came home from work and ranted about his day. Nothing went right, no one did their job well, paperwork was lost, people didn't follow through, everyone was slacking off, blah blah blah blah blah. Being the perfect loving, patient wife, I said, "I'm so sorry you had a rough day. Want some dinner?" and served him some grilled salmon and fresh vegetables by candlelight. (True story. I think Slacker Mom was off duty that day.)

But what I WANTED to say was, "Get over it! You think you had a bad day? Did anyone puke on the new area rug at YOUR office? How many of YOUR employees had major meltdowns in the middle of Target? Did anyone at YOUR work require 7 bandaids, 2 elaborate hair styles, socks that weren't itchy, AND individually-packed home-made lunches while your co-workers were still asleep, all before 7 AM? Welcome to my world!"

Much as I loved teaching, I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I love my life and I'm happy with the choices I've made, don't get me wrong, but there are times I'd welcome the positive feedback and tangible rewards that come from a "real" job. True, I get paid in sticky kisses and endless hugs, but there are times I'd like to hear "Great job!" from my boss. And then I remember, I don't have a boss! I AM the boss! And why don't I feel like it? Why do I feel like I work for everyone else? Why do I feel like I run around meeting everyone else's needs and ignoring my own? Why do I feel guilty taking ten minutes to paint my toenails when there's dirty laundry piled to the ceiling and no one has clean tights for ballet class? Why, indeed?

My friend Jen recently told her husband, "You don't understand. You go to work, you're the boss, everyone listens to you and does whatever you say." His (typically male) response? "Honey, you're the boss here at home!" to which she replied, "I may be the boss, but no one listens!" Truer words were never spoken. We are in charge of EVERYTHING, but we don't feel in control of much. We are responsible for EVERYTHING, but get (take?) little credit when it all turns out well. Lots of blame if it all goes to hell in a handbasket, but credit? Not so much.

But then I call my best friend to vent, and she reminds me of something important: I'm living the dream. I have this time with my kids, time that can never be taken from me, that I will never regret, that I will cherish forever. She even bought me an engraved bracelet that says "Live the Life you Love", to remind me that this is the life I've always wanted, it's the life I chose, the life I do, indeed, love. I wouldn't change any of it for the world. I just need to slow down, enjoy the ride, and relax a bit more.

Slacker Mom Says...slow down. Do less for everyone else if it means doing more for yourself. Moms need to cherish themselves so that they can cherish their kids. We need to feed ourselves, literally and figuratively, before we can feed our kids' bodies, brains, souls. That's the reason the airlines tell us to put on our own oxygen masks first. Once our needs are met, we can help our kids safely navigate the waters of childhood. So I'm going to be the boss, and I'm giving myself some time off, starting today.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Southern Women Make Me Look Bad

Recently, I was at a five-year-old's birthday party at one of those inflatable play spaces. (For the third time in a month, but that's another story.) My friend and I were watching our daughters play when we noticed another mom, in full make-up and perfect hair, dripping with diamonds, wearing a short, tight black halter dress. She looked amazing and glamorous, like she was headed to an evening event with her husband, not standing around eating cold pizza at Bouncies-R-Us. My friend and I looked at each other, noted our baggy capri pants, tee shirts, and flip flops (the uniform of the SAHM), and wondered: is this what is expected of us at 9 AM? Is she over-dressed, or are we slobs?

Although both of us are from the West Coast, home of Hollywood and breast implants for teenagers, we now live in the South. Women here have a different idea of beauty. I have friends I've known over a year now, whom I've never seen in less than perfect hair and make-up, even at the pool. They wear cute dresses to Wal Mart, high heels to football games, and never leave home without their lipstick. Their daughters have bows in their hair on the soccer field. They are unfailingly polite and well-mannered.

Sometimes that makes me feel like Slacker Mom. My oldest refuses to wear bows, my youngest loses hers, and I don't even know when I last wore a pair of Manolo's. I honk at people who don't move when the light turns green. I do (sometimes) wear lipstick, but I don't know how to wear eyeliner on my lower lids or where to buy hairspray that actually keeps out the humidity. I'm more of a laid-back California mom: I wear flip flops, Uggs in the winter, tee shirts with my skirts, casual hair and make-up. I try to do my nails, but chlorine and dish water do a number on them, so I usually stick with at-home pedicures and skip the manicures altogether.

My grandmother NEVER left home without blush and lipstick on. I think she was a Southerner posing as a Midwestern farmer's daughter, but perhaps she was on to something. A little lipstick makes me feel just a bit more like a woman and a bit less like a mom. A little effort on my part goes a long way: the girls tell me, "Mommy! You look beautiful today!" and my husband appreciates the more-glamorous me when he gets home at night. It's a nice change from the sweat pants I wore to walk the dog.

Slacker Mom Says...when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Maybe it's time to embrace my inner Southerner. Who knows? Maybe this time next year I'll be sipping sweet tea on my front porch.

The Clothes (Don't) Make the Woman

When I was a young teacher (cute! blonde! size 4!), I noticed that a lot of stay-at-home moms brought their kids to school in ratty sweats, baggy tee shirts, messy hair. They looked like a lot of teenage boys today: the "I just woke up, threw on whatever was laying on the floor, and came to school" look. I clearly remember thinking, Seriously, ladies, how hard is it to slap on a little make-up, put on a clean pair of jeans, and get to school at 7:30? I vowed that would never be me.

Ha, ha, freakin' ha.

These days, I put on just enough mascara and tinted moisturizer so as not to embarrass my daughters, run my fingers through my hair, and grab whatever's laying on top of the laundry basket - and doesn't smell too much like sunscreen or dog. I've even gone through the carpool line in my Tinkerbell pajamas and Ugg boots. Don't get me wrong: if I have a meeting, a volunteer committment, somewhere other than my laundry room to be, I'll go all out. Blow dyer, flat iron, makeup, clean jeans and "real" shoes (not flip flops for my inner San Diego girl). But if I'm heading to the gym or back home to my desperately-in-need-of-bleach bathrooms, why bother? I'm just going to need another shower later anyway. My friend Jennifer is usually wearing gym shorts and sneakers when I see her at school. She calls it her "uniform". When she glams it up, she looks amazing, but really, what's the point at 7 AM?

Just to be clear, I am not speaking of working moms who are headed to the office after putting in a full morning at home, packing lunches and getting kids off to school. Working moms amaze me. They have full make-up, perfect hair, and coordinating jewelry - before 8 AM! No, I'm talking about those of us who are going back home to make beds, do dishes, sort laundry, walk the dog. If you want to get up an hour early to get ready for drop off, more power to you. You look fantastic; I admire your dedication and your effort. It's just that I don't want to do it anymore. I don't HAVE to do it anymore. Soon enough I'll be back at work in full make-up and pantyhose, but this time around I won't judge anyone for how they spend their precious morning minutes.

Slacker Mom's ok to slack off and sleep an extra half hour, even if it's just once or twice a week. You can do your make-up and hair when you get back home. Anyone who judges you isn't worth your time and certainly isn't your friend. Let's redefine our expectations for women and for stay-at-home moms. We all want to look our best, but we shouldn't have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to do it!

And please don't judge me if you see me in the hallway in baggy sweats and a ratty tee shirt. I'm probably off to the gym.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Last Days of Summer

My kids are bored. With me, with each other, with their toys.

And this is a good thing. School starts in two days. My kids are sick of being home. By contrast, school seems exciting. New friends! New teachers! New pencils! And I am actively, purposefully making things around here super-boring so that they can't wait to get back to school.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE having my kids home and wish the summer were longer. We travel, go to the beach, swim nearly every day, visit museums, do crafts, play with friends. I hate sending them back to school because I really, truly miss them when they are gone. (Ask anyone: I cry all the way home every year on the first day.) But my job is to help them separate easily from me, to become independent thinkers, to give them roots and wings. If things at home remain fascinating and fun, they'll never want to go back to school. So, to that end, I make the end of summer as unexciting as possible.

Slacker Mom lets me off the hook from those last big "hurrah" events of summer. No last minute rush to the beach, no "one more trip for ice cream" before school starts, no "let's get in all the things we forgot to do while we were lazing around." Nope, around here, we are trying on school clothes, organizing sock drawers, and tidying up the playroom after a summer full of playdates. It's not horrible, it's just not exciting. But this makes them look forward that much more to the first day of school. A new teacher is upbeat, energetic, excited for the new year. Slacker Mom, by contrast, is not. She's tired, sunburned, and disorganized, since she's been at the pool all summer instead of cleaning her house. Score one for school.

Slacker Mom need to kill yourself making this week fun. They've had fun all summer. Slack off and let them be just bored enough to make school the most exciting thing since, well, last June.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Slacker is NOT a Synonym For Lazy

Recently, I had a conversation with some mommy friends about "slacker moms". There was quite a range of opinion about what the term meant. Some felt that slacker moms watch soaps while their kids run wild upstairs; some felt that the label applied to moms who aren't involved at school, or feed their kids fast food every day, or are just plain lazy.

So let's clarify: Slacker Mom isn't lazy. Far from it! Slacker Mom is a dedicated, devoted mom who has realized that sometimes, it's OK to be less than "perfect". That it's acceptable to buy frozen pizza for the annual Back to School Pizza Bash (although the cookies were homemade and the fruit salad was fresh). That there is nothing wrong with the occasional playdate at McDonald's because it's been raining for three days and everyone's going crazy being cooped up in the house. That Halloween costumes don't have to be made by hand every single year, and in fact, you can have the kids (gasp!) wear the same thing two years in a row.

Slacker Mom practices long-term parenting, realizing that what's best is usually not what's easiest, but it is what's necessary to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted young people who contribute positively to their communities. This is our goal as moms, isn't it? But Slacker Mom has given herself permission to ENJOY this time in her life, not just get through it. She doesn't want to miss anything, so she "slacks" off on things that don't REALLY matter in order to enjoy the things that do.
Slacker Mom has realized that SHE matters too. She understands that if she's overworked and underappreciated, her kids will suffer. She has consciously chosen to take a breather from the hectic, harried schedules of motherhood to just enjoy life and, more importantly, enjoy her children for the very short time they are young. Ask any grandmother: time flies. Blink, and they're out of diapers. Blink again, and they're in school. Once more, and they're married with kids of their own!

Ask yourself: when was the last time you dropped everything to make a mermaid tail for a Polly-Pocket-sized Prince Eric so he could swim with Ariel? (Don't laugh, it's part of the job description. Read your manual.) There will always be dishes to do, beds to make, and floors to wash. Rather than ignore her kids, "Slacker Mom" is a way to embrace them, to embrace Motherhood (with a capital M!) and to focus on what matters. Instead of spending an hour making a perfectly well-balanced organic dinner from all the food groups, Slacker Mom serves oatmeal (hey, there's milk in there, and raisins, too!) on a picnic blanket on the floor.

When I had my first child, a very wise woman (a mother of five, police detective and small business owner) gave me some advice: Your kids will not remember that your house was always company clean, but they will remember what you did with them, that you played with them and took them to fly kites and made cookies. I thought, how true! how insightful! And then she added, "And sometimes, you've got to put in a DVD, order pizza, and take a long, hot bath." Hey, she's entitled to a Slacker Mom night, too!

Slacker Mom Says...embrace your inner slacker! Focus on what makes you happy. Enjoy your kids, enjoy being a mom, enjoy this season of your life. Cut out activities and social obligations that make you crazy and stressed. Avoid people who bring you down and drain your energy. Happy mom, happy kids, happy family.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Me" Time Isn't Selfish

When my kids were really little, babies and toddlers, I felt the need to be with them at all times. Reading, playing, coloring, crafting, doing everything with, and for, them myself. I even had a hard time letting my husband take over bathing or feeding, thinking that it made me a better mom, a better person, if I met their needs myself. I didn't even like for him to take them anywhere in the car without me: what if he didn't buckle them tightly? if he let them eat junk food? if he drove too fast?

But now that they are a bit older, I see that I do NOT have to be "on" all the time. Right now, the girls are watching a movie, and I'm sitting with them, writing, reading, drinking coffee. I am present with them, available to them, but I don't WANT to watch Cinderella for the 935th time. I've realized that it's ok to let my husband take them swimming while I take a nap (or clean bathrooms, which is more likely), that it's ok to send them back upstairs when they wake up too early in the morning, that they can figure out how to shove Barbie's feet into her go-go boots. (Or just find some sneakers. The girl's got more shoes than Imelda Marcos!) I am entitled to finish a cup of coffee before it gets cold, and Barbie's fashion crisis can just wait a few minutes!

As my kids got older, and as I approached 40, I got tired of constantly meeting everyone else's needs and ignoring mine. (Why are you asking me for a drink while I'm IN THE POTTY???) So now, if I'm on the treadmill and someone wants a snack, she can wait until I am done - or get it herself. I have the right to be healthy and happy, and taking care of myself allows me to take better care of my family.

Slacker Mom lets my kids be more independent and less dependent on me. She lets me take some time for myself, feel good about doing something for me for a change. So if my kids are watching TV for an hour instead of reading or doing a science experiment, it won't hurt them. Not every moment must be spent "enriching" their little lives. Did our moms do so much for us, or did they just let us get on with it?

Slacker Mom's ok to take a few minutes to read the paper, watch the news, drink your coffee, or catch up with a friend on the phone. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. So be happy and do something for you this morning!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Slacker Mom?

I have always been an over achiever: straight A's in school, top scores on standardized tests, a driven, Type-A perfectionist. During my first year of college, my roommate called me a "wacko-spaz-joiner", referring to my habit of taking on too many projects, clubs, and classes. (She didn't mean it as a compliment, but now it's a running joke between us.) She was right, and I was sleep-deprived and over-extended, but that didn't stop me. Why not give your all in everything you do? I had no concept of "good enough".

Fast forward ten years, and I'm teaching gifted children in San Diego while working on my Masters in Education. I sit on 6 committees, volunteer for 3 different organizations, have a full social calendar, freelance for a major publishing house, hit the gym at 8 PM every night, and throw regular gourmet dinner parties (with the same roommate, by the way). Still sleep-deprived and over-extended and perfectionistic, but busy and active and involved and happy. I think.

Now, 23 years after the original "wacko-spaz-joiner" comment was made, I realize that I am STILL that girl: the one on all the school committees, volunteering for every job, driving two kids to 4 different activities (EACH) every week, designing costumes for the ballet company and cooking the second grade Thanksgiving feast while recovering from major surgery, making all the cookies for the preschool graduation from scratch, wanting to have it all, wanting to do it all, wanting to do it all perfectly.

And my little girls have a tired, stressed out, sleep-deprived, over-extended, perfectionistic mom. Who falls asleep reading Goodnight Moon at 7 PM.

And my husband may have a home-cooked meal every night, but when he goes to bed, I'm working on the school emergency phone tree directory or the Christmas newsletter or the family vacation scrapbook.

And, worst of all, I've started seeing perfectionistic tendencies in my seven-year-old.

So this summer, I introduced my kids to "Slacker Mom". She visits a few times a week. She serves oatmeal or popcorn for dinner and leaves the beds unmade to take them swimming. Sometimes she even plops them in front of the TV with pizza! On the couch! My kids ADORE Slacker Mom. They ask for her regularly.

Welcome to Slacker Mom. She'll let you off the hook.