Monday, November 8, 2010

Who Wouldn't Want To Be a Fairy Princess?

My kids are both home sick today, so my usual Monday morning routine has gone out the window. Instead of hitting Starbucks, Target, the health food store, the dry cleaner and the grocery store immediately after school drop-off, I'm still hanging out in my kitchen with a cup of coffee and The Today Show. (Aaahh. I'm not saying I'm glad my kids are sick or anything, but...) We may not have groceries or clean clothes, but I'll have put in my two cents on this topic.

As I stood in my kitchen, trying to avoid the giant bowl of Halloween candy sitting on my counter, I saw an adorable photo onscreen - the cutest little Daphne (from Scooby Doo) I've ever seen. I'm a sucker for cute kid pics, even when they're not my kids, so I turned up the volume and ignored the candy. Turns out the cute kid was a boy nicknamed Boo, who wanted to dress as Daphne for Halloween. His mom, Sarah, figured, "What's the harm?" and ordered the costume. She was shocked by the reactions of some people, however, who told her she was "making" her son gay. So Sarah decided to blog about her decision to allow her son to follow his heart and wear what made him happy. According to The Today Show, her post has received over 3 million hits and 10,000 responses. Some are supportive, some negative, but all this media attention landed Sarah on The Today Show to share her story.

Along with Sarah, there was another mom, Cheryl, whose 5-year-old son Dyson likes princess dresses and crowns when he plays dress up. Cheryl's written a book about her son, and she discussed how difficult it was for her to arrive at the place she is now: a place of acceptance and support for Dyson's fashion choices during play and pretend time. At first, she said, she went out and bought him "boy" dress up clothes, and told him, "Boys can't be princesses." To which this little guy said, "Then I'm a princess boy!" I'm with Dyson. Who wouldn't want to be a princess? All the beautiful clothes you want, no chores, people bowing and scraping and doing whatever you tell them? Sounds like a great job to me. Where do I sign up?

Both moms were surprised and dismayed by the reactions of some other parents. So am I. What is the big deal? Sarah said it well when she pointed out, "Halloween lets you be who you are not." I mean, I'm not worried that my neighbor's son Zack, who dressed up as Freddy, is going to become a dream-invading serial killer and chop me up in my sleep. A DEA agent friend of mine always dresses as a prisoner - get it? He's a cop dressed as a convicted felon. It's NOT REAL. My own 8-year-old? She's not REALLY a Gothic vampire. I'm pretty sure she's not going to suddenly develop a craving for human blood.

Besides, these kids don't have gender identity issues. They KNOW they're boys. They just think it's fun to pretend to be something they aren't. It's kind of like when I put on a really, really good bra and pretend that my boobs look JUST AS GOOD as they did before I had kids. I know they don't, I know they never will, but I enjoy the pretending immensely.

And what about girls wearing traditional "boy" costumes? My friend's first grade daughter wore an astronaut costume this year and was Spiderman last year. A neighbor's 6-year-old girl wore a Bob the Builder costume. My youngest, at age 3, was Curious George for Halloween - and many, many cold winter days after that. Yet I've never once heard any objection to girls wearing more "boyish" costumes for Halloween or dress up time. Is it somehow more "OK" for girls to dress as boys? And what does this say about our society's message to our kids?

As far as I'm concerned, kids can dress up and play pretend all they want. I see no harm in letting a little boy try on a pink feathered boa and Cinderella shoes, or giving a little girl a Spiderman costume. It's playtime! It's time to be anything you want to be! I mean, hey, Barbie can be a dolphin trainer, a vet, AND an Olympic swimmer, right? My friend Maria has two boys the same ages as my girls, and the four kids were inseparable during their preschool years. Her boys LOVED visiting our playroom, which was full of all kinds of "girly" stuff they didn't have: every princess dress and crown, lots of baby dolls and Polly Pockets, and Barbie's Dream House. I have the cutest picture of her youngest, at age 3, in a crown and tutu. In turn, my girls were in heaven in their playroom: a Thomas train table, tons of race cars, and ninja costumes. (An aside: my girls were given plenty of "boy" toys like cars, balls, etc. And Maria's boys were offered dolls and stuffed animals. But when you have all girls or all boys, your playroom will tend to look a little unbalanced. You get over it.)

Slacker Mom Says... relax. Let kids play act and dress up and try on different roles. Boys playing with dolls? They'll get some practice on how to be a good daddy one day. Girls wearing Storm Trooper costumes? They'll pretend to be strong warriors, which may help them stand up for themselves when it really counts. I mean, c'mon, I'm not a slutty nurse or a Wild West saloon girl, either, but I've got some pictures from the late 90s that would say otherwise. And as Cheryl said, "As parents, our job is to love and support our children." I think that about sums it up.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Our Future Depends on Parents

Election Day has come and gone; the voters have spoken, the political ads are over, and it's finally safe to watch TV again. As usual, I'm glad it's all over: no more negative ads, no more talking heads gearing up for the big fight; no more celebrities thinking their opinion is somehow more valid simply because they are celebrities. Regardless of one's political beliefs, now that the election is over, we can focus on working together as Americans to improve our nation. Like many voters, I'm worried about our country. I'm worried about the future of our country.

But unlike most voters, I'm not so worried about our economic or political future. I believe this country can and will recover from our current problems. I believe that Americans will work hard and the recession will end. I believe that most of our leaders truly have the best interests of our nation at heart. No, right now I'm more worried about our kids' future. In an era where 8-year-olds watch R-rated movies like "Zombieland", 6-year-olds know (and use) more cuss words than I do, and fourth graders not only understand the term "frenemy" but actually HAVE some, what is wrong with our society?

We may be used to hearing horror stories from the inner city, or from developing nations, or from families with substance abuse or domestic violence issues. But there are some shocking things going on among all of our children. Over coffee today, my friend Michelle told me about a birthday party her first- and third-grade daughters attended last weekend. A little boy at the party, a 6-year-old from a "normal" home, told her daughters, "I'm going to wipe my penis juice all over you." In return, I told her about a boy in my daughter's Kindergarten class last year who rubbed his hands up and down her back and said, "Do you like it when I touch you here? How does it make you feel?"

Where are these kids hearing this? What is going on in their lives that they not only know these words, but actually think it's OK to talk like that to other children? And what is wrong with parents these days? Michelle's daughters thought the boy was going to pee on them, and ran away to tell their mom. My daughter told me she got a "yucky feeling" in her tummy, but was too scared to tell the teacher. She waited until she got home to tell me what had happened. (And yes, I called the school immediately, and yes, it was handled to my complete and total satisfaction.)

Less disturbing, but still unfortunate, is the current favorite pastime among many fourth and fifth grade girls on the school playground. Most of their recess time seems to be spent gossiping about other girls. Yes, some of them play soccer, some of them actually hang on the monkey bars, and some of them chase boys, and perhaps chasing the boys is better than when I was young and the boys chased the girls (women's liberation, baby!). But from what I've seen during lunch duty, the majority of the girls stand around trash talking. When did this become an acceptable activity for nine and ten year olds? Why aren't they running around, being kids, sliding and climbing and enjoying the break from class? Who has taught them that bashing other girls is OK? (I'm pretty sure I have an answer to that, but that's another topic of conversation for another time.) When she refused to get involved in a gossip fest, my older daughter had a close friend tell her, "If you don't do what I tell you, I'm not going to be your friend, invite you over, or come over to your house anymore." Emotional blackmail at age 9?

And don't try to tell parents their kids are doing anything wrong. That rarely works; it usually backfires. A friend of mine called a neighbor to ask her to talk to her son about his threatening behavior on the school bus. The two women had been meeting to walk their dogs every day when their kids left for school, but now? My friend says her neighbor not only refuses to speak to her, but lets her dog poop in her front yard, without picking it up. When the grown ups act like toddlers, what are the kids supposed to do? Even the schools can't tell parents their kids are misbehaving; teachers and administrators are often blamed for behaviors that were learned (and accepted) at home.

Kids today are allowed, even encouraged, to grow up far too fast for my taste. I remember hearing a mother of a preschooler tell her child, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is for babies. You should be watching Zack and Cody." Really? At 4, she's too old for Mickey Mouse? Another mom I know told me, "I hate fighting with my kids, and I really want them to like me. Sometimes, it's just easier to give in." Ohhhh-kaaaaay. A former co-worker of mine told her daughter, who's 9, "You're way too old for Barbies. You need to give them away." Too old for Barbies? Shoot, most little girls want to BE Barbie - cool Dream House (with an elevator!), pink convertible, more clothes than she can wear, and she can be anything she wants - vet, teacher, dolphin trainer. Sounds good to me!

Ten-year-olds with Facebook accounts. Seven-year-olds with more expensive cell phones than I have. Preschoolers having sleepovers. Teenagers who spend more time online than with their families. Children watching so-called "celebrities" on reality shows behaving very, very badly - and not only getting paid for it, but being praised for it. Sports fans who berate referees - at preschool soccer games. Families who freely admit - almost with pride - that they haven't sat down to dinner together in months because their kids are sooooo busy and sooooo involved in after-school activities that they just don't have time to spend together.

It seems terribly old-fashioned and hopelessly uncool to parent like our parents and grandparents did. To insist on obedience, respect for others and oneself, and discipline - both at home and in the community. What's happened to good manners? What's happened to showing consideration and concern for others? What's happened to "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?" And, the big question, posed on The Today Show this week: Is civility dead in America? Is it too late? Can we get back to some level of respect in our country?

Slacker Mom Says... I believe we can. I hope and pray that we can. I think civility is not dead, just dormant, or maybe taking a nap. But, like so much else, it starts with us, with parents. More specifically, it starts with good parenting. So many of us seem to be afraid to actually parent, to lead by example and teach kids what's right, even when it's hard. So much of parenting is just that: doing what is right, what is necessary, even when it's hard, even when it's unpopular, even when our kids may well hate us for years (or maybe, really, just hours) for doing it. Parenting means thinking about the long-term, not the short-term, not what is easy and what everyone else is doing, but what will serve our kids well in the years (and years and years) to come. No, it's not fun to have to wait until my kids are asleep to watch "Desperate Housewives." Yes, I'd love to end all arguments with my pre-teen about friends, clothes, allowance, and chores. However, I am the mom. I took the job, I signed up for a life sentence. So no, she can't roam the neighborhood unsupervised or have a cell phone or eat candy for breakfast. And no, she can't have a TV in her room, even though "all my friends have one" (and they don't; I checked) and even though it makes me the "meanest mom in the entire world." Really? Good. If you like me all the time and want to be my friend, I'm certainly not doing my job. Maybe one day she'll understand; maybe one day she'll even appreciate the reason behind the rules. Maybe she won't. But that's the job. Do what's right and what's best, even when it's hard and unpopular. If you're not up for it, don't apply.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It Might Be Time to "Talk the Talk"

My oldest daughter's fourth grade teacher gave her class "the talk" the other day. No, not THAT talk; Health and Human Development isn't until fifth grade, and let's be honest - if the school is really giving your child brand-new information in that area, you are way behind the eight ball. No, I mean the "it's time to start wearing deodorant" talk. Yep, she sat them down after PE class last week and told them to go out and get some deodorant - and wear it - because some of the kids really need it, and she didn't want to embarrass anyone by pointing fingers.

Now, several other mothers were upset by this event. "It's not her place to tell my child he needs deodorant," said one mom. Another told me, "I don't think she should have talked to the girls and boys together in case anyone got embarrassed." A third thought that the teacher should have e-mailed the parents of the odiferous children and shared her concerns with them directly, rather than addressing it with the entire class. Still another thought that the way she talked to them was "far too direct and not gentle enough" for her taste.

Me? I appreciate her concern for the children, as well as her directness. And I'd rather she spend her time writing lessons than e-mailing individual parents about personal hygiene issues. But the bottom line is, I've been in that classroom after recess on a 98-degree day often enough to know that THEY ALL NEED TO BE WEARING DEODORANT. DAILY. Even the ones who don't really "need" it yet stink to high heaven after a half hour on the playground. And as far as I'm concerned, until you've spent the afternoon in an enclosed space with 23 nine- and ten-year olds after an hour of PE class, you are NOT, in fact, entitled to an opinion on this subject.

But I wasn't there for "the talk", and some of the other moms were truly bothered by it. So I asked my (overly sensitive and easily upset) daughter to relate exactly what her teacher had said to the class. She told me, "She was really funny, Mommy. She said, 'Y'all need to ask your parents to go out and get you some deodorant, because you're coming to the age where these things are important. I don't want to embarrass anyone, so I'm not going to name any names, but some of you are growing up and it's time to think about personal hygiene.' Mom, she's SO right. Some of the boys REALLY smell." Uh, yeah, they do. And did I mention that the teacher is pregnant? Imagine a room full of sweaty pre-teen bodies under those conditions. I could barely stand to smell MYSELF when I was pregnant.

As parents, we like to think we know when our kids are ready for the next step. When are they ready to be weaned or potty-trained? Are they ready for preschool? Time for braces? Is it time for "the talk"? Ages and stages are such a big deal when our kids are babies and toddlers and preschoolers, but we tend to forget that it's just as big a deal when they hit elementary school. Some girls get their periods in fourth grade. Some boys start to have, um, "special" dreams as young as age 10. Puberty, with its body odor, growth spurts, changing bodies and voices, hair in weird places - it's happening whether we parents want it to or not. If kids aren't prepared for these things, what will they think when it happens to them? If we don't tell them what the next step is, how will they know?

Too many parents bury their heads in the sand and say, "S/he's too young! S/he shouldn't know about these things yet!" I hear you, I really do. And in a perfect world, our kids wouldn't need to know this stuff yet. But the reality is, they are probably hearing about puberty from their better-informed peers on the playground. Imagine my surprise the day my oldest child came home - from second grade - and said, "What's sex?" I gave her the standard "It's whether you're a boy or a girl, you know, like when you have to check off a box on a doctor's form or something" thing. She said, "I don't think that's it. Lilly said it has to do with grown-up private parts rubbing together to make babies." Oh. Oh my. Okay. My husband is STILL thankful he worked late that day.

But this is exactly my point: Wouldn't I rather she hear it from me? Under circumstances that I control? In a setting where she's free to ask questions and get correct information? As a former teacher, I can tell you that what our kids hear on the playground is usually WAY off-base. (When I taught sixth-grade science, I had a student tell me, "But my friend says you can't get pregnant the first time you have sex." Oh, boy. I rest my case.) And even though, for most third- or fourth-graders, the sex talk isn't necessary just yet, the puberty talk is. Trust me, it's hard to "unteach" what they've erroneously heard. No, it's far easier to give kids accurate information the first time, with our own morals and religious beliefs involved, than it is to erase what their classmates have told them already. And really, who would you rather your kids get their information from - you, or a bunch of kids who are just as (or even more!) uninformed about this stuff than they are?

So, as usual, when I found myself in a group of parents commenting on the deodorant issue, I couldn't keep my mouth shut and leave well enough alone. No, I had to put in my two cents, which is basically this: what better way to open a discussion of the changes their bodies will be going through than this? Let's just look at it as an opportunity to have a frank discussion with your child about what is coming. Yes, it's uncomfortable - for parents as well as kids. Yes, it's a tough subject to tackle. But being calm and matter-of-fact about it sends the message that we are comfortable talking with our kids, that we are willing to answer their questions, that we welcome them to come to us with ANYTHING at all. And isn't that the point? I want my girls to know that they can come to me and I won't be embarrassed or get upset at their questions. (Their dad, that's another story. I'm working on that one. He's mortified at the thought of them asking him anything, but he'll have to get over that.)

Slacker Mom Says... we can't bury our heads in the sand. Our kids will grow up. It won't go away just because we're ignoring it. We need to look for opportunities to talk with our kids about what's going on. We can't assume that they are too young, that they'll come to us when they want answers. Don't let their peer group educate them; teach them what they need to know, but with the emphasis on the moral standards that are important to your family. Open the dialogue. Whether it's puberty, religion, politics, finances, whatever, I want my kids to feel comfortable asking me for answers and sharing their concerns with me. It's important to me that they know I will always be there for them, that I will always help them with any problem, that I'll help provide answers and information when they need it. Because what's the alternative?

And for the record, my daughter started wearing deodorant last spring, as soon as it got hot again. I bought it, put in the bathroom, and said, "Use it. Every day. Here's how."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Daddy Rules (And How This Mom Has Finally Come to Appreciate His Way of Doing Things)

Last summer, after weeks of isolation with the kids and nary a Girls' Night Out in sight, I noticed a blurb in our local newspaper. The YMCA was holding an Indian Guides informational kick-off party, complete with crafts, food, canoeing, archery, and face painting. The best part? This is a daddy/child program - no moms allowed! So I did what any self-respecting, overworked mom would do: I clipped the newspaper notice, handed it to my husband, said, "Have a great time with the girls!" and sent them out for an afternoon of fun.

A year later, my husband is the chief of Indian Princess tribe. Every good chief needs a hard-working squaw, right? So guess who makes the snacks and plans the crafts and writes the skits and, basically, is "The Woman Behind the Man"?

Holy Backfire, Batman.

What started as a chance for a summer Saturday to myself has turned into an activity that my kids and husband love. They've made new friends, they love camping (an activity that my husband used to think involved staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Hilton), and mastered the skill of popping Jiffy Pop over an open campfire - not to mention the fact that they've spent countless Mommy-free hours enjoying each other's company under the ever-flexible "Daddy Rules."

Under "Daddy Rules", bedtimes are nonexistent. Volume control is rarely enforced. S'mores are, indeed, an excellent dinner comprised of the three camping food groups: sugar, fat, and burning hot marshmallows. Personal hygiene consists of a squirt of hand sanitizer and a baby wipe that may or may not remove the chocolate and marshmallow goo from one's face. Sunscreen and bug spray are mandatory, as are life jackets, but toothbrushes (though packed with care along with floss and flouride rinse) are completely optional. Breath mints do in a pinch.

While I would NEVER call my husband negligent, he is definitely, um, more "relaxed" than I am about certain things. He worries about the stuff that doesn't bother me at all: boys knocking on the door, our oldest daughter's desire to wear lip gloss, our little one's burgeoning interest in bungee jumping and hang gliding (thanks, Uncle Mike). But his more flexible style when it comes to certain things has made me realize that sometimes, my rules are kind of rigid. And it's not just limited to Indian Princess outings. If he's handling showers, he's the fun guy, yelling, "Touchdown!" so that they'll throw up their arms while he dries them off. He plays "Dentist with the Hydraulic Chair" when he brushes their teeth and "Face Cloth of Doom" when he washes their faces. If the girls and I are late getting home from ballet class and I'm trying to hustle kids off to the shower and into bed, he's teaching them roundhouse kicks and right hooks. He'll tie their shoes before school, carry their backpacks all the way to their classrooms, and drop their books off at the library. (Me? I already taught you how to tie your shoes, you know where the school library is, and I finally got rid of the giant mommy-bag when everyone started school. Carry your own crap.)

Yep, dads do things differently. And in my experience, there are a lot of moms who don't like that. Take, for example, my friend Elle. Her husband works full-time with an hour-long commute while she's home with their kids. When he gets home and puts the kids in the bath, she hovers over him, telling him that he's doing it wrong, that he's doing it "out of order." Then, when he sends his 4-year-old into the bedroom to get his jammies on, she yells that he's supposed to brush teeth BEFORE jammies, "because he might get toothpaste on his pajamas!" Um, I may be way off-base here, but the kid is FOUR. Can't the "routine" be a little more relaxed on Daddy days? And if he gets a little bit of Winnie the Pooh toothpaste on his pj's, can't you grab a washcloth and wipe it off? (Or, Slacker-Mom-style, let the KID wipe it off?) Let's be honest, Elle: you're getting an hour off. Don't fight it. Close the bathroom door, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go sit on your patio. Maybe if you back off, he'll put them to bed, too. Or take my neighbor Annabel. Her husband takes their 3 kids to soccer practice twice a week. But she gets mad when he takes them for a quick ice cream cone afterward, because then they get to bed 15 minutes late. My other neighbor and I laugh, telling her, "Seriously? You're mad because they came home 15 minutes late? Honey, that's 15 minutes that your husband and sons talked about guy stuff. You missed the lesson on armpit music and how to burp the alphabet. Count your lucky stars."

So yeah, it's taken me some time to appreciate that my husband does things differently, and even longer to understand that it's OK that he does. Of course I still think MY way is the BEST way; otherwise I wouldn't do it that way! But I've finally come to see the value in his way of doing things. He has more fun with the kids than I do; he enjoys that time with them because it's free of rigid rules and routines. Yes, I end up dealing with most of the unpleasant parts of parenthood: enforcing rules about chores, hygiene, homework and discipline. But I'm with them so many more hours in a day. Why can't his time with them be fun and happy and light-hearted? I've been there for the big stuff - the first gummy smile, the first steps, the first wiggly tooth. I'm the mommy, and while I'm not saying they love me the best, they kind of do - in the sense that they prefer me to him when they're sick or scared or hurt, and then I'm the one they want.

Slacker Mom Says... let dads parent like dads. So what if they "do it wrong"? So what if they act like big kids themselves? They kind of are! And they may be on to something with their goofy fun ways. Kids benefit from different styles of parenting. When my first child was about a week old, she had a really bad night - she just wouldn't sleep, and I was exhausted. In desperation, I woke up my husband and asked him to rock her for awhile. A couple of hours later, I found them on the couch, my sweet girl nestled in her daddy's arms, gazing up at him rapturously. They were watching a Bruins game; he was explaining hockey to her in a hushed voice. My first instinct was to criticize: why was she still up? I asked you to rock her back to sleep, not turn on the TV. But something told me to let it go, to let him parent in his way. To this day, she loves watching sports with her daddy; she loves ice hockey; and she loves curling up in the crook of his arm. Who was I to ruin that moment? Dads do things their own way. And that's OK.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Time For Bed, Little Mouse, Little Mouse...

Since first grade started, my sweet six-year-old has a new habit: about 10 minutes after I make it downstairs after putting the kids to bed, she shows up in the kitchen (where I still have at least a half-hour's worth of work ahead - dishes, lunches, etc) and says, "I can't fall ASLEEP!" I end up walking her back upstairs, tucking her in, putting her covers over her ear (don't ask; it's one of her few quirks so I just go with it) and close her door. No big deal, right?

Wrong. It's been every couple of nights for a month now, and no matter how much my thighs thank her for the increased stair-climbing sessions, I'm pretty darn tired of putting kids to bed twice. So I told her that from now on, I'm only putting her to bed once. If she gets up after that, she's going to have to put herself back to bed. I'm off-duty after 7:30 PM. (Except of course for the ever-annoying reading logs. And packing lunches. And folding laundry. But I digress.)

Did my "get tough" plan work? Well, yes - as long as my husband isn't home yet. If she comes down and her daddy's there, all my hard work goes out the window. All she has to do is turn those big blue eyes up at her daddy, and he's carrying her back to bed. Part of me wants to say, "What are you DOING? I've worked hard to get my point across!" But the other part of me says, "So what? I said that I wouldn't put her back to bed. I never said NO ONE would go up with her!"

The bottom line is, she's only 6. And he's away from her all day long, usually arriving home after the children are asleep. So if he wants to walk upstairs with her, hear a little bit about her day, give her some extra cuddles and kisses, does it matter? Sure, she needs her rest. Yes, it's important for her to get in bed and stay there. But I suspect that her "I can't fall asleep" is more about needing a little more one-on-one attention after a long day away from home and less about being unable to fall asleep - or breaking the rules. And who am I, with my seemingly-arbitrary rules about bedtime, to take that time away from a daddy and his daughter?

There are times that I am waiting, desperately, for bedtime to come, days when I think, "I can't wait to get these kids in bed so that I can relax for a few minutes and have some peace and quiet." But lately, time seems to speed up. I look at pictures from just a few years ago and think, "Where did those babies go?" My oldest is starting to think about boys, wants to wear lipgloss to school, and gets mad when her dad wants to walk her to her classroom door. My baby doesn't need me to tie her shoes or brush her teeth anymore. They can shower alone, wipe themselves, unload a dishwasher. Gone are the days of total dependence on me - and I'm not sure I like it. It's gone too fast. I haven't appreciated it or enjoyed it enough.

Slacker Mom Says... don't rush the small stuff. Extra hugs, kisses, wiping noses and bottoms and faces - it'll be over all too fast. No mom ever regretted giving one more kiss, one more cuddle, one more "I love you!" before bedtime. But I can tell you this: I do regret every harsh word uttered in impatience, every "hurry up!" muttered as we tried to get under the covers "on time", every night where I rushed them into bed so I could get back downstairs to finish the dishes. I wish I'd let the dishes sit and told them one more story about my childhood, or read one more book, or that I'd sung their songs to them one extra time. Soon enough, no one will want me to read Goodnight Moon or Time For Bed, and I'll have plenty of time for dishes - and won't that be awful?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Not Only is the Grass Not Greener, it's Probably Dead (Or Married)

Last week, I spent a few days in LA, where I grew up. I moved away years ago, but my sister and my parents still live there, so I find myself making the pilgrimmage every year or so. One afternoon at my sister's house, while my niece colored quietly and my nephew chased the puppy around (nature vs. nurture, my ass) my sister and I commiserated a bit about our husbands and their annoying habits. We joked about how hard men can be to live with at times, and how sometimes we think it would be easier without them around. Her friend Amy, who'd stopped by for the afternoon, was not amused. She decided to share some stories to show that the grass is NOT necessarily greener.

Now, I've known Amy since she was about 14. The fact that she's old enough to date, let alone vote and own her own home, still surprises me. But Amy has remained, despite several long term relationships, a fascinating job on a cruise ship, and a stint in the Big Apple ala Sex and the City, the quintessential single girl. Me? I've been with my husband for 15 years, married 12, so I can no longer remember what dating is like. Or maybe I've just blocked it out of my memory, both the good parts (first kisses! waiting for the phone to ring! meeting interesting people!) and the bad ones (first kisses! waiting for the phone to ring! meeting people you think are interesting but who, it turns out, still work at the video store and live in their mother's basement because they peaked in high school!). But I digress.

Amy, it seems, has recently begun using a dating service. Not your average online dating service where everyone's photo is 10 years and 30 pounds out of date, but an actual matchmaking service - sort of like having someone's grandmother set you up with nice boys from her church but cooler, less embarrassing, and more expensive. Naturally, being the curious (read: nosy) type, as well as needing to live vicariously through someone, I begged for stories. Why a matchmaking service? Why not just meet guys the old-fashioned way, ie getting drunk at a bar and scrawling your phone number on his arm with lipstick? (Tells you how long I've been out of the game. My babysitter tells me everyone just dials their own cell from the guy's cell so they have each other's numbers. Now that's no fun. Can't "fake number" anyone anymore.) So Amy, in an effort to oblige me (and probably to thank me for years of being their only source of beer while they were underage), regaled me with her own "Greatest Hits - or Misses - in Dating."

Trust me, you will never underappreciate your husbands again.

Bachelor #1: While living in New York, she meets someone who lives in Jersey. (Now, even if you've never lived on the East Coast, you should know enough about New Jersey stereotypes to see where this is going.) For their first date, he doesn't want to leave Jersey ("Why would anyone willingly go to Manhattan?" he asks, knowing that she lives and works near Wall Street) and he insists on meeting only for a drink "to see how it goes" - then goes to the wrong bar and calls her cell to yell at her for standing him up. (See, the last time I was dating, no one had cell phones. So in this case, I'd have left, thinking he didn't show, and he'd never have called me again, thinking I'd ditched him. Problem solved.) Meanwhile, she's in the right bar, sitting at a table, waiting for him. He finally shows up,an hour late, goes to the bar (rather than ordering from the waitress, thereby avoiding having to pay for HER drink, too) and orders a white wine spritzer. Um, a white wine spritzer? Could he BE less manly? I don't care how much you hate beer, order a damn Heineken and pretend to drink it. When the waitress comes by and asks, "Would you like to order any food?" he barks, "No! I already ate!" without giving Amy a chance to order - even though he knew she came straight from work. A few f-bombs later, and she's ready to fake a heart attack just to get out of there. Date over, Loser. Don't call me again.

Bachelor #2: This charming fellow, recently divorced, spends the entire evening talking about how he can't wait to get married again, how he loves being married, how he can't stand being single. Red flag, anyone? Can you say desperate and needy? When they leave the restaurant, he walks Amy to his car and says, "Check out my car. Wanna take a ride? I'll take you anywhere you want to go, Baby." The "ew" factor aside, like she's going to get in the car with a guy she barely knows. Appealing to the fact that he has 2 teenage daughters, she asks, "Would you want your daughters to get in a car with a man they barely know?" His response? "Whatever. I'm sure they already have." And laughs like a lech. The clincher? He's still married. Separated, but not divorced. She tells him she's "not feeling the chemistry" and "doesn't want to lead him on", but he calls and texts for days before she finally changes her number.

Bachelor #3: Think the third time's the charm? Think again. This guy's idea of a dream date was to invite Amy to watch him play hockey, then take her to the rink's bar for a beer - without showering first. Ever sat next to a guy when he comes off the ice? I have. It's not pretty. I'd rather clean up a room full of other people's puking kids.

Ladies, this is what's out there.

Thus, the new matchmaking service. It's an interesting approach: they send 3 men and 3 women out on a group date. Less pressure, more people to keep the conversation going, fewer awkward silences. Sounds good, right? Wrong. Not a love connection. But on a positive note, she likes one of the other women so much they end up having lunch and dissecting the 3 guys on their group date. Life long friendship, maybe. Life partner, not so much.

And it's not just Amy. One friend of mine says the dating pool is so shallow, she's now dating the brother of the guy she dumped ten years ago. Another friend says she's at the point where she'd rather date an old guy for his money than have to meet men her age, because the men HER age all want 20-year-olds. I can't argue with this; my 40-year-old brother is currently dating a 22-year-old. Even my 6-year-old thinks he's too old for her: "Ew, Mommy, that's gross. That's like that Ke$ha song, Dinosaur!" If you don't know it, download it. For $1.19, you'll get a good laugh. (My husband, of course, has a different attitude about my brother's girlfriend, but that's another story. Me, I'm just jealous of her "I've never been pregnant, popped out a ten-pounder, and then nursed her 12 times a day for a year" boobs.)

Yep, that's what's out there. Your husband's looking better already, isn't he? A few dirty socks on the floor, a little toothpaste in the sink, the occasional toilet seat left up - small price to pay for an otherwise good man who loves you, appreciates you, and won't ask, "Macaroni and cheese for dinner AGAIN?"

Slacker Mom Says... the grass ain't greener, ladies. Complain, vent to your friends, let it all out. But when push comes to shove, I know I've got a good deal. While I was in LA, my husband was here with the kids, playing Mr. Mom for a week, without complaining. We all have our annoying little habits, Slacker Mom included. I, for one, wouldn't trade my husband for anything. Well, not right now. Ask me again when he retires and is under my feet all the time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When Your Reputation Preceeds You

A couple of months ago, I met a nice mom at the pool. She and her family had moved to the neighborhood about a year before, but for some reason, we hadn't met. Our kids started playing Marco Polo, we started talking about our kids, and eventually, we got around to introducing ourselves formally.

And that's when it got interesting.

When I told her my name, she kind of cocked her head to one side and said, "Oh. YOU'RE Kelly." Hmmm. Yes. yes, I am. Not being one to just let things like that go, I said, "Yes, I'm Kelly. Why?"

Long story short, one of my (not-so-nice) neighbors "warned" her about me. Said that I call myself Slacker Mom, but I'm (and this is a direct quote) "hypocritical and a perfectionist who pretends to be a slacker but is really full of doggie doo." (OK, that last part is a bit of paraphrasing, but hey, some things shouldn't be repeated.) She went on to say that a REAL slacker doesn't volunteer at school, make homemade cookies, keep a clean house, or drive her kids all over town to their various activities.

So let's just get one thing clear: Slacker Mom is not about sitting on your butt all day, eating bon-bons and watching soap operas. (I'm not even sure what a bon-bon is, to be honest. And if I'm sitting around eating anything, it's going to be cheese, with a bottle of wine on the side.) No, Slacker Mom is about letting go of what doesn't matter - to you - so that you can focus on what DOES matter - to YOU.

Slacker Mom started as a joke with my best friend, Nina, one summer. We joked about how summer is the time to relax, to avoid all the commitments and activities of the busy school year, a time to just enjoy our families and friends and not be so focused on the unimportant stuff - like making sure each child drinks 3 full glasses of non-flavored milk every single day, or sterilizing every single counter top after every single meal. Sometimes, it's OK to leave the dishes until morning. Sometimes, it's OK hit the drive-thru or stir a little strawberry syrup into the milk. Sometimes, it's OK to let the kids stay up too late and eat ice cream before dinner while (gasp!) watching (non-educational) TV during the week!

Slacker Mom is about "live and let live" parenting, without judging other moms and their choices. Slacker Mom is about supporting each other, helping each other, ending the Mommy Wars. Slacker Mom is a no-nonsense look at this crazy and wonderful job of motherhood, its trials and tribulations, its joys and rewards, with a side of humor. Because honestly, if we didn't laugh, we'd cry. And then the kids would cry. And then our husbands would freak out and start crying, too. And I don't know about you, but we are ALWAYS running low on tissue around here.

So yes, I volunteer at my kids' school. I like it, I do it because I like it - but I couldn't care less if you do it or not. Yes, I make homemade cookies rather than buying store-bought Chips Ahoy- because my girls and I like to bake together, and besides, my youngest has so many food allergies that there are virtually no store-bought baked goods that she CAN eat. And yes, I keep a clean and fairly tidy house - at least, it's clean enough that if a neighbor stopped by, I wouldn't be completely embarrassed. Just don't open any closets or the door to my kids' playroom. But I would never judge anyone else's house - even my sister, who, 8 months after moving in, admits to having boxes in her dining room. Hey, I have boxes that came back from Spain with us in 1999 that are still unopened. Whatever.

As for driving my kids around to various activities, Slacker Mom readers already know my position on kids and their schedules. I have 2 kids, each does one year-round activity and one seasonal sport. And they do a LOT less running around than many of the kids I know. My kids have time for playdates, play dough, and playing with each other. I have time for my kids, my commitments, my husband, my friends, and - equally importantly - myself.

So, you might ask, how did I respond to these charges of hypocrisy and perfectionism? How did I defend myself against this woman's claim that I am full of poo?

I didn't. And I won't. Because, basically, I really don't care. Besides, we all know that when it comes to people like that, there's really nothing you can say anyway. Her comments say a lot more about her than they do about me. Happy people don't go around trying to make other people miserable. They just don't.

Slacker Mom Says... whatever. Or, as my sister would say, "Bite me." How about if we talk less trash about other moms? How about, instead of meeting a new neighbor and telling her all the reasons why she shouldn't like someone else, we just get to know each other and form our own opinions? Wow. Wouldn't that set a nice example for our kids?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Unplugged, By Choice

Yesterday, I was at the dance studio waiting for my daughter to finish her ballet class. Now, since my girls have been dancing since they were two, and one of them dances on a competition team, this is not an unusual place for me to spend a weekday afternoon. In fact, we're there four days a week. (I know, that's decidedly un-Slacker Mom, but I'm working on getting some overlap in the schedule. Next week we'll be down to 3 days a week. Yay me.)

But I digress. My 8-year-old and I were waiting for my 6-year-old to finish her ballet class, when another mom asked my daughter, "So what do you DO for an hour while your sister's in class?" My daughter looked up at her (in confusion, I might add, since she had her nose in a book), and said, "I read."

"Read? How do you get her to read?" the other mom (I'll call her Anne) asked. "Doesn't she want to bring her DSi, or her iPod, or her cell phone? My kids only read at bedtime, and only because I make them."

And my sweet, brilliant girl replied, "I LOVE to read! I'd rather read than do ANY of that! When my mom punishes me, she takes away my books!" (That's true, actually. I do. Like I said, whatever works.) Of course, as soon as we were in the car, she started with the "It's not fair! I want an iPod Touch, an iPhone, a DSi, and my own laptop, just like Brooke has" crap, but that's another story.

Now, if parents want to buy their 8-year-old an iPad, her own cell phone, or the Hope Diamond, for that matter, go for it. No argument from Slacker Mom. Hey, my kids have, no joke, 14 American Girl dolls in their playroom. (Santa and Gramma are pretty darn generous, and Gramma only had boys, after all. She LOVES to buy dolls.) But, as I told my daughter, if you asked Santa for a $100 doll, why on earth would you also get a DSi or an iPod? And a cell phone? You're 8! You're at school or with me. Who are you going to call? And why couldn't you just use the phone that's sitting on the kitchen counter?

But no, Anne just couldn't leave it alone. I got a 20-minute explanation of why her kids (5 and 8) have all the electronics that they do: she doesn't want to have to entertain them when she's home, and if they are plugged in, they are quiet and leave her alone and she doesn't have to figure out what to do with them. Her words, moms, not mine. If her girls are bored and want to play on the computer, she doesn't want to have to "share" hers. (See, I just tell my kids no. As in, "No, I'm using it and you can go play with something else. And if you're really that bored, I've got a couple of toilets that need scrubbing." Works every time.) And then - her fatal error - Anne continued to explain that because the iPod Touch and DSi are "educational", that they can teach reading skills and math facts, I shouldn't allow my kids to "miss out" on the "educational opportunities" they could be providing for my children.

Now, usually Slacker Mom is all about the love. To each her own, parent and let parent, that kind of thing. I am rarely, if ever, defensive about my parenting choices. I know I'm the best mom that I can be at any given moment (whether that's ego or age, I don't know, but it's true: I don't really care what anyone else thinks) and I assume the same about other moms. But don't get me started on education. I will morph from mellow, live-and-let-live Slacker Mom into a ranting, raving, soap-box carrying lunatic when you start talking about education - particularly the education of MY children.

So I kind of let her have it. I explained that I taught my kids to read with no gadgets or electronics, that I used the good old-fashioned method I used as a teacher: phonics and books. Yep, my kids learned to read (at age 4, I might add) by reading books. And math? Sure, you can do drills on your DSi, but I taught my kids math through real-life math problems and the old stand-by: manipulatives. So PLEASE don't try to sell me on electronics by telling me it will give my kids an "edge" in school. Please. They are both significantly above grade level in all academic areas, one of them skipped a grade, both are gifted - and it's not because I bought them a laptop or a DSi or a cell phone.

Hey, let's call it what it is: entertainment. If you want to provide your kids with electronics, go for it. I really don't care one way or another. But it's NOT for educational purposes alone, and we all know it. It's for entertainment, which is not a bad thing. It's just not MY thing. I let my kids play video games, use my cell, use my laptop, use my iPod. I just don't call it "education" or feel that they need - or are entitled to - their very own.

Personally, I don't believe that ANY 8-year-old actually needs a $300 iPod, a cell phone, her own laptop. Of COURSE my daughter wants all of the above: we live in a materialistic society, where many people seem to feel the need to buy the latest version of the newest big thing, cost be damned, and she wants what "everyone else" has. I was the same way as a kid. But I'm not spending $100 a month on a wireless plan for myself, let alone my kid. Nope. Not doing it. Call me cheap, but I'd rather spend that money on dance lessons, books, a trip to see my sister and her kids.

Besides, it's kind of like the 12-year-old whose parents get her a limo for her middle school dance; what do you do for prom? for her wedding? Let's leave something for later. Why get "everything" now? And where's the lesson on working for things? If everything is just given to them, do they appreciate it? One mom said, "But if his grandparents want to buy my first-grader his own laptop, who am I to say no?" Well, um, in a word - the PARENT. I don't care WHAT my parents want to buy my kids; I'm the mommy. What if they bought a puppy? Wouldn't you need to approve that first, too? No, my parents can buy my girls all the dolls they want, but, as I told my mother, "You ARE NOT taking them to Hawaii for spring break." No deal. At least, not unless you take me, too.

Slacker Mom Says...back off! My kids aren't entitled to the latest electronic gadgets any more than yours are entitled to have four puppies, three kittens, and a pony. I won't criticize you for the decisions you make, so don't tell me my kids "should" have the same things yours do. Soon enough, they WILL need all that stuff, and we'll get them their own laptops and cell phones. But right now, they are content to play Barbies, dolls, and board games. Right now, they'd rather run upstairs to their playroom and create a world of horses, fairies, and magic than play video games. Right now, my two girls are best friends who would rather play together than hole up alone in their rooms. Right now, they'd rather curl up on the couch with me and hear a great story than text their friends. Why on earth would we do anything to discourage that? Why grow up so fast? Their teen years will be here too soon as it is. In ten short years, we'll be sending our firstborn off to college, and our baby will follow two years later. For now, we'll focus on spending time together, rather than spending time plugged in. That's just us. Don't knock it til you've tried it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The "Me" Behind the Mommy

Oh, how things change in a few short years. A recent day at the beach had me reminiscing about the "before" and "after" of my life as a mom.

Before kids, I practically lived at the beach. I spent weekends with my convertible top down, laying on the beach, watching surfers and volleyball players, and hanging out on Lahaina's beach-front deck, floating a cup of ice in a pitcher of beer. I chatted up cute lifeguards while eating ice cream - in a bikini - and fully subscribed to the "if you need anything more than a towel and a smile, you're carrying too much to the beach" way of thinking.

After kids, I find myself gawking (wistfully, enviously) at teenage girls and their teeny, tiny bikinis. Sure, I remember perky boobs, a flat stomach (without a c-section scar or stretch marks from carrying 11-lb babies), and a dimple-free butt. What a shame that I didn't fully appreciate it when I had it. Carrying a bag of towels and beach toys, my first aid kit (Epi-Pens for everyone!), a cooler of snacks for the kids, Boogey Boards, and a beach umbrella leaves me gasping for breath and praying for a spot close to the lifeguard tower - so that I can ask him for the time and remember to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. That pitcher of beer on the deck? Now it's Vitamin Water and juice boxes. I'm pretty sure that beer's not even allowed on Children's Beach anyway.

Before kids, a trip to the grocery store used to involve $40 and one hand-held basket of salad stuff, whole bean coffee, fresh flowers, some yogurt. Now? It's $60 in meat alone! Sometimes I can't even fit a week's worth of groceries in one cart. That $12 for flowers? That's a tennis lesson or a package of diapers now. And whole bean coffee? Seriously? Who has time to grind fresh coffee on school days? Besides, it'd probably wake the whole house up. Cranky kids at 6:00 AM? No thanks.

Where I used to be on a first-name basis with bouncers, bartenders, and the hottest DJs in town, now it's pediatricians, teachers, and the cashier at my local Target store. I used to know all the hot clubs, beaches, bars and boutiques. Now I know where to score double coupons, a good deal on tap shoes, the latest releases in children's literature, and the newest line from Gymboree. Waiting in line for concert tickets gave way to waiting in line for soccer sign-ups and preschool registration.

Sometimes I find myself thinking wistfully back to "the good old days", when I could do whatever I wanted on the weekends, when I didn't have to worry about anyone else's needs, when I didn't have to take into account anyone else's schedule or plans. No one made demands on my time. No one needed me to cut up their apples, apply their sunscreen, wash their hair, remember their pacifier or lovey or extra diapers. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to be completely selfish again, to not be worried about anyone or anything else? At least for a little while?

Well, in a word - yes. Or, as my friend Michelle says, "HELL, yes." It's important to remember that we used to put our own needs first and not feel guilty about it. If we never do that, we'll end up resentful, angry, frustrated. And we might take that out on our kids and husbands. That's not good for anyone. We need to find little ways to be single girls again, do things that remind us who we used to be. Every morning after I drop my kids off at school, I listen to a CD that I call "My Single Self Reminisces." It starts with Pink's U + Ur Hand, a song that defines the nightclub experiences of my 20s. Old Madonna, Prince, some raunchy Nickelback, a little Kid Rock. Explicit lyrics, club songs, the music of my single life. Like I'd let my girls listen to THAT. It's no weekend in San Diego, but when I crank that CD, I can almost forget that I'm driving a disco-blue SUV/mom-mobile with booster seats and school spirit magnets instead of my 2-door convertible - red, of course - that could barely seat a couple of my girlfriends and our beach bags.

Yes, life has changed in just a few short years. The weird thing is, I don't mind in the least. I don't actually feel any older than I did 10 years ago. Oh, I LOOK older; there are fine lines that weren't there before; the word "perky" can most assuredly NOT be used to describe any part of my body. Short of surgery, my tummy will never be flat again, and those stretch-mark creams were definitely a waste of money. Sometimes I have the odd ache or pain when I wake up in the morning, and I definitely can't pull all-nighters anymore. But overall, I wouldn't go back. I wouldn't trade a moment of my life as a wife and mother. Well, maybe a moment. Here or there.

Slacker Mom Says...give yourself permission to be selfish and go back to your single-girl days once in awhile. Get out the photo albums, have the girls over for margaritas, reminisce about what life was like when you slept until 10, partied until 3, started Happy Hour promptly at 5. Go away with your husband, your sister, your girlfriends. Renew, recharge, refresh. Remember who you used to be, so that you can enjoy who you are now. Now that I'm a mom - and let's face it, that will forever be my primary title; even when they are grown and gone, I will still be their mom - I can't imagine going back to a time when my girls didn't exist. Having kids requires us to be selfless and tireless and responsible - in short, a Mom, with a capital M. But every now and then, I want to remember who Kelly was, before she was a wife and a mother. And what's wrong with that?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

All Mommy, All the Time

A couple of days ago, while I was trying to enjoy a peaceful shower with some lovely new bath gel, one of my usually sweet-tempered and patient daughters came downstairs to my bathroom, yelling about something her sister said to her. Exactly what, I really can't remember, because it (unfortunately) happens more than I'd like to admit (and it's rarely anything important or memorable), but seriously? Five minutes, that's all I ask, five minutes (and we all know how fast we learn to shower once we have kids - in 5 minutes we can shampoo, condition and shave), with no sister issues! I tried ignoring her, but I just about lost it when she started wailing, "Mo-o-o-m! She's being mean! Aren't you going to DO anything about it?" It was that dragging of a one syllable word - mom - into about 4 that really sent me over the edge.

Um, I'm standing here with shampoo in my eyes and shaving cream on my legs. What, exactly, do you think I should do? Is there a fire? an intruder? a bone protruding through the skin? Then leave me the @*%$ alone for five minutes to take a freakin' shower!

It's the same thing when I pour a cup of coffee and sit down at the computer. Suddenly, everyone needs me (or the computer) right away. And just try to use the bathroom in peace. I close the door - shoot, I LOCK the door - but they just knock on it until I answer. "Mom? MOM! I'm hungry!" Really? REALLY!?! I'm GOING TO THE BATHROOM! What do you think I can do for you? And do you REALLY want me to prepare food FROM HERE???"

Of course, it's even more annoying when my husband is home and they STILL come to me. And I ESPECIALLY love it when they walk right past him on their way to the bathroom to find me. Apparently, even with his advanced degrees and 40+ years of life experience, Daddy's not capable of slicing an apple, pouring a glass of milk, or helping them with homework. No, in my world, those are mommy jobs, every time.

Now, I love my kids and I love being their mom, I do, but sometimes I'd like to shower without anyone watching me from the other side of the glass door. I'd like to check my e-mail without anyone asking me where her pink Zhu Zhu pet is. (I swear to God, I was NOT the last one to play with it.) I'd like to brush my teeth, put in my contacts, or do any other tiny little five-minute job without someone, anyone, needing anything at all from me. Why is that such a tall order? Why do our kids think we are on duty 24/7, 'round the clock, for their every convenience? I mean, I'm just one person, and I will eventually have to eat, shower, poop, and/or sleep. And there comes a time when I am not available for anyone's anything. I'm not a 7/11 store. Sometimes, Mommy is closed.

So, after much reflection, here's my theory: our kids do this because we let them. Yep, earth-shattering revelation here, folks. We've trained our kids to think we are at their beck and call. Even the most conscientious slackers are guilty of it at some point. Oh, sure, when they're tiny, we really do have to pretty much respond to their cries rather quickly. Infants are learning to trust us, to trust that we will meet their needs and help them through their dirty diapers and colicky tummies and teething pain. Absolutely. But honestly, once they hit the preschool years, maybe we need to back off a bit and let them know that Mommy is a person, too, with needs and rights of her own, and they can wait. Maybe we aren't teaching delayed gratification - and independence - early enough.

From a developmental point of view, little kids are selfish little beings. That's not mean, that's just the truth. Kids are selfish. They believe that they are the center of the universe, that their needs and wants take priority over anyone else's, and that they have the right to Mom at all hours of the day and night. But it's up to us to teach them otherwise, to show them that everyone has rights, that their needs must be balanced against the needs of others. And we do this, naturally, as moms. You'll have to wait for your snack because I'm feeding the baby. You need to share your toys with the other children at preschool. Mommy's cooking dinner, so I can't take you out to play just yet.

But do we teach them that WE have rights, too? That Mom's needs and wants are JUST as important as theirs? Or do we let them see us as someone to meet THEIR needs as well as the rest of the family's needs? Do we consistently put our own desires last, after everyone else's needs are met?

I'd argue that yes, most of us do.

C'mon, how many times have you slathered the kids, scalp to pinkie toe, in SPF 70, then forgotten to do your own back? Ever eaten the heel of the bread loaf, even though you hate it, because you gave your kids all the "good" pieces? How many times have you heard a friend complain that her kids sat on the couch watching TV or playing video games while she cleaned? I say, hand those kids a dust rag and tell 'em to get dusting! If I'm running around cleaning up, they can be helping. How many times have you taken toys back upstairs where they belonged? Did YOU play with them? Then why are YOU putting them away? If they can't clean up the playroom, if I have to do it, then it's going to be MY playroom. I'm seeing a new computer, a comfy chair for writing, new bookshelves for all MY stuff. Maybe a poster of Edward and Bella on the wall, who knows. I could use a room to myself. Heck, I could use a bathroom to myself. I've been sharing with a boy since 1997.

Last month, I re-read the book Flirting With Forty by Jane Porter. It's a great book for many reasons, but one passage in particular really struck me. The main character, Jackie, is celebrating her 40th birthday with her two kids, ages 5 and 9. She cuts the cake, gives them the "good pieces" with intact roses and lots of frosting, and takes the broken piece with no rose for herself. Then, suddenly, she realizes: Hey, this is MY cake, MY birthday. She puts it back and cuts a better (and bigger) piece for herself. Her kids protest, "Hey, you already HAD a piece! And WE get the roses!" She looks at them and says, "It's MY cake. I'm getting the roses." And smiles. And I thought: YES! We all do that! We take the crap piece, the burnt toast, the broken cookie.

No more. I'm taking the good piece. I'm taking a shower alone. I'm finishing one article without interruption. I mean, my kids are 6 and 8. They can pour their own cereal, wipe their own bottoms, take their own showers. They get mad if someone intrudes on their "bathroom time", yet they think nothing, NOTHING, of walking right in on mine. But that ends today.

Slacker Mom Says...moms have rights, too. Sometimes, you do not have access to Mommy. Access Denied, Shop Closed for Repairs. If there's an emergency, if you have a serious problem that cannot wait, I'm absolutely there. Otherwise, the "closed for business" sign is going up now and then. And that's not being a bad mom, a neglectful mom. It's teaching our kids that WE matter, too, that Mom has rights and should be treated with at least as much respect and deference as anyone else - if not more! Most of the time, I'm fully available. But now and then, I'm not. Now and then, you can wait - or better yet, learn to do it yourself.

Or you can ask your dad. Preferably, when he's on the toilet or watching the big game.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Myth of "You Can Have It All"

Countless books and articles have been written about our generation of women and our ability to have it "all" - the career, the man, the house, the kids. I won't rehash what's already been written ad naseum, but you know the drill: You can have a fabulous career doing your dream job; fall in love with the man of your dreams, who looks like Brad Pitt (before the recent unfortunate facial hair); have 2.5 beautiful, athletic, intelligent children; own a large, luxurious home with a dog and a cat and 2 fish; and still make it to every soccer game, school play, and ballet recital. All while looking like Heidi Klum or Elle MacPherson.

What a load of crap.

We've been sold a bill of goods that doesn't exist. No one can have it "ALL" - at least, not all at the same time. What a lot of pressure to put on women! As hard as we moms try, we cannot be all things to all people all of the time. It's not possible to work a 50-hour week, bake 5 dozen cupcakes for the PTA bake sale, throw the birthday party of the century, make love to your husband every night, and keep up with your house - unless you're the undead and don't need to sleep. Me? I'm tired just typing that sentence. I don't have it "all." I don't WANT it "all."

Truth is, we have to accept that it's enough to have some of these things at some time during some of our adult lives. We have to accept that whether we are working moms or at-home moms, or a combination of the two, we give something up to get something else. Hopefully, for each woman, what she gains is worth the sacrifices she makes. Choices are made, decisions are made, and we have to understand that anyone who expects us to HAVE it "all" or DO it "all" is, well, an idiot.

Besides, who's to say what "all" is? My best friend and her husband decided that she'd keep working days and he'd change to nights, because they didn't like the idea of daycare. She comes home, he leaves an hour later, and then he gets home long after she's in bed. They've sacrificed couple time during the week, but they make it work. (And they've made me a believer in the concept of "quality time.") My sister works part-time from home while her husband is working a traditional 8-5 schedule, giving them family time at night. Her son naps, her daughter goes to preschool, she runs around like a crazy woman fitting it all in - but gets to keep working AND be home, where she wants to be. My friend Enid and her husband decided it made more sense for him to take a leave of absence when their kids were small. He was their primary caregiver, and it's given him such a close relationship with his girls. It works for their family. My next-door neighbors work insane hours, plus have their own business, and rarely get home before 7 PM. But Grandma picks up the kids and keeps them after school. And they take fabulous extended-family vacations four times a year. The trade-off is worth it for them. (And my kids are positively green with envy. They are dying to take a Disney cruise or spend a week at Atlantis. but as a one-income family, that's not in the cards.)

Me? I married a fantastic man. (He's no Brad Pitt, thank goodness. Brad's not winning any awards for world's best husband, and he's always flying off around the world. No thanks.) I left my dream job - happily - when I had my first child. My husband's job is demanding and his hours somewhat unpredictable. He's not always around to help get kids off to school or cover in the evenings if I have a meeting. Most nights, our kids are asleep when he gets home. Child care and household duties are primarily MY responsibility, freeing him to do his job without having to worry about what's going on at home. I'm on it. That's my job. Yes, there are some sacrifices we make (I no longer wear designer clothes, our newest car is 6 years old, I haven't had a facial or manicure in years, and there's no trip to the Bahamas in our future), but it's worth it for our family, because it works for us.

And who knows how life will change? Five, ten years from now, your "all" may be different than it is right now. I've fallen, quite by accident, into this writing thing precisely because I AM home now. If I'd kept teaching, would I have discovered a passion for writing, would I have chosen a new career path? I don't think I'd have had the time or the energy.

If we work, we're going to miss something - a soccer game, a class party, a gymnastics meet. It's going to happen. And you know what? Our kids will be fine. Really, they will. If we stay home, we're going to miss something - a fantastic vacation, earlier retirement, newer cars, career advancement and job satisfaction. And you know what? Our kids will be fine.

And c'mon, do you really want to be at every class party? I'm the freakin' room mom, and I don't even want to be at all of them. And school plays? Really? Look around the cafeteria/auditorium. Notice the glazed-over eyes? Yeah, your 3:00 meeting WAS more exciting than a second-grade rendition of Peter Pan. Trust me. Three lattes later and I can barely keep my eyes open. And let's not even start in on a three-year-old's soccer game. Herding cats, that's what my husband calls it. A bunch of toddlers running around and picking dandelions (and their noses) is what I call it.

Slacker Mom Says...don't buy into the myth that you have to have it all right now. Who's to say what "all" is, what works for each family? Let's end the "Mommy Wars" and move on already! No matter what path we choose - career, being at home, a combination of both - our kids will be fine. Love them, hug them, let them know how proud you are. That's all they really need.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Empty Threats (Or Lies I've Told My Kids)

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I took my girls to our local zoo. We have one of those unlimited attraction memberships that allows us - at no additional cost - to feed giraffes and lorikeets, ride the ponies and the carousel, climb a rock wall, watch a 3D movie, and take a train ride - over and over and over again, world without end, amen. (What ever happened to just looking at the animals?!?) But eventually hunger won out over the allure of free pony rides, and since I hadn't had to shell out $2 for a handful of limp lettuce at the giraffe feeding platform, I agreed to spring for lunch. The girls, with all the enthusiasm of kids who are rarely allowed to eat fast food, opted for the Kenya Cafe.

Two orders of overpriced chicken tenders and greasy fries later, we were seated at a window booth overlooking the alligator enclosure. (Yeah, THAT'S the perfect place to eat chicken. Watching a hand-fed alligator whose main diet is - of course - chicken. Smart.) It was a drizzly day, and still fairly early, so there weren't that many diners in the cafe yet. But one family stood out, and not only because they were sitting right behind us. No, this particular family could be easily recognized by the incessant screaming of their three young children and the shrill response of the adults as "Parents Who Make Empty Threats that Everyone in a Three-Mile Radius Knows They Have No Intention of Carrying Out."

Now, usually Slacker Mom is all about the love. Do what works for you; don't judge other parents; no one knows what is really going on in another family. But seriously, these parents were just about the most annoying adults I've encountered in a long, long time. Two little boys, who looked to be about 3 and 5, sat at the table with their parents. A younger child sat in the stroller, flinging food out and screaming at the top of his lungs. Great, I thought, lunch AND a show. Ignoring the screaming and the politely curious looks of the other diners (this is the South, after all, and no one would be outright rude), Dad kept pushing the chicken on one kid ("One more bite! One more bite! Then you can have a chip!"); Mom was pushing a sandwich on the other ("Please? Please? For Mommy?"). As she got more and more frustrated, and the kids got more and more vocal about their feelings regarding lunch, Mom's speech went something like this: "You asked for the sandwich so you have to eat it. You promised you'd eat the sandwich after you had the cookies, so now you have to keep your word. If you don't keep your word, you can't have TV or dessert all week." Dad's was along the same lines, but with a "no one will ever trust you again if you don't keep your word" twist. Pretty harsh for preschoolers, but hey, who am I to judge? I've been guilty of over-explaining things a time or two myself.

But after approximately 47 versions of the same lecture, I wanted to turn around and say, "Geez! What, are you new at this? You gave them the cookies first. It's over. Call it a day, and next time, lunch first and dessert after!" But just as I was about to give in to the urge to at least turn around and glare meaningfully at the parents (hey, I'm not from here - I have no problem being rude now and then), I heard a little voice behind me say, "So, if I eat another bite, can I have some more cookies? And watch TV later?"

And of course, the parents agreed, as everyone around them knew they would. The family packed it up and left, discussing what movie the boys wanted to rent on the way home from the zoo.

And as much as I wanted to sit in judgement of their poor parenting skills, instead, I started thinking: am I guilty of the same thing? Do I threaten my kids with ridiculous punishments? Do I bribe them? Do I fail to enforce consequences for misbehavior or for poor choices?

The short answer to that question is yes. The long answer is yes, but only when I've realized that my original punishment is too harsh, or will punish me more than the guilty party, or will take away from our valuable family time, or when I'm really really mad and not thinking as clearly as I should - or when I forget what I said in the first place (one of the perils of being an older mom). But still - the answer is yes. And I want it to be no. I really, REALLY want it to be no. I want my kids to know that when I say something, that's the way it is. I want them to know that they can count on my word as being true and final and reliable. I once heard someone say that if you don't follow through with consequences, you've lied to your kids. Sounds kind of harsh, but I understand what he means. If I say no playtime until chores are done, I need to follow through and check to see that things are done properly BEFORE I let the kids off the hook, rather than going back and yelling at them later. If I say, "Clean your rooms before the movie," I need to get off my butt, go upstairs, and check under the beds and in the closets before handing over the remote. And when I dole out justice, whether it's a natural consequence or an actual punishment, I have to make sure - beforehand - that it's something I am willing to enforce. If the consequence is more unpleasant for me to enforce than it is for the child to endure, what's the point?

I once told my daughters that I would cancel Christmas if they kept fighting. Really? I LOVE Christmas, and I would NEVER do that. But I was at that breaking point where I just couldn't stand the bickering for one more second. A string of difficult mornings with kids who didn't want to get out of bed found me threatening to make them ride the school bus if they weren't ready to leave on time. (Now, before anyone gets upset and says that riding the bus is no punishment, let me say this: My kids aren't even up yet when the bus comes past my house at 6:36 each morning, because school starts at 7:40. We live 5 minutes from school. So yeah, it WOULD be a punishment.) But how would THAT solve anything? I'd be the one getting up even earlier! Yet another frustrated afternoon of jamming uncooperative little toes into ballet tights led to my empty promise to pull them out of the dance recital - after hundreds of dollars spent on lessons, shoes, costumes, and photos. Like I'd do that. All that time and money wasted, and for what? Because a 5-year-old had a hard time with the seam of her tights? How much better would it have been to make light of the situation, to say, "Tell your piggies to get inside those tights! Your ballet shoes are lonely!" and make her giggle rather than cry?

No, those empty threats and ridiculous comments say more about my frustrations as a parent, about my sleep deficit level, about my overall state of mind than they do about my kids' behavior. They're good kids, but they're kids. As my friend Jen says, you can't expect them to get in one day or one year what we've finally understood after 30-some years. They weren't born middle-aged, they were born brand-spanking new. They need time to figure out how to navigate the world. And let's face it, my mood determines the tone of the day, the mood in my home.

Slacker Mom Says... mean what you say and say what you mean. It's so easy to make empty threats, to give convoluted and unrealistic punishments that we know, as we say them, that we're never going to uphold. We all do it at some point, and we all know we do it. I'm vowing to stop right now. The next time I want to threaten to throw away all their toys because no one cleaned up the playroom, I'll remember that my agenda is just that: mine. Just because I want them to do something, it doesn't mean that they care at all about my timeline. A little patience and a sense of humor go a long way.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Are We There Yet?" is a 4-Letter Word

A recent episode of "The New Adventures of Old Christine" showcased an ill-fated attempt at a family vacation. Delayed flights, crazy routings, lost IDs, snotty airline personnel, family tensions - it was all there. But what really caught my attention was this: Christine's 13-year-old son wanted to bring his Nintendo DS, and his mom wouldn't let him, saying, "This is a family vacation! We're going to talk and spend time together!" His response? "Talk? What? You ruin everything!"

Really? His life is ruined because he's not allowed to take his video game along on a family vacation? I thought this line was a little over the top - until I started asking around. Most of my mommy friends confirmed that when they travel, their kids have cell phones, iPods, DVD players, video games, you name it. The backseat of the family car has become a fully-equipped media center. No one needs to talk to each other. Kids don't even have to cooperate and decide which movie to watch, because most of their cars now have dual-screen DVD players. And Mom doesn't even have to listen to the soundtrack of the Hannah Montana movie for the 725th time, because each child has her own headphones, too.

This new concept of entertainment stands in stark contrast to the vacations most of us remember. Family vacations of my childhood were decidedly unplugged. My parents would put down the back seats of the station wagon, we'd all unroll our sleeping bags, and the party would begin. We didn't have electronic gadgets to divert our attention from the scenery. There were no dual-screen DVD players - in fact, no TV of any kind. No, we had to create our own fun in the backseat. The license plate game, Mad Libs, a rousing rendition of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" (or something even less appropriate that my parents couldn't hear, like "My Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Burning of the School"), negotiating for each other's Slim Jim or Bubblicious stashes, or even - gasp - READING a BOOK! Sometimes my brothers would introduce a super-fun game called "Roly Poly" - you know, the one where they'd sit on either side of me, and as we rounded a corner, they'd squish me in between them. Fun.

Yes, we got on each others' nerves, but we quickly learned to get along and find something fairly quiet to do - or face the dreaded "if I have to stop this car..." threat. (I'm not sure what my parents would've done if they'd had to pull over, but back then, the threat alone was enough to strike fear into the hearts of children of all ages. We never found out, but we never WANTED to find out.) Sometimes we got bored, yes, but God forbid we say that out loud - our parents would start "entertaining" us with show tunes or long, boring stories about their childhood tribulations. (You know, walking to school, 3 miles, in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. You get the picture.) No, it was much safer to entertain ourselves and each other. But you know what? I don't have a single childhood memory that doesn't involve my brothers. Our family vacations? True family moments. We fought, and made up, and shared, and played, and interacted with each other. Isn't that what we want for our kids?

Now, I'm not advocating abandoning seat belts and booster seats here (or threatening your kids, although we've all been there), but why do we feel the need to constantly provide entertainment for our kids? Why can't they entertain themselves? And why do so many kids sit isolated, plugged in, during "family" time?

For my kids? It's kind of sink or swim when we travel. They'd better find a way to entertain themselves, because I don't want to hear the words "Are we there yet?" (Um, did I stop the car? Is the plane still flying? Then no, we're not there yet!) or "I'm bored!" (Really? I'm driving; you're playing. Who's bored? That's right. Zip it.) We don't have a built-in DVD player. (We do have a portable DVD player, but I can't figure out how to install it in the car - so my kids don't get to watch movies on long car rides. And I can't find the battery pack, so they can't take it on the plane. What can I say? I'm a slacker.) My kids don't have iPods, cell phones, or a DS. My cell phone has no games, music, or internet access. Nope, when we travel - by car or by air - my kids listen to CDs, audio books, the radio. And they are subjected to my singing along to their music. My kids read, color, play magnetic games. They make up elaborate stories. Color Wonder, Colorforms, pipe cleaners and beads, Polly Pockets - these are the staples of my girls' carry-ons. My kids talk to each other - and to me. Sure, I've had to get creative at times: Airsick bags make great hats for stuffed animals; stickers plus craft sticks equals instant puppet show. And never underestimate the power of a really good book. But bored? I don't want to hear it. If you're bored, it's your own fault.

Slacker Mom Says... let's all stop trying to play Vegas-style entertainer for our kids when we travel. They can find something to do! Let's bring back the family conversation, the license plate game, I Spy, and Twenty Questions. Let's find ways to truly spend time together, even on the long and boring drive to Disney World in the July heat. I'm not saying you can't pack the electronics; I'm just saying let's not rely on them totally. Families are so busy these days; let's take any opportunity we can to spend real time together. We're building the memories of a lifetime here. Besides, subjecting our kids to our singing and storytelling will give them something to complain to their friends about after they get back home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On Twilight and Marriage...

It's Spring Break! And you know what that means - yes, this week marks exactly one year since I became obsessed with all things Twilight. (You thought I was going to mention the beach, vacation, that type of thing, didn't you? Yes, we are going to the beach, and yes, it's nice to have the kids off school, but let's get our priorities straight, shall we?)

Resistant at first, I quickly fell under Stephenie Meyer's spell. It was Nina who first tried to recruit me for Team Edward. I'm not going to lie to you; I thought the entire concept was stupid. I'm not a teenaged girl; I'm not into vampires. No, I told her for weeks, I'm not reading a book that was a Teen People "Hot List" pick. And I've read enough of her "must-read" Nicholas Sparks books to know that we may be best friends but we do NOT share the same interest in books. (Before the Sparks fans get upset with me: he's a good story teller, I'll give you that, but his writing is repetitive, formulaic, and predictable.) But after weeks of daily phone calls, she finally wore me down. I bought the first book, Twilight, fully expecting to roll my eyes and make fun of her. I mean, really - teen girl falls in love with teen vampire. Whatever.

And then I read the entire series in eight days. The entire series. All four books. All 1,690 pages. In e-i-g-h-t days.

Once I started, it was un-put-down-able. My kids were fed and clothed and (relatively) clean, but I was completely obsessed. I read while I ironed, while waiting in the carpool line, while my kids and husband watched TV; I stayed up hours past my bedtime every night. I devoured each and every word, bought the next book well before I finished the previous one, and rented the movie version of Twilight - which I'd refused to see when it first came out. Compelling, mesmerizing, captivating storytelling, along with good writing, good dialogue, good imagery.

Yes, they're vampires. Yes, it's teen love. But it's so much more than that. I think what draws women, adult women, to this story, is the fact that against all odds, against all common sense, against the rules of society and science and nature, two people feel so strongly for each other that they are compelled to be together. What speaks to women, the young and the middle-aged alike, is the idea of a love so destined, so magnetic, that nothing can keep them apart. Not the fact that she's the police chief's daughter and that he's a danger to society; not the disapproval of their families and friends. They would rather die than be without each other. They would do anything to protect each other. Despite the odds against them, despite the challenges they face, they are compelled to be together, drawn by a love so deep it feels out of their control. Nothing can keep them apart. It's more than passion, or attraction, or mere lust - no, Bella and Edward are meant for each other, destined to be together, regardless of what happens around them, to them, because of them.

What woman wouldn't want a man to feel that way about her?

But though I love the books, and am currently on my fourth reading (hey, the movie version of Eclipse is coming out soon and I need to be prepared), I can separate fact from fiction. I may be fairly obsessed and have an old-lady crush on Edward, but I also know that real-life love, married love, takes time, effort, work. The books may be marketed at teen girls, but I doubt any teenager can truly understand a love so deep. All of us have experienced crushes, first love, puppy love - but what Bella and Edward share is so much deeper than that. And hopefully, what we have with our husbands is much deeper than that, too. It's mature love, a love born out of shared experiences, a love that comes from facing trials and troubles together. It's the kind of love that holds your hand in the delivery room when you are certainly not looking your best; the kind of love that gets a man up in the middle of the night with a scared child so you can sleep a little longer; the kind of love that lets us know this man would literally lay down his life for his children and wife. It's grown-up love.

A marriage is a give-and-take, an ongoing compromise, between two people who have committed themselves for life. Sometimes things are good; sometimes things are less good. Sometimes things are just, well, dull and staid and boring. But that's real life. Real life isn't always exciting, invigorating. Paying bills, driving carpool, making dinner - this is not the stuff of romance. But it's the stuff of life, of family life; it's what bonds us together. Yes, it's important to have those "grand gestures" in a marriage. But it's the small things, the little daily gestures, that speak to a deep, meaningful life together. As my friend Janet (whose husband introduced me to mine) says, "Attraction is important, but that initial passion will fade. You have to work to keep it alive. And in the end, I'd rather have a man who will wipe the baby puke out of my hair than one who'd buy me diamonds but sleep through the stomach flu." Well-said. Me, too.

Slacker Mom Says...real life is not a movie or a book. Real life isn't always exciting. A marriage is what we make it, after all. I may be obsessed with Edward and Bella's love story, but I still make time for MY love story. I'm not sure I believe in destiny and fate, but I do believe in forever, and in my husband, and in our love for each other. We'll keep working at it, keep challenging each other, keep loving each other. He's no vampire, and I'm not a teenaged girl, but we belong together.

And besides, when I'm in full Twilight obsession mode, he reaps the full benefits of my Edward-induced, romance-fueled attitude. When I read or watch anything Twilight-related - well, think about it. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

If Motherhood Were Easy, It Wouldn't Start With "Labor"

This motherhood thing has been somewhat, um, challenging lately. I've got a gum-smacking, miniskirt-wearing, eye-rolling pre-teen chatterbox who thinks I'm the world's worst mom because I won't buy her a cell phone. I've got a selective-hearing, persistent, precocious Kindergartner who thinks she should be allowed the same freedoms (but not the same responsibilities) as her older sister. And I've got a husband who says things like, "Ask your mother," or "What should I feed them for a snack?" or "What does Mommy usually do in this situation?" Or, my personal favorite, "I'll think about it" when what he really means is, "No way in hell!" because he doesn't want to be the bad guy.

So guess who gets to be the the bad guy and actually make the decisions?

Moms make literally thousands of decisions over the course of a typical day. Thousands. Some are easy, like no, you can't eat pixie stix for breakfast. Here's a bowl of oatmeal instead. Some are trickier, like what to do about a baby on nap strike or a mean girl on the playground or a gossipy neighbor you just can't stand. Sometimes I'm on a roll, handing out verdicts like a veteran judge, doling out punishments and juice boxes like a pro. Other days, I struggle with simple things, thinking, "What, am I new at this? Why can't I get it together?" But over the years, I've found that the easy decisions, the easy days, do not test me, do not make me a better mom. It's the hard days, the hard choices, the tough times, that define us as parents.

Think about it: The easy days, the days where everything goes right, no one gets sick or hurt or upset, the days where I have it all together, don't make me a better mom, a better person. The easy days are, for lack of a better word, too EASY to be interesting. If everything is going right, we aren't challenged to rise to the occasion. But on those OTHER days, the days when I'm thinking, "Is it bedtime yet? How early can I reasonably tuck them in? And what time does Happy Hour start??" I find myself being more resourceful, more creative, more EVERYTHING than usual. On those days when I'm thinking, "Man, this is SO NOT what I signed up for, SO NOT what I imagined motherhood to be!" - well, those are the days that make me a better mom. Those are the days that end with me thinking, "I got through this; I can get through anything!"

Case in point: When my girls were 2 and 4, I spent three weeks visiting my family in Los Angeles. My husband flew back a couple of weeks earlier than I did, but I'd flown with both kids on my own many times. So I was undaunted by the prospect of changing planes in Dallas/Fort Worth with two kids, a double stroller, two car seats, and three carry-ons. No sweat. Piece of cake.

Of course, nothing went smoothly. Our flight out of DFW was cancelled, and the only other option would take us into Reagan/National in DC, and then to our final destination, Pittsburgh, around midnight. I only had 20 minutes to reach the gate, which meant that I literally ran through crowded terminals like in that old OJ commercial, jumping over bags, pushing a double stroller filled with 90 lbs. of kid and two car seats strapped on top, singing silly songs to keep my kids entertained, much to the amusement of other travelers. Arriving in DC, I found that, due to airport renovations, they couldn't bring my gate-checked stroller to me - so I had to drag sleepy kids, car seats, and bags to the check-in counter just to get my stroller. Then, because I'd been re-routed to a different carrier and had no bags to check, the computer program selected me for secondary security screening - and no one could override the all-powerful computer. Swabbing my stroller for explosive residue, x-raying my diaper bag, patting down my toddlers, dismantling my car seats - of course, I missed my next flight. By this time, no one had eaten dinner and everyone was exhausted. My flip flop strap broke, so I was hobbling around, people staring, looking like an idiot - but again, that may have been due to my singing in an attempt to convince my kids that this was all just a grand adventure. I was booked on a later flight, a puddle jumper (in whose seats neither of my car seats would fit, so more gate-checking) that arrived in Pittsburgh at 2:00 AM.

And that's when I remembered that when my husband had flown home two weeks earlier, he'd driven my car home from the airport. And he was now - get this - in DC on a business trip.

So, because I'm a mom and we do what we have to do, I smiled at my kids, collected my car seats and stroller, claimed my bags, and rented a car. Completely loaded down and with no one to help me, I got my kids and my crap settled into the rented minivan in the middle of the night. I made the 2-1/2 hour drive home safely. It remains, to this day, one of the toughest days of my parenting career - but I wouldn't change one single aspect of it now. I dug deep, and I learned that I can handle just about anything life throws at me.

Slacker Mom Says...sometimes, parenthood is tough. Sometimes, we think, "This is not what I signed up for!" Some days, we have to dig deep, really really deep, into the well of creativity, patience, self-reliance - and we find that indeed we can handle more than we thought we could. We have to think of tough times as a test that helps us fine tune our parenting skills, a test that challenges us to be better parents, better people. It helps us grow as mothers. We learn that we can. We CAN. We're moms. We CAN - and we DO.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Italian Time" and Motherhood

As a young teacher, on a ten-month salary schedule, I always needed a summer job. You know, so I could pay the rent, buy shoes, have drinking money, that kind of thing. One summer, I was hired to teach English for an international educational foundation that did a sort of glorified summer camp for European teens whose parents wanted to travel and not be bothered with their obnoxious (and stinky) offspring. (I say stinky because, man, these kids reeked. We actually had to tell them that American teens shower daily. Your average teenager is smelly enough without adding in soccer games in 80 degree weather. P. U.) Most of our students came from wealthy French and Italian families. The kids spent the morning in English classes; afternoons were spent at various shopping and site-seeing destinations. American teachers and European chaperones lived in the dorms with the students, taught classes, and planned and supervised the outings. (Yeah, it sounds fun; really it was just ten weeks of utter exhaustion. But I made some lifelong friends, probably due to the Helsinki Syndrome-like conditions we worked under.)

One of many things I learned during four summers teaching rich, smart-ass European kids was how to swear and talk dirty in 14 different languages. But another useful thing I learned was that the concept of time is somewhat, um, fluid in Italy. "We're leaving in five minutes" meant anything from 5, 10, 50 minutes to them. If we said, "The bus leaves at 9:00," then we expected the kids to show up about 8:45, get on the bus, and leave AT 9:00. Reasonable, right? Wrong. They'd start showing up about 9:30, 9:45, we'd start yelling, then we'd have to find their Italian chaperones (in the cafeteria, complaining about American coffee), and we'd finally leave campus around noon. OK, I may be exaggerating, but only a very little bit. It was very frustrating the first few times. But we got used to it pretty fast, and we learned to beat them at their own game: We started giving them fake departure times. If we wanted to leave at 9:00, we'd tell them to get on the bus at 8:00. Sneaky, but it worked.

Another thing I realized about Europeans was that their concept of "hurry up" is NOTHING like ours. We walk faster, talk faster, eat faster, shop faster, play faster; EVERYTHING is faster here. I was always saying, "Let's GO! Hurry UP!" to my students. They took forever to eat lunch, pick out a Swatch Watch (don't ask, it was the 90s), do that scarf-around-the-neck thing that only European women can pull off. It drove me crazy. When I finally quit that summer job, I thought I was forever free of "Italian time."

And then I had kids.

There is NOTHING in the world that will prepare you for how long it takes a toddler to walk to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Every single crack in the concrete, bug on a leaf, stray piece of mulch, blade of grass, twig, or ladybug must be examined with the intensity of a scientist in the field. What used to take me 2 minutes now takes 25. And there is no way to know beforehand how long it will take a five-year-old to put away 16 blocks and 2 stuffed bears. Trust me, it can take 5 minutes or 2 1/2 hours. You just never know.

When I had my first baby, I had no idea what children would do to my timing. Where it used to take me 10 minutes to get to the mall (grab purse, get in car, go), it now took me 45 minutes. Get the diaper bag, strap the baby into the car seat, adjust her straps, struggle through the garage door without banging the car seat into the cars, snap the car seat into the base, put the stroller in the trunk, and adjust the baby mirror 18 different times so I could see her (sleeping, unmoving) face in my mirror. Then, when I arrived, I had to unload the stroller, unload the diaper bag, adjust the seat and seatbelts properly...and oh, yeah, get the baby out of the car and into the stroller.

Once, when my oldest was about 5 weeks old, I had a particularly bad morning. I just wanted to go to the grocery store, like a normal person. But every time I picked my daughter up, she spit up on me. I don't mean a nice little Gerber baby dribble. I mean like Mount St. Helens erupting down my back. I'd put her down, change my clothes, clean the wall and the floor, pick her up - and then she'd have a diaper blowout. So I'd clean her up, clean myself up, pick her back up - and she'd spit up again. This went on for, no joke, about 40 minutes. And then she needed to eat, which took another 45 minutes (a firstborn, obviously - the second kid could drain me in ten minutes flat). Finally, I was out of clothes, she was out of ammunition, and I was in tears.

Kid time. It's even worse than Italian time. At least with my students, I found a way around it. With my kids, no matter how much time I give them, they need more. They take more. "Five more minutes" means absolutely nothing to a child. Try to rush them, and they slow down even more. It's maddening. If I need them to just put on their shoes and get in the car, I can pretty much count on the fact that at least one of them will choose that exact moment to poop, need a band-aid, or have to tell me a very long story about a caterpillar on the playground last week that was missing a leg. (WTF???)

Just tonight, after story time, my Kindergartner said she had to go potty. I sat on her bed while she went in to bathroom, fuming about how long it was taking her. How hard is it to just go in, do your thing, wash up and come out? But she had songs to sing, soap to splat, water to play in, earrings to admire, a nightlight that needed to be flicked off and on approximately 84 times, and, of course, she had to check her look in the mirror, "to see if my French braids made my hair all springy and crazy." It took forever. And all I could think about was all the crap I still had to do downstairs before I could finally relax and watch "Modern Family" on my DVR.

But then I realized something important: Kids are kids. No timetables, no mental to-do lists, nowhere else to be, nothing else to do. It's always summer vacation. They can live in the moment without worrying about all the little crap that we worry about. Did it really matter that she sang her songs, stared in the mirror, took a few extra minutes in the bathroom? She was happy, singing, giggling, enjoying life. I wish I had that much fun peeing.

When we're at the zoo, my kids can gaze for an hour at the sea lions. They'll stare at the monkeys forever, watching them groom each other and swing around, giggling and pointing. The lion cubs could keep their interest all morning; comparisons to Nala and Simba are nonstop. But my husband and I find ourselves glancing at our watches, hurrying them along, saying things like, "Don't you want to have time to see the meerkats? the ponies? the turtles?" All the while, they are content to just watch, observe, enjoy, without worrying about anything at all. That's childhood. Why take that away from them? Why rush and hurry them unnecessarily? We're at the zoo for THEM, after all, so why not just stand there and let them take whatever time they need?

Slacker Mom Says...don't fight kid time. It will not end well. When it really matters, when it's work or school or an appointment, that's one thing. Build some extra time into the schedule, be silly, give them a fake leaving time, do what you have to do. As a teacher, I had songs we'd sing to mark the transition to the next activity. They had to be done by the time the song ended, and they usually were. But sometimes we need to just stop and think: Does it really matter if it takes a few extra minutes? I am constantly rushing my kids through every little thing. I might get them to do it faster, but at what price? I'm yelling, they're crying, and we're all stressed, all so it can be finished a few minutes early? Not worth it. In a very short time, my precious girls will be grown and gone, and I'll have all the time in the world to watch whatever I want on TV. Shoot, I won't even have to DVR it, because no one will be here to interrupt me when it's on the first time. How sad will that be?