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?