Friday, January 28, 2011

Multi-Tasking Causes Mommy Brain

My mom is the queen of forwards. You know what I mean - one of those people who forwards every single e-mail anyone ever sends her - the religious stuff, the cutsy ones with kitties and puppies dancing around, the chain e-mails, the "if you don't forward this to 294 friends, disaster will befall you!" stuff, the political rants, the so-called safety alerts. True or not, she sends them on. (I keep telling her about snopes, but she just doesn't get it.) Over the years, I've learned to just hit "delete" when I see a subject line that says "FW:FW:FW:FW: true inspirational story!" But now and then, she hits the jackpot and sends me something that makes me laugh out loud.

Most recently, she sent me something called "A.A.A.D.D." or "Aging Adult Attention Deficit Disorder". (Now, seeing as she gave me Nora Ephron's "I Remember Nothing" and "I Feel Bad About My Neck", for Christmas, I'm wondering if my mother is trying to tell me something. Ahem. Thanks, Mom.) This particular e-mail was all about the aging person's forgetful brain, and how you scatter from one activity to another because you forget what you were doing at the time and get sidetracked easily. Sound familiar? Yeah, it did to me, too. But I'm not sure it has anything to do with aging. I think it has more to do with being a mom and having too much to do and too little time to do it.

I think it's Mommy Brain.

You want proof? Fine. Case in point, last Friday. I went to take a shower and realized it was time to clean my bathroom. I thought sharing a bathroom with my brothers in high school was bad, but now that I've been sharing with a boy for 12 years, I realize I had it pretty easy then. My husband's mirror is covered in what I can only guess is stuff that came off his teeth while flossing; his sink has what my girls call "boy spit" in it, and I'm pretty sure he never wipes down the counter after he shaves. When my girls use my bathroom, they refuse to use his sink and fight about who gets to use mine. And I can't say I blame them.

But I digress.

So there I was, armed with my blue cleaning gloves and a bottle of bleach. Realizing that I was out of Clorox wipes, I returned to the kitchen to get more, and noticed that I hadn't done the breakfast dishes yet. So I finished those, along with another cup of coffee, put the dish towel in the laundry room, and realized that I hadn't finished the laundry I started at 6:00 that morning. So I folded that, moved a load from the washer to the dryer, and took the kids' laundry upstairs so they could put it away after school. (Yeah, I make them do it themselves. Even a 3-year-old can put away her socks and pajamas. C'mon now.) While upstairs, I realized it was time to change their sheets, so I stripped the beds, grabbed all the towels from the kids' bathroom, fed their frogs and fish (not my job, but don't want the pets to die), found a lost library book, and turned off all the nightlights that had been left on. (My dad would laugh. I've become just like him.) Noticing that my sneakers were next to the treadmill, I decided to get in a quick workout and watch the Today Show - which sparked an idea for an article, so I went back downstairs to my computer to make some notes. By then, of course, I needed to move laundry from washer to dryer again, and fold the load that was dry, and then head back into my room to put it away. Then the phone rang at the same time as the doorbell, and I had a quick chat with a friend who needed to arrange transportation for her kids to practice that night while taking delivery of my husband's "protein shakes". (Another rant completely.) That led to a phone call to my husband to make sure he could get home early enough to pick up extra kids on his way to coaching the team practice, which led to his asking me to do some online banking and bill-paying that needed to get done RIGHT NOW TODAY. By that time, I was dying for a bathroom break (funny how long you can hold it when you get busy, huh?), so I headed back into my bathroom.

And that's when I realized that I STILL hadn't finished cleaning the bathroom that I'd started cleaning TWO HOURS EARLIER.

Am I the only one?

They call it "multi-tasking": the idea that we can (and should?) be doing several things at once, in order to accomplish more. Sometimes, it's necessary. I mean, I can nurse a baby while cooking dinner and talking on the phone. I can help both kids with homework while folding laundry and unloading the dishwasher. I can drive while refereeing backseat dramas over whose side of the car is whose and which kid gets to eat which snack. I can get both kids showered and in bed in less than 20 minutes, a job that takes my husband at least an hour. (Oh, wait. That last one has nothing to do with multi-tasking. It just annoys me that it takes him so long.)

But at other times, multi-tasking is just another way for me to feel inadequate. I can't truly pay bills while cleaning a bathroom while e-mailing a teacher while paying attention to my kids. I just can't. I'm always telling my kids to "finish the job," but what am I SHOWING them? Sometimes, I feel like I'm doing everything halfway and doing nothing well. And that makes me feel really bad. I want to be the kind of mom who gives my kids her full attention when they're talking to me; I want to be able to look at them, for them to feel I am fully present in the conversation. Sometimes, they'll have to wait, and I'll say, "I need 3 minutes and then I can listen to your story." And then I do. But I don't want to be an "uh huh" kind of mom. You know, where you say, "Uh huh, uh huh" as your kid babbles on and on about some really boring thing that happened at school. It IS boring, but at least she's telling me about her day! At least she WANTS to talk to me. If my friends with teenagers are right, the day will come when she won't.

Slacker Mom Says...multi-tasking is a crock. It's just a way for us to feel even busier, even more hassled and harried, even MORE inadequate than we already do! So I've decided to really limit my multi-tasking. Sometimes, it's necessary. Sometimes, it's unavoidable. But I'm making a conscious attempt to focus on whatever task is at hand, to really listen to whomever is speaking to me, to get one thing done - and done well - at a time. And if less stuff gets done, so be it. If the laundry sits unfolded for a couple of hours, fine. My husband knows where the iron is, and he knows how to use it. If the dishes sit in the sink for another hour, I can live with that. And if I have to wait until tomorrow to clean the bathroom, I doubt my husband will even notice.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Have A Dream, Too

As we celebrate the life, mourn the death, and honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, I've been thinking about what his words meant to a nation divided by racial tensions, by fundamental beliefs about equality, and by political differences. Have we come very far since 1963? If he were alive today, what would he say? I mean, I think things have gotten significantly better, but have they? Are the improvements merely on the surface? Schools are desegregated, but I can count on one hand the number of non-white, non-Christian kids in my daughters' classrooms. Living in California, and later, Florida, my students represented many ethnic, racial, and religious groups. Living in the Midwest? The South? Not so much.

No easy answers here. While racism, age-ism, ethnicism, sexism, and many other "isms" are surely - and unfortunately - alive and well, I wasn't around in 1963, so I can't really speak to the progress made in the last 40+ years. I think things are better - kids today are appalled by the idea of slavery, segregation, and racial bias - but I can't be sure. My dad says things are better, but he's nearing 80; is he really in touch with the feelings, the perceptions, the attitudes, the realities of today's youth?

I don't know what the answers are, and I'm no expert in this area. While I wish I could answer that question definitively, intelligently, and effectively, I can't. But I can tell you that Dr. King's speech stands as one of the most influential in our country's collective memory. And because of that, school children across the nation are encouraged to share their hopes, their dreams, their wishes for our country's future. In the spirit of celebrating the work of Dr. King, I, too, have some hopes and dreams for our country. I, too, wish to see positive changes in our society's collective consciousness. However, in the vein of "write what you know," my dreams fall along the lines of motherhood.

So, for what it's worth (and don't get excited and tell me that I'm no MLK and I shouldn't flatter myself that anyone really cares what I think; no duh. As if!), here it is - and, in true Slacker Mom style, it's a day late.

I have a dream. I have a dream that, one day, the "Us vs. Them" mentality of motherhood will end. That there will be no more "Breast vs. Bottle," no more "Working vs. Staying Home," no more "Immunize vs. Don't." That women will finally realize that cooperation trumps competition every time.

I have a dream that one day, mothers will work together, support each other, realize that the work of raising children is so much easier when you have other women on your side. That we belong to a special, wonderful group called MOTHERS, and that we share a sisterhood born of love and devotion to our kids. That no matter how we arrived at motherhood - adoption, foster parenting, or biology - we are all in this together. It's not a race; it's a journey to be savored and experienced fully.

I have a dream that one day, we will teach our sons and daughters basic respect for all human beings, that we will insist on certain values and behaviors from them: personal responsibility, hard work, respect, kindness, and empathy. That we will teach our sons to honor women, our daughters to treat each other like sisters, and that we will set a good example by refusing to gossip and judge. That we will teach by example, treating our fellow human beings with compassion and generosity rather than scorn and ridicule.

I have a dream that we will live by the tenets our grandparents taught: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" and "Think before you speak." That mothers will teach the concept I first saw posted on a principal's office wall: Before you say it out loud, think, "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" Wouldn't the world be a happier place if everyone followed that rule?

I have a dream that mothers will realize what truly matters: raising self-sufficient, socially-conscious, happy, healthy (physically AND emotionally) kids who are ready to leave the nest and fly on their own. Roots and wings, my mother called it - kids who know where they come from, with a good foundation, who have the skills necessary to form healthy relationships and be successful at their chosen careers.

Slacker Mom Says... think about what matters to you and your family. Putting down others doesn't build us up; it cuts us down. Happiness has nothing to do with others and everything to do with ourselves. Like Lincoln said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Choose happiness. It's easier than unhappiness. Choose the life you love. Choose to raise kids to be the kind of adult you wish you were. Be the kind of adult you wish you were. I have a dream: that mothers will embrace this crazy, messy, unpredictable time of life, and enjoy the ride. It's a short one, but it's the best ride we'll ever take.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Spy With My Little Eye...

Last night, while watching an old episode of "Reba" (I LOVE that show - besides the fact that Reba has always reminded me of my gorgeous red-headed friend, Anne, Reba's all about no-nonsense parenting with humor and grace), I saw a hilarious exchange between Reba and her oldest daughter, Cheyenne. Reba explained how she always knew when Cheyenne liked a boy: she'd doodle his name on her notebook and wear a certain pink sweater and a certain mint-flavored lip gloss. Cheyenne, horrified that her mother knew so much, asked, "How did you know about the lipgloss? Were you spying on me?" Reba answered, "I found it in your pocket." Cheyenne exclaimed, "How could you? Going through someone's pockets is called spying!" - to which Reba responded, "No, it's called doing laundry."

Now, I don't know about you, but I could fill a huge trash can with the assorted items I've found in my family's pockets over the years. Aside from enough money to take all my girlfriends to Starbucks, I've found rocks, lip balm, notes, receipts, pens, toys, sand, tissues, Barbie shoes, ponytail holders, bobby pins, erasers... the list goes on. Never once have I considered checking their pockets to be an invasion of privacy; it's more a "I can't afford a new washing machine every week" thing. My rule is, if you leave it in your pocket, you must not want it - so finders keepers!

But I digress.

In this particular Reba episode, the real issue at hand is spying on teens to find out what's going on in their lives. Reba's pretty sure that her middle child, Kyra, is keeping something from her. Her ex-husband's new wife tells her that she reads Kyra's email and snoops through her stuff. She sees nothing wrong with it, nor does Kyra's father, but Reba is horrified at the thought.

So, as usual, this got me thinking: is it OK to spy on your kids? Is there ever a situation where parents can justify snooping? For me, the short answer is hell, yes, just don't get caught. The longer answer is, well, maybe, in certain circumstances and under certain conditions, when other methods have failed and you're pretty sure that your child is in danger or in trouble, and you're not merely being nosy and annoying and controlling - sort of like we all thought OUR moms were when we were teenagers. If I trust my kids, and I trust that they're being honest and open with me, then I have no reason to go looking for information. But if I start seeing secretive, scary behavioral changes, then I feel a responsibility to investigate so I can help my kids.

Now, I'm not justifying random nosiness. My oldest daughter keeps a journal, and I can't imagine reading it. (Really, it'd be pretty dull anyway. It's likely to say stuff like, "My sister is really annoying me. I wish I were an only child." Or, "_____ is soooo cute. OMG I luv that new Taylor Swift song. Team Jacob! I wish my mom would let me see 'Twilight' but she says it's 'inappropriate.' Whatever.") Like I'd want to read that. But she's only a fourth-grader. As she gets older, will I feel differently?

My Reba look-alike friend, Anne, has a teenaged daughter. Years ago, when Lauren was 10 or 11, Anne gave me some fantastic advice: be the mom who hosts every sleepover and get-together. All the girls hang out at her house, and she moves in and out of the room, bringing more popcorn, wiping up spills, refilling drinks, setting down a pizza, sitting in a corner reading a book. Meanwhile, the girls? They don't really notice her. They go on with their conversations, spilling everything to each other, and she's all but invisible to them. Yep, she's a sneaky one - but smart, that Anne. She's hearing it all; she's privy to all their secrets, and they don't even realize it. (She also told me to never force kids to cut out an undesirable friendship, because that just sends it "underground" and you stop knowing what's going on. Instead, make sure that the kid is welcomed into your home so you can watch exactly what's going on. Hmmm. She's good.)

A few years ago, I found a notebook under the couch, with "Top Secret" written on it in my daughter's handwriting. Yes, I opened it and read it (I thought about it for a moment, but again, if you're leaving your "top secret" stuff under the couch in the family room, really, how private can it be?), and I was really glad I did. It was full of some dark poetry - especially considering that she was in second grade - about lost love, depression, sadness, and longing to fit in. So I did what any mom would do; I panicked. Then I calmed down and called my best friend, read it to her, and asked her advice. She suggested that I tell my daughter I'd found it and then ask her if she wanted to talk about it. My husband and I were both worried about the content; my daughter seemed like a happy, well-adjusted little girl with no worries.

Imagine my surprise when I sat my daughter down for a serious heart-to-heart. As soon as I pulled out the notebook, she exclaimed, "THERE IT IS! I've been looking for my song book!" Um, songbook? Turns out, she'd been writing lyrics, not poetry. And when I asked if she felt sad or lonely, she looked at me like I was a complete moron and said, "Why would you think THAT?" Um, the lyrics? They're pretty depressing? Big eyeroll. "Mom, seriously, don't you realize that ALL lyrics are about lost love, or not fitting in, or being depressed? I'm not sure I got it right, because I'm a little young for all that, but what else does anyone write about?"


So yes, I've learned a little lesson about panicking after snooping. And I really don't think that there's anything going on that I don't know about. But she's only 8. The teen years loom ahead, dark and mysterious, full of worries and woes. Right now, she tells me everything. And I mean, EVERYTHING. Much more than I care to know. I mean, do I really NEED to know who likes who and what the entire class ate for lunch? No, thanks, I'd rather not. But I love that she wants to talk to me; she opens up, shares her day and her feelings and her dreams. Because I have another daughter, one who usually responds to "What did you do at school today?" with "I dunno. Can't remember." She tells me relatively little, and that worries me for HER teen years. Oh, she's an open book right now, sure, but she doesn't have an incessant monologue going on, and I'm not sure she'll ever develop one, what with her chatty older sister and her conversation-hog mother around. She's the one I need to watch.

Right now, my kids are too young for Facebook, email, texting their friends. But middle school is nearly here, and with it will come increased distance, increased access to technology, and a cell phone. There will be different pressures, boys won't be so gross, and cyber-bullying will be an issue. They'll need more freedom online, around the neighborhood, at school, in the community. So I reserve the right to snoop and spy on my kids - if I feel I need to. I WILL read their texts, monitor their use of social networking sites, retain access to their email accounts. I will continue to monitor their moods and behaviors and friends. It's a scary world out there, and it's my job to keep them safe. If they won't open up, if I suspect there's a problem, if I think they're in trouble, I will get to the bottom of it. If it makes them mad, fine. If they hate me for it, so be it. If they give me no reason to mistrust them, I won't. But they've been told, and I'll keep telling them: just because I trust YOU does not mean I trust the rest of the world.

Slacker Mom Says... sign me up for the spy gear and the night vision goggles. I'm keeping tabs on my kids and their activities, within reason. It's probably not a popular stance, but my job isn't to be popular. My job is to raise kids who are intelligent, who make good decisions, who are equipped to leave me someday and be independent, fulfilled individuals with sound judgment and good ethics and morals. If I need to supervise them closely so that they can learn from their mistakes, I will. There's a fine line between overprotective and protective; I'm trying to find it and stay on the right side of it, but I'm still learning. I'll make mistakes, and so will they, but we're in this together.