Thursday, September 09, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

As the school busses round our corners in the mornings, and the pleasant nip of September drifts into our evening dinner hours, we breathe a collective sigh to welcome the new season. And welcome it is. It’s been a long summer, and a bountiful one weather-wise; we enjoyed August temperatures in June and wrapped up the season with a near miss of Hurricane Earl, which brought the not unwelcome combination of rain, a drop in temperature and a nice breeze to Labor Day Weekend, summer’s melancholy bookend.

One thing about having small children is how it makes you recall your own childhood summers. The carefree endless days, hours upon hours spent outside, watching fireworks and waiting for lightning bugs, gorging on ice cream, building sandcastles and other small civic engineering projects from sand, rocks and seaweed, riding bikes, and waiting with delight for the big attraction to round the corner at that 4th of July parade. And yes, poison ivy, bee stings, long hot car rides, black and blues, skinned knees and water up the nose.

I did things the summer I never would have done without small children (and couldn’t do when they were babies). Pony rides. Train rides. Boogie boards. Floaties. Campgrounds. Root beer floats. Hot dogs. Pool parties. Hikes in the woods (short ones). Canoe rides (also short). Buying worms. Baiting hooks. Catching sunfish. Swings. Slides. Popsicles. Races. Lakes, ponds, oceans and swimming holes. Naps. Long ones. Short ones. Painfully interrupted ones. Bike rides. Lollipops. Sprinklers. Wading pools. Skinny dipping (the kids, not me.) Sunscreen. Bug spray. Lemonade. Ferries. Fried seafood. Collecting eggs. Catching spiders (though living in Carlisle, we do that in wintertime too.)

S’mores. Crocs. Crabs, minnows, turtles, frogs and rabbits. Even bears, mountain lions and bobcats, thanks to the Science Center at Squam Lake, New Hampshire. Old friends. New friends. Graduations. Birthdays, the very young and the almost done. Weddings (I’d be fine to never attend another, save my children’s.) Anniversaries – the joyful ones, and the tragic. Beer. Rose. Sangria. Margaritas. Dancing in the street. Not all at once, except for that one July party…

But adulthood always comes calling. Things I also did a lot of this summer: Laundry. Dishes. Trips to the swap shed (to return things my husband picked up the week before.) Weeding. Running. Shopping. Cooking (not that much, I confess). Email, phone calls, writing, reading, texting (but no tweeting. I just can’t). Work – perhaps not enough. Worrying – perhaps too much?

And through it all the sun is shining. The days are long - I should know, bedtime is clocking in around nine pm these days – Egad. And life is short. My kids, so young and so little at 2 and 3, are getting older, and bigger. And so am I (older, not bigger that is, I hope). The unbearable sweetness of summer is made all the more by the arrival of September. That big fat S on the calendar…..School starts. Sweaters. Socks again – yuck. New schedules. Fresh work assignments. The shorts are put away…the beach towels packed up. The sand toys buried in the basement for ten months. Where are those mittens…have the moths eaten my pashmina again? Will my jeans still fit? Putting on those closed toe shoes for the first time…And soon, the triple threat of Halloween, Thanksgiving and the hurricane of the “holidays.” The first snow, and the last eggnog. Skiing. Sledding. Skating…the flu. And so it goes.
This is life. I’m no fool; it’s a good one. Sometimes it’s great. And I’m grateful. Usually. Even though I’m not a kid anymore…most of the time that is.

Happy fall, everyone.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

But what do you DO all day?

Through a layoff, I accidentally became a SAHM (that's Stay At Home Mom or Sometimes Aggravated and Horrible Mommy). The transition hasn't been easy, but it is not one I regret. I once saw a T-shirt advertised in a parenting magazine that said simply "I AM at work."

I didn't really appreciate it until I became a SAHM with two small children. We've all heard (or heard others thinking) the question "but...what do you do all day?" when we tell them we're stay at home moms. In an attempt to explain I have provided a cheat sheet for the next time someone asks this question.

Detractors may point out that the percentages add up to more than 100%. This is no accident. And in addition to no pay, there is no vacation or weekend from the job either. But the benefits....ah, they last forever. Just ask any accidental SAHM who's a former corporate achiever. And who has teenagers now.

25% - Picking things up
20% - Putting things away
10% - Pleading with others to pick things up and put them away
10% - Playgrounds, playdates, music class or other activity to prevent children from destroying house
2% - Paperwork (school, doctor, daycare, etc.)
4% - Wipe bottoms, wash hands or otherwise assist in bathroom activities (for other people)
6% - Dressing and undressing other people
4% - Teaching other people to dress and undress
10% - Preparing food
10% - Helping people eat food
10% - Cleaning up after food preparation and consumption
90% - Laundry
15% - Worrying about money
22% - Picking up and dropping off people
2% - Getting gas (for car)
1% - Getting gas (from eating hot dogs and mac & cheese)
6% - Paying bills, clipping coupons, talking to various "service" people on the phone
13% - RSVPing, shopping for, and going to birthday parties
15% - Reading stories
12% - Making up stories
50% - Grocery shopping
45% - Making lists for grocery shopping
4% - Doing things for self (showering, eating, going to the bathroom)
2% - Threatening
3% - Bribing
24% - Answering questions (i.e. Do dinosaurs have birthdays? What color is bear poop? Do fairy tales wear helmets? When a skunk bites you does he say sorry?)
2% - Repairing household things that husband can't or won't
3% - Indulgent online ordering of needless child gear and toys
7% - Justifying to others the fact that you don't work "outside the home"

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Joys of Spin

The first thing I did when I got laid off was join a gym. One thing I've come to understand is that in life, sometimes you have time, sometimes you have money, but rarely do you have both. And usually you could be thinner.

I now had time for the gym. And they have childcare. For two dollars an hour! Off I went. Then I found out you have to stay at the gym and work out while your child is at the gym childcare facility. Oh. So I tried spinning, because it had a time limit, and a stationary bike, so how much could you really move, and an instructor, which meant someone to make sure you finished what you started, or left in humiliation trying, which of course wasn't an option so...Anyway. Spinning.

The thing I discovered about spinning is that, much to my surprise, I really enjoy someone yelling at me and telling me what to do as I hurtle toward nausea and tears. As a mother of a two and three year old, I must admit that it feels kind of nice to cede decisions, control and authority to someone else for a full hour. It's a change of pace. Sometimes the pace makes me dizzy and fearful about my lung capacity and not very serious but still there heart murmur, but isn't that what positive change is all about?

The kids do great in the childcare room. They play with other kids and behave perfectly for other adults who aren't me.

"Did you know he says 'God damn it?'" the careteaker asks me when I pick them up after class, my face a spectacular shade of purple.

"No! You're kidding!"

"Quite a lot, actually."

I feign shock. My two year old smiles at me. I lean over for the diaper bag, my stomach eating itself, my legs feeling as though recently filled with liquid cement. Did I eat this morning? Oh yes, the milk soaked orange fruit loop at the bottom of the sink. I smile and drop my keys.

"God damn it!" my two year old says.

"Mommy, do fairy tales wear helmets?" my three year old asks, he, forever the angel, resucing me, distracting everyone from my flaws and my bad mother habits, bringing smiles forth with his genius non-sequitors as we head toward the sweaty elevator.

"The smart ones do," I tell him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Another morning...

The secret to perfect pancakes is medium-low heat. Who knew? This after years and hundreds of raw or burnt (or some combination thereof) Bisquick concoctions. Sometimes it takes losing a job to perfect the impossible, do the undoable, and master flour and eggs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Paging Henry Hill

I was laid off a month ago and was unexpectedly thrust into the role of Almost Full Time Stay At Home Mom.

I was not used to it. I am still not used to it.

Am I happy to have this time with my kids? Yes. Do I miss my paycheck? Hell, yes. Do I miss not having to be the house/life/marriage manager in addition to the kid manager because I work, too? Yes, I think I miss that most of all, Scarecrow.

Seriously, I was lucky enough to work part time at a job I liked in my field. I had one foot in the playground and one on the on ramp career coaches love to talk about. And yes, sometimes on the days I was at work I wanted to be home with my kids. And sometimes on the days I was home with my kids waiting out the afternoon eternity between nap and dinner, I wanted to be in the Caribbean, by myself.

I can't lie. When you've spent a lifetime working, being a full time mom in suburbia feels like being in the witness protection program, only without the wistful memories of a past life of glamorous danger. Remember that last scene in Goodfellas, when Ray Liotta as snitch gangster Henry Hill opens the door to his cookie cutter subdivision witness protection program house to get his newspaper? Remember the look of panicked boredom on his face?

Sometimes I know how he felt. But then I read The Butterfly Book for the billionth time or replace the wheel on the hapless firetruck whose sound mechanism has been mutilated by someone or something, making it sound like a malfunctioning droid, and a strange, zen like calm overtakes me and for a moment, I am a good mom.

Sometimes I feel like I fell off the planet and entered a time warp of daily survival. Before my eyes open every day my body is moving to fulfill needs - all kinds of banal needs - that have nothing to do with my own. Time is divided by meals, sleep, bodily functions and their respective cleanup, Play Doh, the playground, the Fight of the Day (today's was "He Took My Fishy"), the broken fire truck and its creepy noises, and 30 minutes of Big Bird.

So here, for all those considering quitting your job to spend more time with your kids, or quitting your kids to spend more time with your job, are the pros and cons of each. Here are all the answers you need, in one blog (seriously someone should pay a lot of money for this list) about work and motherhood:

PRO - I know my 3 year old's digestive schedule now, and as a result can handily intercept him on the way to his secret corner to do what we both know he should be doing in the bathroom.

CON - Because I eat kids' food all day long now, I have no digestive schedule of my own.

PRO - The laundry and dishes are done and dinner is made by 5:30.

CON - I spend my days doing laundry and dishes and dinner. And it's never Beef Bourguignon.

PRO - No more rush hour traffic.

CON - No more listening to what I want to listen to, when I want to listen to it, in my own car, as I eat breakfast and read the Times.

PRO - No work schedule means we're free to vacation with no time restrictions!

CON - No 2nd paycheck means no vacation!

PRO - Because I'm lucky enough to have a part time babysitter, I can get away to interviews, write or work on my resume.

CON - I end up Facebooking and cruising with the time.

PRO - Every morning I get up with my kids and make them breakfast and get them dressed, and every night I am there for dinner, bath and bedtime.

CON - Every morning I get up with my kids and make them breakfast and get them dressed, and every night I am there for dinner, bath and bedtime.

I hope this has been helpful to all those struggling with balancing work, motherhood, and sanity.

When you figure it out, let me know, will you?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Full Hands

The scene: Parking lot outside my suburban gym.
The players: My three year old son, really into peeing outside (thanks to my husband's ideas about potty training); me, fresh from a workout (free childcare and unlimited shower time, yay!); and my two year old son, really into running across parking lots, particularly when screamed at not to.
Oh, and the "older" gym goer, exiting her car and not in the least inclined to be helpful.
The time: half way through a very long day

Three Year Old: Mommy, I have to pee.
Me: Right now?
Three Year Old: Yes. On this tree. (Begins disrobing).
Me: (Pleading) Why don't we go inside where the potty is?
Three Year Old: (Pants and Thomas the Tank Engine underwear around ankles) No, here. On this tree. Like Daddy.
Me: But honey. We pee inside.

Sensing weakness, the Two Year Old makes a break for it, heading for the seemingly unlimited frontier of the parking lot. Thankfully, he is fully clothed.

Me: (Screams at Two Year Old while balancing peeing, half naked Three Year Old).
Two Year Old: (Smiles and laughs maniacally).
Three Year Old: Look Mommy. Pee. Some is on my shoe.

Just then a Lexus SUV rounds the corner, narrowly missing the Two Year Old. An older woman (well past the toddler years) parks and exits the vehicle, all benevolent smiles and grandmotherly nostalgia.

Three Year Old: Mommy! Where are you going?
Me: (Sprinting after Two Year Old, completely abandoning Three Year Old who is naked from the waist down) Be right back, honey! (Screams again at Two Year Old).

The Three Year Old begins chase, pants and underwear still ankle high. He trips. Falls. Cries. The Two Year Old, now across the street, is in stitches.

Me: (Obscenity).

Lexus Woman: (Striding leisurely and yet full of purpose toward gym) You've got your hands full!

Me: Yes. Thank you. Enjoy your Zumba Class.

This message brought to you by the "It goes by so fast" cliche.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Driving to Heaven

"Mommy, where's Kayla?"

Kayla was our beloved dog who passed away last summer after a long life of seventeen years, the last couple spent in our laundry room as a tired, elderly relative seeking asylum from two kids under two.

And so it began, the debate between truth and white lies in explaining death to my toddler. I explained that Kayla was in dog heaven, that she was happy.

"Who drives her there?"

I was flummoxed. "She, um, she runs there. No one drives her. She's ah...always there."

"What does she eat there?"

Ah, this one was easier. "Lots of yummy things like dog biscuits and ice cream and pancakes...."

"And lollipops?"

Yes, lollipops. How do you do this? For the millionth time in motherhood I was grateful that this problem wasn't bigger. How would I explain the departure of a person, someone close to him? We had lost my father-in-law when he was 14 months old and while I try to make sure he knows who Pa is, I think his grandfather is an abstract idea for him. One of my aunts also died tragically last summer, but he was only briefly familiar with her. He saw Kayla every day and understood she was part of our family.

He lists us all by name when referring to our family: me, my husband, him and his little brother, then finally the cat and ending with Kayla. Even though he hasn't seen her in more than six months.

I know there are books and websites to help you deal with the swarm of awkward and difficult and painful conversations with toddlers. I know people have had to do this kind of thing for as long as humans have been around. But nothing can prepare you for when you child, brimming with innocence and determined curiosity, looks into your eyes and asks,

"When can we see her?"

And although I'd dealt with and, I'd thought, gotten over Kayla's death months ago, my eyes filled with tears.

"We can't see her, honey. Not for a long long time...But we can remember her, and talk about her, and look at pictures of her...."

This seemed to help. His next question was something else, about whether sharks are nice and what his babysitter had for breakfast, the kind of rollicking early morning non sequitor I live for.

And I think, let it last, please let it last, this world of his innocence, his curiosity, his ready acceptance for my trite explanations, his faith in me. For that world is understandable. In that world if something is unfair or confusing, someone he loves will provide the answers. In that world he is safe, from the moment his breakfast is placed in front of him to the stories read and the covers pulled up to his chin at night. In that world we will see Kayla, and Pa, and my aunt again. Of course we will. He has no doubts. This is his world, which I left long ago, but now thanks to him I have a special visa to visit.

We can't stay there for long, I know, but I'm going to enjoy every minute.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


My son gave me a black eye the other day. He didn’t mean it. I know, I know, that’s what all victims of domestic violence say.

And he didn’t mean to give me the fat lip either, a few days later. But I mean it when I say he didn’t mean it. I know he didn’t because…he’s not even two years old.

Both of these facial injuries resulted from sudden and unintentional contact with his head, a totally unpredictable and constantly moving weapon. The fat lip came at the end of music class, when he was dancing to “The Goodbye Song” and I just got too close. I should have known better.

It was made worse by the fact that I have braces. I get to things, eventually. I’ve wanted braces since I was twelve. And now I am over forty and have braces and two toddlers, a surreal combination, a kind of visual testament to my fondness for procrastination.

The black eye was subtle at first. Immediately after the blow, it was merely a painful lump. The next day, however, a day I go into the office, it was a purple welt just under my eyelid. No one asked me what happened, but finally I offered an explanation, even to people I don’t know very well (Amy from Accounting, the Mass Pike Toll collector, the guy at the lunch place where I get a salad) just to subconsciously defend my husband against their silent judgments.

The fat lip wasn’t as noticeable, especially since the gash was on the inside, where my braces had shredded my kisser like a cheese grater doing a number on some unsuspecting lump of Parmesan. But it did look as if I’d had them done. My lips I mean. Which I wouldn’t, of course, because now, having gotten the braces, it would just be way too vain, even for me.

My son knew none of this of course, being twenty months old. But I started to wonder about the pain our children cause us – intentional or not, throughout the course of our lives. And I remember hurting my own mother. Toddlers are always getting hurt – falling, tripping, bumping into things, scrapping with each other – and sometimes their clumsiness spills into our orbit.

But what about the injuries of the heart and mind? When will they begin in earnest? I know, and I wince at the memory, that I told my mother I hated her. I told her to leave me alone. I probably made her wait in the car when summoned to fetch me from practice or a party. I told her the cigarettes weren’t mine, that someone’s parents would be home, that I was sleeping at a friend’s. I’m sorry, Mom. Wow, it took me twenty-five years to say that! I might as well have just dropped an anvil on her head. It probably would have hurt less.

I remember how my brother and sister and I would hide in the front hall closet when my Dad got home from work. One day as he went to hang up his coat we burst from the darkness to surprise him with joyful screams – slamming the door directly into his bald forehead. That was painful. But not as painful as years later, pulling me off the back of a motorcycle he’d pleaded with me not to ride an hour earlier.

There are worse things, I know, but what I do not know is how to prepare myself for the onslaught of challenges my children will present to me in this age. Intentionally or not.

Will they mock me on Facebook? Will they Twitter in exasperation about my unending lameness? Will they lie to me, disrespect me, resent me – online or via text??? Or, worse of all – will they forget me completely and disappear into those worlds of screen and sound, only meeting my eyes when forced, skulking around like my worst nightmare, like…well, like myself at 13?

Luckily I have some time to figure it out. Or so I think.

Or we could move to – where? Nope.

I just returned from a four day trip and while I was awarded the obligatory hug and kiss upon arrival, my son has eyes now only for Daddy. “Want Daddy!” he screamed this morning when I tried to cuddle him. Let me just scrape my heart up off the floor before I go to work.

And I can’t wait for the next time his little head crashes into me.

Because I prefer the black eye.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Things I have learned... a parent.

1. Bath toys get moldy. Especially the ones with secret squirt holes. One moment you're playing with your 2 year-old in the tub and the next you inadvertently send a stream of black gook his way.

2. Time is longer and shorter than you think.

3. All boring cliches are true. Especially when it comes to parenting. Ex: "It goes by so fast." And, "You can survive on very little sleep."

4. TV is not the worst thing you can do to your child. Especially if it gives you ten minutes to actually get dressed or use the bathroom.

5. Any marriage that survives the parenting of small children deserves a gold star.

6. When you feel like you're a bad mother, you can always just turn on the news/read the newspaper / go to and find someone way worse than you.

7. There is no resource more valuable than older parents who have been there. Unless they're your parents.

8. Little kids, hit, bite and push. Hopefully it will pass. Or, not. Sometimes they grow up to be bankers.

9. You can over-parent.

10. Kids don't know the difference between new and second hand clothes. Toys, maybe. But not clothes.