Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Prayer of an Imperfect Mom

Lord, help me remember that my child's messy bedroom is their "lived-in" sanctuary filled with evidence of a growing human being...and sometimes growing mold cultures.

Lord, help me remember that forgotten chores are only tasks not horrible transgressions. They remind me that my children are a work in progress...and I've got my work cut out for me.

Lord, help me remember that grades are not the only measurement of success and that each child is different. Regardless of what their grade point is, they are already smarter than me.

Lord, help me remember that the giggling and screaming adolescents in the basement are only here in my house for a short time. The sound I hear now will be much quieter than my empty nest.

Lord, teach me not to take it personally when noses are turned up at the dinners that I spend all day planning and fixing. I'm here to nourish, not entertain.

Lord, help me remember that my children's goals might be different than mine or perhaps they're the same goal with just a different way of getting there.

Lord, remind me to be gentle for it wasn't so long ago that I was that insecure, awkward teen bruising at the slightest criticism.

Lord, teach me to tell my children I love them as often as I yell at them, so that they grow to learn that compassion is a necessary component of leadership.

Lord, teach me to be patient and keep my mouth shut. Let me allow them to make their own mistakes, suffer the consequences and learn from the whole experience.

Lord, help me to comfort them when they are disappointed by friends, siblings or first crushes. Let me draw upon my vast experience in that area to assure them that there will be better friends, siblings that truly do love them and someone who loves them unconditionally.

Lord, remind me to hug my children every day, even if they squirm and grimace while I'm doing it.

Lord, teach me to stop comparing myself to other mothers, especially the pretty and skinny ones. We've all got our challenges, some just hide them better.

Lord, help me be the very best mother that I can be, despite the imperfection of my house, my children and sometimes my attitude. Remind me that I still have the best job in the world.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


I'm banking on the idea that every homemaker has places in their house that they don't want anyone to see. Places that are not really hidden, but it's usually a good bet that "outsiders" will never see these places. In our house, it's the closets. They're shameful. They're bad enough that a reality show could be based upon them. There may small children or old people hidden in them and we'd never know. When I look in them, I shudder. I find what I need and quickly close them. Often, I look in them and get angry, especially if they belong to my children or my husband. I rant, I rave and then I move on. I could plan a week to organize them, but there would be two problems with that: 1) I'd much rather do almost anything and 2) They'd be back to the same horrible state in less than a week. I know this because I've tried. I've devoted a day only to find my efforts are for naught. Nobody cares. Heck, I don't even really care - as long as I'm not looking at them.

So why do I even bring this up? Because the one time when this matters is when somebody is staying at our house...overnight. It means that I'll have to address, at the very least, the guest room closet. This is also known as the storage dump. It's where silly purchases go and hide so my husband won't know. It's where 15 boxes of Mac & Cheese live after a trip to Sam's Club. It's just a ridiculous place that's in a ridiculous state. I should be, I should be cleaning it right now. But why, especially when there's a Gilmore Girls rerun calling my name?

Now, if I could only find a way to LOCK the guest room closet!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Control Freak

Knock knock
Who's there?
Control freak. Now you say "Control freak who?"

I love this joke and I hate it all at once. I love it because it's funny. I hate it because it describes one of my fatal flaws. I'm a control freak. It's who I am and it's why people hate me. It makes my children run in fear. It's what has ruined my entire weekend. It seems to be getting worse. In fact, I may have to join CFA (Control Freaks Anonymous). "Hi, my name is Karen and I'm a control freak." "Hi Karen." That's where I describe how I'm trying to run and ruin everyone's life. Why I can't just walk past my son without buttoning his collar or combing his hair until it looks neat. CF is why I can't sit and watch TV next to my husband because I'm thinking about how he needs a haircut or how his glasses need cleaning. It makes me follow my daughter around the house and make sure she's done her homework and cleaned up her room and ask repeatedly if she's washed her face lately. CF makes me tell my husband not only how to drive, but where to drive. Yesterday, it made my son scream at me and it made my husband leave the house to walk the dog. My control freakishness is driving my family away.

It's genetic, this disease. My father was the same way. I knew he was doing it when he'd look at me with a critical eye. I took it as disapproval and grew a healthy case of low self-esteem as a result. He was trying to help me out. At least that's what we CFs try to tell ourselves. If we don't say something, who will? What if he leaves the house looking like that? What will people think?

Who the hell cares? This is the single scariest thing for a CF to say. Because we always care. We'll go to our grave caring and therein lies the problem. We think that everyone is evaluating us and our families and our homes and we need to be prepared for this. If we're not willing to make it all perfect, then we'll hunker down and stay inside to guard our deepest secret: we're not perfect. In fact, CF makes us spend so much time obsessing over stupid things, that we often miss the main event. Holiday dinners are prime CF risk periods and cause us days of sleepless nights and pre-dawn list-making.

I find that my CF is cyclical. I'm better at certain times of the month and worse at others. When I straighten the seasonal flag outside the front door, it's pretty much raging. We control freaks don't hear voices, we hear silent criticisms. "Why did she let her daughter go out in THAT outfit?" "I can't believe she's driving around in a car that has bird poop on it." "Why would she say something like that?"

CF isn't just about appearances, it's about the total package. It makes me spend way too much time obsessing over a cocktail party so that there won't be any awkward moments of non-mingling. I worry about whether I've said the right things or made the appropriate responses to questions. I've been known to coach my husband before an office party, only to have made him focus on the totally wrong thing. Once again, me trying to control the situation and not letting people be themselves.

Being a mother and a control freak is particularly challenging. My job as a mom is about looking after my family. This makes it really hard to draw the line. When to nag just enough to get something done and not too much so as to create a future therapy candidate. It's like being an alcoholic bartender or a bariatric surgery patient working in a bakery. The opportunities to obsess are endless. Will I jump on them or use a bit of self-control?

I guess I've made the first step in recovery. I've admitted I have a problem. Now the question is whether I'm truly willing to do something about it. Whether I can let go one day at a time. Aaaaaaack. This is killing me!

Friday, November 19, 2004


There's a phrase used to describe a certain type of parent. Someone that is constantly hovering over the school and their child, making sure that everything is just right. Someone that never lets their child deal with the consequences of their actions, but rather assists them in getting through their school years. It's called being a helicopter parent.

I've always hated helicopter parents - actually, most of them are usually moms. You run into them every time you walk into school. They're the ones that have memorized the middle school project calendar and can readily complain about which projects conflict with which tests. (I barely know what classes my kids take, let alone what projects they have!) They swoop down and confront their child's teachers for every slight, whether it's a questionable grade, an assignment with a short deadline or a school policy that seems unfair. They're never wrong, but they're always in your face. They gossip about school and teachers as if it was the latest episode of "Desperate Housewives." You don't make small talk with them, you make school talk. They plan vacations around science projects and march into the school when something changes. Gasp! They're obsessed with their children and they have no life. I hate helicopter parents and I can spot one a mile away.

However, I've found that even those of us who criticize helicopter parents have a bit of a helicopter in our own back pocket. Today I had my own "chopper decision" to make. I had just dropped my daughter off for school. She had been up late last night due to a choir concert. She had cried and anguished over a literature project, but had finally finished it very late. I returned home this morning to find that she had forgotten it. I stood and stared at it. On the one hand, she should learn to account for all of her homework and get it in the backpack. On the other hand, she was running on very little sleep and trying her best to finish out the week. So I caved, I choppered in and brought her the assignment as she was leaving for her first class. I made sure to needle her with a "You owe me big time" as she gratefully grabbed for the assignment.

Did I cripple her for life? Probably not, but I also worry that in those little chopper moments I might give her the idea that I'll always be there to bail her out. I won't. Or that I'll rush to school every time she forgets something. I could, but I try not to. Yet, here I am, working at home, sometimes with a bit of extra time and the ability to save my kid from certain detention. Am I a pushover or just a mom with a soft heart? Or, am I just another version of a helicopter parent?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

You Don't Scare Me, I Have Kids

I can't believe that people are even bothering to leave their houses. Don't they know that there's DANGER lurking everywhere? Don't they realize we are in harm's way? Don't they watch the news lately?!

Tonight on the 10pm news, I kid you not, there will be a story on the horrifying germs that are coating the high chairs in restaurants!! GASP!! I'm just shocked! I can't believe that something that is used for toddlers to eat in - toddlers that drool and sniffle and sneeze - has germs on it. This is apparently so bad that it warrants an investigative report. Thank God they've uncovered this health epidemic.

What are they serious?! Haven't they ever seen the inside of a minivan - a real minivan that carries real children? It would make those high chairs look immaculate.

Every year during sweeps periods (November and May), our local news channels promote the hell out of non-news stories that are intended to scare the bejeezus out of us. If it's not filthy high chairs, it's scam artists, predators, dangerous appliances or...diseases that are spreading!! I still remember the special report about things falling off of shelves at WalMart. Man, and I thought I had to worry about dodging the elderly greeter! In fact our local news even has a REGULAR segment called "What's Going Around." Yeah, just what I want to think about while I'm falling asleep.

The real reason they do this is for ratings, but apparently we viewers are just dumb enough or bored enough to watch this crap over and over again.

Look, I know that there are dirty high chairs in restaurants. I also know that life can be dangerous. There's dirt, there are things that fall, things to trip over, people that want to steal your money. But honestly, is this what we should really be worrying about?

How about a realistic story like "Your children might live at home forever if they don't start filling out their college applications!" Or, here's one: "You'll get fat if you eat too much and sit and watch TV every night." Here's my favorite: "Your house is a mess and people are coming over for Thanksgiving." Now THAT'S scary!

Look, as a mom, I've seen and heard it all. No "investigative report" is going to help me or scare me. After all, I have kids, which is sometimes the scariest reality show of all!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Aw, geez, I hate this, this being hated thing. One of the reasons I quit my job was so that I could easily be home if one of my kids got sick and needed to stay home from school. Prior to quitting, it always seemed like one was ill and I used up all sick and vacation time tending to them. Wait, correct that, it was always my daughter that was sick. My son NEVER got sick. Anyway, now I'm home and what am I faced with on a regular basis? A daughter that often wakes up with a sore throat. For a while it was legit. Her tonsils looked lumpy and red or had white spots on them. Still, never a fever, but often a strep diagnosis. Lately, it's waking up with a sore throat and absolutely no visible symptoms. None. A couple of times I caved and took her to the walk-in clinic only to be looked at by the doctor like I was really a chump. He'd do the obligatory quick-strep test only to find it negative and then I'd be embarrassed, and get a long explanation of the various combos of Tylenol and Ibuprofin that I could mix to get maximum pain relief for this so-called sore throat.

This is happening so often that my friends are starting to wonder about me and my daughter. They've never said anything, but I can just tell. Silently, they look at me as if to say: "Ha, I'd never let my kid get away with that!" Yeah, well, I never thought I would either.

So today, my daughter does it again. She wakes up, leans over the balcony (always a bad sign - it either means she's sick or has run out of clean underwear) and says: "Mom, my throat hurts." (To add drama, she injects a sort of croaking sound in her voice.) So I go upstairs, hug her, offer Tylenol and throat drops, look at the throat and declare her fit for school. This is when the hating thing begins. I try to be compassionate yet firm. This is met with indignation, anger and tears. I don't doubt that her throat hurts, but I can't keep her home every time it hurts. Then we'd be home-schooling - not good for either of us.

So I drop her off at school today, offer to bring her Tylenol and she gives me a look that says: "You suck. I hate you and just as soon as I can muster up the nerve, I'm gonna be in that health room making them call you to bring me home. You'll be sorry." So here I am, just waiting for the phone to ring, throwing my day into a downward spiral. Because, as a mom, there is a cardinal rule about school: If they call you, you must come. And if I go, then she will win, or so she thinks. I hate it all - the dilemma, the situation and the being hated thing.

Look, logically I knew that I wouldn't always be loved as a mother. But I guess I never realized that the hating would be as a result of an early-morning judgment call/battle of wills. It exhausts me to the bone and often ruins my day. In fact, sometimes it gives me a sore throat. Maybe I'll call my mom.

Monday, November 08, 2004

I'm an Idiot. Count Me In!

You know how Pat Benatar says: "Love is a battlefield"? Well, I'm here to say that motherhood is a minefield. Every day, you have to step carefully around one issue or another. You have to open up your bag of maternal tricks and pull out an emotional balm for something. You have to be sensitive about personal esteem. You have to be enthusiastic about little victories along the way. You have to be kind about the friends that you're sometimes not feeling very kind about. And sometimes, just to keep you on your toes, you have to shut the bag and do nothing. Like when there's a project due in two days and they haven't started making their model of a bee and it's Sunday night and no stores are open and they want to yell at someone. (You know it's gonna be you.)

Who needs politics? Motherhood is where the real diplomacy is taking place. It's where you're trying to be nice to the other moms and teachers that totally annoy you. It's getting the family together for a summit when they hate each other, and you. It's dodging questions about where favorite/inappropriate clothing went. ("Read my lips: I did not hide your faded jeans.") It's making policies that are often unpopular. ("What do you mean we can't instant message while we're doing homework?!") It's all of the blame and none of the credit. When you "win" the job, you're suddenly thrust into a no-win situation. Ironic, isn't it?

Still, there's something about it that not only compels women to run for office, but to run for re-election, as if there were more fun waiting just around the corner. Politicians and mothers - sisters in arms.

And since motherhood is akin to extreme politics, I have just one question: Where is MY Camp David?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Totally Tubular

I have a let's call it a tendency that I've had since childhood. I idolize people on television. I don't mean that I worship them. I just sort of, well, think about what they would do in various situations in my life. And I also have this misguided idea that life is like television and that these characters that we watch are somewhat real, even though logically, I know they're not.

When I was young - about 9 or 10 - it was The Brady Bunch. I watched every episode religiously. I watched every member of the family PLUS Alice. I thought about where they lived, never even pausing to wonder why they had astroturf in their backyard or what Carol Brady did all day if she never drove carpool and had Alice to cook and clean. I watched them make decisions and choices and marveled at their ability to handle every situation perfectly. Sometimes I even tried to act like them, only to be disappointed when there was no laugh track or gentle background music to help make my point. I took what I observed in their life, applied it to my own, and found that I usually came up far short. It took many years of reality checks to see what I actually knew - this is real, they are not.

I thought I had kicked that habit years ago, until recently I got hooked on The Gilmore Girls. If you haven't seen it, it's a sitcom/drama about a mother and daughter - Lorelei and Rory Gilmore who live in Stars Hollow, CT. Lorelei had Rory when she was 16, dropped out of school, shamed her wealthy family, but somehow landed on her feet and now she and Rory are best of friends. The "schtick" in the show is that Lorelei and Rory talk to each other very fast - sometimes without breathing. Everything is witty, funny, packed with pop culture references and never spoken with a "like" or an "um." Suddenly, I want to be Lorelei. I want to chat with my daugher like she does. I've even tried. (Why doesn't Rory roll her eyes and walk away from Lorelei on the show?) I want to work at an Inn in a quaint northeastern town (never really working), stop constantly for coffee at the local diner and just generally be loved by everyone in the town. Oh, and her daughter's greatest goal in life is to go to Harvard. (Be still my heart.) Plus, Lorelei and Rory are both, at most, size 4 and always manage to wear fashionable, attractive clothing. Lorelei never cooks and the two of them are always ordering pizza or chinese while watching a campy movie from the 1950s. They never gain weight and Lorelei never feels guilty that she's not fixing healthy food for her daughter.

All in all, it's a perfect world. Therein lies the problem. The daughter always wants to study. Hello! She's 14 - shouldn't she be watching Gilmore Girls or DeGrassi or some other teen-angst-fest?! The mother works at an inn and yet is almost never at work. I used to work. It wasn't like that. It was rarely as much fun. The daughter always has something clever to say to everyone...even when they're making fun of her. When I was 14, I could barely complete a sentence without feeling so self-conscious that I practically melted to the floor. Oh yeah, that's another thing. Rory actually likes Lorelei. I won't say my daughter hates me, but often I'm not on her BFF list. (Best friends forever!)

But then again, that's why we watch TV. It fixes everything that we screw up or hate in our own lives and pokes a little fun at the same time. Sure, I'd love to be Lorelei, or at least have her body and perhaps her job. But I have great things too. Still, you're never too old to dream.