Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Things We Do for Love...and Christmas

My Christmas seasons have become fairly reasonable in recent years. In fact, I'd almost call them boring. My kids are old enough that I no longer have to go to great lengths to purchase, hide and wrap gifts. If a gift from Santa has a tag with my handwriting on it, that's OK. In fact, it's expected. I still insist that presents be surprises. After all, what's the point? Why give a gift that somebody knows before they even open it? In fact, I have friends who don't even wrap gifts. To me, that's just wrong. To this day, I ask my kids for a list, but then I surprise them with little things that I find as I'm out shopping. Even at the ripe old age of 44, I still love the excitement of Christmas morning when you wake up and look at the pile of gifts under the tree and wonder what the heck they are. To me, there's nothing better. And I'm still the first person up at 6:00 am, even though I don't have to wake up for hours.

The other day I needed to purchase a newly released DVD. Fearing that it would sell out quickly, I arranged to be at the store at 8:00 am to nab one of the first copies. While waiting for the store to open, a woman struck up a conversation with me:

"You're not here for an X Box or a Playstation 2, are you?"
"Because if you are, they are totally out. I'm just here because I've scoured the city looking for one and absolutely nobody has one. I've called every store in every city surrounding Milwaukee. I called here yesterday and the guy told me that sometimes they get in shipments late in the day and that I should be here right when the store opens so I've been here since 7:15 am. I've already bought all the games and accessories, but I need the game system."
"Well, good luck with that, then."

Besides the fact that she had a panicked and sort of scary look about her, I could feel her pain. She was part of the momhood and she was on a mission to make her child's Christmas everything he wanted. She would not be stopped. To that I say: Been there, done that.

In fact, it's not just Christmas. A few years ago, before my son's 13th birthday, I actually slept overnight outside that same store to purchase a Playstation 2 for him. Something he'd been dreaming about for about a year. Unlike the mom I met yesterday, I was successful and gained enormous "best mom ever" points for a quite a while thanks to that overnighter. And even though it was a sort of weird experience that I only survived thanks to a good friend who was willing to do it with me, it was actually kind of fun.

I look back fondly on those days. It's such a short span of time when as a parent, you can make magic for your children. Nevertheless, I still try. The kid in me just won't let me give up. To me, that's the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Divine Secrets of the Jealous Momhood

I believe that being a mother means that you're part of a sisterhood. With the birth of your first child, you are instantly a member of a club of women who understand you. They know what it is to be bone-numbingingly tired. To hurt when your child hurts and to feel wounded when your offspring discard you for something more interesting - their friends. Mothers share an unspoken bond that crosses ages, cultures and incomes. We're all in this together. We feel each other's pain.

Which is exactly why I think it's important that we call out those in the Momhood that are screwing it up for the rest of us. You know who you are. I read about one of you in Time Magazine this week. You stay up until 2 a.m. decorating your childrens' lunchbags. In my neighborhood, you're the mom that has baked no less than seven varieties of Christmas cookies and packaged them in delightful little containers to give away to friends and helpers. You've finished your Christmas shopping by Halloween and you jump at the chance to host a holiday party, no matter what the holiday. Your kids' costumes for any performance are perfect - no better than perfect - they're freakin' Broadway quality. Edith Head would be envious. They don't just look good, they're creative. And they're not held together by safety pins and duct tape.

And let's talk about you - your appearance. You're cute. No, you're not just cute, you're adorable. You've popped six children out of that taut little tummy and you still look better than Julia Roberts. You don't live to eat chocolate, like the rest of us. You eat to nourish your well-toned body. (Oh gag.) You don't guzzle gallons of coffee to stay awake, you indulge in an occasional low-fat, soy latte with a sprinkle of cinnamon as a little treat.

Your hair - perfect. And always in style. Not like the rest of us who have worn the same style for 20 years. You would look great in a burlap sack, but no, you've thrown together a great-looking ensemble that says casual, yet classy.

Your home - always spotless but with a comfortable lived-in look accented by candid photos of your adorable children all in homemade frames. You have at least six hobbies and you do them all, extremely well...often for charity. And in between craft projects, you're cooking an insanely good home-cooked meal no matter how many extra-curricular activities your kids are involved in.

That's another thing - you're never stressed, frazzled or unavailable. You juggle four carpools with the ease of a chauffer. And yet you arrive at school and are able to engage in endless small-talk with the other "debu-moms" and coo over each other's toddlers.

I don't know how you do it, but I hate you for it. Stop it - you're making the rest of us look really bad!

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Crabby Mom's Guide to Shopping Etiquette

It's the holiday season, which really means only one thing - shopping. As a public service, consider this my gift to you all, I'm going to give you a lesson in Shopping Etiquette. This information applies to malls, stand-alones...even grocery stores. Here's what you should and shouldn't do when you venture out into the weird, wild world of retail.

1. Obey traffic laws. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't run a red light. Well, you shouldn't. What this means is when you're in a mall, stay to the right. If you're window shopping, i.e. walking very slowly, stay WAY to the right. There are people out there power shopping. Get out of their way! If you're looking for your car keys, go up against a wall or in a corner and then you can plop your bags down and hunt through everything. Don't do it in the middle of the main walkways. And if you're in a grocery store, looking for that very special brand of virgin first pressed olive oil, move your cart to the right. Don't stand in the middle of an aisle gazing fondly at all the choices. Again, get the hell out of the way. Really.

2. Keep it moving. You're bound to run into someone you know and what better place to catch up on old acquaintances than at the mall or grocery store, right? WRONG! I don't care if it's your long-lost birth mother. Go to a Starbucks. Better yet, go home. Make a reservation and have dinner together. Just don't take up floor space when I need to find that one last teacher gift and you're standing in my way. I'm glad you found each other, now leave. Really.

3. Take your kids to the park. Look, I know that it's hard to keep toddlers entertained when it's cold outside. But they don't care if it's cold. Only you do and that's why there's a Starbucks on every corner. Take them to the park where you can commiserate with other moms about how behind you are on your Christmas errands. Listen people - read my lips: DON'T TAKE YOUR KIDS TO THE MALL. And if you do, I'm warning you, it will be the worst experience of the holiday season. They will be over-stimulated and under-supervised. I guarantee you - they'll have a meltdown in the middle of the mall and it will be when I need to get to the last Gap No-Sweat Vest. Don't blame me if your sweet little thing is within earshot of my f-bomb when she's sprawled on the floor having a tantrum. She, and you, deserved it.

4. Travel lightly. If you do ignore #3 and decide to venture to the mall, then for God's sake, leave the freakin' gigantic stroller at home. If your stroller is bigger than your guest bathroom, save it for Disney World. In a mall, it will be like that barge in New Jersey floating with garbage. It will annoy and offend people and be a pain in the ass to move. I'm serious about this.

5. Hang up or shut up. We all have cell phones and this subject has been done to death, but really, it's the most irritating during the shopping season. I believe in everyone's right to own a cell phone, but if you're going to use it while shopping, then don't be a moron. There are couches, benches, chairs and corners in every mall. Go find one and sit there and finish your call. Do NOT stand next to me and counsel your girlfriend on how to handle her teenager. Keep it short and keep it quiet. If your call will go long, step out of line and out of sight. If I wanted to hear your phone call, I'd follow you home and sit in your kitchen. I don't know you and I don't like you if I can hear anything you're saying on your cell phone. Don't flatter yourself thinking that you're impressing me with your business savvy while out and about. If you have to shout it into a cell phone, then you're obviously an idiot not in line for the CEO's job.

6. Don't be a slow neat-freak. I respect the fact that some people are insanely organized, but when it's crowded and there's a huge line at the checkout counter, that is NOT the time to balance your checkbook or straighten your wallet. Just shove it in your purse and move on. You can go home and record every last transaction till debits and credits dance in your head. If you're paid and done - move it! Don't use my time to check out as your time to snap your wallet, zipper your purse, put on your gloves, button your coat and refresh your makeup. Go! Now!

7. Keep it short. I think it's great when people can manage to be friendly during this sometimes stressful time. A smile and a quick comment are always welcome. Anything more than that is just wasting time. I'll bet you have tons of stories to share about how your holidays are coming along. Save it for your mother - don't tell the clerk at checkout because I need to pay for my purchases and go home. OK? Really.

8. Walk softly and carry some big manners. If it so happens that you have to do all of your shopping in one trip and therefore have many bags to carry. Watch where you're walking and remember the nice words like "excuse me" and "I'm sorry." I know you're going to bump into me. That's fine. Just apologize and move on. Don't, under any circumstances, run over me like a Sherman tank and pretend it wasn't you. You can't hide. You have 8 giant Pottery Barn bags hanging from each arm and your Birkenstocks just stepped on my fake Uggs. It's a crowded world people, so it's important that we're polite about it.

9. Buy now, ask later. We're all in a hurry and most of us are buying things that we're not totally sure about. If you're checking out, that's NOT the time to ask about the features of a product. It's the time to buy. If you've wormed your way to the checkout, then just buy the damn thing. That's what gift receipts are for people. Don't hold me up because you're just not sure if the atomic alarm clock is the right color. Geez Louise, whoever you're giving this to will be sleeping when it's in use, so what the hell does it matter?! Buy it and if they don't like it, THEY can return it. Really.

10. Park, shop, leave. Parking during the holiday season is a bitch. In fact, it's an all-out war. I won't even go into whether you should outmaneuver the 90-year old to get the spot nearest to the door. That's on your conscience. When you go shopping, get your spot, go inside and when you're finished...leave. Immediately. Put on your makeup at the stoplight. Give Junior his juicebox when you get home. DO NOT do it when there are fifteen cars in line vying for your spot. Now is not the time to relax and light up a smoke after shopping. This isn't sex people. Get the hell out. Now. Really.

So there you have it. Just a few friendly suggestions to make your holiday retail experiences a little more comfortable. Have a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Real Desperate Housewife

When you're a housewife, most days start the same. You're up early, often before everyone else. Perhaps you take a few precious moments for coffee but most likely, you buzz around filling backpacks and lunchbags, doling out cash for lunch and refereeing random fights. Then, if your children are old enough, they and your husband leave. Perhaps you drive them to school or work, but essentially you're left with you, the pets and the house.

For me, this is the best and the worst time of day. It's when I get my domain back. My office, so to speak. It's the time that I can think about the day ahead and enjoy the peace and quiet. On the downside, it's also when I survey the collateral damage. I go room to room, picking up things that I'm certain don't belong on the floor (soaking wet towels on carpeting) or even in the house (muddy softball cleats.) It's the time when I see clearly how everyone has ignored me. It's a rather humbling experience. Day after day, it demonstrates to me the fact that I have little or no control over my surroundings. On good days, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling as I think about how the clutter is evidence of a happy, healthy family. On bad days...i.e. virtually every day, it reminds me that I'm pretty much wasting my breath barking out instructions to "pick up your room" or "push your clothes down the laundry chute." The only evidence that I'm not invisible is the fact that these messes are miraculously erased while the family is at work and school.

I have no idea if this scenario is normal or common. I only know that it happens time and time again in my house. I assign chores, nag, gently remind, suggest and nothing happens. On television, the children are always setting the table, doing homework in neat bedrooms and drinking milk at dinner. In our house, I'm setting the table, cooking the dinner and cleaning up afterwards because there's always too much homework to help out. The kids can't do homework in their rooms because you can't find two square inches of open space. And, I confess, each child is rotting their teeth away nightly with a can of soda with dinner. Shoot me now.

I ask myself how it got this way. I guess it just evolved. I let things slip and now I live with the consequences. Have I failed as a housewife? I don't think so. It's more like lowering my standards and picking my battles. I also think that turnabout is fair play. I figure this imperfect life I lead is payback for the slob I was as a child. So, it's a pretty good bet that my kids will be lamenting the same thing someday. Ah, the circle of life!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Christmas Letter (We're Not Talking About a Sappy Holiday Song)

Well folks, it's that time of the year. The time when moms everywhere go running around like insane people, buying things in a panic that they wouldn't normally buy, and addressing hundreds of Christmas/holiday cards till they have carpel tunnel. They're cringing at picking up the next batch of mail lest it contain the dreaded...CHRISTMAS LETTER. You know the one. There's someone that sends you one every year and you hate it.

Perhaps you're like me and you receive several Christmas Letters. I hate each one for different reasons: The Sugary Letter that makes my friend's children seem like Olympic athletes, thereby making her a superhero for being able to shuttle the little brats around and still be cheerful about it. The Too Much Information Letter that gives a blow-by-blow descriptions of every malady and procedure that has occurred during the past year, as if we really cared. The My Kids Are Better Than Your Kids Letter which lists each child's accomplishments, awards and sometimes even grades so we all know how damn great they are. The Travelogue Letter that leads you to believe that these people don't have day jobs and have access to Bill Gates' ATM card. The I've Got Religion Letter which turns formerly regular people into God-enthusiasts who speak as if they were going door-to-door saving lives with free booklets. The Look at How Cute My Family Is! Letter which also includes photos of the beautiful family in catalog-ready poses like something out of Town & Country magazine.

Here are the letters that I like or wish that I would receive: The We're Getting Old and Fat So We'll Spare the Photos Letter which simply gives a brief update on what's going on minus any evidence of deteriorating looks or expanding waistlines. The We're Real, You're Real, So Let's Be Honest Letter which is a snappy and sometimes funny recap of the year's events with lots of self-deprecating tidbits. This is what I'd love to get but rarely ever do.

Just so you don't think I'm a total Scrooge, I do like getting Christmas letters and I do like getting photos of my friends' children. I want to know what they look like and how they've changed and I do care what they've been up to. It's just my 22-year old journalism degree that makes me think that some of them could be so much better...or just shorter!

This year I struggled over whether to do a Christmas Letter. I admit, my past Christmas Letters have contained many of the hated elements listed above. I realize now that this was because I was trying to prove that I could absolutely work full-time and have a perfect home life, something I've come to find was maybe not true. Don't get me wrong - I'm not condemning working mothers. I just think it's time we're honest with ourselves and admit that we can't have it all. I don't have it all now that I'm a stay-at-home mom and I didn't have it all when I was working full-time...or even when I worked part-time. There are always sacrifices, no matter what and it's a personal decision to go either way.

Still, I couldn't help but realize that now that my life had calmed down a bit and I had happily stepped out of my supermom suit, my Christmas Letter wasn't nearly as interesting or impressive as it used to be. And yet I had this bizarre desire to tell my old friends what was going on with me, my husband and our kids. So I wrote a very brief, boring Christmas Letter. It's not funny because if you know me, my humor isn't always appropriate or appreciated. No, I was very grown-up about it this year. If you get one, I'm sorry. Maybe next year I'll be a little edgier.