Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Swimsuit Issue

As stated in my profile, I subscribe to Sports Illustrated. Although I love watching pro football, I get this magazine because I love the writing and I love the stories about the athletes. The agony of defeat and the ecstasy of victory and all that kind of stuff. I don't really care what somebody's RBI is or about shooting percentages. I like to read about kids who overcame great odds or athletes that are actually good people.

In any case, what's a little strange is that despite the fact that there are two men in my house - my husband and my 17-year old son, neither one ever reads my issues of SI. My son doesn't because he could care less about sports. My husband doesn't because, well, because he probably thinks it's for amateurs. If you have to read SI, then you don't really know what's happening. Whatever.

Once a year, this changes. Once a year, the infamous Swimsuit Issue comes out and, all of a sudden, it's more popular in my house than a new bag of chips. Fortunately, the editors were smart enough to publish it separately from the actual magazine. Consequently, if my timing is right, I can simply put it right in the recycling stack along with the old newspapers and continue to enjoy the regular issue. If my husband or son get it ahead of time, well then fine. No big deal. This year, I did NOT do this. I swear. It just never came. I was actually happy, since a few trees were saved by not delivering this to me.

I didn't think much of it until recently when my husband asked me in his "suspicious" voice: "So where IS the Swimsuit Issue?" I told him the truth. He didn't believe me. I told him it was either never delivered or the mailman stole it. Since then, he's brought it up a couple more times, as in: "Hmmm, that's funny because I saw Jay Leno hold it up on The Tonight Show the other night." I told him to leave me alone and to stop it. It isn't here, I don't know why, but I'm certainly not going to call subscriber services and complain. (Wouldn't that raise a few eyebrows - a woman complaining about not getting the Swimsuit Issue.)

Look, I don't really care if it does eventually show up. Hell, I'll wrap it up and put it under my husband's pillow. But I'm not going out of my way to get it here. It's tough enough being a stay-at-home mom when everyone's current idea of a housewife is Eva Longoria or Terri Hatcher. (Yeah, that's realistic.) I can't compete with them, so I won't even try. Except to say, "Look honey, I bought some new chips!"

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Mom's Letter to a College

Dear College Admissions People:

There are a few things that you didn't ask on your complicated application that I thought you should know about my son. You see, I've known him for 17+ years. I've seen him grow, change, develop and turn into a young man...a young man who wants to attend your school.

I think you should know that his grades don't say everything about him as a student. Sure, they give the results of his tests, quizzes and papers, but they can't show the many late nights he spent huddled over the computer trying to explain dark matter or psychosocial development or the meaning of metaphors in a book. The grades don't show his true effort which may not have resulted in top honors, but definitely taught him about perseverence, avoiding procrastination, thinking critically and sometimes, unfortunately, wounded pride. His grades don't show that he kept trying, even when the teacher may have lost faith in him. We've never lost faith in him and he never lost faith in himself. This is a vital life lesson that can't be learned in a book.

Although he may not have lots of clubs and sports to fill out his resume, he was active. You don't know about the relationships that he formed, the bands he played in and the responsibilities that he juggled just to get through the school year. As his body and his brain were changing, the burdens on his mind grew. There was no place on your application to tell you about the garage bands that he and his friends formed and how they taught themselves to play music and play it well, despite very little formal training and, I might add, crappy practice conditions. (Have you ever tried getting a Zeppelin riff down while a furnace hummed loudly next to you?)

We forced him to try a little of everything during high school and he did, although you'll never know about these trials, because many were brief. In our minds, at least he tried. There's nowhere on the application to tell you about the many times he went outside his comfort zone and did things that were really hard, like call a girl on the phone or comfort a friend when he's down or stay home when everyone was going out because a paper was due the next day. These are the skills that he'll really use during college, not the score of his AP Biology exam.

And although you do ask about work experience, there was nowhere to explain that being a grocery bagger was, sometimes, the hardest job there was. Like the time that he gave chase to a shoplifter or when he patiently helped a blind man shop and walk home or when he stood for eight hours and asked "paper or plastic" all the while working on very little sleep, thanks to some of the papers mentioned above. Nowhere on the application does it mention that one of his greatest fears is that he'll end up being a grocery bagger forever, because sometimes failure seems so close and college so out of reach.

I know there's a spot to ask about test scores, SATs, ACTs and the like. But did you ask what happened on the day that he took them? Did you know that there was a marching band practicing outside the window of the test room? Did you know that he had been fighting a cold for two weeks prior or that he tends to freeze up when he takes standardized tests?

When you meet him, there are some things that might not be apparent. He's quiet - don't mistake this for apathy. He WANTS to get into college badly, but doesn't yet have the skills to explain that. He might look a bit disheveled - don't mistake this for laziness. He spent a lot of sleepless nights practicing what he should say to you. He might not ask a lot of questions - don't assume that he doesn't have any. For him, he's still trying to get past the question looming large in his mind which is: "What the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life?"

You should know that there is a huge part missing from the application - that which talks about his character. He's a great friend, a pretty good sibling and a terrific son. He hates it when other kids are unnecessarily picked on or when cocky kids boast or act cooler than they are. He's been offered drugs and alcohol and thus far, he's resisted. That's more than I can say of myself at his age. He doesn't care what's popular, he cares what's right for him. Most of us don't learn that till we're much older or have made many more mistakes. Is he perfect? Of course not, but damn he's trying hard and to me, that counts for more than grades and test scores.

Please know that he's tried his very best to attractively package himself to present to you and yet he knows all too well that he still might not be good enough. Do you remember the last time you did that? He might not have flash and sizzle, but I assure you, he has style and substance.

As his mother, I think these are the things about him that deserve to be heard and then we'll decide if you're lucky enough to have him at your institution.


The Mom

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Pagan Babies

Sometimes I think my dog is Jesus. When I was growing up in my semi-sheltered Catholic extistence, we were told that Jesus is everywhere. Back then, it was said to help us avoid sin, and, of course, scare the hell out of us. Don't even think about trying to get away with something. Jesus is watching. Well, as much as I like to think I've evolved as an adult and a Christian, there are some things that have just stuck in my subconscious for all these years. Lately, I've noticed that my dog Millie watches my every move. She follows me around in that loyal, "I adore you" kind of way and is the only one in the house that really listens to me. (I notice this because it's exactly what my kids DON'T do.) Some mornings, when I'm drinking my coffee and reading the paper, I'll angrily jump up from my chair to wipe up what she spilled on the floor after drinking her water. I'll clench my teeth and say in a frustrated voice, "Why are you so messy?" Then I'll look into her soft, yearning eyes and think, "Damn, I just yelled at Jesus."

Right now, we're in the middle of Lent, the religious "season" of the year when Catholics give up doing things that they really shouldn't be doing anyway. The idea is that Jesus went into the desert and fasted for 40 days. So for 40 days, we should be giving up things we like or doing special things and offering them up as a Lenten sacrifice. We're really supposed to keep it a secret, but kids have a hard time with that. Many a Lenten promise has been broken and renegotiated throughout the 40 days. My daughter's resolve weakened upon seeing a pan of brownies that I baked. "Yeah, I pretty much decided that I'm doing something else instead of giving up chocolate," she said. I didn't really respond, knowing that like her mother, chocolate is practically a religion in and of itself.

When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, Lent was a time of darkness and suffering. You gave things up and people knew how hard it was for you. Most of all, every Friday you went to Stations of the Cross, which consisted of Monsignor O'Rourke mumbling while durge-like music played in the background. Then during school, we'd bring in spare change or money from piggy banks to buy Pagan babies. These were poor, unfortunate children from some far off country that hadn't been baptized. Our coins were gonna save their souls! We also collected money in cardboard rice bowls to feed the starving children that we were reminded of when we didn't eat our lima beans.

Today, Lent is a much more introspective and sometimes productive time. The kids are left to their own creativity to decide what they'll do or not do. However, it's not unusual to hear parents exclaim in shock how suddenly their children are doing dinner dishes or making their beds every day. Too bad it only lasts 6 weeks. And apparently, it isn't even every day during Lent. By some bizarre loophole, you don't have to do your Lenten sacrifice on Sundays during Lent. How come we didn't know this back in the 60s or 70s? I wonder if I can get extra credit for all of those Lenten Sundays that I wasted...

And so, I go through my days, trying to be a decent Christian and a decent mother - both equally challenging. OK, OK, I'll admit it, I've played the Lenten card when disciplining my children: "Can't you just be nice to each other for Lent?!" or "How about if you clean up your room every day during Lent." Generally it's for naught. Hmmm....I wonder if I should start saving my loose change to save my kids' souls. It's a thought. Meanwhile, watching over me, is my own personal savior, Millie. Look dog, give it a rest! It is almost Sunday!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Snap, Crackle, Pop

There are moments in a mother's life, situations that push us over the proverbial edge. Make us meltdown. If we're somewhat balanced and mentally healthy, (I think I am), then this only happens every few months. I'd say that it happens regularly throughout motherhood. Sort of a flushing out of the maternal system.

My last "episode" happened this weekend. I'm not entirely sure what triggered it except that one moment I was collecting dirty laundry and the next I had gathered my children and was having a knock-down screaming fit. It surprised them. It surprised my husband. Heck, it surprised me. I guess the straw that broke the camel's back was when I walked into my son's room. He had been to a dance the night before so I was well-prepared to see his dress pants lying on the floor. What I wasn't prepared for was a dress shirt that he had decided NOT to wear, lying on the floor, unworn, still on the hanger. Suddenly, I could hear the synapses in my tiny brain pop and crack. My vision clouded. Things were thrown. Doors were slammed. There was a roar in my ears. Oh, wait, that was the sound of my own voice bellowing my son's name.

It was in that moment that I knew it was time for reckoning. Time to grab the children and remind them of what they don't do. Needless to say, it wasn't a warm and fuzzy moment. I ran down a laundry list of everything that I am totally sick of - things that I refuse to put up with any longer. Unmade beds, lights left on, siblings hating each other, clothes left on the floor, not pitching in around the house....etc.

Then, I went over the line and reached down into the bag of my mother's cliches. I told my children that they "lived in a resort," that I was "sick and tired" of doing things for them with no reciprocation. I told them that I was "tired of being a maid" and that "things had better change around here" or I would change them and "put things away when you're finished!". Then I just became ridiculous and told them, no yelled at them to "LIKE EACH OTHER." Yeah, that's gonna be effective. Maybe Bush should try that in the Middle East. Sure, I tried to throw in a few "I love you kids" and "I'm happy that you've found a hobby that you love" but they weren't buying it.

As the scene was unfolding, it was almost as if I was watching a movie. My son had a deer in the headlights look about him. My daughter was valiantly trying to stop the smile that was breaking through on her face. I can't say I blame her. I almost laughed at the sound and spectacle of the fury. It was a sight to behold.

Now the question is, did it work? Doubtful. But at least I got it out of my system. My kids knew I was justifiably pissed and someday, down the road, when they have children, they'll know how the pros do it.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Party On, Satan's Spawn

Along the long road that is motherhood, we make mistakes, we say the wrong things, we say the right things, we forget things, we remember things, we laugh, we cry, we love...we are mothers. And then sometimes we make decisions that make us look back and say, "Hmmm...WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!"

Tonight is the result of one such lapse in good judgement. As I recently mentioned, my daughter just turned 13 and since her birthday is on February 13th, this is her Golden Birthday. It only comes around once so I was agreeable to a bit of fanfare and tell her that perhaps a party would be OK. The next thing I know, she and her friend decide to co-host a party and (here it comes)...INVITE THE ENTIRE 7TH GRADE. There will be 38 seventh graders in a rented room with me, a dear friend and the other mom. Again...WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?

I can see it now as it unfolds, much like a traffic accident. They come, they eat, they gossip and say mean things about each other (they haven't learned about karma), they look bored, they scream a lot (why do girls do this?) and then finally the good part - they leave. On my list of things that I look forward to doing, this ranks right between teeth cleaning and a gynecological exam.

There are two things that most worry me about tonight: keeping them entertained and making sure that they don't try to sneak out before the party is over. (Rumor has it that this happened at the last big party.) I've been a Girl Scout Leader to these girls. I know what evil they are capable of. Satan's Spawn would be a kind moniker for this group.

And yet, the show must go on. I will wear a cheerful face and will be prepared to handle whatever comes my way. I will make this the best damn party in the 7th grade. Because I am a masochist? No, because I am a mother. This is what I do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Homeland Security

Lately I find myself stuck in a bit of a rut. I vascillate between feeling unappreciated to feeling guilty for being able to stay home. Yesterday I had a case of the "poor ole me's" - i.e. I bought everyone in my family a Valentine, nobody bought one for me. Today, I'm feeling guilty because I can't wait to read more of my new book while I do the laundry. Apparently I'm a woman of extremes. I can't seem to find my way to middle earth.

I've been a stay-at-home mom for over 3-1/2 years. It was a reluctant decision, one that has worked out surprisingly well. I've never regretted it for a moment. Still, there are some days when I'm back in the mindset of a corporate employee. I think: "if I work hard, perhaps do extra, I'll get recognized for my efforts or, at the very least, get a pat on the back." Then it doesn't happen and I realize that being a stay-at-home mom is much more like being a government employee than someone that works for a private corporation. You get decent benefits, very little recognition and lots of job security. Nobody's really going to care how much or how little you do, until their favorite shirt isn't clean. Then there's a bit of grandstanding, but it eventually dies down - sort of like the hoopla over a $300 screwdriver.

It seems sort of sad because I was educated to always do my best, but for my own self-preservation, I have to change my mindset. I have to stop expecting my family to notice the artful way that I folded the napkins for dinner. They're worried about calculus tests, science projects and regional managers. They just want to come home to something that's peaceful and stable - which is why I've theoretically placed myself in the Department of Homeland Security. It's a relatively new department, but one that's vital. Nobody's really sure what we do all day, but it's our responsibility to raise the alert level to orange when the basement hasn't been cleaned or inappropriate instant messages are being exchanged. There are only two of us - me and the dog - and she's OK with me having seniority, as long as I don't take early retirement and leave her in a lurch. And let me be perfectly up front and tell you that I'm sleeping with the boss. But we had a relationship long before I started here. Hey, how do you think I got this job?!

Unlike other government employees, we don't always get national holidays off. In fact, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving are often our busiest days. In return, we can often sneak a Thursday off by avoiding the laundry, having lunch with our girlfriends and going out for dinner. Our motto is: "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it."

So, if you want something done, then you should fill in the required forms in triplicate. I'll eventually get to it and then you'll thank me profusely and say that I'm much better than most government employees. Hey, it's the least I can do.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

What Did I Do To Deserve This?

Momist - a fault finder; from the Latin Momus...a Greek divinity, the god of ridicule who, for his censures upon the gods, was banished from heaven; hence, a captious critic.

And now we have it, the real root of the word "Mom." Here I thought it was a term of endearment, but lately in our house, the definition above seems to fit better. If you're like me, you look at your kids throughout the day and find that you have to correct them. Either straighten their hair, unwrinkle their clothes or suggest to them that they shave. Usually, this is met with an annoying grunt. Sometimes, if it's a particularly happy day, it's met with deep disdain and dark looks. Gosh, that makes me feel all warm inside.

I figure that one of my jobs is to make sure my kids look OK as they venture out into the world. If they have an especially important event, I might suggest a wardrobe switch. What they don't understand is that I'm doing it for them! Hell, this isn't for my own health - often these "adjustments" make my day more difficult. A teenager that has to change a shirt is certainly not going to refold that shirt and put it away. No, it's going to be flung on the floor in anger and disgust to marinate in the swamp that's on his floor so that I get more laundry! Be still my heart.

What is it about motherhood that puts us in the position of telling somebody something for their own good, only to have it responded to with a hatred usually reserved for pond scum?

I've thought about the alternative - i.e. letting them leave the house with their zipper open, their hair looking like a camel chewed on it or their shirt on inside out. I've visualized those moments clearly as my child goes through his/her day. It always ends with them stomping in the door at 3:15 pm screaming: "Why didn't you tell me I had toothpaste around my mouth?!"

Somehow the intervention anger is easier to take. Call me a masochist.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Fanfare for the Common Woman

It's often inspirational to read about women that have triumphed over challenges both big and small. We cheer on their adventures. We weep at their losses. We applaud their efforts. And so I was thinking that as incredible as those women are, they are not the norm. They are special, which is why they get page space and airtime. So what of the common woman? The one that slugs through days as if plodding through a vat of syrup, often stumbling - just trying to get to the edge of that vat. Might it not be inspirational in its own small way to read about her foibles and follies? OK, maybe not inspirational but perhaps a kindred spirit kind of thing? It is in that spirit that I offer this:

I don't exercise every day. Once a week is a victory for me. I continue to search for studies that show that women that rarely exercise are actually preserving their bodies more effectively than those that work out regularly. My motto is "No exercise, no pain."

I don't eat very well. One fruit a day is usually the most I can muster. Apparently my kitchen is stocked with mostly carbohydrates. Since grains occupy the largest space on the food pyramid, I've interpreted this to mean I can eat a lot of them. Here's what I figure: if this Atkins thing is so great, why is Atkins no longer alive? (OK, don't cloud this with the facts. I do know that he slipped and fell, but did you ever wonder why he slipped? Maybe too FEW carbs? Hmmmm?)

I eat a lot. I can shovel more food in my body in one sitting than my thin friends eat in a day. However, I have pride and I usually reserve the shovel fests for my alone time. Why do you think I'm enjoying being a stay-at-home mom? When other people say they're stuffed, I think: "How bad would it be if I finished her food?"

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food. Some people eat to live. I live to eat and dream about food. Take away my food and I'll cry. Really.

I yell at my children - often loudly and at the worst possible times. My yelling is neither creative nor effective. I'm often ignored and sometimes I even get yelled at in response.

I'm not very smart. My kids have surpassed my intelligence level, but I'll never let them know this. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that I have a college degree. I haven't read many classic books and I know virtually nothing about history. I have no math skills. I've learned to hide this fact. I'm not street smart either. I just know when and how to nod my head.

Although my house might appear to be tidy, I have closets packed with so much crap, I don't even know what's in them. My greatest fear is that both my husband and I will die together and someone will come into our house and go through our things. The only good thing is that I can't die from embarassment since that will be a foregone conclusion. And don't even ask about the basement....My motto is, "If it's messy, close the door."

I like junk TV. I watch reality shows and prefer cheesy dramas. I've seen the Discovery Channel. It helps me fall asleep at night.

I have one hobby that I do badly - I knit. I can't cleverly arrange anything. If you come to my house and something looks good, it's because I bought it that way or somebody else did it. I haven't a crafty bone in my body.

I love gossip, until it gets mean. Who doesn't want to know a small secret or two about the woman that is attractive, thin and popular? Oh, c'mon. Be honest.

Despite what I tell my children, I usually leave the important things until the last minute. I work better under pressure and it's a safe bet that the night before a big event, I'll be burning the midnight oil to make it look like I've been working all month.

I'm a horrible cook. Actually, I don't cook. What I do would be better described as re-heating. I haven't any type of feel for what should go into food. If it's not in the recipe, I'd never think of adding it, mostly because I don't trust myself. You shouldn't trust me either. If I've made something, ask me where I got the recipe. If I say I made it up, politely decline.

I'm often crabby. Sometimes a frown will occupy my face for hours at a time. I pick on the people that I love the most, primarily because I think that I can predict everything that they will do to annoy me. And so I annoy them first.

I don't understand politics or government. If you ever see me get into a political conversation, tackle me. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I couldn't explain the branches of government to save my life. This is why I can't watch "The West Wing." I have no idea what they're saying.

I can't make small talk unless I'm in a ridiculously good mood. Apparently the crabbiness crashes into the moderate intelligence and I usually stand there like a deer in the headlights. The art of conversation is lost on me. I truly have nothing to say. A cocktail party is like a form of torture to me.

When someone I know is going through a tough time, I am the person most likely to say something either irrelevant, insensitive or at the very least, not helpful. When in these situations, my brain tends to lock up and the first thing that pops into my head will usually be something like: "I'm sorry. Do you think you'll still be driving carpool next week?"

So there you have it. Common things about a common woman. Perhaps sharing too much? Eh, who cares? It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to.....

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Everything Will Be Alright

"Everything will be alright." Are there really people who believe this? I mean, when you're in a stressful time, awaiting some type of outcome, some test result and somebody says this to you, do you suddenly relax and think: "Yeah, you're right. I feel better."

I just had a breast recall. That is, I had a mammography on Monday and Tuesday morning my world was nearly shattered to bits by the sound of that nonchalant technician saying: "The radiologist would like you to come back for another mammography...and possibly an ultrasound." Gulp. "This is it," I thought. My number's up. I've had two near misses and this will be the hit. So I schedule another mammography for this morning and spend 1-1/2 days planning the end of my life. Who will watch the kids while my husband is at work? How messy will the house be when I'm not around? How will I look with no hair and a bandana? To say that my mind wandered over the line of worry would be understating the case.

For a day and a half, I decided who to share my worry with. Who would I burden with concern so that they could pray for me. I have this strange belief that I shouldn't pray for myself. Sort of like wishing myself luck. It feels selfish. So I find my closest friends and dump this on them as if to say: "Hey, this is heavy. Can you help me carry this crap for a while?" They all complied in a gesture that restores my faith in womankind. They prayed, waited and wondered. It was as if they were having a prayer service for my boob - wishing it the best. Sweetness like this, I hardly feel worthy of.

Meanwhile, I try my damnedest to act normally this morning. I try to hide my furrowed brow and think of other things. Everything looks and reminds me of breasts. My sliced bagel is a matched set - approximately a 34AA. My coffee cup next to my husband's - a 36C. I finally get to the radiology lab and am greeted by the radiology technician most likely to eventually work for a pathologist. A woman with the most somber demeanor and least personality. Immediately I interpret this as the clinic's attempt to deliver this crushing blow by a gentle, quiet person. She then proceeds to try and smash my breast to bits. "Ouch," I say, quietly. "SHIT! THIS HURTS," my brain thinks loudly. Then she leaves, for about 8 hours. OK, I exaggerate. But it was enough time for me to select my surgeon, plan my biopsy, and work out how I'd make dinner without crying. She then ushers me out and says I do indeed need an ultrasound. "OK, beginning of bad news," I say to myself.

After sitting for another 8 hours where I say another 12 prayers, the ultrasound technician finally comes to get me. She has my same first name and is actually perky. I think this is better for when the bad news comes. After she lubricates my breast (I think I really owe "righty" dinner and a drink - it's been a rough day for her), she says she'll show the radiologist my ultrasound and he'll come in with the news. "OK, this is what he'll say. I'll try not to cry and try to listen despite the pounding pessimism in my head."

Then an even perkier doctor enters the room, introduces himself, shakes my hand and tells me everything is fine. What?! I burst into tears. I'm astonished, having once again dodged the proverbial bullet of womanhood. Damn, life is good.

Now I just have to remember all those things I promised God that I'd do in exchange for a clean bill of health. But first things first - call my husband and my good friends who are all relieved. How the hell did I deserve to be surrounded by such great people?

Everything will be alright. Really.