Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Thanks, People

Just when it seemed like society was becoming a little more realistic in their expectations of women and their bodies...especially post-pregnancy women...People Magazine comes out with their "Body After Baby" issue featuring Denise Richards and Britney Spears who had their babies like 10 minutes ago and are already sleek and slim.

I can just picture a new mom who is coping with little or no sleep, finally getting a moment to sit down, relax and read an entertaining magazine. She cracks open this issue and bursts into tears. Hell, this issue makes me want to cry and I had my last baby 13 years ago! Way to go, People. Way to make a grown girl cry.

The only way they can make up for this, is if they promise, yes promise, to give us pictures of a very fat, post-partum depressed Katie Holmes. Yessssssss!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Playing to Win While We Wear Out

I've been a parent for almost 19 years. During that time, I've seen a lot of parents come and go in all different shapes, sizes and personalities. Two of my favorite "flavors" of parents are The Sports Parents and the Arts Parents. (Bear with me. I do realize this is a massive generalization that is only rooted in my own personal reality.)

Sports parents spend their days, nights and weekends carting their kids around to practices, tryouts, games, tournaments and banquets. They have a haggard look about them that implies that they've been driving the minivan too long and haven't had a sit-down dinner with their family in weeks. They work so hard to allow their kids to participate in sports that they've sacrificed their own identity and sense of self. Sitting on sidelines or in stands has become their social life. They're great at small talk because a 60-minute game rarely allows for anything more in-depth than that. Their cars are full of empty juice boxes, blankets, fold-up chairs, shin guards, and smelly shoes. They know the town like the back of their hand because of their intimate knowledge of every gym and playing field within 90 miles. Their cell phones ring incessantly and include various orthopedic specialists on speed dial. The most difficult word for them to utter is "no." They've broadened their child's world through athletics which makes it so hard for them not to embrace the next challenge, the next level, the next team and the next school, even if it's at the expense of a reasonable life. They're generally very fit which is why they encouraged their child to pursue sports in the first place. Some of them are former athletes that look to their children to fulfill their unrealized dreams. Sometimes they forget that it's their kids and not them playing. They tend to refer to their child's team as "we" and look for reasons for losses with the precision of a college scout.

The Arts parents are usually no less worn-out than the Sports parents. Their days, nights and weekends are spent hauling their child and his/her instrument, equipment or costume from music studios to teachers' homes to rehearsal halls to music stores. Their houses are filled with the sounds of scales, chords, monologues, riffs and fills at ear-splitting levels. They're totally accustomed to sitting in their car outside a local theater at 10:00 at night waiting for the end of dress rehearsal - even on a school night. Their cars are filled with instrument cases, dance shoes, water bottles, rosin, strings, picks, reeds and sheet music. Their car stereos are tuned to talk radio since the idea of hearing is almost unbearable. For many, music, dance or theatre isn't a diversion, it's a passion that can never be perfected. When they do get to interact with other parents, it's generally to trade stories of carpal tunnel, swollen vocal chords, shin splints and the phone number of the best teacher and Ear/Nose/Throat MD in town. They're generally well-read since their child's schedule allows far fewer opportunities for socializing and more opportunities to sit and read while waiting. They tend to be quirky since the life of an arts parent and an artist can be lonely. Sure there are dance teams, choirs, orchestras and ensembles, but practice and lessons are often solo efforts that require the parents to be the audience. They listen and watch critically for missed notes or botched steps and can spot the faulty performer from a mile away. They've stopped performing years ago, knowing that they can't enjoy what isn't perfect. Perfection will be the job of their child.

Occasionally, Sports Parents and Arts Parents cross over. Their athletic kids play an instrument or their prodigy is on the volleyball team. Still, they segregate at group events and stick to their own kind and silently say thanks that their kid doesn't do this all the time. They look at each other's world with amazement and incredulity at the thought of listening to a song played or danced to over and over again or sitting outside at 8:00 am on a Saturday watching a soccer game. Neither wishes to trade places.

Still, Sports Parents and Arts Parents share the ever-important job of head cheerleader and fan club president. They wipe away tears of frustration, embarrassment and disappointment. They encourage and support and sometimes have to admonish their children for blaming referees, conductors, teammates, instruments, equipment or acoustics. They teach them to take responsibility for the mistakes but to always share in the accomplishments. They willingly reserve their weekends to drive their children hundreds of miles to compete and perform. And when it's all over, when the kids graduate college and start their own lives, these very different parents will share something they don't like to think about: the empty schedules, the quiet houses and the long weekends.

Until their grandkids start playing and performing, that is.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I'm So Sexy, I'm Skanky!

So today I dragged my butt to the salon for a manicure and a pedicure. I know, you're saying to yourself: geez, life is rough. The thing is, I'm not real comfortable with getting "services" such as these. As M.A. explains in McDays (go see her - she's a new blogger and a great writer), life here in Wisconsin is uber-casual and I'm quite cozy in that mode. But, my hubby had given me a gift certificate and since I have the most blah nails in the world, I decided it was time to jazz them up a little.

So, as I'm sitting there awaiting my pedicure, the manicurist tosses two magazines at me: Good Housekeeping (which I've already read cover to cover) and Cosmo Girl. Yes, I said Cosmo GIRL. Look, I'm 45. I practically sobbed the last time I was carded. I have no business reading Cosmo, let alone Cosmo GIRL. However, since it was immediately apparent that the pedicure lady did not want to converse with me (fine - I am SO tired of salon chit-chat), I cracked open CG to find out why my 13-year old would want to read this demoralizing crap. Suddenly, an article caught my eye: "Guys Reveal: What's Skanky, What's Sexy..." (I'm SO glad I banished the 13-year old from this.) Still, I had to know and so I turned to page 86.

Summing it all up for guys everywhere was Brian, 19, who said: "Low-cut tops, streaky hair and low-riding jeans can be sexy OR skanky, depending on how they're worn. " Thank you, Brian. I'll be sure to call you when my daughter needs a date to prom. As if!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What, Me Worry?

I've come to the conclusion that becoming an adult means learning to worry. And becoming a parent means you worry in spades. I think about worrying (perhaps I worry about it?) and wonder if we worry more because we are so well-educated.

For example, as a child, I loved to fly in airplanes. I was fortunate enough to have parents that could afford vacations that included flying. I loved every bit of each flight - the seats, the food, the flight crew and, most of all, the turbulence. What could be better than being high up in the air and suddenly dropping several thousand feet? Like a roller coaster - whee! Today, I know better and I know more and so I worry. I worry about the safety of the plane, the germs I might be breathing in the air, and, most of all, I worry about turbulence and disaster.

As a mom, I naturally worry about my kids. Generally, my fretting increases as the world around me and my children change. I read Time magazine which is packed with things to worry about - bird flu, global warming, terrorism... My son is about to turn 18 which means he gets that friendly Selective Service postcard in the mail: (It's fast. It's easy. It's the law!) Immediately my prayers for the soldiers in Iraq and their families turn to panic at considering that may one day be me.

My fears are real and embellished: My kids riding in cars with inexperienced drivers. My kids riding in cars when drunk drivers are looming around every turn. Although I try my best to minimize the risk, I realize that it's fruitless. It's totally and completely out of my control.

Being a parent isn't the only ticket to worrydom. I have several friends without kids and they join me in this grownup fretfest: Will interest rates go up? How long can my parents live on their own? Is my job secure or should I consider other careers? Plain and simple, if you're an adult, you become a pro at worrying about everything.

So, what's an adult to do? I've developed this annoying habit of waking up at 4am to create elaborate scenarios about which I worry. This does nothing except make me really tired and crabby. Although on the plus side, sometimes crabbiness replaces worry which may be a good thing.

My sure-fire technique for dealing with my episodes of being an overwrought worry-wart is to become a recluse. I turn off the TV news, shut down my computer and I stop reading magazines. I don't look for things to worry about. I sometimes lose myself in a fat work of light fiction that takes me away from reality and the terrors of my own mind. I limit my concerns to what I see around me instead of what might be lurking throughout the world.

Is my worry avoidance strategy simply escapism framed in denial and self-centeredness? Damn right it is.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Homecoming Score

It's starting to get tricky all of a sudden, this multi-child parenting. It never used to be a problem. I have 3 children. I have an almost-18 year old son going to school 6 hours away, a 13-year old daughter in 8th grade and an almost-19 year old son who is severely developmentally disabled and lives in a care facility an hour away. Because of ages and circumstances, I could generally give them equal bits of my attention, time and love. Suddenly, I've created a mini issue.

My college son is coming home this weekend. We haven't seen him since August 16th, 2005 at 7:45 am. (Not that I'm counting the days/hours/minutes.) Up until college, we never spent a lot of time apart. There was the week he spent at Boy Scout Camp about 5 years ago. Then there's the 5 days that my husband and I spend together, every year, without the kids. Besides that, we saw him a lot and that was fine with us...and him. Fast-forward to this summer and suddenly we find ourselves miles apart. We miss him a lot, and he misses home quite a bit. His sister, on the other hand, doesn't miss him at all.

Sooooooo....I've been really looking forward to his visit this weekend. And I realized that I've been voicing that excitement just a bit too loudly. Parents approach me at school and ask about college boy, to which I, apparently, practically shout: HE'S COMING HOME THIS WEEKEND! I did this about 5 times until I realized that my daughter was both watching me and keeping score.

Two months ago, in my daughter's world, all things were pretty much equal. Suddenly, her brother's greatly anticipated appearance is the social event of the least to me and my husband. I can sense that she's feeling...a bit less important. She was with me at the grocery store when I started stocking up on her brother's favorite foods and I could just hear her thought process: "Man, how long do I have to be gone before she starts stocking the pantry for me?"

It's a natural reaction on her part and she forgets that she's been the only child for the past two months. But it's also my responsibility to be sensitive to her feelings and tone down the festivities a bit. (Perhaps the marching band was a tad much. I kid.)

What she doesn't notice is my clandestine plot to keep her nearby when it's her turn to head off to college. Just yesterday I mentioned a program at the local university that might interest her...but first she has to get through 8th grade. Um, I guess I'm going a little overboard there. Hey, I'm a mom. Can you blame me?

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Weight of the World

I weighed my daughter's backpack last week. It was 17-1/2 pounds. I was amazed only in that I thought it would be 50. I wasn't trying to prove anything in particular. I wasn't even looking to win an argument. I was merely attempting to move the darn thing upstairs into her bedroom and couldn't believe what a difficult task that turned into. I've hoisted toddlers, garbage, furniture and potted plants and yet this backpack stopped me dead in my tracks. All I could think was: "How does she carry this around, day after day?"

Let me first give a bit of background. My daughter is in the 8th grade. Like her mom, she's not a tiny child. She can handle a bit of hoisting now and then. She also tends to be a pack rat and carries her entire 8th grade life in that pink, vinyl pack which is embellished by keychains and other dangling crap. I often suggest that she weed some things out, an idea at which she scoffs. ("I need all of it, Mom!") Even on days when she has little homework (a rare occurrence), she brings 17-1/2 pounds of stuff home on her back.

What struck me about this knowledge - the exact amount of school stuff she was carrying - is wondering what it meant. In the future, I mean. You would think that 17-1/2 pounds of textbooks and notebooks and worksheets would be a whole lotta knowledge. I'm around these 8th graders and although their mental hard drives are certainly more updated than mine, it's pretty much the same information that I had 30 years ago. And back then, backpacks were for hikers, not students.

The other concern I have is the picture in my head of what our kids will look like in 30 years. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a cross between Grandma and Quasimodo. How in the world will their backs survive this daily weightlifting challenge? I don't know about you, but I'm investing in back pain drugs - big time.

It seems odd that in this age of downloadable everything, our kids still have 17+ pounds of paper products to carry around everyday. I'm hoping that someday soon, tons of paper will not be cool. Because, as we know, THAT is the true agent for change in our kids' lives.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

It's Not Rocket Science but Some Days It Feels Like It

The cruel truth about any job is that nearly everything, whether it's a passion, a calling or just a way to earn cash, at one time or another becomes something that you dread. Even the most gifted surgeons wake up some days and think: "Damn, I've got two hernias and a bowel obstruction. It's going to be a long day." Writers growl at looming deadlines, chefs get bored with menus. At some point, even the coolest jobs lose their attractiveness and then other jobs start to look more interesting.

Because I used to work full-time, I try to think of stay-at-home motherhood as a job. The problem is that I take it so damn seriously. Too much so on some days. It's not as if I'm reading professional journals on the subject (although wouldn't Good Housekeeping qualify?) but I do try every day to do it just a little bit better. Don't gag, but I think about what I'm cooking, how I'm cleaning and how well I'm managing the household. I have to admit to even trying to create warm memories that my kids will rekindle long after I'm gone.

But the truth about stay-at-home parenthood is that it's fraught with missteps, poor calculations and unexpected obstacles nearly every day. Dinner is rarely impressive to anyone but the dog. Clean clothes and shiny sinks aren't great accomplishments, they're just overlooked and expected. Filling out permission slips and writing checks isn't a fulfilling task but the means to an end. Plan a fun outing on a day off of school and you haven't put together an exciting day, you've merely screwed up the social schedule of a typical 13-year old. On a daily basis, it can be a losing proposition. And yet, a well-timed hug can make it all worthwhile.

On the other hand, the stay-at-home part of parenthood is fairly quantifiable, if not totally mundane and thankless. The parenting part is the tricky end of the equation. Here's a job that lasts approximately 18 years, give or take a few, that if you screw up, could send an entire family to therapy. Books and movies have been created on the subject - both comedy and drama. This is a serious business folks, which is why I don't take it lightly.

Sometimes the concept of my parental influence is simply overwhelming to me. Usually that's how it feels after I make an innocent comment during the day and it comes back to bite me during dinner conversation, something like: "You hate me, don't you?" I think of myself as a fairly sensitive person, but I know that I've said things to my kids that have hurt their feelings or have been totally misinterpreted. Crazy as it sounds, it sometimes feels like I parent the best when I'm trying the least.

What makes parenting so incredibly challenging is that just when you think you've got it all figured out - advising, disciplining, consoling, encouraging - another kid comes along who responds completely differently, if at all, to your finely mastered parenting skills. One day you blink and everything's changed and you have to figure it out all over again. It's like the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again even after it no longer works.

Still, we keep trying even when we look incredibly stupid or just plain lost. I often make the mistake of comparing myself to other moms until I figure out how useless that exercise is. There will always be moms that are more creative, more patient and more effective than I am or ever will be.

Eventually, we all come out on the other side filled with stories, a few regrets and a whole bunch of wisdom. That's more than you can say for most jobs.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ruby's Wednesday

This is a story about a mom named Ruby who made the front page today here in Milwaukee. On Wednesday, Ruby was sent to jail for six months because she has tuberculosis...and won't take her medicine.

Now, before you get on your high horse and say how that's infringing on Ruby's rights, let me tell you a bit more about Ruby. Ruby is only 38 years old - in my book, that's young. Besides having TB, Ruby has 16 children, including a 5-week old who, no surprise, has TB too. Eleven of Ruby's children are in foster care and the rest are adults.

Ruby is also addicted to crack and alcohol and has had recurring bouts of mental illness. Her sister has volunteered to have Ruby stay with her during treatment for her various illnesses, but the problem is, Ruby keeps running away and forgetting to take her medicine.

Consequently, the judge in this case did the most compassionate thing possible and sentenced Ruby to six months in jail. I know what you're thinking: "How can jail be compassionate?" Usually, it's not, but in Ruby's case, it actually makes sense. Ruby isn't taking care of her children, she's certainly not taking care of herself and she's endangering others in the process. Although TB is no longer highly contagious, it still poses a health threat to those who have been around Ruby for prolonged periods. Something had to be done and it was.

What struck me most about this story wasn't the fact that Ruby was playing Russian Roulette with her own life and so many others. What really struck me was that the judge expressed dismay at having to go to such lengths to save Ruby. And then the judge did something you don't often hear about. After the hearing, the judge approached Ruby, hugged her and said: "I just want you to take your medicine."

I think that's what we call tough love.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Common Sense Cover Up

Here in Wisconsin today it is 85 degrees. For October 3rd, that's very warm. All around me are signs of fall, but the weather most definitely says it's still summer. I'm wearing a t-shirt and shorts, even though we still have our air conditioning on. In summary: Dammit, it's hot.

Well, that doesn't stop my 13-year old daughter from wearing jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, another t-shirt under that and a track jacket. I think her only concession to the weather was a pair of flip-flops. All of this, even after I told her at least 3 times: "Honey, it's going to be really hot today." What I should have said is: Don't forget that you go to school in one of the oldest and most poorly-ventilated buildings around and every day that you leave school you whine about how hot it is there.

It wouldn't matter, she'd still wear the same thing. I talked to a friend today and she said that the kids walking by her house to school were also wearing the same thing. What happened to comfort? What happened to not aiding and abetting sweat? What happened to common sense?

I know what's happening, but I really don't want to acknowledge it: This is how they dress in and on Laguna Beach. My daughter mentioned it in passing one day and I noticed that it was true. It could be raining lava and she's still wearing jeans. I realize that this makes me sound old and crabby, but I just don't get it.

Think there will ever be a day when sensible clothes are popular? As if!