Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Friday, December 30, 2005

22 Things

Today is my 22nd Wedding Anniversary. Yes, that means 22 years of hubby putting up with me. I think he deserves sainthood, don't you? Well, in lieu of that, and because he's half-responsible for my "momhood," here are 22 reasons why he's the best:

1. He actually married me even after I broke up with him once using the lyrics from a Dan Fogelberg song. (Yeah, I know - I suck.)
2. He asked me to marry him after a day of bowling and while we were watching The Love Boat.
3. When I worked, he was ultra-supportive of my career and my parenting abilities.
4. He calls and asks my opinion on issues and challenges at work, even when I have no clue what he's talking about.
5. He's the proudest and best dad in the world. He brags about our kids and has given them their talent for and love of music.
6. He reads my blog and never criticizes it, even when my writing is sub-par.
7. He eats my cooking and actually compliments me on it, even when I know it doesn't even come close to good.
8. He's got more patience than I could ever dream of having.
9. When I have a problem, he always tries to help me solve it, even after I criticize his suggestions.
10. He loves to eat as much as I do.
11. He respects me and believes in me, even when I no longer believe in myself.
12. He made me a Green Bay Packer fan, and even after this season, it's still a good thing.
13. He always helps when I ask him - always.
14. He actually likes to go shopping, sometimes more than I do.
15. He's smarter than I'll ever be and is a good teacher as a result.
16. He's never crabby in the morning and understands that I am.
17. He always makes me feel like I look good, even when I don't.
18. He has lived through nearly a quarter-century with the crabbiest woman on earth...and still speaks to her.
19. He's a great listener.
20. He makes me feel important and never criticizes me.
21. He's not very expressive, but he tries really hard because it matters to me.
22. I trust him more than anyone else on earth and will love him forever.

What can I say? I'm one really, really lucky woman! Happy Anniversary hubby!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Game Fondly Known As "You Can't Win."

There's nothing quite as satisfying as unexpectedly finding a confidante who is sharing the same problem that you are facing. Whether it's an illness, a difficult boss or a bad teacher, when you run into someone that feels the way you do, it's like the weight of the world lifts for a brief moment.

Today, this is exactly what happened to me. I was talking with a friend who also has a 13-year old daughter and we were trading tales of vacation plans, school projects, sports schedules and suddenly we touched on the subject of 13-year old attitudes. I'm here to tell you other mothers of 13-year olds that there are more of us out there and we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. (At least this is the conclusion that the two of us arrived at.)

Maybe there's something in the water or, worse yet, a major dip in a generational gene pool, but our kids are disrespecting us and it's got us down. They're defying every command we give, they're rolling their eyes at us till we're dizzy and they are just making every little thing incredibly difficult. Throughout the day, I'm picking and choosing more battles than Napolean, and now I understand why he had such a stomach ache!

Apparently, everything I say is dumb, annoying, rude, mean, redundant and crabby. (I completely agree on that last one. I can go from zero to bitch in two seconds or less when confronted with teen angst.) It doesn't matter what I do or don't do, it's all just wrong. And if I do nothing, I'm accused of being moody and obviously mad at someone.

You wouldn't believe it if you spoke to the teenage one, but I'm really trying to avoid all of this. I keep my opinions to myself, which only elicits reminders of my past opinions, which again, were WRONG. If I leave the room, it's somehow worse than standing there arguing.

Honestly, this is a dramatic reenactment of what most people would call insanity. It's like walking through a minefield of hormones and anger without any battle gear whatsoever. The only reason why I keep plowing ahead is because I'm apparently an eternal optimist (or stupid) thinking that this can't last forever. Can it?

If your kids are still too young for you to relate, don't let me scare you. It is possible to survive this. I personally recommend a nice Pinot Noir. And the most amazing part is just when you're ready to throw in the towel, the incredibly raging hormonal one will do something....nice, at which point you'll totally forget why you were mad in the first place. Now, doesn't this sound like a fun game to play?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Well, I made it through Christmas and here's what I have to say: Every year it's the same...a big letdown. I don't mean to sound spoiled or whiny (I am...both), but it's just that I put so much effort into this celebration and it's over so quickly. And I don't know about you, but nobody ever gets as excited as I think they will at the gifts that I've obsessed a bit about. There's this giant build-up's over. And every year I make the same mistake - I get up too damn early. You'd think I was 5 years old again. This year it was 4:45 am. WTF?!

This year, the theme of my gifts was this: broken and returnable. Yes, the karaoke machine (which was supposed to replace the first karaoke machine that broke) not only took two sweaty hours to assemble (thanks to my hubby) but then didn't work after all that effort. What a waste. Then, hubby's XM Radio is just not really impressing anyone by going on and off and never really getting a signal. All I can say is that I hope XM Radio isn't involved in the space program or those astronauts are really in trouble. So today was spent returning broken or poorly conceived gifts. At least that's over!

So here's my idea on Christmas. I think it's getting too predictable. First, it's the same time every year and secondly, the season is getting longer, thanks to retailers. I think we should change it up and give people little or no notice. Then there won't be time to obsess over it and it won't turn into a huge spending competition that can never be won. Give one person the job of announcing Christmas two weeks prior to the date. And there should be a rule that nobody over the age of 18 gets gifts. Think about it: Those are the only fun ones to buy and then we don't have to buy ridiculous things for people that don't need them. Yeah, it would kind of be a blow to the economy, but think of the money we'll have left for vacations! And finally, there's a rule that you can only decorate your house every other year. Yes, this is my best idea yet. Then the decorations will always feel fresh, even if they're a little dustier from sitting in the basement longer.

OK, I've obviously had too much egg nog and these ideas are probably downright unpatriotic to some, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Going for the Silver and Gold

Well folks, it's almost here. The Holy Grail in the race to parental immortality - Christmas. Yes, you may know it as the biggest holiday of the year, but as a mom, I think of it as the Olympics of parenthood. Halloween is the qualifying meet, birthdays are the semi-finals and Christmas is the medal round. It is comprised of several events: Cross-Country Shopping, Freestyle Wrapping, High Jump Hiding, Fabrication and Fiction, Decorating - Short and Long Program, Long Distance Shipping and Super Combined Assembly.

Christmas is the holiday that delights children through feats of fantasy and superhuman effort. No matter how well-prepared we are, it's a Herculean challenge that even steroids can't help. Every year we tell ourselves and our families that we're going to scale back, but once the carols start blasting out of the car radio, who can resist the temptation to create an experience so magical that your child will talk about it for decades?

We shop like wild animals hunting our prey. Depending on how late we are, the brain begins to play tricks on us, making us truly believe that our pre-teen daughter will adore an electric potpourri burner instead of the iPod Nano that was sold out. We trample each other in an effort to score the elusive X-Box 360, mistakenly hoping it will buy us a year of complaint-free children.

When the buying frenzy finally ends, we find previously undiscovered crawl spaces throughout our houses in which to hide our bounty, praying that our middle-aged memories won't fail us when we try to find them again. We wrap faster than butchers in a deli with paper that's ugly and standards that lower as the task wears on and the tape runs out.

Our houses turn into elaborate menageries of Christmas trees and ribbons and popsicle sticks glued together in reindeer shapes less we forget that CHRISTMAS IS COMING. We scale ladders and drain pipes and pole vaults in a frightening attempt to make our houses become beacons of holiday spirit and ridiculous amounts of energy consumption.

We spend countless hours in Post Offices and Shipping Stores attempting to get 80 lbs. worth of gifts shipped across the country overnight for less than our monthly mortgage payment.

As the night looms closer we weave elaborate tales of Santa and his colleagues - their likes, their dislikes and their ability to consume massive quantities of sugar and milk without going into diabetic or lactose shock. We use our non-dominant hands (or our co-workers) to write disguised thank-you notes to toddlers and gift tags on packages simply in an effort to embellish the ancient ritual.

Once the children have passed out from pre-holiday excitement, we swear like sailors and sweat like pigs as we assemble toys and equipment that have more parts than the space shuttle. We raid our cabinets for flashlight and electric toothbrush batteries when the 24-Hour Convenience Store is found closed for the first and only time all year.

When the morning comes, two hours later, our children loudly whisper and poke and pull and bounce and beg for us to COME AND SEE WHAT SANTA BROUGHT!! And we do. We drag our beaten, battered, exhausted bodies out of bed to gaze with Academy Award-winning surprise at the beautiful sights under the tree.

And year after year, it never fails to make us swell with pride to go through this effort and create this spectacle. Because there is no greater gift to a parent than a child's unbridled wonder and joy on Christmas morning. And for that one pure moment, it was so worthwhile.

Merry Christmas and Peace to Everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Blame Game

Why is it that my first instinct, when something is awry with my children, is to blame myself? My daughter is currently having time-management issues with her homework and what are my first thoughts about this problem?: "We should have never agreed to have a television or a computer in our home because she spends way too much time with them and it is obviously wrecking her life." Seriously, what's up with that?

In reality, I, of course, make sure that she understands that she is totally accountable for her actions, now that she is old enough to do so. But after saying that, I can't help but scour the vast recesses of my brain and wonder where I went wrong. Sure, I sit down and try to ignore her pleas to somehow get her out of the odious task of reading an entire book in one night, all the while thinking that there must be a parenting manual that I can read to prevent a repeat of this situation.

It's amazing how it continues to happen. My son fails to clean up after himself and I immediately assume that because I didn't give him enough chores, he's exhibiting slacker characteristics. I always make it come back to me. What I did or didn't do or how it's my fault because they're JUST LIKE ME.

When my son was about seven years old, he went through this stage where he had a tough time managing his anger. I picked him up one day from school and was told by the day care director that he had hit a little girl. I remember taking him to that girl's house so that he could apologize in person and sobbing hysterically because of the shame that I felt at having been such a bad parent. Really. Back then it was my personal struggle with being a working mom, but again, I took the blame and put it squarely on my shoulders. (He, by the way, is now a very low-key college freshman who has absolutely no anger issues.)

I wonder if there comes a point when I will just look at them and think: "Why are they like that?" instead of thinking: "How did I make them become that way?"

The other part of this equation is that when my kids are great, I never take the credit. I always figure it's a fluke of nature or some recessive gene from my husband's side of the family. I kid around and say that it's all because of me, but I secretly thank the stars and wonder how it could have happened, in spite of me.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Your Secret's Safe With Me

I'm quite taken with a new book. It's called PostSecret by Frank Warren. Here's how he explains the book: "In November 2004, I printed 3,000 postcards inviting people to share a secret with me: something that was true, something they had never told anyone. I handed out these cards at subway stations, I left them in art galleries, and I slipped them between the pages of library books. Then, slowly, secrets began to find their way to my mailbox."

PostSecret is a collection of just some of the postcards that have been sent to Warren. They are sad, funny, intriguing and extremely revealing. Yet, every one of them is anonymous.

What fascinated me, besides the thrill of reading other peoples' secrets, were those that related to parenthood. Here are three:

Sometimes I want to run away from home. I'm 38, married with a child.

I don't take my kids to the playground because I don't like talking to the other moms.

I feel guilty about sometimes wishing that I didn't have children. I don't dare say it out loud for fear I might trigger something bad happening to them.

Throughout this book there are secrets that perhaps many of us share. Some are silly and some are heartbreaking. Those that deal with parenthood are the ones that really struck a chord with me. Why? Because parenthood is a sacred entity that you just don't mess with. Yet, who can fault someone for unburdening themselves from admitting that we're not always Ward and June Cleaver?

Let's look at the three secrets above: I've often wanted to run away from home. Usually the urge comes when a child is having a meltdown and the house looks like a bomb exploded. Yet, I stay because, well, I'm rational and also because I need that melting down child to eventually take care of me when I can't remember where I left my teeth.

I can't begin to count the places I've avoided when I just had no interest in talking to other moms. In fact, I sit alone in my car, even in splendid weather, waiting for my daughter after school so I can avoid the "Parking Lot Momfia" and their endless chitchat and gossip.

Have I ever wished I didn't have children? Probably not, but there were countless times when I wondered whether I was cut out for the job. I agree with this secret writer, this is something that even thinking about opens the door to bad karma.

I think Frank Warren has done the world a great service. He's allowed people to unload their unspeakable thoughts without really hurting anyone. As parents, I think we need more of this. We need to know that we might not be perfect, but we're definitely not alone in our imperfection.

So next time you feel like launching one of your kids into the next universe, sit down, take out a postcard, and write to Frank. (PostSecret, 13345 Copper Ridge Rd., Germantown, MD 20874.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Biting My Tongue

Throughout many years of mothering, I've learned a lot of lessons. I've learned that drawings displayed on the refrigerator should only be thrown away after a child is in bed and not when I'm having a meltdown regarding the fact that NOBODY PICKS UP AFTER THEMSELVES ANYMORE. I've learned that my idea of a clean bedroom and a child's idea of a clean bedroom are very, very different. I've learned that the meal that I've spent all day making is never as impressive as the delivered pizza.

It seems that the hardest lesson for me to learn is something I fondly refer to as "Back Off/Shut Up." In other words, do nothing at all. It sounds easy, doesn't it, but it goes against every natural maternal instinct with which we're born.

As the mother of a 13-year old girl, I'm finding "BOSU" to be invaluable. When we shop for clothes, I know that my opinion instantly makes an outfit either hideous or awesome, but not in the way that I'd like. If I want her to wear it, I cannot, under any circumstances, tell her that it's cute.

When homework is being done, ten minutes before school starts, it is critical that I not remind her that she could have done this assignment last night instead of sitting at the computer instant messaging friends.

What is essential is that I know that A) My jokes are dumb, B) I have never had as much homework as she has ever had, and C) I couldn't possibly understand what she's going through at any time...ever.

It sounds cruel and demeaning, but really, I do know that it's just the current phase under construction in her 13-year life. Along with everything else going on in her world, her home life is where she gets to go every day to totally lose it....sometimes at my expense. Oh, sure, I have my own breaking points and occasionally have to LOUDLY remind her of my place in the family tree and the respect I am due. But I also think back to the days when I'd pick her up from day care and she'd fall apart in my arms. The teachers would look at me, puzzled, and reassure me that she had a great day and was happy as a clam. Apparently, my little clam finds me an oasis where she needs to spit a few pearls once in a while.

The curious thing is that it's taking me nearly 20 years to figure out that like everything else in life, motherhood is a journey, not a destination. I'm always learning and yet, most of the time, it feels like I've mastered nothing. What works yesterday is oh so wrong today. By trial and error, I find what's effective until life moves on and it's totally not working anymore.

Right now, it's all about saying nothing at all. Ouch, my tongue hurts.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Sleepless for Love in Milwaukee

One week ago was the official start of the 2005 holiday shopping season. In true American style, shoppers trampled each other and slept outside for the right to buy more stuff first, sooner or cheaper. Like most of you, I shook my head and gave a disgusted "tsk, tsk" at these commercial whores, making ridiculous attempts to keep up with and surpass the Joneses, the Smiths and everyone else in the neighborhood. I turned my nose up at their outlandish efforts until I remembered: "Oops, been there, done that."

Yes friends, I am here to tell you that once upon a time, I too slept outside of a store simply to purchase a piece of electronics. Why? Because I'm a mother and it's what I do. Here's the story and you can judge for yourself whether I deserve to be trampled:

It was the fall of 2000. My 8th grade son was about to turn 13. His world consisted of one thing: video games. He not only played them, he studied them, he read about them and he breathed them. For better or for worse, it was his passion. For his birthday, he wanted only one thing: Sony Playstation 2. He had put his name on a list to purchase one at the mall only to find out that Sony had craftily planned to undership, thereby insuring hyped-up demand. It was cruel and brilliant and made my son cry in desperation.

The local newscasts had stories about the high demand and low supply and interviewed store managers who bemoaned the fact that there would not be enough to go around. While my son was at school, I called every electronics retailer in the city, taking a survey of how many units they would receive in hopes I could reserve one, somehow. Alas, there would be only one way to get my hands on a PS2 and it involved getting in a line and sleeping outside.

Normally, I'd break the news to my son and just pray that the tears wouldn't last too long. But I mentioned this dilemma to my friend Jennifer (my son's godmother) and in her always adventurous spirit she said: "Let's sleep outside! I'll do it - it'll be fun!" And so began my journey towards becoming, in my son's eyes, the best mom ever.

First, I had to stake out a store where I had my best chances. Fortunately, I arrived at our local Best Buy store at around 10 pm and found myself 10th in line. I admit, I was pretty pumped. I called Jennifer and said: "C'mon down! I've got a spot in line." When I called my son, he was so excited, he could barely speak.

We were very lucky that it was an unseasonably balmy October evening, making the prospect of sleeping outside slightly less daunting. After the thrill wore down a bit, I looked around and took note of my fellow campers. Hmmm....there I was, a middle-aged mom, preparing to sleep outside of a store and I'm not only the only woman there, I'm the only person over the age of 25. Needless to say, I was a bit out of my element. Still, in any hunt, you must focus on the target. I was going to get a PS2 if I had to run over every one of these adolescents to do it.

Jennifer arrived at around 11 pm and we hunkered down and giggled for a while about how insane and wonderful this was. Then, we started to examine the logistics of food and bathrooms, neither of which would be provided by Best Buy. We figured it all out and then began observing the other campers. Those at the front of the line were young males. Eventually, others arrived that were older and more affluent, eyeing our coveted spots in the line. It became obvious that we'd have to protect our territory - i.e. spot #10. We just hoped it wouldn't get ugly. It did.

At around 11:30 pm, a car full of teenage boys roared past the store. They hung out of the windows and screamed: "Losers!" Gosh. As a mom, I'm called a lot of things, but that's not usually one of them.

Then at around 2 am, a man in his late 20s pulled up in his van, clearly frustrated by the already-too-long line and clearly under the influence of many substances. First, he tried to subtly ease his way into the front of the line. What, did he think we couldn't see him? The line wouldn't budge. Then he started yelling and swearing. He finally left in anger only to return once or twice to call us what the teenage boys in the car had called us: "Losers!" Yeah, well, we might be losers, but we're in line and he's not, so nanny-nanny boo-boo!

This was not camping under the quiet stars. Friends of line-sitters arrived to try and entertain with tricked-out cars a la "Pimp My Ride," complete with video game systems in headrests and thumping bass. Jennifer and I simply watched in awe. I silently prayed that I wasn't seeing a future version of my son.

As the night wore on, everyone quieted down. Jen and I alternated between sleeping and chatting with the boys in front of us whose father slept in a car nearby for their safety. (See, I'm not the only insane parent!)

When morning arrived, so did reporters, soon-to-be disappointed latecomers and my husband and kids with coffee and breakfast. I still remember the glow on my son's face as he looked at his mom and his godmother going to ridiculous lengths for his benefit.

We survived until the store opened when management escorted us to the holy grail, i.e. the Playstation 2 units and I could wrap my arms around the coveted item and breathe a deep sigh of relief...mission accomplished. Since Jennifer was also in line, she generously agreed to purchase a unit for my son's friend, making the two of us even more popular than before.

We returned home to phone calls of astonishment from friends and family. We became legends on the playground at school. I could hear whispers of shock and awe as I approached the flock of parents waiting for their children after school.

The real hero in all of this was Jennifer. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't have slept outside and made my son the happiest he had ever been in his life. If it weren't for her, I would have missed out on one of the most bizarre and fun memories of my adult years.

I still remember watching my son unpack his PS2 after school that day. Nothing is as gratifying to a parent as watching their child in a moment like that. I can still feel the grateful hug he gave me that day.

I'm not sure if I'd do it again, but I'm sure glad I did it. Sometimes, if it feels right, you do what you have to.