Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Loosening My Grip....For Everyone's Sake

I’m about to do something pretty scary this week. No, I’m not going to clean out the refrigerator, but perhaps that should go on next week’s list. Actually, the scary thing is that my husband and I are going away, alone, for 6 days. First, let me say that it’s not scary because I’m going away with my husband. We’ve been married for 22 years and although he may feel differently sometimes, we generally enjoy each other’s company. What’s scary about this trip is that I’m relinquishing control of my daughter and my home to somebody else. Yikes, just the thought of it gives me goosebumps!

Now, if you’re a parent, especially those of you with young children, this sounds like heaven on earth and you’re wondering why this would cause me even a moment’s hesitation. Time alone? Without kids? It could only get better if there were chocolate involved and, actually, I’m sure I’ll find some during this trip...I always do.

This is an annual trip for us thanks to my husband’s hard work and the generosity of his employer. The location changes every year, but the timing is just about the same. And every year, one of my dearest friends in the whole world, Jennifer, comes and stays at our house and supervises and chauffeurs and cooks and hangs out with my kids who absolutely adore her. She must think it’s OK because she comes back every year. Either that or the grocery shopping that I do is just too good to pass up. In any case, she gives up a week of her life and steps into mine, which, in my opinion is a Herculean effort. It’s not that my life is so difficult to do. Trust me, it’s not brain surgery. But everybody has their routines and their ways of doing things and their schedules and I think it’s pretty tough to go to somebody else’s house and keep things running smoothly. And Jennifer does, which is amazing to me. But this is where this whole scenario gets tricky for me.

You see, I’m a homemaker. You can dress it up and call it a domestic engineer or something else, but my day to day responsibilities are home and family. I’ve been home full-time for over 5 years and I won’t say I’ve got this down to a science, but I definitely have my ways of doing things. And going on this trip, which is truly a blessing, requires me to let go and....let Jennifer. It means that I have to understand that most things won’t get done the way that I do them. And that’s OK. But, I gotta be honest, it’s a little hard for me. I try to make it easier by typing up elaborate schedules and placing Post-It Notes strategically throughout the house, but really, even I know that it’s a little unreasonable to think that anybody will give a rip that there is plenty of extra toilet paper in every bathroom and that the dog’s hairbrush is kept in the laundry room above the dryer. If they need these things, they’ll find them. And if they don’t, well, no one will really be harmed in any way.

This year it will just be Jennifer and our 14-year old daughter, which really makes it a little easier. Still, 14 year-olds have crazy sports and social schedules and heaven forbid we mess up the social life! So, I’ve put together a schedule that would impress even a Today Show producer and formed a Parent Support Team ready to jump in and answer questions, offer a ride or be willing to explain to Jennifer why my daughter will need at least 2 hours to get ready for the Freshman Welcome Dance this Friday.

The good part of this is that we get a break from our daughter and, more importantly, she gets a break from us, and in the process, Jennifer becomes part of our family and gets a front row seat to our life. Of course she’ll do things differently and this is exactly what will make our daughter the happiest and what makes this week work every year. We all gain an appreciation for each other in ways that we can’t even imagine. And even a control freak like me can see that this is worth more than anything in the world.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Family Travel = Family Trouble

Editor's note: Lest people think that I really am this crabby all the time (I'm not) and that I actually say something out loud in these situations (I wouldn't. I'm passive-aggressive), I just want to go on record and say that I do love kids. I have three of them and I'm in favor of other people having more. Oh yeah and also, despite the tone of this post, we had a GREAT time in NYC.

We just returned from a vacation in New York City. Yes, I know, that's sort of an oxymoron, but it's our kind of trip, so I'll leave it at that.

While there, something struck me again and again. Something besides strollers in the ankles, which, as you know, I am not fond of. What really made an impression on me was the fact that families on vacation are pretty damn annoying. Seriously. And yes, we were technically a family on vacation - my husband, my 14 year old daughter and I - but we're gifted in the way that we don't annoy anyone except ourselves, which is a long post all on its own.

We stayed smack dab in the middle of Times Square, one of the busiest places on earth. Although our hotel was terrifically convenient, it required us to swim our way through kazillions of people just to get to the front door. There were people of every race, creed, nationality, age and size. And although some of our irritation was caused by tourists in general (stopping in the middle of crowded intersections to take photos,) families were our biggest hurdle.

A case in point: Why is it that when families travel together, they feel the need to walk four or five abreast? This is a great idea when you are in the middle of a field in Kansas or perhaps the Salt Flats in Utah, but when you are walking down Broadway in Manhattan, it means that everyone else on the sidewalk has to move aside in order to get by. It’s as if they’re afraid that they’ll lose their molecular structure if they don’t walk side by side. How about a couple people in front and a couple behind? Why is it that they get more space than everyone else? It’s because they TAKE it!

When families travel, they also suddenly feel the rotation of the earth revolve around them, their needs and their problems. If something is amiss, we all must stop until it is resolved. One day, we were going to the elevator in our hotel. The family of four in front of us suddenly stopped because one of the daughters had something in her eye. They stopped, four wide, in front of the elevator as the door stood open. We could not get on the elevator without squeezing behind them because they were not moving until the eyelash was removed from little Suzy’s eyeball.

I do understand that sometimes group dynamics dictate that when there is a large family, they will take up more space than, say, the three of us did. Fine. But then when you stop to look at the map, argue about where to eat, or whine about where you are going, then move off to the side of wherever you are. It’s really not that difficult and yes, trying is enough.

I can’t help but address the issue of strollers again. Strollers are the greatest invention since high chairs. They allow families to walk great distances without tiring out the tiny kiddies’ feet. However, there are some places that are not appropriate for strollers. These places include: Crowded city streets where people are walking with cigarettes and the children are eye level with thousands of dirty hands; Teeny-tiny stores with narrow aisles and many people; Restaurants where tables are crammed together closely and it’s difficult for people to walk by. I could go on, but people just don’t get it. If you’re going somewhere that is packed with humanity, leave the stroller and/or the kid behind!

Why is it that when families go to movies or shows together, they feel that the “whisper rule” does not apply to them? Just because it’s a matinee doesn’t mean that we should have to listen to the kids fight and the mom discipline them. Perhaps they’re not bothered by missing the dialogue in the movie/play/musical/performance in order to hear the questions uttered by their children that are obviously way too young to be there, but we are. In my opinion, if your child can’t sit still for more than 20 minutes, then perhaps a babysitter and a rented DVD might be a better investment for your entertainment dollar.

And this wouldn’t really be a discussion of families on vacation if I didn’t bring up the crying child syndrome. Look, we’ve all been there. Kids decide to melt down in the most inconvenient places. It’s a bit embarrassing, but everybody understands...unless you decide not to step outside the inconvenient place thereby forcing all of us to now deal with your screaming child. Unless you are on a roller coaster or stuck on a 12-hour bus ride, you can ALWAYS leave or step outside to let junior meltdown and pull himself together. And yes, you will miss part of the movie/play/musical/performance. That is the price you pay for having children. Pay it and do not ask others to do so with you.

I know, I sound rather...intolerant. And, yes, I guess I am. But in some ways, I feel I’ve earned the right to be. I’ve vacationed with my kids since they were tiny, so I’ve been in all of these scenarios and I swear that any conflicts can be avoided with a liberal use of common courtesy and the words: “Excuse me.” I’ve ducked out of movies and performances and stood outside of church services and hung around the lobbies and hallways of many fantastic tourist destinations all in an attempt to let others without children enjoy the venue. I tried my best and now it’s my turn to stay inside. Now, if you’ll just move that stroller so that I can walk over and look at Monet’s “Water Lillies.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Real Mom’s Guide to Children’s Sports

Well, it’s that time of year folks. The tulips are blooming. The gutters are overflowing with winter tree crap and parents everywhere are searching high and low for the left shin guard or the moldy cleats for their star athletes. The chill is still in the air, but people are loading lawn chairs, blankets and other assorted outdoor survival gear into their already-brimming mini-vans knowing that they’ll be spending weekends outside watching their children play soccer, baseball, softball or any other spring sport. I think it’s high time that we review the parents’ and spectators’ etiquette for viewing or assisting our children.

You’re On The Sideline for a Reason
These are CHILDREN'S sports, not mom-or-dad-living-vicariously-through-their-potential-Mia-Hamm sports. It’s your kid’s game, not yours, so know that before you park your lawn chair strategically next to the field. No matter how well or how poorly your child or their team plays, it’s still their team, not yours.

Most of You Are Not The Coach
I know, some of you actually got roped into that job description for real, but most of you are merely spectators and supporters. Do NOT, under any circumstance, forget that during the game you are there to chauffeur, spectate and then chauffeur home. Do NOT yell instructions to your child. It is confusing to your kid and irritating to the coach. You might have the best strategy in the world – save it. It’s Not. Your. Job. Yelling your kid’s name will result in embarrassment to them and you. Nobody will ever want to speak to you again. And good luck getting a ride for your kid in a pinch.

Don't Even THINK Of Criticizing A Coach, Assistant or Manager
These people are not paid to put up with a group of overbearing parents. It doesn't matter if your child is Alex Rodriguez or Michael Jordan, the coach is doing his/her best to give all of the kids the chance to play with the skills he has and the team he was given. The assistants and the manager are trying to make it all organized so that practices run efficiently and you know where and what time the games are. If you have an intense need to impart your sports knowledge on someone, call sports radio and leave the coach alone. Really, it's better this way.

You’re The Snack Parent, Not Rachel Ray
In many sports, you’re asked to bring a “healthy snack” (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) to one or more of the games. When it’s your turn, don’t grandstand. The New York Times food critic will not be tasting your treats. Orange slices and a juice box will win you friends among the other parents. Granola Cupcakes with Soccer Ball Frosting will get you talked about on the playground after school.

The Referees Don’t Care What You Think
Once again, it’s time to remember that these are KIDS’ sports. Not the Super Bowl, or the World Series or the NBA Finals. Understand that there will be bad calls...lots of them. There will also be no calls in cases where there should be many calls. Nobody wants to sit there all day just to make things right. Other people have a life and you should too.

The Outcome Is NOT The Ref’s Fault
Do not let your kids fall into the trap of blaming the referees for their team losing. This is a bad habit that will follow them throughout their school years and career and make them hated among their peers. Teach them early on to accept responsibility and learn that S$%T happens and they’ll be better people because of this.

Cheer For The Other Team From Time To Time
This is hard and will feel very unnatural but it shows you’re a better person than you are. Stand in front of the mirror and practice saying phrases like: “Great shot.” “Nice move.” “Quite a player.” No, you don’t have to be enthusiastic, but you should shoot for once per game if possible.

Cheer For Your Kid and His/Her Team, Even If They Suck
This will be even harder than cheering for the other team. Again, stand in front of the mirror and practice these phrases: “You can do it!” “Nice effort!” “Ooh, close one!” “Way to stay with it!” and, of course, “Great teamwork!” Enthusiasm is key here and yes, sometimes it may require an Oscar-winning performance. After the game, it’s important to say something...anything positive to your child. You may have to work on this during the game if it’s a blowout. Conversely, there is absolutely no point in criticizing your child after a huge defeat. If you think it’s a good idea, walk out to the parking lot and slam your fingers in the car door. This will quell any and all critical tendencies.

Wash the Uniform Carefully...and At Least Once Per Season
We’re not looking for perfection here, but if your kid is on the Red Raiders, you do not want him to be the only player in pink. Cold water is your friend and the dryer is not. If you do not have time to think this through, skip it. Your kid will smell badly either way and Joan Rivers is not there to evaluate your kid’s uniform.

Have Fun Watching Because It Won’t Last

Your kid’s chances of being a professional athlete are one in a million. And even if he/she is, their athletic career still won’t last that long. What I’m trying to say is that your days of standing on the sidelines watching tiny kids run around in circles having no clue how to score are limited. These days are priceless. Don’t wish them away by dreaming of their future greatness. There is nothing sweeter than high-fiving another parent when the worst kid on the team (perhaps yours?) finally scores her first and only goal all season. It’s a joy that can’t be found anywhere else. Cherish it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

In the Words of Gomer Pyle: Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

What is your most surprising discovery about motherhood? This question was posed to me recently and it got me thinking. Actually, it first made me ask in response: What isn’t surprising about motherhood? This journey we’re on begins the moment that we fall madly in love with these tiny beings that have been kicking around inside of us or someone else. In what other scenario, would you instantly be willing to give your life for someone you just met? We’re thrust into this overwhelming relationship and no matter how well-prepared we are, it’s just one bag of surprises after another.

We live in an age of information-overload. When I was pregnant the first time, my mother said to me: “I wouldn’t want to have babies today. There’s too much to worry about.” I instantly understood what she went. She came from an era of benign neglect where carts filled with beer were wheeled into the maternity ward to help stimulate your milk. Many of our mothers smoked and drank while pregnant and although we wouldn’t dream of doing the same, we’re here and living to tell about it.

Today we know “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and “What to Expect The First Year” but we definitely don’t know “What to Expect When It’s Two in the Morning and My Kid’s Problem is Not Listed in the Glossary of the Parenting Book.” Face it, most of life’s nagging questions can’t be answered by Dr. Spock, Dr. Phil or Dr. Brazelton. Even after all of the training, classes, books, magazines, TV shows and advice from your mother, you’re still, for the most part, jumping without a net. And that, in and of itself, is surprising - the idea that generally clueless, albeit intelligent, women are held responsible for a human life. I still remember bringing my newborn son home from the hospital. My husband, my mom and I brought him in the house, placed him lovingly in his crib and all stood around and watched him sleep. In my mind, I was screaming: “What the hell am I supposed to do when he wakes up?!” Somehow, I managed, but not without a few mishaps along the way. Basically, I subscribed to the notion that I’d make it up as I went along. Whoa.

Another surprising discovery about motherhood is, to borrow a poker term, that I’m still in...all in. After nearly 20 years of diapers, drama, ear infections, pediatricians, time-outs, temper tantrums, sleep deprivation, teen attitude, adolescent angst, puberty, curfews, teething, 2:00 am feedings, colic, influenza, chicken pox, carpools, teacher conferences, piano recitals, driving lessons, prom and college care packages, I’m still hanging around. And to answer your next question, yes, I did think about running away or throwing in the towel many times. But for every daunting challenge, there was a hug, a giggle or a look of pure joy that imprinted itself upon me forever. I was a whipped puppy the minute these kids popped out. Don’t let them know that I’m such a pushover.

What might be most surprising is that even after all of the ups and downs, I’m actually looking forward to going through it all again when my kids have their own children. I guess I think of motherhood like a race. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon that you can train years for and still not be completely ready. Sometimes feels like it never ends and, of course, you never really want it to. But don’t tell my kids that either or they’ll never move out!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What To Pass On Before I Pass On

The other night I was watching one of my favorite television shows, “Grey’s Anatomy.” One of the characters in the episode was a single mother that was dying of some terrible lung malady. She was having a difficult time accepting her fate. So difficult, that she was unwilling to share it with her teenage daughter. Eventually, she gave in and then had to have a talk with her daughter about last-minute advice she wanted to pass on to her. Some of it was heartbreaking and I cried like a baby thinking of myself in her place. However, some of it was kind of funny. She told her daughter that no matter how bulky it felt, she should wear underwear beneath her pantyhose because it looks less slutty. She told her that at her wedding she should only have one glass of champagne because there’s nothing worse than a drunken bride. She also told her to marry a man that loves, not lives with, his mother. (I thought that one was pretty good.)

So this got me thinking: What kernels of advice would I pass on to my children at that fateful moment? I’m sort of the self-declared queen of the inappropriately-timed comment. We’ll be in the middle of a serious family discussion and I’ll suddenly have this intense need to point out that my husband has a crumb on his upper lip. Because of this, I have this terrible feeling that my last words of advice to my kids would be something like: "The dog pooped in the northwest corner of the backyard. Can you pick it up before somebody steps in it?" Really. I have no doubt in my insane ability to make a poignant moment into a “Huh, what?!” kind of moment.

In an attempt to rid myself of any dumb advice I might dispense, (leaving only the really important things to say,) here are some of the nuggets I’d like to pass on to my kids: I’d like to tell my daughter to always carry a tampon in her purse because one day she’ll be wearing white pants and she’ll need it. And if that happens, she should tie her sweater around her waist. I want to tell my son that he should make sure that his fly is closed when he goes on his first job interview but not as he’s walking in the company front door. I want to tell both of them that when they buy their first house, they should always shovel the sidewalks right away after it snows because it shows you’re a good neighbor. I’d suggest that they never press “send” on an angry e-mail composed at work, especially if it’s addressed to their boss. I’d tell them that no matter how awesome the 3-D Collector’s Edition DVD is of their favorite movie, it’s rarely worth the extra cost. I would want them to know that they will never dance worse than when they’ve been drinking too much.

Now that I think about it, there’s nothing really wrong with this advice. It’s not bad, it’s just ill-timed. And even if it’s not useful, in and of itself, it serves an important purpose. It will, someday after I’m gone, make for fabulous stories that my kids will share for years to come.