Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Just One Thing

As I was walking my dog the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve become a society that no longer does just one thing at a time. A car passed me by and in that car was a man in a business suit. He was driving, presumably to work, and he was talking on his cell phone. It reminded me of one of my former bosses who would dictate letters as he drove to work. And then I realized, that unlike that fellow in the car, I was doing just one thing at that moment. I was walking my dog. Sure, I wanted to listen to the radio while I walked, but my headphones had been “borrowed” months ago by my daughter, so it was just me, the dog, and a couple of plastic bags.

That’s when I realized, we have become chronic multi-taskers. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when new, best-selling business books were written practically every week (“Who Moved My Cheese?,” “The One-Minute Manager,” “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”), I was a young mother working full-time and in desperate need of more hours in my day. I’d read these books in hopes that they’d provide the one idea that would make my life easier. None of them really did, but what they all seemed to preach was being more efficient with your time. Don’t waste your lunch hour just eating lunch. Sure, eat your lunch, but then run an errand or two. Now this was something I could handle. No, I couldn’t run a business meeting to save my life, but I could certainly get more done with my free time than the next guy...or girl.

So I started packing more into my lunch hours than my mom probably packed into her entire day when she was a young mother. I worked close enough to home, and various stores, that I could grocery shop, run home and unload groceries, throw in a load of clothes, sort through the mail, and get back to work as I was downing the last bits of my fast-food lunch. I’d drive and make phone calls. I’d visit doctors or fill out camp applications. The important thing was that at all times, when I wasn’t working, I was doing more than just one thing. To me, it was the only way to manage my seemingly unmanageable life as a working mother.

I did this for several years until it no longer became a badge of honor and I’d long for the moments when I was in my car and had forgotten my cell phone – held captive and only able to drive. Or sometimes I’d grab lunch, park my car near one of our parks and read a magazine. Those were the lunches that seemed so wasteful, so frivolous, so relaxing. I’d never allow myself to do that two days in a row. That would be irresponsible of me.

Eventually, I left my job and merged my life into that of a stay-at-home mom. As I worried about life in the slower lane, I still fell into my old habits of doing two things at once. While I waited to pick up kids from school, I’d return phone calls. Doctors’ and Dentists’ waiting rooms became my personal offices where I’d read school newsletters and important mail. Walking the dog became an opportunity to listen to a book club selection on tape.

But lately, I’m starting to teach myself the joy of just one thing. To sit and read a book without throwing a load of laundry in beforehand. To walk the dog and listen only to my thoughts. To drive somewhere and listen to the radio or, gasp!, turn off the radio and listen to nothing at all. I have to tell you that it’s really, really hard. But, as always, I have a hidden agenda.

I think that our next generation, our children, are far too overscheduled. I think they pack more into their days than our ancestors did into a lifetime. And for what? They are stressed out, overworked, under-rested, overfed (eating fast food while riding in a minivan to sports practice will do that) and pretty darn crabby. I recently spoke to a mom during our kids’ graduation week. She was pretty bummed out about all of the celebratory events that were planned and said: “I can’t wait for this week to be over.” I thought that was really sad and I encouraged her to try and enjoy it since this was her youngest child. She definitely had no interest in that piece of advice.

The good news is that I think things are changing a little bit. Lately, I’m hearing parents say that they’re NOT signing their kids up for multiple summer camps because they want their kids to be able to enjoy summer and just be kids. What a novel concept! Alas, in today’s world, it’s still not a popular one.

I know, I know, it’s easy for me to sit here and preach: “DON’T DO SO MUCH! STOP MULTI-TASKING!” That’s a tall order. But I guess I’d like to condone the virtues of doing a little bit less. Pick and choose, or, maybe don’t choose and one day just go with the flow and don’t do anything. That’s right. Get bored. Listen to the silence or the street noises and walk without a soundtrack blasting through your ear buds or a cell phone in your pocket. I think it sets a great example for our kids. Living life one thing at a time.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Signs of Summer in Our House

Flip flops near the front door, all of them, amazingly, belonging to just one girl.

Beds rarely ever made.

Lots of laundry, but all of it smaller. Shorts and t-shirts just don’t take up that much room. Yet it seems to pile up faster than in fall and winter.

Dinner at odd hours, with spotty attendance. Teens seem to find every excuse to dine out with their friends.

Remnants of late-night snacking left on the kitchen counters. Is there enough popcorn and ice cream in the world to feed a group of teenagers?

Pieces of clothing left behind by friends of friends.

Footsteps pounding up and down the basement stairs to grab sodas and more food while the sound of an action-adventure film blasts through the floor.

The sounds of relaxation – Reading a book on the deck while listening to soft music. Eating breakfast while watching Comedy Central. Showering late in the day to the soundtrack of “Wicked.”

Watching my kids slam in and out the front door. Wishing I could keep them home, but knowing that they’re reveling in their warm weather freedom. Perhaps I can lure them home with food. Hmm......

Nothing gets anyone...but that’s OK. I try my best to let it all slide.

What does Summer look and sound like in your house?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006



If you can read that, you’re either 14 years old, spend way too much time on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) or are intuitive in a strange and creepy way. No, folks, what I’ve written above might actually make sense to your teenage children and very little sense to you, which is exactly what your kids want. Welcome to the world of Instant Messaging, a universe filled with acronyms, emoticons and an alphabet soup-looking language that is seemingly way too complicated to understand, unless you’re a teen.

The power of Instant Messaging, or IMing as it’s known to your kids, is that it’s fast, it’s fun and parents don’t understand it. The genius of it is that, as you can see above, our kids have created this language that is so insanely abbreviated that we have virtually (pardon the pun) no interest in trying to decipher it. Right under our noses, our teens are carrying on conversations that are probably not as bad as we think they might be, but because it’s in this secret code, it kinda scares us. And don’t get me started about the potential of losing the ability to spell.

No more are teens hiding out in bathrooms or closets having secret conversations with the phone cord stretched to its limits. Now they’re sitting on the computer typing out something that looks like the dog walked across the keyboard. And they’re having these conversations with ten or more friends at a time. Yes, you probably have a gaggle of teens in your living room and you don’t even know it.

I first realized the power of IMing when we had a computer malfunction and my daughter screamed out: “What?! I lost my buddy list and I had over 200 names on it!!!” Now, I’m around my daughter’s friends a lot and I’m pretty sure that there aren’t 200 of them, but through the power of IMing, she’s talking to kids I’ve never heard of, let alone met. When kids meet new kids, they don’t exchange phone numbers, they exchange screen names. They add the screen names to their buddy lists and then they know when their friends, old and new, are online. If people leave “Away Messages,” they know what lots of these people are doing. It’s not unusual for me to sit in front of our computer and find out that “MrBagel” is taking a shower, doing homework or looking for food. Why they want to know this about each other, I’m not sure I understand, but it’s there for everyone to see.

It’s a little scary, but I’m trying not to panic about it or jump to any horrible conclusions. My daughter and I have regular conversations about who she should and shouldn’t speak to online and what she should or shouldn’t do. OK, correction. I say things to her about online safety and try and ask her as many probing questions as she’ll tolerate until I’m satisfied that she’s not IMing with pedophiles.

A while back I had the brilliant idea that I’d try and communicate with my kids via IMing. Since I was a fast typist, I thought it would be a great way to stay in touch with my son when he was away at college. For some reason, complete sentences are frowned upon in the world of IMing – my first inexplicable discovery. This is also when I found out about how they can block certain screen names if people are bothering them. At first I was irritated that I was blocked on my kid’s buddy list, until I realized that this was a good safety option for them to use against unsavory acquaintances with whom they had regrettably exchanged screen names.

It would be easy to dismiss IMing as a flawed and immature form of adolescent communication. However, I think it has its positive attributes. For one, unless they abuse the privilege of being on people’s buddy list, all kids are generally equal when they IM. It’s a world in which it’s not really important whether you are cute, skinny or wear the coolest clothes. For once, the power is in the hands of the quick and the clever and I can attest to friendships that have been formed and preserved through IMing. It also saves on cell phone bills, although perhaps at the expense of computer availability in a shared computer household. As with anything, it should be done in moderation. IMHO your kids will be ROFL if you give IMing a try. HTH, L8R! (Ask your kids what this means.)

*Translation: Oh my God! What Are You Doing?!)
**Translation: Between you and me, please explain that, as early as possible, because I don’t get it. Best of luck for what it’s worth because instant messaging, it’s a waste of brains, money and time, if you know what I mean. Gotta go, parent over shoulder. Stay cool.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Driving Me Cellular

Cell phones. They’re marvels, aren’t they? With hardly any effort, people can reach you, or you can reach them, anytime, anywhere. The only exception being when you are standing inside a school. Any school building. Anywhere. Whatever was used to construct schools, most of them being at least 30+ years old, is impervious to cell phone signals. Sure your phone will ring if you are inside a school, but you will not be able to hear anything that is said except for “......need.....missing.....can’t.....emergency...” or something like that.

As a mom, cell phones are my friends. They allow me to reach my children wherever they go, or, they can reach me wherever I am. They are a safety net, of sorts, that give me a false sense of security. Still, I depend on them like a limb or like my car where my cell phone sits ready and waiting. Herein lies the problem. Cell phones and cars shouldn’t be mixed.

I’m not really one to preach here. From time to time, I do use my cell phone in my car, but I try to make it a rare occurrence. However, the women around my neighborhood seem to think it’s a rite of passage along with toilet training their children and teaching them to ride a bike. First they have babies. Then they get a giant stroller. Then they get a giant SUV. Then they start driving. Then they get on their cell phones. It’s as if the car won’t operate unless the cell phone has been dialed. Who are they talking to...CONSTANTLY?

If you are one of these women, you know who you are. I can spot you from a mile behind because you are not really paying attention to anything that you are doing. You’re driving around as if you’re lost. You change lanes on a whim – sometimes two or three at a time! You cut across parking lots with little regard to others and you RARELY use your turn signal. Probably because you only have one free hand, thanks to the cute little wireless thingy you’re holding to your ear.

I’m not a huge fan of Bluetooth earpieces or hands-free devices, but this is where they should be used. Not in airports or coffee shops so that those around you think you’re talking to yourself. Not in restaurants so that your dining companions know that they’ll probably get more of your attention if they call you rather than talk to you across the table. Hands-free is for driving, so that you can properly operate that 4 ton gas guzzler safely. Try it.

Oh, and I can’t begin a discussion of cell phones without making a suggestion: If you’re making or receiving a cell phone call and you’re in public, step outside or speak softly. There is nothing....NOTHING more annoying than people that believe that the world is their phone booth. The only time that I would be interested in what someone is saying into a cell phone is if it went something like this: “Hi, I’m with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Prize Patrol and I’m looking for Karen....”

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Summer Speech

All across America, moms are preparing to give their children The Summer Speech. Actually, you never really plan to give The Summer Speech. It just happens. The school year ends. Your kids spend a couple of days lounging around at home. They start to get on your nerves and suddenly you hear yourself starting out with these familiar words: “You are NOT going to be ________ all summer long. I am not running a resort here!”

For a long time, I thought it was my own personal speech reserved only for my dear children. And then I talked to my friend who mentioned in passing that she had just given The Summer Speech the day before. We compared notes. The words were slightly different, but the gist of it was the same: We needed to make a mom power play and remind the kids that we were still in charge.

It’s not that, as moms, we want to rain on our children’s parade of summer fun and independence. I, for one, am just as thrilled as they are at the idea of no homework and no early morning rides to school. It’s just that kids get this idea in their heads that no school means no chores, no responsibility, no waking up, no going to bed.....basically a free-for-all. If you want to scare a stay-at-home mom, show her this scenario.

And so, summer has begun at our house and The Summer Speech has been delivered, albeit to smirking faces and rolling eyes. But I can rest a little easier knowing that I’ve laid down the ground rules and can conveniently refer to them throughout the summer...when they’re ignored.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Misuse of Pretty Much Everything

I have a confession. I am not using my furniture for what it was intended. I have a dining room table. It is rarely used for dining. Rather, in my house it is Command Central. It is the staging area for things that must be done, calls that should be made, forms that should be filled out and all things deemed important. Like many people, out of sight is out of mind for me. I do understand the concept of filing cabinets, but for me, they are akin to garbage cans. Once I put something in them, I will probably never look at it again. And so, in my remedial attempt at organization, I have decided that my dining room table is the place where I display the stuff that runs my life and my children’s lives.

It’s really not that I’m a slob. It’s just that I need things staring at me in the face for weeks on end before it occurs to me: “Oh my gosh I need to get that medical form filled out and sent in by this Friday!” I realize that I received that form, oh, about 4 months ago. But honestly, would my life be any better if I had immediately acted upon it? I like to think not.

Kitchen counter backsplashes, those vertical planes of granite, Formica or Corian that are perpendicular to the counter, are terrific places upon which to display notes such as “Pick up Suzy from school on Friday,” “Veggie tray in basement fridge” and “Urine sample to M.D.!” If I’m particularly aggressive in washing the dishes, sometimes these desperate reminders become muddled and smeared. Eventually, if they do their job, I will get sick of them and simply finish that task so I can get rid of the note. Therein lies the beauty of my so-called system.

For some people, this same type of system can be found on their refrigerator door. I have been in houses where you can hardly find the door handle to open the fridge because of art projects, post-it notes and monthly calendars. I feel most at home in houses such as this. Because I do not have a metal refrigerator door, I can't utilize such a system in my house. What a shame.

I used to have a pantry in my kitchen. When you opened the door, you had to lean back so as not to become victim to a paper cut due to the 35 pieces of paper taped to the inside of that door. There, you’d find school calendars, field trip reminders, choir schedules, dental and orthodontist appointments and anything else that would be referred to multiple times by multiple people. When we remodeled our kitchen, I moved that system to our bedroom closet door, where it stands today. It’s not attractive, but it’s functional, and it’s amazing how everyone has come to depend on it.

The tricky part is when we have a party. Then, for obvious reasons, we need the dining room table. This is when I invoke what my sister-in-law calls “box cleaning.” Box cleaning is where you take everything important, shove it into a box and then hide the box. Your guests don’t have to know any better, because unless you’re living in the governor’s mansion, you’re probably not having company every day of the week. This system fails when you’ve hidden the box too well and your child is in danger of being kicked out of camp because their medical form was never submitted.

I also use entire rooms for box cleaning. We have a nice guest room on the first floor of our house. I try and keep it in decent shape, in case we have unexpected overnight guests. (I will tell you right now, this has never happened, but I like to think that it might.) When I can be sure that my guests will never enter the guest room, you will sometimes find the contents of the dining room table neatly laid out there. This helps me avoid the hidden box scenario and makes for an easy transition back to normal operations.

Where my so-called system fails, is when I go on a cleaning rage and make an attempt to remove all loose items from countertops and tables. I start out methodically putting things in proper places until I just want to be finished and give the appearance of being ridiculously organized. Then I start stuffing things in random drawers. This bit me in the you-know-what this past weekend when I couldn’t find my daughter’s graduation card that I had hidden in a panic. I’m hoping to unearth it before her high school graduation, giving me a good 4 years to start looking. We’ve lost passports, ID cards and even eyeglasses when I felt the need to stow and go. You’d think after several near-disasters, I’d have cleaned, organized and somehow made sense of it all. I haven’t and it’s unlikely that I will.

And so, our life will go on and our children will probably not think it’s strange that the list of weekend church services is taped to our closet door or that the box of batteries is stored next to the cooking oil or that everyone that walks in our house can see every party invitation to which we have not yet responded. It’s my flawed way of doing things and I’m sticking with it. After all, what fun would it be to use the dining room table just for...dining?!