Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

School Supplies + Demand = Insanity

So apparently there was a memo sent out to all parents recently and it read something like this: “It is now time to BUY ALL OF YOUR SCHOOL SUPPLIES IMMEDIATELY!” People, it is not even August 1st. No schools are open yet. The floors have not yet been buffed. The chairs and desks are still piled high in the hallways. There won’t be anybody barfing in the nurse’s office for at least a month, but here in Wisconsin, school supply shopping has become the official summer pastime.

That’s all well and good. I’m all for getting a jump on things. I’m notoriously early for virtually everything, but there’s nothing to put a damper on summer fun faster than a trip to Target to buy school supplies.

The problem with this annual buying frenzy is the complete lack of school supply buying etiquette. First of all, they should give us skinny carts or a personal Sherpa. They don’t. The carts are large and the aisles aren’t. Then, they should collect all cell phones and children before you are allowed to enter the school supply zone. Because, to use an educational analogy: Mom + supply list + children (multiply by 2 if they are toddlers) + cell phone + cart = complete and utter chaos.

This year our job was easier. It’s my daughter’s first year of high school and Crayola Fine Tip Bold Colors 24 pack Markers are not on our list. (Thank God!) Her requirements are simple and somewhat open-ended. Nevertheless, we ventured to Target knowing that if we waited 3 weeks, everything left over would look lame, which, in the mind of a teenager is tantamount to social suicide.

So back to these manners-lacking moms. Look, we all expect crowds and a bit of bumping into each other and perhaps a few items that are out of stock. No biggie. But it doesn’t help matters when their carts are parked diagonally blocking everyone, their kids are wandering aimlessly and whining and they are on the cell phone gossiping with their girlfriends. Seriously!

I truly wish that mass merchants would employ School Supply Nazis whose sole purpose is to yell at the slow-thinkers, the picky-choosers and those not truly committed to the task at hand. “C’MON PEOPLE, MOVE IT! LADY, PICK A RULER, YOUR KID DOESN’T CARE WHAT COLOR IT IS. SIR, YOUR CHILD IS ALREADY EATING THE ERASERS, PLEASE LEAVE THE AREA.YOUNG LADY, YOUR BOYFRIEND WON’T BE LOOKING AT YOUR NOTEBOOKS – TRUST ME!”

I know, I’m preaching to the choir here. You people are all well-behaved, make your decisions quickly and don’t take along kids that do not want to be there, right? If not, allow me to introduce you to a wonderful new concept: Buying Online. Yes, you can talk on the phone, coddle your children, consider your choices and dawdle to your heart’s content. Brilliant, isn’t it?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Unplugging and Recharging

Once a year, I spend a weekend in a small, non-air-conditioned cottage in the woods of central Wisconsin with no cell phone service, no cable television and no internet. If you know anything about me, you know that, normally, this would be my definition of hell. On the contrary. This is my annual Girls’ Weekend and although I do admit that I find it challenging to do without some of life’s amenities, I prefer to think of this as my life...unplugged.

As I explained last year, this is the time when seven women gather to reconnect and perhaps be thought of as individuals. Yes, more than anything, I treasure Girls’ Weekend because for three days, we’re not thought of as moms, wives, employees, partners, cooks, housekeepers or unpaid chauffeurs. For three days, we are just women with hopes, dreams, goals, aspirations and talents that are perhaps overlooked in our daily lives. During Girls’ Weekend, we build each other up, break down false pretenses and remember what it was like to worry only about ourselves – a luxury that is rare in our day-to-day routines.

To our families, Girls’ Weekend has become somewhat of a myth of epic proportions. We return home feeling very relaxed, but with very few stories. And, as anyone knows, the less information, the more imaginations tend to wander. I will admit that in our first years, we would get a bit wild, but we’ve mellowed in old age and now seem to relish the tranquility of silence and long, deep conversations that we’re denied on a daily basis.

Throughout the weekend, as we sip cocktails and float awkwardly in our inner tubes, we enjoy belly laughs and inside jokes and tales of misadventures in the carpool lane, the boardroom and the grocery store aisles. (Honestly, it would bore our children to tears.) We laugh at each other’s absent-minded mistakes and share stories and language that we would find wholly inappropriate in our own homes. For 72 hours, we let our guards down and don’t put them back up until we climb into our cars on Sunday afternoon.

The highlight of our weekend is when we all gingerly step into a small speedboat, motor into the center of the lake and set goals. Yes, I said set goals. I know it sounds very nerdy and I have no clue why it started, but we protect that tradition more than any other during Girls’ Weekend. As the unofficial “goalkeeper,” it’s my job to bring our goals from past years, allowing us to giggle about the many that we’ve never achieved. But more important than achieving the goals is the idea that, as grown women, we should even have goals. At some point during our busy lives, we tend to forget that as productive as we are, it’s important that we set our sights on something beyond our daily existence.

I can’t speak for the others, but I know that when I return home, I’m very glad to be back in my own home with all of my creature comforts. I’m so grateful to return to my life with its many imperfections and daily challenges. And yet, I’m also so grateful to know that year after year, I get to return to Girls’ Weekend to unplug and, ironically, recharge.

*Above is our annual Girls' Weekend group photo. That's me on the far left.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Method to My Madness

My flaws as a parent and a homemaker are many, but perhaps it’s not just me being human. Maybe there’s a hidden agenda...

My house would be cleaner, but I wouldn’t want anybody to think that I’m obsessive-compulsive.

I’d be more consistent in the discipline of my children, but I like to make use of the element of surprise.

I’d be a much better cook, but then I’d have people bugging me all the time for recipes.

I’d shop less, but who then would support the local economy?

I’d exercise more, but I don’t think my kids can afford to support me that long in my old age.

I’d be less crabby, but then where would my kids learn skills to deal with difficult people when they enter the workforce?

I’d volunteer more, but I wouldn’t want to take away the purpose of the hyper-involved moms.

I’d get to know my kids’ teachers better, but then I’d just be all depressed at the end of the school year.

I’d help my kids with their homework more often, but then they wouldn’t have that feeling of superiority when they haul out their geometry books.

I’d watch less TV, but then I wouldn’t understand the crap that that kids watch today.

I’d read more classic books, but then my kids would get tired of me going on and on about how great Dickens and Austen are.

I’d organize the family photos, but then somebody might actually see those horrid shots of me in a bathing suit on vacation.

I’d dress more fashionably, but then my daughter would have one less thing to criticize.

I’d stop sounding like my mother, but my kids need a script for when they become parents.

I’d show my kids less affection, but how then would they understand the cliché “A face only a mother could love”?

I’d be a better mom, but then TV sitcoms and dramas would be so boring.

I’d love my kids a little bit less, but they’d never learn about love beyond reason.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Project Chicken

The other day my teenage daughter and I were out together. She apparently saw a girl that she deemed somewhat of a fashion victim. She turned to me and said: “You’d think that girl’s mom would tell her that what she’s wearing looks horrible. You’d tell me wouldn’t you?”


More silence.

I finally replied: “Well, honey, it’s a tricky thing because, as you know, I know absolutely nothing about fashion and therefore really wouldn’t be qualified to say what looks good or horrible.” And as I said this, I bit my several places.

I then continued: “You see, many kids don’t want to hear, or don’t care about their parents’ opinion of their clothing choices. It’s a very touchy subject.” I proceeded to look around for the bullet I just dodged.

I think she understood, but I also think I did a really good job of selling her on my response. I don’t always like what she wears, but, according to her, I have absolutely no business saying what does or doesn’t look good. I do draw the line at inappropriate, but beyond that, I gotta tell you, it’s a very, very grey area. Who am I to say that wearing more than one t-shirt seems, well, excessive? And giant sunglasses? Sure, they make girls look like bugs, but hey, they’re hot! Um, OK.

According to a recent AP Poll, 65% of those surveyed said that it is at least sometimes OK to lie when trying to protect someone’s feelings. And folks, I may not know fashion, but I do know that parenting a teenage girl is all about the feelings. Good. Bad. Sad. Happy. You name a feeling and it will fly through your household during the teen years. And if you have a choice, I strongly recommend staying away from the bad and the sad ones, but that’s up to you.

I'm also a big believer in picking and choosing my battles. Hanging around losers and druggies? Big battle. Fashion? A battle I can afford to lose.

When parents talk about whether or not they’re the “mean parent” or the “nice parent,” I always think of myself as the “chicken parent.” Sure, I’m there day after day, and of course I’ll be right there whenever they truly need me, but if there is a sure-fire exit to conflict avoidance, I’m taking it.

So when it comes to matters of couture, you can be sure that the closest I’ll come to commenting is which contestant I prefer on “Project Runway.” Cluck, cluck, cluck.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Teenage Wasteland

Out here in the fields
I fight for my meals
I get my back into my living
I don't need to fight
To prove I'm right
I don't need to be forgiven

Don't cry
Don't raise your eye
It's only teenage wasteland

- “Baba O’Riley” – The Who

Overheard in my car last night as we chauffeured seven 14-year olds from fireworks to the ice cream shop:

“Man, yesterday, I got up at noon and watched TV until four. It was amazing.”

“Yeah, I love doing that.”

Welcome to summer in the midst of ‘teenville’ where breakfast either doesn’t exist or is eaten no earlier than 11:00 am, followed shortly by the plaintive: “What do we have for lunch?”

It’s a world where schedules are thrown to the wind, unless they revolve around a paycheck. It’s a place where if everyone is home for dinner, it’s only because you’re making something good, they’ve run out of money, or their friends are all away on vacation.

My life has made a 360 degree change from the days of toddlers waking up at dawn and wanting to be fed and immediately paid attention to. Now, I’m the one up early and the only reason I’m getting attention is if I’m handing out money or not washing clothes fast enough.

The lights are left on, the dishes are unwashed and the toilet paper is never replaced but you can be sure that the iPods are updated, the cell phones are charged and the away messages have been left. After all, they have their priorities.

They sleep into the afternoon and they stay up into the wee hours of the morning. I sometimes wonder if they’re working 3rd shift somewhere.

My vantage point is through the laundry chute where, I swear to God, their clothes are breeding. How else to explain how in a single day, one girl can wear SIX shirts?

Once in a great while, they stop from their whirlwind life and sit down next to me to chat or watch a TV show that I’m watching. It’s at those moments that I wish that I could make time stand still for just a little while. Because as they flit in and out of our house with keys jingling and cell phones buzzing, I feel them slowly slipping through my fingers.