mommypig Posts

Yesterday I was permitted to attend Maribeth’s Valentine’s Day celebration after being banned from field trips and school parties since the end of kindergarten, when she developed a Costanzian anxiety about her worlds colliding (as George says, “It’s just common sense; anybody knows: You gotta keep your worlds apart!”). Too lazy to research whether this was “normal” or “healthy” (because not much of what we do around here is), I hoped it was a sign of her growing independence (and let’s be honest: I enjoy an uninterrupted school day to myself). But when I asked whether it would be OK if I came to her Valentine’s party, she thoughtfully considered my plea and finally acquiesced because she wanted me to see her friend Piggie (whose antics she constantly regales us with amidst giggling fits; her favorite is when he says, “Once-upon-a-time-lived-happily-ever-after” and then smacks himself in the face) in action. I guess this is the first-grade equivalent of bringing a suitor home to meet the parents, though instead of coaching him on manners, she asked him to “do something funny for my mom,” to which Piggie reportedly yelled “NO!” — a droll response in Maribeth’s adoring eyes.

So it was that she was actually anticipating my attending the party, but the night before, she became deeply concerned that I would not be able to find her, as she had recently been moved to another table AND had cashed in her Lion Loot (a rewards program similar to Schrute Bucks) for an opportunity to be Teacher for the Day. With wide-eyed seriousness, she explained, “I don’t know if I’ll still be sitting at Mrs. C’s desk when the party starts or not. I’ll work that out with her in the morning. So if you come in and don’t see me, look for a girl with short hair. That’s Cora, and I sit right next to her.” I tried to reassure her that I got it, but the next morning she was still worried about my ability to locate her and reiterated her instructions to look for her short-haired classmate. “So I should NOT come in and scream, ‘WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER???’” I asked. “No,” she replied. “Then you would owe a piece of Lion Loot.”

Lion Loot is just one of many perks that make first grade magical. In addition to being able to cash in Loot for such coveted rewards as Stinky Feet Day (when one gets to walk around barefoot), Fluffy Friend Day (which Maribeth is observing today by bringing her stuffed Peppa Pig to school — “I’m going to tell Piggie, ‘I’ve got a girl piggie, Piggie!’ HAHAHAHAHAHA!”), eating lunch with the teacher (poor Mrs. C: That one gets cashed in A LOT), extra recess for the whole class, etc., students who are Classroom Assistants (and of course, Maribeth is one) get to demand Lion Loot from peers who are not making good choices. I often marvel that Maribeth feels comfortable being an enforcer and can only assume that at this age the assistants are too untainted to turn the system into an extortion racket and the bad-choice-making Loot-losers are not yet hardened enough to seek retribution for being busted. Then there are the Jolly Ranchers every Friday for students who have remembered to write their names on their “word work” all week; the Golden Shoe awarded to the class who best follows the rules in P.E.; randomly administered VIP Student honors that involve getting to use a bucket of special markers; Flashlight Friday, when Mrs. C supplies flashlights and students use them to read in the dark — so many creative little thrills.

The Valentine’s party ended up being full of simple pleasures. I had no trouble finding Maribeth, who was seated next to the short-haired Cora and concentrating on her bingo game. Once everyone had achieved a bingo and chosen a prize (bubbles! pencils!), students feasted on heart-shaped Little Debbies (which Maribeth found surprisingly delicious), grapes, strawberries, chocolate-covered-marshmallow kebobs, Chex mix and pretzels and then divided up to play games. The most fun was the relay in which the boys raced the girls to drop a conversation heart from a spoon into the cups at the finish line; when the second match was a tie, all participants jumped and cheered. The other game — blowing a cotton swab through a smoothie straw into a bucket — was a little less gleeful for the girls (including Maribeth) who suffered unwelcome breath blasts from the boys, three of whom required an intervention from Mrs. C to stop blowing on their neighbors. (All I could think was “GERMS.”) But it was all good because everybody got a helium-filled heart-shaped balloon, which Piggie repeatedly banged against his face. On the car ride home, when Maribeth asked, “What was your favorite thing that Piggie did?” and I responded, “I don’t know. What was yours?” her answer was, of course, the balloon hijinks. My future son-in-law is a real hoot.

So, assuming none of us contracted norovirus, the Valentine’s party was a roaring success. And knowing it was the last party of first grade makes me a little wistful. I feel like this year has been a peak. Maribeth has a wonderful teacher and adores school (so much that she rather insultingly complains about having to be home on the weekends and wept when school was canceled for a snow day); she finds sheer joy in silly boys and Jolly Ranchers and addressing store-bought Valentines and “extra reading time!” (when I put her to bed 15 minutes early because my ears are worn out). Her worries are small and easily managed; her delights are enormous and easy to come by. Her innocence, her deep desire to be good and helpful, her humility and her self-confidence make my heart squeezy (as she would say) because I know they’ll soon be battered; the worries will grow; the delights will diminish. One day Piggie will seem smelly and obnoxious (as Kate assures me all of her male middle-school classmates are); school will be a pain — and so will I. Though she sees so much to look forward to (sleepovers! concerts! dances!), I ache to stop the clock (or at least slow it down), knowing that, all things considered, it doesn’t get better than this.

Parenting (sloppily)

First, a disclaimer: I have not let my 6-year-old watch The Hunger Games, but she does enjoy perusing DVD cases (as well as memorizing movies’ MPAA ratings and years of distribution; the other night she asked what year my mother died and when I replied, she immediately informed me that was when The Polar Express came out; I can only hope the year I meet my maker has some memorable releases). Nor do I believe that children should know everything that is going on in the news (though it is difficult to shield them: When I recently tried to sidestep the reason all three of my kids’ schools were on lockdown with “Someone at Ella’s school did something dangerous,” Maribeth’s immediate response was “I wonder if he had a gun” — which was, sadly, true). Add to this that I am terrible at lying (I about pee my pants sneaking around every Christmas Eve and the night before Easter, and my explanations for the Tooth Fairy’s many failures are downright laughable) and also lame at thinking on my feet and you have the recipe for what went down this morning:

Maribeth (glancing at TV): “The White House!”
Me: “Yes. We’re getting a new president on Friday; that’s what they’re talking about.”
Maribeth: “Oh, is it that guy… the one who’s really…”
Me: *expects to hear “orange”*
Maribeth: “…mean?”
Me: “Who told you he was mean?”
Maribeth: “You did!”
Me: ??? “Oh, I think you’re thinking of President Snow from The Hunger Games.”
Maribeth: “Oh. Is the new President nice?”
Me: “Well, no, not really.”
Maribeth: “What does he do?”
Me: “He says a lot of mean things.”
Maribeth: “Maybe you should be President just kidding Mom.”
Me: *laughs*
Maribeth: “Last year’s President was really nice.”
Me: “Yes.”

 Off we went to school, and then the second-guessing began. I imagined all the Trump supporters in my family and Facebook feed condemning me for poisoning a child’s mind against the incoming President, and I worried that I’d unnecessarily instilled fear in her heart. I wondered what I would’ve said if she’d asked whether Hillary Clinton were nice. I mentally acknowledged that being perceived as “nice” is not the criteria we use for electing leaders. BUT. What I keep coming back to is: Would I want my 6-year-old to emulate anything in that man’s character? Maybe someday we will live in a world where we ask ourselves that simple question, and if the answer is “HELL NO!” that candidate is out of the running. But in the meantime (and it is a mean time), I guess we have to use the ubiquitous bad examples as teaching moments. So Maribeth: Watch the orange man — that’s not how we act.

Parenting (sloppily)

Why I consider Sunday not so much the sabbath (which implies rest) as
The Walking Dead (which is how I usually feel by noon) day:
[All quotes are my paraphrases except as noted.]

Maribeth: “Mommy, can you help me apply glitter glue to the school project you thought we’d finished and also, now that we’ve stumbled upon all these craft supplies, get me started making the crafts but then LET ME DO IT MYSELF and don’t worry about the consequences and also fix me second breakfast and then help me somehow salvage the crafts that I’ve botched, all while listening to me say ONE BILLION WORDS plus various grunts and wails of frustration and despair? Also, we are now out of Go-Gurt, which I will require for my lunch tomorrow.”

Kate: “Mom, now that you are hangry and are starting to make your own breakfast, can you help me hand-stir this double batch of brownies in this too-small bowl because my arm is tired but then LET ME DO THE REST MYSELF — except, of course, for cleaning up the brownie-mix powder that I somehow managed to sprinkle INSIDE A DRAWER — and then devise some way to magically get the brownies to cool off super-fast so I can frost them and then you can drive me to deliver them to a friend before the all-important FaceTime session I have scheduled with another friend?”

Me: *applies expired sunscreen while counting the hours until I can mentally escape to the relative quiet and ease of the zombie apocalypse; then heads out for a long, desperate walk*

Chris [actual quote]: “Please come back.” [Once the endorphins have kicked in and the screaminess has abated, that is.]

Me: *thinks, “Of course. Home is where the TV is.”*

Parenting (sloppily)

My beloved daughters,

Knowing that you are unable to process any information that follows the words: “In my day…,” I am writing this in case my fondest revenge fantasy ever comes true and you are whisked back to spend an eye-opening summer in my childhood. (Note: Maribeth has been spared because 1. She is too young and innocent to have deeply offended me with laziness and antisocial behaviors and 2. She would starve, as Go-Gurt and Cinnamon Toast Crunch have not been invented.)
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom to help you navigate this harsh, earth-tone, low-tech world:

You live on a rural access road, not a fancy “street.” Of course, you will not have any visits from friends, but you do not need friends because you are surrounded by cousins who will gladly play Dukes of Hazzard with you every day — once everyone’s chores are done, that is.

Yes, there will be chores. You are now the proud owners of ponies, which are somewhat less magical than Hasbro has led you to believe. For example, they require food and water, even when it is super hot outside. Every morning you will walk the ponies up the road a piece and tie them to the fence along the highway. Choose a spot that has plenty of grass (duh). At noon you will walk the ponies back home for a drink and then tie them to a new spot along the fence to graze some more. In the afternoon you will return the ponies to their pen, at which point you may ride them if you are so inclined. The tan pony (“Rusty”) is gentle enough to ride bareback, but the gray pony (“Lightning”) will try to kill you.

At some point Grandpa may ask you to mow the yard. It is huge and takes forever. I found out quite by accident that if you hit enough stumps, Grandpa will eventually give up on you and leave the mowing to the boys. (This is one time the patriarchy benefits you, so go with it.)

Grandma may send you out to pick raspberries. This means there will be pie. There will also be chigger bites. Thousands of them. Scratching is your new hobby.

Speaking of hobbies, you will have plenty of time to pursue them because, except for The Dukes of Hazzard (which, as you kids say, “gives you life”), there is nothing good on TV. In my room you will find plenty of supplies for drawing (as potential subjects, might I suggest horses, ladies in giant hoop skirts and The General Lee?), weaving potholders (of course they are unusable, but they make great gifts!), creating latch-hook-rug “art” and crocheting. You can do any of these while listening to my homemade audio recordings of Dukes episodes.

Kate, you will be thrilled to finally have access to a record player. Hope you like Eddie Rabbitt.

Good news! No more will you shoulder the crushing burden of having to bring your dirty dishes down/up from your rooms (or endure my griping on this topic), as you will do all of your eating in the kitchen. Dinner will be whatever Grandma cooks. (The concept of eating what you want when you want has not yet been invented.) After dinner, Grandma will scrape all the table scraps into a bowl, and you will try not to vomit while serving them to the dog.

You also no longer have the arduous task of carrying the recycling to the garage! Instead, you will haul all of the trash to the big rusty barrels out back and burn it. (I’m sorry I never taught you how to light a match; you’ll figure it out.) Place the paper bags in a barrel and tear them lengthwise about halfway down; then light the torn areas and, when you are sure they are well aflame, run away fast to avoid shrapnel wounds from exploding aerosol cans.

By now you are probably so sweaty, itchy and smoke-smelly that you would enjoy a nice, long shower. Unfortunately, this house does not have the utilities that you have always taken for granted; Grandpa has to haul water in a truck from the neighbors’ house down the road. This is a time-consuming, life-draining process that makes Grandpa very keen on water conservation. Shower quickly. (This should not be difficult, as the only products at your disposal will be a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo; at this point our family does not know about conditioner.) When family members fantasize aloud about someday having “The Pipe” (municipal water service), don’t crush their dreams with the sad truth that that day will never come.

Enjoy your freedom from the tyranny of sunscreen, seat belts and notifications.

DO NOT, under any circumstances, try any of these things: a puff of your
great-granddad’s cigarette (it’s a trick to make you associate smoking with lung-incinerating agony), a sip of beer (it’s gross), Nair (also gross) and most important, a perm (IT WILL NOT SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS).

DO try interacting with the people who are in the room with you at any given time. You will have many opportunities because 1. There are lots of family gatherings and 2. You will have nothing else to do — the closest you can get to communicating on a device is punching 55378008 into a calculator and reading it upside down. (Boys think this is hilarious, but it gets old fast.) You’ll have more fun listening to your grandparents’, great-grandparents’ and great-aunts’ and
-uncles’ stories — keep in mind how short your time with them will be. That’s something I only discovered in retrospect.

Sometimes snakes get in the house. It’s not the end of the world.

Hug Grandma for me.


P.S. I’m not looking down on you from a high horse. I often marvel that my dad, who grew up milking cows and working on the family farm, never smacked me upside the head for whining about my few chores. Gratitude grows with age.

Parenting (sloppily) Personal (ew)

Against my better judgment and without any real hope of lasting triumph, I seem to have embarked on another “weight-loss journey.” (Excuse me as I throw up in my mouth, but I assume that BY LAW I am required to refer to it as a journey because nowadays everything in life is a journey: I read about faith journeys and cancer journeys, journeys through addiction, depression and anxiety; Maribeth just started her first-grade journey and Kate her orthodontic journey, while Ella recently completed her Chipotle-employment journey — clearly, we are all GOING PLACES.) If history is any indication, my journey will end at Kohl’s, with my purchasing pants several sizes larger than the ones I started out in.

To those of you whose brains went on red-alert status (“Trigger warning! ABORT! ABORT!”) at the word weight: I GET IT. For years I have wanted nothing to do with anyone who broaches this unsavory subject. You bring up calories, you are dead to me. (When Oprah joined Weight Watchers, she broke my heart.) Call it recovery from lifelong eating disorders or simple denial; I can’t hear you over the crinkling of the Oreo package. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for second dessert. On the other hand, if your ears prick up at the prospect of a weight-loss success story, you’d better move along. No one would call what I’ve got going on here a “success.”

I am still deeply uncomfortable with this fraught topic. I cringe at the decade-old memory of thinking I’d finally “arrived” at a destination that had no room for sanity and at the humiliation of weighing way more long after Maribeth was born than I did at nine months pregnant. (I haven’t had a checkup in years because I’ve been too ashamed to step on a scale.) I know what it is to feel in ABSOLUTE CONTROL of every morsel that crosses my lips and to feel ABSOLUTELY HELPLESS to rein in my insane appetite or motivate myself to exercise ever again. Now I’m teetering in the middle, still overweight but feeling healthier (for me, it’s a wonder to be able to stand up by engaging muscles rather than by lurching and to have the energy to wipe off the countertops after dinner — not that I necessarily bother) and aware that I am measuring myself often, that my workouts are getting longer, that I am voluntarily restricting my food choices, though I am never denying myself dessert (or even second dessert)…


I don’t know exactly how I got going this time. The struggle to disentangle myself from compulsive exercise and dieting left me resigned to obesity. I tried to exercise a few times a week for health (ugh) but never felt any benefit; I was permanently tired. I finally gave up the notion that one should not need to be caffeinated to live life (spoiler alert: one does), took up drinking coffee and didn’t feel as ravenous; then I started noticing the times I was tempted to eat not because I was hungry but because I was d r a i n e d.  (You try being an introverted mother of three girls and see if you don’t need a little somethin’ — and that somethin’ had better not be solitude because your babies always NEED YOU RIGHT FREAKING NOW.) On SOME of those occasions I recognized the futility of eating and chose not to, and sometimes I ate anyway to keep from screaming, but eventually I realized I wasn’t eating as much as I used to. After years of letting myself have whatever I wanted, Twinkies and Oreos finally lost some of their allure. I inexplicably started making a few healthier choices and working out a little more — and had to start wearing a belt.

Spurred on by this unexpected development, every midmorning this summer I shut myself in my room (blinds drawn, because nobody needs to see this), put on The Walking Dead and flailed around at the instruction of a workout DVD. The Walking Dead is an excellent exercise companion because: A) it reinforces the importance of cardio (see Zombieland Rule #1); B) everybody is sweaty and miserable (like you) but also inspiringly wiry from starvation and machete wielding; C) there are no scenes with tantalizing meals; and D) as a weight-loss incentive, you can imagine being light enough to hop on the back of Daryl Dixon’s motorcycle without inadvertently causing it to pop a wheelie. After a couple of months, I felt stronger and more energetic, and pretty soon it was “Au revoir, old fat pants!” and “Hola, new slightly less-fat pants!”

But then my body sensed that something was amiss. All that flailing had awakened my sleeping appetite and filled it with a terrible resolve. “NO MORE NEW PANTS! EAT! LATE AT NIGHT! EEEEEEEEEEEEAT!!!”

Now I’m caught in a mental cage match between Day Ami, who makes fairly healthy choices, and Night Ami, who despises her and everything she and her new pants stand for. Night Ami just wants to feel satisfied FOR ONCE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Day Ami just wants to have a waistline that’s half her height so Dr. Oz can sleep at night and to be able to shop in the normal women’s section at Target. (Day Ami googled strategies to defeat Night Ami and the only advice was to go to bed earlier. Thanks, Internet.) Sometimes Day Ami uses reasoning to talk Night Ami down. Other times Night Ami vanquishes Day Ami with chocolate chips and hatred. Almost every morning Day Ami measures herself to see if she needs to work harder to make up for Night Ami’s shenanigans.


It’s embarrassing to be this old and such an obvious, pathetic type of crazy. By comparison, heroin addiction seems glamorous — I’d be thin and pale and chill (which my family would appreciate) and maybe tattooed and then I’d kick it once and for all and have a bunch of cool stories to tell instead of: “Last night was off the chain! I went to town on a box of Chicken in a Biskits and now I can’t zip up my pants.” But one must play the hand one is dealt (and be thankful one has hands at all, because eating with one’s feet takes too long).

So for now I teeter along ever so slowly on my inglorious “journey,” hoping to scavenge a nugget of wisdom along the way. Thus far all I’ve got is: 1. Exercise is gross but worth it and 2. Always keep the fat pants. Halloween’s coming, and a candy corn-fueled Night Ami could put Day Ami in a coma and end this trip once and for all.

Fat pants Personal (ew)

Last night I dreamt that our bathroom was overrun by lizards. Hundreds of tiny, mosquito-size lizards of every color, leaping all over the place. So the natural solution was to call an acquaintance from whom I bought Tastefully Simple foodstuffs a few years ago, and her advice was to close that door and keep it shut because those lizards were going to GROW. Since we had a houseful of guests, I figured I’d better make sure the bathroom down the hall was usable, and when I opened the door to check, I disturbed two mating tigers. (I didn’t actually see anything pornish; I just knew that’s what they were up to because obviously.) Then the male tiger came out to investigate who had cockblocked him and I was forced to wrestle him to save the children because that’s the kind of badass I am in my subconscious.

After researching dream interpretation on the Internets I concluded that I might as well just ask Maribeth what it all meant. But I can’t because today she is on a field trip, and I was pointedly uninvited to tag along. As in: “From now on I don’t want you to go on any more of my field trips ever again because I don’t need you anymore.” And I am just old and tired enough to be A-OK with that. Because the dust-bowl-hellhole pumpkin-patch field trip in October pretty much cured me of any desire to be held hostage outdoors by the kindergarten teachers’ timetable ever again. (I know we have to stay long enough to make it worth the bus ride, but we were ALL done at least an hour ago.) Though I half expected Maribeth to freak out and beg me to accompany her at the last second, she remained resolute in her conviction that “field trips are special times to be with my friends,” and once I signed her in at the office, she headed back to the classroom without me, “just like a first-grader!”

To that I say, “Whew and thank God!” I did get a mild case of squeezy-heart this morning when she said, “Now remember, if you get anxious of me, you can just look at a picture of me and remember how much I love you.” But whether it’s because of my own selfishness/laziness or a genuine desire for her well-being (probably a mixture of all three, and let’s not analyze the proportions), I am glad to see my clingy little worrywart take baby steps toward independence. Maybe someday “I don’t need you anymore” will sting, but not now, when I still have years of hair combing, sunscreen spraying, to-and-from-school chauffeuring and bedtime tucking ahead (not to mention a long, hot, inevitably “BORING” summer of unrelieved togetherness). Today I can rejoice in Maribeth’s excitement that she gets to tell me about her adventure rather than have me hanging around all day cramping her style (though I am sticking close to my phone, just in case). I can bask in birdsong uninterrupted by the theme to Caillou in a kitchen unpolluted by the dueling stenches of coffee and chicken nuggets. And I can try to imagine a day when feeling unneeded will make me ache, but at this point it’s kind of like a bathroom full of tiny rainbow-hued lizards — barely imaginable and not really threatening. Sure, they’ll gnaw and claw that door down eventually, but by then I plan to be too worn out/demented/busy managing my highly profitable tiger mill to care.

Parenting (sloppily)

This morning we had Maribeth’s three-year review and it was decided that she no longer needs any special-education services. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of me. While Maribeth spent the entire meeting facedown in my lap, weeping because her teacher is not at school today, I sat there awkwardly stroking her hair, imagining the roomful of professional educators’ judging my amateurish performance and wishing someone in the know would just tell me WHAT TO DO.

I should be an old pro at this by now. Kindergarten has precipitated torrents of tears, from the first-day separation anxiety to at least seven afternoons of being terrorized by substitute teachers, not to mention the heartbreaking fall-party food and all the dreaded days off — weekends, holidays, winter break, conferences. (Kindergarteners get an extra day off for conferences; on the last one, Maribeth got up 15 minutes early so she’d have more time to wail about how unfair it was that her sisters got to go to school and she didn’t.)

And then there are the loose teeth: two pulled so far, and there aren’t enough Sacagawea dollars in the world to compensate her for the associated pain, suffering and emotional distress. The other day I noticed that one of her bottom teeth was tilted at an odd angle, but when I made the mistake of asking whether it was wobbly, Maribeth clapped her hand over her mouth and hollered, “NO TALKING ABOUT TEETH! TEETH ARE INAPPROPRIATE!” Then she spent the rest of the day refusing to open her mouth or even smile when anyone was looking. At one point she picked up a crumb off the floor and asked, “What is this?” I finally deduced that it was a piece of the dried ramen noodles Ella had cooked for lunch, but Maribeth still insisted on running to the mirror to check whether it was in fact her tooth. Now she does that several times a day and can hardly settle at bedtime for fear that she will swallow her tooth while she sleeps.

What’s frustrating is that the child seems hell-bent on worrying. No amount of reasoning or attempts at reassurance can persuade her to let go of her fears or her tears. Thank God this morning’s meeting had an actual end at which we were forced to get up and leave or she’d probably still be facedown in my lap now, totally dehydrated but no less despondent. As it was, once we stood up, the tears dried up, and she was ready to face the rest of the day. I, on the other hand, would have liked to corner the school psychologist, lay my head in her lap and beg for some advice (At what point does consoling become coddling? Am I helping or enabling? What should I be doing???) — or at least a prescription for my secondhand anxiety.


Parenting (sloppily)

In case you haven’t put it together from reading about my repeatedly patching the inner thighs of my jeans and marching around the neighborhood with a gaping crotch hole in my exercise capris, I will just straight-up tell you: I am a hot mess. My family and I are used to this state of affairs and had been getting by (one day at a time) until an unexpected opportunity shone a spotlight on the steaming disaster that is my wardrobe — and my self-image.

It all started last month when I received an email invitation to apply for a work-from-home editor position at a local publishing company. That very morning my daily devotional had discussed not wasting one’s talents — something that I worry about a lot as an unemployed mother in a household where money is always tight. I adore staying home with my children and have relished being able to focus solely on disappointing them since the magazine I had copyedited for the past 14 years ceased publishing, but the timing made me think this new opportunity might be God’s calling me to do something more. So I updated my résumé (realizing I needed to add my email address to the antiquated format), researched how the kids are writing cover letters in the new millennium and then turned my attention to my most unnerving concern: costuming.

I have never been good at the professional-woman charade. (Surprise!) At the end of my final semester as a magazine-journalism major in college, my classmates and I had to dress up and present our portfolios to a panel of professors as if we were at a job interview. I wore a flowy boho frock my mom had sewn, prompting my instructor to tactfully comment that my “style” (as if my getup were anything more intentional than a desperate attempt to camouflage my girth) might be OK for a creative position but that I’d probably need to wear something more conservative in a corporate setting. Fast-forward 25 years and I have a closet full of flowy church-lady skirts and hard-worn jeans — nothing remotely appropriate for the workplace. I was going to have to break down and buy myself some pants. Dress Barn, here I come!

The pants turned out surprisingly flattering for having been bought in a “Barn,” and when I got them home I realized why: The front pockets were pretend. I’d heard about this phenomenon from a friend who’d recently reentered the pants market, but I never dreamed what a difference that design innovation could make. It turns out the reason I look so portly in jeans isn’t my spare tires; it’s all those unsightly functional pockets!

In retrospect I don’t know whether my fancy pants actually looked that svelte or my vision was blurred from their eye-watering chemical-dye odor. After laundering, they still stunk and also developed some weird spots where either the detergent didn’t get completely rinsed out or the dye faded. I tried wiping the spots with a damp paper towel and the dye stained the towel. Great. So in addition to feeling self-conscious about my stench at the interview, now I had to worry about keeping my rump dry and avoiding any white chairs. This kind of pressure is why I don’t leave the house.

After much agonizing over my dearth of professional-lady tops and footwear, I finally cobbled together an ensemble that I hoped made me look like I had half a clue. Then it was time to wipe the quarter inch of dust off my portfolio and pull together some writing samples. And that was when I discovered something even more surprising than the slimming effect of pocketless pants: I’d written some pretty good stuff. In the 16 years that I’ve been home forgetting to put detergent in the washer, sending people off to dental appointments on the wrong day and failing to turn in permission slips on time, I’d forgotten that I used to write long, complex articles about veterinary practices (I even traveled by myself and spent days observing, taking notes and interviewing doctors) as well as manage the daily operations of various magazines. I have since grown accustomed to thinking of myself as a lazy, disorganized scatterbrain. But the thought that I once WAS competent gave me hope that maybe, with my new pants, I could be again.

So it was with renewed confidence that I went to my first job interview since 1998. Despite my dismay at learning it was only for screening purposes and there would be a follow-up (dammit — ANOTHER outfit!), it went well. If only I could say the same for the second interview. As I learned more about the responsibilities and challenges of the position, my self-assurance faltered, and at one point the interviewer said, “You have a scared look on your face.” You would too, lady, if you’d seen the premonition I just had of attempting to carry on a conference call while my 5-year-old pulls down her pants and asks me to have a look around down there for no reason that I can comprehend. Because that kind of shit goes on here ALL THE TIME. (And you people wonder why my brain is broken.)

Though I was pretty sure I didn’t want the job in light of the aforementioned scenario, the next day I worked diligently to craft a thank-you email that attempted to salvage the interview. Then I rested assured that I had done all I could do to faithfully pursue the opportunity and left the rest in God’s hands, trusting that if it were God’s will for me to get the job, God would enable me to do it despite all the potential problems and Maribeth’s inevitable nudity.

It is without the slightest disappointment that I report I am still unemployed. The money would have been nice, but the freedom to devote all my mental faculties to letting down my family (no, I didn’t wash your black leggings and yes, we are seriously out of Cheez-Its) is priceless. Plus, every day is casual Friday.

Faith (awkward) Fat pants

When it comes to cell phones, Chris and I have chosen what I think of as the naughty-Amish approach: We do own them, but they are humble devices to be used only when necessary (the definition of which is obviously open to interpretation, as I can’t remember the last time I made a Walmart run without an urgent call from Kate to request an emergency refill of Cheez-Its). Chris and I have cheap smartphones; the girls inherited our old flip phones (which Kate refuses to carry because it’s “too embarrassing”), and we buy enough prepaid minutes that no one is left incommunicado out among the English. The upside: We spend less than $100 a year, and if I call or text you on my cell phone, you know that I like you enough to spend 30 cents. The downside is that I pay anytime a sleezebag texts me spam or someone misdials and calls my number. (Also, my kids think we are unbearably lame, but that was bound to happen.)

Recently Chris’ friend gave us his old smartphone when he upgraded, and I finally gathered the strength to visit the T-Mobile store to get a SIM card. As soon as I walked in, a representative I’ll call Craig (because he reminded me of Billy Eichner’s character on Parks and Recreation) greeted me and asked how he could help. I explained that I needed a SIM card for a phone we’d been given and then tried to politely convey that we were a family of prepaid-minute-loving rubes and it would be fruitless for him to try to sell me any kind of plan. He was nice enough and told me that when we were ready to step up to $120 a month for the best plan in the business, he’d set me up. Then he proceeded to punch in the thousands of numbers it evidently takes to activate a cell phone with $10 worth of minutes, all the while chatting about how he had bought several of these same phones and set up a WiFi hotspot and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t understand. I nodded and smiled, wondering how much of customers’ $120 a month went toward keeping the store’s thermostat set at I’m guessing 85 degrees.

While I waited, Craig talked about how he often serves customers who bought Family Mobile plans at Walmart (which, he explained, pays to use the T-Mobile brand) and were misinformed by the salespeople there. Then he told me about the time he saw a Family Mobile representative wearing a genuine T-Mobile shirt and asked him if he worked for T-Mobile. He said yes, so Craig asked for his store code. The imposter revealed the code — and, unwittingly, his filthy lie: Craig informed him that he was several digits off and obviously not a real T-Mobile employee. Which meant he definitely should not have been wearing that shirt. I was surprised, not having realized that working in a T-Mobile store was such a lofty calling and the uniforms were sacred garments.

Finally it was time to pay, and after I swiped my credit card, Craig asked to see my driver’s license and scanned it. Curious, I asked why he needed to verify my ID for the phone (thinking it was some kind of government tracking strategy like the one that keeps tabs on my Sudafed purchases), and he said it was because my credit card didn’t have my picture on it and I hadn’t signed it. “Oh, I guess I should sign that,” I said, feeling even more doltish than usual. “It’s my job to be really observant,” Craig said, completing my transaction and then highlighting the wrong printout. He soon recognized and rectified his mistake, handed me my paperwork and wished me well.

As soon as I got in my horse-drawn buggy (OK, it’s a minivan — shun me), I pulled out the newly activated phone and attempted to call my old cell phone. Twice a recording informed me that I wasn’t allowed to call that number. I reviewed my receipt and saw that it said I had purchased zero minutes.

To his credit, Craig met me at the door and asked what had gone wrong. When I explained, he confessed that this kind of thing happened all the time. I almost reassured him that I knew that from experience because every time I have activated a phone with T-Mobile it has been a MESS, but I didn’t want to be rude — or to spend one more second than I had to in that sauna of a store. A few hundred keystrokes later, Craig had applied the $10 worth of minutes I paid for earlier to my account like a BOSS. When I later looked at the back of my credit card and saw that it was indeed signed, I could only assume his misobservation was a hallucination produced by a combination of the heat and the intense pressure of his cutthroat work environment. I hope the shirt is worth it.


I’m not Room Mom material, a fact that has never been more apparent than now. School parties have always terrified me — how can you expect to feed and entertain that many kids without provoking mutiny? When Ella and Kate were in elementary school, the answer seemed to lie in providing a vast array of treats (and at every celebration I died a little inside as barely nibbled cupcakes and platefuls of untouched cookies, grapes and Doritos were thrown in the trash). Once students reached the fourth grade, the teachers let them plan their own parties, which involved brainstorming sessions where 80 kids named every food they had ever enjoyed and then assigned their parents to produce a feast of donuts, Pizza Rolls, brownies, Bagel Bites, chips and queso, Oreos, Lil’ Smokies, etc., etc., etc. I always thought the excess sent the wrong message to our overprivileged little revelers, but buying a box of Velveeta and a can of Rotel was easier than bucking the system — or planning crafts and games — so I let it slide.

Maribeth’s preschool parties proved more reasonable: one or two sweet treats and a healthy option (or not — nobody missed the baby carrots when they got to decorate their own cookies with frosting). Little did I know these sugar-fueled festivities were building expectations that would later lead to heartbreak.

The morning of Maribeth’s fiercely anticipated kindergarten fall party, she told me how excited she was for the treats. But when she saw them — a peeled orange made to look like a pumpkin and a “broom” made of a small piece of string cheese and a straight pretzel — she literally had to leave the classroom to weep, and I didn’t blame her. I mean, she’s a notoriously finicky eater, but come on:  an ORANGE? (She wasn’t the only disappointed partygoer; I nearly snorted when one little boy asked, “You got anything else?”) I sat in the hall with Maribeth, imagining the other mothers’ judgment over how I had allowed her to become such a monster as I tried to console her with promises of a real treat after school. Then when the party was over, each child received a fancy frosted pumpkin-shaped sugar cookie in a bag to take home. I thought, Good grief, if you’d just handed out the cookies at treat time, we could have saved SO MANY TEARS.

In an attempt to avert similar trauma at the winter party, I volunteered (via e-mail) to bring sugar cookies, explaining that my reason was so Maribeth wouldn’t freak out over unfamiliar foods. I offered to bring frosting so the kids could decorate the cookies but said I would skip it if the other moms thought it was too messy. During the deafening silence that followed, I envisioned the other mothers in the e-mail chain rolling their eyes at my desperate attempts to appease my horrifically spoiled little princess. Several days later, the Room Mom’s e-mail summarizing who had signed up for what said: “Ami — cookies and icing… Maybe to take home???” (Because what kind of parent lets children eat cookies at a party???)

Since I loathe confrontation, my first inclination was to give in to the pressure not to serve the cookies during the festivities. But that made bringing them pointless and meant I would have to explain to Maribeth, “You may not like the food at the party; if not, you’ll just have to wait and eat your cookie when we get home.” (AGAIN.) Reassured by friends that it was reasonable for kids to have a variety of food choices, I resolved to bring my offering (tiny ready-to-bake cookies that wouldn’t cause nut-allergy concerns) on a plate — without take-home bags.

Naturally, the day before the party, Maribeth announced that she didn’t like those cookies. Because OF COURSE. I told her it was too late to switch because I’d already had them approved by the teacher and anyway, they were just like the Frozen cookies that she had loved a couple of months ago. When I arrived at the party, I put my sugary abominations on the food table next to the popcorn (which Maribeth hates) and the strawberry “Santa hats” (also inedible by her standards). At snack time, people put one cookie on each plate with the popcorn and the strawberries as if it were completely normal to give kids sweets at a party. All of the children who weren’t mine liked the cookies (one little girl asked for the recipe); Maribeth ended up eating one tiny nibble and then throwing hers away — but without any tears. Thankfully, a mom who had witnessed Maribeth’s agony at the fall party had brought single-serving bags of pretzels and offered one to her, and to my shock, she was delighted.

Lest I think I had gotten away with my evil scheme, however, after snack time the mom who had brought the popcorn said regretfully, “I can always tell when they’ve had sugar,” and the Room Mom replied, “I just think it makes them hyper and then grumpy.” I guess they wanted to make sure I realized that I had poisoned their children.

I do feel bad. I feel bad that I haven’t been able to cure Maribeth’s picky eating (despite her year in a special preschool program that forced students to try new foods daily). Maybe I have coddled her too much. I feel bad that food is so emotionally laden for both of us. I feel bad that I assume other mothers are constantly judging me based on my appearance (I know I look like a cautionary tale for girls who are overly fond of dessert) and my kid’s behavior. I feel bad that a kindergarten party turned into a power struggle (in my mind, anyway) and exposed how petty, immature and desperately people-pleasing I am. But I’m not sorry that when push came to shove, the person I chose to try to please was my child. Even if she thought the cookies sucked.

And I felt somewhat vindicated in my sugar-pushing when another mom posted a photo from her kindergartener’s celebration on Facebook.



Now THAT’S a party.


Parenting (sloppily)