mommypig Posts

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.

Love,
Mom

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)…

Teetering.

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.

Teetering.

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.

Uncategorized

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.

party

 

Now THAT’S a party.

 

Parenting (sloppily)

Once I wore sandals to a friend’s house and her dog licked my toes the entire time I was there. (I can hardly type that sentence without gagging.) I am not a dog person — or any kind of animal person, really; I enjoy birds, bunnies and horses with my eyes, but when I was a child my mother’s constant injunctions to wash my hands after petting any animal pretty much destroyed my ability to love the filthy creatures. Every dog I meet seems to sense my emotional unavailability and, like women who chase broken men, thinks that it is The One who will fix me, but I am incurable. So I sit or stand awkwardly, refusing to sully my fingers by touching the varmint and thinking about how I can’t wait to get home and change my clothes/scour my toes while trying to wordlessly convey “It’s not you; it’s me” as the pet’s owner undoubtedly thinks, “What is the matter with you?”

Until now I have always wondered why people didn’t just keep their pets off me in the first place. (Recently I was relieved to be in a home where the owner advised me to not even make eye contact with the “psycho cat” — that is always my preference anyway.) But this week the script got flipped and I was the one who failed to restrain an overly affectionate little beast. My tragically childless friends (I say “tragically” because they are smart, funny, attractive, good-hearted people whose genes could benefit mankind but have so far elected not to procreate — and probably never will after their experience at my house) were visiting, and despite having met them only once or twice before, Maribeth instantly promoted them to honorary aunt and uncle, which may sound adorable but which I suspect was terrifying. Aunt A. at least had some time to warm up; Maribeth read to her, serenaded her by ukulele and regaled her with anecdotes before forcing her to participate in medical checkups, breathing exercises and incomprehensible “gymnastics,” but Uncle B. arrived late in the day and got straight-up body-slammed almost immediately. Maribeth demonstrated that all she really wants for Christmas is a manservant who will offer unlimited piggyback rides and serve as her own personal jungle gym, and Uncle B. obeyed every order (while Aunt A. and I implored her not to break him).

At the time, Maribeth’s enthusiasm struck me as funny and endearing (and a big step forward, considering that she used to scream and cry every time someone unfamiliar — even extended family — came into our home), but in retrospect I wonder if I should have caged her. I get it now, pet owners: You love your furry little minions so much that you can’t imagine why everyone else wouldn’t. From now on, I will try to follow my friends’ example in cheerfully enduring unwanted advances. And to Uncle B. and Aunt A., should you ever again brave our abode, I promise at the very least to prevent Maribeth from licking your toes.

Parenting (sloppily)

Last week I was making the faux Reese’s peanut butter bars that might be the only thing keeping Chris from getting his own apartment somewhere quiet when a stupid slip-up changed the fabric of our lives forever.

Maribeth was happily smashing graham crackers with a rolling pin beside me when I reached into the over-the-range microwave to pull out a bowl of melted butter. What happened next is a greasy blur; all I know for sure is that somehow the bowl tipped, splashing Maribeth, me, the stove, the floor and the wall. My downright manly “DAAAMMMNNN IT!!!” struck Maribeth as hilarious. Thank God she wasn’t old enough to make a “butter fingers” joke or I would have burst into flames.

During the hour or so I spent finishing the cursed dessert and wiping/mopping (but not before Maribeth got to experience the joy of butter-skating on a vinyl floor), I kept mentally busy debating whether I’d rather clean up butter or urine (and the winner is: urine!), consoling myself that at least this time I wasn’t sopping up raw sewage while cooking dinner, and listening to the angel on one shoulder battle the devil on the other for my soul.

Angel: “You have the opportunity to handle this situation with grace. Remember that scene in The Shack when Jesus spilled the salad all over the floor and he and God and the Holy Spirit just laughed and cleaned it up together? You can choose to react with humor and a cheerful attitude and set a positive example for your kids.”

Devil: “PLEASE. First of all, you are not Jesus. Second, there’s a big difference between the three persons of the Holy Trinity working together to pick up some lettuce and your having to clean up a gigantic greasy mess all by yourself. That is just not fair. And speaking of unfair, you don’t even like these stupid peanut butter bars, do you? Here you are, trying to do something nice for Chris, and look what it got you. Cleaning up this nasty catastrophe is going to take FOREVER, and those clothes are going to be PERMANENTLY STAINED. It’s just infuriating, isn’t it? And look at those kids over there giggling. You’d better storm around so they’ll GET that this is a DISASTER and THERE IS NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT IT!”

Me: “You win, Devil.”

Devil: “Ha ha — you’re a spiritual fiasco.”

Once the kitchen was “clean,” I stripped off our butter-splattered clothes and scrubbed the spots with Dawn before laundering them and bathing Maribeth. My long personal nightmare was finally over.

And then I noticed the splotches on the kitchen drapes. I thought about just saying, “Well, I guess now we have butter-stained curtains,” but eventually decided that that I couldn’t abide. It was too late to launder the curtains lest some peeper enjoy an up-close-and-personal view of my late-night emotional eating, so I scrubbed the spots with Dawn, sprayed them with Shout and left them for the morning. Then I sprayed them again and laundered them in warm water. They came out of the washer like this:

curtains

MELTED. Just like the butter that ruined our lives.

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but these drapes were special. Our west-facing kitchen (which I think of as “Hell’s kitchen” not just because of the filth and the food but also the temperature) has two 78-inch-tall windows, so we needed drapes with a thermal backing. The problem is that the curtain rod had to be installed above the center door’s trim, so the curtains need to be 86 inches long instead of the standard 84. I solved this by stitching tabs and a decorative valance onto store-bought kids’-bedroom drapes (because apparently most grown women do not want hot-pink curtains in their kitchens) so they would not only be long enough but also reflect my certain je ne sais quoi. And now my custom creations were DESTROYED. (I could hear the devil squealing with glee.)

The saga of the replacement curtains is too long and tedious to recount here (yes, believe it or not, I DO have limits — you’re welcome), but at least it has an unhappy ending. If I valued the time I spent shopping, agonizing, designing and sewing, the new curtains would be worth about $4,000. Yet I find I do not particularly like them. Which is probably for the best, considering how much I enjoy being married and how much Chris enjoys peanut butter bars. The next greasy calamity is just waiting to strike.

 

Homemaking (half-assed)