mommypig Posts

I don’t mean to brag, but on a typical day I would give my quality of life four stars. (That elusive fifth star is reserved for a person who is healthy [and, if he suffers from empathy, whose loved ones are healthy], wealthy and blissfully unaware of his own imperfections. I use the male pronoun here because women’s troublesome lady parts and their associated hormones and potential malfunctions plus the patriarchy make a five-star QOL unattainable.) But this week every one of my stars went down the toilet when our home was struck by an outbreak I hesitate to name Flulapalooza 2017 for fear a worse plague will befall us before year’s end. (That’s my go-to consolation: It could always be worse. Somehow. Just imagine that.)

It started Thursday when I was unable to finish my dinner, which is simply unheard-of. Soon I was alternately shimiting (my ladylike term for simultaneous diarrhea and vomiting), sweating and shivering in bed as my internal monologue rambled: “Think of all the cancer patients and Princess Kate and all the women with über morning sickness and that nasty sandwich you had for lunch that was probably contaminated with norovirus which can last for THREE FREAKING DAYS OH GOD TAKE ME NOW.”

Lucky for me I had not yet used the six hours of annual sick leave I am entitled to as a stay-at-home-mom (exercise your rights, ladies: Nobody is going to give you that time off unless you are too physically incapacitated to perform your maternal duties, and sometimes not even then), so I was free to lounge in bed/on the toilet while Chris tucked in Maribeth for the night — or so I thought. Shortly after 11:30 she breached the sickroom, claiming her stomach felt bad. Knowing that Maribeth is prone to psychosomatic stomach complaints because she loves nothing more than middle-of-the-night TV watching with me, I told her to keep her trash can handy and go back to bed because I didn’t want her catching my germs. Foolishly hoping she might read herself to sleep, I dozed but soon awoke to nonmuffled crying. “Am I sick enough NOT to have to deal with this?” I thought, but unfortunately, if a mother can even ask that question, the answer is NO. So I dragged myself upstairs to find Maribeth sitting on the floor by her trash can, insisting that her stomach felt “SO QUEASY.” Still unsure whether she was actually sick, I finally said she could sleep on my bedroom floor because Chris had already occupied the living room. As I hauled her pillow, blanket and trash can downstairs, she puked in the middle of her bedroom carpet and I cursed the day I was born. While Chris remained asleep on the couch, I pondered the question: “How sick would I have to be to NOT be the one cleaning up someone else’s vomit in the middle of the night?” Part of me genuinely wants to know and the other part is afraid to find out.

Commanding myself to JUST BE GRATEFUL that by this time I was physically capable of cleaning up the mess, I tucked Maribeth into my bed and spent the rest of the night holding her hair while she threw up. The next day (TGIF!) I washed all of our bedding (seven loads, y’all!) and attempted to disinfect bathrooms and handles and switches and remotes just in time for Chris to come home and start shimiting himself. Meanwhile Ella and Kate treated us all as pariahs, constantly wielding disinfecting wipes and covering their noses and mouths with their shirts when forced to interact with us before scurrying back to their germ-free havens — I’m surprised they didn’t sleep in Ella’s car. (Probably the Wi-Fi signal isn’t strong enough in the garage.)

It usually isn’t until February that I wish our house had a self-immolation feature like that of the Centers for Disease Control in (spoiler alert!) season one of The Walking Dead, so I’d like to hope that we got this winter’s plague over with early. Nevertheless, I’m calling on science and Amazon/Walmart to help a mother out. First, science: We do not need any more flavors of ANYTHING. We all have ample opportunity to feast unto obesity. USE YOUR SKILLS ELSEWHERE: namely, to develop germ bombs that can disinfect entire houses while inhabitants stand in the driveway or, better yet, sit on the couch and inhale immune-boosting agents. Really, this idea is so simple I can only assume Big Hand Sanitizer has prevented its fruition. In the meantime, Amazon/Walmart: You want to send delivery people into my home? Fine. I’d like a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and for you to launder everyone’s bedding and sanitize EVERYTHING — like slightly less tragic crime-scene cleanup. (Come on, Jeff Bezos; I can envision the dollar signs in your eyes as I write this. Make it happen.)

Since it is not actually February but November, I feel obligated to end this post with some gratitude. I am thankful that my illness was relatively brief, that so far Ella and Kate have escaped physically if not psychologically unscathed (though my typing that probably jinxed them) and that Maribeth’s standards are so low that as I was tucking her into bed Friday (most of which she spent vomiting or at best feeling nauseated), she said, “I had a really nice time spending the day with you today, even though I was sick.” So I guess we should both add Netflix to our gratitude list, even if I did have to endure Barbie: The Princess & the Popstar. It was terrible, but compared with my internal monologue, a pleasure.

Parenting (sloppily)

Since I last wrote, Maribeth and I have waved a forlorn farewell to the Lion Loot-strewn utopia of first grade and marched into the foreign territory of second grade, only to have our hearts alternately soar and ache — sometimes in the same day.

Initially Maribeth wasn’t enthusiastic about returning to school, but I managed to make the last few weeks of summer so insipid that she was actually anticipating her school’s Sneak-a-Peek night. That is, until I discovered that all of her friends had been placed in other classrooms AND she had a new teacher. (My girl doesn’t much cotton to strangers.) So it was with trepidation that we ventured into the new classroom, and Maribeth, near tears, could barely introduce herself. I explained that she was nervous and her teacher confessed that she was too, earning points with both of us. Once we explored the rainbow-bedecked room (a heaven-sent décor choice, as Maribeth had been excited to debut her rainbow-emblazoned shirt, leggings and backpack that evening), she was in love with Mrs. A and thrilled to be in her class — so much so that she repeatedly bemoaned the two-day wait until school started.

The honeymoon ended after the first half-day, when Maribeth asked to be homeschooled because “everything is weird.” (Trust me, little girl, “weird” would be a euphemism for what would happen if this home became your school.) For one thing, her days of rolling in Lion Loot are OVER. Second grade only has ROAR slips, which students receive when teachers notice them being Responsible and On-task, exhibiting an awesome Attitude and being Respectful. Maribeth rakes in ROARs and redeems them for prizes such as reading aloud to the class, helping another teacher for 15 minutes, and celebrating her own personal stinky-feet day (in which she gets to go shoeless, a “treat” that always makes me think, “Why, God, WHY?” because 1. I won’t walk around barefoot in my own house and 2. Her feet are gross enough from going barefoot at home and now she’s shod with the filth of 400 other kids).

But the loss of Loot is inconsequential compared with second-grade discipline. To hear Maribeth tell it, she has essentially been drafted into Full Metal Jacket-style basic training, where the sins of a few bring down punishment on everyone. “Sometimes I think we are the WORST CLASS EVER!” she has wailed, a point that was hard to argue with when the little yahoos repeatedly earned a score of zero (out of a possible 5) for behavior in “specials” (P.E., music, library, computers and art). Now that first quarter is almost over, they seemed to have pulled it together somewhat in specials, thanks in part to incentives offered to especially challenging classmates, who can earn privileges such as extra iPad time if they don’t act like maniacs (a deal that Maribeth noticed kind of stinks, sparking multiple conversations on the topic: “Some Kids Have a Harder Time Behaving Properly and Your Reward Is That You Are a Good Student Who Earns Lots of ROARs”). But there are still days when all students — “even the good kids!” — have to put their heads down on their desks or “practice” being quiet, which Maribeth finds terribly unjust.

And then there’s lunch. Teachers have been losing their minds over lunchroom noise ever since I was in elementary school, and this is one problem today’s highly evolved education techniques can’t seem to fix. In my day, the lunchroom had a construction-paper “stoplight” (no, it wasn’t crafted to look like an actual stoplight, as it would be in any modern school; it consisted of three sheets of paper taped together and laminated) with a white circle that the teacher in charge of the lunchroom, who just seemed to go through life mad, inevitably moved up to red by the time everyone entered the lunchroom. Red meant NO TALKING WHATSOEVER; violators were marched to the Talkers’ Table at the front of the lunchroom, where they had to eat standing up and afterward spend their recess standing against the trailer at one end of the playground. Although in retrospect I wonder why I cared that we weren’t allowed to speak (the only lunchroom conversation I remember was the time I told one of my peers that my mother bore me at age 19 and some boys started chanting, “Nineteen and had a big un!” so I should have been relieved that the imbeciles were muzzled), I still blame Mrs. W and her half-assed stoplight for my current antisocial eating preferences (quickly and in silence — I’m a fun dinner date).

According to Maribeth, pretty much every day the lunchroom staff at her school proclaims: “Second graders, voices are OFF!” and last week they even went so far as to institute a boy-girl-boy-girl seating arrangement. I was curious how that would work because 1. The boys vastly outnumber the girls, 2. From what I’ve seen, boys and girls talk to each other and 3. Wouldn’t they just talk louder if their friends were farther away? Of course, what do I know — I’m foolish enough to think that when you corral 70 kids in a room, it IS going to be noisy and maybe the adults could adjust their expectations instead of ruining everyone’s lunch.

But lunchroom persecution is small potatoes compared with the angst caused by Maribeth’s nemesis. This is the first time Maribeth has had a nemesis other than her sister Kate, and although in this case I don’t have to witness the evildoings firsthand, I do hear about them constantly. Soon after school started, Maribeth began complaining about a classmate I will call Damien, who was generally disruptive and prevented Maribeth’s table from earning tally marks for good behavior. (At the end of each week, students at the table with the most tally marks get to choose a prize; Damien was constantly dragging down Maribeth’s table with his naughtiness — “Sometimes I think we’re the WORST TABLE EVER!” — until he was finally moved to sit by the teacher.) For a while I wrote off Damien’s misdeeds as general unruliness, whereas Maribeth proudly considered herself a victim of bullying, necessitating conversations on topics such as: “It’s Not Bullying If the Kid Is Obnoxious to EVERYONE” and “There Is a Thing Called Picking Your Battles.” But then one day while standing in line Damien remarked that he would like to kick Maribeth (a thought that might on occasion have been silently entertained by members of our household but NOBODY GETS TO SAY IT OUT LOUD). Needless to say, Damien got tattled on — for that and for other behaviors that made Maribeth feel “unsafe,” such as waving his pencil in a way that could put somebody’s eye out and pointing a whiteboard eraser at Maribeth from across the gym. (Again: “There Is a Thing Called Picking Your Battles.” Plus also: “Sometimes People Just Want to Annoy Us But If We Ignore Them They Get Tired of It and Stop.” And finally: “At Home You Get to Choose What You Think About So Let’s Not Think About Him or Talk About Him.”)

I wish I could say our discussions instantly granted Maribeth the wisdom to recognize that Damien has his own problems and that she needn’t be jealous of his special privileges or let his misbehavior vex her, but her only satisfaction came when he landed in the principal’s office after telling her: “I’m going to erase you to God and you will die.” The next afternoon she climbed into the van with a cheerful: “Damien was actually nice to me today!”

Of course, that was short-lived; today she reported that Damien had reverted to making scissor motions with his fingers to (she assumes) silently convey, “I’ll cut you.” Instead of feeling “unsafe” or outraged, however, she shrugged off the incident and changed the subject to: “Our Class Pillow Party Wasn’t As Much Fun As I Thought It Would Be” followed by “We Got a Zero in Art Today.”

Thankfully, a trip to Walmart for some gum is enough to soothe even second-grade woes.

Parenting (sloppily)

The other day I had possibly the fanciest experience in Walmart history: I met a real-life French dude there. FROM FRANCE. In the interest of preserving his anonymity, I will refer to him as “Olivier,” which I consider the best French boy name. (In high school French class, we were encouraged to choose a French name, and since to my knowledge there is no French equivalent for Ami, I chose Vivienne because of Vivien Leigh and my near-psychotic love of Gone With the Wind, made obvious by my Southern-belle-inspired prom dresses. Later I discovered that for his French name, Chris had coincidentally chosen Olivieras in SIR LAURENCE, the love of Vivien’s life — and it all just seemed too perfect, as long as you don’t think about the infidelities, mental illness, murderous rages and divorce.)

Pour moi, French has always had a certain je ne sais quoi because of the way they throw away perfectly good letters at the ends of words and never use one word when five will do (much like this blog — though it generates no revenue, mentally I like to pay myself by the word, with generous bonuses for dashes, ALL CAPS and italics). Despite the allure of the language, though, I have never been the type of girl to squee at a foreign accent (or attract male attention — EVER), which made this encounter all the more unexpected.

There I am in the toy department, my cart loaded with Shopkins paraphernalia for Maribeth’s birthday party, when a KU-spiritwear-clad middle-aged man exclaims in a heavy French accent: “Your stores here are huge! I get lost in them! Do you like it this way? In France we have to go to lots of small stores for different things.”

I immediately flash back to the shock and awe of my first visit to the wonderland that was Hypermart USA in Topeka, Kansas, in 1988. “Yeah, I guess we’re used to it and kind of spoiled.” [Upon reflection I thought: Spoiled? You are in Walmart, Ami. WTF.]

Olivier: “You speak French? Parlez-vous français?”

Me: “Oh, no, not really. I took some in college, but that was 20 years ago.” [When I recounted this story to Chris, I admitted that afterward I realized it was more like 28 years ago, and he said, “Yeah, I thought, ‘TWENTY years — what are you talking about?’” Time flies when you’re forgetting everything you ever learned, especially math.]

Olivier says a bunch of incomprehensible français that I think ends with “Comment allez-vous?”

I sift through the jumble of foreign words my sievelike brain has retained, a vocabulary heavily tainted by the semester of Italian I took a mere 26 years ago. Va bene? No, that’s not it. On va à la plage? Non. Oh, here we go: “Comme ci comme ça?” (Because we are, after all, in Walmart, so bien seems a bit much.)

Olivier (in an encouraging tone): “Ah, oui! How much French did you study?”

Me: “A couple of years in high school and a couple of years in college.”

Olivier: “And you never went? To France?”

Me: “Oh, nooooo.”

Olivier: “Why not?”

Me: “We never had money to travel.” [Bumpkin alert!]

Olivier: “You can work and travel. You can pick grapes or apples. It is not hard labor.”

Me: “Oh. Huh.” [When it hits 80 degrees, I find watering flowerpots on my stoop too taxing. I have never wanted to go ANYWHERE enough to work as a field hand.] “So do you live here now?”

Olivier explains that he is here for a few months to tutor some children in French.

I smile and nod.

Olivier: “You could learn too, if you wanted to. Just start speaking it again; it will all come back to you.”

Me: “Oh, you think so?” [Hmmm. I did recently resolve to become multilingual because some days English just doesn’t have enough expletives.]

Olivier spouts some more français, all of which I miss.

Me: “Uh, I never spoke it very well. I could read more than I could speak.”

Olivier: “Oh, well, start reading again; you will pick it back up. I could help you, if you wanted to meet for coffee sometime.”

This is where my brain goes on alert rouge. What the hell is this? I feel awkward enough conversing with people I know in my mother tongue, let alone a strange Continental in a language I barely understood two (or three) decades ago. I try to imagine the rendezvous at which this coffee would be drunk. School is almost out for the summer — would I bring my kids? Or would I leave them at home and tell them I was going to my “French lesson”? I scramble for an escape hatch from this interaction.

Me: “Oh, I’m married.”

Olivier: “Because you are married, you cannot meet someone for coffee?”

Me: “Um… I don’t know if my husband would like that.” [Truth be told, I didn’t know at the time whether he’d give a rip whom I had coffee with, but I’d chosen to Pence this situation, so I had to stick with it.]

Olivier: “Why would your husband not want you to have coffee with someone?”

Me: “Well… Because you’re a stranger? I mean, maybe if we had worked together or something…” [Mentally I immediately start poking holes in that theory: “Really? Would that scenario be more husband-soothing?” Luckily Olivier is so perplexed by my refusal that he doesn’t argue that point.]

Olivier: “I am just trying to understand this American mentality… In France we do not…”

[My unspoken knee-jerk reaction: “Oh, I KNOW in France you do not. I’ve seen movies.” I order myself to stop thinking in stereotypes.]

Olivier [shaking his head at my silly American prudishness]: “OK. So you do not think…?”

Me: “Probably not a good idea.”

Olivier: “OK. Well, it was nice meeting you. What is your name?”

I tell him. He tells me his and then spells it and asks if I can repeat it. Of course I can, because he shares a name with one of the bad vampires from the Twilight saga, but I refrain from pointing that out. He compliments my pronunciation and then hugs me. Overwhelmed by his cologne, I take the back alleys to the grocery section and pray that he once again gets lost amid the ’mart’s American excess.

Afterward, I pondered Olivier’s motives and my reactions. First of all, I cannot imagine that the man was trying to hit this mess — no one did when I had the bloom of youth about me, much less now that I am 48 and look every damn day of it and then some. AND I wasn’t even wearing eyeliner. (Also, one would think my cartful of Shopkins crap, which implies that I either own a small child or have extremely juvenile taste in décor, would discourage even the most desperate lothario.) I checked my purse, and my wallet was still there, so he was not a pickpocket (or at least not a good one). Maybe that “coffee” was really a basket of lotion in a cellar hole and he wanted my hide for a suit? Doubtful — I’m pretty pasty, blotchy and speckled. Perhaps he’s a bit lonely in a foreign country and simply looking for a friendly face? Maybe. I smile a lot and try to be Christlike af because I am the only Bible some people will ever read. (Unfortunately, by the time my family gets home, that Bible has usually fallen facedown on the floor, figuratively speaking, and Jesus can’t get out, which may be why Chris is stymied that in public I am so approachable, or as he puts it, “a freak magnet.”) My only other conclusion is that Olivier was trying to drum up more tutoring business so he could stay here longer because they don’t have Walmarts in France. (Quelle horreur!)

Whatever Olivier’s reason for approaching me, the encounter made me feel like a teenager again — not in a good way, just awkward and full of self-doubt. The fact that I resorted to “I’m married” as an excuse makes me cringe because 1. It sounds presumptuous, as if I assume I am super-hot and am constantly rejecting indecent proposals and 2. By this age I should be able to just say, “No, thank you,” instead of feeling I need to shelter a man’s ego with a tent of lies. At the time I didn’t know whether I believed I shouldn’t be able to have coffee with whomever I choose. I have since clarified this point with Chris.

Me: “Would it have been OK with you if I had agreed to meet him for coffee?”

Chris: “Hell no.”

Good thing we cleared that up. Tomorrow I need to go back to pick up some birdseed, and an Italian could be lurking around any corner.

Personal (ew)

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.

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)