Category: Parenting (sloppily)

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)

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting (sloppily)

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

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

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

Parenting (sloppily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting (sloppily)

My beloved daughters,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hug Grandma for me.


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

Parenting (sloppily) Personal (ew)

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Now THAT’S a party.


Parenting (sloppily)

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)