Friday, January 31, 2014

As Charged

“Mom?  Mom!  Can you help me with my homework?”

I had just wandered upstairs.  There was a load of clothes in the dryer that needed to be taken out and folded.  Again.  This is my life.

“Hold on a minute, honey.  Let me get these clothes out of the dryer.”

I dumped the clothes onto my bed and left them in a pile.  They would wait to be folded.  Along with the other load of clothing that was already there.

I walked down the stairs to find my daughter in the family room watching TV, her homework spread out over the kitchen table.  Papers and workbooks and a stubby pencil with a worn eraser littered the surface.  How can these kids never have a full-sized pencil?  We bought dozens of them just a few months ago.

“Okay.  What am I looking at?”

“Can you tell me if I got the math problems right?”

I stared at the paper.  Fractions.  A couple of graphs.  Some word problems.  I would have to do the homework myself to see if her answers were correct.

“Did you understand it?”

“Yeah.  Did I get them right?”

We had talked about this before.  She knew not to ask about stuff like this, knew that homework was a time for her to practice what she learned in school.  If she doesn’t understand the lesson, then it’s okay to ask for help at home.  It is not okay to ask me to correct her mistakes just so she can get a hundred percent on everything.

“I’m sorry, honey.  You have to trust your answers.  Double check them if you have to.  I’m going upstairs to finish my chores.”

I folded the clothes and sat down at the computer.  There were blog posts to read, emails to sort,   Facebook and Twitter to attend to.  A calendar to update.  This has become a job to me.  One that I love.

I heard footsteps stomping up the stairs.

“Mom.  Can you check my spelling?”

I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath.  Exhaled silently.

I glanced at the words; my daughter is a pretty good speller.  She knows it.  “These are okay.”

“Thanks.  Is it okay if I wear my jeggings again without them being washed?”  She launched into a monologue about her wardrobe choices.

I listened, my back to the computer.  As she paused, I turned towards it.  She started talking again, then stopped abruptly.  She gave me an exaggeratedly sad look, but I saw the irritation underneath.  This was a face that was contrived to elicit feeling in others.  This was not a new dance we were doing.  I know the steps well.

I stood up and took her hand.  “Come with me.”

We walked down the hall to her bedroom and sat on the bed.  “I’d like to know what’s going on here.  When I leave the room, you call for me.  When I’m elsewhere, you find me and demand my attention.  We both have work to do.  This is not okay.”  I was calm, but annoyed.

She was quiet, then sputtered in exasperation, “I need help with my homework!”

“No, you don’t.  You are doing fine with your homework.  It is not my job to correct your mistakes.  You won’t learn if I just point them out to you.”

Her fake sadness was gone.  She was mad.  I listened for a few moments as she made up other excuses for why she follows me around the house every day to intercept me before I go about my business.  I didn’t know where you were.  I didn’t understand this.  I thought you were down here.  I needed help.

I acknowledged and deflected each of her arguments.  I had a feeling I knew the reason for her constant interruptions but wanted her to tell me herself.

Then she did.

“WHEN I COME HOME FROM SCHOOL YOU ARE ALWAYS AT YOUR COMPUTER!  I WANT TO HANG OUT WITH YOU BUT I CAN’T BECAUSE YOU’RE ALWAYS DOING SOMETHING ELSE!  I JUST WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU!”

Boom.


She knows the location of all the buttons, and she's not afraid to push them.

*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt 3: The last thing you felt guilty about.


*******

Update:  This post was featured on BonBon Break on February 7, 2014.


Bonbon Break

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Reverse Bucket List

I have a confession.

The term “Bucket List” makes me want to scratch something.  Like the face of the person who talks about what’s on their bucket list.

It’s the term: Bucket List.  I know it’s the title of a movie, one which I have never seen, but when I think bucket, I think puke, or mopping floors, or slop bucket, or feeding pigs.  Or another phrase that rhymes with bucket that I sometimes say aloud but not on my blog and I squirm when I think of my kids saying it to me.  And it would only be my fault because they have heard this word escape from my mouth more than once or twenty times.

Where were we?

Oh, yes.  The make me puke list.  All the things you want to do before you die.  Hang glide, see the pyramids, adopt a child, win an Academy Award, hang out with the POTUS for a day, be on Saturday Night Live in the 70s, own all the shoes and bags, blink my eyes and be in Paris, be Beyoncé, fly through the air using only my arms.

These are the things I want to do.  If I had one, these things would be on my bucket list.

Recently some friends wrote about their Reverse Bucket List (see here and here).  I was excited.  I thought: well, now, this is a concept I can really get behind.  A reverse bucket list must be a list of things not that you want to do, but that you don’t ever want to do.  There are a ton more things I want NOT to do in this world than things I want to do.

Be trampled by a bull, survive a shipwreck, fall and break my nose, go white water rafting, camp in a tent, be attacked by a bear, go to a college football game, be abducted by aliens, get the flu, cut my nails too short, have this pain in my neck for the rest of my life.

I could go on and on.

Find myself in a fistfight, lose my purse, forget to turn the iron off when I leave the house, think about all my fingernails and toenails falling off, watch The Island of Dr. Moreau again, travel to Antarctica, touch a frog, drink lemonade and find out it was someone’s pee.

Sadly I learned that the concept of a reverse bucket list is not this at all.  The Reverse Bucket List is this: a list of all the things that you have done.  Your accomplishments.  I should have known this: my friends are awesome and have accomplished much.

So, sigh.  My accomplishments.  This is hard.  I am an embarrassingly modest person.  Not a horn-tooter.  It might be good for me to list all the things I have done, but it makes me cringe-y to think about them in terms of accomplishments.  This probably says more about me than any of my accomplishments would.  It probably says that I am destined to be a big loser.

Screw that.

Let's go.

My Reverse Bucket List

1.  I am a master at making a fool of myself in nearly any situation.

2.  Once I was making faces and trying to be witty and slipped on some ice and fell into a snowbank.

3.  I have worn four or five of the world's worst haircuts.

4.  Despite having loads of time and many ways to keep in touch with friends and family members, I don’t call, write, email, or text.

5.  I have made every person in my family cry.

6.  I fell backwards off a high stool while wearing a short dress at a wedding.

7.  I have learned the art of starting awkward conversations.

8.  On a regular basis I wave at someone or say “HI!” before I realize that I have no idea who they are.  Relatedly, I ask someone a question and they don’t realize I’m talking to them. 

9.  I am the queen of high fives left hanging.

10.  I can always pick out the one guy in a bar who will hit on me.  It is always the drunkest, oldest, smelliest guy in the room.  Also my husband.


So there you have it:  My Reverse Bucket List.  Huh.  That actually felt pretty good.  Not cringe-y at all.


*******

Monday, January 27, 2014

Clean Sweep


I didn’t believe them.




I couldn’t relax until the house was clean.  I’m not like them, I thought, those that say that housekeeping is a waste of time.  Only people who don’t mind living in their own mess say that.  But I won’t.  I can’t.  Seeing clutter and dust and crumbs and dirt in my house drives me insane.  I will sit when it’s all done.

A friend once said, “When I stayed home, I’d clean the house, do the shopping, get the laundry folded, and sit around the rest of the time and say, ‘Now what?’”

My response: “Huh?”  I couldn’t believe that she was able to finish those things.  Housekeeping was my ultimate goal and my crucible.  It never ended for me.




When I was a young mother, I’d put the kids down for a nap and put myself down on the kitchen floor with a bucket and a rag and I’d scrub.  Or I’d do laundry.  Or clean bathrooms.  Or spot-treat the rugs.  Every day was the same, every chore tackled as if I had something to prove by having the neighborhood’s shiniest toilet bowls.  I beamed as people commented on how clean everything was, how good of a housekeeper I am.

Over time the kids got older and their messes got bigger.  My husband started to travel more for work.  I developed close friendships and fell into days full of playdates and mom’s day outs, started to read more and volunteer at school.  I didn't have time for all the housework, and let up on chasing the dirt. 




I took the advice of a kindly aunt and stopped cleaning bathrooms before and after weekend guests, just scrubbing them heartily after they left.  Later, maybe I'd swipe surfaces with an antibacterial wipe after the last visitor went home.

I gave up on hands-and-knees scrubbing and purchased a handy twist-mop to do the floor work.  I handed my children each a dust rag and a can of pledge and told them to take care of their own rooms and to share the vacuum while they were at it.

Drudging spring cleaning was forgotten, as were laments about window cleaning.  Baseboard dusting went on an I’ll-do-it-when-I-see-it schedule.  When we lifted the carpeting to make way for hardwoods, I was amazed at how unfilthy it was, despite never been professionally cleaned and after years of failing to get in the corners and under furniture with the vacuum - things I had worried about not doing more regularly.

Our house isn’t really that dirty, I realized.  I don’t need to be so crazy about it.




I’m not entirely rehabilitated from years of extreme housekeeping.  I still can’t abide a mess, and am constantly telling my family to “pick up your stuff.”  But I have stopped doing it all.  I’ll clean a half hour here and there, demand the occasional Saturday whole family cleaning extravaganza.  If I spy a pile of dust, I sweep it away and move on instead of taking half a day to defeat the dust bunnies.  After all, it’s a losing battle.  They reproduce like… well, you know.

People still come into my house and compliment me on my housekeeping.  It’s nice of them, and I don’t let on that the bathrooms were just cleaned after a month of neglect.  Or that the dust on the top of the fridge is a quarter inch thick.  Or that the sheets on our beds needed changing a week or two ago.  I just smile and say “thank you.”  No one really cares about a sparkly house.

But don’t be fooled.  I’m still holding out for a housekeeper.  Now THAT would be nice.

*******

Friday, January 24, 2014

DIY: The Best Dinner In The History Of The World

There’s this dinner that I make.

I make it when I need an ego boost.  When I’m tired of fighting over what’s for dinner.  When I’m awfully low, when I’m feeling cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of it.

Wait a minute.

Anyway, my husband and I have somehow raised picky eaters.  Not picky in terms of will only eat tater tots and chicken strips picky.  I’m talking food critic picky.  I’m not sure how two garbage eaters, people who have such low standards of food quality that we once ate an entire gas station pizza off the bed in a roadside motel, could have produced children with such high-level palates.

Take last night, for instance.  I made a potato dish that took an hour and a half from start to finish.  And this was just the side dish.  The aroma was mouth-watering, the taste delectable and perfect.  The kids eyeballed it, inquired about the ingredients, and tasted it delicately as if deciphering whether I used sea salt or table.  My son declared “This has wine in it,” and pushed it away, and my daughter picked at hers, finally stating, “I’m not a fan of the flavors in this.”

Lest you think that I am a hack in the kitchen, I most decidedly am not.  I win rave reviews for most of the food I prepare – from others, just not my children.

So you see why I might need a go-to meal, one that I can depend on to catapult me into the stratosphere, or at least earn the title of Best Cook in their eyes.

It’s not hotdogs, nor tacos, nor McDonald’s.  It contains more fresh vegetables than most any other meal I create, with the exception of Big Salad With Croutons.  It contains lean meat, a light sauce, and despite all the chopping is relatively quick to get on the table.

It’s called – get ready for it: The Best Chicken Stir-Fry in the History of The World.

I know what you’re thinking: what is this exotic-sounding dish?  It sounds complex. Well, it’s not.  Listen up, special friend: even you can do this.

So grab your shopping list, because here it comes.

The Best Chicken Stir-Fry in the History of The World

Ingredients:

1 T. vegetable oil. You can use any type of oil here.  I use veg, because it says veg.  But once I used olive, and no one was the wiser.  Except for me, who is always the wiser.

Half a head of green cabbage, chopped.  You know what I do with the other half?  Well, sometimes I make coleslaw, which my children love.  Kids aren’t supposed to like coleslaw, I know.  We’ve already established that my kids are weird.  When I’m super mad at them I just throw the other half of cabbage in the trash and say, “Watch this, brats!  No coleslaw for you!!”  No, ha ha, I don’t do that.  I take it out back and feed it to the wild rabbits.

This monster ate a whole half a cabbage that I refused to feed to my kids.

1 small zucchini, sliced, and slices cut in half.  Those are some pretty specific cutting instructions, eh?  Yes, they are.  You want to hit this out of the park or don’t you?  Cut it like I said.

1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized chunks, or sliced, whichever you prefer.  RBP is one of my favorite vegetables.  Don’t know why I said that, or why you’d care.  Just thought I’d throw it out there.  Send me red bell peppers.

1 carrot, sliced.  Be a man and use a real carrot, not the baby kind.  Do you know what baby carrots are?  They are adult carrots that were subject to a kind of crushing water torture to strip them of their size and skin to appear small.  You can go for the babies, but I don’t.  I don’t like not knowing what was in the water that tortured my carrots into submission.  FYI:  buying baby carrots is like saying that carrot abuse is okay.  It’s a social issue.

1 medium onion, cut into chunks, or sliced.  I hate cutting onions.  They really do make me cry.  The best part of cutting onions is that my kids stare into my face to see if I am crying.  One day my daughter asked me if onions make me cry for real, as if there’s a chemical in them that triggers sadness.  Because I always jump at the chance to educate my children in the ways of the world, I seized this teachable moment and said yes, darling, they do.

You may have noticed that this picture does not include all the ingredients in the recipe.
It's because I didn't actually make this meal for this post.*
That's right.  It's how I roll.
Use your imagination for the ingredients that are missing.
Better yet, why don't you stop being so perfect all the time.

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch chunks.  Alternately, use about 2 ½ cups of shredded cooked chicken.  A rotisserie chicken works well here.  Seriously.  It’s just chicken.  You shouldn’t really make it complicated.

We’re almost done.  It sounds like a lot, but don’t wimp out now.

½-1 c. bottled stir-fry sauce.  BA-BAM!  It’s a shortcut.  I don’t know what’s in stir-fry sauce.  I don’t want to know.  It’s in the International section of my grocery store, along with things like rice and beans.  Because we live in the rural Northeast, where things like rice and beans are International but things like pickled pigs’ feet are right in there with the regular canned meats.  I don’t pretend to know the secrets of the universe.

½-1 t. ground ginger.  This is the money ingredient.  I’m not sure what that means.

White or brown rice, cooked separately.  Cook as much as you and your hog family eats.  Ours, while only containing four people, is a huge hog family.  My daughter and I can destroy 3 or 4 cups of white rice because we have extreme starch and carbohydrate syndrome.  It's totally a thing.

Not nearly enough rice for us.  Or me.

OPTIONAL:  Any combination of the following: water chestnuts, bean sprouts, baby corns, or any traditional add-in that you find in International.  I’m not crazy about bamboo shoots, but I imagine they would be delicious here also if they float your particular boat. 

Toppings: You can get some chow mein noodles to sprinkle over the top after cooking.   Sometimes we use them, and sometimes I eat the entire can of chow mein noodles as a bedtime snack.  Or chop up some (unsalted) peanuts or cashews to top it JEEZ do I have to mention everything that goes with this dish?

OK – let’s cook this shizz.

Instructions:

1. First, get a wok or your largest pan or skillet.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, there are a lot of ingredients here.  You have to cook them all together.  Get your big pan.  We have a wok, which has two uses: 1) this stir fry 2) holding Halloween candy on trick or treat night.  Guess what we will NEVER have for dinner on Halloween?  OMG you’re a genius.

Do you see it?  It's the one on the left.  BOOM.  Multi-tasking mother of kitchen equipment.

2. Heat the oil in your pan or wok.  Add half of all the veggies (including any optional International ingredients).  Stir-fry for a few minutes until veggies are crisp-tender but not mushy, unless you like mushy then you are a weirdo.  When you’ve finished cooking those, remove them from the pan and add the other half and cook them the same way.  You may have to use more oil.  I always do.  Maybe you overdid it your first go-round and don’t need more.  That’s okay too.  I can’t help it if you’ve got a heavy hand with the oil bottle.  I’d rather you have a heavy hand with the wine bottle when you’re pouring me a glass, but let’s talk about that later, shall we?  Remove the second batch of veggies from the wok.

Oh, you are a peach.
Just leave the bottle, please.

3. Add chicken to the wok.  Stir-fry it until it is cooked through – that means no pink, unless you like salmonella.  When I use already-cooked chicken, I still heat it in the wok because I'm wild like that.  I usually just push it around the wok a little until it becomes hot.  When chicken is cooked, push it away from the center of the wok and add the stir-fry sauce and ginger.  Stir it until it bubbles, and then dump the veggies back into the wok and mix it all together until heated through.

4. Serve it over hot cooked rice, and sprinkle with the crunchy toppings.  My kids always insist on soy sauce or they just add more stir-fry sauce to their servings because they are insane about the sauce.

Enjoy this meal as your go-to on nights when nothing is going your way, or when everyone wants Chinese takeout but you’ve blown the food budget on new underwear and bras.  You’ll eat this for days because it is a ton of food. You’ll also eat it for days because it is delicious.

*I realize that not actually making this dish to go along with the post is a recipe post no-no.  However, I would like to defend my position by saying that I write extremely detailed recipes and you probably don’t need pictures anyway.  Plus, this dish, although The Best, kind of looks like garbage when it is all finished.  Bon Appetit!

*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt 2: Share a recipe that everyone in your family loves.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Don't Be Jealous

The other day my phone pinged on my way to the grocery store. 

When I got there, I saw a picture of the gorgeous high-rise view my husband was seeing at a business meeting in a city where it was warm and sunny with clear blue skies.  He included the message: Don’t be jealous.

He’s so cute.

My husband has always been appreciative of the things he sees and does on his business trips, because as a kid growing up in rural America he didn’t have the opportunity to experience all of what the world has to offer.  That’s okay.  Most of us didn’t.  He never fails to be adequately impressed when he sees something that’s breathtaking or awe-inspiring.

And he shares it with me.

It’s cold here, and damp, and everyone’s muttering “more snow coming” under their breath for days, for fear that it will actually happen.  Well, it is winter, and winter isn’t exactly the most gorgeous season in our area, except for the 15% of the time after it snows and is sunny and gorgeous.  The rest of the time it’s just ugly. As I looked out my window at the gray, 37-degree sky in my own present, I kind of was a little bit jealous. 

And then I looked over at the car next to me, and the lady in the passenger seat was holding a rabbit.

And for some reason, I wasn’t jealous of my husband’s view anymore.

A view like this pales in comparison when the lady next to you is holding a forest animal in her lap.

Friday, January 17, 2014

SOS


I’m a jeans girl.

Dark-rinse jeans, faded jeans, skinny jeans, dressy jeans, boot-cut jeans.  I have jeans for working outside and jeans for lounging on the couch.  There’s even a pair of jeggings that I love but I don’t know that they count.

I’ve always been lackadaisical about the fit – if they feel good, I’m good – but zone in on the length instead.  Not all styles of jeans come in various lengths for women.  They do for men, because the world is catered to men, but let’s not get into that today.  I have been known to stand in the middle of a jeans store and declare loudly, “I can’t shop here.  They don’t carry jeans in long lengths.”  Then I flip my hair and stalk out and vow never to shop there again.  Until they have a huge sale and there I am, snapping up a pair of flares that hit me right at the ankle.  No matter – into the boots they go.

I know what you’re thinking: Premium denim, Andrea.  Go for the goods.  Well, then.  Let’s pretend I don’t have hundreds to spend on a pair of lounge-on-the-couch and clean the toilets jeans.  Better yet, let me say it a different way: I think it's ridiculous to spend hundreds on a pair of lounge-on-the-couch and clean the toilets jeans.

Because of my affinity for denim pants, I’ve educated myself.  I know to stay away from ultra-low rise and conversely, super high waists.  I know to run screaming from tapered legs, front patch pockets, wide leg openings, and loose fit for my body type.  But the choices are narrowing for me.

Recently I heard that you shouldn’t wear bling on your jeans past age 40.  And why not?  I have a pair that sports a rhinestone button.  It’s always covered by my shirt.  Should I really get rid of them?  Please tell me I shouldn’t get rid of them.  Well, okay.  I really only wear them in the winter.  I guess I could get a new pair without the sparkles.  Into the giveaway pile they go.

What alarms me most is that the back pocket size of jeans is increasing in importance.  That if you choose unwisely, your butt will have the unfortunate effect of appearing larger, or square, or long, or lumpy.  Okay, I made up that last one.  But I am concerned.

Some of the pockets in the backs of my jeans are smaller than others.  Will my butt look bigger or smaller if the pocket is big?  What if it is small?  Will my butt appear Goliath-esque when pitted against a diminutive pocket? 

Placement is also key.  Wearing a pair of jeans with lower pockets will make your butt look younger.  Wearing them with high pockets constitutes [sucking in breath] mom jeans.

When I received this snippet of intel, I rushed to my closet and tried on every last pair of my jeans.  They all had high pockets.  What fresh hell is this world turning into?  I didn’t know that I was unwittingly telling the world that I’m a mom through my jeans pockets.  The rules are against me.  Against all of us.

I really don’t see a way out of this predicament.  I just bought a pair of jeans that were on the fast track to becoming my favorites, the pair I reach for when my day jumps from one thing to the next.  Grocery store, dental cleaning, laundry, school pick-up.  Who knows where my day might end – I might have to rush out to buy a poster board or drop off a casserole.  I need jeans that are with me for the long haul, those that I’m not fantasizing about clawing off my body at 5 pm.  In addition, I can't just scrap the collection of jeans that I’ve curated over the years and start all over.  I retrieve my rhinestone-encrusted jeans from the thrift store pile and sadly hang them back in my closet.

I’m defeated.  Resignation looms.

I’m a mom, and I wear Mom jeans.

Help.

Traitors.

*******

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Perfect Parents Bum Me Out


The other day, a friend and fellow mother shared an article that was written by a father of a dozen adult children, outlining how he raised fully-adjusted, well-mannered, college-educated, successful kids, and that not paying their college tuitions (even though he could have) was just one indicator of his parenting prowess.

She was frustrated after reading it, because the author’s list of parenting tactics seemed impossible for a mother at home raising two young boys while her husband worked long hours, sometimes out of town.  Are their children destined to a squandered future filled with social woes and overlooked opportunities because she doesn’t hold them to the same standards as this Super Dad?  Does she have a pair of potential criminals on her hands because they are mischievous spilling machines who show no promise of ceasing to make messes on the kitchen floor?  Is she a failure because she can’t get two children to eat the same foods, let alone twelve children?

After reading the article, part of me agreed with the author about certain things that make for ease of life with kids (sharing chores and limiting snacks, for instance), but a larger part of me was irritated with the preachy way this father presented how he (and his oft-pregnant wife) managed to produce such fine, upstanding citizens of the world.

photo courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

And instead of driving me to adopt his pragmatic parenting advice to avoid having to pay my own children’s college tuition, this blustery oratory on parenting perfectionism made me feel completely marginalized.  I felt as if he was implying that any efforts that fall short of his list of parental responsibilities will inevitably lead to failed parenting.

And then I got a little indignant.

We already have the Mommy Wars, where Working Mothers and At Home Mothers are at each other’s throats, both vying for the title of World’s Best Parent.  This battle has only served to separate us into identifiable and competitive groups, instead of supporting each other in the hardest job that anyone will ever bear.

Now we have a new player: Super Dad, aka Privileged Grandfather.  He chimes in from his lofty perch on the far side of child-rearing, waving at moms in the trenches covered in diaper cream, smashed peas, and Goldfish crumbs, no matter if they’re dressed in yoga pants or business casual. He waxes nostalgic about his own parenting past that is blurred in all the right places.  He lectures us about the good old days when he and his wife managed the children according to rules they came up with together, and he tells us that this is the key to raising perfect children.  I will just briefly add his admission of holding a “prosperous job” while his wife presumably stayed home.

I realize in that a large family, rules and regulations are needed to avoid chaos.  If it’s important in our family of four that everyone clean up their own mess, how much more important should it be in a houseful of 14?  If it takes me half a day to do all the laundry that my family creates in a week, how much longer would it take one person to tackle washing clothes for fourteen?  A large family needs to share the load, so to speak.  In our measly family, constant adherence to the rules is unnecessary to get the job done.  Sometimes my son leaves a dirty shirt on the floor of his room, and I put it in the hamper for him.



In a large family, certain things aren’t realistic.  If my husband and I struggle to save money in order to help our two children with college, how much more difficult would it be to save for ten more kids at any level of prosperity?  Similarly, if one of twelve children grows out of his shoes, not all twelve children should get a new pair of shoes.  In our family the situation is different.  I don’t think it means that I’m producing spoiled brats just because once in a while my children get a pair of shoes that they don’t need.

Should parents be disciplined and have patience in teaching their children basic life skills?  Sure.  It only takes me four hours to clean my house from top to bottom.  Believe me: I have the time.  But if I do it myself every week, how do my children get a chance to learn how to clean, or even that it needs to be done?  They don’t.  So we all share the task.  I think Super Dad would agree with me.  But I will mention that our shared chore time is not without arguments, and whining about who does what, and occasionally, tears.  And sometimes, cleaning just isn’t worth the emotions, and the chores are forgotten.  We’re not perfect, but we try.  I get the feeling that Super Dad would never admit that his children executed tasks with anything but perfect agreeableness, nor would he admit that he might have been inconsistent with rules or discipline once or twice.

Not much cleaning got done that day.

He forgot to mention that it takes several attempts to enforce rules in a household; his blithe mention that “boys and girls had to learn to sew” fails to specify that he or his wife probably spent hours teaching again and again the mechanics of sewing on buttons.   He fails to acknowledge that children don’t learn by being told, nor by seeing or doing something once.  It probably took several frustrating confrontations before the kids caught on that they had to do it themselves.  Then again, maybe his kids were perfect from the womb and were born with a natural tendency to thread a needle. But probably not.

To be fair, Super Dad never said “Everyone should parent like I did to produce perfect kids.”  At no point did he profess to be perfect, or all-knowing, or even great.  He merely presented how he did things.  But his declarations filled in the blanks, the empty spots where today’s mothers already feel lacking.  This article added to the guilt mothers already feel about not giving our kids every single benefit we can.  It makes us feel bad about our worth in a world where our worth is already under attack.

I hate that this kind of article makes mothers question our own qualifications, and forces us to compare ourselves against unattainable goals.  Parenting is hard enough without being faced with all the things I’m not doing for my children’s future well-being.  This article demoralizes parents who deal with food allergies, developmental delays, learning challenges, sensory issues, and a myriad of other things that we face today, things that weren’t common when Super Dad was in charge.

Raising flawed kids has tested my mettle, given me patience, and grown me in places I never thought I’d needed to grow.  It has humbled me like nothing else ever could.  Never again will I feel as if I am Master of the Universe after dealing with a strong-willed child who uses arguing as a preferred mode of communication or one who is firmly against eating fruit of any kind.  Raising flawed kids as a flawed parent has tested and stretched me in ways that I don’t think I would have been stretched if I had just drawn up a set of rules to enforce upon an army of offspring.  I have learned that father (and often mother) doesn’t always know best, and my children, individuals that are so like us and so unlike us in all the ways you can think, have taught me that.



My children will not be gifted a junkyard car and a how-to manual so that they learn how an engine works and to feel the accomplishment of building their own vehicle.  I will not be asking teachers to put my children into advanced placement classes in which they did not earn a spot on their own.  They will not be taken camping in order to be taught how to survive in the wild, and we did not send them across oceans to visit relatives when they were five years old. 

My children will be given room to grow, and mess up, and they will see me do the same.  They will learn how to apologize by example, and that everyone fights and is lazy once in a while.  They will learn how it feels to fail a test and deal with inconsistency.  They will learn that not everyone is meant to play sports, and that we can appreciate each other’s differences, and that you can live a rich life without being wealthy. 

They will most likely reach adulthood in an imperfect state, full of questions about things they did not learn at home.  I am not a perfect parent.  They are not perfect kids.  The truth is I’d rather have my two imperfect kids any day than Super Dad’s twelve perfect ones.  I’m sure he feels the same way.

And I’m okay with that.




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This post is a reaction to the following article.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Lady in France: A Review


When I was a teenager, I was in our school’s France exchange program.  The culmination of four years learning, speaking, and writing French and discovering France’s culture and history was a month-long trip to France experiencing life as a student living with a French family.  I couldn’t wait to get there.

And then I got there, and it was not all accordion music and sipping wine on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, falling in love with a new French boy every day.  It was navigating public transport, eating strange foods, being lost in every conversation, looking decidedly American and feeling foolish and oafish among all the French students.  I went from “Un café, s’il vous plaît,” to "AH MA GAH I JUST WANT SOME ICE IN MY COKE!”

It was a struggle for me, but full of experiences I was promised all those years in French class.  I came home with weeks of memories and a suitcase full of French school supplies, clothes, books, pictures, and a half-dozen pains au chocolat that my French mother carefully stowed in my travel bag when I wasn’t looking.

As memories fade around the edges and become more romantic with time, my trip to France became the one experience that all of my other life experiences compared to and paled against.  Something unexplainable happened during my time in France that changed my soul.

I developed a love for the culture, finding ways in all the years since to get back there and soak it up again. I’ve been back for academic conferences, family vacations, girls’ getaways, and even piggy-backed on a work trip that my husband took, dragging the kids along.  Over the years I’ve revisited old memories and made new ones, always looking for a way to get back to France.

So naturally, when I stumbled across Jennie’s blog A Lady inFrance – about her life as an American mother making a life not wholly unlike my current one, but just outside Paris – I glommed onto it like that awkward hanger-on friend that everyone had in high school.  You know the one.  The kind I still am, evidently.

As I read her blog, I fell in love with Jennie’s gentle voice and her graceful way with words even as she describes her daily life as a mom in another country.  I laughed with her mishaps and nodded my head in agreement with her spiritual truths.  I made her recipes for my family and oohed and ahhed at the gorgeous pictures she takes of her surroundings.  She was a warm embrace, a genuine person, and I related to her so much.

At some point, she started publishing her memoir on the blog, a chapter each week. 

I read, cried, laughed, and commented.  I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  Her story drew me in, leading me on an adventure across the world and back again, learning about a past so different than my own, but through the same gentle, warm voice that I’d come to love. Through that time we became friends.

That was about the time that Jennie announced that she was publishing her memoir as a book.  And when she asked friends to do a review for her, I jumped at the chance to read her story again in its entirety.




Her journey from college student living in France to life as a mom in France, gripped me even the second time around.  Her life experiences living all over the world (she’s lived on four continents) are amazing.  It’s hard to believe that one person has seen so much, has lived so much.  Jennie has, and her gorgeous descriptions of the events in her life make you feel as if you remember them with her.

Jennie takes you from France, to Taiwan, to the US, to Somaliland, Djibouti, and Kenya in Africa, and back to France.  She takes you through her own losses and joys, her heartaches and healing love experiences, and her faith journey in an open way that suggests she trusts us with the deepest secrets of her heart.  You find that she is a great friend, a strong woman, and a thoughtful partner who is generous with her life stories and what they’ve meant to her.  You find that behind all the action, there is a quiet spirit who is searching for meaning just like the rest of us.

At the end of the book, you know Jennie.  You see yourself in her, even if you haven’t lived in Europe, Asia, or Africa.  You see yourself in her even if you haven’t seen or experienced the things she has, even if you don’t share her locale.  Through her story she inspires you to be open and honest with yourself and your loved ones, to be a great friend and to appreciate all that you’ve been given, even if it’s difficult to receive. 

Jennie is honest, fearless, and genuine, and her life story as a daughter, sister, student, professional, wife, missionary, mother, and friend will stay with you after you read her book.  You will fall in love with her just as I did, even if you’re not the worst kind of  Francophile like I am.

In honor of Jennie’s publication, I am offering a chance to win a copy of her book, A Lady in France, to YOU!  And I just might throw in a little something extra just for you as well.  OMG you are a lucky duck.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Not a winner?  Don't want to wait for the contest to be over?  It's okay.  You can buy Jennie's book at Amazon right here.  Do it - you won't be sorry!

Find Jennie Goutet at her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

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**I was not compensated for this review.  All gushing thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Friday, January 10, 2014

Freedom

 This weekend I am going away while my husband stays home.  It’s a cruel twist that reverses our roles completely, as he will be in charge of everything household-related.

I say cruel because he knows not what the day holds within the walls of our house.  Nobody really does.  It's frightening.  Each day I sit atop a menacing undercurrent – today could be the day that the fridge stops working, or the internet goes out, or one of our children has several last-minute activities to do within a four hour period, all of which have to be coordinated with at least six other adults, or a school project needs to be done using cardboard boxes, glitter, and shoelaces.  He doesn't see any of it, as each day he escapes to a haven where the mundane responsibilities of a homeowner don't reach him.

Now it's my turn.

I love my husband.  He is no slouch.  I don’t wish him ill.  But when I am home, I am the default.  Being the default is exhausting.  I am glad that this weekend, I won’t be home to DEAL.

After all, anything can happen.

And I will be blissfully unaware of it.

And a small, mean part of me hopes that he has to deal with a little more than he usually does.

Is it wrong of me to hope that he runs out of toilet paper, only to have to replace the roll himself?

Is it wrong of me to hope that he wants to eat toast, only to find that all of our bread is in the freezer?

Is it wrong of me to hope that the smoke alarm starts chirping at 3 am?

Is it wrong of me to hope that one of the garbage cans will fill, forcing him to replace the bag?

Is it wrong of me to be glad that he has planned activities to do that require him to be on time and that he will have to motivate children to do the same?

Is it wrong of me to hope he runs out of cash so that HE WILL HAVE TO VISIT AN ATM?

I think not.




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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Alerting the Authorities

Um, hello, is this the police station?

Why yes, ma’am.  Yes it is.  What seems to be the trouble?

Well, no trouble.  No trouble at all, really.  Though I am alarmed.

Well, I can send an officer out your way if you want to make a statement.  Can you explain why you’re alarmed?

There’s this banana plant.  In my kitchen.  It’s… it’s getting pretty big.  Alarmingly big.  I’m frightened.  Have you seen Jumanji?

Uh, ma’am.  Did you say banana plant?

Yes.  Banana plant.  I have one, and it’s taking over.  My kitchen, that is.  It gets a new leaf each week.  The water from its leaves dripped on the tile and ate the finish off in spots.  [whispers] I think it’s trying to kill us.

(Long pause)  Ma’am, have you been taking drugs?

No.

Alcohol?

No.

Pills?

Now, sir, really.  I’m afraid for my life, and you’re asking about my personal habits?

Ma’am, we don’t act on calls regarding distress about a banana plant growing too large for a kitchen.  Our people have work to do.  If you keep this up we will flag your number for false alarms.  Is that what you want?

No, I do not.  I’m still alarmed, though.

Then put the plant in another room.  Or take it outside.  Then it will be out of your way.

But, sir!  It is a tropical plant.  It will die in the cold.  I brought it in so it would survive the winter.  In the summer we plant it in the yard and it is glorious.

Then I don’t know what to tell you.  Summer is only a few months away.  You’ll just have to hang on until then.

Yes.  Yes, I guess you’re right.  Thank you, sir.

You’re welcome, ma’am.  In the meantime, please keep in mind that the police line is for emergencies only.  Not for complaints about rogue houseplants.

(chuckling)  Okay.  I’ll keep that in mind.  Goodbye.

Have a nice day, ma'am.  [click]

The plot thickens.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hands Free Mama: A Review





When I was given the opportunity to read Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free Mama, a book about her journey to put down the electronics and say no to other time-consuming distractions in order to live her life as it was intended – as a fully engaged parent and spouse – I thought, “Well, okay.  I know plenty of people for whom saying no and putting down their phones is a real issue.  I’ve only had a smartphone for a little over a year, but I’m not glued to it.  Okay, I spend way too much time on Facebook.  But I wait until the kids go to school.  I sure don’t spend too much time away from my family leading committees or spreading myself too thin in various volunteer positions.  I have a good balance.  But I’ll read this book.  After all, it’s a great idea for some.”

And of course I thought “Huh.  This would be a great book for my husband, Mr. Can You Bring Me My iPad, to read.”

And then I began reading.  And almost from the start, I noticed that as I sat at the kitchen table in the mornings, laptop open as my children came down to start the day, my nose was on the screen as I mumbled “mmm-hmms” and half-hearted “do you have your gym clothes?” and snapping at them when they interrupted me to ask a question.  I noticed that I was hiding from my family to read another block of blogs.  I noticed that I was watching the clock for when everyone went to bed so I could relax and veg out in front of the TV or read my book.  No matter that I hadn’t spent any real time with them all day or evening.

Everyone knows that moms are busy.  When kids are little, moms are busy wiping noses and taking care of basic needs.  As children get older, the busyness continues, but it occurs at different times and for different reasons.  I am no longer reading to my children, but helping with homework.  I am no longer dressing them, but finding their basketball sneakers.  I’m going to their band concerts and sporting events and awards assemblies. As my kids age, I’m busy with them, but I’ve also filled my spare time with my own stuff.  Because after a while, moms just need a BREAK.

Hands Free Mama made me realize that I was allowing my spare time, my breaks, to leak into time I spent with my family, that after years of putting aside my needs for them, I swung wildly in the other direction to take care of my own desires above theirs.

It’s not the best feeling, to know that you are missing out on the important things – like relationships with the most dearly loved people in your life.

That’s just what Stafford thought when she embarked on her Facebook community The Hands Free Revolution, her blog Hands Free Mama, and now her book of the same name.

Stafford peppers her chapters – subtitled with good words like Awareness, Connectedness, Serenity, Simplification, and Acceptance, among others – with real-life anecdotes from her own experience living distractedly, what she missed by being distracted, and then what she gained back by living hands free.  Her stories could be my stories, even despite our differing levels of activity.  Stafford is a doer – she is the committee leader, the all hands on deck volunteer, the PTA mom, the go-to when something needs to be done now and right – and I am not.  But her actions mirrored mine, and we both need to learn how to put aside the distractions to focus on what really matters.

Playing with your kids.  Having real conversations with them, no electronics allowed.  Taking time to watch a blazing sunset.  Noticing little pieces of your child’s personality that makes her who she is.  Really loving your family – not just saying the words.

It’s a simple concept, a “duh” idea.  Who needs to be reminded to love her loved ones?

I do.  We all do.  When distractions take over and we find that we are choosing them over the most beloved people in our lives, we all need to be reminded of why we are here in the first place.  Is holding onto our outside responsibilities with an iron grip our purpose in life?  Probably not.

“I was buried.  Buried beneath the weight of my distractions. I was no longer living.  I was just barely existing” (p. 12)

This is where Stafford found herself, and I admit, this is where I find myself sometimes, too.   Being hands free meant that Stafford had to give up some of the things that previously brought her joy but that eventually weighed her down.  When she intentionally gave up those things, she found “Sunset Moments” with her family, wonderful moments in the ordinariness of life that she previously would have missed had she kept up her previous level of activity and distraction. 

“For the first time in a long time, I was not just managing life, I was living it” (p. 37).

The truth is, all of us need time to step back from distractions and really focus on what is important in our lives, no matter when those distractions appear.  Hands Free Mama made me realize that I was pretending that I was fully engaged, when really I could do so much better.  And that the rewards of living hands free are so much more than any rewards I could gain from the things that distract me. 

I’m far from being totally hands free in life.  I still snap at my kids when they interrupt, still find myself counting the hours sometimes.  But then I look into the faces of my husband and children, and I remember:

They are why I am here.

Hands Free Mama is here to remind me.

“As adults, sometimes we must do what we need to do.  But other times you will find yourself saying, ‘Right now, I see an opportunity to connect with my loved one, and that is the most important thing I can do right now.’  Choosing connection over distraction offers a chance to nurture your most sacred relationships – now and in the future.  I cannot thing of a better use of your precious time, can you?” (p. 218)

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Stafford’s book goes on sale tomorrow, January 7, 2014.  Find it on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.  Also read more about living Hands Free at Rachel's blog and at her Facebook community, The Hands Free Revolution.


I was given an Advanced Reader copy of Stafford’s book Hands Free Mama to review.  All opinions are my own.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Feel The Burn


I’ve been slacking off on the ol’ bloggeroo lately.

And not without reason.  Lack of inspiration, for instance.  Who uses words like ol’ bloggeroo?  What is this, the old west?

But lack of inspiration and absence of good words aren’t the only reasons I’ve been slacking.  I’m past the timeliness of 2013 recap posts, past the Happy New Year posts, and I can’t bother to write out goals for myself, much less put my dear blog readers through the agony of reading what I have planned for myself this year.  I don’t really have a plan, anyway.  You’re welcome, Mom.

I’m slacking because of that tried-and-true condition that never fails.

Burnout.

Not on writing, oh, dear reader, never on writing.  But on doing.  Doing according to a timeline.  Keeping my eye on the calendar and blowing through tasks like I’m in some sort of Amazing Race of my own, except there’s no Phil Keoghan at the end to inform me that I’ve made it or I’m the last to arrive at my destination, ending the game for me – because I’m the only contestant and this game will never end for me. 

And because blog posting requires a timeline – okay, a self-imposed timeline, but one nonetheless – I put it aside, too, in favor of getting caught up on Facebook and Twitter silliness, reading books, becoming one with all the food and wine in the house, and reading all the magazines, oh, Entertainment Weekly, why must you come every week?

There are crumbs littering the floor, tumbleweeds of hair and dust from all the people and animals that have been through my house in the past week or so rolling ahead of my footsteps.  There are fingerprints on windows, red and green candy foil on the rug, glitter everywhere OMG THE GLITTER and all the Christmas décor is still out.

I’m burned out on doing stuff.

And while my coffee and I sit here and wonder just how much longer I can stand seeing the stockings hung by the chimney with less care than I’d like, I just thought I’d let you know.

Here’s to 2014 and getting back into the swing of things.  Cheers!


OMG we have the worst Christmas decorations.