Thursday, April 17, 2014

Happy Days

Have you guys heard about the project called 100 Happy Days? My friend Carly started posting pictures on Facebook with the hashtag #100HappyDays, and it made me curious. If you check out the link, you'll see that some kid (okay, he is 27, and sadly that is a "kid" to my almost-44-year-old self) started the challenge in December because, "I believe that being happy is a choice and everyone can be happy just by appreciating little things in life one has instead of engaging in the constant chase for ever rising internal & external expectations, which leaves no time for being happy." I won't comment on the grammar, but I love the sentiment. He asks that you join the challenge, and then every day, for one hundred days, you post a picture of something that makes you happy. Anything!

Last year took a toll on my happy, optimistic self. We started 2013 with a horrible and shocking loss that shook our whole family, moved on through a lengthy hospital vigil while one of my best friends from high school prayed her 12-year-old-daughter wouldn't die (she didn't), sailed through the fall down the stairs that nearly killed me, enjoyed the summer and then launched into my dad dying, my beloved dog dying, and a ridiculous hospitalization for me because things were trapped in my uterus (yup, try to figure that one out). I started 2014 with a guarded optimism that grew as the first few months were actually pretty nice, then I got crabby all over again when this damn disc popped in my back, flattened my nerves, numbed my leg and caused constant and unending pain.

That whole complainy paragraph is to say that I'm not feeling too happy. I'm definitely not noticing things that should be making me happy, and I am probably not that fun to be around.

So! The challenge. I'm in. I'm going to post on Twitter (@muchmamadrama) if you care to follow along. I told Caroline about the idea of using Instagram for good, not evil, and she's going to start the challenge with a few of her friends...and I can't imagine a better exercise for middle-school tweens.

So here's my first picture. This was actually taken yesterday, when Whit, Jack, Caroline and I took Piper on a hike during our spring break trip. Bear in mind, Whit is still feeling crappy from the flu, Jack is still complaining about strep, and Caroline still thinks it's too cold for spring break. My back still hurts and Piper's not perfect when we drop her leash. I had plenty of negatives swirling around my brain, yet I did stop and appreciate this moment, when Caroline grabbed Piper's leash and sprinted down the path with her. It made me thankful for my beautiful, strong, healthy daughter, and my crazy puppy, and the crisp spring air, and the very lovely experience of a family hike.



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The opposite of effortless

Hey, all you people posting happy, sundrenched Facebook pictures of your spring break trip...yes, you drinking fruity drinks in Puerto Rico, you frolicking in the sand in Palm Beach, you seeing hot Broadway shows with the family:

You suck.

Because I am jealous.

Because you make spring break look effortless.

Like you twinkled your perky little noses and you were transported to said drink/beach/show.

I, too, have a trip planned for this week. I, too, want to frolic and drink fruity drinks. I don’t even like Facebook but I could be convinced to post pictures if I were ten pounds lighter, in a bikini, on a beach, with a fruity drink, brought to me by a cabana boy. I would like to be on a porch, looking at a lake, reading a book. I would like to be in a hot air balloon, despite my fear of heights.

I would like to be anywhere, and I would like the getting there part to be effortless.

But it’s not, and I haven’t even left my house.

Maybe my angst is because I am kicking the malfunctioning sump pump every ten minutes because it is raining so hard that I swear to you Noah and his ark just floated down the street.

Maybe it’s because my husband, who is usually very helpful at times like these, has the stomach flu. Did you hear me? He's a man. And he's sick. Enough said.

Maybe it’s because Jack has strep and is complaining quite a bit, though I would point out the strep was a sneak attack and his throat didn’t even hurt until the lab results came back.

Maybe it’s because Caroline is...Caroline, saying that “yes I am excited about our trip but I wish it was going to be warmer there.” (Why, honey? Did the snow in the forecast throw you? Because yes, it will snow there. Yay. More snow.)

Maybe it’s because I am still dealing with that whole, painful devil-in-my-MRI issue.

Maybe it’s because as I am cleaning the guinea pig’s cage, the dog is chasing me trying to eat the guinea pig’s poop, and thinking of another dog and another spring break trip, I am just thankful the dog isn’t trying to eat the guinea pig.

Maybe it’s because I want to twinkle my perky little nose and be transported to our destination.

Effortlessly.

But no.

I will pack. I will get gas and fill the car with luggage and ditch the guinea pig (thank you, LW) and take out the trash and turn off the A/C and water the plants and kick the damn sump pump one more time and then turn on the alarm and toss the strep kid and his antibiotics and the stomach flu guy with a barf bag and the puppy fully satiated thanks to the poop and the tween with her mind-numbing iPhone…I will toss all of them in the car, and I will drive far away.

To a lake, and a porch, and a book, and maybe even a fruity drink.

Look for me on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Say YES to drugs!

Let me begin by telling you that I am not a drug person. Though I’m sure drugs were rampant in my private girls’ high school or at the “party hard” college I attended, I never saw them. We drank Sun Country Wine Coolers and thought we were cool; we never really felt the need to search out anything stronger.

Except, in fact, I once mentioned to my mom that we were going to try “ex” on a college spring break trip. I knew nothing more about it than that name and that it gave you energy and you could probably lose weight because you’d be dancing all night.

(The mom in me now knows I was probably actually referring to Ritalin. Which still sounds tempting.)

My mother, perfectly suited to manage five children, said, “For the love of God, you have enough energy as is. Don’t waste your money.” And that was that.

For the past (how old is that giant baby I carried?) nine and a half years (no coincidence), I have had problems with my back. I like to run and bike and hike and lift weights and take exercise classes and a long time ago, my lower back gave me the finger and told me to stay in bed. I didn’t, so it retaliates every now and then.

It retaliated hard over the weekend.

Actual conversation with my doctor Monday:

Me: What do you see on the MRI? The devil?

Dr. F, laughing: Yes, Julie, I see Satan on your MRI.

Me: Hey, don’t knock it. People see Jesus on a piece of toast.

Dr. F, squinting at the MRI: Well, actually, it does look pretty bad…

“Pretty bad” translates to me, in the emergency room, on Saturday. Crying. Begging them to hit me over the head with a baseball bat so the pain would stop for five minutes. (Ignoring my husband’s curiously enthusiastic request to be the one holding the bat.) Accepting a dose of Percocet, even as I acknowledged that upon ingesting it, I would likely never poop again.

Nothing worked. All I could do was pace, because if I stood still/sat down/lay down/sneezed/laughed/breathed I would be in even more pain, and it was already excruciating. So I paced. And paced. And cried because it hurt and I had been pacing for seven hours and I just wanted to sit down.

Then along came Nurse Tony. And his little IV.

And oh my God, if I could abuse whatever was in that IV, I would recklessly abuse it. The moment he pressed down the plunger, I felt it start in my arms and move all the way to my feet. My back went from a 10(0000) on a scale of 1 to 10 to a .5. My hip stopped throbbing instantly. I sat down. I actually laid down. He asked why I was still crying and I had to explain the relief I felt.

After a little while, my leg got shooting pains in it.

There was Nurse Tony, with another dose.

No more pain. Practically no more consciousness. But I didn't care.

If insurance people weren’t so picky, I would have checked myself into that hospital and kept that drug flowing until they could fix the problem.

It. Was. Awesome.

I told my doctor about it, and his eyes lit up. He had kidney stones, he told me, and the same drug worked miracles.

“In fact,” he said, “I’ve been told the feeling it gives you mimics the way heroin makes you feel.”

I raised my eyebrows.

I’ve watched Weeds and I’m halfway through Breaking Bad.

Mama might just have found herself a new career. And a happy back.

(I'll ignore how thrilled my husband looks at the thought of a second paycheck, regardless of its origins.)


Monday, March 31, 2014

Callerpittars and pigtails

So while I have been busy battling her over Instagram and bugging her about her grades and enduring stony silences because I “just don’t UNDERSTAND,” my daughter turned 12 over the weekend.

I miss the callerpittars and pigtails of preschool. But, despite the preteen-ness of it all, I love the little girl who just turned 12: she is graceful and smart and funny and kind (and stubborn, and willful, and talkative, and sarcastic…because, after all, she is my daughter).

For her birthday dinner, Caroline wanted steak (because, after all, she is her father’s daughter). She chose a nice restaurant and acted maturely impressed when the maĆ®tre d’ wished her a happy birthday upon our arrival. She gave us a grin when the waiter told her to close her eyes and sprinkled confetti at her place. She articulately ordered her petite filet and put her napkin in her lap without so much as a meaningful glance from me.

As I watched her, part of me wondered if there was any little girl left in there; a small piece so I didn’t have to say goodbye just yet.

As we waited for the check, she said, “Dad, you’re the closed hearts.”

I looked over, and she had taken the confetti and started a game of tic tac toe.


And I had my answer, and it was perfect.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring: zero. Winter: a lot.

Winter got in a good sneak attack today. We went to bed last night expecting a few inches of snow, which is not crazy weird in March, and maybe gives us a school delay. We woke up to about nine inches and everything – from schools to the government – closed. Social media was instantly abuzz with locals complaining about the never-ending winter, never-ending snow, never-ending missed school days. I, on the other hand, hold an extremely unpopular view.

(Clears throat.)

Top Ten Reasons I Love A Snow Day

(even if it’s almost trampling the first day of spring)

1. I do not have to make school lunches under the duress of my daughter screaming, “I’m late! Where’s my lunch? What’s in it? I don’t like that!”

2. I do not have to administer a lie detector test to verify my son brushed his teeth. On snow days, I don’t actually care if teeth get brushed or beds get made.

3. I get to experience that childhood thrill of seeing our school on the list of closed schools. Remember what that was like? But back then I was listening to a radio under my Laura Ashley quilt and didn’t subsequently think, “Well, I’m not going to get a damn thing done today.”

4. Sledding. Come on. It’s like dressing up on Halloween or jumping on a trampoline; adults don’t do it…but adults with kids look perfectly normal on a saucer.

5. Shoveling. Don’t laugh; I race outside on snow mornings to shovel. One, it’s great exercise. Two, it appeals to my OCD personality. Three, no one wants to help so they all leave me alone.

6. Cookies. Pot roast. Comfort food. I actually gave up sweets for Lent (so, obviously, everyone suffers) but the pot roast is in the crock pot as we speak.

7. Proof of pet elimination. There’s color coded, visual evidence that proves whether she was just in a weird position or she’s done and I can go back inside. Plus, even squishy dog poop freezes on contact with snow and can be picked up easily.

8. The kids are exhausted from being outside, in twenty pounds of snow clothes, all day. I’m tired from cleaning up after them and mopping melted snow off the hardwood floors. The dog is tired because she’s a puppy and the snow is taller than she is, so a walk becomes a rapid series of vertical leaps.

9. This neighborhood full of new McMansion construction looks pristine. Even a hydraulic excavator looks good covered in snow.

10. Oh, look at that. It’s 5:00. My New Year’s resolution to never drink wine on a weeknight is clearly voided on a day I went careening down an icy hill, did three hundred loads of laundry and didn't try to sell my children on eBay.

Bottoms up, baby.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Parenting is parenting, period.

In 2004, when Caroline was two and I was pregnant with Jack, I wrote an article that would've been a blog post if this blog had even been a twinkle in my eye. Instead, I wrote it, stored it in "Julie's documents" on my computer, and forgot about it.

However, little 12-week-old Piper made me remember this tale, and I thought I'd dust it off and post it.

Two kids, two dogs and ten years later, I'd like to tell my coworker he can bite me. I was totally right.

_______________________________________________________

I sighed in exasperation when I saw the yellow puddle on the floor of the playroom. I then looked into the guilty eyes of my two-year old daughter, Caroline, who was stark naked, and the patient eyes of our five-year-old yellow Lab, Bo, who was also naked except, inexplicably, for a colorful birthday party hat on his head.

“Who did it?” I asked sternly.

No response. Then Caroline, currently in the throes of potty training, said in a whisper, “Bo did it.” Bo just looked at me, almost rolling his eyes.

This unclaimed accident wasn’t the first time I had considered the parallels of parenting kids and dogs. In fact, it was then that I remembered a conversation I had with a coworker about four and a half years ago. He was telling me about being awakened repeatedly the previous night by his toddler. I innocently responded by telling him that I had been awakened repeatedly the previous night as well, but by Bo, who needed to go to the bathroom four times. He told me his son had drawn on the walls with crayon. I commiserated, telling him Bo chewed a chunk off the edge of our antique coffee table. Getting agitated, he told me his son was lactose-intolerant. I told him Bo couldn’t eat onions.

Outraged, he finally snapped, “Raising a child is completely different from having a puppy. It’s insulting to me that you would even dare to compare the two.”

Ignorant, not yet a member of that exclusive parenthood club, I backed off. I figured I couldn’t imagine the difficulties one would experience raising a child, so I considered myself lucky to only be dealing with a puppy. I ignored my mother, who said, “Have a baby, for the love of God. They’re easier than dogs.”

I soldiered through the nights of not sleeping, the destroyed property, the incessant barking and the concerns about his weight gain and doggy development. I fought the panic that arose when our boy dog wouldn’t lift his leg to pee and preferred to squat like a girl dog, wondering if he did, in fact, know he was a boy. My husband and I took Bo to puppy kindergarten, then basic obedience classes, then advanced obedience classes – all on Saturdays at 8:00 am, half an hour away. I cleaned up accidents in the house. I read books on the best way to train dogs and I went to health food stores to buy the ingredients to make homemade dog treats. I planned play dates with neighborhood dogs so Bo would be socialized. I hired an expensive dog walker so Bo would be well taken care of while my husband and I worked. All the while, I remembered my friend’s comment, and I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to have a baby.

Then I had a baby.

I didn’t sleep. Everything I owned was pooped or puked on. To say she cried often is giving her quite a bit of credit. Concerns about weight gain and development ruled the first year of her life. I fought the panic that arose when she tried to dance and I thought she was having seizures. She’s been in Gymboree classes, swimming, gymnastics and music classes since she was six months old. I clean up accidents in the house. I own – and have read – books on every child-rearing philosophy out there. She never ate baby food from a jar; I steamed and pureed organic fruits and vegetables for her. She has a play date network that makes kindergarten pale in comparison. When my husband and I have something to do, she is taken care of by my closest siblings and friends so she gets incredibly attentive care.

It’s exactly like having a dog.

Bo chewed the heels off a pair of $300 pumps. Caroline threw diamond earrings in the toilet and then used the same toilet. Yes, the earrings were recovered, but it wasn’t pretty. Bo needs a three-mile run every day or he’s bouncing off the walls. Caroline needs a solid two hours of physical activity or she’s incorrigible. Now, I love my child infinitely more than I love my dog. He sank down the priority ladder when I had Caroline, and he’ll be lowered another rung with every subsequent child we have. But that doesn’t change the fact that raising a puppy and raising a child are remarkably similar experiences.

My coworker is now the vice president of marketing for a dotcom that made it. I’m a stay-at-home mom expecting my second child. We live in vastly different worlds, and only one of us spends every day with both a dog and a child. I received a smug email from him last week, saying, “Still think having children is analogous to having a dog?”

I didn’t respond. You just can’t talk to people like that.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Torture.

Torture is being The Tapeworm Mom and losing control.

Torture is having your child beg for something and have panic well up inside you as you say no and usher her back into her soundproof, lifeproof bubble.

Torture is wanting to be a cool, understanding mom and also wanting to protect your child from as much hurt as you can.

Torture is, in a word, in this house, Instagram.

Or, as I call it when I talk to my husband, “fucking Instagram.”

She pleaded. She made promises. She said “everyone has it” and everyone ended up being two people. She bargained and negotiated and asked if she could look at it on a friend’s phone and played the “don’t you trust me?” card.

And I said no and “you have to be 13 by law” and told her how horrible social media is for tweens and explained that she will end up a cutter if she has an Instagram account. (Not really. But I came close.)

She won, because she has an Instagram user name (because even I know that an unequivocal, immovable NO! Because I said so! isn’t exactly stellar parenting).

I won, because I set it up and it’s my email address and I get all the notifications and she knows I check it like I’m looking for lice.

So yes, I see the 11-year-olds in bikinis striking post-Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus, tongue-hanging-out poses. And I see the bad language and the insults and the urban legends. And I see that Caroline is, so far, keeping her promise to us – she’s posting pictures of sunsets. And the new puppy. And the guinea pig inexplicably riding a skateboard.

For now.

Because yesterday I saw my daughter’s face in a square on the elimination game. Which is played all over Instagram, every day.

Someone posts a grid of their friends' faces and asks, “Who should be eliminated?”

Based on looks? Maybe. Personality? Popularity? Yup.

Based on kindness? Intelligence? Loyalty, honesty? I highly doubt it.

Torture.

I’m not so far out of touch that I don’t understand the draw. I can’t tell you I wouldn’t have played that game when I was twelve, if “car phones” weren’t still cemented underneath the ashtray in the station wagon and “Love Boat” wasn’t as raunchy as my Saturday nights got.

But I’m enough of a mom to know that the population of 11 and 12 year old girls who can handle being the first one voted off the looks/popularity island is pretty damn small.

Caroline was surprised when she saw her face on that grid. Her response, though, was, “I don’t really care what people think. It’s just a game.”

Sure, Caroline. “Hey, you, sixth grader? Out of six/eight/ten people, you’re the ugliest.”

I’m a grown woman and that might make me cry.

We (we being Whit because I was in DEFCON 5 mode and was googling “convents instead of middle school”) explained our concerns. Explained how other kids might feel about being pressured to play, about being eliminated or not, about engaging in that voting process.

Did we get through? I don’t know. I have no idea if she checks to see whether or not she was eliminated. I do know that she took all her selfies off Instagram and left up the puppy pictures. But it’s just a matter of time; she’s a normal kid and she’s going to get sucked into all the shit that is now part of growing up.

She’s got a tough road ahead. Growing up isn’t easy these days.

Neither is being a parent these days.

In some ways, it’s torture.