Friday, September 30, 2011

My dog makes my kids look so good.

Bo’s a really good dog. He’s toddler road-tested; he’s worn birthday hats and tutus, he’s been ridden like a horse and had his tail yanked or his fur pulled a thousand times. We've forgotten walks and forgotten food and made him wear blinking antlers at Christmas. He’s lived through my kids and all their friends and all my siblings’ kids and he’s never done more than roll his doggy eyes at the humiliation he’s endured.

He’s also a really bad dog. He opens the cabinet that houses the trash can and eats the trash. He jumps up on the counter or the kitchen table and eats anything he can reach. Twice he’s tried to eat I mean play with the unwilling guinea pig. He’s lumpy and stinky and doesn’t come when he’s called and pulls me so hard when I walk him that strangers stop and laugh at me.

But I love him, and I hate putting him in a crate in a kennel when we go away. So my neighbor told me about an awesome doggy camp place. I called, and they have room during the dates I want to bring him, but the owner wanted to interview him first. “This is, after all, my home,” the very sweet lady told me over the phone.

On the drive out to the country, I said sternly to the dog, “Now you listen. Behave. Do not run right through screen doors; you stop at them like normal doors. Do not jump up on her counters. Do not run between her knees and cripple her so she’ll scratch your butt. Just act like a normal dog and maybe she’ll let you stay there when we go away.”

Once we got there, he took one look at the four rolling acres and jumped out of the car. He was off. St. Francis, busy guarding a horde of concrete animals with a stony glare, was knocked over instantly. Impatiens and mums were trampled, other dogs’ water dishes were tipped over. He peed everywhere and tried to squeeze his fat body through the wood slats on her front porch until they groaned and threatened to splinter and/or decapitate him. He ate dirt and jumped in a pool and knocked over countless figurines. He moved through those four acres like a hurricane. And then he tried to get in the front door.

Wide eyed, I looked at the sweet lady, expecting her to say, “Get your damn Satan dog home.” Instead, she smiled a true dog-lovers smile and said, “Of course he can go in!”

Well, you can imagine what happened next. Pancakes on the counter were slurped up so fast you didn’t even see them go. A barricade blocking off her formal living room crashed to the floor. A closed door received a flurry of furious scratching. He was a flash of yellow zipping through one room and then the next.

Hastily, the woman said, “Let’s get him back outside.”

I walked out with her. I thanked her for her time, half-heartedly promised he does eventually calm down, reassured her that he’s 12 years old and no old Lab can maintain that kind of energy for long. She kind of nodded and smiled and ushered me to my car.

She didn’t say he couldn’t come stay with her this fall, but she didn’t say she was dying to see him again, either.

“That’s okay,” I thought as I trudged back to my car, “I’ll find someone to stay at our house with him.”

I called Bo to come get in the car.

He took one look at me and ran back to her front door. There he sat, waiting to go inside.

“Bo, come on, buddy, we have to go home.”

He didn’t even turn his head. I started walking toward him.

He saw that and took off for the vast back yard.

I walked back there. He was up on her porch, testing to see if the back door was open. It wasn’t, so he flew down the steps in the opposite direction from me.

“Bo...” I said, in that warning voice mothers use when they’re embarrassed and about to lose their shit. “COME. NOW.”

He galloped along the fence line, ears flying. Almost audibly saying, “I can’t heeeeaarrrr youuuuuu...” (He’s learned that from the kids.)

So there I was, chasing the stupid dog over four acres. The sweet lady just swiveled her head as he’d whoosh past her. I was practically screaming at him, “She doesn’t love you! She doesn’t even like you! I do! Come home with me!”

I know he was thinking, “Yeah, lady, I love you when you’re holding a slab of bacon. But this new chick? Four acres, baby, and a whole host of new smells. You can’t compete. Get in your car and go home, alone.”

But eventually he tired. He got in the car, promptly fell asleep and came home with me.

As I drove away, I realized that though my kids don’t appreciate me either, at least they don’t pee on St. Francis.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

And that's what little boys are made of

Last night, Jack couldn’t sleep, for several reasons. One, he knew Whit was “almost home.” Those of you with spouses who get home too late to help with dinner, bath, stories, drinks of water, activating dreamcatchers, last-minute trips to the bathroom, back rubs, soul-baring conversations with a little girl, etc. but just early enough to get the kids out of their beds and totally riled up because “DADDY’S HOME!!!” will completely know what I’m talking about.

Two, there really was a wicked thunderstorm that hit right as he was going to sleep. He kept coming downstairs and saying there was a “huge gasp of wind right by my window,” and I knew exactly what he meant.

So I got in bed with him, and he laid his head on my chest and wrapped his little arms around me. And this is what he wanted:

“Say the poem.”

“What poem?”

“The poem you said when I was a baby so I would go to sleep.”

So I launched into a recitation of Wynken, Blynken and Nod, which is so ingrained in my children as a goodnight poem that Caroline nearly fell asleep like a narcoleptic reciting it in her fourth grade class as an example of personification.

Silence. Then,

“What if our house gets hit by lightning?”

Launched into an explanation of electricity, conductors of electricity, and why you never swim during a thunderstorm. (No, Whit, I had no clue what I was talking about, but I followed my mother’s advice and sounded authoritative so he bought it.)

“How can you tell if it’s going to get worse?”

Launched into the age-old technique of counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder.


Silence. Then,

“What, exactly, is NASCAR?”

Launched into whatever I could remember from watching Talladega Nights.

“Do you think I’ll score a goal in my soccer game this weekend?”

Launched into a convincing argument about why staying wide will help him score.

Silence. Then,

“Mommy, I love you.”

“Jack, I love you, too. With all my heart.”

“Then I can go to sleep now. I’m not scared anymore.”

And I kissed him, and tucked him in, and left his room.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Notes from a crabby whiner who should just shut up and go to bed

I am about to end a day that got ruined this morning.

If you’re not in the mood for whining, stop reading. I plan to whine.

And I want to whine about my running. Which is largely uninteresting. So, really, feel free to stop reading.

Okay. Then you asked for it.

I’m not a capital-R runner, I’m a little r-runner. Somewhere between queen of the 5K and master of the marathon is where you’ll find me. More importantly, every October for the past zillion years, you’ll find me running a ten-mile race.

The same race, with the same people. Same course, so I can tell, apples to apples, if I’m getting faster. Every year I’ve gotten faster. It MATTERS to me that I get faster. It means I’m not getting old and fat and arthritic and all high blood pressure-y and water retention-y.

I’ve done the race under adverse conditions, like last year, when I was diagnosed with a completely ruptured disc in my back right before the race. That’s the same race that found me inexplicably barfing as I reached the finish line (yup, right where the photographers were). Didn’t matter, I still ran it, and I liked that I ran it faster than the year before.

But this year it’s not the same. One, all my running friends (save one thank you God) is hurt or otherwise disengaged and not planning to run the race. They all have very legitimate excuses, but it’s a bummer that our field of five is down to two.

Two, I sprained or twisted or just hurt my ankle last week. It was a very glamorous and graceful injury; I stepped on the nozzle of the hose I had lazily left lying in my driveway. Ankle wrenched with a crack, I went down. Laid in my driveway for a full ten minutes, alternatively wondering if I broke my ankle and if the dog was going to run away since I dropped the leash when I fell. And trying not to say, “Holy shit my ankle hurts” so loudly the mail lady would see me and call the police.

So I limped for a few days and Whit wrapped it every night and it got better, but my left ankle still hurts. Then, running today, my right calf muscle rearranged itself in a very painful fashion (like five rubber bands twisting together really tightly) and the only way I could run home was by using only the tippy toes of my right foot.

So there I was, on a busy road. You’d think if I was limping from the left ankle injury and tiptoeing because of the right calf injury maybe they’d cancel each other out and I could run straight, but no. I looked like a drunk, stoned, gazelle amputee.

Then I called Whit to tell him and he shifted into the, “Please stop complaining about all your injuries” voice, which isn’t fair, because I never, ever, ever, ever complain and it’s just that these things are making me think I can’t run the race very fast. And if I can’t run it fast I don’t want to run it at all. Then I’m a quitter, and I hate quitters more than I hate slow running.

Then I was dumb enough to tell one of my shrink running friends why I was in a funk and she was ridiculously rational (“Perhaps you should reframe your idea of success”) and I wanted to push this dear, sweet friend right in front of a yellow school bus.

Caroline heard all this and said, “So, Mommy, you’re mad because your friends aren’t running with you and because you think you can’t run the race really fast, right?”


“Well, Mommy,” she confided, “Sometimes – and I’m only saying sometimes – I throw a temper tantrum when things don’t go the way I want. So I understand how you feel.”

Thank you, little Miss Mommy.

“Caroline, what do you do when you need to snap yourself out of that kind of mood?”

She thought. And thought.

“Well, kind of, I guess I complain, and whine about it to you.”

Touché, my dear.

Between you and me, blogosphere, if I go to bed and feel better, that kid has a green light to whine for at least a month.

Monday, September 26, 2011

You need some Boil Discs. Really.

Want to know what I’ve spent my entire morning doing?

Hustling my relatives. Practically threatening mob-style vengeance. Shouting into the phone to secure unbreakable commitments.

Yeah, you guessed it; it’s the scourge of elementary school mothers. It’s time for the fall fundraising drive for the PTA. And it’s the LAST. DAY. I cannot put this off any longer.

Now, this is not only happening at my children’s elementary school, which I love. It was also at their preschool. And at my nephew’s school. And I totally understand fundraising, and everything the PTA does, and why they need money. And I will always support them. It’s just that this particular process tends to stress me out. It would be so much easier to write a check, but my kids drool over the prize catalog and the Easy-Way-Out train screeches to a noisy halt at my kitchen table.

The damn prizes. They suck the kids in, you know, with the promise of cheap plastic toys. My children would scoff at a foam ringer rocket (which, I’m disturbed to note, kind of sounds like a sex toy) in the dollar store, but they’ll sell each other to the neighbors to win one as a prize.

Caroline, who I can optimistically call “goal-driven,” has been driving me crazy about ordering. Ordering anything, as long as she gets the Positive Ion Silicone Band Watch (10 items sold) at the end of the day. She spent the first week telling me I had to sell or buy 200 items so she could get an iPad. (Um, or I could just buy an iPad, and not have a closet full of hand towels with cookie recipes on them, right?) It did take a full week to get her to downsize that goal. And you might suggest that she do the selling herself, but I’ve always been uncomfortable with making kids sell things. (To her credit, she did walk downstairs and yell, “Grumpy, you wanna buy some chocolates?” My dad responded, “My light bulb is burned out.” And that was it for her selling.)

It was bearable when we were in the glory days of this fundraiser and only gift wrap was offered, because we can all rationalize gift wrap and there are only so many types of gift wrap. But then they added chocolates, irresistible to the kids but overpriced and terrible, and that just gave us too many choices.

And now this year? I swear to God, it’s like a Walmart catalog in front of me. The options are dizzying. The website offers nearly 30 categories and hundreds of items. You can get confused right there; I mean, what’s the real difference between Cook’s Nook and Kitchen and Confections? And, frankly, the word confections is misleading, because you can’t really order the confections online, which I didn’t know. So I’ve been busy digging the messy order form out of the trash, smoothing the wrinkles and wiping away coffee grinds, readying it to turn in this afternoon so Caroline can get the Frosty Mint Penguins she’s desperate for me to order.

I guess it was all cute when the kids brought home the big fat envelopes and attacked the catalogs with sharpie markers, clearly and irrationally circling the things they wanted. (Really, Jack, you need a money clip? And Caroline, what’s so interesting about the Hamburger Magic Spanish Cookbook?) And it really is kind of funny to see my PTA friends dressed like giant Christmas and Hanukkah presents at the morning drop off.

But it’s not so cute when I am frantically adding up my items and begging my sister to PLEASE get the Peppermint Candle Trio even though she’s already spent $60 because I promised Caroline ten items and I’m spending a fortune on everything from the Flash of Light dolphin earrings to the Sports Illustrated Kids subscription Jack circled. It’s not so cute when I’m scrambling to find any item under $12.50 so I can just order ten of whatever it is and be done. It’s not so cute when my husband is looking at the order form and says to Caroline, “Yeah, we’re just not spending $300 on that junk” and it’s really not so cute when Caroline flies into a “you don’t understand and you don’t care about me or my school” rage and crumples up the paper and throws it away.

So, here we are. The eleventh hour. I’ve committed to about seven items. I’m thinking my sister, or my sister-in-law, will get us there. Bring on the Positive Ion Silicone Band Watch, suckers.

And to my mother-in-law, who won’t answer her phone...I’m on to you. Those fingers aren’t broken. If we’re going to get her the spy kit including spy glasses AND spy pen, I’m going to need a little bit of help here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The T word

I absolutely, positively believe that my daughter should be her own person.

She should have her own ideas, her own convictions, her own tastes. She should never do or like anything or not do or like anything just because someone tells her what her opinion should be.

Yes, Caroline, scoff at Silly Bands! Admit Go-Gos are weird! You go, girl! Make up your own mind!

Unless, of course, you want to choose something...well, tacky. Ugly? I can handle ugly. Well-made but not my taste? I can handle that, too. But tacky? In that case, don’t make up your own mind at all. No no no – just ask your mother what she thinks, and listen to her. Don’t deviate.

Now, I’m conservative. I admit it. And maybe the “tacky” bar is a bit lower for me than some more tolerant mothers, so I try to compensate by allowing some things I would never have thought I’d allow.

Which is why my beautiful daughter has a FEATHER clamped into her hair. If you love this trend, then I apologize for what I’m about to say. Which is that the girls LOOK LIKE CHICKENS. Punk chickens. They look ridiculous with flourescent feathers woven into their scalps. It’s ugly. I would tell you what segment of the population it reminds me of, but that would be highly offensive to a whole group of people so I’ll refrain.

But whatever. I’m tolerant, remember? (And secretly relieved she chose a little tiny feather that you can’t really see.)

“Mommy?” Caroline asked as I was putting on my makeup this morning.


“You know how you don’t love the whole feather thing but you let me do it because you respect my opinion?”

“Mmm hmmm.”

“Well, I have another opinion, and I’d like it if you would respect it.”

“And pay for it.”

Oh, crap. WHAT.

“See, there are these hair extensions. And they dye them and they stick them into your hair and then your hair is different colors and I really want one and I don’t think they’re expensive and they do them at the mall and Izzy has one and can I please get one?”

Who are you, Cyndi Lauper? No way.

“But why?”

I started with the reasonable, mom reason:

Your hair is beautiful without all these feathers and such. You are beautiful without any artificial adornment.

Her lower lip came out (yup, they still pout at nine). I moved to a higher state of alarm.

You could damage your hair if you keep adding things to it.

She lowered her head. Ratcheted up the alarm even further.

You could damage your brain. Really, Caroline, your math class is tough as it is. You want to make it harder? Keep sticking weird things in your brain. That’ll make algebra a heck of a lot more confusing.

Alas, she’s smarter than that.

“Mom. Please. It’s not going to damage my brain. That’s just ridiculous.”

FINE, Caroline. The truth is that it’s tacky. You’ll look like Beyonce.

“Beyonce’s not tacky. And she’s a good singer.”

You’ll look like Lady Gaga.

“I don’t know who that is because you turn her songs off when they come on, but she’s a good singer, too.”

For the love of God, we’re not debating the singing merits of various artists. You’re not getting a hair extension. What's next? A pierced tongue at ten?

“You are the meanest mother in the world.”

No reaction from me (I’m very mature).

“You never let me do anything I want to do.”

Nope, I didn’t blink an eye.

“You don’t care about me.”

Talk to the hand, Caroline.



“CAROLINE. Go to your room, NOW.”

That kid totally knows how to push my buttons.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

News of the weird

Yes, my overbooked fall is in full swing and, as expected, I am insanely busy. So busy, in fact, that I am not getting to do my favorite thing very often, which is post to this blog.

But I do have to tell you the strangest thing that happened today.

I walk Bo every single day. I’ve done that for 12+ years. We’ve met a lot of crazy people in those years, but who we ran into today really surpassed anything we’ve experienced.

A woman, rushing to her car, stopped to pet Bo (who is a complete glutton for affection). (And turkey.) (And anything edible, and some things that aren’t.) (Like plastic bags and hair bands, which aren’t pretty coming out the other end.)

I apologized for his enthusiasm and she said, “Oh, no, don’t apologize. I love dogs. We actually just put ours to sleep.”

If you’re a dog person, you, too, would have responded with a heartfelt, “Oh, no, I’m so sorry. How old was he?” I ask, because Bo is old as far as Labs go, and he doesn’t seem to know it. So I love hearing that a fellow dog made it to 18 or 20 or something.


Four?? Holy cow.

“Wow, that’s terrible!” Hand to my heart for effect. “What happened?”

“He had anxiety issues.”


“Big anxiety issues. It was really rough.”


“He was a wreck,” she confided.

What I wanted to say: “Yeah, lady, he was an anxious wreck because he spent his life knowing you wanted to kill him.”

What I did say: “No offense, but I’m really glad I’m not your dog.”

She didn’t laugh.

I don’t think I’ll be invited to that block party this year.

Monday, September 19, 2011

M.A.G.S.P. (Mothers Against Girl Scout Patches)

Son of a BITCH.

Surely, surely in this age of iPads, in this age of space travel and unmanned drones, in this age of everything once considered impossible, surely someone could fix the one problem that has plagued parents for decades.

Surely someone can make iron-on Girl Scout patches that...gasp! Actually stick when ironed on!

(I know, I know, it’s crazy, but we’ve all got to dream.)

Because OH. MY. GOD. They don’t stick. They don’t stick even with a superhot iron. They don’t stick if you iron with a dishcloth between the iron and the patches and they don’t stick if you flip the damn vest over and iron them from the back. They don’t f***ing stick.

So, if you’re kind of like me, you wait until the day of the first meeting. You pull out the naked vest and the baggie with all the patches. You print out the diagram of where things belong. You heat your iron. And you optimistically begin to iron. (If you’re like me, this is also the first time you’ve touched the iron since last fall.)

And you iron. And you iron. And the steam is coming up and your hand hurts from pushing down so hard and you know you’re been ironing just the troop number for a good five minutes. So you put the iron down and you pick up the vest. And all the numbers fall off.

And you want to find the person that labeled them “iron-on” and poke them in the eye with a stick.

So, if you’re like me, you limit that particular form of hell to an hour and a half. After that, you give up and dig through drawers until you find a needle and thread. (I can cook and I’m not so bad with cleaning but I really suck at ironing and sewing.)

And, because you don’t want your daughter to be the only one who shows up at the meeting with a naked vest, you start sewing. You sew your heart out for an hour. You poke the needle into your finger so many times you get the bottle of Oxy-Clean to spray the vest every time you leave a little bloodstain. You figure every other mother can get the patches on the vest, and you know you’re not a complete idiot and that you can do it, too.

And then you hold the vest up and see that everything is totally crooked and, really, just looks like shit.

So you bite back tears of frustration and grab all the patches and run to the cleaners up the street. You burst into the quiet little shop and throw down the vest with the needle still attached and then you throw all the stupid patches on top of it.

And the sweet, quiet Asian women take one look at what you’ve dumped in front of them and they start yammering away in their language. They’re gesturing at the vest and ripping out all your stitches and talking over each other and you just know they’re saying, “Stupid freaking girl thinks she can sew and she’s massacred this whole freaking vest and her daughter is going to think her mother’s an idiot and it looks like a rat chewed where she sewed.”

But that’s not what they say.

What they do say is:


You respond,

“Three hours.”

They shake their perfectly coiffed heads, raise their perfectly plucked eyebrows, mentally award you the stupid-mother award of the day and murmur to each other.

“Please?” You bite back tears again. “Please? I’ve wasted my whole morning and I know I waited until the last minute but I really think there’s a conspiracy against mothers trying to iron these patches on and I really want to surprise my daughter since she thinks there’s no way in hell her vest will be ready today.”

They sigh and smile and say,


You will want to hug them, trust me, but you won’t. You’ll say,

“How much?”

And, no lie, they’ll say,

“Very, very expensive. Very expensive.”

And you’ll say the f-word (in your head because there’s no way you’ll insult them now) and you’ll leave the vest with them and go home and pound out all your frustrations on your computer and secretly hope that no one reads your blog today because really, it’s completely pathetic that you’ve wasted this much time and energy and angst on something that is so stupid.

Until your daughter comes home, and you present her with the Cadillac of all vests, with patches that are never going to come off, and you hide the bill from your husband, and then all will be right in the world.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tales from a working woman

Ahh, preschool. Isn’t it a liberating feeling when you can start dropping your two or three year old off for a few hours? Don’t you drive away feeling as though you *finally* have an hour, or two hours even, to yourself?

I remember that feeling. That’s how I felt when I was the mom driving away.

Now, though, I’m the one sitting on the ABC carpet when your child comes into the school. I’m the one zooming cars, reading books and talking into turtle shells pretending they’re phones. I’m the one doing all the stuff that the drive-away moms are so thankful to be paying someone else to do for just a little, tiny bit so they can get a little, tiny break.

When I used to sub at my kids’ preschool it was torture. "Bye bye, spin class I’d be taking right now," I’d think. "So long, solo trip to the grocery store. See you later, phone call in which I could use the F word without fear of being overheard. I’ll just sit here and play with my child, which, while fun, is hardly any different than what I’d be doing at home, for free." Co-ops? The mere thought of them made my skin crawl. "That’s one step forward and two steps back," I’d think.

These days, my kids are off at elementary school. They’re still my babies, of course, but now they’re bigger babies. (Oh, ha ha! That statement is so funny and so true if you read it a certain way. And if you know my kids.)

Anyway, so I’m heading back to preschool – in the form of a two-morning-a-week job – with a different perspective.

And, to be honest, I love it.

I love the smells of preschool paint and play doh. I love snack time with little tiny cups and little tiny chairs. I love how I can say, "Oh, sweetie, please spit out those marbles" in a very calm voice, as opposed to the Mommy Voice that screams, "OH MY GOD YOU’RE GOING TO CHOKE NEVER EVER EVER EVER PUT MARBLES IN YOUR MOUTH OR YOU WILL DIE!" Or, "What was that? I didn’t quite understand you. Maybe you can draw me a picture!" instead of instantly calling around for the best speech therapist and googling whether so-so articulation is a sign of some bigger neurological problem. I love how a pee-pee accident doesn’t make me worry the child will wet her wedding dress and how I don’t have to surreptitiously examine every head for signs of lice.

(I’m not saying I do that in elementary school. Really. I don’t. But lice is pretty rare in preschool.)

(I think.)

(If I’m wrong, tell me, please, so I can steer clear of obsessive itchers.)

It’s not all a bowl of cherries, of course. Sometimes, for example, you can be pushing kids on the tire swing, which is in a very high tree so it swings with some momentum, and you can lean in to push right as a little cherub throws her head back laughing. That little head can knock into your face with such force you can feel like there’s an earthquake in your sinuses. You could, potentially, want to cry. Maybe you’d even instinctively look around for the teacher, before you’d realize you were the teacher and had to ask the concrete-headed girl if she’s okay instead of going inside to lie down with Mr. Boo Boo and a glass of water.

That could happen, you know.

My stay-at-home friends still can’t figure out why I think this little job is fun.

My working friends still can't figure out how I can call it a "job" with a straight face.

Whit still can’t figure out how I could get a black eye surrounded by three year olds.

My kids still can’t figure out why I was so tired two days this week I put my head down on the table to "rest my eyes" during dinner.

And I haven’t gotten paid yet, but the experience of filling out a W-2 was thrilling to an almost inappropriate level, to tell you the truth.

So, if you find a great writing job in need of an enthusiastic writer, call me. Until then you can find me in the sand box. Or pushing the tire swing, unless they tell me I’m not allowed to wear a protective face mask when I have swing duty.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A new look at the old mommy wars

Take a deep breath if you’re in an argumentative mood. Because I’m going to say something that could possibly irritate you, but it’s not the point of the post, so move past it. Ready?

Working moms are often envious of stay-at-home moms.

How do I know this? Because I’ve been home with my kids for nine and a half years, and I’ve gotten an earful from working moms. “You’re lucky” or “I’m jealous” or one (very, very successful) woman saying “Do you really stay at home and bake cupcakes all day?” while her (equally successful) sister-in-law said, “Don’t listen to her. There’s a part of every mother that wishes she was at home with her kids, regardless of why she isn’t.”

So there you go. That’s my research. I know I’m generalizing, but people really did say those things to me.

But, and now we get closer to the point of the post, the tables have turned.

It started when Jack went to kindergarten. I’d run into Starbucks and look enviously at the barista, thinking, “Wow. She comes to work every day. People say ‘good job’ all day long. She gets a paycheck.” Then I’d yell “Thanks!” to the garbage guys and think, “Lucky ducks are appreciated for what they do.” And suddenly the “Can’t do that; I’ve got to work” from my friends sounded more mocking than envious. I got jealous of the utility workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, consultants, you name it, I wanted their job.

There’s something really satisfying about working. There’s something to be said for your time being valued; your skills being appreciated. There’s something validating about a paycheck.

And you know what? Tons of my stay-at-home friends agree. Your youngest goes to kindergarten and you have six long hours to yourself and you want a job. You crave a job.

So now WE are insanely jealous of the working moms. Those are suddenly the lucky ones.

Now, lest you misunderstand me, I don’t want to be thrust into some stressful corporate job again. I did that. But now, I’m a mother. That’s my main job. Obviously one could argue that, since I really love to write, that should be my secondary job. While getting paid to write is actually my dream, at the moment, no one is really showering me with dollar bills for every blog post, so I can’t really count that as a job.

So there I was, feeling like I wanted a job, but just a little job. And then someone offered me a job – just a little job. It’s helping at a preschool two mornings a week. But I have to get dressed and put on makeup (you know how discerning four-year-olds can be) and be somewhere, on time, and work, and then get paid.

Most people think I’m crazy. Whit, who simply adores the idea of me making money, said, surprisingly, “You’re not that good with kids. Stick to the writing gig.” Another friend said, “I liked it better when you could go to lunch with me.” Still another said, “WHY??”

Now you, my faithful blog readers, understand why.

I might love it. For all the reasons I’ve listed. And I might love playing in the mud and finger painting and the little chairs that are too little for my big butt.

Or I might hate it. All that validating and being appreciated and getting paid might just end up being a gigantic pain in the ass. I might realize that I’m really glad my kids aren’t preschool age any more, or that women are catty everywhere and I don’t like my coworkers, or that I’m totally beyond snotty noses and wet pants. Or that little jobs correspond to little paychecks and they’re not quite as valuable as I once thought.

Maybe. But part of this ongoing midlife crisis is that I’m going to try everything; throw it all up on a wall and see what sticks.

Today? Mom. Tomorrow? Preschool aide extraordinaire.

I’ll report back.

Monday, September 12, 2011

So much for good karma

For all my talk about living each moment as if it’s your last and loving and hugging and playing and blah blah blah, I spent this morning completely infuriated by my daughter.

First, let me explain something. One of my friend’s daughters said, "You want me to be like Caroline. Caroline is perfect." And her mom responded, "Oh, no she’s not, honey. I read her mom’s blog." It was funny, but it’s also so illustrative of who my daughter is. Perfect? Yes. To almost everyone. Kind. Smart, cute, athletic, good sense of humor. Good listener. Helpful. Tremendously self confident, social. Polite. She’s truly amazing.

But then, at home, the dark side emerges. The dark side that is (gulp) JUST LIKE ME. Try that on for size...your kid mainly takes after the NEGATIVE parts of you! It’s true; we have some of the good qualities in common, but she is, genetically, a smart ass. She’s a button pusher. She’s stubborn as a mule (oops, me too) and cannot stand it when she doesn’t get her way (also guilty as charged). If you take a stubborn, smart-ass, button-pusher daughter and have her in conflict with a stubborn, smart-ass, button-pusher mom, well, all hell will break loose.

This morning, I tried to be a good mom. Mondays are hard, and I know that. So I made breakfasts early (I’m no slouch – we’re talking omelets and sausage and toast and fruit and juice. And cheese balls, but those weren’t sanctioned). So breakfast? Check. Lunches? Packed, with cute jokes written on the napkins, just the way the kids like. (My all-time favorite napkin joke: why did Tigger stick his head in the toilet? He was looking for Pooh.) At 8:00, I asked (nicely) for the kids to turn off the cartoons, get dressed, make their beds, feed their pets, etc. That gave them a full thirty minutes to do all those things.

8:10. Jack is dressed, including his shoes. Caroline stands up from the couch.

8:15. I get out of the shower, Jack is finishing making his bed. Caroline stretches.

8:20. I’ve dried my hair and gotten dressed. Jack is feeding his fish. Caroline is looking up the weather report on the computer to see what she should wear.

8:25. Caroline comes into my dressing room in her bathrobe. I look at her like she’s sprouted horns and say (not so nicely), "GET DRESSED!" She smiles and triumphantly whips off her bathrobe to show me that she is, in fact, dressed. (Damnit. She got me.)

8:29. Jack is standing by the door with his backpack on. I’m walking down the stairs. Caroline is dressed, yes, but she’s not wearing shoes or socks. Her hair isn’t brushed. Her teeth aren’t brushed. Her bed isn’t made. Her guinea pig is squeaking at the top of her little guinea pig lungs because Caroline hasn’t given her a leaf of romaine lettuce. "We’re leaving in ONE MINUTE. CAROLINE."

8:30. Jack and I are ready to walk out the door. Caroline says, "Hey, look, I found all this change. Can I keep it?"

8:31. Holy mother of God. Does she live to torture me?

"Well, while you were on your little treasure hunt, Jack and I were getting ready. You weren’t. So goodbye. We’re leaving."

8:31 and ten seconds. She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, like I’m the one being unreasonable. She plasters a condescending smile on her face and says, "Mommy, can you please come upstairs and help me with my hair?"

8:35. "I can’t find my shoes."

8:36. I’ve had it. I tell her we’re leaving and she can walk to school by herself.

8:37. She yells, "My shoes are wet!" to my back as we head down the driveway.

8:38. Jack and I are only just across the street, hiding behind a tree, because really, I do have to make sure she’s okay. I just can’t let her know I’m secretly waiting on her.

8:40. She strolls out of the house. Jack and I walk. She catches up to me, says, "Just so you know, I’m not talking to you." Then she falls behind about ten steps.

8:45. We get to school. I kiss Jack and say goodbye. He tells me he loves me. Caroline stands still, silently, long enough to allow me to kiss her and say goodbye. Then she flounces into school.

Seriously, Caroline? What if I get hit by a sniper on the way home? (Not totally unrealistic, you know.) What if I get hit by a truck? What if I get cancer TODAY??? Don’t you know every moment could be your last? Or my last? Or that you’re supposed to say "I love you" a lot?

It’ll never happen. In fact, were I to say any of that, I can just imagine her response:

"If you get hit by a truck, can I have your shoes? Mine are wet."

Yup. I know, because that's exactly what I'd say, too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Something to remember

Want to know the most haunting memory for me as we mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11? The most enduring memory? It’s not remembering driving by the Pentagon moments after the plane hit and seeing the truly unbelievable plumes of black smoke. It’s not remembering how worried Whit was, incapable of contacting his pregnant wife. It’s not remembering how millions of Americans lost their jobs. It’s not that it was the advent of worrying about the future terrorist plots that will threaten my world.

It’s remembering the sick feeling I got when I heard those stories of people who lost loved ones. Those stories that start with, "The last thing I said was..."

"The last thing I said was, 'I love you.'"

"The last thing I said was, 'Have a good day.'"

"The last thing I said was, 'Pick up the dry cleaning.'"

Or, "I was mad and I didn’t say goodbye."

For me, that’s the worst part. The fact that all those people thought it was a regular day. All those people thought their husband or wife would walk back through the door after work, or get off the plane. Just the way I leave, or send my husband or children off, every day, saying, "See you later!" All those people thought they were saying, "See you later!" And all those people were so tragically mistaken.

That has stuck with me for ten years...the lesson to try to live consciously. The lesson that we might be saying goodbye, forever, at any time. The bigger lesson that we all do need to live each moment like it’s our last.

Because we don’t do that.

Instead, we just live.

And living means fighting with your spouse. Or telling your child you’re too tired to read or play a game. Or getting mad at your friend and ignoring her phone calls, or feeling self-righteous and not saying you’re sorry to someone who deserves to hear it.

And anniversaries such as this remind us, in a quiet way, to be careful. Don’t get too complacent. Don’t assume you have tomorrow, or that there’s time later to say you’re sorry, or that you didn’t mean it. Don’t live your life thinking as though you have plenty of hours to read to your child, or that you can wait until you feel like it to play checkers or Twister. "Do it now," this anniversary reminds us. Say, "I love you" often. Say, "I’m sorry" often. Say, "Let’s play" often. Treasure every single moment you’re able to hug someone you care about. Treasure your friends. Treasure the siblings that drive you crazy or the coworkers you dislike. Treasure every moment, because every moment could be your last. Or someone else’s last.

This anniversary, as it should, shakes us up. This anniversary tells us, in a twisted way, to stop worrying. Stop worrying so much about an uncertain future and concentrate on today. Concentrate on kindness.

It’s a good message, no doubt. It’s a good reminder, even though it’s tinged with sadness.

I'm not so great at remembering this, even though I want to. I get mad or busy or tired or worried and I forget all about kindness or patience or making every moment count. I guess we all do.

But maybe this weekend I can think about it. I can remember.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The dark side, take II

Do you guys remember my report from the front lines? My funny, pretty, smart friend’s attempts to find a dating life after divorce? Well, the story continues.

Caving to pressure from friends who'd had success with online dating, she decided to create a brief, not too revealing profile over the Labor Day weekend. If nothing else, this would allow her to browse the profiles of the smart, handsome men who are supposedly out there, online. (Apparently, that's the price of entry; you have to have a profile to view profiles). She found a picture that showcased her welcoming smile and her (shockingly unwrinkled) healthy complexion. And she hit "upload" just so she could see who was out there.

She received an almost instant response, within the first 24 hours:

"I looked at your profile and thought you looked gorgeous."

That’s positive, right?

"You seem smart and confident."

Just what everyone wants to hear, right?

"I’d love to meet you for drinks sometime."

Home run!



Kristin like Christian, a boy who can’t spell his name right?


A girl.

My friend threw out her dating line and hooked a WOMAN.

Which would be something to be celebrated, if my friend wasn’t clearly looking for a MAN.

Not a match made in heaven. Not particularly harmonious.

But absolutely hilarious!

I think maybe she should stick to the short guy with bad teeth.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Can I get a do-over?

One of our Labor Day weekend activities was going to see an outdoor production of Peter Pan. We knew a lot of friends and neighbors who were also going, and we were all looking forward to it as we packed a picnic lunch, gathered blankets and cameras and binoculars and packed everyone and everything in the car.

"Wait!" Caroline yelled as we backed up. "I forgot something!" She started to undo her seatbelt.

"Honey, we need to get there. What did you forget?" Whit asked.

"I need to get some money."

"No, don’t worry, Daddy and I have money," I said, "and you can get popcorn or cotton candy or ice cream or whatever you want. You don’t need money."

Whit kept driving.

Caroline got a little teary. "Please," she begged, "please let me go back and get some money." We were a little exasperated, but Whit, being Whit and not Julie, pulled back into the driveway, unlocked the house and let her get money out of her piggy bank.

She got back in the car with a ziplock bag full of quarters.

As we got back on the road, Whit and I both reiterated that neither kid needed any money. We reiterated the constant lesson that saving is important, and that if they pull money out of their piggy banks all the time they’ll never save enough for a big purchase. When Caroline couldn’t name one thing she wanted to buy, we launched into a conversation about spending money purposefully.

It wasn’t a long or serious or particularly critical conversation, but it was one that left both me and Whit feeling as though all our lessons about spending and saving and responsibility had fallen on deaf ears. "Here we go," we thought. "Caroline is going to waste the money she’s earned on some stupid, overpriced, plastic toy that will be broken or thrown away within a month."

We got to the park, spread out our blankets and chatted with our neighbors. When another family walked up, I saw Caroline talking to the father, but didn’t think much of it.

Later, Caroline and I went to buy some ice cream. "Mommy, want to know why I had to bring money?"

Sigh. Okay, we’re walking by the souvenir table. How timely.

"No, Mommy. One time over the summer, I was playing with those girls, and we walked over to a yard sale with their dad. I didn’t have any money but I really liked a bracelet, and remember I got presents for you and Daddy and Jack? Well, their dad lent me five dollars. When I found out they would be here, I wanted to pay him back."

Then it was my turn to get teary. "Caroline, did you give him that bag full of quarters?"

She nodded, seriously.

"Did you do that yard work so you’d have money to pay him back?"

She nodded, seriously.

"Have you thought about paying him back ever since he lent you the money?"

"Yes, Mommy. He said not to worry about it, so I didn’t worry about it, but I knew I had to pay him back as soon as I could."

"When Daddy and I were talking about you not spending money foolishly, why didn’t you tell us what you were doing?"

"Because you were in a hurry, and you would have said that you’d pay him back for me, and I wanted to pay him back myself."

I hugged her. "Good job."

You know what I learned? One, that I don’t parent into a black hole. Two, that I parent a bit too much. And three, that if I don’t slow down, I’m not going to give my kids the chance to prove any of that.

Pretty sobering. Pretty amazing when your fourth grader is the teacher, and you’re the sheepish student.

Thanks, honey. I needed that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My deep dark secrets, exposed

In my ongoing commitment to make you feel as though, really, you’re just not the worst mother/housekeeper/wife/pet owner out there, I offer this list of my deep dark secrets. (Okay, fine. At least the ones I’d actually post on a blog that could be read by absolutely anyone on the planet, potentially including nuns, therapists, serial killers or my son’s first-grade teacher.)

It’s my hope that this is the first step of some totally rogue and unknown 12-step admitting my bizarre idiosyncrasies, maybe I’ll edge a little closer to being normal (which I think I’ll find highly overrated once I get there). So here we go...

1. I wish I was the kind of person who could have tried drugs in college. I wasn't; I’ve always been way too health-conscious, brain-cell-conscious, control-conscious and law-conscious, but I think they sound like a lot of fun. A LOT of fun. (Whit says this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. You’d think I wouldn’t be able to surprise him after all these years, but sometimes I still leave him shaking his head.)

2. I let the dog lick dishes before they go in the dishwasher. He’s so thorough that I don’t even necessarily have to follow up with the dishwasher, but my whole OCD/germ thing kicks in and I am sure to press the “antibacterial rinse” button. Twice.

3. Kids with really severe allergies make me nervous. I so do not want an inadvertent whiff of peanut butter in my kitchen to be someone’s undoing. And Epi-pens scare me. I’m not good with needles. I’d panic and stick it in the one place it’s NOT supposed to go, like the butt.

4. I clean like a maniac before the cleaning lady comes. I swipe crap off counters, reorganize the linen closets and order my cookbooks by size. That’s when I get nutty and start counting puzzle pieces. I also only put away clean laundry when she comes, because really, I don’t want her to think I’m a slob. The rest of the time, we get all our clean clothes out of piles by the washing machine.

5. I really only care about warm-blooded pets. To that point, sometimes I take Caroline’s guinea pig out of her cage and play with her while Caroline is at school. I know that’s immature but I think she’s cute. And sometimes I come very close to flushing the fish and the frogs down the toilet while the kids are at school, because I think they’re smelly and pointless. But then Catholic guilt kicks in and I let them live.

6. It’s not unheard of for me to start thinking about wine at noon. I don’t drink it then, Betty-Ford police, but I think about it.

7. Kids who are afraid of my dog bug me. So do the parents who ask me to lock him up when their kids visit. I KNOW he’s big and loud and kind of attacks (albeit in an aggressively friendly way) when you walk in the door, but really, if I want to lock any party behind closed doors, chances are it’s the kids.

8. I’m a diagnoser. I diagnose all the time. And I have no authority or knowledge to diagnose anything. But allergies, neurological disorders, viruses, mental abnormalities...I confidently diagnose these all the time without a hint of validity. I diagnose myself, usually with cancer or a brain tumor, and my poor children have been everything from asthmatic to diabetic to autistic to dehydrated to just plain weird.

9. I am very possessive of my desk. I don’t like anyone sitting at it or using my computer. It’s got all my stuff and all my piles make sense and all the open windows on my computer need to stay open. If the kids walk in here to play computer games with their friends, I break out in hives.

10. I can get irrationally irritated at little things. For example, I can seriously almost hate someone for a transgression as minor (some would say, but I wouldn’t) as living on a corner lot and repeatedly refusing to shovel the snow from their sidewalks. I will get very bent out of shape if I'm calling and someone isn't answering either their home phone OR their cell phone. Or at someone who is driving really, really s-l-o-w-l-y when I’m in a hurry. Or at someone who smells funky. Or at someone who doesn't shower regularly, which I’ve found goes hand-in-hand with smelling funky.

Okay, so there you go. Most of my good friends won’t be surprised by these admissions, but you can see why I often google "personality disorders" to see if anything fits.

Now I hope you feel better about your own weird and weak parenting moments. And don’t any of you have deep dark secrets? I’d feel much better if you said yes. And it would be kind of juicy if you told them to me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Irrefutable proof.

One would think that my reward for living through The Legwarmers Incident was that I could then embrace my inner Old Fart. Just so that I could feel really comfortable with the fact that, really, I’m not 28, and a mother of two doesn’t do beer bongs or let any guy do a shot from her chest. (No, Whit, not even her husband.) Responsible mothers don’t drool over the long-haired guy on Friday Night Lights. Middle-aged women go to church and balance the checkbook and put the right food groups in front of their kids. Own it, Julie. Love it.

Well, I can’t. I think it sucks. There’s no way I can be in my forties but really feel like I’m in my twenties.

So I started to look for signs that maybe I’m not actually 41. That maybe, really, the aliens did land, and I was 28, and they just stole my body and replaced it with the 41-year-old me.

This is what I found:

I’ve begun sleeping with my mouth hanging open. That's not a hallmark of youth, is it? And want to know how I realized I do this? Because Jack has been getting in our bed in the mornings, and I will feel a little finger gently hook under my chin and close my mouth. Which then falls open again. Which he shuts again. It takes about ten minutes of this to fully make me wake up, and he thinks it’s huge entertainment. (“MOM!! Five times today! Yesterday it was six! You’re getting better!”)

Then I wondered why I have trained myself to sleep on my back instead of on my side, which is how I used to sleep. And realized that oh, yeah, sleeping on my back helps with the wrinkle situation.

Sigh. It’s not looking good.

Wait a minute, I then remembered, my (old old old) grandmother had this crazy baggy skin you could mound up into a peak and it would stay frozen like that for a couple of seconds, just a little mountain of skin on the back of her hand. If I’m 28, that won’t work on me, right?

Oh, shit.

It mounded and held for a good second or two.

While investigating the mounded skin on the back of my hands, I saw a new freckle. Or – gulp – it might be a little baby age spot.

And when I get up in the morning (or even, frankly, off the couch after a long stint), it hurts to walk. That’s right. The soles of my feet hurt hitting the floor. My hip hurts.

And I have a weird pain in my elbow. It only manifests itself when I am watching the news in my bed in the morning and I try to reach my coffee cup on my bedside table, but still. It hurts. It didn’t used to hurt.

I realized next that sometimes, if I’m not paying attention and I laugh really hard, I can have a little accident. And, before you rush in to comfort me and tell me that happens after you have babies, you can just hold it (get it? ha ha ha) right there because I had c-sections AND my youngest is almost seven and this just started.

Oh. My. God. Add it up. It’s as plain as day.

I am NOT a fun party girl in my late twenties, I’m an incontinent, gaping, aching, wrinkly, complaining middle-aged woman in my early forties.

I don't even know what to do with this revelation. Book the Chippendales for my 42nd birthday? Buy Metamucil at Costco? Stockpile adult diapers as they go on sale?

No. If you know me, you know exactly what I'm going to do.


I'm gonna party like it's 1998.