Friday, December 4, 2009

On the Mommy Belly...

Ah, yes. The Mommy Belly. Can I hear a collective “Ugh?” And while I assume it needs no further introduction, for those of you in the dark about this regrettable, postpartum phenomenon, it is the “little bundle” that remains after giving birth to your “little bundle.” A search on Google will return nearly two million entries related to The Mommy Belly. YouTube offers approximately six thousand videos featuring The Mommy Belly, and the online Urban Dictionary has dubbed it important enough to provide an official entry and related pop culture reference which I can only assume is from a movie in the same league as SuperBad: “Besides the mom belly, your mother’s pretty smokin’.”

We’re all familiar with the expression, “motherhood is a blessing and a curse.” Well I think it’s clear onto which side The Mommy Belly falls in that comparison. And no one is safe. I have a very tall, naturally slender friend who was lifting her shirt and complaining about her Mommy Belly at a recent playdate, which by all standards was nothing to write home about, but a Mommy Belly nevertheless. (Husbands, if you’re wondering what exciting things happen at these playdates, that's pretty much it. And yes, afterward we all have a pillow fight.)

I’m not sure if it’s because our mothers were simply too genteel to mention this unmentionable, or because women are waiting until they’re older to have kids these days, but the girth of The Mommy Belly buzz appears to have expanded substantially in recent years, and somewhere along the line even become a proper noun. It’s the layered look that’s never in fashion and the reason Spanx has taken off like a rocket.

It happens to be on the top of my holiday to-do list because I’ve spent the better part of the year and countless numbers of sit-ups, crunches and endless miles desperately trying to slough it off. But no matter what I do, there it is with a maniacal snicker, wondering why I’m working so hard. Nobody told me that after Jack and Cameron had abandoned their temporary home, I’d be left with a permanent vacancy. I imagine at this point, I should just put a “for rent” sign up and see if I get any takers. All I know is that I can’t bear to read one more ridiculous article about a celebrity who claims they’ve gotten back into their pre-pregnancy, sexy two-piece bathing suit by logging ad nauseam hours of Pilates. I wish they’d just cut to the chase and give us the name of their doctor.

I can’t believe it’s December already, although I don’t know why I’m surprised, the Christmas stuff has been out since Easter. ‘Tis the season for holiday parties and clingy dresses that need to navigate my postpartum relief map. My ultimate wish is that it’s the very last year I spend hours in multiple dressing rooms trying to find the perfect and keenly strategic black dress. Because after a year-long tug-of-war with the treadmill and various and sundry other quibbles with core based exercises, I’m convinced that the only way to cut The Mommy Belly out of my life is to literally “cut” it out of my life.

Santa, are you listening? All mommy wants for Christmas is a tummy tuck and a belly button that doesn’t look like the tied end of a balloon a week after the party’s over.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Gratitude with an Attitude

Once again, it’s time to pay official homage to all that is good in our lives and ignore all that other stuff that isn’t perfect. As my mother used to say, “no matter how bad you have it, there’s always someone else out there worse off than you.” The truth is I am thankful. I am particularly thankful that the lovely people at Peekaboo allow me to raid multiple inches of precious magazine space for my monthly drivel, and conversely for those readers who generously indulge me with fifteen minutes they’ll never get back. I’m also thankful for the classic things, like the fact that both my parents are healthy and still around to drive me crazy. I’m thankful that I’ve got food on the table and a roof over my head. And I’m ever-so-thankful for the friends who join me for daily “amateur hour” therapy sessions and confirm that I’m not alone at the “asylum.”

This Thanksgiving marks the near end of my fortieth year and in my requisite analysis of too many years gone by and the untold number of mistakes I’ve made, it’s also occurred to me that I’m thankful for a whole array of things that aren’t appropriate for the traditional Thanksgiving table. And even though my Thanksgiving table looks less like Martha’s and more like Snoopy’s with bowls of popcorn and stacks of buttered toast, traditions still apply. Eventually, everyone will start dishing out thank you lists suitable for collective consumption, but this year, I think I’ll just silently noodle over a list of another variety:

I’m thankful…

1. that by some miracle I avoided getting slapped with a $1000 fine during the two months prior to me discovering that Cameron had been tossing random toys, food and necessities out the car window during our long commute to school. Things were always missing, but it didn’t strike me as odd until we arrived at his Mom’s Day Out program and he was suddenly missing his socks. Said suspect folded like a cheap suit and made a full confession. The little rascal was even smiling until he realized that his window privileges had been permanently revoked.

2. that my husband appears to have retained the very same rose-colored glasses he had on when we met fifteen years ago.

3. that video telephones never caught on.

4. for baseball caps, dark glasses and elastic waistbands.

5. for the most reliable nanny I’ve ever had: she’s available on a dime, highly entertaining and requires nothing in return. I like to call her: “Tel-eh-veez-e-own.” Giving her an exotic name makes me feel better.

6. for drive-thru-windows.

7. that I happened to be running an errand when my husband discovered Cameron’s latest, and heretofore legendary diaper blowout. But mostly that I couldn’t be recruited for the Haz-Mat clean-up crew.

8. for the fact that child abandonment laws are stringent enough to motivate me to stick around during those moments when I feel completely insane, just long enough to stay for those other moments I can’t imagine life without my boys.

9. that some very smart people published an official report stating that it’s healthy for me to have at least one glass of red of wine a day.

10. that my husband and children can’t read the inner dialogue bubble above my head.

11. for plastic surgery. Not that I can afford it or have dallied there, but somehow it makes me feel better knowing that my battle-weary “girls” have something to aspire to - nobody’s going to feel better unless they can climb back onto the top shelf where they belong.

And there are a million more – not least of which is the fact that I can’t get fired from this crazy job called motherhood regardless of whether or not I’m meeting expectations, getting through my to-do list or cooking my own meals. The downside, of course, is that the salary won’t buy Mama a new pair of shoes. But the bonus is that I’ll likely have enough fodder to write stories for the rest of my life. I guess I’ll just have to feast on that.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

On Halloween, The Sequel

If, in fact, there is anyone out there besides my mother who has been reading my column for a full year, at least one other person knows I’m not a big fan of Halloween. Tiny people in equally tiny costumes: darling. Various pronunciations of “twick o tweet:” not to be missed. It’s just one of those holidays that requires entirely too much work. Besides, all those clever people who embrace Halloween full throttle put me in last place before my toe has ever skulked over the starting line.

Growing up, I discovered early that there was a “sweet spot” in the art of costume selection. Throughout the Halloweens of my childhood, I honed my skills at choosing a costume that was neither too clever nor too difficult to pull off. My outfit always fell somewhere north of stupid and a good ways south of best costume. I was never going to be MVP, but at least I could suit up with the rest of the cool kids on the team and still end up smiling with my pillowcase full of candy.

I have no idea why, but as I approached my first Halloween as a mom, I had this sudden urge to win prizes and take names. For me, Halloween reached the same anxiety provoking heights as choosing the perfect baby announcement. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t take up papier-maché, but I did scour the Internet and pore over every catalog available to become utterly neurotic about finding the perfect costume. Year one, Jack was a crawling court jester. Year two, he was an “early years” Elvis. Year three, he insisted on being a fireman instead of the darling pirate I’d chosen, so I left no stone unturned and found the best darn fireman costume I’d ever seen. When he insisted on being a fireman again the following year, I was dejected.

I should have been happy about the money I was about to save alone, but instead I found myself lamenting to a friend. She immediately scoffed at my predicament and assured me, since Cameron had been born by this time, that I could easily breathe new life into that old fireman costume by making Cameron a Dalmatian. I was stunned. Until that very moment I had never thought of my children as a “set,” but there was my friend, talking a mile a minute about how she had been able to up the Halloween costume ante, even when her oldest daughter had insisted on being a princess three years in a row. The second year, her son had arrived, so he turned into a frog. By the third, he’d graduated to prince. Impressive, no?

I’m not sure if the Halloween bigwigs overheard our conversation that fateful day, but ever since, the industry has seemed to embrace the concept full boar. Peruse any catalog worth its salt and not only will you find related costumes for siblings of all ages, but you’ll even find new ways to humiliate the dog. If your son has chosen to be Harry Potter, you can accessorize him with a sibling dressed as Hedwig his trusty owl companion. If there’s a budding magician in your family, a little sister can easily be tormented as his requisite rabbit-in-a-hat. If your daughter wants to be Lil’ Bo Peep, find that girl some sheep. And what's a pirate without his obligatory parrot? Your children will kill you later, but while you still have the reins, I say go ahead and have a little fun.

Last year when Jack begged to be Jango Fett from Star Wars, Cameron was a shoo-in as his mini-Yoda. In the sequel, Jack’s still obsessed with Star Wars, but has moved on to Commander Cody. Since Cameron already rocked his Yoda outfit last year, I’ve had my eye on the toddler Princess Leia costume, complete with headpiece and signature side buns. My husband is resistant, of course, but when I talk of the future fun and bribery material we’ll have on him, he admits it sounds tempting.

Unfortunately, our six-year-old has embraced the themed “set” concept to such a degree that he’d like my husband and I to dress up as Star Wars characters too - my worst nightmare to say the least. My husband wants to be George Lucas, the creator of the multi-billion dollar franchise. He figures it’s the least taxing costume to put together -- slap on a silver wig, quirky mustache and beard, and carry around a wad of cash. I guess that leaves me as the ex-wife. While I may be taking some creative liberties here, I think I’ll play her as someone who has let herself go but doesn’t care since she still gets alimony. I'm thinking I could rock that outfit.

If you want to embrace the themed costume approach, do it while the kids are young and naïve because the strategy has an inevitably short life span. In the meantime, I’ll be relieved when Halloween 2009 finally comes to a close. We can pack away the costumes and Jack can spend the rest of the year dressed up as the favorite pair of jeans I’ll likely never fit into again and Cameron as the incisional hernia from our C-section together—talk about a couple of characters.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Kindergarten, Car Line and Cameron...

The 2009 back-to-school season marks the exceedingly noteworthy occasion of our first son Jack heading off into the very big world of Kindergarten. I have many friends for whom this rite of passage has inspired a faucet of tears and considerable emotions run amuck — joy, sadness, anxiety — all scrambled up in the hard core realities of the sudden passage of time, the loss of their “babies” and everything else in between. I lovingly supported each and every one of them through it all, but expected to have a different reaction. Now here’s the part of the story where one might anticipate that I’m about to tell them how grossly I’d misjudged myself. Instead, let me just come clean and say that I’ve been doing the happy dance since August 3rd.

Several of my well-intentioned friends have been calling, e-mailing and texting me with words of encouragement and asking how long I sat in the car and cried after first drop-off. But when I express emotions to the contrary, I get the distinct impression that they’re just humoring me until the dam breaks. I admit, all the pre-emptive support gave me guilty pause for not finding myself caught in the grip of despair, but then I got right back on track when I reminded myself that I was never in the running for any “Mother of the Year” awards anyway, so I might as well stick to what I know. He’s ready, I’m ready, I love his new school, so what’s not to like?

For instance, I LOVE car line. In fact, since we’re talking Kindergarten, I’ll even put it into relative terms for you: I’m so in love with car line, I just might marry it. Car line for those of you who either haven’t reached the Kindergarten milestone or are of the age when car line didn’t actually exist, it’s the legal equivalent of slowing down to 10 mph and having your child tuck and roll to the curb. This means of course, that I get to stay dry and happily seated in the car while Cameron, my spirited two-year-old is securely trapped…oh, did I say trapped? I meant strapped in the backseat, and in less than twenty minutes Jack’s happily off to his class and we’re off to the races.

And that’s just morning car line. Afternoon car line is even better. Sure, I have to wait a little longer and I’m still working out the kinks, but this version of car line has additional perks. For instance, I don’t ever need to talk to anyone unless I feel so inclined. I just hold up my little sign so the volunteer with the microphone can bark out Jack’s name to a crowd of Elementary hopefuls, and he magically appears. I’ll go ahead and confess here that I’m so giddy about car line, Jack’s name sign has been laminated since his first day.

The school’s car line policy states that drivers are NOT to get out of their cars. Are they bucking for a proper proposal? They already had me at “hello.” Next thing they’re going to tell me is that we’ll be getting free chair massages for every ten minutes we wait. I admit, we’re still in the honeymoon phase, but every day “car line” seems to find new ways to woo me. Yesterday, I burned through most of Jack’s thank you notes from his August birthday party. The day before that, a particularly lively rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” had me seriously brushing up on my car dancing skills. My apologies to the drivers on either side of me by the way, (you know who you are), but after the beat took over I was an unwitting slave to the music and all humility just flew out the window. Literally. Next thing you know, I’ll be finding time to knit little socks for the Arkansas boy’s choir.

Unfortunately, car line doesn’t mean that I escape Cameron’s intermittent tantrums in the backseat despite the fact that I come armed with a boxful of toys and snacks to occupy his little mouth and hands, but it does mean that he’s not sprinting up and down school hallways and redecorating classrooms. And that I’m not attempting to have a chat with another Mom, but instead finding myself orbiting the same sentence fragment while keeping Cameron from deconstructing student art projects and propagating his special brand of graffiti on the walls. Even so, the kid’s got a gifted set of lungs and a flair for the dramatics I fear will someday be exercised seasonally as the type of avid football fan who feels compelled to paint his face and upper body, but for now, I’ve got a radio and volume control. Long live rock-and-roll…and car line too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Laundry...

To most, laundry is simply a mundane chore, a necessary evil — and for those of us with children a mind-boggling lesson in futility. But somewhere along the line I realized that my darks, lights, and delicates have also served as a metaphor for my life. And no matter what stage of my existence I happen to be, those inevitable piles of dirty laundry are lurking in the corner telling my story.

When I was young, laundry was like magic: you put the dirty clothes in and they came out clean, folded and ready for another day. When I got to high school, the family’s weekly laundry suddenly became one of my chores. My protests were quieted by the sneaky, yet persuasive explanation that I was in training for my soon-to-be college independence. As I was learning to sort the clothes according to color, water temperature and appropriate settings, I was also learning to sort through the trials and tribulations of puberty, my first heartbreak, and the social pitfalls of growing up. I was in laundry Boot Camp and my life was a veritable minefield.

In college and my early career, doing laundry was a tutorial on self-reliance and the sweet allure of harnessing the ability to control my own destiny. It was a symbol that I was responsible for every stain, every article of clothing I washed and every new item of clothing I had to buy to make-up for the pile I put off that week. And I loved every minute.

In my late twenties, I was rounding up my first year of marriage. What I I’d heard is that your still shiny husband and you will be eating the well-preserved top of your wedding cake, toasting with champagne, and relishing the thought of another year as “one. “ Well, after a year in the freezer, the cake top tastes a little like cold dirt and quite frankly we ended up celebrating the fact that we had actually survived 365 days under the same roof. As we co-mingled our laundry, we co-mingled our lives and both got exponentially more complicated. My laundry piles were bigger, the stains were tough and unfamiliar and marriage was one giant adjustment.

Flash forward to today, nearly thirteen years and two kids later. Our master bedroom has a lovely little sitting room that as we were considering the purchase, sent me into a dazzling reverie of long, luxurious hours whittled away reading my favorite books and meditating on life as I gazed at the passing seasons. RRRRrrrrrrrr. (Sound effect: Record being scratched to the end of the album). Reality check. I do spend hours there, it’s just sorting, folding and ironing the unrelenting piles of our family laundry. These days, my laundry is like a self-replenishing water bowl for the dog. And yes, in this scenario, I am the dog. I frantically spend my time attempting to get to the bottom of the bowl, but it always looks the same.

Like my laundry, my life has become about problem solving — particularly when it comes to deciphering what team of stain removers I’ll need for the Sydney Pollack masterpiece Cameron has reproduced for me that day – or how to remove the deep-set chocolate oil stain on one of Jack’s shorts when I’ve failed to do a thorough search of his pockets. And let’s not forget the cast-offs of my husband’s pick of the lunch menu. (Thank God for Zout!) In my dreams, my problem solving skills at this stage of my life would have gone to much better use managing my house staff at my equally impressive Italian villa. Instead, I spend my days figuring out what to do with the booger that Jack has just handed me on the way up to receive Communion. But what are ya going to do?

These days my laundry is exhausting, soul-sucking, messy, impossible to manage and a daily lesson in learning how to let go. My life is, well, all of the above, and yet somehow I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The lines of my life and laundry have blurred so much, in fact, that one needs only to see what my kids are wearing to determine how far my grasp has slipped down the pole of sanity. The more off track my life becomes, the less laundry that gets done and that’s when the special occasion outfits get dragged out of the closet. Incidentally, if you ever see us at Chick-fil-A and Jack’s wearing his ring bearer tux while Cameron “works” his most recent Easter outfit…someone please call my Mommy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On the Name Game

Last week a friend who is “expecting” called to vent about a conversation she had had with her husband. In the course of their dialogue, she expressed that if the baby is a boy, she’d like to name him Sebastian. Her husband’s response was an emphatic “No.” Well, actually, I believe his specific words were, “Uh, noooo. If we name our child Sebastian, he’ll get his proverbial butt kicked in the schoolyard on a daily basis.” To which she, speedily and with a tone equally laden with sarcasm replied, “No he won’t, because he’ll be playing alongside Wolfgang, Hawk and Finn!” Log one for her side.

In the last ten years, the “naming your child” part of the already daunting task of becoming a parent has seemed to move up in the world of things to lose sleep over. Not to worry, living without sleep and saying goodbye to your freedom forever haven’t lost their appeal as anxiety-provoking favorites…and may I say, not without merit. Nonetheless, I have friends who agonize over name selection while wasting precious hours of their waning days of independence poring over websites, favorite novels, candy wrappers – just about anything – hoping to discover that one-of-a-kind moniker for all to admire. Heck, I’m guilty. I got a “Get Out of Jail Free” card with “Jack” because it’s a family name. But “Cameron” —well, it’s the first name of the youngest writer ever to be published by Rolling Stone Magazine. Of course, I love the name too, but still.

Maybe we’ve just convinced ourselves that people with superbly hip names have no choice but to live up to them. Or better yet, we secretly cling to the notion that our uniquely named kin will rocket to stardom along with riches beyond belief and zippity doo dah, it’s early retirement for the amazing people who spawned such talent.

Speaking of celebrities…they’re the ones who have made unique baby naming so terribly fashionable, and along with leading the trend are fueling the fantasy. Let’s face it. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Apple doesn’t have a chance in hell of being ordinary. Okay, bad example – her parents are multi-millionaires. But what about Penn of the much less famous Penn and Teller comedy team? He named his daughter, “Moxie Crime Fighter.” Had I known so much creative license was at my disposal, I might just have decided to call Jack “Stick.” I can see it now. Personal exchanges would go something like this: “Hi, I’m Tate and this is my son Stick.” “Hmmm, that’s an unusual name, what was your inspiration?” Me. (In my best Bree from Desperate Housewives voice) “Well, I think it was right around labor hour 17 of 33 1/2, when I recall having an overwhelming desire to pierce my doctor in the eye with one. After that, it just kind of stuck.” Pun intended.

I think if we really want our children to have names that are uniquely theirs, we should take a lesson from the centuries old traditions of the Native American culture. I mean, come on – we already know it works. How many “Sitting Bulls” were there? One! And whaddya know, he’s STILL famous! Granted, our interpretation of this distinctive naming tactic may lead to more than our fair share of “Eats his Own Boogers” and “Drools Uncontrollablies,” but the potential is there. And better yet, as parents we’d have all the control. Just think, instead of the intermittent, but well-placed “Do you know that I almost died giving birth to you?” we could ensure they’d never forget what we went through to get them here. For instance, there could be the fabulous pro football player named “Watermelon Seeks Quarter-sized Exit” or a C-section child, “Left my Mom with no Feeling in her Lower Abdomen,” or even the occasional, but on point “Conehead with an Attitude.” Really the only problem I see with this strategy is that we may have to be renamed several times throughout our lives to reflect our various phases. With that said, I’d like to reintroduce my family. My son Jack, “Five Going on Fifty,” my son Cameron, “Five Seconds from an E.R. Visit,” my husband, “Still Can’t Find the Scissors Himself,” And me – “Muddling Through.” Let’s just hope my next iteration isn’t “Next stop: Looney Bin.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Facebook...

About a year ago, a friend of mine asked me if I’d joined Facebook yet. “Yet”— as if I was just putting off the inevitable. And about a year ago I remember saying something snarky like, “Do I look I’m still in college?” I said that, of course, only to discover shortly thereafter that Facebook had already begun taking over the lives of my friends, family and ex-colleagues. But let’s be clear, a year ago I’d finally assembled the time and energy to embrace online bill pay about five years too late. So, no. I don’t have a Facebook page, nor have I ever uttered a “Tweet” on its equally famous, yet abridged-versioned counterpart, Twitter. (Pause for the gasps of horror and pity). I know. Everybody’s doing it—the recent presidential campaign rode the information superhighway to victory, Oprah sent her first “Tweet” on live television, and every news program out there appears to have joined the parade. I’ve been behind since my first son was born five and half years ago, so I’ve come to terms with the idea by deluding myself that I’d catch up with the world-at- large once my two rug rats were in school full-time. But there’s nothing like finding out that your 71-year-old mother has a Facebook page to make you realize just how far you’ve slipped down the hill of contemporary culture.

As depressing as that is, I can’t even imagine where I’d find the time. And if by some miracle I could, I’m still not convinced that I’d whittle it away on Facebook. I get the attraction, I’m just very afraid.

I’m not even on Facebook and I’ve received 24 Facebook “friend” invitations from random people in my past. Seriously, I can’t handle the life I’ve got now. Do I really want to resurrect the life I had in grammar school, high school and college all at the same time? I’m pretty sure I don’t need an invitation from the loon who sat next to me in freshman English, and on my first day decided to share his self-illustrated, self-published manual entitled “Ten Ways to Kill a Cat.” Neither do I care to strike up with the girl from fourth grade who invited the entire class to her birthday party except for me (one of my 24 Facebook invites, mind you). And even though I may wonder from time to time what happened to my almost stalker, ex-boyfriend with the loose ties to the mafia underworld, do I really want to know what he’d write on my Facebook wall? With my luck, it would be the creepy distant cousin my Mom forced me to indulge with a date in high school to be polite that found my “page” first. I wonder if he still has that IROC and seventies mustache? You see why I run? You start dredging up skeletons and who knows where it will lead.

I’m also afraid of getting sucked in like so many of my friends. Once you find one person that you know, that person knows ten people you might also know and that person knows ten more. Pretty soon you’ve got Facebook “friends” to the tune of 2,677. I find it a challenge to fit in a shower these days, so I don’t even want to think what would become of my personal hygiene if I had to keep up with all those people. I even have a friend for whom Facebook has found its way so far up on her list of vices that she felt compelled to give it up for Lent. I’m just waiting for the day they designate Facebook addiction an official disorder.

Then there’s the status feature where you’re supposed to give everyone minute-to-minute updates on your life and what you’re doing. Well what if your life is entirely uninteresting? Or insane? Most days my daily updates would read like a sleep aid for insomniacs: Tate has barely scraped herself out of bed today. Tate is driving to school, headed to Walmart or doing laundry. Repeat. However, if I were to document the activities of a day I had last month, it would go more like this:

Status 1: Tate is retrieving her two-year-old son from his nap.
Status 2: Tate finds that her son Cameron has taken it upon himself to remove his diaper and commence with a “Fece-esta” of shocking proportions and untold artistry.
Status 3: Tate is now screaming and headlong into full-fledged panic.
Status 4: Tate is now giving Cameron his third bath and will conceivably be scrubbing the walls, his crib and rug with some form of bleach for the next three hours.
Status 5: Somebody shoot me.

So there it is. For now, my status will remain Facebook Page: “not-so-much” and I’ll just have to endure the pitfalls of being a sideshow freak. For those of you who have embraced this must-have accessory: Facebook responsibly. I’m just a girl living life on the back forty, but I’m pretty sure life gets significantly less awesome when you spend all your time on the Internet.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Mother's Day...

Like so many children, I spent year after year and countless hours making awkward crafts and coming up with new and improved ways to “pamper” my Mom each Mother’s Day, when all the while I had no idea it could have been so simple: leave the poor woman alone! Of course at the time, I couldn’t really appreciate the significance of what I was celebrating, but now that I’ve been raising two boys for the last five and a half years, it’s abundantly clear. So thank you, Mom, and let me be the first to apologize for not ever figuring out that all you really needed was a break. In order to avoid the same fate, I’ve written the following letter. Moms, feel free to modify for your own purposes if necessary.

Dear Kids,

It’s Mother’s Day, and I have a little request, but before I get to that, I want you to know…I love the clumsy perfection of the Mother’s Day cards you churn out. I love that your Dad makes valiant attempts to let me sleep in despite you two little monkeys who don’t understand the meaning of “inside voice.” I love that you help Dad as he’s dishing up my favorite special occasion breakfast—Honeymoon French Toast — complete with a garnish of fresh strawberries expertly chopped and splayed with the stem still on. I love that your Dad couples that same breakfast with yummy, steaming coffee and you all make a very big show of delivering the end results to me while I’m still in bed. Jack, I especially love that you want to spend all day hanging out with me and always attempt to give me a back massage so light there’s not a knot in my shoulders that would even feign a budge. And Cameron? Well, you’re not even two, so I understand that you’re still clueless about all of it, and I also know you will likely spend this day – as I believe you spend all of your days – dreaming up new ways to chip away at my sanity, but I love that you like to join the parade just the same.

So I say this with no disrespect, and with zero connection to my undying love for you both, but boys, if you really want to thank me for being your Mom, do it from the next town – that’s right, I said it. Get out. For just one day, leave me in the splendiferous silence of an empty house and allow me to watch in awe as I put the toys away only to return five minutes later and find them still where they belong. Just one day to read more than a page in my book without having to reread the same line fifty times — the luxury of entering the sanctity of my own bathroom without an entourage. I might just want to watch a movie that doesn’t feature a wise-cracking cat or a chivalrous cartoon mouse. I have a dream…And it’s that one day a year I can walk up the stairs without fear of unidentified flying objects sending me off to an impromptu E.R. visit. On this day, the only food I want to cut up is my own, and I don’t want to have to help anyone find the scissors (that goes for your Dad, too, by the way).

Don’t take it personally. It’s not just you. I want nothing to do with anyone on this one glorious day of the year set aside just for me. My fantasy Mother’s Day celebration is a party of one —no questions, no soccer games, no breaking up fights. In fact the only person allowed in my company is a certified massage therapist, and even then, she’s only allowed to ask some variation of “Here, here or here?”

Okay…so now that we’ve cleared that up – be safe, have a great time with your Dad, eat all your vegetables and oh, yeah …I have no beef with the French toast, so you can leave that and the latte just outside my door on your way out. All my love, Mom

Monday, March 16, 2009

On Spring Cleaning...

As the winter gloom lifts, the Dogwoods have their fifteen minutes, and everyone’s reminded they actually have neighbors, a ritual of another kind begins: spring cleaning. For me, it’s a little like therapy – a clean sweep of all my bad decisions, overzealous purchases, and an altogether healthy exercise in letting go. This year I decided to get seriously ambitious and ask my husband to start bringing down boxes from the attic. Most of them were labeled “Jack,” who is now nearly six—clearly it was high time to weed through them, and yet I couldn’t help but marvel at how quickly the time had gone. Regardless, I was determined to keep my nostalgic inclinations low and the to-give-away pile high.

After the maelstrom settled, I was drawn to the veritable land of misfit baby gear that dominated the pile headed for the door. While by any standard it appeared as if our purging exercise had been a success, it had also come at a price—both literally and figuratively—as the impressive stack before me was a massive reminder of just how much of the boys’ college money I blew keeping the baby goods industry in business. As we walked down that proverbial lane, I enjoyed a few laughs and a very large slice of humble pie.

First there was the head positioner for the crib—two separate little cloth covered sticks that, as I turned them over in my hand, I was downright puzzled as to how I’d ever been convinced they would work. By the time Jack’s nap was over, I’d find one down by his feet and the other wedged between the bars and the bumper. Sometimes I’d even find him holding one above his head like a tiny Olympic torch.

Then there was the crib wedge –its intended purpose was to keep a baby’s head upright and therefore ease congestion. In theory, it was a good idea but in practical application, not so much. I’d place Jack at the top, he’d slide down, and we’d continue our little dance until I gave up altogether. On rare occasions I’d get him up there at just the right angle and he’d stay still long enough for me to believe that I’d finally cracked the code, only to commence his slow descent, centimeters at a time until he’d gathered enough momentum to sail down the rest of the way and slump like a potato bug at the bottom.

Of course, I can’t forget the deluxe piddle pad. As anyone who has ever cared for a little bundle of joy, urine and poop knows, if the baby’s going to blow, you’re going to need a lot more than a piddle pad – and there’s nothing deluxe about it. Another winner, the portable toilet seat for his post potty-training days. I think it’s safe to guess what else found its way down the pipes after that purchase. I even bought baby knee pads for crawlers —or should I say glorified wrist bands. His legs were so chubby, that when I put them on he would neither crawl nor attempt a move of any kind because I’m fairly certain the elastic had temporarily cut off his circulation. I’m pretty sure I was more concerned about his little skinned knees than he was anyway.

Moving on to the car seat neck roll – this product is a little like the story of “The Old Lady who Swallowed the Fly.” I got the car seat to save his life, I got the neck roll to save his neck, but it was bulky and awkward, so he started to cry, I bought the pacifier to stop the cry. Why did I buy? I don’t know why.

I must have been critically sleep-deprived when I bought the battery-operated aspirator that was supposed to suck out Jack’s nose slime while ridiculous songs played in an effort to drown out the scary noise and distract him. I’m pretty sure the scary noise was enough of a distraction and I’m now convinced its real intended purpose was to distract parents from the fact that they’d just gotten the money sucked out of their wallets for no reason. When I returned to the site for a refund I found the words, “Due to health reasons, we’re unable to return this product.” Smart.

Probably my all-time favorite, ne’er do well purchase was the wipe warmer. Everything about it drew you in. Regal name. Nice design. The concept pulled on all your “new mommy” heartstrings. So when I noticed that the bottom quarter of the wipe stack had turned a crispy brown I realized that something had gone very, very wrong. I consulted the manual for the first time. Apparently it was right there in the directions that I had to wash it out once a week to keep the wipes from drying out. Wait, so am I to understand that, in addition to wiping the various unsavory items I have to wipe multiple times a day, I now have to wipe my wipe warmer? Suddenly I felt compelled to furnish Jack with his first important life lesson. Life’s hard. And sometimes your buns are just going to get cold.

After purging the unnecessary baby gear and facing the fact that our little boy was growing up too fast, you’d think I’d been through enough for one weekend. But just as I dusted off the regret and began to settle into 2009 with a renewed spirit and unbearable feeling of lightness, my husband called to me from upstairs. “Hey, hon, why don’t we start on YOUR closet?” Me, with panic setting in, but trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, “No, no – nothing in there we need to worry about, I clean it out all the time.” My husband, “Yea, but there are all these clothes with the tags still on that you’ve never worn.” That was it. I sprinted up the stairs and just as I rounded the corner to our bedroom, I saw him holding one of my most beloved items, a sassy red backless dress in my goal size six. A little number I couldn’t pass up at Banana Republic’s 2007 post-holiday blowout. Still panting, I snatched it from his hand and shoved it clumsily back into a cluster of its counterparts – all with their own personal bargain and delusional story to tell. One therapy session at a time, please.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On Girl Scout Cookies...

It’s that dreaded season again: the GirlScouts are on the warpath to sell a few cookies and win a few hearts. When I was a kid, this time of year was one of the few during which my parents allowed foods in the house that weren’t whole wheat, homemade or downright good for us. And that was only to prevent awkward run-ins with our neighbors at the grocery store. It was either buy those cookies or face future chance meetings ending in a polite departure laden with the unspoken but clearly understood, “I’ll never forget that you didn’t support my daughter, and by the end of the week, the rest of the neighbors will know about it too. Okay then, bye, bye.” Well, few things have changed over the years, and despite the recession, these little rites of passage trudge on. So no big surprise a whole generation later, several of our cutest neighbors have hit us up for a little “donation” with the same promise of a neighborly outcast unless we cheerfully oblige.

When I was younger and my siblings and I were bound to our parent’s strict food policies, those seemingly innocent boxes—with their depictions of girls learning life skills and building their self esteem—may as well have been the last mouse among a herd of starving stray cats. We would tear into them the first chance we’d get, licking the crumbly remains from our paws before Mom even finished writing the check. For me, Girl Scout Cookies may as well be crack. The last thing I need is to have them lurking in my pantry when I’ve spent years trying to avoid them.

When the first Girl Scout arrived at our door and my five-year-old stood next to me, eyes wide and mouth open, I restrained my old twitch as I wrote the check and invited those salacious plastic towers inside. This is the first year that Jack is in tune with this annual ritual, and it’s the first year in a long time that I couldn’t buy them and immediately cart them off to my husband’s office to avoid a breakdown. I wasn’t a Girl Scout, but I had to participate in school fundraisers when I was young and I remember how awful it was to be met with rejection. Despite my teasing, I’m always on board when it comes to supporting kids fundraisers, as long as they’re the ones doing the work, of course.

Oprah’s Dr. Oz says that no matter what kind of food you bring into your house, you should never put a limit on how much your kids eat. To me this makes sense. My husband always had the worst garbage known to man in every corner of his home and today he’s not only one of the healthiest eaters I know, he doesn’t really care much about sweets. So we decided early on that, like my parents, we would buy only the healthiest of foods for our kids, but if one of those unfortunate high fructose corn syrup options found their way into our house - i.e. Halloween, play date offering, etc. – we would let it stay and run its course. So we didn’t put a limit on how many Girl Scout cookies Jack ate as long as he’d had a substantially healthy choice prior to digging into the box. It took every ounce of restraint I had at my disposal from stopping him as he mowed through eight cookies at a time. But after a week he did stop, and now we have a box and a half left in the pantry. Apparently I’m the only one who hears them incessantly calling my name.

Our decidedly unscientific methodology is to provide healthy options, while not ignoring all the poor choices our kids are bombarded with on a daily basis, and hopefully ensuring those choices don’t turn into cravings because they feel deprived. For instance, when we first moved to Arkansas for some reason Jack was offered a lollipop everywhere we went—from drycleaner to pharmacist. I got so tired of him acting like he’d never met a lollipop he didn’t like that I bought a clear, decorative glass jar and filled it with Dum Dums, keeping it in full view on the kitchen island. After awhile it became so much a part of his landscape that he stopped asking. Who knows if I’m taking the right approach or not, but he’s a skinny little thing and doesn’t seem obsessed with sweets like I was, er, am. I don’t know if this proves any theory, but for now, I’ll take it.

On a side note, I do think it needs to be said that while the Girl Scout big wigs were probably making their cookies attractive on yet another level by assigning cutesy names, you can’t help but see the irony. Shouldn’t “Tagalongs” really be “Can’t believe these Girl Scout cookies have been tagging along my thighs since February?” Or Do-Si-Dos: “I’m going to have to Do-Si-Do my buns off if I eat these.” Thin Mints: the oxymoron of the century. My favorite, however, is the company’s “Thanks-a-lots.” And so I humbly suggest an alternative to its given name: “Yo, Girl Scouts, thanks a lot for sabotaging my New Years Resolution diet in less than a month!”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Lessons in Futility

So I live in a house with three boys —which is ironic to say the least since I spent the majority of my career as a communications specialist. It’s like God’s playing some gigantic, humbling joke at my expense. “An expert, huh? Here’s a husband and two sons – see what you can do with that!”

On a near daily basis, my 20-month-old comes running up to me in earnest as he says, (I’m paraphrasing, of course), “mmfr-ppffft-zzzah-uumph, doe.” I feel like Marlin, the Dad fish in that scene from “Finding Nemo” where he was getting explicit instructions from a young sea turtle as to how to navigate the East Australian Current without injuring himself. Just before he was sucked into the vortex of 30 million cubic meters of warm seawater traveling at up to 4 knots per second, he said in frustrated oblivion, “You’re really cute, and I’m sure you’re saying something important, but I can’t understand a wooooord…”

Anyway, it went something like that. And for me, it usually goes something like this: Cameron utters something unintelligible all the while looking very cute and confident that he’s a genius, and I respond with a wide-eyed, “Really?” chock full of faux enthusiasm since I have no idea what he’s talking about. He excitedly nods his head, and then believing that we’re in synch quickly moves to his next endeavor which inevitably involves something I would have never agreed to had I truly been in on the arrangement — for instance, dunking my favorite decorative pillow in a tub of water until he was certain he’d killed it. These sessions, I’m totally convinced are all part of his master plan to ultimately claim my sanity. It’s very possible, in fact, that he’s just pretending he can’t talk. Just a theory.

Then there’s my five-year-old, “Mars” man in the making. Everyday I attempt to get a true read on what’s going on in his head, but I’m equally unsuccessful at solving the puzzle.

Me: “Jack, how was school?”
Jack: “Awesome!”
Me: “Great! What was so awesome about it?”
Jack: “I don’t know, it was just awesome.”
Me: “Yea, you, uh, said that.”

And by the way, I also have approximately 150 daily report sheets from his teacher saying, “Today at school, Jack said he felt: “awesome.”

I have to admit, I had big plans that one day I’d hear a gush of compliments from my future daughters-in-law, thanking me profusely for raising men who were not only in touch with their feelings but really knew how to express them. Well, girls, it’s been five years and I haven’t made much progress. I’m not completely ready to throw in the towel, but I am sure that the concept upon which I essentially built a whole career leaves me totally unqualified when trying to navigate the murky waters of the male psyche. I can help any company successfully launch a product, but I have no idea if my son is happy at school or if he goes just because he has no choice.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’d been married to my husband for two years before I found out that he not only studied fine art, but had a deep appreciation for it. And even then, it was just by chance. On a trip to New York, we visited the Museum of Modern Art when, out of the blue he starts pontificating about the artist’s technique and meaning like he was an authority on the subject. Of course, I just stared at him like an alien had inhabited his body and said something brilliant, like “wha?” I suppose it keeps our marriage interesting. I never really know who’s going to walk in the door. That being said, I’m still holding on to the hope that one day it will be an eccentric millionaire who’s just been keeping up our thirteen-year budget bound charade to ensure I really loved him for him.

So maybe the only really effective communication strategy when it comes to boys is patience – not at the top of my list of virtues, but definitely in the mix. I just have to hope that all the men in my life will spill their guts when they’re good and ready. And when they do, I’ll be listening. And while I harbor this decidedly female wish to know everything my boys are feeling deep down in their souls, on the occasions when all four of us are cuddling on the couch —not a word between us—I think talking is definitely overrated.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Birthdays...

When it comes to birthdays, I have one word for you. Outsource. I’m old enough to remember when this concept first became the biggest buzz ever to hit the business world. At the time, I neither knew nor cared about why I should pay attention. But today, the very idea I considered with such laissez faire has become the single most cherished, mental-health-preserving strategy I’ve had the good fortune to come across. Well, Mom’s Day Out is good. And, of course, there is the well-placed glass of red wine…movies by myself…Girl’s Night. But you get the picture – it’s right “up” there with the best of them.

As with any good revelation, it came at a price. And here’s where you may as well know that before I began using “Mother of the Year” as a facetious moniker, I actually believed that the notion was within my reach. In my previous life, I’m pretty sure I was able to juggle complex events, multiple projects and whole groups of colleagues while using my “free hand” to have some semblance of a life. Despite all that heady corporate experience, I now find myself at a bumbling loss managing two diminutive humans who can’t even read.

But at the time, I had high hopes for pulling off my ill-fated attempt at an event of Martha Stewart proportions for my son Jack’s three-year-old birthday party. I thought that I could have my perfect mother, perfect entertainer, eerily-in-control magazine page moment in the sun. I spent months ripping through glossy periodicals, scanning the Internet, and revising “to do” lists that were too long in the first place. I’m not allowed to go into the details as my therapist has advised me not to, but let’s just say that the occasion was enough to snap me into reality and put me off home-celebrated birthdays forever. The bits of blood red icing from the themed sandcastle cake I botched, still embedded in my prize Persian rug, help to keep me honest, too. (My apologies, by the way, to the eight people I thanked for the wrong gift because twenty toddlers converged on all of your beautifully wrapped packages like a pack of hungry wolves.)

So that brings us back to today, cured of my delusions and happy to report that birthday years four and five – while not without their challenges —were pulled off without a lingering twitch in my left eye. This is because I outsourced the details to somebody else: People much more talented and better equipped than I to pull off a child’s birthday party of any proportion. Yes, there is a God. And sometimes He comes in the form of JumpZone, Pump It Up or Mid-America Karate. I mean, really, you’ve got to hand it to these places. If you can find the staff equipped with the iron stomach necessary to handle breaking up fights, teetering ice cream cones, regurgitating toddlers and flying cake, then you deserve every red cent you get to pull it off.

In fact, both birthdays ended with me thanking the poor high school students they hired to host the little rascals for two hours of sheer mayhem, while doing my cutest, shoulders up, wincing apology for all the little mishaps and colossal mess left for them to clean up. Then, after delivering the classic Saturday Night Live skit send-off, “Buh, bye” and sinking into my seat for the drive home, a satisfied calm came over me knowing that I wouldn’t have to spend the next three weeks digging smashed cake sprinkles out of the grooves of my kitchen table with a toothpick, rubbing greasy little handprints off my mirrors and windows, or gluing the heads back on Jack’s Star Wars action figures. Now, if only I could outsource getting back into shape…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On Resolutions...

I have this recurring nightmare that hosts Stacy and Clinton from “What Not to Wear” are lurking behind every corner I pass just waiting to drag me into the car as it burns skid marks into the street careening back to their studios. Once inside, they hurt themselves trying to figure out which army of extreme makeover specialists they’re going to enlist to put me back together, but my case is so complicated I turn into a year-long series.

I used to have it together – or maybe I just remember it that way – you know, like how you perceive all your old relationships? There was a good reason it didn’t last, but once a little time has passed, you can’t remember why you broke up. You convince yourself that the “babe” with the stunning green eyes didn’t really mix-up the meanings of “monotonous” and “monogamous,” or that the witty marketing director was kidding when he suggested you buy your own birthday dinner with your Christmas bonus. But I digress…

The fact is, 2009 is a particularly powerful resolution year for me because I’m no longer hanging on the edge of 40 – the last pinky has been plucked off the cliff and I’m going to find myself free-falling into oblivion unless I get serious about re-introducing myself to myself.

Somewhere between “I do” and “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” I’ve forgotten almost everything I used to love about me. And it’s not my kids’ fault and certainly not my husband’s. I think as women, we’re just engineered to put ourselves last. It’s been years since I’ve arrived at a hair salon without an inch and a half of my “natural blonde” cascading out of my roots. And I can’t remember the last time my esthetician hasn’t had to navigate a jungle to reshape what used to be my eyebrows. Or for that matter, the last time I actually enjoyed wearing pants without an elastic waistband.

I think “Mom, Tate Emerson” is nice. But maybe “Tate Emerson, Mom, freelance writer, etc.” might be even more interesting. As it stands, once the lunches have been made, clothes are cleaned, everyone’s well-fed, and tucked into bed for the night, there doesn’t seem to be anything left. Time-wise or otherwise and I find myself depleted, collapsing into the sheets and muttering to myself that I’ll start tomorrow.

Well, my friends, tomorrow has come. There’s a reason that the word “her” lives inside “mother.” Come to think of it, it’s at the end there too. So forget the semantics. 2009 has to be the year that we Moms reconnect with ourselves, because the day our little ones go off to college – we should be able to enjoy our own company. Unless I start making progress now, one day you might find me wandering aimlessly in a field somewhere, uttering something unintelligible about the impossibility of keeping lunches interesting in a peanut-free zone.

So let’s get going! But, take it slowly. Don’t get overwhelmed with all that needs to change, just start here: commit to putting a little of yourself back into your life – in any way that means for you. It could be stealing 15 minutes a day for a cup of coffee and a few pages of the paper in silence. Joining an adult soccer league, or getting up an hour earlier to get the little exercise in that won’t happen unless it’s done before sunrise. Maybe it’s getting your hairstyle out of the 70’s. Come to think of it, I might want to start there. I wear a hat so often, I couldn’t even venture a guess as to which era my follicles align themselves. It could also be as simple as buying a journal so that you can remember the things you were passionate about before you had a family. Start small, but make 2009 the year you start to mother yourself. And if you’re still confused about where to start, take it from the top. Look in the mirror, and say, “Hi, my name is…” Then, just work on filling in the blanks.