Sunday, November 5, 2017

How to Dismantle a House in 10 Years or Less

Those of you who are newly-wed or soon-to-be, take a moment to look around your home.  It is no doubt stocked with brand new towels, pots and pans, furniture, dishes, and bedding that kind friends and family have bought you or you and your beloved have bought together.  There may be a new coat of paint on the walls, a clean rug under foot, a lovely blanket over the arm of a sofa in a way that looks casually thrown but is in fact neatly styled.  Things are just the way you like them, shiny and new.

Take a good look.  Take some pictures.  Bask in the Pottery-Barn-like-beauty.  Because it won't last.  In 10 years, you will be living in filth and chaos.   And this is how it will happen.

Year One--Your perfect beloved will break some dishes while trying to wash them. It also turns out he has an annoying habit of leaving change lying around and never throws away receipts.   But that is neither here nor there.  It also turns out he doesn't know what a coaster is. (Clarification:  I am seriously not talking about Kevin.  I have used generic annoying things as a stand-in for things about Kevin that are annoying, in that they don't exist.  There is nothing annoying about Kevin.)  Your coffee table now bears the insignia of the coffee cup Olympics.  A klutzy friend will spill a glass of red wine on the rug.  Someone will grab one of your white Turkish towels to clean it up.

Year Two--Maybe you get a dog, maybe he eats some tupperware.  Or maybe you just have friends who never return the tupperware.  Some of it gets melted in the dishwasher or microwave.  Regardless of how it happens, you soon have 3 lids and 2 containers of tupperware, none of which goes together.  Also, your non-stick pan coating starts to peel regardless of how fancy the brand.  You have to throw it out and you buy cheap Target stuff because you don't cook anyway and you are saving for dog obedience school.  Also, the hangers in your closet are now all those cheap wire dry cleaner hangers.  It's not clear what happened to the other hangers, but they have clearly moved on.

Year Three--your white bedding is now brown.  Which is fine, you never make your bed anyway and the throw pillows for it are always underneath it.  It bothers you that your bedroom no longer looks like a magazine, but you have to leave the house at 6 am for your new job, so it is what it is.  The walls of your house now have a millions scuffs and chips and things from people recklessly kicking their shoes off.  All the baseboards and corners of every room have a thin film of grime and lint.  Your sofa at this point bears the unmistakable marks of hosting numerous picnics.  Also, you now have 4 kinds of glasses in your cabinets, none of which match.

Year Four--Hurricane Katrina hits your location, flooding your house with raw sewage and all manner of disgusting filth.  Just kidding, you have a child, which is worse.  You can get insurance money for Katrina and fix things up in time, whereas with a child, your house will never be clean again.   Despite your firm declaration that your hone will not be littered with baby items, there are in fact bouncy chairs, swings, play gyms, diapers and stuffed toys every 3 feet.  At first you try to buy things that match your decor, but then you just say Trump It, the garish zebra striped exersaucer with the blinking fluorescent lights entertains the child 3.2 minutes longer, and that's definitely worth it.

Year Five--As your child begins walking, you start losing control of where the items in your house reside.  You will find stuffed animals in your oven, hopefully before preheating it. You will find your blowdryer in the bottom of a dress up bin.  You will find cups of coagulated, molded, rancid milk between couch cushions.  None your upholstered furniture is the color it was when you bought it.  You can no longer remember what color it was, and you can't really say what color it is now.  It is the color of all the colors mixed together or all the foods mixed together and vomited up.  Your dining room table is bedazzled.  You can't see out of your windows for the finger smudge.  Also, all your cups are now ones acquired from Happy Meals.  Also, your walls are covered in stickers.

Year Six--Well, you done lost your mind and had another kid.  Why would you ever do that.  Because you done lost your mind, that's why.  In rare quiet moments, you can audibly hear your house begging you to PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.  Or is that your own soul.  It's hard to tell and kind of doesn't matter because there's nothing you can do for either one.  So.  Now you get to start all over from the beginning with the ugly exersaucers and spit up and poop.  Meanwhile, your older child continues to grow in assertiveness, mobility, and artistic expression.  That child now wants to paint and cook and attempt to clean in a way that is not cleaning.  Also, your bathroom rug is now completely mildewed.

Years Seven and Eight--These are the years when your oldest child develops their own social life.  They start going places without you--school, Sunday School, sports events and birthday parties--and they start acquiring things at those places and bringing those things into your house without your permission.  Your house is now a junkyard of drawings, popsicle-stick sculptures, plastic tops, and fake tattoos.   You spend 75% of your time sorting through things and making agonizing decisions about what is trash and what is not and how you might dispose of all the things without anyone realizing it.  75% of your home is covered with the stuff you were unable to dispose of without someone noticing and having an annyeurism.

Year Nine--Now you have entered a new, horrible phase that can be described with one word: LEGOS.  Which are very fun. They are also very small and disperse like dandelion seeds in stiff wind.  Your entire home is infested with them, like lice in the the hair of a girl with very thick, very curly, very dark hair.  You find them ground up in your garbage disposal, in the gear shift of your car, in pockets of clothes that have been washed, dried and put away, in pillow cases and shoes and bathtub drains and light sockets and in your ears and between your toes and worse.   Also, you have two kids attending birthday parties and getting the horrible favor bags.

Year Ten--The dismantling of your once-pristine home is now complete.  There is not a single item or surface in the entire place that is truly clean and unchipped, unbroken, unscratched, unscathed or otherwise bearing any resemblance to what it was when first acquired.  Even your own underwear is disgusting, we won't go into all the reasons why, but it doesn't matter. Nothing can stand pure and undefiled in this place.  And it's not like it doesn't bother you.  You are highly bothered.  But you are resigned to the reality that it is easier to just lay down and take it than to try to order and clean a house while it is being ravaged by a tornado.

There are forces of entropy in the world, my friends.  Things that were once new and perfect decay and get dirty and fall apart and unravel and get overgrown and break and get jumbled unless carefully maintained.  Cars. Gardens. Faces. Muscle tone. Panty Hose. Language skills.  Relationships. Book shelves.  Eyebrows. Democracies. I wish that once you achieved something or cleaned something or set something right or got it where you wanted it to be that it would stay that way, even just for a year or two.  The maintenance of life can be overwhelming.   Then you add a couple kids and it's like the Millennium Falcon going into hyperspace or being put into a wood chipper.  Or flying at hyperspace speed into a wood chipper.

Some people spend their entire existence trying to beat back every inch of chaos and they end up on an HGTV show.  Other people just say Trump the Whole Thing and do nothing to beat it back and they end up on a TLC show.  Most of us fall in the middle, and my own strategy--in addition to medication--is to spend the bulk of my time maintaining what is truly valuable and/or what I enjoy maintaining.  My marriage and my physical health are at the top of this list.  With the rest of it--to include my house--I try to do a little bit every day, but then to let it go.  Sometimes I survey the chaos, take in every imperfection, and practice doing nothing at all about it.  I can feel the anxiety creep up, the sheer panic that everything is falling apart around me and it's on me to keep it together or....or...or...or What? Will the smudged windows and chipped dishes harm us? Will the expanding lines on my face rob me of value? Will the realization of my spouse's imperfections make me unable to love him?  Will the meaning of my life be measured by how organized my closets are?  And on the flip side, would a Pottery Barn house or a cellulite-free butt or a husband who throws away all his receipts make my life appreciably better or my worth more?

However, I truly do believe that I would be happier with some ankle definition.  I will never know, because, tragically, that is the one thing a plastic surgeon can do nothing about, but I think it might make a difference.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Games Will Keep Us Together

We have crossed an important Rubicon in our house recently--our children can now both play games. I'm not talking about head games or other forms of psychological manipulation--they've been doing that since birth--and I'm not talking about the toddler and preschool versions like Chutes and Ladders or Hi Ho Cherry O that present all of the risk of loss-induced-fit-throwing with none of the enjoyment of brain activity.   I'm talking about REAL GAMES, games I might play in my normal adult life, games that require sentient thought.  Catan. Ticket to Ride. Clue. SPADES, friends, SPADES.  

We've had Charlotte on board for awhile.  As an oldest child, she generally wants to be as adult as possible, as early as possible.  As a youngest child, this is not a mentality I have ever been able to understand.  However,  I can understand why she would rather play Catan with the grown ups than another round of Candy Land, a game with the triple advantage of being boring, annoying, and promoting tooth decay.  Over the past year, she has been learning to play Bridge, which is practically a religion in my extended family, and recently made her official debut at our very indulgent monthly Bridge group.  She did well, but was aided by our group's preference for drinking wine over serious competition.

Lawson--being younger, generally opposed to the rule of law, and more interested in a digital life than a social life--has taken longer to come around.  He first started playing the various games we wanted him to play with us on his tablet (of course).  He in fact taught himself how to play them all, which is good, because teaching him anything is akin to doing brain surgery with a very stubborn version of Robin Williams.  Half comedian, half militant,  all Lawson.  After some months of leaving him to his (own) devices, we began coaxing him to the game table.  He's not playing Bridge just yet, but he does enjoy a rowdy game of Catan, just so long as you never rob him, a tragedy any mere mortal will greet with some amount of chagrin, but which Lawson considers a war crime.  His new favorite game, thanks to babysitters Bill and Nancy, is Exploding Kittens.  Although he would prefer that real kittens actually explode, he does enjoy reading the ridiculous captions on each card that refer to things like back hair shampoo and poop.

We are all getting along so much better now that we have the games.  We now have some suitable alternatives to screen time, dinosaur fights, lego construction, and writhing around the floor in boredom.  Not only do games engage the mind and focus social interactions, they can be played comfortably seated in a chair.  Everyone in fact gets their own chair, no one is climbing atop the others. True, only one person wins, and that person is almost always Kevin, and he almost always does so using some kind procedural Mitch-McConnell-like jujitsu, much to everyone's annoyance.  And at times the losers throw fits, and sometimes those fit-throwers are even children. But generally speaking, all the people have fun.

As previously referenced, I come from a great game-playing tradition.  Growing up, our nuclear family played various card and board games, mainly because I refused to learn how to play the holy grail of games, Bridge, mainly because I could tell my parents really really wanted to teach me, exhibiting a soul-crushing obstinance that proves the genetic link between myself and Lawson.  They loved to play and often joked they had 2 kids in order to have the required 4 players for a Bridge game.  As an adult, I finally cooperated and learned this amazing, sadly going-out-of-style card game.  When I met Kevin, I taught him to play.

I don't think it's too much to say that besides the bonds of blood and affection, Bridge is the glue that holds our extended family together.  My grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle and assorted others always got a table or two going at every family gathering.  My late grandfather had an entire lexicon of bridge-related phrases that sounded nonsensical to the uninitiated.  Heck, they were a little weird even to the initiated. "Get them kids off the street," "It twisted off," "A sea of faces and aces," "I'm gonna pass on account of my cards," "This ain't worth setting' up," "You got that one at Woolworths."

My grandmother is still an amazingly sharp player at the age of 97. She in fact has no compunction with pointedly asking you, grandchild of hers though you may be, "Now why did you play that card right then?"  at which point you can find no excuse for yourself.  She always knows what card to play when.  For a couple of years when I taught at a college near her house, I would drive over every Tuesday afternoon to play with her Bridge group, a charming assortment of small town folks all many decades my senior who gathered in the Gold Room at the First National Bank to drink weak coffee and play cards for spare change.  They were really good for my self esteem, always going on about how young, smart, and pretty I was.   I paid no mind to the fact that many of them could barely see their cards.  There was the occasional dust-up over Dottie's chronic underbidding, which was really about the fact that everyone knew Dottie was having an affair with a married man, or Maggie's repeated reneging, which was really about the fact that everyone knew Maggie owed Joe $100 from several years prior.   I stayed out of the internal politics and enjoyed the game.  Not many Gen Xers play bridge, much to their detriment.  I'm hoping maybe the hipsters will bring it back, as they have names like Herbert, massive glasses, and crocheted capes.

My parents are likewise really great players.  Well, if you discount my father's complete and utter disgust when he goes several hands without getting any cards and his complete and utter unwillingness to give up a bid when he does get cards.  Even Charlotte knows Baba to be a recalcitrant over-bidder.  He and Kevin, who always team up, share a desire to win all games at all costs, and they are both annoying.  Neither allow any mercy even for the mothers of their precious children and even when reminded of the maternal pain and suffering experienced when bringing said children into the world.  I do not care, they say, I will get this bid, and I will crush you.  The only feeling more powerful than the frustration one feels with them is the sublime joy of dishing out their comeuppance in the form of a sound beating.

Bridge is an aptly named pastime for our family, because it has in fact bridged divides over the years.  It brought together my strictly devout parents and my party-animal grandparents.  It now brings together me and my parents, though our views increasingly diverge.  There are a range of topics we can't discuss anymore, mainly because we can't seem to do it calmly, and I have an anxiety disorder.  But we can always play Bridge.

And now me and my kids--whose very existences can seem at fundamentally cross-purposes, in that I am trying to say sane and they are trying to drive me insane--can play various other enjoyable games together, and maybe one day all play Bridge, if Lawson cooperates, which is not to be expected.  I suck at crafts, I don't enjoy baking cookies, I am a terrible disciplinarian, and often bribe my children to go in the other room and leave me alone.  But I am incredibly good at losing gracefully at Catan, and everyone can appreciate that.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Screen Queen

It remains to be seen which aspects of my parenting prove to be truly disastrous.   Charlotte may never get a job because of my failure to insist that she wear anything but shorts and T-shirts or brush her hair (or she could just become an academic).  There is a very good chance Lawson will have no teeth and an enlarged bladder.  They are probably both going to have back trouble from sleeping on the floor (their choice, I did buy them beds).  And diabetes.

But my worst failing is definitely my substandard policing of the dreaded Screen Time, that existential threat to the human capacity for focus, speech, relationship, critical thought, or even basic brain activity.  I do think there is something to the experts' alarm, although they get pretty hyperbolic about it, and anyway, no one can really conduct properly controlled experiments on parenting outcomes.  I'm betting all those sickly kids who weren't breastfed were always going to be sickly, bless their hearts.  But I know from my own experience with my beloved iPhone the addictive and seductive power of the screen.  And I feel dumber.  And I don't like it, because I am still smart enough to know that I used to be smarter.  So I can't quite roll my eyes at the parenting experts on this one.  

I've been through various systems of limiting screen time to include:
  • Set screen hours.  For instance, telling them they can use screens from 7-8 am, 5-6 pm.  But Charlotte regularly sleeps in past 7 and so this is SO NOT FAIR, and when I try to find another time for her to have screen time, Lawson ends up watching over her shoulder and then THAT is so not fair and then I just get tired and go eat chips.
  • Popsicle sticks in a can.  Each stick represents a half hour of screen time, and they get so many for the week.  But then they start watching shows that are only 20 minutes, and that is not a full stick and so it's SO NOT FAIR to count it for an entire stick.  So then I fix that and make each stick 20 minutes, but I still have the problem of figuring out how much screen time TWO SEPARATE CHILDREN are using every day.  I get to the end of the day and try to remember who did what when. My brain hurts and I go look at Cape Town real estate online.
  • Go tech-free every Sunday.  So, this is a great plan, because I figure if we can do this for an entire day, the rest of the week probably doesn't matter too much.  But here's how it breaks down.  First of all, it's SUNDAY. As in, a day we really don't want to wake up at 6 am.  Problem is, Lawson wants to wake up at 6 am EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE AND EVEN IN HEAVEN.  Now, if allowed, he bounds out of bed, sprints down the hall, grabs a device and may actually leave us alone.  This is not 100%, however.  Sometimes he still feels the need to inform us of his whereabouts, as if we are going to wake up, see his bed empty and immediately think Jesus has returned, and in ironic twist, the boy who makes farting noises in church is the only one who made the cut.  Sometimes he doesn't go for his devices anyway, he comes to get in bed with us just to chat.  At which point we begin begging him to play a video game.  On a Sunday, which is No-Tech Sunday, as Charlotte informs us when she gets up at 9 am, enraged to find that a rule has been broken somewhere in the universe.  Just go crap all over gravity why don't you.  Then she asks if she can have tech on No-Tech Sunday. We say No, it's now too late, which is of course SO NOT FAIR.  And that is just the first few hours of No-Tech Sunday.  The rest of the day consists of 15 minute intervals of children finding something to do with 45 minutes in between of them writhing on the floor in something akin to heroin withdrawal.  The other option is to go on a Fun Family Outing, and you know how I feel about those.   
  • Use Parental controls on the devices to cut them off or limit the use of certain features.  This would be an ideal solution--they have these great kindle fires with a kid zone and an adult zone, and in the kid zone you can do all kinds of controls.  But turns out the Minecraft packs (and honestly Minecraft is one of the better things they do on a screen) they need are only available on the adult side, so I had to install their Minecraft on that side, which only has some parental controls, so that I can make sure they don't watch porn but I can't really limit their use of various non-educational apps without getting a computer science degree.  Plus, even if they can't use their kindle fires, they can still play the Wii and watch movies on Netflix.  This once again involves me paying attention to what they are doing at all times, and I get tired and go lay in bed and play Catan on MY device.  
  • Pray to God the experts are WRONG ALL WRONG about all the screen time devastation and just surrender completely.  
  • Feel guilty and declare a "reset" and proceed through every one of these attempts yet again.  
This is what I want.  I want my TV, Wii, and their tablets all synched to a timer in the sky that calculates how much combined screen time they have each had and then when they have reached their limit for the day, all the electronics magically disappear without involving me at all.  Which still won't work because there are two kids and they use some of the same electronics but not at the same time...Oh I know.  The timer in the sky keeps track of what each of them have their eyes on, and when they have had their eyes on a screen for a certain amount of time, they magically lose their eyesight for the rest of that day.  That way they can't eavesdrop on the other one's screen time.  Problem solved.  

I know what those of you who don't have kids and those of you who do have kids but who don't have any mental illness or who just have super human powers are thinking--Just lay down the law! Tell them this is how it is! Get rid of the wii and the tablets! Let them writhe on the floor!

Those of you who aren't parents are just going to have to shut up on this one, and pretty much every other judgement you have about parenting, because you cannot possibly know what it is like to fight this brutal war of attrition day in and day out.  Those of you who do have kids but don't have my brain may have a case--I could definitely do better, anxiety disorder or not.  I will concede that.  

But the screens are my friend, y'all.  They give me room to breathe, to cook, to write, to think interesting thoughts.  I love my kids, but I need them to leave me alone for periods of time that are longer than what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for screen usage.  It's a quandary.   The other quandary is that my brain does not do logistics of any kind. ANY KIND.  When confronted with the task of tallying up what my two kids are doing for how long while I am also making grocery lists and doctor's appointments and arranging babysitters and trying to remember why I walked into this room--my brain says, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE HORRIBLE, BADLY ORGANIZED DEATHS BECAUSE WE CANNOT DO THE LOGISTICS.   This is what my brain says.  

Bottom line: It's not my kids who are addicted to screen time, it's me.  And I do think it's a chemical addiction, too.  Too bad there's not rehab, because that sounds really relaxing.  

Monday, October 9, 2017


I've been seeing a lovely psychiatrist named Dr. K for almost six years now.  I got his name from a fellow mom at my church mom's group (aka The Breastfeeding Society) after one of the times I melted down in public.  "You know, like everyone here is on Zoloft," she said, as if she were reminding me the world was round.  NO, I didn't know that, why have you all been keeping this important truth from me all this time?  Where were you the previous 23 times I melted down in public?

I naturally assumed my diagnosis would be postpartum depression.  Because I had recently had a baby and felt pretty darn depressed.  Also, everyone knows PPD is a respectable mental illness.  No one thinks a lady with PPD is really that crazy. Hey, girl just had a baby, she's not allowed to sleep, and she has no clothes to wear.  Also, breastfeeding. Or ritual shaming if she can't hack that. Give her a break.  What kind of crazy person WOULDN'T be depressed?  After talking with me over the course of a few sessions, Dr. K explained that my depression seemed to be rooted in anxiety--as in, I was feeling overwhelmed and that was making me depressed.  Whatever theory you like, Dr. K, still sounds like PPD to me.  That's what I went with.

But then I saw a form with my actual diagnosis on it.  It said "Generalized Anxiety Disorder."  What? No PPD?  Not even a mention of the horribly dismembering journey that is childbirth? And a DISORDER??  My reaction was like that of my colleague when she got the results of a personality test we did for some team-building thingy.  She had thought she was a nice person. Maybe a little aggressive, but basically nice.  Her readout all but said, "You are a b****."  Similarly, a Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis is not messing around.  You are straight-up crazy and without any excuse for yourself.

The omniscient authority that is Wikipedia defines it this way:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry, that is, apprehensive expectation about events or activities. This excessive worry often interferes with daily functioning, as individuals with GAD typically anticipate disaster, and are overly concerned about everyday matters such as health issues, money, death, family problems, friendship problems, interpersonal relationship problems, or work difficulties

As in, people with GAD worry about actual problems that are scary.  Yes, they worry too much about them, but let's be honest, death is not a fun thing, and it will happen, and that's a concern for all but the most hard-core evangelical Christians.  My fellow mom friends who are also on Zoloft for GAD mainly worry something bad is going to happen to their children. You know, like a normal worry a loving mom would have.  It’s not only understandable, it’s admirable, a clear demonstration of a mother’s fierce devotion to her children. Yes, they get a bit dysfunctional about it, but everyone understands the impulse.

So, that's not me.  I don't worry about something bad happening to my kids.  I mean, the fact that there are pedophiles and black widows and brain-eating bacteria lying around passes through my mind on occasion, and I might think to myself, Hmmm, hope nothing happens to my kids.   But then I move on to the REALLY scary things in life and have panic attacks over those things, including:

  • Grocery stores with more than two kinds of each product 
  • People asking me math questions while I am cooking dinner
  • New items of any significant size being brought into my home without my permission because WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL I PUT IT
  • People crying while I am cooking dinner
  • Weeds
  • People informing me they are hungry while I am cooking dinner
  • OK, let’s just get to the heart of the issue. I HATE COOKING AND IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER IF EVERYONE BEHAVES.  
  • My husband leaving forks and cups out as if he will use them again but in fact will not. Or even if he will, it doesn't really matter, THEY ARE TAUNTING ME EITHER WAY  
  • Having to decide what to cook for dinner WHEN THERE IS SO MUCH FOOD IN AMERICA
  • Kids using scotch tape  
  • Stickers of any kind
  • Glitter of any kind
  • People using too much paper towel BECAUSE THEN WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD SHOES
  • Legos that are not properly contained in a designated bin BECAUSE EVERYONE KNOWS THEY WILL RISE UP AND FORM AN ARMY I SAW THE LEGO MOVIE
  • My husband identifying something that is broken or amiss or lost AND THEN HAVING NO PLAN FOR FIXING IT NOW
  • People asking me where something in my house is located AS IF I SHOULD KNOW
  • Those wretched bags of plastic crap children come home from birthday parties with. Is it trash, is it a toy, WHAT IS IT AND WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL I PUT IT
  • Noticing that something over there is really, really dirty and needs cleaning while I am cleaning something over here AND THEN WHAT DO I CLEAN
  • Toys, games and crafts with many small parts, or any parts at all. ALL THINGS SHOULD BE A MONO-THING.  
  • Cleaning people coming to my house and rearranging my African knick-knacks because it may be worth living in filth as long as things are not askew
  • Recipes with steps and ingredients. Recipes.  
  • People throwing couch cushions on the floor BECAUSE THAT IS JUST BARBARIC
  • Things we no longer use or need continuing to reside in our home BECAUSE THEY MUST LEAVE IMMEDIATELY
  • Packing for a trip and getting to the airport in time BECAUSE THEY WILL EXECUTE US
  • People who don’t appreciate why you would want to leave for the airport four hours ahead of your flight because, I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE SO WE DON’T DIE
  • Kid art that you really really want to throw away but you feel like you sort of can’t and WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL WE PUT IT
  • Receipts that people don’t immediately throw away BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER NEED TO KNOW YOU SPEND $5.62 AT WENDY’S 
  • People demanding that I hurry to complete a task while I am trying to do it. Just fire missiles over my head while I'm doing brain surgery next time.
  • Parenting magazines that inform me of more things I could be doing for my children THAT I DON’T WANT TO DO WHICH IS ALL OF THE THINGS
  • Planning birthday parties BECAUSE CHILDREN WILL BE AT THEM
  • Bringing in the s*** load of gifts from birthday parties into the house after and wondering WHERE IN THE TRUMP WILL WE PUT IT
  • America  (And no, not whether our democracy and national security are in danger.  Just America.  It has too much stuff and details and logistics)
  • Logistics 
  • Details
  • Stuff
I in fact can't be bothered to worry about death, disease, and destruction because I am too busy worrying about dinner, WHICH IS HAPPENING TONIGHT.  Besides, I don't control death, but people are expecting me to control dinner. And I can't handle that.  

“Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” is too kind a label for what I have going on.  I think they need to call it what it is, “Ridiculous Anxiety Disorder” or RAD.  I won’t be offended.  In fact, part of my anxiety is due to my utter frustration, as I am descending into the anxiety, that I am freaking out over something really, really, really stupid.  I love how my doctor pretends my panic attacks are somewhat legitimate.  I’ll be telling him, “So then, Lawson asks for a popsicle very insistently WHILE I AM CUTTING CHARLOTTE’S NAILS.  That’s when I completely lost it and ran into my bedroom crying.”  “Right, of course you did, because it’s very stressful to have to deal with fingernails AND popsicles.  Who wouldn’t have a panic attack?”

You’re very kind, Dr. K, but you, too, are RIDICULOUS. JUST SHUT THE TRUMP UP AND GIVE ME THE DRUGS.

Friday, October 6, 2017

I'm fun, right?

 Right?  This blog is kind of fun, right?  I’m so fun, I do a lot of things stone cold sober that most people will do only when drunk.  OK, I might have one glass of wine.  Then it’s karaoke, dancing on tables, jumping into pools with my clothes on, doing fake accents and weird impersonations, telling embarrassing stories about myself involving chin hair and rejection.  You could even say my normal, natural personality is a little bit drunk. In high school, I was the class clown, because why not? I didn’t have much else going on.  Voluntarily humiliating myself or otherwise doing things to make people laugh helped distract people from the fact that I wasn’t beautiful, I had no athletic ability, and I was smart.  The high school triple threat.  If attempting to play a sport and inevitably failing, I could either act like I was actually trying and really did suck that bad, or I could act like it was all part of some kind of physical comedy routine, like that SNL skit when Chris Farley plays a Chip-n-Dale dancer.  No one is watching that skit thinking, “Wow, Chris Farley is obese and a terrible dancer.”  One very tiny difference between me and Chris Farley, however, is that he had physical talent to begin with.  Also he was way funnier than me.  Also he was performing in a setting that made it clear he was doing a comedy sketch.  Also people were paying him to do that.  Also his audience wanted him to succeed while mine was all sitting around praying for everyone else to fail spectacularly so no one would notice their calves were too skinny.  In any case, not sure my audience was buying it, as evidenced by the only measure of high school success, boyfriends, of which I had very few.

I come from a long and distinguished line of bonafide characters, so being naturally drunk is in my genes (and some of my relatives have been known to be legitimately drunk as well).  The known family record on this goes back to my great-granddaddy Turner, who awakened his houseguests in the mornings by putting firecrackers under their beds  (I’m sure he drank, probably something homemade, probably even during prohibition).  He also spent most of his leisure time sitting on the front porch, playing his fiddle, and making up little ditties about the passing cars.  My mother tells me he was "highly aggravating,” which in Texan translates to “obnoxious but entertaining enough that it’s tolerable,” because in Texas the worst thing you can be is boring.  Her father, my dear Pepa, continued this trend.  Pepa was the life of every party.   He told the best stories, like that time he was a Houston bus driver and was relieving himself out the bus door at the end of his shift when a woman passenger who had fallen asleep on his bus came to, saw him peeing and shrieked in horror, sending his urine stream trajectory well off the mark.  At least I think that was how the story went.  You could only make out about half of what he was saying, between the thick Texas accent, the mumbling way he spoke, and the fact that he never wore his teeth.  But it didn’t matter, you were laughing regardless. He was fond of one-liners, such as saying about my mom, “If you wired her jaw shut, her head would explode” (accurate); “Get them kids off the street” and “this ain’t worth settin’ up” (references to bridge, which he loved); “this gravy’s too tough” (I have no idea what that means); “he is so lazy, he thinks Manual Labor’s a Mexican” (he wasn't politically correct).  He and my grandmother both were good-time folks well into their old age and indulged in behaviors of which their evangelical-convert daughter did not approve.  When I would visit them for the weekend from my nearby college, they would leave me zoned out in front of the TV at 11 pm to head out to the honky tonk.  They loved to dance and drink.  They are the only people I have ever known who hid their liquor from their kids.  

I found some photos in my grandmother’s house of her and a bunch of girlfriends in the 1960’s hanging out in their girdles.  Before digital photography.  Think about that.  My grandmother and her pals used actual film to take pictures of themselves in their underwear.  And then got it developed.  Presumably at a local drugstore in their small town where the drugstore people probably knew them personally.  And then kept the pictures lying around for the next several decades. I don't think the liquor was hidden that night.  Or maybe it was.  Again, my people don’t really need alcohol to act that way.

Given this pedigree of fun, you’d think my house, too, would just be a laugh-riot for my kids, and I would come up with endless, creative ways to fill their lives with joy and magic.  You’d think I would be wrestling them to the ground while dressed up like a wild boar or popping out of closets with silly string or reading all their books to them in strange voices and accents.  You’d think that.  But while some people’s sense of fun is encouraged by being around kids, mine is squashed.  They being kids and me in charge of them just ruins the whole deal for me.  I kind of resent them for getting to be kids, really.  I WANT TO BE THE KID.  I find responsibility to be a massive killjoy.  You give me any amount of that and the party just goes right out of me.  Whomp Whomp.

Unfortunately, my husband feels the same way and since he tolerates chaos and disorder and lateness much better than I do, in that he is not on medication for it, he wins the responsibility-avoidance game.   So he gets to be the “fun parent,” and I get to be the mean one.  It’s me who is counting to three and barking orders and threatening dire consequences if people don’t get in the car RIGHT NOW.  It’s me who plans the outings and packs for the family trips and organizes the fun.  It’s me who then can’t enjoy any of it.  I know that’s a cop-out, and there are plenty of people can do both, but I’m not that coordinated, and I have a hard time making my flailing attempts into a comedy routine.

So instead of building cool forts with my kids and pelting them with water balloons, I offer up lame excuses for why I can’t get off the couch.  My back hurts.  I have a headache.  I have “stuff” to do.  I’m tired.  It’s not my job.  All of these things are true pretty much all the time.  But I manage to get myself together to do my own stuff.  I can muster the energy to go for a run most days.  It’s pretty absurd that a marathon runner is just flattened, physically devastated, by legos.  Then again, I don’t think it’s the physical energy being fun with my kids entails, it’s more of a headspace thing.  I can’t seem to let myself go as the parent.  Also, a lot of the games and stuff they are into are just really boring.  My son recently tried to give me a tutorial on Minecraft, and I think I lost function in one of my lobes.  The best I can do is put on some music and lead my kids in a dance party.    I will say that my dancing is HYSTERICAL without any effort on my part.

My daughter has been “practicing being funny on purpose” lately, which is completely and unintentionally funny.  I informed her, to her astonishment, that genetics are on her side because I AM FUNNY.  She was like, “Whatever, Mom, you are NOT funny.”  That was a dagger right there.  Now that she’s getting older and can grasp higher forms of comedy unrelated to bodily functions, perhaps I can dissuade her of this notion.  I’ll get out the mockumentary we made for our wedding if I have to.  That’ll show her.  Or frighten her into submission.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Weeds are the New Grass

I used to be really anal about the interior of my house.  I loved decorating it in a style resembling a World Market clearance warehouse. I kept things neat and tidy but absolutely covered in global crafts.  When I saw a picture askew on a wall, I un-skewed it.  There were throw pillows that were not thrown.  The dining room table was used primarily for dining.  Things generally stayed in their place.   But then the juvenile hordes invaded, and they did not give a crap about my design scheme.  Occasionally, they literally gave a crap right on top of it.  Not only do they throw the throw pillows, they throw the actual sofa pillows.   The sofa is more often than not a naked shell, unable to fulfill its purpose, its various components gruesomely strewn about.   The dining room table is coated in glitter, and that is not a metaphor for the fanciful magic of our meals.  We don't so much have meals as brief interludes of eating punctuated by whining and extortion attempts.

I have gradually given the inside of the house over to the invaders and retreated to a place I know they will never linger for any length of time, because it does not have video games.  The yard has become my new canvas, as well as my refuge.  If I go out into the yard, the children will either leave me alone, or they will follow me out into the yard and inadvertently imbibe fresh air, acquire vitamin D, and make use of muscles that are atrophying before they can even develop properly, like some horrible sit-com produced by George Lucas's niece.  This is a win-win.  I am either left alone or I am a good parent.  The ideal would be if they went outside to play and left me alone in the house, but to quote Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a mom insane."  

As a canvas, the yard is a mixed bag.  It turns out gardening is quite a lot of blood and sweat, with a few tears on occasion, if you care that much, which I absolutely do from April until around July, at which point I wish for everything to die and leave me in peace.  And nature is even more unruly and relentless than the most hyper-active preschooler.  Nature is also silent, however, making it imminently more pleasant to be around. Not having a single clue as to what I am doing, I have planted things and dug up things and pruned other things and killed many things.  I have planted shade plants in the sun and sun plants in the shade, and then I have realized my mistake and rearranged everything that didn't die.  I have sprayed large swaths of my yard with Round Up 365, only to realize that 365 refers to the length of time during which you can't plant anything else.  I have spread wood chips and made rock paths and laid soaker hoses and thrown out my back more times than I can count.  I have battled bugs and fungi and weeds--SO.MANY.WEEDS.--until I think I will lose my mind.  I have almost thrown in the towel, retreated back to an indoor life, and given my yard back over to the wilds at various points.  But then I remember.  THE CHILDREN ARE INSIDE.   I return to my weeding.

The only thing worse than children and weeds is GRASS.  I HATE GRASS.  And yet you can hardly do without it, like a pair of Spanx under a knit dress.  I have learned much over the years of trial-and-error gardening, but I have not yet learned to grow grass successfully.  Where I can get grass to grow, weeds also thrive.  In other areas, my lawn looks like it is a balding man fighting half-heartedly back with hair plugs.  My lawn is littered with such "plugs," thick in patches, sparsely strewn, and also not grass, more often moss or wild ginger or some other noxious substance.  I tried to seed the entire lawn myself one year, to no avail.  Then I was told shade is the culprit, I just have too much of it.  Grass doesn't like shade.  So I have gradually covered more and more of the grass with plants and wood chips that do like shade.

Having gotten to what I considered maximum acceptable wood chip cover, I made a command decision to fight a final battle with the lawn, no messing around. This would be my Waterloo but unlike Napoleon, I would not wear a weird hat and I would win.  I called a professional lawn company.  I told them I wanted a nice lawn, and they promised they could give it to me.  They promised lime controller, grub killer, weed killer, fertilizer, aerating and seeding.  And on the really bare part of the lawn, they laid whole new turf.  This was not cheap, by the way, in case you are wondering.  I was filled with hope, I didn't care what Morgan Freeman said.  My children may never ever ever eat a vegetable or put away a single belonging voluntarily, but dammit I was going to have nice grass.  I roped off the new turf so the animals and children and lawn mower service would not offend it.  I lovingly watered it.  I spoke to it in hushed tones.  It grew and grew and looked amazing.

But then, I unroped it and let it go free, as you have to do with wild things, and my friends, I am sorry to say my new grass could not hack it in the natural world.  It was as if Elsa the lion had not so much run off to live a successful wild lion life but was crushed by a wildebeest on a tractor.  The dog peed on it.  Children trampled it (not mine, of course, they never go outside).  And then came the mass-production, mow-the-entire-neighborhood-in-5-minutes lawn service.  They ran it over with a mower the size of a Bradley tank and with the blade set to buzz cut.  They did this over and over and over again, like a vindictive barber, never mind that there was soon only 5 blades of grass left to cut.  Before I realized it, I had a massive, expensive patch of mud.  But don't worry, the lawn company returned this week and aerated and seeded it.  And applied the lime stuff.  My mud will be lime-free.

Oh, but the best part is I get to mow what is left of the lawn by myself, because I cancelled the blitzkrieg lawn mowers in a rage. So they would no longer mow my mud.  

So I think I'm done.  At least for this year. I no longer have the strength for the outdoors.  I'm retreating inside and praying for winter, the great equalizer, to come and kill all the lawns.  I will worry about what to do in March, when the daffodils emerge to cheer me.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Vacation Check-list

We are just back from a family vacation, which of course is an oxymoron as I have previously pointed out.  I am at no time more insane than when I am in travel preparation mode.  Generally speaking in our house, if there is to be any kind of organization, planning, logistical management, or  simply physical movement of bodies (live ones, to be clear) out of the house to anywhere that is not required by economics or legal strictures, in my mind, it falls to me to make that happen.  While Kevin is excellent at deliberation, deep thinking, brilliant theorizing, internet research, careful consideration of every possibility, and other activities that can be done while reclining, he is not exactly a man of action.  At least that is what I tell myself in my frantic anxiety to leave the house "on time."  If we are going on a trip, he will have input on the front end, deciding where and when we will go a place, but, in my crazy head, we won't actually get there if I don’t go through my massive list of things that are required for us to arrive there, including:

-Make all reservations preferably no less than a month ahead of time because it is possible there will be no hotel rooms or airline tickets left and we will have to hitchhike and sleep in a dumpster
-Water plants that admittedly Kevin would not own in the first place
-Find a dog sitter for a dog that admittedly Kevin would not own in the first place
-Make lists of things
-Freeze stuff
-Acquire enough snacks for the children to eat for several weeks
-Get the oil changed in our car even if we are not driving
-Buy ziplock bags. Put everything in ziplock bags.
-Figure out how to pack all of my things and all the kids’ things in one small bag regardless of whether that is really necessary because Kevin will bring a foot locker for 2 days regardless of whether that is really necessary
-Get a pedicure even if it is winter because someone might see my toes and also because they have a massage chair
-Charge all 17 devices that my children own, each of which have a unique charger and pack all of that
-Remove all my clothes except for two pairs of underwear from my/kids' suitcase so that I can fit in the chargers.  Briefly consider just packing another bag but reject that because.
-Consult Lawson on which stuffed animal/toy/piece of lint or bark is currently vital to his mental health and pack that
-Tell Kevin I have already packed sunscreen. Yes, enough for everyone, don't you trust me?
-Pack 3 bottles of sunscreen that, as it will turn out, are mostly empty
-Inform everyone several days in advance that we are leaving Saturday at 8:15 am, when actually we don't need to leave until 8:30 am
-Reiterate to everyone that we really are leaving Saturday at 8:15 am.  Make vague threats about taking away people’s pieces of lint and sunscreen.
-Start doubling doses of Zoloft several days in advance.  Review lists.  Mentally go over exactly how the car will be loaded. Think of ways to compel the humans to put themselves in the car.
-On D-Day, begin frantically running around the house around 7 am, loading items into the car and asking Kevin, “Can I take this bag?” every 5 minutes.
-Remind all the people that we are leaving at 8:15 am so many times that I forget that we are actually leaving at 8:30 am.
-Start panicking at 8 am because Kevin has not styled his hair which will take more than 15 minutes, and Lawson has still not peed, which takes only 5 seconds but which requires 20 minutes of arguing beforehand
-Remove the children’s devices from their hands and pack them in the suitcase, which is already in the car, with their clothes and the chargers. There isn’t room, so take out all but one set of their clothes, knowing they won’t want to change clothes the entire vacation anyway and you will be too stressed to fight with them.
-Consult all the lists
-At 8:10 am start screaming, “WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE!!!” even if we are driving and there is nothing planned at our destination.  Start deep breathing exercises that invariably don’t work.
-Finish loading all items in the car, including Kevin’s bags even though he is still styling his hair with products he presumably will be taking.
-Put the children’s shoes on them.  Physically lift Lawson onto the toilet and threaten catheterization.
-Put the children into the car. Start the car.
-Run through the house screaming some more about “people” being late
-Attempt to wrest Kevin’s comb from him and finish styling his hair.  He is stronger and that doesn’t work.  Try picking him up and carrying him to the car.
-Give up and go and sit in the car with the kids, all seat belts buckled and with the car running. Watch the digital clock on the dashboard click forward to 8:16.  Start breathing into a paper bag and singing Enya songs quietly to myself.
-Watch Kevin emerge from the house and walk toward the car. Temper hope with sure knowledge, learned from experience, that he will turn around and go back into the house at least twice to “check” something.
-Exhale slowly as Kevin enters the car at 8:19 am, his hair looking amazing and all household items “checked.”
-After 2 minutes on the road, realize I forgot to bring extra pairs of my disposable contacts. Kevin offers to turn around, but I tell him it’s OK, I don’t need to see anything, he can just lead me around. What’s important is that we keep to our schedule.
-Think to myself, "You know, I really am not a sane, normal person.  But at least I am punctual."

Needless to say, this is not a relaxing routine for anyone, and it sets the tone for the vacation to follow, which never, ever, ever turns out the way I imagine it will, mainly because the children are never, ever, ever happy.  You think they will be happy because you plan everything with them in mind and go to great lengths in pursuit of their happiness.  But they know that, or they at least sense it.  And children can not let you win, not ever.  So they will be miserable, and they will make everyone within a mile radius miserable, too.  And that, in a nutshell, is what family vacations are all about.