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.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Home Alone

I find myself at home all by myself for a week--the kids, husband, even the dog are all at my in-laws house.  I miss the dog most.  Just kidding. Sort of.  He is the neatest of all of them, and you know how I hate clutter.

Times like these give me a glimpse of what might have been, if I never met my husband or had the kids or got the dog.  A glimpse of the grass on the other side of the fence that I often look at with some envy, as I watch my unattached or childless friends spin around in freedom at the top of a mountain while singing about hills being alive.  I can rarely be so carefree.  If I take the time to spin around and sing on top of a mountain, someone will probably fall off of it while I am not looking.  Or more likely, they will be clinging to my leg while I attempt to spin, whining about how the air is too fresh and it is burning their nose, and I will throw myself off the mountain in annoyance.

I am reveling in the solitude and the freedom of movement, even if the complete silence is a little unsettling.  I keep hearing things that have long been masked by shrieking and crying.  I heard a bird the other day that sounded just like this girl in the 6th grade who told me my mother was going to die of cancer because she drank Sweet-n-Low in her tea.  I can also hear myself think, which is at times not very pleasant.  My voice in my head is even more nasal and weird than on a recording, and it sometimes says disturbing things to me such as, "What if you cut all your hair off right now? That might be fun" or "There are four tubs of ice cream in the garage freezer, you know" or "The year is over half gone and soon you'll be old and then you'll die and there might not even be a heaven or worse, you were wrong about everything and are headed straight to hell."  

The freedom of movement is probably the most enjoyable aspect.   I do have a million micro-panic attacks every day, however, as I momentarily forget the kids are safely in another state and are not wandering the streets or reorganizing my shoes.  Also, when I am taking a shower, I often hear a phantom baby crying, but that is true whether they are home or not.  But I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, and I don't have to consult anyone or hire anyone or ask anyone favors or pack luggage or herd a bunch of cats with ADD.  I don't have to dash out of my office every day at precisely 4:03 in order to make it home in time for some child-related obligation.  I still leave at 4:03, because I don't really want to work more than I have to, but I can leisurely stroll out, maybe even use the toilet on my way instead of holding it and praying traffic is light.  In fact, I don't even have to go home AT ALL.  I can run an errand or do a little shopping or get a pedicure or just head West, Middle-Aged Woman or even have a fender bender if I so choose.  Seriously, anyone out there is welcome to rear-end my car this week and I won't even be stressed. What reason is there to stress if there are no children around?  I can go for a run whenever I want without having an extended planning session/argument with my husband about when I can run and when he can run (life was way simpler when he was a couch potato, incidentally). I can stop writing this right now at 9 pm on a Friday and go to a roller derby or a hot dog eating contest.

OK I just ate 39 hot dogs, threw them up while roller skating, and now I'm back.  And I have time to reflect on just what my children bring to my life now that I am living for a bit in their absence. For instance, without my children I would be crazy in a completely different way, and I may not even be able to justify medication for it.  While my children have driven me to that, as well as some light drinking, in order to withstand their psychological torture and logistical onslaught, I have almost been cured of neat-control-freakishness.  I remember at my worst, I would spend 3 hours every Saturday scrubbing down my entire house.  Which is just a waste of time, nobody needs to do that.  It's been many years since I cleaned that much, but I was more recently more bothered by disorder and grime than I am now.  But when you live in what is essentially a dumpster, you give up all standards of cleanliness. I am still bothered by the mess, but I don't waste my time trying to do much about it.  I have increasing amounts of chin hair that needs to be plucked.  In addition, without my kids, my art collection would not be nearly so intellectually challenging.  Everything my children bring home requires deep thought and creative interpretation in order to appreciate.  I might never have a good reason to buy that ice cream that is sitting in my garage freezer and therefore would never have an opportunity to binge on it.  Also, I am sure I would waste more of my life sleeping.  And I would probably not ever play with legos or star wars figures, and that would just be sad.  And I would never have the perfect excuse not to hang out with people I don't really care to hang out with much.  I would probably go to more boring parties, which is most parties, really.  I would read more books not worth reading and buy more stuff not worth having (although I do a pretty bang-up job on that from the comfort of my own sofa) and wear more make-up that doesn't really make me look better anyway.         And I fear without my children, I would feel very self-righteous.  I might make it through entire hours and maybe even days, without yelling at anybody, which would go straight to my head and ruin my whole personality.

So it's for the best that I had them, my life is surely better.  Or at least my time and energy is more occupied, and I am not sure what I would do with all that anyway.  Probably just clean stuff, and that's no fun.  But, while they are out, I think I might just go find a mountaintop and spin around and sing.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Mom, Interrupted

Before I launch into the actual post, I just have to share the wonderful news that, according to my insurance company who would otherwise be paying for my acne drugs, I am officially too old to have acne!  I am relieved to know that I have finally graduated from this dermatological affliction and look forward to 37 days of clear skin before the wrinkles begin to overwhelm my face.  Thank you, Aetna!

OK now for the post.

I think the enduring thing about motherhood that drives me most crazy--an ever-constant feature of every stage of your child's development--is the constant interruption of every single freaking thing you do and every single freaking thought you have and every single freaking conversation you try to have from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep.  And then there are many nights, even when they are way, WAY past being too old, when even your sleep is interrupted.  My son will come all the way downstairs at 2 am to tell me he is thirsty when there is a cup of water sitting expectantly on his dresser not 2 feet away from his bed.  I guess life just isn't meaningful until your mother knows about it.

Kids have a sixth sense for when the ideal time arrives to demand something or ask some burning question or have some catastrophic accident.  That time is not when a mother is sitting right beside them asking them specifically if they need anything or inquiring more generally about their well-being.  They never need anything and are always "fine" when you are poised and ready to deliver a service. It's when you've moved on with your life that they are suddenly desperate to be near you, like some kind of deranged ex-boyfriend who dumped you a few minutes before not being able to live without you.   I will be out of bed in the morning and in the kitchen, and they will be playing video games.  I will loudly ask them, "What do you want for breakfast??" 87 times.  They will ignore me.  I will then return to bed with my coffee.  Exactly 2 minutes later, they will demand their breakfast and when i say, sorry, you missed your window, they will collapse into frantic whining about how they might die at any moment from starvation and neglect.

The most stressful thing I do all day is cook dinner, because my life is terribly cushy, and it's a good thing, too.  First of all, I despise cooking.  I hate everything about it.  I hate the endless decisions of what to buy, when to buy it, what can I do with that eggplant that is about to rot and that thai curry paste that has been in my fridge for 7 months, what will my children eat, what will my husband eat, when should we eat.  I hate following recipes, trying to read all kinds of details meanwhile the oil in the pan is about to catch on fire and OH MY I DIDN'T REALIZE NOW WAS WHEN YOU HAVE TO HAVE THAT CELERY CHOPPED!  Even more than reading recipes, I hate how all the cooking websites now don't just give you the ingredients and bare bones instructions up front but instead lead you on a photographic-literary journey of culinary wonder in which they wax eloquently about butter and navy beans and you have to scroll down about 3 miles to get to the actual instructions.  I have pretty much dispensed with all recipes and now cook everything with salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic.  Sometimes lemon or soy.  If I need anything more than that, forget it, not happening.  My brain can only take so much.

Then there is the fact that my children have apparently set up a sophisticated electronic surveillance system that notifies them, probably though their video game console or some other device outside my radar, when I have entered the kitchen.  THEY KNOW.  At that point, they descend, like velociraptors who have been silently stalking you for miles as you tour Jurassic Park in blissful ignorance.  Children who can apparently go days without eating suddenly become ravenous restaurant critics.  Children who have not spoken to me for hours because they are so a engrossed in their dinosaur cock-fighting game are now hanging off my limbs, pleading for attention.  What are you making? What is for dinner? Ewww I don't like that! I want chicken nuggets! When is dinner? I'm starving, I won't make it 2 more minutes!  I am going to shrivel and die right on this floor!  But eww I won't eat that, why are you even making that?  Can I help? I want to help! Why don't you love me?  Why?  Can I have a snack?  Just a teeny weeny snack? Mom, Lawson just hit me!! Charlotte started it!  Let me tell you all about my day in great detail and don't just respond with Uh-huh, I need very specific feedback that tells me you are hanging on my every word.

They also have their surveillance system set up to alert them to various other ideal circumstances for entering my life, to include, but not limited to:
-When I enter the toilet (obviously)
-When I enter the shower
-When I am trying to construct an outfit to wear or donning said outfit
-When I make a phone call
-When I am engaged in some enterprise that cannot easily be immediately interrupted, such as fixing a sink, painting furniture, planting a shrub, cleaning out my closet or bathing the dog
-When I am reading a book
-When I am writing
-When I am working out (this is why I almost always LEAVE THE HOUSE to do this)
-When I am trying to discuss vacation plans with their father
-When I am doing..other things with their father
-Immediately upon my arrival home from somewhere, before I can put my things down, change my clothes or go to the bathroom.  No matter that their other parent has been with them for hours prior.
-Just when I have drifted off to sleep
-Of course, when it is bedtime.  That is when most of the problems of the world need to be solved right away!!  That is why the Senate voted on health care at 1 am.  They were waiting for their child/President to go to sleep.  Or, they are the children and had left it til that time because they don't want to go to sleep.

More bizarre than my children's psychic ability to interrupt at the worst possible times is my brain's reaction to it.  According to my brain, we are living in North Korea where one must always be attuned to the demands of one's rulers and follow orders to a tee or risk certain death via hard labor.  So when a child interrupts or demands or whines, my brain thinks our immediate response is a life-or-death choice.  I don't know if this is particular to me, or if evolutionary biology has pre-conditioned women in particular to overreact to the needs of their offspring.  In any case, we can never relax, my brain and I, not while the children roam free and awake in the house.  We are like Pi in Life of Pi, floating on a boat in the middle of the Pacific with a carnivorous tiger.  We are always on edge, always waiting for a shoe to drop, wary to get involved in something that needs our undivided attention, like a phone call to a friend or assembling some IKEA furniture.  But then if we do nothing, the kids are invariably happy, and we are bored.  So we end up doing mindless things, like playing Settlers of Catan on our phones or checking the Washington Post YET AGAIN to see if Trump has been impeached yet or stress eating a bag of Goldfish crackers.  We waste time, our ability to concentrate atrophies. We gain weight.  We slowly go insane.

Which is of course what the children want.  That is their ultimate goal always.  But we need to flip the script, my brain and I, to call their bluff.  We need to ignore the adrenaline spikes and millions of years of human evolution.  We need to tell these small, cruel people that WE HAVE RIGHTS DAMMIT and besides that YOU WON'T DIE IF I IGNORE YOU.  We need to boldly launch into fixing the VCR at prime kid time, to dare them to yell at us to do it faster.  We need to write that book with them standing over our shoulder.  We don't need to cook the dinner, however, because we still hate that with a passion and because no one eats it anyway. We can just go to Taco Bell again.  But the other stuff, we need to do it.  We can always go in our room and lock the door and become immune to the screams and the clawing to get in.  We need to reclaim our dignity and our....