Monday, February 24, 2014

Motherhood, Messes, and Kidnapping the Babysitter

Motherhood, Messes, and Kidnapping the Babysitter

There’s a popular meme that says, “Good moms have messy houses and happy kids,” or something like that. I disagree.

In my college days, I was a bit more, well, relaxed. As those who knew me (and definitely those who lived with me) can attest, I loved clothes, I had a lot of them, and I usually left them hanging around the room. Laundry day proved a brief respite as they were swept into my white plastic basket and carted to the JOA basement (Saint Joan of Arc Hall, for those not in the know) for their bath, and then the cycle would repeat. I had piles of books, stacks of notebooks, and bulletin boards full of photos. Having lots of my things around me, in college, was a comfort.

And now? It’s stifling. My son’s toys have multiplied and left their bastard children everywhere (and I mean everywhere, including the hamper, the tub, and one of the cabinets). The ghostly form of my daughter’s gi leans in a corner, snidely observing from a distance. The clothes from yesterday’s ski trip are crawling across the floor in an attempt at freedom, and while my kids had a great day yesterday and I know we made a lot of memories they will have a fun time recalling, I just can’t think in this space.

It’s not just the physical messes. Sure, I am consciously deciding to gift my friends’ children with gift cards because the idea of giving a toy with multiple pieces that can be strewn about seems counterproductive to friendship. And yes, though I have girlfriends on both ends of the house spectrum (meaning homes half my size, or double my size), we all agree that there is never enough space for all that we accumulate.

But it’s the mental messes as well. I know I should put the Inner Perfect Mom who wants a glossy, crumb-free home out of my mind, and I should be fully present in the moments of play with my children. But instead, the multitasking mom in me sees this as a challenge. Thus, I try to make up new and creative games like “Bitty Baby Says: We Can Throw Out These Old Puzzles” or “Fashion Show for Donating Clothes.” It’s awful.  I want to spend time with my kids playing with a clear head and heart. But some days I can’t.

Life is messy now, and I know that I have to understand that. For example, John Sawyer, in an attempt at challenging his sister’s newfound athletic ability, is competing in the Active Toddler Olympics and has medaled in Disarming Baby Locks, Opening OXO Cookie Containers and Silently Devouring the Contents, and Throwing Things in the Trash. Chasing him is my cardio, and it’s exhausting.

And it continues to get messier. Last week I attended the wake of a dear friend’s father (a friend for whom I would - and did - literally give the clothes off my back ten years ago, and now, we blindly roam the rows at Target at 10 p.m.). So when I heard her father had passed, I wanted to make every effort to pay my respects. In this case, it meant picking up my babysitter, taking her for a ride with me and the kids so that I could attend the wake, and then driving her home on the way to meet my husband for dinner. A bit complex, but definitely doable.

Unless I drove to the wrong location of the funeral home chain. And then got stuck in traffic on the way there and back from the actual location. And then rescheduled the dinner reservations. And then got stuck in another monumental traffic jam. And then had to bring the poor babysitter with us to dinner. And then realized the set menu at the restaurant was less than appealing to most people, including said babysitter, whose intended two-hour stint turned into a four-hour one. And the beat goes on.

If it’s one thing I am learning about being a parent, it’s that the planned moments often implode, and the sublime ones appear without warning. As one who has always enjoyed a happy surprise, I look forward to the next one.  But I’m saving my extra cash for the babysitter who I paid double that night, and who, luckily, is still speaking to us.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Each time I hit the publish button, it is with a delicate balance of vulnerability and bravery." - Julia Hembree, Elated Exhaustion

So here it is. I stand before you with my blog, and I stand behind my words. 
I hope they bring you a smile. Thank you for reading!

Ninja Gift

On the eve of Valentine's Day, I am reminded of one of my favorite gift-giving activities of the Christmas season. Usually, I grapple with the question for the ages: do I spoil those around me with material gifts, or do I find a different way to express my love without consumerism overload?

The answer is simple: NINJA GIFT. Here's what I've done:

Every year at Christmas, I am gifted by friends, family, and my students with a multitude of wonderful things for myself and my family. Often the gifts are perfectly suited for us, or at least for re-gifting to someone close to us. But sometimes there is no place, no space, and no face fitting for these intentions, so I take them for a ride and leave them behind.

It started as an accident; an acquaintance gave me a bottle of anti-bacterial hand lotion in a scent called Hideous Overpowering Lily. Or something. I knew I couldn't exchange it, and I had no idea where it was purchased anyway. I had it in my purse when I went to my daughter's judo class, and since the decor in the restroom happened to match the label on the bottle, I considered it a sign: I Ninja Gifted it and went along my merry way. 

Another example: I have received the same toy for my children about three times. Though it's a popular Melissa and Doug toy that is found in roughly 50 local stores, I have no receipt and no way to exchange it. Rather than perpetuate this frustration by passing it along to a friend (who could ask me where I purchased it and my response would be "Ehhhhmmmm...") I took it to the pediatrician's waiting room and Ninja Gifted. You're welcome, drooling toddler!

Remember the scene in Dead Poets' Society when Ethan Hawke's character receives the same desk set from a family member every birthday? Substitute me for Ethan, leather gloves for the desk set, and Christmas for the birthday. Every. Single. Year. Needless to say, my family member also thinks I have huge paws. Whatever. Anyway, I left last year's pair in the Lord and Taylor dressing room. I like to think someone picked them up and clapped their large hands with glee felt like they hit the jackpot and waved at all their friends on the way out.

To me, Ninja Gifting is a way to rationalize (or least least unload) the many things that come into my house during the holidays, but also to give my five-year-old a healthy awareness of varying economic levels ("Not everyone has an American Girl Doll, babe. We can get your doll an outfit, but Sage's $250 hot air balloon is not happening. Ever.") and it's easier to show her in addition to telling her. So yes, it may seem odd, but both sides win. It's more calculated than a Goodwill drop off, because they're little surprises that hopefully give someone a smile. Also, it forces us to be creative about who might need something that we no longer do. Sometimes it's something as simple as leaving those diapers your baby is outgrowing in the "Family Area" of the public bathroom, knowing that someone breathed a huge sigh of relief because they forgot to pack diapers, their babe had a blowout, and you saved the day. Emerson gets a kick out of leaving "secret surprises for strangers" along the way, and with any luck, one karmic day, something may appear from a fellow ninja just when we need it.  

Wishing you all a Happy Valentine's Day - and the perfect gift, of course.

The Finish Lie

No, it's not a typo - it's my latest realized truth. There is no finish line. It's a FINISH LIE.

Life as a working mom lately has been a series of unfinished business: the load of laundry that sits for an extra long time in the washer before meeting the dryer, the projects that don't exactly get completed to the standards I want to hold, and not even being able to finish up in the bathroom. (I don't mean getting that extra luxurious hair-conditioning mask in the shower or that peaceful, steamy bath with classical music softly playing in the background. I mean: Monday I put eyeliner on one eye and proudly went to work.)

To be honest, the work-life balance is kicking my ass. And I'm not alone. In an informal Facebook poll of my friends, most of us are averaging three uninterrupted hours of sleep per night, and if we are lucky, we squeeze in another three after a feeding/burping/under-the-bed monster-check. Most of us go to bed around 11, wake up in the wee hours, and hopefully get another wave of sleep, though that second wave of sleep usually involves another small person in the bed. And most of the people that contributed to my poll work outside the home as well as being parents, so there's a lot of bleary-eyed people out there, which leads to even more craziness (Like when I catch myself halfway through my Emily Dickinson lecture to my seniors. Who are reading Hamlet).

I guess the moral of the story is the fact that our "finished" days are, well, finished. Gone are the days when a task meets its end with grace, when an afternoon goes according to plan. Now it's a handful of Cheerios in the car on the way to work and a quick spoonful of yogurt at my desk while plowing through correcting papers at lunch. The weekends which once stood as a beacon of possibility are now overflowing with church, kids' parties, the occasional family visit, and laundry/shopping/home improvement. Despite my love for making lists, my lists now sprout arms like a mythological creature, and sometimes it feels like they're after me.

But then, at the end of a long day, I look at my children when they're asleep, and not only thank God that they're finally asleep, but that they are mine.