Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mommy apathy

Every few days, I get an e-mail from, a progressive political grassroots-y organization. For the past four years or so (not coincidentally the time since I became a mama), I have deleted most of these e-mails unread. Every so often, around big elections or really big issues, I have read an e-mail, sent in a $25 donation, signed an online petition, or used their forms to e-mail my representatives. But pretty much, I just delete them unread. If it’s not about a presidential election or gay rights, I have just not been paying attention. Like, at all.

I don’t know anything about anything anymore. A time was, I would have been marching on somewhere about whatever worker’s rights stuff has been happening in… um… Wisconsin, right? Or, um, somewhere in the middle of the country. And I know that some crazy stuff is going down in the Middle East, most recently Libya. Is Libya actually the most recent one? Is it technically even part of the Middle East? Oh man, this really is embarrassing. I don’t read the New York Times anymore, or listen to NPR. I never watched “real” news, but even Jon Stewart, my old source of news and world events, has fallen by the wayside. He’s not even on my celebrity freebie boink list anymore. I get my news from facebook now. If it’s not big enough news for my politically awake friends to post their indignation or support, I don’t know it’s happening.

Sigh. Pathetic.

I do still wake up every year or so to do my full and diligent research before voting. I will always vote. I will never vote uninformed. But I feel like I’ve hung up my “march on the man” shoes. My local election phone banking days are done. My righteous fiery ideology has faded to a lethargic molasses-slogging apathy. I still have enough “political person” identity remnants in my self-concept to know that I don’t know, and to care that I don’t care. But even those remnants are fading. Fading fast. Disappearing into the gray and murky nothing of mommy apathy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The “Is my kid OK?” filter

I have been blessed with two beautiful, healthy, amazing children. I am as lucky as a mom can be. But a few weeks ago, at my son’s preschool conference, his teacher recommended that I get him evaluated for developmental issues. She never said the words, but my instinct is that she is talking about Asperger’s. She’s not an expert—I may be more of an expert on autism spectrum disorders than she is (although I am not an expert either)—but she has worked with a lot of kids, and she thinks my kid’s behavior is different enough to warrant a further look.

It’s not like it was a shock. He is a twin. My daughter, while throwing as many tantrums and testing as much as the next kid, is clearly neurotypical, typically developing, or whatever politically correct word with “typical” in it you want to use. So I have a live-in age-matched control. But she’s a girl, and everyone knows that girls are different, and every child is different, and the 8,000 other trite things you tell yourself when you just want your kid to be OK.

We had him evaluated at 18 months for a possible language delay. He had one, but not enough to qualify for services through the county. And then a few months later, he had his language explosion and I felt silly for worrying. I kind of feel like this will be the same. But here’s what happens when you have some niggling doubts, and then someone else puts voice to them (in this case, the teacher). For me, at least, what happens is that now it feels like everything I see is running through a filter of “Is my kid OK?”

He’s potty trained. Check. Aspies usually train late. He likes physical comedy, choreographing and rehearsing his own pratfalls. Check. Aspies often have trouble with humor. He is super rigid in his routines and his tantrums are fairly epic. Red flag? Or is that just what three-year-olds are like? He likes to play alone. Um, so did I. He doesn’t like loud noises, or gooey textures. Yeah… apple, meet the tree. Except, except, except.

Except his teacher is worried, and she sees a lot of three-year-olds.

Every time I see him playing sweetly with his sister or his friends, I think, “Look at that. Cooperative play. He’s fine.” I think “he’s fine,” instead of just enjoying the moment of peace and sweetness. Every time he tells the same joke again… and again… I laugh, because it’s funny, but inside I cringe a little at the repetition and put a check in the “worry” column.

I know he will be OK. If he needs help, we will get him help. And he is healthy and beautiful and amazing. But the “Is my kid OK?” filter sucks. It just really sucks.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rude awakenings

So, you’ve had a long day. Say, a field trip to the petting zoo. The kids got to ride a school bus, and a pony, and a tractor pulling a bed of hay. They fed sheep and goats, petted bunnies and ducks, while you tried to navigate the narrow path between curling up in the fetal position in some sort of OCD-induced catatonia, and cleaning their hands too many times thus spoiling their fun and revealing yourself to be THAT mother, the one that everyone hates. You came home, washed their hands (again), fed them lunch, and settled onto the couch for some TV “quiet time” that is the closest your little ones get to a nap these days.

You got up from your comfy couch nest 8 or 9 times to wipe butts, procure apples and Cheese-its, find “the mini-van with the storage thingie on top,” assist with the donning of butterfly wings, and complete various other tasks that have nothing to do with quiet resting time. But now everyone is settled, and fed, and clutching precious objects quietly while the Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends sing you a little lullaby.

Fade to black.

Yup, your kids are awake. You are not. This never ends well.

Here’s what you DON’T want to hear upon blearily clawing your way back to consciousness:

1) Running water

2) “Mommy, can you buy more chocolate bunnies? These are all gone.”

3) “I pee-peed in my underpants.”

4) The sound of the front door opening

5) Laughter, while lovely, is generally not a good harbinger.

6) “I’m sorry, it was an accident.” *

7) Crying, you know, the bad kind that means something is actually wrong. Luckily, I am far more likely to wake to the whiny kind that means something is vaguely displeasurable.

8) “I made cheesy eggs. Come and see.”

9) The sound of scissors opening and closing

10) Silence. As every mom knows, silence is the scariest sound of all.

* The “accident” was related to the running water sound mentioned in #1. On the bright side, my kitchen floor is now clean.

There are, of course, scarier sounds. The smoke alarm springs to mind, or emergency sirens. Thankfully I am a relatively light sleeper, so things never progress that far around here. (She says, knocking on wood, and her head, and anything else within reach.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wire mother, dog in a box, and the pigeon flop

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. But when you have a PhD in Psychology and are raising kids, you wind up with way more knowledge than anyone ever wanted. Way more knowledge than any parent could actually use. Much of the time I find myself hobbled by the strictures of behaviorist theory. I spend tons of time second-guessing what I am inadvertently reinforcing, and how. I don’t laugh at misbehavior (well, almost never… well, I try not to anyway… I mean, unless it’s really funny, like when they make excellent and timely use of swear words with my exact vocal inflections. I mean, I’m only human). I try to make sure that I give more attention for positive behaviors than negative, and give more attention to the twin who is behaving than the twin who is misbehaving. (Try to do this. It’s really f-ing hard.)

When I am in full discipline mode, coldly ignoring their pleas for “one more chance,” I often refer to myself as the wire mother. For those among you who need a teensy amount more context, a classic study by Harry Harlow offered baby monkeys a choice between two surrogate mothers: one made of hard wire who offered milk, and one made of soft cloth who offered physical comfort, but no nourishment. When frightened, the baby monkeys ran to the cloth mother. So yeah, wire-Pam can coldly stand in the hallway while my baby monkeys sob their hearts out because I took away their pink bunny or monster truck Mater or whatever. I listen to their cries with a certain amount of sick satisfaction, because I know the sobs mean the lesson is sinking in. They tested me. They found out that testing doesn’t fly with the wire mother. Of note, at these times, they often beg for Daddy, who is clearly the cloth mother in our marriage. It’s neither easy nor fun to be the disciplinarian, but I’m awfully good at it.

But every once in a while, it all goes wrong. I give in. I reinforce all of the wrong stuff, negotiate with a pint-sized terrorist, or just give them what they want even though it is against all of the house rules. I call my sister to self-flagellate, and she gives me her “dog in a box” speech. That raising a child is not the same as training a dog in a box, with treats as rewards and shocks (a.k.a. time-outs) when they misbehave. Our kids are living, breathing, amazing humans who will only be small for a ludicrously short time. And if we want to say, “screw the rules” for a night in order to enjoy these amazing little beings, we can. And we should.

And we did. This weekend, we tried taking the child-proofing off their bedroom door. So now the little insomniacs can escape. And escape they did. At 10pm, out of their bedrooms, through the living room, through the kitchen, and out the back door because they saw Mommy and Daddy out there having a fire in our fire pit. The wire mother in me knew that we should march them back to their room, threatening horrible consequences (like no books in bed) if they emerged again. But they looked at us, eyes wide with love and adventure, and said, “But we miss you.” Well, yeah. Even the wire mother has a heart. So we took those naughty little monkeys out to the fire with us in their pjs and bare feet. We talked about fire pixies (a.k.a. sparks) and discussed where butterflies sleep at night. We cuddled and kissed and hugged and talked until rain drove us inside. And it was magical.

And the next night, of course, they were holy terrors. But it was totally worth it.

Sometimes it makes me think that it doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we love them. Eventually, they will learn to stay in bed, and they will learn to behave. I don’t think we’re at risk of a Supernanny situation any time soon. (That show scares the crap out of me!!) Sometimes I think we just have to ride out the phases, and all will be well. Maybe I could let myself laugh when they’re naughty once in a while, when it’s really, really funny. Maybe it’s all just random.

Which brings me to my final psychology study. It’s one of my faves. B.F. Skinner, behaviorist extraordinaire, dispensed food to hungry pigeons completely at random. By the end of the study, the pigeons were doing all sorts of weird, superstitious crap in the mistaken belief that it would bring them more treats. That’s parenting, baby. Our infant cries, and that one time we did that thing with his legs and he let loose some gas and felt better. So every time he cries, we try that leg thing again. We give up dairy and onions and all foods with the letter W in them. We do elaborate bedtime rituals. We use noise machines to help them sleep. Or we don’t use noise machines so they learn to sleep through noise. My brother calls these dances “the pigeon flop.” We are just pigeons, hungry for sleep and the cessation of crying, superstitiously dancing and bobbing our heads in hopes of receiving that utterly random 20-minute pellet of peace.

In the end, we do what works for our families. And we sock away some money for the therapy they will undoubtedly need, whether it’s because we are too permissive, or too strict, or too crazy, or too perfect. And we love them. Just love them, unconditionally and with every fiber of our being. In the end, with all of my psychological knowledge and education, I really think that’s all that matters.

Friday, April 22, 2011

10 things I wish someone had told me when I was 20

I wouldn’t have listened. They won’t listen. But if I can keep one woman from getting a crooked dolphin tattoo or age spots, my job here will be done.

1) Wear sunscreen every day. Yeah, I know everyone has told you that already. Here’s what they didn’t tell you. Smear that crap down onto your chest, and then smear the excess onto the backs of your hands. Nobody wants old, spotty, wrinkly hands, but they get just as much sun as your face, and your lily white face will look funny hovering over a brown and spotty old chest.

2) You are beautiful. Stunning. No one cares about your pooch. Seriously, you calling that tiny convexity a pooch makes women my age want to smack you. Love that body, because it will never look better than this.

3) Get in shape now, because it’s a bitch to start when you’re in your 30’s once you actually need to. You can eat cheese fries and never exercise and still wear a bikini? Great. Start working out anyway. And put down the cheese fries. You’re just pissing me off with those things.

4) If you feel like you’re wasting your time, you are. You have no kids, no commitments, and probably a parental safety net. Do what you love. There’s plenty of time to be practical. Spend a few years dreaming and reaching.

5) You deserve a partner who feels lucky every day to be with you. Dating is about finding the right person for you. If someone doesn’t want you, they are not the right person for you. Period. Don’t waste time on someone who doesn’t love you like crazy. And don’t settle. The person you’re with deserves to have someone who loves them like crazy too.

6) Credit cards are evil. Don’t start. Seriously, if you’re not paying it off every month, cut them up.

7) Be wild. You’ll have plenty of time to be serious. When you’re driving kids to soccer, it will feel good to look back and know you didn’t miss a thing. But be safe. Don’t ruin the rest of your life in pursuit of a good time. Threesomes and wild parties, good. Herpes and a drug habit, bad.

8) Don’t get a tattoo unless you have thought about it for at least a year and never wavered in wanting it. Before you get it, imagine it on your fat, wrinkled, 75-year-old body. If you still want it, go ahead and ink up. Never pick a tattoo design off the wall of a tattoo shop.

9) If you have a good job and some mad money, blow a chunk of it on laser hair removal. You’re going to be shaving for a long, long time. You’ll get hairier, while also having less time and motivation to shave. Get rid of it now if you can afford to.

10) Your face really will freeze that way. Oh, you thought wrinkles were for old people? Well, if mid-thirties is old, then you’re right. Your face will reflect your temperament for many years, so smile a lot and stop squinting at your phone and make sure you only get the good wrinkles.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Like crack, only good for you, and more annoying

I think I’m getting addicted to exercise. Like, not in a good way. I know there are worse addictions, like heroin or whatever, but I’m not sure there’s any more annoying addiction than exercise. I mean, don’t you a little bit want to round house kick me in the face right now just for saying it? I kind of want to round house kick myself in the face too.

And yet.

It started small. I would feel my energy drop and my mood start to get blue after a few days, and I would head to a dance class and I would feel better. Invigorated. Serotonin-boosted. Virtuous. (because like it or not—and I don’t like it—being fit has become weirdly tangled with morality in this country, and the concept of sloth as sin is alive and well). After exercising, my face gets flushed. It looks bad for about 10 minutes because of my annoying rosacea, but it settles into a good healthy flush, like how I look after… *cough*… you know. I have pretty good sweat hair too. It gets kind of wavy and wild like, well, yeah. You know. And I feel good. Alive, sexy, happy, energetic. I feel high.

How bloody annoying.

It’s gotten to the point now where every other day isn’t cutting it. I’m at four evenings/week, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. By Sunday afternoon, I have often reverted to some kind of bitchy, sleepy, listless version of myself, because I need my fix. Slap slap slap. Get those Latin rhythms in my veins and that movement in my hips. Get that heart rate up and that sweat dripping down the back of my neck. Oh yeah, that’s what I need.

My usual Tuesday night class was canceled for Spring Break this week, so I spent yesterday in cold turkey withdrawal, no sweat since Sunday. And let’s just say it was not my best parenting day. I was sleepy, and crabby, and just wanted to be horizontal on the reclining lounge chair outside rather than getting up and enjoying the stunningly gorgeous day with my kids. Every time they asked me to push them on the swing, I cursed under my breath as I begrudgingly hauled my sorry ass off the chair to do it. I started doing PMS math when I realized… it was exercise withdrawal. Holy crap. I’m that person. Holy f-ing crap.

So last night I went back to Pilates and “Flirty Girl Fitness” (aerobics with some extra thrusting) and got my fix, and maybe I’ll take a random local belly dance class tonight, even though I suspect I will have far more training and experience than the teacher, because my usual Thursday class is also canceled this week. And I’m thinking of looking for a Saturday morning class. Because I need the sweat. I need that tired sore tingle in my muscles. I need that flush in my cheeks.

You know what else would give me a flush in my cheeks? A good round house kick to the face. Go ahead. I know I deserve it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The ten conversations

One of the things I miss most about the San Francisco area, besides the stunning weather, lack of mosquitoes, fantastic food, amazing friends, plentiful spiritual workshops, abundant and amazing dance classes… OK I miss everything. Sob. I belong there. But that’s not my point. What was my point? Oh right. One of the things I miss is the sheer variety and richness of the conversations. You’ll meet someone for the first time at a party and find yourself discussing Communism, or the fundamental basis of comedy, or the best place to take a month-long meditation retreat. As a housewife in suburban Maryland, I am struck by the surface and repetitive nature of the vast majority of our interactions with one another.

Here in the suburbs, we seem to have the same ten conversations over and over.

1. Kids: anecdotes cute or irritating, worries, questions and calls for advice

2. Spouse: “How is [husband/wife’s name]” is always a good go-to when the conversation is flagging. Complaining about one’s spouse is also always an excellent way to bond with friends. Chances are their husband is irritating in exactly the same way that yours is.

3. Weather: Oooh, a tornado in Maryland this week. We won’t have to suffer through any awkward silences for a while. Plus it’s been so rainy. Oh, and doesn’t it suck to have the kids (see conversation #1) home for spring break all week and stuck in the house? Yeah.

4. Work: I don’t work outside the home, so I am mostly spared this one. But really, who wants to talk about work when they are not at work? I do get asked about my novel pretty frequently. The answer is, it is stalled again for now. I don’t want to talk about why.

5. Sports: Who gives a rat’s… um… who gives ANY anatomical region of a rat? Not me. I am usually impressed if I know what sport is being discussed. People at the grocery store have tried to draw me into some sort of community psychosis over various sporting endeavors. Nope, I just don’t care.

6. Movies & TV: “Have you seen any good movies lately?” Always a sign of a conversation on the verge of an awkward pause. “Do you watch American Idol/The Bachelor/[insert bad reality TV show here]?” Always a sign of a conversation about to become extremely animated, with a healthy tinge of TV shame and disclaimers about how one hates most reality TV or only watches it because their husband or wife is into it.

7. Personal appearance: New haircuts or color, compliments on clothes or shoes, weight loss, dieting, facial skin care, exercise [Technically exercise should probably be its own category, but in my experience, most people only exercise to lose weight and look better. Talk about runner’s high all you like, but would anyone run if it made us fatter?]

8. Current events: Where by current events I don’t mean politics or natural disasters. I mean the big stuff. Like what the hell is wrong with Charlie Sheen.

9. Vacation plans: For the last time people, I am not going anywhere this summer. Because we have debt to pay off. I don’t have a beach house in Delaware, a vacation home at Deep Creek, or a rental lined up in the Outer Banks. So this summer I will be blissfully floating on a raft in our kiddie pool while the kids pour water on my legs and practice putting their faces under without getting water up their noses. My parents will visit a lot. I will probably sleep over my friend’s house a couple of times and drink to excess after all of our kids go to bed, since no one will have to drive home. We will watch bad reality TV together and laugh our faces off. But, no, by your standards, I don’t have any summer plans.

10. Petty irritations: Leaky roofs, car repairs, computer glitches, exploded pull-ups in the washing machine… you get the idea.

That’s it. You can get pretty far with those ten conversations. You can have an entire friendship speaking of nothing else. No, you really can. It’s crazy. You certainly won’t need any more than that at a social event with casual acquaintances. Line up your questions for when the conversation fades, polish up two well-crafted anecdotes for each item, and you’re golden.

But, can we all decide to move past these? Please? Can we talk about sex and politics and religion? Can we talk about what moves us? What we are trying to achieve, and what we need to do to get there from here? What we believe? What we wish for? Can we stop talking and listen? Really listen, rather than just waiting for our turn to talk again because something you just said triggered one of our perfectly polished anecdotes.

I’m not saying we should never talk about our kids or compliment our friends on their new haircuts, but I think we would be amazed what could happen if we let people in deeper. I’ve tried it with a few casual friends recently, and you know what? They’re not casual friends anymore. They’re… my people.

P.S. I will try very hard in conversations with all of you in the coming weeks not to call out numbers when we inevitably hit these topics… If you would like to call me out by calling out numbers on me, please feel free.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The tiny black thong

You know what I did this weekend? I cleaned my house, cooked for a dinner party, did laundry, took care of my kids, and did some gardening. I planted bulbs. I mulched. In preparation for the dinner party, I ironed napkins. I made my own napkin rings. I baked chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I went to a Zumba class and then watched some prime time network TV before bed.

Oh crap. I am a housewife.

I have a PhD from Stanford. I am wicked smart. Or I used to be. Spending so much time with preschoolers has somewhat dulled my once razor sharp intellect. I now find myself laughing at jokes with the punch line, “Spongebob.” I used to be an intelligent and productive member of society. I was so good at my last full time job that when I moved across the country, they kept paying me to do the job via e-mail. I applied for a job recently. I didn’t get it, which is fine—the commute might have killed me—but the idea of getting up every day and putting on real clothing and working all day long with grown-ups… it felt pretend. When I was in college and would cook meals with friends, we made perfectly acceptable food, but it always felt a little silly, like “playing house.” That’s kind of how I feel about having a job now, like it would be “playing grown-up.” For the past nearly four years, playing house has been my job. I forget what real grown-ups talk about, but I’m pretty sure that children’s bodily functions, stain-fighting sprays, and American Idol are lower on that list than they are on mine.

I have a minivan. I struggle to lose weight. I am on facebook too much, posting pictures of my kids. I send Christmas cards and thank you notes and I know how to get grease stains out of clothing. I sew and mend things. And here’s the thing. I love it. I don’t love it every day. When the kids are fighting non-stop and the potholder slips, depositing dinner all over the floor, and someone just made a deuce in their pants, those days suck. But most of the time, I really love it. I like to garden. I like to bake. I like to make my own napkin rings. I like Zumba. I love my minivan. Oh, and my kids, yeah, I love them too. I love being with them, most of the time. I love this job, being a Mommy, way more than I ever loved any of my “real jobs.” In some ways, I was a housewife and a Mommy before I got married or had kids. At Burning Man, when others were recovering from the cocktails of substances they took the night before, I was spraying them all down with sunscreen and making them eggs. I was always the go-to girl if you needed a hot pink faux fur slipcover for your bike seat.

But here’s the problem. It’s the role, the label, the cliché, the stereotype. Now that I really am a housewife and a Mommy, and no one is asking me to make faux fur bike seat cozies anymore, it feels different. It's harder to settle in when that's all I am. I want to shout from the rooftops, “I am more than this! I worked my butt off for seven years to get a PhD! I danced in public in a coin bra! I have had transcendent experiences that showed me, for brief moments, what it is to be human! I am more than just this!”

So I dye my hair pink. But nope. Still a housewife. What would do it? How about a nose ring? Another tattoo? A tiny black thong? Something that signals (to me, as much as to anyone else) that I am not just a “type.” I am a super smart, super sexy woman, who used to be edgy and interesting and complex. Now I am a housewife, but inside, I’m still that woman. I just do more meal planning and stuff.

It reminds me—a very good thing to remember—that every person, no matter how easily they seem to fit into a box, has stuff beneath the surface that would be a surprise. Like a tiny black thong under size 16 mom jeans.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Validating the righteous indignation of three-year-olds

You’re right, kids, it’s not fair. It’s not fair that you had to come upstairs because the two of you were fighting, even though you didn’t start it and were playing like an angel. It’s not fair that it’s raining and Mommy has to do laundry and clean the house, so you were stuck inside with minimal stimulation. It’s not fair that you’re not allowed to touch my boobs anymore, but you’re not, so please stop doing it in public where other moms will judge me. It’s not fair that your birthdays are in August, so you don’t get to have real birthday parties at school. And it’s not fair that you will always have to share a birthday with your twin. It’s not fair that Mommy can take Melatonin to help with chronic insomnia but I just tell you to be quiet and go to sleep, when deep down I know you have the same problem I do. It’s not fair that Mommy “randomly” becomes Mean Mommy once a month. It’s not fair that I find one of your voices more annoying than the other, so I am snippier with you than with your twin. It’s not fair that one of you gets hand-me-downs and the other gets new stuff. It’s not fair that one of you got my sensitive reactive skin and the other got my congenitally missing teeth. It’s not fair that we live so far from half of your extended family. It’s not fair that you don’t get to hang out very often with Mommy and Daddy by yourself without that other kid around.

It’s not fair. Life is not fair. So please get over it and stop making that horrible sound with your vocal cords. Thanks. Love, Mom

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The ugly truth

I am as addicted to facebook as the next person. Um, by that I mean, I am way more addicted than most of the next people. So imagine my dismay at finding out that there is a phenomenon called “facebook depression." Bummer. One of the possible explanations for facebook depression comes out of the Psychology department at Stanford, my old stompin’ grounds. [Where by stompin’, I mean free-food-scroungin’. No one can sniff out free food like a PhD student.] So anyway, the possible explanation is that people tend to underestimate the negative emotions of their peers. We look at happy smiling people on facebook and think that their lives are so much better than ours. We look, for example, at our friend who got pink stripes in her hair, and maybe we think, “Wow, that’s so cool.” But I can tell you that I had to take 8 photos of that new pink hair to get one in which I didn’t feel like I looked fat, and I have been wondering ever since whether I am too old to have pink hair, even though I really do love it.

But I digress. [Which would have been a pretty good blog name, come to think of it, despite its lack of “ding dong.”]

So, in the spirit of showing you the ugly non-photoshopped truth, I have a confession. We have been living above our means. I know we can’t be the only ones, but it feels like a horrible secret. There is something about debt that fills me with shame. It began when I stopped working to stay home with the kids. At first we thought it was temporary, a function of diapers and emergency twin infant survival tactics, like too much takeout. We thought it was the car payments on the minivan we bought because two rear-facing car seats didn’t fit in the back of my little Sentra. But no, it’s pretty much just that we spend more than we make.

The fundamental problem, I think, is that both my husband and I ask ourselves, “Is [this thing we want] worth [this amount of money]?” when we need to be asking, “Do we have [this amount of money]?” and if the answer is no, then we need to either not have that thing/service/convenience, no matter how awesome it is, or find the money elsewhere and give something else up. When we had two incomes and no kids, we pretty much never had to learn that skill. You would think I would have figured it out, living on less than $15,000/year in the San Francisco Bay Area as a grad student. But there is something about the grad student lifestyle that is a surreal joke. We would literally wander the campus looking for leftover food after symposiums so we didn’t have to feed ourselves dinner. Those kinds of strategies don’t really translate to living in the suburbs with a family. If someone had told me back then what we would be making, and then told me I would be struggling to live within those means, I would have laughed.

We are very lucky. We are comfortable. We get to own a home and send our kids to preschool and save for retirement. I get to stay home and be a daily presence, for good or ill, in the lives of my two beautiful children. We have enough, and more than enough. We have more than most people. I know how lucky we are. And yet, we have a secret shameful red number—our debt—a number that is going in the wrong direction.

So it’s time for an overhaul. My once-a-month house cleaning service is the first thing to get the axe. The grocery bills suggest that it’s time for more spaghetti, less steak. Maybe heirloom tomatoes and Honeycrisp apples are not in the budget (even though they are TOTALLY worth the ludicrous amounts we spend on them). HBO and Showtime, I have loved you, but buh-bye. I already don’t really shop. I think the last time I was in a mall was Christmas shopping. But the kids probably don’t need any more toys off of ebay.

Here are the things we’re going to try to keep. Exercise classes for me. Zumba, dancing, whatever. Non-workout mommy is a depressed and unhealthy mommy. The classes stay. Dance and gymnastics classes for kiddos. Non-negotiable. I’ll give up my cleaning ladies. I would even give up the next thing on this list if I had to. And that would be… Wine. We’ve narrowed as far as we can. We’re working the system and getting pretty good wine under $8 or 9/bottle. We split a bottle most nights, a glass each with dinner and a glass each after. Doesn’t sound so crazy until you do the math. That’s $250+/month on booze before we even have a single friend over, before we include the occasional Saturday afternoon beer or Friday night glass of Scotch by the fire. So yeah, we need to think deep thoughts about the booze budget, but we’re not cutting wine completely unless we have to. The other big question mark is my hair. I can cut the uber-pricey hair appointments back to three times a year. I can live with roots. I no longer have the shorter style that needed more maintenance. But I have learned that when it comes to highlights and haircuts, you get what you pay for. I can go less frequently, but I don’t feel ready to give up my hair appointments altogether and revert to (grayer every day) hippie locks.

So it’s time for me and the hubs to sit down and figure out how much we need to cut to get back on track and pay down the shameful little problem that has gradually accumulated. I hope I get to keep my wine. I’m surely gonna need it. ‘Cause the roof is leaking again, and one roof repair seems to equal about a year of HBO and Showtime.

P.S. Despite my having a Master's in Statistics, we will probably continue to buy lottery tickets.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The kids ate my punctuality

Open letter to preschool teachers, gymnastics teachers, dance teachers, friends, and anyone else with whom I have an appointment

To whom it may concern,

I apologize in advance for my tardiness. Please understand, I did everything I could to arrive on time for our appointment. I checked the weather and laid out the kids’ clothes last night. I set my alarm, and got up when it went off. Everyone had breakfast, got dressed, and had a bit of quiet time for the short people to watch TV while the tall people checked e-mail and facebook. I began the car-loading process 5 minutes before we actually needed to leave.

Nonetheless, we will be 10-15 minutes late. I’m really sorry.

If it makes you feel better, I have already been punished. Here are some of the things I hear between announcing it’s time to get in the car and actually driving away: “But mom, I’m not ready yet. Two more minutes.” “I need more milk.” “Can I have cake, please? I ask so nicely.” “I NEED MORE PANCAKES!!! MORE PANCAKES PLEASE!!” “No, not pancakes, waffle.” "I need to make a poo-poo." “Can you find my Lightning McQueen with the snow plow on it?” “No, not that Lightning McQueen with the snow plow on it. He’s dirty. [points to microscopic speck of flaking paint] The other one.” “Grab me.” [Note: the word “grab” in this house has come to mean simply pick up. As in, “I’m just going to grab my purse.” So instead of saying “Pick me up,” my kids say, “Grab me,” which I find hilarious, so I have not corrected it.] “NO! Put me down. I want to do it myself.” “No, not here! Put me down back there! We have to try again. We have to start over.” “Mommy, you go away. I want Daddy to put me in the car.” “NO!!! Don’t put me in the car. I want to do it myself.” “NOOOOOOO! I clip the buckle myself! We have to start over. I go back in the house now.” “Clean up eyes.” “No, I need a wet napkin.” “No, that’s too wet. I need a drier napkin.” “Now we do kiss, tickle nose [rubbing noses], hug, high five, knuckle five, fist five, and lazy five.” [Lazy five is smacking one’s hand in the air in the kid’s direction and making a noise when one is too lazy or exhausted to get up and give a real high five.] “No, that lazy five was too quiet. Do it louder. We need to start over. Put me back in the house.” At this point, when we refuse to take said child back in the house, words are no longer used. A high-pitched angry animal sound begins, and lasts until there is some distraction, like the spotting of a concrete mixer truck or passing the fire station.

So yeah, please forgive my lateness, and also please ignore that crazed look in my eye. It will go away as soon as those wild dingoes look up at me and say the one thing that allows me to keep my cool through the rest: “Mommy, I love you so much.”


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bath time happy hour and ego shred

Bath time is ME time. Hot, hot water in my deep Jacuzzi tub, a glass of wine, and my kindle loaded with the brain candy I love so much. Now the obvious observation is that caring for two energetic preschoolers is not really compatible with happy hour bath time. Sadly, that’s true. So I usually take my baths at night, when the wine is slightly more socially acceptable anyway. But lately, I have been working out in the evening, so if the man and I want to get in some high quality American Idol time together before he falls asleep, bath time gets cut short.

Yesterday afternoon, while I was doing the backbreaking job of lifting and stacking huge 18”+ diameter logs from a downed tree, I knew I was earning some serious bath time. So when my back twinged one time too many and I called it a day, sore and sweaty, I stripped down (yes, I went inside first), and headed to my happy place. Oh yeah. Hot, hot water. Kindle. Sinking in like a lobster to be boiled… Aaaand my daughter comes wandering in, asking in her sweetest little angel voice if she can come in the bath with me. She likes the hot water as much as I do, but of course she can’t have it as hot as I like it, so I run some cooler water. Sigh. She starts splashing, so I put away my kindle. Sigh. She is completely adorable though. Practicing going underwater and holding her breath. Pretending to be a mermaid. It’s a different kind of wonderful.

Until she gets a load of my va-jay and informs me that it is yucky because it has hair on it. Uncool, kid. Uncool.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When I think about you, I text myself...

I just went through all of my recent text messages to myself, because I knew I had written down some blog ideas in there. Those ideas, like the middle-of-the-night poem fragments I jot down in a fit of creativity upon waking from a dream, don’t hold up to the light of day. But the journey—the navel-gazing archeology of a month’s worth of notes and reminders to oneself—is a journey worth taking.

* Pandora stations: Iron and Wine, Horse Feathers

* A “review” of Sam Adams Infinium during my informal craft beer sampling with @TheHopLocal and his beautiful wife (my very close friend). I will not post the full review here, because they are her words, not mine, but it contained a lot of profanity and compared the nose on the beer to “rotten banana, feet, and f***ing balls.” In case you’re wondering, no, we didn’t like it.

* A reminder to buy my son a particular truck from Pixar’s movie Cars, because he doesn’t have enough trucks and Disney doesn’t have enough of our money yet.

* Possible blog title brainstorming session. Most are terrible. None contain “ding dong,” so they are all clearly inferior to this one. Best of the rest was “Bikini Wax Poetic.” Imagine the logo possibilities. No really, take a moment. Imagine them. Um, yeah.

* List of stuff to bring to the multi-family yard sale at my friend’s house. Libations and snacks figure prominently on the list. Singles and quarters to make change… not on the list. Oops. Also missing: sunscreen. Priorities.

* Car locations, car locations, car locations. “Garage 2, zone 4f, purple.” “Straight back from the C in Children’s Place.”

* Author and book recommendations. Which I may look into as soon as I finish reading the Outlander series… again. Mmmmm, men in kilts.

* A list of makeup products recommended by the fantastically talented Isabella Bastien, who recently came to speak to our mothers of multiples club about how not to look like we had two or three babies at once and never quite recovered. In a frenzy of self-improvement, I jotted down brand names of things like eye primer. Eye primer? Why did I think I needed this? I was not drunk when I wrote that note to myself, but I must have been intoxicated by how gorgeous the makeup model’s eyes looked when a semi-famous makeup artist worked her magic, because seriously? Eye primer? My lip gloss is Burt’s Bees lip balm with the silver shimmers in it. I do not need eye primer.

So there you have it. A month’s worth of me talking to myself. Apropos for a first blog entry, methinks.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Am I really going to have a blog with ding dong in the title? Yes, apparently...