Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cocktail party of four

My kids are delightful and amazing. They love reading, math, art, music, dance, hugs, and snuggles. They’re funny and loving. They eat fruits and vegetables. Their favorite TV shows right now are educational, Word World and Little Einsteins. (Side note, they also love Super Why. Am I the only one who hears “To the butt plug” when the Super Why kids say “To the book club?” Just me? Well, you’ll hear it now. You’re welcome.) Aaaaanyhoozle, what I’m saying is that my kids make me look good most of the time through relatively little effort on my part. I got super lucky, and I know it.

But there are two things at which they kind of suck: eating and sleeping. It’s funny, because I am awesome at both of those things. I mean, I love reading and music and dance too, and I eat fruits and vegetables, and any TV show that includes the words “butt plug” is probably something I would consider watching, but my real strengths… the areas in which I shine like a star… are eating and sleeping. I could sleep you under the table. I could win sleeping contests. I can drop my kids off at preschool 20+ minutes away, and after 45 minutes of driving, fall back asleep like the drive and drop-off never happened. And eating? Forget about it. I love to eat. I didn’t get this zaftig, juicy physique from wine alone. Sure, the wine calories contribute, but mostly I look the way I do because I love food. But my kids? No. Eating and sleeping are the two skills at which they really just suck.

Today, let’s talk about the eating. But wait, you might say, didn’t you say they ate fruits and vegetables? Yes, they do. My son might as well be a vegetarian. His preferred protein source is edamame. Or, you know, bacon or salami, but I think he might even choose edamame over bacon. Freak. Speaking of freak, he literally cheers when I tell him there is steamed cauliflower for dinner. “Cauliflower! Yay! My favorite!” My daughter, on the other hand, would be happy if we just had steak every night. She could live her entire life eating nothing but steak, apples, and grapes. Filet mignon, to be specific. She will eat New York strip if I buy it when it’s on sale, but she will give me dirty looks the whole time. Diva.

So why do they suck at eating? Well, I really shouldn’t lump them together on this. My daughter’s issue is that she won’t try new things. I make her try them, but she pretty much refuses to like anything that’s new. At one point, I forced her to taste whipped cream. Whipped cream! She gagged and gave it a “one,” one out of ten on our rating system that goes from 1-10 and also includes 10+ ratings such as 101, “bunny” (a number somewhere between 1,000 and 1,000,000), and infinity. My son, on the other hand, loves new foods, and really will eat almost anything. For him, the problem is not what he eats, it’s how he eats. He prefers a strategy he calls “Eat-play,” in which he continues his pre-dinner activities and just comes over periodically to pop a floret of steamed cauliflower in his mouth. He likes to ride his bike around the table, eating a bite on every third trip past his plate. He likes to just wander off mid-meal in search of a toy, and he generally forgets to come back. It makes mealtimes exhausting.

The good moms who write books about parenting would suggest just taking his plate away when he walks away from the table and not giving him anything to eat until the next meal. I know that. Please don’t leave me lots of comments suggesting that or judging me. I know that’s probably the fastest route out of eat-play land. I just don’t have the heart for it. I will not tell my crying hungry son that he can’t eat again for 14 hours (the time from dinner to breakfast). It’s not going to happen, so I don’t threaten it.

Here’s what I did instead: Saturday cocktail parties.

No, I don’t mean cocktails for me so that I don’t care whether my kid eats or not, although yeah, that would probably work too. But no, we do cocktail parties for the kids. It all started because I kept telling the kids to come back to the table, saying, “This isn’t a cocktail party. Come sit down and eat.” Because basically what my son wants is a cocktail party. You stand around, and talk, and play, and occasionally nibble on some food or take a drink. You can carry your plate of food to wherever you want to be. You can eat while you’re going about your life. That’s what he wants. So now he gets it, but only as a reward for a week of (relatively) sedentary eating.

So now instead of “Please come back to the table. Please come back to the table. Please come back to the table,” it’s “Please come back to the table so we can have a cocktail party on Saturday.” He comes back a lot faster now, and leaves the table less frequently. It’s working pretty well in terms of changing the habit. Plus it has the bonus of getting to hear four-year-olds talking about cocktail parties, which is just hilarious.

The cocktail party seems to be contagious. The first week we did it, my sister was here with her family. So now my niece has occasional cocktail parties. The second week, we were sleeping over a friend’s house. Her kids are now requesting cocktail parties. This brings me a weird twisted kind of joy. Today is week three. I didn’t realize it, but so far, it has always been an actual party, not just our family.

This morning my daughter asked what day it was. I told her it was Saturday, and she gleefully exclaimed, “Cocktail party!” Which is totally awesome. She then asked me who was coming over. Um, oops. No one. It’s just us today. A blissful day of doing absolutely f**k-all in our pajamas. I hadn’t realized that they thought that the weekly cocktail party would actually entail, you know, a party.

But even though it’s just us, it’s still a party. Any time you get to roller skate around the living room in your pajamas while you eat, that’s a party. Any time you get to play Mario Kart Wii while eating cut-up cheese on toothpicks, that’s a party. We don’t need anyone else, kids. It’s Saturday. Let’s blow up some balloons and party.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The tantrum

I wish I had had my phone in my pocket the other day when I put my son in a time out. The kids were fighting again. They get along pretty well most of the time, but sometimes one kid will place a Littlest Pet Shop pet in the wrong room in the Pet Shop house and all hell breaks loose. Or one will say the word “lettuce” three times in a row for no reason and the other one will have a meltdown over it, which of course prompts the first one to say “lettuce” even more and louder. Whatever. They play sweetly most of the time until they don’t. And when it gets too ugly, they have to go in their room to cool off.

What’s interesting is that sending them to their (still shared because I am the slowest decorator ever) room effectively ends the fight, because now they have a common enemy: Mean Mommy who put them in there. So on this particular day, my daughter completed her time out quickly and easily and was allowed to come out and go back to playing. My son, on the other hand, clearly felt that he was the wronged party, and that the time out was unjust. No one can be more indignant than my son when he feels that he has been wronged. Why, oh why, was my phone with its video recording capabilities sitting on my desk instead of in my pocket where I could have recorded his hilariously indignant tantrum for your listening enjoyment? It went something like this:

Mommy, you are the rudest mommy ever. We never EVER give time outs, so I am going to put you in a time out and never, ever let you out. I am so angry at you, Mommy. You did the wrong thing. Let me out of here right now! Aaaaaggggghhhhh! (At this point, he is kicking the door as hard as he can over and over). I am so angry and frustrated right now! You are naughty, Mommy. You are going to get a long, long time out, because when I say “let me out,” you have to do it right away, you understand me? UNDERSTAND ME, MOMMY? No time outs, EVER AGAIN! You are so rude, Mommy. Are you kidding me? Mommy, are you KIDDING me?

It went on for several minutes. And it just kept getting funnier. I love that the worst things he can think to say to me are that I am rude and naughty. His tantrums won’t be as funny if he learns to cut deeper, with words like hate. He won’t learn that from me, but eventually he will probably learn it “on the streets.” I appreciate the innocence of this tantrum, the pure expression of emotion without trying to hurt. I love his logic that it is naughty to give time outs, therefore he will give me a time out for breaking that rule. I love that he is using his words to tell me he is angry and frustrated, as if the feet pounding on the door didn’t clue me in.

He eventually calmed down. Maybe he was just taking a breath, but as soon as I heard a few moments of silence, I opened the door. I asked if he was ready to come out, and he said he was. He informed me in a calm voice that I was rude for giving him a time out. I answered back calmly that no, I wasn’t rude. I was the mommy and it was my job to help him not to fight with his sister. We kind of agreed to disagree, and he went back to the play room.

Not two minutes later, he called me in. “Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

I braced myself for an explanation of the new proposed house rules, rules in which time outs are rude, and kids are in charge of mommies, and dinner is always eaten on the floor while playing.

But here’s what he called me in to say: “Mommy, I love you so much.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Organizing for dummies

I’m just gonna put this out there. I am not organized. I try really, really hard, but it’s just not in my nature. I mean, have you seen my desk? I like my house to be tidy. I’m not saying it ever IS tidy, but I do prefer it that way. You know, in theory. But open a closet or the pantry, and things are pretty likely to fall out.

The kids got loads of craft stuff for Christmas, because they are really into creating right now. A pack of those scissors that cut curvy and cool lines, a huge set of pre-inked stampers from Oriental Trading Company, oodles of fabulous stickers, pom-poms, and other consumables, maze books and connect-the-dot and coloring books, dry erase markers and crayons for their white board and white board books, and on and on. It was the year of bicycles, art, and musical instruments. But then, as I was tidying away the Christmas piles from under the tree, I realized that I had no idea where all of that craft crap was supposed to go. The drawer that had previously housed some paper, markers, and crayons was not going to cut it.

It was time to make space.

As I mentioned in the last entry, I cleared out a poorly-used closet and decided that it would be the new home of the craft stuff. And then I had a moment of panic. I don’t organize. I don’t know how to do this. What do I need? If we had any extra money, I would have hired an organizer to just do this for me (and do my pantry while she was at it). But we needed to do this on the cheap, so I took measurements and headed out to Target.

When I called this entry “Organizing for dummies,” dude, I seriously mean DUMMIES. If you have any skill at organization, you should still read this because my stupidity will make you laugh. But if you, like me, are organizationally challenged, I hope you learn something from my mistakes… my many mistakes, which I am about to catalogue as a set of tips. Each tip represents something that I did wrong. Each tip also represents at least one but no more than four f-bombs.

1. When organizing a closet, don’t forget that you need to be able to get stuff out the door. It’s an awesome use of space to have wall-to-wall drawers, but not if you then can’t get the vacuum cleaner out without removing all of the drawers from the closet.

2. When measuring the height between shelves, keep in mind that those metal brackets holding up the shelves take some of your height. As satisfying as it seems to have bins that perfectly fit into the space between shelves, they won’t fit if you have a bracket holding up the shelf.

3. Speaking of bins that fit perfectly in your space, here’s a helpful tip from me to you… In most cases, the handy measurement on the label of the bin does not include the height added by the lid (and the winner for mistake yielding the highest number of f-bombs goes to…)

4. Also speaking of bins that fit perfectly, sometimes shelves bow in the center or are not even. Measure in a few places and use the smallest number.

5. If you have any other organizational doodads on the door to your closet or pantry (like battery holders, plastic bag holders, or, say, two 8" deep inboxes for yours and your hubby’s bills and important mail), yeah, you need to account for that and subtract it from your available depth measurement.

6. If you are filling a space the size of a closet with bins and drawers, you might need a space larger than the size of one Target shopping cart to carry it all. If you try to pile it up, it will all fall down and you will embarrass yourself, especially if you are wearing the jeans that give you coin slot in the back when you bend down. Yeah, that happened.

In the end, probably the smartest thing I did was to consider hiring an organizer. I really should have gone with my gut on that one. But I did do some things right. For example, Staples has a 6-pack of el-cheapo plastic stackable letter trays for under $10 that is the bomb for holding different kinds of paper (colored construction papers, white paper, lined paper, coloring books, etc.). They also have very cheap utilitarian cardboard magazine file boxes that are also great for coloring books and maze books. Drawers that come out work well in a vertical space because you can take the drawer out of the bottom without having to worry about un-stacking and re-stacking bins. Finally, shoe boxes and cardboard boxes work just as well as fancy bins, and are free. They don’t look as cute, but check your free stash before you go shopping.

Last night, in another fit of the Januaries, I attacked the disaster area that is my pantry. Pantry, junk food cabinet… potato, potahto. Rather than starting at Target with a tape measure, I just went into my basement and collected an assortment of shoe and boot boxes. Then began the tetris. In two hours, and completely for free, my junk food cabinet went from this to this:

The moral of the story, for those who missed it, is this: Buy more shoes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The procrastination reach-around

It’s the start of a new year, a great time for new exercise regimes, polishing off throwing away the Christmas cookies in a fit of “I will never eat sweets ever again,” purging closets of clothes that haven’t fit properly since you had kids, etc. It’s also a really good time to make mimosas with leftover champagne, eat the fancy cheese you forgot to put out for your New Year’s Eve guests, and take a nap. Just sayin’. We all have our ways of ringing in this arbitrary delineation in time. It should surprise no one that my way errs on the side of booze and laughter with my people rather than new running shoes and recipes for kale chips.

Under the best of circumstances, I am a procrastinator. And the week of debauchery between Christmas and New Year’s is not the best of circumstances, at least not in terms of productivity. So imagine my surprise when I found myself at Target in the plastic drawers and organizational bin section a few days ago. I was even armed with measurements for the closet space, and had a tape measure in my bag. I came home with a minivan full of organizational solutions. I organized all of the craft supplies into an underutilized closet, purging such delightful detritus as Sesame Street wall decorations and plastic tablecloths from the kids’ second birthday party, scraps of fabric from old sewing projects, and the instruction manual for a kiddie pool we no longer own. When I was done, I sewed a pink flying unicorn costume for my daughter, complete with poly-fill stuffed “quilted” wings, and began a Bowser costume for my son.

WTF? Who is this madly productive person? And then it hit me. I had procrastinated so hard that it came around the other side and was magically transformed into productivity. I didn’t want to clean the house, and in my relentless pursuit of not cleaning the house, I managed to accomplish a ton of great stuff.

The trick to the procrastination reach-around is to just keep moving. If I had just taken a nap, I also would have succeeded in my quest to not clean the house, but don’t you see? I would have felt bad about it. I would have felt guilty and bad about myself. I would have self-flagellated, numbed my guilt with wine, and pulled my face up on the sides in the mirror to imagine what I would look like with a facelift. (Have I mentioned that when I feel bad about myself in one domain, it tends to migrate to other domains? Just me?)

But no! I don’t have to feel bad about myself! I can succeed in my endeavor to not clean the house and also feel great about myself. You can too! Just do other crap that is more appealing in that moment than cleaning the house. If you are truly devoted to procrastinating on a task, you can get so much other stuff done. It’s awesome. Don’t want to take down Christmas decorations? Hmmm, if you clean the floor under the oven, you get to avoid taking down Christmas decorations and also get a bonus smug feeling of satisfaction. Laundry to do? Oooooor you could clean all of the telephone handsets in the house. Those things get really gross. Don’t want to go running? Try on all of the clothes in your closet and decide what goes and what stays. Although trying on all of the clothes in your closet might make you more likely to want to go running, which would mean that you failed at your procrastination goals. Procrastination amateur.

As soon as you do the task you’re supposed to do, you lose. Because then you get to feel smug while you screw around on facebook or take a nap.

Which hmmm, doesn’t really sound like losing. So yeah, you should probably just do the thing you know you have to do in the first place so you can take a nap and not feel bad about it.

But then the blades of the ceiling fan would never get dusted.