Monday, September 24, 2012

What are you going to do now?

Now that my kids are in kindergarten, lots of people are asking me what comes next for me.  Here’s a note for everyone, please don’t ask.  I don’t know and it makes me want to barf to think about it.  I am still just missing the kids and adjusting.  I’ve been out of the job market for five years.  I don’t want to do what I was doing before, but I don’t know what I want to do next.  I don’t want to think about it or talk about it.  At all.  But since complete strangers ask me, I can’t really rely on my blog to reach everyone. So, here are some of the things I might say:

What I say: “Well, it will take me six months just to clean the house.”
Translation: “I’m going to pick up a few toys, stick-vac up the crumbs under the table, swish the toilet brush around once or twice, and then spray some lemon-scented pine sol around the house so it smells like I cleaned.”

What I say: “I’m going to work on my writing.”
Translation: “I’m going to read some more blogs, screw around a lot on facebook, and maybe do NaNoWriMo again.”

What I say: “You know, they say the kids need you even more after they start school.”
Translation: “I am cultivating a mild Pinterest addiction.”

What I say: “I’m thinking about going back to work.”
Translation: “I went on craigslist once.  Didn’t see anything good.”

What I say: “Maybe I’ll have another baby.”
Translation: “You have clearly never met me because if you had, you would know that there is no way in hell I am having another baby.  Apparently, I pop those suckers out two at a time, and I do NOT need to go through the twin infants phase of life again.  Also, my husband would kill me.  I just don’t want to get a job, and that would be a socially acceptable way for me to get away with that.”

What I say: “I don’t know.  I’m figuring that out.”
Translation: “I like to go back to sleep after the kids get on the bus.  Wake up.  Rub one out.  Throw a load of laundry in.  Check facebook.  Eat lunch.  Switch out the laundry.  Play scrabble on my phone.  Clean something.  Go shopping at Goodwill.  And then read a novel until the kids get home.”

What I say: [fingers in ears] “La la la la la la la.”
Translation: “When my fingers come out of my ears, you had better change the damn subject or I just might puke on you.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

You get what you get

For some reason, sending my kids off to kindergarten has really spotlighted my parenting insecurities.  Knowing they would be away from me all day made me realize how many times a day I would step in with a small correction, say or do something to settle them when they were getting dangerously nutso, give my son a timely “remember, don’t use your body” when I could tell he was angry and starting to lose his cool.  But now they’re on their own, their full unedited behavior on display for the teachers to see.  They might stand up on the seat while eating.  They might bust out a swear word or talk about wine and make me look bad.  They might hit someone.  They might crack up over a poo-poo joke and not be able to stop for five minutes.  They might be completely incapable of completing any task at 2pm because they need a snack.  (Seriously, they have lunch at 11am and don’t get home until almost 4.  They need a damn snack!  It would make your lives easier, teachers, I’m telling you.) 

There’s this idea (maybe it’s only in my own head, but I don’t think so) that if you do a good job at parenting, you will have kids who do what they’re told, eat their vegetables, go to sleep, behave pretty well, play appropriately with friends, and do decent in school.  There’s this idea (maybe only in my own head, but again, I don’t think so) that if you can find the right strategy, you can fix any “problem.”  So we read parenting books, and try new discipline or reward strategies.  We have marble jars or prizes or time outs or 1-2-3 Magic or no Wii for the rest of the day or verbal praise or sticker charts. 

My sister’s pediatrician once put it this way:  We are trying to “raise the shit out of” our kids.  We’re high power, smart people who kicked ass at our jobs, and now we’re gonna kick ass at this parenting thing.  We’re not going to have the kid who only eats chicken nuggets and applesauce.  We’re not going to have the kid who hits the other kids at school.  We’re not going to have the kid who says, “Whatever” when an adult tells them what to do.  Those kids must have really bad parents.  We’re not gonna have those kids.

But, um.


You get the kids you get.  You can move their tendencies around a teensy weensy bit, but basically?  You get what you get and you don’t get upset.  Or maybe you do get upset, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Having twins has shown me this so clearly.  I did all of the same crap at the same time.  I had an equal number of “I don’t feel well, let’s just watch TV all day” days with both.  They went to the aquarium and the zoo and didn’t go to the library an equal number of times.  I used pretty much the same sleep strategies (modified slightly for each kid’s needs, but basically the same).  I exposed them the same foods.  We read the same books together.  I used the same discipline/behavioral techniques. 

I got what I got.

One is practically a vegetarian; the other would eat steak at every meal.  One prefers vegetables; the other fruits.  One loves to draw and color; the other loves to play on the Wii.  One is a “pleaser;” one doesn’t give a flying f*** what I say.  One is getting “treasure tickets” for good behavior at school every day and brings home perfect papers with all correct answers and gold stars on top; the other has gotten almost no treasure tickets and brings home papers with “please review at home” on them.  One comes home from school and tells me all about the day; the other makes up crap that is clearly false and mixes it in with (possibly) true stuff so that I have no idea what really happened.  (“No, honey, your teacher did not dress up as Mario today.  What really happened?”)

Honestly, I am starting to think that I have very little to do with this process of them growing up.  I’m here to offer them unconditional love, and some structure and boundaries.  I’m here to make healthy food and set limits.  I’m here to teach them about the world and offer opportunities.  But they are who they are. 

I’ll keep pushing against the tide, because it’s not OK that my son still hits sometimes.  It’s not OK that my daughter will cry and gag rather than try a new food, even when that food is a peanut butter and nutella sandwich that I KNOW she would like if she would just stop gagging in anticipatory hatred.  It’s not OK that my son rolls his eyes and says, “Whatever” to me when I tell him what to do.  (It’s f***ing hilarious, yes.  But it’s not OK.)  So I will keep reading parenting books and making up new sticker charts or reward systems so that maybe I can shift them by a minute degree. 

After years of pushing against the tide, now more often than not, my son punches the air when he’s angry instead of hitting me or his sister.  His anger is physical.  He can learn to punch a pillow.  My daughter ate two bites of chili the other night, one piece of meat and one bean, and last night tasted my Thai sweet potato lentil stew without gagging or crying.  She still gives me the evil eye when she sees something unfamiliar on her plate.  She still claims to hate new foods almost before they hit her tongue, but she tastes them.  And mostly doesn’t gag or cry.  And so I push against the tide, working my ass off, for these tiny shifts. 

I’ll keep pushing.  I’ll encourage my rather solitary, easily overstimulated son to make friends, and I’ll be thrilled when he comes home and tells me he held hands with another boy who is now his best buddy.  I don’t have to do much behavioral modification with my daughter right now other than the food thing.  Did I mention, she’s a pleaser?  But when she’s 12 and 13, I suspect I’ll be doing a lot of tide-pushing against her tendency to please when the people she cares about impressing are her friends and (I’m gonna anxiety-puke just thinking about it) boys. 

In the scheme of things, I have really easy kids.  I lucked out on the kid lottery, and I know it.  Yeah, when they’re in the same room, they don’t sleep until midnight.  They fight.  They would rather screw around than sit down and eat.  Whatever.  Normal crap.  The stuff I am dealing with is nail biting, talking back, sibling rivalry, leaving their toys all over the house.  Booo-ring.  When I was dealing with my kid hitting other kids at school, when I was dealing with a preschool teacher implying that maybe my kid had Asperger’s, yeah, I busted out a lot more behavioral wing-dings to deal with those things.  It didn’t work awesome until developmental changes happened in their own time, but I had to feel like I was trying everything I knew how to try. 

I’m not sure it made any difference.  But at least I felt like I was doing everything I could.

I watch parents deal with more challenging kids, kids who are not as easy as mine.  I watch them push against the tide, and when that doesn’t work, I watch them try to build bulwarks and levees made out of sheer will.  I watch them try to plug leak after leak, until the number of leaks exceeds their emotional resources.  They have to.  I would do the same.  When your kid is having a problem, you have to do everything you can.  Because what if that next parenting book, or that next strategy, or that next specialist is the one that can help your kid? 

But I want to tell them this:  You didn’t give your kid this problem.  Your kid is not struggling because you don't read enough parenting books, or because you aren't consistent in your discipline strategy or because you let them watch too much TV or eat too many Cheez-its.  You’re not getting notes home from the teacher because you’re a bad parent.  You got the kid you got.  And your job is just harder.  You’re working harder than I am, harder than lots of parents, and maybe people think you’re not doing a good job, but that’s because they don’t know shit about how hard your job is.

It’s like the person on The Voice who tries to sing a Whitney Houston song.  It’s easy to get all judgey when you can’t sing worth a damn and don’t really know anything.  But other singers know which songs are hard to sing.  Parents of tricky kids, you got dealt a Whitney Houston song.  Sing your heart out.  But cut yourself some slack.  Worrying about your kids is one of the worst feelings in the world.  But you know what’s worse?  Guilt.  Let it go.  Parent as well and as mindfully as you can, do whatever you can to help your kid.  And then let it go.

Some kids are never going to make friends easily.  Some kids are never going to like sushi or strong flavors.  Some kids are never going to make the honor roll.  Some kids are never going to sit still with their hands folded and listen to the teacher.  Some kids are going to be just a little bit tone deaf.  Some kids are going to struggle with temper, or with impulsivity, or with reading, or with handwriting (stupid D’Nealian).

Obviously, there are kids and families with much more challenging problems than these.  But without even bringing up special needs, just your average “typical” kids… they are who they are, and it seems to me that you just can’t change it that much.  While they’re children, society wants them to sit quietly and be friendly and write neatly.  Kids who can do that will have an easier time in school, and their parents might feel like rock stars.  Until they have a second kid who doesn’t do those things, no matter what they try.

All of these kids, the easy ones and the tricky ones, will grow up.  And handwriting and sitting still will matter less, and there will be ways to make friends who share their interests rather than just share their classroom.  And strong family connection and love will matter more than coloring in the lines.  And they will find their own way, and become more than you ever could have imagined.

So love them, and yes, push against the tide.  Try to help them strengthen the areas that are a struggle for them.  Do everything you can for your kid, because you love them and you can’t not.  Do everything you can so that you will know you did everything you could.  And then let go. 

That’s some pretty good advice.  I should really try to take it too.  Letting go, not my strong suit.  Never was.  Nothing anyone really could have done about it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The facebook cleanse

It seems there’s a new trendy “cleanse.”  The facebook cleanse.  Yeah, no, don’t worry.  I will SO not be doing that.

It’s happening more and more.  A facebook friend will announce that they won’t be on facebook for a week, a month, indefinitely, whatever.  So if you want them to know something, you have to e-mail or call them.  Even my 13-year-old niece deactivated her account for a short time because she felt she was spending too much time on facebook.  I was super-impressed with her, because deactivating facebook at 13 (a) is a big effing deal, and (b) takes a level of self-understanding and discipline that most 13-year-olds don’t have and I have possibly yet to achieve.  Go her.

Here’s what happens when I see someone going on the facebook cleanse.  First, I feel a twinge of discomfort.  “You should really do that,” says my discomfort.  “You spend too much time on facebook.  Think how clean your house could be if you didn’t check facebook and read blogs.”  “Not that clean, bitch,” I answer the voice of my anthropomorphized discomfort.  “I mostly check facebook while I am doing something else.  Waiting somewhere, taking a break from consignment sale pricing and tagging, waking up slowly in bed so I don’t get the weird shaky feeling I get when I get out of bed too quickly, watching The Voice.  So shut up.  I don’t want to do a facebook cleanse.”

If I didn’t check facebook, play Scrabble with my friend, and play Drop7 on my phone, how would I know who the good contestants on The Voice were?  I know they’re good when they make me put down my phone.

I know what you’re thinking, why don’t I just turn off the TV?  That, my hypothetical friend, is an excellent idea.  I would totally do a TV cleanse.  I mean, I would still Tivo all of the shows and binge on them like a junkie after the cleanse was over (which perhaps defeats the purpose), but I could easily go a week or longer without TV.  Especially now that fall is putting a chill in the evening air, and having a bourbon outside at the fire is an option again.  I’d sit at a fire with a lovely glass of whisky rather than watch TV any day.  But TV is one of the ways I spend time with my husband.  He and I tend to go our separate ways unless we’re watching TV together.  We even bought a sectional to replace the couch and chair we used to watch TV on, so that we can snuggle while we watch.  That is the function TV serves in my life, snuggle time with the man.  Also, it allows me to judge people.  I love armchair judging of dance and singing competition shows.  I like to think it keeps me from being judgey with other people in my life.  But still, I could snuggle with my man out at the fire, and find some other outlet for my “critical evaluative” skills.

But how would I replace facebook?

The real answer to that twinge of discomfort I feel when I think about a facebook cleanse is that facebook is serving some important functions for me.  First, my facebook filter takes situations that suck and makes them funny.  I try really hard not to complain on facebook, unless it’s funny.  So when bad stuff happens, I immediately look for the funny.  Without facebook, those sucky things would just suck.  Like the time, back when my kids were potty training and they had a small potty in their bedroom so they wouldn’t have to come out if they had to pee in the night.  And someone dropped a deuce in it.  And then they used the turds as meteors and threw them at their stuffed animals, because some episode of some show (Wonder Pets, maybe?) had a meteor that looked like a turd hurtling through space towards an animal in trouble.  Walking in on that particular scene… well, it just wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t been writing the facebook update in my head while I was reacting.  I might have wondered what else in the room my kids had touched after touching their own excrement, rather than coming up with funny phrases about “poo-poo meteors.”

Second, and probably more important, facebook is my main social outlet.  I see friends and family in person, but not enough.  I have extremely high social needs.  I need to talk to people, connect.  I need to be in the world.  I have a husband with pretty low social needs.  He likes to stay home, and when I make too many plans for us, he gets burned out quickly.  If I make plans for just me, he gets burned out on being home alone with the kids.  Once in a blue moon, he will go out with a friend without me, but it’s rare, so getting my social needs met in person generally leads to a child care imbalance.  Also, in-person social time tends to cost money for things like restaurants and drinks out, money we just don't have right now.

On facebook, I can connect with people I care about.  I can hear about my sister’s rough day, or what my mom had for dinner (something I truly don’t care about for most people, but my mom is a stunning cook, so I love her food posts, and it’s also amusing to me how she talks about food as if eating is sex).  I get to see photos of my brother’s kids, even though they live a prohibitively expensive plane flight away.  I get to argue politics, or religion, or philosophy if I’m in the mood for that sort of thing.  I can solicit or give advice or sympathy or validation.  I feel connected with my Australian friends despite a challenging time difference.  I don’t collect friends.  I only accept friend requests from people I actually know (with one or two very special exceptions).  In addition to limiting my friends list to people I know, I also hide more than half of them.  Many high school acquaintances are hidden.  If someone posts too many political opinions that piss me off, or posts too much about exercising, boom, hidden.  I manage my facebook flow so that it feels like a big room with all of the people I love, talking about stuff I want to hear about.  Like a party.  Except I don’t have to wear makeup or a bra.  How awesome is that?  Seriously!  And if the kids get out of bed, I can deal with them and then go back to the party.  No babysitting costs!  And did I mention, no bra!

Now, I’m not saying I’ll never pick up the phone.  But honestly, I hate the phone.  There are two or three friends with whom I communicate by phone, because it’s their strong preference and I love them enough to go with their preference over my own.  And an even smaller number of people with whom I actually prefer to communicate by phone, because our conversational style and banter is an important facet of the relationship.  But basically, no.  I generally hate it when my phone rings, because I was doing something at that moment.  Cleaning the house, eating dinner, reading a book, playing with my kids, writing a blog post, sneaking a nap.  I was going about my day and suddenly, blammo, I am expected to drop what I was doing and talk.  It’s not my style to ignore the phone—what if it’s important?  What if someone needs me?  Besides, people get pissed when they know you screen.  But because I don’t like it when my phone rings, I can almost never bring myself to call someone else, because nothing I could possibly have to say could be more important than whatever they are doing at that moment.  Unless, you know, I have important shit to say.  But let’s be honest, that’s rare.  Quick logistic questions, or a problem I’m having that I need to work through with a friend, yes.  Blah blah catch-up chit-chat, no. 

Blah blah catch-up chit-chat is what facebook is for.  From the comfort of home, at my convenience, I can look at a friend’s baby pictures, laugh at the snarky dating humor of a single friend I haven’t seen in a while, ogle dance friends’ new costumes, or have a haiku-writing marathon with other bad haiku enthusiasts. Best.  Party.  Ever.  And.  No.  Bra.

I just don’t see enough of a down side to justify going on a facebook cleanse.  Also, if I were going to go on any cleanse (and I’m almost certainly not), my well-being would probably be better served by cutting wine, bread, sweets, bacon, or a bunch of other crap that is way worse for me than facebook. 

But I’m not cutting any of that stuff, because it is all awesome.  And so is facebook.  The end.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mario Party!

For those who know my kids, you know that to say they are into Mario is an understatement. They LOVE Mario, are obsessed with Mario, own dozens of tiny 2” Mario character figures, as well as the larger plushies. And, of course, the Wii games. And the costumes, some of which I had to make because for some reason you can’t buy a kid’s Yoshi costume for less than $150, or at least you couldn’t last year when he wanted to be Yoshi for Halloween. I am also in the middle of a Bowser costume and a Rosalina costume for this year’s Halloween. Crazy. This year will be the third all-Mario Halloween. It is not at all uncommon for me to be seen at the grocery store or a friend’s house with at least one child dressed as someone from the Mario pantheon, so at least the costumes get a lot of use. My son asked to wear one of his to the first day of kindergarten, and was disappointed when I said no. He has had to satisfy himself with wearing a Mario-emblazoned shirt every single day to school, except the first day.

As a result, I have inadvertently developed a freakish savant-like knowledge of the Mario-verse. And so, for your Mario enjoyment, here are some of the details from the past two years of Mario-themed birthday parties. (For my regular readers, don’t worry, this blog isn’t about to turn into a party-planning site. I just know how many great ideas I get from Pinterest, and wanted to pass my ideas along to parents of other Mario-lovers out there.)

Year 1, ambitious favors with handmade hats!

The favors from year 1 included handmade Mario hats.  I think the hats were $2 at Hobby Lobby and I used  iron-on T-shirt transfers (for dark T-shirts so the white would be opaque).  I printed the Mario M-circle onto the transfers, cut them out, and ironed them on.  This was a lot of work, so I wouldn't recommend it for a big party, but if you're just having a few people, they were a big hit, and my kid still wears his ALL THE TIME.  Get a few extra because the iron-on process is not foolproof and a few got wrinkled or messed up.  For an easier solution, you could also cut sticky felt for the Mario-M circle, but that wouldn't be as permanent.

Girls got Princess Peach tiaras from Oriental Trading (or Mario hats if they wanted - I made extra for that reason).  And then the goodie bags held mushroom rings, mushroom spinning tops, and rubber spiked "Bowser bracelets" all from Oriental Trading, plus chocolate coins and Mario gummies, and and and.  This was clearly overkill.  It was my first major themed party and I went a bit cuckoo-nuts.

Year 2, far less ambitious favors.

The next year, I just got Mario-themed art supplies (pencils, erasers, markers) from Party City (online only), and some Mario candy.  Both years, I just printed out Mario images and glued them to basic cheap-o paper goodie bags.

Mario brick box and question box life-size blocks!

As the major decor item, I got moving boxes from a friend who had recently moved, and painted them to resemble brick and question boxes.  We used the boxes to make a big Mario fort.  I had envisioned the kids building with them, but it was definitely an adult job.  But the kids had a great time playing in the fort.  Using moving boxes was key to the success of this project, because they are made to stack neatly in the moving truck, so they all have the same width and depth (just different heights), so they bricked and stacked well.

I learned a lot of lessons doing this project.  The biggest one is that spray paint is almost never the right answer for anything.  I used regular latex wall paint and a roller to paint these, and that worked great.  The kids "helped."  I painted them flat, and then used a Sharpie "Magnum" (snicker, gotta love dirty-sounding art supplies) to draw the lines on the brick boxes.  After they were assembled, I printed and cut out the question marks and rivets and glued those onto the question boxes.

Make sure you let the boxes dry for a long time before stacking them or laying them on top of each other.  You need at least a few days for the paint to cure or they will stick to each other and mess up all your beautiful work.


Hanging around from ceiling lights were these Boo ghost balloons.  Oops, this one lost his ear, or wing, or whatever that thingie is supposed to be.  Just white balloons, sharpie marker, and white paper cones mono-adhesived (inexpertly, apparently) on the sides.  I got this idea here.


I added to the easy, cheap-o balloon decorations by making these Bob-omb balloons.  Black balloons (helium filled) with small orange balloons for feet and paper ovals monoadhesived on for eyes.  I tied the feet to the base of the black balloon, and then used a small piece of monoadhesive to attach the feet into position.

OK, let's talk food!  We had pizza and usual chip-dip party stuff, but also did a few themed snacks.

Chocolate moustaches make for funny photos!

I was so proud that I came up with idea to make chocolate moustaches for this party, but then I later saw on Pinterest that everyone and their sister has already done that.  Well, poo.  But either way, chocolate moustaches = awesome.  I used these molds from amazon the first year, and they were great!  Then, a few days before the party the second year, I went to look for them and couldn't find them anywhere, and didn't have time to order more, so I got the Wilton moustache molds from Michael's (pictured).  The Wilton molds have three different moustache shapes, and only one is Mario-y, so go with the amazon ones if you have time for them to arrive.

Making chocolate is easy!!  You can use the candy melts, which I understand are fairly foolproof.  Or, if you're a chocolate snob like me, you can use real chocolate because it tastes better.  If you want to use real chocolate and want to be sure it looks perfect, read up on "tempering" chocolate.  It's a pain, but it's how you get them perfect.  I totally planned on doing the tempering thing because I am a freakish perfectionist, but hadn't realized that you can't temper chocolate chips, because they have an additive to make them stay in chip shape in your cookies.  Sooooo, I just didn't temper them.  I just melted them, poured them in, put them in the fridge, and done.  Yeah, the chocolate was a bit soft and didn't have that nice snap of well-made chocolate.  And yeah, some of them got that cocoa butter "bloom."  I'll tell you what, the kids sooooo did not care.  People will be so impressed that you made these things, they won't care if they're not perfect.  I promise.

Watermelon chomp, and my kid (yes, it was also a pool party) 

Here is the watermelon chomp.  My son particularly liked how the chomp was throwing up chunks of watermelon.  Yeah, that was a big hit.  My sister cut him for me because I was running sooo behind in setting up the party.  Thanks, sis!  You did a rocking job!  She also took most of these photos (some with my crappy camera, so don't judge her on that).  She took the bikini photos of me too.  If you're in the MD/DC area, she and her husband take beautiful photos of kids, families, weddings, etc.  Here is their website if you need a photographer!  Oh, and I got the watermelon chomp idea from Pinterest, but the pin just leads to a yucky scam site, so I can't credit the original source. Sorry!!

Gold coins


Some more themey treats.  Chocolate coins and sour worm "caterpillars."  Not pictured, one year we also did cherry licorice "Yoshi tongues."

Aaaaand speaking of Yoshi tongues, the red "blowouts" were fun Yoshi tongues.  (Wow, if you don't know Mario, this all probably sounds like complete gibberish.)

Feed Yoshi!

We didn't do games the first year, but this past year, we had two games.  This one, Feed Yoshi, was a big hit.  I hand-painted Yoshi on a big piece of foam core and cut a hole for his mouth.  The kids had to try to toss caterpillars and "spiky balls" into his mouth.  

Pin the moustache on Mario

I also made this "Pin the moustache on Mario" game on a piece of poster board.  I cut black construction paper moustaches and put some tape on them.  Here are my cute two pinning on their moustaches.

Finally, what is a party without cake?  There are some adorable Mario cakes on Pinterest.  I went with the always-easy cupcakes.  My sister had done a Mario party the year before and I got these cupcake ideas from her!  Goombas and Toads!  I just printed out Goomba feet and Toad faces, frosted (well, my mom frosted), and decorated.  The Toad ones are obviously just M&M's.  The Goomba faces are white M&Ms, black frosting eyeballs, eyebrows, and mouth, and white chocolate chip teeth.

Goomba cupcakes

Toad cupcakes

We have had a blast with these Mario parties.  I wonder if the kids will want a different theme next year.  Maybe, but I'm keeping all of the stuff for one more year, just in case...