Hot and Bothered

As a writer whose life is an open blog, I’m often asked for advice on a number of sensitive subjects. Luckily, I have no shame. Today’s topic is how to spice up your relationship after those white-hot first months as a couple have passed. I’ve found that social media and electronic technology are wonderful tools for staying connected with your partner, which will enhance your relationship both in and outside the bedroom.

Below, you’ll find a number of sexy tips along with real life examples from my own 16-year marriage to the handsome and talented Ad Man. I don’t mean to brag, but as you’ll see, our sex life is still smokin’ hot even after two kids and many long years together. Here are some things that have been successful for us:

1. We try to keep our lines of communication open at all times.

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2. We surprise each other with flirty text messages during the day. For example, I’ll entice him with something like:

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Ad Man’s texts rarely vary, but they never fail to get me all hot and bothered. Two of my favorites are:

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3. I take photos and email them to him at work so he feels more connected with the girls and I at home. Here’s one from a few years ago…

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4. Because Ad Man is often out of town for business, he posts photos on Instagram so it’s almost like I’m there with him. Almost.

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5. Sometimes we even bring technology into the bedroom.

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6. I’ve taken advantage of Facetime and Skype to have intimate conversations with Ad Man while he’s on the road. I don’t have video, but a few months ago I called him via Facetime late at night, all wet and completely nude. Our conversation went something like this…

“I’m running around naked because your daughter just barfed all over her bed, herself and me! Why doesn’t this shit ever happen when you’re home?!”

Well, I hope you’ve picked up a few tips for using technology to help keep your sex life fresh and exciting. These are just a few examples of what has worked for my marriage. I’m sure you’ll think of many others. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go text a sultry photo of my bare derriere covered in mosquito bites as yet another reminder to my dear husband that if he doesn’t call the exterminator tomorrow, he’ll be sleeping in the back yard. Yep, we’re sexy like that.

Planes, Ferries and Taxis

mommyennui_office_st.john_0714I had a post all written and polished to a shine for you this week, but unfortunately, it’s going to have to wait due to circumstances outside my control. Let me tell you though, It’s pretty exciting and I can’t wait to tell you about it! What I am not excited about, however, is the fact that it is now Thursday and I haven’t posted a damn thing all week. So, here’s a quick update.

It is 4th of July Eve and we’re getting ready to hop back into the car tomorrow to drive up to Ohio where we’ll be dropping Biggie and Smalls off at my dad and stepmom’s house and then getting the hell out of town. This will be the girls’ first extended visit without Ad Man and I and the first time he and I have been away together without a child since before Biggie was born. We’ve known about this trip for months so you’d think we’d have spent all that time hatching a plan for how and where to spend those blissful child-free days.

As I’ve told you before, however, Ad Man and planning don’t mix, so as of yesterday, we still had no firm plans. Oh, we’d thrown around some ideas. Our friends offered us their lake house in Ohio which would have been easy and peaceful. We thought of heading to Chicago for a few days since every time we’re back home we spend the trip shuttling back and forth between suburbs and never actually spend any time in the city. I haven’t gotten my fill of the beach this year, though, so we started looking at Portland, Maine, Nantucket and other charming East Coast towns. We considered flying to New Orleans but Ad Man was horrified by the thought of the heat and humidity…as if we don’t currently live in hot, humid Atlanta.

Finally yesterday, I said, “Why don’t we just hop on a flight to some Caribbean island? We have frequent flier miles and how often do we have a few days alone together?” Two hours later, we were booked on a flight from Dayton, Ohio to St. Thomas and a ferry to St. John! I’m so incredibly excited! We decided on the US Virgin Islands because the USVI is one of Ad Man’s clients and because my passport is expired. Oops.

I’m nervous about being away from the girls for so long, but they will absolutely be in good hands. And, our children generally only act like little shitheads when they’re at home. Elsewhere, they are well-behaved and polite…practically unrecognizable. Regardless, I’m sure they will keep Grandma and Grandpa nice and busy and that we will, no doubt owe them a weeklong spa vacation somewhere after this. (The grandparents, not Biggie and Smalls.)

But, before we hit the road, we’re throwing one last dinner party (Ad Man’s genius idea) so I’d better get cooking. My new bikini is getting more use than expected this year!

Update to my update: After a long day of planes, trains and automobiles–well, actually, planes, ferries and taxis–we arrived last night in gorgeous St. John! Ad Man and I were so exhausted after the journey, we had dinner on the beach, took a quick swim in the pool and were in bed by 8:30 pm. Ad Man snored while I watched a marathon of ‘Ray Donovan’ with Liev Schreiber on Showtime. (Great show, by the way.)

Today, after a morning swim, laying around in the sun (while Ad Man went for a run), and breakfast by the pool, I’m blogging with a view of the ocean. Not a bad gig! I’m missing Biggie and Smalls terribly though and was heartbroken to hear that Smalls had a rough time missing us at bedtime last night. Everything I see or do, I think, “The girls would love this.” As much as I was looking forward to some kid-free time and as good as this is for Ad Man and I, I can’t help wishing the little shitheads were here.

I’m planning to do some writing this week, but most likely won’t be blogging unless I get the go-ahead to tell you about my mysterious project. Until then, enjoy the above photo of the MommyEnnui office this week. I could get used to this!

 

Five Telltale Signs that I’m a Mother

You know that old cliché about the married man who takes off his wedding ring before going out to a bar? Well, I might be able to take off my rings and claim to be single, but the stench of motherhood is not quite so easy to shake. I suppose I could try to flat out deny the existence of my children, but here are some telltale signs that would give me away every single time:

enormous_purse1. My purse is freaking enormous! I yearn to be the kind of chic woman who goes out for the evening with a sparkling minaudiere that fits in the palm of my hand and contains only a credit card, a tube of lipstick and a little cash for tips, but that just ain’t gonna happen. First of all, who the hell has time to switch out her purse on a daily, or even weekly, basis? I can just see myself heading out for a night on the town. Ad Man would be standing at the door, glaring at me because I’m running late, as usual, and he simply cannot abide tardiness. I’d be shouting instructions to the babysitter while trying to apply mascara, hopping on one leg to buckle a sandal and reminding the kids to pee before getting in bed, all the while leaving behind a trail of all the crap in my “daytime handbag.”

In order to dig down to the few essentials I’d need in my miniscule “evening bag,” I’d first have to remove the following: an extra pair of underwear for Smalls (just in case), two water bottles, an extensive selection of snacks to keep the kids from getting hungry and turning evil, a pair of socks from that one time we went to the bouncy place, sunscreen, four special rocks, a dead flower, a wadded up piece of gum wrapped in a Target receipt, twenty other Target receipts, seven old grocery shopping lists and one to-do list with not a damn thing crossed off. The chances of doing that without forgetting something imperative, like my ID or an industrial strength concealer, are pretty slim.

bingo_arms2. My body is a veritable roadmap of motherhood. I generally have the c-section scar tucked neatly away, but other things are harder to hide, like my poochy mid-section, the one bulging vein I blame on Biggie, the permanent dark undereye circles and the crevasse that bisects my forehead. And then there are the things I just don’t have time to deal with, like the constant five o’clock shadow on my legs and the floppy “bingo arms” that would be easy enough to firm up if I could just get my ass to yoga on a regular basis. You’ll be relieved to know that I’ve had my bikini line lasered. I find that a permanent solution is always worth the time and money. I’ll be the first one in line, with a grocery bag full of cash, when permanent Botox is invented!

Since birthing two children, I’ve learned to “dress for my body” as women’s magazines have been imploring me to do for years. This means I generally try to stick with A-line everything. I used to love me a good empire waist top or dress, but since pregnancy left me two full sizes bigger in the boobage area, an empire silhouette now makes me look like a 45 year-old carrying in-vitro induced triplets.

Effie_Trinket3. My makeup routine has been pared down to the bare minimum. I haven’t really been a big makeup person since I stopped applying it with a spatula in high school. And, I never got the whole eyeshadow thing. In my mind, it’s a fine line between painting one’s eyelids iridescent green and going full-on Effie Trinket. In fact, I recently decided that, at my ripe old age, I should at least know how to properly apply eye makeup. So, I dug through my makeup “reject pile” only to find the MAC eyeshadow I bought for my wedding sixteen years ago. Something tells me it’s time to just write that skill off permanently. (See? You gotta love a permanent solution.)

Despite the fact that my maquillage has always been at the natural end of the L’oreal spectrum, pre-children I was reluctant to ever leave the house without the basics: concealer (always concealer!), blush, powder, lipstick and mascara. My routine these days really depends on where I’m going. I no longer care about looking “done” around school moms and other women my age, so I’ve designated an “I-Don’t-Give-a-Shit Zone” that extends from the carpool line, to the grocery store, to Target, to the girls’ dance studio and home. Occasionally, I gerrymander the IDGAS Zone beyond the usual boundaries to places like IKEA or the gynecologist’s office. Seriously, who has the time and energy for constant faux beauty?

4. My brain is now merely a repository for random details like my kids’ friends’ summer camp and travel schedules, which of the natural, crunchy peanut butters is the yucky one and the twelve items I’ve promised to add to the girls’ Amazon wish lists in the last two days. My short-term memory is now completely shot. The kids have to ask me over and over for a glass of milk or to change the outfit on the Polly Pocket doll that one of them is wagging in my face. By the way, whoever invented those dolls and is now rolling around in the Polly Pocket fortune, needs to come to my house and change those goddamn dolls’ clothes every three minutes! He or she owes me at least that much.

Wait. What was I going to say? Ah yes, it must have been the fact that, even if I did manage to shake the kids, slip off my wedding rings and meet someone in a sleazy bar, I’d never be able to remember his name or whether this roofie was in my drink before I left for the bathroom or not. I guess I’d have to hope any mystery men I ran across found “bumbling” an attractive trait.

5. My body clock has been forever changed. Long ago, when I was a married, but childless, career woman, Ad Man and I would often work late into the evening at our respective offices in Santa Monica, California (mere blocks from the ocean, I might add). We’d eventually meet at home and end up eating dinner around 9 pm or so. On a weekend night, it wasn’t unheard of for us to head out at 11 pm to go see a band play or connect with some friends at a bar. Now if you called me at 11 pm, I would first freak out and assume that someone was dead. If that weren’t the case, I’d be more than a little pissed that you interrupted my blissful REM sleep.

mom_in_pajamasI am no longer eating dinner at 9 pm or leaving the house to go out in the wee hours of the night. These days, if you want to spring some spontaneous evening plans on me, I’d better receive notice no later than 4 pm. If you wait until 4:30, there’s a very good chance I’ll already in pajamas with a glass of wine in my hand, counting the hours until the kids are in bed and I can kick back with a month-old episode of Project Runway. Just off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything that would be enticing enough to make me put my bra back on once I’ve retired it for the night.

So, you see? There’s no going back to my pre-kid days even on a lark for one evening. I am a far, far different person than I was a mere eight years ago. And, really, let’s be honest…who’s going to be fooled by a woman sitting in a bar at 4 pm, wearing jeans, a well worn t-shirt and sensible flats, her face free of makeup except for a swipe of borrowed ‘princess pink’ Lip Smacker, surreptitiously stuffing handfuls of stale Goldfish crackers into her mouth from a purse the size of a Volkswagen Beetle?

Summer Camp for Moms

girls_at_campThe frenzy starts in January. Just as I’ve handed over my last dollar (and then some) for some holiday necessity or another, summer camp application season begins. Emails and texts pour in from friends trying to coordinate their kids’ camp and vacation schedules and arrange carpooling. I know of a guy who actually created an Excel document to keep track of his daughter’s camp schedule in addition to the summer plans of four of her closest friends! I don’t go that far, but I do have the camp and travel schedules of our best neighborhood friends scrawled on my calendar.

The most frantic parents are the ones with two kids who have signed only one child up for camp for a certain week, but have no plans for the other child. I completely understand the panic because I’ve been that parent. If there’s anything worse than having two kids at home with nothing to do, it’s having one kid home who’s used to being entertained by a sibling. It’s like a month of parenting crammed into five days and should be avoided at all costs if you value your sanity.

It doesn’t help matters if you live in an affluent neighborhood and your children have friends who come from families far wealthier than your own. Those are the kids who have their entire summer filled with horse camp, space camp, a sleep-away camp where they can raise llamas, drive Jet-skis and learn to program their own video games or any other place that sounds like kid nirvana. And, of course, they spend the last few weeks of school filling your kid in on every detail. Believe me, it’s not easy making an artsy-crafty day camp at the neighborhood park seem as exciting as a week of floating around in zero gravity.

kids_kayaksIf you’re not on-the-ball by February at the very latest, you’re pretty well screwed if you’re looking to get your kids into the “good” camps even if you are the proud owner of an offshore bank account. This deadline throws many moms and an occasional dad into a major tizzy but it’s really not a problem for me. There are two reasons for this: 1) We’re generally still broke in February, and 2) I’m rarely, if ever, on-the-ball. So, when summer eventually rolls around, Ad Man and I do our best to convince the girls of the epic awesomeness of any inexpensive camp that isn’t already full. It’s a damn good thing I’m a lawyer and he’s in advertising. I never imagined that skills learned in our professions would help us sell shit to our own children, but now I’m damn glad we’re both trained master manipulators.

But, here’s the thing…I want to go to camp! Why do the kids get to have all the fun? I’m the one who spent the past nine months making school lunches, getting my ass out of bed at the crack of dawn to get them on the bus, volunteering at school, helping create dioramas and science projects and successfully not murdering the children during their daily homework meltdowns. They’re young and creative…they should be able to come up with their own fun, right? I’m the one who’s old and jaded. I need a change of scenery, peace and quiet and plenty of wine to get all sunny and blissed out. And, actually, zero gravity doesn’t sound too bad either. Lord knows, my face could use a break from gravity for a while.

I don’t need color wars, a climbing wall or archery. I sure as hell don’t need to help take care of llamas. In fact, what I need is a couple weeks during which I don’t have to take care of any creature other than myself. I don’t want to cook a meal, referee an argument or remind anyone to go potty. I don’t want to have to figure out how to entertain two bored children when it’s 100 degrees out and everyone we know is out of town. I want to be the one who’s bored! Me! I want there to be nothing at all I have to do, not just nothing I want to do. No unmade beds, no dirty dishes, no laundry to fold and no one’s work and travel schedule to organize my life around.

I have, however, compiled a list of the things I do envision being part of my perfect Mom’s Summer Sleep-Away Camp:

  • Each camper’s spouse or partner will be required to stay home so campers don’t have to spend a moment worrying about their children. If Ad Man has to work, he’ll need to figure out childcare his own damn self.
  • The minimum session will be two weeks, though a four week session will be strongly encouraged in order for campers to reach maximum relaxation.
  • The camp will be on a beach, but also have a seaside pool where lunch and luscious fruity cocktails will be served. Straight up hard liquor will be available the night before campers are scheduled to head home.
  • The camp must be on an ocean (no trying to get away with some sand dumped next to a lake) somewhere that’s warm during the day but where it cools off enough at night for perfect sleeping conditions and bonfires on the beach.
  • The location must be somewhere with no mosquitoes whatsoever.
  • I will have my own butler who knows how I like my tea and who will apply sunblock and spray me with self-tanner every morning so I can maintain a lovely faux glow.
  • surf_instructorsThere will be surfing lessons with handsome, young instructors. Each instructor will undergo extensive training during which he will be taught to refrain from uttering the word “ma’am” and to never, ever tell a camper that she reminds him of his mother.
  • Men, other than similarly well-trained employees, and all children will be strictly forbidden.
  • Spa services including mani/pedis, facials, massage and acupuncture will be available around the clock at no additional charge.
  • No make-up will be allowed so one’s natural healthy glow may shine forth and so I don’t have to so much as look at an eyelash curler the entire time I’m there.
  • The camp kitchen will serve delicious, healthy meals customized to each individual camper’s specific preferences. Campers will not have to prepare or make any decisions regarding food for the duration of their stay.
  • palapa_exteriorEach camper will have her own private palapa on the beach with high thread count sheets and down comforters. The palapa pictured here should do just fine.
  • My closest friends will, of course, join me at camp.
  • Chai and breakfast will be delivered to me in bed every morning.
  • Lunch, dinner and cocktails will be served poolside or on the beach, in the company of friends.
  • The only forms of exercise allowed at camp will be walking on the beach, yoga, surfing, swimming, snorkeling and possibly ziplines because they sound like fun. Anyone caught doing crunches will be sent home immediately.
  • There will be no internet connection and no cell phone service. I will have to fill MommyEnnui readers in on my adventure upon my reluctant return to reality.
  • Campers will have access to lots of books and expensive foreign fashion and design magazines…you know, the ones you read in Barnes and Noble, but would never buy for yourself.
  • There will be no waking before 8:30 am. Bedtime is at 11 pm, sharp.
  • Each palapa will be stocked with wine and dark chocolate in case of late-night cravings.
  • Dress while at camp will consist only of bikinis, floaty caftans and flip-flops. There will be no judgment of anyone wearing a bikini who wouldn’t dare ever do so in real life.
  • In case of inclement weather, the new seasons of ‘Orange is the New Black,’ ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Call the Midwife’ will be available for binge-watching.
  • Finally, and most importantly, the bill will be sent directly to my dad.

Who wants to join me?

Fever Schmever…the Show Must Go On!

Biggie's Illin'May madness continues at the MommyEnnui household this week so I will have to make this a short post. Please forgive me. I have, however, prepared a little quiz for you:

It’s the eve of the last week of school and the calendar is loaded with exciting activities. Biggie and Smalls’s dance recital is mere days away. Next week is my last one alone before I begin spending virtually every waking hour with my darling children for the next eleven weeks (not that I’ve counted or anything). Question: What will happen next?

A.  The weather will be gorgeous and the girls will be well-behaved and excited about the beginning of summer break,

B.  I will relax and look forward to the summer because I have crafted the perfect combination of family vacations, weekday activities, weekend road trips and enriching summer camps,

C.  I anticipate that summer break may be a bit stressful, so I schedule a week of yoga, massages and drinking white wine at lunch on charming bistro patios with my dearest friends, or

D.  Biggie will start running a fever the day before the dance recital, I will drag her to the urgent care clinic the moment the words, “Mommy, my throat hur…” come out of her mouth, she will get the 273rd positive strep test of her life and I will scramble to the closest all-night pharmacy with the intention of cramming 24 hours worth of antibiotics into her before she’s scheduled to hit the stage for her big hip-hop dance debut.

Quelle surprise! The correct answer is D.

Yep, I’m writing this from the now-dry-but-still-unpleasant basement where Ad Man has carved out a path to my desk and another one to the chair where Biggie is still in her pajamas, deep in an iPad coma. The cleaning women (the two other loves of my life) are upstairs making the house inhabitable for another two weeks. We shall see how the day unfolds.

After two doses of antibiotics, Biggie is feeling better and things are starting to look up for the recital tonight. Smalls will also be performing this evening, dancing both ballet and jazz. That is, unless she gets off the bus this afternoon running a fever. I’ve been more than a little concerned that I’ll have to stay home with a sick Biggie while Ad Man takes Smalls to the recital. I do not have high hopes for him successfully negotiating a costume change and turning a high ponytail into a low bun at intermission.

Cut to the afternoon. Biggie is now officially well enough to go to the recital. This fact was confirmed when I heard her singing an original number at the top of her lungs in the shower and then walking around the house saying, “No applause, please. No applause.” In other positive news, Smalls arrived home in good shape. I’ll be holding my breath for the rest of the week, however. Biggie just yelled “Moooooooommmm! [Smalls] won’t stop licking me!!!” Stay tuned.

Last Days of School: It’s the Crap-Crappiest Time of the Year

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Dear Parents,

Mistee Roth and I are so honored to have been your PTA President and Vice-President this year. Thank you, again, for voting us into office last August in that hotly contested election against those bitches that were not even Pi Delts! We think it’s obvious you made the right decision.

We have just a few teeny, tiny announcements about the meetings, activities, events, parties, conferences, presentations, performances and parent self-evaluations that will be taking place over the next week and a half. First, parents are all strongly encouraged to attend their child’s art, drama, music, P.E., Mandarin and organic gardening classes this week. Their teachers are anxious to show you all the fabulous work the children have done this year so they can justify their slot in the budget for the next school year.

The kindergarten, 3rd and 5th grade plays will be held simultaneously in three different locations and it’s important that you attend each one of them. The 1st, 2nd and 4th grade music performances will begin a half an hour before the theater performances conclude. They will be held in various other locations on opposite sides of the campus. Ladies, please be sure to wear either a sundress or your finest pantsuit and heels, so no one suspects that you usually spend all day in twelve year-old, velour Juicy sweatpants and the t-shirt you stole from that guy you slept with in the dorm freshman year. Men, a suit and tie will be fine.

Don’t forget, the kindergarteners will be going on a field trip to the zoo tomorrow. Please remember to pack a vegan, gluten-free, peanut-free, non-processed, organic, no-GMO snack in a recyclable PBA-free plastic container for the children to share. All parents, you should sunscreen your child immediately upon waking so the SPF is at maximum potency when he or she arrives at the zoo. According to the school’s legal counsel, chaperones and teachers are forbidden from applying sunblock to any child who is not proven to be his or her own offspring. If your kid gets a sunburn, we will have no choice but to judge you.

If you were randomly selected to chaperone the 2nd graders on their field trip to McCaffrey’s Farm next Tuesday (because you haven’t volunteered for a damn thing this year and you’re not going to get away with that shit on my watch), please don’t forget that you’ll be required to demonstrate to the children how to milk a cow, churn butter, deliver a newborn foal and negotiate a corn maze. YouTube has some helpful videos so you can brush up on these skills before the trip. For the sake of authenticity, please wear denim overalls and a red-and-white gingham shirt.

If you volunteered for beach day this Friday, please arrive at 7:30 am, with one-hundred water balloons. The balloons should be pre-filled and individually labeled with your child’s grade and teacher’s name. Each volunteer must also provide buckets, a garden hose, beach towels, lawn chairs and enough Gatorade for the class.

Finally, next Friday, the children will conclude the school year with a multicultural parade and potluck. Each child is required to wear the native dress of his or her ancestors and provide an authentic dish for which their region is known. Parents, don’t miss this festive summer send-off. Be sure to arrive early! As you know, parking can be difficult, so shuttle buses will be provided from the Kroger parking lot.

Whew! What an exciting year, right? In closing, I’d like to urge you to make an additional donation to the PTA before walking out the door with your dirty potluck dishes next week. As you know, the PTA works hard to provide extra classes and services for our children that the poor schools can only dream of. Also, we are just slightly over budget this year due to the extravagant volunteer appreciation dinner we threw ourselves last month at the country club. (The liquor bill alone could pay for an additional ESL teacher for the next two years.) Give until it hurts, people! I mean, only if you love your children, of course.

Have a super fun summer!
Jillian Worthington-Bellamy and Mistee Roth

Calling for Peace in the Parenting Wars

judging-new-parentsLast week, I went to hear Jennifer Senior, author of the universally lauded book on modern parenting All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, speak. I have not yet raved here about Senior’s book just because I feel like it has been reviewed and praised in so many publications already. It’s unlikely you haven’t already read a review, read the book itself, or at least seen it on the bestsellers’ shelf at the bookstore. Suffice it to say, it is a fantastic book about the changes that have occurred over the past 70 years or so that have completely changed the face of parenting and what those changes mean for today’s parents.

all_joy_no_fun_bookAll Joy and No Fun isn’t a how-to parenting book, however. Senior, a parent herself, readily admits that, like most people, she’s just “winging it” as far as raising her kids goes. We’re all pioneers in this wild new landscape of modern parenting. Senior’s book presents astute observations in a nonjudgmental way and this is one of the things I found so rare and refreshing about it.

You can go to any bookstore or spend just a few minutes on Amazon and find countless books written with the intention of convincing the reader that the author’s theory on raising children is the correct one and that all other parenting methods are tantamount to child abuse. Really, it’s come to that level of dispute and hysteria. It’s a virtual cage match between Attachment parents, Free-Range parents, long-term breastfeeders, Tiger moms and dads, No-Cry parents, anti-vaccine evangelists, family bed advocates and on and on and on.

I’m not going to claim that I didn’t delve into more than a few how-to books myself as a young parent. (Or, more appropriately, a “new” parent…I had ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE stamped on my OB’s medical files from day one!) There are a thousand different situations that arise just in the first few months of your firstborn’s life for which you have not the slightest bit of preparation and it sure would be nice to have a manual to refer to for step-by-step instructions. But, unfortunately, that’s not how this maddening parenting thing works. In reality, you do your best and then wait 18 or 30 years to find out whether you completely fucked up or not.

And yet, that hasn’t stopped an army of experts and lifestyle gurus from getting rich on books that purport to show you “the way” through parenthood. I was just reading a review of Alicia Silverstone’s new book The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning. If that doesn’t sound like a woman who thinks she has the answers, I don’t know what does. In addition to being an actress, Silverstone is also a vocal vegan, animals rights activist, fairly new mother and best-selling author of The Kind Diet. (Full disclosure, I own Silverstone’s first book and refer to it often for recipes and information about vegan eating.)

the_kind_mama_bookAs an influential Hollywood hippie-type (no judgment intended…you know I love my LA hippie brothers and sisters), Silverstone has taken it upon herself to extend her vegan, Earth-loving “brand” to parenthood. Not surprisingly, The Kind Mama advocates strongly for attachment parenting, extended breastfeeding, the family bed and vegan eating for the entire family. Some of the controversial assertions Silverstone makes in the book are that: 1) meat, dairy and processed foods “track toxic sludge through your [uterus],” 2) diapers are “pseudoscience,” 3) eating plant-based foods can “demolish your need for pharmaceutical drugs for things like depression,” 4) tampons may make you infertile, and 5) some babies are “never the same” after receiving vaccines.

As you can imagine, the responses to the review I read and comments on Amazon regarding the book itself are passionate to say the least, though the word combative seems more apt. A few responses, both positive and negative, were thoughtful and constructive. However, the overwhelming majority of comments made it abundantly clear that otherwise sane people will readily resort to insults, name-calling and threats against those purporting to tell them that their beliefs and philosophies, especially regarding parenting, are incorrect.

start_cola_earlierI’m not trying to defend Silverstone here. The author herself resorts to the same tactics when she describes forcing your baby to sleep “in a barred-in box, completely alone,” AKA in a crib, as the equivalent of child neglect. And, I personally think her anti-vaccine stance is misguided at best and, at worst, deadly. What is clear, though, is that the so-called “Mommy Wars” have now grown into full-blown “Parenting Wars.” You will now be judged not only on whether you choose to work or be a stay-at-home parent, you will be second guessed on every decision you make regarding every aspect of raising your child, from when you decide to start the kid on solid foods to whether your children will be expected to contribute toward the cost of their college educations.

You know, it used to be considered extremely rude to tell someone how to raise his or her children. Not everything was up for passionate public debate. Were there “experts,” books and magazine articles, friends and complete strangers standing by to shame my mother when she was unable to successfully breastfeed me? Hell, no. Did she have to justify her choice of diapers or where she put me down to sleep or what vaccines she “allowed” the pediatrician to give me? No, again. She sincerely did what she and my dad thought was best for me and it was no one else’s damn business.

beer-breastfeedingWouldn’t it be nice if we could return to those days? Thank you, researchers, for your findings. Thank you, doctors, for your medical advice. I am now going to go ruminate on those facts and opinions and take the action that my husband and I deem is in my child’s best interest. No, woman at the grocery story, I don’t need to know what you think of our decision. No thank you, I’d prefer not to read the book filled with doomsday predictions about the horrible things that will happen to my child and, indeed, the universe if I fail to buy her organic, GMO-free toothpaste.

Can we all just go back to viewing parenthood as a series of personal decisions people make as they’re stewarding little humans from infancy to adulthood instead of a political stance to be analyzed, debated and voted upon by all citizens, everywhere? In other words, they’re my kids, I’m doing my best and everyone else can shut the fuck up. Oh, I’m sorry. Was that too harsh? I forgot mothers aren’t supposed to get angry or swear. Surely, that outburst will have a dire effect on my children in the future.

It’s Not Vacation Unless Someone Barfs

Franklin, TennesseeAd Man and the girls and I took a much needed spring break trip to Nashville last week. At the same time, I vowed to go cold turkey on Facebook and not do any work on the blog so I could really unwind and relax my carpal-tunnel-gnarled wrists. This also allowed me to spend some time with the kids without an iPhone or a laptop glued to my face. So, if you wondered where the hell I’d gone to, that’s my excuse.

The good news is that, although I was unplugged from MommyEnnui, I was still gathering ridiculous stories to share with you. You see, the Schkqnchehrkhgt family has never once had a 100% problem-free holiday. Actually, I think this streak goes all the way back to childhood when my family took a trip to that vacation wonderland, the Wisconsin Dells. (Yes, we were big pimpin’ back then.) If I recall correctly, our drive up north was uneventful but for the usual squabbles in the back seat of the station wagon. By the way, this was a great improvement on the time my family took a car trip from Chicago down to Florida and we had approximately seventeen blown out tires along the way. We also accidentally hit a cat on the highway and I cried the entire 1,200 miles home. Ah, the memories!

Anyway, for the Dells trip, we arrived there only to realize that my Dad had forgotten to pack all the hanging clothes in the car. I was, apparently, the only one who didn’t feel the need to neatly hang my jean cut-offs and Shaun Cassidy t-shirts and was, therefore, the only person in the family who didn’t have to spend five days wearing the same clothes. To make matters worse, my father sat in chocolate on the day of our arrival, so he was forced to rock the same pair of poo-brown stained jeans the entire time. The Wisconsin Dells didn’t exactly have a plethora of superstores full of affordable clothing options back then.

There were no tragic fashion debacles during our trip last week, but there were enough other bumps in the road to keep us on our toes. As per our usual M.O., this vacation was planned at the last minute. Nonetheless, I managed to find and rent a cute two-bedroom cabin in Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin is an adorable town, about thirty-five minutes outside of Nashville, and home to Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Jack White, Ashley Judd and other celebs.

Astronauts!On the drive up, we went a bit out of our way so we could stop in Huntsville, Alabama at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Other than poorly timing our mealtimes so that the girls and I were famished and crabby by the time we left (Ad Man was his usual crotchety self), our visit was great. Both girls are now begging to go to Space Camp there as soon as possible and I’m weighing the pros and cons of selling an organ to pay for it.

For us, just getting to this point in the trip without a major incident was a huge accomplishment. Biggie and Smalls are known far and wide for their severe motion sickness and hair-trigger gag reflexes. After many, many trips that ended with a child and the car covered in vomit, we’ve finally gotten our process down. Before leaving for any car trip, the girls and I all take Dramamine (we now carry a stash of the chewable kind in the glove compartment at all times). Ad Man and I also stock the car with gallon-size, zip-lock freezer bags, wet wipes and a change of clothes for both kids.

1st Cabin BedroomIt was with a great sense of relief that we arrived unscathed in Franklin. Our cabin was unlocked as, it appears, is the custom in those parts and we proceeded to unload the two tons of stuff we’d packed for the trip. The cabin was lovely, though a bit more cramped than we’d expected. It was also a little less clean than I’d prefer. It must be dead ladybug season in Tennessee, because they were everywhere. We soon discovered, much to our chagrin, that the cabin was also inhabited by live wasps. Ad Man killed one that was hanging out on the kitchen curtains and we breathed a sigh of relief. Neither girl has ever been stung by a bee or wasp so we have no idea whether either is allergic to them. The middle of the country, far from the closest hospital was not where we wanted to find out.

Unfortunately, our sense of calm was short-lived because two wasps soon took the place of their fallen comrade. So, we continued our wasp-murdering spree. By bedtime, we’d sent five of them to wasp heaven, did a thorough sweep of the girls’ bedroom and locked them in for the night. (The girls, not the wasps.) As I was laying in bed reading, I spotted another one buzzing around, far out of reach, near the vaulted ceiling of our bedroom. I stared at that stupid thing for as long as I could keep my eyes open and finally just had to hope it would stay up there and went to sleep.

Ad Man, however, was still stationed on the couch in the living room on high alert. I awoke in the morning and realized he’d never come to bed. Instead, he reported that he was up much of the evening battling the little bastards, killing a couple more and freaking out in a very unsoldierly manner when one dive-bombed him in the night. I kept surprisingly calm until the girls came shrieking out of their bedroom after coming face-to-face with a wasp hanging out in the sleeping loft in their room. It also didn’t help that Ad Man then remembered to tell me that, the night before, he’d gone to throw a dead wasp in the trash can and a mouse popped out at him. By his own account, he’d “screamed like a little girl” much like he did that time when a turkey brushed by his leg at the Yellow River Game Ranch. Yep, that’s my studly husband.

Gotcha!At this point, we started making frantic phone calls and texts to the owner of the property. We finally heard back from him via text saying that he’d have an exterminator come to the house later in the day. He also asked if we wanted to move to another house on the property which we took to mean the shack even smaller than ours that we’d passed on our way in. Ad Man and I weren’t thrilled with the idea of all our belongings being bombed with wasp killer and there was no way to cram us all into the shack. We decided we’d rather look for a hotel in Nashville. We sent a message back telling the owner we weren’t comfortable with the chemicals and that, in exchange for him giving us back the money we’d already paid for the rest of the week, we’d agree not to give him a bad review on Airbnb and just chalk it up to “shit happens.” Sooooooo, we packed up everything that we’d unpacked the night before and gathered evidence that would support our case should we have to fight to get our money back, hence the reason I now have photos of wasp carcasses to share with you lucky readers.

We had just finished packing up and getting the kids in the car when a green pickup truck drove up the long, gravel road to our cabin. The owner got out and I thought, “Oh shit. This is going to get ugly.” I should point out that the owner of the property is a wealthy physician who owns a crapload of land very near celebrities’ homes; not exactly a thug to be feared. Turns out, he was lovely and accommodating and the other house he’d offered to us was actually the big-ass house across the road that we’d marveled at on our way in. We drove over to the house with him, I took one look inside at the enormous living room with soaring ceilings and a stone fireplace and said, “I think this will do just fine, thank you.” Whew! One major bullet dodged.

I’ve included a photo of our rented mansion so you can witness the swankiness for yourself. Ad Man and I did a little “holy-crap-we-totally-scored” dance and proceeded to unpack the car yet again. Meanwhile, Biggie and Smalls explored the grounds which included a small pond with waterfall, a large pond with a dock, a shuffleboard court, bocce ball court, horseshoes, a barn   and acres of prime Tennessee land dotted with enough wildflowers to keep two little girls happy for a month.

Cabin #2

The rest of the day was heavenly. We had brunch at an amazing bakery/cafe in downtown Franklin and explored the picturesque little town and surrounding areas. The girls spent the afternoon back at the house running around the yard and fishing in the pond with Ad Man. After going back out to dinner, we tucked the exhausted Biggie and Smalls into one of the many bedrooms together and then crashed on the couch ourselves with wine and a movie on Ad Man’s laptop. All was right with the world. That is, until the barfing started.

Ad Man and I were both startled when we heard Smalls crying out from the girls’ bedroom. We’ve gotten to the point where kids waking up screeching in the night is no longer a common occurrence. Ad Man jumped up to see what was going on and immediately called me to come help. Just as a mother learns to identify her baby’s different cries, I have come to recognize my husband’s particular yell that means, “Get in here now! There’s vomit everywhere!”

We sprang into action like the seasoned vomit veterans that we are. We sent Biggie to one of the other empty bedrooms and I grabbed the screaming, puke covered kid. I did my best to remove Smalls’s pajamas without smearing too much additional barf into her hair or onto myself and whisked her away for a warm bath. Ad Man dealt with getting the pukey sheets off the bed and into the washing machine. (Having a washer and dryer is one of the biggest benefits of renting a house rather than staying in a hotel.)

We got everything and everyone cleaned up and tucked Smalls into bed with me. So much for the wine and movie. She said she was feeling better, but I kept a trash can at the ready just in case. That was a good thing too, because just as I was dozing off, Smalls threw up again. This time, I was left holding a vomit filled trash can, but due to my fast mom-reflexes, we avoided having to rewash the kid and another set of sheets. The rest of the night was blissfully puke free.

Just petting a kangarooThe next day, Smalls was a little tired and clingy, but otherwise fine so we let the girls talk us into taking them to the zoo. We didn’t expect much from the Nashville Zoo, but it turned out to be really nice and we practically had the place to ourselves. Biggie and Smalls were especially thrilled to get to pet a kangaroo which was surprisingly soft. (I tell you this just in case you get the chance to pet a kangaroo yourself someday. Do not pass up the opportunity!)

We’d gotten tickets to go see some live music from a colleague of Ad Man’s, so a few nights later, we took the opportunity to expose the girls to their first concert not featuring a dancing, furry animal character of some sort. It was a live radio variety show called Music City Roots that’s recorded every week in a large theater-in-a-barn on the grounds of the famous Loveless Cafe. We had no idea what bands would be playing that night but we figured, even if the music wasn’t that great, we’d still have an adventure and eat warm biscuits.

Driftwood by SmallsIf you asked Ad Man and me if we’re big country music fans, we’d have to say no. If we really thought about it though, and looked beyond our Yankee music snobbery, there are honestly a number of, mostly classic, country artists that we both love. I count Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Sr. and Lucinda Williams as some of my favorite musicians. So, I wasn’t surprised that we ended up having a fantastic time at the show. Biggie and Smalls were grinning ear-to-ear and clapping along. There was one particular band called Driftwood that we were all crazy for. We bought their CD and listened to it nonstop on our drive home. Smalls, my little Southern belle, even drew a picture of the band and told me she wants to learn how to play the fiddle!

The rest of the trip was a whirlwind of checking out Nashville’s touristy spots and insider gems, getting together with good friends, fishing in the pond and eating insane amounts of unhealthy, but delicious, Southern food. Biggie and Smalls each came back with a new pair of “cowgirl” boots, as they insist on calling them. Ad Man also tried on a pair for fun in the boot shop and I nearly fell down laughing. He’s definitely more of a checkered Vans kind of guy.

Barn ratsIn the process of exploring, we absolutely fell in love with the city. We even found the hipster part of town with the help of friends’ suggestions and decided that, if we were to ever move there, it would be difficult to choose whether to live in East Nashville with the rest of the tattooed parents and plentiful vegetarian restaurants or to hightail it to the country where we could have chickens and goats and let the girls run wild. Ad Man is convinced I’d lose my mind living in the country, but I have to say, it was pretty great to breathe in the fresh air, sit in a rocking chair on the porch, drinking tea in my pajamas and point out constellations to my city kids who’d never seen so many stars in their lives. Seriously, if we’d stayed one more week, there’s a good chance you’d still find me there in a vintage dress and cowboy boots chatting with the regulars at my favorite coffee shop.

Just to keep us alert, two days before we left, Biggie threw up in the middle of the night. The nice thing about having an eight year old, though, is that they actually get out of bed and run to the bathroom when they have to barf. Ad Man was still awake in the living room and didn’t even bother to wake me with the news. Thank goodness for small pleasures like road trips, live music, room to roam, abundant stars and children who grow up and no longer spew vomit all over the house.

 

 

Famous Preschool TV Characters: Where Are They Now?

caillouThe other afternoon, I flipped on the television looking for something brain-numbing to watch while folding laundry (preferably ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ or my new favorite, ‘Southern Charm’) when I was assaulted by the ‘Max & Ruby’ theme song. Even before it registered in my brain what I was listening to, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was a visceral response to a song that brought back memories of postpartum madness brought on by lack of sleep, confinement to a small space with a toddler and a newborn and that specific kind of loneliness that results from having no meaningful adult conversation for days on end.

Once I got over that immediate gut reaction, I was able to sit back and thank my lucky stars that much has changed around here since those days. We’re no longer riding the emotional rollercoaster that comes hand-in-hand with raising very young children. But, this also got me wondering what had changed in the lives of those children’s TV characters who were my almost constant companions, for better or worse, many years ago. So, I took it upon myself to begin a comprehensive “where-are-they-now?” research assignment, the results of which I am now sharing with you in case you’ve found yourself wondering the very same thing.

As you know, many children who achieve stardom at an extremely young age go on to lead adult lives plagued by legal troubles, mental health issues, bankruptcy and drug abuse. Because of this, I was not surprised when my research turned up a number of children’s TV characters who went on to meet with similar fates. Thankfully, there were a couple Hollywood happy endings too though, so the news isn’t all bad.

‘Barney and Friends’

Baby Bop, BJ and Riff spent their formative years constantly seeking the attention and approval of their friend and idol, Barney the big, purple dinosaur. Barney attempted to maintain the illusion that, in real life, he was the same benevolent and ever-present father figure that he played on-screen, but the time constraints and pressures of stardom made that extremely difficult. As one psychiatrist noted in Baby Bop’s medical records (voluntarily revealed during the course of a later lawsuit in which Baby Bop was the plaintiff), “[Barney’s] shows do not assist children in learning to deal with negative feelings and emotions. Along with his steady diet of giggles and unconditional love, Barney offers children a one-dimensional world where everyone must be happy and every conflict must be resolved immediately.” This, in turn, led the secondary characters from Barney’s show to set impossible expectations for those close to them, much to the detriment of their personal relationships. As a result, it is difficult to count the number of teen pregnancies, failed marriages, stints in rehab and even prison sentences that occurred among the former characters of the show.

‘Max & Ruby’

After Max and Ruby’s Grandmother died from a rare parasite she ingested while eating a mud and gummy worm cake, Max went into a deep depression. Having lost his one ally, and seeing no other way out from his sister’s oppression and unrelenting emotional abuse, one evening, Max stuffed a much hated sailor suit in Ruby’s mouth and smothered her to death with a pillow. It was at that moment that Max, miraculously, gained the ability to speak. Neighbors at the time reported hearing Max’s first, gleeful words, “Die, Ruby, die!” echoing throughout the town that fateful night. In a lucky twist of fate for Max, the police in the small town were overly zealous in investigating the first murder in its long history and bungled the case terribly. After a long trial during which countless of Max and Ruby’s neighbors stepped up to testify as character witnesses on Max’s behalf, he was found not guilty by a jury of his furry peers. The townspeople, aware of the years of abuse Max suffered by the hand of his evil sister, welcomed him back with open arms. Max still lives there today with his loving wife and four children.

‘Caillou’

After reaching second grade with still with no hair, Caillou’s parents finally took him to a pediatrician who diagnosed him with alopecia. Through his high school years, Caillou continued to have trouble dating and making friends. However, his difficulties had much more to do with being a whiny little shit that no one could stand than it did with his persistent baldness. After graduation, Caillou attended a small liberal arts college in Canada where he dedicated himself to writing agonizingly dark poetry. Caillou became well known on the poetry circuit for having identified the most number of words rhyming with “aboot.” After fulfilling Caillou’s many demands and bending to his every whim for 18 years, Calliou’s parents finally wised up, sold their house and retired to the Florida Keys, as far away from their son’s college as possible.

‘Blue’s Clues’

Blue of ‘Blue’s Clues’ fame also endured psychological trauma from her years in the spotlight as a puppy actor. Blue suffered from severe abandonment issues after her owner and best friend Steve heartlessly walked away and never looked back when he left “for college.” (A search for Steve’s student records from the university he claimed to be attending, turned up no evidence of a student by his name enrolled at the school.) Steve seldom returned home for visits despite his many televised promises to do so. During his rare visits, he was distant with Blue, rejecting any request to help Blue find “those stupid fucking paw prints!” Steve’s brother Joe has tried for quite some time to fill the hole in Blue’s heart left by the departed Steve, but Blue continues to find it difficult to trust again despite years of intensive therapy.

‘Dora the Explorer’

Dora had a bit of a health scare in her teen years when she was diagnosed with a serious eye injury caused by years of rarely blinking. She has, however, almost completely recovered after extensive blink therapy. Dora briefly dated her cousin, Alecia (who occasionally guest starred on ‘Go, Diego, Go!’) until the girls’ parents found out about the romance and put a stop to their budding relationship. It took Dora some time to recover from this young heartbreak. Dora is no longer on speaking terms with her former best friend Boots the monkey who leaked private details about her to the paparazzi. Dora, her wife and their two daughters adopted from China, now live a quiet life in Decatur, Georgia, a liberal suburb of Atlanta. Another cast member, The Map, was last seen over the mucky mud, past the whispering forest, and onto Skid Row in Los Angeles. The Map never bounced back after losing his job to the newly invented global positioning systems. Today, he can be found wandering the streets of LA, angrily muttering curses against “Garmin” and “Magellan” who are believed to be the voices in his head.

‘Go, Diego, Go!’

Diego continued to run the Animal Rescue Center, helping countless lost animals return to their homes and find their roars. He also found some acclaim as a documentary filmmaker. His films about baby jungle animals won numerous film festival awards, but never made a profit. Sadly, Diego was mauled during what should have been a heartwarming reunion with his former friend Baby Jaguar who had been released back into the wild many years prior. The tragedy was caught on film by Diego’s documentary camera crew and the incident now serves as a cautionary tale for animals rescuers across the globe. Without Diego’s guidance and dedication, the Animal Rescue Center and its employees were like a ship without a rudder. The rescue center, which bore Diego’s name, lost its funding and was, unfortunately, forced to shut down two years after his death.

‘Handy Manny’

Kelly of Kelly’s Hardware Store finally gave up waiting for Handy Manny to grow a set of balls and ask her out. She married the heir to the Ace Hardware fortune after they met when he approached her to buy out her Main Street store. After a lavish wedding, Kelly sold her house and moved out of Sheetrock Hills and she and Manny eventually lost touch. Manny never got over losing Kelly and still tortures himself by quietly following her fairytale life via Facebook. Manny never married or had children. Upon Abuelito’s passing, Manny inherited his grandfather’s house where he still lives today with his tools and his elderly boarders, Mr. Lopart and Mayor Rosa. Manny continues doing handyman work for Sheetrock Hill’s many needy and clumsy residents, but has never actually received payment for any of his jobs.

‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’

Shortly after Emily Elizabeth entered middle school, Clifford the Big Red Dog was diagnosed with Gigantism. Because everyone in Birdwell Island thought it was delightful to have an enormous red dog roaming the town and because Clifford’s presence greatly increased the tourist trade on the island, his illness went untreated for many years. Sadly, veterinary surgeons were unable to remove a tumor on Clifford’s pituitary gland and he died young due to complications from his disease. Emily Elizabeth blamed herself for not recognizing the signs of Clifford’s illness earlier. Clifford’s burial plot has been turned into Birdwell Island’s first luxury ski resort, an unexpected, but much appreciated benefit from his death.

I count myself lucky that Biggie and Smalls have not continued to follow the rise and precipitous falls of some of their most beloved preschool television characters. We just barely dodged a similar bullet as they were born slightly too late to jump on the ‘Hannah Montana’ bandwagon and follow it and Miley Cyrus’s obscenely high-cut leotards right over the cliff. My heart does go out, though, to those characters who were unable to bear the burden of early success. Entertaining toddlers while their mothers are simultaneously sitting on the toilet and breastfeeding their younger siblings isn’t an easy task and I am grateful to the characters listed above for doing the difficult job when I needed their help the most. Those whom we have lost will live on forever in my heart.

Homework is Melting my Brain!

jack_homeworkLast week, I posted the following comment on my personal Facebook page after enduring yet another hellish homework session with Biggie.

“I’m about to strangle my eldest daughter over the daily homework drama! Does anyone have tips for getting a highly distractible child to focus on her homework? She doesn’t seem to have problems staying focused in class. It’s taking her three times as long to get it done than it should because she spends so much time whining, crying and dramatically running to her room and slamming the door. Hoping to avoid murder, but I’m not totally ruling it out. Help!”

I received 61 messages in response! Another friend, similarly frustrated, took up the topic on her Facebook page as well and got the same overwhelming response. Clearly, I struck a nerve! Before we dig into the meat of the homework issue and the comments I received, though, I’d like to walk you through a typical weekday afternoon at our house.

Biggie and Smalls get off the bus around 3:15 pm, slightly over eight hours after having been picked up in the morning. That’s a long day for a kid. Amazingly, they almost always arrive in a good mood, happy to be home and excited to tell me about their day. For Smalls, this good mood tends to stick. With Biggie, though, it’s a whole other story. It’s time for afternoon drama at MommyEnnui’s house!

The girls sit down, have a snack, give me any paperwork in the “keep at home” section of their folders and then give me an overview of the homework they have for the day. Smalls is only in kindergarten so her daily homework is fairly predictable and minimal. This, of course, pisses Biggie off. No matter how often I say, “She’s just in kindergarten. You didn’t have much homework in kindergarten either,” the disparity in their workload strikes Biggie as fundamentally unfair. As a typical first-born child, she is an vocal crusader for fairness and justice.

Biggie’s homework varies. She usually has a few sheets of math, “Double sided!” she’ll point out. On top of that, she’ll have a page or two of grammar or reading comprehension. Occasionally, her teacher will assign a larger project for which her class is given a week or more to complete. Every single time I ask Biggie how much homework she has that day, she responds with some dramatic exaggeration and then starts whining about how she’ll never be able to get it all done. I try to help her break it down into smaller chunks because I know, just like me, she gets overwhelmed and discouraged when she has a load of work to do and tries to take it all in at once. Unfortunately, this is rarely successful in getting her out of her funk.

Our kitchen table is homework central. I either join the girls at the table or putter around the kitchen while they work. Smalls needs a little gentle prodding to stay on task and get her homework done, but it’s generally painless. However, Biggie, having just started her homework and before ever asking me for help, will invariably get up, yell, “I can’t do this!” and run into her room to sulk. As this is merely part of her afternoon ritual, I give her a few minutes to work through it and calm down. She eventually slinks back or I lure her out of her room to sit down with me and walk through the problems that she’s stuck on. She almost always understands the concepts of what she’s supposed to be learning. But, after a long day at school, she’s simply too exhausted to pay attention to details such as “carrying the one” (or regrouping as it’s now called) and showing her work seems, to her, to be just more busy work.

After she is done with a sheet of work, I’ll check it for her and, if she has any problems incorrect, I point them out and have her try again, giving guidance if she needs it.  If she’s feeling particularly ornery that day, she’ll tell me I’m the one who is wrong and that her answer is correct. I usually resist the urge to yell, “I’m a 44 year-old lawyer! I know how to subtract!!!” Sometimes I’m not so strong.

It doesn’t help that Biggie tends to be fidgety and easily distracted. The child is rarely ever sitting on both butt cheeks at once!  She’s constantly up and out of her seat, telling me an unrelated story, arguing with Smalls, reading my computer screen if I’m working on something, playing with whatever random thing is on the table and on and on. More than once, she’s gotten up to go to the bathroom only for me to find her still there fifteen minutes later, deep in a chapter book. This is when I start getting really frustrated. I don’t like homework any more than she does, so I’d like to get it over with as soon as possible. The constant dilly-dallying makes me crazy.

When Smalls finishes her one worksheet and gets to leave the table to go play, the Biggie drama gets cranked up a few notches. Her daily mantras include, “You don’t understand!,” “It’s not fair!” and “I hate homework!” Every so often when I’m trying to explain something to her, she’ll refuse to listen, instead sputtering, “I…I…I just…I…can’t…I’m just so stressed!” at which time she’ll run back into her bedroom, slam the door and hide under her blankets. Meryl Streep’s got nothing on Biggie. Some of the most moving dramatic performances of the last decade have taken place at my kitchen table.

The thing that kills me the most is that this is the child whose teacher described as “perfect” recently in a meeting with her speech teacher (well, perfect except for not being able to pronounce her Rs correctly, to be precise). Her grades are very good and I say this only to make the point that she knows the material and is a naturally bright, motivated kid. And, while Ad Man and I are proud of her, we’re both far more interested in her developing curiosity and a love of learning than we are in letter grades. She’s not getting pressure from us and she is engaged and well-behaved at school. So why does she freak out at home and have daily meltdowns over homework?

Does any of this sound familiar to you? As evidenced by my recent flaming-hot Facebook post, many of my friends with kids can relate. Just knowing that I’m not the only one dealing with serious homework drama did make me feel a bit better, but that still doesn’t solve the problem or keep me from seriously needing a stiff drink at 3:20 pm every day.

I’ve tried a number of things to help Biggie stay focused and avoid frustration. Last year, I tried letting the girls have 30 minutes of television time before starting in on homework, but that just lead to arguing and pleading for more TV. This year, we’ve made a bright-line rule: no TV at all during the week. This has actually worked very well and the girls no longer even ask about TV or screen time on school days.

We’ve also tried having Biggie do her homework in different locations. She has a desk in her bedroom and it sometimes helps to have her do her work in there with the door closed to minimize distractions. Other times, I’ll check in on her after 20 or 30 minutes and she’s reading something unrelated to homework or yelling out the window to her best friend next door. When the weather is nice, the girls will sometimes do homework on our back deck or on a blanket in the front yard just for a change of pace. Occasionally, this works beautifully, other times, not so much. We’ve tried playing calming music, we’ve tried energetic music and we’ve tried silence. Different things work on certain days, but nothing works every day.

Waste of timeWhen we’ve had a particularly rough day, I’ve also tried putting the decision whether to do homework completely in her hands. I’ve said, “I know you don’t want to do your homework and I can’t make you do it. It’s your decision. If you really don’t want to do it, you can put it away and talk to Mrs. H about it in the morning.” So far, every time I’ve done this, she has voluntarily come back to finish her work by the end of the evening. This is one tactic that I know I should explore further, but she’s still only eight years old, so I don’t think I can relinquish all decisions regarding homework to her.

My friends, a few of whom are teachers themselves, responded to my Facebook post with a number of other tips. Some have suggested getting her an exercise ball to sit on or giving her another object to fidget with while she’s doing her homework. This has been shown to help antsy and distractible kids focus on the task at hand. So, Biggie is now the proud owner of a lime green exercise ball. The jury is still out on it, but I’ll post an update and let you know how it goes. Others recommended sending her to an after-school program or hiring a homework helper so I don’t have to deal with the BS. As wonderful as that sounds, as long as I’m still a stay-at-home mom, I think I’ll resist the temptation to outsource this portion of my parenting duties.

One friend recommended a shock collar, but made sure to include a “just kidding!” in her message just in case the stress had caused me to completely lose touch with reality. I appreciated her note of caution.

The overwhelming response I got, however, was that homework sucks. It stresses kids out, takes away from play and family time and kids get far too much of it. In fact, homework has become a bit of a controversial subject over the past few years. Numerous schools in our neighborhood held screenings, or at least sent their teachers to a screening, of the documentary Race to Nowhere a few years ago.

Homework was a hot topic at the screening I attended. The film reported on a 2006 study on the effects of homework by Harris Cooper which showed no correlation between homework and learning in elementary school and only a small correlation in middle and high schools. Instead, too much homework was correlated with increases in rates of depression, lack of engagement with school, weight gain and sleep deprivation. (And that’s just for the parents! Har, har.) So, why are our schools still requiring ridiculous amounts of homework for kids as young as five years old?

I, for one, would love to know the answer to that question and I know I’m not alone. If homework is useless, why am I spending my afternoons nagging, cajoling, arguing with, and sometimes even bribing, my daughter to finish her homework when we could both be using that time in far more productive ways?

I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you think our kids are getting too much homework? Not enough? Do you also spend afternoons locked in a battle with your strong-willed child trying to get him or her to do homework? For those of you who have helpful tips for getting through the afternoon grind with less drama, I beg you to share them with me!  If we don’t make some changes in our house soon, I may have to resort to that shock collar and you wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?