Something About a Sandwich

eliza_cook_cowboy_boots_0314I was chatting with Biggie’s teacher one day and she asked me if I’d heard from Whosit about the whatsit contest Biggie won. I said no, but, “Yes, definitely, very exciting…have her send me the paperwork…” nodding my head knowingly all the while having not the slightest idea what she was talking about. All I could gather was that it had something to do with a sandwich. I somehow got through the conversation without revealing my utter confusion and ignorance and pumped Biggie for information as soon as she got off the bus that afternoon.

Apparently a number of classes entered a healthy sandwich recipe contest a few weeks before and two kids at the school won, Biggie and a boy in her class. They were now invited to move on to some sort of cooking contest. The details remained sketchy. Biggie couldn’t remember the exact recipe she submitted, but she knew it contained turkey, “monster cheese” (muenster) and pickles. She wasn’t sure about the bread, but she had a vague notion that it was on a rolled up tortilla.

I had no clue who was sponsoring this contest, what the cooking competition would involve or how in the hell Biggie won with a turkey, cheese and pickle sandwich. About a week later, I received the mysterious paperwork in the mail which included some details about the event and a photo release I was required to sign and return. The photo release put me on alert that this might be a bigger deal than I originally imagined.

future_chefs_vert_0314It turns out that this was part of an annual “Future Chef” contest organized by Sodexo, the company that manages the fine dining at school cafeterias across the country. In a few weeks, Biggie and an unspecified number of other winners would move on to the district finals where they’d be required to make their sandwich for a panel of judges and fifty other people. Fifty!  All ingredients would be provided, each contestant would have one adult helper and the event would take approximately four hours. Four hours!

This concerned me for a number of reasons. First, the event would begin at 8 am on a Saturday morning, at a school about thirty minutes away. As is my luck, on that particular Saturday morning (and for numerous days before and after it) Ad Man would be schmoozing and partying his way through the interactive section of South by Southwest (“SXSW” for you hipsters) in Austin, Texas. This meant that I would have to get two kids up and ready to hit the road by 7:15 am in order to go sit at a cooking competition for hours. This was far from my idea of a relaxing Saturday morning.

I was also concerned (or maybe the better word for it would be ‘hopeful’) that Biggie would want nothing to do with this. My eight year-old self would have run for the hills if someone told me I had to make food for fifty people and present my dish to a panel of judges. Not Biggie. She was super excited and ready to go!  It occurs to me that maybe she’s not actually my child. She was conceived in a petri dish after all. Any number of things could have fallen into that dish.

Over the next few weeks, she practiced making her sandwich and figured out the best way to serve small portions to a crowd of people. Concerned that she’d be crushed at the competition by other, more creative, sandwiches, I suggested that she might want to add some sort of condiment…mustard, mayo, hummus? But, she stood strong and insisted on sticking with her turkey, cheese and pickle sandwich rolled up in a tortilla and cut into cute, sushi-like rolls.

By the time the big day arrived, I was already in a frazzled, pissy mood from single-parenting while Ad Man posted daily online reports about drinking moonshine, bumping into old friends and going to see astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak. (N.DeG.T. is one of my biggest crushes, by the way. Seriously, that man’s brain is so damn sexy!) Thankfully, my friend B, offered to take Smalls for the morning so I wouldn’t have to try to entertain her for hours in a place I knew nothing about. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to wrap my mind around what this event would be like and why the hell it would take four hours to make some sandwiches!

Biggie and I left home slightly late and I knew we’d be cutting it close, but I had to stop and grab a large tea en route or I feared I’d spend the entire morning with a raging headache. On the way, I attempted to lower Biggie’s expectations a bit. I told her that she shouldn’t be disappointed if she didn’t win and that I was already really proud of her for having her recipe chosen and for working so hard on practicing her sandwich. Biggie, ever the optimist, replied, “Yeah, I know, Mom. I might only win, like, third place or something.” Oh boy. I had no doubt we were walking into a kids’-cooking-competition bloodbath.

As it turned out, we arrived a few minutes late after cluelessly wandering around the school until we spied a few balloons marking the entrance to the event location. The cooking contest was, of course, held in the school cafeteria. I don’t know why I expected a ‘Top Chef’-style soundstage complete with high-end kitchen appliances. Too many years spent living in LA, I guess. There was a long table set for five judges, a table overflowing with goodie bags, prizes and trophies and signs and balloons everywhere. The rest of the attendees, mostly parents and siblings, were directed to the cafeteria tables.

It was not thirty seconds after we walked in the room that, sitting down to fill out some paperwork, I managed to spill my giant chai tea latte over every important document for the competition–sign-in sheets, photo releases, the judges’ name tags–everything!  Not only did I feel like an ass, but that also left me with no goddamn tea! And I couldn’t get any more for four hours!  Four!  (Sorry, lack of caffeine affects me in many ways, one of which is excessive use of exclamation points.)

After I helped mop up the welcome table, the event started chugging along. One of the organizers called out the childrens’ names. Our melodious surname is Schokchtckhtshechkt (or might as well be) so, unsurprisingly, the woman butchered Biggie’s name and attributed her to the wrong school. That was one of the few times I saw a crack in Biggie’s confident veneer. However, her chest puffed right back up as soon as she donned her very own ceremonial Sodexo apron and chef’s hat. And, she looked so damn cute, the ice in my heart actually began to melt a bit too.

eli_smile_pesto_0314The kids were matched with their adult helpers and ushered into the cafeteria kitchen where they were given a short safety lesson and a copy of their original recipe. They were each assigned a workspace and the countdown began. Because of the long time-frame, I was expecting that there would be countless children in the competition, but there were really only about fifteen kid-contestants. They were given one hour to complete their cooking.

Parents could see into the kitchen, but we were kept behind the cafeteria-tray ledge during this prep time. I got as close to Biggie as I could to take some pictures of her working and she held up a slice of bread to me with a quizzical look on her face. I mouthed to her something like, “No tortillas? No problem. Just do the best you can.” I then saw her having a serious discussion with her sous chef about the bread options, ultimately deciding to go with a whole wheat baguette. I thought this was a good culinary choice and an inspired tactical move since this was a healthy sandwich contest and returned to my cafeteria seat confident that Biggie had things under control.

The cafeteria was spotless, but that didn’t keep the lone cockroach from zeroing in on me and running across my foot as I was making small talk with the parents of the other kid from Biggie’s classroom. With the classmate’s little sister yelling, “Squish it, squish it!,” I used my cat-like reflexes and stomped on the offending roach. I was haunted by the sight of its flattened corpse for the rest of the morning.

With all the excitement, the hour passed fairly quickly and the judging phase of the event began. An organizer introduced the judges which consisted of bigwigs from Sodexo and the Atlanta Public School District and a reporter from the local “11 Alive News.” Damn near every person in the room was introduced and thanked, including the Sodexo mascot, some fuzzy, blue, star-shaped thing named Lift-Off who had been enthusiastically cheering on the young chefs. Nervous children stood patiently clutching their completed dishes.

The way judging went was that each kid would walk up to the judge’s table with his or her presentation plate. The judges munched on their tasting samples and asked each young chef some questions. Meanwhile, everyone in the audience also received a sample of each sandwich. As she waited, Biggie looked a little anxious which made me a complete nervous wreck!

eliza_cook_judging_0314Biggie’s turn eventually came and she was amazingly poised, explaining her recipe and responding to the judges’ many questions. I got my sample of her sandwich, picked off the turkey (Biggie’s creativity was clearly not stifled by the fact that I don’t eat or cook meat) and took a bite. I was shocked to discover that it was quite tasty! As it turns out, she had completely forgotten the recipe she submitted. Her actual recipe called for a lightly toasted baguette, with turkey, muenster cheese a pickle and pesto. (Aha…the forgotten secret ingredient!)  She’d specified in her recipe that the sandwich should be lightly warmed so that the “monster cheese” would melt a bit into the baguette. She also mixed together a little pesto and butter and swiped it on top of the toasty bread. I was no longer baffled as to why Biggie was a winner in the recipe contest. I was, however, still baffled as to how she came up with such a tasty recipe. I mean, I love to cook and I’ve baked and cooked with Biggie and Smalls since they were toddlers. But, it’s not like I’ve had them studying old episodes of ‘Chopped’ like football players watching game films.

eliza_mommy_cook_0314After judging, Biggie came and sat on my lap, needing a snuggle after an action-packed hour of cooking. I was so proud of her. It was a rare treat being able to witness her taking on something new and challenging with such confidence and grace. It was nice to think, for a moment, that maybe my daughters won’t be saddled with all my neuroses after all. And to think that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t completely failing at this whole motherhood thing.

In the end, Biggie shocked us both by winning 2nd Prize!  The look on her face when they called her name was priceless and not even the mangled pronunciation could dim her smile. I would have cried if I weren’t so busy hugging her, snapping photos and texting everyone with the exciting news. I really wish Ad Man could have been there with me to see our little girl glowing with such an empowering sense of accomplishment. There are many, many days when parenting can be the most thankless job in the world. And then there are those rare days that make you realize that all the work, anxiety and frustration are worth every crazy minute. This was one of those days.

Seven Kids to Watch Out For When Throwing a Birthday Party

Willa_jumpy_horizLittle Miss Smalls turned six this past week. I now have a six year-old and an eight year-old. We no longer have babies or even “little kids” in our house, just regular old kids. It’s kind of freaky given that, I swear, I just gave birth to the little buggers yesterday.

I gave Smalls the choice of inviting just the girls in her class or her whole class to her birthday party this year. She said she wanted just girls plus her best friend A, who is a boy and goes to a different school. To spare poor A from being the only boy in a big group of girls he doesn’t know, I convinced Smalls to invite everyone in her class which meant that the party had to be at our house.

I’ve thrown Biggie and Smalls’s birthday parties at home before and every time I vow I won’t do it again. But, I love A and I like using my kids’ birthdays as an excuse to get all my friends together, so I figured what the hell and swore this really would be the last time. I figure Smalls, like Biggie, will soon decide that boys are disgusting (except for A, of course) and only want to have girl parties going forward. That is until they’re teenagers and try to convince me that girl/boy sleepovers are a good idea.

So, I gave in and started planning yet another house party. Smalls decided that she wanted to have a superhero party, because she’s cool like that, so I hopped online to get some party planning ideas. As far as kids’ birthday parties go, I’d rate myself smack in the middle between pick-up-grocery-store-cupcakes-and-call-it-a-party and Pinterest Princess.

By the way, when planning a party I urge you to fight back against the tyranny of Pinterest. Pinterest is a great place to get ideas for potential birthday party themes, party games and cake designs. You must never forget, however, that most people who post photos of over-the-top children’s birthday parties are either professional party planners or bloggers that are, essentially, paid to make the rest of us look bad. Either that, or they’re sick, sick women who really need to go back to work instead of channeling all their energy into competitive birthday party planning…for the sake of all of us.

Kids don’t give a crap if you have color-coordinated M&Ms or water bottle labels that match the theme of the party. If you’re looking to impress their parents and you have the time and energy to do so, then by all means, go ahead and do it up. Customize every single detail of the party. Just keep in mind that you’ll immediately be bumped to the top of the shortlist for potential volunteers (as if you’ll have any choice in the matter!) to organize each and every school event until your youngest child graduates from high school. I prefer to underachieve on a regular basis and reserve the right to surprise everyone on the rare occasion that I’m actually able to get my shit together.

Anyway, the nice thing about birthday parties for elementary school kids is that you no longer have to be on constant high-alert in case some three year-old decides to eat glass on your watch. From kindergarten on, you can take a less vigilant stance during the party and actually step back and observe the insane social dynamics between the kids. In doing so, I have identified seven different types of children who you’ll likely run into at a kids’ birthday party. These children are the ones who make throwing a party at home particularly taxing, so you’ll want to be able to spot them in a crowd.*

The Clinger

There are two types of Clingers. In preschool, the Clinger tends to arrive to any party stuck to a parent like a tick on a dog. You’ll often find her hiding out behind or between her mommy or daddy’s legs and no amount of balloons, candy or fun party games will tempt The Clinger to disengage from a parent. The three most terrifying words to a Clinger are “drop off party.” The other type of Clinger is generally just a slightly older version of the first. This Clinger will have worked up the gumption to allow a parent to drop her off at the party (sometimes after protracted negotiations), but still requires a host body on which to attach. That host body is you. If you get a Clinger, you’ll be working with a serious disability when it comes to party production duties. It will be kind of like attempting to throw a birthday party and run a three-legged race at the same time. Good luck with that.

The Tattletale

Tattletales are generally easy to identify. The Tattletale is the kid who interrupts you repeatedly throughout the party to report that Henry took the last blue balloon, Ella cut in the line to get into the bouncy house, Michael took two pieces of cake, Aidan poked him with the pinata stick, etc., etc., etc… The Tattletale is generally harmless, but extremely annoying.

The Critic

The Critic is the naysayer of the party. One must be careful with The Critic because, depending on the level of her influence on the group, The Critic can do serious damage to the mood and flow of the party. Say, for instance, you’ve allotted twenty minutes to play a party game that The Critic deems “babyish.” If she is a thought leader (to borrow an annoying social media term from Ad Man), her disapproval will spread quickly throughout the group. You’ll then have a mutiny on your hands along with an extra twenty minutes of kid entertaining time that you need to fill. The Critic will often be heard saying things like, “Do you have mint chip ice cream? I don’t like vanilla,” “Why would a girl have a superhero party?!,” and “Magic is stupid.” Delightful child.

The Fly-By

The Fly-By is the kid who is scheduled up to his eyeballs. He’s generally not a problem because he rarely stays in one place long enough to cause trouble, but he does make planning a bit difficult. The Fly-By’s mom RSVPs to every party with a “maybe” explaining that Fly-By would love to join in the festivities, but he’ll have to try to stop by between bar mitzvah lessons, his baseball game, kung fu and a casting call for a cereal commercial. Actual sightings of the Fly-By tend to be rare.

The Monopolizer

The Monopolizer often grows up to be a member of someone’s entourage. She knows where the action is and who holds the spotlight in any given situation. At a birthday party, The Monopolizer is drawn to the birthday boy or girl like a moth to a flame. She immediately attaches herself (with a vise-like grip reminiscent of The Clinger) to the guest of honor and will fight to the death any kid who tries to get between her and the star of the show. She will claim the seat next to the birthday boy or girl long before the cake even makes an appearance. If The Monopolizer can herd the honoree into a corner far from all other guests, her mission is complete!

The Unwrapper

The Unwrapper has a compulsion to open presents. She literally cannot stop herself from taking over unwrapping duties from the birthday boy or girl. The Unwrapper usually starts out innocently enough, offering to help hand presents to her honored friend, but “helping” is merely a gateway drug for The Unwrapper. Before you know it, she’ll have absconded with a pile of presents and gleefully torn the wrapping paper from each and every box. But, as with any addiction, the compulsion escalates until you find The Unwrapper hiding in a corner playing with all of the birthday boy or girls’ new toys. In order to avoid this potentially explosive situation, it is always advisable to keep all wrapped presents behind some sort of impenetrable barrier until The Unwrapper has left the party.

The Little Fucker

The Little Fucker is far easier to spot than he is to control. It’s a good idea to have a linebacker-sized dad on hand to help in case you end up with a Little Fucker on your hands. And, The Little Fucker does tend to be a boy. Girls usually choose psychological warfare tactics over brute physical force when it comes to wreaking havoc on a birthday party. The Little Fucker can be terrifyingly creative. He’s the child who unplugs or slashes the jumpy house just to see what happens when it deflates and all the kids get trapped inside. If there’s already a fistful of cake missing five minutes into the party, he’s generally the perpetrator. When the birthday girl ends up with a black eye in the shape of a light saber, it’s almost always The Little Fucker’s fault. As The Little Fucker gets older, he’ll become the kid you find rummaging through your medicine cabinet looking for Valium or Oxycontin. And most importantly, whatever you do, never, ever, mix a Little Fucker with a petting zoo!

These seven children have the power to derail even the most carefully planned kids’ party. They are the enemy when it comes to planning a birthday party at home. Learning their characteristics and each one’s special powers will help you with early identification. The goal is to stop them in their tracks before you find yourself silently sobbing in the corner clutching a balloon animal in one hand and a flask in the other, muttering, “Never again. Never again…”

* Now, all my friends are reading this thinking, “Which one of these is my kid?” None, of course! Your children are perfect, just like mine. I’ve written this guide so you can identify the foregoing categories of other people’s children. Other people’s children are the WORST!  

Are You Happy Now?

goofy_familyMany moons ago when Ad Man and I were childless and living in Los Angeles, the family I worked for as a nanny in Chicago came out for a visit. Ad Man and I took the kids while their parents enjoyed their first weekend away in eight years. I remember thinking at the time that it was insane that they hadn’t had even a night away together since their oldest son was born. That was mind-blowing to me.

Fast forward to the other day when I was asked the following question by Gabriele Neumann of Basically I’m Complicated:
Q: You get a free one week trip for two to anywhere in the world! Where do you go and who do you take with you?

In formulating my answer, it occurred to me that Ad Man and I haven’t been away together without the kids since Biggie was born…eight years ago. We have a number of married friends who take trips alone fairly often but they all live close to family members who are happy to take the offspring for a weekend. We, unfortunately, don’t have that luxury. But, I don’t think we’re alone in this situation. Many people tend to neglect their relationships once children hit the scene.

Which brings me to an article I read recently from the Telegraph. The headline was ‘Happier Relationships for Couples Without Children.’ The article addressed a study done by Open University in the UK that surveyed and conducted extensive interviews with 5,000 couples of different ages, financial conditions and sexual orientations who were in long-term relationships. The research showed that, overall, childless couples reported more satisfaction with their lives and felt more valued by their partners.

As a married, mother of two, my first reaction to the article was, of course, “How dare you! I am blissfully happy with my loving husband and beautiful children. Every day is like a honeymoon for my Ad Man and I, the kids are perfectly behaved at all times and I feel completely fulfilled.” Just kidding!  Would I have named my blog MommyEnnui if that’s really how I thought?

baby_birthday_someecardIn reality, my reaction was, “No shit!” I mean, think about it. That’s like saying, “We were so much happier when we had money, could go out for dinner or see a movie any damn time we liked, got to sleep in on the weekends, had sex on a regular basis and lived close to all our friends in our city of choice. Ever since we bought that failing farm far away from loved ones, and started getting up before dawn to feed the animals and milk the cows, never, ever getting a day off, our relationship is less satisfying.” Did they really need to do a study to figure that out?!

Are Ad Man and I less happy now than we were during the nine years we were married before having kids? I can only answer for myself (though I’m guessing he would agree) and I would say absolutely. Despite what Biggie and Smalls say, my life today bears only a slight resemblance to my life prior to children. Back then, I had a successful career, was a newlywed, lived in LA and had lots of friends who I saw often. Ad Man and I had plenty of disposable income and were able to travel. Of course I felt more valued by my partner! We had a relatively simple life with lots of time and energy to dedicate to each other.

This isn’t to say that my life is less happy overall. Interestingly, the Open University study also found that mothers were the happiest of the research subjects despite reporting that they were less satisfied in their romantic relationships than they were before having children. Since having kids, my life is far more complicated. My worries are deeper…will we have the money to send the girls to private school in a few years, let alone college? Will my children grow up to be fine, upstanding young women or will they be psychopaths? How in the hell am I going to survive their teen years?

But, my highs are also higher. These two monsters bring me more joy than I ever thought possible. When I watch them learn to ride a two-wheeler, or make a new friend or listen to their hilarious observations, my heart just about explodes in my chest. Are they pains-in-the-ass much of the time? Yes, but they’re my pains-in-the-ass!  And,18 years goes by shockingly quickly. So, Ad Man and I know that we’ve got a little more than 12 years of having a kid in the house and, after that, the world is our oyster again. Hopefully, we’ll still have something to talk about other than our children!

How about you? Would you say your marriage was happier before having children? What about life in general? How has it changed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

An Interview with Biggie and Smalls

three_on_a_swingAs part of the 30-day blogging challenge, my assignment today is to write a post that includes a new-to-me element, like an image or video. I’ve already done both, so I’ve decided to conduct an interview which I have not yet done (If you’ll recall, you guys conducted the interview with Kanye West, not me).

In considering who to interview, I looked far and wide, remembered that it’s 15 degrees (Fahrenheit!) outside and recommitted myself to not leaving the house. Luckily for you, dear readers, the witty, charming and only occasionally maddening Miss Biggie and Miss Smalls are here within the confines of my warm house. They’re also bored out of their skulls and ready to murder each other because they’ve been home on winter break for the last 2+ weeks. They’re now stuck here for yet another day with school cancelled due to the frigid weather.

You see, children in Atlanta don’t even own clothing warm enough for standing at bus stops with temperatures in the single digits. The former Chicagoan in me scoffs at the concept of calling off school for a “cold day,” while the former Los Angeleno in me is like, “Aw, HELL no! I’m going to sit my freezing ass down right here by this space heater and not move again until the temperature hits 50 degrees!”  But I digress.

Anyway, as you’ll see below, the girls had lots of insightful things to say about my current and former careers. They also really, really want cookies.

Q: What kind of work does mommy do?
Biggie: Taking care of us and doing your blog.
Smalls: Taking care of us and doing your blog. [Hmm…maybe I should ask Smalls the questions first.]

Q: What does Mommy do to take care of you?
Smalls: Giving us baths, kissing us goodnight, tucking us in at night…
Biggie: Making us food.
Smalls: Cookies! Can we have dessert?

Q: What do I do during the day when you’re at school?
Smalls: I don’t know. I’m at school.
Biggie: Dishes, laundry, clean the house, go get groceries, go get your nails done. Daddy says you just get coffee and tea.
[I give Ad Man a dirty look and kick him out of the room.]

Q: What should I do during the day?
Smalls: Go and get a surprise for us…like cookies or something. Or you should bake cookies.
Biggie: Go look at French Bulldogs. [The ladies of the house want a French Bulldog. Ad Man doesn’t want to clean up poop.]

Q: What kind of work did Mommy do before Biggie was born?
Smalls: I don’t know!  It was before she [Biggie] was even born!
Biggie: You were a lawyer. And you made a movie…a documentary. [At least someone has been paying attention.]

Q: Do you know what kind of lawyer Mommy was?
Smalls: What’s a lawyer? [Sigh.]
Biggie: You were someone who helped people who someone else thought did something bad. And you would defend them. [Yes, like representing the poor major film companies that didn’t want to pay their producers’ royalties.]

Q: What’s a blog?
Smalls: Something that you write down things on on a keyboard. People read it on the other part of the computer [pointing to the screen].
Biggie: Something some people write that goes out on the internet for people to read.

Q: What do you think mommy’s blog is about?
Smalls: You talk about what you do at your house like giving us baths and taking care of us.
Biggie: About your life. Like, a few days ago, you wrote about how messy our house was. [Specifically, Biggie’s bedroom.]

Q: If you had a blog, what would you write about?
Smalls: My family and friends.
Biggie: You could write anything. You could even write about your butt!  I would write about my friends and me.

Q: What do you think I should write about next?
Biggie: Why you started your blog…you know, so you could have something to do when we were gone. Or what you did before you started your blog, like where you lived and where you went to school and stuff.
Smalls: I don’t know. [Smalls is clearly starting to check out at this point.]

Q: Do you think I should spend more time or less time writing my blog?
Biggie: Less time so you can hang out with us more.
Smalls: More time so you can do a better job. Like if you messed up, you could do it again.

Q: What kind of school did mommy go to?
Smalls: A college?
Biggie: You went to elementary school, high school and college. You studied Geometry and Geography and French. [Huh?]

Interlude while the girls show me how they pretend to fall down.

Q: How do you think my life is different now than it was before I had kids?
Smalls: You have to take care of kids. You didn’t then.
Biggie: Mostly the same except for the part about having kids.
[Yep. Exactly the same…except for the having kids part.]

Q: Do you think mommy should go back to work full-time?
Biggie: No, because I want to hang out with you.
Smalls: No. You should stay and snuggle with us…because you do love my snuggling.

Q: Do you think mommy is funny?
Smalls: Yes. You say funny stuff.
Biggie: Yes. You make funny faces at us through the car window at the gas station. [I kill it at the gas station.]

Q: What do you like least about Mommy?
Biggie: You can sometimes be mean. Like about making my bed and cleaning my room.
Smalls: Sometimes you’re so busy you don’t get to play with me. [Like, for instance, when the thought of playing one more game of pretend with Littlest Pet Shop animals makes me want to bang my head against the wall.]

Interlude while the girls demonstrate their “mime-in-a-box” skills.

Q: What kind of work does Daddy do?
Smalls: Advertising. What does advertising mean? [OK…I feel better now.]
Biggie: He makes advertisements and commercials in a big office building.

Q: What kind of work do you want to do when you grow up?
Smalls: I don’t know. [She’ll drive around the country for a year in a smelly van with her boyfriend and his bandmates.]
Biggie: A veterinarian, an artist and a fashion designer. [She’ll change her major seven times.]

Q: Do you want to have kids when you grow up?
Smalls: No, It’s kinda scary because they cut open your belly. Do they always cut open your belly?
Me: Well, either they cut open your belly, which is called a c-section, like I had with you two, or usually the baby comes out of the mommy’s vagina.
Smalls: Eeeeewwwww! [This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed this, by the way.]
Biggie: I want to adopt two girls. [Sucker!]

Many thanks to my darling daughters for providing MommyEnnui’s readers with such a clear, detailed and accurate description of my life before and after children.  I suppose all that’s left for me now is to move on to blogging about my butt.  Stay tuned!

Who Is This MommyEnnui Anyway?

Gallery

This gallery contains 17 photos.

This month, I’m participating in WordPress’s 30-Day Blog Challenge which means I’ll be posting or doing a new task to make MommyEnnui better every day. (See how positive and proactive I am in 2014?) The challenge is geared toward new … Continue reading

Wishing You a Fully-Medicated Holiday

green_smocked_xmasI’m sitting in Starbucks writing and celebrating the fact that I have, once again, survived the yearly elementary school holiday program. Ad Man is somewhere in Pennsylvania attending meetings and freezing his ass off so he’s missed the holiday celebration, yet again, this year.  I know he feels terrible for missing it, but that doesn’t keep me from being bitter. (Hell, if I wasn’t bitter, what would I write about?) Year after year, I’m the lonely mom sitting in the overheated gymnasium, frazzled from getting the kids up and on the bus looking somewhat decent at 7:05 am and managing to make myself presentable–generally by spraying lots of dry shampoo on my greasy roots–so I can get to school early and stake out my spot near the front so my kid doesn’t think I’ve forgotten her and freak the fuck out.

Smalls and the rest of the kindergarteners led a celebration of Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year and Las Posadas.  When I was growing up, I didn’t know any Jewish people, let alone the dreidel song!  Today’s holiday program did more than just give lip service to all the many holidays though. The kids learned about the culture and traditions of the diverse groups of people who celebrate each holiday and performed a couple songs from each of them.  It really was a breath of fresh air from the vanilla-white-Christian-only suburb I was raised in outside of Chicago.

Where there is little diversity here, though, is in the way Southerners dress their children for the holidays.  We were eating breakfast this morning, Smalls in her usual uniform of skinny jeans, a paint-stained t-shirt and leopard print Vans when I realized in a panic that she needed something festive for the holiday program or I’d likely be ejected from the PTA.  So, I threw her into a red Crewcuts dress with black polkadots, black tights (miraculously without holes) and sparkly purple shoes. Close enough.

Most of the other kids were all decked out in their holiday finery.  Many siblings were dressed alike, or at least, in coordinating outfits. The typical Christmas uniform for a little girl in the South is a red, green or red-and-green plaid, smocked dress with poufy sleeves.  The smocking is usually adorned with Christmas trees, snowmen, ornaments, Santas or a combination of all of the above.  The more, the better, actually.  In the absence of Christmas iconography, the dress must be monogrammed. In fact, monogram everything!  The outfit is not complete until you add frilly white socks, patent leather mary janes and a monolithic hairbow.

The boys generally wear matching holiday sweater vests or red polo shirts with plaid or khaki pants.  A few really do it up in tiny versions of their daddy’s slacks, starched shirts, sport coats, ties and loafers.  I was just glad Smalls’s hair was kinda brushed, her face was free of chocolate and she wasn’t wearing yesterday’s underwear.

Parents vie for seats at the very front of the gym to get the best view from which to watch their darling children through an upheld iPad. Moms and dads who didn’t manage to set their alarms early in order to beat the rush, worm their way to the front regardless, where they elbow other members of the mom-and-dad-arazzi for a prime spot on the imaginary velvet rope.

There are always a few working moms and dads (but mostly dads) who stand outside, negotiating deals on cell phones while pretending to peer through the smudged gym windows at their children belting out Christmas carols and doing adorable, choreographed arm movements.  These are the ones who will later cross their fingers when they hedge their bets and tell their kid that their favorite part of the performance was “when you sang…um…Jingle Bells?”

I have a soft spot in my heart, though, for the parents who rush in after the program has begun, dressed in week-old jeans and a sweatshirt smeared with spit-up or jelly, dragging along a crying younger sibling.  You can always spot the kids that belong to those parents. They’re the ones with bedhead, rocking a football jersey, pajama bottoms and untied sneakers.  These are my people.

I’ll also accept on my team the “holy-shit-I-thought-the-performance-was-at-10!” mom who you see running down the street carrying the crucial Santa hat that is conspicuously missing from her kid’s head.  You know, as she runs, she’s hyperventilating and calculating how much therapy will be needed before her child is able to trust again.

However, I’ll most likely never be friends with the festive, but tastefully dressed, mom with the perfectly coiffed hair, impeccable nails, diamonds the size of grapes, handsome husband who never travels on important days, and five well-mannered children all in coordinated holiday ensembles.  That is, unless I happen to run into her at my psychiatrist’s office and catch her wild-eyed, clutching to her breast a bouquet of prescriptions even bigger than mine.  In that case, I’ll put an arm around her, assure her that I understand and invite her over for a mid-morning cocktail.

After all, it’s the season of goodwill to all men and women…even the crazies.

Kanye West Answers Your Parenting Questions

kanye_headshotDearest readers, I’m busy buying useless crap at the dollar store to fill Biggie and Smalls’s Christmas stockings just like Jesus would do, so I’ve asked my close friend Kanye West to fill in as guest blogger on MommyEnnui today. Kanye and I go way back. He grew up in the Chicago suburb adjacent to mine (at least 45 minutes from the mean streets of Chi-Town…don’t let all that tough talk fool you) and we loitered in the same malls as teens.

As you may know, Kanye’s soon-to-be wife, Kim Kardashian, gave birth to their first child North West this past fall. Because, in his words, Kanye is full of “awesomeness…beauty, truth and awesomeness,” he is more than qualified to provide some sage advice. Here, he answers your most burning questions about his new bundle of joy and advises you on your parenting dilemmas.

Q: Kanye, every morning turns into a battle with my daughter over choosing an outfit for the day. Do you have any tips?

Kanye: Imma tell you what I do with my babygirl. I pick up the phone and call my friends Tom Ford, Stella McCartney, Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace and I have ‘em each send over a bunch of fly outfits in baby size and that gives me lots of options for dressing North to coordinate with what I put Kim in that day. Whether she flyin’ on a Lear to Paris for the Louis Vuitton show or she just playin’ in her private 20 acre park with the nannies, my girl be dressed to the nines at all times. When she gets older, she won’t question my fashion advice because I’m a fashion God, yo.

Q: How do I teach my child about managing money?

Kanye: Well, North is in a position of a level of royalty like the Prince and Princess of London, so she ain’t never be worryin’ bout money, you feel me? But, I grew up with a single mom, rest her soul, in [the middle class suburbs of] Chicago so I know all about bein’ poor. I would just tell your kid, “Havin’ money isn’t everything, not havin’ it is.” Tell him Kanye said that. You should also tell him, “The less said about the pterodactyl the better.” Yeah, I said that, too. [That was actually Mark Twain.]

Q: My daughter worries that she’s not as thin or as pretty as other girls in her class.  How do I teach her that beauty isn’t everything?

Kim_Kanye_c_uKanye: This is a hard question for me to answer because I only surrounded myself with objects of exquisite beauty. My BabyMama Kim is the most beautiful woman of all time! I’m talkin’, like, arguably of human existence…the top 10 of human existence. And, North, she the most beautiful baby in the history of the world. Maybe the universe. As a matter of fact, North should be on the cover of Baby Vogue. Everybody knows it. Anna Wintour knows it; Obama knows it. Even the Pope knows it! Anyway, tell your daughter that the world needs people that aren’t, like, good looking because without them, the perfect people wouldn’t be so special. She shouldn’t try to go into entertainment though. In my business, beauty is a talent and it sounds like she don’t got no talent.

Q: My son says he wants to be a rapper just like you when he grows up.  Do you have any advice for him?

Kanye: Imma stop you right there. That just ain’t possible. I am the number one human being in music. That means any person that’s living or breathing is number two. I mean, my music isn’t just music, it’s medicine. Every time I make an album, I’m trying to make a cure for cancer…musically. But you can tell your son, if he works really, really hard, wears limited edition Nikes and he dress fresh at all times, maybe he can grow up to be the second best artist in the world. Or, third…after me and Michael Jackson. Oh, then there’s Jay-Z. So, fourth. He could maybe be fourth.

Q: My daughter is very shy. How can I help her become more confident and outgoing?

Kanye: That one’s easy. Just give her this advice from Kanye, “Believe in your flyness…conquer your shyness.” Boom…done!  Also tell her Kanye says, “I scratch my head with the lightning and purr myself to sleep with the thunder.” She’ll like that.

Q: What were your favorite books as a child?

Kanye: I’m not a fan of books. Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig [Jane Austen] up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talkin’ to people and livin’ real life. I would never want a book’s autograph, you know? I’m a proud non-reader of books.

Q: My wife is scheduled to give birth to our first child this spring and we’ve decided not to find out the sex beforehand. We’d like to give our baby a unique name. Do you have any suggestions?

Kanye: You want your baby to have a name that’s strong and confident…a name that don’t bow to the man so, when it grows up, that baby can rise to the highest pinnacle of truth and awesomeness. If it’s a boy, you should name him Hermes, Summit or Kanye. If it’s a girl, I’d go with Apogee, Apex or Kim.

Q: Do you have a special routine for getting North to bed at night?

Sweet_North_WestKanye: If I’m not on tour, in Cannes on Jay’s yacht, or writin’ my feelings down on paper to keep their heat from setting me afire inside, I like to spend as much time as possible with my babygirl. Me and Kim try not to be away from home at the same time so one of us is always there watchin’ over the nannies, makin’ sure they not leakin’ shit to the press.

So, when I’m around, I sing North to sleep with this lullaby I wrote special for her. It goes like this, “Stop everything you’re doing now/ Because baby, you’re awesome/ Don’t let nobody get you down/ Because you’re awesome/ You don’t need to listen to the haters/ You must be tired of running through my mind/ Can I come inside?…I’m also awesome…/ I’d rather do nothing with you/ than something with somebody new/ Because baby you’re awesome.”  And one more thing, I never give my babygirl a fur pillow. Fur pillows are hard to sleep on.

*Please note, this is a work of satire. Kanye, it would be a waste of your precious time to sue me. I haven’t received a paycheck in 8 years.

I Blame the Elf!

elf_in_captivityOK, you little shit…I know you’re hiding around here somewhere. You’re already late. It’s December 3rd and you were supposed to make your long-anticipated arrival two nights ago.  Ad Man, the official finder in this house, is on an island in the Caribbean, so not only am I already in a pissy mood, I’m also flying solo in my search for your skinny, red ass.  I have torn apart closets and dug through every Christmas decoration box.  You’re not hiding in the guest room, the utility room or the laundry room.  I even checked the doll bin in the toy room just in case. Nada!

Tomorrow, Biggie and Smalls will undoubtedly be regaled by their classmates’ tales of elves who appeared, as scheduled, this morning.  I’m sure many of them performed crazy acts of mischief that made the kids laugh and laugh.  But not my daughters because they have an unreliable elf who doesn’t turn up when expected and never does anything more mischievous than hanging upside down from the kitchen light fixture.

We’ve explained to the kids that you don’t pick your elf…your elf picks you.  And, we just happened to get one who is a serious underachiever.  You hide in a new place almost every night (except for when you’re snoring on the couch “watching TV” by 9:00 pm or when you collapse into bed exhausted because you’ve been all over town trying to locate that one toy that’s the only thing your kid wants for Christmas) but, that seems to be the extent of your commitment to providing holiday spirit around here.  You never make snow angels in powdered sugar or paint Ad Man’s toenails while he’s sleeping.  I’ve never once seen you have a rave with the Barbie dolls, “accidently” squeeze out toothpaste everywhere or spell out festive messages in mini marshmallows.  I’m beginning to suspect you never even look at the creative suggestions I send you from Pinterest.

I suppose I could just run out tomorrow and buy a new elf, but I really never wanted you here in the first place.  You were a gift from a dear friend who couldn’t possibly foresee the unrelenting stress you’d cause me from December 1st (or whenever you deign to bless us with your presence) through Christmas Eve.  As if I don’t have enough to worry about during this neverending month as it is!  Heaven forbid I buy another elf and then you decide to pop out from one of the girls’ underwear drawers. How would I explain the sudden appearance of two of you little #@$%ers?

Bad Elf

I have this eerie feeling you’re sitting in a corner somewhere being entertained by my frantic search while eyeballing me with that smug, retro smirk on your face.  You’ve probably snuck behind a long-forgotten stack of size 4 jeans assuming (correctly) that I’ll never need them again but knowing I won’t dare donate them because that would be admitting defeat.  Not cool, man.  Not cool.

I’m tempted to tell Biggie and Smalls that you went out for a cup of hot chocolate and just never came back.  They’ll forget about you soon enough.  Just wait until I pull out that Lego Friends advent calendar…you’ll be yesterday’s news.  So, I’m giving you one more chance to crawl out of whatever peppermint scented hole you’ve hidden yourself in and bring some g*dd@mn joy to these children or, I swear the next time I see you, I’ll set fire to that unflattering red and white felt jumpsuit you insist on wearing year after year!  Consider yourself warned.

And by the way, tell your friend the tooth fairy that I’ve seen the two wiggly front teeth in Small’s mouth so she’d better be prepared with some dollar coins or at least some crisp bills. That bitch is totally unreliable.  I’m not about to cover for her again with a handwritten IOU slipped under a pillow as the sun is rising and a toothless kid is stirring.  She’s got one job to do…how hard can it be?  Seriously!

Let’s Get Real this Thanksgiving

thankfulLike many families in the U.S., at Thanksgiving dinner, we have a tradition of going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for. Generally, my response is similar every year. As always, I’m thankful for my family, health, good food and great friends. While I am sincerely grateful for those things, there are numerous other things that tend to go unmentioned and I think it’s high time I give them their just due.

This Thanksgiving, I’m really, really thankful that:

  • I’m past the stage of being woken at 3:00 am by a screaming infant who has pooped through her diaper, onesie, pajamas, sheets and into her hair.
  • I have not yet had to have a major body part replaced.
  • With email and texting, I rarely ever have to speak with another human being on the telephone.
  • The bats living in our eaves have apparently relocated, saving us $1,000 or so in animal-control costs.
  • We’ve gotten through another year without having our yard turned into an infinity pool by the neighboring creek.
  • We’ve squeezed another year out of our crappy cars.
  • My children are well-behaved and polite at school and in public and generally only act like complete shitheads at home.
  • It was slightly less hot than Hades in Atlanta this summer.
  • Ad Man has been traveling less in the last few months, though I will be considerably less thankful when he heads to the Virgin Islands for a “meeting” in a couple days.
  • It’s the most wonderful time of the year…leg shaving-optional season.
  • I have wonderful friends who hate all the same things I do.
  • Miley Cyrus is not my daughter.

I am also thankful for:

  • My beloved IUD that has kept me period-free and embarrassing-late-in-life-pregnancy-free for another year.
  • Psychotropic drugs.
  • Being old enough that I no longer care what anyone thinks if I get a new tattoo or let loose a string of expletives.
  • Binge-watching Orange is the New Black.
  • My cleaning people Digna and Erica who keep us from living in our own filth.
  • Grocery clerks who still card me when I’m buying alcohol and do it with a straight face.
  • Alcohol.
  • Clothing designers who are guilty of “vanity sizing.”
  • The scientists who did the research determining that dark chocolate is good for you.
  • Amazon Prime.
  • The teachers who educate Biggie and Smalls because neither the girls, nor I, would survive home-schooling.
  • My Orkin man because, no matter how many times people in the South refer to them as “palmetto bugs,” they’re still giant, flying cockroaches.

I hope the list of things you’re thankful for is as long as mine is this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

Scenes from a ’70s Childhood

Jackie 4 mo. old with MomI was born in the Summer of Love, 1969. Well, it was actually the spring directly preceding the Summer of Love, but there’s really no need to be nitpicky.  As much as I’d like to claim that I was conceived by two hippies in the back of a VW van at Woodstock, that’s not only untrue, but also a biological impossibility.  I was actually born in a suburb of Chicago that wasn’t exactly a hotbed of free love and progressive politics. My parents were both 22 years old, having gotten married two years previously.  Family members assumed that my mother was having trouble getting pregnant since she and my father waited so long to start a family.

My dad worked for the town in various capacities (driving snow plows, working at the sewage treatment plant) before becoming a cop.  I guess he was a company man. My mom had a more glamorous job working as a secretary at an ad agency in Chicago. As was surprisingly common back then, as soon as her boss found out she was pregnant, he fired her.  She didn’t work outside our house again until I was in middle school.

My husband and many of my friends were born in the ‘70s, but I’m proud to have been born at the tail-end of the 1960s.  So many major events happened in 1969, some of which changed the world.  In addition to Woodstock, Neil Armstrong was the first man to step foot on the moon, the gay rights movement was born with the Stonewall riot in New York City, students everywhere banded together to protest the Vietnam War, the Manson Family went on a killing spree in California and PBS launched Sesame Street.

70s family photoI am really a child of the ’70s though.  My formative years were spent running in a pack of kids around our “Everytown, USA” suburb from morning until night.  My mom would feed us cereal for breakfast and then set us free.  We’d return home only for bathroom breaks (the girls, that is…the boys just peed in the alley) and meals.  We knew it was time to head in for the night when my dad used his impressive whistle to call us from the front porch.  It was about as taxing as having a dog in a fenced-in yard (feed it, let it out, bring it back in, occasionally give it a pat on the head) unless someone came home bleeding which happened fairly often.

I spent my days riding my green Schwinn with a sparkly banana seat around and around the block, sometimes for hours on end.  We’d play Kick the Can, Running Bases and “Spy,” a game we made up that had virtually no rules.  We’d ride my brother’s Big Wheel down the steps of our porch and, later, his BMX bike over rickety ramps he’d nailed together himself.

We weren’t allowed to travel far, but luckily, the neighborhood park was just down the street.  Only in my adult years have I come to realize that the park was a death trap. We had the high metal slide on which we burned our butts in the summer and from which, occasionally, someone particularly uncoordinated fell over the side, plunging to the ground below.  There was a red and white mushroom-shaped merry-go-round thing the the older kids dubbed “the bloody tit” (so poetic). You could climb on top of it and lay on your belly, while the other kids tried to spin it so fast that you’d fly off head first.

The most popular feature with the teenagers was the Fun House which was a little house-shaped structure that had a rolling drum inside made of planks of wood that you could run around on like a hamster wheel.  Since four or more kids could fit in there at a time, we suffered your typical injuries from bodies smashing into the hard wood and each other.

The older kids were fond of the Fun House, however, for the shelter it provided from prying eyes.  Adults couldn’t see into it from the street so the teenagers were free to make out with boyfriends or girlfriends and smoke pot without fear of being dragged home by their parents or the police.  And, if that weren’t private enough, there was also a pavillion that had brick walls to about waist height.  We little kids only figured out what the teenagers were up to in hindsight.  At the time, we had no clue what they did in there for hours or what that weird smell was that came wafting out.  I distinctly remember that someone had spray painted in large letters on the cement floor a mysterious string of words…Blue Oyster Cult.

Jackie & Jeff 1976I thought the ’70s was the best time to be a kid and marveled at my luck in being alive to experience the highlight of the decade…The Bicentennial.  I was 7 years old in 1976, the perfect age to get caught up in all the hoopla over our nation’s 200th year. The whole country was bathed in red, white and blue and there was a palpable excitement in the air.  The pinnacle of my young life at that time was riding on a float dressed as Betsy Ross in our town’s Bicentennial parade.  That was my first brush with fame only to be topped years later by half-assed performances in numerous school plays.

To me, red, white and blue were the colors of the ’70s.  One of my earliest memories is of watching Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympics.  He rocked not only a pretty rad porn-’stache for the Games, but also a snappy red, white and blue, stars-and-stripes Speedo.  And, I clearly remember a family of five we’d see every year when we drove down to Sarasota, Florida for vacation who arrived one summer all dressed in matching stars-and-stripes bathing suits.  It was a thing of beauty.

We didn’t have much money, but my mom managed to decorate our home with a stylish 1970s flair.  We had the requisite flocked wallpaper and macrame.  The living room was decorated in the, then popular and very hip, “Spanish Style.”  The furniture was red and black and the room was accessorized with a 4 foot tall statue of Cortez in armor.  The walls were decorated with ominous looking crossed maces and “ojo de Dios” wood-and-string designs.  My favorite thing was the white shag carpet in my parents’ room, but I rarely got to go lounge in its heavenly fluff because my dad worked shift-work and was usually snoring away in there.

We later moved a few blocks away and our new house was decorated in a more upscale, but ubiquitous at the time, avocado green, goldenrod and burnt orange color scheme.  Anything that wasn’t patriotically clad in the ’70s, was some off shade of either green, gold, orange or brown.  I remember it as an extremely muddy decade.

Being young and not yet partied out, my parents had a large group of friends.  I have memories of them lugging my brother and I along to parties with them.  After we wreaked havoc with their friends’ kids for a while, the parents would stuff us all into our pajamas and attempt to get us to sleep so they could stay late drinking beer, Whiskey Sours and a minty cocktail called a Grasshopper which I would sneak sips of when my mom wasn’t looking.

the_day_afterOverall, I had a pretty happy and carefree childhood.  The ’80s soon arrived though, and the magic of those days faded away.  With the new decade came puberty, Ronald Reagan and the nuclear holocaust movie The Day After.  I don’t know why my parents thought it was important for my brother and I to watch it with them.  It’s not like we headed to the back yard afterwards to start digging a bomb shelter together.  But I do know that my childhood ended abruptly as I entered my teens terrified of an impending nuclear attack.

I often think about how different those days were from these in which my daughters are growing up.  Despite the many differences, though, I hope my kids will someday think back on their own childhoods as fondly as I do on those long ’70s summer nights when the sun seemed to hang in the sky forever, riding in the way-back of my parents’ Buick LeSabre station wagon, fighting with my brother and listening to Jim Croce on the radio.