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?

 

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!  

The Effect of Snow Days on Otherwise Sane(ish) Mothers

grown_up_snow_dayThe madness of yet another major snow and ice storm in Atlanta has rendered my brain just about completely useless. You’ll be relieved to know that my autonomic nervous system is functioning as usual. My heartbeat, breathing and digestive systems are still on autopilot. However, complex functioning required to make plans, follow directions, make decisions or reason through any sort of cause-and-effect analysis is completely out of the question.

According to my own extensive research, the evidence conclusively shows that snow days are terrible for your health. My hypothesis, that proximity to one’s children and spouse/partner for extended periods of time with no option for escape can interfere with brain function has proven scientifically accurate. Moreover, my research has undergone stringent testing through the peer review process which turned up identical results. Subjects across the country were observed and polled. Local subjects participated in numerous round table discussions generally while imbibing copious amounts of wine. Other peers who responded remotely from across the country via Facebook and Twitter also reported similar results.

To be clear, I use the umbrella term “snow day” to mean any day in which weather conditions have caused the closing of schools, daycare centers or offices. As we’ve learned this winter, a “snow day” may include actual snowfall or, merely, excessive cold that makes standing on a bus stop a life-threatening activity. Because of global climate change, in the future, the term “snow day” may be extended to include drought, famine, floods, earthquakes, plagues of locusts and other potentially disastrous acts of nature. The following is a brief summary of my research notes after observing one subject who has chosen to remain anonymous.

The subject is a 44 year old, female in generally good physical health with the exception of a noticeable layer around her midsection that in no way resembles muscle. Subject is a stay-at-home mother of two elementary school aged daughters.  Subject has been married for, what she reports, “feels like two lifetimes…maybe more.” Her spouse is a 43 year old advertising executive with a high-level position in a global advertising company. During the observation period, subject’s husband was often observed being grumpy and lacking patience with the subject and their children.  This behavior tended to become more frequent in direct correlation with the number of snow days that kept him from the safe haven of his office.

During the observation period, there were two extended stretches of time in which the subject was exposed to the effects of snow days. In my report, I refer to these stretches of time as “Snow Week 1” and “Snow Week 2.” As with her spouse, negative impacts on subject’s mental and physical health became measurably more pronounced with each snow day. I will outline the subject’s changes in behavior and mental/emotional status separately for each Snow Week.

Snow Week 1

  • When the subject was presented with meteorological evidence indicating an impending snow day, she began a period of sharply increased activity during which she was observed hoarding food and drink, focusing mainly on gathering various alcoholic beverages.
  • The subject became notably more agitated as snowfall began and her spouse and children remained away from the family home. The subject reported having entertained a number of doomsday predictions during this time period.
  • Upon the return of subject’s offspring and spouse, her panic response reportedly lessened significantly.
  • Subject’s relief was short-lived however.  Realizing that she would be stranded in the house with her spouse and offspring for the foreseeable future, the subject’s panic response quickly returned to dangerous levels.
  • Subject reported becoming increasingly sensitive to various sounds during Snow Week 1. These sounds included, but were not limited to, her offspring’s whining, the theme songs to children’s television shows and cartoons, news reports incessantly repeating details of the snow event, and her husband’s low-level grumbling in response to any and all stimuli.
  • Subject’s activity level sharply decreased during this time period and her intake of sugar and alcohol markedly increased.
  • Subject became more and more sensitive to the taunts of peers living in the West who continued enjoying beautiful weather.

Following Snow Week 1, when the weather regulated and subject’s spouse and children returned to their usual work and school schedules, the subject demonstrated an increased level of optimism, bordering on inappropriate giddiness. Subject did, however, show evidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In one incident, the subject thought she spied a snowflake and was halfway to a panic attack before realizing that the offending item was merely a leaf. It appears this Snow Week will have ongoing emotional repercussions for the subject.

Snow Week 2

  • When the subject became aware of another predicted Snow Week, subject showed evidence of a serious break with reality. When she realized that denial was having no effect on the weather, she again entered a period of increased activity, seeking out and gathering children’s activity books, Nerf guns and an increased supply of alcoholic beverages.
  • As subject’s spouse and children were safely at home at the onset of Snow Week 2, her panic response was muted. Instead, subject’s behavior indicated evidence of sad resignation bordering on depression.
  • The subject’s physical activity slowed to sloth-like levels. She began baking and ingesting sugar and fat-laden comfort foods at an alarming rate.
  • On a handful of occasions, the subject was observed vocalizing in expletive-laden tirades apparently aimed at ice crystals raining down from the sky.
  • The subject was later observed eating Xanax like candy.
  • The subject’s parenting skills deteriorated to dangerously low levels. The subject reported having to repeatedly fight the overwhelming urge to eat her young.
  • The subject is catatonic, curled up in the fetal position. Her last words were, “Who are these people and what are they doing in my house?!”

I fear the subject may not survive another snow day. In fact, snow should be avoided at all costs. My recommendation is that the subject get on an airplane bound for a tropical island immediately…ALONE!

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!