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!

Worst Mother Ever

willa_tantrumLike most parents, I often lie awake at night worrying about what will become of my children and feeling guilty for the many things I’ve done wrong in raising them.  Every tantrum or door slam is due to some failing on my part and is just more evidence that my kids will, most likely, grow up to be psychopaths.  If Biggie gets up 10 times a night before finally falling asleep, it’s because I nursed her to sleep during infancy. When Smalls holds her pee for 8 hours refusing to go to the bathroom at school, it’s because I started potty training her too early as a toddler.

At least one of my children, will freely tell you that I am a terrible mother…definitely a contender, if not the finalist, for Worst Mother in the World.  Poor thing. What are the chances of being born to the very worst mother of all?!  Because of all the psychological damage Ad Man and I have surely done to our kids and because they’re my children and come from a long line of anxiety-ridden depressives, I’m sure they will find themselves in psychotherapy at some time or another.  So, in an effort to save them time and money in therapy bills, I’ve compiled the following list outlining my failures as a mother for future reference.

1.  By quitting my job and staying at home full-time during their formative years, I have robbed them of a professional female role model.  Moreover, volunteering at their schools, meeting them as they get off the bus every afternoon and bringing them to all doctor and dentist appointments mean I am clingy and overbearing.

2.  I moved them (well, at least Biggie) from the hip, glittery, idyllic wonderland that is Los Angeles to hot, buggy Atlanta thereby denying them the careers as actors, marine biologists, surfers or winemakers for which they were destined.

3.  Because I am a vegetarian who doesn’t cook meat, I have kept them from all the meaty delicacies the world has to offer.  If they fail to become chefs, butchers, or cattle farmers they’ll have me to blame.

4.  I lied to them about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny making them believe in magic.  I then abruptly pulled the rug out from under them when they got smart enough to question my outrageous tales.  This will undoubtedly lead to trust issues later in life.

5.  I raised them in a mid-century modern house with weird art and 50s furniture which made them feel different from their friends living in cozy, shabby chic cottages and reproduction Tudor mini-mansions.  Surely, one or more character flaws can be traced back to never having a canopy bed or eyelet curtains.

6.  I refused to let them have televisions and computers in their bedrooms.  I’ve also, thus far, not gotten them cell phones even as they near the ripe old ages of 8 and 6.  Only time will tell, but I suspect my heartlessness will keep them from expressing themselves through naked selfies at least while I’m home or until they leave for college.

7.  I was a wildly liberal feminist campaigning for Democratic candidates, supporting women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights and defending the separation of church and state in the midst of the Bible Belt.  This could go wrong in two different ways.  I could end up being the clueless hippie mom who is an embarrassment to my daughters when they decide to go all Alex P. Keaton on my ass.  Alternatively, they could agree with my politics and be left with nothing to rebel against…quite possibly a teenager’s worst nightmare.

8.  I failed to sign them up for etiquette classes and never dressed them in smocked dresses and giant hair bows instead allowing them to make their own (often ridiculous) sartorial choices, greatly reducing their chances of success in cheerleading, cotillion and the sorority of their choice.

9.  I stuck them with some pretty crappy genes.  In addition to the depression, mentioned above, I’ve also passed down a pokey metabolism, a propensity to carry weight in their mid-sections and strangely muscular legs that are exact replicas of their Grandpa Jack’s.

10.  But, worst of all, I loved them unconditionally which just set an unattainable bar for future significant others.

I’m sure this list will be expanded to 10 or 20 pages by the time Biggie and Smalls reach adulthood.  So, to my beloved children…for all of the above and for my failings to come, I am sincerely sorry.  Blame mom and get a good shrink.

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Can’t You Get These Things To Stand Up?

I recently read an article on the Huffington Post by Emma Gray titled, “23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.”  Luckily, it was written by a woman because if a man tried to pull that off, the entire female readership of Huff Post would be hunting his ass down.  But no, this was written by one of our own, so I think we owe it to ourselves to hear her out.  A quick perusal of the article indicates that I’m doing many things wrong.  For example, I have flagrantly and repeatedly done all of the following: apologized too much, obsessively untagged every unflattering photo of me that ever existed online, felt like an imposter when I’ve accomplished something in my professional life (it took me years to be able to refer to myself as a lawyer without smirking), held on to toxic friendships (of course I’m not talking about you) and complained about my body as part of my constant mental monologue and, out loud, to others.

This last infraction is a big one, especially for those of us who are the parents of girls.  Much has been made recently about how a mother’s body image affects that of her children.  I know I need to be better about not putting myself down in front of my kids and I’ve been making an effort to do so.  However, Biggie and Smalls don’t read this blog (mainly because Mommy has a potty mouth) so I’m reserving the right to break the “rules” just this one time.

mom_tattooMany parents choose to celebrate their children by getting a tattoo in their honor.  Now, it’s no secret that I have a few tattoos.  So, occasionally, someone will ask me if I have a tattoo for my kids to which I invariably reply, “Hell, no!”  Those two darling girls have already branded my body in so many different ways, I feel no need to give up any more real estate to them.  And, luckily for you, dear reader, one of the things I do best (remind me to add this to my resume) is over-share.  My natural inclination, when I’ve done something wildly embarrassing is to, first, swear I will never tell another living soul about it and then, second, immediately post it to Facebook.  I just cannot hoard a good story, even at the risk of my own pride.

As most of you know, after having a child, no matter whether that child was conceived and carried by you or not, your body will never again be your own.  At the very least, it will be subject to the opinions of, and a running commentary by, a tiny person who should just mind his or her own damn business.  Which reminds me of a great story.  My friend A, was once taking a shower with her daughter who was about 4 years-old at the time.  Her daughter looked up, put a hand under each of my friend’s breasts and tapping them lightly as if she were trying to gently put them back into place said, “Can’t you get these things to stand up?”

So, in commemoration of my vow to stop publicly criticizing my body (trying to control my thoughts is a losing proposition), and in the spirit of Shit My Kids Ruined, here is an inventory of my body parts noting any damage caused wholly or in part by childbirth and motherhood.  My feet are bigger and my legs are more veiny.  The area north of my lady bits now bears a charming c-section scar, though I suppose that’s a fair trade off for not peeing on myself when I sneeze.  The things I was hoping would get bigger (my not-at-all womanly hips and my flat butt…curse you, Dutch ancestors!) didn’t and the things I really didn’t want to get any bigger (my boobs) did.  And, while my boobs didn’t shrivel up and fall off after a total of two years of breastfeeding as I had feared, like my friend A, they’re not exactly in the same position and it takes a little more effort (expensive bras) to get those things to stand up again!

My daughters also seem to feel that my body is here solely for their amusement.  (My husband does too, but that’s a whole other topic.)  The girls like to play with my boobs while I’m reading bedtime stories, jiggle my squishy belly and play “booty drums” on my arse.  Seriously, it’s like having a never-ending unpleasant date with a handsy college kid.

motherhood_barbie_dollWhich brings me to the two parts of my body most profoundly changed by motherhood…my brain and my heart.  As for my brain, well, let’s just say the old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be.  I walk into a room and promptly forget why I’m there, I have the concentration of a toddler, I can’t remember the names of people I see on a weekly basis and the stories I tell no longer necessarily contain a beginning, middle and end.  I would describe a conversation with one of my other 40-something, mom friends as more of a dusty, unraveling tapestry than a road map.  Granted, some of these things may be due in part to entering my 40s, but since these changes began at the same time as my first pregnancy, this is my story and I’m sticking to it.  When this mental downward slide began, I mentioned my concern about it to my psychiatrist.  He told me not to worry, that I was a busy mother of two young children and a swiss-cheese brain was just a natural side effect.  This gave me no comfort until he said, “If you’re aware that your mind is a little fuzzy and you forget things, all is well.  It’s when you start forgetting the things you’ve forgotten, then it’s time to worry.”  Luckily, I’m fully aware that I’ve become a bumbling idiot.  So I’ve got that going for me.  Which is nice.

It is, however, my heart that has taken the most shrapnel in the process of becoming a mother.  My favorite quote about parenthood is “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” (Elizabeth Stone)  It is the absolute best possible description of the transformation that occurred the moment I became a mother.  Like my stomach, my heart is now squishier and, like most of the rest of my body, my daughters have claimed complete ownership of it.  I am no longer the pragmatic law student who could help defend a medical malpractice case involving a baby without blinking an eye and even just the trailer of a movie about a child abduction now has me running to the lobby for more popcorn.  My newly squishy heart is also the cause of the Seven-Year War between it and my brain over whether to go back to work and seek my fortune out in the “real world” or stay home and bathe in every wonderful, maddening, hilarious, heartbreaking, mundane moment of motherhood.

All I can say is that, as the years fly by and my body becomes more and more of a science experiment, I will do my very best to give it the honor and respect that it deserves.  And if I ever hear of Emma Gray of the Huffington Post complaining about those extra 10 pounds or mentioning her budding jowls and chin hairs, that bitch is going to have some explaining to do.  (Sorry to call you a bitch, Emma.  I’m not a “professional” writer and sometimes I stoop to using expletives when I’m at a loss for words.  I hope we can be friends.)

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Life Lessons

I’ve P_and_W_on_bike_0913_v3discovered, if I tell Ad Man that I need to work on a blog post, he’ll willingly take the girls out to do something fun-ish and if I say I need somewhere to write, he’ll blow all the leaves off the deck so our house no longer looks abandoned from the back.  I should have started a pretend job long ago!

I have to admit though, for all the shit I give him (usually in a public forum like Facebook), I have an extremely supportive husband.  He’s quick to cheer on any half-assed scheme I present to him.  Like the time I told him I was thinking of making and delivering soups to office buildings after his co-workers made a few comments about his lunches looking delicious.  I mean every office gets sandwich delivery and what’s a sandwich without soup, right?  I soon kicked that plan to the curb though, when I realized the fact that I don’t eat meat and am squeamish about cooking it meant that I would only be able to offer vegetarian soups thereby limiting my potential customer base immensely.  (Prior to giving up meat altogether, I once called my father freaking out while prepping a turkey for Thanksgiving and squealed, “Oh god, what do I do with this, Dad?!  I feel like I’m cooking an INFANT!”)

Of course, Ad Man quickly moves on to leaf-blowing the entire back yard and forgets that we have two children, one of whom is now putting stickers on my face while I attempt to type and the other who is glaring at me from across our filthy outdoor table because I won’t let her watch the Disney Channel for the 17th hour in a row.  And, I suppose that’s one of my biggest gripes about (traditional) motherhood vs. (traditional) fatherhood.  For hours on end, even my comparatively involved and supportive husband has the luxury of forgetting that he is one of only two people on the planet responsible for keeping these two humans alive and preventing them from (fingers crossed) growing into adult psychopaths.

I had a sudden epiphany recently when trying to figure out why, after spending most of the last 7 years yearning for my “lost” career, I was still conflicted about going out and getting a damn job already (as if it were that easy).  I realized, no matter how hard I worked or what amazing job I managed to land, I would never be living the equivalent of Ad Man’s charmed life because of one glaring omission.  I will never have a wife.  Even with the best, most loving nanny possible, I would never have the freedom of knowing that I had someone at home who loved my kids even when they were acting like little assholes and would show up at “work” every single day even when I was out of town and she had strep throat.  (Just a random example, of course.)

And, while that realization still really, really pisses me off, I’m taking steps to try to learn the lesson I’m constantly impressing upon my daughters.  Life isn’t fair.  Suck it up and move on.

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