Making Garden Mountains out of Molehills

garden_after_3_0614My apologies for being AWOL lately. Actually, my physical presence has been right here as usual. It’s just my brain that’s been absent. As some of you might remember, I began this blog last September just as Biggie and Smalls were headed back to school. Now that we’re on summer break, this is the first time I’ve attempted to write with two children all up in my grill for most of the day. Let me tell you, it isn’t coming easily. Even when the girls are, miraculously, entertaining themselves and I have a moment to think, they interrupt me approximately every ten minutes for a snack or to referee some argument. Smalls is in a serious tattling phase so virtually nothing Biggie does or says goes unreported these days.

Sadly, we’ve also had a close family member pass away this week from pancreatic cancer after having been diagnosed only two months ago. The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for people we love dearly and to say I’ve been distracted would be an understatement.

Since there’s been a short lull in “Operation Make the Downstairs Habitable Again,” I dove headfirst into a gardening project. In fact, my car is sitting outside at this very moment filled with bags of topsoil, mulch and manure. (Aaahhhhh…the bouquet!) Biggie and Smalls have been begging me to plant flowers in the yard for the last few years. Because I’m a terrible mother who cares more about the aesthetics of my house than making my children happy, I’ve attempted to get them excited about various grasses and other, more architectural, plants, but to no avail.

This year, the girls helped me plant some herbs and tomato plants, but were still intent on adding flowers to the mix. In a moment of weakness, I told them we would plant their own little flower garden by the mailbox. In hindsight, I’m sure they envisioned running to the garden store, grabbing some pansies, digging holes and sticking them in the ground. But, because I’ve recently been craving a creative project not requiring sidewalk chalk, glitter glue or Play-doh, I managed to turn a little flower garden into a big production. (Hence, the bag of hot cow shit in my car.)

I’ll add a photo gallery below as the project progresses. I’m hoping a good outcome with this little mailbox garden will give me the confidence to tackle other landscaping projects I’ve been putting off for the last seven years. Either that or I’ll do permanent damage to my back and go bankrupt paying my chiropractor, acupuncturist and gardener which will mean we can’t afford to send the girls to college, they won’t be able to support themselves and we’ll all end up out on the streets. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the former outcome.

Update: the mailbox garden was a success, but not without a few obstacles…lots of digging, some serious back pain and many trips to the garden store. Some schmuck–most likely the contractor who flipped our house before the owners preceding us bought it–dumped crap loads of pea gravel into numerous areas of the yard, the corner by the mailbox unfortunately being one of them. Biggie and Smalls helped me with small bits of the project like mixing up the soil and planting the mondo grass but, truthfully, they were far more excited about the annuals they bought and planted in a pot.

Someday, I’ll learn to allow small projects be small projects but for now, I’m really happy with the outcome of my mailbox garden. Even the mailman stopped to say how great it looked and, of course, I claimed I did it all for him. Tackling the landscaping the the front yard was actually on my list of things to do once the girls were both in school so I suppose now I need to move on to the rest of the weedy mess!

 

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Fever Schmever…the Show Must Go On!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quelle surprise! The correct answer is D.

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

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

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

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!  

Poor, Sick Ad Man

ad_man_beach_flaAd Man stayed home from work today. He’s terribly, terribly sick. Kind of like I was last week when I was snowed in with two children and he was at a conference in Florida. You know, while he was posting photos like this one from his morning run on Instagram because he thought I wouldn’t check it. He wouldn’t dare post it on Facebook since learning his lesson with the six-foot foot sculpture incident. Oh, how he underestimates me. Doesn’t he know I have people everywhere?

So, I’m out doing errands and writing while Ad Man is home sipping tea all snug in the little nest he’s created on the couch. He’ll likely spend all afternoon listening in on some three hour conference call, the phone on mute so he can cough pitifully or more clearly hear the old episode of West Wing he’s watching simultaneously on Netflix. See? He works when he’s sick…just like me!

writer_ad_manActually, every member of the family, with the exception of Jacques the beta fish, has had this same illness. Biggie, Smalls and I survived it last week with the only casualties being about five boxes of tissues. I’m not so optimistic about Ad Man’s chances of survival. He’s a bit of a delicate flower. I have no doubt he got the most severe case of this bug. He has the sorest throat, the runniest nose and the worst cough.

In fact, that’s why I’m posting this dear readers. Ad Man could use all the thoughts, prayers and healing vibes you can spare. If there are any priests reading this right now, please stand by. I may need to call on you soon to give him last rites. Not that we’re religious…I just think his mom would appreciate it.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the phone with our insurance agent bumping up Ad Man’s life insurance a cool $Mil or so.

How to Spot a Well-to-Do Southerner in the Wild

southerners'_handbookAs many of you know, I am not a native-born Atlantan. I do, however, have one daughter who is a native Southern belle and one who was born in LA, but moved here at 18 months so she might as well be a native. Many of my best friends are born-and-bred Atlantans (which, these days, is like saying you’re a native Los Angeleno…a rare bird indeed). A number of others are from different parts of the South and, in that I include Texas and Florida though purists may dispute their “southern” provenance.

Our friends back in the midwest and California find this fascinating and love to ask about our life in the South. I know many of them have been waiting for a snarky essay from me about being surrounded by rednecks and right-wing conservatives. What they don’t understand, though, is that I live in the city of Atlanta which just happens to be surrounded by the state of Georgia. I don’t necessarily consider myself a Georgian. In fact, unless we’re headed to a friend’s lake house or we’ve rented a cabin in Blue Ridge for the weekend, Ad Man and I rarely venture outside the city limits.

So, while they may be expecting a field guide to spotting hicks and fire-and-brimstone preachers, the truth is, we don’t see too many of those folks in the big city, or at least, not in the places where I hang out. Moreover, we live in a neighborhood that’s considered the “Beverly Hills” of Atlanta. This is not to brag. Believe me, we paid about the same amount for our house as we would have for a kickass parking spot in San Francisco. So, we live in the midst of lots and lots of conservatives, but very few rednecks. Plus, in these days of ‘Duck Dynasty,’ I highly doubt you need my assistance spotting a redneck in the wild…unless, of course they’re passed out drunk in the bushes dressed in head-to-toe camo.

What this post will do, however, is allow you to spot a well-to-do Southern lady or gentleman from a mile away. A few months ago, I flew into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to spend a weekend with some law school friends. Heading home, I was wandering around far from my gate when I spotted a woman in the crowd who, I had no doubt, was from Atlanta. She was a perfectly coiffed blonde, dressed in a Tory Burch tunic, cropped white jeans, Tory Burch wedges and carrying a Louis-Vuitton handbag. A few hours later I saw her again on my plane back to Atlanta. That’s when I realized I had a gift.

tory_burch_store_xmasI have since developed a bit of a checklist that I’m now passing on to you, dear readers, for spotting a well-to-do Southerner in the wild. First the women…ladies from the South tend to display a number of distinctive characteristics. Just as the woman at the airport, they tend to have an affinity for anything designed by Tory Burch. As you’ll see from the attached photo, I’ve personally spotted them lined up en masse outside the Tory Burch store at the crack of dawn the day after Christmas. Even a wealthy Southern lady loves a bargain.

They are perfectly turned-out at all times. I defy you to try to sneak up on a proper Southern lady and find her in sweatpants, hair in a ponytail, no makeup on and in need of a manicure. It simply does not happen. They’re even pristine in their tennis wear. I swear the women have no sweat glands!

There are a number of other brands around which you may find them flocking. Hermes is one because, well, why should Grandaddy’s horses get all the fancy leather accessories? They and their female young bear the distinctive markings of matching Lilly Pulitzer shift dresses all summer. They also tend to have a strange infatuation with quilted and garishly printed bags and other accessories from Vera Bradley.

monogrammed_houseSoutherners (women and men) monogram EVERYTHING. They monogram clothing, of course, including every single piece of their childrens’ wardrobes. (Forget about getting hand-me-downs from a wealthy Southerner.)  But, clothing is just a start. They monogram beach bags, beer cozies, iPhone cases, linens, insulated cups for concealing bourbon and ginger ale roadies, even their cars. This is not an exaggeration. As an outsider, I can only surmise that this is a way of marking their territory without the mess of having to go around peeing on everything.

A Southern lady has a vast array of crisp gingham shirts and white jeans to choose from. In winter, they reach for their (ironed) blue jeans, barn jackets and riding boots.

It’s a rare Southern lady that doesn’t love a diamond the size of a grape. Some of the diamonds at my children’s public school edge into Kardashian territory. (I guess that makes sense given their classmates include the children of NFL players and country music superstars.) In fact, the theme for the school’s big semi-annual fundraiser this year is “Denim and Diamonds.” Enough said.

As for Southern men, they seem to have latched onto the east coast preppy style when it was ubiquitous and never let go. Spotting a well-to-do Southern man isn’t difficult. His casual wardrobe consists mainly of polo shirts, wind jackets, sweatshirts and other items of clothing emblazoned with the logo of this favorite college football team…generally his alma mater. To this fanwear, they add pleated khaki shorts or pants, a braided leather belt and loafers without socks.

A Southern man of means sticks to a wardrobe of perfectly tailored suits, generally purchased at Brooks Brothers or Sid Mashburn in Atlanta, Gucci loafers, a pocket square (always!) and, ideally, a bow-tie, though some do deviate and wear long neckties. Distinctive, bright markings intended to attract a mate are generally limited to ties and expensive automobiles. As mentioned above, suits, shirts, golf bags, socks, swim trunks, whiskey tumblers and cigar cutters MUST be monogrammed.

seersucker_chickenThe stereotype of a Southern man dressed in a full seersucker suit and white bucks is absolutely based in fact. In the dog days of summer, this is the Southern gentleman’s uniform. As an aside, when we first moved to Atlanta, Ad Man and I went out for dinner one night with our real estate agent and her husband. As soon as I saw her husband, I exclaimed, “Ooohh…look at you in your cute seersucker pants!” only to realize that he was wearing them with absolutely no irony. Oops!

When at the country house, a Southern man can be identified by the bird dog and shotgun that accompany him. After the hunt (and most evenings), you’ll find the Southern male clinging to a bourbon, neat, or a gin and tonic.

Well, I hope you now feel better equipped to spot a Southern lady or gentleman should one wander onto your land. One may no longer simply rely on listening for the call of the southern accent to identify these creatures in the wild. The southern accent, at least in cities, seems to be going the way of the blue-footed boobie…with the exception of ‘y’all,’ of course. ‘Y’all’ is here to stay. If I ever hear a Southerner say, “you guys,” I’ll know the rapture is coming and I’ll soon be the last person left standing in the Buckhead Barnes & Noble.

Please check in next week when I describe the many, many ways in which I am a pathetic failure as a Southerner.

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.