30 Reasons Being a Stay-at-Home Mom is a Sucky Job

stay_at_home_mom_kid_chaosEvery stay-at-home parent is well aware of the benefits of the job: the ability to be home with your children during their formative years, no scrambling for child care, and pajamas are perfectly acceptable “work clothes,” just to name a few. Unfortunately, few moms or dads have a realistic view of the pitfalls of the job when they decide to become a stay-at-home parent. That’s why you have me, dear readers. I’m willing to tell it like it is even if that means risking the ire of the happy, happy, stay-at-home mommy mafia.

I will admit that I drafted this list after a particularly trying week. Ad Man has informed me that he will be out of town for much of the next month…a month that will feature Small’s 7th birthday party and family visiting from out of town. Did I mention that he’ll be in Austin at South By Southwest for “business?” Yep, it’s that time of year again.

Anyway, please feel free to pass this along to anyone who may be considering dedicating his or her life to this challenging job. Friends don’t let friends become stay-at-home moms without full disclosure of the risks. Knowledge is power.

30 Reasons being a stay-at-home mom is a sucky job:

  1. Pay is far, far below minimum wage
  2. Kiss adult conversations goodbye
  3. Zero growth potential
  4. Physically demanding
  5. Tiny “employers” are often vocally critical of your work
  6. Most accomplishments go unnoticed
  7. No days off, no vacation time, no sick leave
  8. No combat pay for physically or emotionally dangerous work
  9. Feedback from superiors generally limited to silent reproach and judging from afar
  10. Requires an impossibly wide breadth of knowledge including, but not limited to: identity and recommended treatment for various rashes, latest research on the effect of BPAs on growing brains, rules of obscure playground games, names of all characters from every Star Wars episode (even the one with JarJar Binks), removal techniques for a wide range of stains, trigonometry, etc, etc…
  11. Despite #10, you’re left with absolutely nothing to add to your resume
  12. At least one person is actively working to thwart your progress at all times
  13. Stating dissatisfaction with, or openly criticizing, the job is strongly frowned upon (Oops!)
  14. Rules of the game are always changing
  15. Increased risk of substance abuse
  16. Limits social opportunities
  17. No training program
  18. Wardrobe options are limited
  19. Workplace is always messy and often sticky
  20. Drinking on the job is frowned upon
  21. Requires contact with bodily fluids that are not your own
  22. Must be available to work early mornings and late nights
  23. No awards, promotions or perks
  24. Very little opportunity for travel
  25. Excessive contact with brain numbing children’s entertainment
  26. Company car is crusted with food and perpetually smells of spoiled milk and old vomit
  27. Job causes irreparable brain damage
  28. Your boss is unpredictable, irrational and prone to emotional outbursts
  29. Schedule may change at any time with no warning
  30. Much of the day is spent trying to keep employers from killing themselves

Do you have anything to add to my list? What about you moms who work full-time outside the home? Would you describe your jobs as sucky for any of the reasons above? Surely at least one of you has a boss who’s unpredictable, irrational and prone to emotional outbursts, right?

I Have Decision Fatigue! What Should I Wear?

carolina_herreraI recently read an article about successful people who have chosen to wear the same thing every day in order to avoid a psychological condition called “decision fatigue.” Decision fatigue refers to the declining quality of the decisions a person makes after a long session of decision-making. As you can imagine, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes thousands of decisions daily, virtually all of which are more important than choosing his or her outfit du jour. Why not take that one decision off the table permanently?

Developing and sticking with a personal uniform is a compelling idea even for non-CEOs. Imagine the time you’d save if you no longer had to decide what to wear every morning, let alone shop for each item of a typical wardrobe. However, the author of the article cites not one woman among his examples of highly successful people who have chosen personal uniforms.

I, myself, have a personal stay-at-home-mom uniform consisting of a faded Everlane v-neck t-shirt, Hudson skinny jeans and Vans leather slip-ons (because I also can’t be bothered to tie my shoes). Unfortunately, I don’t think my current level of success quite measures up to that of Steve Jobs or Karl Lagerfeld.

I can think of only a handful of extremely accomplished women who have perfected a “look” they return to time and again. Carolina Herrera is known for her crisp, white button-down shirts and you’ll rarely see Fran Lebowitz deviate from her menswear navy-suit-and-white-shirt uniform. However, I can’t think of one successful woman outside of the creative fields who wears the same thing every day.

What do you think? Do you wish you could avoid wardrobe decision-making every morning? Could you see yourself wearing a personal uniform? If so, what would it be? Do you think a female CEO could get away with wearing a t-shirt, black hoodie and jeans å la Mark Zuckerberg to the office every day? How about the same navy or gray suit like decision fatigued Barack Obama? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Calculating Your Whine to Wine Ratio

grocery_store_tantrumAs an avid childhood fan of ‘The Brady Bunch,’ many of the story lines and lessons learned on the show have stuck with me through the years. I truly believe there are few experiences in life that can’t be related back to a Brady Bunch episode. But, as far as the delightfully terrible Brady sequels go, I remember only two things. First, Cindy carried her lisp into adulthood. (I’m not sure why Carol and Mike never sent her to a speech specialist. I mean, they had a live-in maid; it’s not like they couldn’t afford it.)

The second thing that stuck in my consciousness from the short-lived series, ‘The Bradys,’ was poor Marsha’s fate. When Marsha gave up her career to become a stay-at-home mom, her ego sustained quite a blow (sound familiar?) and she turned to alcohol for solace. She eventually dried out in rehab after getting in an alcohol-related accident with her kids in the car…a true Brady-style happy ending (Marsha’s recovery, not the car accident). To this day, I still think of Marsha when I pour a glass of wine at 4 pm hoping it will sustain me through the long hours until bedtime.

I know I’m not the only mother who, at least occasionally, reaches for a wine glass for emotional strength. As a matter of fact, just this morning I just ran across this quote from Her Majesty, Duchess of London and New York, Gwyneth Paltrow: “I drank like crazy [when the kids were babies]. How else could I get through my day?” See ladies? We’re in good company. If Gwynnie, with her team of nannies, chefs and personal assistants can’t get through the day without a little vino, is there any hope for the rest of us?

In an effort to keep us all out of rehab, I have developed this handy list of parenting situations in which you may find yourself, along with the corresponding amount of alcohol that would be appropriate in each circumstance. I must stress though, never drive when you’ve been drinking, especially with your children in the car. We owe it to Marsha to learn from her mistakes.

Example #1: Your son needs help on his math homework, but it appears to be written in another language. “How many rectangular arrays can you make of these twenty-four crayons?” Wait…is this math or art homework? Your kid, of course, has no clue what a “rectangular array” is despite having spent thirty minutes on it in class that very day. You text a friend who has a child in the same class. She is no help and neither is her kid. Your son moans, lays his head on the kitchen table and makes a point of sighing dramatically.

Appropriate response: Pour a glass of wine. Sip it over the course of the evening.

Example #2: You wake before dawn to your preschooler crying because “Blue Mousie” is just out of reach at the foot of her bed. Rather than moving an additional two inches, she yells to you to retrieve the matted, stuffed mouse. She refuses to wear her favorite dress (the one she wore twice to school and once to bed last week) complaining that it’s “too itchy.” After extended negotiations, you agree to send her to school in pajama bottoms, a Snow White costume and rain boots.

When you arrive to pick her up, she throws a fit and makes you peel her, one finger at a time, from the swing to which she’s clinging with a death grip. She’s still doing her best spawn-of-Satan impression when you get home. Maybe she’s just hungry (…said every hopeful parent since the dawn of time). Take a deep breath and make her a snack. It should preferably be a snack containing some sort of fruit, vegetable or protein, but if things continue to go south, swallow your pride and bust into the hidden Halloween candy. You still have hours to go before bedtime. If the snack fails to remedy the situation, sit her in front of the television, and wallow in feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

Appropriate response: Drink one glass of wine. Yearn for another, but realize that you never made it to the grocery store today because you were combing the town for a pair of yellow tights for tomorrow’s preschool performance.

Example #3: It’s your daughter’s “busy day.” As soon as she gets off the bus, you rush her into the house to don her soccer gear and stuff a granola bar in her mouth. Remind her to bring her backpack and a pencil so she can do homework in the car. You’re ten minutes away from the house when your daughter realizes she’s missing her homework folder and one shin guard. Screw it. Let her have one bruised leg and do homework during dinner. Sit in the minivan during soccer practice so your younger kid can knock out his one sheet of homework. Unfortunately, you’ve failed to stock the car with safety scissors and a glue stick.

You return home after soccer only to discover that the dog has diarrhea. Disinfect every surface, then attempt to simultaneously make a passable meal while overseeing both children’s homework. Your husband calls to say there’s a crisis at work and he won’t be home until after bedtime. Your son gets gluestick on the shitty dog and your daughter throws herself on the floor whining that she’s “toooooo tiiiiiirred to do homework!” Realize that, next year, you’ll likely have two children playing sports and moaning about homework and one husband still working late.

Appropriate response: Drink one glass of wine and don’t bother putting the bottle away. Drink another glass while eating leftover mac ‘n cheese from the pan.

Example #4: In a moment of weakness, you volunteered to chaperone your son’s second grade class field trip to the zoo. You’re running late because, well, you have kids. You drop your daughter off at her school, then try to determine whether you have time to pick up a much-needed cup of coffee since you left your to-go cup on the counter at home. As you pull into the Starbucks parking lot, your son starts whining, “Nooooooo, don’t stop heeeerre…I’m gonna get the last seat on the bus and have to sit next to someone stupid!” Remind your dear child that we don’t call people stupid and promise him chocolate milk if he’ll shut the fuck up (in much more sweet and motherly words of course). Get to the drive-thru, take one look at the line and acknowledge that you’ll never make it to school on time if you stop. Abort the mission and head for school. Your son now starts wailing because he wants chocolate milk and continues until you screech into the parking lot at school and drag him onto the bus by his elbow.

In the ape house, the boys loudly discuss daddy ape’s “wiener” while every mom within earshot glares at you in disgust. Three of the five kids entrusted to you run off (your son leading the pack) and disappear into the reptile house while you’re standing guard by the men’s room waiting for the other two to emerge. Despite these incidents, you’re successful in returning all the children safely back to the designated meeting spot outside the zoo gates. You now have a splitting headache from caffeine withdrawal and the incessant boy chatter (and burps and fart jokes) still ringing in your ears. At this point, your son realizes that you didn’t make a stop at the gift shop before exiting and throws an epic fit. The entire episode is witnessed, of course, by the class room mom. You know…the one with the perfect highlights and angelic children? Repeat after me…”I will never volunteer to chaperone a field trip again. I will sell things, I will make cupcakes, I will help grade homework, but dear lord, NOT another field trip!”

Appropriate response: When you return home, polish off a bottle of wine by yourself. Fall asleep on the couch at 8:43 pm while watching an episode of ‘Castle’ you’ve had on the DVR for the last two years.

Example #5: Your daughter is in rare form. Nothing is going right for her today and it’s all your fault. This morning, she is devastated to find out that you washed her black skinny jeans with the gold pattern on the pockets instead of her black skinny jeans with the studs on the pockets which are OBVIOUSLY the ones she NEEDS to wear today. Are you TRYING to ruin her life?! She, of course, misses the bus because she has LITERALLY NOTHING to wear! Your formerly sweet daughter silently mopes the entire ride to school. You drop her off and briefly consider just continuing to drive until you run out of gas in a small town where you’ll start a new life under an assumed name. You shelve that thought, though, when you think about your younger daughter who’s not a teenage asshat yet and still needs you.

That afternoon, your left eye starts to twitch when you hear the middle-school bus lumbering down the street. You hold your breath wondering which of your daughter’s personalities will be returning home today. Unfortunately, it’s the evil one again. You make the mistake of asking about her homework. She grunts something unintelligible, pulls textbooks and notebooks out of her backpack and dramatically drops them one-by-one on the table. You ignore her theatrics and encourage her to head to her room and get started so she’s not doing homework all night.

Not two minutes pass when you hear her screech, “Get OUT of my room! Mooooooommm…I can’t do homework with this BRAT in my room!” Your younger daughter manages to gasp through her sobs, “I. Just. Wanted. To. Show. Her. My. Wiggly. Tooooooooooth!” You calm her down and suggest she stays as far from her hormonal sister as possible. You poke your head in the demon-child’s room and remind her that she needs to be kind to her sister or she won’t be going to her best friend’s sleepover next weekend. She responds by wailing, “Mooooooommm…you DON’T understand! She ALWAYS comes into my room and I can’t do my homework. It’s NOT FAIR! Why do I have soooooo much homework and she has like four math problems? And, I can’t even think because I’m LITERALLY starving!” You back out of her room quietly in hopes that she’ll be so busy ranting, she won’t even know you’ve left.

Your younger daughter spots you in the hall, tiptoes over to you and says, “Um, Mommy? You know that project I told you about yesterday where we’re supposed to do a report on a book and then dress up as the writer and give a speech about the book and the author’s life? Well, it’s due tomorrow.”

Appropriate response: Screw wine. Grab the tequila.

The Back-to-School Curse

willa_sick_birdie_0814

Still Life with Dog and Sick Kid

Things have gone from bad to worse at the MommyEnnui residence. I don’t know why it always catches me off guard when things go horribly awry at the beginning of the school year. I really should write, “Don’t celebrate yet! The shit’s about to hit the fan!” in my calendar on the first day of school every year.

I already knew last week was going to be difficult. It was the second week of school, we have a new puppy and Ad Man was scheduled to be out of town for several days. That meant that I’d have to get two sleepy, stubborn kids up at the crack of dawn, supervise their morning routine, make lunches and have the girls ready to get on the bus at about 5 minutes past the crack of dawn. I also had to simultaneously get a sleepy, stubborn puppy outside to go potty, somehow convincing her of the urgency of the matter, and then keep her from chewing on the children while they tried to avoid getting ready for school.

We managed to do it, despite a few mini-meltdowns by Biggie and Smalls over the outfits they’d picked out themselves just the night before and complaints about their breakfast which would have been deemed disgusting and inedible no matter what I put in front of them. Surprisingly, Birdie cooperated, contentedly spending time in her crate when I couldn’t follow her around at every moment. I tried not to make eye contact with her for fear of breaking the trance.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. This was the first week of homework for Smalls and, borrowing from her sister’s playbook, she cried, whined and ended up doing a half-assed job of it each afternoon. Biggie, on the other hand, was delighted that for once, her sister was the drama queen. She took advantage of the rare opportunity to be the “easy child” by being excessively cooperative and pleasant. Both girls have gotten really good at capitalizing on the other’s foul moods. Generally, it’s Biggie throwing a fit and Smalls smiling sweetly at me, saying, “I love you soooo much, Mommy!” These kissing-up skills should serve them well in their careers someday.

When Smalls got off the bus the next day complaining of a headache and stomach ache, I assumed she’d just developed an allergy to homework. I told her to go lay down in her room if she wasn’t feeling well. After about a half an hour of helping Biggie with homework, I realized that Smalls still hadn’t emerged begging for snacks and began to get concerned. I discovered her asleep in her room with the covers over her head, soaked in sweat. Yep…she was running a fever. At this point, I ran outside, shook my fist in the sky and yelled, “Noooooooo!!!” OK, maybe that part only happened in my head.

It turned out, I had my darling Smalls home with me for the rest of the week and through the beginning of this one. We spent long days watching High School Musical, High School Musical 2, Camp Rock, Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, Princess Protection Program, Freaky Friday and much, much more. If I see one more Disney Channel star, I’m going to lose my freaking mind!

After 2 trips to the doctor, 2 strep tests, 1 mono test, lots of poking, prodding and pleading for a prescription for antibiotics (that would be me), it turned out that it was just a really nasty virus. Ugh…virus. That word dreaded by parents everywhere because it means you are officially powerless to do anything but wait until the virus is damn good and ready to release your kid from its evil clutches. Poor Smalls was stuck with the thing for 6 days.

Oh, and how could I forget the best part? On Fever Day 2 while Ad Man was still out of town, I had Birdie out to attempt a walk. This time, she took a few steps then planted herself on our neighbor’s uphill yard refusing to leave. I ended up carrying her down a set of uneven steps and twisted my ankle so badly I was sure it was broken. I hobbled home carrying the dog (who’s 20 lbs. now, by the way) and immediately iced my ankle while watching it swell up and turn purple. So, there I sat crying with a erratic, potty-training puppy, a sick child and a husband in Texas not returning my texts or calls. Because, you know, that’s how we roll here at MommyEnnui headquarters.

Without access to my absentee husband, I turned to Facebook for support. The best advice came from my friend S who recommended “B.R.I.C.E.”…bourbon, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Many other friends offered their sympathy and asked if they could do anything to help. Those from far away generally just said they were looking forward to a blog post about the whole debacle. So, this is for you heartless bastards.

On the morning of Day 7, I limped to Smalls’s room to check her temperature. Suddenly, the heavens opened up and rays of golden sunshine pooled on her IKEA rug. (Now that I think of it, that could have been dog pee, but I digress.) Once the room cleared of fluffy, white clouds and angels’ wings, I was able to focus on the thermometer stuck in Smalls’s ear which clearly read 98.6! (That’s 37 degrees Celsius for you Europeans with your fancy metric system.)

My joy overflowed, but after 6 days of vegging on the couch watching TV in her pajamas, Smalls was a little less thrilled with the idea of dashing off to school. Regardless, to the school bus she went! I celebrated by sitting on the couch acting as a buffer between Birdie and the furniture, quietly drinking my tea, and watching something (anything!) other than Nick Jr. I actually left the house to sit in a coffee shop with other adults and begin this blog post. I grabbed some groceries and headed home to the dog. It was a wild day of freedom.

Throughout the afternoon, I hatched big plans for the next day. I was super excited to finally get back to my favorite morning hot yoga class. I laid out my clothes and put all my gear in the lovely, as yet unused, yoga bag my step-mom gave me months ago. I planned to finish this post and finally get it up on the blog. I was also going to make one of the zillion tasty recipes I’ve posted on Vegetarian Mamas recently but hadn’t been able to make with a new puppy and sick kid all up in my grill. I crawled in bed that night knowing that Ad Man would soon be home and feeling optimistic for the first time in a long time.

Same Couch, Different Kid

Same Couch, Different Kid

The following morning, I awoke with the sun…and the whining dog and the prodigal husband attempting to pry the children out of bed. When I stumbled out into the kitchen relieved to see Smalls still looking perky, Biggie moaned, “Mommy…my head hurts.” I held my breath as Ad Man stuck the thermometer in her ear, glanced at it and then turned to me with a look of such pity, it sent me into a complete psychotic breakdown.

I don’t remember much after that other than hearing Ad Man’s faint voice from far above the deep, dark place to which I’d sunk. I’m pretty sure he said, “I’ve got to go to work…you know, that place where people praise and throw money at me for a job well done. How’s that law degree working out for you? Oh, by the way, I have to go to San Francisco for a couple days next week.” Or something like that.

A Day in the Life of a Stay-at-Home Mommy Blogger

When I was an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles my life was pretty glamorous, at least on paper. I was married, without kids, Ad Man and I had plenty of time and money on our hands. I wore the finest in lady-lawyer pantsuits. I spent time on movie studio lots, went to premieres and loaned my bathroom key to celebrities in my office. I never could have foreseen what my days would be like 10 years, 2 cities and 2 kids later. I’ve recorded one average day in the life of MommyEnnui below. Brace yourself for the excitement and please keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times.

another_day_in_paradiseThe alarm on my iPhone goes off at 7:30 am because Biggie and Smalls have gymnastics camp this week. Feel the pain of having to get out of bed before I’m damn good and ready and making sure the kids leave the house looking somewhat presentable. Seriously dread the start of the school year which is coming in 2 short weeks. Curse the Atlanta Public School District. Curse my friends in Los Angeles whose children don’t go back to school until after Labor Day. Curse Ad Man just for fun.

Jump in the shower and ignore the fact that my legs are less than silky smooth. No time to shave today. Figure no one’s checking out my legs these days anyway. Quickly blowdry the front of my hair and hope no one notices that the back is still dripping. Contemplate yet again whether I should get my bangs cut or keep growing them out? Bangs or Botox…bangs or Botox? Realize I have to make a decision before my hair appointment first thing tomorrow morning. Know I’ll never actually decide and will let my stylist make the call.

Things I can count on to happen every single day…Smalls throws a fit and cries when getting her hair brushed and I threaten cut her hair short. Biggie realizes she’s forgotten something vital just as we’re pulling out of the driveway. The girls complain that their car seats are too hot, they stage a sit-in under the tree and refuse to enter the car. (I have no doubt they would do this if we lived in Canada.) Envision myself tying them to the bumper and dragging them to gymnastics.

xanax_better_momPick up their neighborhood friend for carpool to camp. Chat with my friend, her mother, who’s rocking a similar “disheveled mom” look as me. Notice that my friend is at least dressed in workout wear. Feel bad for not even pretending today. She mentions her fear of the start of school but remains fairly calm (or at least well-medicated). Full-on freakout mode shouldn’t hit for at least another week at which time we’ll support each other with beer on on the porch and offers to share Xanax. Feel deeply grateful to have found friends who are as neurotic as I am.

On the way to camp, realize that I’ve put my bra on twisted not once, but twice. Hope this isn’t a bad omen for the day.

Go home to blow dry the rest of my hair and brush my teeth. Watch a stupid segment on the ‘Today Show’ with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. Feel offended on Tim Gunn’s behalf for this clear waste of his time and talent. Count the days until the new ‘Project Runway’ season starts. Changing of the ‘Today Show’ guard. Think about how much I love Hoda and and would really like for her to find a good man. Wonder how she manages to restrain herself from slapping Kathie Lee Gifford.

heidi_montag_manipediConsider folding clothes and cleaning up the kitchen. Decide to get my nails done and write instead. Hop into our crappy, 8 year-old Passat station wagon and drive to the nail salon. Count the numerous very fit, very blonde, stay-at-home moms in workout gear, getting mani/pedis. Think about how no one in this place has any true understanding of the reality of everyday life for 90% of the people in our country. Realize I should hardly be one to judge. Defend myself in my own mind, pointing out to a nonexistent other person that I spent time on Skid Row and produced a documentary on homelessness in LA. Know that nonexistent person would say that doing a documentary about something is nothing like living that experience. Make myself stop having an imaginary conversation with no one.

Go to Starbucks to write. Lunch is an energy bar and an iced green tea. For the 5,000th time, think about how annoying lunch is, occurring in the middle of the day when I’m trying to get stuff done. Such an imposition.

Sit outside to enjoy the gorgeous weather. Take in the blue skies, temperature in the low 80s, and lovely breezes. Realize that not one part of my body is sweating…a rare state indeed. A 50-something year-old woman sits down to share my table and we can’t help overhearing the couple at the next table, who are obviously freshly divorced, argue about who’s going to pay for their kids’ private school. The woman and I eye each other nervously. The bitter couple leaves and my table mate says cheerily, “Man am I glad I’m single!” We chat about the pros and cons of marriage for a bit and she goes on her way. Acknowledge that I’ve had an amusing chance encounter with a stranger. I usually try to avoid those.

Check email. Check Facebook. Start to look at sandals on sale, but stop myself, recognizing the classic signs of a writer procrastinating. Peruse my extensive list of topics to blog about and reject all of them. My brain is too fried to actually craft an essay of any quality, so I decide to spew out a stream-of-consciousness, day-in-the-life kind of thing. Doubt anyone will read it. Write it anyway.

I know it’s time to stop writing when I have to pee. Head to Target because I need a couple things and because the bathroom there is fairly clean and smells like Froot Loops. Feel happy that Target has finally decided to ban guns in its stores so I can discontinue my boycott. Three weeks without Target was a serious sacrifice. That alone should show my dedication to the cause. Spend $96 on nothing. Forget to pee.

Get back in the car and consider the fact that I never once forgot to pee or eat a meal before I had children. Blame them.

Inhale a banana and peanut butter and greet the girls when they’re returned to me from camp. Ask how their day was and get vague and unsatisfying responses. They do, however, insist that I watch them do cartwheels and bridges in the front yard for the next half hour. Suggest they come inside for a snack and watch a TV show. Acknowledge that a better mother would stand outside all day cheering on their impressive gymnastics skills. I am not that mother.

bath_salts_0714Spend the rest of the afternoon alternately listening to squabbles over whose turn it is to choose a show, reminding Smalls to go to the bathroom, thinking about the fact that I have no plans for dinner and doing nothing about the situation. Pry the girls away from the television and attempt to entice them into taking an early bath in order to avoid an evening drama. Fail in that attempt. Instead, the girls busy themselves by planting land mines of tiny toys with sharp edges all over the house.

Text Ad Man to ask when he’s planning to leave the office. An hour and a half later, when I’ve given up on him and started cooking the girls an inspired meal of macaroni and cheese, raisins, and almonds, finally receive a text back saying he’s going to be late. Think, “No shit” but do not reply. Pour a sizable glass of wine.

Biggie and Smalls beg to take a bath together then spend the entire time fighting over tub toys and who’s taking up more space. Smalls cries and complains during hair washing, because the child apparently has the world’s most sensitive scalp. Plan to call the Guinness people if we all survive this bathtime. Listen to yet more high-pitched arguing and threaten to take away their reading time before bed. Plan what I’m going to wear to the ceremony when I receive my parenting award.

Supervise the drying off, hair brushing, donning pajamas and brushing teeth process. Just as the last preparations for bedtime are complete, Ad Man walks in. The girls squeal, “Daddy!!!” and run to hug and kiss him like they hadn’t seen him just this morning. Give Ad Man a dirty look, say, “They’re all yours,” go refill my wine glass, and take off my bra. Consider my job complete. Spend the rest of the night zoning out in front of the TV with a computer on my lap, thinking about how I really should be working out instead.

Lather, rinse and repeat tomorrow.

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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Where’s That Damn Noah When You Need Him?

office_post_flood_0414

Remember my “home office”?

I clearly cursed myself when I told you last week about all the awesome progress I’d made carving out a real, grown-up, home office space for myself in our downstairs living room. As you can see from this photo, I’ve had a bit of a setback. Well, OK…a major setback.

I walked downstairs Saturday morning with the intention of throwing in a load of laundry, spackling the former gallery wall in the “office,” and prepping the walls for painting. As I was descending the stairs, I said to Ad Man, “Wow…it smells really musty down here.” Ever the helpful husband, Ad Man told me to turn on the dehumidifier. I then stepped from the wood stair to the carpeted basement and thought, “Why does this rug feel moist?” (That was for you, D. I know how much you love the word MOIST.)

ceiling_collapse

Chunk ‘o ceiling.

The next step was more than just moist (I could do this all day). In fact, I felt a squish and looked down to see water oozing up from between my toes. I yelled, “Honey, we have a serious problem!” and continued down the soaked hallway to the utility/storage room where I discovered a gaping hole in the ceiling, wet plaster everywhere and water pouring from above.

Luckily for us, unluckily for them, we have a bunch of friends who have dealt with flooding from broken pipes and encroaching creeks in the last few years. So, I ran next door in my pajamas to get my friend B who sprung into action the moment I said, “We need your help!” B grabbed his 6 foot tall 13-year old (my adopted neighbor son C, also in his pajamas) and we headed to our house to figure out: a) why it was raining indoors, b) how to make the water stop falling from the ceiling, and c) just how many of our belongings stored in the storage room (naturally) were now floating.

A frenzy of activity followed. I fought through my social anxiety and called the insurance company to open a claim and ask a million questions. Ad Man searched for the valve to turn the water off to the house and B and C carried waterlogged boxes, artwork, clothing, toys and furniture out to the back deck. One fun twist to this whole debacle is that our house is in a flood plain so we’ve tried to be diligent about keeping things in the storage room up and off the floor. Little did we know that we should have been defending against an attack from above.

We quickly called a plumber and a water remediation company recommended by friends. Luckily, Ad Man was able to locate the correct valve and shut the water off because the plumber took his sweet time getting to us. I did have to give him a break though simply because the name of his company was “Hers & His Plumbing.” A little girl-power goes a long way in my book.

soggy_playroom

Soggy playroom

A troop of strapping young men from the water remediation company arrived, in record time, tumbling out of a large truck and a van. They were a well-oiled machine and, for the first time all morning, I breathed a small sigh of relief. There’s nothing quite so calming as the arrival of a team of experts whose job it is to take over and manage your disaster. My feeling of relief was short-lived, however, when they started tearing up carpet, pulling off baseboards and punching holes in my walls so they could check to see if the insulation was wet.

Honestly though, the hardest thing for me to watch was the armies of people trudging in and out of the house turning even the dry parts of my floor into a filthy mess. I just kept saying to Ad Man, “I can’t believe I’ve kept that light beige carpet looking brand new for seven years and now this!” When you’re a stay-at-home mom, you sometimes derive a sense of pride and accomplishment from the most banal things. It’s fairly pathetic that I now get the same satisfaction from keeping a rug clean as I used to get from a well-written Motion for Summary Judgment.

Soggy guestroom

Soggy guestroom

As teams of people rushed around my house with tools and fans and huge silver boxes I was later informed were industrial strength dehumidifiers, I retreated upstairs and stood paralyzed with not the slightest clue what I should be doing. Eventually, I wandered off to make the kids’ beds and sweep the wood floors thinking that, if I was going to be living in half a house for a while, it had better be clean or I’d surely lose my damn mind.

The downstairs living room/office space was spared from the water because it is a step higher than the rest of the rooms, but it was not entirely unaffected. As the day wore on, more and more crap was deposited in my newly cleaned and organized office space. It took some serious mental strength to remain calm as I watched all my hard work being undone bit by bit. A friend who was following the drama from afar via Facebook even commented on my relative serenity in the face of all the chaos. Actually, it’s more likely I was just in denial. Zen MommyEnnui was long gone by the time I woke up the next morning and the adrenaline had worn off, however.

The day of the flood, I was thankful for all the things that were spared, like family photos dating back to my grandfather’s childhood. The following day, however, I was far more upset about all our belongings that got trashed, like the two limited edition, signed, Barack Obama posters we bought for the girls so they could have a little piece of history.

Now imagine 8 more of these.

Now imagine 8 more of these.

The incessant buzzing noise of a bunch of fans and dehumidifiers can quickly cause a person to become quite unhinged. I keep wanting to describe the sound as the equivalent of “Chinese water torture,” but I’m worried that that may be considered racist now. Should it be Asian water torture? Or should we refrain from blaming Asians altogether? In China, do they refer to “American Waterboarding”? Boy, am I good at wandering off topic or what? Remind me to add “skilled at digressing” to the list of strengths on my resume.

OK, where were we? Ah yes, Day 1, Post-Flood. Well, my day started sucking immediately upon waking. You see, two giant dehumidifiers draining every last bit of moisture from the air plus ten giant humming fans equals one gargantuan headache. I stumbled out into the living room where the girls had the TV on the highest possible volume in order to hear it over the fans. Then I was hit smack in the face by the stench of nasty-ass old motel wafting up from downstairs. IT WAS LIKE, SUDDENLY, MY ENTIRE LIFE WAS IN ALL CAPS!

If you think the sight of water pouring from one’s ceiling and water bubbling up from one’s carpet is disturbing, that’s nothing in comparison to viewing the aftermath. I walked downstairs to find a half crunchy, half soaked, all stained carpet. In the absence of baseboards, my walls no longer met the floor, instead ending in a jagged line that appeared to have been gnawed off by beavers and leaving a dark and mysterious gap around most of the room. Just getting around to assess the damage was a challenge what with having to hurdle over all the fans. Seriously, if I was looking to buy a house and this one was listed at a low, low price as a “fixer-upper,” I would have turned up my nose and sought shelter elsewhere.

wet_obama_posters

Oh, the irony.

And, sadly, that is where things remain today. A chorus of angels sang “Hallelujah!” when all the drying equipment was turned off and removed yesterday evening and the carpet is now all crunchy, but other than that, not much has changed. We’ve been diligently listing and figuring out the value of everything that was destroyed so we’ll eventually be able to replace that crap with more crap. An insurance adjuster will be arriving tomorrow to compute the cost of returning this smelly fixer-upper to its original state and, hopefully, write us a big fat check so we can begin the process of doing that.

Though it will undoubtedly take longer to complete, there’s a chance I’ll actually be able to hire professionals to prep and paint MommyEnnui headquarters. That may unfortunately be the only silver lining to this big, ugly storm cloud. Well, that and being able to entertain you all with the story of the Great Basement Flood of 2014. Always an adventure at MommyEnnui!

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?

 

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!