A Little Help, Please

Jun 29 2014

My friend Elizabeth sent a message to her girlfriends last night, after midnight, and it pinged to my box while I was laying in bed listening to the snoring husband and the snoring children and the snoring dog, all of whom were in my bedroom, maliciously keeping me from sleep, and I knew immediately you needed to see this message, too. Because Elizabeth reminded me we’re not alone in  the crap. Even when we think we are. And also, Elizabeth needs us, friends. STAT. She needs us terribly, as you’ll soon see.
 
Here’s her story.
 
I need the kind of succor only a large group of non-judgy people who know things about children can offer. There is discussion of bodily function and human waste in this story, just FYI, because it’s a story about small children doing something terrible.
 
Today we were at the park.  The GOOD park.  Seriously, folks, come out to where I live and I will show it to you, it is AMAZING.
 
My kids were playing happily and I was tracking where they were.  And then, in a horrible epiphany, I recognized the look on my 4.5 year old’s face. The poop look.
 

“Honey, let’s go to the toilet!” I said. I called the 3.5 year old over and we all headed off to the mercifully-close bath house (I told you, this was the GOOD park). We take over the handicapped stall (I know, I know, but two kids and mama in a regular stall is NOT happening), 4.5 pulls down his pants and hops onto the toilet and something is horribly wrong.

Poop in his pants.  Absolutely.  Poop on the toilet seat, probably unavoidable.  But this was poop everywhere.

The child, bless his heart, looks up at me in a mixture of horror and bafflement and says “Mommy, why my feces are all over?”

And I say “Oh honey– I think maybe you should have gone to the toilet sooner.”

And only then do I remember that I don’t have the diaper bag.

I have nothing.

It’s literally just me, the children, the clothes on our backs, and my drink and sunglasses.

No back-up pants.  No back-up undies.  No WIPES.  No oh-so-useful cloth diapers.  No wet naps.  No paper napkins.  No wet bag.  No plastic shopping bag.  NOTHING.

So, because I am a PROFESSIONAL, I flush the toilet and use the water running into the bowl to wet several wads of the cheap toilet paper available in the stall and wipe and wipe and wipe.  We talk about the ways he can tell his body might need the toilet.  I leave 4.5 on the toilet, basically clean but holding up his shirt just in case because Murphy’s Law, to take 3.5 into the OTHER stall to use the toilet.  I take the soiled clothes and wash them out in the sink, which is a trial unto itself because it’s a motion-sensor sink so I have to keep moving them in order to get enough water and the soap dispenser is broken.  I wring out the pants.  I roll the pants in some paper towels to squeeze out as much water as possible because the pants are, of course, WHITE, and will absolutely show poor little 4.5′s junk to the ENTIRE world if he wears them wet.  

Then I dress him and we all wash our hands furiously (again, broken soap dispenser, and then the dragging of the small children away from the motion sensor faucet WHY DO PEOPLE THINK THESE SAVE ANYONE ANY TIME).

We leave the bathroom.  I send 3.5 back to play and station 4.5 next to me on the bench until my husband comes back with the car and the diaper bag to save our lives.

We are in the clear.

Except.

Except that there is a small but obvious piece of renegade toddler poop on the walkway leading out of the playground.

Again, because I am a PRO, I told 4.5 to stay put and nonchalantly meandered over in the direction of the leash-your-dog sign, snagged a doggy duty bag, scooped up the poop, dumped my drink out over the spot on the walkway, and tossed the bag into the garbage.

So.

Somebody tell me that they can top this.

Somebody tell me that I did okay in this crisis.

And please, somebody tell me that I can take my kids back to this park.  Because it’s the GOOD park.  And I don’t want to be exiled from the good park.

20 Emergencies When Your Teen MUST Text: A Case for Teens and Cell Phones

Jun 26 2014

So many articles about teenagers and entitlement and so little time, you know?

photo 3 (48)

Also, blah, blah, blah, because my teen is as entitled as I was 25 years ago, by which I mean she is kind, and funny, and smart, and totally self-absorbed, and deeply concerned about others, and constantly confused about why she can’t have all the things she wants when she wants them.

She’s a hard worker and just amazingly lazy. Frugal and extravagant. Charming and annoying. And learning – constantly learning – about life and the people around her and her place in it all. So she’s human, really. And the same as I am now, at age 40, if I’m going to be honest.

My teenager has a cell phone which she half earned and half was given, about which I feel fine. I use it as an apron string, one she seems happy to cling to, and I make her text me with every new destination, plan and time change. She uses it appropriately and inappropriately; again, like her mama, sometimes with good boundaries about screen time and sometimes without. She uses it to stare at when she’s in social situations that make her feel uncomfortable, like how I used her in her infancy at parties and groups as a distraction from feeling scared and lonely and not knowing what to say. She puts the phone away – all the way away and on silent – at doctor appointments and guidance counselor meetings and not always in class. She’s an expert at high-speed car chase games and she makes a mean virtual cupcake. 

And the rest of the time, she texts. She texts and texts and texts like it’s oxygen and salvation. But that’s OK because the main reason we let her have a phone was for emergencies. And that’s how she uses it. For EMERGENCIES. Lots and lots of emergencies. Like these:

  1. To say, “Mom.”
  2. When I haven’t responded in 3 seconds, to say, “MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  3. 3 seconds after that to say, “TEXT ME BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  4. 2 seconds after that to say, “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  5. To say, “fine”
  6. To say, “MOM! I CAN’T FIND THE THING!!!!!!”
  7. To say, “found it. bring me coffee on ur way home?”
  8. To say, “Coffee?????!!!”
  9. To say, “PLZ BRING ME COFFEE”
  10. To say, “Can u get coffee??”
  11. When I say, “Not planning to,” to say, “:( but can you? I’ll help w the kids. And manage there jobs! ;)
  12. To say, “?”
  13. To say, “I NEED COFFEE PLZ I’ll do anything”
  14. When I write back, “Can’t right now,” to say, “Ugggghh kay. :(
  15. To say, “But why????”
  16. When I write back, “Working,” to say, “:( alright…………………:(“
  17. To say, “K”
  18. To say, “miss u”
  19. To say, “Come snuggle me soon”
  20. To say, “come home. luv u”

In conclusion, I wish we’d put away those silly cultural arguments that we overindulge our teens and they don’t really need phones. CLEARLY they do need them. And use them. For emergencies. It’s a safety issue, folks. Case closed.

P.S. My teen approved this message.

P.P.S. I don’t text anything irritating. I am awesome all the time, and Abby’s never, ever annoyed by me.

P.P.P.S. My teen did not approve the P.P.S.

BethAbby3

 

The One Problem with HelloFlo’s New “First Moon Party” Video

Jun 19 2014

You’ve probably seen the latest hit YouTube video by now. HelloFlo is back this summer with the following “First Moon Party” video to plug their first period care packages to mamas of young teen girls:

And look. I get it. This video is funny. I’m a woman. I’ve had a period 75% of my life. I’ve got 15- and 12-year-old daughters, so it’s hilarious, OK? And I might have cried tears of joy while watching it. And made everyone over age 8 in my house – including the 15-year-old’s boyfriend – watch it. On repeat. Until they forced me to stop because they had “other things to do with their day.” Which, whatever.

But there is one glaring problem with the content of this video that we’d be wrong to ignore, and it’s this:

IT IS NOT HARD TO FIND A UTERUS PIÑATA, folks.

That part of this video is a lie.

A Uterus Piñata is, like, every paper mâché project ever created. In the history of the world. They’re all uteruses, friends. Every single one, made by every preschooler and grade schooler and well-intentioned, craft-high, of-course-kids-plus-paper-plus-a-giant-vat-of-watery-glue-is-a-great-idea mom. They all end up looking exactly like uteri.

That paper mâché balloon? It’s a uterus.

Paper mâché ball? Uterus.

Paper mâché planet? Green and blue uterus. 

And excuse me for getting defensive, but Uterus Piñatas are, like, the only Pinteresty project I can do well, so back up the truck, HelloFlo. Back. It. Up.

P.S. Here’s what we really do in our family to celebrate our daughters’ coming-of-age.

And P.P.S. Brilliant advertising, HelloFlo. Well played. Well played, indeed.

 

Here’s a Parenting Tip: Consistency is Overrated

Jun 17 2014

I think I’ve read it in every parenting book. Heard it from the lips of all the parenting experts. “Consistency is the key to good parenting,” they say, and, ”there are few principles more important.” And I bought that message for years. Like all my friends, I was a hook, line and sinker Consistency Believer. Because OF COURSE consistency is the key to good parenting, I thought. Duh.

Now that I’m 16 years and 5 kids into this parenting gig, though, I gotta say, where the rubber meets my parenting road? Consistency is overrated, friends. Way, way overrated. And mostly impossible. And pretty much a set-up for feeling like failure.

Consistency for me, it turned out, meant consistently falling short of the Consistency Goal. Every time I let them have a cookie for snack instead of fresh fruit because I was too tired to cut another apple, INCONSISTENT. Every time I let them watch just one more show or talk me into a late bedtime or delay a chore, INCONSISTENT. Every time Greg and I didn’t agree on the rules. Every time I was merciful instead of swiftly just. Every time I let them skip that mandatory bite of veggies at dinner. INCONSISTENT, and a Parenting Failure, and my kids were certain to grow up to be rule breakers, authority shunners, and probably, in the end, serial killers. Or worse; serial killers who’d refuse to eat their vegetables. 

I spent a lot of my early parenting years beating myself up for my lack of consistency. It didn’t occur to me then that the unrealistic Consistency Ideal was more of a problem than my abject failure to be consistent in all things. It didn’t occur to me that I might even be teaching my kids better things than consistency. More important things. Things that might prepare them more completely for a life that’s full of change. Things like flexibility and adaptability. Mercy and understanding. Grace and kindness. And the fact that Who People Are and What They Need are always more important than strict adherence to the rules.

It’s just that the Consistency Argument is so compelling, so universally understood as the Way and the Truth, that even though there was always a twinge in my gut, something that made me feel uncertain and unsure, I clung to Consistency like it was the Answer. An answer I kept getting wrong, sure, but still a Magical Answer which is the Holy Grail of Parenting, really… something that would Fix All My Parenting, if only I could find and master it.

You have to consistently communicate well with your partner, the experts would say. Parents have to be on the same page! Present a united front! Never have different opinions or – God forbid – different rules in front of the kids. Except this isn’t war, with parents on one side against kids on the other. This is a family, and we’re learning how to be a family together. Out loud. Where it’s messy and muddy and we’re neck deep in the muck. We’re all on same team – not rushing away to make plans behind closed doors or regrouping in secret to launch a new offensive – and it turns out our kids learn more about teamwork from watching us have our conflicts (with each other and them) and resolve them well (and poorly), as they do from our easy, peaceful exchanges. We’re teaching them to be human, after all; flawed and still fabulous. Messy and still magnificent. Weird and still wonderful, and always deeply, deeply worthy of love.

But you have to be consistent about the rules, they’d say. What the parent says, goes! Except sometimes, after I say NO WAY and ABSOLUTELY NOT, my kids ask me why. “Why can’t we go to the park without a grown-up, Mom? We’re ready. We’re old enough. The park is close. We’ll stay together.” And they’re right. And I’m wrong. And the rules need to be changed. And I need to be both brave and humble. And because my kids are human beings with thoughts and feelings and desires that deserve my respect, they need answers to their Whys. I want the rules to make sense, rather than be about exerting my power over them. I want the rules to have reasons, rather than be arbitrary or because I’m being consistent, Kids.

The things is, life is not consistent. Not even a little. Life is crazy. Just nuts. Life changes like the seasons, except sometimes more often, and we must change with it. How many of us are living our lives according to Plan A? Not many, I suspect, or there’d be a whole lot more Princess / Mommy / Zookeepers out there, and Policeman / Superhero / Garbage Truck Guys. Right? Life changes with giant pendulum swings, and the kids who learn to think things through and to adapt and to love themselves and others through the wild ride are going to have an easier go of it than the ones (come on, you see ‘em on Facebook; I know you do) yelling, Why can’t everyone just do what I say and follow the rules?!

Kids feel safer with consistency, though, they say. They need solid boundaries and clear expectations. And that’s true. Partly. With the tiniest kids, it’s true more often than it’s not, and we do consistently tell them they cannot, in fact, clock the other littles over the head with the sandbox Tonka Truck, even if that other little kid totally had it coming. But as kids age, even a little, they start needing more than consistent rules. They need discussion. They need explanations. They need collaboration and ownership and the practice of leadership. They need give and take and a sense of camaraderie and we’re-in-this-together. 

Now, listen. I’m not against rules. I’m really not. But as our parenting has evolved, and as I’ve released the Consistency Ideal, our rules have changed to better reflect our parenting values and our family goals, and they are these: 

Choose Kindness.
Show Love.

Give Grace.
Act Fair.
Be Merciful.

and also
Make Sure Mommy Knows Where You Are!
and
Make Safe Choices; I mean it.

And my kids, whether they follow the rules or not, have the right to expect to be consistently loved. Consistently cherished. Consistently safe. Consistently respected. But the rest of the rules? Those things are fluid. And, let’s be honest; we’re making them up as we go, anyway. They need to be challenged and changed to so we all – parents, included – can grow. 

I don’t know; maybe we can give ourselves a break, parents. Maybe we can be who we are – flexible, creative, adaptable, loving, flawed, fabulous, fallible people – and celebrate our successes instead of raking ourselves over the consistency coals. 

………

hand

I know I’m messing with one of the Great Tenets of Parenting here. I’d love to know; what do you think? Do you agree? Or am I off my rocker?

How to Honor Fathers on Facebook

Jun 15 2014

Look. I get it. It’s hard to know how to honor fathers well. How to encapsulate all they do. How to let them know they’re loved and appreciated and respected. And with a Facebook page just filled to overflowing with the dad pics and the gushing statuses this Father’s Day? Well, it’s tough to get a word in edgewise. So I want you to know, it’s OK if you choked. It’s OK if you dropped the ball. And it’s not too late to take remedial action and make Father Reparations to your Facebook Wall. In fact, because I care about you and all the dads out there, I’ve put together this handy dandy, easy guide to help you. 

Exhibit A: How to Honor the Father of Your Children

photo 1 (69)

Step 1: Post a picture of your kids’ dad on Facebook.

I recommend using a high school senior portrait, especially if you have one from the 80′s or 90′s, because those are always the hottest. Like, HOT hot. And who doesn’t want his senior picture shared without his permission on Facebook? No one, that’s who. No one doesn’t want his senior pic on Facebook because that is what Facebook is for.


Step 2: Mention that you make him pose like this in bed.

Because a) again with the HOT hot, and b) it’s a great idea to share with your friends and family so they, too, can recreate their senior pictures in the bedroom.

photo 2 (1).PNG

It’s like a picture and a public service announcement, really – a status update and improving the world – all in one Facebook post. You’re welcome, friends. You’re welcome.

Step 3: Hack your mom-in-law’s Facebook account (helpful hint: your dad-in-law can help you) and encourage your brother-in-law to leave comments on her behalf like “I taught my boy everything he knows.”

Your mom-in-law will LOVE having people think she wrote that. Trust me. It can only do good things for your relationship.

Give it a go.

 

Exhibit B: How to Honor Your Own Dad

Step 1: Pick a nice picture of your dad. Make it classy. This is how you show your dad you love him, so it’s no time for games. Something precious from your childhood is perfect. 

Step 2: Include a sincere brag. Mine said, “My dad is cooler than your dad.” Because obviously.

Dad

And there you have it, friends.

Go and do likewise.

48 Hours Into Summer Break: A Report

Jun 14 2014

It’s 48 hours into summer break now. The toilet is clogged and the toilet paper dispenser has finally, after dangling by a thread for years, been ripped completely off the wall.

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and my kids have watched at least 36 cumulative hours of screens, played outside for 12, fussed for 8, been bored for 16 and also, nothing is fair. Nothing

It’s 48 hours into summer break , and I’ve done 7 loads of laundry which means only infinity left to go.

It’s 48 hours into summer break now, and there are sticks and rocks and sand and water on the floors inside my house. And one million Nerf bullets. And countless Goldfish refugees. And thousands of ramen noodle shards. And 9 discarded toast crusts. And 4 pairs of used undies. And that’s just in the family room.

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and I don’t know what’s for dinner. Probably something I forgot to defrost, Kids, just like always, ’cause not everything changes in the summer. 

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and we’ve begun our summer chore chart on a giant piece of poster board. So far, I’ve only had to argue with 3 out of 5 kids about chores, and only one of those has earned 7 extra jobs for being a total punky butt nugget about it. It’s OK, though. Don’t worry about a thing. In the next 48 hours, the remaining 2 kids will become punky butt nuggets, too, and 48 hours after that, I’ll realize it’s not worth my time or effort to maintain and the entire thing will fail utterly. We’ll be back to filth and squalor in no time, I swear. See: State of the Family Room for more information.

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and the calendar is filled to the brim with camps and appointments and get-togethers and go, Go, GO. How does this happen? Seriously. Every year. How??

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and I’m excited for the trips we’ve planned and the pictures we’ll take and the laughs we’ll have and fact that we won’t be late to one single school drop-off or miss any homework assignments ’til September. 

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and I feel a little breathless about how to spend time with my kids, and time with my friends, and time with my family, and time with my husband, and time with myself, all of whom have let me know recently – and kindly – that they feel kind of short-changed at what I can offer them. And they’re right. I can’t offer any of them all of what they need from me. Not even myself. 

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and I’m beginning to understand that releasing my feelings of inadequacy – of not-enoughness – isn’t a one-time or short-term event. It’s like learning to be healthy and learning to be free and learning to be unapologetically myself, a forever event that will take a lifetime to master. Like cleaning the family room and doing the laundry. It just goes on and on, you know? To infinity.

It’s 48 hours into summer break, and I know already it’s going to be a complete and utter mess, except when it’s magnificent. And mundane, except when it’s magical. And that we’ll fail and succeed and fail and succeed and fail again – at things and each other. And somehow, strangely, that’s OK this year. It is, I suspect more and more, what it means to be family and what it means to love one another. To be not enough sometimes. But to be not enough together. 

So, tell me… are you on school break? If so, how far in are you and what’s your report? 

How to Win at Parenting (You Know, More Than Your Partner Wins at Parenting)

Jun 9 2014

I lost last week’s Parenting Competition to my husband, which, to be precise, really Sucked the Sucky Suck.

Now, Greg doesn’t know there’s a weekly Parenting Competition, or that we’re competing at all, because I’ve never told him. Also, he’s nice and not competitive (except during Settlers and Scrabble when he’s kind of a jerk) and so he’s always rooting for me in parenting and in life (but not in board games), but that doesn’t make the Parenting Competition less real. Or me less of its winner. Because winning when no one else knows you’re playing? IS STILL WINNING, friends. Still winning.

In case you’re kind-hearted and a team player (pffttt) like Greg, though, the Competition goes like this: the parents in two-parent families compete against each other, and the one who works harder, who’s more exhausted at the end of every day, and who most convincingly plays the role of martyr wins. 

Throughout the week, each parent accrues points for every task he/she performs. This is works-based, folks, not grace-based. For example, points can be awarded for (but are not limited to) family scheduling, kid transporting, appointment tracking, grocery shopping, errand running, party planning, clothes washing, tear drying, puke cleaning, butt wiping, up picking, nap putting, manners reminding, bread winning, meal prepping, and, of course, for remembering your kids’ birthdates, sizes, food preferences, diagnoses, allergies, friends’ names, teachers, sports practices, recitals, clubs and All the Appointments that are trying to kill you.

Bonus points are awarded for performing any task while sick or with a sick kid in tow. 

OR, if you’re not into tracking specific points, you may alternatively accrue general points by committing to do way, way too much, never asking for help, raging internally about all you’re doing, muttering about how little help you’re getting, and then getting defensive when your partner offers to help reduce your workload. This is my preferred method because I believe it’s important – critical, really – to play to my strengths and live into my areas of giftedness. Throw in a dramatic sigh, toss your hands in the air, and say something along the lines of, “You just don’t GET it!” or “Nevermind, I’ll do EVERYTHING” and you’re a shoe-in for 1st place. Sure fire way to WIN, baby! 

A winner is declared (not necessarily out loud… in your mind is fine) when one parent has clearly out-parented the other. 

And I? I WIN. Like, all the time. 

Except when I realize what I’m doing, and then I don’t win because I try to be kind (gag) and a team player (gross) and communicative and mature and responsible for my own feelings and dysfunctions, which is vulnerable and hard and makes my marriage better in the end. But most of the time I just stuff my feelings with food and the slightest bit of rage… so, WINNING. YAY!

Last week, my oldest kid had foot surgery. Which was planned. And still hard. And painful. And exhausting. And I hate seeing my baby suffer. But ALSO IT WAS AWESOME, because HELLO, OPPORTUNITY TO WIN! 

And I had last week’s Parenting Competition in the bag, I tell you. IN. THE. BAG. Because I was up ALL NIGHT with her, newborn style, every half hour, clicking her ice machine on and off, and on and off, and on and off, and on. For days at a time! EVERY HALF HOUR, man. I set my alarm for EVERY HALF HOUR to ice my baby’s foot, and I threw in some pain meds for her every 3rd hour, and I never, not even once, helped myself to those narcotics. So I deserve, like, a TROPHY, right? 

And it was RAD. I mean, I looked TERRIBLE. Smudgy make-up. Droopy pajamas. No shower for 4 days. Hair wonky. Smelled fantastic. And I didn’t cry at all. Like, ZERO crying. Just stoic and stiff-upper-lip and very I WILL OVERCOME. Very sacrificial. Very LOVING and GIVING and Woe Is Me; I AM DOING ALL THE THINGS.

And, sure, Greg offered to take a night or two or all of them so I could sleep in our bed and he could take a turn on our daughter’s floor. He offered over and over again. And, sure, Greg handled All the Other Things during the week. And, sure, he changed sheets and ran for meds and watched the kids and kept up on his job and handled the bedtimes and checked to see How I Was Doing. But I did not let him help me. I did not let him Win, ’cause I know that ploy. That ploy to pull ahead! And he was NOT going to get away with it. Nope. Not on MY watch.

But Greg is sneaky. And Greg is savvy. And Greg is SMART, darn him, and he keeps thinking with his giant, genius brain, and so, on Day 4 of my Surgery Vigil, Greg offered a solution. A way to make my life easier. He suggested – get this – that we put Abby’s ice machine on a timer. A timer. A timer to automate the on/off cycle so I could sleep, pulling my martyr rug right out from under me like a magician with impeccable timing and expert slight-of-hand, and leaving me standing there, shocked and rugless.

Don’t worry, though; when he offered to set up the timer, I wasn’t nice about it or anything. I sighed and said, “You just don’t GET it!” like a timer was the world’s stupidest way to handle a round-the-clock icing machine, and then I threw my hands in the air dramatically and said, “FINE; set up a timer if you think that’s a good idea,” like I was doing him a favor. And, I know, I know; even though it was clearly the strongest possible comeback under the circumstances, I still know Greg won last week’s round. 

But what I really think you need to take away from this is, I’m winning. You know, in general. I mean, not recently. Recently, I lost the Parenting Competition. Bigtime. But I’m on a Winning Trajectory is what I’m saying. Lifetime Parenting Award! And one teeny, tiny setback will not (will not) determine the outcome of the entire competition. 

(Also, I apologized to Greg.)

The End

P.S. This may not be the best site on the internet for marriage advice.

P.P.S. Or parenting advice.

P.P.P.S. Or, you know, advice of any kind.