Vacation!

Jul 4 2014

I’m about to leave on vacation. A LONG vacation. The longest vacation of my life, I think; at least since I was a child and had summers off and thought they were boring. This one’s a TWO WEEK vacation, friends. And just let me clarify here — I’m talking about TWO WEEKS IN A ROW — which is UNTOLD RICHES as far as I’m concerned and like WINNING THE LOTTERY and is entirely thanks to my mother who’s unreasonably generous and my father who’s also unreasonably generous but likes to be gruff and grim and mutter under his breath, “She wastes all the money on the children.” 

I’m as ecstatic about vacation (VACATION!) as I am embarrassed and hidey and reluctant to confess I get this one. It’s a strange world inside my head, because I love to tell you our gross poop stories, and I’m happy to write about humiliating myself in public, and I love so much – SO MUCH – that we momrades wave to each other in the dark, but I’m realizing I’m upside down and backwards, because the good things are sometimes harder to report. The things like TWO WEEK VACATIONS, because I have a kind of survivor’s guilt. 

It’s just that I remember the times when we needed a break in those earliest parenting years, and we couldn’t afford one. Couldn’t afford it financially, although we often cobbled together an excuse for spending more than we had. And couldn’t afford it emotionally, because as much as I wanted to be away from the littles, I hated it, too. I was drowning without kid breaks, and I was drowning when I brought them along, because, it turns out parenting is hard all the time. On vacations or not. With kids or longing for them. And, let’s be honest; even if you can afford one, breaks are rarely breaks in those early years. Not to be dramatic, but thinking I might get a break and then having that expectation dashed on the rocks of ruined dreams and wasted hopes was the worst. The worst

And so I find myself reluctant to talk about all the things that are good and easy now, the total miracles of kids getting older, like the fact that they put on their own seatbelts these days (!) and wipe their own bottoms, like, 92% of the time. It’s been a week now – a WEEK – since I’ve seen anyone’s butthole, you guys. And, sure, I woke up the other morning to a little boy penis in my face because “LOOK! There is fuzz on this thing, Mom,” (psst… it was dryer lint) and I can’t pick it all off by myself,” and we had to have a cute little chat about penises and faces and what other solutions there might be for defuzzing one’s man parts, but STILL. No buttholes! These things eventually happen. Are eventually possible

It’s a whole new world, I tell you.

Now, here we go. In one day’s time, we leave on VACATION. With ONLY TWO CHILDREN! Because we’re terrible parents, of course, taking some with us and leaving some behind. And also because our 14 year old – the one who has special needs and anxiety issues and just HATES vacations (a lot) (a lot, a lot) – will be at camp for a week. And because our 12 year old will be there, too. And because our 15 year old was all, Do I HAVE to go?” And I was all, HELL, NO! STAY HOME!” Except it sounded like, “Oh, baby, we’ll miss you so much, but if you REALLY want to stay in town with your friends, I’ll allow it.” So, although we’ll all meet up for the second week of vacation (in order to collectively torture the 14 year old, of course), this first week will be… dare I say it??… relaxing as we cruise for a week to Alaska and back.

We booked the cruise at the last minute because they’re way, WAY cheaper that way, (hint: check out VacationsToGo.com, especially their 90 Day Ticker <– not a sponsored ad… just the way we’ve been able to afford trips), and cheap is how we roll. 

So cheap, in fact, that Greg and I weren’t planning to stay in the same room on the ship, because the cheapest rooms are too tiny to accommodate 4 of us, and we weren’t willing to spend the parents’ money on more expensive staterooms. It was going to be me + a kid in one room, and Greg + a kid in another. But WHO CARES? It’s still VACATION, right? I mean, we’ve arranged awkward conjugal visits in the past. Heck, we live with 5 children, half of whom sleep in our room every night. We’re like the reining World Champions of Awkward Conjugal Visits. We could teach classes. 

But the Vacation Fairy shined down upon us. 

You guys! You GUYS. Greg answered his phone yesterday. Which isn’t unusual at all, because my husband is an extrovert. When his phone rings, his response is like a Golden Retriever’s when someone’s at the door. It’s a person! It’s a person! It’s a person! Someone’s at the door! At the door! At the door! A PERSON! WOOHOO! And he tackles the person on the phone and licks them to death. Because JOY! 

I, on the other hand, am an introvert. My phone is on silent all day, and I often don’t get my messages for hours and hours, which drives my teenage daughter INSANE. I don’t answer the phone at the dinner table, and I’ve spent years – YEARS – mocking Greg for his inability to ignore a ringing phone, even when he doesn’t recognize the number. Rolling my eyes. Lifting my eyebrows in a silent seriously? SERIOUSLY?” To which he responds, “But it might be IMPORTANT.” 

He’s answered EVERY CALL. For TWENTY YEARS. Every sales call. Every political pitch. Every scam. EVERY CALL.

Yesterday he took a call from an unknown number. From our cruise line, it turned out. Offering to upgrade us for free to a suite. A SUITE. For FREE. Instead of two, teeny, non-adjoining rooms with life boats in front of our windows, for which we were genuinely excited, we get a suite with a BALCONY. And amenities. And fresh flowers. And an extended room service menu. And a complimentary mini-bar. Who even knew that existed?? That that’s a thing?

So here we go on VACATION. A vacation with LUXURIES. And I know I sound like a loon and a Neanderthal. And I know I never, ever, ever get to give Greg crap again for answering the phone, which is a significant loss to my marital repertoire. And I know we’ll probably embarrass ourselves with wide eyes and oooohhing and aaaaahhing and gushing about free laundry service to our cabin steward. But right now, I can’t bring myself to care. Because VACATION.

I hope you’ll bear with me over the next couple of weeks as I talk about vacations and family and, well, resting. I know it’s not the usual fare here. And we all know someone will get sick and vomit all over the fancy suite and make it all OK eventually. In the meantime, I’d love any tips you have to offer, especially if you know how to be fancy! We can use all the tips you have.

More soon!

B

P.S. Greg asked me what canapés are. Apparently they bring them to our room every evening. I said, in my very best I-can’t-believe-you-don’t-already-know-this voice, “They’re hors d’oeuvres. Appetizers. Duh.” Then I googled “canapé.” I was right! Woohoo!

P.P.S. I also went on the Google to look up how to spell hors d’oeuvres. 

The End

People: Closer Than They Appear

Jul 1 2014

I glance in the side mirror. A quick check and then I look away. Forward, mostly. Occasionally back. And then side check. Side check. Forward. 

I see things in the side mirrors. Cars. Bikes. Kids. Mamas with strollers on the sidewalks. Friends on walks. Runners with their dogs. I see them, but usually only to assess how they might affect my drive. Or to think I really ought to go for a run. And then conjure the usual excuses for not running.

I pulled out in front of a car the other day. She had her turn signal on and she was slowing, so I thought she was turning before she got to me, but I was wrong; she was turning after, into a tiny, hidden driveway I didn’t know existed because I wasn’t familiar with the area, and I misjudged her intention. My fault, for sure. I should’ve waited until she turned before I began to pull out, which is something I tell my 15-year-old who’s learning to drive. “Wait until the other driver has committed to the turn,” I say. “It’s not enough to just see the signal.” But did I do it myself? Nope. And I was lucky we didn’t collide. 

We both stopped, the other driver and I, window to window for a few seconds, so I could see that she is young and beautiful and her car was clean and she was shaken. I mouthed “sorry” and “I thought you were turning here” and she mouthed back “you bitch” and “fuck you” and “my KIDS are in this car” which I knew meant “you scared me” and “I’m angry because you could have hurt us” and probably “I was having a really, really crappy day even before you tried to barrel into me,” but her words still made me feel worse than the bad I already felt. I wonder; if she’d known how long I’d dwell on her words and replay them in my mind, would she have pulled her punches and had mercy on someone who wronged her? Or would she have been glad at how punishing her punishment really was? 

It’s impossible to say, of course. I mean, I don’t know her, and we’ll probably never see each other again.

I watched her in my side mirror as I pulled away, embarrassed and jittery from an accident barely avoided. And then I looked forward. And back. And forward. And to the side again. 

And I wondered how much she and I have in common.

…if we’d met another way, if we’d be friends.

…if she has the same late nights and early mornings and days that are too long and too short all at the same time.

…if she feels happier when the sun comes out.

…if she puts chocolate chips in her brownies and takes her coffee with cream.

…if she’s ever a mess and if she sees the magic there.

Which is when I looked one last time and noticed the sign on my side mirror.

OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE
CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

Closer than they appear.

Objects.

And people, too.

All of us. Closer than we appear. 

It’s easy, I think, with an altercation and blame to assign, to put myself on one side and that mama on the other. But I suspect she’s closer than she appeared. And that we’re more the same than different. 

People usually are.

Which is important for me to remember. Especially when the lines seem clearly drawn. 

The kid of mine who freaks totally out every time I ask him to shower?
Closer than he appears.

The mama who loses it at her kid at the grocery store?
Closer than she appears.

The people who seem have it all together and who I envy?
Closer than they appear.

The husband who snores at night – maliciously – AT me?
Closer than he appears.

The people who wrong me and the people who are wronged by me?
Closer than they appear.

The people with terrible politics and worse theology?
Closer than they appear, darn it.

Which is wonderful. And terrible. Like the truth often is. More nuanced and scary and life-changing than I want it to be. But still true. 

Closer than we appear. Every last one of us. And so, so human.

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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

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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.

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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.