Bon Appetit

In some Native American cultures, a person may be given a new name based on the completion of a significant act or the achievement of a certain milestone. Well, since becoming a stay at home mom, I’ve undergone my own renaming ceremony of sorts. “Ceremony” is actually too strong a word for it since there was no formal rite to re-christen me. Instead, it was a slow evolution from the old “Jane” to the new me.

My new name, you ask? “Changes Many Diapers?” Or, “Drinks Many Beers?” Perhaps “She of Many Gray Hairs?” or “Woman of Empty Wallet?” Ha ha ha, I could go on with these all day! “Grinds Her Teeth at Night?” Or, “She of Sagging Bosom?” Or maybe “Woman of No Employable Skills?” I know!!! What about “She Who Pees with Door Open So That Her Children Will Not Freak Out?” Seriously, ALL DAY! I am cracking myself up. I’ll stop now and go back to my point: all sadly appropriate and accurate, but no. Call me “What’s For Dinner?” As in Chris telephones me from work and greets me with, “Hi, What’s For Dinner?” Sarah runs into the house after school, sees me and calls out “What’s For Dinner?” Even little Katie has started to utter, “What’s For Dinner?” whenever she sees me. I guess there are worse things they could call me (see beginning of this paragraph).

My whole day culminates in the execution of a successful dinner. Getting a varied, nutritious, and satisfying meal for a 43-year old male on a perpetual diet, a 6-year old girl with a sensitive gag reflex, and a 2-year old girl whose dinner is more likely to wind up on the floor, in her chair, in her hair, up her nose, in her ears, or anywhere else but inside her mouth is a thankless task. Why just last week, I believe I was regaled with such glowing accolades as “This is gonna make me puke” from Sarah (complete with gagging and retching) and “I don’t like this yucky noodle” from Katie (followed by her flinging the plate across the kitchen table, onto the floor) for my efforts. And that’s just during dinner. Let’s review all that actually went into preparing the meal, shall we?

First of all, I’ve already covered the joy that is going to Target to procure the groceries in preparation for the meal. This is only after searching through almost all of for dinners that will please both grown ups and children. Now, during the actual cooking of the meal, I am under extreme duress. Sometimes, very very rarely, my daughters will sit down and color together. And then, the angels sing on high, the clouds part, trumpets trill a triumphant tune, and I am in heaven- cooking in peace! Hallelujah and praise the sweet baby Jesus!!!!! More often than not though, my girls are either scrawling graffiti on our walls with Sharpies or attempting to qualify for 2nd degree manslaughter by pushing each other off the stairs. Or, I find myself deglazing my pan with this going on beside me:

Does Thomas Keller have to work under such conditions? I think not.

Ok, so miraculously, I somehow get dinner cooked, the table set, and everything is ready for my husband to walk in the door, welcomed by the delicious aromas arising from our stove. I barely have time to say hello before he sprints upstairs to change out of his work clothes and to get the beasts, um, I mean girls, washed up for their meal. A quick prayer at the dinner table, during which I am yelling at the girls not to pick at their food, and we are ready to dig in!!! But instead of digging in, the girls push and poke at their food around with their forks and fingers. They sniff and say, “What is this?” as if I have presented them with a pile of day old of Alpo instead of a lovingly, albeit frantically, prepared home cooked meal. And no matter what the answer is (braised short ribs, oven roasted salmon, cotton candy with sugar gravy on top), the judgement is immediate and swift: “I don’t like that.” Some cajoling, bribery, and threats ensue, and then, they finally take a bite.

With that first bite, you never know what is going to happen. In an ideal world, a slow smile will spread across their face and eyes aglow, they will proclaim, “I LIKE THIS!” and eat with gusto and appreciation. Usually though, it’s slow and steady chewing as though they were gnawing on Grade D horse flesh in a Russian gulag, their expressions stony and resigned. Five minutes of this (seven, if we are lucky) and dinner is OVER, at least for our girls. Katie is jumping out of her chair, running circles around our kitchen table, yelling that she wants to take off her pants. Sarah, after 3 bites, is complaining that her stomach hurts and that she could not possibly eat another bite….but by the way, what’s for dessert?

A sad approximation of me and Chris at dinner. "".

All the while, Chris and I are shoveling our food as if we are finalists in the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. We cannot inhale our food fast enough. The only pauses in our relentless chewing is the gulping of huge quantities of wine to dull the pain. As for dinner conversation, I can’t remember a conversation we finished in its entirety during a family dinner in our kitchen since mid 2006. Besides, it is difficult to maintain a civilized discourse when your dining companions are spitting up boluses of partially chewed flank steak back onto their plates and utensils are more likely to be used as weapons of mass destruction than actual tools for food consumption.

And while we encourage our girls to, for the love of God, leave the table and play after they are done with their dinners so that at least the two of us can eat our meals in peace, sadists that they are, Sarah and Katie love to hang out with us instead. And I literally mean, “Hang.” Katie will try to crawl into my lap, crying, “UPPY UPPY UPPY!!!!” And Sarah, not to be outdone, wants her fair share of attention as well and wails, “NO FAIR!” when we protest to her 50-pound body laying prostrate across our laps.

Our bellies only half full, Chris and I sadly put down our forks in defeat, and it’s time to clean up. An hour’s effort to cook the meal results in about 10 minutes of actual “dinner time.” It’s almost a welcome relief to clean up and start the dishes because it means we won’t have to endure this again for another 24 hours, when the cycle begins anew, and old “What’s For Dinner?” cooks again.

A rare crowd pleaser....chicken and dumplings made from scratch, thank you very much. Winner winner chicken dinner!


Old Yeller

Well, here we are almost through with the second month of the new year. As I take stock of my 2012 resolutions, my biggest failing so far has been the one where I promised to be calm and patient. Yeah….that’s not working out so well. How do other moms do it? I’ve seen some moms just stand by with a vacant space cadet look in their eyes while their children lay prostrate on the ground, gnashing their teeth. Are they having an out of body experience? On massive amount of Valium? Practicing some alternative form of discipline that I am not aware of? What is their secret?!

By the end of the day, our house strongly resembles the monkey house at the Central Park Zoo. Our girls are bouncing off the walls and stealing pieces of

Just another afternoon at the Reicherts

food one minute and then, fangs bared, screeching at some perceived injustice the next. And the last thing my simian children are interested in is listening to their underpaid zookeeper mother. I make a request in a normal tone of voice. No response from the kiddos. I make it again. Zilch. And again. Nada. And finally, I cannot take it anymore and I have to yell at my children to behave, listen, stop fighting, put away their toys, be quiet, stop picking their nose, stop putting their hands down their pants, or just plain FOCUS!

I can’t ever remember a time when my own mother ever yelled at me. Sure, we had our battles but she chose a more subtle form of reproach. One furrowed brow and a world-weary sigh was enough for me to melt in a puddle of guilt, regret, and shame. My mother is very good at silently expressing her disapproval; she’s Asian, you know. If I was especially bad, she’d mutter something about coming all the way over from Korea to give us a better life and this is how we repay her. Very effective. This magical maternal Asiatic gift must skip generations because all my withering looks get me are a shrug, eyeroll, and a “What-ev.” I don’t even get the courtesy of a full “Whatever.”

So I yell. Not everyday, not all the time, but enough. But instead of making me feel better, it makes me feel worse. Like I am failing as a mother, that my children’s first memories of me will not be me singing them to sleep or baking cookies together but, rather, something similar to this:

Thus, in the spirit of this Lenten season, I am going to give up yelling at my kids. Our girls can swing from the rafters, flinging masticated food at my face and I will not flinch. Instead, I will count to 10, take a swig of my Sauvignon Blanc, and speak to my monkey children in an even but firm tone of voice. Hopefully, by the end of these 40 days, I will emerge as a better person and parent. And, even more importantly, I hope that my sweet girls will not co-author a tell-all book about their own Mommie Dearest….because frankly, I shudder to think who would play me in the Lifetime tv movie.

Them Pearly Whites, Part Deux

Last Thursday, Sarah had her dentist appointment to fill her second cavity.  Since her initial diagnosis, I have been maniacally preparing Sarah for what was to come.  I spent most of the early part of last week acting as coach, cheerleader, and doomsday prophet.  Here’s what my schizophrenic parenting style sounded like:

Coach Mommy: Ok, Sarah.  First, the dentist will put a mask on you to relax you and then, it is your job to let the dentist get to work.  You will sit there and be still- that’s all you have to do. Keep your mouth open and your tongue out of the way.  Let’s practice– mouth open, tongue down for 30 seconds.  Ready?  GO!  (Yes, we actually practiced this at bedtime, still as statues, and timed ourselves.)

Cheerleader Mommy:  Sarah, you are SO brave!  You are the bravest girl I know!  You will be the best ever at getting a cavity filled!  I know you can do it!  You are AWESOME!  YAY SARAH!  (Then I did a back handspring and a hurkey– just kidding.)

Doomsday Prophet Mommy:  Sarah, if you do not let the dentist do her job at the dentist office, we will have to get your filling at a HOSPITAL– you know, where all the really sick people go.   And do you know what they will do at the hospital?  The doctor there will put a really big needle right in your arm to make you fall completely asleep.  You won’t know what’s going on at all and mom can’t even be in the room with you. You will be completely ALONE with a REALLY REALLY big needle in your arm.  Is that what you want?  To be all alone…<dramatic pause>….with a big needle….<another pause>…..sticking out of your arm??! (I’m pretty sure she cried herself to sleep that night.)

Well, I am ecstatic to report that my multi-pronged approach to prepare Sarah for the big day, along with a liberal dose of bribery, worked.  Sarah was a champ and we walked out of the appointment 45 minutes later with a bill shy of $300, which was less than 10% of the cost of her first cavity.  Yes!!!!  (I almost did do a hurkey when I got the bill.)  Sarah is now the proud owner of a Beta fish named Star, and informed me that for her next filling, she’d really like an American Girl McKenna doll (I told you, the girl likes to plan).  And as an added bonus, I got to see Sarah on laughing gas.  Do they sell this stuff at Costco because all the Reichert girls could really use some hits during our post-nap whine/wine fest….

Sister Wives

Here come the brides!

I never understood polygamy.  What, exactly, is the appeal? Why would a man want to have to answer to so many women, when in most marriages, he can’t even listen to one? Maybe for the hanky-panky but really, that is a pretty high premium to pay for a few extra rolls in the hay.  And, why on God’s green earth would any woman want to share a husband with other women?  I mean, grody.

But then, about a month ago, my friend Carrie and I found ourselves spending a long afternoon together with my oldest and her two girls.  We had taken our older girls to their ski lesson and were enjoying an after class snack at a yogurt spot.  What was so nice about this outing, other than passing the time with a very fun girlfriend, was that we instinctively knew how to take care of our kids together.  While she helped the older girls pick out their toppings, I had the younger one with me and helped her.  I pre-paid for the yogurts, while Carrie got her own.  As we sat down to eat, we each wordlessly took turns wiping the faces, fingers, and noses of our children.  It was like a loosely synchronized but very graceful (or as graceful as we can be with 2 6-year olds and a 3-year old in a public space while stuffing our faces with fro-yo) ballet.

It was very different from a typical outing with my girls and my husband.  I love my husband and he is a wonderful father.  (Yes, I added the bold font in a shameless attempt to keep the peace in our house).  But what he is not is a wonderful mother.  I often have to prompt him to do certain tasks, things that are to me as a mother, so obviously in need of doing that they should’t require verbalization.  On good days, I can ask him very sweetly and make it more of a suggestion, “Sweetie, could you maybe perhaps wipe that big booger that is hanging off Katie’s face?”  But on most days, I am not quite so charming, “Helloooo…do you not have eyes or can you get that booger before it annexes her nose and starts its own colony?”   (I should note that this example is purely illustrative…Chris is actually very good at getting Katie’s boogers without me nagging him but you know what I mean.)  But with another mom, you don’t have to point out the blatantly obvious.  You are not forced into a position of acting like a harpy wife by ordering your husband around.  It simply gets done, just as if you were doing it yourself.  Ahhhh.

After the yogurt, while we were driving home, our bellies full of yummy frozen goodness, Carrie made an offhanded comment about how she could see how the whole “sister wives” thing might be sort of attractive.  You get to hang out with another woman during the day, have adult conversation, but also, can divide and conquer the child-caring duties.  And while I don’t think she was proposing building a compound and merging our respective families together, it did get me thinking…

Look at all this help in the kitchen!

You’d have built in play dates between your sets of children.  One person could entertain the kids while the other cooked dinner.  You could switch off having childcare duties while the other mom ran all the errands, or better yet, got caught up on the most recent episode of Downton Abbey.  Your husband would always be outnumbered in household decisions.  And, you’d never have to drink alone during the day again.  Hmmmmm…very intriguing, indeed.  Oh. My. Gosh.  You could double….triple….or QUADRUPLE your wardrobe!!!!

If we could figure out the sex thing, I might have to sign myself up.  But then again, I don’t think I could bring myself to wear those frumpy clothes.  Can polygamists wear Gucci?

I don't think I'd want to share a closet with these sisters

Calling All Target Shoppers

No self-respecting mommy blog would be complete without a reference to Target.  If I had to make a pie-chart of my weekly chores, it would look something like this:

*Special Note 4: Inserting this $#&! chart into WordPress took me about 45 minutes and countless cross references to the Mac and WordPress help sites. Unfortunately, I do not get paid by the hour for this blog….or come to think of it, paid at all.

Now, we’ve all seen those moms and their kids at Target.  The moms are dazed, haggard, and weary, looking as though they’ve just endured the Bataan Death March.  The kids are red-faced, tears streaming down their cheeks, screaming to be released from the confines of the grocery cart.  The moms manage as best as they can but honestly, short of using a straitjacket and a muzzle, there is very little you can do in these situations.  I’ve certainly been there.  It’s horrible, humiliating, and will drive a woman to drink at ungodly hours of the day.  All high school students should be required to take toddlers to Target armed with a list of a week’s worth of groceries as a lesson in abstinence.

But after many, many visits to Target with my kid(s) in tow, I’ve developed a few tricks to minimize the pain.  And yes, I am here to share them with you.

Snacks for all!

Katie enjoying her mango smoothie at 9:20 in the morning

I am a liberal user of the Target concession stand.  My children have been trained, much like Pavlov’s dogs, to salivate when we pull into any Target parking lot.  Sarah prefers the popcorn and Katie likes the mango smoothies.  Munchies in hand, they are happy to let me shop for about 30 minutes without complaint.  This peace is priceless and yet, it costs less than $5 a visit!  I’d pay three times as much if it means shopping as a normal person does (normal meaning: not participating in the Bataan Death March).  While I applaud Target for providing the snacks, I do have a word of advice.  Please train your employees to refrain from judgement or eye rolling when I request a bag of popcorn at 8:45am, forcing them to pop a new batch because “who eats popcorn this early in the morning?”  We do, buddy.  We’ve already been up for hours, thank you very much.  Your 8:45 is our 11:45.

Location, location, location

When I have my beloved offspring in tow, I go to the Target in our neighboring town.  This diminishes the chances that we will see someone I know and I will be caught yelling at my children because they just pulled down a pyramid display full of toilet paper.  My town’s Target is a minefield of neighbors and acquaintances, all potentially witnesses of the court should I go on trial for strangling my children for attempting to juggle a bottle of salsa and a package of steak knives.  I only go to our local Target if:

  1. I have showered that day
  2. My list of items is less than 12
  3. I only have one of my two children with me (or even more ideally, no children with me at all)
  4. I am not exhibiting any signs of PMS

If this entire list of requirements is not met, then it’s off to the Hopkins Target I go, where I am just another “nameless random Asian woman,” not “Sarah and Katie’s shrew mom.”

Hunger Games, Target Edition

As I said, bribing my children with snacks only buys me a finite amount of time.  As soon as Katie gets her first sip of her mango smoothie or Sarah starts grazing on her popcorn, the countdown begins.  During those precious 30 or so minutes, I race around the store at lightning speed as though I am a crazed game show contestant.  I leave all rules of civility behind- no “excuse me’s” or “pardon me’s” for this shopper.  With my game face firmly in place, I take no prisoners.  If your cart is in the middle of the aisle, Lord help you, I will mow you down.  Senior citizens and other members of the slow and steady population are especially in danger of becoming collateral damage.  Note: this tactic is again more easily employed when you follow the guidelines I covered in the previous paragraph.  Total anonymity = much easier to be the mean mommy shopper.

Exit Strategy

Finally, once you have gathered all of your items, the final obstacle remains: selecting the right check out line.  Avoid those employees who look too bright eyed and bushy tailed.  They are the employees most likely to chatter obliviously about the weather while your children are tearing at the end caps begging for the latest craptastic toy Target has so sadistically placed at their eye level.  Also, avoid anyone sitting on a stool (there is someone at my local Target who does this) as speed is definitely not their middle name.  Ideally, you want someone with that right mix of gruffness and courtesy.  They are there to get the job done- no more and no less. And definitely steer clear of an employee in training.  You might as well just turn around and go home at this point.  If anyone at Target is reading this, I suggest installing an express check out line just for shoppers towing kids who are 4 feet and under.  Only your best employees should be stationed at the register,  there is no small talk between the employee and the shopper, and customers can only pay with their credit cards.  Absolutely no coupons allowed.  And, instead of candy displays and a magazine stand, the stall should be lined with 15 foot tall glass mirrors so that your kids can neither beg for anything, climb anything, or tear anything down. And maybe install a gate, sort of a closed cubicle, so that no children can run away back to to the toy section, screaming for a Tickle Me Elmo.  And oh yeah- maybe make it sound proof, too.  That would be super helpful.

Happy shopping, everyone!

Letting It All Go

While I was raised a Christian, since I have become a mother, I have inadvertently embraced the teachings of my homeland: Buddhism. How so you ask? Well, let me tell you….

One of biggest tenets of Buddhism is selflessness. You let go of your ego completely to obtain enlightenment. While enlightenment is probably not within my immediate reach (I’m still trying to figure out the Kardashians…seriously, how are they so famous?), selflessness I definitely get. I skip my own breakfast so that I can feed my children and get Sarah off to school. I postpone showers so that I can get Katie to her Little Gym class in time. I eat 1 out of my 2 daily meals standing up so that I can be in ready position for whatever needs my children shout out at me (Water! Fork! Napkin! NOW!). I earn absolutely no income and in fact, both my daughters have, at this moment, more cash on hand than I do. I am emaciated, hungry, poorly groomed, penniless, and ordered around by people less than 4 feet tall and more than 30 years my junior. If that’s not letting go of your ego, I don’t know what is.

But perhaps the greatest act of “selflessness” on my part is: I drive a freakin‘ minivan. And even though I’ve been driving it for over a year, I still have those out of body moments where I can see myself, driving this Moby Dick of a car around town, while listening to the Kids station on satellite radio. The Kids station for Pete’s sake!!!!! Who is this tragic shell of a person?!

How did it come to this? I still feel like a twenty-something gal and yet, my vehicle tells me most definitively, that I am not. Pulling into a valet line downtown in my Toyota Sienna does not get me a spot upfront and center, even if it is the latest model with all the bells and whistles. It’s the Ferrari of Minivans, people! But nope, I think the valet guys draw straws to see who has whisk my car away before any body sees them driving it. It is sad, demoralizing, and so not me. In my ideal world, I am an Audi A6 sedan. Refined. Sleek. Classy but not showy. But au contraire mon frere, in my garage stands my 7 passenger, 14 cup holder(!) behemoth of a vehicle announcing to the world, “The person driving this is SO. NOT. COOL.”

It is a daily assault on my sense of self-worth and identity. And yet, I will let go of any trace of ego that I have and I will do it for the kids. I will do it because it has an accessible third row for carpools. I will do it because my kids and their friends can climb in and out unassisted. I will do it because it has ample cargo and seating space for when my parents come into town or when we take road trips. I will do it because when my kids grind in goldfish crumbs into the leather seats or puke because they are carsick, I don’t even bat an eyelash because…well, it’s a minivan. I will do it because my kids think it’s the best car ever. (Did I mention it’s the Ferrari of Minivans?) And I will drive it till it is dead into the ground, when my kids perhaps can have their own car, and I can have a sexy two-seater…just in time for my mid-life crisis.

For your viewing pleasure

Permanent Ink

Let’s take a journey back in time, shall we? <Cue the fog machine!!>

The year is 1995.  Bill Clinton is president.  Seinfeld is still on TV (God I miss that show- Serenity Now!).  I am a mere fetus at twenty years old.  I wear a lot of flannel with jeans frayed at the hem and holes at the knees.  And on my feet- some type of work boot.  No, I am not moonlighting in the construction industry.  Rather, I am a junior at a small liberal arts college in Texas and am considering a tattoo.

I really don’t know what made me think I was the type to get a tattoo.  Did my work study program require me to work as a bouncer after hours?  Did I have plans to join the merchant marines?  Would my post-collegiate studies find me riding sidecar with a Hells Angel?  Uh, no, no, and no.  Perhaps the only explanation I need to give is that I was 20: a wee baby spreading my wings into adulthood.  Whatever the reason, one evening, my friend Victoria and I arrived at a tattoo parlor on 6th Street in Austin and inked ourselves for life.

My poor parents, especially my mom, were devastated.  How could their little girl have defiled herself in such a way?  My mom warned me in anguished tones that I would regret it.  With that special mix of arrogance and self-assurance only found in a college co-ed, I declared that I would love it forever.

Well, “forever” has come and gone.  Since 1995, I’ve given birth twice.  With each pregnancy, my much loved tattoo has expanded and shrunk and then, expanded and shrunk again.  Rather than the small black sun that it started out as in 1995, it has taken on a more amoeba-like quality.  And frankly, I am no longer that twenty year old gal who thought I’d grow up to be some sort of bohemian free-spirit.  I drive a minivan for God’s sake.  I am a slave to my children and am called “Ma’am” by kids who are now themselves in their 20s.  I knew it was time to get it removed when, this past year, Chris, who for many years told me that he liked the tattoo, responded with radio silence when I asked him what he thought of it now.  All I heard was crickets.

So, off I go to the plastic surgeon for a consultation.  My decision was once again affirmed when the doctor examined it and asked, “Hmmmm…what exactly is this?”  Yup- let’s laser this puppy off.  When I told my mother I was going to have it removed, the phone practically vibrated with her exultation and vindication.  Almost twenty years later and she finally had her grand “I TOLD YOU SO!”  I can’t imagine how satisfying that must have been as a parent.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: I am going to get my tattoo removed.

My Loving Mother: YOU ARE?!!! (Voice filled with glee, excitement and most of all, victory!)  When?

Me: Well, it will probably take several visits to the doctor.

My Mom: How many?

Me: About five to ten.

My Mom: (Laughing like a hyena) Five to ten?!!  How much does that cost?

Me: (In an ever smaller and smaller voice) $200 each time.

My Mom: (Practically rolling on the floor in hysterics)  $200 EACH TIME!?!! HA HA HA HA HA!  And how much did it cost you when you got it?

Me: (Whispering) Um, $75. 

My Mom: $75?!  Five to ten visits??!  $200 each time?!  HA HA HA HA HA….

At this point in the conversation, I quietly hung up. I don’t think she even noticed, so enraptured was she in her triumph.  My mom’s jubilation was somewhat tempered by the fact that after the first treatment, I had a rare allergic reaction to the dye breaking up in my body.  I had hives covering my lower back and could do nothing but whimper in agony.  The laser, although described as merely “uncomfortable” by my doctor, basically felt like a blowtorch against my skin and the resulting blister was painful and ugly to behold.  It took about 5 weeks to heal and a week later, I was up for another treatment.  My second treatment was no less traumatic and Chris and even my somewhat repentant mom suggested that I might have been better off leaving my poor little amoeba in tact.

But ever the consummate professional (mother) that I am, I have turned this disaster into a teachable moment for my children.  Each time I have to change the bandage and administer ointment to my lower back, I have Sarah come and watch.  She is horrified and has sworn never to desecrate her own body in such a manner.  So great is her worry for me that she has, in fact, asked her class and teacher during their morning meeting to pray for “My mom and her tattoo because it is really infected.”  Twice.  So dutifully, her kindergarten classmates and teacher have beseeched the Lord to heal me swiftly.  I am mortified.

My only regret is that I didn’t wait till Katie was old enough to understand what I was doing so that she too could learn from her mother’s mistakes.  She is my little hellion and more likely of my two girls to pierce body parts and tattoo skin.  But I think she understands some of what is going on. The other day, she took my feather duster, had me lift my shirt and dusted my lower back because, “Mama dirty there.”