Toy Story

Three of the most evil words in the English language may be: Some Assembly Required. I generally try to eschew any toys that come with this warning as though they’re laced with anthrax but sometimes, it cannot be avoided. If we do purchase something that requires consulting a manual and a little elbow grease, I, without shame or guilt, hand it off to dear old hubby. I mean really, there are just some things that men need to take care of: opening jars, changing tires, and trapping mice. It’s not that I can’t do these things, it’s just that I choose not to. And besides, it’s a good excuse to make Chris feel like he’s needed around here.

But once in a while, the menfolk are absent due to work, travel, or more likely, golf, and it falls on us of the fairer sex to roll up our sleeves and git it done. I found myself in such a predicament this past week. In joyful celebration of our early spring, I bought Sarah a new scooter and Katie a Strider bike. Both sat in boxes for a couple of days until finally, the girls could not take it anymore. They staged a minor prison riot demanding I assemble the toys and with dread in my heart, I acquiesced. I warned both girls that they would have to be patient and entertain themselves in the driveway while I went to work. Here’s how it went down:

3:45PM: Spent 5 minutes trying to cut through the tape on the Strider bike box using industrial strength shears. Ripped off a fingernail; held back a curse word.

3:50PM: Removed Strider bike from the box and located instructions. Glancing at the manual instantly gave me a migraine; held back a curse word.

3:55PM: Located nuts, bolts, washer, and tiny wrench like tool included for assembly. Got the handle bars on with little effort but put the tires on wrong. Held back a curse word.

4:05PM: Almost done with Strider Bike….clamped the seat on and had Katie sit on it only to discover that it was too low. Katie starts screaming that she wants her bike NOW; held back a curse word.

4:10PM: Katie still screaming. Sarah asks me if we can go get curly fries. Gave her the look of death (but no yelling!). Held back a curse word.

4:12PM: Katie is unnaturally quiet. Look up to see her blowing bubbles in the street. Hauled her back up the driveway; held back a curse word.

4:14PM: Katie and Sarah start fighting because Katie is blowing bubbles onto Sarah’s head. Threatened both girls that Strider bike AND Scooter would be donated to Goodwill. Held back a curse word.

4:15PM: Strider bike is DONE!!! Hooray! But Sarah starts to whine that her scooter is still in the box. Held back a curse word.

4:17PM: Scooter out of box and instructions opened. BAM! Double migraine. Held back a curse word.

4:20PM: Screwed on handle bar bolts only to discover they were the long ones; should have been the shorter ones. Held back a curse word.

4:21PM: Katie attempting to throw rocks at passing cars. Held back a curse word.

4:23PM: Seething while I used the tiniest wrench ever to screw on the bolts for the handle bars. Cursing the Chinese people and their teeny tiny fingers for inventing such a torturous tool. Wrench only allows me to move it 30 degrees at a time which resulted in about 100 “turns” per bolt. Held back lots of curse words.

Look how TINY this is!

Look how TINY this is! My hand looks GIANT!

4:45PM: Handle bars are on! Now on to the foot rest. Bolts are round but the holes are square. What the frick?! Pierced skin and drew blood while I used my open palm to beat the bolt into submission. Held back a curse word AND wished for a shot of Patrón.

4:57PM: Scooter is DONE!! Girls are elated and proceed to ride on their toys for approximately 28 seconds before announcing they were bored. Held back a curse word.

My teeny tiny tools of torture

Me, seemingly calm while assembling the scooter but internally, I am ripping out a string of expletives that would make a sailor blush

Girls enjoying the fruits of my labor


Tis the Season (Again)

Last St. Patrick’s Day, I picked up Sarah from her little pre-K program and in the car, she  told me with great excitement, “Mom, we have to get home right away! I have to check and see if the leprechaun left me in any gold coins in my underwear drawer!!!”  What the what?!?!  I had done absolutely nothing to prepare for the holiday, much less strew coins (gold or otherwise) in with her panties.  In a panic, I combed my brain for any Irish folklore that would lead my daughter to believe that wee little bearded men would be messing around with her undergarments.  Did I miss the memo?  Does everyone do this?  Was this a white people thing? Help!

"Take me to your underwear drawer, me lassie!"

This St. Patrick’s Day, I was again caught unprepared.  Sarah called me from her outing with Chris to ask if any leprechauns had made mischief in the house.  So frantically, I overturned some salt and pepper shakers, tore up some paper, scribbled on our kitchen table with crayons, and ran to the store for some gold chocolate coins.  Sarah was thrilled, ensuring that I was still in play for Mother of the Year…at least for one more day.

So we come to yet another servant mommy duty: holiday preparations.  When I was a kid (feel free to use your Andy Rooney voice when reading the rest of this paragraph), we didn’t celebrate every single holiday like it was Christmas Lite.  Sure we wore green on St. Patty’s day but that’s it- no more, no less.  Valentine’s Day meant passing out and receiving small tear out cards from the grocery store, making sure you didn’t accidentally give the “BE MINE FOREVER” card to the boy who dined on his boogers for lunch.   Easter: egg hunt and maybe a chocolate bunny.  We didn’t stretch out the whole holiday into a week (or more) of celebrations or an occasion to receive presents from the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin, or whoever else the Big Three (Hallmark, Target, and Wal-Mart) invented to sell more cards and more merchandise to a bunch of unsuspecting parents.

Maybe it was because my parents were immigrants and frankly, could always play that card when I mentioned something my friends had done to celebrate a certain holiday.  “So and so did what? Those crazy Americans…go study!”  Their attitude must have stuck with me because later in life, I too became blasé about most holidays.  To me, they were just an excuse to have a long weekend, stuff my gullet with almost obscene amounts of food/candy/alcohol, and sleep in.

Oh, but with children.   With each passing year as a stay at home mom, I have become increasingly entangled in marking each holiday with elaborate mini-celebrations, mostly because Sarah comes home eyes blazing with another tidbit of information about how her other friends plan to commemorate Earth Day 2012.  How can I say no?  I mean, I don’t want her to feel left out (like her poor immigrant mother) but at the same time, I don’t want to Martha Stewart the be-jesus out of every Groundhog’s Day, Arbor Day, and Columbus Day either.  Because these kids talk…they dissect every minute detail as if they were conspiracy theorists analyzing the Kennedy assassination and woe to the child (and parent) who didn’t get the same as everyone else.

What would be really helpful is some sort of Mother’s Holiday Celebration Accord.  Similar to the UN, let’s convene delegates from all over the country and outline some standard holiday procedures, allowing for some regional variations.  We can hammer out such pressing issues as, does Santa wrap his gifts or not?  And how many gifts does he bring?  Also, can we as a nation of mothers, agree that the Easter Bunny only brings items that fit IN the actual Easter basket?  Also, do pets get gifts from these characters or not?  Or maybe we could partner with the National Education Association so that teachers will inform us moms in a timely fashion of the chatter that is circulating around the school, however bizarre (e.g. leprechauns leaving gold coins in underwear drawers) so that mothers across the country can be prepared.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to draft a blueprint for our Easter baskets so that neither girl gets slighted by the other girl’s basket and accuses the Easter Bunny of favoritism.  Happy Spring everyone!

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me

A couple of weekends ago, I had what you might call a “full circle” moment. Chris and I were attending a fundraiser for our daughter’s school, having a grand old time. During the dinner and the live auction, I found myself seated next to a very nice guy, about Chris’s age, who turned out to be the CFO of the last company I did consulting work for (yes, I know I just ended my sentence with a preposition…I never said I was Shakespeare, people.) When he told me his title and what he did, my mouth sort of did one of those goldfish things: open…snap close…open…snap close. I was just about to blurt out, “Oh, I did some work there!” but then I shut my mouth tight and thought to myself, “Why would I tell him this? If I did, then he might expect me to converse intelligently about his company or the greater healthcare market in general. Can I do that? Uh, no. Shut your pie hole, Einstein.”

So no, I did not tell him that I held a Master’s in Healthcare Administration and that I once spent 6 months of my life helping his company redesign their online physician portal (oh my gosh, I think I just fell asleep a little while writing that—- could my life have been any more boring back then?). Instead, I took an avid and keen interest in the items he was bidding on and charmed him and his very sweet pregnant wife with my own (mis)adventures as a stay at home mom. Or at least I think I was charming….2 vodka tonics and 3 glasses of mediocre chardonnay will do that to a girl.

The next morning, as I was popping Advils and wishing desperately for a double bacon cheeseburger with a side of chili cheese fries and that my children came with a “mute” button, I replayed the events from the previous night. Here I had come face to face with my past and realized that I had almost nothing in common with who I used to be. And it left me wondering: at what point do I let go of who I was and just embrace who I am today, without any qualifications, explanations, or need for validation? I mean, my last job was 7 years ago and I graduated from business school 14(!) years ago. Am I like the high school football player who tries to hang on to his glory days by wearing his old letter jacket all over town? Or, the college nerd who “casually” mentions their SAT scores every 12 minutes during a conversation? I mean, really, just let it go!

I am a stay at home mom. Saying those words, depending on the context or audience or even my mood, can be a great thing or a not so great thing. When I meet strangers, sometimes I feel like I need to pipe up and prove to them that I used to be something more. Or, as Sarah begins to ask why I don’t work, I find myself justifying my present life with my past:

Mommy went to school for a really, really long time and I used to work in an office just like Daddy. I made my own money and was completely self-sufficient and would still be so today if I hadn’t, by my own free will and volition, CHOSEN to be a stay at home mom. Mommy did super good on all her 360 reviews, got above average pay increases on an annual basis, and guess what Mommy scored on her SATs?

The rational side of me knows that this is all ridiculous. I know people are not judging me, and that rather, it’s me who is judging and measuring myself to who I used to be and wondering if this going to be enough. Yes, it is today but will it be 10 years from now when Sarah is 16 and Katie is 12? Because if that evening’s conversation taught me anything else, it’s that I will never be able to go back to my old job again. First of all, who would hire me? And secondly, even if they did, my list of demands would turn off any would-be employer willing to throw me a bone. I’d want it to be part time and be home in time to meet the school bus. And summers off please as well as Christmas breaks, spring breaks, and any other holiday that bankers, postal workers, and school children get off with some cushion for sick days and doctors’ appointments. And absolutely no traveling. And a really good parking spot. And I can’t start at entry level because I really don’t want to be that creepy old person who no one wants to invite to happy hour. Oh- and I’d want to be paid at least 6 figures. I might as well ask for a pink glitter unicorn that farts Chanel No. 5 because like the job I’ve just described, it only exists in la-la land.

So all this babbling is to say, I am a stay at home mom and that’s what I probably will be for the rest of my life. I am going to own it without any need for affirmation from myself or others or by hanging on to what I once was. And if my days are spent coloring and playing with play dough on a regular basis, or if I do absolutely nothing more productive than blow bubbles to make my girls laugh, so be it. Even with the long days and the low pay, it’s still the best job I’ve ever had.

Progress Report

We are more than 2 weeks into Lent and I’m here to give you an update on my “No Yelling” policy.  Despite my worries that I would not be able to fulfill my promise to the Lord, and thus, end up in the burning depths of hell, I am happy to report that I may not be charred to a crisp after all!  The Holy Spirit must be working overtime these days on my behalf because I am a changed mom.  I am happier, my children are happier, and better yet, there has been no correlating increase in my wine consumption during the last 14+ days either!  Sarah is loving the new mom.  When I told her what I was giving up for Lent, she actually danced a jig- a full on jig with elbows bent and toes clicking in the air.  I could all but hear the Irish folk music in the background.

This is not to say that it hasn’t been without it’s challenges.  My children love to devise new and clever ways to see if they can crack Mom.  See below for a sampling of the moments where I’ve had to bite my tongue or suffer the Lord’s disappointment:

1.  I did not yell when Katie began lobbing spice jars from our Target grocery cart like they were live grenades.

2.  I did not yell when, again on the same trip, Katie grabbed jars of tomato sauce with the same intent.

3.  I did not yell when Sarah and Katie took the sash of my bathrobe and proceeded to play tug of war…while standing in the middle of our staircase.

4.  I did not yell when Sarah took the same bathrobe sash and began whipping Katie with it like a lion tamer at a circus, complete with, “Stay back you! (Wa-Pow!)”

5.  I did not yell when Sarah took all of the play furniture from our toy room up to her bedroom to create an elaborate barricade much like the one featured in the battle sequences in Les Miserables to keep her sister out

6.  I did not yell when Katie took her half drunken glass of lemonade and poured it back into the pitcher that was to be shared with all the other little children at the bowling alley.

7.  I did not yell when Sarah took it upon herself to open, assemble, and water her miniature cactus set, spreading soil, water, and muck all over her beige bedroom carpet.

8.  I did not yell when Katie took a ball point pen and scribbled her “signature” all over our white leather stools.  But really, how could I yell? What kind of parent buys white leather anything with children in the house?  That one’s on us.  And by the way, to Chris who is reading about this for the first time: I got it out…your heart can start beating again.

9.  I did not yell when Katie picked up a cherry tart from an open basket at our local bakery and gave it a big ole lick before placing it back into the basket.

10.  I did not yell when Katie landed hands first in mud and then, wiped it all over the front of my jeans.

11.  I did not yell when Katie taste tested my guacamole by putting her whole fist into the bowl, smearing it all over her face, and then had the cojones to tell me that it was “yucky.”

And these are just from the past 4 days!  Imagine what the past 18 days have been like for me!  Please pray for me during the next 28 days so that I may remain strong.  The last two weeks of Lent will be a special challenge to my commitment and discipline since we will be traveling with the girls to California and I will also be spending a week at home with both girls for Sarah’s spring break.  Both are prime opportunities for Sarah and Katie to inflict much pain and mental anguish in new and demonic ways.  Good thing I didn’t give up drinking or swearing!

Adventures in Potty Training

Katie, my intrepid 2-year old, has taken it upon herself to begin potty training.  Sigh.  While I applaud her initiative, I, frankly, was just not ready.  Don’t get me wrong.  I would love to finally set ablaze my Skip Hop Diaper bag that I’ve been lugging around like an albatross since 2006 and return to normal sized purses that do not feature velcro closures or special compartments for diaper cream.  But once you begin the potty training process, like most things child-related, it takes over your life until it infiltrates every waking action and thought you have.  Imagine that all of your errands, meals, chores, and tasks, could at any moment, be interrupted by a puddle full of urine or worse, poopy underwear.  Talk about “clean up in aisle 6.”  If you’ve never potty trained a child before, let me tell you, there is nothing quite like having the specter of an underwear full of feces to put a sense of urgency into your day.

When potty training, remember, even the most basic of steps needs to be taught to your child.  For example: underwear is best worn, as stated in the word itself, under your clothing, Katie.

You never know what curves your kid will throw at you during the potty training process.  Both my girls, for example, loved to adorn themselves with as many accessories as they could before eliminating any waste.  Katie, apparently, has many people to call, and many places to be.  Have your people call her people.

The sunglasses and the phone I sort of get but the gymnastics medal is just plain weird.

While the pictures above were taken in the comfort of our own home, we must, at some point in the day, leave the security of our clean, sanitized bathrooms for the toilets of the greater world.  Public restrooms can run the gamut to starkly clean (“Yes, we are the first users!”) to oh God, please let us leave here without picking up a venereal disease.  It doesn’t help that kids, who like to use all of their senses when encountering a new environment, feel an uncontrollable urge to stroke, touch, and lick every porcelain surface that they come across before settling in to do their business.  Take special caution in unisex bathrooms.  Last week, Katie ran in ahead of me and to her surprise and delight, discovered the urinal, which she mistook for a water fountain.  That’s an image that will be seared into my brain till the day I die.

And prepare yourself for many, many accidents.  They could have JUST gone and for some inexplicable reason, will need to go again and you will not be ready.  Sarah once copped a squat on the floor of the Cole-Haan store without any preamble or warning.  Chris, with heroic speed which I attribute to his horror that she would defile the shoes, barring him from ever entering the store again, scooped her up and took the brunt of it across the front of his shirt.  Yeah, good times.

Finally, don’t forget, statistics show that most accidents occur within the home…

$50 bucks to whoever can translate what she’s saying on the video.**

**By the way, I am just kidding about the $50…unless I can secure a short-term loan from Sarah.  But, you know, that just requires so much paperwork and I’m scared of what it’ll do to my credit rating.

*** Just in case you are not familiar with 2-year old talk, Katie is saying, “I so excited to make cookies that I peed on my step stool!”

The Dating Game

I enter the room.  Quickly and discretely, I scan the crowd looking for anyone who catches my eye.  I don’t have any special characteristics I’m looking for….just someone who has a nice smile, an open face, and an easy going disposition.  I spy somebody who just might fit the bill, and as inconspicuously as I can, I meander over to their general area.  I take a quick peek at their ring finger and then, slowly, I inch my way closer and closer to my intended target.  Finally, we are within speaking range.  Nervous but excited, I open with some bland and innocuous observation, maybe about the weather or how it seems busier than usual here.  If I’m lucky, a small conversation will spring forth and maybe we’ll both feel a spark, a connection of some kind.  But all too soon come the awkward goodbyes….the person has another date to get to.  Disappointed, I wonder, is it appropriate to give this person my phone number, even if we did just meet?  But if I don’t pursue this, then how will I see them again?   Not feeling quite so bold, I mutter a lame, “See you around,” and hope that maybe our paths will cross again.

Late night bar scene during my single days?  Nope.  Open playtime at our community center with me trolling for new mommy friends, circa 2006?  Yup.  By this time, I had been happily married for 3 years and thought my days of dating were over.  Little did I know that with my decision to become a stay at home mom, I’d be navigating the even more treacherous world of “mommy dating,” where everything happens in the harsh light of day and tequila shots are few and far between.

What makes “mommy dating” so difficult, you ask?  I mean, how hard could it be to round up some other bored housewives, put out some muffins, and start a play group, right? Well, let me tell you…

"Uh, come here often?"

e-not-so-harmony:  In the real dating world, singles have the benefit of multiple dating sites that cater to very specific needs.  Looking for a hook-up?  You have the aptly named  Perhaps a long-term relationship?  Visit e-harmony.  How about single Jews who share a love of travel? Then is the site for you (no, I am not making this up…do the Google).  But stay at home moms?  What clearinghouse of information do we have if we want to find other moms with similar interests, complete with pictures, mini biographies, and instant messaging services?  Not much really.  But think about it, how great would that be?

              Stay at home mother of two (girls, age 2 and age 6 with peanut and bee allergy) seeks other stay at home moms for long walks around the lake, visits to the park, and some spontaneous but not overly rambunctious fun.  We are open to all races, disease free, non-smokers, and nap between 1:30pm and 3pm.      

Slow and Steady:  While in the dating world, things can move at a rather fast pace, mommy dating is absolutely glacial.  Generic get-to-know-you conversations that would take a single man and woman (or man and man, or woman and woman…we like to be inclusive of everyone here at servant mommy) a course of one evening takes us moms weeks, maybe months to complete.  We are, instead, at the mercy of a series of mini-conversations which could, at any time, be aborted to change diapers, soothe tears, wipe spills, or referee our offspring.  What us stay at home moms really need is speed dating.  Let’s rent out a bar, pour some drinks, get an egg timer and GO!  So much more efficient.

Bachelorette Number 1, how do you feel about cloth diapers?

Talk Amongst Yourselves:  Ok, so you’ve actually located some other stay at home moms to chat with, and you’ve gotten past the initial exchange of life stories (which, by the way is exhausting…I was boring even myself with how many times I had to say, “I grew up in Texas, I used to be a consultant, yada yada yada.”).  Now, it’s time to see if there is a real “love connection.”  This means getting into very sensitive topics that could potentially ruin this fragile new relationship.  Am I referring to politics perhaps?  Or maybe religious differences?  While yes, these are indeed potential minefields, I’m talking about such subject matter as co-sleeping, sleep training, breast feeding, nursing in public, bottle feeding, vaccinations, and television viewing. To you non-breeders, these may sound like rather mundane topics, but let me tell you, ask a room full of moms about any of these and prepare yourself for a shit storm of controversy.  Hunker down and take cover, my friend.  So yes, after the euphoria of finding a potential mommy friend and perhaps making a lasting relationship, the romance quickly dies when you discover that she is the Newman to your Jerry Seinfeld.  Sigh.  The search continues.

Unrequited Love:  When you date someone, and you like them, you make an effort to be with them.  You clear calendars, plan weekend get aways, arrange elaborate dates.  But, in the mommy world, even if we want to make time for our new mommy love, sometimes, things are just out of our control.  Maybe your potential friend has an older child or a newborn who places other demands on their time.  Perhaps, to your horror, you discover that your children have absolutely no chemistry together or even worse, try to put each other into a chokehold anytime they see each other.  Or, your kids taking alternating turns catching the virus of the month, forcing you to each cancel playdate after playdate after playdate.  I remember one particularly bad flu season, it took me and a friend 6 tries to get together over the course of 3 months.  Or maybe, saddest of all, your children are on opposing nap schedules, making it nearly impossible to “date.”  Whatever the underlying reason, the bottom line is that a mom’s time is not her own.  She is chained to her children’s nap schedule, feeding schedule, extracurricular activities, doctor’s appointments, family commitments, and illnesses.  There are cosmic forces greater than ourselves at work, and like star-crossed lovers, the relationship is just not meant to be.

Could she be Mrs. Right?

These are just a handful of hurdles us moms face in our dating world.  As for me, I spent my first few months after Sarah was born trying unsuccessfully to “pick up” new mommy friends.  Being a stay at home mom can be a lonely business and I remember looking longingly at other groups of moms who were clearly friends and wondering how I could break in.  I’d hover around playgrounds near other mothers with babies, hoping to get invited to join in.  Sometimes I’d make a move only to discover that the woman I had just spent 20 minutes talking to was actually the nanny, not the mother.  (After much trial and error, I wised up and realized that the moms have the better jewelry and accessories, even if we are all dressed like bums.)

I finally joined some Mommy and Me type classes and after “putting myself out there,” I did find some wonderful long-term relationships complete with elaborate (play) dates, picnics in the park with our little ones, deep, meaningful conversations about things other than the best brand of diapers, and even some fabulous weekend get aways.  Yes, it can be intimidating, scary, and difficult to forge these new relationships, but in the end, isn’t it always worth it when you finally find “the one?”