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

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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.