Good Will To All

Yes, I know it’s been almost four years.  And yes, I know I said I would continue to write.  And yes, I said I would continue to blog.  But, (spoiler alert) I didn’t.  Requisite excuses and mea culpas to come in a future post.

Fast forward to November of 2016 and writing is the last thing on my mind.  But over lunch one day, my dear husband turns to me and says, “I know what I want for Christmas… I want you to write a blog.”

Err, excuse me?  While I was fully prepared to Amazon his gift of choice with just a few taps of my nimble fingers, I was not prepared for this.  What do I write about?  How do I even start?  When do I have the time?!?!  It was the start of the Christmas season and don’t laugh, you legitimately employed readers, my busiest time of the year!  There are cookies to be baked, gifts to be bought, presents to be mailed, cards to be addressed, donations to be given, kids activities to volunteer for, parties to attend, friends to host…and don’t get me started on that damn elf!  Yes, I know…I can barely write this with a straight face.  I never said I was trying to send a man to the moon.  I’m a housewife, people.  This is what I do.

Then, as if the gods could hear my frantic inner monologue, what appears in my mailbox but a jury summons?  For the two weeks in December leading up to Christmas, I would be forced to sit in a room full of strangers who had also “won” a civic lottery of sorts with absolutely nothing to do.  No running last-minute errands, no post office trips at the eleventh hour, and no cursing like a drunk sailor while wrapping Christmas gifts when the girls are in school.  Instead, I’d have to compress all of my tasks and finish by the 9th. The 9th!!!  I needed smelling salts just thinking about it.

While I bemoaned my fate, I received tons of advice on how to escape jury duty.  My favorite was from my well-meaning aunt in Dallas given over pre-Thanksgiving drinks:  pretend I don’t speak English.  I won’t lie; I did entertain the idea for half a second.  But when I realized the only things I could spout in Korean were restaurant menu items (Kimchi!  Galbi!  Bibimbop!), I put on my Star Spangled Banner big girl panties and reported to dungeon-like basement of the Hennepin County Government Center on December 12th to fulfill my civic duty.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of sitting on my butt, minute after excruciating minute, waiting to see if I would be needed to serve.  Because if I did, it would look something like this:

9:23AM- Threw away old receipts from my wallet and spent 20 seconds in silent shame reflecting on my horrid fast food addiction

9:26AM- Tried not to judge the man sitting next to me who was precariously close to invading my personal space because he was falling asleep

9:27AM- Ate a KIND bar

You get the picture.  My only real source of entertainment was sending my dear husband texts throughout the day informing him of various chores that he needed to do for me.  He was not amused, but me?  I felt drunk with power!  I finally knew what it was like to have my very own housewife!

By the end of the first day, I was almost delirious with boredom.  Just when I thought the hallucinations would start, I heard my name called.  They needed a group of 24 to be interviewed for a criminal case.  Our group was whisked away to one of the many courtrooms in the government center.  Please note: when I say “whisked”, I mean with all the rapidity of any government agency.  This involved a glacial TSA-like security check, a slow crawl up a rickety freight elevator to the 7th floor, and yet another mind-numbing 32 minute wait in the hallway of the courtroom.  The wheels of justice are anything but swift.

In the courtroom, our group was interviewed by the judge and attorneys on everything from our employment history to criminal records.  The interview lasted into the following day and well, I didn’t make the cut.  Despite not having a criminal history and not having served in law enforcement myself (apparently, being sheriff of my house doesn’t count), I was let go.  And while I could write a whole ‘nother blog about my feelings of rejection and unworthiness (ha ha), I’ll leave you with this.  The group interview process was an unexpected gift.  It was a reminder to me that 1) I am a lucky woman and 2) to be kind and respectful to your fellow human beings with an open and understanding heart.

With no electronics to distract me and no way to multitask, I heard the stories of 23 other people who like me, were randomly selected for jury duty.  Within this microcosm of our population, I listened as women admitted to being sexually assaulted or abused and others confessed to having been homeless.  Many talked of their own struggle with drug addiction and some admitted to having served jail time.  One shared that family members had been shot and killed while another told of how her father was currently serving life for murder.  They also talked about their children, relatives, and other loved ones and while we might have been from varying backrgrounds, we all had the capacity to love, forgive, and endure.  In the age of soundbites and Twitter, you forget that there is a whole life history behind each person that can’t be summarized in 140 characters or less.  Sitting in that courtroom, all I could do was listen, feel, be thankful, and promise myself to do more to help my fellow men and women.  What more can you ask for from Christmas?

As I said, I wasn’t selected for this particular case and spent another day in the “pit” waiting to see if I would be needed for another.  I started this post that day out of a combination of boredom and inspiration.  And at the end of the third day, the county released all jurors and I found myself with a second gift: a calendar that was now completely clear for the one and half weeks leading up to Christmas. So thank you, Hennepin County, for the gift of time and the gift of heart.  Merry Christmas, everyone and Merry Christmas, honey!  Thanks for making me do this.

Good Help is Hard to Find

Author’s Note: I originally worked on this blog over December but between the shopping, the baking, the gift wrapping, the cooking, the shipping, the decorating, the filling of Advent calendars, the hiding of gifts, and the ever present whining from my children of “WHEN WILL IT BE CHRISTMAS MOM? IS IT TODAY?! HUH? HUH? IS IT TODAY!??!,” I never got it finished. So just amuse me, pretend you are reading this deep in the trenches of the holiday season.  Happy 2013 everyone!

With the holidays upon us, it can only mean one thing for us parents: babysitter wars.  Maybe “wars” is a bit of a hyperbole.  Battles?  Skirmishes? Scrambles?  Kerfuffles?  Whatever the exact word, what I am trying to convey to you is that it is a difficult time to find a sitter.  In our childless days, accepting an invitation to a party, a dinner, a cocktail hour, or an ugly sweater party was as simple as checking the calendar to make sure that no conflicts existed.  Today, we are at the mercy of a handful of young women who hold our social life by the balls.  Without them, we’d have to spend EVERY WAKING HOUR with our children with no breaks, no grown-up time, no fun excuses to wear an outfit without the stains of a million spaghetti dinners while holding a festive cocktail and looking like you belong in an ad for a Vegas nightclub and not a commercial for Mom jeans.

Now after seven years of this parenting gig, I have developed a network of wonderful women who look after our children with care and kindness.  This network is an ever fluid thing that requires constant nurturing, pruning, and attention.  Just when you’ve gotten a lovely girl groomed and ready to step in at a moment’s notice, they are snatched away from you by life’s other opportunities.  We’ve had babysitters leave for graduate school, international internships, new jobs, relocations, and even marriage and their own children.  We have one high school sitter whom we adore and my girls and I are already sadly counting down the days till she will leave us for college even though it is more than two years away.  Is it wrong to hope she goes the community college route instead of spreading her wings out of state?  If it is, then book us and throw away the key.

While a part of me wishes that our sitters weren’t so darned ambitious and smart and they’d just be satisfied living at home with their parents and watching my girls in perpetuity, I know that it’s all for the greater good that they move on with their lives.  But it leaves me always scouting, always recruiting, always looking for new sitters- like some creepy cult leader trolling for converts to support my lifestyle.  Right now, we have a pretty solid stable of  go-to sitters (knock on wood) but during my ever constant search for “good help,” I’ve observed a few things about the world of babysitting and sitter etiquette.

#1-  One of the most closely guarded secrets in parenting circles may be the contact information of their babysitters.  Ask most parents about advice regarding sleeping, feeding, product choices, school enrollment, and they will bare their souls.  Parents can talk about their kids and subjects related to their kids almost ad nauseum…believe me, I’m one of them.  But ask them about their babysitters: you get clamped lips, furtive looks passed between the husband and the wife, some mumblings about the lateness of the hour, and a cloud of dust where they were sitting just mere moments before. Sure you might get some names during the summer when students are back home from college but really, those are just a temporary supplement to the troops you’ve already built up.  I have only had a handful of friends volunteer their regular sitter’s names and numbers but it’s usually with the understanding that…

#2- You will never poach or actively recruit someone else’s sitter without the expressed permission from the originator of said sitter.  We all get in a pinch sometimes and need an emergency fill-in.  Finding a last minute substitute can often mean calling in all your favors and signing an oath in blood that the booking is one-time only and you will never, ever, ever call that person again.  Sometimes though….

#3- A sitter will offer their services to you, unbidden.  I’ve had a couple of sitters approach me with their  phone numbers when they are actively looking for extra work.  But even then, I feel a little dirty and slightly paranoid…like I’m embarking on an affair with a married man.  What if their original employers find out? Will they think that I was the one who asked first?  What if I’m labeled as a “babysitter stealer” and get black listed from mommy happy hours and playdates?  But honestly, who can blame these industrious young women?  Gone are the days when I was a babysitter myself and counted myself lucky to get  two dollars an hour.  During the 2012 elections, when politicians asked if voters felt they were better off today than they were four years ago, I think all of our sitters could answer…

#4- “Yes we are!”  They name their own price, make their own pay adjustments as needed, call their own hours, turn me down if they have a better offer, and I just come back for more.  Because unless they do something absolutely egregious like actually lose my child or host a kegger at our house, I will take whatever measures necessary to keep them under our employment.  Luckily, our sitters are wonderful and I don’t feel a moment’s remorse compensating them but let me be clear, they definitely have the upper hand in this scenario despite the fact that I’m the one writing the checks.  At least it’s a familiar situation I find myself in since most days, my 6-year old and 2-year old wield more power than I do in this household.

Hopefully, you too have someone dependable, fun, and loving to watch your kids while you escape what can be a daily zoo.  Because we all need a break – whether it’s by ourselves or with friends or with our spouse (remember him?).  And all I can say this holiday season is, “God bless our babysitters, every one!”

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!