Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Business" Trips and Family "Vacations" Part II

Part II? you say.  What was Part I?  Let me help you out.  Part I was a post I did so long ago, those who read it have long since forgotten what was in it or that a sequel was promised.  As everyone in Hollywood knows, if you are going to do sequels or prequels, the original must either be followed very quickly by the accompanying films (Twilight) or it must be so awesomely awesome, so culturally relevant, so altering of human existence, audiences will wait with bated breath for decades to see the next film, and in the meantime memorize every line of the original (Star Wars, The Muppets Take Manhattan).   In this case, the first post was forgettable and the second belated, so lesson learned: Do not do two-parters.  You cannot pull it off.  You just can't.

Nevertheless, I promised Part II, and so I'm pretty much trapped and have to write something.  A brief re-cap: The point of Part I, in case you missed it (even if you read it), my work trip felt like a vacation.  So guess what this post is about?  Our vacation being a lot of work.  Now you don't even have to read this.  Maybe I don't even have to write it.  But I will, because this blog is one of the few if only things standing between me and a 50-point IQ drop.

As you well know, I try not to take my children anywhere.  Not to the grocery store, not to a restaurant, and certainly not on vacation.  Because that would then not be a vacation, it is a logical impossibility.    But summer after summer of viewing my friends' family vacation photos on Facebook, their cherubic children frolicking in the waves and digging happily in the sand, I became seduced by the idea of renting a house on the Outer Banks and having a real Family Vacation.  In my vision, Kevin and I would lounge on chairs and read books, exchanging contented glances every once and awhile, while Charlotte and Lawson played near by, so enthralled by the wonders of nature, hours would pass unnoticed.  Then they would collapse in their beds and sleep 14 hours straight, so exhausted by the sun and fun, we could barely rouse them at 9 am.

I'm trying to remember exactly how things did go, being that this all happened 2 months ago and my memory is not what is used to be, but I'm pretty sure it didn't go like that.  First of all, I hate to disappoint people, but it was actually not that bad.  I know, shocking.  My parents came with us, which was a big help.  My mother cooked all our meals. Also, it turned out to be a very good thing that my parents are not huge beach people and preferred to stay indoors and watch baseball.  Because that is actually where the rest of my family preferred to be as well.  Much to my horror, I had to literally drag my children (and my husband, I might add) to the beach and force them to play in the sand and surf most of the time.   The first few days, Charlotte was fairly enthusiastic, especially about the waves.  Then she got rolled a few too many times and that was that.  By day 3, she was DONE.  Lawson on the other hand had only just decided we weren't trying to kill him by day 3.  After that he was OK with the beach, at least for about 20 minutes, 45 if you brought snacks.  Then he was done.  Kevin had nothing against the beach per se, but his prep routine/sunscreen application took much of the day.  For the first few days, I expended much energy trying to pump people up, slather them with sunscreen, and herd them down to the beach, where I enthusiastically jumped around like some kind of Richard Simmons clone on steroids demonstrating all the fun activities you could do on the beach in hopes of peaking the interest of my children (Look, kids! I brought a blow up pool we can fill with buckets of water!  Look how I am burying the Ariel doll in the sand!  Isn't that a hoot? Here, watch how I am digging a big hole with a toy bulldozer! Fun Fun! Fun!) Then around Thursday, yes it took me that long because I'm not very bright, I realized--wait a second, if no one else wants to come to the beach, including 3 responsible adults who could supervise the 2 curmudgeonly small children, and I go down to the beach, I will be there BY MYSELF, alone with the waves, a good book, a soft breeze.  NO ONE ELSE will be there.  And THAT, my friends, IS a vacation.  Like a real one.  I had struck gold.

I think we will indeed return to the Outer Banks next year.  Let's hope my children are still deathly afraid of fun.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Business" trips and Family "vacations" Part I

OMG do I suck as a writer/blogger.  Two months have gone by...Again...

One reason I am so derelict is I have been doing some traveling.  In August I went away for two weeks for work.  At my job, travel is optional, but please don't tell my husband, kids, or mother-in-law, who comes and takes care of things while I am gone.  I don't lie to them per se, but I may leave them with the distinct impression that my entire career (or what's left of it anyway) will go up in flames if I don't take a yearly sojourn.  If there is any push back, I go on a feminist tirade and threaten to tell Gloria Steinem, who, as we all know, has access to nuclear weapons, not to mention Oprah and you for sure don't want to get her involved.

These work trips are always a logistical nightmare to plan, not to mention an emotional roller coaster.  Here's the general schedule of things:

4-6 months before departure:  I tell Kevin, "Unfortunately, it looks like I'm going to have to go on a trip.  Yeah, it really sucks, but you know how mean my boss is.  Will that work out, because if not, I'm going to have to accuse you of undermining my career and treating me like I'm not fully human because I'm a woman.  It will? OK, Great."  Then I check with his mother to see if she can come.  Because otherwise Kevin will not survive.  I'm not being sarcastic, it's just a fact.

2-3 months before departure: Stuff happens on the work front, and the whole trip has to be rescheduled.   Repeat the previous step.

1 month before departure: I start cooking extra meals and putting them in the freezer.  Yeah, right.  Go to McDonald's, people.

2 weeks before departure: I start making a bunch of lists, including, Stuff I need to do before I leave, Stuff Kevin and Mom need to know while I am gone, Stuff I need to buy before I leave, Stuff I need to take with me, Stuff that could go wrong while I am gone and how to remedy it (including, during winter,  the power going out; remedy: burn all our books in the fireplace), List of emergency contacts for Kevin and Mom, Other stuff that doesn't fit into other categeories.  This is also the time when I start thinking, what am I doing? This is totally not worth it. What if I die on this trip?  I need to cancel this trip.  I am a terrible mother.

1 week before departure:  I start proceeding through the lists, even while I mentally fantasize about canceling the trip.

2 days before departure:  In the throes of major Mom-guilt, which is a more severe variety than Catholic guilt and Protestant guilt combined, I decide to cancel the trip.  Just in case I decide to go, however, I keep knocking off those lists.

Day of departure:  I am THE WORST MOTHER IN THE WORLD and my babies are going to cry non stop for two weeks without me, but darn it if Gloria Steinem isn't making me get on this stupid plane at gun point.  She is EVIL.  I do NOT want to go on this trip.

Take off:  Dear God, please don't let me die.  Not now, not while the children cannot yet go to the toilet unassisted because Kevin really hates germs, and he won't be able to handle that much poop.  He just won't.  And not while Kevin is still young and hot enough to remarry someone more attractive than me.  I won't be able to handle that.   Even if heaven is really awesome, I'm still gonna be upset about that.  So dear God, please keep this plane in the air.  If you just get me back safely home in 2 weeks, I will start doing daily crafts with my children instead of putting on a Disney flick and communing with my iPhone.  I will bake cookies, but like healthy ones that have fish oil in them.  Please Dear God...Oh, is that champagne? Yes, I think I will, thanks.

1 hour into the flight: My gosh at the movies on this plane.  I think the last movie I saw was...on the plane last year at this time. Yes, I think it was.  And since Kevin isn't here, I can pick all the brainless chic flicks I want.  And needless to say, absolutely no Disney of any kind.  None.  Wow, the massage feature on this seat is really top-notch.

The next two weeks unfold like some kind of spa visit.  Yes, I have to report to work and go to some meetings.  But I move through life as an individual human, completely unencumbered.  I only have to think about myself and meeting my own needs.  I read.  I watch TV. I sleep in.  I shop.  I listen to silence.   I eat without having to get up a million times.  I take long showers.  I think, This is the life.  I am never going back.  I will fake my own death and assume another identity.   I will order Kevin a new, very attractive wife from Russia.  She will enjoy doing crafts with the children and baking cookies.  She will not have Gloria Steinem living in her head.  Everyone will be happy and far better off.

A few days before I come home:  This has been awesome, but I kind of want to see my kids and Kevin.   Just a little bit.

On the plane back home:  Oh, I can't wait to hold my babies in my arms! Dear God, please don't let this plane crash. If you just get me home, I PROMISE promise promise to start doing the crafts!  I will, I will!  I will act out Little Mermaid a hundred jillion times and I won't even do the abridged version.  I just want to see my babies.

I arrive home and cover my kids in hugs and kisses.  What else do I need in life?  Why would I ever not want to spend time with them?  What could possibly be more important?

1 hour after arrival home:  I start to look around the house, which has fallen into total chaos in my absence.  It looks like World War II.  I mean, the toy bins aren't even sorted by color.  Lawson is having a seizure because I interpreted "Wa" to mean "water" and gave him a cup of water when what he was really saying was "watermelon." And we don't have any in the house anyway.  Charlotte is acting rather blase about the T-shirt I brought her.  It has a monkey on it, but what she really wanted was a monkey toy, not a monkey T-shirt.

Hey kids, anyone want to watch Nick Jr.? Yeah?

And when can I leave again exactly?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Tragedy and Triumph of the Yuppie Refugee

Over the centuries, Americans have proven themselves determined, pioneering, innovative, rugged survivors.  They made this great country out of guts, dirt, sweat, blood, tears, and possibly some other bodily fluids.  And, yes, slavery and some stolen land, but that's not as inspirational, so we'll move on.  Americans built the transcontinental railroad.  Americans discovered flight.  Americans beat the Nazis.  Americans invented junk food.  There have been no bounds to what Americans can conquer, except maybe obesity.

And that same spirit evidenced itself magnificently after the June 29 storms that pummeled the Washington, DC area, storms so severe, meteorologists had to quick come up with a word for them, something in between "tornado," which the storms most closely resembled, and "dorrito," which the meteorologists were stress-eating while they watched their radar maps.  Behold, the DERECHO.  The derecho left over 1 million Washingtonians without power for days on end in record heat, and for once, most of those people did not live in the boundaries of Washington, DC proper, which needs no storm of any kind to lose power, it only needs Pepco and incompetent city government.  

Yes, the American spirit of survival was vividly on display in the hard-hit suburb of Arlington, Virginia where Kevin and Holly Frank (names changed to protect the guilty) live with their two small children.  After their power went out and a google search on Holly's iPhone helped them determine it would not be coming back on anytime soon, they swung into action.  While Kevin bravely stayed behind to entertain their children without television, Holly ventured out to find an open Starbucks.  Unfortunately, the few operating Starbucks were swarmed by desperate customers, so Holly, fearing being caught up in a riot, moved on to the grocery store.  She bought up several packs of Starbucks Via, while congratulating herself on owning a gas stove.  But when she got home, she sadly discovered that while her stove was powered by gas, the lighter was powered by electricity, and being overly educated, she lacked the common sense to light it with a match.  In despair, and with an eye on the rising thermometer, their depleting smart phone batteries, and their bored, gadget-deprived children, Kevin and Holly decided to flee.  

Kevin immediately got on the phone with Hyatt, with whom he had accumulated a large amount Gold Passport points.  Tragically, the week-long ski vacation he and Holly were planning to take at the Park City Hyatt later this year would have to be cut to three days.   Holly cried softly as they pulled out of their driveway and headed for their new home, a  tiny room at the Crystal City Hyatt Regency.  

The Franks have tried to block out the horror of the next several days.  With the whole family sharing one small room, Kevin and Holly were forced to get in bed at 8 pm and sit quietly in the dark, with only the flicker of movies on their iPads for light, while their children slept nearby.  While the room had a TV, its limited channel repertoire did not include Nick Jr. or Sprout, leaving the Frank children to huddle around Holly's laptop to watch Wonder Pets on Netflix.  At one point, they tried to escape the confinement of their room by going to the hotel pool, only to find it full of screaming, ball-throwing preteens.  The Frank children were not bathed for 4 days because the room only had a shower, not an option considering the kids' water-in-face phobia.  The room quickly descended into a squalor of dirty diapers, pizza boxes, goldfish crackers, and mildewing swimwear.  The hotel's housekeeping staff tirelessly worked to prevent a cholera outbreak.  But perhaps the worst part of the ordeal were the numerous meals the family had to consume in chain restaurants while in the company of 18 month-old Lawson.  

Kevin Frank comforts his traumatized children with a story in their refugee encampment.

Eventually, the power came back on, and the Franks were able to return home.  They found their neighbors, almost none of whom they actually know, hard at work clearing fallen tree limbs and restocking their freezers.  The community spirit was encouraging--the Franks' neighbors actually called them to discuss the removal of a large branch that had fallen on the fence line.  They also mentioned they had never lost power.  Neighbors helping neighbors in their time of need. 

To those who worry that America is getting soft, losing its edge, abandoning the values that made this country great, buying too many Chinese products, I say--come visit the hardy folks of Arlington, Virginia.  Come visit, and be inspired.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Running for My Life

Well, it's been awhile. Again. That is because I have a new hobby and definitely no room in my life for more than one hobby, unless changing diapers counts as a hobby (and if you count it as such, I suggest a spa day, if not psychological help, immediately). I have become...wait for it folks...A RUNNER.

 If you just heard a faint, distant crackling sound, that was hell freezing over. To say that I do not have an athletic background would be an understatement on par with saying the Kardashians are overexposed. Oh, I did letter in high school. As the MANAGER of a varsity team. A VOLLEYBALL team. The GIRLS' volleyball team. I was so unathletic, I couldn't even get a decent managing gig (that would have been for the rugby team, of course). Managing the girls' volleyball team entailed pumping up balls, chasing balls, cleaning up balls, keeping records of various kinds, telling girls they didn't look fat in their shorts, and making brownies (which did make them look fat in their shorts). Excellent preparation for motherhood, come to think of it. But it entailed no actual athletic ability, and certainly no running or exercise of any kind. I even did the job one year with a broken leg.

 Now, I have exercised on and off over the years, however, because my parents, and my father in particular, instilled in me an intense fear of getting fat. In fact, I recently overheard him telling a friend of mine that he only eats "to be social." He is very fond of saying that he weighs the same as he did when he got married, causing my mother's eyes to roll out of her head. And of course it doesn't help that my older sister's size has fluctuated wildly between thin, skinny, slender, and merely svelte, with the occasional period of emaciation when she has lived in God-forsaken places. It seems like every time I talk to my grandmother after she has recently seen Laura, she agonizes about how thin Laura is and do I think she is OK? Yes, Memaw, I think Laura is more than OK. I think she's pretty much the luckiest woman on the planet. I doubt my own weight has cost Memaw many hours of sleep, in any case.

 So in the terrified quest for thinness, I have gone through various exercising crazes. In high school, I power walked, I felt that was all I needed since my boarding school was at 7000 feet above sea level. In college, I got hooked up with Paula "Killer" Cain's aerobics classes my freshman year and MC Hammer-ed and Paula Abdul-ed my way through the early 1990's. In grad school, I swam laps, given the luxuries of a free Olympic-sized pool and a schedule that allowed me to stay in my PJs until midday lap hours began at 11 am. I still prefer swimming above all else because I hate sweat and the sensation of my brain sloshing around in my skull. But after entering the real work world, my schedule could no longer sustain a swimming lifestyle, and my exercise habits petered out altogether. This was especially true after I gained 50 lbs twice, with each of my children, and discovered, twice, I could lose 50 lbs without exercising at all. Weight Watchers taught me this--it really is more about diet than anything else. Imagine my rude awakening when I entered 45 minutes on the elliptical machine in the points calculator and got only 2 additional points to consume. No, I'll pass on that practically microscopic chocolate chip cookie, and the work out, thanks so much. I have even tried taking up running a few times, but it's never been pleasant. Kevin is fond of recalling the time we went running together, and I had to stop due to searing pain in my ears. I can't explain why, but they hurt, stop making fun of me, Kevin. I have also had to contend with itchy leg syndrome, another inexplicable reaction to running that I can only chalk up to my extremely low blood pressure. Then of course there are the more typical sensations of one's head exploding, calves catching fire, and lungs collapsing.

 So why, and how, in heavens name am I now running? The reasons are many and complex but can nonetheless be encapsulated in one word: CHILDCARE. As in the most precious commodity there is, the thing I covet more than all else, the pathway to peace, quiet, and sanity. I found a babysitter, a teen babysitter no less, who lives on my street, and will pop over several times a week so I can leave my house unencumbered. I will do almost anything for that, certainly I will risk a collapsed lung, but to justify it, I really had to find something worthwhile to do. So I picked running. And I have stuck with it because this blessed teenager continues to show up at my doorstep over and over and over again. And it turns out when you stick with something, it becomes a habit. In this case, the area in my brain associated with running has now been inextricably linked to the area in my brain associated with FREEDOM. No one touching me. No one yelling at me. No one watching me while I urinate. No one asking me for anything. It's just me and the road. There's still the sweat and the brain sloshing, which I don't really appreciate, and in my neighborhood, there are the bloody hills which cause me to curse the glacier that chose to flatten Kansas instead of Virginia a kabillion years ago. And then there is the tendonitis I have developed in the one leg and the unexplained numbness in the toes of one foot. But I am going to keep running, gosh darnit, even if I am hobble-running, because it is 1/2 an hour, four times per week that I don't have to listen to the whines and wails of small children. I will run backwards on my knuckles if I have to.

 When I am really really bored, I like to think up advertisements for various products. One of my best ideas is for Nike, which they may use if someone out there sees this, but they must at least give me some shoes or a nanny or something. So you see a woman running, in her Nikes of course, and then you hear a voice over: "I have never scored the winning goal. I have never won a race. I have never been raised on the shoulders of my teammates. I have never even made the team. But I am an athlete." Then it says Just Do It. on the screen. Pretty good, huh? I tell you what, this athlete is training for the marathon they call motherhood and competing for the prize of still knowing my name and that of the person I am married to in 20 years. If that isn't high stakes athleticism, I don't know what is.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Happiest Place on Earth


I had pledged to resist the pressure to take my children to Disney until we reached the "sweet spot" of parenting, that is the brief period between the time you have to push them around in a stroller and the time that you must be pushed around in a stroller. But resistance is futile, the pull of the Magic Kingdom a a vortex so strong and powerful, the universe itself will probably eventually be sucked through it. The universe definitely wanted us to go, and it made that clear by first, having our good friends and neighbors, whose daughter is Charlotte's BFF, move to LA, then sending us an invitation to a wedding on Charlotte's 4th birthday weekend in LA. The wedding was called off, which should have been a sign that the universe, while wanting us to go to Disneyland very badly, was slightly trepidatious about what might happen in that event. And if God himself is worried about something, well, then you should be spontaneously defecating. So we packed our bags, promised Charlotte she would see "real princesses," and got on a plane to California.

I must commend us, however. Because at least we had the good sense to leave Lawson at home with his grandmother (who is a lot more fun than Disneyland anyway). The 5 hour plane ride alone would have had the universe and everyone in it begging for mercy. I have decided that the year between 1 and 2 is actually the worst phase. At this age, kids are still as messy and disgusting as a baby, but now they can spread it all around your house. They are still incomprehensible and irrational, but now if you don't understand them, they will fling themselves out of your arms screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing your back out, fracturing their skulls, and breaking all the windows in your neighborhood. It's not that big of a deal, just a little annoying. Lawson would no doubt send Mickey Mouse running into the Alice and Wonderland ride, where he would surely be devoured by the Cheshire Cat, and he would be thankful for the escape. I know there are plenty of 15 month olds at the Magic Kingdom. I'm not saying they should be banned. I'm just saying their parents are dumb and inconsiderate of others. Not that I'm judging.

Things started off great. Once you have more than one kid, when you drop back down to one for a time, it feels like you've relocated to Club Med. Especially when that child has reached 4, which truly is the age when full humanity finally arrives. More specifically, it is the age at which you can start ignoring the child without deadly consequences. Charlotte sat on the plane, watched movies, ate snacks without making a huge mess, whined a minimal amount, and generally left me alone. I read an actual book! I went to the bathroom whenever I wanted! by myself! It was amazing. We got to our friends' house and Charlotte and Emma scampered off to play. Easy peasy. The time change concerned me a bit, but I figured if we could keep Charlotte up to a decent hour, she would sleep until her normal wake up time. She stayed up without difficulty, went to sleep, things were on track.

Then the dawn of D-Day arrived. Well, actually it didn't arrive, at least not until a few hours after Charlotte woke up at 4 am anyway. That put a little wrinkle in the plans, but no matter, we had a long drive to the park and maybe she would take a nap on the way and be perky and full of gratitude to her parents for bringing her to such a wonderful place by the time we arrived. Well, that didn't pan out either, but still I was prepared to have a great day, or at least a tolerable one. I wasn't panicking. Until...

The evil fiend that is LA traffic snared us in its evil claws!!! Which still wouldn't have been such a drama, except...We had reservations for lunch with the Princesses!!!! Still, missing such a momentous occasion would not be an epic tragedy, except...I had already told Charlotte about it!!!! TIME TO PANIC!!!!! I frantically called the restaurant to see if they could hold our spot. No can do sister, the Princesses are very busy and important, so get your butt over here and pray they let you in late. PANIC!!!

Let me now do an aside, where I share with those who may not have children yet (in which case I have no idea why you would want to read this blog, maybe to motivate you to use contraception), a wise lesson learned the hard way. When dealing with children, real estate agents, Mormon missionaries, and Chinese spies, never, NEVER divulge more information than is absolutely necessary to come out of the situation alive. So, for instance, if you are actually seated on a plane bound for California, you may tell the child you are going to California. If the child asks what you will do there, deflect. You can mention the friends, if they are reliable enough to actually show. Don't mention Disney, something could happen, like an earthquake could swallow Disney, Mickey Mouse could go on a homicidal rage, or the Abraham Lincoln robot could be assassinated by a Confederate re-enactor. Or you could just get stuck in LA traffic. Still, if you must, you might mention Disney. But do NOT promise lunch with the princesses. Do NOT.

But I had already promised that. Charlotte was counting on it, and she had been up since 4 am. And it was her birthday. If we did not make that reservation, she would be scarred for life. She would marry some con man who promised to make her a princess, unable to resist because her parents had not fulfilled that deep longing years earlier. The con man would turn out to be a serial killer who knocks her off with a poisoned apple. Breathe, Holly, breathe.

We parked the car and proceeded to set a world record in distance running with a stroller. Mr Toad's Wild Ride had nothing on us weaving in and out of people as we sprinted to Ariel's Grotto. Fortunately, our friend Dallas, who had raced on ahead of us, is a communications expert/spin doctor extraordinaire and had no compunctions about lying to Ariel and her friends about the presence of the entire party at the restaurant in order to claim our table. We were 30 minutes late, but the princesses had mercy. We had lunch with the princesses. Charlotte was happy. The rest of the day was smooth sailing.

Think again. Not sure why it is a huge shock, but turns out the Phobic Mom has a Phobic Child. She could be terrified by a snow pea. A Disney villain in a Disney ride might has well be an axe murderer (or Charlotte's version of the boogie man, Robert Mugabe). And forget about the sea monsters on the submarine ride. Horrors. The whole thing was generally overwhelming to a jet-lagged 4 year old whose parents had barely ever taken her to a grocery store, much less the slice of Americana on steroids that is Disney. Charlotte kept saying, "I want to go home! I want to go home!" Finally, I got down in her face, I explained to her that we had spent the equivalent of Malawi's GDP to bring her to this magical place, and we were NOT going home. That actually seemed to get her attention, perhaps being the daughter of an economist, she has an innate understanding of GDP. Then we hit some rides in which the only drama involved is the psychological torture of hearing "It's a Small World" 529 times. She perked up. Then we saw the parade, and Charlotte was finally, FINALLY overcome by Disney Magic. She waved hypnotically at the princesses and other characters as if they were waving directly at her. She was officially brainwashed. We had triumphed.

The whole experience once again made me ponder how the cultural context of parenting really does shape the entire experience. I think if a refugee mother in Sudan--who has walked many miles with her young kids, without adequate food and water or comfort of any kind--could see me and Kevin frantically trying to make Charlotte happy as we dragged her around this entire world constructed for her pleasure, I think that refugee mother might actually pity me. Not because my circumstances are more difficult than hers, of course not, but because I have somehow made a relatively cushy parenting experience more difficult for myself by catering so furiously to the desires of a kid, who then becomes accustomed to the whole world revolving around them but lacks the maturity to handle that (once again I must say the parallels between mother and personal assistant to Mariah Carey are truly striking). I've got to think that refugee mom's children are probably not even whining incessantly even given their dire straits; sadly, they have probably long since given up that even their poor mother can help them. They have learned at a young age how to suffer. Such a situation is tragic, and it breaks my heart to think of a mom not able to fulfill her kids' basic needs or children suffering. But I also must conclude we have gone much too far the other way and made motherhood a refugee experience of a different kind, where one is forced in service to a tiny tyrant to flee the homeland of our former lives so completely, we are literally buried in toys and other desperate attempts to prevent our children from ever experiencing discomfort or boredom of any kind. It's just exhausting. And, as in a refugee camp, no one is going to the bathroom by themselves.

But, hey, we got a cute picture with Mickey Mouse, and that is what really matters in life.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Phobic Mom Attempts French Parenting

Full disclosure: I'm not a huge fan of the French. If you are French, please don't be offended, I have liked almost every French person I have known personally, and if I knew you, I would probably like you, too. I just don't like The French. This is probably because I studied their language for five years without much success. I wouldn't say I was unable to speak French, I would say I was never brave enough to speak it to any French people. Because for a people who claim to want everyone in the world to speak their language, they certainly aren't very encouraging of those who try. I do like their food, but I will order it in English, because if I want to be mocked by a waiter, I will just tell him so and tip accordingly.

Given my Franco-phobe inclinations, when I saw the author of a book about French parenting on the morning show circuit (aka news for stay-at-home moms and others who lack the brain cells to handle a real news program), I instinctively rolled my eyes. But after listening to several interviews with her, I think I may have found an actual, non-frivolous French contribution to human civilization. Mind you, I haven't actually read the book, because as you know, I am no longer literate since having children. I am dictating this blog entry to an iPhone app, and the iPhone has in fact replaced a large portion of my brain. But from what I can tell, the French approach to their children is pretty much the same as their approach to the rest of the planet. They say, Bonjour, I own this place, despite any evidence to the contrary, and you will fit into my world and make adjustments for me, not the other way around. In global politics, this isn't always that enlightened. But in parenting, I have to say, it's BRILLIANT. And for a country whose entire foreign policy is based on who speaks the best French, the French approach to parenting is also quite pragmatic. How sensible to assume that the actual adult parents are in charge and the little tiny people without jobs are at THEIR mercy? Mais bien sur! And how much less exhausting to assume that children must entertain themselves, sleep when adults sleep, eat when everyone else eats and generally conform to the established way of life? Why didn't I think of that?

Here's the problem: I didn't think of that. Now, I'm not a total pushover, I do discipline my kids, and especially in the area of sleep--because, let's face it, me without sleep frightens Satan himself--I have doled out tough love. But in waking hours, if they have not broken any of the 10 commandments, including the lesser known commandment Thou Shalt Not Throw Rice From Thy High Chair Because It is Murder to Clean Up, I have typically catered to my children's constant need to be coddled, picked up, held, entertained, fed every 2 hours, and generally treated like the divas they will no doubt become. The reason is very simple. Some people spoil their children because they just love the widdle biddy babies, who are just too adorable to touch the floor so I'm just gonna put em in a little bowl and eat em with a spoon. As everyone knows, I don't like small children (although ironically it sounds like I might like French small children much better), I am generally numb to the cuteness. What I collapse under is the psychological warfare. I don't know what it is, but when Lawson is throwing a fit because I have crossed the room to get a kleenex, and Charlotte is rolling on the floor doing her "I don't have a friend to play with me and this is as tragic as politicide in Zimbabwe" moan, I feel my head will explode. I just want to MAKE IT STOP. So I have spent the last four years carrying children around who are old enough to run a 5K, going on group outings to the toilet, making dinner in the dead of night for the next day, getting dressed in the living room, and buying jillions of toys in the vain hope that this would be THE ONE that holds the key to my freedom. The only toy my children play with is the toy I am holding in my very hands demonstrating for them. Of course, the cycle feeds on itself, the end result being that I have two of the most helpless, emotionally needy, and endlessly draining children on the planet. But only when they are around me, everyone else reports to me cheerfully how "easy-going" they are. This just reinforces what a complete dupe I am. Essentially what it means is that a person who can't even walk, talk, or control his bowel movements has successfully brainwashed a well-educated, self-respecting adult into believing a healthy, normal toddler will have a seizure if he is more than 5 feet away from said adult at any given time. I might as well send my life savings to a televangelist.

So I have made up my mind to remake my family into a French family, or at least a creole family, or maybe a family that speaks bad French. I think it's too late to go full-on French, I don't think I could handle the hell that would unleash. But I'm taking baby steps. Today i informed Charlotte (about 20 times but whatever) that I had chores to do during Lawson's nap, and she would have to play by herself, which she opted not to do in favor of following me around the house whining incessantly, which is apparently way more fun. I also informed Lawson this morning that I was going to sit on the couch and read while I drank my coffee instead of holding him, which I did for at least 10 minutes, until one of my ear drums burst from his screaming, then I went ahead and picked him up. But tomorrow is another day. With any luck, we will be French-ish by Bastille Day.