Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Weeds are the New Grass

I used to be really anal about the interior of my house.  I loved decorating it in a style resembling a World Market clearance warehouse. I kept things neat and tidy but absolutely covered in global crafts.  When I saw a picture askew on a wall, I un-skewed it.  There were throw pillows that were not thrown.  The dining room table was used primarily for dining.  Things generally stayed in their place.   But then the juvenile hordes invaded, and they did not give a crap about my design scheme.  Occasionally, they literally gave a crap right on top of it.  Not only do they throw the throw pillows, they throw the actual sofa pillows.   The sofa is more often than not a naked shell, unable to fulfill its purpose, its various components gruesomely strewn about.   The dining room table is coated in glitter, and that is not a metaphor for the fanciful magic of our meals.  We don't so much have meals as brief interludes of eating punctuated by whining and extortion attempts.

I have gradually given the inside of the house over to the invaders and retreated to a place I know they will never linger for any length of time, because it does not have video games.  The yard has become my new canvas, as well as my refuge.  If I go out into the yard, the children will either leave me alone, or they will follow me out into the yard and inadvertently imbibe fresh air, acquire vitamin D, and make use of muscles that are atrophying before they can even develop properly, like some horrible sit-com produced by George Lucas's niece.  This is a win-win.  I am either left alone or I am a good parent.  The ideal would be if they went outside to play and left me alone in the house, but to quote Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a mom insane."  

As a canvas, the yard is a mixed bag.  It turns out gardening is quite a lot of blood and sweat, with a few tears on occasion, if you care that much, which I absolutely do from April until around July, at which point I wish for everything to die and leave me in peace.  And nature is even more unruly and relentless than the most hyper-active preschooler.  Nature is also silent, however, making it imminently more pleasant to be around. Not having a single clue as to what I am doing, I have planted things and dug up things and pruned other things and killed many things.  I have planted shade plants in the sun and sun plants in the shade, and then I have realized my mistake and rearranged everything that didn't die.  I have sprayed large swaths of my yard with Round Up 365, only to realize that 365 refers to the length of time during which you can't plant anything else.  I have spread wood chips and made rock paths and laid soaker hoses and thrown out my back more times than I can count.  I have battled bugs and fungi and weeds--SO.MANY.WEEDS.--until I think I will lose my mind.  I have almost thrown in the towel, retreated back to an indoor life, and given my yard back over to the wilds at various points.  But then I remember.  THE CHILDREN ARE INSIDE.   I return to my weeding.

The only thing worse than children and weeds is GRASS.  I HATE GRASS.  And yet you can hardly do without it, like a pair of Spanx under a knit dress.  I have learned much over the years of trial-and-error gardening, but I have not yet learned to grow grass successfully.  Where I can get grass to grow, weeds also thrive.  In other areas, my lawn looks like it is a balding man fighting half-heartedly back with hair plugs.  My lawn is littered with such "plugs," thick in patches, sparsely strewn, and also not grass, more often moss or wild ginger or some other noxious substance.  I tried to seed the entire lawn myself one year, to no avail.  Then I was told shade is the culprit, I just have too much of it.  Grass doesn't like shade.  So I have gradually covered more and more of the grass with plants and wood chips that do like shade.

Having gotten to what I considered maximum acceptable wood chip cover, I made a command decision to fight a final battle with the lawn, no messing around. This would be my Waterloo but unlike Napoleon, I would not wear a weird hat and I would win.  I called a professional lawn company.  I told them I wanted a nice lawn, and they promised they could give it to me.  They promised lime controller, grub killer, weed killer, fertilizer, aerating and seeding.  And on the really bare part of the lawn, they laid whole new turf.  This was not cheap, by the way, in case you are wondering.  I was filled with hope, I didn't care what Morgan Freeman said.  My children may never ever ever eat a vegetable or put away a single belonging voluntarily, but dammit I was going to have nice grass.  I roped off the new turf so the animals and children and lawn mower service would not offend it.  I lovingly watered it.  I spoke to it in hushed tones.  It grew and grew and looked amazing.

But then, I unroped it and let it go free, as you have to do with wild things, and my friends, I am sorry to say my new grass could not hack it in the natural world.  It was as if Elsa the lion had not so much run off to live a successful wild lion life but was crushed by a wildebeest on a tractor.  The dog peed on it.  Children trampled it (not mine, of course, they never go outside).  And then came the mass-production, mow-the-entire-neighborhood-in-5-minutes lawn service.  They ran it over with a mower the size of a Bradley tank and with the blade set to buzz cut.  They did this over and over and over again, like a vindictive barber, never mind that there was soon only 5 blades of grass left to cut.  Before I realized it, I had a massive, expensive patch of mud.  But don't worry, the lawn company returned this week and aerated and seeded it.  And applied the lime stuff.  My mud will be lime-free.

Oh, but the best part is I get to mow what is left of the lawn by myself, because I cancelled the blitzkrieg lawn mowers in a rage. So they would no longer mow my mud.  

So I think I'm done.  At least for this year. I no longer have the strength for the outdoors.  I'm retreating inside and praying for winter, the great equalizer, to come and kill all the lawns.  I will worry about what to do in March, when the daffodils emerge to cheer me.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My Vacation Check-list

We are just back from a family vacation, which of course is an oxymoron as I have previously pointed out.  I am at no time more insane than when I am in travel preparation mode.  Generally speaking in our house, if there is to be any kind of organization, planning, logistical management, or  simply physical movement of bodies (live ones, to be clear) out of the house to anywhere that is not required by economics or legal strictures, in my mind, it falls to me to make that happen.  While Kevin is excellent at deliberation, deep thinking, brilliant theorizing, internet research, careful consideration of every possibility, and other activities that can be done while reclining, he is not exactly a man of action.  At least that is what I tell myself in my frantic anxiety to leave the house "on time."  If we are going on a trip, he will have input on the front end, deciding where and when we will go a place, but, in my crazy head, we won't actually get there if I don’t go through my massive list of things that are required for us to arrive there, including:

-Make all reservations preferably no less than a month ahead of time because it is possible there will be no hotel rooms or airline tickets left and we will have to hitchhike and sleep in a dumpster
-Water plants that admittedly Kevin would not own in the first place
-Find a dog sitter for a dog that admittedly Kevin would not own in the first place
-Make lists of things
-Freeze stuff
-Acquire enough snacks for the children to eat for several weeks
-Get the oil changed in our car even if we are not driving
-Buy ziplock bags. Put everything in ziplock bags.
-Figure out how to pack all of my things and all the kids’ things in one small bag regardless of whether that is really necessary because Kevin will bring a foot locker for 2 days regardless of whether that is really necessary
-Get a pedicure even if it is winter because someone might see my toes and also because they have a massage chair
-Charge all 17 devices that my children own, each of which have a unique charger and pack all of that
-Remove all my clothes except for two pairs of underwear from my/kids' suitcase so that I can fit in the chargers.  Briefly consider just packing another bag but reject that because.
-Consult Lawson on which stuffed animal/toy/piece of lint or bark is currently vital to his mental health and pack that
-Tell Kevin I have already packed sunscreen. Yes, enough for everyone, don't you trust me?
-Pack 3 bottles of sunscreen that, as it will turn out, are mostly empty
-Inform everyone several days in advance that we are leaving Saturday at 8:15 am, when actually we don't need to leave until 8:30 am
-Reiterate to everyone that we really are leaving Saturday at 8:15 am.  Make vague threats about taking away people’s pieces of lint and sunscreen.
-Start doubling doses of Zoloft several days in advance.  Review lists.  Mentally go over exactly how the car will be loaded. Think of ways to compel the humans to put themselves in the car.
-On D-Day, begin frantically running around the house around 7 am, loading items into the car and asking Kevin, “Can I take this bag?” every 5 minutes.
-Remind all the people that we are leaving at 8:15 am so many times that I forget that we are actually leaving at 8:30 am.
-Start panicking at 8 am because Kevin has not styled his hair which will take more than 15 minutes, and Lawson has still not peed, which takes only 5 seconds but which requires 20 minutes of arguing beforehand
-Remove the children’s devices from their hands and pack them in the suitcase, which is already in the car, with their clothes and the chargers. There isn’t room, so take out all but one set of their clothes, knowing they won’t want to change clothes the entire vacation anyway and you will be too stressed to fight with them.
-Consult all the lists
-At 8:10 am start screaming, “WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE!!!” even if we are driving and there is nothing planned at our destination.  Start deep breathing exercises that invariably don’t work.
-Finish loading all items in the car, including Kevin’s bags even though he is still styling his hair with products he presumably will be taking.
-Put the children’s shoes on them.  Physically lift Lawson onto the toilet and threaten catheterization.
-Put the children into the car. Start the car.
-Run through the house screaming some more about “people” being late
-Attempt to wrest Kevin’s comb from him and finish styling his hair.  He is stronger and that doesn’t work.  Try picking him up and carrying him to the car.
-Give up and go and sit in the car with the kids, all seat belts buckled and with the car running. Watch the digital clock on the dashboard click forward to 8:16.  Start breathing into a paper bag and singing Enya songs quietly to myself.
-Watch Kevin emerge from the house and walk toward the car. Temper hope with sure knowledge, learned from experience, that he will turn around and go back into the house at least twice to “check” something.
-Exhale slowly as Kevin enters the car at 8:19 am, his hair looking amazing and all household items “checked.”
-After 2 minutes on the road, realize I forgot to bring extra pairs of my disposable contacts. Kevin offers to turn around, but I tell him it’s OK, I don’t need to see anything, he can just lead me around. What’s important is that we keep to our schedule.
-Think to myself, "You know, I really am not a sane, normal person.  But at least I am punctual."

Needless to say, this is not a relaxing routine for anyone, and it sets the tone for the vacation to follow, which never, ever, ever turns out the way I imagine it will, mainly because the children are never, ever, ever happy.  You think they will be happy because you plan everything with them in mind and go to great lengths in pursuit of their happiness.  But they know that, or they at least sense it.  And children can not let you win, not ever.  So they will be miserable, and they will make everyone within a mile radius miserable, too.  And that, in a nutshell, is what family vacations are all about.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Home Alone

I find myself at home all by myself for a week--the kids, husband, even the dog are all at my in-laws house.  I miss the dog most.  Just kidding. Sort of.  He is the neatest of all of them, and you know how I hate clutter.

Times like these give me a glimpse of what might have been, if I never met my husband or had the kids or got the dog.  A glimpse of the grass on the other side of the fence that I often look at with some envy, as I watch my unattached or childless friends spin around in freedom at the top of a mountain while singing about hills being alive.  I can rarely be so carefree.  If I take the time to spin around and sing on top of a mountain, someone will probably fall off of it while I am not looking.  Or more likely, they will be clinging to my leg while I attempt to spin, whining about how the air is too fresh and it is burning their nose, and I will throw myself off the mountain in annoyance.

I am reveling in the solitude and the freedom of movement, even if the complete silence is a little unsettling.  I keep hearing things that have long been masked by shrieking and crying.  I heard a bird the other day that sounded just like this girl in the 6th grade who told me my mother was going to die of cancer because she drank Sweet-n-Low in her tea.  I can also hear myself think, which is at times not very pleasant.  My voice in my head is even more nasal and weird than on a recording, and it sometimes says disturbing things to me such as, "What if you cut all your hair off right now? That might be fun" or "There are four tubs of ice cream in the garage freezer, you know" or "The year is over half gone and soon you'll be old and then you'll die and there might not even be a heaven or worse, you were wrong about everything and are headed straight to hell."  

The freedom of movement is probably the most enjoyable aspect.   I do have a million micro-panic attacks every day, however, as I momentarily forget the kids are safely in another state and are not wandering the streets or reorganizing my shoes.  Also, when I am taking a shower, I often hear a phantom baby crying, but that is true whether they are home or not.  But I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, and I don't have to consult anyone or hire anyone or ask anyone favors or pack luggage or herd a bunch of cats with ADD.  I don't have to dash out of my office every day at precisely 4:03 in order to make it home in time for some child-related obligation.  I still leave at 4:03, because I don't really want to work more than I have to, but I can leisurely stroll out, maybe even use the toilet on my way instead of holding it and praying traffic is light.  In fact, I don't even have to go home AT ALL.  I can run an errand or do a little shopping or get a pedicure or just head West, Middle-Aged Woman or even have a fender bender if I so choose.  Seriously, anyone out there is welcome to rear-end my car this week and I won't even be stressed. What reason is there to stress if there are no children around?  I can go for a run whenever I want without having an extended planning session/argument with my husband about when I can run and when he can run (life was way simpler when he was a couch potato, incidentally). I can stop writing this right now at 9 pm on a Friday and go to a roller derby or a hot dog eating contest.

OK I just ate 39 hot dogs, threw them up while roller skating, and now I'm back.  And I have time to reflect on just what my children bring to my life now that I am living for a bit in their absence. For instance, without my children I would be crazy in a completely different way, and I may not even be able to justify medication for it.  While my children have driven me to that, as well as some light drinking, in order to withstand their psychological torture and logistical onslaught, I have almost been cured of neat-control-freakishness.  I remember at my worst, I would spend 3 hours every Saturday scrubbing down my entire house.  Which is just a waste of time, nobody needs to do that.  It's been many years since I cleaned that much, but I was more recently more bothered by disorder and grime than I am now.  But when you live in what is essentially a dumpster, you give up all standards of cleanliness. I am still bothered by the mess, but I don't waste my time trying to do much about it.  I have increasing amounts of chin hair that needs to be plucked.  In addition, without my kids, my art collection would not be nearly so intellectually challenging.  Everything my children bring home requires deep thought and creative interpretation in order to appreciate.  I might never have a good reason to buy that ice cream that is sitting in my garage freezer and therefore would never have an opportunity to binge on it.  Also, I am sure I would waste more of my life sleeping.  And I would probably not ever play with legos or star wars figures, and that would just be sad.  And I would never have the perfect excuse not to hang out with people I don't really care to hang out with much.  I would probably go to more boring parties, which is most parties, really.  I would read more books not worth reading and buy more stuff not worth having (although I do a pretty bang-up job on that from the comfort of my own sofa) and wear more make-up that doesn't really make me look better anyway.         And I fear without my children, I would feel very self-righteous.  I might make it through entire hours and maybe even days, without yelling at anybody, which would go straight to my head and ruin my whole personality.

So it's for the best that I had them, my life is surely better.  Or at least my time and energy is more occupied, and I am not sure what I would do with all that anyway.  Probably just clean stuff, and that's no fun.  But, while they are out, I think I might just go find a mountaintop and spin around and sing.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Mom, Interrupted

Before I launch into the actual post, I just have to share the wonderful news that, according to my insurance company who would otherwise be paying for my acne drugs, I am officially too old to have acne!  I am relieved to know that I have finally graduated from this dermatological affliction and look forward to 37 days of clear skin before the wrinkles begin to overwhelm my face.  Thank you, Aetna!

OK now for the post.

I think the enduring thing about motherhood that drives me most crazy--an ever-constant feature of every stage of your child's development--is the constant interruption of every single freaking thing you do and every single freaking thought you have and every single freaking conversation you try to have from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep.  And then there are many nights, even when they are way, WAY past being too old, when even your sleep is interrupted.  My son will come all the way downstairs at 2 am to tell me he is thirsty when there is a cup of water sitting expectantly on his dresser not 2 feet away from his bed.  I guess life just isn't meaningful until your mother knows about it.

Kids have a sixth sense for when the ideal time arrives to demand something or ask some burning question or have some catastrophic accident.  That time is not when a mother is sitting right beside them asking them specifically if they need anything or inquiring more generally about their well-being.  They never need anything and are always "fine" when you are poised and ready to deliver a service. It's when you've moved on with your life that they are suddenly desperate to be near you, like some kind of deranged ex-boyfriend who dumped you a few minutes before not being able to live without you.   I will be out of bed in the morning and in the kitchen, and they will be playing video games.  I will loudly ask them, "What do you want for breakfast??" 87 times.  They will ignore me.  I will then return to bed with my coffee.  Exactly 2 minutes later, they will demand their breakfast and when i say, sorry, you missed your window, they will collapse into frantic whining about how they might die at any moment from starvation and neglect.

The most stressful thing I do all day is cook dinner, because my life is terribly cushy, and it's a good thing, too.  First of all, I despise cooking.  I hate everything about it.  I hate the endless decisions of what to buy, when to buy it, what can I do with that eggplant that is about to rot and that thai curry paste that has been in my fridge for 7 months, what will my children eat, what will my husband eat, when should we eat.  I hate following recipes, trying to read all kinds of details meanwhile the oil in the pan is about to catch on fire and OH MY I DIDN'T REALIZE NOW WAS WHEN YOU HAVE TO HAVE THAT CELERY CHOPPED!  Even more than reading recipes, I hate how all the cooking websites now don't just give you the ingredients and bare bones instructions up front but instead lead you on a photographic-literary journey of culinary wonder in which they wax eloquently about butter and navy beans and you have to scroll down about 3 miles to get to the actual instructions.  I have pretty much dispensed with all recipes and now cook everything with salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic.  Sometimes lemon or soy.  If I need anything more than that, forget it, not happening.  My brain can only take so much.

Then there is the fact that my children have apparently set up a sophisticated electronic surveillance system that notifies them, probably though their video game console or some other device outside my radar, when I have entered the kitchen.  THEY KNOW.  At that point, they descend, like velociraptors who have been silently stalking you for miles as you tour Jurassic Park in blissful ignorance.  Children who can apparently go days without eating suddenly become ravenous restaurant critics.  Children who have not spoken to me for hours because they are so a engrossed in their dinosaur cock-fighting game are now hanging off my limbs, pleading for attention.  What are you making? What is for dinner? Ewww I don't like that! I want chicken nuggets! When is dinner? I'm starving, I won't make it 2 more minutes!  I am going to shrivel and die right on this floor!  But eww I won't eat that, why are you even making that?  Can I help? I want to help! Why don't you love me?  Why?  Can I have a snack?  Just a teeny weeny snack? Mom, Lawson just hit me!! Charlotte started it!  Let me tell you all about my day in great detail and don't just respond with Uh-huh, I need very specific feedback that tells me you are hanging on my every word.

They also have their surveillance system set up to alert them to various other ideal circumstances for entering my life, to include, but not limited to:
-When I enter the toilet (obviously)
-When I enter the shower
-When I am trying to construct an outfit to wear or donning said outfit
-When I make a phone call
-When I am engaged in some enterprise that cannot easily be immediately interrupted, such as fixing a sink, painting furniture, planting a shrub, cleaning out my closet or bathing the dog
-When I am reading a book
-When I am writing
-When I am working out (this is why I almost always LEAVE THE HOUSE to do this)
-When I am trying to discuss vacation plans with their father
-When I am doing..other things with their father
-Immediately upon my arrival home from somewhere, before I can put my things down, change my clothes or go to the bathroom.  No matter that their other parent has been with them for hours prior.
-Just when I have drifted off to sleep
-Of course, when it is bedtime.  That is when most of the problems of the world need to be solved right away!!  That is why the Senate voted on health care at 1 am.  They were waiting for their child/President to go to sleep.  Or, they are the children and had left it til that time because they don't want to go to sleep.

More bizarre than my children's psychic ability to interrupt at the worst possible times is my brain's reaction to it.  According to my brain, we are living in North Korea where one must always be attuned to the demands of one's rulers and follow orders to a tee or risk certain death via hard labor.  So when a child interrupts or demands or whines, my brain thinks our immediate response is a life-or-death choice.  I don't know if this is particular to me, or if evolutionary biology has pre-conditioned women in particular to overreact to the needs of their offspring.  In any case, we can never relax, my brain and I, not while the children roam free and awake in the house.  We are like Pi in Life of Pi, floating on a boat in the middle of the Pacific with a carnivorous tiger.  We are always on edge, always waiting for a shoe to drop, wary to get involved in something that needs our undivided attention, like a phone call to a friend or assembling some IKEA furniture.  But then if we do nothing, the kids are invariably happy, and we are bored.  So we end up doing mindless things, like playing Settlers of Catan on our phones or checking the Washington Post YET AGAIN to see if Trump has been impeached yet or stress eating a bag of Goldfish crackers.  We waste time, our ability to concentrate atrophies. We gain weight.  We slowly go insane.

Which is of course what the children want.  That is their ultimate goal always.  But we need to flip the script, my brain and I, to call their bluff.  We need to ignore the adrenaline spikes and millions of years of human evolution.  We need to tell these small, cruel people that WE HAVE RIGHTS DAMMIT and besides that YOU WON'T DIE IF I IGNORE YOU.  We need to boldly launch into fixing the VCR at prime kid time, to dare them to yell at us to do it faster.  We need to write that book with them standing over our shoulder.  We don't need to cook the dinner, however, because we still hate that with a passion and because no one eats it anyway. We can just go to Taco Bell again.  But the other stuff, we need to do it.  We can always go in our room and lock the door and become immune to the screams and the clawing to get in.  We need to reclaim our dignity and our....


Friday, July 7, 2017

You are screwing up your kids with your good parenting

I think y'all know how I feel about parenting "expertise," "research," "advice," and the like.  There's no greater panic attack trigger for me than the cover of a Parenting magazine.  Not that I am opposed to social scientific/scientific inquiry or think we haven't made huge strides in raising kids over the last few decades (car seats, anyone?)  But we are now entering the land of the absurd with this stuff, where the advice is so precise, so specific, so overwhelming, you literally CANNOT WIN.  And besides all of that, even more (and better) scientific research indicates the power of genetics in who your kids will ultimately become.  Within the realm of "normal"/non-abusive parenting, your parenting methodology probably makes a marginal difference.  Those of you who basically pursue parenting as a profession in which you have a PhD and grind your own organic millet flour and teach your 2 year olds to solve quadratic equations just fainted right now, and when you wake up, you will immediately begin a coordinated campaign to have me officially shunned.  The rest of us, who basically skate by on Kraft mac-n-cheese (who am I kidding, my kids won't eat that either) and copious amounts of screen time, are relieved.  Because it's true.  Between genetics and peer influence and a million other variables that you have no control over (and that, incidentally, studies cannot weed out), raising kids is a massive crap shoot on a good day.

I came across an article this week that epitomizes the absurdity, and in fact, if I didn't know better, I would think it satire.  You can read it for yourself  here  http://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/compliments-that-are-hurtful/amp/
But the gist of it is, praising your child, which the experts have been telling us to do for the last several decades, is actually stunting their development.  Yes, it's true.  There is an entire generation of people now who cannot function in life because their parents told them "Good job!" instead of "I appreciate how you motivated yourself to complete your self-determined goals."  Now, you still need to praise your kids, absolutely, but you have to do so in just the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons, with the right tone, when Mars is perfectly aligned with Venus, the moon is full, and the hydrangeas are blooming.  Otherwise your kids will be forever damaged.

In addition to not saying "good job"--which incidentally was the guidance 5 years ago, in order to avoid the even more ruinous "good girl/boy"--you should never ever ever give your kids an inaccurate compliment, to include that parental go-to of saying their objectively awful artwork is beautiful:

"Maybe you do think their artwork is beautiful [doubtful], but by praising kids in this way you’re encouraging them to look outside themselves for approval [because otherwise they will never ever ever look outside themselves for approval and will in fact transform themselves into super human, enlightened, celestial beings]. 'It teaches the child that his work can always be evaluated by others [which will never ever ever again happen in their lives.  I think I'll complain to my management next time performance evaluation time comes around that this is NOT the way to go.  My performance evaluation should be renamed "Neutral observations on work practices" and include lines such as, "The employee sits at her desk and moves her fingers over the keyboard."] which undermines his confidence [which will otherwise never ever ever be assaulted and on which they will soar through the skies like an eagle their entire existence, unscathed],' Dr. Markham says.... In one study, kids with low self-esteem who were overpraised on their artwork more often opted to then sketch a simpler drawing instead of a more challenging one [oh the horror, that my child might draw 3 monochromatic lines in stead of 10 rainbow ones], because it was the safer choice."

Who knew I was screwing up my kids by deeming their artwork beautiful???  Hello, isn't that one major purpose of art--at least the kind that normal people like and buy by the dozens in poster-prints at museum gift shops--to be beautiful?? AND ISN'T IT A PARENT'S JOB TO GUSH OVER A TODDLER'S RANDOM CRAYON SQUIGGLES???  WHO ELSE WILL EVER DO THAT FOR THEM???  Do you honestly expect me to say, "I see you have used a blue crayon to make a straight line"?  I think I will have earned the quizzical look from someone 1/4 my size and 1/7 my age that would result from such ridiculousness.

I think kids are smart enough to understand by an age at which it might matter that parental praise is usually total BS but an indication of that parent's unconditional love.  When my dad told me after I did not make choir in 10th grade that I sounded EXACTLY like Karen Carpenter,  I knew he was full of elephant dung (I do have a low voice, but I sing like Karen Carpenter the way vaccines cause autism), but the larger point was that he loved me and was trying to make me feel better.  Could there have been a better, more honest, more carefully researched and scientifically vetted way for him to buck me up? Sure.  But those studies had not been done in 1990, and anyway, the motivation would have been the same.  AND GUESS WHAT, I SURVIVED HIS BAD PARENTING (and numerous vaccines, incidentally).  I also continued to sing (and eventually made choir), because I think it's fun, and I eventually got to a place, through a journey we call life on which we all must go, where I could acknowledge that I am not a massive singing talent and that's OK.  I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh-darn-it (some) people like me.

The article includes some advice that is, admittedly, not horrible and makes some sense.  But in general, I'd have to file this one away in my file of "Reasons American Moms Suffer from Anxiety and  Depression" (Dads, incidentally, on the whole seem to still live in a fantasy world where if you show up for your kids and love them, that's basically good parenting.  Dads, just stay in that world, trust me on this one).  This file also includes more articles cited in this article, with such cheery titles as (and I am NOT making these up):
52 of the worst parenting tips parents get
Parenting mistakes to avoid with toddlers
11 ways you're being a toxic parent without even knowing it
Things parents say that ruin their kids' trust
The five biggest myths parents buy into
Then they have the unmitigated gall to cite a book called, Parenting Without Fear.  Now you are just messing with us, right?

Here's the thing.  I'm not saying that parents can't screw up.  I can in fact go on at length about the ways I am already screwing up and how my own parents screwed up (which may be news to them given they did not parent in today's context of self-loathing).  The fact is, YOU WILL SCREW UP, that is a certainty, like Donald Trump tweeting something ridiculous or dogs pooping in the middle of the sidewalk.  And if you do everything the experts tell you to do today to perfection, by the time your kids are adults, there will be new experts with new guidance that probably directly contradicts the expert guidance you are eating up with spoon now.  The good (and bad) news is that the consequences of your specific screw-ups will probably be subsumed and rendered unidentifiable within the swirling morass of yours and your children's messy humanity.  I can predict with 100% certainty that my children and yours will have struggles, flaws, failures, humiliations, miseries, and frustrations.  They will absolutely make some poor choices (they might even GIVE UP or QUIT! accck!!!!), and they are guaranteed not live up to their full potential.  None of us do, because none of us are perfect.  Your parenting may or may not contribute to this.  Whether it does is unknowable and, in many ways, irrelevant.

Bottom line is this: Try your best.  Love your hardest.  Show your kids you accept their humanity, because that's your condition, too. Model humility and repentance for them.  Set an example of compassion for self and others.
And above all--
STOP READING SO MUCH PARENTING ADVICE!!!!  It will paralyze you with fear and kill your joy every. single. time.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why I Am Medicated, in Five Photographs

Instead of having a panic attack at the state of my house, I decided to do some war zone photography* and then analyze each photo objectively as a way of disabling my anxiety.  Fun!
(*Sensitivity training caveat: I am not implying my house is as bad a war zone or that my anxiety compares to PTSD.  The sad thing is, to me it probably is, because I am that pathetic. You would not want me in an actual war zone, trust me.  I would not survive long enough to get PTSD. Trust me.)

I call this, "The Remnants of Genius, Plus Some Sad Babywipes, As If There Will Be Any Cleaning Up Done By the Perpetrators."  This is Lawson's art desk.  Or rather, it is half of it.  It is also theoretically our dining table.  His supplies include: a shoebox, a paper towel roll, leftover birthday plates, scotch tape, markers, paper scraps, and also just unmitigated trash.  None of this is to be rearranged or thrown away, NONE OF IT.

This is "The Artist's Actual Desk That He Never Uses/Storage Space for Completed 3D Trash Sculpture, Plus a Sad Caddy Full of Supplies As If Anyone Will Ever Return Them There."  The stack of boxes is: a shadow box full of pipe cleaner monkeys; a shadow box full of trash; some trash fashioned into a crude sort of pig with money in it.  And some trash.

This is "The Ruins of a Long Defunct Storage System, Dismembered Toys, Assorted Leaves and Sticks, and Throw Blankets That Mysteriously Insist on Living on the Floor."  When I really have a meltdown, instead of calmly walking through my house photographing the destruction in evocative lighting, I sit on the floor, covered in throw blankets, and put all the toys in the correct plastic bins while having imaginary arguments over Obamacare with people on Facebook.

This one  is called "A Kite Made Out of Scotch Tape Or, It Turns Out You Can Make Everything Out of Scotch Tape So Let Us Try." Lawson goes through several rolls a day, using it to seal off couch cushions, fashion dragons out of Hershey's Kiss wrappers, and resurface the floors.  At times, he cordons off entire rooms.  I should just get crime scene tape and call things what they are.

This one is called, "Laundry Decomposing," or alternatively, "I Can't Even Rely on The First Born To Keep Me Sane."  In theory, she puts her own laundry away.  Like almost all theories in the social sciences, it is ethereal and without any real proof.

There you have it, my mental health in living color.  Pretend each piece of ambiguous trash depicted is a snake/spider/serial killer/flesh eating bacteria/zombie/Republican/Democrat/crashing airplane/pile of pollen/top of a jillion-story building/terrorist/refugee/FILL IN YOUR BLANK and you get the picture.  Or actually five of them.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I finally unleash my children upon the world

It is perhaps surprising that my children, whose mother grew up overseas, reached the ages of 6 and 9 before leaving the country.  But I am no dare devil adventurer, my friends, you know that.  I enjoy life and take calculated risks, yes, but you won't see me jumping out of airplanes, rafting down the crocodile-infested Zambezi River, or touring the Louvre with anyone under the age of 15.  And you know I would rather be Sean Spicer than get on a long plane ride with children of any kind.  But when an opportunity presented itself to have my kids visit the continent of my upbringing with me only having to fly one way with them, well, I took it.

And who is the sucker that flew the other way with them?  That would be my now-even-more-beloved, Kevin.  And why pray tell did he agree to this?  Well, he doesn't pay very close attention all the time when I am talking. It's how he copes.  If you hit him up when he is solving a quadratic equation in his head, you can get him to do almost anything.  I think that was what was going on when I suggested that, since I would already be in South Africa for work, he might just hop on over, you know, real quick like, with the kids.  A few months and a SEVENTEEN HOUR plane ride later, they emerged from the arrivals gate at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. At which point Kevin served me with imaginary divorce papers.

We spent the next week with my sister and her family, who live in South Africa, in Kruger Game Park.  I grew up going to game parks, it was our go-to family vacation, and I love the whole scene.  I love the rush you get when see 25 other vehicles stopped and you know there must be a cat of some kind in there, if you can just push a few vans full of Japanese tourists out of the way.  The relief after surviving your father's off-road foray into a herd of elephants because he wants a close up of an elephant cornea.  Wearing khaki clothing and pretending you are Karen Blixen.  Seeing a spread of of amazing looking desserts at the game lodge restaurants and briefly imagining they don't all taste like crap because British colonialism failed to bring any sugar with it.  Sleeping in a tent with plumbing (the only kind of tent I am interested in).  The only thing I don't like about game parking is that it is an early morning enterprise, if you want to see the good stuff.  Voluntarily rising at 6 am while on vacation so you can maybe see a lion eat something is truly insane and barbaric. I have no excuse for myself.

So I was super excited to introduce my kids to this awesome experience.  As usual, my expectations for my children's excitement over the situation was beyond all possible reality, even after almost a decade of watching them be miserable in supposedly magical places and at great expense.  This time, however, they almost met those expectations, which is a good thing. Because I can't have kids to don't like Africa. Can't.  Will give such kids away.  And I think they know that, too.

In Lawson's case, I anticipated he would barely look up from his device the entire trip, and that was generally true.  But based on the essay he wrote for his return to school, he did apparently see a few animals, albeit briefly.  More miraculously, he was fairly genial the entire time, even with some jet lag and lots of strange food (none of which he ate, but at least he didn't throw it at anyone).  He did refuse to swim and had to be bribed to go to the bathroom, as per usual, but he also voluntarily played on three different playgrounds.  At one point he got stuck in a structure made of tires and after his rescue, claimed to have enjoyed the ordeal.  So a massive success.  Charlotte was even more enthusiastic. She even found the eye mask thingy on the plane exciting.  And she loved the animals.  The worst moments we had with her were when the cheetahs we found were too far away to see properly and a brief spurt of moral outrage that Lawson was playing his kindle instead of appreciating nature's bounty.

They key ingredient on this trip as with other moderately successful ones we've had: OTHER KIDS.  Generally speaking, other kids not only bring additional entertainment and distraction, they demonstrate for my kids how to enjoy things that almost all kids enjoy, like grass, balls, water, sunlight, exercise, playground equipment and sand.  Also, how to walk around on working legs.  In this case, the kids in question were my sister's kids, 9-year-old Liam and 14-year-old Brendan.  While Brendan mostly inspired them at a distance with his animal obsession and teenage coolness--except for the interludes when Lawson insisted on hanging all over him--Liam kept them entertained and educated with tales of South African politics.  Both of my kids now do very good Jacob Zuma impressions and know all about the Nkandla scandal, "fire pools," and "the power of the shower" (thankfully, they have no idea what that last phrase really references, and if you don't, I suggest you think twice about doing some google research. It is not an inspiring episode in humanity).  When the lions and elephants became boring, Liam was there to inform them, as Zuma, that he was going to "steal all the money!!!"  They even came up with a new idea for a cartoon called "The Crappy Presidents League" in which Zuma, Trump, Duterte, Putin, Mugabe and assorted other disasters roam the world siphoning off public funds, engaging in extrajudicial killing and illegal land appropriations, building walls and dismantling democratic institutions.  I swear they came up with all of this by themselves.

With my kids behaving rather decently, I was free to focus on bigger challenges, such as driving on the wrong side of the road. Despite my years in Africa, this was actually my first time to drive British.  And can I just say--how is it that stop signs look the same all over the world, basically, but there is no agreement on the slightly more macro issue of which side of the road we are going to drive on? And the British have been our dear friends for the entire car age, too. Did it never occur to anyone while negotiating the Treaty of Versailles that maybe we could get together on this?  What a travesty of global noncooperation.  I actually did fairly well on keeping the car on the correct side of the road. What I didn't do as well at was driving the tank the rental company gave us.  To be more specific, it was what South Africans call a "bakkie," which is a massive double cab pick up with a top on the bed.  The back window is basically a tiny portal in another dimension of space-time, it is so far away.  The car did have a rear camera system, but it took me several days to trust that thing.  You can't just believe everything you see on TV anymore. It also took me several days--no, actually the entire time--to not turn on the windshield wipers every time I wanted to use a turn signal.  Very unnerving when you are trying to change lanes, and all of a sudden what appears to be a flock of violent birds noisily flies across your windscreen.  Thankfully, South African roads are pretty good, miraculous by African standards.  I was particularly amused that there were warning signs alerting you to stretches of possible potholes.  Even China does not have enough labor to construct and place all the pothole warming signs most African countries would need if they were going that route.  It might even be more efficient to fix the potholes.

We made it through the entire week without incident or accident, not even of the Lawson variety, and then it was back on the 17 hour plane ride home, which this time I got to join, oh goody.  I got to see first hand--as opposed to Kevin's slightly traumatized assurance that "it was fine"--how my kids do on such a trip.  And they did OK.  The devices ran out of batteries within an hour or so, and the plane did not have outlets (Why, God, Why?)  It did have an entire library of kids movies, but only one that my children wanted to watch.  So they each literally watched Trolls 5 times (and Kevin reports they watched it 5 times on the way out as well).  Lawson topped that off by listening to the Trolls soundtrack several times in the audio station.  He basically is Justin Timberlake now, except he still behaves more like Justin Bieber most of the time.  They each slept a good deal, all effortlessly folded up or else sprawled out all over everyone like kids do.  Meanwhile, my back was going into spasms and my legs were developing clots from being unable to move in my role as a human mattress.  The plane food was a no-go, as it is for most adults.  They ate peanut M&Ms the whole way, which worked out fine.  I may have had a few as well.

All in all, it was so much less excruciating than I anticipated that I am already getting cocky and planning more trips.  My sister has invited us to meet them somewhere in Europe for Christmas, and can you believe that I am considering it?  Europe with children is one of those things that I have never been able to get my head around, both in terms of the how and the why, like cloth diapers or homeschooling.  Next thing you know I'll be doing IVF so I can have triplets at my advanced age.  I remember my parents taking me to Europe at age 10--not exactly a toddler--and I making everyone miserable.  You know you are entirely too old for such behavior when you remember not only the behavior but the calculations behind the behavior 30 years later.  Europe is very risky, my friends.  But if Liam is there, I think we might make it.  We are all curious as to what Jacob Zuma will make of the Eiffel Tower anyway.