Category Archives: Can’t Get a Break

Science Fair Is No Picnic

I dread the beginning of school for many reasons. Homework and all of its pencil throwing and tears. A dozen checks to the school’s PTA. And of course, my babies are growing up.

But every September what I dread more than any of it is science fair.

My kids have barely made friends in their new classes when they bring home science fair planners. Due dates loom. Having my kids choose a project that makes sense is like trying to give a cat a bath. Every year my son wants to throw eggs at something and see if they’ll break. Since my kids attend a science and technology school, the standard moldy bread or using a lemon to charge a battery just doesn’t cut it. Smashing eggs is kind of on that list too. Students actually have to test a theory and prove or disprove it. They need controls and variables, reasons the results would turn out differently during each trial of the procedure. I can barely understand it all myself, much less explain it to my kids apparently.

Last year’s thirteen weeks of due dates, arguments, testing, and scrambling made me swear we would get ahead of the game this year. Yet here we are with only days left to decide the kids’ projects. Parents and children in this house can never agree on a project. From the start, the experience is doomed.

My stubborn son didn’t take our advice last year on one of the many projects we suggested, something easily tested, something that could be backed up with research. His only requirement for a project: smashing something. I somehow doubt that is how scientists go about proving the link between how flu germs spread and the way we cover our coughs. He chose to build a Lego car and see whether an egg is safer in the back or front seat. Then he thoroughly enjoyed smashing up eggs as he tested his hypothesis.

egg car

What an eggy mess.

His project simply didn’t work. And there was little research to be found.

Meanwhile, my daughter had her first project and tested the permanence of permanent markers on various surfaces. This project met our approval because it was easy to prove and test, though I didn’t realize how many loads of wash this project would require from me.

permanent marker project

Guess what? It stays on fabric, washes off plastic.

Honestly, I think the kids would benefit from a project that would reveal useful information. How much soap is necessary to remove the odor from feet that have never been properly washed? Or which hand-washing method is more effective: putting soap on your palm and blasting it away as soon as you turn the water on, or running your hands quickly through a drip of water with no soap? I think the kids may be surprised at those results.

And really, wouldn’t parents want to know if the tone of their voice has any effect on the results when asking their kids to do something? Or how much repetition is necessary before a child really gets it through his thick skull that you are not doing the science fair project for him?

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When Date Night Goes Wrong

My husband and I rarely go out as a couple. When we get the chance for a date night, we snatch it up like kids grabbing candy from the Halloween treat bowl. So when grandparents come to town, we accost them and beg for a few hours away from our kids. The thing is, for years I just never found any sitters I liked—until now. To celebrate my husband’s fortieth birthday, I hired our new sitter and spent weeks anticipating the night out with my aging husband.

In the past, some date nights we’ve been granted have been spontaneous. A grandparent mentions, “Feel free to go out tonight,” and my husband and I are out the door within minutes. No time for chitchat or wardrobe changes—we make plans in the car. We have a habit of dining early, joining the older crowd for the early bird special. Or we go later and get seated by the couple with the screaming kid. As much as I try to ignore this, I’ve left my screaming kids at home so I can enjoy a peaceful meal for once. A meal that doesn’t involve someone squawking, “I don’t like this food!” A meal where some child isn’t climbing out of her seat and the parents are at wit’s end. I get a little deflated when that battle happens right next to me. I think, “I’ve been there lady, I really have, but I’ve been on this dating side so much less frequently lately. I’m a little more sympathetic to me right now.”

Having the luxury to plan date night is pretty rare. Saturday everything was going seamlessly. I actually dressed up for the finer establishment, switched purses even. The kids’ dinner came out of the oven just as the sitter arrived. My husband and I were walking out the door and my daughter ran to me, frantically pointing to her mouth. “What is it?” A mouth full of vomit, that’s what it was. My husband rushed her to the bathroom. I told the sitter to run home, away from our germs. In the kitchen my son bawled over his dinner. “I don’t like it when people throw up,” he sobbed. He shivered with fear, thinking of the last stomach bug that swept over our house two years ago that made him sick for ten days. Knowing a virus had entered our house again terrified him.

purse

Ready to go on the date that never was.

My husband and I put our crummy clothes back on. Like forecasters calling for snow, we were parents predicting a wave of stomach terror. It was time to stock up on Gatorade, crackers, and disinfecting wipes. We needed to run to the store for sick supplies in case we were unexpectedly shut in like last time when the virus took my husband and me down in the night within hours of each other.

Instead of the delicious dinner we dreamed about, we ate stale leftovers and spent our date night a little nauseated, pondering our indigestion, and wondering whether every grumble of our stomachs meant we would be next. We prepared for the storm, turned out the lights, and went to bed early, not knowing how many times we’d be up in the night.

But my daughter made it through. She nibbled Cheerios at breakfast and announced she felt fine. Now the rest of us wonder who’s next. We sit and wait. And for now, date night will have to wait too.

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Reader Difficulties—Please Stand By

I know some of my subscribers aren’t getting my posts through the WordPress reader and I have been posting regularly. I don’t know how many people this affects. If you are having trouble, I don’t know if it may help to unfollow and then follow me again, but make sure you are logged in to WordPress if you do so. As far as I know, everyone is still getting emails of my posts, right? Let me know if you’re having trouble or if you continue to have trouble. I’m trying to work with WordPress to get it cleared up.

And if anyone has any tips or has been through this, please let me know. I know WordPress has been experiencing issues with its reader, but I switched names at the same time. I’m now mominthemuddle.com. So far I don’t have many answers.

Thanks!

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What a Ball Taught This Wife About Her Husband in 20 Seconds

Across the street lives a not-so-nice man. I’m pretty sure if the kids are ever in the road when he comes home, he’ll squash them like a squirrel with his truck and never look back. When my son was three, this grouchy man yelled at him for getting a cool stick out of his yard. My son still gives him the stink eye whenever he sees him, and we never so much as touch a blade of his grass now.

The other night, my husband, son, and I tossed a ball around on our driveway, ignoring Mr. Meany, working in his yard. Until our bouncy ball rolled into the street and toward Mr. Meany’s driveway. The three of us looked at one another in horror, our eyes bulging like waterlogged diapers. Silently I beckoned for the ball to stop, to come back, to roll six feet to the left and hit the curb. But the laws of physics cannot change for one errant playground ball. Speed was not in our favor. That blue rubber ball gained momentum and rolled up Mr. Meany’s driveway as he walked up it toward his garage.

Hang on to your balls, kids.

I looked to my husband, the man of the house, sure that he would handle our awkward situation. He took one look at the ball’s position and sprinted away snickering like a cat that tipped a garbage can. The punk. My son stood paralyzed with fear, looking from his fleeing father to me. I knew he wouldn’t retrieve the ball. He won’t even go to Mr. Meany’s house to trick-or-treat.

I gulped. I wanted to avoid a confrontation with Mr. Meany. When a stray toddler steps foot into his yard, he yells, “Get out of my yard!” Neighbors have told me of past run-ins when their kids’ ball landed in his yard and he scooped it up and said, “Mine.” For a small frame, he delivers a whopping blow: unfriendly and no second chances.

It seemed if we wanted our ball, it was up to me. I dashed across the street and hoped Mr. Meany wouldn’t yell at me. Why my husband nominated me for this job was beyond me. I yell back when provoked. But wait, the ball started rolling down the driveway! Mr. Meany looked down and watched it roll past him. I grabbed it off the end of his driveway and ran. No eye contact. No words exchanged. Quiet on both sides of the street. My kids didn’t need a vocabulary lesson anyway. And now I know I can count on my husband to run away from my every beck and call.

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Paybacks

When I tell stories of parental woe to my mom, she sympathizes. She commiserates. And she often laughs. Though she rarely says it, I know she’s thinking it: paybacks. Paybacks for the many nights I woke her from her dear slumber because I feared some crazy in my closet would drop screws in my ears or because the giant teddy bear on my shelf cast Jurassic-size shadows on my walls. Paybacks for stomping down the hall protesting a dinner of pork chops, scalloped potatoes, and green beans instead of the good ol’ mac and cheese standby. Paybacks for never letting her have a conversation on the telephone without “Momma, Momma, Momma, Momma.” And yes, even paybacks for informing callers to our house that she couldn’t come to the phone because she was on the toilet and it would be awhile.

I see now what I put her through. I know when I relay my children’s escapades from the week that she must hang up, throw her head back, and give one good mighty howl at the pleasure that I am finally paying my dues. Yes, indeedy, paybacks are often what they say they are. Though she has no part in the matter, my mom gets to watch me suffer the annoyances of motherhood that I put her through. For her and many mothers, that is quietly payback enough.

But this mom has an urge to fight back. I try to quietly and calmly deal with whatever my kids throw at me, but at night I de-stress by plotting my revenge. I’m keeping a list of the things they do. I’m sure I won’t follow through, but if my kids don’t shape up as teenagers, I’m getting even.

1. Wherever they are in the house, I’ll come find them and announce that I need to go to the bathroom, number one or number two. If their friends are visiting, I’ll loudly whisper it in their ear.

2. I will happily clean, read, or do whatever keeps me happy, but the second they talk on the phone, I will scream at the top of my lungs and then chase them around the house and pound on their door when they close and lock it.

3. I’ll hand them my tiny bits of trash, bypassing four trashcans in the process. When they refuse, I’ll sneak it in their pocket or later they’ll find it stuck to their shirt.

4. Every time they kiss their boyfriend or girlfriend, I’ll cover my eyes, fall to the floor, and scream, “Is it over?”

5. In the middle of the night, I’ll stand two inches from their face and wait until they wake up. I won’t need anything except to be put back to bed.

6. I’ll come in their room early on Saturday morning and tell them such important details as “My butt itches.”

7. My wardrobe will consist of plaid shirts, striped leggings, and pink tutus, and I will insist that it matches and that I venture out in public with them dressed that way.

8. When they refuse to let me drive them to the movies, I’ll stomp away in a huff and shout, “You never let me do ANYTHING!”

9. As soon as they fluff their pillows, snuggle deep into the couch, get everything just right, I’ll tell them that’s my pillow. When they get comfy again, I’ll tell them that’s my blanket too.

10. When they wake at noon, before they’ve chewed that first bite of cereal I’ll roll off twenty questions in ten seconds about Harry Potter and then tell them about the new pillows I want to get next and what color and where I want to put them and explain that the old ones just aren’t squishy enough and do you think J.K. Rowling will ever write another Harry Potter book? What do you mean you don’t like Harry Potter anymore? I thought you loved Harry Potter. Don’t you remember in book four when he grabbed the Goblet of Fire and it was a portkey? That was awesome!

I love my kids with every fiber of my being, but I don’t always love what they do. And they don’t always love what I do. I guess that makes us even. So there.

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In the Race for First, Get Out of the Way!

“First is the worst. Second is the best. Third is the one with the hairy chest!” My son chants this as we near our neighborhood after school some days. When we pull in the driveway, the kids make a beeline from the back of the van to the doors. They not only want to be first out of the van, but they also want to be first into the house, immediately forgetting the rules of my son’s cheer. It’s every kid for himself.

As they shove each other out of the way, they and their backpacks become a tangled mess of limbs and torsos wedged between the seats. My daughter cries. My son’s backpack, so overstuffed with Star Wars books, plugs the aisle like a giant cork. The kids both scream at each other to MOVE! I am tempted to walk away and tell them that I will be first in the house and they can work it out, but my daughter’s tears guilt me into overseeing the torment. The neighbors, already on alert that we are home, would surely disagree with my abandonment.

The culprit of many after school backseat traffic jams.

These are good times. Luckily for me, this happens at least once a week.

The backpack finally gives, my son escapes, and the kids elbow each other along the sidewalk, tears still flowing. At this point, I yell to just STOP IT! I open the front door, the kids fall in, backpacks fly, kids bolt to the bathroom to wash hands, more tears from the one who didn’t make it there first. Then they fight and cry about who was first yesterday to get in the van, get out of the van, get in the house, wash their hands, get upstairs. It exhausts me and I am just a spectator in this vicious sport. To top it all off, it turns out I am often the one with the hairy chest around here.

I can tell you who’s first to get a headache. Mom. I can’t tell you whose temper is first to flare. They pretty much all set off at one time.

What happened to first being the worst? I guess no matter how they look at things, coming in first always looks best. Hey kids, I have a rhyme for you: “First is the worst, second is a pest, third is the one who yells GIVE IT A REST!”

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Time for a Quickie?

Some days, the phone rings right about lunchtime, just as I’m getting out a plate and starting to make lunch or right when my leftovers have been warmed to gooey perfection and I’ve sunk my fork in for the first bite.

Rrrrriiiiiiing!

I know who it is. The conversation often goes something like this:

“It’s your Mu-THER,” the voice on the other end sings.

“Yes, it is,” I say.

She calls on her lunch hour from work. I watch as my lunch grows cold and stiff. My stomach growls like a ravenous bear waking from its winter nap.

She wants to know what I’m doing.

“Eating lunch,” I say.

“Well I won’t keep ya.” Then she chats for a bit, and then she wants to know if my husband is coming home for lunch. He often does.

So the other day, she said, “Gosh, Karen. Y’all could have a quickie at lunch.”

No. She. Didn’t. I could have thrown up the empty contents of my stomach. Just ew. It was quiet on my end. My mind goes blank from there. We must have hung up quickly.

I relayed the conversation to my husband. “You should have asked if that’s what she and your dad did,” he said.

“Gross! She would have told me. I don’t want to know about that!”

“Then you should have told her we were,” he said.

“Then she would have asked about it or something,” I said, still trying to shake the horrible sentence from my head.

Mothers and daughters and talk about a lunchtime quickie do not mix. If I hear the word sex from my mom’s mouth, I revert to teenhood when I prayed she wouldn’t bring it up. I pretended not to know about it and I pretended parents never did it. Approaching 40, my mindset hasn’t changed, and if the conversation comes up, I must fight my gag reflex, put hands over ears, and scream “la la la la la la la la la la la” at the top of my lungs. Just ew.

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