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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A Santa Surprise

I didn’t think we’d visit Santa this year. Having a third-grader, I thought he’d deem telling his Christmas wishes to the man in the red suit too babyish. So when my son announced he did want a visit, of course we made a last-minute holiday dash. This, after all, will surely be the last year for him, and I couldn’t let the last opportunity to have both of my kids visit Santa together slip by.

At the head of the line, large signs displayed the rules: no personal photography. Now frankly, I’m cheap when it comes to buying photos of my kids. If I spend money, they better be good. I don’t want to shell out $20 for a picture of my kids on Santa’s lap even if it is for the last time. I’ve bought school pictures of my kids in hopes of quality material only to get squinty eyes and a goober grin that makes my kid look like a constipated, no-lipped goof. I don’t like paying for that mess. And I don’t like paying for Santa when I used to be able to snap my own unposed shots for free. I want candid photos of them talking to Santa or clamming up or whatever the experience may be.

I asked Santa’s helper whether I could snap a few of my own pictures because we always have. Sure, the girl said. Did I want to buy any? Um, no, not really.

So while my kids chatted with Santa, I vied for position with some other lady to get snapshots of them. There wasn’t a lot of time to spare, and this lady and her camera kept getting in my space. Angling for a better view, I was about to nudge her out of the way, those being my offspring after all, and I thought, “Why is she shooting pictures of my kids?”

She leaned toward me, beaming, and whispered between her own shots, “That’s my son.” I guess moms are proud of their kids no matter the age or what they do, and that includes being mall Santa. At least she didn’t have to pay either.santapic

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The Holiday Party

All along my husband said the dress for the holiday work party at his new job was pretty casual, slacks and a blouse. Two days before the party he learned women would be wearing cocktail dresses.

“What? Cocktail dresses? That’s not casual,” I said. Panic set in big time. The outfit I had planned wouldn’t cut it. I don’t own anything that resembles a cocktail dress. That all went to Goodwill ages ago when my whole body shifted after having kids. Not to mention the fact that half the clothes in my closet have rotted on the hangers and shoes have literally busted on my feet. I still can’t escape the embarrassment of leaving a trail of one-inch rubber crumbs at my son’s first-grade play when my heel exploded the minute we got there. What’s a girl to do? I hoped the last big chunk would just hang on until we got outside.

“You can wear the dress you have. It will be fine,” my husband said. I’m no fashionista, but even I know that you cannot wear a sweater dress to a fancy shindig.

“You don’t want people to think you have a frumpy wife,” I said.

“But you’re my frumpy wife.” Uuugh!

I emailed my neighbor about my fashion crisis. Could I wear a skirt? Did I have to buy a cocktail dress? She said she would kill him. I raced to the nearest department store because I knew the ladies there would know what to do.

There I was, skirt and sweater in hand. No, no. That would not do, the lady told me. She walked me to the dresses. It had to be a dress. They all had flowers and ruffles. Things that are not me. Price tags that are not me. Where was a bargain rack when I needed one?

I grabbed some dresses, picking the saleslady’s brain about hose and boots and heels. I didn’t have time to look for accessories. Women spend weeks on this stuff. I had only an hour to shop. And nothing ever fits me. But something did and it looked pretty good. It was on sale, and by golly, I had a coupon!

When the big night arrived and we walked in the room, I saw a mix of all kinds of fashion, everything from fancy and festive to khaki and preppy. Apparently, not everyone got the same message. I could have worn any damn thing I wanted and played dumb.

But for the first time ever, my family was cleaned up and we planned to make an evening out of it. Though I prefer jeans and sneaks to hose and heels, and hiking trails to ballrooms, it was fun playing dress-up with the kids. And after a little wine, nothing much bothered me at all.

My son will be nine soon and seeing what lies under that layer of dirt with hair neatly parted and nice duds, it made me proud. He’s a handsome little man and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at him, in wonder of the handsome fellow he’ll one day become. You don’t see it every day when your kid fusses at you, rolls in the dirt with a football, or tells a dozen fart jokes, but there’s a handsome, calm being in there and it’s a sight to behold.

My husband took my daughter to the dance floor and for many reasons, it makes you love the man you married a million times more and cherish your baby girl who will one day do the same with her daddy in a big white dress. I tried to drag my son out, but I think he feared I’d perform some of the same spastic dance moves I’m known for in the kitchen.

When most of the good songs were over and it was about time to go, we finally got both of the kids out for the Twist, and then my daughter and I did the YMCA song. I think I even had my C backward. A vision of elegance, I’m sure. No dignified foxtrots for us. But I can’t think of three dates I’d rather have, and it was all done in true Karen fashion.

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The Holiday Card

Come hell or high water this year, I was getting a picture for our holiday cards. It was going to be good. OK, it was going to be decent. And I had to get it done quickly and with the least amount of tears possible.

In years past, it started out well: The kids suited up in coordinating outfits with hair neatly brushed. I had a host of clever tricks to distract them at the first sign of distress: sighs, groans, questions, slumped poses, sloppy smiles. I could manage.

If only the kids could pose as patiently as this guy.

Lately, the taking of the holiday card photo has been surrounded by high drama. Mention getting dressed for the picture and tears flow. Hair brushing is done at a quick trot. Before anyone has struck a pose, the mood is ruined. I admit it. I use bribes, lots of bribes. The kids have caught on. They do not like the holiday picture.

The kids used to sit patiently as I snapped pictures of them on the porch or in front of the holly bush.

A few years ago, things went terribly wrong. It was like choreographing the stooges. One kid smiled, the other collapsed the moment I clicked. My daughter kept making funny faces, closing her eyes. When she smiled, my son looked dazed. I knew I had a short window of time. My son now despised having his picture taken. I ended up with a series of blooper-style photos, and only one decent picture.

Last year, the kids were in tears before I took two shots. I mentioned the words “holiday card” and they lost it, knowing they were in for an hourlong modeling session.

I had already made one attempt at the picture this year at a festival. I made the mistake of saying, “Let me get your picture for our card.” My son smiled and my daughter quietly boohooed. I urged her to get over it so I could quickly snap a picture. It didn’t go so well. My son kneed my daughter for not cooperating. That saga ended in a family meltdown. Over a photo.

This week with time ticking away, I knew I had to get that photo. After school in a slow drizzle, I took the kids outside in their dingy, mismatched school clothes, stuck hats on their heads to cover unbrushed hair, and told them to sit on the fence. If I made the photo black-and-white, everything would look great. Maybe.

“If you’ll just cooperate and smile, it will be quick,” I reasoned with them.

They asked for a gumdrop afterward. “If you don’t whine or fuss through this,” I explained.

Game on.

I clicked away, urging them closer. My daughter smiled beautifully. My son gave a few smiles but mostly looked like a limp fish. After six shots, he started to get antsy. “Let me just get a good one for the card,” I said.

“This is for the holiday card?” he whined.

Great. I blew it. Things began to unravel. He wouldn’t smile. “The fence is hurting my butt,” he complained.

Then he tore off his hat and scarf and threw them to the ground. That’s OK. I can work with that. I would keep snapping. But he screamed, grabbed his mouth, and ran. He had bumped his lip on the fence. Game over.

When he came in, he still wanted his gumdrop. “Did you fuss or whine while we were out there?”

“No, not during the pictures,” he said.

“I meant during the whole process,” I said.

“Oh.”

Maybe I should have been more clear.

The pictures? Thankfully, I have something to work with. And in black-and-white, everything does match.

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