Category Archives: Everyday Life

Lost in the Parking Lot, Parenting Realization Sinks In

As we walked away from the sea of cars and into an even bigger sea of people, I realized I hadn’t taken note of where we parked. Hmm. “We crossed over one grassy median and then up onto the sidewalk past another lot. We’ll find it,” I thought. And I figured we would find our van. When I’m alone, I rely on my memory to bail me out. For as much of a planner as I am, I can be remarkably spontaneous when it comes to finding my way.

After our day at the zoo, the kids and I made our way back into the parking lot. It was much more crowded than when we arrived. We made our way to where I was sure I had left our van, only it wasn’t there. My daughter piped up with her mental notes. “We walked four rows,” she said. “We’re not here. We’re over there.” While I still pondered why my vehicle wasn’t in the row I was sure I parked it in and began to wonder whether it had been stolen, my son had an obvious solution. “Just hit your remote button, Mom.” And that’s when I realized I can’t pass for a figure-things-out-as-you-go kind of mom if my kids are the ones figuring it all out.

We walked a few rows over and my daughter was right. Our van was across another median, four rows of cars.

I thought about this on the drive home. No wonder the kids roll their eyes at me, especially my son. When they’re young, the kids put us parents up on a pedestal. They think we know everything and I certainly never told them otherwise. If my son started asking about planets or primates, I regurgitated every random fact I knew. What I didn’t know, I Googled and told him later. I was a bit of a show-off. And then around third grade, my son started to doubt me. He started to think his teachers knew more about his favorite book characters. He didn’t believe I could help him with grammar, even though my job is correcting others’ mistakes. Then he started to believe his friends. He’d believe things that came out of their mouths over mine.

Now my kids see me do stupid things like forgetting where I parked the car. So they know I don’t have all the answers, I can live with that. But the time is near when they’ll think they know more than me. If you’ve ever heard a ten-year-old explain life at the dinner table, you know you can’t afford to lose that credibility.

While I thought I could redeem myself after the parking lot incident, I took the wrong road out of the zoo and ended up on some rural back roads. The kids would have never known, but while I was recalculating my kids’ perception of me, that cocky GPS navigator was loudly recalculating every wrong quarter mile–increment I sped away from her intended route.

My kids know I’m human. And I knew I couldn’t stay on the parenting pedestal forever. But I just can’t lose points in parking lots.

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My Life Resembles a Movie…Groundhog Day

“I don’t hear any brushing!” I yell as I come up the stairs.

Every morning while the kids yammer on about who won the game last night or whether they have art today, we rush them along through breakfast, then herd them upstairs to brush their teeth. I think they’re finally making progress only to be assured of my stupidity with shouts and giggles. I come upstairs to find my daughter at the sink while my son lies on the floor yanking her feet. Shouts and giggles echo down the hall.

I order my son to get his books, socks, and glasses while she brushes. Five minutes later, he is rolling around on the floor and still isn’t ready. “What have you been doing? Get ready for school. We do this every day.”

I could understand them having trouble getting the hang of this if it were a choreographed Broadway routine, but none of this is new. Yet every day we say the same tired things.

We are stuck in some bizarre time loop where everything happens over and over again. “It’s like the movie Groundhog Day,” my husband observed the other night. We are reliving the same day every single day.

It’s hard to get through the monotony of regular life. Days become routine because we follow a schedule: school, homework, play, dinner, more play, bed. It’s not a tough schedule to learn, even if we break it for a night for sports. I’m not sure why after so many years my kids can’t figure out that after breakfast comes brushing teeth, not rolling around on the floor. When has that ever been in the schedule?

After school the kids have boundless energy. They come home in a whirlwind and drop their mess in front of the door. Brother annoys sister during homework by drawing pencil marks on her paper or singing. “Stop it!” she yells constantly. I referee while trying to balance chopping veggies and helping with math. We do this every day.chop

Hours later, bedtime ritual craziness begins. “Mom, I’m ready for bed.”

I go into my daughter’s room to find her not in pajamas and her clean clothes not put away. No outfit has been laid out for tomorrow.

“Dad, I’m ready for bed.”

My husband is telling my son to clear the books off his bed and put his clothes away. “Have you brushed your teeth?” he says.

My husband and I go back to our room and read. We wait. Yells and giggles come from the bathroom. “I don’t hear any brushing!” I shout.

My son slowly walks by our bedroom door numerous times doing a stupid dance. “Get ready,” I say, unimpressed.

When it appears my son is ready, he has forgotten his book or his glasses or to go to the bathroom. Why can’t they get this right? We do the same thing every night.

Before bed comes brushing teeth, then books. Again, no surprises. I’ve never told them, “Hey, go jump on the bed for 20 minutes and get those wiggles out.”

The next morning, my son wants to know who won the game. After breakfast, the kids race upstairs to brush their teeth. Shouts and giggles echo down the hall. “I don’t hear any brushing!” I yell as I come up the stairs.

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Some Days, ‘I Love You’ Must Be Enough

The morning game of getting dressed begins with a kiss, a smile, and quickly dissolves into tears, fussing, and a mad rush for the right pants. “What’s wrong with these pants or these?” I say, flinging pairs from my daughter’s drawer. Those pinch, those won’t stay up, never mind that she’s been wearing them for three months and chooses this morning with exactly 27 minutes until departure to boycott all of her clothes. She wants the dirty black pair from the laundry room. Fine. Wear stinky clothes. Anything. Come on, come on, come on!

Finally downstairs, the morning didn’t start like anyone intended. Over breakfast, we sneak a peek at each other. I wink—a truce. I won’t send her out into the world holding a grudge over pants.

Mornings aren’t always smooth in this house, but with raccoon eyes and cereal breath, I plant a kiss on the kids’ heads before they bury them in my soft robe, then run out the door.

After school isn’t much better. In two seconds they undo everything I’ve spent the day doing. They toss backpacks, jackets, and muddy shoes on the floor—and I just swept. The contents of their backpacks spill out, covering the entryway like debris from a natural disaster. “Where do our coats go? Please bring me your lunchboxes! Stop pushing your sister! We have three bathrooms! Stop fighting over that one!” Less than a minute in, I’m exhausted and cranky. I try to remedy it by asking about their day.

afterschool mess

Hurricane Kid, after school.

Every week it’s the same rut, never perfection.

I yell. When I’m busy, I only half listen and mm-hmm in all the right places when stories go on for ten minutes too long. Sometimes I’m the mean girl I want my kids to stay away from. I mention that that outfit doesn’t match or that habit of talking like a baby extremely annoys me. I don’t try to be hurtful. In the seconds after it slips from my lips, I wonder if that statement will be the one to give my child a complex for life. I apologize quickly.

After four farts at the dinner table, I’m not amused. Can’t we just eat for once? My dad and I had this same scenario thirty years ago. I excused myself and he hollered, “There ain’t no excuse for it!” I giggle at the story even now. One day my son will tell our stories and laugh at how they angered me. He’ll describe that instant when my face transformed from the sweet mother who tucked him in at night to mean mommy and back again. Why, when early morning around here is a free-for-all and my kids once dubbed me “Fart Powder” after a book they found?

When girl drama rears its ugly second-grade head, I have little patience. It takes me too long to realize hugs cure a lot. When hobbit adventures and Star Wars battles unfold for repeats, I’m quick to interrupt and fast-forward to the ending. I slam cabinet doors when I’ve had enough bickering. Some days I’m just a terrible mother. Some days start out well enough, but in an instant, I ruin it.

I’m not a perfect mother. My list of flaws could cover our driveway written in tiny childlike script. If mothers were required to fill out applications, I’m not sure I ever would have been qualified. So many others seem to do it better. But the one thing I do get right, always, is letting my kids know I love them no matter what ugly thing may go down. A bad day is just a bad day.

Whether we argue over homework or wearing shorts when it’s 30 degrees out, I still hug my kids, kiss their cheek, and tell them I love them because they should know there is nothing they could do that would ever make me not. I just hope they’ll always love me back. And if they happen to be too cold, well, that’s their own damn fault.

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I Admit It: Sometimes I’m Wrong

My daughter has a finicky palate, downright picky if you want to know the truth. Oh, she covers all the food groups, but each meal sits in plain, depressing piles on her plate. In my gut I know things will eventually be all right. I also know our battles are just that, battles.

Left free to graze in the open spaces of someone else’s pantry, she’s a bit less stubborn. I’ve stolen glances from the corner of my eye as she nibbled a hard-boiled egg at a Brownie troop meeting. “Are they eating hard-boiled eggs?” I asked another mom in bewilderment. I swore my eyes deceived me. Another time she held sushi to her lips while I waited for pigs with wings to burst into the room and buzz around our heads.

If you ask my opinion about my daughter’s menu selections, I will often tell you, “She won’t eat that” because I know she’ll scrunch up her nose, supersize her frown, and turn her head in disgust like a disapproving toddler. But I’ll tell you to try her anyway, just in case. Sometimes, though rarely, I’m flabbergasted when my daughter eats a plateful of rice at a friend’s house just because she wanted to have dinner there.

Sometimes I only think I know my kids.

I’ve dreaded soccer games because I didn’t want to see my kid skipping and hopping all over the field only to be surprised with a goal. I’ve skimmed math homework and felt my stomach sink with the weight of a concrete pill only to have my daughter’s mental math work five times more quickly than my own. I’ve taken chances on clothes for my kids that I didn’t think they’d wear once I cut the tags off. Now I can’t get those same clothes off them long enough for a spin in the wash.

Sometimes it feels good to be wrong.

My son wanted to try out for Elementary Battle of the Books this year. The team reads twelve assigned books and then competes in a Jeopardy-like competition against other schools. When he expressed his interest, I was doubtful and, to be honest, not very supportive. He likes to pick his own fantasy-based books. Some of the books on this list deal with real-life issues, not wizards and hobbits. Some of the main characters are girls for Pete’s sake. And he struggles with reading comprehension. Against the group of kids competing for a team spot, I wasn’t sure he could do it.

Book after book, my son fussed and complained. He didn’t like it. It was boring after the first chapter. “Give it time,” I said. “You have to get into the story.” The next thing I knew, he couldn’t put the book down and he proclaimed it the best book ever, even some with girls as the stars.

My son talked about quitting, but after reading five books he had dedicated so much time. He couldn’t walk away. He wanted to see whether he made the team. I was proud of him for making the effort. I saw such transformation: He went from a boy who would only read fantasy to a boy who could appreciate a good story, who no longer judged a book by its cover.

He made the team.

Just when I think I know my kids, they prove how much they change and grow every day. So being wrong sometimes feels like a victory. And it feels good to admit it.

summer reading

Some of my son’s summer reading selections. Will a battle of the books change that?

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Anatomy Lessons While Driving

Sometimes the car is not the place for an anatomy lesson. Sure, if you’re 16 and in love, maybe it’s the place where you learn what getting to second base is all about. But if you’re a mom, anatomy lessons while driving can be dangerous.

Questions don’t quite jar me like they used to. I’ve learned to expect anything from my kids on the open road, or on the ten-minute trek home from school. Either one. Oh, my kids have thrown some doozies at me just as I was trying to maneuver a busy intersection with the stealth skill of a Frogger champ. They somehow break through that tough barrier of concentration. It’s like someone’s in the backseat yelling, “Hey, driver, driver! Hey, driver, driver, hey!” I try to block them out, but those pesky kids are determined to chip through my focus. An innocent question hangs over my head and I hem and haw and brake and steer and hyperventilate all at once while my mind screams, “Get me out of this tiny box with these kids!” and “How come they never ask my husband these things on the way to school?”

Through the years, my kids have found the stained gray velour seats of our van a safe haven for asking the tough questions, a therapy bench if you will. I’m convinced it’s the no eye contact thing. That or the questions have been brewing in their minds at school all day, and their brains finally explode like steam from a kettle as soon as they get me alone.

“But what I don’t get is, how does the baby get in there?”

“Where does the baby come out of?”

“Parker told me on the playground that his mom is Santa. Is that true?”

“Mom, is s-e-x-y a bad word?”

And recently my kids were talking about crotches, which led to this: “What I want to know is what a girl’s private parts are called.”

Now I know I’ve mentioned that to them before, but I told them again to a response of giggles. And then a song about it. And then “a va-what?”

Just once I’d like for my husband to get those questions and I’d like to be a fly on the wall when he squirms and tells them the answer—and then I’d like to sing a song about it. Because I think I am finally over the discomfort and the hemming and hawing and the surprises from the backseat.

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After 15 Years, He Still Likes Me

At 22, I arrived at my first job fresh out of college with a degree, cheap clothes, big dreams, and little else. Happy to have work as a feature writer at a small daily newspaper, I settled into what I thought real-world living was. I found my own apartment in a dingy area of town, made my own meals, paid my bills, and still had a taste for fun and freedom. I figured if I got married, I’d be 30.

The serious dark-haired reporter who covered the cops and courts beat changed that. His deep voice carried across the newsroom. He didn’t have time to goof off. He was always on deadline or rushing to crime scenes or court.

Four months after I started my job, we were engaged. We had become fast friends. It wasn’t a storybook romance. It was more like we saw each other at a party from across the room and thought, “There you are. I’ve been looking for you all my life. Let’s get out of here.”

We just knew. It wasn’t that I couldn’t imagine the rest of my life without him; it was that I could only imagine the rest of my life with him.

Fifteen years later, here we are, a boring couple with two kids living in the suburbs. He works. I stay home. We live the American dream. We’ve had little drama. Frankly, I think it’s a good life. We laugh, we wrestle, we get on each other’s nerves, we ignore each other, we taunt each other, we get each other.

For fifteen winters he has put up with two pairs of socks on my feet, ugly flannel pajamas, and a sticky plastic strip across my stuffy nose to help me breathe. Nostrils flared, I look like a proud pig coming to bed but he doesn’t say anything, though he does roll the other way.

He puts up with the used tissues I leave all over the house year-round and the fact that I make him clean the unidentifiable objects from the back of the fridge. I suffer with the fact that he refuses to throw certain clothing away when it is so riddled with holes a moth wouldn’t touch it. I made a pact with him early in our marriage that I would never throw his things out without asking. And I don’t. I did not, however, say I wouldn’t nag about those items—or his box collection in the garage.

We’ve been through times when I wondered if we’d ever be the same happy couple again. Nights when our young son wouldn’t sleep, my word, there were hundreds of nights. But somehow when the sun came up, we always saw things differently.

When you’re young and stupid and you’re mumbling those wedding vows in utter fear, you know you mean them, but after fifteen years you understand them with all your heart. The honeymoon ended long ago, awkwardness replaced with being too comfortable in human skin. If something itches, you scratch it. My husband has held my hair for me while I puked, put ice packs on my head to ease migraines. He’s helped me through stomach disorders that I never wanted him to witness. He probably saw things during childbirth that I don’t want to know about.

That’s when you know you’ve got it good. Between all of that and those sticky nose strips, he loves me anyway.

We’ve been married fifteen years this month and he’s still that young reporter who invited me to his house to do my laundry and cook dinner for me sixteen years ago. And he still does my laundry and cooks dinner for me.

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When Dining Out Becomes a Workout

We often dine out one weekend night with the kids. With four of us, it’s difficult to find the one restaurant that makes all of us happy. You would think we would learn our lesson….

Where do y’all want to eat tonight?

Pizza!

How about Mexican?

Blah, I hate Mexican.

I don’t really want Mexican.

We just had pizza Wednesday.

So?

We could go to Elizabeth’s.

No, we always eat there.

What about Mellow Mushroom?

I don’t like their pizza.

It’s pizza. What don’t you like about it?

It’s too saucy.

What about the deli?

No, Daddy won’t eat there.

Mimi’s?

We ate there last weekend.

Pastabilities? They have macaroni and cheese.

It’s too cheesy.

There’s no such thing.

Well, if we can’t agree on anything, let’s just eat at home.

Ugh, you are so picky! You ruin everything!

Fine! I’ll go to Mexican.

I don’t want a taco!

Well, neither of you wants Mexican. Don’t yell at her for being picky if you are being picky too.

Let’s just eat at home.

(Tears. Kids run away. Sigh.)

(Quiet.)

What do you want to do?

We could go someplace new.

Where?

I don’t know.

(Quiet.)

How about Mario’s Pizza? Everyone likes that.

We can see what the kids say.

If everyone agrees on Mario’s, we can go out.

Yay!

(Everyone smiles and gets into the car.)

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