My Inner Scrooge

Tis the season to be jolly. Except I don’t feel the least bit jolly. All around me greens and reds light up the night, which arrives earlier each week. My favorite stores promise me great bargains if I shop with them. I won’t get there, though. In fact, if I had my druthers I wouldn’t leave my house until January. Well April, but that’s another story. However, when, out of necessity, I pull out of my driveway between Thanksgiving and Christmas I experience an agitation that is unique to this, the season in which I should be jolly.

First, there’s the traffic. It is exponentially worse in the weeks leading up to the holidays, and no time of day is immune. People must be taking long lunches to get their shopping done or sneaking out of work six hours early. Or not showing up at all. The other possibility is that there is an enormous amount of bottlenecking as people gaze at all the Santas’ and reindeer that decorate the side of the road. This I find particularly curious, since Santa, in my forty plus Christmases has not changed. Unlike the rest of us he refuses to age. You seen one Santa, you have seen them all!

I admire Santa’s ability to stay young almost as much as I admire his omniscience; that guy gets around! And while the inanimate Santas’ cause traffic; it is the live ones that cause me the most consternation, because they ask for money. And for me, this is the real problem with December; everyone seems to want a piece of me.

Take Borders Books, for example. Eleven months of the year it is my favorite haunt. But between Thanksgiving and Christmas Santa lurks at every check out counter. And in this case I am expected to be Santa. I buy a book for myself and I am asked to buy another one off of a cart for an underprivileged child. Fine. I am a sucker for kids and books. Then I go downstairs for my cup of Joe. There I am asked to buy a pound of coffee for a solider in Iraq. Ho-Ho-Ho! Or should I say No! No! No! The Barista doesn’t push it, but I feel compelled to explain.

“I donated a book upstairs,” I say. Somehow this explanation seems inadequate, because really, what does the military have to do with a kid who needs a book? So I continue. “My daughter’s school sent holiday cards to the soldiers,” I asserted. The underlying message of course being that my duty to the American Army is fulfilled.

Is my duty to the Salvation Army fulfilled? One wouldn’t think so, since every time I enter a supermarket Santa rings his bell for me to slip him a buck. I guess I should thank him, since in an effort to circumvent the shame that comes with avoiding eye contact each time I go for a gallon of milk, I simply shop less. My family may run out of bananas, but I steer clear of guilt. When I tried to go to a different supermarket, the guilt still pierced and I wanted to ask Santa, “Didn’t you get the memo from your colleague in Bedford? I gave over there! How about checking your list? I’m nice!”

None of this is to say that I embody another Christmas icon, Scrooge. I do give. I like to give. I did Toys for Tots. I gave Santa his buck. My kids gave up a night of Hanukah gifts, and we donated the money to children who need gifts in Israel. I did it all in the spirit of the season, too. And the season doesn’t stop on December 31st. I try to give all year. When I think about it in April or June I will send a check off to my favorite charity. When a friend asks for help in support of a worthy cause I will even give in September!

But between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I feel like Scrooge. I suppose I could carry around my cancelled checks as proof that I am charitable to show the Santas and the Baristas.  But what would I say to the person from the Lung Association who doesn’t get the hint that I am screening her calls? Well maybe she did get the hint, because she caught me off guard when at the unorthodox solicitation time of 8:15 AM last Monday morning, I answered the phone.

“We are not asking for money,” said the voice on the line.

“Well that’s good. Cause I already donated. If you wait, I can look up the date and amount for you.” I feel the need to prove my charitable nature during holiday season.

“No, we know you gave. We need you to ask your neighbors to donate. We will send you pre-printed envelopes which you can mail to them to solicit donations.”

At that moment I saw myself in a Santa suit standing on the cul de sac ringing a bell as my neighbors passed by. Then I saw myself as Scrooge visiting Christmas past and watching all the times I left Santa cold and empty handed.

I should really thank this lady, as she was presenting me with the opportunity to be Santa. But I went with Scrooge.

“I am not comfortable asking my neighbors for money,” was my tart reply.  And by the way I resent any call asking me for something at 8:15 AM when I need to get kids to school and a husband to work”

I hung up and screened my calls all day. I avoided the supermarkets and the toy stores. I may even do pea pod and stay home until the New Year. In short, I have decided to embrace my inner Scrooge. And once January hits, I will be Santa again.

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Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 3:34 am  Leave a Comment  

The Real Hidden Costs of Medical Care

Mo Money, Mo Money.  I cringe every time my co-pay increases. “Ten dollars, please.”  That’s a memory I struggle to recall. Fifteen. Twenty. Twenty five this past year for specialists and urgent care. That one I almost couldn’t believe and I insisted that the poor receptionist check with my insurance before I handed over the dough. I recall fondly how my prenatal visits were free, and think that maybe staying pregnant for the rest of my childbearing years is a good idea.

But then I did the math. More pregnancy will yield more children. And that’s when the hidden costs begin to mount. Yesterday’s doctor visit for my two sons cost me $40 for a co-pay, $10.00 for medication and $21.50 in toys. A tougher parent might argue that the toy wasn’t necessary. And she might be right. But I don’t pretend to be tough. Not when my middle son told me at 4 PM the day before Thanksgiving he  had a scratch in his throat, and his sister lay on the couch convalescing from the strep that she had gotten from her mother three days earlier. Not when I had visions of our entire Thanksgiving being ruined by a child delirious with fever and moaning in pain. So when I announced that we were off to the doctor for a strep test, my six year old collapsed with a tantrum that I haven’t seen since he was half his current size. And then his little brother, who is half his size began to wail, too, for no apparent reason other than he had a suspicion that he had won a car trip that would put him uncomfortably close to his least favorite hang out. No amount of assurance from me that this trip was not about him would assuage his fear. And the clock was rolling toward 4:15, conspicuously close to closing time at the Pediatrician’s, and I had promised to be there by 4:20, which if I got in the car that second would have me there, ten minutes late.

So I cracked, when in between flailing six year old feet that were eluding my attempts to force shoes on them, a tiny voice emerged. “Can I get a prize if I am good?”

“Yes, Yes, a prize!” I shouted, wondering why I hadn’t uttered the magical words before.

“Just get in the car!”

In the postgame replay I contemplate whether I would have promised a prize if I had known that the little guy was going to be subjected to the medical scrutiny that I had sworn he would avoid. But when we were waiting for the rapid strep results I casually asked the doctor to look at what I thought was a bad case of eczema behind his ear. After a diagnosis of impetigo and the sorry history of strep in the Raboy house, she decided to swab Jesse, too. I didn’t even try to save my self a few more bucks.

“Do you want a prize like Jonah? All you have to do is be good for the strep test.”

And he was good, putting aside his phobias of the medical profession for the promise of a toy. So, we headed to the toy store which is three doors down from our pharmacy. And I knew I’d have to pay a few dollars more than if I had headed to Target for the prize, but after the extra gas money that it would cost to go a few miles in the other direction, I opted for convenience. And this convenience is costing me a bundle!

Published in: on November 25, 2010 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Eight Days and Counting

Any parent home with their kids knows the significance of the number eight. As I sit here and write, it is eight days until the children are safely back in school. I use the word safely deliberately because their well being cannot be guaranteed much longer in my home. Even if I choose not to cause them harm, there is no doubt that they will cause one another harm, as bickering increases with boredom. I am not enjoying these last few treasured moments of downtime with my precious offspring.  I like the downtime, but I have had enough. I need it in July when school has just ended and the town pool is a muse, our skin is unburned, and our vacation is on the horizon instead of a murky memory.

The problem as I see it is that summer’s end feel like limbo.  Summer is over, but it is still warm, sometimes brutally so, and the swarms of bees remind us that we have another month of weather. However, weather does not define a season. A season is defined by its hallmark activities. In winter it is snowmen, hot chocolate, and ski trips. In summer it is swimming and road trips and camp. But camp is over and cars are back in the driveway.  The children have swimmer’s ear so the pool is out.

And please don’t forget the constant reminder that school is blissfully close to opening its doors to welcome our kids. The envelopes arrived last week informing their recipients whose class they will report to next week. The parking lot at the local elementary school is no longer empty; teachers have begun to return to set up their rooms. I visited our school a few days ago and trying to disguise my jealousy, smirked at the teachers and principal who were literally glowing from their summer’s respite.

“I am going to be the one glowing next week,” I laughed maniacally as I dragged my brood out.

So our thoughts have turned back to school as we sharpen our pencils, and wait. And wait. I imagine limbo to involve a lot of waiting. Children don’t do waits well. Waiting causes whining. Whining causes parents to lose patience. This unfortunate burst of impatience usually coincides with the moment there are no more clean clothes and laundry must be done. Laundry of course will not be done because the children are, at this point in the summer, incapable of entertaining themselves unless the entertainment involves torturing a sibling, an activity that requires immediate intervention.  My voice has not been heard at a normal decibel in at least three weeks. I found myself yelling at the dry cleaner yesterday, not for any particular reason, just because I assume, like my children, that no one can really hear me unless I shout.

Yes, it is pure survival at this point in the summer’s end. My three year old knows how to turn on the computer, load Firefox, and find Dora on Nick Jr.. Inappropriately plugged in at too early an age? Maybe, but at least this way he doesn’t have to leave the house naked because he has no clean clothes. And considering the rotten looks that were thrown my way when I dragged him to the supermarket in the  throes of a tantrum, a sobbing, naked child certainly would have not have been regarded kindly.

In between crafting sentences for this post, I am frantically trying to reach my friend who left a somewhat desperate message on my phone a few hours ago. There was a hint of madness to her voice as she threatened to harm herself if summer doesn’t declare itself over soon. Eight days should be nothing. At least that’s what my husband says. Right now, though, it feels interminable. I may send the kids down to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus. Fortunately, it is still warm enough.

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Garden Envy

“Mary, Mary quite contrary how does your garden grow?”

I find myself asking this question quite often. It is not Mary whom I ask, instead it is a friend or a neighbor or even a stranger who is reading a gardening magazine in Borders.  I find myself gazing enviously toward other’s gardens, taking visual stock of the size and girth of their plants, the variety of their vegetables, as well as the tools at their disposal. For instance, while scrutinizing one garden I noticed a black cloth spread pulled over the whole bed with holes for each of the plants. I panicked. The tender of the garden was not available for questioning, so I did what anyone with garden envy might do: accosted her young son.

“Why does your mom have a cover on the garden?”

He shrugged.

“Is it like a cover for the pool? Does it keep the plants warm? There’s not going to be a June frost, is there? Or is it for the bugs?” My maniacal line of questioning clearly dumbfounded the boy, who gave me another shrug.

I often  seek information that might help my garden live long and prosper. Early in the summer, I noticed my friend Carl, feeding his plants organic plant food. His garden is perhaps the one I envy most for its raised rectangular beds and beautiful mulch that blanket the soil, as well as its resplendence with a variety of vegetables and lovely marigolds lining the corners.

“Should I be doing that?” I asked him pointing to the organic feed, key in other hand, ready to bolt for the nursery.

“Can’t hurt,” he replied. “Or you can use your own compost.”

My own compost consists of banana peels I save and bury in the soil as well as shells from the hard boiled eggs I cook and force feed my toddler so that my garden can be properly nourished.  I headed for the nursery.

Perusing gardening magazines does nothing to quell my anxiety. I read about how to attract “good bugs” to my garden, ones that will help keep “bad bugs” from destroying my crops. I wouldn’t know a good bug from a bad bug if it bit me on the buttocks, which I suspect they often do.  Once, my daughter mentioned that her teacher asked her to collect some lady bugs that had invaded the class so that she might use them to help her tomatoes.  Lady bugs and tomatoes was news to me, so I spent that afternoon with a magnifying glass and my daughter’s bug collection kit combing the yard for mobile red and black dots, but found none. I thought about e-mailing Julia’s teacher to ask if she could spare a few from her classroom, but decided to spare the little guys the bus ride home.

Bugs and soil, soil and bugs.  I need to understand why I have cultivated an interest in agriculture that has caused me more consternation than joy.  I never had a green thumb. I don’t recall participating in my mother’s garden as a child, either. I have a vivid recollection of her flowers—mostly yellow and red tulips- that lined the hillside of our front yard. I remember the compliments she got on her garden, too. Perhaps I am searching for some positive reinforcement about my lovely landscaping or zesty zucchini. I also remember her mint leaves. I just cut my first leaves yesterday and my nostrils inhaled the smell of summer nights on my back patio with burgers and mint laced iced tea.  So perhaps the garden is a way to re-connect with the simplicity of summers long gone, when, without a fear of skitters bearing West Nile and ticks carrying Lyme, we lived out of doors.

Maybe it is nostalgia  that propels me as I try to re-create childhood memories for my own offspring. But why not flowers? Why do I bother with a vegetable garden when I don’t particularly like vegetables? There is something to the adage that it tastes better if you grow it yourself. The vegetables may not please my palate (I haven’t figured out how to turn the mint leaves into mint ice cream) but they do please my olfactory senses. The smell of the cucumbers significantly increase the likelihood that I will try them, add them to my salad or even comb the internet for some interesting recipes with my garden’s bounty as its centerpiece. So maybe I can conclude that my garden is a way to encourage myself to enjoy better health as I decorate my dinner plate with the fruits (no pun intended) of my labor.

But I don’t think so. I want to be healthy, but physical health is only important if one is mentally healthy. And garden envy simply does not promote my mental well being. This was again brought to my attention as I visited Carl’s garden later in the season, now so green and verdant that I imagined the only way to move through it was to hack away at the plants with a machete. Violent thoughts about vegetables can not be productive. And worse, I spent the next few days standing over my own garden trying to ascertain which leaves were droopy, and which ones had a shot at success. I briefly considered plantacide, and came close to pulling out the tomato plant that leaned conspicuously to one side. I might have pulled the trigger if my daughter hadn’t shrieked, “What are you doing?” What kind of a role model would I be if I murdered an innocent tomato plant, and what message would it send to my children if I gave up so easily on a budding life?

But the lesson is clear: my garden is driving me to the brink. My self esteem is buried deep beneath the soil of my meager garden beds. I should dig up my fragile ego, and tend to my sense of worth with a hobby that will celebrate my strengths. More than one friend has described her garden as better than therapy. While my garden is less likely to be therapy and more likely to land me in therapy, I continue to strive for that feeling of Zen that comes with weeding and watering. It should be obvious to the reader by now that Zen has so completely eluded me, not just with regards to gardening but in every aspect of my existence. Siddhartha Gautama, the man responsible for Zen and Buddhism, in the third of his four noble truths, teaches that “suffering can be overcome if we let go of our desires.” Unfortunately, my desire to grow a green thumb has significantly reduced the likelihood of my ever attaining Nirvana.

Yet, I consider the Buddha’s second noble truth, that to “live means to suffer” an indication that perhaps I should keep going. My garden has certainly made me suffer; it reinforces my perceived shortcomings and plummets myself esteem. For example, like my impatiens- the only flowers I dare to grow-I lack patience. Not a good quality for a gardener. Planning a garden is crucial to its success. The skilled planter knows what herbs and vegetables to place in her garden, and how far apart to plant them. She knows which plants are good neighbors, and which plants should be separated. She likely even designs the garden on a grid before planting. Not me. My zucchini has cast a long shadow on my celery which is not even supposed to be planted in soil like mine, and my cucumbers were put in the middle of the bed with no fence or stake to twine their way around. And who knows if it is even is a cucumber plant because I didn’t take the time to prepare the grid! Maybe that is why I have produced no more than two tomatoes, arguably the easiest crop to grow.

Each day, though, even the ones where I don’t have the strength to pull out the hose; I am faithful enough to check both beds for some sign that I will have a salad with dinner. I did manage to eek out a cucumber salad, and there was one red pepper to shave atop my greens. As for the eggplant and the corn, well, there is always next year. And when I contemplate potential improvements for next summer’s garden, I think of Buddha’s other teaching: the Eightfold Path. Buddhism teaches that by following the Eightfold Path an individual can be mentally rehabilited and freed from delusions and suffering.  My garden needs rehabilitation, and I need to free myself from suffering. As for delusions, it is clear that I need to let go of those, too. Lady bugs on school busses and machetes hacking through gardens quite possibly signify the kind of therapy that does not include trips to the nursery. I imagine through this therapy I will be told to accept my shortcomings, and plant grass or at least some fool proof flowers where my vegetables now suffer.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 6:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Misunderstood Expectations

I sent my oldest child off to sleep away camp for the first time this summer. It’s actually only half a summer—twenty seven days to be exact. My intentions in doing this were totally altruistic: an experience I knew she would cherish, a chance for her to make new friends, belong to a community outside her family, and practice the independence she yearned for. I would miss her, and the sisterhood her presence provided me in a home that otherwise consists of males. Her father would be sullen for sure, as his little girl went away, and there would be one less set of hands to care for her youngest brother. But these are the sacrifices we make for our children; we suffer silently as we let them go forth and make their way into the world.

But of course it would be dishonest if I did not admit that there are perks to her being absent that some tiny part of me fantasized about in the days before we dropped her off in the lovely Berkshire Mountains. One less person to cook for. One less schedule to coordinate. A little less laundry and a lot less mess. (My daughter is the household slob)  Most importantly, for one blessed month I could reclaim my spot on the sofa to watch my TV shows. Almost ten, my daughter has as of late, developed a pesky habit of wanting to sit with me and watch all my shows, which are entirely inappropriate for her, and by the time she crawls into bed I am ready to hit the sack as well. As a result, I have a huge back log on my DVR. These were the small pleasures that I would allow myself to appreciate while she was away at camp.

She has now been gone for 13 days, and four hours and my new reality has formed. The excess of time I had hoped to have does not exist. Silly me! I naively believed that her physical absence would present to me the gift of time, but it has only redistributed my time amongst some new duties. She still must be cared for, and prepared for, and I still have to clean up after her. Put simply, having a child at sleep away camp is a part time job.

First, there are the letters and e-mails which must be written daily or almost daily. If I skip a day I fret that my poor girl will be the only one in her bunk with out an envelope to open. This notion was confirmed when in a recent letter my daughter stated that she was “the only one in the bunk that didn’t get mail.” Although this seemed impossible as I had slipped something to the postman every day, I had my husband call the camp to confirm that our letters and packages had arrived. The office administrator assured us that Julia was getting mail, as she had sorted it herself, but what Julia probably meant was that she was not getting as much mail as the other girls.

“These girls get so much mail,” she reported to my husband.  So now, in addition to my own carefully crafted letters (I try not to bore her with details of my mundane existence, but at the same time not taunt her with tales of the circus we took her brothers to) I had to solicit the help of friends and family to participate in a letter writing campaign. Wanting to ensure success, I provided and delivered many of the participants with self addressed envelopes.

The irony is that if she had been home, I may have just told her to deal; some people get more letters than others. However, at a distance of 120 miles, I had to provide her with the maternal comfort that she may or may not be missing. I could not soothe her with my voice in accordance with the camp’s no phone call policy, so I would pacify her with my words and the words of 10,000 of our closest friends. I even asked my three year old’s counselor if she could help him create a beautiful piece of art to be mailed to his sister.

And when I have finished dispersing the fifty stamps I purchased, I glance at the book on my nightstand longingly, and sigh. Because before I immerse myself with summer reading, I need to log on to my computer to check BUNK 1, a modern day peeping Tom disguised as a camera that clicks away photos of your child at play, so parents can torture themselves several times daily as they sift through hundreds of photos in search of their child’s smiling face. It’s the equivalent of a Crackberry for parents of the sleep away set. Dangerous and addicting, it is the black hole of time suckers, complete with the highs and lows that drug addicts describe.  If I find my daughter linking arms with her new gal pal, I sail through the day, high as kite, but not before I alert everyone on my e-mail list that Julia is having the best time at camp. But if the camera did not look her way on that particular day, or I detect the slightest scowl (during the recent heat wave there were several of those) I crash and burn, counting the hours until the website is updated and I can get my next fix.

Thanks to my daughter’s neon wardrobe and perma-grin, the camera has not missed her often, but that does not mean I do not worry. For instance, why does she insist on wearing her shrug over her tank top in 95 degree weather? Why does she wear said shrug every day? How many times have I told her not to wear dirty clothes? Does she reek? Is that why the girl she usually hugs in all the photos was standing a few feet away in the last one? I consider dashing off an e-mail to her, begging her to wash that vile shrug, but it seems just a bit too voyeuristic. She is there to be independent and she will be fiercely independent if she doesn’t stick that thing in the laundry. Besides, her latest letter informed me that she wouldn’t be responding to any of my e-mails, as she “hates to e-mail process.” And by the time I get an answer from her about the shrug, she will be home.

The letters arrive twice a week, by snail mail and according to friends with kids at camp; I am one of the lucky ones. My gal actually gives information in her letters. I get a little verbiage to go along with the photos about the activities that she enjoys and the crazy antics that happen only at camp. Most kids give one liners and sign off. But of course reading a letter and then re-reading a letter and then calling my husband and grandparents to read the letter takes time.

And of course there is the matter of cleaning up the mess she left behind. One year of school papers, clothes outgrown, toys lost, toys no longer played with, beg to be extradited from her room. This gargantuan task can only be undertaken when she is hours away and the possibility of her breaking down the door and threatening to pummel me with the stuffed bear she hasn’t seen in years is impossible. I mistakenly allotted one day to overhaul her room, only to find myself still knee deep in her mess after almost a week.

Now, as I finish writing this, there are seven days left until she returns. My DVR is still full; my book dog eared on page 100. Her brother half jokes that he forgets what she looks like, and says that he is not sure he even has a sister. As her absence has consumed so much of my time this last month, I do not share his feelings. I have, however, noticed significant improvement in my coping skills. For instance, I assume she has washed her shrug and her neon colored tank tops because she hasn’t been in a photo for five days. My feelings about this are strangely neutral. It would be nice to see her, but I trust that she is happy, and with no image to stare at, I am free to extricate myself from the computer. I have also figured out that it is the act of getting mail that is important to her, rather then the content of the letters I write. (This I gathered from the fact that she has not responded to one piece of news I delivered about the family happenings while she is away, and has continually ignored my pleas to write her brother) So there are days I simply stick the comics she asked me to send in an envelope with a note that says I Love you, glad you are having fun! It may be too late for this year, but as this is the first of many separations, I am going to look forward to next summer when I can separate more easily. And, of course, hope that the camp installs a video camera in real time to live the experience right along side her.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Potty Training

My three year old is several months past the generous deadline my husband and I imposed for potty training. Generous when one considers his brother and sister were finished several months before their third birthdays and the milestone required very little effort on our part. My daughter, barely two and a half, stood at the top of the stairs in our house and announced that she wanted to wear underwear. DONE!  Our middle son, just a few months older than his big sister was, used all his mighty strength to pull a step stool over to the toilet, placed the training seat on top, climbed up, and then called for my husband to inspect the evidence. FINISHED! Two for two before three! We were feeling pretty good, and could never imagine that the little guy would be any different. WRONG! Birthday number three came and went and Jesse clinged to his diapers for dear life.

The words of my former pediatrician keep ringing through my mind, “they train themselves.,” Well, Jesse has no interest in training himself, he seems perfectly content with a super absorbent paper product gripping his groin 24-7.  We are well over budget on diapers at this point, too; my daughter is going to have to forego those private violin lessons she wants until her baby brother decides he’s tired of those monthly Costco runs for giant sized boxes of pampers. Who new paper could be so expensive? I am not beneath charity. The last day of pre-school as we were emptying the children’s cubbies, one mother laughed as she saw the bag of diapers she had stored in the cubby last September. “I guess I won’t need these anymore.”

“I’ll take them!” I said eagerly, trying to calculate how much money I would save.

My shrinking bank account aside, I am simply eager for this stage of parenting to end.  Well meaning friends and amateur shrinks have offered strategies to address his pee and poop reluctance.

“Bribe him,” a friend suggested. “What’s his poison? A cookie? A piece of chocolate? A lollipop?” This friend clearly hasn’t noticed his svelte figure. My toddler does not crave sugary treats, which leaves Mom and Dad with no currency to shape his behavior. This of course leaves me feeling sorry for myself, that I have the only kid in the world that doesn’t light up when the car breezes past Ben and Jerry’s. Perhaps I should bribe him with broccoli?

“Threaten him.” This from my nine year old daughter. Now, this may not be sound parenting, but the truth is she is the only person who has had any success in getting him to go. Once, when left in charge of him while Dad was working in his home office, she noticed him trying to push. She was in the midst of changing his clothes for a night and told him she wouldn’t dress him until he went on the potty. So he did. And despite lots of fan fare and a parade in his honor down the driveway and back he has never repeated this feat.

“Peer Pressure,” his teacher said. “They all start to go when the kids in their class go.” Well, if this is true, Jesse can skip DARE in fifth grade, cause ain’t nobody going to pressure my boy. He coined the phrase, “Just Say No.” I noticed when I was in his class the other day, there was a constant traffic in and out of the bathroom, but Jesse seemed unmoved. Never the less, when Jesse developed a man crush on a little boy in his class, I thought I would try this tactic. After all, that’s how I get him to school in the morning. “Will Jacob be there?” he asks. A yes sends him running to the car. But when I applied this to potty training, “Do you want to go potty, like Jacob?” he simply looked at me and said, “No.” Apparently his devotion only goes so far.

Another friend had the idea that if he owned it, he might be more willing. She suggested going to pick out underwear that had a picture of his favorite character to encourage him to at least try them. Great idea, but not when your favorite character is Dora and Strawberry Shortcake, which for obvious reasons are not manufactured in briefs for boys. And should he choose to march around in girls’ panties as an adult, that’s his business, but I won’t be party to this behavior.

The only other character he worships with as much fervor is his older brother, and believe me, I have been searching the internet for a company that will custom make underwear with an iron on picture of his brother across his butt. No luck so far, but maybe once he is trained, I can earn back all the money I spent on diapers with a custom design toddler underwear business for reluctant potty goers.

The other day, while shopping in the GAP, I had a brief moment of hope when Jesse yelled “Look Mom, I am peeing!” and he proceeded to pull down his pants and make a sound that vaguely resembled urine hitting porcelain. Of course horrified shoppers and salespeople stared me down waiting for me to react, but Jesse’s diaper never came down, as I knew it wouldn’t. However, it did give me a glimmer of a hope that perhaps this play acting was the first step toward a brand new toilet ‘tude.

We have been back to the GAP several times since that hopeful moment and each time he has faithfully pulled down his pants to expose his diaper and pretend to urinate. I am actually considering renovating his room to look like the children’s section of the GAP. Alternatively, I could get him a job there, from which he would certainly be fired, but hopefully not before he learned to love underwear.

What will it take, I do not know. Well meaning acquaintances often share their horror stories about recalcitrant trainers who hit age four or even five before shedding their diapers. It helps to know it could always be worse, but I am rapidly approaching worse. In the meantime, I am off to stalk mothers everywhere emptying their child’s cubby and looking to dump unneeded diapers on a desperate bystander!

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

All the Jobs I wish I did Not Have

Happy belated Mothers Day. I thought that this year, I would express my gratitude for all the opportunities and surprises motherhood has given me. Specifically, all the alternative career paths I have been able to explore as a result of having children. I expected that my chosen career in teaching would render me highly qualified for motherhood, and while it has helped, I am left thinking ten years later that for all the self-help and expert advice out there for mothers on raising kids there is no course or book that prepares one for all the skills and jobs that are required. Although there are many, below are two of my “favorite” mother-jobs.

Waitress

I knew I would have to cook meals. I knew I’d have to deal with rejection of my culinary efforts as vegetables are pushed away, and chicken delicately prepared with breadcrumbs, or Saucy Susan is doused in ketchup to disguise the children’s belief in the ineptitude of my cooking skills. What I did not know is that I’d also have to be a waitress. Now, if I had wanted to be a waitress, if I believed I had the skills necessary to meet the requirements for this job, then I would have pursued this at an earlier time of my life. But the thing is, when I am around food, I like to eat, not serve. Food and conversation or maybe the newspaper. Instead, I eat in between filling water glasses. (My own fault, my self assigned seat is next to the water cooler) I take a bite of food and before chewing, I am up and off to the fridge for someone’s salad dressing. I deliver the dressing, manage to swallow another bite, but then another customer wants me to get up and pour the dressing on a very particular place on his plate, out of the way of all the other food groups. Of course, as I slide back into my seat and manage to take one spoonful, all the time cognizant that my hot meal is no longer hot, a crash hits the floor and I am up again to help one of the vertically challenged customers replace silverware since they can’t reach the drawers themselves. Finally, I give a sigh of relief as the customers finish their meal, push away their plates- or if I am lucky and they remember- help the kitchen staff by clearing their plates. I am, at last, alone with my food, and three types of salad dressing, ketchup, dirty napkins, a filthy table screaming for Fantastik and a sponge, and half eaten-maybe- even- chewed up and spit out pasta or chicken (never fish!). Suddenly, I am no longer hungry. A natural appetite suppressant! I get up and clean up after the customers, and when the table is sparkling and my kitchen once again shines I look at the table that was so recently a war zone. It is empty. What, no tip?

Detective

My liberal arts education did not prepare me for detective work. I didn’t take so much as a forensics course in college. Yet there are numerous occasions when these skills are required. For example, the missing sneaker. There is inevitably one missing two minutes before the bus pulls up or we have to leave for ballet. “Retrace your steps,” and “when do you last remember seeing it?” is my frantic line of questioning as I sprint from corner to corner, up and down two flights of stairs searching and smelling for the missing footwear. Not that I haven’t learned anything. My babysitter, having had four kids of her own, taught me about the most unlikely of hiding places, like the hamper where each of my toddlers has stowed a shoe or two.

Then, of course there is solving the “whodunit?” crimes that come along with a house full of children. Some, like “Who took Daddy’s brush?” is an easy one to solve (always the daughter—the only one who brushes her hair) and since there is no innocent until proven guilty in our house, we only need to threaten punishment to retrieve the missing item. Other crimes, like, “who lost the remote?” are much trickier. The culprit could be any one of the three children, and all three will deny involvement. No line of questioning seems to help move us closer to solving this type of crime. And often, the discovery of the missing remote is made after the children are tucked in for the night and I am collapsing on the couch looking forward to my favorite sit-com. Perhaps a detective would tell me that this is an excellent opportunity to solve the crime—the suspects are vulnerable and will answer anything- if you shake them awake and shine a flashlight in their eyes. Although tempting, I need only to see the angelic faces on my sleeping cherubs to know that this one will go unsolved until 6:00 AM when one of them wants to watch. Either that or I can post a notice for a cash reward. Money talks.

While theft is perhaps the most common offense, the more gruesome felonies, like assault, are even harder to crack. I am fortunate that my children are not more prone to violence, but there is the occasional blood curdling scream followed by a cry and an accusation of pulled hair, or kicked leg. I am ill-equipped to deal with these cases. All evidence is circumstantial, and trying to uncover the truth becomes a veritable “he says, she says.” Even if there is a witness, he or she is never impartial, and is likely to side with the sibling who has most recently been nice to him. So the deed goes unpunished. There is no justice in the world, or in my home.

Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 1:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Road Trip!

Pack their bags.  Pack your bags. Charge the DVD players. Buy some new, never been seen DVD’s. Go to Costco. Buy some granola bars. In bulk.  Locate the DS players. Make children sign a contract that says they will share all DS games and DVD’s. Wake up early. Hustle. Load em up! Sound familiar? If not, it’s a road trip. A family road trip where provisions must be made for hunger, boredom, and cranky passengers.

Early in the morning on the day you start out, as the sun’s first rays shine through your bedroom window, you feel hopeful. This is what the family needs: some good old fashioned together time. You are so clever to have bought that mini van for occasions such as this. And clever again to have found a hotel room cheap enough to allow you to reserve two rooms so that you and your husband don’t have to call lights out at 8 PM.  Isn’t a seven hour drive worth a lifetime of memories?

The answer: not if the seven hour drive turns into a twelve hour drive.  You watch, dismayed as Tom-Tom keeps changing your arrival time, but simultaneously assures you that you are still on the fastest route. How, dear Tom-Tom how is that possible when you are in a parking lot on Interstate 95? You panic as the time, and nothing else, passes you by. You know that with each passing moment the DVD’s are not so new, the snack supply is diminishing and the DS players have long ago gone Ker plunk on the floor. As soon as the distracted passengers realize this, they will no longer be distracted, instead they will be ornery. Which at home where you can walk away even momentarily is not fun, but in a traveling prison, there is no escape, and being buckled in only makes the inmates more hostile.

But at last you arrive and there is momentary excitement at the prospect of staying in a hotel (for them, not you—you simply see a bed spread that is frayed and not enough pillows on which to sleep soundly. Then you remind yourself that’s what $60 buys you. After repeated calls to the front desk begging them to bring the cot that will stop the war of wills underway in the children’s room, you almost give in and agree to share a bed with the smallest person. But just in time the cot arrives with apologies from maintenance. Now, the business of getting the kids settled down begins. No one wants the cot; somehow even the three year old knows this is not prestigious real estate. However, his tiny voice eventually trails off, and there is quiet. Silence, in fact. You can finally sleep. Nothing like a twelve hour road trip sitting on your ass, back seat driving, to utterly exhaust you. Deep and blissful sleep ensues until…

Until way too early the next morning when the little one, unaccustomed to sleeping on a cot, still pissed he lost the battle of the comfy beds, but thrilled to have his siblings in the same room wakes up. If he is up, his brother is up. “Wake up Jonah!”Get out of Bed.” And if Jonah is up, Julia is soon to be up, and furious that her brothers have woken her. So into your bed she climbs, and you climb out, stumble into the adjoining room grasping for the remote, so the boys will give you another hour of blessed rest. But it is morning, and you are on a family trip! You should savor each minute and start snapping the photos.

Now, when your children are 3, 6, and 9 there is very little you can do to accommodate all interests. So certain trips are geared toward a particular audience, and this one was geared toward the nine year old. But before the road trip you idealize—all three will enjoy stepping back in history to colonial times.  But the little guy doesn’t like to be in Colonial Williamsburg where people in funny costumes try to talk and he is told to be quiet so fellow travelers can listen to tales about the founding fathers. And for some reason the six year old is not embracing the sights and sounds of colonial America the way you had anticipated. He is, however, embracing his inner demon, and therefore sees fit to whine, complain and insist on sitting in the stroller, which leaves the only transportation for the baby the arms of your husband. Your husband, who at this point turns on his heels, slings the now screaming toddler over his shoulders and says he is leaving. Leaving? Does that mean back to the hotel? Back to New York? You are instructed to follow. You don’t. The only thing worse than two crabby kids is two crabby kids and an ornery husband. You pat your wallet to make sure your credit card is still there. Amtrak takes credit cards, right?

Eventually the ornery spouse and screaming baby return and the children are threatened appropriately. In an act of true desperation, you explain to the six year old that while his behavior has prohibited him from choosing a souvenir that day, if he could see fit to behave from this point forth he could earn his souvenir tomorrow. And yes, he could get the wooden pistol he saw. Did you really just say that? You swore you would never get your son a toy gun, but desperate times call for desperate measures and should he see any Red Coats or Loyalists pass by he can defend the family.

And so the six year old pulls himself together and gets his gun. The baby gets his fife and marches down Duke of Glouster Street playing a little diddee he composed. Everyone is happy, finally, and in the spirit of the trip! But it is time to leave. The highway beckons. The traffic couldn’t be so bad again, right? Wrong! Another seven hour trip turns to twelve. The baby watches Strawberry Shortcake for the fiftieth time. (You wonder why you bought all the new DVD’s—he clearly only needed one) At long last, you pull into your driveway. The boys are fast asleep. Your daughter pipes up from the back seat “Turn the car around! I want to go back to Williamsburg!”

We will go back, kid. Brother-less, and Daddy-less, but we will go back.  On Amtrak. They take credit cards, right?

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Costco and the Caveman

My latest anthropological research is focused on man’s relationship with Costco. I find it curious that in most of my friend’s homes, Costco runs are on the husband’s “to do” list. This is interesting when one considers that many of these men identify themselves as anti-shoppers. My own husband would say that shopping ranks at the bottom of his list, below even scrubbing the bathroom or cleaning up the garbage a clever raccoon has gotten into.

So what is it about the humongous warehouse with fluorescent lights and birds living on its rafters that lures men in through its doors and onto its absurdly long lines? Why are men willing to give up a portion of their precious weekends to fight the crowds that are certainly thinner during the week when many of their wives could go?

The answer goes back to our prehistoric friend the caveman: men hunt, woman gather. Costco is a present day version of the jungle or forest or wherever it was the caveman went to collect food for his family. It is in this warehouse that man can return to his ancestral roots. No longer is it necessary to go with a bow and arrow or a pocket full of stones and sneak up on an unsuspecting animal, but the concept is remarkably similar. The weapons: a Costco card and an oversized cart. The prey: frozen pizza bagels for the kid’s lunch or the biggest bunch of bananas known to humankind.

And oh, the electronic aisle! It is no coincidence that every Costco I have ever been in has the big screen TV’s right at the store’s entrance. This allows the caveman to hunt for the ultimate prize immediately, and should he choose to make a purchase, he can walk taller and prouder on the rest of his hunting expedition. With his shoulders just a little more upright, the rest of the cavemen will get the message that this particular Neanderthal conquered the largest trophy in the forest—a new gadget for his toy collection!

Everything in Costco is bigger, and this is part of its appeal. From the dawn of time men have believed in the adage “the bigger the better.” In cavemen terms that may have been the guy with the largest fur coat, or the one who dragged home the largest deer for dinner.  In modern terms, it is the guy with the biggest screen TV.  But if he can’t get the widest screen, then at least in Costco he can secure the largest container of olive oil. Our last container actually lasted us five years.  And the bigger the better is not limited to food or television sets, quantity is just as important.   One caveman I know actually decorates the ledges in his basement with paper goods from Costco. When all the other cavemen come over, they admire how he has seen to it that his brood will never run out of toilet paper.

Make no mistake, either. The caveman likes to hunt for a bargain as much, if not more than his wife. Watch any social gathering and you will note that while wives dip their carrots in hummus (both bought in bulk on last week’s hunt) and talk about the sale at Bloomingdales, their hunters are off in the other corner discussing the deals they secured at their favorite warehouse that weekend. One caveman confided in me that the arrival of the Costco coupon book is his favorite day of the month.  My own hunter told me when we ran out of milk on a Wednesday, to only purchase a quart from the local market to get us through the rest of the week. He would of course be buying milk in bulk, over the weekend from his favorite warehouse. Much more cost effective.

I picture our prehistoric ancestors hunting and bragging about their kills. I have no doubt that they turned their hunting exploits, meant for pure survival, into a competition. The hunter with the largest kill would be the winner for the day. Or maybe the hunter competed with himself, to earn a personal best.  The Costco caveman behaves similarly as he tries to procure the best deal. One caveman I know was at a friend’s house when he noticed that his buddy had purchased a more expensive brand of paper towel on his latest Costco run. Apparently, the less pricey brand was two ply instead of three ply, but amounted to a dollar or two increase in price. They were situated next to each other in the store, so it was an understandable error. However, horrified at his mistake, the caveman ripped the paper towel out of his wife’s hand and loaded up the Volvo to make the half hour trip back for his two bucks. These men have built their friendship on sharing information and earning bragging rights as to who found the best deal. Those two dollars were necessary to save face.

In some small way it is reassuring to know human beings don’t change all that much. Yes, we evolve. We advance. The scenery changes. The menu changes. But husbands don’t. They will always hunt. They will always compete—with themselves and with each other. In another 1,000 years I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but I know it will exist. In the meantime, I am going gather the berries out back while my husband goes to Costco.

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Wrong Side of the Bed

Apparently, long ago I chose to go to sleep on the wrong side of the bed. As a result I often wake up on the wrong side of the bed. In the early years of my marriage, before I even realized the implications, I selected the left side. It was closer to the door (in the event that I needed to make a speedy getaway) and the bathroom (for those frequent middle of the night trips).

Now, a decade and a half into my marriage, I realize the error of my ways, for I am the parent who is most likely awakened for middle of the night visits from one of our three darling children. Need some more water? Ask mom! Had a bad dream? Crawl in next to mom, get all up in her personal space and take her pillow. Climb over her in horror to go back to your own bed as you say, “How do you sleep when Dad snores like that?” It’s tough kid.

If you need Motrin in the middle of the night, don’t bother taking the extra five steps around to Dad’s side of the bed, it’s not worth the trip. Just ask Mom. She will be delighted to get up at 2:50 in the AM, sway and stumble like a drunkard into your bathroom to search in vain for the Motrin which is actually in the kitchen. She will then dance down the stairs barefoot and robe less in this coldest, darkest part of the night to retrieve the bottle. And as she measures this liquid gold, barely able to see in the bright light that her eyes have not yet adjusted to, she can only hope she has poured enough to keep you quiet until morning. And then, she will tuck you in and sing a lullaby before she easily drifts back to sleep…

And since we still have one in a crib, Mom pays visits as often as she receives them. The owner of the left side of the bed has the privilege of  being able to hear more more effectively when tiny voices call out.  And while one might think that the crib would be cozy enough for its occupant to stay content until morning, this is not so when its occupant is very picky about the way his blankets are arranged and can’t seem to fix them himself. And why is it that the kid in the crib, who seems to prefer his father at all other times of day, has no problem when Mom shows up in the wee hours to situate him?

My prime real estate on the left side of the bed of also makes me the lucky recipient of my children’s well visits. A well visit in parental terms is defined as an early morning wake up call from someone entirely too noisy and too enthusiastic for a time of day when the sun’s first rays have just appeared on the horizon. These drop- ins usually involve a child, speaking loudly, about something inane like bakuguns or how funny Sponge Bob is at 5:45 AM.

This unfortunate circumstance of my parenting adventure has become particularly clear to me over the last two weeks as my family has battled strep throat. I can’t recall the last night I slept uninterrupted by my offspring. I mentioned this to my husband in a kind of “it’s funny, haven’t you ever noticed how the kids only wake me up in the middle of the night?” way. He shrugged, “What can I tell you. They want their Mommy.” I suppose this is supposed to appeal to my ego, but it doesn’t. I’ll test the theory, though. Next time I get into bed first, I am going to commandeer the right side of the bed. He will have no choice but to sleep on my side. If the kids walk around to wake me, I will make a minefield with their toys so they trip as they walk around the bed in the dark to fetch me. And if they decide to climb over Dad to reach me, then I will be able to say, “You really shouldn’t have woken up your dad, but he’s up, closer to the door, and happy to help you.” Finally, if my theory on bedroom real estate is true, and they wake their dad, out of sheer convenience, then I suspect there will be a bidding war for the best plot of land in our king size bed. And to the winner, a lot more sleep.

Published in: on December 31, 2009 at 2:07 pm  Comments (1)