Channeling my Inner Evil Stepmother

I went back to teaching this semester, and the conversations I had with my students were so rich and enlightening I wish I recorded and posted them all here. Instead I barely wrote at all because I was swimming so deeply in all of their wonderful ideas I had little time to write down any of my own. So I’m taking this lazy post-holiday-break Monday morning filled with the profound silence of a childless home to write down one moment of clarity I remember from the fall.

It started in September when Boo lost her eyeglasses. You know how, when you lose important things, you can usually say when you last had them, or where you last saw them, or where you remember being when you had them last? Wouldn’t this be kind of something you’d remember if the item you lost actually helped you to see? Wouldn’t you be able to say, “Um, well, things have been kind of blurry since Monday, so I guess that was the last time I had them”? Sure you would. Unless you’re Boo. Because Boo had absolutely no recollection of the last time or place she had her glasses. I mean, at all. And because her glasses are not on my face and because I have other things to deal with, I had no idea the last time I saw them, either. Complete blank.

So she comes out of her room one Wednesday morning (and of course it was a Wednesday, because that’s one of my work days where I have absolutely NO TIME for anything but get up, get dressed, eat, get out the door) and she says “I can’t find my glasses.” Now, Critter and I are ready to go, and we have five minutes, so I tell Boo to put on her shoes and Critter and I will start looking. Seeing how Critter finds EVERYTHING, I had no doubt she would locate Boo’s glasses in record time.

We had no luck. We searched under beds, on nightstands, in drawers, but nothing. And then I started looking for Boo. Where was she? On the couch, shoes on, reading her kindle.

I’m sorry, what? She was doing what?

She was reading her kindle.

Had she found her glasses? No. Nope. Not at all. She was just sitting there, chillin’, reading her kindle while Critter and I searched through the rooms for the glasses.

It was at that point that I felt my blood turn to ice and my heart grow hard as stone.

Okay, not really, but I was pretty angry. And I LOST IT. Now, I’m sure you think that when I say I lost it I started screaming, or yelling, or getting all Italian on that kid. But no. Not at all. I just felt something crack, and that inner voice said, “If she doesn’t care, I don’t care. I’m done.”

I gave the customary order to get their stuff together and get in the car. Boo looked up from her kindle and said, “Did you find my glasses?”

“Nope.”

“But I can’t see the board without my glasses,” she said.

“Well, that’s not really my problem, is it?”

“But you said you’d look for them,” she whined.

“I did look for them,” I said. “Critter helped me. We did not find them. Maybe if you had tried to look for them too, instead of sitting there reading your kindle, you would have found them.”

“But how am I supposed to get through the day?” she asked.

“Without your glasses, I guess.”

She started to cry. And for the first time in ten years with this child, I. Didn’t. Care. At all. Not even a little bit. “Boo,” I started as we backed out of the driveway, “This is clearly upsetting you, and that’s a good thing. You need to take a lesson from this. As your teachers say, 4th grade is the year of personal responsibility. It is your job to keep your things in order. It is your job to know what you have to keep track of. It is no longer my job. You are almost ten years old. You are growing up. In less than eight years you will be legally eligible to drive a car. If you cannot remember the last place you saw the eyeglasses that you keep ON YOUR FACE, how are you ever going to find your car in a parking lot? How can I trust you with a machine that can kill people? So yes. Be upset now. Be distraught about the fact that you have to walk into your classroom and tell your teacher that you lost your glasses, you can’t find them, and now you can’t see. And when you get home you will do your homework and then you will do NOTHING but look for those eyeglasses. They are YOUR responsibility. No one else’s. And you’re going to step up and take care of this.”

“What if I can’t find them?” she sniffled.

“Then you will get new ones, and you will pay us back for them,” I said.

“Why are you being so MEAN?” she asked.

I paused. I thought. I remembered all the fairy tales I’d been reading with my students containing an evil stepmother. And an idea started to form, one that I thought about the entire way to the university that day. It started with my response to my daughter, though, when I said, “I’m sorry that you feel that asking you to take care of yourself, to take responsibility for your actions and your things, seems like me being mean. I don’t want to be mean. I want you to know I love you. But part of that love is, and always has been, giving you limits. And right now I’m establishing a new limit–I am not your maid any more. I am not going to clean up your messes. I am not going to find all the things you lose. This is now your job. And the sooner you learn how to do it, the happier everyone will be.”

She cried the whole way in to school that day, and thankfully I found a friend to walk in with her and help calm her down. I also sent her in with a hastily scribbled note of apology to her teachers for contributing to her weepy mood. But that was it. That’s all I did. And then I went to work.

On the drive I will admit that I cried. I called my husband and just wept tears of frustration, annoyance, and anger at myself and at my bubble headed Boo. He supported me, of course, as he does in everything, and told me that we’d figure it out, that it would be fine, and that he’d email her teacher from work to see if she’d left her glasses in her desk or something. Confident that I had done the right thing and that I had another brain supporting the effort toward personal responsibility, I went into class. By now my students were used to cheery Diane, so when they saw mascara-slightly-smudged distraught Diane, they kind of gave me those looks. Those “You’re my professor and you seem approachable and you’re kind of upset but I do not want to break boundaries and pry but I am paying attention to you if there’s anything you need to tell us.”

So I just launched. The class was all about fairy tales, and there was still at this point a little bit of resistance to what my students had come in thinking were “children’s tales.” Granted, reading the Brother Grimm’s version of Cinderella called “Donkeyskin,” (in which Cindrella’s dad decides the only woman as wonderful as Cinderella’s dead mom is Cinderella herself, and seeks to marry her, which drives her to dress herself in the skin of a donkey to escape the palace before her scheduled wedding to her FATHER) kind of disabused them of that notion already. But I think my outburst that day kind of sealed the deal in convincing them that fairy tales might have more of an impact on adults than kids.

I started by briefly describing my frustration with my daughter’s lost glasses, and then continued, “You know, the evil stepmother gets a bad rap. As a matter of fact, in the original stories she wasn’t even a stepmother. She was the actual mom. But the Grimms changed that because they didn’t want to suggest that a MOTHER could do these things to her own biological child.  Because, really–what mother would cast out her children into the wild? What mother would make her own child fend for herself? What mother would ask her child to do household chores?”

But you know what?” I continued. “This morning I realized, what mother DOESN’T? What mother NEVER sends her child out into the world by herself? What mother makes NO demands on her child to do some work around the house? What mother, at some point, doesn’t say, “Get off your butt and take some responsibility for your own life”? What mother, at some point, does NOT become the evil stepmother? Because that is exactly what happened to me this morning. I turned from the loving, doting, caring, serving, selfless mother to the demanding, unfeeling, heartless, angry stepmother. I drew a line, and that line was that my daughter was going to have to take some personal responsibility. And in so doing I became mean.”

“My mom is mean all the time,” one of my students said. “Especially when I raid the refrigerator before dinner.”

“HANSEL AND GRETEL!” I exclaimed. “That’s gotta be Hansel and Gretel, right? Two children, living in their parents’ house at a time of famine. The stepmother tells the father that there is just not enough to eat, and that they’re going to go out the next day and leave the kids in the forest to fend for themselves. The heartless parents take them out into the woods and leave them there. That seems completely cruel, and so we cheer for the kids as Hansel follows a trail of stones back to the house, thwarting the parents’ plans. So the parents take them out again, and this time Hansel chooses to use bread to leave a trail. Bread. At a time of famine? Dude is wasting bread? Really? Did he do dumbass things like that at home? Because if so, no wonder mom decided he was a liability to the survival of the family.”

“That’s true!” another student said. “That was wasting food. I get in trouble for that all the time!”

“And then what do they do when they get lost in the forest?” I asked.

“They cry,” one student replied.

“And then they set out to try to find their way home,” another said.

“But the birds ate all the crumbs,” said another, “so they end up at the witch’s house.”

“And they do what?” I asked.

“They start eating,” replied another

“Yes,” I said. “They’re lost, hungry, tired, and sad. But hey! As luck would have it, they come upon a house. The house is made of gingerbread and candy. Do they knock on the door? Do they ask the person inside for help? No. THEY START EATING THE HOUSE. At this point I’m thinking, “Hmm. Maybe the parents had a point. The kids waste bread during a famine, and then they move on to eat a person out of house and home without even asking. Maybe they needed to be taught some personal responsibility.” And sure enough, the witch notices the kids gnawing on her walls and decides to bring them in and show them what real cruelty is. You think it’s bad your parents left you in the woods? Well I’M going to eat YOU!”

A student raised her hand, “And then they had to fight off the witch. And didn’t we read an article that talked about how Hansel and Gretel is about learning to fend for yourself and take responsibility for taking care of your own life?”

I love students who do the reading, by the way.

“Yes, exactly,” I replied. “In fighting for the witch they show some real ingenuity. In the Brother Grimms’ version of the story, Hansel spends a fair amount of time tricking the witch into believing he is not yet fat enough to eat by poking a stick out of his prison instead of his arm. But when she gets too hungry to care, Gretel is the one who tricks her into going head first into the oven which she then slams on her, killing her. The kids work together, cooperatively, to save themselves. Later in the tale they have to cross a river on the back of a swan, and they have to do so one at a time, individually, further showing their maturity. When they arrive home they do so with riches they acquired on their journey. Their stepmother has died, and they end up providing for their father for the rest of their lives.”

We went on to continue talking a little about Hansel and Gretel before we got down to the work of the day, but this idea dogged me as I drove home that afternoon. In Hansel and Gretel these kids leave home, have to overcome obstacles, and return home with riches. Isn’t that what most parents want for their kids? Go to school, go to college, get a job, and put me in a nice old folks home? The only thing that seems awful about Hansel and Gretel’s family is that they threw them out rather than waiting for them to leave on their own. Yet at a certain point don’t some parents have to encourage their kids to leave the comfort zone of their homes either going off to summer camp, or college, or to find a place of their own? Don’t some children resist, preferring to have their meals provided and laundry done for as long as possible? And don’t at some point some parents have to say, “Enough. Out. Now.” Those, I think, have to channel their inner evil stepparent. They have to put their own needs above the wants of their children–because their children are not children any more. They are adults, and need to be treated as such. Even if that means seeming mean for a little while.

Let’s look at Cinderella. Once again we have a stepmother, and now we have stepsisters, and they expect Cinderella to do all the cooking and cleaning in the house. What child, asked to clean a living room, has NOT said, “BUT I DIDN’T MAKE THAT MESS! MY SIBLING DID!” I was an only child, and I did it, trying to blame the dog. This sense that Cinderella had to do EVERYTHING for EVERYONE could have just been serious teen melodrama. I’ve seen a preview of this many times in my preteens. I’ve started to expect them to sometimes make their own breakfasts and clean their rooms. When these expectations started, you would have thought I asked them to clean a palace. But with a little encouragement and self-starting, now they quite enjoy making their own cereal, or oatmeal. Boo can even make some awesome scrambled eggs with adult supervision. I don’t think they’ll ever enjoy cleaning their rooms, but I hate cleaning my house, so maybe that’s kind of genetic.

So the stepmother tells Cinderella that she has to do some chores before she goes to the ball. Yup. Sounds evil all right. And all of my fellow moms who have ever said to their child “You cannot go to so-and-so’s birthday party unless your room is clean” are all part of that evil stepmother club.

“But moooom! I want to go to the paaarrrrtttyyyy. And I don’t want to do any wooorrrrkkkkk.”

“Get your butt in your room and get it cleaned up or no party.”

And then comes the day when it happens–they call our bluff. They just don’t do it. And we have to make that phone call of shame, which now might be the email/text of shame: telling the parent of the child to whose party we have already RSVP’d yes that our child cannot attend the party because they did not fulfill their obligations. If we’re lucky, we get a “Good on ya, mom! That’ll teach ’em!” If not we get the, “Oh, but can’t they just come to this party just once? My child will be so sad if they’re not there!” Then we have to do the deep breath, ten seconds of thought, angel on the shoulder saying “stay strong” and devil on the shoulder saying, “You don’t want to disappoint the birthday child, now do you?” and we have to make that split second decision of whether the damage to the birthday child’s psyche will be worse than the damage to our own child’s sense of who we are as enforcers of personal responsibility. Hopefully the angel wins out and we say “I’m so sorry. If you need to, just tell your child my little one is sick or something. But I really have to stand firm on this.”

After that’s settled and we’ve stuck to our guns, we have to deal with the other end of the issue–our own child, who has somehow transformed into a tazmanian devil of id, doing anything from mild sulking to wild screaming about THE INJUSTICE. THE HORROR. THE SADNESS. THE UNBELIEVABLE UNFAIRNESS OF IT ALL. This makes us sad. We question ourselves. We worry. We maybe cry a little, too. And then, lo and behold, we look–and the ROOM IS CLEAN. The Augean Stables smell of lilacs and roses. The many headed hydra of the messy floor is defeated. And we realize we did the right thing. Our child learned something, and maybe one day her prince–or his princess–will come into her or his house and NOT say, “What is that smell? And is that a tumbleweed or a dust bunny? Is that a cat or a rat? And why is that wall MOVING??” before running out the door.

Snow White has to learn to tend house for seven little guys before she can finally get her prince. Cinderella has to go through a lot of chores. Hansel and Gretel need to prove themselves in the world. And none of it would have been done if the evil stepmother hadn’t taken some action. Was she too harsh? Sure. Could she have been nicer about it? Absolutely. If she had acted with love instead of hate, would that have been better? Of course. But should we all, at some time, be proud to release the inner stepmother? You’re damn right we should. And so as we head into this new year, sifting through the Christmas detritus and trying to fit yet another year’s presents into rooms that are seeming ever smaller as our kids grow bigger, remember–it’s not all on us, moms. The kids can take some responsibility too. As a matter of fact, they should. And if you have to mobilize your inner evil stepmother to get them to do it, so be it. It will serve them well in the end. Just don’t tell them you want their hearts on a plate for dinner. That’s a bit over the top.

Happy new year!

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2014. 6 Comments

Warts and All

Awhile ago I received a note, via email, from a friend. I wanted to post it to Facebook, but realized it was way too long for that. Then, as I started typing it I realized I wanted to say more stuff about it. And thus this post was born. I’ll just copy tbe quote here first, in case you just want the inspiration without my blathering:

Pema Chadron, in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness writes:

When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It’s a bit like saying, “If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I could only get a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” . . . But loving-kindness – maitri – toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about BEFRIENDING WHO WE ARE ALREADY. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.

I tell my students (and other people’s students when they let me) that quotes do not speak for themselves. When we write, I tell them, and we are quoting someone, we take their words out of the context that the writer has given them and we put those quotes into our own writing–so we have to give those words context. Now, granted, I haven’t read The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness so I can’t really tell how Pema Chadron contextualizes these words (though I do have this book on my reading list now). Thus, you poor readers are left with me and my thoughts on what this tells me. But then again, I guess that’s why you’re here, though I can’t imagine why you do this to yourself . . .

As you know from my last post, I have to make some life changes.  And as you may remember from my first post, I’m on a journey of re-self-discovery. I lived through my twenties and early thirties believing I knew EXACTLY who I was and what I wanted. And then it all came tumbling down. I gained a lot when I became a mom, but I lost (or let go of?) a lot, too, and here I am trying to pull myself all together again and figure out who I am and what I want to be when my kids grow up.

I can’t remember a time when I did not want to throw some part of me away to be something better. My aggression towards who I really am has never been subtle, or hidden, or low-key. I wear my self-criticism on my sleeve. Berating myself for this, or that, or the other thing . . . it’s as natural as breathing.

I mean, I’m doing it right now. “It’s terrible you’re sitting here writing this blog post when you should be tucking your children into bed and going to spend some time with your husband. And you haven’t packed snacks or lunches for tomorrow, either. You really need to focus less on being a writer and more on being a better wife and mother. And what about your running? How are you ever going to improve your time if you don’t start hitting the pavement again? And your eating hasn’t been all that great lately. You really need to get some better recipes so you can be a better cook. You need to eat better. You need to sleep better. You need to work more efficiently. Oh, and don’t forget all that laundry. You really need a better system. And that office! Who can even walk in there? I wish you were a better housekeeper. Most people would have all that sorted away already.”

So much in our society is targeted toward making us “better.” Better people. Better women. Better wives. Better mothers. Better friends. Better daughters. Better citizens. Better readers. Better writers. Better employees. Better administrators. Better teachers. Better learners. Better. Better. Better. We’re NEVER good enough.

The cynic in me will say “Yeah, because if anyone tells us we’re good enough then they can’t sell us anything to make us better.” The optimist will say, “That’s because we should always strive to improve, to learn, to grow.” The realist in me, however, likes to pop up pretty often nowadays and say, “I. Am. So. F****ing. Tired. When have I reached the point where I can be enough???”

This is what I like about Chadron’s quote. She tells us that who we are is already enough. We can be friends with our imperfect, un-bettered selves.  She clearly doesn’t mean that we should give up, give in, and walk away from any form of self-betterment. She just says, “Hey. Yeah. Do yoga. Run. Eat right. Get fit. But do it for the right reasons. Do it out of love for the YOU you are now, not the you that someone has convinced you you should become.”

We all know the phrase, “You are your own worst enemy.” What a great thing Chadron suggests in saying that we should be our own friend. How many of us forgive flaws in our friends that we excoriate ourselves for? How many of us see the beauty in those we love yet only focus on the features we find unattractive in ourselves? If you have not already seen this Dove project sampling, watch it now. What you see will amaze you.

http://realbeautysketches.dove.us

It shows that when these women describe themselves to a sketch artist, they look VASTLY different than when virtual strangers, who have only met these women once, describe them. Strangers are kinder than we are to ourselves. Imagine how much kinder our friends are? Friends who know who we are inside? Imagine how they’d describe how we look when we’re laughing, when we’re sharing a joke, when we’re hugging our children, when we’re petting our cats, when we’re kissing our spouses? Imagine how they’d describe the inner us, the us that they love whether our hair is styled or frizzy, whether our make-up is freshly applied or barely washed off from the night before, whether we’re bright eyed and ready to face the day or barely breathing even after our first cup of coffee?

I sit here trying to imagine how I would treat myself if I was my own friend, instead of my worst critic. What would I say to myself if I loved and accepted all of me, warts and all? (No. I do not have warts. I am sunburned. But no warts yet).

I don’t even know how to answer that question. I’ve never thought about it. It’s like a foreign language to me. Be nice to myself? Say good things? How will I ever motivate myself to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, more efficient, more attentive, more perfect if I don’t constantly nag myself into improving?

I guess if I wanted to make a debate over it I’d be talking about whether discipline yields better results than nurturing. But I don’t want to dichotomize. I want to synthesize.  Discipline through nurturing. Motivation through kindness. Self-acceptance as an agent of self-improvement. That’s exactly what Chadron is suggesting. It’s a phenomenal theory. It’s the practice that’s hard.

So for one week I am going to focus on motivating myself through kind words rather than negative self-talking. After all, the house can’t get much messier, right? And I can’t do any less running than I’ve been doing. . .

Yet there I go again. Motivating myself by self-denigration. Let’s start that over again. Because practice, clearly, is necessary.

So for one week I am going to focus on motivating myself through kind words rather than negative self-talk. Because I am a good and loving person, worthy of goodness, love and kindness. I am going to treat myself to a clean house this week. I am going to be kind to myself by making time for a run. And now, I really am going to give myself the gift of watching television with my children and my husband. And there’s a good start.

This entry was posted on May 31, 2013. 4 Comments

Turning a negative into a positive

I know I haven’t posted here awhile. It’s mostly because I’ve been dealing with some health issues that have gotten me really depressed, but ended up being an awesome catalyst for getting healthier.

Around April 1st I started feeling chest pain, which I knew wasn’t my heart because it only happened when I started eating–and also because I had a full cardio workup about two years ago which ended up with a recommendation to calm down and start taking yoga. Which I think is doctor-speak for “You’re super-stressed out and you’ve got to learn to cope.” Of course, I never followed the doctor’s advice, keeping up with my insane-too-much-on-my-plate life (and not taking yoga). And so, when I started feeling this chest pain I started worrying that my self-neglect was finally starting to do some real damage if not to my heart than to my stomach. So, I got myself to a gastroenterologist.

An endoscopy two weeks later showed me that I have esophagitis–fortunately no signs of cancer–but a severely inflamed esophagus from the acid leaking out of my stomach up my entire esophagus, all the way to my throat. The acid’s getting out because I have a slight hiatal hernia. So the doctor’s orders were: no chocolate; no alcohol; limited caffeine; no carbonated beverages; no fried, fatty, spicy, or acidic foods; and no eating three hours before bedtime. He also said that I might need surgery to fix the hiatal hernia, but he believes that if I lose even just 5-10 pounds the hernia will pop back into place and I can avoid surgery. In essence, I can solve this problem if I stop indulging my inner-five-year old who seems to feel like it’s okay to eat every sweet and fatty thing that it can find, and lose some weight.

On top of that, while anesthetized for the endoscopy I evidently had some trouble breathing, which, along with my snoring at night indicates that I’m developing sleep apnea. This wasn’t an issue 20 pounds ago. Which is yet another indication that I need to lose weight.

I spent a good 24 hours wailing about being fat, feeling sorry for myself and weeping in bathrooms. Then I got a call from my super-friend M., who caught me at the beginning of my 48 hour I-hate-myself-funk, and told me that even though she’d been training for a kicking triathalon, she’d put on some weight and would love to get it off for good. But then she asked me the best question of all time: “What do you WANT to do?” Not “What are you going to do?” Not “Hey, this is what I’m going to do, do you want to come along?” or “Well, what are you doing about it?” She asked me what I wanted to do. My immediate answer, “Join Weight Watchers.”

Here is my reasoning: I have been working with a phenomenal fitness trainer since November. I have learned a TON of things about clean eating, fitness, and general overall health–most of which correspond to exactly what my gastroenterologist told me about what I should avoid. But there are two things I cannot seem to master without significant oversight: portion control, and what Weight Watchers calls “Hedonic eating.” There are many people in the health community who have ALWAYS practiced portion control and who I truly believe have never had to struggle with hedonic eating. These are people who believe that food is fuel, and that is it. They do not seem to share the mindset that food is one of the only sources of pleasure in the life of overweight people. It is as good as a hug, a kiss, a prayer. It is love, comfort, solace, kindness, fun, reward, joy. We eat (or drink) when we’re happy to celebrate, when we’re sad to make ourselves feel better, when we’re stressed to make things a little more bearable, when we’re angry to calm ourselves down, or just because dammit it tastes good and we want more. It doesn’t matter if we’re hungry or full. It doesn’t matter what our mood is. Food is ALWAYS the answer. There doesn’t even need to be a question.

Now, clean eating, in which one avoids all processed foods and tries to eat only things that are found in nature is a great way to combat weight gain, but doesn’t allow for how difficult it is for an hedonic eater to eliminate sugary, processed foods. Because, seriously, hello? Who reaches for a carrot for comfort?

Now, clean eating is incorporated into Weight Watchers under the term “power foods.” Power foods are foods that are packed full of protein or good fat and a healthy about of carbohydrate and fiber, so they satisfy you and keep you fuller, longer. They’re also things that are “worth” the calories and fat that you get out of them. So a power food is a banana, which has the same calories as a 100 calorie bag of cheese nips. But it’s a better choice for its fiber content. Clean eating would absolutely tell you that a banana is superior to cheese nips, because a banana is a fruit and cheese nips are processed crap. So they’re together there.

But Weight Watchers is totally on to the fat person’s tendency to hedonic eating. The folks who run the program are intimately aware of the attitude of, “Even when I’m not even remotely hungry I eat because it tastes good and I want it and it’s yummy and I’m bored or sad or happy or angry and I AM GOING TO EAT THE WHOLE BOX.” In essence, Weight Watchers is tackling the overeater’s Id, the inner child who for some reason the superego has allowed to run wild.

I realized this the Friday after my endoscopy when I went for a mall walk with my friend D., who is also thinking a lot about getting healthier. She is seeing a nutritionist who has told her that “the closer the food is to the farm, the better it is for her,” and to drink 1/2 of her body weight in ounces of water a day. So I’ve been trying that, too. But we also had this awesome conversation about hedonic eating. She likened it to the child in the mall who throws themselves down on the floor and screams if they don’t get the cookie they want. “Would a good parent give them that cookie?” she asked.

“Of course not! They’d say, ‘No cookie for you now, and no cookie for you for the rest of the day, either.'”

“Right,” she said. “So why do you let yourself have the cookie?”

I have been a truly horrid parent to my inner child. I have been indulging that little bitch like crazy for the past 10 years. I have given in to every impulse, every desire, every want, all with the idea of “I deserve it.” When Boo was first born it was, “I kept the child alive for a day! I deserve some cake!” Then, “I have kept the child alive for a week! I deserve some cookies!” Then, “I have gotten through this day of no sleep. I deserve some ice cream!” Then, “I have nursed her through this illnes! I deserve some McDonald’s!” Then, “I have gotten her dressed, out of the house, to a music class, and back home in time for nap. I deserve this ice cream!” Oh, and when little Critter came along, it got worse. “It became, “I did not slap Boo for pinching Critter! Cake time!” or “Oh for the love of all that is Holy, I am so bored looking at these children and making sure they don’t in some way hurt themselves or each other, I am going to eat this whole box of goldfish.” I don’t even LIKE goldfish!!! But there I was, shoving them into my mouth like they were the last food on earth. When I moved from eating as reward to eating out of boredom, that’s when the problems really started. And where did they end me up? On the floor of my guest bathroom, weeping after my endoscopy, and wailing, “Food is the only thing in my life that makes me happy!”

Which is a total lie. I mean, really. I have a husband whose very presence in my life brings me unbelievable joy. I have two children that have changed the way my world spins on its axis–I never knew even dealing with a tantrum could bring me such happiness. I have friends who are the stars in my life–they bring me brightness and light and even new patterns of thinking. How could I reduce my joy to food? And during that walk with D. I realized that when I said that I was throwing a temper tantrum. Like a five-year-old who was told she could no longer have that cookie any time she darn well pleased, I was throwing a full-fledged hissy fit, saying the stupidest things and lashing out at the people I love because I was being told, ‘no.’ And here I thought I was a good parent when in truth, I’m a big spoiled baby.

And that, as I would tell my children, is totally unacceptable.

It’s still not easy. My inner Id has taken a lot of control away from me. It’s really tough to break the patterns of thinking. But having the restrictions, because of my health, has really helped. Having the support of my friends who have joined Weight Watchers for me has helped. Having a family who wants me to stop snoring so they can sleep while we’re away on vacation–and who also just love me and want me to feel better–has helped. I’ve already taken off about seven pounds, which is bringing me very close to what the doctor wanted me to do. I already feel infinitely better. My husband says I snore less, I choke less, I sound better. But I know deep in my heart that I need to keep disciplining that inner child of mine, because I still need to lose a bit more. But baby steps. Seven pounds is good. Seven pounds is GREAT. And I’m proud of me for finally starting to get my inner spoiled toddler under control.

Camping

Yesterday I embarked on my first ever camping trip. I took a Girl Scout Basic Outdoor Leadership Training course with three incredibly dear friends who were kind enough to not only accompany me on this outing but put up with my crap throughout the course. My crap included:

1. hating being outside

2. being afraid of  all bugs

3. picking up sticks for fire as if they were going to bite me

4. spraying myself with bug spray continually

5. rolling my eyes a lot

6. being afraid of fire because it is hot and it burns

7. snoring when I finally did fall asleep

8. rolling around on the top bunk all night because it was FREAKING HOT

9. being a grump in the morning

10. refusing to shower in that dormitory bathroom

However, I must say that the challenge I think we all overcame together was not beating to death the twenty other women we had to share the dormitory with, particularly around dinner time when we were all trying to cook the prescribed meal. The idea of dividing the making of six different dishes among 24 women when our cooking options were an oven, a stovetop, a propane range with two burners, and charcoal, did more to make me loathe my other camp-mates than anything else. I do have to say, however, that those campmates were THE BOMB and cleaning up, and they were also awesome at getting our asses out of that campground at least an hour early. I was home by 9:30, which allowed me to make it to 10:30 mass before coming home and passing out until 8pm. I’m still woozy, probably from dehydration. And no, I did drink water all day yesterday. Problem is I sweated it out all night last night.

It’s no surprise to me that last night was something I endured rather than enjoyed, since my idea of roughing it is staying at any hotel with less than a four-star rating. However, what did surprise me are the things I enjoyed, such as:

1. nature walking

2. making a fire, despite being afraid of it

3. working with my three friends to make our part of the meal

4. working with my three friends to not throw other women into the snake-filled underbrush

5. lighting a propane burner, which is just like lighting the gas burner back in New York when the pilot light went out

6. unpacking and setting up my bunk

7. re-packing and cleaning up my bunk

8. feeling relatively independent

9. giggling with my friends and annoying all the other annoying women when it was sleep time

10. not killing the spider I saw at the end of the trip this morning, because I had Charlotte’s Web flashbacks. I think E.B. White single-handedly did more for the longevity of spiders than anything else in the universe.

On top of it, I emerged from our camping trip with not one bug bite, skin rash, or allergic reaction. I count that a success.

So yeah. I’m pretty proud of myself. But more than anything else I’m grateful that I had friends to go with me, because I don’t think I could have made it through the weekend on my own.

 

This entry was posted on March 24, 2013. 3 Comments

Lenten FAIL

Every year I decide to do something during Lent to spiritually improve. I always try to choose something that’s somewhat of a struggle (unlike my husband who decided to give up brussels sprouts one year, which wasn’t a stretch seeing as how we never eat brussels sprouts. To be fair, however, he has done some mighty good Lenten works, though. But those are for him to tell you about).

For me the biggest struggle in choosing a Lenten practice is to find something that’s not so hard that it leads to an EPIC Lenten fail. Because, let’s face it–I’m going to screw up. I’m human. I just don’t want to screw up ROYALLY.

My best choice of Lenten practice was my second year teaching, in grad school, when I decided to work on my vanity by giving up wearing make-up for forty days. Things I learned: My husband prefers me au natural. It didn’t kill me to walk around without that gunk on my face. I had less eye trouble with my contact lenses when I didn’t wear mascara. People didn’t seem to notice any change in me until I started putting make-up on again after Easter. And finally, people (other than my husband) think wearing make-up makes my eyes seem TRULY AWESOME. I never got more compliments on my appearance than I did that day after Easter when I came back in with make-up. So that was a total success–it’s a practice I stuck with, and I learned a lot. Can’t get better than that.

My second biggest success was the decision to listen to our local Christian radio station exclusively every day during Lent. Since that Lent, I don’t listen to any other station. Sure, I play my iPod or my CDs in the car, but I never tune in to another station. Listening to Christian music keeps my mind focussed on being a better person. The radio station DJs pray every day, on the hour, so I get my daily prayer in even if I don’t remember to do it myself. The music they play makes me think about what’s really important to me, and I never have to worry that something they play will be a bad influence on the kids.  For those of you who might be interested, they broadcast on the web. They’re 90.5 Spirit FM in Tampa. So that one Lenten practice also did a whole lot to improve my life.

My third, fourth and fifth biggest successes were the three years that I was pregnant during Lent. Okay, one of them wasn’t so much “successful” because I also miscarried, but boy was I awesome at giving stuff up all three times. The first pregnancy was no caffeine, no alcohol (obviously), no chocolate. Boo’s gestation was no caffeine, no alcohol, no processed cold meats (listeria), no hair coloring, no fried foods, no loud or disturbing music (just Mozart), no strenuous exercise, and bed by 9 pm every night. While I love Boo very much, I think my lack of . . everything . . . turned her into a very boring baby. She was so laid back it was scary. But it was successful, as I had a child that slept five hours a night from the time she was born. Now Critter’s time in utero was no caffeine, no alcohol, no processed cold meats but also no water, or food, or moving, or breathing because I was so freaking sick. Christa was like this parasite, determined to suck the life out of me. So strong was her hold on life that I developed a heart murmur during my pregnancy with her, that led to what doctor’s called “air hunger”–or the inability to EVER catch my breath. And the nausea. Oh, Lord, the nausea. Interestingly, though, Lent that year fell into the three good months of my pregnancy–after the nausea ended and before Critter started to try to burrow her way out of my body in any way possible. Yet I still managed to hold on to most of my dietary restrictions. I did play her a lot of upbeat music though, because I couldn’t handle any more classical. And she truly does have amazing rhythm.

Other than those five, though–and really they’re only two, since the other three were just biological imperatives mostly beyond my control–my Lenten sacrifices have been largely huge flops. I either can’t stick with them, or I don’t really learn anything I didn’t already know. For instance:

1. Giving up caffeine outside of pregnancy: Lasted one day. I knew it was stupid when I started, and the one day caffeine free just reinforced that.

2. Giving up refined sugar: Lasted half of one day. I realized when I wanted to kill people pulling into the church parking lot on Ash Wednesday that it was a bad choice. I guess I did learn that cold turkey is not for me, but I didn’t think I was that freakin’ weak. I don’t think I ever recovered from that.

3. Giving up Farmville on Facebook: It was a great idea, but it didn’t teach me anything. I already knew that I had a problem when feeding my fake dog was more important to me than feeding my real cat. It just gave me the strength to do what I needed to do.

4. Then there was the year I tried to give up chocolate. That was the first year I was dating John, and when I made my resolution I had not realized that his mother’s, brother’s and grandmother’s birthdays all took place in March and April.  I also did not know that every one of them would choose chocolate as their cake/frosting flavor of choice. From thatI learned John’s family gives you funny looks when you try to turn down birthday cake; that they do not take “no” for an answer when it comes to food; and that they really did consider me part of the family even that early on. It was very sweet. Both literally and figuratively.

5. This year. I am trying to give up Facebook entirely. It is not working. First it is not working because it’s not a sacrifice that came to me on its own. I was pressured into it by the kids. And they didn’t do it with subtlety. We were talking about what they were giving up for Lent, and then Critter says, “And you should give up Facebook so you can spend more time with us.” And Boo says, “Yeah, because you’re totally addicted.” Note to self: NEVER let the kids dictate my Lenten practice again. It’s not inspired, it’s not genuine, and it makes me all kinds of angry.

Second it is not working because  it’s not like being off of Facebook is making my life any more manageable. I just find other crap to fill my time with. Crap that is far less interactive and far less interesting-like Candy Crush. That game is frighteningly addictive. And it makes me want to eat licorice and chocolate. And their red hots look like hot dogs. And I spend hours wondering what the little purple candies taste like. And I don’t WANT to clear any more of the jelly! Because the game. never. ends. And on top of that, I thought being off Facebook would give me more time with the kids. What it has given me is more time watching the kids screw around with their Kindles. And then I’m all–well if you’re just gonna sit there and play with your things, why can’t I talk to my friends?

And that brings me to the third fail: I miss my friends. I miss laughing at little things people post up. My cousin-in-law posted up this HILARIOUS video with a dog who likes to roll around on pickles, and sniff shoes, and got stuck in a slinky. I saw it today when I was trying to check in with my fitness group, and I clicked on it. I laughed harder than I have in weeks. And I realized THAT’s BECAUSE I HAVE NOT BEEN ON FACEBOOK.

To be fair, I do go to bed earlier than I used to because I’m not allowed to chat with my friends online. I don’t get caught up in any kind of controversies. I don’t have to read tons of political garbage I could care less about. And I don’t have to wade through some folks’ cryptic messages where they insinuate someone has in some way offended them and pretty much set off that friends’-list chain reaction of “Is it me?” For the record, friends, I do not have that reaction. If it’s me, tell me it’s me. Otherwise I just assume it’s someone else. Kind of like when I’m driving, and someone honks the horn. John always looks around like, “Why are they honking at you?” and my response is, “They’re not honking at me. I haven’t done anything wrong.” Same with Facebook stuff. I will NEVER assume it’s me. So you’ll just have to tell me. Preferably in a private message.

But to get to the point, this is a Lenten fail because the suffering I’m going through does not feel like it’s bringing me closer to God or to a deeper understanding of my faith. It just makes me feel cut off, and one of the things I’ve learned recently is that the concept of a triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–that we Catholics profess is important because it means that God is always in relationship. That’s how he can BE Love. If God has always been three, He has always been in Relationship. Which is how he can be such a loving God. The key then, for me, to becoming closer to God is to be in loving relationships. And while it’s true that I am in an incredibly loving and fulfilling relationship with my husband, and a profoundly intense loving relationship with Boo and Critter, another major area of relationship for me that is suffering with this sacrifice is the relationship with my friends. I miss looking at photos of my friends and their families. I miss knowing what’s going on in everyone’s lives. I am missing my connection with the world outside my own little microcosm of home.

So, I guess I am learning something–I am not meant to live in isolation. No monastic life for me! I thrive when I am actively engaging with others. Nevertheless, a commitment is a promise, no matter how difficult. So, I’m now going to walk away from my computer. I’ll finish the laundry.  Maybe read a book. And count down these next two weeks until I can be part of the world again.

This entry was posted on March 11, 2013. 5 Comments

The Purple Notebook

Earlier this week, I believed I’d lost three major things this year: the earrings my husband gave me when Boo was born nine years ago; my camera which contained photos from our latest Disney trip and Boo and Critter’s Christmas Program at school; and my purple notebook. I was sad about all three losses, and most of all crazed because I. Don’t. Lose. Things. I don’t always know where they are, but I am always confident they will be found. I was confident I’d find the earrings when we returned from our cruise in November, and the fact they still haven’t turned up shook my confidence a bit, I think, so that when I couldn’t find the camera or the notebook I thought they were gone forever, too. The camera, it turned out, was at my father-in-law’s house. The notebook was under the jump seat cushion in my van. My husband found it when he was looking for Critter’s new Kindle. The relief and joy I felt when he found that notebook was indescribable. I know I wasn’t as overjoyed when the camera turned up. I don’t even think I would have been as ecstatic if he found the earrings. Finding the notebook was THE perfect end to 2012. It was like I’d been reunited with a part of my soul.

I posted about it on Facebook, and figured that someone would ask, “What is it with you and that notebook?” Because, really, it’s essentially a big bound pile of paper. Yet it was more valuable to me than the diamond earrings and the camera. I figured most of my online friends would be all “WTF?” But instead, the post got 41 likes. FORTY-ONE. I don’t think I’ve had that many likes on a post EVER. I mean, some of my posts go viral with comments (mostly because my friends C. and L. I LOVE to chat within posts) but to get 41 likes . . . that’s a whole lot. And what I realized in seeing that number is that, clearly, 1/7th of my friends totally get me–even if I don’t always get myself.

Because, back with the notebook by my side, I was able to think again, and what I started to think, of course, is what is it with me and the notebook? Why was this item more important to me than the others I’d lost (or thought I’d lost)? And the answer: I was at the end of that notebook. I’d been using it since November of 2011. That notebook held more than a whole year of my life. Granted, some of the stuff was crap: to-do lists; notes from meetings I’d taken just to keep myself awake (yeah, when I’m at a meeting don’t think that I’m writing things down because I’m oh-so-attentive; it’s a strategy I developed in high school to keep me from nodding off–try to write down as much of what the teacher is saying as I can); doodles; ripped pages from when I needed a place to spit my gum. But most of it was absolutely irreplaceable. And even if it wasn’t, the very fact that I wouldn’t HAVE the notebook would have left a hole in my bookshelf that would always be full of its own absence.

You see, I’ve kept every notebook I’ve ever had since the 1990’s. Some have more than a year of stuff in them, particularly notebooks that I used while I was in college or grad school, because the notebooks I used for my college class notes aren’t included in my shelf of notebooks. They’re in what I call my “big bin of brilliance”–the place where I keep all my academic stuff that I never really look at any more. My notebooks are kept on a bookshelf, and I revisit them from time to time for inspiration: to see what I was thinking, dreaming, hoping, loving, losing, creating. There’s an entire notebook full of ideas for unwritten romance novels–yes the smutty ones. There’s one full of poetry written the year of my grandfather’s death. There’s a lot of joy in the one I used while planning my wedding, and a lot of cattiness, too. It’s definitely not one I would want anyone to get a hold of. I’m not proud of the person I am in that journal. I keep it to remind me of the person I don’t ever want to be again. But the one that wins the award for craziness is the one I used while writing my dissertation. That one is kind of unusual in that it’s HUGE, and the cover of one side is a beautiful blue and the other side is pitch black. The black side has all my dissertation stuff. The purple side has all my teaching stuff. It was clear, then, where my joy resided. The purple side is decorated with rainbows and unicorns. The black side is decorated with white stickers with a variety of inspirational sayings like, “The only way to fail is to quit,” and “It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done.” Anything to get me through the day.

Then there are “the pregnancy notebooks,” where I wrote notes to the unborn children. The one I was writing before I miscarried my first child is particularly heartbreaking only in comparison to the ones I wrote for Boo and Critter. The first one is so unguarded, just pours out everything I was thinking for about ten weeks and then just . . stops. It’s full of blank pages. I just couldn’t bring myself to write in that book again, much the same way I could never again bring myself to wear the clothes I wore to the doctor’s appointment where we saw the baby with no heartbeat. Boo and Critter’s notebooks, in comparison, are full to brimming. But they’re not so open. They’re more reserved. I don’t pour myself into them. I keep myself back, just a little, and I know now it was because I knew I couldn’t ever trust in the inevitable existence of the reader again. Once they were born the entries get a little more confident, a little less reserved . . . but then they pick up the reserve of a woman who maybe does not want her thirteen year old child knowing that she would have given her left leg if it meant the kid would just STOP CRYING FOR FIVE MINUTES. There are some things kids never really need to know their parents were thinking.

My most recent notebook, though, is not like any of these. I had tried something new. The notebook was divided into sections by color. There were a certain number of blue-trimmed pages, then red, gray, light green, purple, and blue-green. Blue was supposed to be for to-do lists. Red was supposed to be about teaching. Gray was for Homeroom Parent Coordinator stuff and volunteering. Green was, of course, for Girl Scouts. Purple for church stuff. And blue was for kids’ doodles because I would on occasion give them my notebook to write in when I was doing something and I didn’t want them scribbling over something important.

I can tell you that system worked about as well as trying to keep ten tomcats in a burlap sack. From the first month it was pretty clear I couldn’t remember which section was which. Then I skipped pages. Then I wrote on things upside down. Then the kids wrote in the purple section. And I have Girl Scout notes in gray. And church notes in blue. So, finally I gave up, turned to the blue section and just started using consecutive pages to make notes, which I should have done from the beginning. Because as it turns out, I am not a divided person. I am an integrated person. I cannot chop myself up into my little tasks and keep them clearly defined unless they’re things as distinct as research and teaching. I am one, big, giant, clump of mess. And to be quite honest, I like that about myself, that I am one big undivided package.

As I was thinking about my notebook and my inability to segment myself, I remembered reading a book by Doris Lessing called The Golden Notebook. I freaking hated that book. I mean, I LOATHED it. I had to read it for a Women in Literature class during my sophomore year in college. It was about a woman writer who split herself into four different notebooks, but at the end was able to integrate herself into one Golden Notebook. Or something. I just thought it was a book about a pile of neurotic insanity, and yes, this is an example of the pot calling the kettle black. Maybe that’s why I hated it so much–because it was an example of what I could become if I let myself go to the extreme. I remember I had to write a paper analyzing this dream the main character had about a package that she thought would contain something valuable and beautiful, but ended up containing a living crocodile. I hated writing that paper, mostly because my professor assigned it the Tuesday before the weekend I was supposed to go on a trip to New Orleans with a college group, and it was due the Tuesday after the trip. Any normal person would have said, “Screw the paper. NEW ORLEANS, BABY!” but I got myself so worked up that I cancelled the trip so I could write the paper. Stupidest. Move. Ever. While my friends were drinking bourbon and eating beignets, I was sitting in my room writing a paper about a box full of crocodile. I still haven’t been to New Orleans, by the way. And, as it turned out, if I’d thought to actually tell my professor what was going on, she would have given me an extension on the paper. But I didn’t know that, because I was a sophomore at the time, and didn’t realize that English literature professors are mostly cool people who TOTALLY think it’s a better idea to travel and drink than to write. Even Doris Lessing agreed. She wrote this introduction to The Golden Notebook, that I sadly didn’t read until AFTER I’d read the book, where she talked about how silly it was that everyone was analyzing her novel when the time would have been better spent writing novels of their own. After trying to analyze the crocodile in a box dream, I couldn’t agree more. It’s ultimately one of the reasons I ended up getting my Ph.D. in English Education rather than in English Literature. I didn’t want to write literary criticism. I wanted to study how people learn things, particularly writing, and how to better teach them how to write. I guess I just turned out to be more practical than theoretical. 

Which goes back to my notebook, insofar as it is DEFINITELY more practical than theoretical. In theory, it was a GREAT idea to divide it up into sections. In practice, not so much. And it’s a practical notebook insofar as what it contains, too: notes about planning last year’s and this year’s Vacation Bible School. Lists upon lists of volunteer names, kinds of supplies, things that worked last year and things that need to be made better this year. Exercises and books for my primary grades’ writing summer camp. Lists of books I want to read. Lists of field trips my Girl Scouts want to take. To Do Lists, long and short term. Lists, lists, lists. Totally practical stuff. And yet in other ways the notebook has more ideas in it than any notebook I’ve used in years. In fact, what I value about this particular purple notebook, and what made losing it so devastating for me,  is because this notebook, more than any other notebook I’ve ever completed, contains more about my thinking about my Catholic faith. It’s got the notes from when I was studying to be a Eucharistic minister. It has all the notes from the classes I’ve taken as a Confirmation sponsor. It has notes I’ve taken while doing a Catholicism Bible Study. And a study on the Mass. It has scripture verses a friend wrote out for me and included in a gift. It has has reflections I wrote while planning a “Writing as Prayer” presentation for a local mom’s group. It has notes from when Bethany was taking her classes preparing her for First Penance and First Communion. It has notes on a lecture I attended about Vatican II. And it has all these notes from a National Conference of Catholic Youth Ministry I attended, in which one of the presentations was about using C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein to “Unlock the Adolescent Imagination” in Catholic Youth Ministry. The notes from that presentation, alone, make the notebook invaluable to me. Because, hello–Gandalf as Christ figure? AWESOME SAUCE.

And so, yeah, I just totally took a moment to hug my notebook. Just seeing it here, next to me, helps me to breathe easier. I know that probably seems weird to most people, but that, too, is a part of who I am. Leaving the house without a notebook makes me feel vulnerable and incomplete, much the same way I imagine other people feel if they leave behind their wallet or phone. My notebooks become a part of me, an indispensable and irreplaceable part of me. And it is so wonderful to begin this new year with my notebook back at my side, where it belongs.

Winter Wonderland

Living in West Central Florida, there are certain things my children have never experienced. The most obvious and disappointing to them is the absence of snow. We had planned a winter trip up to visit the cousins two years ago in December–that year that the big blizzard came in and closed everything. We joke that the kids were praying so hard for snow during their visit that they brought on the blizzard that cancelled their visit. That is the one story about prayer that the kids hate hearing us tell.

But they love hearing about snow. They are fascinated by it. When they go to the beach, they make “sand angels.” When we go to Disney, they ask if the soap bubbles spewed around the park at holiday time are really snow. They look at pictures of snowflakes on the internet. They are somewhat obsessed with the whole concept.

The fact that I understand this is the ONLY thing that kept me sane at the end of the summer. It saved them from a fate worse than boarding school. It actually made the whole thing kind of funny.

I woke up one morning in early August at around 8 because my cleaning service arrives between 8 and 8:30 and it’s rather embarrassing to be caught sleeping when other people are beginning their work day. Actually it’s rather embarrassing to me to admit that, as a stay-at-home mom, I have a cleaning service. It makes me feel like an utter sloth. But they get done, in two hours, what it takes me three days to do. So there it is.

At that point the kids were still in bed so I just closed their door and made myself scarce so the women who help me take care of my house could do their job unimpeded. They were taking care of my floors and bathrooms, and wouldn’t take long. I went into my home office and tried to wade through some of the mountains of papers that had piled up in there over the summer.

The cleaning service came, and left, and still the kids were still asleep. This was odd, as they usually wake up to the sound of a vacuum, and since we were getting ready to go on our final summer vacation to Disney that day, I expected they’d be bouncing off the walls. In retrospect, this is the first thing that should have tipped me off that something was . . . different. As it stood, I had so much to do and so little time to do it that I didn’t really think about it.  I am notorious for procrastinating on packing, so even though we were supposed to leave at noon that day when my husband got out of work early, I hadn’t even opened a suitcase. I was in a bit of a tizzy.

Instead of waking the kids I started packing my own suitcase, then my husband’s. I had all our clothes and toiletries done and the kids were STILL asleep. At 10:30. Finally, I just had to go into their rooms and wake them up because I needed them to get their clothes together. I have had far too many experiences lately where I have packed “the wrong things” for them (yes, their words. So sorry, Critter, that I didn’t realize you wanted to only wear the green woolen skirt for the entire trip to a theme park in August. Silly me!), so now I just make them pick out their own outfits. And when they complain of being too hot or too cold I tell them it’s entirely their own fault!

Even though it was 11 am they groaned and moaned like I was getting them up for school.  But after I said DISNEY for the sixth time they finally pulled themselves together and started packing. I went into their bathroom to get their toiletries together and noticed this white paste like stuff on things that the cleaning ladies had piled in one corner of the bathroom as they cleaned that morning. It still amazes me to what extent my cleaning ladies, and my own inattentiveness to my household, helped save my childrens’ necks that day. Because I don’t know what I would have found if I had gone into that bathroom BEFORE my cleaning service got to it. I shudder to think.

None of the kids toiletries were in the white-paste-box, so even though part of my brain was nagging, “How did THAT happen?” I shook it off, made a note to clean all that up when I got home from vacation and just threw their stuff into a baggie.

At that point, my husband arrived home and we started getting REALLY excited about our trip. The kids were bouncing around, I was laughing, my husband was excited, and all we needed to do was pack a few last things before we could leave. Also, we decided we should eat a little something.

As my husband sat eating a sandwich he looked at me and said, “How did that bottle break last night?”

“What bottle?” I asked.

“The bottle in the garbage can.”

“What bottle in the garbage can?”

“Have you not looked in the garbage can today?”

“Do I usually paw through our garbage in the morning? Why would I be looking in the garbage can?”

“I don’t know. I just looked in there when I threw out my coffee grinds this morning and I saw a broken bottle in there covered with some kind of white paste.”

I suddenly noticed a significant absence of bouncing children. They were GONE.

The cleaning ladies had taken out the garbage, so instead of looking I just asked, “What, EXACTLY, did you see in the garbage can this morning?”

“This little glass bottle, like of lotion or spray or something, but it was broken, like the top had cracked off. It was glass, so I was concerned, so I took out the pieces but it hadn’t shattered or anything. They were all there. So I figured I’d look into it more when I got home. I think I remember seeing it in the kids’ bathroom closet, so I just assumed it broke last night after I went to bed and that you had thrown it away.”

“Yeah. No. It wasn’t me.” I thought about the closet and remembered I had one glass bottle of lotion that I kept in the kids bathroom, out of their reach, high on a top shelf. I went to look in their bathroom. The house was silent. But I know for a fact that ominous music was playing in everyone’s head at that point.

I opened the closet. The cleaning ladies hadn’t cleaned the closet. And that, my friends, is how the kids got BUSTED.

Everything. was caked. with powder. The floor. The shelves. Everything. Basins had been stuffed onto shelves, coated in that white paste I’d noticed earlier in the day. Crusted, dried, powdery towels were stuffed on top of clean towels. Two containers of baby powder were empty. The bottle I was thinking of had broken, I assumed, as the girls were taking down the powder. The question was, WHY?

“GIRLS!!!!!! GET IN HERE!!!!!!!”

Two very meek children walked into the bathroom. It seemed they had actually gotten smaller.

I looked each on in the eye. “Explain. Fully.”

My girls knew better than to even TRY to lie to me. They knew, from previous lectures, that while they would get in trouble for doing something wrong, they would get in ten times more trouble if they lied about it. The big one, Boo, cracked first. She always does.

“It wasn’t my idea! It really wasn’t! I was just in here peeing and Critter came in to spend time with me!”

Critter started to cry.

For some reason, the situation was so absurd I found it hard not to laugh. I kept it under control, though. “Peeing does not cover my bathroom in white paste. Unless there’s something physically wrong with you I don’t know about. Keep talking.”

“Critter wanted to make a Winter Wonderland.”

I just stared at them. It was getting much harder not to laugh.

“WITH POOWWWWDDDERRRRRR!!!” Critter cried.

I lost it. I just started to guffaw. I had to sit down. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. The kids looked at me as if I’d grown three additional heads. My husband came into the bathroom. “What is going on?” he asked.

The kids decided to ignore my laughter and just play it straight with their dad. Boo did the talking. “Christa wanted to make a Winter Wonderland last night out of powder, and needed my help getting the powder down. So I climbed on the step-stool and got it for her, and she sprayed it all over the bathroom. The bottle broke when I was getting it down and it fell in the powder and the lotion seeped out. I picked it up and threw it away and no one got hurt. I swear, daddy, no one got hurt. But then I came back in the room and there was powder everywhere and I thought it looked fun, and I knew I was going to have to help clean it up anyway, so I got the other container of powder and did it too. And then we tried to clean it up. We really did. We filled two basins with water and got towels and started trying to clean it all up but it wouldn’t come up and just made this PASTE. EVERYWHERE.”

At this point I’d pulled myself together a bit. “When, exactly, did you do this?” I asked. “I was up last night until midnight!!”

“I had a bad dream!” Christa cried. “I woke up. And I woke Beth up. So she had to pee. So I came into the bathroom and saw the closet open and saw the powder and I thought a Winter Wonderland would make me feel better!” She paused for a moment. “And you know, it did make me feel better.” She gave me a teary smile.

“Until we had to clean it up!” Beth yelled. “And it wouldn’t. get. clean! And it was late. And I was tired. And we tried, mom. We tried really hard! But it got all pasty and messy and so we just threw everything in the closet so you wouldn’t get angry. Please don’t get angry, mom. Please?”

I was really mostly kind of furious, but in one of those “Wow I’m so angry that if I don’t laugh I’ll scream,” so I was still giggling on and off. Everyone at that point was looking at me like I was crazy. “Don’t let the laughter fool you, kids,” I said. “I’m angry. I’m actually really, really angry. But I can’t scream at you loud enough to express how furious I am. So I’m laughing as a way to release my absolute fury. But if I were you I would go to your rooms. Separately. While your father and I discuss what we are going to do about this.”

It was one of those parenting moments where we were just dumfounded. Husband and I couldn’t even play good cop/bad cop. We didn’t know where we stood on anything. It was like:

Me: What were they THINKING? But, they’d tried to clean it up.

Husband: But they TRIED TO HIDE IT! But they were just so tired they were going to get to it later.

Me: BUT THEY DIDN’T.

Husband: Well, we’ll be making them clean it themselves when we get home.

Me: Are we still even GOING to Disney?

Husband: Well, I want to go to Disney. And you want to go to Disney. And we’ll lose our deposit if we don’t go.

Me: But they don’t deserve to go to Disney.

Husband: But WE do!

Me: Yes. Yes we do. Can we leave them home?

Husband: Not old enough yet. But someday!

Me: So we’re going.

Husband: Yes.

Me: And how exactly are we going to punish them, then?

Husband: Let’s punish them in a way that makes OUR lives easier. Let’s take them to school at 7 am and leave them in extended day til 6pm.

They must have heard that one, because there was an audible cry from the rooms in the back of the house.

Me: Well, if I did that I’d kind of miss them.

Husband: You’d miss the two kids who turned your bathroom into a powdery mess?

Me: Yeah.

Husband; You. Are. A. Sap.

Me: Yeah. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome. They took me captive when they were born, and I can’t stop loving them.

Husband: I’ve got it! No EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES FOR THE FALL SEMESTER!

Me:: No. They have to do something!

Husband: Yes. They have to learn respect for this household. And learn to clean.

Me; Soy you mean no dance. No theater. No karate. No me running all over town getting them hither and yon!

Husband: Yes! And when they get home they’ll do their homework and then CLEAN THE HOUSE!

Me: They’ll be like little servants.

Husband: YES!

Me: The tables will have turned!

Husband: Oh, they will turn. They are turning now!

So, full of glee, we called the girls out and gave them a run down of all the choices of punishment.

Critter started talking before we did: Mommy, Boo and I have decided we do not deserve to go to Disney.

Husband: No, you don’t. But we do.

Boo: Oh. That’s true.

Me: We thought about leaving you home.

Critter: ALONE??

Husband: No. We think that would be illegal at your age.

Me: Maybe with a sitter. Too bad they don’t have drop-in orphanages.

Critter: *sob*

Boo: So we’re going to Disney?

Husband: Of course we’re going to Disney.

Boo: But we’re not going to ask you to buy us anything.

Me: Damn right you’re not going to ask us to buy you anything and don’t use that word I just said at school.

Husband: But there must be CONSEQUENCES to what you have done.

Critter: We can clean it before we leave!

Me: But then WE don’t get maximal Disney time.

Husband: This whole fiasco is seriously cutting into my Big Thunder Mountain railroad enjoyment plan.

Me: Yes. And I was so looking forward to a nice dinner.

Boo: So we’ll clean up when we get home?

Husband: Yuuup.

Critter: But that’s not punishment enough for what we’ve done, Daddy! It’s just not! WE LIED!! WE SNEAKED!!!! WE MADE A HUGE MESS!!!!

Me: True. So, what do you think we should do to punish you?

Boo: Take away all our toys.

Critter: Make us stay in our rooms ALL YEAR!!!

Boo: I heard something about extended day.

Critter: NOOOOOOO! Please NO, Mommy! I’ll never do it again. Never. I promise. DON’T SEND ME AWAY!!!!

Boo: Yeah. I hate that place.

Husband: I suggested extended day to your mother but she still seems to like you, even after what you’ve done, and wants to spend time with you.

Boo: Thank you mommy! (Hugs me)

Critter: MOMMY I LOVE YOU!!!!!! (Jumps in my lap).

Me: (Giving hugs back) Yeah. I would miss you if I was away from you that long. So that’s out. What else could we do?

Boo: Make us clean all the time. Every day.

Critter: And not just our rooms, but the whole house, all the time.

Husband: I think that might end up being it.

Me: Yup. That’s it. But the key is where you’re going to find the time to do that.

Husband: And that’s why we’ve decided that you will do no extracurricular activities in the fall except Girl Scouts.

Me: Your extracurricular activities will be cleaning. And cooking. We used to call it Home Economics.

Boo: That’s a punishment?

Critter: We WANT to do that stuff!

Me: Seriously?

Boo and Critter: YEAH! We want to HELP YOU with stuff around the house, mommy!

And that was that. We went to Disney, had a great time, and when we got home the kids emptied the closet, cleaned every shelf, cleaned the floor, and put everything back. For my part, I made sure they had plenty to do after that–emptying and loading the dishwasher, cleaning their rooms, doing the laundry, making the beds. I’d like to say they kept the house super-clean, but my house is destined to always be a slight mess. It’s who we are. But the time the kids spend doing chores that I would otherwise have to do is now time I can dedicate to reading, writing, and exercising. So the story really does have a happy ending.

And the other night, as we were talking at the table about Christmas, we mentioned that a local tree lighting ceremony would have snow. Critter said, “Yeah. That’ll be nice. Outside the house. Because there’ll be no more snow in here!”

Lesson learned, then. Lesson learned.

 

This entry was posted on December 3, 2012. 4 Comments