Saturday, October 22, 2016

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you had interviewed for the job of parent? Do you think you would have gotten the job? I’m not sure my references would have checked out…

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to you today regarding the open Mom position in your company. I have included my resume but I did want to highlight a few accomplishments during my 12 years of Mom experience with my previous employer.

I was very excited to see that you are looking for someone who has experience, possesses creativity, management and organizational skills, event planning expertise, baking and cooking skills, and budgeting knowledge. I have vast amounts of experience in all of these areas. For example, I instituted our new Wake-Up Wednesday policy, which dictates a fresh home cooked breakfast every Wednesday morning so my children have something to look forward to in the middle of the week. I treat each birthday as an extravaganza by throwing at least two parties in addition to what we call Mommy-Child Day, where we do whatever the child wants to do for the whole day.

But it isn’t all fun and games. I make sure we read, have clean clothes, do our homework, and eat healthy meals. I also coordinate the before and after school and weekend activities to provide enrichment beyond the classroom. In my spare time, I maintain our accounts and budget for expenditures.

I look forward to hearing from you soon regarding your open position. I feel that my experience and enthusiasm would be a good addition to your team.


Reference Number One: Moose

Please tell me about the candidate’s strengths:
She has a lot of strengths. She makes really good monkey bread.

Please tell me about the candidate’s weaknesses:
She doesn’t always follow through. She started Wake-Up Wednesday, which is great. But she says that we don’t do it in the summer because every day is like Friday so we don’t need a special breakfast in the middle of the week. So she can be a bit unreliable. She also gets upset about the house and says we have to start helping. I’m not sure if she is good with time management if she requires so much help to do her job. I can also tell that time management is a weakness because she frequently seems frazzled with the simplest of schedules, such as having a birthday dinner, concert and basketball practice all on the same night. Because of her lack of planning, she had to learn how to tie a tie while waiting for her enchiladas at the restaurant. What a scene!

And she does complain about not having enough down time when she has a reasonable working schedule. We give her from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. off every day, unless one of us is sick or forgets to get a uniform washed for the next day. I think eight hours is plenty of downtime for one person.

Tell me about a time she had to handle a difficult situation:
Once I asked a simple question about the human body and got a 45 minute talk about the birds and the bees! And she seems to think we should talk about this stuff openly and often! Wait, did you ask how she creates difficult situations or handles them…?

Would you hire her again?
Yeah, she’s pretty good. She does make really good monkey bread. Although I would like her to reconsider her Summer Wake-Up Wednesday policy. She does do a good job with birthdays, except for that one time when she planned my party over a holiday weekend and only one person showed up. I think this goes back to her planning skills…

Reference Number Two: Squirrel

Please tell me about the candidate’s strengths:
She makes good cinnamon rolls, but they are out of a can…She also makes pretty good bunny voices for my stuffed rabbits. Oh, and she buys me good presents. Can I talk about my dad now? He is so much fun – he takes me on snowmobile rides, four-wheeler rides, gets me Icees whenever I want them…

Please tell me about the candidate’s weaknesses:
She says no. A lot. Like all the time, all she ever tells me is no. She says something about making a bad life choice, but I have yet to see her credentials to make that determination. For example, she says I can’t drive until I am older despite the fact that I have driven a Gator (with assistance.) She also makes me read when she can do it perfectly well herself. So I’d say she gets a little overzealous with the delegation.

Have we talked about her physical limitations? She took an excessive amount of time off the job this summer for her knee. Clearly she has some limitations now – she says she can’t lift me up anymore. What do they do with horses with lame legs…?

Tell me about a time she had to handle a difficult situation:
Have you heard about the time she dropped the jar of spaghetti sauce at Hy-Vee? Right in the check out lane. Sauce and glass everywhere. She tried to play it off cool, but I like to remind her of this incident even though it’s been three years because it’s important to keep the help humble.

Would you hire her again?
Well, it would really depend on if she changes her attitude. I have told her on multiple occasions that I can replace her. Those kind of remarks seem to work for a while but then she returns to her usual self. There was a time where she put the wrong cheese in the snack that I requested. I pointed it out to her and boy, she did not respond well to the constructive criticism. How is she supposed to get better if she won’t listen to feedback? So I’m really on the fence with this question. Maybe if there was a probationary period…


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When You Try Your Best But You Don't Succeed or The Self-Inflicted Shame Wound

Disclaimer: Everything below is a self-inflicted wound. At no point did anyone imply that I am a horrible mom or accuse me of being neglectful. I took care of all of that on my own.

Friends, let me be honest with you about my summer. While at times you may have seen me smiling and heard me say uplifting, optimistic phrases, please make no mistake that this past summer was an intense struggle both physically, emotionally and spiritually. If you need to get caught up, it’s important to know that for a variety of reasons, both healthy and unhealthy, exercise is a vital component to my life. And in May, possibly as a result of my relationship with exercise, I had knee surgery which turned out to be more invasive and intense than expected. It landed me in a knee immobilizer for about 10 weeks, five of which I couldn’t put any weight on my leg, and then very very slowly I gradually added in weight-bearing and flexibility. It has been five months since surgery and I am still in physical therapy and am currently working on using stairs. This summer my stress outlet, aka exercise, was taken away from me and my immobility left me rumbling with multiple demons ranging from body image issues, to worthiness to perfectionism and shame. For the first few days, going to the bathroom on my own was my major accomplishment for the day. It took me three weeks to be able to put on my own shoes. Getting dressed left me breathless. In July I started the tedious process of relearning how to walk. From May through August, I rarely got a night of sleep due to pain and restlessness. I could not carry a cup of coffee or a plate of food due to the crutches and had to rely on everyone around me to feed and water me. To put it lightly, this summer was a challenge.

In addition to the physical challenge, summers have historically been busy times for my husband, who works long hours and would unpredictably work late or early. There were days he would come home just to get something out of the oven for dinner because I could not lift and bend at the same time. At my own job, we were short staffed all summer and our admin and I were trying to cover two individuals’ jobs and our own. Due to my physical condition, making it through a work day was a test of my endurance that by the time I got home I literally had just the energy to feed the kids if Pete was working and ask them to get ready for bed. There were many tears of pain, frustration and guilt this summer. Every day ended in exhaustion, followed by nights of despair from trying to sleep, all to be repeated again.

Friends, what I am saying is that this summer sucked. I tried to make the best of it and enjoy everything I could but make no mistake. I did not experience this summer as much as I survived it. And I did survive it. I’ve run a few marathons and this summer felt like hitting the wall with a hill up ahead and four miles to go. When the end of August rolled around and I was finally moving better, starting to exercise (albeit slowly) and finally sleeping at night, I looked back on those months, panting, hands on thighs, and thought, how the hell did I get up that hill of life this summer? We didn’t move forward this summer but we didn’t move backward, right? I don’t want to call it pride, but maybe I felt relief that we had made it to the other side. I was actually looking forward to starting the school year.

We were incredibly fortunate to get an amazing teacher for the Squirrel in first grade. She makes me excited to send him to school every day. I feel like she will “get” him and his quirks; it is going to be a great year. And in her amazing-ness, she believes in additional phone conferences to supplement the traditional conferences. Last week was our first phone conference where I learned that my Squirrel is woefully behind in reading. I immediately flashback to the Moose’s struggles in first grade with reading. Six years ago when I heard the Moose was behind in reading, as one does with their first born, I jumped to the conclusion that he would never go to college, he would never get a “good job” and would be illiterate for the rest of his life. Naturally I freaked out. We had epic battles over sight words and reading to the point where I flipped out and that moment still holds a place in my Parenting Hall of Shame. I promised myself after my experiences with the Moose that I wouldn’t overreact again should this happen with the Squirrel.  (FYI, the Moose loves reading now and I have the insight of knowing that things will turn out okay.) I (fake) calmly tell the Squirrel’s teacher that I’m not going to freak out. She tells me that he says he doesn’t read at home and we don’t read to him. Cue that scratchy record sound where everything stops. Then she tells me that it may be time to panic. Fuck.

As much as I try not to, I go straight into that shame spiral. First, I did read to him this summer. It was one of the few activities I could do with the kids. But I’m not going to lie. We didn’t do sight words and I didn’t force him to read to me. I just couldn’t. My energy was wrapped up in me this summer. I was just trying to get through the summer and had to put my health above things like sight words. I thought I had made peace with the guilt of not being able to be Super Mom this summer. Consider the peace treaty over. I let down my Squirrel and now this amazing teacher thinks I’m a horrible, neglectful mom who doesn’t care about education or her child’s future. Spiral, spiral, spiral.

You know that Coldplay song, “Fix You”? “When you try your best but you don’t succeed….” That’s me. I tried my best and you know what? I didn’t succeed. I let all of this sink in for a while. I really did try my best. And my best wasn’t my typical best, but it was the best I had. And for the first time in 12 years, I had to put my wellbeing above my children’s so that I could get back to being Super Mom. Despite my battles against it, I had to succumb to my physical needs and rest after going to a grocery store. I had to take two hour long naps with ice packs after outings. And yes, things like sight words took a back seat this summer. And now I’m paying the price. My demons are saying that excuses like knee surgery and a crazy work environment are just cheap excuses for dropping the ball on something as important as my Squirrel’s reading level. And while I’m making a list, there are a lot of other things I’ve let go – can I please get a piece of paper and pen so we can write them all down?

In my usual fashion, I want to keep this all to myself and beat myself up for being the terrible parent that I am. Because as I’ve learned, shame thrives in secrets and really, this is my penance for my neglect. However, in a rare moment, I break down and email a friend and explain the situation. She reassures me that I’m not a horrible parent. That this summer was particularly rough. And she offers help, not judgement. I text another friend who also reassures me that things will all work out, that I am good enough. And here I sit, telling all of you my story now. But the purpose of my story has changed. I’m not telling you so you can tell me that I’m a Good Mom. I’m telling you because sometimes your best won’t be enough. And that sucks. But that’s still okay. We fail sometimes and it doesn’t mean that we are horrible people or parents. There are times we will be running our hardest and think we are close to that finish line, when we trip and fall. The fact that we are willing to get up, dust ourselves off, and start running again is what matters. We may not win every race, but if we try to finish, that’s what matters.

Much to the Squirrel’s chagrin, the town library sent us home with a stack of books to work on. And his teacher has sent home books and sight word lists. And I am only in physical therapy once a week now and am only working on learning how to go up and down stairs. I’ve learned how to walk and have use of both of my hands and while I’m not running yet, I’ve started the race again. And just like it was with his big brother, I know that we will get him back on track. And thanks to all of the time I spent sitting this summer, I’ve been meditating regularly which certainly helps when I’m working with the Squirrel now.

And I’m back to being proud that I survived the summer. Just because I didn’t succeed at everything doesn’t mean that my best wasn’t amazing. It was. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

It's Not About Pintrest or Upgrading my Super Mom Cape

A year ago we moved into our house. Right away I could tell I was in trouble. I’m a competitive person and I had moved next door to a Super Mom. She always wore a smile, she had proof of Pintrest hanging from her door, she was always running her kids to various activities, and her front porch was always tastefully decorated. Great. So she worked, crafted, kept her kids involved and smiled about it? I simply cannot compete. No lie, it’s been a year and while I found our wreath hanger, it is hanging, empty, on my front door. When I leave the house with the kids to go to various activities, I am usually hollering (not smiling) to see if we remembered everything. How did this lady have everything together? And here’s the rub. She was really nice too. She welcomed me to the neighborhood and was perfectly fine when my boys invited themselves over or bombarded her in her driveway with 20 minute long stories of how we went to the park. Super. Mom. I admitted defeat within the first 6 months…after I bought a bunch of Halloween decorations at Walmart on November 1 last year – a girl can dream, right?

And then, more suddenly than the word “suddenly” conveys, she was gone. She was younger than me and she died. I don’t know what happened – she was a healthy young woman – and frankly, it isn’t my business. What matters to me is that this amazing mom is gone. And she left behind two young boys, a grieving husband and an incredibly long list of friends and family. I wish I had known her better – I always thought we’d have more time to get to talk as our boys grew up. Friends, it is so sad. It is sad in a way that just makes you stop. And I don’t stop often.

What I do know is that she had just spent the weekend camping and having family time. Photos show unplugged time spent outdoors with smiling kids and parents on a beautiful day. And what struck me is that we really don’t know when our last day will be and without knowing it, this mom got to spend it, soaking in her kids, on a great day. I reflected on my moments before we found out about our neighbor, and they were spent doing housework while yelling at my kids to stop fighting and sending them to their rooms. This day does not reflect every day in our lives, but it represents quite a few of them. This is not the kind of mom I want to be.

I struggle to just be. I usually want to be productive in some manner. I’ve been working on just enjoying the moment – notice how I can even turn that into something to do. But my neighbor’s passing made me think of things I might be missing out on by constantly ticking things off a to-do list. I wanted to be a more relaxed mom, a mom who could let things go, could let kids be kids. I wanted to enjoy every moment that I have with these little beams of light that are my children. I wanted them to be happy all of the time.

So for a few days, I did everything I could to refrain from yelling at my kids or getting frustrated with them. For their part, they made sure this was a challenge. At one point, after patiently telling my Squirrel he could either stop climbing up on the entertainment table or he could go to his room, he looked at me, put his hands on his hips and simply said “No.” No to what I asked. “No to everything you just said,” he replied and walked away. Clearly this wasn’t working. But I needed to remember that every moment could be our last – what if something happened to me or God forbid them – and our last interaction was a standoff about using my furniture like a jungle gym. I can’t have that! But my kids were acting like assholes and I didn’t know how much longer I could tolerate it.

My neighbor boys are wonderful little kids. They are polite and curious and I genuinely like it when they visit. And it occurred to me…my neighbor and her husband were raising great kids. And great kids are loved on but also have rules to follow – you cannot have anarchy-style parenting and well-behaved children at the same time. I have no doubts that she would have told her kids to stop trying to climb up the bookshelves and to put their clothes away. And I realized that being a Super Mom means there has to be a balance, love and boundaries. It is not the outside of the house that makes you a Super Mom, it's what happens on the inside of the house. And I knew my neighbor knew that.

So now I remember to practice more patience than before. I remember to slow down, sit down and talk about the things that excite them, even if it is Minecraft and Pokemon, even if I have a million things to do. I have rebooted our bedtime routine so that we snuggle in my bed and read stories at night. But the Moose and Squirrel still have chores to do and rules to follow. Because being a Super Mom means not raising assholes. Love doesn’t mean letting anything go, never saying no and not giving our children responsibilities just because chores are boring. It means that when someone comes out of their room after a time out, they know that you are there waiting for a hug. And that yes, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded (AGAIN!) because families help each other. And yes, I will read you another story. If anything should happen to me, my legacies are these two little boys and I want them to be fantastic men when they grow up.

A year ago I thought I needed to up my game by decorating more and looking like I always had my shit together. But that’s not the case. My neighbor continues to inspire me to take the time to slow down, to love on my kids while maintaining boundaries, and to smile while doing it. She may be gone, but her husband and children reflect the kind of person she was. She is still a Super Mom and I see proof of it every day. So while outside my wreath hanger is still empty, things have changed inside. Thanks Sally.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Hard Reset or What Apps Have You Downloaded Lately

Ever have that moment where your phone is all messed up and the only way to fix it is with a hard reset? It used to happen to me all the time with my first smart phone and I'd have to reload all my apps again. Oh it was so frustrating! The only good thing I can say about it is it gave me an opportunity to look over all my apps and do a little editing. Did I really need Angry Birds Space? Probably not.

This year I turned 39 and I decided it was going to be my best year yet. I was going to get in fantastic shape, become zen, make healthy meals, read stories to my kids every night and finally get my shit together so I'd start my forties on the right foot. Oh how ironic that statement is. Instead two weeks after I turned 39, I ended up in a surgery that would have me sitting around helpless for six weeks. And after those six weeks, I'd get to learn how to walk, sit and climb stairs all over again. It was going to be at least an eight week recovery. If you are doing the math, that means 2 months, which is 1/6th of my best year ever! And after two months of slow recovery, I'd be physically weak and completely out of shape. Even after I learned to climb stairs, I'd be out of breath when I got to the top. 

So when I woke up from surgery, my first reaction was "WHAT THE FUCK!" followed with tears. Look, I'm a hustler. There is always more I can do, more I can accomplish and it is my 39th year - my last year before my 40s. This was going to be a banner year of awesomeness. I have an addiction to busy and I was going on a bender this year. And all of a sudden, now I wasn't. 

Just like a crappy phone, I needed a hard reset. And I got one. I didn't want it, in fact I was kicking and screaming against it (mentally, although if I could have pulled it off physically, I would have.) Jenny does not sit. Jenny does not do still. And yet that's all I could do. How would I be successful and be new and improved if I could not "do"? Just like on my shitty Samsung phone, all of my apps were removed and it was up to me to decide which apps I wanted to use my storage on again.

I'm not going to lie. That first week I sat and sulked, mad at the world. If I can't exercise or take care of my family or even get a goddamned cup of coffee, then there really is no point. I ranted at my surgeon that I COULDN'T DO ANYTHING! According to my husband, this was not one of my finer moments. Fortunately things like going to the bathroom and taking a shower took up a lot of my brain power that first week. And then one morning I woke up and realized, maybe there were some apps I could add back in. They may not be what I would have called awesome before, but they were things I could do and hadn't spent a whole lot of energy on in the past.

I decided if all I could do was sit, then I would meditate every day. At first I meditated on how I was told I couldn't run again. But then I started meditating on patience and compassion for myself. I decided my new exercise goal was to rock out my rehab and did physical therapy every day, often twice a day. If I could only do leg lifts, then I would do leg lifts. But instead of thinking about what I couldn't do, I'd start doing what I could. I downloaded the Meditation and Compassionate Exercise apps.

I added in the Help App, which has a helpful notification to say "Yes please" and "Thanks" when someone offers to help. This includes when my friends have to bring my plate of food to the table and clear my place. It is so hard because it is humbling to not be able to feed yourself or clean up after a meal. And it still takes a toll on me to say "Yes, it would be great if you could hold my glass." But my Help App pings me and reminds me to say yes. Eventually I won't need help with meals or picking up my shoes anymore but I will probably need help with bigger things. And hopefully it will be easier for me to accept that help.

I downloaded the new Mom App. The update eliminated things that didn't really matter to my kids, like being the one that packed the lunches or always made sure they have clean clothes. Don't get me wrong, those things are really important. But I don't have to be the one who does them. Instead, this app encourages me to sit down with them and read or just watch a movie. And when I move up levels, this app challenges me to play more and stress less about small things that don't really need to get done immediately. 

One of my favorite new apps is the Cleaning App. It has a great feature that delegates cleaning to multiple people. In fact, you have to enter in the names of everyone in your household and assign them chores. It is fantastic. You actually lose points if you do all the cleaning yourself.

One of the original apps I didn't want to let go of was the Perfect App. It had been my favorite app that I spent way too much time on. The Perfect App had all kinds of settings. Settings for being the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker, the perfect physical specimen. I could log everything I ate, drank, how much I exercised and how little I slept. I could check in on Facebook and see how everyone else was doing too. My hustle addiction and eating disorder LOVED this app. And the best part of this app was that I never could beat the game - there was always a higher level that I could never achieve. Sitting was not an option on this app. I checked in on this app all the time. But now I couldn't even play the games on this app. I had forgotten my password. This put the "hard" in hard reset. The Perfect App hasn't been added back - I just don't have the storage for it right now and I hope I don't ever have the storage for it again.

They say it takes 21 days to create a habit. I'm on 43 days now. I make attainable goals every week - things like mediate, get off of Facebook at night, sleep more,and stop eating chips (unless you are at a Mexican restaurant because I said attainable goals, not insane goals.) I'm going to try to remember that I have limited storage and that I need to prioritize how I use it. It turns out we can't simply add storage in real life. I can't pay Apple to increase my cloud because I keep adding too much to it. Instead I have to make choices on how I spend my energy. Despite how painful this experience has been mentally, emotionally and physically, I'm glad I had an opportunity to have a hard reset. It was probably the best way to start my last year before my 40s. Who knew that this really would be the year of awesome after all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Swab The Deck or Life Lessons on Crutches

Well friends, it has been an incredibly long month. If you don’t know the backstory, I had knee surgery and the recovery is much longer than I expected. You know how we all wish we had more time in our day? I’ve figured out the secret – use crutches! They will make every day feel like it’s 40 hours long.  Most days I’m excited to shut it down because I’ve really had enough already. And I’m not going to lie; being on crutches has not been a pretty experience that I’ve gracefully accepted. I have been mentally kicking and screaming for at least three of the four weeks since surgery. But it hasn’t all been bad. Since I’m looking at at least two more weeks on these bad boys so I thought now would be a great time to share some of the lessons I’ve learned while out of commission.

1. From now on, I’m going to keep my mouth shut when someone is rumbling with something. I’m not going to offer some cliché advice about how this too shall pass, it’s all for a reason, blah blah blah. I’ve learned that you just have to read the situation and know when you should shut up and when that person is ready for a pep talk. There’s a good possibility that the answer is never or at least not in the near future. For example, some very well-meaning people tried to helpfully point out early on that there are people who have it much worse than I do. Look, I know that. And it makes me feel like a horse’s ass that I’m pitching a fit about my short term set back when people have lost limbs or have cancer or worse. But I’m still pissed and need to be pissed about it for a little bit. And now I’m just mad AND I feel like an asshole.  So during these conversations, I learned that timing is everything when it comes to comfort. When someone is having a pity party, just let them be sad and bring them a cup of coffee and a cupcake – a really big cupcake. In the past I have seriously sucked at this rule so I’m glad I got to learn it firsthand. Now if something crappy happened to you, I’m just going to listen; I know that you know that there are people who have it worse, but that doesn’t make your experience any less sucky in the present moment.

2. I will remember to get really excited about the small stuff. Things that have excited me lately: putting on my own underwear; letting the dog out; putting on my shoes. I am like a toddler experiencing a new skill set. You don’t always have to run a marathon to feel that sense of accomplishment. Which is good because according to my surgeon, I won’t be running those anymore – but that conversation is for another day (denial…) And these small independences should be celebrated. Now if I could just figure out how to get a cup of coffee into the living room on my own…

3. Let people help. This has been so so hard for me. I am used to being the ring master of our crazy circus family and I have been barely a spectator these last few weeks. It’s like a huge demotion. I can’t get my own coffee, clean up after dinner, bring in groceries – seriously this list does not have an ending. And at first, it was so frustrating to depend on others. My brain was racing around trying to think of how I could still carry my own weight around the house – I have to earn my keep somehow! But after four weeks, I’m starting to let it go. Maybe just being me is enough for people. They want to help and take care of me. I should let them. The Moose knows how I like my coffee now and I have a feeling it might make him feel good doing something for his mom. My physical therapist was telling me how she’d feel like a failure if she had someone come in and clean her house - that it meant she couldn’t do it all. And I found myself saying, “But you don’t have to do it all. And cleaning a house isn’t that big of a deal – that’s a task you can let someone else do which gives you time for something important to you.” What are these words coming out of my mouth?? Hopefully they are words that will stick.

4. Family means we all contribute. Maybe this is terrible, but my sons have had a pretty light chore list. One unloads the dishwasher and they both put their clothes away. That’s it. For some reason, I have continued to take care of my children as though they are babies even though one is almost 12 and one is 6. Well, being benched means that these future men get to learn that they too need to clean and help around the house. Ladies, you are welcome. These two have learned how to clean a bathroom, take out the garbage, and unload groceries. My favorite moment was when I overheard my youngest exclaim in disgust while putting away groceries “We are doing all of this BY OURSELVES!” Yes, yes you are. This time I’m the one in the living room watching tv and you are in the kitchen putting away groceries. But we are a family and that means we are all in this together, including cleaning the house.

5. I already knew this, but you have to find the humor in life. After a disastrous first bath attempt, Pete and I opted for a shower. One thing you let go of quickly after surgery is humility. So there is Pete holding me up in the shower as we both try to get me clean. I’ve got a garbage sack on my leg and I am very wobbly and all I really want to do is shave my legs. But it’s hopeless that day and I’m feeling low. The next thing I know, Pete grabs the shower head and starts rinsing me off, while loudly saying “Time to Swab the Deck!” I look at him and we both just start giggling. What the hell? He has never said “swab the deck” before in his life and now we are on the Jolly Roger? And thank goodness. Because when things kind of suck, we look over at each other and say those three precious words “Swab the Deck!” and everything is okay. And I am proud to say, I can manage a shower sort of on my own now, as long as everything has been put within my reach.

Don’t be fooled. I am not Miss Positive Pollyanna all the time. I have good days and bad days, good mornings and bad mornings and my days are still very long and frankly exhausting. But if I’m going to be down and out for a while, I might as well look for the life lessons. Because this all happened for a reason and there are people who have it much worse than I do. This is temporary after all…Whatever. This has sucked and I have given myself permission to be mad about it. But I will admit that there have been good things about it too. Please get me a cup of coffee first and we’ll talk about them. You didn’t happen to bring a cupcake with you, did you?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Adventures in Flying with an Addict or Jesus Doesn't Want You to be an Asshole

The other day I was flying home. It might surprise you to know that I’m really more of an introvert; all of the jobs I’ve had require me to be an extrovert so when I’m not working, I tend to be quiet and keep more to myself. I was plugged into a podcast when my seatmate looked over at me and mumbled something. I unplugged, answered his question and plugged in again. And again, he leaned over and mumbled something.

Me: “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Him: “This is my first flight. I’m on my way to rehab.”

I sighed and knew that I would be engaging with this person the whole flight and was already calculating how long this was going to take. As our plane taxied for take-off, my seatmate shared with me a quick synopsis of his life so far. Four kids, married for 15 years but about to divorce (she doesn’t know it yet), first kid at the age of 17, crack addict, 17 charges against him, born in the south, heading to a $60k rehab in Fort Lauderdale. That’s a lot to accomplish by your early thirties. Heading to rehab? So there’s a super great chance he’s either a little high right now or is in withdrawal. His jitters could be from drugs or nerves or maybe a bit of both.

One of the few things I’m good at is being the cheerleader, providing the pep talk. And here’s a man who is pouring his heart out to me that might just need one. I’m no Nicholas Sparks and hate being sappy, but at the same time, I felt like maybe we were sitting together so that he could hear that he was making the right choice.

Turns out crack addicts do not have a filter. Or maybe they just are really vulnerable. Or maybe they just don’t know social cues and overshare. Look at it however you wish – I thought all three during this 90 minute flight. Robert (we shared names halfway through his flight) couldn’t believe I was traveling alone and wondered if my marriage was on the rocks. Nope, I’m just capable of traveling on my own and someone has to take the kids to school if I’m gone. Robert loves his kids and repeatedly tells me this is for his kids and I agree, as parents, there’s nothing we won’t do for our kids. If the loves of your life don’t motivate you, nothing will.

Since we were flying in a filter free zone, Robert leaned over after we’d had a riveting conversation about cell phone carriers and asked if I believed in God. Nothing like a new topic without a segway. At the same time, that’s what was making this conversation most entertaining – having no idea where the heck this train was headed. And I thought, what an incredibly personal question. And where was Robert on this – he’s southern, isn’t this all they do down there?

Me: “Well, yeah, I believe there’s a higher power. I was raised Catholic but am between religions right now.” 
Robert: “I want to believe but a lot of time I don’t want to believe there’s a God.”

Good Lord. I don’t want to get into a whole religious conversation. I’m not that person. So here’s how the rest of this went.

Me: “I think there are a lot of things happening that are hard to explain and there’s probably something behind them. But I don’t think there’s one right or one wrong religion.”
Robert: “Yeah, I’m sure there’s a God. Right?”
Me: “Well, I don’t think there’s a judgy God up there. I just think that we are all supposed to be good people. Just be a good person and you’ll be fine. Don’t be an asshole. That’s what I think it’s all about, regardless of who you are and what you believe.”
Robert: “I like that. Not a judgy God. I’m a good person. I may not seem like it and I haven’t made good choices, but I’m a good person.”

He says this like a person clinging to a life raft and I realize that this conversation might mean something to him later. Shit.

Me: “Of course you are a good person. Look. We all fuck up. We just have to try our best every day. And some days our best sucks. But the next day we just try again to be a good person.”

Robert is nodding along and I feel this responsibility to not screw this up. Like he needs to know that what he’s done thus far in his life doesn’t define him.

Me: “So just do your best, be a good person and don’t be an asshole. I think if you follow that, you are good.”

Worst pep talk ever. But I realized this is what I believe. I don’t care if you are Catholic, Methodist, Buddhist, Muslim or an atheist. Be a good person and if you aren’t, try harder tomorrow. Maybe it isn’t as complicated as we all like to make it. Stop judging others. If you do believe in God then let him handle that. I feel like Jesus is up there face palming and shouting down “Don’t be an asshole!” (My Jesus swears.) So now I take my own advice. I stop being a pretentious asshole and remember that I’m engaging with a human being. I tell Robert he’s brave for going to rehab, for admitting to his oldest daughter that he is a crack addict, for doing something scary. He nods more and seems to need to hear it. And then our flight lands. I am relieved it is over because I don’t want to screw Robert up. He asks where I’m heading next and then I explain how to find your next gate at the airport. He offers me some sunglasses which I decline. And we disembark.

We bump into each other again at the departure signs and I help him figure out his next gate. He wants me to walk him there and I walk a little ways with him and then tell him the rest is on his own, much like the next part of his life. But that he can do it – he can find his gate, he can handle rehab, he can be clean for his kids. I wish him luck and I mean it.

I have no idea if Robert made it to rehab or if he’ll stay clean afterwards. Fort Lauderdale seems like a pretty stupid place for a rehab center – I’ve watched MTV Spring Break. But even if Robert fucks up again, he gets a new chance to make good choices tomorrow, because isn’t that what it’s really about? 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

After School Specials and PSAs or Does Someone Have a Banana

Warning: This post is full of alphabet soup – TMI, NSFW, you name it - which means, it’s probably a pretty fun read.

Things that make me queasy: hang nails, Band-Aids, splinters, sex talks. There are two ways to approach these four things. You can slowly take care of them or you can rip them off. Either way is painful so you just have to figure out how long you want to endure. 

As a parent there have been a few things I’ve dreaded dealing with: sucking snot out of baby noses, belly buttons falling off and explaining where babies come from. I knew the day would come where I would have to talk about the birds and the bees and while I really wanted to be enlightened, brave and evolved enough to handle it maturely, I had absolutely no experience with it. My own experience with “the sex talk” was less than ideal.

I was a senior in high school and was going to my very first OBGYN appointment because I had my first yeast infection (warned you about the TMI…) At the appointment, I got a prescription for medication and paid for it myself, which was probably the first time I’d had “adulted.” I called my mom from school…on a pay phone. (Yes, I’m that old.)
Me: “I got a pill. It was like twenty bucks.”
Mom: “Well that’s your choice for your decisions. If you need a pill then you’ll have to pay for it.”
Me (thinking this was a little harsh for simply being sick with an infection I didn’t want): “Huh? I have an infection…”
Mom: “What? Oh. Well, okay then. I’ll see you at home.” Click.

Good talk Mom. It took me about five minutes to realize she thought I meant The Pill. Poor Mom. If I put myself in her shoes, she was either caught off guard or the complete opposite – preparing for the worst. Now to my mom’s defense, I was 1) her first born, 2) a girl, and 3) we were Catholic. Pretty much the perfect storm for an epic fail of a sex talk. As an adult reflecting on that special Hallmark moment, I was determined to do a better job with my kids. I was raised on the Church of Oprah damnit! Oprah says we have to talk openly about this with our kids! (Great advice from a woman who has dogs for kids – all she has to do is drop them off at the vet and the sex talk is over!) Even 15 years later, it still bothers me that I missed the Oprah show that was advertised as “the one you can’t miss!” that detailed all the crazy things kids were doing these days (these days being the very early 2000’s). I frantically asked my friends what information was covered. In hushed tones, I was told about rainbow parties, jelly bracelets, and scary things on buses. And this was just for middle school kids! Even though I wasn’t even pregnant, I was already sweating.

Fast forward ten years. I’m pregnant with the Squirrel and the Moose was noticing that I was blowing up like Violet in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And then it happened. It was six a.m. and my little five year-old asks “How is the baby coming out? How did the baby get in there?”
And I panicked. Granted, I was decaffeinated and it was six a.m. But still, Oprah says I should always be prepared for The Talk. I stammered and said “They just come out. Do you want a pop tart?” Epic Fail! I could feel Oprah frowning. I spent the better part of the next week trying to come up with a response for the next time I was asked. I consulted mommy friends and was told whatever you do, don’t tell him the doctors take it out of your tummy with surgery because then he would worry if I was safe! Use real terms! Don’t tell him anything! Babies come out of belly buttons! My mommy friends weren’t as helpful as I would have liked – isn’t there protocol for this? I was determined to do better next time I was asked a Major Life Question in the wee hours of the morning because I’m evolved! So naturally, when the Moose asked me again a week later, I did no better. “Um….that’s a great question. Um….let’s talk about it tonight.” The Moose, who is of course very intelligent, could not figure out how I could not know how a whole baby showed up in my tummy. But at least I had bought myself 10 hours.

That night I informed him that babies come from mommies and daddies making decisions to have a baby (Oprah fail) and that they come from a place on a mommy that is under our swim suits. This was not my finer moments. I just could not say the word “vagina.” But at least I hadn’t said that they come from belly buttons or from major surgery so hopefully he wouldn’t be scarred for life, right? Of course the Squirrel was born from a very scary emergency surgery that led his dad to promptly have a vasectomy so he would never experience a birth again. Thankfully the Moose didn’t ask why daddy had peas on his crotch.

Now that I had two boys I realized I just have to take this bull by the horns and figure out how to do The Talk. I decided that it needed a strategic approach and would treat it like a larger After School Special followed up with mini PSAs. Oh, I am a child of the 80s…#themoreyouknow

It’s a careful line to walk between not telling them enough and going into details about a mucus plug, although that thought would put me off sex for a while so maybe that’s how we have a safe sex talk. I’m not saying I’m doing this correctly – in fact, if you google it, I’m sure you’ll find I’m completely botching it. But even if I don’t get each mini PSA correct, at least I’m keeping the conversation moving and from becoming a taboo topic in the house. Because the more you know, the less you’ll be inclined to hide stuff from me and we all know you can only hide a pregnancy for about 6 months. My rule is if you ask, I will answer. So let’s see how this has worked so far….

Jenny’s Attempts at Sex Talks:

The BIG One, Part 1
I overhear the Moose say the word “humping.”
Me: “Do you know what humping means? It’s a pretty crude word and I’d rather you not use it. And if you are going to use it, you should know what it means. Should we talk about it?’
Moose: “NOPE!”
Me: “Okay then, then don’t use it until you want to talk about it.”

The BIG One, Part 2
The Moose and I are having a fairly benign conversation and he starts pussyfooting around asking A Question.
Me: “If you have any questions, I will answer them. You should always just ask me rather than get ‘information’ from your friends because I will tell you the truth every time.”
Moose: “Nope, no questions!”
Moose: “Well…”
Moose: “Okay, where DO babies come from?”
Me (deep breath because my moment is finally here): “So you know boys have penises. Well women have vaginas, which are located under their underwear….”
I’m proud to say we had a full discussion that traveled from the living room, to the dining room to my bedroom. And when he got to the part about “but HOW is a baby made” I actually talked about sperm coming out of a penis and then got into how cool genetics are.

And then for the mini PSAs…

PSA: Wear a Condom
Me: “Look, your brother isn’t at the dinner table yet which gives me a chance to explain the fourth Golden Rule, always practice safe sex. You can get awful diseases if you don’t practice safe sex, including HIV. That’s why you have to always practice safe sex. There are these things called condoms and you should always use one.”
Moose: “MOM!”
Husband: “You know what they say, no glove no love.”
Me: “Ooh, high five! I’ll have to get a banana to show you one day.”

PSA: Sexting
Me: “Squirrel isn’t at the table yet, so I’ve got to talk to you about something important. I know you are thinking of texting a girl so let me just say, never text a naked picture of yourself. And if you get one from someone, delete and tell me. Never forward it on.”
Husband: “Geez – I don’t think he’s even thinking about this stuff yet.”
Me: “You can never be too careful. You can get busted for child pornography if you forward a picture on!”
Moose: “Oh. My. Gosh.”
Squirrel: “Hey! What’s for dinner?”
Me: “I’m just saying, don’t send one and delete one if you get one!”

PSA: Boobs
Squirrel: “You know, girls have nickels.” (Interpretation: nipples – it’s too cute to correct)
Me: “Yes, girls AND boys have nickels. You have nickels.”
Squirrel: “Girls have booves too. But boys don’t have booves.” (Interpretation: boobs – again, cute!)
Me: “Boys and girls both have breasts.”
Squirrel: “But girls have booves.”
Me: “Girls have mammillary glands in their breast area so their breasts are larger, yes.”
Moose, giggling

So that’s how I’m fighting Dick Pics, one PSA at a time. Ladies, you are welcome. Hopefully by taking an open and matter-a-fact approach to all of this, we keep sex from becoming a taboo topic. Is this easy? Nope, not at all. I am swimming in a world of discomfort. But I am raising men. And we all want world full of considerate, responsible men. Don’t get me wrong - I sincerely hope that I never have to talk about oral sex, the female orgasm or masturbation – but I also realize that I might have to one day and I’m going to remember that the pain of talking about it is worth the trust and open communication I’m hoping to foster with my boys. When it comes down to it, sex talks are really all about science and respect. So I’m actually just pushing that STEM agenda that we hear so much about. Big Bang Theory meets Aretha Franklin!

Good luck my friends. We all are going to need it.