It’s October, For the Win

I usually don’t realize how much I’m enjoying something until it’s just about over.

{Note: Except for wine or chocolate. I’m pretty much enamored from the beginning.}

But yesterday I came to a strange realization: October is my favorite month.

This was, somehow, news to me. 27 days in. OK, 40+ years and 27 days in.

Yeah, I’ve always loved autumn, with its foliage and crisp skies and sweaters and boots. And for many years, I had big time affection for September, what with its holdout warm temps and extended summer-esque vibe. And yes, it does deserve its rightful place of annual crowd favorite in many respects. Perhaps, though, it’s now having school-aged kids that has really made me appreciate Month 10 as top dog.

(I’m not going to justify my rationale each month, but let’s just say we can take any winter scenario out. Spring is fine, especially when we can officially bid any Polar Votexy weather goodbye. And summer months, I do love you, but let’s not forget the business of everyone home from school all of the hours of all of the days.)

Yes, September is great, but, holy shit, it is so, so stressful and riddled with change. By the time October starts, I have worked through my heartbreak over summer ending. I have muddled through the transition of back-to-school and closed toed shoes and routines and the occasional long sleeves. I have embraced the end of SPF 5 million every day. I have learned to live in a world where Pumpkin Spice Latte will never die. I have, with mixed success, procured all of the items on the school supply list. I have properly mourned the end of my favorite fruit season and moved on to the crock pot, the gourds and the soups.

All of that business is behind me by October. The temperatures drop and the fire pits pave the way for long evenings outside with deep, visible breaths. It is the last gasp before the all-too-early holiday season nonsense kicks in. Because we all know that the moment the last trick-or-treater rings the bell, the Christmas machine ramps up, with Thanksgiving just smashed in between somewhere, like a tryptophan afterthought.

October is the breathing room, the mental break, between adjusting to fall and preparing for the madness of November and December. It eases us gently into that rushed and insane season, with harmless Halloween decor and hay rides — little markers for mini-holidays, conditioning our collective memory to prepare for what lies ahead.

All the while the leaves turn into a million brilliant shades and you can smell neighboring fireplaces at work.

While you look for your favorite sweaters from last year, you realize one morning that your kids’ pants are all inches too short, after not having seen the light of day in half a year.

They are already so much bigger than they were in, say, July. The baby has words now and real mobility. He has entered that phase of utter sweetness by nature and sheer frustration over his own limitations — peeking down the pipeline of true toddlerhood. My oldest now reads books he couldn’t have fathomed under the distantly recent summer sun. And my daughter has suddenly become a real learner, whose days of pre-school seem like light years ago, rather than the span of just four months. And yet, October finds them firmly planted in their new school year, now accustomed to the new homework load and details of their classroom routine.

October, you are not all shiny and bright, though. The daylight hours begin to tangibly shrink, which makes the tasks of parenthood feel longer. Like we’re squeezing more than 24 hours into the day and watching the sunlight dwindle before we’ve even entertained the 32nd request for dinner. Every morning, there is the question of the heavier jackets and, before long, the gloves and hats and boots. And firing up the heat on the thermostat for the first time.

But I will take it. Because with every outgrown jacket and lost glove mystery, there is both routine and promise in October. There is the daily ordinary, just before the catalogs, the retail onslaught, Jingle Bell Rock, and the switch from PSL to Peppermint Mocha — just on the brink of taking us into the home stretch of the year.

With costumes and candy at the ready, my kids feel differently than I do. They have waited it out. They have counted down this month. They are wide-eyed over the prospect of Halloween and are ready for the end of October.

I’m not. I wish I had figured out just a little sooner how much I’ve loved it. I wish I had enjoyed the breathing room just a little bit more.

Sorry, September, but you’ve been replaced.

october

 

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So, You’re Considering the Corn Maze

You love fall, right? The crisp air. The produce. Boots. Jeans. All of it.

I do too.

And that’s precisely how people like us end up in corn mazes.

It starts with the innocent trip to the apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Because parental amnesia is a real thing and you fail to remember every year how annoying those outings are in actuality.

Anyway, there you are with baskets of more gourds or apples than you can possibly Pinterest into edible items in four lifetimes. You are thinking about the $100 you will have to pay upon check out and you are cursing about the fact that this place does not have an on-site winery. It is then that your children remind you, just as you think you’re about to pluck the last piece of hay from your sweater, that we haven’t done the corn maze yet.

Oh. Riiiiight. The corn maze.

How bad could it be? After all, I was trapped in one with my in-laws three years ago and lived to tell. So hey, why not? Let’s take a few minutes to go in.

Although, as we approached, this one seemed a little more legit than our previous corn mazes. Super tall stalks of corn. No obvious exit. And a 14 year-old employee working the entrance who snorted, “Good luck” to us.

Well, no matter. I immediately thought of how fortunate we are that my husband has a great sense of direction. This, unfortunately, was immediately followed by my deep regret of leaving him home with the baby on this particular day. He was tasked with painting the baby’s room. Not that the kid, at 15 months old, would get an identity crisis from the purple walls, floral decals and frilly chandelier. But sleeping under his sister’s initials was potentially going to send him into therapy in 20ish years. The room overhaul was a tad overdue.

So, as my husband either painted or ate all of the Entenmann’s in the house while watching football, it was my mom, my two older kids and me to fend for ourselves at the corn maze. Basically, three generations of the directionally challenged. The snarky 14 year-old employee handed us what was probably meant to be a map but looked more like a Spirograph on steroids.

Hm.

I’m pretty sure that entire crops matured and seasons changed during our time in this corn maze. Let me just end the suspense for you and disclose that it took 26 minutes on the clock, but a lifetime in my head. Here are some highlights of our journey.

Minute 1: I love a good fall photo opp. Which filter should I use on Instagram?

Life was simpler then.

Minute 3: Oh, maybe that map thing was for real and served some functionality. Because, holy shit, this is no joke. I hope nobody has to pee.

Minute 6: Isn’t this supposed to be a family-friendly farm experience? Or are we earning a scouting badge of some kind? Is this the farming equivalent of “Get off my lawn,” or perhaps a secret “Survivor” audition?

Minute 10: Time and space seem to be playing tricks with my mind. I feel like we’ve been in here for dayyyyys. I’m questioning my ability to guide everyone through this, in the event we have to spend the night in the corn. I mean, clearly, food won’t be a problem but what about the horror movie factor? Because I don’t think I need to name a certain obvious movie that comes to mind and the fact that I’m waiting to see Malachai at every corner of this maze.

Minute 12: Why do I never wear sensible shoes? Why? And where is everyone else?

Minute 13: Wait! This is why God invented the iPhone! All hail technology!

It appears I should have purchased the iPhone 6 for this outing because my 5 won’t display the layout of a fucking corn maze on Google Maps. At this point, my mother suggests the use of the compass. This helps establish when we are heading west, which is the direction from which we are guessing the music and other sounds of post-corn maze life are emanating. I’m no math genius, but I think there is a 25% chance we are right.

Minute 14: Omg, is that Malachai? Damn you, Stephen King.

Minute 17: Why didn’t I purchase the apple donuts before entering the corn maze? Speaking of donut consumption, I wonder if my husband has started painting yet. I think we all know the answer.

Minute 18: Like any family in crisis, we all begin to turn on each other. First, the sibling bickering escalates (“No, you made the last wrong turn. No, YOU did”). I threaten to withhold all apple donuts, foreverrrrrr, if they don’t stop. Then, I decide to blame my mother for passing on the lack of direction gene. Not in a broader life’s meaning sense, just with maps and such.

Minute 21: An integral turning point. A lovely young couple with a sleeping baby happens upon us. They inform us that, despite our best Apple-led efforts to head west, that’s not going to work. They are holding the Spirograph on steroids map and, more importantly, they seem to be deriving information from it. Bonus. We swallow all remaining pride (aka none) and shamelessly follow them. Until I realize that they could be serial killers and we’ve totally walked right into their evil trap. It’s possible that I’ve been watching too much late-night TV.

Minute 21:30: I follow them anyway, because: desperation.

Minute 23: The maybe-serial-killers with a baby have not revealed their evil plot. Yet. I distract myself from this possibility by imagining, if I survive, all of the Pinterest recipes I will comb through with my plentiful new apple bounty. I decide that I’ll bring a delicious apple crisp to this couple if they spare our lives and get us out of the maze before sunset.

Minute 25: I don’t want to appear melodramatic but we are losing steam. Our morale is down and our can-do attitude is gone. We just want to go back to life as we knew it, BCM (Before Corn Maze).

Minute 26: What is that sound? A bell? Ringing? Why, yes, it is. But what does it mean? The serial killers with the baby lead us to it. Oh, shit, shit, shit. It’s Malachai, isn’t it? This is it. Is he ringing it to signal the end is nigh? No. It’s not him! It’s the We-Found-The-Exit Bell! We are free! I am tempted to kiss the ground but decide to beeline for the homemade donut stand instead. I resist the urge to kick dirt up at the 14 year-old employee as we pass him.

The day is done. We have prevailed. While I hold my debit card with two apple donuts in my mouth and wait quietly to pay my $100 charge for six freshly-picked apples, I look around. I notice how beautiful the farm is. I do love the fall, after all.

I gaze over in the direction of the maze and notice the sun is beginning to set over the land. It is idyllic.

I just hope nobody is still in there.

 

 

 

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Late in the Evening

They’ve gone baaaa-aaaaack. Let the classroom bells ring like a song across the land. Or like a Ricola commercial.

My son started second grade yesterday and my daughter began Kindergarten today — sort of. It seems that we will endure a two-week transition process to slowly ramp up her class — seemingly in 7-minute increments —  to a full day. Yes, over two weeks. She’s not going into the Army, for God’s sake. So, we’ll get her in a full-day schooling situation by mid-ish September.

But anyway. The start of a new school year. Ahhhh. Full of fresh promise like a blank PTA sign-up sheet.

I treat this time of year sort of like New Year’s Day and try to take the opportunity to try something new or drop some bad habits (hi, summer french fry and ice cream addictions ). This time, I’m going to make a real and honest effort to try and join the Land of the Semi-Rested.

You see, I have a terrible habit of staying up way too late at night.

I’m not an insomniac. I stay awake by choice. And I think it’s slowly killing me.

I’ve always been a night owl. But now, with three young kids (one of whom does not yet sleep through the night — that’s a story for another day), I should really consider the 10:00 news to be my cue for lights out instead of dusk.

I’m sure that many of you can relate to the fact that, by the time the kids go to bed and I eat dinner with my husband, the echoes of “Mommymommymommymommy” slowly begin to fade. And then I have time to begin the 1,565 things I didn’t accomplish all day long. They are usually transactional at first — bills, emails, etc. And then, for better or worse, I just want time that belongs only to me.

I really wish I could tell you I use this time, late at night, writing a novel, mapping out my meal plan for the month or devising a long-term investment strategy. But, no. Hell, no. Last night, for example, I fell down an Internet rabbit hole of car seat research until 1:22am.

(Please, try to contain your envy of my sexy late-night pursuits.)

When not writing a novel, one of two things happens next. Usually, I just lose track of time and press on with my mindless pursuits until about 1 or 2:00. But, more often than I tend to admit, I fall dead asleep on the couch, remote in hand, laptop perched on my legs (is it supposed to get that hot or have I been radiating myself unnecessarily?) —  and I wake up at some ungodly hour, with every light in the house on and my contact lenses singed into the back of my eyeballs. Then I head upstairs to my bedroom and, in an evil twist, the baby senses the precise moment my head hits the pillow and inevitably wakes up. That’s ok, because, hey, I can totally sleep in until 6:30. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

Why can’t I just go to bed before midnight?

WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

AND WHY DOESN’T KEURIG MAKE A DIRECT-TO-BLOODSTREAM MODEL?

It’s a problem.

Clearly, I have been in denial by assuming I could still get by on the little amount of sleep that didn’t bother me for years. Now, the coffee I seek like a moth to the flame is no longer seeing me through. I am off my game and — OK, fine — I’m exhausted. There. It has been said. In writing.

All for what? Some bad Facebook updates (because, come on, nothing good can come of social media after midnight) and an extensive ability to compare the Late Night hosts on all three networks (Team Fallon here).

I need to make a change and go to bed at a decent hour. This is my school year mission.

Starting tomorrow.

<Finishes blog post. Time stamp: 1:44am.>

 

 

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Better Late Than Later

The moment took me by surprise. I thought we had more time before I had to have The Talk with my daughter. About the kind of people we really are.

It started innocently enough.

She asked me why, with just a few days left until our vacation, nothing had been packed yet. At first, I dismissed her breezily, with a reassuring “Oh, don’t worry, we still have a few days! It will get done!”

I thought that would be the end of it. But no. She persisted.

“Don’t we have a lot of things to pack? When do you think you’ll start?”

This was more serious than I thought.

“I can help you,” she pressed.

“But honey. We have time.”

“Only a few days. We should get started.”

OH God. It hit me. What if she’s not like us? What if….?

I wondered if it might be time. Yes, it was a few years before I had anticipated, but perhaps she is old enough to handle the truth about us. And so I began.

“Sweetie, see if you can say this word: Pro-cras-tin-a-tion.

I thought about how to take her through it slowly. The whole truth. How some families planned and did things in advance. And how we, despite our best efforts, are not those people.

We have tried to be those people. My husband and I have, at times, put in massive, valiant effort with the energy of a thousand burning suns. We have even seen fleeting glimpses of success and danced in the fringes of being those people. But, in the end, we were just pretending.

It’s just not in our souls to be finished in advance with any task. To be early. To have down time. To be the first to arrive anywhere. Ever.

Yes, it has worsened over time with the addition of children. But, if I’m being honest, the history is long and consistent.

  • Homework. This seems like standard operating procedure for kids, yes? I assumed it was normal to finish my high school assignments at my locker between classes.
  • College applications. Not to make excuses, but come on. Every kid in the history of everywhere put off this torturous process. OK, so maybe I put the finishing touches on my essay while weighing the package at the post office. This is attention to detail, folks.
  • Term papers. OK, fine, at this point it’s fair to say that I probably have a problem. I thought it was adorable when we received a syllabus on day one of class that pointed out paper due dates for the entire semester. I didn’t forget, I just chose to spend my time on other, more productive college pursuits. Beer comes to mind. Also, I was pretty proud of that time I completed an entire 19-pager in one night. The advanced technology of the Brother Word Processor was the ultimate enabler.
  • Work assignments. When potential employers asked me if I worked well under pressure, they had no idea what they were signing up for by putting me on the payroll. In retrospect, they probably just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t crack at the 11th hour. They had no way of knowing that of course I wouldn’t crack then — because I would not have started the project yet. It was still in my “concept phase.”
  • Wedding prep. Now that I had come to grips with my procrastination destiny AND the fact that I was marrying someone else just like me, I did the smart thing: I actually hired a wedding planner. And she almost shot me. Just because we wanted to pull together a NYC wedding with 200 people (don’t ask) in five months. Pffft. Come on — plenty of time.
  • Vacation planning. Let me just sum this up by saying Me + Disney World has been an unlikely love affair. I’m pretty sure when I phone in with my 1,448 reservation requests about 30 days before departure, I’m driving the lovely employee on the other end of the phone to slug whiskey out of her mouse ear hat while gritting “Have a magical day” through her teeth.
  • Baby prep. Registries? Product research? Labor classes? All with a “firm” nine month timetable? Good times, my friends. Good times.
  • Kids’ enrollment in (insert any activity here). What do you mean, everyone signed up for fall soccer in June and summer camp in February? There’s a late fee? What? I need to buy snow boots in September? What?
  • Household chores and pretty much everything else. You get the idea.

I could go on and on, but I’m tired because I started this post much later than I had planned. And I should be packing for vacation.

See?

I operate best under pressure.

I have uttered this mantra more times than I can count, more out of obligation than accuracy. The truth is that I’m a reluctant and unreformed procrastinator. I don’t embrace it but I am learning to accept it.

Our destiny as a last-minute, late-to-everything family is pretty much set in stone at this point. Basically, my husband and I wake up on the weekends realizing we are already late for something that’s happening five miles away in about seven hours. We just are.

And my sweet daughter deserves to know that this is the make up of her DNA. From both sides.

But, as I look at her pulling out her little princess backpack and dutifully choosing her vacation outfits to place inside before I’ve even done the laundry that I’ll ultimately pack for myself, I wonder if we’ve achieved the impossible. Perhaps my husband I have canceled each other out.

Could it be?

Could we have actually created humans who don’t procrastinate?

I can’t tell you because I got a D in AP Bio after waiting too long to study for my exam on the Genetics chapter. But apparently, there is hope.

 

 

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August, Can We Still Be Friends?

Welcome, August. I want so much to tell you how good it is to see you, old friend. Because so much magic happens on your watch every year, even though you signal to my brain that we only have this one final month of summer left before school starts in early September.

But, August, each year you seem to get more aggressive in barreling toward fall, toward school, toward tasks and the routine of getting us back to business. And the truth is that I want my old Augusts back, the ones from my childhood where a full month was still a pure 31 days and nights of all that summer vacation brings.

August, I could learn to love you again. If you could just let me finish up what summer means to me.

Because I haven’t yet caught a firefly in a jar for my kids.

I haven’t marveled nearly enough at how late the sun stays out.

I haven’t even bought that pair of flip-flops I wanted.

No, August, I’m not ready for the retail displays of fleece and Uggs and leather boots and jackets.

Not ready for the fall PTO sign ups, the scheduling of which day we’ll do soccer or swimming or ballet.

Certainly not ready to give up ice cream and popsicles and the smell of my grill and the sight of that rainbow of fresh fruit.

Not mentally prepared to abandon sleeveless sundresses for my daughter and me, and easy onesies for the baby. And bare feet for us all. The very thought of socks and closed-toed shoes makes me shudder. Say it isn’t near. Say that I have time to try that other bright pink nail  color on my toes and not the deep dark hues of grays and purples and browns.

You see, August, I still have two (yes, two!) legitimate family summer vacations I haven’t even taken yet. I have packing to do. Twice. I have more sunscreen to buy. I am not thinking about unpacking or vacation ending or looking back on it. Not even a little. The snapshots that I will etch into my memory and put into photo books haven’t even been made yet. This house is still ripe with the anticipation of new destinations and shorelines with friends and family.

August, I don’t want to spend your days filling in my calendar with the school closings for the year. I want to hang damp beach towels and bathing suits on my deck rail and smell the faint chlorine and sunscreen and perhaps the rain left on them.

Surely you understand that there are meats I haven’t yet grilled, sangria recipes I haven’t tested and frozen yogurt combos I’ve been meaning to try. I still feel like putting my coffee over ice is a seasonal novelty. I haven’t had a single lobster roll yet. And we haven’t begun to grow remotely tired of the new deck lights strung overhead as we eat and drink. Our new fire pit barely shows the wear of the s’mores it has created and the late night cocktails it has beckoned with friends and neighbors.

The camp backpacks we were issued have hardly been broken in. And my older two kids have plenty of places on their summer wish lists left to visit. The zoo awaits us, August. So does our annual trip to Daddy’s office, not to mention more mini golf and the boardwalk rides of our beloved Jersey Shore. There are many more waves to jump over and outdoor showers to take after the sand stays between our toes and the taste of salt water sticks to our lips.

August, I’m just getting used to the down time that allows me to give the baby the two naps a day he deserves. This sweet boy has enjoyed a summer not dictated by his next schlep in a car seat to pick up or drop off a sibling somewhere. I imagine that his tiny head can barely even fathom how much time he has to explore his newfound mobility and just play. If you rush us, August, he’s right back in that car seat and we’re just not ready yet. There are blocks to stack and steps to take and mashed fruits to wear.

Yes, I know you have certain obligations to prepare us for school and I have made a few related purchases here and there. You would be remiss if you didn’t present any of this to me. But I feel like you take it just a little further every year. I’m not sure you need to associate yourself with corduroy or Halloween. Don’t you want to be all about shorts and sundresses and deck chairs?

I’m here to tell you, August — as your old friend — that it’s not too late to reclaim all of this as yours. Don’t let April or May take it from you.

I know it’s possible for us to remain good friends and rediscover how things used to be between us. So, come find me while I get ready for two beach vacations. Visit me as I grill at home and listen for the ice cream truck on my street.

And, by all means, join me over the next 31 days on the deck, barefoot and sipping summery evening drinks under the long-lasting sunlight.

 

 

 

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48 Hours With (Almost) No Kids

FRIDAY — BREAKFAST TABLE:

“Mom, did you know that Mema invited us to her house for a sleepover this weekend?”

“Yes, I did know.”

“For. Two. Whole. Nights.”

“Isn’t that nice?! For you two, I mean?”

“Yes, but what will you do? Won’t you cry without us for the whole weekend?”

“I will cry. Many tears. But I am happy for you and all the fun you’ll have.”

{Cue Academy Award nomination. Somebody please put me in touch with a stylist to arrange my red carpet look.}

* * * * *

And, just like that, my husband and I went from three kids to one for 48 hours. One who can’t yet talk, complain or beg for more time on the Wii, I might add. He just wants more carbs, basically.

When my mom delivered this fabulous offer to me, I immediately began making grand plans in my head. I had visions of productivity and finally, FINALLY making some progress on the 1,488 items that I never get the time to tackle. With just one child and two parents in the house, the scales tipped back in our favor. We were not outnumbered. We were not saving ketchup from the horrific fate of touching any nearby vegetables. We were not negotiating iPad sharing.

OH the shit I could get done. I was going to own my almost kid-free weekend.

So, let’s have a look at how well I did, shall we?

 

GOAL: Pay the bills.

REALITY: Increased the balance on the bills. Because, I’m sorry — but was I supposed to ignore the opportunity to hit up a summer clearance sale alone? I think it would be fiscally irresponsible if I had skipped it to pay full price elsewhere.

 

GOAL: Put measurable dent in laundry pile visible from space.

REALITY: Added to pile (see shopping reference).

 

GOAL: Get at least one good work out in.

REALITY: Went out to dinner. And breakfast. Because work out clothes were buried in aforementioned laundry pile.

 

GOAL: General massive overdue clean up of pretty much everything. Because, OMG.

REALITY: Yeah, notsomuch. I got my hair cut. Got a massage. Had fire pit-side drinks with my neighbors. Went for a long stroll (not to be confused with working out). Played with the baby without simultaneously yelling at two other humans to pick up their stuff.

 

So things didn’t go exactly as planned.

In my defense, it seems I was stricken by a severe case of Fuckitall — an unpredictable affliction with varying degrees of severity, often occurring in parents with unexpected free time on their hands. (See also: Opposite of Productivity). The only known cure for Fuckitall is to have one’s children return home and have standard Monday morning madness commence.

So, you should know that I’m back to my old self, buried under laundry, paying bills, avoiding workouts and facing my 1,488 to-do items again. But it was a great reprieve for everyone.

And, perhaps most importantly, I learned an important lesson about technology. If you want to create a Hallmark moment upon being reunited with your kids, all you need to do is use the slow motion feature on your phone’s video.

YouTube Preview Image

I mean, look at my son. Could he be any more overjoyed to see me? This is the greeting we all want as parents. It warmed my heart and even made me feel far less guilty about all the stuff I didn’t get done while he and his sister were away.

(Disclaimer: Real-time greeting was far less dramatic.)

 

Productivity is overrated anyway.

 

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So This is What It’s Like to Be Early

How’s your summer going?

I hope it’s fun-filled, sun-kissed and wine-laden.

Here in New Jersey, we still have six weeks left, which is great-ish. Most days. This notation on time is particularly important when I tell you about what happened in Target last week.

It was a first.

No, I did not leave with a bill under $200. But, perhaps more improbably, I was there for this.

Is it a unicorn sighting? Almost.

Stand back and behold, folks: A fully stocked Target back to school section. That’s right — I encountered a wide variety of notebooks, folders, writing instruments and the like. No more of this bare shelves over Labor Day weekend bullshit. Finally, a year when I didn’t have to send my son off to school with a single used pencil and a reassuring pat of “Godspeed.”

Oh yes, I was six weeks EARLY and I had choices aplenty of all things Disney Princesses, Hello Kitty and Star Wars. No more aggressive elbowing to get that last pencil sharpener. Hell, I even bought a variety pack of protractors, even though my oldest is only entering second grade and not yet showing signs of re-enacting Good Will Hunting. But I purchased them anyway. Because. I. Was. There. First.

Victory was miiiiiine.

{OK, so maybe I was in Target to return a few items and browse for kids’ sandals. And maybe I took a wrong turn and maybe I accidentally stumbled upon the school supplies section. But whatever. Because I am fucking swimming in Crayola merchandise and 24-packs of pencils. Pre-sharpened like a boss.}

Anyway, this episode makes me think that maybe I am more on the ball than I give myself credit for. Maybe my level of parental preparedness is not in the abysmal category. Nah. Because then I arrived home to a few emails about fall registration for kids’ activities and my brain almost exploded.

Baby steps.

But now that I am in possession of a coveted Skylanders spiral notebook surplus that I may or may not re-sell at a premium on eBay on or around August 30, it freed up more of my time to think about how else I can rock this summer parenting gig. And since I have more pencil cases and dry erase markers than you do, allow me to share some of the working titles I have in mind for my how-to book series.

  • Pool Essentials for Young Kids: The Only 2,361 Items You’ll Ever Need
  • Your Complete Panera Dinner Guide
  • White Wine By the Case: Because Buying in Bulk is Responsible
  • The 7,000 Calorie Burn: Wrestling A 1 Year-Old Out of a Wet Bathing Suit in the Direct Sun (with companion DVD)
  • The Water Park is Closed and Other Lies I Told
  • I Carried a Watermelon

But why stop there? Clearly I have some time on my hands now that I’m not stressed about binders and colored pencils (64 pack here, ahem). Perhaps Children’s Literature is more my calling.

  • Changing it Up: How to Ask for a Different Snack Every Six Minutes
  • I’m Boooooooooooored, and Other Ways to Get a Lift to the Fro Yo Place
  • The Art of Debate (One Child’s Journey from “No”)
  • 872 Fun Places to Hide Your Overdue Library Books
  • Let’s Get Up With the Sun! 
  • The Beginner’s Guide to Dodging Sunscreen Applications (also available as a picture book)
Sure, it will take me a while to finish these up, but I feel good knowing I can be of some help to parents and kids alike in getting through the summer. I mean, we’re all in this together, right? In that spirit, feel free to contact me for an early bird special on my school supplies stockpile.
In the meantime, don’t feel bad that you didn’t get to the Target back-to-school section first. You can easily redeem yourself when they set up the Halloween display in early August.

 

 

 

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The Summer Vacation Manifesto

Here I am, mere days away from the end of the school year. I’m in the single digit packed lunches countdown. The homework has officially stopped and we are all pretty much coasting toward Friday, when the bell rings for the last time until September.

I remember, as a kid, that feeling of having the whole summer in front of me. It was exhilarating. Long days and bathing suits and no schedules and the reliable bell of the ice cream truck. The Good Humor crumb fudge bar with the solid chocolate center.

And now here I am at the helm of Operation Summer Vacation. Parenthood has promoted me from a passenger on that journey to the role of Cruise Director. Holy crap, I went from guest star to Julie McCoy, or possibly Captain Stubing (children of the 80s, please say you’re with me here).

I want to recreate the same feeling for my kids that I had in my childhood summers. I guess it should be as easy as telling them to go play with the neighborhood kids outside for the day and I’ll see them later and we can all watch The Love Boat and call it a night. But I think we all know that, somehow, it’s just not that way so much anymore.

This week, I’m asking my kids to make wish lists of all the things they want to do this summer — big and small — with no promises from me to get to everything. My daughter wants to plant a garden. My son wants to learn to dive. They both want to go on a roller coaster. Oh, and ice pops for lunch and dinner every day. See? It can’t all happen. But it’s good to catalog, to wish, to aspire.

Then I started thinking about my own wish list for this summer. Are there places I’d like to go? Sure. But that’s not really what I mean. I’m still working on it, but here are a few highlights.

  • I will not over schedule my kids. While there will be some weeks of day camp (hell, yes) and planned activities, I will not create the same morning routine madness that haunts us every school day {“GET IN THE CAR, GET IN THE CAAARRRRR!”}. We. all. need. a. break. And Mama needs to finish her coffee without nuking it six times.
  • We will eat outside as much as possible. Unless I am yelling at my kids and find my voice carrying throughout the neighborhood. Then maybe inside is best. If it were environmentally acceptable, I’d also declare it the season of paper plates. Or, maybe I’ll just do that quietly and promise to offset it somewhat by not running my dishwasher.
  • I will take each of the kids on individual outings to do something that they choose. As a result, I think I just inadvertently entered a Lego Tournament of Champions or agreed to have my toenails painted in 10 different shades of purple. That’s OK. The baby will make things right by agreeing to look for a nice pair of casual wedges with me at the mall, and then we can recap over Starbucks. Remember, when they can’t talk, they can’t object.
  • We will get to the ocean. In the ocean, I should say. Hopefully more than once. Hopefully not in an area with any shark sightings. And more hopefully in an area within walking distance to a stellar ice cream establishment.
  • S’mores. That needs to happen more. How about once a week?
  • I will not let my summer be swayed by bathing suit neurosis. Do I wish I looked better in swimwear? Uh, yeah, absolutely. Do I wish that a swim burka was all the rage this year? Yes! When will this happen? But summer is here and I’ll just need to trust the slimming panels on that new one-piece I bought. Even if this marketing ploy sounds like new home construction.
  • I will attempt to grow some form of food in our yard. I would elaborate but I have no idea WTF I’m doing except that I heard strawberries or tomatoes or peppers might be best, if we can address “the rabbit issue.” I’m totally in over my head. Look out, ecosystem — I am about to screw up the balance of everything on Earth, forever. Sorry.
  • I will calm the hell down in general. Mostly. Look, I’m a Type A brain trying to rein in the chaos that the third baby brought here a year ago. I’ll surely retain my position as the kids’ sunscreen application champion (it’s like chasing greased pigs), but for less essential elements of summer vacation — as Queen Elsa so aptly sings, over and over and over — I’ll just let it…well, you know. At least I’ll try. I’ll never be breezy but I can seasonally pretend.
  • Speaking of Frozen (because, when are we not?): I will not tolerate any complaints about the heat. We will not whine about being hot. LET US NOT FORGET THE POLAR VORTEX, PEOPLE. Do you not remember dressing in 16 layers to walk to the car parked in our own driveway? 
Like I said, I’m still working on my list. I’m sure that real life will crop up and somehow I won’t be wandering around, care-free in my bathing suit with failed slimming panels, tending to my vegetable garden while enjoying the 90-something-degree heat index and eating on the back deck. It won’t be all unicorns and bikini bodies, for sure.
But if I can somehow get the essence of fireflies and kickball and long days with warm nights, then maybe I was destined to be Julie McCoy all along.
If not, I guess I can pursue a summer as Isaac the bartender.

 

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The Last First Birthday

 

How can this baby possibly be one year old?

 

This is making me way too emotional, knowing he’s my last, and so this is the last first birthday I’ll ever celebrate. I meet a lot of people who tell me that they are not “baby people” — that they love having kids, but they’re much more in their element after that first year is over.

I’m the opposite. I’m such a baby person. Even with their reflux and crazy diapers and no sleep and just general insanity, I adore the baby phase. Maybe because it’s so fleeting.

Yes, he’s still a baby at the ripe old age of one. But that little face has changed so much already and he is starting to look more like a toddler every day in his shape, his expressions and his sheer size.

This third child changed us immeasurably. He grew our family to a party of five but he also showed us that our hearts can stretch even further than we ever imagined.

From the beginning, he was a game changer. From the scary ultrasounds and pre-natal tests that had specialists and genetic counselors surrounding us very early on with horrific odds against us for a healthy child. And then follow up test after obscure test ruled out one, then two, then 1,500 disorders that the doctors feared were possibilities.

He was always perfect to us.

And then we finally found out he would most likely be born healthy after all. And he was.

This boy who is now so, so sweet started out a firecracker. A fussy screamer. Until he wasn’t. Until he got that Third Child Memo — the one about learning to roll with it. He’s a pro now.

He has never been a sleeper. I can count on one hand how many full nights of sleep we’ve had in the last year. But it doesn’t bother him. If a parenting book called “The Happiest Non-Sleeper on the Block” ever gets released, you can be sure his photo will grace the cover.

He loves, loves, loves his older siblings. He whips his head in anticipation of them entering a room. They are his orbit and nonstop source of entertainment. Now that he’s mobile, he loves to be in the mix with them.

And as much as he loves them, he is super-attached to me. Not in the same way I remember babies being attached. More than that, I think. Or maybe I’m projecting. Either way, it’s amazing.

The joy and affection pours out of this thumb-sucking, impossibly blonde child. It’s like he’s daring us to remember our hesitation about whether or not to try for a third kid. That decision seems like light years ago. It doesn’t even seem like something we had to decide anymore.

{Side note: I’m really sorry to the woman shopping for baby shower favors at Party City while I was weeping over the purchase of 1st birthday balloons. In between my crazy sobs, I threw every cliche in the book at you about it going so fast, enjoying every moment, etc. I’m really sorry. You caught me between coffees #1 and #2 while really having a moment over this birthday milestone. I hope you found the pacifier-shaped confetti you were looking for.}

Having three is definitely a whole other level of crazy in terms of logistics and just the general OMG factor. Only recently do I feel like I’ve started to come out of the baby cave, that postpartum span of time when all regular operations seem to be suspended to one degree or another in order to take a back seat to the reigning chaos of an infant.

And the glimpse into the next level of insanity has begun, as he is on the brink of walking and I am dusting off baby gates. Toddlerhood is calling.

But not yet. I’m not ready just yet. Today, he turns one and is still a baby.

This sweet boy changed our lives more than I could ever say. Happy Birthday to my last baby.

 

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The Rules of the Road

I’m lucky that my husband does not travel very often for his job. There was a time — an exceptionally crazy time — in our lives when he did, and it was nearly the end of me. I’m grateful that those days are behind us. At least for now.

He did have a trip this week to Los Angeles for the annual big convention in his industry. Since we are in New Jersey, it seems that a jaunt to LA really isn’t “worth it” for any less than four days. So off he went.

Now, because I met my husband while working for the same employer a million years ago, I know his business well and have attended said convention. So I know that, while there are “meetings” and “networking opportunities,” let’s just call a spade a spade and say that he has just enjoyed nearly a week of fancy dinners, cocktail parties and shows. But it’s all for work, so it carries a Mission Critical label. With a side of steak.

Left here in the sheer chaos of the house alone with three kids, I just have a few ground rules for my husband’s business travel.

Do not call or FaceTime us from a fancy dinner or party. We love to hear from you when you’re on the road. Really, we do! But dude, it’s like fucking Lord of the Flies up in here because we are out of ketchup for our chicken nuggets, so try to abandon the not-so-faint clink of wine glasses in the background and step outside to call home. Bonus points if you can first finish that mini shrimp rangoon that was passed to you on a pretty napkin while I negotiated even distribution of the last Chips Ahoy without bodily harm. At least pretend to be in a conference room working on an Excel spreadsheet. Throw us a bone.

Do not complain that you are tired. Was it the late night parties? The early morning knock on the door with your breakfast room service? Or maybe the phantom pain in your rib from the absence of Parent/Child H-Formation Sleeping. Doesn’t matter. Don’t even say it out loud. Repeat after me: You are not tired. You actually don’t know what tired is this week.

Accept that, upon your return, you will be solely in charge of our children for a still-undetermined period of time. Probably in the 6-9 hour range. I’m working on a fair calculation but I think it involves number of hours spent watching in-flight movies x number of hours of uninterrupted sleep. Times infinity.

Carefully hide any and all evidence of a golf outing incorporated into this trip. Remember the time when you rolled on out of here with your checked luggage in one hand and your golf clubs in the other while I stood in the doorway, agog, with spit-up on my shoulder? I understand that’s how the “networking” goes at these things. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy yourself. OK, maybe I am. But I like that we’ve now made Business Trip Golf the dark secret we no longer discuss. So, thank you for hiding your golf shoes deep in the recesses of your luggage. And I assume you either now rent your clubs or carry them out to the car under the cover of darkness the night before your departure. It is the thing of which we do not speak.

Be completely available for any home front technical support on a 24/7 basis. This week, for example, we had serious rainfall here. As in, why did I not get the minivan upgrade option to convert into an ark? Anyway, I was worried about the basement and needed information about the sump pumps. So I’m glad you picked up the Travel Bat Phone to talk me off the ledge about my wine supply potentially being carried away by a moderate current. And then, my beloved Keurig machine started making horrible noises, followed by the equivalent of a Mac White Screen of Death. Me. Three Kids. No coffee. I ask you, does it get any more terrifying? Before interrupting your networking session/Cabernet tasting, I decided to troubleshoot on YouTube. I followed several instructional videos meticulously, to no avail. Thankfully, a helpful if not borderline insane guy on Amazon knew the highly delicate approach of repeatedly unplugging and re-plugging the machine while pushing the power button at a frantic pace. Crisis averted, thanks to ExtremeCaffeineNut007.

Pretend it wasn’t really that much fun. You really have mastered this art over the years and have your talking points down. “Oh, you know, it’s the same old stuff every year.” “It gets old after a while.” Etc. Etc. I’m not listening because we both know it’s utter bullshit. But I appreciate the gesture, honey.

* * *

I know, I’m a total wimp. Plenty of people have spouses who travel regularly for business. Others have loved ones deployed in military service. And of course there are tons of single parents out there as well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I tip my hat to you. I don’t know how you do it.

And yet, I survived, despite my kids’ best efforts to take me down. And we missed my husband. But he better not even think of putting his golf clothes in the laundry pile.

 

 

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