Like walking to Mordor

If my social media feed is any indication, every single child in the world had their last day of school last week.

Everyone, that is, except my son.

Who still has FOUR WEEKS LEFT TO GO.

Oh, that’s right. His last day doesn’t happen until mid-June. Because our local schools hate parents. And summer. And sanity.

Of course, being that he’s in preschool, the demands placed on both myself and my son are pretty low. So as much as I’m dying to have a very strict summer schedule of absolutely nothing, the problem isn’t that we have one more month of rigorous scholarly obligations (since pretty much our only requirements are that we’re both wearing pants when I drop him off). No, the problem is that I’m lucky enough to live in a neighborhood that is within walking distance of my son’s school. Nice, huh? Yeah, I thought so too. Back in September when I was naive and happy and and hadn’t pulled out all my hair. Back before I realized how exhausting it would be to also tote his toddler sister with us every morning and afternoon.

Have you ever had to walk anywhere with a toddler? If so, you have my deepest condolences. You are a superhero and don’t let anyone tell you any different. If not, well, what’s the best yet nerdiest way I could possibly explain it to you? It’s like…it’s like taking the journey to Mordor every single day. And at this point in the year, I’ve turned into Gollum in both looks and personality.

Or maybe that’s a bad analogy. Because those hobbits had it fairly easy. For instance, they were able to leave the house. Just like that. They only had to grab the one ring to rule them all and some snacks, and BOOM. They were on their way.

Meanwhile, our journey begins long before we even open the door. There’s the five-minute fight about why we have to brush our teeth and another ten minutes trying to solve the mystery of why there is not a single pair of matching shoes in the entire house and then, my favorite, the daily wrestling with my 2-year-old to put on a fresh Pull-Up while simultaneously arguing with her about why we should take the stroller today. (An argument I lose. Every time.)  

I bet Gandalf never had to watch in exasperation as Frodo ran around laughing maniacally with a diaper on his head.

Then, upon immediately exiting the house, I’m already being bombarded with requests for second breakfast. But a second breakfast for the world’s pickiest eater.

“Can I have a snack?”

“It’s eight o’clock in the morning.”

“BUT SNAAAAACK. I’M SOOOOO HUNGRY.”

“Fine. I think I have some ancient Teddy Grahams in my bag.”

“Which ones?”

“I don’t know. The ones shaped like Paw Patrol, I think.”

“NOOOOOO…not thoooooose!”

“They literally taste the same.”

…*bursts into tears*…

You know, I don’t remember Bilbo ever complaining that his stale bread wasn’t bear-shaped.

And then there is the pace. In the time it took a fellowship of nine people to cross all of Middle Earth, we are still within nine feet of our porch. Because while we may not be battling orcs, there are seasonal obstacles we must constantly overcome. For example, in the fall, every single leaf that has fallen off a tree must be picked up, examined and handed to me. And I must hold onto them FOR ETERNITY. In the winter, there is snow. Snow that has to be picked up, kicked at, sat in, licked and thrown. Spring brings flowers. Flowers that MUST be picked regardless of the fact that they are the prized tulips of the scary lady down the street who is definitely going to murder me if my daughter picks one more from her garden. And late spring brings out the bugs. The bugs that must be inspected. At bug level. Lying on the ground. Then picking them up and accidentally squishing them, prompting an exhaustive dialogue about what is death and where do things go when they die.

Of course, this is all only if she’s in a good mood. If she’s in a bad mood, say, because I won’t let her run out into oncoming traffic, she’ll sit down and refuse to move. And when I pick her up, she hits me in the face and kicks her shoes off.

I would gladly give up a finger to Smeagol, maybe even two, if just once, ONCE, we could make the ten minute walk to preschool in ten minutes.

Of course, the good mom in me, the one who realizes what a beautiful and fleeting moment in time childhood really is, wants to relax and just enjoy this time; to slow down on these daily walks through our beautiful town with the two people I love most in the world and let it all sink in.

But the human in me, the one who has a natural aversion to torture, is internally screaming every curse word I know and is ready to burn down the entire goddamn world because no one can be forced to move this slow and not lose their mind. Especially considering that we have to turn right back around and make the journey back. A journey back that takes so long it could also easily be stretched across three three-hour movies.

And worst of all is the knowledge that in the afternoon, we have to do the whole thing over again.

So, yeah, those hobbits had it easy. But at least I’ll always have my precious.

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Who deserves a vacation?

Of all the titles I thought I’d have throughout my life, Illicit Vacationer was never one of them. And yet, here I am, with my Instagram feed defiantly full of photos of me and my family cavorting on a beach in Maine.

In my defense, I didn’t read Michelle Singletary’s piece in the Washington Post titled “If you’re in debt, you don’t deserve a summer vacation” until after I got back. So, you can imagine my surprise that I somehow managed to get away with sneaking off to the shore without my student loans grabbing me by the ear and hauling me back home while they lectured to me about financial irresponsibility.

If you haven’t read the article, it’s all right there in the headline. But it’s the “deserve” that got me the most. Interesting word choice, considering that the vast majority of Americans are in debt. Luckily, she clarifies what she means by “debt” with the definitely not condescending sentence “I’m sorry to tell you that you don’t deserve a summer vacation if you’re a hot financial mess.”

Ah. Thanks, Michelle. Hot financial mess. Got it. So…everyone then?

But perhaps my favorite bit was when she goes on to say you don’t deserve a vacation even if you saved up for it. Because we should all be using that money to pay down our debt. Because, honestly, how long is it going to take you to become completely debt-free? What, 30, 40, years? You can vacation in your 80’s.

In HER defense, though, she does graciously offer a solution to us mere commoners, us plebs who frivolously spent our stagnant wages on unaffordable higher education, child care, housing, working vehicles and medical procedures. That solution being, of course, the luxurious and also definitely not condescending concept of the “staycation.” Because everyone knows how relaxing it is to hang out in your filthy house that you hang out in every other day of your life. But, as she so kindly reminds us, don’t spend your valuable time off cleaning and attacking that mile-long to-do list. You’re on vacation, afterall. Act like it. Just step around the piles of laundry and dog vomit.

But enough of Michelle’s Very Helpful Tips for the Working Poor. Let me tell you who I think “deserves” a vacation.

Everyone.

Everyone deserves a vacation. Full stop. Everyone is stressed out. Everyone is busy to the point of exhaustion. Everyone is struggling, in some way or another.

I’m sure even rich people get stressed out from time to time. I don’t know, maybe their third Porsche didn’t start today and now they have to have their butler take it to the mechanic and it’s become like a whole thing. I get it, man. It’s rough.

Which is why we all deserve a break.

Do you know what’s so amazing about vacations? It’s somewhere away. Away from home. Away from your problems. Away from the world’s problems. Just for a bit. Just long enough to breathe and take in a lungful of life.

Because by being away, you get perspective. Say, perspective about how you were not put on this Earth merely to work hard and pay your bills.

And you don’t need a big fancy vacation for this perspective. All travel changes you for the better. We only went an hour and half away. In the off-season. For only five days. Because that’s what we could afford. Most of the time it was 55 degrees and rainy.

But it was heaven. Because it was away. Because it was the four of us, laughing and exploring and eating absolutely nothing of nutritional value and remembering that in the grand scheme of things, all the rest of it is just the small stuff. Life is big and should be treated as such.

Because do you know who deserves a vacation the most, in my opinion? My children. They deserve to run around on beach when they’re young enough to scream in delight and slight terror every time a wave touches their foot. They deserve carefree days full of sandy kisses and sticky hugs that leave their lollipops hopelessly tangled in their mother’s hair. They deserve the pure joy that can only come from hopping in the car and setting off for destinations unknown with happy parents.

Debt will always be there. Even if I finally do pay off all my current debt, my car is 14-years-old. We’ll need a new one soon. At some point, someone will break a leg, or get really sick, or need surgery. Eventually, we’d like to own a house instead of renting. Someday my kids will likely go to college. There will always be more debt.

But you know what there won’t always be more of? Time. This time, right now. Where my kids are young and my husband and I are less young but still young enough to chase them through the streets of a charming seaside town with delight.

I can guarantee you that when all of us are on our deathbeds, we won’t be thinking “man, I’m so happy I got all that debt paid off, what a life well-lived.” We’ll be thinking instead about how we sat and watched the waves on a freezing beach that one day in May. And then we came back to our little oceanfront cottage and made s’mores by the fire, with a peace settling upon us that was interrupted only by spontaneous hugs that left fragments of sticky marshmallow hopelessly tangled in my hair.

So, take that vacation, my friends.

You can’t afford not to.

 

The weird things that excite you as a mom

I stood there in front of the refrigerator, the cool air wafting past my body like a million tiny kisses from the grocery store angel. I stood there and just stared. For how long, I have no idea. My brain was too busy taking inventory to notice something as trivial as time. Somewhere, way in the back of said brain, I realized I was doing the exact same thing I yell at my kids for doing. But I didn’t care. Rules are made (by me) to be broken (by me).

Besides, I was downright giddy by this point. There are weird things that excite you once you become a mom. That brief 45 seconds where all the laundry is done. Educational toys that promise to make your kid a STEM superstar. Drinking wine based on your favorite TV shows while watching those TV shows.

All great things, truly. But for me, there is nothing that can top the weird excitement I feel in the days leading up to a vacation when I am confronted with the task of getting all the perishable food in my kitchen consumed before we leave. And as I stood there in front of the fridge, I couldn’t help but notice how full it was. Only four days left to go and there were ingredients and leftovers enough for at least a good week. I should have been embarrassed by how exhilarated I was about this. How electrified I was by the challenge.

But I wasn’t.

This was my culinary Olympics.

There are rules, of course. You can’t just throw the food away, for one. You’re a mom, after all. It must be consumed. Or, as in my case since I have small children, prepared and placed in front of my family where it is ignored and stubbornly not consumed. And THEN, after an acceptable amount of ignoring time, it can be thrown out. The goal is always to let as little food as possible go to waste.  

As you can imagine, this leads to some rather creative meals in the days leading up to vacation.

“Mom, what is this?”

“Chicken nugget spaghetti”

“And this?”

“Scrambled eggs mixed with overripe avocado.”

“And for dessert?”

“Mashed potato pie.”

“It looks like it’s just leftover mashed potatoes.”

“It is.”

Another rule is that you will not be going to the store. For anything. You can’t subtract by adding. Which means that some things will have to be rationed.

“Momma, can I have some milk?”

“Everyone gets a thimbleful of milk every three hours.”

“But Momma…”

“I measured it perfectly! There will be no deviating from the plan. There’s water if you’re thirsty.”

“Well, can I at least have a snack?”

“Of course. Here, eat this about-to-be-expired sour cream.”

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Some people, and by some people I mean my husband, think I take this all a bit far. But he’s wrong. Which is why we end up having conversations like this:

“Ryan, did you just heat something up from the freezer?”

“Yeah. I was really craving a…”

*knocking microwave burrito out of his hand* “Do you think this is a game? Was I not clear before? Do you need to see the PowerPoint slides again?”

“Oh God, please no.”

“NO CANNED OR FROZEN FOOD FROM HERE ON OUT.”

“Honey, don’t you think you’re taking this all a bit too serio…”

“THAT FRIDGE WILL BE EMPTY.”

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And lastly, if anything is left, guess what everyone is eating in the car on the way to our destination? I don’t care that it’s a bag of wilted salad and slightly wrinkled grapes and questionably smelling hummus from the far, far back right corner. Eat it. Momma is on a mission and I will not let ANYONE’S fickle eating habits ruin it.

You can eat whatever you want on vacation. You can waste whatever food you want on vacation. There are no rules on vacation. Let complete chaos REIGN on vacation.

But before vacation, I am running this joint like a gastronomic gulag. And you will eat those stale marshmallows and leftover lasagna for breakfast. And you’ll like it.

And all because, and I say this in my most haughty evil dictator voice, it amuses me.

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Bad Poetry By A Tired Mom

 

I have two kids

Two beautiful unique souls

Each with a unique illness

Germs, his and hers

 

Simultaneous sickness

But different miseries

Because they couldn’t even

Extend the courtesy

Of having the same goddamn disease

 

How does that even happen?

What did I do wrong?

Is it revenge for when I was bragging

About their immune systems being so strong?

 

Hand, foot and mouth

Fever, cough, sore throat

Luckily, sharing is caring

Which is why every surface of my house

Has been smeared with snot

 

There is so much gross

Just

So much of

The gross

 

Noses dripping

Phlegm flying

Rashes rashing

Or whatever the hell they do

 

Oh, is this awful to read?

A thousand apologies

But imagine a tiny clone of your husband

Sneezing directly into your face

 

Speaking of husbands

He’s busy, off working

Meanwhile, I’m drowning in used tissues

Trying to build a moat

By drinking enough Merlot that I practically float

 

It’s not working

There’s so many leaks

That’s what we call a double entendre

Or something like that

 

Something something insert funny line here

And here

And here

I’m so tired, you guys.

 

What rhymes with “someone, dear god, help me”?

Is poetry still suppose to rhyme?

Omg, when’s the last time I actually read a poem

Not composed by Dr. Seuss?

 

Twin rivers flowing in tandem

Bearing colorful waves of a neverending pour

Tylenol

Ibuprofen

Here to save us all

 

We’ve watched Tangled three times

Just today alone

Take your screen time limits

And shove them

We’re in survival mode

 

But don’t you worry about us

They’ll end up being just fine

Sickness doesn’t last forever

And at least I still have (cough) my health

Oh crap, (sniffle) what the hell was that?

 

Dammit.

 

A chocolate cone with M&M’s, please

I took my kids to get ice cream today.

That’s it. There’s no punchline. There’s no funny anecdote. No moral. No bittersweet ending. No big lesson.

Just…I got ice cream with my kids today.

My son, who is 5, chose chocolate. In a cone. With M&M’s on top. He was emphatic about that. Lots and lots of M&M’s, please. I suspect it was the please that made the women behind the counter add extra, turning it into an M&M cone with a hint of ice cream.

My daughter, who is 2, then chose chocolate. In a cone. With, and here’s the twist, M&M’s on top. Lots and lots, pwease. The counter woman practically dumped the entire M&M bin over her cone.

My son ate his like someone twice his age. Methodical. Minimal stain damage. A mature grasp of the melting-to-dripping timing. He even sat on his napkin so it didn’t blow away, an advanced outdoor eating move, if I do say so myself.

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My daughter ate hers like a feral baby wolf. Just ate it with her entire face. Napkin? Who has time for that? By the time she was done, she was more chocolate than girl, inside and out. Luckily, most of it wiped off when she ran to me and gave me a big, sticky, spontaneous hug.

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And that’s it. Then we went home.

We didn’t even talk about anything interesting. I remember Riker was telling a rather long story about a robot who could turn different colors, which led to Mae telling me an even more disjointed story about how she was a robot cat who loved purple.    

So why am I even bothering to write this down, to share this with you? To be honest, this one’s more for me. I want to remember this moment. How small their hands looked holding those giant waffle cones. How big their eyes got when they took that first bite. The way the sunlight glinted off their red hair. How good the spring breeze felt.

When you first become a parent, you never think you’ll forget anything. They lay that baby on your chest and that moment is emblazoned on your mind and heart like a tattoo. And so you think it will always be like that. That you’ll remember every beautiful minute with them from then on with complete and utter clarity; the way they yawned, the way they smelled, the way they grasped your finger in their iron grip.

But you do forget. No matter how hard you stare at them, no matter how many photos you take, the moments still slip away on the relentless tides of time.

I don’t even remember what my daughter’s first word was anymore.

I’m always writing about my life, my family, my feelings, my failings. But in-between all the writing, all the reflecting, all the making-sense-of and making-fun-of, in-between all the updates and photos and pithy comments, is ordinary, boring, old life. Like today. A day that was full but ultimately added up to nothing because life doesn’t always make a good narrative. There was no epiphany, no greater meaning gleaned from anything.

There was only ice cream.

But I don’t want to forget it.

So, today, I took my kids to get ice cream. And it was a glorious, chaotic, loud, exasperating and beautiful mess.

The end.

What? Me? Jealous? No. Pffft.

Guys, I hate to be THAT wife, but I need to brag about my husband for a little bit. He just added the title of “children’s book illustrator” to his already impressive resume. A title he managed to squeeze in while working at his regular demanding journalism job and coming home to his regular demanding wife and kids who are always up in his face the second he walks through the door.

I am so proud of him. This is a guy who literally worked his way up from paperboy to now whatever his current fancy title is at the Boston Globe (a fancy title, mind you, that I definitely know but just don’t feel like typing out right now).

And he’s not just a hard worker, although he is that. He’s also genuinely talented. Which is probably why he’s succeeding both professionally and creatively. Which is great. It really is. He’s amazing and deserves everything he’s accomplished. He has really lived up to his potential, unlike some people he’s married to.

Ha! Ha!

What? No, I’m just kidding. I never had much potential in the first place. Ha! Again. Oh, we have fun here at this old blog of mine. A blog that no one reads and never goes viral. Good thing I have a successful man to stand behind.

Oh, what’s that? No, YOU sound slightly jealous.

Besides, what good would it do if I was jealous? We’re a team, me and him. Him and me. I also reap what he sows. Especially now that we have kids. Every success he has means we can pay the bills and not be homeless and get as many toppings as we want on our Friday night pizza. Including FRESH basil.

More importantly, I love him and want him to achieve all his dreams. So what if the highlight of his week is a cool book signing event and mine is working out a lose/lose situation with my youngest child where if she’ll just SIT on the potty for two minutes she still gets M&M’s even if she doesn’t actually pee or poop.

So no, I hate to disappoint you, but that feeling I’m currently stuffing way way way down deep is definitely not a twinge of jealousy. I fully understand why my own creative endeavours have to take a backseat right now while I take care of our young brood.

Although, if I’m being truly, albeit reluctantly, honest, my husband is also really conscientious about taking over the child care duties whenever possible to give me time to work on writing career.

Yeah. Yeah, I know. Wow, he really IS great.

What? No. That wasn’t sarcasm. Hey, I’m a lucky, lucky woman and I realize it.

It’s just, I mean, at some point isn’t him being so generous and fair just rubbing it in my face that I too have dreams I want to accomplish and he fully supports them? Like, where does this guy get off?

You know what he did last week? Deep cleaned the kitchen  Like, got all the stains off the stovetop that I had just accepted as a permanent part of the decor. The insensitive jerk.

Oh, that sounds a bit harsh, does it? Well, what else do you call doing all the chores around the house so I can spend the weekends working? The nerve of him. It’s like he is taking away all the plausible excuses I could use for why I still haven’t finished that first draft of my “novel” like I promised myself. Or the six children’s books I started writing and stopped because apparently plot is an important part of a story. Basically he’s leaving me no choice but to accept the fact that I’m the one responsible for whether or not I’m successful at my own career.

Total bastard, right?

Look, all I’m saying is that he works incredibly hard so that I can stay home and raise the kids, which I wanted to do and which I love doing, while also giving me time to work on my writing projects, which I also love, and thus making it almost impossible to blame him for anything. I mean, what the hell? How dare he.

AND, speaking of how dare he, how dare he also prove that hard work pays off. I’m a writer. Most writers don’t actually want to write. Writing is hard. We just want to BE writers, sitting around in coffee shops and bars and daydreaming about the day the book we never actually sat down and wrote gets magically published.

Oh, but here comes old Mr. Sit Down And Do It proving without a doubt that doing something is the only way to get anything done.

Sigh. I guess the only thing I have left is to actually work hard, now that he has cruelly taken all my excuses away.

I just hope I can forgive him some day for being such a wonderful and supportive partner.

 

Disappointing your dentist & other fun grown-up stuff

If you were to grade me on my adulting capabilities, I’m fairly confident I’d receive a solid C average. For instance, I always pay my bills on time. But I’ve also been ignoring my leaking dishwasher for three weeks and can never seem to eat the avocados in my kitchen before they go bad. Mostly because they’re avocados and, as such, taste like avocados. I pretty much just buy them so when other adults come over to my house, they look at the avocados and think “wow, she has avocados, she must really have her life together.”

And then there’s the whole dentist thing. Rumor has it that as an adult you’re supposed to go to the dentist on a fairly regular basis. Fairly regular basis, of course, meaning “at some point.”

Oh, so when’s the last time I went to the dentist, you ask? Well, that depends. Do you want the answer I tell the dentist, the one I tell my mom, or the truth? Either way, the answer is always wrong.

I know this. I am an adult, afterall. I have the I.D. to prove it and everything. That’s another aspect of adulting I’ve mastered. I always renew my driver’s license on time. On time, of course, meaning “within six months after it expires.”

So, yeah, I’d been meaning to make a dentist appointment. It’s just life got in the way, as it so often does. There was work and then I had kids and then there was all the time and energy I had to spend on ignoring my dishwasher.

Also I was scared. Super scared. Just a Scaredy McScarepants.

Not for any good reason, mind you. Dentists don’t deserve their reputation. They are kind and hardworking people. They are highly-trained professionals. They provide an invaluable service to society. Think about the last time you had a toothache. How awful it was. Most of us would run over our own mothers just to get to a dentist to make that pain stop.

And there are plenty of people who have far more evil occupations. Serial killers, for one. Investment bankers. Those people who keep calling me from my alma mater asking me for money.

Why do we hate going to the dentist so much? Well, for one, you never leave there with good news. And if you have ever left the dentist with good news, if your dentist has ever told “wow, great job, your mouth is perfect,” then what are you doing even reading this? You clearly are a responsible, respectable member of society and are not my target audience. How about you go floss some more, nerd.

As for the rest of us, there’s a root canal or lengthy flossing tutorial or partial jaw removal in our immediate future.

Besides, I’m one of those people who just assumed that if I brushed twice a day, used mouth wash, and randomly remembered to floss every few weeks, everything would be fine. Teeth are one of those things, like cars and dishwashers and trendy vegetables, that I expect to last forever and ever until the end of time without any interference from me.

But you know what’s coming next, don’t you? Of course you do. Because no one just wakes up one day magically wiser and goes “ok, I’ll finally do that awful thing I’ve been putting off for far too long.” Oh no. No, something FORCES you to do that.

In my case, I woke up with mysteriously painful and swollen gums. So, like the C average adult that I am, I walked around and complained about the pain for a week. And then I screwed up my courage and finally made a dentist appointment.

More importantly, I actually showed up to the appointment. Where I was politely shamed about my dental history. That’s the other reason why we hate going to the dentist. They’re always disappointed in us. Don’t get me wrong. He was very pleasant and kind about it. But I knew I let him down.

Imagine how upset he’d be if I actually told the truth about the date of my last dental appointment.

But the bigger lesson here is that whatever it is you’ve been putting off, whatever it is that’s been on your undone to-to list for months or years, it’s never as bad as you imagine.

I’m kidding. It was exactly as bad as I imagined. Possibly worse.

But I survived.

And you’ll survive whatever your metaphorical dentist is too. Even if it is the actual dentist.