Monthly Archives: June 2017

Too cool for preschool

There are a lot of private decisions you make as a parent that you hope and pray never become public, else it makes you look like a bad parent. Like, say, letting them wear the same clothes three days in a row. Or giving them crackers and jelly beans for dinner because you can’t handle one more tantrum. Or letting them watch that third “Sesame Street” episode so you can finish emailing your editor and fold the clean laundry that has been sitting on the rocking chair for four days straight.

And then there are the decisions you make that make you wonder if maybe you truly are a bad parent.

Like, say, for instance, do I really need to send my child to preschool?

I know. I know! I can’t believe I just typed that either. I’m currently hunched over my keyboard, my whole body tense, waiting for the inevitable knock on the door from Child Protective Services.

But let me type just one more sentence before you throw the handcuffs on me…

I Googled local preschool prices.

Can you put the handcuffs away now? If you say yes, then I know you have at one point Googled local preschool prices. If you say no, do me a favor and Google local preschool prices. I’ll give you a moment…

…I know, right!? Unbelieveable.

And for the majority of you who are going along with my gag but not actually Googling anything, let me share with you what I discovered. Because I actually did research. Like a grown up. And like most research (bacon and alcohol are bad for you!), the results were depressing.

According to a 2016 study by the Economic Policy Institute, the costs of full-time childcare for a 4-year-old was higher than the cost for in-state college tuition in 23 states. Including my current state of residence, Massachusetts, which was one of the most expensive. On average, to send my precious little hellion to preschool will cost $12,781 per year.

But I could save over $2,000 if I just sent him straight to college.

And while Riker is exceptionally talented at Apple Juice Pong, I’m pretty sure they expect you to be able to wipe your own butt at college (weird fraternity pledge rituals notwithstanding).

Ever since he turned three, this issue has been keeping me up at night. What kind of monster denies their child a good education? Regardless of how much it costs? Who needs two arms AND two legs when your offspring’s very future is on the line?

Which is why I was so relieved when I started complaining to my very smart and very well-educated friend about my preschool dilemma and she responded that although they’re keeping it very quiet, she and her husband decided not to send her kid to preschool.

“You can do that!? Can I do that? Is that allowed?” I practically yelled back.

She laughed but it does feel like preschool is an unofficial requirement at this point. I have nightmares where I start teaching my son how to write his name and preschool teachers in bright sweaters kick down my door and rip the crayon from his chubby little hands.

“Literacy is only for actual students! Go watch more garbage TV, tiny peasant!” they scream at him before covering him with frowny face stickers.

And the very fact she said they are “keeping it quiet” kind of proves my point.  

But I didn’t go to preschool. And I turned out fine, she types while sipping wine through a straw and binge-watching the entire “Dawson’s Creek” series for the 45th time.

And yes, I know there is a long laundry list of benefits from preschool. I majored in education in addition to journalism so I quite literally read the book on it. But I also know that $12,000 isn’t just a “hardship” for us at this particular moment in our economic reality. It’s impossible.

So, I’ve spent the last five months weighing our options. We could always try part-time preschool perhaps, or maybe hunt down a discount early education center, like BoBo’s Preschool Kidz Barn or something.

I could try teaching him myself, but will my efforts, along with library story-time and playing on a soccer team and random play dates at the park and playground, be enough for what he needs to learn both academically and socially? On the other hand, if we do scrape enough money together to send him to a decent preschool, is it worth it if we can no longer afford family trips to museums and the occasional dinner out to a restaurant and airplane tickets to visit our families?

I could go back to work full-time instead of freelance writing, which doesn’t pay much currently. But then we’d have to send his younger sister to a daycare too, effectively doubling our childcare costs. Or maybe my husband could get a second part-time job, just temporarily, to cover the costs. Although, as mentioned above, we don’t have family close by and it’s already hard enough to take care of the kids on my own with the long-ish hours he already works. Not to mention, I need the nights and weekends to do my writing and oh my god, WHY DO THEY MAKE IT SO HARD IN THIS COUNTRY TO RAISE A FAMILY!?

And that, ultimately, is the crux of the issue. Families all over this country are having similar dilemmas, these either/or situations, because there is no longer enough money to go around. Technically we’re considered middle class, but thanks to things like student loan debt and years upon years of stagnant wages and the ever faster rising cost of living, we still struggle. We still rent (and pay way too much for rent but who can afford a down payment on a house?). We own one ancient car. All our furniture is from 2002. We have a savings account but no college fund for either kid. We have health insurance but no retirement plan. Enough discretionary income for the occasional pizza but not enough for a real vacation.

And our financial issues are pretty benign in the long run. Other families are having to make decisions between much-needed medication and decent food. Or getting further in debt to move out of their crappy neighborhood to one with a decent school district and parks not littered with needles. Or finding a third job but then never seeing their kids.

It seems our family, just like so many other American families these days, can no longer afford the American dream.

I suppose I should end this with a joke since I’m a humor writer by trade, but after re-reading what I just wrote, none of this seems very funny anymore.

 

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36 Things I’ve Learned in 36 Years

  1. Life is too short to waste time matching socks.
  2. Small children are the funniest people on the planet.
  3. Humidity is dumb.
  4. The best thing you can save up your money for is a family vacation. I don’t remember what gifts I got for my birthday three years ago or what I had for breakfast yesterday or even where I set down my youngest child just now, but I remember every vacation since childhood with startling clarity.
  5. Embrace your inner nerd.
  6. A good bra changes EVERYTHING.
  7. Yelling at your kid to stop yelling is pretty ineffectual.
  8. The cheap water tastes exactly the same as the expensive fancy water.
  9. Humans are complicated. Stop expecting everything to be in black and white.
  10. Sit down for family meals as often as you can.
  11. Never waste more than 10 seconds cringing over an awkward social interaction. Deep down we’re all hot messes who still can’t remember your name even though you’ve told us three times already.
  12. I literally have no opinion about coconut oil. I feel the world would be a better place if more people followed my example.
  13. If other parents are judging you because your kid is misbehaving in public and their kid never does, just remember that their kid is probably going to grow up to be a serial killer.
  14. BACK. UP. YOUR. PHOTOS. Then back them up again. Then print them out and put them in a photo album. Then seal that album up in a climate-controlled, fire-proof, nuclear fallout safe room deep in the heart of a mountain.
  15. Sometimes, no matter how much it hurts or how much you dread it or how wrong it seems, you just have to bite the bullet and do what’s best for your family and sign your toddler up for soccer.
  16. Cursing is awesome. That’s why kids can’t wait to grow up. So they can finally curse.
  17. Never ask a man for his chili recipe.
  18. Never ask a woman to do the dishes on chili night.
  19. Why do so many people have so many strong opinions about what drinks other people order at Starbucks? I know technically this isn’t some piece of wisdom I’m sharing but I genuinely want to know.
  20. Teach your kids the proper names. It’s “penis” and “vagina.” They’re just body parts. No one refers to arms as “hoo-ha’s” and legs as “run sticks.”
  21. Rejection and failure aren’t an end but a beginning. No great story starts with “they were born and then they immediately succeeded.”
  22. It’s okay to have a cupcake for breakfast. It’s basically a muffin with a better wardrobe.
  23. Children have bad days too.
  24. Don’t ask your friends to spend a small fortune celebrating your birthday.
  25. Please stop telling pregnant women every horrific birthing story you’ve ever heard. They’re stressed out enough.
  26. The average ninja knows over a hundred ways to kill you. The average baby knows over a thousand ways to kill themselves.
  27. Teach your kids how to execute a proper high-five. Because approximately one out of every three strangers they encounter will want to high-five them.
  28. If you’re on a date and they order their steak “well done,” RUN.
  29. Home is where the giant pile of never-ending laundry is.
  30. The best way to calm a child during a tantrum is to not have children.
  31. Climbing trees is still fun.
  32. Try to remember when you’re freaking out because you haven’t started saving for retirement yet that all the stress will probably kill you before you even get a chance to retire.
  33. Marriage is 10 percent unconditional love and 90 percent trying to figure out what to eat for dinner.
  34. Support people’s dreams. Unless their dreams are dumb. Then just shut up and politely nod as they explain the confusing plot of their as-yet-unwritten fantasy novel.
  35. Potty training is a war. You need a good strategy. There are no winners.
  36. “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

Requiem for a nap

It was all planned out. A perfect Friday. A beautiful summer day. A much-needed antidote to the stress and chaos of the four previous days. All I needed to do was stick to the plan and we would slide easily into the weekend.

Just stick to the plan.

Wake up. Breakfast. Episode of “Sesame Street” to hypnotize the kids so I can squeeze in a luxurious three-minute shower. Wrestle horribly designed tiny shoes on two pairs of tiny squiggly feet. Then a leisurely walk to the playground followed by a walk to the local bakery for some giant cookies. It is Friday, after all. Take the long way back. Wear ‘em out.

It’s all part of the plan.

Home. Impromptu dance party. Lunch, which no one will eat because of the giant cookies but who cares? It’s Friday. We’re so close to the end. To the weekend. To having Daddy’s help with the tantrums and the diaper changes and the baths and the “what did you swallow?”

Story time. Just two books. OK, fine, three. Sigh, alright, four but that’s it. I mean it. Potty break. Five minutes of chasing naked toddler around to put his underwear back on. Time for your nap. Twelve minute of dealing with the pre-nap meltdown. Three minutes in the corner for hitting his baby sister. Four minutes soothing said hit baby.

Nap. Time.

Now.

Get in bed.

Three songs. OK, four. Five, but I mean it. That’s it.

Brief discussion of why the sky is blue. Even briefer discussion about how cool trains are.

Hug. Kiss. Love you. Night-night.

One down, one to go.

Change diaper. Heat up bottle. Sit down in rocker. Insert bottle. Realize urgent need to pee. Lay baby on floor with bottle. Go pee to the glorious symphonic sounds of abandoned baby screaming. Pick her back up. Sit in the rocker. Insert bottle. Relax. Realize TV remote is across the room. Get it. Sit back down in the rocker. Hear older kid yelling for Mommy. Get up.

What, sweetie?

I get up now?

No.

Close door.

Sit back down in the rocker. Where’s the remote? It was just here. Sigh.

Just get her to sleep. A vital part of the plan. Long afternoon nap for the two of them. When they wake up, pop in a movie. Order dinner. Maybe open a wine? I mean, it IS Friday. Then BOOM, Daddy is home and I get some relief.

Bottle halfway gone. Any minute now she should be closing her eyes. Start singing lullaby. Three-fourths gone. Eyes wide open. No need to worry. She’ll fall asleep before it’s gone. She has to.

It’s all part of the plan.

All gone. She’s giggling now. Struggling to get up out of my arms. No worries. Adjust the plan a bit. Twenty minutes of play and she’ll be out like a light.

OK, 45 minutes.

An hour.

Maybe try laying her down in the crib.

Seventeen minutes of impossibly loud dying pterodactyl screams. Pick her back up before she wakes her brother. At least all that screaming probably wore her out.

Nope.

This wasn’t part of the plan.

Thirty more minutes of singing, swaying, silently praying. She finally passes out. Ten blissful minutes go by. I close my eyes. And immediately hear her brother wake up. Sigh. Get up. Put her in the crib. Watch in horror as her eyes pop open and she starts wailing like a banshee. Pick her back up. Get the toddler up. Note he’s super grumpy.

Terrific.

Try plying both whining kids with crackers. Realize the dog hasn’t been outside to go potty yet. Try putting down baby who is clinging to me like I’m the last life boat on the Titanic. Give up. Comically try to balance dog, baby and poop bag. Go back inside. Pop in a movie. No, Mommy, not that one. Pop in a different movie. Order food. They’re slammed right now. It’ll be an hour and half.

Wonderful.

Say screw it. Open wine. Pick up sobbing puddle of baby gravy at my feet. Get text from husband. He’s running late. Traffic is awful. Be home as soon as he can.

Allow 45-second pity party in head. Then get toddler his juice.

Go to take sip of wine. MOMMY! She’s grabbing my cars!

I thought you wanted to watch this movie.

No, I want to play with my cars.

Grab baby. Soothe now crying car-less baby. Repeat for what feels like forever.

Food arrives. Feed kids. Steal a fry while looking longingly at your own neglected sandwich. Get more ketchup. Get more juice. Get more baby food. Get more napkins. Look longingly at still full wine glass. Clean up kids.

Play chase. Kiss boo boo.

Daddy’s home!

Chaos ensues.

How was your day?

The usual. Offer tired smile.

I love you.

Love you too.

I love you, too, Mommy!

Baby giggles.

Sigh. Let the stress drain away.

And hey, at least it’s the weekend, sweetie!

Yes. We made it.

Despite the plan.

 

Violating child labor laws & other perks of parenting

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. I’m guessing it has something to do with a mother’s natural inclination to try to do everything herself. I mean, it’s hard to juggle 37 things at once by yourself. But it can often be harder to ask someone to jump in and match your exact rhythm to help you keep all those balls in the air.

Mom: I need help!

Random family member: Sure. What can I do to…

Mom: AH! WHY DID YOU LET ALL THOSE BALLS DROP!?!

Random family member: *lying on floor, dazed* Because you just threw 18 things at me in rapid succession.

Mom: Never mind! I’ll do it all myself! *murmurs what sounds suspiciously like curse words under her breath*

But after the 2,091st time cooking breakfast while trying to set the table while constantly hurdling small children and animals and toys while on a tight timetable, I finally realized something had to give. And that’s when I had my epiphany.

“Riker, come here, please!” I hollered to my 3-year-old from over the baby gate that separates the kitchen from the dining room.

“What, Mommy?” he said, looking up at me with those big, liquid, beautiful, trusting, brown eyes.

“Can you put this ketchup and butter on the table for me?”

“Oh! Sure, Mommy!”

And off he ran to do my biding, his little feet pitter-pattering and a giant smile on his face.

But that’s not the best part. Oh, no. Because the best part is he came BACK. And asked “what else, Mommy?”

“Holy crap,” I thought to myself. “How have I not thought of this before? Children are just glorified servants. I can make him help me…Sweet patron saint of stressed out mothers, I can pretty much make him do anything. FOR I AM HIS MAKER!”

And so, after suppressing what can only be described as an evil laugh, I handed him the plates. And then the silverware. And the napkins. And the baby’s bowl of gross, healthy mush. And our grown-up platters of unhealthy carbs and animal lard.

And just like that, my child set the table. I was so happy I could have cried (if I still felt any emotion other than “tired”).

Of course, don’t get the wrong idea. We aren’t “those” parents or anything. My husband and I make our son pick up his toys every night before bed (which requires heavy supervision) and we ask him to get the occasional diaper for his sister (which occasionally results in him actually getting us a diaper for his sister). We are firmly in the “kids should clean and do chores” camp. That whole “but children should just enjoy childhood” ideology is a completely foreign concept to us. I enjoyed my childhood, despite being forced to vacuum the world’s ugliest carpet with the world’s most ancient and heavy vacuum cleaner. And don’t even get my husband started on his childhood job delivering newspapers, which involves a story where he fell asleep under a tree during a snowstorm but, by God, everyone got their paper that day. And yes, it was uphill and 17 miles. Barefoot.

However, the concept of making my toddler do things that are actually helpful and not just things so he doesn’t grow up to be a horrible, entitled brat? That hadn’t occurred to me until that very moment.

Admittedly, it is strange it took me this long to piece it together. America is a country built pretty much on the concept of two people having kids JUST SO they would have help on the farm. Or with the family business. Or to bump up ratings on their reality TV show. In fact, I bet if you go back throughout all of history, there is evidence that every civilization exploited their kids for labor.

Viking mom: Ragnar! Come help me put this decapitated head on a pike!

Roman Empire mom: Remus! Come help clean up all this Caesar blood before it stains!

1920’s flapper mom: Ricky! It’s your turn to stir the bathtub gin!

But although this is new territory to me, I’m quickly getting the hang of it. Now when he spills something, I make HIM clean it up (and then clean it up after he cleans it up because he’s three and awful, just terrible, at it). When I dust, he gets a dust rag too now (as does his baby sister because fair is fair and she likes chewing on it). And just yesterday, he helped me fold (throw) laundry into a giant pile and sweep (hit his father with a Swiffer) the house.

It’s enough to make you wonder if we should maybe have more kids.

HAHAHAHAHA!

Just kidding. I’d sell a kid before deciding to make another one. But this has opened our eyes to a whole new world of opportunities.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a power washer and some duct tape to attach my toddler’s hands to it because our porch is looking pretty dingy.