Insert Catchy ‘Back to School Title’ Here

The boys start back to school tomorrow. Which is weird because I’m pretty sure it should still be June. I’ve gone straight from “try to wear those hand-me-down shorts a few more days then we’ll do summer shopping” to “I’m not buying you back to school jeans yet, it’s still hot outside…let’s go get you those shorts I kept promising.” I know that’s terrible, but hey, I hate clothes shopping for boys. At best it’s boring (“Do you want the stripe on your shirt vertical or horizontal?”) and at worst it’s like a Wild West standoff between the ‘I’m-only-wearing-basketball-shorts-all-year-long posse’ and the ‘Having-one-button-up-shirt-in-your-closet-won’t-kill-you Sheriff’. Spoiler Alert: The Sheriff wins the battle, but the Posse wins the war. You can lead a horse to a polo shirt, but no one wants to wrestle it on him.

Like I was saying, summer went by fast, because it WAS fast. Having 972 snow days will do that. Regardless, I am fully motivated to make this year my YEAR OF BEING THE MOM THAT STAYS ORGANIZED AND DOES GOOD MOM-ISH STUFF TO HELP HER KIDS SUCCEED. That’s right. A new leaf. I am going to be That Mom. 

Listen, friends, it’s been fun being the Fork Mom but I’ve got three boys at three different schools this year. Elementary, Middle and High School. I have entered what is also known as the First Circle of Hell in which I will be caught in the eternal limbo of three different school schedules. This is all about survival. Of course, survival doesn’t have to be ugly; I’ve been Pinterest-ing the shit out of my house with well-stocked and adorable “Homework Centers” and “Snack Stations.” Last night I made 25 individual snack packs of pretzels and carrot sticks because it’s cheaper than buying the pre-packaged snack packs and, sure, I’ve got ah hour to kill to do this. And I can buy organic yogurt. And dedicate an entire of shelf of my refrigerator for pre-made lunches in Bento boxes. If That Mom can do it, so can Fork Mom. I can DO IT, dammit…stop it with the skeptical look on your face!

Proving that I am now That Mom, I’m not even going to complain that my kids’ school supply shopping list was twitch-inducing specific and picky. If they want the 1oz jumbo glue stick and not the four pack of .26oz glue sticks (which were on sale), that’s what they’ll get! And if I can’t find plastic, yellow, two pocket, three pronged folders because some evil genius mom probably bought them all up to sell on the black market…I’m not going to get bent out of shape. Nope. I will cheerfully buy one plastic, green, two pocket, three pronged folder and one paper, yellow, two pocket, three pronged folder. The teacher can choose which she’d prefer and keep the extra folder. See…generosity! BOOM! 

I’ll do it with a smile on my face because I’ve turned over a new leaf…and also because I remember that it’s happy hour at Bonefish Grill, smartly located right next door. Yes, yes…new leaf…I’m still hanging in there, but this new leaf requires sustenance and liquid fortitude right now.  And that’s where I make a wonderful and startling discovery: every bar stool in the joint is filled with ‘That Mom’ mothers quietly weeping into their Pinot Grigios, shoving fist fulls of  $5 bang-bang shrimp into their mouths and mumbling about Ticondaroga pencils. There they were…my people. Fork Moms and That Moms. Together. One of them scoots over to make room for me and hands me the cocktail list. 

Now…to figure out which one is selling the black market folders.

Grown-up Dating

ImageI want to invent a new word. I don’t like the word “boyfriend.” It’s a fine word to say out loud if you are 16 and talking to your BFF in line at movie theatre (I mean, if 16 year olds actually talk out loud anymore). But I’m a grown-ass woman of 41 (that’s right…I said it. I ain’t scared) with 3 kids; when I refer to “my boyfriend” it feels silly. I’m sorry, but it does. It’s not going to get any better when we are closer to the AARP years either. If words like “twerk” and whatever English abomination is currently trending on Urban Dictionary right now can work its way into common vernacular, then I can make up a new word for “boyfriend”…if only I could actually think of one.

I know there are other options. I don’t like those either. “Partner” or worse, “significant other” sound like we’re involved in a business merger or a buddy cop movie. Of course on the other end of the spectrum we have words like “Lover” and “My Beloved” which somehow demand capitalization and reminds me of the Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch hot tub skit on SNL. Both the words and the skit make me feel as if I just walked in on my grandparents having sex.

I’m open to suggestions friends…and at this point, I’m open to any topic to get “grandparents having sex” and Will Ferrell’s man-boobs out of my brain.

BLTs and Purple Leotards

Sitting on my couch today, my last day of vacation, I had a deep, paralyzing debate with myself. Did I want to work on the project I am about to launch, or would I rather make a sandwich? I sat frozen for a good ten minutes because I really couldn’t tell if I was hungry or if I was simply afraid to start something that I am not sure how will end. I know how a BLT ends. It ends deliciously.

I decided to split the difference and, instead, write a blog post about my indecision. I am facinated by frozen moments. Specifically, what makes the difference between being frozen to the point of inaction, and doing something anyway, regardless of the outcome. I am not unaccostum to those “do it anyway” moments. How else would I have ended up dressed in a purple leotard and Hawaiin print skirt in the midst of professional Broadway dancers doned head to pointe shoe in black? The difference then was surely not a promise of positive outcome, but I did it anyway. In my frozen moments, I visualize that purple leotard in hopes that it will thaw me out:

I had recently moved to St. Louis. My husband at the time was about to embark on his dream of pursuing his PhD in finance. I was about to embark on a long summer of scrounging for a teaching job. In an effort to not spend all my time waiting for my phone to ring, I decided I would pick up an old hobby and try out for a small community theatre production.

Lo and behold, St. Louis did have what I thought was a “small community theatre” and just my luck (!) they were about to hold auditions later that week for their production of A Chorus Line. As you likely know, A Chorus Line is a musical about dancers auditioning for Broadway. This irony, today, is not lost on me. I could act, of that I felt confident. I could sing, or at the very least I wasn’t horrible. I couldn’t, however, dance. At. All. Never in my childhood or adult life have I taken a ballet, tap or jazz class. This fact alone should have convinced me that perhaps auditioning for a play about dancing might not be a plan worth following through on. Yet, I was undeterred.

The day of the audition, I dressed in the closest thing I had to dance attire: a Jane Fonda-esque purple exercise leotard and a Hawaiian print skirt (in case I needed to twirl, you see). I grabbed some semblance of a headshot purple leotardand proceeded to that “small community theatre.” As it turns out, this small theatre commonly called The Muny, was more formally known as The St. Louis Municipal Theatre, which attracts actors, dancers and singers from the stages of Broadway. I was entirely out of my league. Indeed, I was a sandlot baseball player showing up to the World Series. Still again, I was undeterred.

I auditioned that day amongst Broadway’s best and suffice it to say…a star was not born. I knew from the moment I saw that sea of lithe women in black that I would not earn a spot on stage. To be really honest with myself, I knew it from the moment I read the words “A Chorus Line” and compared it to my history of zero dancing experience. So what made the difference? The difference was in one thing:

1) The experience was more valuable than the cost of failure.

When I am frozen…perhaps when we each are frozen…it is because we perceive that the cost of failure is too steep and the value of the experience is too low. And sometimes we are right. I’m a pretty ballsy chick, but I’ve decided that skydiving meets my criteria for the cost of failure outweighing the value of the experience. I’ve got three kids to raise; I needn’t be jumping out of airplanes. Sometimes, however (and even most of the time) our perception of the cost of failure is just plain wrong. Our pride or hopes and dreams for that thing we want seems so big that we are frozen in the face of it.

It just might be that had I taken dance classes or at one point had even some small childish dream of making it on Broadway, I would have been technically more prepared to audition for The Muny. And, really, let’s be honest; any 3 year old in a tutu had more preparation than I did. But I might have also been less likely to decide that the value of the experience outweighed the cost of failure. I might have been too frozen.

So back to my internal debate between project planning and BLTs. I care quite a bit about this project, yet it is quite possible that I might not succeed. But it is quite impossible that the failure would result in me falling from the sky to become a Jackson Pollack on the ground. Thus, it is time to thaw myself out, put on my purple leotard again and see what the experience provides me.

Happy [bleepin’] Holidays

Today the boys and I had our Christmas card pictures taken. Tonight I am pouring an extra glass of wine. In the spirit of Festivus “Airing of Grievances”, I would like to propose an “Airing of Christmas Photo Outtakes.” Which, if my guess is correct, leads to a lot of family grievances. The amount of pain and suffering one must endure to capture useable family pictures is directly proportional to the amount of delight and joy one is trying to capture. I can tell you this much…the precise anguish to delight ratio is 136:4. We took 4 successful pictures. And even those were graded on the curve. If you look very closely, you might be able to tell who hates this process the most [insert sarcastic font here].

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After an hour on the drizzly Charlottesville Downtown Mall, once nerves and feelings were soothed by hot chocolate, we were able to capture a picture that spoke to me. Attention unfocused, rebellious, somewhat shell-shocked, but still managing a laugh. Yep. That’s about sums us up.

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Solo Per Te

Do you remember the scene from Eat, Pray, Love when Elizabeth Gilbert teaches herself to be present in each moment and enjoy the simple beauty of solitude? She relishes in preparing a meal for herself, taking in the sound of a cracking egg, the feel of steam from a boiling pot, the glisten of olive olive drizzling over asparagus. A meal, perhaps, that could have been crafted for a lover, but this time crafted for herself. With light streaming in from her Tuscan villa windows, she is resplendent. “Solo per te” the scene whispers…”just for yourself.”

This is the very exact moment I am currently not having. I mean, I’ve got the solitude part, but the only food crafting I did was to reheat some Stouffers mac ‘n cheese. I consumed this feast while watching a Scandal marathon and contemplated the laundry basket in front of me. Not that I’m miserable in my solitude of my “off weeks” away from my kids, mind you. It’s just that I’m not exactly feeling…well…resplendent. The likes of Elizabeth Gilbert and the lesser known Sandra Tsing Loh (Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off) might have allowed me to imagine that my days alone would feel akin to a rejuvenating European vacation and less like the life-sustaining, oxygen-gasping necessity of decompression after a week of single parenting. Loh even temptingly and guiltily describes her experience of joint custody, off weeks as “horribly French”, one in which she has whole weeks to dine (not just eat….but dine!) at late hours, lingering with adult friends over bottles of wine and meaningful conversation.

And I do that, too, sometimes. I also take long, meandering runs at odd times. I sleep in more than I do on weeks I have my kids. I eat later and, at times, with the company of more adults. I write more often. I make love more often. I take bubble baths with my wine glass teetering on the edge. I listen to music that only I like…loudly.  But just as often, however, I come home and walk in a few circles wondering how to fill my time when there is no homework to check or sibling squabbles to manage. During those moments, I feed the dog. I begrudingly knock out a 25 minute work out. I eat mac n’ cheese. I fold laundry. I go to bed. It’s not a sad thing…it’s just an “is” thing. It’s the acceptance of the mundane that we all experience; married, single, partnered–we don’t escape it. In fact, maybe the mundane is the ultimate in rejuvenation if we allowed it to be. Being fabulous feels like a lot of work right now, so I’ll just enjoy this Shiner Bock, watch another episode of Scandal and allow Keri Washington to be resplendent for me.

Mind the Gap

I recently came across a trend called “Thigh Gap.” If this term has you, like me, scratching your head, I’ll give you the skinny (pun intended): It is the obsession for teenager girls and young women to be so thin that their legs don’t touch at all, thus having “thigh gap.” There are blogs, Tumblrs and Pinterest boards devoted to the process to achieve and adoration of the thigh gap. I have boys, so perhaps this is why I’ve not heard of it. This, however, is what I have to say to daughters out there. And, heck, I’ll say it to my sons too, lest they think that “thigh gap” should ever be considered a quality for partnership.

Your thighs are not meant to be narrow and devoid of shape any more than were your feet made to be bound or your ribs corseted to the point of breaking. No, your thighs were meant to be strong and powerful. They were meant to have curve and shape and personality. They are meant for lifting you up, carrying you forward, standing your ground and claiming your space.

A gap is an empty, unfilled space. Don’t shrink to invisible for anyone, daughters. Don’t let the emptiness of your bellies and gap between your thighs be a metaphor for what is in your spirit. Be gluttonous, girls! Greedy and bold, scoop up experience with both your hands and slurp it down. Fill your belly and heart and head to the top. Don’t slow yourselves with separating out the wheat of success with the chaff of failure…because it’s all wheat anyway, really. Be gluttonous! Fuel yourselves…then launch toward whatever it is that you want your strong, mighty legs to take you.

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The Question Is…

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I get it. It’s creative, free expression art. It allows for imagination and self-directed play. The question is, how long do I have to keep it?

It’s My Kid, So It’s Different

I’m a preschool graduation hypocrite. My older two boys went to Montessori preschool. They didn’t have a graduation, it not being a “practical life-skill” and all. Because of this (and because of my sarcastic nature, in general), I secretly and not-so-secretly made fun of the preschool graduation concept.

I mean, seriously, who flunks preschool? Any preschool drop-outs out there? Congratulations on finally learning how to not eat your glue stick. I hope this secured you placement in a top-notch Kindergarten class.

But then Harry went to a preschool that has graduation and I’m humming a different tune now — Pomp and Circumstance to be exact. After the kids sang a tissue requiring version of “I Can See Clearly” (come on, my heart’s not made of stone, people), the kids marched behind the playhouse to put on their caps and gowns. When Harry — aged 5, youngest of three, Keep Up with the Herd Harry — walked from behind that playhouse in his graduation garb, I got it. That little moment of dress-up afforded me the ability to look back to the past and into the future at the exact same time. He was both my little tiny baby still small enough to curl in my lap when he really wants to and my big kid who is getting ready to start on that 13 year journey toward a real cap and gown.

So, as he beamed with pride posing for a picture with me and his Certificate of Completion, I didn’t remind him that he’d return to that exact same preschool he just graduated from the very next day with the very same teacher for two months of Summer Camp. I simply said “You did it, graduate!” and tried not to think about how the next time I take a picture like this, the cap will not be waist high to me, it will be towering above me.

My Parenting Soul-Mate

When I read Worst End of School Year Mom Ever, I laughed tears of joy and relief to discover that I’m not the only totally sucky mom out there. And I say “sucky” with a ton of respect because “sucky” just means “not faking it.” Jen Hatmaker recounts her failures of parenting as the year comes to an end as slowly and painfully as a sloth crossing a hot gravel road. I can now happily release my guilt for the following infractions:

  • Failing to pack a healthy lunch…or any lunch at all since, oh, October. Which leads me to…
  • Being more than $20 in debt at the school cafeteria because I’m too forgetful to write a check.
  • Almost forgetting to register my youngest for Kindergarten.
  • Allowing my son to read a more interesting book  on my iPad rather than read yet another damn assigned book on Jamestown. We live in Virginia, it’s important, I get it. Let’s move on.
  • Not doing a darn thing for Teacher Appreciation Week. I appreciate teachers. I was one. I just put Joe’s name on some other kid’s perfectly-Pinterest-presented gift. Noooo…that’s not nice. I’m kidding. No, really. I am.

I’m sure there are plenty of other terrible failures that my kids could recount. But they’ll have to get their own blog. Happy Summer to all my “good enough” moms out there!

“Lucky Mom”

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about her son stepping up and doing an unpleasent chore without being asked. For the record, I’m totally on board with this kind of brag post. Indeed, I use it as a shaming tool for my boys after they have once again left their socks on the dining room table.I’m kidding. Sorta. I mean, seriously, the dining room table??

When I read her post, my first thought was to reply “You’re a lucky mom to have a such a responsible kid!” Then I remembered a comment that my own mother made to me when I refered to myself as just a “Lucky Mom” when someone complimented my kid’s good behavior. She said, “You’re not lucky, Renee. You work hard to raise respectful kids. Own it.”

Of course that means I also need to own it when they screw up. For every few “Lucky Mom” moments, Harry will make sure I stay grounded to reality by learning the word IDIOT! and then using it as often as he possibly can. Trust me, when your five year old calls you an idiot, it will knock you on your back foot as sure as a slap. So after a solid 30 seconds of stunned shock came the “oh-no-you-didn’t-young-man-get-your-fanny-up-those-stairs.” That’s when the job of parenting gets real…that’s the work.

Those “Lucky Mom” moments when our kids make us proud by doing the right thing…that’s our reward for the hard work slogging through the “Idiot Mom” moments. Own it.

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