Every time I walk by my calendar on the kitchen counter, I break out in a sweat. The scribble in each square is taunting me, as if to say “I own you lady, for the next 6 weeks.”
I have officially entered the most hellish time of the year – where wild-eyed parents of multiple, school-aged children have to figure out who is getting where and when. And like some activity addict in a 12-step program, I take it one day at a time. Don’t talk to me about next week. I’m still figuring out today.
The 8-year-old plays baseball, which requires practices twice a week and will ramp up to 2-3 games a week. (Long, very long games. Like watching grass grow, bless their little minor league hearts) The 10-year-old plays soccer three times a week and she does ballet. Which is twice a week. The 5-year-old? Well, she lives in the van that I pilot all over our city and constantly begs for iPad access to play Angry Birds Star Wars. She also wants to know when it’s her turn to play soccer. “Never,” I say.
The timing is the worst part. Everything seems to happen around the same time. 6pm. Dinner? Who has time to eat? Dinner turns into a meal on wheels. Lots of hard boiled eggs, crackers and fruit in baggies. In the van. There’s not an air freshener alive that can combat the sweaty egg smell combined with foot odor in my vehicle by the end of the week. Homework has also become a van activity. I helped my daughter study for a history test while sitting in baseball bleachers last week. Throw in my part-time job and the fact my husband works evenings, and I’m an over scheduled, frazzled mess.
I’ve had friends suggest a color-coded white board in my kitchen. Everyone can see it, everyone knows what’s coming up. Still others say I should coordinate my schedule with my husband in the “cloud”. (All the cloud has done for me is mix my husbands contacts with mine, so his college roommate’s number pops up first when I start typing in J. Annoying) Plus there’s something about seeing it actually written down that helps it sink it. Siri can’t help with this.
Perhaps they shouldn’t do all of these activities, you say. Just pick one and stick with it. I get it. My son will never be a pro baseball player and my daughter will never be in a World Cup soccer match. Unfortunately, each activity seems to have the demands of Olympic training. And it makes it kind of hard for kids to pick what activity or sport they like – if each activity is so all consuming they don’t have time to try anything else.
The two things that save me are carpools and my parents. And a glass of wine at the end of the day, er, week. (Ok, that’s three things) I’ve realized you have to do activities with friends because sharing the driving duties is the only way to survive. I’m also extremely lucky there are grandparents around the corner to pick up a dancing child, while I’m delivering a third baseman across town. My parents smile, laugh and seem to remember my years of soccer, dance, tennis and show choir (yes, show choir – don’t judge my jazz hands). They made it happen for their four girls, without grandparents. And somehow it all worked. My mother likes to remind me, “You can only do what you can do. If they’re late, or if they miss something – they’ll live.”
Simple enough. And in mid-June I’ll be home free.
But last week, after an especially rousing game of catch my son asked,”Hey mom, am I going to try out for travel baseball?”
It’s my own fault. I admit it. The picture looked really easy when a woman I worked with last fall showed me.
When I showed my three kids, who are Minion lovers, the picture of impish yellow heads sitting on blue frosted cupcakes, they went nuts.
“Will you make these for my birthday?” begged my son Josh.
“Sure! I can make those.” I boasted, pretty confident that he’d forget about the cupcakes when his birthday rolled around seven months later.
Like many of my parenting assumptions, I was wrong. Josh, the king of remembering random sports stats, never forgot about those cupcakes. A month before his birthday, Josh came to me and said it was time to plan his birthday party. I froze.
He’s only had one party, when he turned six. Eight boys came over to our house. One fell in a puddle, a glass broke, one screamed “cheater” during touch football, and another wanted to go home. That was in the first fifteen minutes. As one of four girls, I looked over at my husband and shakily asked, “So, is this what boys do?” He nodded slowly.
So I’ve sworn off boy birthday parties. Terrible, I know.
“Well, if I’m not having a party,” Josh says. “Can you make those Minion cupcakes for my class?”
What?! He remembered. But really, how hard can they be?
Two boxes of Twinkies, a massive bag of Smarties (sorting through each roll for the white ones), tube of icing, sprinkles, two boxes of cake mix and two cans of electric blue frosting later, I was on my way to a Pintrest nightmare. Even the check out lady at Kroger looked uneasily at my cart, as if to say “Do you really need all those Twinkies, lady?”
That Saturday night (yes, this is what Saturday night has become) I was parked at the kitchen counter, smearing on eyeballs and poking sprinkles on top of little Minion heads. Thanks to a strong gimlet, some of the smiles are a little crooked. Word to the baking wise, never drink and decorate.
When I finally sat those babies on top of the blue frosted cupcakes, my kids crowded around like they were looking at the eighth wonder of the world. The builders of the pyramids had nothing on me.
“These are the best treats ever!” Josh yelled gleefully.
Crooked and crazy looking, they were. And categorized as a “Never Again” project. Why do we do this to ourselves? These half Twinkie, smartie-eyed, blue frosting smeared messes symbolized a mother’s guilt. Perhaps some store-bought cookies could symbolize my no-birthday-party-guilt next year. It would save me some serious time to feel mother guilt about something else.
The report from school was a thumbs-up from the second grade class. Not a picky crowd, I’m sure just blue frosting out of the can would have been a hit. But the birthday boy was pretty happy and I guess I’m a sucker for his sweet smile.
“So good, Mom!” Josh said as he ran down the hall, bumped into a wall, yelled ‘whoo hoo’ and pretended he was hitting a baseball.
On second thought, Minion cupcakes instead of eight boys doing that in my house? Hmmm..
On Friday, I will be free.
Sure, I will have three children running wild through my house until the beginning of September. Of course, they’ll fight every two hours and repeatedly ask me what we’re doing next. Yes, they’ll leave the top off the sandbox when it rains, their dirty shoes will crowd the back step and a trail of snack food will cover the pantry floor. And I imagine I’ll be begging the school district to take them back early in mid August.
But it’s a trade I’m willing to make for freedom from the worst parental school year chore of all time.
I can’t stand it. It’s the nightly ritual I dread. It would seem so simple to pack a lovely, nutritious meal for your darling child to eat each day at school. But it ends up making me feel like a grouchy, short order cook who goes through a box of Ziploc baggies a week.
There’s never a quick or simple way to do it. One kid likes mustard, the other doesn’t. One wants wheat bread, one likes white. One wants ham, another pb & j, one wants sliced melon, another wants grapes. I’m sure there’s a super mom out there that makes those cutesy, Pinterest-inspired, fun kid lunches that turn cucumber, turkey and hummus into a fake sushi roll. Yeah, you win, lady. I don’t even operate in your league.
Perhaps it’s awful because I do it at the end of the day when the kids go to bed. After chauffeuring children to ballet, soccer and baseball games, eating dinner in different shifts, tackling homework, supervising baths and showers and chasing them into bed (“can’t I please stay up 5 more minutes?” NO.), I’m ready to be done. But when I get back to the kitchen, ready to put my feet up, there is a Hello Kitty lunch bag smiling at me. Pack me, it says. I want to punch the Kitty bag in the face.
Oh, I know. You say I should pack them in the morning. But I can’t bring myself to add yet another component to the morning grind. It’s enough for me (not a morning person) to get the kids out the door to school with everything they need. Like shoes and combed hair. I have to admit, I do have help. My husband Jamie will give me a hand at making the lunches at night. It is such a loathsome task, that it has become a grand romantic gesture if the other volunteers to do it. Sad that I dream of Ryan Gosling riding up on a white horse, handing over a glass of red wine and saying “Hey Girl, you go relax. I’ll make the lunches.”
But freedom is so close I can taste it. Taste it like a ham and cheese sandwich with mustard on white, lemonade, sliced strawberries and two chocolate chip cookies. And a freezy pack to keep it cold.
So farewell, lunch boxes until the fall. I’ve reclaimed that annoying 20 minutes I lost – in exchange for having the kids home. All day. Hmm.
“I’m going to the basement,” my just turned 4-year-old daughter declared.
“Sure,” I said while trying to de-clutter the kitchen.
A few minutes later I heard loud music coming from the karaoke machine and a little voice belt into the microphone:
“I’M FEELIN’ SEXY AND FREEEEE!”
And proceeded to hear my tiny child sing the song “Domino” – (by Jesse J, if you’ve never had the pleasure) complete with lyrics:
Dancing in the moonlight… Take me down like I’m a Domino… Oh baby baby got me feelin’ so right…
I felt sure that a 4-year-old proclaiming her sexiness into a microphone cranked on high would bring protective services to my door in a matter of minutes. So I went charging downstairs. And turned the music off.
“I’m singing,” my child protested.
“I know,” I said. “That’s the problem.”
This is the third child who cannot remember to put away the pile of naked Barbies strewn around her room, but yet has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to lyrics. She can perform “Moves Like Jagger,” “Dynamite” and “Single Ladies”. Not to mention multiple Lady Gaga tunes and “Home” by Phillip Phillips.
It’s my fault, I know I know I know. Reason #324 why I will not receive the ‘Mother of the Year’ award.
She listens to music with her older sister. A little Taylor Swift here, a little Katy Perry there. I thought it was pretty harmless. But after eight years of listening to nursery rhymes, toddler tunes and the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, we’re finally listening to the radio when we’re all together in the van (I now know too much about Radio Disney). While I have a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old, I seem to have forgotten I still have a 4-year-old sitting in the back. With a really good memory.
As tried to figure out just when I lost all control of the proper upbringing of my child, I had flashbacks of my own history with risqué tunes at a young age. I could sing Rod Stewart (If you want my body and you think I’m sexy..) “Centerfold” by J. Geils Band was in my 45’s collection. Who let me listen to that??
My mother. Aha! The same mother who let me sing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon from the back of our station wagon. She also let me listen to the soundtrack of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and a lot of Neil Diamond. So perhaps it all balanced out.
I vowed to find better song selections to prevent my sweet child from turning in Honey Boo Boo’s best friend. Perhaps some 80’s easy listening. So on our way to Target (I’m always going to Target) I flipped the stations. She heard a snippet of one song.
“Go back!” she yelled. “I like this one!”
“I WANNA SCREAM AND SHOUT AND LET IT ALL OUT… “she sang.
Maybe Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t be so bad for a little while longer.
It’s just a word.
But it’s really offensive to some people. And by some people, I mean me.
I can’t just throw the F-word out there or use it during any old conversation. It’s never uttered around strangers, only people I know well. The F-word is used only for emphasis. I always cringe when I’ve said it.
So, (deep breath) here I go.
There. I said it. I’m (gasp) forty.
I love when women who are forty find out that you have turned forty. They say things like “Welcome to the club!” and “What moisturizer are you using now?” and “Might as well have fun, we’re into middle age!” (that sentence is usually accompanied by a small sob). It’s also fun to be with women who are two years away from forty. They say things like, “It’s not so bad!” and “It’s just a number.” Of course it is. They’re not forty. One of my dear friends likes to tease me and say “So, how’s it feeling these days being forty?” I love her. And yet I’ve threatened to kick her in the shins.
I know, I know, forty is the new thirty, fifty is the new forty (28 is still the age cut off for American Idol).
Some people are shocked because I reveal my actual age. I’m a television anchor, and in that line of work, women usually start pulling their faces upward, injecting laugh lines and get very vague on the number of candles on their cake. Thankfully I don’t work for Entertainment Tonight. I’m on PBS. And in PBS years, I’m 25.
I’ve had many months to get used to my forty woman self, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw it in print. A friend of mine asked me for a quote to go in an article she was writing. So she got the information and then asked me my age and hometown. That Sunday I opened up the paper, and there it was. Christy McDonald, 40.
Yech! I remember when my parents were forty! They were old!
I think the problem is, I still haven’t felt the “Ah-ha” moment of embracing my beautiful, forty self. And that’s the dirty secret of the F-word. We’re told by every talk show and magazine to love our age and feel empowered by it. But at the same time we’re force-fed pictures of 40-ish stars who Botox, wax, pluck, air brush and fast their way to a perfectly non-forty appearance. I don’t see them hanging around on the soccer game sidelines, coordinating car pools, working long hours and teaching children to tie shoes. Except maybe for Jennifer Garner because she’s always pictured doing those things in People Magazine.
I also find myself wondering what the 40 and over rules are. Can I still buy something at “Forever 21″? Do I have to start reading “Good Housekeeping”? (The headlines are catchy. I do want a cleaner closet.) Forty also brings special recognition, like the fact I’m eligible to play on a “40 +” tennis team. And it brings some kind of adolescent break out on my chin I suddenly acquired two months ago. My dermatologist said I could thank age, hormones and stress for that.
I say no thanks.
I found this quote from Mark Twain that I guess puts it all together.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
So, I am forty, hear me roar. Or really, hear me kinda mumble it. And I better enjoy forty.
Forty-one is coming soon enough.
My phone chirped while sitting on the kitchen counter. I had a text message. Texts are always slightly exciting. It means someone wants to talk to you right now. But they don’t really want to talk to you, or they’d call. But they do want to talk to you sooner than later because they don’t want to send an email and wait for you to randomly check your in-box.
So I had a text. I clicked on the message bubble and there it was.
The sender? My 9-year-old daughter. Who was in her room. No, this can’t be happening, I thought. It was like that scene from a horror flick when the cop says, “We’ve traced the call, it came from inside the house.”
“Caroline?” I called.
“Yeah,” she yelled from upstairs. “Did you get my text?”
Yes, I did. And it felt like life would never be the same. There was her name, as the sender. Instead of my friends, sisters, husband – it was my daughter. Who let this child have a device that could send messages?
Oh yeah, we did. It was a decision Jamie and I agonized over. Most of the kids in school had either a hand-held game device, iPod or iPad (as we realized on special “electronics” days when they could bring them in. That’s a whole other blog). Caroline had borrowed her cousin’s DS and had shown she could follow rules of use. She didn’t break it or abuse it. We felt that she was ready. I wasn’t sure I was.
So the iPod was a gift for her birthday. She promptly loaded it with music, “Fruit Ninja” and some American Girl game. A few weeks later, came the next big question.
“Mom, my friends were wondering if I could text them. Can I?”
We sat Caroline down and explained that what you write on a device will stay there. You can’t take it back. We also tried to explain that written words could be interpreted in different ways when you’re not there to actually say them. But is it really any different from the phone calls I made to friends when I was in the 3rd grade? Or the crazy notes I wrote and passed while in class?
With strict (very, very strict) rules in place, she sent her first texts. They’re pretty harmless (one of the rules? We get to read them.) A lot of “Hi!” and “What did you have for dinner?” And smiley faces.
I look at her now (ears plugged into her little device) listening and singing along to Taylor Swift (“Never, everrr, everr getting baaack togethaaa) . She just learned how to ride a bike! (3 years ago) She loves Disney Princesses! (4 years ago) She still takes a nap! (no she doesn’t) Where did the time go? Does this mean I’m older? (yes)
I’ve had babies for so long, that one text finally made me realize, I’m truly done with diapers, cribs and strained peas. I almost have a tween.
I sat comfortably in my chair on the other side of the one-way mirror, ready for a good show. Ten little 3-year-old ballerinas started waving their hands and twirling around.
One did not.
Instead, this little ginger-haired child grabbed the front of her leotard, looked down at the floor and refused to move.
The teacher tried to coax her to join the group.
The wayward ballerina started sidestepping away from the circle, as the rest of the group flapped and wiggled. Pouty ballerina suddenly caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She frowned. And then promptly stuck her pointer finger up her nose.
The mothers in the observation room all started to giggle. Except for me.
Because that was my nose-picking ballerina. My child was suddenly “that kid” who wouldn’t participate, distracted others and picked their nose. Yes indeed, a parents’ worst nightmare. Dreams of the New York City ballet (or a guest starring role on “Dance Moms”) shattered, I excused myself and went into the dance class.
“Catherine,” I hissed.
She looked over at me. Finger still precariously close to the nose. I gestured wildly for her to come over to me. And when she did, her face crumpled and she started to cry. I wasn’t sure if it was in preparation for a nose-picking reprimand or not. Then I heard the music.
It was the Chicken Dance.
“Kitty, why won’t you dance?” I asked.
“Because I DON’T KNOW THIS DANCE,” she sobbed.
Suddenly, another ballerina caught wind of the escalating Chicken Dance angst, and she started crying too. Another mom stormed into the room and I couldn’t even look at her – knowing that my child had started the sympathetic crying syndrome. (Sympathetic crying: The ritual of crying just because someone else is crying, not because you really feel bad or anything hurts. Much like the sympathetic wee-wee, which is wanting to go potty just because someone else does)
I was bewildered at her behavior. This is my third child. Catherine goes happily to preschool three mornings a week. She strikes up conversations with strangers. She can belt out Katy Perry songs on the karaoke machine. She never met a mirror she didn’t like.
Perhaps it was the goofy, polka beat of the Chicken Dance that cast some kind of scary spell. The flapping arms and behind shaking can silly. Believe me, I’ve had some scarring Chicken Dance experiences myself. And one involved dancing with someone’s old uncle and a few too many Tom Collins.
But for a three year old, the Chicken Dance should be the most amazing fun ever! Not for my ballerina. She barely could finish class. I hoped that next week would be better.
It wasn’t. She did get through the first fifteen minutes, but it all fell apart again after the Chicken Dance. Thankfully, no nose picking this time. I had to bribe/threaten her to stay in class. And kept repeating, “You’re really having fun!”
We’ll give it one more shot next week. But perhaps she’s just wise beyond her years.
The Chicken Dance really does stink.