Lunch Box Confession

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.

Packing lunches.

Please, not another lunch

Please, not another lunch

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 Threw Out The Mona Lisa

It was the ear shattering shriek heard throughout the house.

“Mooooommmmm!”

It was very close to the “I’m dying” yell and the “I just vomited” yell.

So I ran towards my 6-year-old son’s room.  There he was, in tears and standing over a grocery bag I had just started to fill with trash.

“You’re throwing out my ART?!”  Josh asked in amazement.

The Mona Leprechaun

Yes, in the little garbage bag was a leprechaun mask he made in Kindergarten.  Made from construction paper and held up with a stick.   The ‘ol leprechaun had been buried under a stack of homemade “Go Red Wings” pictures, Lego magazines and “Fly Guy” books on the tiny chair in his room.  Let’s just say leprechaun guy hasn’t been seen from that stack of stuff in about three months, since it came home from school.

And I was on a cleaning binge.  I got that sudden, mysterious and crazy energy to run from room to room and throw out every paper, piece of plastic and string that wasn’t nailed down. And I tackled Josh’s room first.  In terms of collecting random things and refusing to throw them out, (prizes from Dave & Busters, spider rings, old candy)  he’s the worst.

It wasn’t like Mr. Leprechaun was one of only a few works of art he had ever done.  It was project #267 out of #2225.  And if you don’t believe me, you should see his room, which is a shrine to every piece of paper he’s ever written on.  He’ll draw something (it used to be trains, and now its sports scores), go into the kitchen, grab the tape, and put it up on his wall.  Every once in a while I’ll stand in his room and think…. I should take away the tape.

Art Wall

“But I worked hard on that,” he started to cry again.  “Why do you have to throw it out?”

Why?  Because if I held on to every piece of paper he colored, my house would be featured on an episode of Hoarders.

But instantly I felt like the worst mother in the world.  How could you throw out precious pieces of art?  A little person’s expression of creativity? I realized I didn’t know the rule here.  I adore every project my three kids do.  I know it takes them time, creativity and hard work.  (Or one crayon, a few scribbles and ta-da!)  But how long am I supposed to hang on to something?  Should I laminate it all?  Or just throw it out when they’re not looking?

Sigh.

So I pulled the leprechaun mask out of the trash.  He seemed to laugh at me, like “You’re crazy lady. I would have thrown me out too”.   And it’s even more disheveled after spending an hour crunched up in the garbage.  I don’t think you’ll see this craft in the Louvre or the MoMA any time soon.   Fifty years from now, art critics won’t be arguing about the mystery and subtle beauty of the leprechaun.  They won’t print replicas on coffee mugs and t-shirts.  But for Josh, it is proof of his arty talents.  And he is very proud.

I guess DaVinci, Monet and Pollock all had to start somewhere.  I just wonder how many drawings and projects their mothers threw out.

Sorry, But I’m Not Cooking For You Anymore

I’ve had it.

I’m clearing out my pots and pans, grabbing the ‘ol Betty Crocker cookbook and moving to someone else’s kitchen.

Extreme? Yes. But the food torture I’ve endured as the mother of a picky 7, 5 and 2 year old has made me a woman on the edge. They won’t eat anything. Well, they won’t eat anything that has flavor or is actually good for them.

They won't eat this. They won't eat anything.

I have to prod them to eat a few bites of baked chicken. Argue to eat rice. I can’t even cook a vegetable; they all have to be raw. They won’t eat sauce on pasta (Really? What’s the point?) Oh, I’ve read “Parents” magazine. I know the old “put fruit on skewers like it’s fun!” routine. I’ve done it. I’ve rolled fish in corn flakes for a homemade version of fish sticks. I’ve made ketchup available as a dipping sauce for everything. Doesn’t work.

We end up in the same eating routine week after week. Chicken. Plain pasta. Maybe fish (w/ lemon and a side of threats) Tacos. Baked macaroni and cheese (they even refuse to eat the Kraft mac)

Repeat.

So who gets punished? Me (and my husband, he’d like to point out).  We have to endure eating the same thing over and over again because a) I think it’s important to eat as a family b) I don’t want to be a short order cook and fix something different for everyone.

When they were babies they were great eaters, fruits, veggies, fish you name it. I smugly rejoiced at my flexible, plump babies that ate it all. Then they had a processed fish stick, their taste buds turned to the dark side and I found meal planning each week to be an excruciating game of “Who will eat it?”

Ode to Ina

The thing is, I love to cook. I want to cook. I have SIX BURNERS on my stove. I long for creamy risotto, buttery scallops, sweet potato fries, lentils and roasted broccoli. I worship at the recipe altar of Ina Garten (or maybe I just want to hang in the Hamptons and make Jeffrey’s favorite chicken) and like to experiment with interesting flavors and lots of butter. I’m trying to out do Martha by taking on her cookie book (don’t do the gingersnap palmiers, terrible recipe) and I aspire to make my own ricotta cheese.

But the pleasure of cooking has turned into an unhappy chore. Last night I made chicken cordon bleu. What’s not to like about chicken with ham and cheese wrapped up inside? Nobody liked it. My son said to me, “If I eat another piece of this, can I have dessert?”

Somewhere I went wrong.

So kids, you’re on your own. Find some other lady to fix your meals. I’ll be the one eating risotto in the corner. By myself.

Vote Yes, Or My Kids Will Cry

Politics is a dirty business, as the saying goes. So, along with the real identity of Santa Claus and where babies come from, we try to avoid talking politics with our three kids.

Until the neon YES and NO signs popped up across our town. Suddenly, on an innocent drive to the grocery store, I was forced to have “The Talk”.

“What’s going on at the library?”  my 7-year-old daughter called from the back of the van. “That sign says YES! Library.”

Sign, sign everywhere a sign

“Um, there’s a vote for the library.” I said vaguely.

“What do you mean FOR the library? Where is it going? Is it going to CLOSE?” she wailed.

“There’s a car with no top!” yelled 5-year-old Josh. “And Caroline says the library is closing!”

“Wait, wait, wait…” I start to explain.

“NO LIBRARY! NO LIBRARY!” 2-year-old Kitty started chanting.

After calming the rowdy van crowd, I tried to explain that there was a vote (“What’s a vote, Mom?”) to decide if people will pay more taxes (What are taxes, Mom?) for the library.

“It’s a library.” said Caroline matter of factly.  “Why WOULDN’T you want to pay for it?”

Great  point. Sometimes it takes the mind of a child to simply say what adults seem to screw up.  I explained that people had to work hard for their money, and some did not want to pay.

“Can’t we help them pay?” she asked.

“I have some money,” pointed out Josh. “I found a penny in Caroline’s room.”

I tried to explain a millage (“A million, Mom?”), why some people weren’t happy with the city and after a lame Civics 101 lesson… Silence.

“I don’t care,” said Caroline. “I want our Library.”

So for the next month, it became the back seat obsession.  The  kids proceeded to count every YES and NO sign they saw sticking out of front lawns (81 yes, 28 no).  They wanted to know if people were going to burn the books if the library closed. (Yes, that is what one lawn sign said. In jest. Try explaining that.) It was amazing to me that their first real understanding of politics had to come from the least political place I know.

Libraries are escapes from the real world. Quiet (thanks to the drill-sergeant-shusher-librarian) and full of possibility.  The library on the chopping block happened to be the one I grew up going to.  The magical place where I could take out the same “Ramona” book over and over again.  The same place, where I slathered on green eyeshadow in preparation for a study date with a high school crush.  They still have some of the same decorations on the wall (like the poster with the hot air balloon that says “Aim High!”). And when I had my own kids, I took them to story hour.  My son took his first steps reaching for a puppet in the children’s area.

The day of the vote, I realized we had an overdue book in the house.   You know, after taking out a stack of 15 books, one magically (kind of like socks) found itself wedged far underneath the bed. So I returned it.  The library was quiet, the cafe was closed, the library gift shop locked up and dark, all in anticipation of what would happen in the election.  I stood there and realized that perhaps this was the last time I would be in the library.  My eyes got watery.  It must have been dusty in there.

The next day, we got the good news. The millage passed.  Big cheers from the kids, and a big list of books they wanted to check out next.  I hoped it would be awhile before I had to have my next political conversation with the kids.

It wasn’t.

“What’s a debt ceiling?” asked Josh, one day later. “Is it next to my ceiling fan?”

“Yep.” I said.

Shotgun Mini Van Wedding Ends With True Love

I knew I had to marry him, I just didn’t want to.

Everything about him screamed practical, boring and totally uncool. But I had just given birth to my third child two weeks earlier, and I was desperate.

I looked at my current partner.  He was sleek and showy, with the right amount of casual ruggedness. When we were together, we created this fabulous picture of a hip family on the go.  But he betrayed me.  Like that too slick guy that just doesn’t live up to his boastful promises of wanting to be a family man, he couldn’t handle three kids.

Or really, our three car seats couldn’t fit across the back seat.

Yes, my SUV had to go.

The only practical solution my husband and I reached: I had to get a Mini-Van.

(You may wonder why we never tried to put three seats across the back until AFTER the third child was born.  I ask myself that question all the time.  Or really, I ask my husband that question, since he’s the one who kept saying “Of course they’ll fit!”)

Oh yes, running boards

The next week was a blur. I was trying to wrangle a newborn, three-year-old and five-year-old while searching car ads for mini vans.  And we had to unload the SUV at the same time. Thanks to some bartering, dealer fast talk and sheer desperation, we traded our swanky SUV in for a barely used mini van. A week later, my new man rolled up the driveway.  He was metallic blue with running boards(!) and a rear spoiler (!!). No sunroof.  Nothing I would have picked. But it was done, the papers were signed. We were a new couple.  Like an arranged marriage, we sized each other up, and realized we had to make it work. For the sake of the kids.

When friends without vans (FWV) heard the news, they were horrified.  They murmured things like, “It’ll be ok.”  “You won’t have it forever” and “You don’t have to drive it ALL the time.”  I had always told myself, I was never going to be a “Mini-Van Mom” or MVM.  Whatever that means. Where does that stigma come from?  One woman said to me, “People will think you’ve surrendered!”  Surrendered to what?  The fact I have kids?  Um, cat’s out of the bag.  I have three. Surrendered my youth or cool factor?  I still like a pair of good high heels and a strong gimlet.

Except I don’t have to sweat and struggle to fold seats forward and back to put 3 small children in car seats.

Rear spoiler. Seriously.

I can press a button and my side door automatically opens.  Justlikethat.

When I go to the PotteryBarn Outlet, I can fit a new dresser, three kitchen stools and a floor mirror.  In my van.

At tailgate parties, the van holds large coolers of adult beverages, salsa/chips and cocktail shrimp with plenty of room for a nap in the backseat.

I don’t need a clam-top riding on the roof to carry extra belongings for the summer vacation, they all fit inside.

See? He may have been awkward and not the most attractive guy in the beginning.  But he’s made my life easier . And that’s why I’m not ashamed to say, I fell madly in love with my mini van. So I drive my crew with pride, rear spoiler and all.  And even got a few admiring glances the other day from a carload of teens that pulled up next to me.  It was either the van, or the classic Beastie Boys I was blaring on the stereo.

Living in the 80's

Oh *&$@ My Daughter Can S-p-e-l-l

I’m a pretty good speller.

Not like spelling bee obscure word spelling goddess.  I mean rapid fire conversation with multiple spelled words.

Like “Should we go to the  D- a- i – r – y  T- w – i – s – t  for  i- c – e  c – r – e – a – m?”

Or

“I think she’s getting a  s- h – o – t   at the  d- o – c – t – o – r  today”

And

“Buddy, you d- r – i – v – e   like an i- d – i – o – t!”

My husband Jamie and I have learned how to spell everything out because of three children who are nosey, have good hearing and are constantly looking for dessert.

For 6 years, we’ve been able to have random conversations that our kids don’t understand.  I’m a stickler for clean language around the kids.  My language can get a little salty with close friends and my husband.  A choice word here or there to make a point. Or a few points. But we vowed to spell stuff out to avoid enhancing a three-year old’s vocabulary with four letter words.

We’ve even had a few testy exchanges… okay,  fights where we’ve spelled out some flat-out nasty words in the heat of battle.

At times I’ve spelled so many things in a sentence, Jamie has had to stop and say, “Ok, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I admit I’ve spelled out words I didn’t need to, out of habit. Like “Hon, we need some more m- i – l – k.”  But it has happened.  Our oldest, the biggest eavesdropper of them all, can spell.  And she’s a really good speller.

Proof of spelling genius

“So, when should we talk about the p- a – r – t – y?”

“What party?” Caroline pipes up from the other room.

D- R – A – T.

Now what?

You see, once we had kids, we knew life would change.  We didn’t get to enjoy one bite of dinner until the baby was in bed.  So we moved dinner until after 8pm.  As more kids came along, we realized we’d have to scratch tv watching until everyone went to bed. (The Bachelor is not rated G)  Then, as kids got older, we realized we had to wait to have important conversations, like about jobs or in-laws (“Are you talking about Uncle Fred?”), until everyone went to bed.  With the spelling developments, it now seems we must save ALL parental communication until 8pm.  So I’ve made my husband a list of things we can talk about while the kids are awake.

Grocery shopping.

That’s pretty much it. He wanted to add sports, but then realized a few choice words he lets fly when his favorite teams are losing, and that pretty much ended that topic.

So while we’re thrilled Caroline is the best speller in the first grade, we can only look forward to our next two children automatically figuring out everything we’re talking about. And I’m sure Jamie and I will have meaningful, carefree conversations in about 15 years.

# – !- & – % – @.

Next speller: the 5-year-old

Kid Free Flights? They Ought To Ban Snoring Guy, Too

“We’re going on a plane, going on a play-ane!” sang my almost 5-year-old son Josh as we rushed through the airport at the crack of dawn Wednesday.

After herding three kids, with three suitcases, four backpacks and one car seat to the gate, I had aged ten years and was ready to forget the whole trip to Florida.

We boarded the plane, and my ornery two year old shouted “Leave me alone!” when I tried to nudge her down the aisle.

Yes, I saw the look of horror on your face, lady in 5B. And the couple in 11F, who thought our family of 5, might be in their row. Nice grandpa in 17B took a look at my face and said, “Wow, traveling with kids is a lot of work!”

You betcha, grandpa.

We squeezed onto the packed plane, threatened that there would be no desserts if anyone was loud and fired up the DVD player. I took the first sip of coffee all morning and glanced at the USA Today.

I'd sit with these kids over snoring guy any day

Smack on the front page was a graphic that showed a businessman on a plane, trying to read a paper, while a crazed baby seemed to be attacking him from behind and throwing a Sippy cup.

The headline: “Separate Sections, Anyone?”

The story was all about a growing movement to have kid free flights or have family sections on planes, so other passengers wouldn’t be bothered.

Interesting thought, as I glanced at my crew of 3, engrossed in Phineas & Ferb. I’d like to sit in a different section away from them. Kidding! Sort of.

Crying kids are annoying. I get it. I’ve been there as a singleton, begging the airline gods to seat the approaching child someplace else.

I’ve also been the sweating mother, super conscious of dirty looks, who has tried everything to make a crying child stop.

So, yes I get that kids can be annoying on flights.

But who gets to pick what’s annoying? Can I be on the committee?

Maybe the guy on the plane who falls asleep the instant you take off and proceeds to SNORE in your ear for the next three hours. THAT guy should be banned from the plane.

Or how about the person oblivious to personal hygiene rules? Who not only clips fingernails in his seat (seen it), but proceeds to take off his shoes and socks? I’d like a special section for those people, because that ruins my flight. And my appetite.

Perhaps all space invaders should be seated together. You know the ones who recline their seat back into your legs the instant they can. Or the person who hogs both arm rests. I find that highly annoying.

I’d vote for a special section for everyone who comes on the flight dripping with the latest flu, and spreads it throughout the entire cabin with every cough. Surely I’m not the only one annoyed by that.

See?

If airlines start making special sections for what people perceive to be annoying behavior, or even start to ban certain groups, there will be a lot of empty planes.

Most parents I encounter on flights try hard to keep their kids quiet and occupied. If you think it sucks to hear a baby cry 8 rows behind you, what do you think the mother feels like? Yeah, there are some kids who are awful and some parents who do nothing to help.

But most babies can’t control their behavior or rationalize they need to be quiet on a plane.

What’s snoring guy’s excuse?