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Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Photo by Don O'Brien
My dear husband recently introduced me to a new product from the people who brought us the Roomba. It’s a clever little robo-vacuum that sweeps and mops non-carpeted floors and only costs $200.00. Given my acute phobia of all things robotic, he indicated understandable surprise when I told him I wanted one.
“But you don’t even clean the house,” he contended.
My eyelids fell shut as my head involuntarily shuddered side to side. I asked my sweet prince, “Whachoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?!?”
He reminded me that once a month we hire a maid service.
That is entirely true, and I am entirely grateful for that titanic blessing. Because it takes two professionals four hours to clean this domicile top to bottom. That’s eight man hours. Or at least ten me-hours, because I am not a professional in that arena, and I’m kind of slow at it, and I get distracted and end up redecorating the closet or the bedroom or the attic, because I hugely prefer ordering and organizing to sweeping and sanitizing.
It is not possible, EVER, for me to have a completely clean house all at once, if I am in charge of the endeavor, because I never, EVER, have a block of ten (or nine or eight) uninterrupted hours to spend on anything. Therefore we splurge on a cleaning service so that once a month I can walk in and smell nothing but fresh, clean, filth-free happiness.
But does my adorably misguided mate seriously think that’s the only time anything gets de-dirtified around here?
I sent him an email the next day with the subject line “#YesIDoClean” to inform him that I washed, dried, and put away a load of laundry as well as vacuumed the living and dining rooms. I also did my daily broom-sweep to pick up all the litter the obnoxious feline kicks all over the laundry room every time she uses the litter box.
Stupid cat.
That may not sound like much, but it’s not ALL I did that day—just all the CLEANING I did that day.
I also wrote a couple of scenes for the sequel to my novel. Which is, by the way, going to be a breakout smash any day now.
I also called about a bill I paid but got re-billed for, did some scheduling and babysitter procurement, loaded the van with 15 cases of Girl Scout cookies to take to the booth sale I’m managing this evening, and am now about to head over to a meeting with several teachers at the middle school to figure out why one of our cherubs is struggling so fruitlessly to make the grade in one particular class.
When I get home from those activities I’ll empty the dishwasher, make dinner, clean up from dinner, and pack tomorrow’s lunches.
Hey, and I showered today, too. Bonus for everyone!
I really don’t want to give my otherwise peach of a husband a hard time about this, but—
Who am I kidding? Yes, I do.
I don’t clean the house?
I don’t clean the house?!?
Do the toilets have brown skid marks in their bowls and orange rings around the water line? No? Then I CLEANED THE HOUSE.
Do the bed linens smell like it’s time for Yosemite Sam’s yearly dip in the Rio Grande? Nay? Then I CLEANED THE HOUSE.
Does the bathtub resemble the aftermath of a hair-pulling contest in the bayou mud flats? Not so much? THEN I CLEANED THE FREAKIN’ HOUSE!
Stay-at-home moms get little enough credit for actually doing anything, especially once the kids are in school full time. Heck, sometimes even I wonder why I haven’t yet gone back to paid work. Then the school clinic calls to say that Little Girl just barfed all over the teacher, or the principal phones to tell me that Daughter is in her office again and could I please come for a conference, or Son informs me that he signed me up to chaperone a field trip to the Air and Space Museum. Today.
And there are a minimum of three annual pediatrician’s appointments and six dentist appointments, plus the orthodontist and the optometrist… and that’s just for the kiddos.
Yeah, I work pretty darn hard for a lady of leisure who DOESN’T EVEN CLEAN THE HOUSE.
Breathe into the paper bag, Mama. In and out the little paper bag.
The passive-aggressive part of me—which maintains a remarkably elephantine presence, though I strive like Sisyphus to tamp her down—is thinking about putting a temporary full-stop on all cleaning activities undertaken by me:
“Somebody knocked over a bowl of spaghetti in the fridge. Just stack stuff around it.”
“You can’t see through the basement windows? I have no idea what could be done about that.”
“The kitchen sink is growing sentient life forms out of the garbage disposal? How intriguing.”
But that would be immature.
I don’t clean the house. What a load of hooey.
I get it, though. He doesn’t see the cleaning because he’s rarely here when I do the cleaning. I suppose I can regard it a compliment—I keep everything running so smoothly and seamlessly that no one even recognizes what I’m doing.
Sure. I’m going with that explanation. Because I’m too tired from bleaching the grout to initiate a You-Want-a-Piece-of-Me? dialogue when Prince Charming(ly-Oblivious) gets home.
Still, I might skip the lipstick, tie a headscarf around my hair, and leave the Kirby in the middle of the room this evening. Just to make my point.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Easter Week: Resurrection Cookies From Hell

(Photo by Julie)
I'll give you a little foreshadow here: they don't turn out like this.

It's that time of year again. Holy week.
The kiddos and I make Resurrection Cookies every year, on the Saturday evening before Easter. What a delightful time to reflect on the actual meaning of the holiday, to foster a sense of family unity and graciousness, and to bring Christ’s sacrifice out of history and into the home.
He is risen!
1 cup of whole pecans (Almonds will do, or walnuts; if all else fails, have your kids stuff their pockets with the free peanuts at Five Guys and use those. Shell them first.)
1 teaspoon of vinegar (If you’re out of vinegar, vodka works. Don’t ask me how I know that.)
3 egg whites (Good luck separating eggs if you sampled the vinegar alternative above.)
a pinch of salt (That’s more than a sprinkle and less than a dash. What kind of sick mind comes up with quantities like that? Give me numbers, you Martha Stewart-wannabe sadist.)
1 cup of sugar (If you don’t have that much sugar in your house you have more significant problems than I can address here.)
zippered plastic sandwich bag (Get one made from an industrial strength polymer, if you can procure it. Trust me.)
wooden spoon (I’ve also used a rolling pin, a hammer, and the side of my own fist. The last one hurts and leaves marks, but is very psychologically satisfying.)
tape (Any kind will do, based on the trustworthiness of your children. In my house we use Kevlar-reinforced duct tape.)
Bible (Why are you looking for an explanation on this one? Do you not know what this is, where to get one, or why one might consult it at Easter? Heathen.)
Summon your children to the kitchen. This may require disconnecting the Wi-Fi and/or cable. Tell them to stop whining, because “We’re baking Resurrection Cookies and this is a cherished family memory in the making so sit down and be quiet.”
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This is important; don’t wait to do it later. You’ll foul up the cookies before you’ve even started. (Don’t worry: there will be many more opportunities to foul them up.)
Tell your son to stop poking your daughter in the temple.
Place the pecans in the zippered plastic sandwich bag and let the children beat them with the wooden spoon to break the nuts into small pieces.
Take the spoon away from your son and give it to your sobbing daughter who has a welt swelling up on her forearm. Take it away from her when she knocks her brother in the head with it. Give it to the little one, who wields it like a mace and bludgeons one of her siblings in the teeth. Take the spoon away and smack it on the counter to make your point about being kind and gentle with one another, thereby breaking it into two pieces. Get an alternate weapon instrument to finish off the nuts. Pick up the baggie and discover that the shattered nuts have shredded the cheap plastic and are now littered like gravel across your kitchen counter.
Read John 19:1-3 and explain to your bruised and weeping children that after Jesus was arrested he was beaten by the Roman soldiers. (See how nicely this all comes together?)
Let each child smell and taste the vinegar. Put one teaspoon of vinegar into a mixing bowl. Read John 19:28-30, and explain to the children that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink. If you forgot that you were out of vinegar and substituted vodka, give each child an aspirin and some tomato juice. Agree that you won’t tell Daddy they dropped the remote in the toilet if they don’t tell him about this.
Add the egg whites to the vinegar. Eggs represent life, which must be why we hard-boil them, decorate them with pastel colors, and hand them over to a white rabbit to be strewn around our front yards on Easter morning. Makes perfect sense. Explain that Jesus gave his life to give us life. If the children ask for further clarification regarding how eggs relate to Christ’s death and resurrection tell them to stop thinking so much and eat another Salvation Peep or some Sanctification Jelly Bellies.
Read John 20:10-11. Sprinkle a little salt in each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. (Which is completely gross, because who knows where their grubby little paws have been, and now you’ve got both hand-filth and tongue-bacteria in your cookies. Awesome.) Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’s followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27.
Then take the tape away from the kid who’s been messing around with it and spend fifteen minutes extracting it from the hair of the offending child’s nemesis. If you elected to use duct tape, abandon all hope and pull out the scissors or pruning shears. Call to see if your salon has an opening prior to Sunday morning church services. Or drape your child in a headdress and tell everyone she’s re-enacting Mary’s discovery at the tomb.
Get the sugar. Drop it on the floor when one of the kids takes a swing at another one, misses, and connects with your elbow. Clean it up as you sweetly tell your children it’s no big deal and everyone makes messes, darlings. Get more sugar. Add it to the bowl and read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died for our sins because he loves us all and wants us to know and belong to him.
Smack in the back of the head the child who mutters, “Everyone except her.”
Get between that child and the insulted one who shrieks, “Hey!” and goes after her sibling with bared teeth and extended claws.
Meanwhile the third child dips into the bowl for a handful of sugar and spills half the mixture on the floor.
Scoop it all back into the bowl. (It was already germ-infused from the little snotwads’ hands and mouths. What’s a few more microbes at this stage of the game?) Beat it with a mixer on high speed for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed.
The children will have vacated the kitchen by minute three of the mind-numbing mixer step. You will not see them again. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3 to the cat. Explain that the eggs’ white color represents the purity…
Oh, criminey. Just give it up. They’re gone. It’s over.
Have a drink.
Eat some of the candy you bought to put in their Easter baskets. They don’t deserve it anyway.
Have another drink.
Start to feel re-invigorated.
Stand up and take a deep breath.
Bellow, “We’re finishing these @*%# Resurrection Cookies! Get back in this kitchen right now!”
Sweep the broken nuts off your counter and into the bowl, and mix well.
Slap spoonfuls of the stuff onto a wax paper-covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’s body was laid, and that if they don’t sit down, shut up, and listen quietly to Matthew 27:57-60 you’re going to make sure they each get a burial mound of their very own right this stinkin’ minute!
Put the cookie sheet in the oven. Close the oven door and turn the oven OFF. Seal the door with a piece of tape. Threaten to burn their favorite toys if they crack that oven open even one centimeter before tomorrow morning.
Read Matthew 27:65-66, and tell them you don’t care how sad it makes them to do all this work and then leave the cookies in the oven overnight, because they deserve cookies even less than the people who mournfully buried Jesus and left him in the tomb on Good Friday. In fact, they are less deserving than the godless hypocrites who crucified Our Savior and...
Okay. Deep breath.
“Off to bed now, children. Mommy loves you.” (See Evening Vespers.)
On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. They’re hollow! The tomb is empty!
Read Matthew 28:1-9. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
“Um, Mom? They’re not hollow. They’re actually kind of gooey in the middle.”
“Ew! What’s this fuzzy thing sticking out of the bottom?”
“Mommy, did you remember I’m allergic to tree nuts—gaack!”
* * *
Get dressed in your Sunday finest, scrawl “new Epi-Pen” on your weekly shopping list, and head off to church. Tell your Bible study group, to whom you bragged about your annual theological baking foray, that the cookies turned out splendidly. Pray God will forgive you for what you said under your breath about the woman and her perfect little band of Mickey Mouse Club children who hand out homemade cross-shaped cutout cookies, decorated with multi-colored royal icing and sugar glitter and say, “Bless you on this Easter morning!”
Then go home and bite the ears off your children’s chocolate bunnies. Tell each kid that one of the others did it.
Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It's Just a Pair of Shoes

Photo by Caroline

Today I bought my ten-year-old daughter shoes in the same size that I wear.
A few weeks ago I bought myself a snuggly soft sweatshirt that I LOVED and planned to wear day and night until the wonderful garment fell apart at the seams. Then I washed it and the rotten thing shrank a size and a half. So my daughter—the one who now wears the same size shoe I do—is the proud new owner of my formerly almost all-time favorite sweatshirt.
These things perturb me for several reasons.
First, and most obvious, such events point to the fact that my children are aging. And if they are aging, so am I.
That’s not really news. I don’t live in Neverland, and I recognize that every year the candles on my birthday cake get harder to blow out and closer to precipitating a 911 call if a neighbor glances in the window and mistakes my party for a raging indoor bonfire.
But when the kids were babies, I could imagine people assumed me to be eighteen or twenty or twenty-five. When you’re walking down the street with a gaggle of pre-teens, however, nobody supposes you were a child bride. The youngest I can probably get away with now is mid-thirties.
Hey—a thirty-five-year-old can have some gray hair. And crow’s feet. And instantly sprout five inches around the hips when she pops a French fry in her mouth. Sure she can.
Anyway, I can also no longer say I am the mother of small children. The boy is my height and growing past me like a teenage mutant ninja sunflower on an IV cocktail of Human Growth Hormone and Monsanto’s All-New Super-Whamodyne Radioactive Fertilizer Formula 13. I am no longer the only female in the house who owns a pair of breasts. And recent topics of conversation in our home have included menstruation, body hair, and why pornography is a really bad thing for you and your future and your sexual health and everybody else and their future and their sexual health, no matter what Hollywood and Victoria’s Secret and Dr. Ruth Oppenheimer have to say on the subject.
I miss Dr. Seuss so very much.
Everything is so high-stakes now that they’re bigger. I remember losing sleep and possibly a friend or two over philosophical debates about attachment parenting vs. On Becoming Babywise. But you know what? It’s pretty impossible to tell which seventh-graders got put to bed in cribs and which ones slept between their parents when they were infants.
Nowadays, instead of “Do you want to wear the blue dress or the red pants?” the questions in our lives comprise things like:
Do you want to take your elective in violin or robotics?
What code word can we use when you need a parent to rescue you from a situation you don’t want to be in but you need to not look like a geek or a square or a narc or whatever pejorative term is used today to put down kids who know better than to do really stupid things?
How do I explain why Jessica’s parents live in different cities, or why Heather has two mommies, or why I will never, ever allow you to go over to Billy’s house though he’s always welcome at ours?
I’ve already had to instruct my daughter that if a boy says he’ll DIE if you don’t kiss him, you are obligated to do nothing to save that boy, except maybe ask if he knows Jesus before he cashes in his chips.
I’m not ready for this. I’m not up to this. I’m not even sure my own inner child ever fully grew up.
And yet they’re starting to be able to wear my clothes.
It’s said that to really understand someone you must walk a mile in their shoes.
I don’t want my kids to walk anywhere in my shoes. In addition to shredding the crap out of my footwear, they may find out that I don’t really know as much as I pretend to. And that when I say, “I don’t know,” I really don’t know; I’m not just trying to goad them through their own logic-finding process by feigning ignorance.
Well, maybe sometimes I do that.
I want them to still want to be tucked in. But only the littlest one still does. And I’m afraid I can count the evenings left for those sweet moments without getting far into the triple digits.
I want them to still think I’m brilliant. But I’ve already been told that I don’t know anything about it because things today are entirely different than when I was a kid.
I want them to still need me. But Hubby and I have been working hard for over a decade to teach them how to be independent and make wise decisions and live upright and unimpeachable lives.
I know, I know. It’s just a pair of shoes.
It’s just a pair of shoes.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

My Husband's Permission

Photo by Keith Ellwood

This morning I dropped my car off at the auto shop for an oil change. The guy at the desk asked which of the phone numbers in our profile he should call when they finished it.
“My cell,” I said. “My husband’s out of town, so if you contact him he’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The mechanic joked, “He’ll say, ‘I didn’t give her permission to take the car in!’”
Right. That cracked me up. I told the guy, “No. He’ll say, ‘That’s awesome she took care of the oil change!’” Because the old man will be thrilled to not have car maintenance on his plate after he gets back from a four-day business trip to the other side of the lower forty-eight.
But as I walked the mile home from the garage my inner feminist popped up and roared.
“‘Permission’?” I seethed.
I think I may have even gotten a little head-snap action going.
“I don’t need no stinkin’ permission from my husband to take care of business.”
An impulse seized me to march right back into the auto shop and give that macho, patriarchal, condescending misogynist a piece of my independent, empowered, indignant female mind.
But then I realized that I probably couldn’t have spoken anything better into that moment than I already did. After all, here’s what my response told the mechanic:
You’re mistaken about how my husband would interpret this situation.
My husband not only trusts my decisions, but appreciates my efforts.
I’m so confident in myself and my marriage that the sexist implications of your statement don’t threaten me enough to light me up. In fact, I find them fairly hilarious.
When I responded to the mechanic I didn’t give much thought to my words. I wasn’t trying to make a point, or put a guy who made a dumb joke in his place, or wave a banner and blow a trumpet in the name of the holy sisterhood of bra-burners. I just corrected a guy’s faulty assumption. And I didn’t have to alienate or denigrate or provoke him in the process.
Wow. Truth is powerful.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Cheerio Crime of Hebetudinous Proportions

Photo by Lia Kurtin

I took a box of Cheerios out of the cabinet yesterday and looked inside to find what appeared at first glance an empty bag.
But the bag was not empty.
In the bottom lay five sad little Cheerios.
And I knew exactly why they were there.
Whoever last enjoyed Cheerios for breakfast realized that if they finished off the contents they’d be expected to 1) throw the empty plastic bag in the trash, and 2) break down the cereal box and inter it in the recycle bin.
Now, dear reader, I know what you’re thinking: “What kind of sadistic slave driver demands that sort of backbreaking labor from mere children? You… You… Attila the Mum!”
Cruel. Barbaric. Demanding to the point of despotism. Yep, that’s me. I’ll tell you what I tell my kids: I take classes to learn how to more effectively render their lives miserable.
Anyway, I’m pretty confident that whoever left exactly enough Cheerios in the cabinet to re-create the Olympic flag in their bowl of milk rationalized such hebetude (I just discovered hebetude in the thesaurus under synonyms for laziness—it’s an awesome word and I’m going to use it all the time now) something like this:
I really should not eat all of the Cheerios, because someone else might like to have a bowl of Cheerios in the future. I will kindly leave the next person a serving of Cheerios. What a thoughtful boy/girl/hebetudinous cretin I am!
Last night at dinner I held the all-but-empty bag of Cheerios up to my family as Exhibit A.
“What do you think would be the reaction of a person who, upon experiencing a craving for Cheerios, discovered this in the cabinet?” I asked my doe-eyed progeny.
And guess what I learned? None of them eat Cheerios. Ever. As in, no one sitting around my table has ever eaten a Cheerio in the history of Cheerios. They all claimed full, shameless, and implausibly deniable innocence.
“Maybe it was you, Mom!” one claimed.
Attila the Mum doesn’t even eat cold cereal.
“It was probably Dad,” another tried.
Dad has his own separate and personal stash of Sharpie-scrawled “DAD’S!” cereal boxes which live on the roof of the pantry, out of the reach of his children’s grubby little paws. The reasons for this may become the subject of another blog post sometime in the future.
If my kids are to be believed, there is either a Cheerio-noshing poltergeist inhabiting our home, or one of the neighbors broke in during the night when he had the munchies but couldn’t stave off his hunger long enough to drive to the 7-11.
They even implied that the cat might be to blame.
Given what a terrible, awful, no good, very bad creature she is, that blame-shift attempt wasn’t entirely bad thinking on the part of the short people. Sketchy inculpation of the nearest available scapegoat? Politics may be in one or more of my children’s futures.
But, since no one owned up to the crime, I’m considering options for making the natural consequences of repeating such an egregious act of selfish hebetude (I love that darn word) so unpleasant it will never happen again.
Here are a few of my ideas:
§  Five pieces of cereal are now considered a serving in our household. You may have multiple servings, but you must close the cereal bag and the cereal box and return them to the cabinet between each serving, as well as finish all the milk in your bowl before pouring subsequent servings. That last part shouldn’t be hard, as a cereal-size serving of milk will now be one tablespoon.
§  Or: Cereal—and only cereal—will be the sum total of the items on the breakfast menu in this household from now on. But there will be no more Cheerios, or Super Chocolate Sugar Freaks, or Bubba Berry Blue Blast-Offs. Our cabinet will contain things like Special K-an’t Eat This, Original Shredded Cardboard, and Flax-Crusted Oat Bran Granola with Toasted Asparagus Tips.
§  Or maybe: All servings of all food—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—will consist of single, half dollar-sized portions of everything. For your meat you may have one chicken nugget, alongside a single tater tot, accompanied by five or six peas and/or a cherry tomato. None of us will ever struggle with obesity, because we will eat our meals off teacup saucers. And think of the money we’ll save on groceries!
Okay, maybe I’m making too much out of this. It’s just a single, petty episode of I’m-too-lazy-to-do-the-right-thing-and-too-selfish-to-care. It’s not like members of my family also run off with their exciting new purchases and abandon the empty plastic bags and receipts on the table or the kitchen counter or the bedroom floor. Nor do Amazon boxes and their air-filled packing bubbles lie around my house like so many dead bodies in the aftermath of an earthquake at the county morgue. And no one ever dumps the contents of their pockets or backpacks on the most convenient horizontal surface, to remain there till Mom deals with the detritus or Jesus comes back.
No, this is probably just a case of me being a fault-finding, guilt-tripping, hyper-judgmental shrew who needs to get out of the house more.
So toward that end, I’m going to grab my purse and head over to the community center. They’re offering a class tonight called “I Hope You Have Kids Just Like You Someday!”: A Mother’s Guide to Super-Effective Intergenerational Curses.
Let me know if you want a copy of the syllabus.