Thursday, April 10, 2014

When Does the Grown Up Get Here? - My Messy Beautiful

We celebrated my father's birthday a few years back, and at the end of our dinner he raised a glass and announced to his assembled family,

"Well, I can tell you one thing for sure. You never do feel seventy-five!"

I knew just what he meant. 

I try, as often as possible, to spend time with my childhood BFF. Whenever we're together it's like old times. We laugh like crazy, we rage like emotionally unbalanced teens, and we generally act like the kids we were back when we first met. Then at some point her 23-year-old son will saunter into the room and stun us with the hard truth that what we are, in 2014, is a pair of forty-something moms on an ill-advised weeknight bender.

We've all had this experience, right? Where the very realness of our current reality proves just so out of step with the way we perceive ourselves that our brains can't…quite...manage to...keep up.

I'll give you another example.

Several years ago my car broke down on the 101 freeway in Los Angeles. I don't remember the exact mechanical details, but suffice it to say that without warning my vehicle decided to stop being a vehicle and to become instead a giant car-shaped paperweight completely incapable of forward motion.

I panicked. 

Trucks and automobiles were whizzing by me on either side at alarming speeds. I prayed that perhaps some kind soul might lend a hand, but passing motorists merely slowed in order to offer a shouted critique of my driving abilities and/or to briefly proffer a raised middle finger and a facial expression designed to convey, 

"Thanks for ruining the freeway! You. Are. Terrible."

I did the only thing I could think of. I called my Mommy. 

From the 3rd lane of one of the busiest freeways in America I sat in my smoking vehicle, crying, and I called my mother -- a woman with absolutely zero automotive knowledge who was, at the time, over 3,500 miles away in the suburbs of New York City.

My mom picked up the phone, and after finally making sense of my situation through my frantic sobs responded abruptly,

"Well, darling! What in the hell are you calling me for?"

I didn't have what you'd call a "logical" response to what was, in truth, a pretty fair question. 

But as I look back, I understand that I was calling for a reason. I was calling because in spite of the fact that I was close to thirty years old at the time, I'd managed to get so overwhelmed that I'd opted to abandon any pretense of being an adult and instead just kind of commit to curling up in a very small ball, staying completely still, and hoping that a "real grown-up" would magically show up and make everything OK again.

It's a feeling I get sometimes.

I was thirty-seven the night I sat trying to soothe my firstborn child through his early hours home from the hospital. As I rocked and sang to him I just kept thinking,

"Wow, this seems a little advanced for me. I sure wish an adult would come and, you know, actually take care of this little guy."

Just a year earlier I'd sat holding my husband's hand in the warm office of a Texas funeral home making arrangements for his father's memorial service. As we began to work out the details I found myself summoning what willpower I could muster to keep from actually saying out loud,

"Um -- shouldn't we wait until a grown-up gets here before doing any of this?"

It's a panic reaction really. 

It's this feeling of being an impostor -- a frightened kid in a grown woman's body who is IN NO WAY CAPABLE of dealing with the things that real adults have to face.

But the truth is, of course -- those magical grown-ups? They're not coming. (I mean, to be fair, the Triple A guy who dragged me off the highway was an adult and he was pretty magical in that he didn't even goof on me for bawling and he let me finish his Big Gulp to help me calm down -- but that's not really what I'm talking about here.) 

I now have three children of my own. I am at a stage of my life in which bruises and bad days and good days and accidents and outings and diagnoses and dilemmas and sometimes even terrible awful deaths are going to keep arriving at my grown up doorstep -- mine to figure out and navigate.

And that -- I mean IT'S LIKE REALLY REALLY FREAKY you guys!!!

But there's no sense in panicking, right?

So instead I do what I can. I try to offer comfort. I attempt to soothe. I work at meeting the "big girl" challenges with whatever flawed and fraught and frantic solution I have at any given moment.

I work on accepting the fact that I'm not the caller anymore. I am the one who gets called.

And what else can I do but try to do it. Try to answer.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

There Were Three in the Bed (room)

We have three children under six and we live in a two bedroom house, which means that of late we have found ourselves desperately trying to figure out how to get all three of our kids to sleep in the same room at the same time.

I'm not gonna lie -- it hasn't been going that well.

When we first moved into this home we had one 7-month-old baby. Having moved from a one-bedroom apartment, this place felt downright ENORMOUS. I mean SIX WHOLE ROOMS. What would we ever do with that amount of space?

What we ended up doing was having two more kids in the next three years - - and suddenly our castle started feeling much more like a tiny little cabin.

When my second son was born, we optimistically set up the "kids' room" with a nice white crib right alongside his brother's "Big Boy Bed". What we failed to foresee was that older brother would see this as an open invitation to leap upon his supine brother Wrestlemania-style whenever we placed him down at rest time.

Scrambling to protect our baby's delicate internal organs, we opted to move him to a Pack-n-Play in the living room until he was able to gain control of his limbs and scurry away from his older bro's athletic enthusiasm.

When our second son hit the 18-month mark we felt it was time to move the boys back together. 

And a whole new set of problems began.

Each night we'd march through the steps of our carefully planned bedtime ritual. We'd bathe our boys lovingly, read them tender stories, and then tuck them gently into their beds and quietly shut the door...

…at which point a room-destroying party of truly epic proportions would commence. Those two boys would unleash themselves upon their surroundings like rabid baboons, pulling clothes from the drawers, breaking toys left and right, and at one particularly low point ripping their entire dresser from where it was bolted (BOLTED!) to the wall, toppling it onto the floor and then gallivanting atop it "Lord of the Flies" style.

I'm telling you people, Charlie Sheen would have been like, "Tone it down a notch, guys. You're embarrassing yourselves."

Can you spot the two year old in this actual bedtime photo?

And you're probably thinking to yourself -- why didn't you just, you know, stop them?

Well, I'll tell you why!

1. Because it was 8pm and I didn't have the energy.

2. Sometimes toddlers scare me.

In fairness, I did make a promise to myself that I would get up and intervene if anyone started an actual fire.

Eventually the boys would tire themselves out with all their manic carnage, and at about 9pm we'd go pick them up from wherever they'd landed prone on the floor and put them back in their beds for the night.

The system had its flaws, but it was actually fairly effective. Before long the excitement of all-brother bedtime wore thin and our evenings calmed down significantly.

That is, until we added a little sister to the mix.

After her own long months of Pack-n-Play confinement, a few weeks ago our daughter was ready for her transfer to "the kids' room". 

We'd been through this difficult phase before and we felt pretty prepared. But the truth is that nothing -- NOTHING could have prepared us for the reality of three in one room.

The arrival of their younger sibling seemingly brought all of our sons' room-destroying instincts back to the fore. 

And as for their sister? 

It's as if the very act of turning off the lights each evening awakens deep within our daughter a dormant party animal with a burning need to host her very own super-rockin' all-night toddler-fest. 


The games at this totally rad event include but are not limited to:

Unfold All the Clothes!

See How Loudly I Can Shriek Like an Injured Orangutan!

Slam One of My Roommates' Fingers in the Sliding Door! NOW HARDER!

This Toy Is Mine! Can You Not Tell By My Hours-Long Tantrum That All I Say Is True????

Is This Something I Should Eat? Even Though Mom Specifically Told Me Eight Times That It's Not??

I Know! I'll Take the Hair Off My Brothers' Eyebrows Using Only My Hands!

WAKE UP! WAKE UP! It's Morningtime! Ha-Ha - Just Kidding It's 11:30pm and I Haven't Fallen Asleep Yet!!

Bounce On My Bed! Bounce On Another Bed! Bounce On a Sleeping Brother's Head!!!

It's a horror show.

Even my sons have lost their enthusiasm at this point. Sure they love a raucous late-night bacchanal as much as the rest of the under-six set, but this girl? 

She's too much even for them. 

My oldest emerged yesterday morning, eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, and laid his hand on my arm.

"Mom", he said seriously, "You've got to do something about her. She's just too crazy."

So our daughter's been banished. She's no longer welcome in the kids' room at bedtime. Instead, we've taken the mattress off of her bed and placed it in the corner of the playroom where she can run wild until finally passing out, often after everyone else in the house is fast asleep.

It's a solution for now.

Do not be fooled by adorable owl sheets. SHE'S A MENACE!

Until she calms down.

Or we find a bigger house.

Whichever comes first. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No More Wandering, Cause I'm Not Lost

This piece…

…from the New Yorker has been everywhere this week because it is, you know, perfection.

Having been a parent for exactly five-and-a-half years this week, I've been through countless iterations of the "new must-have parenting system!!!!" 

I've been told:
  • Be a TIGER MOM and your kid can go to Juilliard on a harpsichord scholarship! AT AGE NINE!!!!
  • Don't be a HELICOPTER MOM! Let your kids roam wild like we used to when we were young! You are stifling those young folk through your obnoxious insistence on safety gear!
  • FEAR the unrelenting terror of the BOOMERANG CHILD who moves home after college --- JOBLESS! If this happens it will be YOUR FAULT and society will judge you even as your reprobate offspring steals pieces of that pizza you and your husband thought you ordered JUST FOR YOURSELVES!
  • Practice ATTACHMENT PARENTING and save your offspring from the deep psychological scars that will result from your overwhelming desire to, you know, put them down sometimes!!!
  • CHICKEN NUGGETS??? For God's sake, woman -- are you not aware that at this very moment young children IN FRANCE are sitting down to a delicious 9pm meal of smoked octopus for the simple reason that their parents ESCHEW SNACKING???
It can get a little, you know, overwhelming. 

The truth is that most responsible people want to do important jobs well. It is also true that most of us are responsible people. It is even further true that raising children, as important jobs go, is way up there. But it's not a job quite like becoming a doctor, which takes years of schooling followed by residency training. Or becoming a lawyer, which takes intense study, the results of which must be proven by passing the bar exam. 

Becoming a parent takes, you know, getting laid one time, and then 9-months-later someone hands you a precious infant and tells you to care for it into adulthood. Oh, and please don't have it turn out to be crazy or annoying or a drain on society.

And, having no idea how to do that one is tempted to think,

"OK - there must be someone out there who has already figured this thing out!" 

"Perhaps they have answers for me as to how to stop this creature who has now invaded my peaceful home from doing all this screaming and peeing and tantruming and biting and OMG did you just put my shoes in the toilet????"

Such questions are asked with all good intent, but all too often this proves to be the first step on a road of crazy that finds one attempting to parent like a Maori tribeswoman one week and like an authoritarian Tudor monarch the next. 

So I'm taking a break from all parenting advice which arrives in magazine article/internet-forwarded form. If I need practical help with things like potty training or educational options I may call an experienced mom for advice, but other than that I'm boycotting articles that promise to hold the key to ultimate child development.

More accurately I guess you could say I'm adopting MY OWN parenting philosophy and I invite you to join me. I call it the "Glinda and Dorothy" mode of parenting. 

Sure, I may feel tempted to wander to far off lands to unlock the secrets of how to raise my children best, but the parenting my children actually need from me?

I'm going to try to remember that it's been inside me all along.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

On Nagging


nag (næɡ)
vbnagsnagging or nagged
1. n.  a person, esp a woman, who nags

Do you know that there is no equivalent male word for "nag" in the English language? Men weigh in, women nag - or so goes the logic.

As one half of a married couple I find myself attempting to run the equivalent of a small corporation alongside my husband. We are the only two employees and our job involves toiling under a team of three unrelentingly demanding maniacs.

It takes an enormous amount of work for both of us and it can get super frustrating. I admit that, as a result, I occasionally fall into the mindset that I'm the one running the joint and my husband is merely my assistant, who I must constantly direct to meet the tasks at hand.

Which leads me down one of two paths:

a. Nagging


b. Setting traps

Let's say, for example, that for the household to function properly, one needs one's spouse to fix the only toilet. There are five family members who use said toilet, and thus getting it repaired is a matter of some urgency.

You make a request for it to be fixed first thing in the morning and then realize an hour later that your husband has become distracted and forgotten all about it.

Which means you now have two choices:

a. Gently remind your husband of the task you wish him to complete


b. Wait and then become enraged when he fails to complete it

Path number B is, of course, terrible. It's pretty clear at this point that fixing the familial toilet is the FURTHEST THING from your husband's mind. He may remember his favorite NFL player's high school jersey number but I assure you he does not remember that you asked him to render the toilet functional.

So you remind him - but still nothing happens.

At which point you have two choices:

a. Gently remind him


b. Wait and become slighting more enraged when he does nothing.

Except for the fact that it is practically impossible to gently remind someone of something for the second time. So your voice gets a little, let's say - EDGY.

He responds by smacking himself in the head. Perhaps he shouts aloud something along the lines of, "OMG! So sorry. I got busy finding the kid's shoes and I totally forgot!" 

You are forgiving and he promises to get on it right away.

But "get on it right away" he does not. Instead he attempts to recall where the current center for the L.A. Clippers went to college and in doing so forever wipes from his mind any remnant of the toilet issue.

At which point you have two choices:

a. Gently remind your husband of the task you wish him to complete


b. Wait and then become enraged when he fails to complete the task

You'll choose option number A and guess what? 


I've heard the anti-nagging argument that our husbands somehow managed to survive just fine without our helpful suggestions for years before we came along. But allow me to offer a counter-argument:

Before we met my husband lived in a one room apartment inside which he subsisted almost entirely on fast food takeout and repeated viewings of the original Star Wars trilogy.  If his toilet broke and he didn't feel like fixing it for a month he could go to the gas station across the street and/or hold his business until he got to the office.  So, yes, he did survive just fine without my repeated requests but it was a lifestyle that DID NOT HAVE FIVE PEOPLES BUTTS DEPENDING ON HIM.

So I think it is fair to say that we both need to make some changes.

After six years of marriage and three kids my husband has come to accept that he needs to write down a detailed To-Do list and prioritize things that we need help with at home. For my part I've accepted that what people call "nagging" is going to be part of our relationship dynamic - so all I can do is try to limit the obnoxiousness of my tone and set some reasonable limits.

Yes, I need my husband to fix the toilet (and before you suggest the option that I learn to do it myself let me kindly respond - NO, JUST NO) but I probably don't need to remind him 16 times to bring his lunch to work. I can just hand it to him on his way out the door, or I could even imagine the possibility that even if he forgets, my 40-year-old husband will be able to figure out a way to feed himself as men have been doing now for thousands of years.

And should he choose a repast made up entirely of Doritos and chocolate chip cookies purchased from the vending machine? I can live with that...

…just as long as it provides my beloved with the necessary energy to come home and eventually fix the toilet.