Don’t Tell Me to Pick My Battles

Whenever I whine to someone about how my kids don’t listen, he or she will invariably tell me I have to pick my battles. I nod in agreement, but I never do it. I never take out my master list of daily battles and whittle it down to only a few. The reason for this is because it’s very overwhelming; there are just too many battles to pick from, and they all seem really important. How many am I supposed to choose anyway? And what is the criteria everyone else is using to determine which battles stay and which ones go?

For example, I feel very strongly that I need to limit the time my daughter spends scrolling through mindless Instagram feeds on her iPod or my son plays fake basketball on the Wii, but I feel equally as strong that tortilla chips are not to be eaten whilst on the toilet. One might be considered a big deal, the other small, but I can’t be expected to choose between the two. It’s just too hard.

Bedtime is something my kids fight every single night, but I can’t let that one go. If they don’t get enough rest, they won’t be able to adequately process what they are learning in school, or they could compromise their immune systems and get a nasty enterovirus. No thanks. This is a battle that is definitely worth fighting. But what about the twerking lessons my oldest child has been secretly giving to my other children in the basement over the last few weeks? Am I supposed to just laugh that off? I can’t. It’s not going to be as funny when I find out that my six year old has been teaching all the other six year olds in the neighborhood how to pelvic thrust like a pro.

Homework has to be completed every night and it has to be completed correctly. If something is wrong and a little extra help is needed, it will reveal itself through homework and eventually be rectified. I have to stay strong when it comes to homework, but am I really being a good mom by letting my last and youngest kid walk out the door wearing a shirt stained with yogurt because I have already hit my battle quota for the week? The answer is no.

The way I see it, my kids have to do it all. They have to brush their teeth, but they also can’t leave the light on after they leave the bathroom. They have to walk the dog they begged me for even though it is raining AND they have to go to soccer practice even though they would rather have a playdate. Also, they cannot physically assault each other over who ate the last piece of gum AND they can’t have a snack when I am in the middle of making dinner.

My point is this: picking battles is virtually impossible. If I cross a few of the seemingly unimportant ones off my master list, I send the message that my kids don’t have to behave all the time, just sometimes. It’s inconsistent and confusing. It might sound like a whole lot of nagging, harping, and yelling, but combined with an equal amount of love and positive attention, that’s simply the sound of mothering. Instead of telling moms to pick their battles, maybe we should encourage them to simply forge ahead, stay strong, and have some faith that the battles are in fact worth it. Every last one of them.

Advertisements

Say No to the Sleepover

One Saturday night, after having spent all day at a local street fair with a friend, my daughter sent me a text asking for a sleepover. I groaned and showed it to my husband. I LOVE a good sleepover (no I don’t), but I could not bear to see my daughter drooling comatose on the couch the next day yet again, and neither could my husband. He immediately assumed his role as coach.

“Just say no, just do it. Don’t even think about it.”

I looked at him like he was the most brilliant man on earth, because he was.

“You are so right! I need to be swift and decisive, with no waffling.”

“No waffling.”

It was a Pivotal Moment. Goosebumps appeared on my arms. I texted back a firm, “No, you have soccer tomorrow,” thinking the whole time, “This is what it must feel like to be one of those parents who actually know what they are doing. Maybe I’m not as bad at this as I thought! Go me!”

I put my phone away and moved on with my night, which included dinner with the boys, a birthday party, and Halloween costume shopping at Target. At dinner, my purse appeared to be alive with all of the vibrations and the beeps and the rings coming from within. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I took out my phone and looked at all of her texts. Taken together, they could have been used by a psychologist authoring a book on how to recognize emotional manipulation and what to do about it.

One of my favorite movies is Summer of Sam by Spike Lee, and one of my favorite scenes is towards the end when Mira Sorvino learns her husband John Leguizamo has been regularly cheating on her with his clients from the hair salon. While she is packing her bags, he throws every psychological tool he knows at her to try and get her to stay.

Sympathy: “I am sorry, but baby, I’m not me, OK? I’m f**king going through a lot of shit right now, all right?”

Guilt: “You’re everything in my life and I ain’t got shit. I ain’t got friends. Nothin’. I suck at everything I do. You’re the only f**king thing I have.”

Intimidation: “If you f**king leave here now, don’t expect to come back. You can’t leave me and come back.”

Fortunately, none of these techniques work and Mira throws all of his vinyl disco records out the window of their Bed-Stuy apartment and gives him a surprisingly tender kiss goodbye.

In exactly the same way, my daughter was doing her best to get me to say yes to the sleepover:

Sympathy: “Please Mom? Please? I feel like if we do have a sleepover, we will have an awesome and fun time. I want to become reallllllllllly good friends.”

Guilt: “You want me to be with my friends, don’t you? I love you, come on!”

Intimidation: “Mommy, please, if I don’t sleep over she will leave me! Do if for the sake of the friendship!”

Most Moms and Dads I know are immune to these psychological weapons, but I am not. And my daughter knows it. She knows I am a serial waffler, how I second guess even the simplest of decisions. We recently renovated our bathroom and she watched as I nearly had a stroke selecting a paint color for the walls. She has learned that I can be talked out of anything because I am never sure of anything.

This time, though, I am proud to say that I held my ground. I felt the doubt creeping into my brain during our text exchange, but I kept hearing my husband’s voice, “Just say no, just do it. No waffling.” She returned home that night and the first thing she said to me was, “I’m sorry.” I was amazed. It was like she knew she was taking advantage of my historic waffling, a personality flaw, and was admitting it was wrong! Hooray! I won! I gave her a surprisingly tender kiss goodnight, and was glad I didn’t have to throw anything out the window.

Small Houses

IMG_3004

We live in a small house, and honestly, it’s enough for us. Our town is expensive and if we were to move to something bigger it would probably need a lot of work and I would probably have to get a job, and I’m not up for either of those, so we are going to stay put. At least for right now.

To live in a small house with two adults, three kids, and a dog isn’t hard, you just have to be careful. You can’t leave anything to chance; every move has to be deliberate. For example, suppose you find something on the floor and you aren’t sure what it is but you think it might be important. In a normal size house, you might throw it in a drawer in the kitchen and nothing or no one would suffer. In a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet, though, the drawers cannot be expected to store random non-kitchen items. It’s just not fair. They should be assigned forks, knives, ziplocs, and a can opener. That’s it. When you live in a small house and you find something strange on the floor, you have to go through the painful process of identifying it, finding the owner and putting it back where it belongs as quickly as possible. It sucks but you have to do it.

Another point about the kitchen: If you are considering entering it for something but someone is already in there doing something like cooking or washing the dishes, ask yourself if it’s really necessary that you enter. A kitchen the size of a walk-in closet was originally designed for just one person, and once another person enters it, it becomes much smaller, especially when that person is a husband. If you have asked yourself the question about needing to enter and the answer is still yes, please stay to the right. Criss-crossing and triangle patterns will only result in frustration that looks like a ballroom dance but definitely doesn’t feel like one.

In a small house, mantras are very useful. “A place for everything and everything in its place” can be your guide, especially in those rooms that are dedicated to storage, like the garage, which was originally designed to store a car but that would be ridiculous. In ours, smelly soccer cleats and slimy shinguards go in the stolen Wegman’s shopping basket on top of the folding table. Hockey sticks go in the bin located to the right of the bin that holds all the balls; if you put a hockey stick in the ball bin I will find you. Gardening tools and potting mix go under the other folding table next to the 16 containers of gasoline we have left over from Superstorm Sandy. Beach chairs get hung up on the wall next to the boogie boards and snow tubes.

“Less is More” is another mantra that resonates with people who live in small houses, especially when they find themselves at Bed Bath and Beyond or HomeGoods surrounded by lamps, motivational plaques and scented candles at deeply discounted prices. In a situation like this, it’s helpful to repeat the “Less is More” mantra silently to yourself, along with the addition of a positive affirmation such as, “I don’t need any of this shit.”

Bathrooms in a small house should be used for taking baths, and not much else. Toiletries are allowed, but no more than two or three at a time and they must be small enough to fit in the pockets of the shoe organizer hanging behind the door. Please note that all such purchases must be approved in advance. Toilet paper cannot be hung from a holder on the wall or stacked on the neck of an iron giraffe that sits on the floor because then your movements will be significantly restricted. In fact, I have found that toilet paper looks best in a small wire basket on top of the toilet tank, you just have to spin around 360 degrees to use it.

Finally, you need to pay close attention to your closets. Closets can make or break a small house. If used as they were intended (for clothes, in-season only), the whole house will hum. But if you are shoving board games, stuffed animals, unwanted gifts and camera equipment in there, it will be mayhem and you might as well put a “for sale” sign on your front lawn right now because you are not going to make it.

The Cubes

IMG_3143At some point this summer, my son became interested in the Rubik’s cube and begged us to buy him one. Happy that it wasn’t a video game, my husband went to our local toy store and bought him one, and while he was there, he bought two more because our children have trained us never to buy just one of something when there are three of them.

Our first child, the oldest, must have heard how impossible the Rubik’s cube was to solve because she decided that she was never, ever going to mix hers up and leave it forever as she received it, treating it more like an abstract piece of art to display in her bedroom. This was a good plan; there was no other place in the house that was safer because she had trained her brothers a long time ago to never EVER enter her bedroom for any reason whatsoever.

Our last child, the youngest, watched his older brother for clues on what he should do with his Rubik’s cube. Together, they each twisted and turned their cubes until they had them really mixed up, and then put dots with Sharpie markers in one of the center cubes to tell the difference between the two of them.

After about an hour, our youngest child no longer had any interest in his cube, and ran down the street to play outside with our neighbors. But our second child got serious, consulting YouTube for visual instructions on how to solve it. That didn’t work; the videos were either too complicated, too vague, or too fast. One video recommended we lubricate the cube with some WD-40 to make it spin faster so that the solution would be more obvious. That didn’t work either.

Still, he kept at it. He took the cube with him everywhere: the pool, basketball camp, restaurants, etc., but he still couldn’t solve it. At the end of his rope, he asked us for help but was amazed to find that we were as dumbfounded as he was; usually we were able to solve complex problems and provide answers to difficult questions, but this time was different. I imagine he started to feel vulnerable; “If my parents don’t know how to do this seemingly easy thing, what else do they not know?”

It was around this time that he started to consider “borrowing” his sister’s Rubik’s cube on display in her bedroom that is never to be entered under any circumstances. His thinking was, “If I mix it up only a little, I will be able to solve it pretty easily and apply what I have learned to my cube and will then be able to solve any Rubik’s cube on earth no matter how mixed up it is.”

And so, my second child stole his sister’s Rubik’s cube, mixed it up only a little, but was unable to get it back. Scared out of his mind, he wept to my husband, who decided the best course of action for his son was to approach his sister honestly and with sincere regret. She of course was very angry until my husband diffused the situation by mentioning that he could simply peel off some stickers, artificially returning the cube to its original state. That made me and my OCD crazy but it impressed the children and made my husband look like a genius.

A few days later, my son asked us to buy him another, more sophisticated cube, a Newisland cube he found on Amazon. The Newisland cube spun faster than the Rubik’s Cube without having to add any additional lubricant and it didn’t have any stickers to peel. It was for serious cubers. It arrived by courier, and he was ecstatic, spinning it and manipulating it in the same way over and over again but never getting it truly mixed up, until his brother inadvertently bumped his arm and caused him to make a wrong turn. He tried to correct it but it was too late – the cube was forever mixed up and this time there were no stickers to peel.

My son broke down into sobs once again. I could not take the stress anymore and wished for a simpler life, before the cubes. I gave him the speech of a lifetime:

“The Rubik’s cube is a lie in the same way the claw from the arcade at the beach is a lie. Even though it appears from YouTube that anyone can solve it, only a very small percentage of the population can solve it. If it turns out that you can’t ever solve it, I don’t want you to think you aren’t smart because you are! Also, the inventor of the Rubik’s cube never meant for it to sit perfectly on a shelf in a bedroom. It is supposed to capture your imagination and dare you to dream, to reach for the impossible. It’s not supposed to be perfect, and that is what makes it great.”

I was pretty proud of myself for being so philosophical on my feet and thought maybe I was going to emerge the ultimate hero, until my husband announced from the kitchen that he had pried open the mixed up Newisland cube with a screwdriver and was able to gently pop it back together again perfectly. With a quiet awe, we all gathered around him as he showed us how he did it. It is because of him that we live peacefully among the cubes today.

An Open Letter to the Beef Industry

I just got back from the grocery store and I can’t stay quiet any longer. Something has been bothering me beef-wise for a long time, and I bet I’m not the only one. I am talking about your labeling. It is written in a language I don’t understand. I’m not sure, but I think you might be using industry insider language on the outside.

Other industries have realized this is no way to attract and retain customers. For example, you don’t see Charmin trying to sell more toilet paper by continually telling people what part of the tree was cut and pressed before it reached them. That’s because Charmin knows the only thing their customers care about is feeling nice and clean down there. Why haven’t you figured this out yet?

For background, I have loved beef for as long as I can remember. I grew up eating hamburgers, my husband and I bonded over our mutual love for steak on our first date, and a hot open-faced pot roast sandwich for dinner on a crisp fall evening makes me so happy I could cry. I am a big fan of yours, and I am annoyed every bit as you are by vegetarians who go bananas over roasted brussel sprouts or pickled beets in a jar. I am on your side 110 percent, and I am here to help.

Today, I had an idea to make Asian Beef Stir Fry for dinner. This wasn’t too difficult for me to achieve, thanks to the words “Stir Fry” on your label, so kudos for that. But, in your world, what does “round” mean? Can you tell me?

IMG_3122

Beef Round Stir Fry

What is round about a cow? Do you cut the meat into a round shape, and then declare it perfect for stir fry? If that is true, then what kind of dish would use a triangular shape of beef? Is there a reason why the label can’t simply say, “Beef Strips for Stir Fry”?

Here is another one:

IMG_3129

Flank Steak

I know I have some recipes that call for flank steak, and I know they are delicious, but I have no idea what a flank is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to know. I just need to know that this particular cut is lean, juicy, and quick to cook. Other Moms may have committed this flank steak fact to memory, but I haven’t, and I don’t have any room in my purse for a Beef to English/English to Beef dictionary.

IMG_3127

Beef Boneless Skirt Steak

Was this cow wearing a skirt when it was slaughtered? Honestly, whatever the cow does in his private life is none of my business. The only thing I care about is how he should be prepared. Oven? Crock-pot? Grilled over an open flame? Just cut to the chase. Stop being so coy.

photo (8)

Semi Boneless Rib Eye

These do not look like ribs, and I don’t see any eyes. I am familiar with the phrase “Rib Eye,” but it doesn’t connect me to your product in any meaningful way. It doesn’t convey anything about how good the beef will taste or how much I will enjoy it, and honestly, that should be your goal. The experience of the end-user should be your priority. This is like, Marketing 101. Instead, I think the label above should read, “A rich steak that is full of fat and flavor.”

Finally, this is my favorite:

IMG_3124

Boneless Chuck Roast

This cow must have been a total egomaniac to insist his name be printed on the label. Who cares what your name is (was), Chuck? Now I am going to eat you! Pass the potatoes!

Mommy Paranoia

Ebola has found its way to the United States, as I knew it would, and so now my Mommy Paranoia is on full alert.

Mommy Paranoia is the feeling that no matter how good things are right now, they have a chance of going downhill at any time. And so you worry. It’s really no surprise that I suffer from Mommy Paranoia, given that I’ve always been a worry wart. In the eighth grade, I was voted “Most Likely to Breathe into a Paper Bag Before Taking a Test in High School.” But honestly, it’s not just me. Mommy Paranoia is very prevalent among most Moms I know.

Back when Ebola was only in Africa, Moms were having panic attacks over the usual nightmare scenarios: kid getting kidnapped, kid spending too much time playing Minecraft and growing up to be a parasitic slacker, and my personal favorite: kid getting lice.

For the uninitiated, lice are bugs so small you can’t really see them that attach themselves to the hair shafts of your sweet, innocent child and won’t let go until the school nurse physically pulls them out and calls you to come pick up your child who is no longer welcome in school until the bugs (and the even smaller eggs they have left behind) are gone. Oh, and make sure your other two kids don’t have them hiding out in their hair either. Have a nice weekend!

There is a line from the American Revolution, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Lice is without a doubt one of those times. Luckily, there is a nurse who is doing the Lord’s work nearby in Short Hills, NJ who will pull every last one of those f**kers out of your child’s hair for the bargain price of $1,000 per head and give you an extremely comprehensive and very rational set of instructions for making sure that they don’t come back. Her demeanor is casual, her voice calm, and as a result she will snap you back to the reality that lice is not leukemia.

But most Moms will not–cannot–be satisfied. Their paranoia is now forever on overdrive, and they will take to the Internet to learn all kinds of things they should never know about lice mostly because they are largely false. And even though they know these things to be false, they will believe them, just to be on the safe side. Mother Lice herself has assured these Moms that the bugs cannot live off the human head for more than 24 hours, but they will still make their children wear hooded sweatshirts at the movie theater even when it is 95 degrees, drill it into their kids that they should never EVER borrow someone else’s baseball helmet, and spray their kids with rosemary oil every time they leave the house because they know that LICE IS PROBABLY ALL AROUND THEM.

Another thing I have found Moms to be really paranoid of (pre-United States Ebola) is looking like a Mom. A long time ago, the people who made jeans decided to help us out by providing a little more coverage in the belly area to help hold the skin that has been stretched by one, two or more pregnancies. They were doing us a favor, and we knew it too because we started buying them by the truckload. As soon as we figured this out, though, that only Moms were wearing these super high-waisted jeans, we began to resist them and started squeezing our damaged bodies back into jeans (and all other pants too) that are much better suited for 16 year olds.

Also, we refuse to wear shoes that suggest we are running after our toddlers or up and down the stairs doing laundry. At a recent Back to School night, for example, I could not believe the amount of strappy high-heeled sandals I saw clip-clopping up and down all of the stairs. Newsflash: you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a mother!

We also torture ourselves with the amount of calories we consume, downloading apps called “Eat Slower” and taking up ballet again in an effort not to be fat, supposedly the most common side effect of motherhood. Even those Moms who have somehow stayed thin feel compelled to stop eating red meat and start eating an unpronounceable grain humans haven’t eaten since ancient times–just to be on the safe side.

Unfortunately, the safe side doesn’t exist, or I would have built a four bedroom center hall colonial with a central vacuum and laundry chute there a long time ago. Danger lurks around every corner when you are a Mom, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It sucks but at least we are all in the same boat. Now we just have to hope it doesn’t sink.