October 21, 2011

The Tao of McDonald's

I took the kids to McDonald’s this morning. Save your judgement, I care not a smidge. Anna had a glowing report from her parent/teacher conference, both girls have the day off school and we needed some play time— and I needed coffee. Any locale that offers both those things is a-okay in my book.

We herded in, stocked up on pancakes, hash browns, and OJ and got down to it. Jack went ba-donkers with happiness, waddling around like a crazed penguin and calling out giddy laughs at anyone who would acknowledge him. You better believe people did, too. He’s ruthless with his cuteness.

I sipped my tasty beverage (they have LATTES there now, people! It’s like they know me!) and watched the pleasant mayhem. I was reminded with a pang of one of the first playdates at my old mom’s group in Colorado, when Anna was still just a baby, scooting around on her butt all over the sticky floor. How the times do change.

At another table, two other moms sat, bent towards each other with the eager conspiracy of a good old-fashioned mama natter. I smiled, shook off the twinge of nostalgia and turned back to my baby, who was at that moment trying to climb up the slide just as three kids were wooshing their way down. (Don’t worry, it all ended well.)

Into this happy setting walked another woman. She was well dressed, hair styled, make-up perfect and damn if that wasn’t a French pedicure peeking out of her expensive sandals. Beneath all that, though, was the familiar haze of panic. Two little girls ran giggling around her in tight circles, tripping her at every possible interval. One shoulder was weighed down by a ginormous diaper bag and the other was being pulled nearly out of its socket by the 20 pound infant carrier she deftly swung, managing not to so much as bump it in all the chaos below her knees.

Her expression said that she’d been scrabbling on the cliff edge of sanity since well before sunrise. This was a woman on the edge and more than that, a woman resigned to that teetering existence.

She gently settled the sleeping baby to the ground like a basket full of unstable C-4. She tucked her little girls into a booth and directed them to Sit and Stay. All that taken care of, she hurried out of the (completely safe and enclosed) play area to get their lunch and her very own cup of hot, caffeinated liquid happy.

The baby started crying immediately as she left. Of course it did. The two little girls jumped out of the booth to huddle around the carrier and poke at the crying baby. OF COURSE THEY DID. A quick glance proved the situation to be safe, your standard parenting “snafu”. I heaved a sigh of sympathy for the woman and turned back to Jack, who was now half way up the afore-mentioned slide.

Behind me, I heard shocked gasps. Then appalled whispers. I turned back to see the other two moms staring in horrified judgement at the crying baby with his “helpful” sisters. They kept swinging around to look for the mom, half-out of their chairs as if to go rescue the abandoned kids on their way to calling Child Services. Both of them looked at me, theirs faces miming indignation as if to say, “Can you BELIEVE her? What an awful mother! I would NEVER just leave my kids and walk away like that!”.

The woman was on her way back, a laden tray of happy meals and juices balanced on one hand, a coffee clutched in the other. I hurried to open the door for her, saying to them briefly, “When you have three kids, you just do what you have to do. You know what I mean?”.

Here’s the thing. They did not know what I meant. They didn’t know that it is nearly impossible to carry a tray of food with two kids and a baby at the same time. They didn’t know that, in the real world, your kids will not be emotionally scarred for life if you have to walk away for approximately three minutes while they are in a completely safe place. It didn’t occur to them that their very presence, as obvious mothers in the room, probably made her feel even safer doing so. They saw no correlation between her leaving to get the food and the way they were engrossed in conversation while their children played, unsupervised.

They didn’t know. And that’s totally okay. I didn’t know either at one point in my life. There’s a LOT of shit I didn’t know and there is even more shit I have yet to learn now. In my former days as a blissful mom of one, it was so easy to see what everyone else was doing wrong, be shocked at the way someone else would handle any given situation. With each child, I’ve had one reality shoved further and further down my throat until it set up camp firmly in my gut.

Never say never. I mean, really. Just don’t. Five years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea of CHOOSING a morning at McDonald’s to fill my kids up with hash browns and sticky cinnamon rolls (they have those now, too! Delicious!) and set them loose in a public play area probably crawling with the flu virus, not to mention ebola.

These days, I just think how great all those germs are. Way to build up the immune system! Here, kids! Eat some dirt while you’re at it. That’s what I call roughage, my friends. Who needs celery?

Just as I look back with embarrassment on my own moments of oblivion, I know in a few years they’ll remember the well-dressed and completely exhausted mom they cast haughty looks at today. Maybe they’ll even pay it forward a little with an opened door or just an empathetic smile.

Because like it or not, no matter how much you think you know better than someone else… there’s always gonna be someone who knows better than YOU. I mean, who knew McDonald’s would one day become for me such a metaphor for life?

What’s one thing you never knew you never knew?

October 19, 2011

Food and Fashion

When I go grocery shopping, unless I have a comprehensive list from the recipes I want to make, it’s a total crap shoot. I’ll walk through the produce and think, “Hmmm… those squash look good, I bet I could do something with that”. Then I’ll hit the aisles and pick out the pantry basics, throw in some inspiring ingredients to get creative with and voila, shopping done!

Only then I get home and have no idea what to do. Pantry basics, my ass. If it were that simple then why do I have NOTHING for the kids to snack on but graham crackers? I’ll sit there with my squash, onion and can of tomatoes and stare at them until my eyes glaze over. Without a big picture, it turns out to be spaghetti night. Every night.

It’s exactly the same thing when I buy clothes. I’ll coast through Target, Old Navy, Kohls and grab a bunch of shirts that look nice, a cardigan with shiny things on it, maybe a jacket that could work with “something”. A dress with potential goes into the pot and off I go, brand spankin’ new wardrobe in my cart. Only none of it goes together, none if it’s well made and NONE of it fits. It’s all onions and generic fruit snacks, manager’s special ground beef and a dented can of peaches.

I get home, pull on a shirt with a pair of jeans and admire the total frump-fest in my mirror. The dress is too short, too long, too fitted or too tent-like. Either way, it would need a tank top (mine are all full of holes but why buy new ones?),  a special kind of bra and, oh yeah, let's not even think about shoes. The jacket matches nothing, goes with nothing, layers with nothing and the sleeves are short in a totally-not-as-cute-as-I’d-pictured kind of way.

Don't you love running back to the same store, three kids in tow, to return things you shouldn't have bought in the first place? Yeah, me neither.

When it comes to my “outfits” every day is spaghetti day. Jeans, frumpy and ill-fitting t-shirt. Or a summer dress that gaps in the front or shows off the popped elastic on my old white bra. The finishing touch is the same pair of black flats or sandals I wear with everything.

I have friends who dress with an elegant ease, every item coming together in a variety of interesting, personalized and flattering styles. One has an especially magical gift of consignment shopping and pulling gems out of the racks at Goodwill. Interestingly, now that I think of it, all of them have a flair in the kitchen, too.

I have begged them to take me shopping but here’s the next problem. I balk at any item over $20, from shoes to bras and everything in between. So I stick to Kohls and Target, spending $20 or less over and over again on clothes that don’t work, buy the same t-shirts in the same colors and find that I wake up every day with nothing to wear, nothing that fits right and nothing that puts a smile on my face. It undoubtedly adds up over time to far more than one worthwhile outfit but, really, I have no idea how to put together one anyway, so why try?

I’d love to shop at the “fancy” mall stores (think Banana Republic or Loft, so chic!) but it seems like such a commitment. Those jeans can cost over $60! That silk camisole, the one that might actually match the cardigan with shiny things? It’s $112! Those places are the Whole Foods of the clothing world and if we get into Gucci-land I don’t even have a food comparison. Maybe rare white truffles by the pound?

And as a mom doing mom things all day with a baby who really likes to chew on my shoulder whilst eating crackers, it seems a little ridiculous to get all "put together". A concession I have made to Texas Fancy is mascara every day and sometimes, blush. I know. It's wild.

My kids get dressed in the morning, however, with an exuberant flair and total disregard for circumstance that I envy. Playing in the backyard all day? Sounds like a perfect occasion for last year's Easter dress! Icy cold wind and outdoor recess? Think I'll wear my sparkly sandals. Hair ribbons, glitter headbands, homemade bead bracelets and a wild ruckus of color and pattern, they dash out into the world prepared to shine with no thought to who will or will not see them or what activity will come up.

Someday I'll get dressed in the morning just for the fun of it. All my lingerie will actually BE lingerie, will fit and will (gasp!) match. I will walk into my closet and casually pick out an actual outfit without having to think about it because I’ll know it’s all good. Even my jammies will have some merit.

But that day is not today. Today, my Target t-shirt (New! So cute in the store!) keeps riding up and my stretched out bra straps is showing through while the popped underwire pokes me in the arm pit. My jeans are still a little tight from the wash but by afternoon I’ll be hiking them up methodically as they stretch out just enough to slide down my butt every few minutes.

As for dinner tonight? Ummm… I’ll get back to you on that. Probably something frozen and undoubtedly from Walmart.

So tell me, what are YOU wearing?