January 30, 2012

The pavlovian car-cart, redux

I freely admit this is a recycled post from my days blogging over at MA! Motherhood with Attitude. However, it's just as apt today as it was then. In fact, it's become even more so with the invention of mini-grocery carts that a lot of stores now keep front and center as you walk in the doors. Now, as if taking three tired kids for a last minute onions-and-diapers run (don't ask) isn't fun enough, I get to argue off the inevitable begging, "Can I push the little carts? PLEEEEEASE!". Right, because that sounds like fun. Going through to store with a screaming baby wiggling in front of me, followed up by two little girls racing in the aisles with their own carts, picking out boxes of cookies and slamming into precariously balanced displays of tomato soup. FUN.

This is all compounded by that fact that, despite a full awareness of my no-kid-cart rule, someone in this family, let's call him Murt, let's the girls use them when he runs out to the store on the weekends. Thanks, Murt. Way to set me up.

Here's the blast from the past. Enjoy.
***
(Originally from July 20, 2009 at MA! Motherhood with Attitude.)

I understand, in theory, that whoever invented those grocery carts with little cars on the front had good intentions at heart. I’m sure he thought what could be more fun, more distracting, for two little kids than to sit in a cab and be pushed through the store, totally occupied while mom peacefully shops?

Except that inventor, I have a strong suspicion, did not HAVE any children. The car-cart is my nemesis. It’s bulky and difficult to maneuver and the actual basket is too small to hold groceries for the average family. Most of all, though, is its debilitating effect on my kids.

“Car-cart! Car-cart!” would erupt the second we got to the store. They were at one time infamous for collapsing into complete hysterics if, God forbid, someone else was using it and they had to settle for its poor cousin. Then, after all this drama, the entire trip through the store would be marked by screams, pushing, hitting and my not-so-whispered threats to dump them in the diaper aisle for someone else to buy and take home if they didn’t stopthatrightnoworIwillgiveyousomethingtocryABOUT (yes, it’s finally happened– the threats of my childhood are now mainstays of my own vocabulary).

The worst, worse even than their deafening battles to control the wheel, is when they would wait until I was as far from the front of the store as possible, with a basket at least half-full, and then jump out of the cab. So there I would be, pushing a monstrosity through narrow aisles with two children running in opposite directions from me and the barge. This was an awful lot like threading the proverbial needle with a camel, only with a heard of jackals circling you at the same time.

The car-cart is now forbidden in my family. The last time we used one, I ended up abandoning it in the dairy section while I pulled two squalling whirlwinds by their shirt collars out of the store, dangerously close to using them both as bowling balls across the parking lot. The upside to that day, (which I salvaged with a VERY large glass of wine), is that they both now associate the car-cart, like Pavlov’s well-trained dogs, with a healthy dose of respectful terror.

Because what would be the point of having children without them being at least a little bit afraid of you?

January 19, 2012

Falling into the glossy marketing trap

“No! Those are Mommy’s, honey. Don’t look at those.”

Anna was poking through the magazines piled up next to my desk. From my reaction, you’d imagine she’d found some trashy porn (as opposed to the classy kind). Instead, she’d gotten her hands on the latest copy of SELF magazine.

I have a little, teensy weensy problem. I’m a magazine addict. I love them, I buy them off the rack all the time, everything from health to cooking and home. It’s totally unintentional when I pick them up, I often don’t realize I've done it until I get that little rush at the checkout when they put it in the special bag away from the raw chicken. So considerate.

I don't have any subscriptions, either, except for SELF since it automatically renews annually before I can intervene. I couldn't begin to tell you how long that's been going on, just enough time to make me feel like it's not my fault. A subscription would be admitting I NEED the fix. Of course, that also means I end up paying at least twice as much for each issue.

The worst part, or the second to worst part, is that each and every one of them is a near exact duplicate to the previous issue and the one before that and the one from the same time last year. Aside from the essays and articles, there’s not a new thought among the lot. I do read the essays, of course, but guess what? Nearly all of them are available online.

The actual worst part is the reason I lunged forward to pull that magazine from Anna’s hands. The cover model was wearing a tight midriff shirt and shorts. All the headlines were about weight loss, getting skinny to be sexy, how to firm up those flabby arms, finally lose that belly in 2 weeks. Exactly all the messages we’re constantly trying to keep my girls from focusing on. But hey, if mommy’s buying into it, why shouldn’t they?

It’s not just the mixed messaging, though. There are the stacks of cooking magazines (most of which have weight loss headlines, too). I don’t like to cook, as I’ve mentioned before. I make a mean muffin and a pretty good quiche and in general get some sort of dinner on the table most nights. But it’s not my thing. So why all the bazillion recipes? Am I trying to inspire myself or just make Kurt think there’s hope? It makes no sense. In the past year I have used maybe three of the recipes. THREE.

After the incident with Anna, I had a burst of motivation and gathered up all the magazines in the house. The stack was considerable. After adding up the cover prices, I came to a fairly staggering figure (I’m not gonna say except that it did, in fact, cross into the 3-digit arena). I then flipped through briefly, intending to pull out any recipes or workout cards or articles that caught my eye. Guess what? Nothing did, not a single flippin’ paragraph.

Into a bag they went and off to the library donation center. Buh-bye. If I don’t want my daughter reading all that hype, why should I ingest it myself? As for the cooking ones well... nothing was getting ingested there anyway. There are better ways to spend my time, better examples to set for my daughters and definitely better places to put my money. I suppose it’ll be a hard habit to break, turning away from all those mind-numbingly shiny covers promising miracles and solutions within their pages, but in the interest of living intentionally, I’m gonna give it my best effort.

What magazines do you read? Is it worth it?

January 11, 2012

Kiss my grits... or, for goodness sake, just try them!

Last night, my aunt visited us from out of town. For dinner I made what turned out to be a pretty tasty crock pot of goulash stew, served over egg noodles. It smelled great, was an attractive deep reddish color, boasting perfectly cooked potatoes and tender chunks of beef that fell apart on your fork.

Yum, right?

You would have thought I’d put a plate of mud and sticks in front of my kids. “But Moooo-oooom, I don’t LIKE this!”. In the face of Grown Up Sludge Served As Food, my kids tend to forget about how to politely turn down a meal, even after years of lectures and threats. This is even more awesome when we have company.

“Fine. Mind your manners, try it first and if you still really don’t like it I’ll give you some bread and butter.”

“I did try it, I really did!”

Mmm hmm. If by “try” you mean brought the spoon up close to her mouth, cut her eyes sideways to see if I was looking and then dropped it all back to the bowl. Sure.

“What about just the noodles? You love noodles.”

The other monkey chimes in. “I did eat the noodles, mommy, look! I ate all of them!” Her plate is, surprise, still wiggly with pasta.

I sigh. I smile, tightly. “Ok. Be excused. Be hungry. Go.”

I have some rules about food, the main one being I don’t make special meals. You eat what I make or you just don’t eat. There is some very occasional flexibility on this for nights when I make something I’m pretty sure will not pass their lips. Then they get some quick toast or PB and J... AFTER they try the dreaded dinner first.

I say it does not get to me. I say that I will remain calm, they get what they get, this isn’t a restaurant, I’m not a waitress, there isn’t a menu, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But sometimes it totally does get to me. After several nights in a row of making nice, kid-friendly dinners from scratch only to have a couple of squirm worms wiggle away from untouched plates, I get angry. Sometimes I want to pelt my adorable little girls with goulash. I want to pick up every little piece of shredded chicken and mushed peas my son has thrown to the floor and toss them right back at him, one at a time. Flick, flick, SQUISH.

I do not do these things, of course. That would be immature. I get my vengeance in other, more petty, ways. Tonight for dinner we had leftovers, a.k.a. more goulash. Since I already knew they wouldn’t eat it, I went ahead and offered to make them some quick, blue box mac and cheese, saving the good stuff for the grown-ups.

But once they agreed, I deliberately mixed in a can of mushy peas and carrots, stirring them in so thoroughly there would be no way to eat around them. I sabotaged their dinner, straight up. The groans were profound and I LOVED IT.

Ok, yes, I realize this means that not just one but two different meals went uneaten tonight (except by Jack who sucked down two bowls of the tainted mac like it was manna from heaven). Regardless, I felt so much better. When their choices are (in their opinion) yuck and yuckier, I know I’ve done my job well.

In some families the saying goes, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Here, you eat what you get or you’re gonna get WORSE.

January 10, 2012

If it's not inflammatory, why bother saying it at all?

This week is Be Nice on the Internet week, courtesy of Real Simple magazine. I’m all for it. I’ve read so many comments and posts all over the place that are just intentionally negative, argumentative and basically insulting. I am not blameless, of course. I've indulged in my share of snark through the years. That's even more reason a little Golden Rule refresher course is in order from time to time.

So here’s the plan and it’s as simple as things get: be nice. I'm not calling for a Pollyanna revolution here, but a little respect, a smidge of empathy, never did anyone harm. Show some support. Instead of picking a fight, find some common ground. If you're not comfortable saying something to someone's face, it's a good bet you just don't need to put it out there at all (trust me on this one). Remember that less is more. Not everyone wants to know about your sex life or bowel functions. Just sayin'.

Who’re you going to be nice to today?

January 06, 2012

New Year is here, again! They just keep coming, don't they.

Knew you’d catch up with me, New Year.

As much as I’d like to skip the whole resolution, starting over, clean slate post, it’d feel like a big ol’ gap if I didn’t say at least something.

Something. Ha.

Okay, kidding aside, there is a certain appeal to January, isn’t there? All that fresh time ahead that you haven’t screwed up yet, it just feels so CLEAN. Last year, I made a resolution that came down to, basically, just paying more attention; to how I act, how I think, how I spend my time, how I interact with others. An eye-opener, indeed.

This year, my inspiration came from a variety of sources, though mostly from an enlightening conversation in Colorado with my friend Tiffany over the holiday (Tiffany is, in general, massively inspirational and enlightening). Instead of resolving to make changes, she simply chooses a word to guide her in the year to come.

One word, so many interpretations, possibilities, tangents and unknowns. LOVE IT. When I combined that idea with my navel-gazing of the past year, I came up with my own word and some ideas for putting it into action.

Intentional. That’s my word. I want to be more intentional with my time. I have found within myself a tendency to coast, get from A.M. to P.M. with the shortest amount of thought and then start all over again the next day. It’s not very flattering, I know.

So in 2012, I will be intentional. With that in mind, I’ve come up with some projects, small and large, concrete and abstract, to help me focus. The best part is you have something to show for it at the end, a happy little “Lookie here at what I did! Yay, me!”.

I’ll reel out the plans as they come, wouldn’t want to start making a big list and getting all overwhelmed. One thing at a time, in this moment. Intentionally.

What’s your word this year?

January 04, 2012

Light bulb moment

Happy new year, friends and neighbors. I’m back.

I spent the past couple months lost in holiday-induced time lapses. The last two weeks we went back to Colorado, a long-awaited return home. Before we left, Kurt asked if I was even going to be able to come back. At the time, I wasn’t sure. Texas has not been a dream come true, after all, and the idea of being home, seeing all the places and people I’ve missed, was just too shiny to look beyond.

But I did come back and turns out, this is home, too. We had such a great time, saw family and hugged friends, visited old haunts. The day we visited our old house, now empty of everything but memories, was hard. But when we took a walk along the familiar streets of the neighborhood, stopping at the nearby playground and around to the park where Anna’s bus stop was, the nostalgia became more bearable somehow. The kids grew cranky at the same old parts, started fussing and whining on that last three blocks uphill back to the house. Same old complaints, too: we’re HUNGRY, we’re so THIRSTY, our legs are so SORE.

Incited the same old parental irritation, too, you better believe.

As bittersweet as it all was, it also reminded me of what helped me when we first found out about the move. Our home isn’t a place, it’s a family. Kurt, the kids, me. We’re still the same wherever we are. They still whine about their terribly sore legs and unbearable thirst when we walk to the park here in the Lone Star State. It’s still annoying.

Colorado was beautiful. We had a great big snow storm just before Christmas, giving the girls the snowmen and sledding they have missed. My brothers lavished the girls with uncle-y (is that a word?) attention. My oldest brother, in fact, now has them trained to call him Uncle Awesome. They seem to have forgotten he was ever a John at all.

There was too much food and we all reveled in it. The baby cried all night most nights and we all suffered it. 9 and 10 close family members crammed into one house for two weeks brought forth the expected amount of claustrophobia and reminiscences. I got to laugh and cry with my friends, drink too much (or just enough?) and suck down more candy and cookies than I’ve eaten in the previous 50 weeks entirely. I finished THREE whole books, sitting and reading in one place for more than a few minutes at a time.

In general, it was really great, if utterly exhausting. New Year’s Eve, my mom watched the kids while Kurt and I escaped to our favorite little restaurant (if you’re in the Springs, get yourself over to Carlos Bistro RIGHT NOW. Let him pick your wine. He is never wrong.).

“So, time to head back to Texas,” Kurt commented over dinner. “Are you ready?"

Before I even thought about it, the words just popped out of my mouth. “Yeah, I’m so ready to go home.”

Home. A new home, a strange home, often a lonely home, but a home nonetheless. We pulled up into the driveway and I had a happy little jump in my chest as I walked into the living room. My couches looked welcoming, the kitchen begged for some attention. Jack’s nursery, where he would sleep straight through the night, eagerly called out. Our rooms, familiar possessions, my very own bed.

My home.

I miss my friends and family (and Carlos Bistro), but this trip gave me a gift I wasn’t expecting, too; a chance to see this new place in a new light.

All that said, that light is now shining on our messy kitchen. Many things have changed in the past year but one truth will forever hold: dishes and laundry have no beginning and no end. Fighting that is like running backwards on Escher’s stairs. It won’t get you anywhere. Might as well just stay where you are and make the most of it.


“My life will always have dirty dishes. If this sink can become a place of contemplation, let me learn constancy here.” Gunilla Norris