Waste it Wisely

This is terrifying.

This is terrifying.

Sometimes I have to use the men’s bathroom at the school where I work because I don’t have time to wait the 90 seconds it will take for the women’s bathroom to be free, and I feel like this could be a symptom of a larger problem in my life. When I was younger, I prided myself on always being punctual. I was usually even early because my life was empty and meaningless, and I was completely unsuccessful. Making time to go to the bathroom was not an issue. I remember I had a boyfriend who chose not to drink excess liquids before taking road trips because he did not want to waste time stopping to use the bathroom. He would tell me this as I slid into the passenger seat slurping the last sips of my 32 ounce diet coke.  Road trips, like legislation, are based on the lowest common denominator, which is often me, so really he was just delayed and thirsty.

I recently took an online quiz called “How Productive Are You?” demonstrating on its own—just by logging in—that I am not productive at all. One of the key areas that need improvement for me is that I have too many distractions. The website suggests I keep an interrupter’s log, which intrigues me, not because I think it will make me more productive but because it allows me to put the blame on others in writing and in chart form. The log asks for the name of the interrupter, the time, and a box for me to check if it was a valid interruption. I find this so exciting that I might quit my job just to spend all my time cataloging my daily interruptions. 6:34 p.m. the cat “jumped” in the bathtub with my son and then frantically skid across every dry surface in the house interrupting my game of Trivia Crack. Not valid. After a week of keeping the log, I am supposed to analyze and conquer my interruptions. One way to conquer interruptions is to pre-empt the interruption by holding routine meetings. This way instead of interrupting me, the people/cats will learn to save all non-urgent issues until this meeting.

I made all my students take the quiz, too, mainly because I did not have anything else planned for the day, and they all scored higher than me. I told them they are liars and they must have cheated, but then I realized that they just don’t have that many distractions. Mainly because I let them go to the bathroom in the middle of class. Sometimes I will ask a compelling question and then one of them will raise their hand, and I get excited thinking that an engaging discussion will ensue, but it is just a kid asking to go to the bathroom. They are extremely efficient. Also, I am not sure being in my class keeps them from accomplishing their life goals There are students who could be running multi-million dollar companies on their laptops (or from the bathroom) while I draw diagrams on the board of the two houses in Wuthering Heights.

There is a guy I work with who likes to say, “Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day,” and I usually try to do the math because I feel like I am wasting a significant amount of my 24 hours. For starters, I am asleep for at least six to eight of those hours, and then I am at work for another eight hours monitoring other people’s bathroom visits, and then I need to subtract the hours when I am drunk or on my phone, which leaves me with maybe five good hours a day. Then I have to find time to schedule meetings with my kids and the cat and then pray that there is enough time left after all the interruptions have been clearly checked as not valid so that I can watch Netflix while curled up on the couch crying about how nobody will ever love me.

The real issue—that leaves me in a general state of panic—is not the allotment of time per day, but the amount of days that I have left, divided by the number of things that I have yet to accomplish. I am not an expert mathematician, but I think this comes out to a negative number or a radical. In a few short months I will turn 40. At this point I have to make some important decisions, like how much of that precious time do I want to waste standing in line for the bathroom? I have to start thinking about my lowest common denominator. I have a job, two kids, and a bladder, so I have to figure out how to make all of these things fit in with my current life goals, which include finding a meaningful relationship, making something out of my writing career (like maybe a fleet of paper airplanes), and fulfilling my dream of going to a swim-up bar (which really takes care of the bladder issue on its own).

Another goal that I plan to accomplish on my 40th birthday is getting my first tattoo. My main reasons for not getting a tattoo up to this point were more related to commitment issues than preserving an image, but when I am 40 there is only so much forever left. I also apply this to my dating life. Commitment doesn’t seem quite so scary now because I don’t have to promise my whole life to someone, just what’s left of it. It is only like half of forever, and if we do the math . . .

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Precious Cargo

Whenever I see a headline about somebody who drove their car full of kids into a lake or some other body of water, I never wonder what could possibly compel them to do that. Every time I drive with the kids and I do not end up in a large body of water I take it as a small miracle or as a really terrific coincidence. Most of the time, driving around with my two kids reminds me of that scene in Tommy Boy where the dead deer in the backseat wakes up and thrashes around the car, kicking out windows and sticking his horns through the soft top, except the deer yells, “Mom!” and then tattles on his sister.

I have tried telling the kids, “Don’t make me pull over!” because I have seen that on television, but none of us really knows how that will help. I think the point is that I would pull over on the side of the road and beat my kids into submission, but I feel like that is frowned upon and that I would eventually regret it. I have considered pulling over and just getting out and hitching a ride that is less taxing for me, like with an old blind lady in a Cadillac or with a middle aged white guy with a mustache driving a van with blacked out windows and an axe in the passenger seat, but I never make it more than a few feet away from our parked car. I have found myself a couple of times standing alone in an abandoned parking lot while the kids press their little faces to the window and watch me, knowing very well that I have no clue where this is headed. Realizing their mom might really have gone crazy is the one thing that seems to bring them together. They aren’t stupid, so I think they clearly understand my value, which is that I am the only one of us who has a driver’s license.

Raising kids is hard. And like wild animals, it becomes even more difficult when we choose to bring them inside, especially if they have siblings. My kids sometimes get along. They know how to make each other laugh, probably more than anyone else, and when I hear them giggling uncontrollably in the other room, I start to think that maybe I should keep them both. Their animosity comes from the fact that they are fighting for the same resources. Space in our house. My love and affection. Food. My daughter gets frustrated by the sound of her brother’s voice and for once in her life she would like to listen to “All about That Bass” without him talking through the entire song. My son thinks his sister is a great target for Nerf darts. Neither has any interest in sharing their popcorn. Not one single kernel. I tell them that deep down they really love each other and they assure me that is not true and then they lunge at each other the way a cheetah might lunge at a tiger who has just eaten her cubs or at least just turned off the bathroom light while she was obviously still in the bath tub.

Putting them together in a car is not a great idea. For several years I drove a minivan, which was basically just a DVD player on wheels, and something about the padded headphones and the fact that my son, sitting in the back row, was so far away from me that even though I could see his mouth moving in the rearview, I could not hear him. “Sorry buddy,” I would say as I pointed to my ears and shrugged, turning up the radio. After I got divorced, I traded in the van for a crossover SUV, which more accurately represents my current lifestyle by making the statement that I am almost 40, and I buy a lot of groceries. Once I got the new car, the kids had to learn how to be human in a motor vehicle again. “You just look out the window,” I tell them. They also have to sit on the same row with only a leather arm rest with two cup holders between them, taking turns using the IPOD and Kindle.

When I was a kid, my sisters and I sat three across (best case scenario) in a 1984 Honda Accord, and on long road trips we had to ride in the back of a pickup truck with a camper top. Our travel plans never included layovers at roadside motels, instead we traveled like refugees, leaving at odd hours and sleeping in rest area parking lots, eating what seemed like at the time as one meal every few days. We did not have movies to watch—we only had three to five Cabbage Patch Dolls per person and some am/fm walk-mans that we could occasionally tune to a static version of Eddie Murphy’s “Party all the Time.” The truck had one of those tiny windows between us and the cab that locked from the inside. If we wanted to talk our parents, we had to knock on the window. Sometimes they would open it, but more often they just made a series of unproductive gestures and then shrugged as if there was nothing they could do.

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Parenting Wins

The single most difficult moment in parenting happens right after your kid draws the gingerbread man card in Candy Land. When my son was little he would sob uncontrollably, and I would have to spend my entire afternoon rocking him to calm him down. My daughter just screams and then sweeps everything off the board like she is Godzilla terrorizing a sleepy fishing village. I have considered removing that card, but then I feel like I would be cheating them of a valuable lesson. Also, it keeps me from dying of boredom while playing.  As my kids near the candy castle, I wince each time they draw a new card, and then let out a sigh of relief when the card is a single orange square. When I draw the gingerbread man, I exaggerate how accepting I am of my fate. I shrug my shoulders and say that it is just part of the game, “Oh well. I can still catch up, or whatever, King Kandy is not really my type.” It is very similar to the way I act when someone dumps me. “I totally understand. Good decision. There are still a few good years left before I just give up, move to Florida, and become a crack whore.”

A similar parenting danger zone is when we play a game and I win. This happens all the time because I am smart and great at games. Also I am 39. When my son was little I took him to a child therapist because he was so competitive and would get crazy mad whenever he lost. She played a game of Uno with him while I watched. She let him win. “Oh,” I said.

When I was growing up my mom never let me win, and we weren’t playing games like Candy Land or Uno. We were playing Spades and Gin. She knew every card that had been played and what was still left in both of our hands. “You know the Ace hasn’t been played yet, right?” She would say. No, I did not know that because I was five. After my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I played a game of Gin Rummy with her and my mom. It was my mom’s idea, and I was not sure it was a great idea because my grandmother had spent most of the afternoon telling me to get the baby out of the bathtub, which was terrifying until I remembered we did not have a baby. My grandmother won, and then she lit a cigarette and fell asleep in her chair.

After you have survived watching your children deal with the pain of being a loser, everything else in parenting is easy, as long as you can get a good night’s sleep, which is never going to happen. Before you have a baby, people warn you about the sleep deprivation. I don’t blame them. It is sort of like if your friend survives climbing Mount Everest, and you mention that you are planning to attempt a similar quest, he doesn’t just say, “Meh. No biggie.” He shares his experience to prepare you for the physical and mental challenges. Maybe the impetus to share is based a little more on bragging than sincere concern for your well-being, and maybe he is a little bit of a condescending asshole, but he survived, and he earned it. However, what people do not tell you is that you may never actually sleep through the night again, the way someone who recently climbed Everest might not mention that there is not actually a bar with tank top wearing models serving ice cold Coors Light at the top.

Yes, sleeping with a newborn is tough, but as kids grow they just continually reach new milestones that interrupt your sleep. There is the crawling out of the crib stage, the bed-wetting stage, the scared of the dark phase, and then there is the stage after your kid learns about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse, and she is too terrified to sleep, or you really slip in the parental control department and your kid watches The Hangover 2 and has nightmares about one crazy night in Bangkok. Then apparently there is the stage where you don’t sleep because your kid is out driving around doing all the things you definitely did while driving around as a teenager, and you question how you could get that lucky twice.

In my house, we are currently in the nightmares and fear of abandonment stage. Earlier this week both my kids were in my bed in the middle of the night, like a couple of 50-pound newborn babies. My son had a bad dream. He said, “You know the conductor from Dinosaur Train?”

“Say no more,” I said.

My daughter whimpered in the background, “I can only sleep if I am with someone.”

“Say no more.”

I led them back to their rooms and spent time passed out in each of their beds. We all switched places multiple times, our three paths crossing up and down the hall like our own little disoriented trail of tears—mainly mine. Finally, as my daughter stood in the hallway holding her blanket, sucking her thumb, I just got up and shut my door. In her face. I found her the next morning in her brother’s room. There will come a time when I am no longer around, and they will have to take care of each other, and maybe that time is 3 a.m.

The next day I was tired, but that is just the parenting new normal. Maybe we will get through this stage soon, but there is just another one gearing up right behind it. I remember when my daughter used to bite people, mainly adorable little babies. She would grab their cheeks and then just go in for the kill. When she was in preschool they moved her up to an older age group class because those kids were better able to defend themselves. I told everyone she was just really advanced. I tried a lot of different methods to get her to stop: I removed her from the situation, I bit her back, and then I even resorted to something I like to call “deliberate ignoring.” This is my favorite style of parenting where I just pretend like nothing is happening. I like to think that it keeps the kids from getting attention from bad behavior, but also I am pretty lazy. Eventually she stopped biting, and we moved into a new difficult phase. I know that eventually my kids will not care about winning Candy Land. They will move onto bigger and better games, and it will be even more exhilarating for me when I win.

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Sleep Like a Baby

There is one major challenge that I face each day: putting the kids to bed. I look forward to it because sometimes that is the only chance I get to spend quality time with them just reading a book or talking, and because once they are asleep then I can relax on the couch with a bottle of champagne and binge watch episodes of Weeds on Netflix. With my daughter, I have battled the bedtime ritual since she first crawled out of her crib at fourteen months old. I remember finding her standing in the hall and then closing and frantically rubbing my eyes, hoping that when I opened them again she would be gone, but it didn’t work. She was real. She was out. She was awake. That was five years ago. She has only gotten stronger and more determined since, while I am only getting lazier and more decrepit. My daughter will use any excuse she can think of to get out of her bed. She has to go to the bathroom. She heard a noise. She had a nightmare. I walk her back to her room, tuck her into the covers, and whisper, “You can’t have a nightmare until you actually go to sleep.”

If they offered an advanced degree in effectively and easily putting children to bed, I would enroll immediately, even if working towards the degree took years of intense training and cost millions of dollars in tuition. They don’t offer this degree, though, for the same reason they don’t offer degrees in time travel or relating to your mother-in-law because these skills cannot be taught. Nobody knows how to do this—or if it is even possible—even people who have kids that go to bed easily and on command are probably just lucky enough to have kids with severe narcolepsy. I can see this as a trait we could pick from a genetic menu. I would like a male child with blue eyes, a high IQ, and a sleep disorder. If you are still trying to find the perfect mate for procreation and you find someone who falls asleep during your first dinner date and then sleeps for eight to ten hours straight, you should never let that person go. Especially if you are a woman because once you have kids many men develop sleep disorders anyway, so you might as well cash in on the congenital version and get your money’s worth. If you do not have children and you have a male partner who bolts awake ready to protect and serve when a branch falls on the soft grass three houses down, you will be constantly surprised at how he can so easily sleep through a child screaming in the room right down the hall.

Being a parent, it seems completely normal to hear footsteps running towards my room in the middle of the night. It is also normal to wake up and find someone standing next to the bed staring at me. If I woke up and there was a murderer in my room instead of one of my kids, I would probably be relieved. That would be a lot less work for me. My kids need me to be in charge, even at three a.m. They wet their bed. They are afraid of zombies. They can only go back to sleep while kicking me in the spleen. Most of my overnight parenting involves me acting really annoyed. My son will come in crying and shivering to tell me he peed in the bed, and I will just make a loud huffy sigh. Then I wander into his room, like a blind drunk person, and he follows me. I throw him some dry underwear and somehow change his sheets without really opening either of my eyes. Then I grab his shoulders, lead him back to his bed, push him towards a sleeping position, pull the sheets up, and wander back to my room. Then I suddenly feel wide awake, and I lay there for the next three hours worrying about whether or not I wrote down that we are out of soy sauce on my grocery list—all the way in the other room.

At the exact second that I drift back to sleep, my daughter dashes in and crawls over me, kneeing me in the face. Right when we both get resituated, she asks if I can get her some milk. “No,” I say with my eyes still closed. Then she starts to cry about how she is so thirsty. “Fine!” I scream. At night I am like the DMV clerk of parenting. I am not being paid enough to pretend like I want to be there. Then when I get back with her milk, she is sound asleep and has completely taken over my spot in the bed. I try to slide her over, but she is like a body of water, always taking up whatever space is presented.  The more I push her away the more she somehow spreads out so I have even less room available than I started with. I just lay down in the two inch space she left on the edge, propped up on my side like a two-by-four. I sigh loudly and then the alarm goes off.

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Don’t Mind Me (as I write down everything you say)

I have been into lists lately. Sometimes I take notes when my kids say funny shit. I like to think this will not be damaging to them, but who am I kidding? My seven-year-old boy is a serious mix of ambition, angst, and affection. He will definitely have road rage as an adult, but he will also be the first person to reach out for a hug. In the meantime, he makes me laugh. Here are some things I have heard him say recently:

I like Hailey. I would never fart in front of her.

It is a good thing there are squid or else I wouldn’t have anything to hate.

Do we have any Kaboom with Oxi Clean?

If we ever go to war and have to use fruit, we are going with pineapple because if someone threw a grape at me, it wouldn’t really hurt.

Going to bed is my worst enemy.

When we don’t have any Gatorade, which is pretty much every day, then I like to drink water.

But seriously what would happen if there was no sun?

The baby was pooped out, just like mom did to us when we were born.

I also have notes from my five-year-old daughter, and I have thought about writing a list with her comments and asking people to guess who said it, either some old man pervert or my adorable girl. I am pretty sure most people would guess wrong. Here are some of the memorable things she has said to me recently:

Can I touch your boobs?

Girl, get in here and let me see your style!

Those pants make me like you more.

I farted.

When can we have some drinks?

I am pretty sure that when she is older we are going to be great friends.

Pee Talk

Last week, my four-year-old daughter, who has been potty-trained for two years, peed on the floor in front of her time-out spot, which is in an out of the way corner in the dining room. She came to tell me in a calm voice, “Mom, I peed on the floor in there. Sorry, it was just an accident.” However, I can’t help but feel that she was trying to send me a message, and I believe it goes something like this: take your time-outs and piss off. What confuses me is not her clever and messy message, but the fact that she doesn’t realize she has already won the time-out battle.

Have you ever been to a rodeo and seen the part where the kids try to lasso a goat? That is a good representation of me attempting to put her in time-out, but in our scenario I am usually inappropriately dressed (I get why the belt has become a staple of the cowboy ensemble), and she is the fastest, most cunning, most daring little goat that the West has ever seen.  Also, since we believe in lasso-free parenting (for now), even if I catch her, I can’t exactly keep her there. Pissing on the floor in front of time-out was not necessary, but she did it anyway . . . because she could.

The deliberate nature of her so-called accident is supported by this child’s ability to “hold it” for unreasonably long periods of time. She never wets her bed, and on car trips she is capable of traversing entire states without having to stop and go. If she ever becomes an astronaut and needs to drive from Texas to Florida to terrorize an ex-boyfriend and his new lady, she will not need to wear a diaper because she can hold it the entire way. Also, I hope the popularity of the bladder bust is revitalized by the time she gets to college because I want her to have every possible chance to succeed.

My son is the opposite. When he says he has to go, it generally means we have under a minute to get him to a bathroom or at least just off the carpet. When he was potty-training, my husband would take him outside, and they would pee all over our yard. When we are travelling, and my son says he has to go, my husband just pulls over on the side of the road, and lets him piss on the shoulder of the highway or in someone’s front yard. The world is his toilet. One of the big selling points about our mini-van for my husband is that he can open the side door and let him pee without even having to get out. I hope they have never done it while the van is in motion, but I am sure it something they have both considered.

My son also likes to pee on things, over things, and in groups. This summer, we were on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we walked out on a boardwalk near the highest point. We looked out at the mountains’ dark blue silhouettes in the distance and down at the rocky terrain sloping away underneath. My son looked at me and said, “I want to pee off it.”

I let him.

The Write Time

People must be thinking, who is this trailblazer of technology starting a blog in the year 2012? Does she live in a spaceship? Can her phone simultaneously send out tweets and make wasabi foam?

Starting a blog now, when being concise is king and character limits are measured like golf scores, seems comical. That is funny shit all by itself. Blogging is retro, and like wearing neon, I am not sure why it was popular to begin with. I have never followed other bloggers, except when I had an office job, and I would read anything. I once spent two days engrossed in the manual to my HP printer (if you ever need your rollers cleaned, just let me know). Now, I have very little “extra” time. I have two children, a husband, an unwritten graduate thesis, and I just started teaching my first composition class. I stopped writing things like “mop kitchen” on my to-do list long ago because, like having a social life, or having kids who brush their teeth, having a clean house is one of those things that has been pushed to the backburner.

I also stopped writing. I had plenty of excuses for not writing: I have to focus on my school work, I have to get the kids fed, I have to finish this six-pack. When in reality, not writing was actually doing me the most harm. In my graduate classes I wrote constantly, but I wasn’t creating anything that seemed like me. Mainly, I was writing literary criticism mixed with some research about composition theory. I was writing as a caricature of myself—the me that is a graduate student—the me that uses words like “marginalized” and “discourse.” While the me that says things like, “drink up, bitches” and “Olive Garden can suck it” was left floundering, gasping for air.

I used to identify myself as a writer, but then other words that seemed so much bigger, words like “mother” and “wife,” clouded that once integral part of my identity. The fact that my writing sparkles when I am the most honest about myself and my personal shortcomings made balancing family life and writing even more difficult. Adrienne Rich, who heralds the importance of subversion in the creative process, describes how the poetry she published after the birth of her first child suffered because if her poetry displayed “periods of null depression or active despairing, these could only mean that [she] was ungrateful, insatiable, perhaps a monster” (23).

Once I had children, I found it increasingly difficult to be truthful in my writing. Sure, it was easier when they were babies, back when we could rock them to sleep while watching The Sopranos, but once my house started to reverberate with the sounds of Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer, I felt like I needed to clean up my act. Maybe I shouldn’t write about the time(s) I puked up Jell-O shots or about my sheer shirt period (aka the 1990’s). But now my kids are in elementary school, and they watch a show called Adventure Time, which I am pretty sure is meant for stoned teenagers. I figure if they can handle a parody of the exorcist that involves a princess made out of bubblegum, then they can handle their mom spilling the beans on the Internet.

Every time I write, I recreate myself. I change history. I put what got me to this moment into perspective—on my terms. Writing is my Xanax. When I get caught up in the doing of life, and I don’t take time to reflect and to continually renegotiate myself and what I am doing, then I unravel. By starting a blog, I am forcing myself to make time to write, and not just in soundbytes, but laborious, lengthy prose.

Work cited:

Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision.” College English 34.1 (1972): 18-30. Web. JSTOR. 9 Apr. 2012.