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Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open

 

What it feels like being the parent of a toddler. (The blocks represent your sanity.)

Before my husband and I had kids, we talked about having kids. A lot. We discussed how many we wanted (2), what we’d name them, how we’d discipline them (Ha! OUR kids wouldn’t need disciplining). We promised each other we’d never become one of those couples that put their kids before their marriage. We’d still go out on dates and take long weekends  (That’s what grandparents are for, right?). We’d definitely still see our friends.

Fast forward a decade later. We have two kids. But the rest of that stuff we promised each other? Let’s just say we were a little—OK, a lot—naive.

There are so many things I wish I’d known before we had kids—like the fact that they suck the enjoyment out of everything, for example. Not that having this knowledge would have changed my desire to have them, but it would have been nice to have gone in eyes wide open. Like most soon-to-be parents, though, I thought we were prepared.

We researched pediatricians and read parenting books. We even did one of those online quizzes that tell you if you’re ready to be a parent—and passed! The problem with these quizzes is that they only take into account physical, emotional and financial readiness. My husband and I were both healthy and had a strong support system. Our finances were good. What more was there to think about? Turns out, a fucking lot.

This quiz is for all the young people out there debating whether or not to start a family in 2018. May you go in with eyes wide open.

1. What is your idea of a perfect vacation?

A. Lying on a beach anywhere in the Caribbean

B. Sightseeing in Europe

C. Five nights at the water park adjacent to the Best Western

2. How much sleep do you need to function?

A. 6-7 hours

B. 8 hours or more

C. 0-5 hours

3. How much time do you spend getting ready in the morning?

A. 20-30 minutes

B. 45-60 minutes

C. Less than 5 minutes

4. When you go to a store, do you … 

A. Stick to a list and get in and out as quickly as possible

B. Grab a cup of coffee and browse

C. Run down the aisles, knocking stuff off shelves and opening items you don’t want but will be forced to pay for

5. When it comes to dinner, do you prefer … 

A. A reservation at a nice restaurant

B. A cozy home-cooked meal

C. Chicken nuggets and cold mac & cheese (eaten standing up)

6. It’s movie night! What do you watch?

A. The latest mystery/thriller

B. A thought-provoking drama

C. The same Disney movie you watched the night before or nothing

7. When you take a bath do you enjoy … 

A. Dimming the lights and relaxing in silence

B. Lighting scented candles and listening to music

C. Pretending you’re in a pool and splashing as much water as possible onto the floor until you flood the room

8. What smell most appeals to you?

A. Fresh cut flowers

B. A mug of freshly brewed coffee

C. A combination of urine and sour milk

9. What’s your idea of a fun night out on the town?

A. A romantic dinner and a movie

B. Meeting up with friends for dinner and drinks

C. Driving a mini van full of screaming kids to and from various sporting events and birthday parties (sober)

10. Where do you keep your peanut butter?

A. In a cabinet

B. In a refrigerator

C. Smeared over the walls, sofa and computer keyboard

Results

Mostly As and Bs: You should probably keep it wrapped up. Maybe you’ll make a great aunt or uncle some day. For now, you should go snuggle with your dog or cat until the urge to procreate passes, and then thank me for saving your life.

Mostly Cs: What the hell is wrong with you? You’re either an extremely deranged individual or you’re ready to be a parent. Godspeed!

Give my kids chores? I’d rather do them myself

Give my kids chores? I’d rather do them myself

My son’s idea of hanging up his clothes. (Not shown: all the clothes that ended up on the floor.)

Every time I ask my kids to do chores, it almost always results in more work for me. It’s not that they don’t try, they do, just not hard enough. This is the perfect example: Hang up your clean shirts I tell my 11-year-old. Should be a simple enough task, right? But what does he do? Instead of putting his shirts on hangers like a normal person, he slings them over the rod in his closet. And in the process of doing so, he somehow manages to knock other shirts off their hangers and onto the floor. So instead of having a couple shirts to hang up, I now have an entire closet to clean.

What happens when I ask my son to empty the bathroom trash bins? He ends up leaving a trail of dirty tissues from one bathroom to the next. And since he’s too grossed out by the garbage to actually put his precious hand inside any of the bins and clean them out, whatever shit is stuck to the bottom (like the gum he likes to spit out) stays stuck to the bottom of the can. Again, making more work for me.

The Trail of Forgotten Toilet Paper

Clean the countertops? My son does a great job on that front. The countertops are spotless when he finishes with them. But then it’s the floor that needs cleaning. When I ask him how all the crumbs that were on the counter ended up on the floor, he just shrugs.

I’ve tried giving my toddler simple chores to do, like putting away her puzzles. To her credit, she manages to put the pieces away just fine, but mixed up in the wrong boxes, so I’m left to sort them out.

Once, I thought she’d done an amazing job cleaning up her Play-Doh. She lined up all the little containers in a row on her shelf and shut them all tight. I couldn’t believe it. Then, two days later, she starts screaming that someone stole all her Play-Doh. Turns out, all the containers she had so neatly put away were EMPTY. After searching the entire house for nearly an hour, I found a dozen baseball-size chunks of Play-Doh, solid as rocks, under her bed.

Play-Doh baseball, anyone?

Suffice it to say, I’ve had enough of cleaning up after my kids’ “clean-up” jobs. So here’s what I’m going to do about it: From now on, every time my kids do a half-ass job on a chore that I need to do over, I’m charging them for it. Cash money, baby! Of course, I can’t do this with my toddler. Yet. But my son has a whole piggy bank full of birthday, Easter and Christmas money that I could definitely use. I have a feeling that once he’s paying me $2 for every un-emptied trash bin and $1 for every shirt left on the closet floor, his cleaning skills will improve drastically. And if they don’t improve, that’s cool too. I could use the extra cash.

 

 

 

 

 

Living with OCD

Living with OCD

What do restaurant menus, credit card electronic signature pens, library books, ATM machines, hotel room remote controls, bowling balls, counter tops, light switches and door handles all have in common? I can’t touch any of them with my bare hands without becoming extremely agitated. I even have a hard time flushing my own toilet. I use a tissue. Then I wash my hands. And before you ask why I’d feel the need to do this in my own house, let me say this: I have two kids. They’re pretty much walking, talking germ-balls. I also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and emetophobia (fear of vomiting, a story for another time).

For those of you who aren’t mentally ill (congratulations!), OCD is a chronic disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts ( obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions). For me, the reoccurring thought is “germs are going to make me and my family sick” and the behavior is hand washing and avoiding touching things. It’s gotten better over the years with medication, therapy and the advent of hand sanitizer. Yet every once and a while, I feel my OCD flare up again. These flare-ups mostly occur during flu season. Lucky for me, I have the ability to work from home. I didn’t always.

Before I worked from home, I worked in an office environment for, like, 12 years. It was AWFUL. I had to see people and talk to them. I’d have to interact with sick coworkers. But the worst part was dealing with the office bathroom. I couldn’t touch the door handle, that was out of the question. And driving 15 miles back home every time I had to pee wasn’t feasible. So I had to rely on my innate survival skills and creepiness to get me through. I’m good at lurking, for example. None of my coworkers would notice me lurking outside the bathroom door if I pretended to be texting on my phone. I’d lurk until someone came around, then sneak in behind them.

Ways to open the office bathroom door without touching it

Over the years, I came up with a variety of strategies to avoid contaminating my hands. Here are a few of them. Some worked better than others.

  1. Lurk outside the bathroom until Grace’s coffee kicks in, then slip in ninja-style behind her
  2. Wrap your hand in a roll of paper towels. If anyone questions where all the paper towels that were in the breakroom went, blame Andy from the IT department. (Everyone thinks he’s a serial killer anyway.)
  3. Wear extra long sleeves, even in the summer, then pull them over your hands and use them to open the door (Warning: this can be tricky if you’re dealing with a slippery handle or knob.)
  4. Pretend you lost both your hands in a tragic boating accident. Your company will be forced to install an automatic door to accommodate your disability per ADA regulations
  5. Tell your boss you’ll drop the sexual harassment charges if he opens the door for you (without following you inside this time)
  6. Use telekinesis
Where to hide the Elf on the Shelf so your kids will never find it

Where to hide the Elf on the Shelf so your kids will never find it

  1. The dishwasher
  2. The refrigerator vegetable drawer, the fruit bowl, or anywhere fruits and vegetables live
  3. On top of the washing machine, in plain sight
  4. The drawer next to your bed where you keep your vibrator
  5. In the basement behind the furnace
  6. The cat’s litter box
  7. Behind the box of old VHS tapes in the attic
  8. At Billy’s house, because his family celebrates Hanukah
  9. In the bin with all the Legos your kids no longer use because all they want to do is play the goddamn Xbox
  10. On the bookshelf behind the collection of parenting and self-help books you keep meaning to read
  11. Inside the box of Raisin Bran
  12. The fucking garbage

 

 

A Cringe-worthy Christmas Card?

A Cringe-worthy Christmas Card?

It’s that time of year again! The only time of year I actually look forward to opening the mail delivered by ye olde postmaster or postmistress. I’m not sure which (postmaster or postmistress) we have, but I’ll soon find out. Because between now and January 1, I’ll be stalking our mailbox for the delivery of red and green envelopes.

I love getting holiday cards in the mail. I was feeling pretty satisfied with my own family Christmas card this year—until I showed it to my sister. While she thought it was funny, she said she also thought it might make some people cringe. (This, coming from the woman whose last Christmas card featured her and her husband’s faces superimposed over Mary and Joseph’s in the nativity scene, with their cat, Norman, taking the place of our Lord and Savior.) I hope she’s wrong.

There’s nothing unique about my choice of card this year. We have a smiling photo of the kids and the usual well wishes for a happy holiday on the front of the card. On the backside, I included a short recap of the year. It’s something I’ve done many times before. The only difference this year was, I didn’t leave out the bad parts. Here’s why: There’s ample evidence on social media, in the photos and status updates we share, of how amazing our lives are. Isn’t Christmas the one time of year we should be brutally honest? Because Santa is watching, and I think an honest Christmas card is long overdue.

You may say, what’s wrong with only showing the good moments? No one wants to hear that I’m going through a divorce or I lost my job or need help. No one wants to see my piece of shit gingerbread house or hear about how I lost my kid in Target. OK. Fair enough. But are you sure about that? Are you really, really sure? I’d argue some people would want to know, if only to laugh at you. I’m just kidding. It’s because they care about you. They’d want to know because they care about you.

The problem with only showing the Instagram-worthy moments of our lives is that there are some people out there who actually buy it. (The “it” being the illusion that our lives are perfect.) So for all those people, I wrote this:

 

 

Gingerbread House Fail 2017

Gingerbread House Fail 2017

Another holiday season, another gingerbread house fail. This is what I imagine our gingerbread house will look like …

This is what it actually looks like …

 

So there’s no fighting, every year, I let each kid pick a side to decorate. (If I’m lucky, I’ll get the back of the house or the roof. My husband gets nothing and likes it.) We all work on the house at the same time. The rule is no one can peek at the other person’s side until everyone is finished decorating. Then comes time for the big reveal!

Here’s my three-year-old’s side …

A little sparse, probably because most of the frosting and candy she had to work with went into her stomach.

Here’s what was supposed to be MY side, until she took over …

And finally, here’s my 11-year-old’s side …

What can I say? The boy loves to draw scissors.

I’ll display the gingerbread house on the dining room table for a couple weeks. Then, on the day before we’re to have guests over for our annual Christmas party, a terrible tragedy will befall the gingerbread house. Mom will “accidentally” knock over the house while dusting, or vacuuming, or drinking a glass of wine. I’ll explain to the kids that while I tried hard to put the house back together, in the end, it was a total loss.

Of course, I’ll swear that it will never, ever happen again. (Until next year.) There will be some tears, sure, but they will stop when I just happen to find extra chocolate left over from the advent calendar. If the chocolate doesn’t appease them, I’ll offer them each five dollars. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll promise to make a special trip to Costco the day after Christmas to pick up a discounted Hanukkah house, which I’ll let them decorate and display on the dining room table until the day before our New Year’s Eve party, when tragedy will strike once again.

Things My Toddler Wants to Eat More Than Her Vegetables

Things My Toddler Wants to Eat More Than Her Vegetables

 

1. Mystery cereal stuck to the bottom of the car seat

2. Her boogers, her friend’s boogers, anyone’s boogers

3. Marbles

4. Hand sanitizer

5. The fuzzy stuff in between her toes

6. Any flavor of Chapstick

7. Construction paper

8. Play Doh that’s been under the dresser since 2015

9. Dog biscuits

10. Diaper rash cream

11. Lollipop stuck to the bottom of the slide at the playground

12. The dead fly on the windowsill

13. Petroleum jelly

14. Candy from a stranger

15. Stuff on the bottom of her shoe

16. Decorative fruit on Grandma’s coffee table

17. Shower gel

18. Garden mulch

19. Piece of broccoli she hid in her shirt that fell into the toilet

20. Her mother’s tears

Complaints By Tina

Complaints By Tina

My new business card.

I’ve always been a nonconfrontational person. It’s just my nature. I’d rather sit through three red lights in a row than beep my horn at the driver in front of me who’s too busy texting to notice the light is green. However, it’s also my nature to be passive-aggressive. So while I may not beep, I will take down the driver’s license-plate number and call it into the police.

Being that I’m passive-aggressive, but also filled with a healthy sense of entitlement, I’m great at complaining. I just won’t do it in person. For two reasons: 1) I’m a coward, and 2) I’m much better on paper.

Witticisms, insults, persuasive arguments—I can’t produce these on the fly. I need time to formulate these things in my head before letting them loose in the world. When face-to-face with another human being with whom I have a dispute, I either lose my ability to speak or cry. Usually both. So over the years, I’ve become skilled in the art of complaint writing. Some may call it a gift. I do.

My husband used to hate my gift. But his attitude changed pretty quickly when we started getting free shit. Turns out, he likes receiving complimentary drinks and gift cards for subpar service at restaurants. He also enjoys getting free nights at hotels, which is surprisingly easy to do when you find discarded toenails on your suite’s bathroom floor — and complain to the right person. (Typically a manager or someone higher up the food chain.) We once got an entire weekend comped at an upscale resort after I complained about a rude front desk clerk and slow service at the resort’s restaurant.

During a flight to Connecticut last fall, I noticed a page in the book I was reading was wet. I looked up and found the ceiling directly above my head was leaking. The plane wasn’t full, so I was able to switch my seat, but not before I took a photo of the leak. Of course, I emailed the airline as soon as I got home. An hour later, I had myself 60,000 sky miles and $200.

The reason I complain isn’t so much because I want free stuff—although it’s a nice perk—or because I’m a jerk, although that can’t be ruled out. I complain because I work hard for my money (or I did before I lost my job) and expect to get what I pay for, quality-wise.

Some may say that people who complain have nothing better to do with their time. I think it’s just the opposite. I complain because my time is valuable. It’s a big inconvenience when I have to change rooms at a hotel, switch seats on a plane, or drive to the mall to return a brand-new toaster because it doesn’t work. In these cases, complaining is not superfluous, it’s necessary. For what defense does the consumer have against big corporations but to use her voice to complain? We don’t want to be sheep, do we? We want to be mighty oxen! Or wolves! Or some other animal that intimidates.

Feeling Entitled? Call Tina!

Being a professional complainer isn’t easy. You have to be tenacious. You have to be articulate. You have to be willing to make empty threats. In short, you have to be a bigger asshole than the assholes you’re dealing with. And most of all, you have to be willing to wait—on-hold, on-line, sometimes for hours. Complaining at this level isn’t for everyone. That’s where my new business idea comes in …

Complaints by Tina (Feeling entitled? Call Tina!) offers the services of a professional complainer, including, but not limited to, strongly worded emails, social media trolling and photography services (In case you need visual documentation to serve as evidence.)

I write the emails, wait on hold, and make it rain gift cards, vouchers and coupons, so you don’t have to!

I’ll let you all know when I’m up and running.

 

 

The Glue That Holds My Sanity Together

The Glue That Holds My Sanity Together

Being out of work offers a person an abundance of time for introspection. The first couple weeks after I lost my job I spent feeling sorry for myself. It’s easy for someone like me (a die-hard pessimist) to wallow in self-pity. Luckily, I still had health insurance through my husband’s employer and a good therapist, so I was able to break out of my slump relatively quickly.

When the fog lifted, I decided that I would not waste the time I’d gained from losing my job–I’d use it to focus on my writing. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog. While I love to write, with two young kids, making time for writing (or anything) has always been a challenge. The fact that this blog exists is the gentle nudge I need to keep up the habit. Caffeine also helps. (You know how a cup of coffee can trigger a smoker’s desire for a cigarette? For me, it triggers a desire to write.)

Most of the short stories I post here will eventually, if they haven’t already, become longer stories and essays. Hopefully, one day I’ll have enough to fill a book. That’s the goal anyway.

So although I’m still looking for a job, I’m also dedicating an hour or so each day to writing. And not because it’s easy or even because I enjoy it, but because I need it. For me, writing is a lot like exercise. I don’t look forward to it. I usually have to force myself to do it. But when it’s over, I feel fantastic. No matter what else happens during the course of the day, at least I’ve taken care of this one thing that’s so important. It’s a way of centering.

The difference between “should” and “must”

It’s only taken me 40 years, but I’ve finally stopped focusing on “should” and started focusing on “must.”  What does that mean exactly? Well, there’s a great book about it, but the basic premise is this: “Should” is what we feel we ought to be doing, or what is expected of us. “Must” is the thing we dream of doing, the thing we love most. In short, a “must” is anything that feeds your soul.

My “shoulds” include:

  • Volunteer for the PTA
  • Clean out the closets
  • Stop saying “fuck” in front of the kids
  • Go to church every Sunday
  • Make art with Gwen
  • Learn a new language
  • Organize the 5,000 photos on my laptop
  • Put up the Christmas lights
  • Cook something with kale

My “musts” list is shorter:

  • Hug and kiss my kids
  • Write 300 words a day
  • Bake cookies

I know what you’re thinking. Who has time to do what they love? Well, I don’t recommend losing or quitting your job, but I do recommend MAKING the time. You may have to get up at 5 a.m., or stay up past your bedtime, but there is always a way. I imagine that once I find a full-time job I’m going to struggle with getting up earlier than I’d like to write. I’m hopeful that I can make it happen.

Letting go of the “should haves”

I used to waste a lot of time worrying about all the things I should have done with my life career-wise, all the missed opportunities: If only I’d majored in creative writing in college instead of marketing. (I could have had a New York Times best seller by now!) If only I hadn’t spent my 20s in New York City waiting tables and trying to be the next Meryl Streep when I SUCKED at acting. If only I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy during that same period, on Barry (not his real name). If only I hadn’t eaten all those Little Debbie snack cakes, I’d be super skinny right now. (I still wish that.)

Then I realized, if I hadn’t had all those experiences, all the odd jobs and wrong turns and bad boyfriends and bouts of binge eating, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And worse, I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

I blog because writing, like pretending I don’t see my 3-year-old drinking out of the parmesan cheese shaker at Applebee’s, is the glue that holds my sanity together. And since having kids, I need a shitload of glue.

 

“Don’t Worry, It Gets Better,” And Other Parenting Lies

“Don’t Worry, It Gets Better,” And Other Parenting Lies

Lately, I seem to be surrounded by friends and neighbors with babies. And because I have two seemingly well-adjusted children, every once in a while one of these new moms will ask for my advice. Do I tell her the truth?, I think to myself, or do I fall back on that old lie seasoned parents use when a newbie complains about sleepless nights, teething or endless ear infections: “Don’t worry, it gets better!”

When I hear that, all I can think is, Really? When? Because from where I’m standing, it doesn’t get better, it only gets … different. While you may eventually get more sleep, lose the baby weight and see your friends again, nothing will ever be the way it was before.

Another lie – OK, half-truth – I hear people use: “Hang in there, it gets easier.” Again, no. Things may get more tolerable after the first few years, but “easy”? You best just remove that word from your vocabulary. Because just when you think you’ve figured out the whole parenting thing, another challenge arises. And another. And another.

The truth is this: Being a mom can be wonderful, sure, but it can also be downright painful. That pain can catch you off-guard, too, like stepping on a Lego on your way to bathroom in the middle of the night. One minute everything is fine; the next minute, you’re lying on the floor in the fetal position, crying your eyes out.

I think we do a disservice to new moms by telling them it gets better or easier. Because then they expect it to get better or easier, and when it doesn’t, they feel like they’ve failed in some way. I’ve been a mom for 11 years and I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing most days.

Rather than give these moms false hope, I say we try a little honesty: Most days, being a mom sucks. You can do everything right and it still sucks. But if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll figure things out well enough. Remember, there’s no such thing as the Perfect Parent. She doesn’t exist. So do your best and practice a little self-compassion. Chances are, your kids will turn out just fine. And if they don’t, well, you can always use their college fund to pay for a good therapist.

Mmmmmmm, thank you for the donut, Mommy. I love you. Wait, did you just touch my napkin? I hate everyone!!!!!!