Baseball and Other Hazards of Having Kids
Having children irreversibly changes your life. Before I had children, my husband and I talked about it. We discussed how we thought our lives would change with the arrival of a baby. We took classes on childbirth and parenting. We were prepared. Or so we thought.
The thing is, although we took classes and read books and knew what to expect as far as the baby’s feeding, sleeping, diapering, and developmental milestones, we were clueless about all the other stuff that comes with having children. The kind of stuff that isn’t covered in books.
For example, coming up with a name for your baby that you and your spouse both agree on is harder than you might think. And although you know your baby won’t sleep through the night when it’s first born, nothing really prepares you for the insomnia of mammoth proportions that you’ll experience or the zombie-like state in which you will survive for months. Then there’s the dreaded pregnancy weight gain and the subsequent attempts to lose the excess blubber.
Before you have children, you can’t imagine yourself saying things like “Don’t put chocolate milk in your pants,” “Take the hot dog out of your nose,” or “Because I said so!”
When you’re expecting your first child, no one tells you you’ll soon be spending every second of your life in your car as you drive that child to baseball practice or gymnastics meets or swimming lessons. You don’t really prepare for this ahead of time. One day you just find yourself in the position of chauffeur.
When you’re pregnant, you don’t realize that in about five years, you’ll have to try out your acting skills by playing the part of the Tooth Fairy. This doesn’t even cross your mind before you have kids. And you certainly can’t imagine yourself saying things like “Don’t put chocolate milk in your pants,” “Take the hot dog out of your nose,” or “Because I said so!”
Alas, these are just a few of the hazards of parenting.
A Rose by Any Other Name
My kids are all named after cities: Austin, Savannah, Jackson, Lexington, Clayton, and Brooklyn.
Yes, Clayton is actually a city, even though it doesn’t sound like one. We were running out of good city names by the time we got to Clay, and we had a hard time deciding on a name. We didn’t pick a name until the day after he was born, despite plenty of “helpful” suggestions from family and friends. Let’s see if I can recall some of their wonderful name ideas. There was Schenectady, Tallahassee, Paul and Minnie (St. Paul and Minneapolis) if I had boy/girl twins, Albuquerque, Tuscaloosa, Kalamazoo, Chattanooga, Poughkeepsie, Punxsutawney, and, of course, my dad’s favorite, Rancho Cucamonga.
As awesome as all these suggestions were, I figured I’d mess up my child enough on my own without giving him a name he’d never be able to spell. Can you imagine the therapy bill for a kid named Punxsutawney?
I didn’t start out with the whole city theme on purpose. I just liked the names Austin and Savannah for my first two kids. After I had them, I realized they were both city names, and I decided to stick with the theme. It spiraled out of control from there. I continued it because I figured I couldn’t have Austin, Savannah, Jackson, Lexington, and then Bob. It just wouldn’t flow. So I gave each of my kids a city name.
With my fifth, Clayton, I’d narrowed down my choices to Dallas, Houston, Branson, and Clayton. (Yes, I used a copy of Rand McNally to get ideas.) My husband and I couldn’t decide, so we let our other kids pick the baby’s name from those four choices. Austin and Savannah both voted for Clayton. Jackson, on the other hand, opted to call him Slicker. He continued to call him Slicker for a good year. At least that was better than his original choice, Nemo.
My dad found all this amusing, and each time I gave birth to another grandchild, he was proud to stand up in church and say, “I have a blessing to announce. My daughter has just given us another city!”
When I was pregnant with my sixth baby, a girl, I ran out of cities and had to move on to the boroughs. Thus Brooklyn was born.
I’m not sure why I bothered to give my kids names at all, because I never can remember them. I spit and sputter, going through a list of disjointed syllables.
“AusSavaJacksLexiBrook-Clayton, get over here right now!” You don’t sound very authoritative when you can’t remember your child’s name. For some reason, the kids just don’t take you seriously when you yell, “JacksSav, er, ClayLex, grrr, whatever your name is! You know who you are!”
My dad used to call my poor sister “Corky.” Corky was the dog. We thought he was crazy. Now I know the truth: we made him crazy. I think I’ll just start calling all my kids Larry to avoid confusion and mix-ups. “Hey Larry, come here.” All the kids would come running. “Larry, set the table, please.” The kids would all rush to place dishes on the table. Or, more likely, the kids would all look at me with blank stares, then nod knowingly to one another, confirming their beliefs that I’d officially lost my mind.
I’m not sure why I bothered to give my kids names at all, because I never can remember them.
I think naming kids today is harder than in past generations. In the past, offspring were named after relatives. Names were chosen from a list of traditional names that had been used for generations. Nowadays, parents can name their children pretty much anything. When a parent names their child Kumquat, for example, society isn’t shocked. Instead they nod and think, “Hmmm, Kumquat. That’s got a nice ring to it.” Traditional boys’ names are given to girls. Girls’ names are given to boys. Pet names are given to babies. Names of flowers, fruit, cars, and electronics are given to children. Miscellaneous combinations of letters are declared names and are bestowed upon daughters and sons. The funny thing is, the different, unique names parents come up with for their children are the very names that make it to the Top 100 list of names. Parents name their child Spleen or X or Zucchini, thinking that they’ll be the only child with that name. But somehow the name catches on and there are four Spleens, Xs, or Zucchinis in your child’s kindergarten class.
And then there’s the most important part of naming your child: the nickname. My kids all have nicknames. All kids have nicknames, whether you want them to or not. You pore over baby-name books for nine months, agonizing over the all-important question of what you can name your baby so no one will give him a goofy nickname. It seems that for every choice you can think of, an unappealing nickname is just waiting to attach itself to your baby.
For example, maybe you like the name Joseph but detest the name Joey. No matter how hard you try, by the time the kid is in kindergarten, at least ten people will call him Joey. Let’s say you’re superadamant about calling your new baby son Joseph and you immediately correct anyone who utters Joe or Joey. He’ll acquire a nickname like Skipper, Stinky, Rhino, or some equally ridiculous moniker that will stick with him for life. It just happens. You might as well accept it.
But the struggle for the right name is only the first of many hazards of having kids.
Sleeping Like a Baby
Sleeping like a baby. Now, tell me, who on earth came up with that nonsense? Talk about an oxymoron. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in sixteen years!
The minute you see that positive pregnancy test, you can pretty much give up on a good night’s sleep for the rest of your life. Sleep deprivation is a way of life for parents. I’m saying that sleep deprivation is a way of life for parents instead of moms because I don’t want to leave out the one father in Passaic, New Jersey, who actually gets up with his baby. For the rest of you moms who walk around like zombies all day because you’ve had only thirty-five minutes of sleep, you are not alone. Why do you think Starbucks is so popular?
It all starts in pregnancy. Some say the sleeplessness of pregnancy is just the body’s way of preparing us for the sleepless nights that lie ahead once the baby arrives. I say it’s a cruel joke designed to make us question our decision to have a child.
For anyone who has never been pregnant and can’t understand how pregnancy could cause difficulty sleeping, try this: eat your weight in salt and walk twenty miles. That should sufficiently swell your ankles. Next, eat fifteen extrahot burritos to make sure you get a whopping case of heartburn. Then do a little weight-lifting. A dead lift of five hundred pounds should do the trick to make your back feel almost as bad as a pregnant woman’s. Before retiring for the night, drink a fifty-five-gallon drum of water to ensure you’ll have to get up to pee every five minutes all night long. Finally, as you lie down to sleep, put a twenty-pound watermelon on your stomach. Sweet dreams!
After the baby is born, when the physical discomforts of pregnancy are gone, you still don’t get a full night’s sleep. You know the baby will wake up during the night. After all, you took the classes. You know the drill. You were warned that your precious newborn would wake up to eat in her first few weeks of life, but nothing really prepares you for the sleep loss that new moms experience. Imagine a smoke alarm that goes off two inches from your head in the middle of the night. The only way to turn off the incessant wailing is to carry it around with you for an hour.
I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t get much better as the kids get older. Instead of getting up to eat, they get up because it’s storming or because they’ve had bad dreams or because they need to tell you something they forgot to tell you five hours earlier when everyone was awake.
When older kids get up in the middle of the night, they don’t scream and cry. You think that would be a plus, don’t you? It isn’t. What older kids do is walk into your bedroom, stand with their face a mere inch away from yours, and then stare at you until somewhere, in the deep recesses of your sleeping brain, you sense them there and crack open your eyelids to a pair of giant eyeballs staring at you. This scares the living daylights out of you, and you will not be able to get back to sleep for at least an hour and probably only with the aid of some nitroglycerin pills.
Nothing really prepares you for the sleep loss that new moms experience.
Then there are the kids who like to stall when it’s time to go to bed. Every night, it’s the same routine. “Can I have a drink of water? Will you read me one more story? I have to go to the bathroom. Can I have another glass of water? Mom, where do monkeys sleep? Can I have another glass of water? Can you help me find my teddy bear? Why does the sun go down at night? Can I have a snack? I have to go to the bathroom again. How old are you, Mom? Can I have another glass of water? Why do you look so tired, Mom?”
Perhaps you’ll be blessed with children who sleep through the night and don’t give you too much grief about going to bed. Even still, once you become a mom, you probably won’t get a full eight hours of sleep on a regular basis. When your child is a baby, you’ll lie awake gazing at their perfect little faces. You’ll periodically lay your hand on their chest, checking for the reassuring rise and fall of their breathing. You’ll worry about your child’s health and whether her growth will be stunted if she lives on ketchup and M&M’s for a month. You’ll worry about his social development: will he be an outcast forever because he bit another kid at preschool? As they grow older, your worries will change: am I really ruining my daughter’s life by not buying her a cell phone; they’d better be home by curfew; I hope they make wise choices; I pray they don’t get in a car accident—but you’ll still lie awake and worry about them.
With all that extra awake time, you could do something productive such as scrub your floors, pay bills, or catch up on reading. I personally like to watch my children sleep, however. They look so angelic when they’re sleeping. Somehow those kids who were running around like rabid hyenas just an hour ago now look so peaceful, so sweet that I forget how they were flinging pudding at the ceiling after dinner. When they’re asleep, I can easily remember why I love this job.
What Does the Tooth Fairy Do with All Those Teeth?
Of course, there will be plenty of other things you’ll be doing instead of sleeping. Moms are always the ones to stay up late to finish chores. Funny how that works. When Dad says he’s going to bed, he actually goes to bed. When Mom says she’s going to bed, what she really means is that she’s going to wash some bottles, fold a load of laundry, check homework, fill out permission slips, feed the dog, make the school lunches, lay out clothes for the little ones, and write notes and lists of chores she will need to accomplish tomorrow. But sometimes Mom gets to do something fun, too.
Playing Tooth Fairy is something I never thought much about until my first child lost his first tooth. He literally lost it. It fell out on the playground amid four thousand bushels of wood chips. What did I do? What any normal mother would have done. I got down on my hands and knees and searched the wood chips around the swings for five hours. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really five hours, but it felt like it. Those wood chips are sharp on the knees!
I really can’t complain, because my mother searched through much, much worse when I was a child. When I was in grade school, I accidentally threw my retainer into the trash compactor with the rest of my garbage at lunchtime. That little piece of plastic probably cost a thousand dollars, so of course my mom went back to the school cafeteria and waded through piles of garbage looking for it. As a special bonus for my mom, they had served turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce for lunch. Can you believe she actually found it? I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but now as a mom myself, I can’t believe she went to those lengths to find the retainer. There is no way my stomach would’ve been able to handle the joy of searching through mountains of mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. If it had happened to me, my kid would have grown up with crooked teeth.
Back to my son’s lost tooth. Of course, I didn’t find his tiny little tooth anywhere. What was I thinking? In fact, I think the saying needle in a haystack should be replaced with tooth in a wood-chip pile. I came up with the brilliant idea of having him draw a picture of his lost tooth so the Tooth Fairy would know that he’d really lost his first baby tooth. I told him she would understand and everything would be fine. It worked that time, but apparently the Tooth Fairy is a bit forgetful. Sometimes (yes, it’s happened more than once) the Tooth Fairy fails to make an appearance.
Is there a more heartbreaking sight than your child walking into your bedroom first thing in the morning, holding the lost tooth and saying, “The Tooth Fairy forgot me last night”?
I was convinced the only thing he would remember from his childhood is that the Tooth Fairy forgot him.
The first time this happened at my house, I felt absolutely horrible. I knew I totally deserved the Worst Mother of the Year award. Looking into Austin’s tear-filled eyes, I started to cry, too. How could I have forgotten? I worried that I’d screwed up my child for life. I was convinced the only thing he would remember from his childhood is that the Tooth Fairy forgot him. I quickly made excuses came up with a plausible explanation. Obviously the Tooth Fairy was extremely busy last night. Many kids must have lost teeth yesterday. Yeah, that’s it! I’m sure she’ll come tonight. I’m positive. Just put your tooth back under your pillow again tonight, sweetheart.
Then the Tooth Fairy took out a second mortgage on her house so she could leave a big guilt offering under my child’s pillow.
When my daughter lost her tooth on Christmas Eve one year, the Tooth Fairy forgot to make an appearance again. On Christmas morning, when my daughter told me sadly that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t come, I said, “That’s because the air traffic controllers in Fairyland had a problem. The Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus couldn’t share airspace. I’m sure she’ll come by tonight when Santa’s not flying around.”
My kids, creative children that they are, once made up a questionnaire for the Tooth Fairy. “What is your real name? Do you have a pet? What do you do with the teeth? Is there more than one Tooth Fairy? Where do you live? What’s your favorite food?” It went on and on and on. When my daughter lost a tooth, she left this questionnaire along with her tooth. Did she leave the questionnaire under her pillow? At the foot of her bed? Nooooo, that would be too easy. She stuck it on her wall with a thumbtack. Not just any wall—the wall on the far side of her bed.
Now, my daughter sleeps in a loft bed. You should’ve seen me climbing up her ladder and attempting to maneuver in ways a human should never move, trying to get this piece of paper off the wall. I’m a short person, so I had to lean on the bed as I reached across my innocently sleeping daughter. As I braced myself by leaning on her bed, my weight pushing on her pillow made her roll toward me at the side of her bed. I backed off so she wouldn’t fall out of bed. As I carefully scooted her back toward the wall, she turned over but didn’t wake up. So far, so good.
I made a brave second attempt at the paper. Yes! I managed to rip the thing from the wall, but the thumbtack went flying! I couldn’t see it in the dim light, and I was afraid that my daughter would roll over it in her sleep and get hurt. So there I was, still balancing on her ladder, leaning over her bed, searching in the dark for a thumbtack.
A stabbing pain in my hand told me that I’d discovered it. However, my little yelp awakened my daughter, so I leapt (okay, more like stumbled) from the ladder and hit the deck. There I was, on the floor, holding perfectly still and trying not to breathe. After what seemed like two and a half days, I could hear her deep, even breathing, but not wanting to chance waking her or her sister, who was sleeping on the other side of the room, I did the army crawl on my elbows and stomach across her floor and out the door. Whew! The lengths we go to so we can preserve the innocence of childhood. That sacrifice alone should cancel out the whole forgetting about the tooth thing, right?
That was the easy part. After that I had to come up with answers to a dozen questions.
“What is your real name?”
Hmmm, what is my real name? What is my real name? What would be a good Tooth Fairy name? Toothy? Nah. Incisor? Nope. Bicuspid? I don’t think so. Mary? Too ordinary. Crystal? Hmmm . . . maybe. That sounds like it could be the name of a fairy.
Okay, next. “Where do you live?”
Ugh. Toothtropolis? No good. Toothtown? Blech. In a castle in the sky? Well, that sounds kind of fairylike.
“What do you do with the teeth?”
What do I do with the teeth? Oh for Pete’s sake! I don’t know! How did she come up with these questions?
“Do you have any pets?”
Would the Tooth Fairy have any pets? What kind of pet would the Tooth Fairy have? A pet with a lot of teeth? How about an alligator?
Halfway through the questionnaire, I realized I was going to have to put this thing back up in her room. I decided it was time to call in reinforcements. I woke my then husband (who has monkey-long arms) and briefed him on his mission. “You have to put the paper back on her wall and leave it without waking her.” He accepted his mission.
The next morning, my daughter told me, “I saw Daddy putting the paper on the wall last night.” I started to freak out. He blew it! After all that, he blew it! Just goes to show, if you want a job done right, you need to do it yourself!
Then, my daughter continued with, “I guess he wanted to read what the Tooth Fairy wrote.” I tried to suppress a smile. She was none the wiser, at least for a little while longer.
Put Me in, Coach
Playing Tooth Fairy is actually tame compared to playing coach or cheerleader for your child’s sporting events. No one told me that as a parent, I would no longer have hobbies of my own. Too late I realized that all of my free time was suddenly devoted to attending my kids’ activities.
Kids today are busy. They’re involved with sports, clubs, after-school activities, volunteer work, church, Scouts, lessons, classes. Basically, this means parents have to take out a large loan to finance said activities. It also means parents spend a minimum of forty hours per week driving their children here and there.
If you love your child, you’ll purchase the professional pictures of her in her costume and the professionally produced DVD of her recital.
For your child to participate in an average dance class, you have to pay for three semesters of classes, a leotard, tights that you need to replace every week when your daughter gets a run in them, and ballet shoes that she outgrows every other month. At the end of the three semesters, you need to purchase tickets to see your own child in her dance recital. Of course, if you love your child, you’ll also purchase the professional pictures of her in her costume and the professionally produced DVD of her recital. If your child takes tap dance in addition to ballet, you can double those costs. If you have two children in dance, quadruple them.
If your kids play baseball, you have to pay not only for the fees to sign them up to play in the league but also for a helmet, bat, glove, uniform, water bottle, bat bag, professional pictures, and, of course, the ER bill when they’re hit in the mouth with a 60 mph fastball.
Now imagine having six kids who are involved in Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, baseball, T-ball, softball, ballet, tap, jazz, piano lessons, saxophone lessons, clarinet lessons, basketball, volleyball, art club, jazz band, French club, church youth group, and cross-country. To finance this, you have to make some adjustments. Giving up extras such as movies, vacations, clothes, and food should free up some of the necessary income. You will also have to sell your house, which is really not a big deal since you’ll be spending every waking moment in your car anyway.
I probably spend about half my life each spring watching baseball games. I don’t mind too much. Baseball season means it’s time to kick back in the bleachers with a hot dog and a cold drink. Time to hang out with friends and work on your tan while cheering the home team on to victory. Unless, of course you’re talking about your kids’ baseball season. That’s a whole other ball game.
First off, we live in Illinois, where we don’t have spring. We have two seasons: winter and construction. Winter lasts through the middle of May and then construction season starts. We go from negative 50 degrees and snow to 190 overnight. When baseball season starts in April, we have to wear winter coats, gloves, and hats to the games. We bring thermoses of hot chocolate and wrap up in blankets as we huddle together, watching the kids play. Then, come May fifteenth, we strip off our parkas, replacing them with tank tops and shorts. We replace the ther-moses of hot chocolate with icy lemonade and the hand warmers with sunscreen.
When baseball season ends, I miss the fun of watching my kids play. I miss spending time as a family at the ballpark. I miss seeing my kids make amazing catches, painful-looking slides into home plate, and awesome throws to first for the out.
What I don’t miss is trying to get dinner on the table at four so we can be at a field across town by five. I definitely don’t miss trying to get the kids to finish their homework the minute they walk in the door from school. I don’t miss packing up coolers with water and bags with jackets, sunscreen, toys, coloring books, and snacks for the little ones. I don’t miss the endless questions: “Do you have your bat? Do you have your glove? Why isn’t your glove in your bag? Where’s your bag? Well, go get it. Yes, now. Do you have your cup on? Well, you might want to consider putting it on. No, I don’t have it; I’m not in charge of it. We have to leave in a minute. Find your stuff and get it in the car!” I don’t miss repeatedly pulling Brooklyn down from the bleachers on which she’s been climbing or chasing Clay away from a busy street while trying to watch the game. And I especially don’t miss the planning and coordination it takes to get six kids to games and activities on opposite sides of town at the same time.
In baseball season, I use a huge color-coded calendar the size of my refrigerator to coordinate games, fields, and times. I used to complain about how tough it was for my husband and me to get everyone where they needed to be on time. Little did I know that that would be a piece of cake compared to doing it all on my own. As a single mom whose ex-husband isn’t involved in the kids’ lives, I’ve had to get creative in respect to getting my children where they need to be. I threw a challenge out to my children the other day: “The first person to build a working teleportation device gets out of doing chores for the rest of their life. Have at it!” I found my six-year-old, Clay, walking to his bedroom with the toaster, a shoelace, a cup full of grass clippings, and my deodorant. I think he’s onto something.
I love watching the little kids play, though. If you’ve never been to a Little League game, you’re missing out. When at bat, kids will take a minimum of fifty-two swings before getting a hit. When they actually make contact with the ball, they stand there in shock for a full minute, and then they turn to their parents in the stands, faces beaming, and shout, “Did you see that? I hit the ball!” You smile back, beaming with pride, video camera rolling, while frantically waving your arms in the sky like an air traffic controller landing a plane, and scream, “RUN!!!!” However, there’s really no reason for the child to run as fast as his little legs will carry him, because the first baseman is busy looking at a butterfly and hasn’t even noticed that someone hit the ball. Meanwhile, the third baseman is building a sandcastle over the plate and the pitcher is walking to the dugout because he has to go potty.
Your child finally starts to run the bases. The only problem is, instead of running to first, he runs to third and keeps going. The shortstop somehow manages to scoop up the ball and starts chasing after your son, who is now rounding second, continuing his backward trot around the bases. The shortstop continues to chase him in a makeshift game of tag until they both hit home plate and fall over laughing. This is pretty much how five-year-old children play baseball.
The older kids are also fun to watch. Cheering for your child’s team is exciting. I love watching amazing plays and really close games. It’s great entertainment unless it’s your child on the line. For example, I remember one of my daughter’s games last year. We were up by one. It was the bottom of the last inning, and the other team was up to bat. The tying run was on third and bases were loaded. They had two outs. The girl up to bat had a full count. Not too much pressure, right?
She struck out. Although I feel awful for any kid stuck in that position, I was secretly thanking God that it wasn’t my daughter who got the last out. I can only imagine, twenty years from now, one of my kids mumbling to their psychiatrist, “If only I’d hit that ball back when I was ten years old . . .”
I don’t usually get to see much of the game because I’m busy chasing my other kids around. Once while I was trying to watch the game, I noticed that Clay was chewing something.
“What do you have in your mouth?” I demanded.
“Nothing,” he replied.
Prying his mouth open, I saw that he was chewing gum. Where did he get gum? I quickly realized that he had picked it off the bottom of the bleachers, of course.
Do you know what’s on the underside of the bleachers at any given ballpark? I’m not sure, but it all found its way into his mouth that day. Mmmm, nothing like month-old, already chewed gum covered in dirt and bugs. Ewww! As I forced him to spit out the nasty gum (into my outstretched hand, naturally), I heard the coach shout, “Hang on! There’s a little kid on the field!” I looked up to see that the baby had escaped her stroller and had toddled onto the field, heading for first base. “Put me in, coach!”
Arghhh! Is baseball season over yet?
Diet Starts Monday. Again.
Another hazard of having children is the dreaded weight gain. They say you put on an extra ten pounds per child. I’ve had six. Do the math.
If you’re one of those skinny “I only gained seven pounds when I was pregnant and then I dropped down to a size two after I had the baby” moms, put down this book, go make yourself an ice cream sundae, and don’t come back to finish reading this until you’ve packed on at least twenty pounds.
Are the skinny ones gone? Good. Okay, for the rest of us who are carrying around a little extra baby weight despite the fact that our “babies” are now in high school, here’s the secret to losing weight . . .
Are you kidding? Do you think I know the secret to losing weight? If I did, this would be a book on weight loss, and it definitely isn’t.
I think I know the secret to gaining weight, though. First, sample everything you cook all day. Finish the food left on your kids’ plates. (You can’t waste it; you spent good money on that food and besides, there are starving kids in Africa.) Buy fat-laden snacks “for the kids” and then sneak some yourself. Go all day without eating because you’re too busy and then inhale everything in sight at dinnertime. (That does wonders for your metabolism too, by the way.) And finally, make sure the only exercise you have time for is bending over to pick up toys and wrestling your children into their car seats. That ought to do the trick.
I recently got on the scale for the first time in a month and came to the shocking realization that I’d gained slightly less than a metric ton. I have no idea how this happened. I mean, my diet is exemplary. Today, for example, I had two cups of cream with a little coffee for flavor and a doughnut, which was stale, so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count. At church, we celebrated a birthday with cake after the worship service. I think the cake was blessed, and holy cake can’t have many calories. Of course I had to finish my son’s slice, as well: waste not, want not. For lunch I had a peanut butter sandwich, about seventy pretzels (but they were the little skinny stick kind so they don’t count) and half my weight in chocolate. The chocolate didn’t even taste very good, and if you don’t enjoy the food you’re eating, you don’t have to count those calories. I had a big, fat cheeseburger for dinner, along with enough fries to keep Idaho in business, but I ate that while standing up and doing dishes because I was in a hurry to leave and play chauffeur to my daughter, and everyone knows that food consumed while standing doesn’t count. Plus, I washed it all down with a Diet Coke, which negates the calories in the cheeseburger, so really I think I should be losing weight.
Thinking that maybe the whole diet thing wasn’t going to do the trick, I decided to try to add a little exercise to my days. My kids talked me into trying their Dance Dance Revolution. “It’s a great workout, Mom,” they insisted.
If you’re unfamiliar with this, I’ll explain. It’s a mat, divided into nine sections that you place on the floor and plug into a video game console. The video game shows arrows that scroll across the screen at the speed of light. You’re supposed to see these arrows and your brain is supposed to make the connection of where your feet are supposed to go. “There’s an arrow pointing to the left, so I need to step to the left. There’s an arrow pointing up, so I need to move my foot up.” That is what is supposed to happen. What happened in reality was that these arrows flashed across the screen at an alarmingly fast rate. My brain got all confused and I started stomping around on the mat like an Irish dancer wearing hiking boots while flailing her arms around wildly swatting at an imaginary swarm of bees. I ended in a sweating, tangled knot, while my kids—who were watching me—doubled over and fell off the couch laughing.
Realizing that Dance Dance Revolution was not for me, I borrowed my parents Gazelle. I highly recommend this. I used this almost every day. It really made quite a nice clothes hanger. I tried to do the Buns of Steel video, but quickly realized that it wasn’t intended for people who have buns of pudding. I tried Tae Bo, but accidentally hit myself in the face, causing a black eye. Actually, doing those workout videos just made me bitter and angry. I mean, there were these skinny models working out, looking perfectly coiffed and made up, not a drop of sweat on them. Their perfectly smooth skin glowed, they had cute little workout outfits, and huge smiles plastered on their faces as if to convince me that they were enjoying every minute of exercise. I, on the other hand, had no makeup, my hair was in a ponytail, and I was wearing ill-fitting pants, a sweat-drenched T-shirt, and an angry frown. Watching supermodels work out on my screen was definitely not the way to go.
So I paid a membership fee to join my local gym. I kept meaning to actually go there and do a little exercise, but I don’t like to jump into these things. After a few months passed, I decided to make use of my membership before it expired, so I met my friend at the gym. My plan was to walk around the indoor track for two hours.
I tried to do the Buns of Steel video, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t intended for people who have buns of pudding.
What on earth was I thinking??? TWO hours?! The most strenuous thing I’ve done in the past eight years is blow my nose. I admit that after I had my third baby, I started doing step aerobics five times a week. I lost a ton of weight, I looked good, and I felt great. In fact, I turned into one of those sickening people who actually liked to exercise. I looked forward to my workout and felt sad if I missed it. Luckily, I got over that.
When I joined the gym this time, I was once again struggling to add exercise to my daily routine of cleaning spilled milk off the kitchen floor, changing toxic diapers, fishing the ice pack out of the toilet (don’t ask), and trying to get marker stains out of clothes.
So I got up the energy to meet my friend at the walking track. I arrived at the gym and drove around for half an hour looking for the closest parking place, because why should I get exercise by walking from my car to the door when I could give the gym all my money to let me walk around inside their building?
What I didn’t realize was that when my friend said, “Let’s walk,” she really meant, “Let’s run as if we’re being chased by chainsaw-wielding madmen.”
Oh. My. Gosh.
So there we are at the gym. She’s running along, not even breaking a sweat, and there I am with my stubby little legs working double time to catch up to my friend, who is approximately seventeen feet tall. I’m lumbering along, looking like the full-grown mountain troll in the Harry Potter movie, drool forming at the corner of my mouth, sweat pouring down my face, my legs protesting the cruel and unusual punishment.
And my friend was not only running but also talking! I wasn’t even able to gulp enough oxygen to support breathing, let alone talking. She’s easily conversing about this and that, and I’m making little guttural grunts in response. Somewhere around the four hundredth lap, I had a heart attack. Who ever said that exercise was good for you?!
Oh well, I guess the diet starts again Monday. On the menu is water for breakfast, lettuce for lunch, and a Tic Tac for dinner. Now I’m off to search for a snack. I’ve already looked in my fridge twice, but perhaps the food fairies came and left something good to snack on while I was writing this. Hey, it’s not Monday yet.
Why Is My Mother’s Voice Coming out of My Mouth?
No one warned me about what is probably the most horrifying hazard of parenting. It’s happened slowly, a little bit at a time, so I didn’t even notice for a long time. Then, recently, it hit me.
I’m turning into my mother.
I refuse to say that I’ve turned into her, as that implies there’s no turning back. I haven’t completely turned into her, but I’m well on my way.
The other day, I heard my mother’s voice come out of my mouth as I told my son, “You can’t go to school wearing that. Do you know it might not even hit thirty degrees outside today? I was watching the news last night and the weatherman said it was going to be really cold. He said there was going to be a high of only thirty-four degrees. There’s also an eighty-five percent chance of snow this afternoon. By the time you get out of school, the roads will be terrible. I hope they have trucks out salting right now. They’re saying it’s going to be one of the worst snowstorms of the century. I need to run to the store first thing this morning and get supplies. We might be stuck inside for several days until they can plow the roads. You need to put a scarf and gloves on before you leave for school. Oh, and boots! Wear your boots. You don’t want to walk home in four feet of snow without your boots.”
My son stared at me, mouth agape. “Since when did you start worrying about the weather? You sound like Yia Yia.” (My kids call my mom YiaYia, which is grandmother in Greek.)
My son was right. I never used to care about the weather. I used to scoff when my mother would call me on the phone to warn me to get off the phone because of thunderstorms and lightning. I used to roll my eyes when she’d tell me a blizzard was coming and I’d better get to the grocery store and make sure we had milk and diapers on hand. I would laugh when she’d suggest I stay home instead of driving to a meeting in the rain and fog. Yet here I was, worrying about a possible snowstorm—even making plans to go to the store and stock up just in case! And when did I start watching the news just to get a glimpse of the weather forecast, anyway?
Worrying about the weather is not the only reason I fear I’m turning into my mother. The other day I drove two miles out of my way to avoid making a left turn across traffic while running errands. When did this happen? I never used to be afraid of traffic, left turns, or merging onto the expressway. And it gets worse. On more than one occasion, I’ve involuntarily thrown my right arm out across the passenger in my car as I stopped quickly. Really, do I think that my outstretched arm will be enough to keep my passenger from flying out the window? Why do moms do this? Is it a natural instinct? At what point in your life does this wild arm flinging start to happen, and more important, is there a way to stop it?
A few weeks ago I found myself complaining that my kids used too much toilet paper. I started ranting about paper waste and devised a toilet-paper rationing system in my head, allotting each individual six squares per use. I was thankfully able to quash that one before the words came out of my mouth.
I’ve definitely developed my mom’s supersonic sense of hearing. From across the house, behind a closed door, I can hear my kids plotting and planning. “Just shove your clothes under the bed and don’t tell Mom. Shhhh,” sounds like a shout in my mom ears. Not only can I hear whispers from my kids, but my ears seem to be sensitive to other noises as well. More often than I’d like to admit, I walk into the family room and tell my kids, “Turn the TV down! Why is it so loud?” My mom was forever telling me to turn down the volume when I was a kid. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with her ears at the time; now I can’t understand what’s wrong with my kids’ ears. Why do they need to have the TV blaring away? Maybe all this loud music and television has permanently damaged their little eardrums. That would explain why I have to repeat myself multiple times before they hear what I’m saying.
When I recognized what all the signs meant, I called my sister in a panic.
“Deb!” I gasped. “Help me! I think I’m turning into Mom.”
“Yeah, I know.” She was so matter-of-fact.
“You know?” I was incredulous. Maybe it was too late for me. Other people were already noticing.
“When did this happen?” I asked.
“About the time you started having kids,” she replied.
“For sixteen years?!” I sat down, deflated. I guess it’s inevitable. You have kids, and you turn into your parents.
I guess it’s inevitable. You have kids, and you turn into your parents.
“I think it’s pretty funny. Remember last week at church? You pulled an old tissue out of your pocket, and wiped your son’s face with it. And last month when you were at our house for the birthday party, you licked your finger and used it to wipe frosting off your daughter’s face.”
I didn’t think it was so funny.
“At least you’re not scared of roller coasters and carnival rides like Mom,” my sister assured me.
I remembered the last time I was at an amusement park with my family. You couldn’t have paid me to ride those roller coasters, but there was no way I was letting my sister know of yet another way I was turning into Mom. When did roller coasters stop being thrilling and start being scary? When did I start envisioning the cars breaking loose from the track and crashing to the ground hundreds of feet below? Instead of anxiously waiting in line for my turn on the tallest ride, I recalled newspaper stories of horrible malfunctions on amusement park rides.
My sister was just getting started. “You are totally like Mom! You’re always making lists just like she does. I bet you even have a list to keep track of all your lists!”
It’s true. I don’t trust myself to remember anything. I make lists for the grocery store. I make lists of meals I’m planning for the week. I make lists of phone calls I need to make. I make lists of jobs I want to accomplish around the house. In fact, sometimes I add a job I’ve already completed so I can cross it off the list and feel like I’ve accomplished something. I make lists of Christmas presents I need to get for my family. I make lists of presents I’ve already bought. I make guest lists for birthday parties and lists of who’s bringing what dish to potluck cookouts. I make lists of clothing I need to pack when we go camping. I make lists of things I need to do around the house before leaving on vacation. You’d think I do nothing all day but make lists!
I hung up with my sister, feeling a little depressed. My daughter walked by and said, “You’re finally off the phone! You talk as much as YiaYia does.” I remembered my mom spending a lot of time on the phone talking with friends when I was a kid. I wondered how any person could talk so much. Now I know. We talk on the phone to bring a little sanity into our lives. It’s tough going all day without speaking to another adult.
I sat there thinking of all the traits I’d inherited from my mother and wanted to cry, but then I remembered how my mom used to sew homemade Halloween costumes for my sister and me. She made a home-cooked dinner, complete with sides and dessert that we ate together as a family every night, and there were almost always freshly baked cookies to enjoy after school.
My mother was always excited during the holidays. She used to wake us up early on New Year’s Day so we could watch the parades. She’d bring in the TV trays and make a yummy brunch for us to enjoy in the family room—what a treat! Every Easter she’d take us shopping for a new dress, shoes (black, of course because it wasn’t Memorial Day yet) and matching bonnets, gloves, and purses.
We always brought out the boxes of Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. My dad would put together the artificial tree and string a million lights on it while my sister, mother, and I placed the decorations around the house in the same spots year after year. When the tree was all lighted, my mom poured everyone a glass of eggnog, and my sister and I hung our ornaments on the tree while listening to records of Christmas music on the stereo.
My mom used to have my sister and me sit on her lap while she read stories to us, and she’d tuck us in every night.
Hmmm . . . remembering all the wonderful momlike things she’s done over the years, I find myself wishing I was just a little bit more like her. I guess it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to turn into my mom, after all.
© 2011 Dawn Meehan
Things Happen for a Reason
I believe things happen for a reason.
For example, you slip and fall because the kids poured soap all over the kitchen floor. When you fall to the ground, you see your car keys, which have been missing for two days, shoved under the oven. If the kids hadn’t poured soap on the floor, you wouldn’t have fallen, and had you not fallen, it could’ve been years before you ever pulled the oven away from the wall to clean under it, thus finding your keys. It was meant to be.
Of course, if your kids hadn’t shoved the keys under the oven in the first place, it wouldn’t have happened to begin with, but that’s a different story.
In March of 2006, I wrote a little story about how a baseball started a day of chaos with my kids. I used the story to sell the dirty old baseball on eBay. I don’t know what possessed me to make an auction of it, but I did, and my auction attracted the attention of more than 220,000 people during the week it was for sale. I ended up selling the ball for $1,125 because people bid, not because they wanted the ball, but because my story had made them laugh! And best of all, I received e-mails from thousands of people telling me that the story made them feel a little better about their own parenting.
A year and a half after the baseball incident, I listed a pack of Pokémon cards on eBay, along with a humorous description of how these cards ended up in my cart while I was grocery shopping with my six children. I had just started a blog and I thought if people liked my eBay description. I could direct them to my blog. I wanted to share my stories with other parents out there in cyberspace and was hoping to make a little income from my blog as well. I had hopes of going from five hits a day on my blog to maybe fifty hits a day. What I got instead was 94,000 hits to my blog in one day. I thought the baseball auction had attracted attention, but this Pokémon card auction took off and spread through the Internet like a, well, like a virus. Long after the auction ended, people were forwarding the link to the auction and copying and pasting the shopping-trip description in e-mails to friends, family, and coworkers in all corners of the globe. Within a week of the auction’s end, I’d received more than 10,000 e-mails from people around the world thanking me for the laugh, telling me what a great read my listing was, and asking me to write a book. I received all sorts of e-mail from people thanking me for helping them get through a bad day. People told me that I had somehow made a difference in their lives as they started to look at their kids with a little more humor. I slowly began to realize that my writing had touched some lives in a positive way.
Sometimes you have to be hit over the head before you figure out what you’re supposed to do with your life. Sometimes, when you’re a little dimwitted and don’t get it the first time, God hits you over the head a second time and says, “Look, don’t bury your talents. Use them.” I believe these auctions were God’s way of telling me to share my stories, to share about my own parenting struggles and failures in order to encourage parents everywhere.
I am a stay-at-home mom of six kids. People ask me all the time why I have six kids. I tell them the reason I have six is because I didn’t want seven. My oldest son, Austin, is sixteen. He’s smart as a whip, creative, artistic, and is starting to drive (heaven help me!). Next in line is Savannah, who is fourteen. Savannah is fun, easygoing, organized, and helps me more than she knows. Jackson is twelve years old and is followed by my daughter Lexington, who is nine. Jackson has an incredible memory. He’s determined and compassionate, and like his mom, he loves to write. Lexi is my princess. She’s a girly-girl who cares about everyone, and she has an awesome imagination. My seven-year-old son, Clayton, is extremely energetic, resourceful, and a little too smart for his own good, and my five-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, who is very much the baby of the family and used to being doted on and getting her way, brings up the rear. My children are the most wonderful, amazing blessings and give me immeasurable joy. They’re also my greatest source of aggravation, and they make me question my sanity (and sometimes reach for the wine) every single day.
I was able to write this book because my kids have provided me with years of material. They’ve taught me so many things, like how a ringing phone releases a hormone in children that brings them running to you while speaking in their loudest voice, and that blue frosting will turn a toddler’s poop neon green, and that oranges left rotting in a car in the sun leave a stench that could kill an elephant.
Of course, they’ve also taught me patience. They’ve taught me to look at the world through their eyes and appreciate all the little things they find fascinating. What is it that makes a glob of gum stuck to the sidewalk irresistible? Why is it that a butterfly must be chased and a flower must have every petal picked off and explored (and sometimes stuck up one’s nose)? The world is absolutely fascinating when seen through little eyes.
They’ve taught me that I don’t have a clue when it comes to parenting.
They’ve taught me unconditional love and sheer happiness. They’ve also taught me that I don’t have a clue when it comes to parenting. Every time I think I have it figured out, they prove me wrong. Parenting is definitely a profession with on-the-job training. You learn as you go.
Most important, they’ve taught me if you’re going to raise children, a sense of humor is an absolute must.
© 2011 Dawn Meehan
And Other Tales from a Less-Than-Perfect Parent
Because I Said So
And Other Tales from a Less-Than-Perfect Parent
This book is a hilarious, honest romp through motherhood—the joys, the sleeplessness, the frazzled days, the unending carpooling, the in-house refereeing, the dieting (yeah, right), the worrying—and did we say, the joy?
Here’s what some of that joy looks like—with excerpts straight from the book:
• I tried to do the Buns of Steel video, but quickly realized that it wasn’t intended for people who have buns of pudding.
• I felt like my head might explode. I kind of hoped it would so I could take a nice, peaceful ambulance ride out of there.
• I was a little at a loss. I mean, those parenting books don’t tell you how to break up a fight over an imaginary friend.
• Moms aren’t allowed to get sick more than one day a year. Single moms aren’t allowed to get sick ever.
• Before you have children you can’t imagine yourself saying things like “Don’t put chocolate milk in your pants,” “Take the hot dog out of your nose,” or “Because I said so!”
If you’re a mom-to-be or a mom in the trenches, you’ll love knowing that you’re not the only one out there who sometimes just figures it out as you go along—and sometimes can’t figure it out at all. But in the end, Dawn has these words of encouragement just for you: “Enjoy this time. Even when they make you crazy, these are the best days of your life.” And they really are, aren’t they?
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with Dawn Meehan
You say that the wild success of your eBay auctions was “God’s way of telling [you] to share [your] stories,” to use your talents to “encourage parents everywhere.” How do you think your life would be
different right now if you had not started blogging?
Well, for one thing, my kids wouldn’t ask, “Are you going to blog about this?” every time they made a mess or got into something. And I’d have a lot more time on my hands. But I’d be missing out on the interaction with my readers (predominantly moms who are experiencing the same trials and tribulations that I am).
You write about how your kids have been the best teachers when it comes to parenting. What do you think is the most important thing they’ve taught you about parenting? What has been the most surprising lesson?
The most important thing my kids have taught me is that a parent needs a sense of humor. Parents need to able to laugh at the little things. I’ve learned all sorts of surprising lessons! I’ve learned that blue Popsicles turn kids’ poop neon green, that Barbies don’t flush well, and that it’s not a good idea to pu see more