Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tis' the season

I am originally from Seattle, so imagine my surprise when we moved back east to Boston after college and discovered that the four seasons are not just in name only. That in other parts of the country there is actually a difference in the weather and temperature from spring to summer to fall to winter. In Seattle the spring is typically mid 50s and drizzling. Then there is an ever-so-slight up tick in the temperature for summer, but still drizzling. Followed by a slight down tick for fall (still drizzling) and a slightly less pronounced down tick in the winter months. Also with the drizzle.

When we moved to Boston it was July and hot. Not ridiculously hot, but certainly hotter than I was used to. I thought it was unbearably humid. It turned out I didn't know squat about humidity. In Boston you schlepped around thinking about a tall glass of iced tea and when you could get to the beach. And then one day fall came and it was glorious! The leaves changed, the temperatures became brisk and suddenly I felt like raking something or going apple picking, or doing one of the many fall activities I had only read about in books or seen on television growing up.

But alas, fall came and went too quickly and then it was winter. Only not the *put on your fleece* winter we had in Seattle. It seemed every week I was out buying yet another layer of insulation, convinced it was as cold as it could get. And then it would get colder. It was the first time I had heard a weather forecaster refer to the temperatures as *bitterly cold*. Wow, I thought, that can't be good, as my hair and eyelashes froze.

And then came the snow. The first snow of my first winter in Boston I was at work. As the giant flakes fell I started looking around nervously at my co-workers. Finally after it had reached three inches of accumulation in the parking lot I asked someone, *um, shouldn't we be going home since it is snowing so much*? She looked at me with disbelief, then outright scorn. Next she gave me a lecture about my mamby-pamby snow upbringing in Seattle. And then she gave me a nickname that stuck for the rest of the winter - snow baby.

All winter long it was bitterly cold and would snow. What I didn't realize was that winter in Boston lasts from around November through May. It snowed a lot that April and I cried but kept telling myself that in another month it would be May and I would be warm and could take off my coat. And then May came and it was still cold, just not bitterly. But eventually spring came the flowers and bloomed and life was good again. And so it went until we packed up and moved south to Washington, DC fourteen years ago.

Down here it is still cold in the winter, but a smaller percentage of the days are considered *bitterly*. There is snow, sometimes a lot, but not to the point where there are piles along the roadways and in parking lots that are taller than you and are a disgusting grayish black color and don't melt until June. Oh no, I quickly learned that DC is all about heat. And humidity. Especially humidity. I experienced another weather first when I saw a cactus as a symbol on the weather report. Unfortunately this cactus did not represent dry heat, like in Arizona. Instead it only represented the scorching hot aspect, but this was coupled with humidity that made you feel like you were encased in a heavy, wet wool blanket. And sometimes when the heat mixes with the humidity it can result in *air quality warnings* where children, elderly and people with respiratory problems should stay inside their air-conditioned homes where they can breathe the air.

Like the over six months of winter up in Boston, DC has over six months of summer. That is why we love fall. We talk about fall starting in July. We dream about fall, revere fall. And when it finally comes we practically weep with joy. And it lasts exactly two weeks.

So why do I live here? I make it sound so miserable, and it is. But the truth is I am a weather junkie. I have come to love extreme weather. If it is going to be hot I want it to be sweltering, like the surface of the sun. I want to be able to complain that if it doesn't cool off by tomorrow I simply can't go on living, using my best Scarlet O'Hara voice and clutching a mint julep. In the winter I want to have the cold take my breath away when I step outside and exclaim that I am going to pour my hot chocolate over my head in order to warm up completely. And I want rain - real rain, not the drip drip drip drip of a leaky faucet for six months straight. In DC the rain comes down in torrents, falling in heavy sheets. If you go outside with your mouth open you may drown.And it is done after a day. Sometimes after an hour.

My husband is like minded. He grew up in Alaska and gets nostalgic during the winter. This past winter he made my daughter walk to school (with him) even when the temperature was in the teens not including the wind chill. While other parents were driving their warm and toasty children to school my husband was regaling my ice cube of a daughter with stories of his childhood waiting in a snowbank for the bus. In the dark (because it's Alaska and the sun only comes out for about ten minutes in the winter months). And while you are standing there in your snow bank in the pitch black you also needed to be on the lookout for moose. So really, our kids have a cushy life.

So when people ask me how I can live here in this swamp where it is so miserably hot or so miserably cold or flooding or on high alert for tornadoes or hurricanes I just nod my weather-impaired frizzy haired head and smile with my face glistening with sweat (and not in a sexy, attractive way). Because I wouldn't want it any other way.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Know when to say when

For a time, after my first child was born but before the second one, I thought I wanted to have three children. I was having fun and it seemed like a good number. When the second child was born he was a refluxing colicky disaster. He screamed nonstop for six months and continued to projectile vomit for another six months after that. My plans for a third were temporarily put on hold while I attempted to recover from the beating my mental health had taken over the first year of his life. I was a disaster and it took another year to recover from my PTSD of his infancy. But eventually that passed and I started to think maybe, just maybe I could do this one more time. He was sleeping through the night and had turned into a sweet and funny little boy who rarely screamed and never threw up on my shoes.

I have several friends who have more than two children. I even have a couple who have four or more. I am truly in awe of the ones who have six. How do they do that? Everything seems to run like a well-oiled machine. The older ones help out the younger ones. The moms seem so zen. And then one day I am sitting outside my daughter's dance class with my son, who was three. It is 5pm and he is filthy. His clothes, his face, his hair, his hands - just gross. And he isn't wearing shoes. And then it occurs to me, I shouldn't even begin to consider a third if this is the best I can do with the second. God knows if there was one more that child probably wouldn't even be dressed, and most likely feral. The next day I started giving away all my baby gear. Sometimes you just have to know your limitations.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rewriting History

Even now that I am 40 I still pride myself on having a razor sharp short term memory. Most of the time. I am not counting when I ask a question and am distracted at that precise moment by a screeching child and a crash from the other room so I miss the answer. But on most days my recall is impressive. Ask me to recall my schedule for the next month. Or my children's schedules, or the names of all my children's friends and their birthdays and their parents names. I have it all up there and can pull it out at will. It is my long term memory that has decided to check out.

My sister (who is not yet 40) has the long term memory of an elephant. I love talking with her about our childhood because it is often like listening to story time at the library. Most of the more generic anecdotes I can conjure up some vague recollections when prompted. Remember our trip to so and so where we did such and such she will ask? Um, no, I say and then think. Really hard. So hard that my brain manages to push aside the useless collection of celebrity trivia, 80s song lyrics, and other memories that are taking up valuable real estate in my cranium. Oh yes - I finally exclaim! I was wearing my lime-green tube top and my hair in a side pony tail. And thats about all I've got. Whereas she is rattling off what we ate and the scratchiness of the sheets on the guest bed we slept. For all I know she could be making half of these memories up just to mess with me. Though I doubt it because my sister is the worst liar ever. Oh wait, that is actually my husband.

It turns out my daughter, who is 8, does not have my short term memory. She can't remember where she put her book down five minutes earlier. She can't remember what she did at school day. Or if she went to school that day. She couldn't remember breaking our ceiling fan yesterday, and she sincerely meant it when asked to recount how it happened. And I believe her since she is also a terrible liar. Luckily her brother remembered for her and gave a blow by blow account. But he is actually a really good liar, so it may or not be true.

Instead, my daughter has a variation on my sister's memory. I say variation because she takes actual events that occurred, such as dinner at a particular restaurant from two years ago. But then she alters them to change the story from *it was a ho hum place that served ho hum burgers and fries* to *it was the best place ever, and the fries melted in your mouth like slices of heaven*. She doesn't completely rewrite history. She has never taken an event that was an epic fiasco and turned it into a fabulous outing that was beloved by the entire family. Instead she likes to take the mediocre and embellish it a bit.

Sometimes these embellishments work in my favor, as in the case of our spring break. It was really boring and uneventful. Originally I had envisioned a week of down time when we could all just relax, chill out and take it easy. I forgot that I don't do *relax* or *chill out* or *take it easy* so instead it became an interminable week of boredom. It was so boring I actually had to check my pulse a few times to make sure I was still alive. Not miserable, no one got sick or injured. Just boring. And the more bored I became the less I was able to combat the boredom until I am convinced that if it had gone on one day longer I would have turned into a pile of inert goo.

Luckily for me my daughter has already rewrote the week's events for me. It wasn't boring at all! She got to read 10 books! She got to stay in her pajamas until noon most days! One day for breakfast she got to try six different sugary cereals from the cereal variety pack! She had Happy Meals four times, more than she has had the rest of the year combined! Mommy took them to the park where they could ride their bikes every night because there was nothing better to do! And baths were optional! And to add her own embellishment of reality I am sure there was candy every day! And the television stayed on 24/7!

So maybe spring break wasn't the excruciating week that I remember. Given enough time my failing long term memory will be easily persuaded to accept this new version. But in the meantime my sharp as a tack short term memory will spur me into action to come up with a more aggressive activity schedule for the summer. Because boring is just too...boring.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I'm leaving on a jet plane

In a few weeks the husband and I are going on a trip to France. I had been really looking forward to the trip until one day the husband mentions that we need to arrive at a certain place before 11am to pick up the rental car because their office is closed from 11am until 2pm. I look at him incredulously. Who takes a three hour lunch? I am lucky to have five minutes for lunch, but a three hour block? Daily? That is outrageous. People may need you, there is work to be done. It also explains why things went so poorly for them during WWII. A three hour break? And then it occurs to me, what if there are certain countries that are a bad match for certain people? And what if I have chosen the wrong country to visit?

As a friend once said, there are a lot of words you can use to describe me, but *easy-going* is not one that ever comes to mind. Since having kids I have become adept at easy-going's cousin, flexible. Granted it wasn't something that came naturally, but over time I have gotten there. Let's say you want to have the play date at my house instead of yours? Sure, I can work with that. Just give me 30 minutes to make my house look like the cover of Dwell and also bake some brownies. Someone wants to move a meeting from Tuesday to Thursday? Sure, let me just update my calendar. It will only involve moving about 10 other things. No biggie. If the French need me to be flexible and have a chocolate eclair instead of a chocolate savoyard I am okay with that. However, I can't *come back in three hours* when your lunch break is over to have them.

Flexible was something that was attainable. Flexible means you recognize that in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter if your child wears the red shirt or the blue shirt. Even if the blue shirt doesn't match. Sometimes flexible doesn't give you any other options, like when you think you are going to the library to spend some quality time with your son, but instead he vomits all over the minivan so now you will spend you afternoon cleaning. Flexibility is thrust upon you, whether you want it or not. Easy-going is a mindset.

I fully admit I am high-maintenance. I like things a certain way and have high expectations of myself and everyone else. You will rarely hear me utter the words *good enough*. Occasionally I have to be reminded that this can be annoying to those who love me. Like when my husband is hanging a picture for me and I tell him *an inch to the left, now a half inch to the right, now another half inch to the right, now up an inch..." until he finally gives me the look and I realize I have made him move the picture around in a complete circle. Twice. My husband has the patience of a saint.

So on the one hand I am really excited to go to Paris. Did I mention that our children are staying home? I will be able to sleep late, drink coffee and eat pastries and nothing else without worrying that I am setting a bad example, stay out late, linger leisurely doing whatever I want and actually read those little placards next to the exhibit in the museums we visit. On the other hand I am very anxious because I am concerned that the French will hate me and drive me out of their country. Perhaps I should have picked another, more tightly wound country? Like Germany or Austria or Switzerland. Singapore would probably be a good match. I am willing to bet that they aren't taking three hour lunches over there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

ISO a room of my own

When I first had children we lived in a tiny house. It was so small that my son's bedroom couldn't fit a twin sized bed. There was no dining room, only a breakfast nook created when we bumped out the wall in the kitchen. There was no space and so I accepted that it was inevitable that my children's things were all over the house. I couldn't walk from my bedroom, where the floor was littered with stuffed animals and trucks, to the kitchen without winding through an obstacle course of toys and sippy cups. I often thought wistfully of the time when one day I would have a home larger than the one room school house we currently inhabited. I wistfully fantasized about enough bathrooms for everyone, dedicated space for toys and art supplies and maybe even a spare room that would be an office, and not an office/playroom/exercise room/family room/wine cellar.

Fast forward and we currently live in a house that is roughly three times the size of the old one. We have several bathrooms and even a bedroom devoted to being solely a guest room. There is plenty of storage for the toys and I even have an office. And yet, I still have no space of my own. Despite the increase in size I still find my children and all their things in every room of the house.

You may be thinking that my house must be extremely messy, and at times it is. But just today we had cleaning people come, which means I spent over an hour picking up the entire house and putting everything back where it belongs. Everything. Legos back in the bin. Children's books off of my nightstand and into their bookcases. Art pens and paper into the drawer. Hair accessories and 8 year old girl jewelry out of the guest bathroom and back into her room. Light sabers out of the dining room and living room. The cleaning people left at 1:30pm.

It is now 3:30pm and I have already noticed a pair of pink crocs in the guest room, and a trail of legos across my bedroom floor. I also found a lego Star Wars mini-figure in my closet and a stuffed animal on my bed. My bathroom inexplicably has a light saber on the floor and my office has a few Star Wars fighter jets, as though it has been reappropriated and is now the planet Endor. The kitchen looks like something exploded - and my children don't even cook. The family room has been returned to its usual state of being covered in legos. I found a ball in the dining room and someone's iPod in the living room. Interestingly enough, both of their rooms remain as they were when the cleaning people left.

So what I am looking for is a room for me. A place I can call my own that I can pick up and it will stay that way. Okay, let's face it, it would never get messy to begin with. My room will contain only my things. I am contemplating how hard it would be to get a contractor to build a secret room somewhere, perhaps in the crawl space? Up in the attic? Wherever it is, it will also be soundproof. Without a lego in sight.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Intern wanted: unpaid but the experience will be invaluable.

I have a lot on my plate and am often running myself into the ground trying to get everything done. Last week I was emailing with a friend about some significant new commitments I agreed to take on and speculating why I am such an easy mark. I was also lamenting the amount of time and energy that would be involved. Time and energy I don't have. She jokingly replied that I needed to hire an intern. I laughed at her wit. Ha ha, yes, I will hire a household intern. But after pondering this for a few days I have come to think this idea is not ridiculous at all, but downright brilliant. Of course I need an intern.

The benefits to me of having an intern are obvious. I would have someone to help around the house, do the menial tasks (oh wait, that is pretty much all of them) and generally provide support, therefore perhaps freeing up a bit of time for me to sleep. But what about the intern? Why would anyone want an internship with me?

An internship with me would provide invaluable experience building critical skills that are coveted by Fortune 500 companies. I heard that snicker. But seriously, stop and think about it. For starters, an intern would learn how to manage multiple tasks, all of urgent priority, under tremendous pressure. It takes a cool head and nerves of steel to move two children from completely asleep in their warm cozy beds and wanting to stay that way to getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and hair, washing faces and hands and out the door to school in only 30 minutes. All the while under loud protest and resistance. Once my intern masters that skill set there isn't a Fortune 500 company who won't clamber to hire them.

But before the intern can manage these multiple tasks they must first learn to allocate scarce resources judiciously. While this act of managing your resources may seem mundane it's the difference between sweet success and dismal failure. Under my tutelage my intern will deal with real life cases such as realizing you have only three Chips Ahoy cookies left to distribute amongst two school lunches. And it must be done evenly because the child who benefits from the extra cookie will manage to disclose this fact to the one who wasn't so lucky. At which point my intern would add another skill to their resume - damage control. But instead of being left to flail alone I will calmly help my intern through the crisis (answer - one in each lunch and eat the third yourself). The intern will come out the other side wiser and ready for anything.

Another marketable skill my intern will learn is logistics planning. Not just for the military, logistics is the bread and butter of a smoothly running household. You need to know what is on your schedule and exactly how much time and which resources need to be allocated to each item. On a typical day you need to figure out how to get two children to different after school activities in different places. At the same time. The children need to be wearing seasonally and activity appropriate clothing (soccer cleats and shorts for soccer = good, crocs and a skirt for soccer = bad). The children also need to be accompanied by the correct gear and accessories, such as a water bottle, preferably with water or some other liquid in it. Subtract points for using a spare water bottle from last week you found in the back of the minivan. But before you can depart you need to make sure they have used the bathroom and applied sunscreen. Be sure to build in a cushion of time for last minute crisis, such as a missing cleat. After frantically getting everyone where they need to be at the designated time you will have approximately ten minutes of down time before you need to pick them up (again, at the same time but in separate places), bring them home, feed them dinner, have them complete homework, practice the piano, bathe and get in bed. This needs to be done within exactly 90 minutes from when you pick them up at the end of the after school activity.

In order to really understand the *business* my intern will need to spend some time in each of our *departments*. The first stop will be the Finance department. The intern will learn what I refer to as *flying blind financial management*. This is where you attempt to reconcile the banking accounts and credit cards despite having no clue about various expenses your husband is incurring, such as huge shipments of expensive wine, or rounds of golf that can't be reimbursed from his last business trip. The intern will go through the process of assuming the money in the checking account is available, only to receive several large bills for aforementioned items, resulting in a sudden cash drain that will involve adjustments to other areas of the budget. I would also like my intern to spend some time researching the mystery of how come I spend so much money on groceries, and yet all my children eat is pasta, which is fairly cheap. You'd think I could spend $20 for the entire week and be done, so where does the rest go?

Next my intern could spend some time with our Marketing and Public Relations department. Here is where the magic happens. By the end of their tenure my intern will have learned the fine art of being able to put a positive spin on pretty much anything. Once you learn how to convincingly sell the idea that it's not the end of the world that the dog ate all my daughter's Halloween candy you can sell anything. I will also teach the intern how to properly *market* ideas and products, such as the importance of brushing your teeth every day or using a napkin to wipe your face and hands and not your sleeve. Or my sleeve. Unfortunately there won't be many opportunities with my children to learn how to write a press release because they won't read them. However, these could be written for my husband. Who also won't read them.

Toward the end of the internship my intern will be faced with a project that is a culmination of all the other lessons - planning our summer vacation. This will involve financial negotiations with my husband over cost, as well as marketing and PR to the kids about why we aren't going to Hawaii, or China. There will be logistics in the form of coordinating care for the dog, and the 800 things that will need to be managed in our absence. There will be multi-tasking under extreme pressure as the intern attempts to get everyone packed to go - simultaneously, and crisis management when my son bursts into tears because we aren't bringing the dog. And after everything is done my intern will learn the most important lesson of all - happy hour.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where does it come from?

Now that the deadline for filing taxes is looming the questions are starting to come in. My husband does the taxes but he does not do any of the other household admin, including filing all the various bills, receipts, statements and so on. As a result, we have conversations that go something like this:
Him: Honey, where are the donation receipts for 2010?
Me: In the 2010 donation receipt file folder.
Him: And where would I find that?
Me: In the file drawer.
Him: We have a file drawer?

At this point it occurs to me if I were to suddenly disappear, say to a witness protection program, they would be totally screwed. I'm not talking about the obvious stuff such as making school lunches, doing the laundry, making dinner and other such menial tasks. My husband would very quickly outsource those tasks and things would keep rolling.

Instead I am talking about the information that is stored up in my brain, otherwise known as the *household hard drive*. My institutional knowledge is invaluable. Not only can I recall when our gutters were cleaned last (too long ago) I can tell you who did it, how much it cost and the overall rating of their job. My husband, if pressed to recall this information, would reply that it was some guys from somewhere who came sometime and we paid them something.

One of the biggest problems facing my family would be that they have no idea where things come from. Luckily they seem to realize that food comes from either the grocery store or by going to a restaurant, so they wouldn't starve. It is the other things that would stump them. For instance, where does toilet paper come from, and how does a new roll magically appear on the spool when the old one runs out? Another thing that may flummox them - where do the paper towels come from, and if we did have some in the house, where would they be stored (other than on the paper towel holder)? How does the dishwasher get loaded, and where is the button to start it? What do you put in the washing machine in order to get the clothes clean? Better yet, where is the washing machine located? There is a long list of items that they believe are delivered to our home by elves. Printer paper, tape, staples, soap, toothpaste, napkins, Advil, kleenex tissue, ziploc bags, socks, shampoo, band aids - just to name a few.

Another potential pitfall is that no one has a clue about the schedule, despite the fact that I post it on a white board calendar in the kitchen. Every morning I must run down the agenda for the day. School? They look at me in shock and disbelief - you mean we have to go *again*? For the most part our weekday schedule is fairly consistent and yet it surprises them that here it is Monday and my daughter has soccer practice. And my husband isn't much better. In fact, a few months ago I sent him two emails and verbally reminded him about his dental appointment. Which he forgot. But its all good because he can recall in vivid detail the scores of all the Final Four games for the past two decades. After all, why should he waste brain space remembering a dental visit when the household hard drive can do that for him?

So if you hear about my sudden disappearance you may want to drive over to my house and drop off some paper goods. Don't bother to update the white board calendar because no one reads it but me. And tell my children that yes, they have school *again* today, and by the way, here are their lunches.