Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Holiday Recap

The holidays always send me into an emotional tailspin. I think it’s part Seasonal Affective Disorder, part non-stop things to do (coupled with five birthdays within 40 days of Christmas), part kids being home from school and fighting with each other non-stop (NON. STOP.), part elf-wrangling (damn you, Elf on a Shelf….I already have so much to do!!!), and, lastly, the reminder of unrealized dreams (that I’ll never, ever, EVER be a Radio City Rockette, no matter how much I love to kick really high…I love you, my sparkly, leggy, gloriously-headdressed, sisters-from-another-mother!!!). This year has proven to be no exception to my seasonal melancholy, for all the usual reasons, plus a few new ones, too. 

Allow me to vent a little, if you will, about my holiday fails. As the parent of four, there are a lot of things I am in charge of, and in charge of remembering…to include Christmas lists and wishes, school parties, class gifts, 23 pre-assembled gingerbread houses (oh yeah…I did it, bee-yotch!!!), etc, etc, etc. The list is long and my energy is short and yet these things get done, in the quest to be a good parent or, at the very least, a parent who doesn’t completely suck. The stuff gets done and all that gets sacrificed is a set of gel nails (which, incidentally, CAN be gnawed off…but is NO easy task). 

The major holiday disappointment this year centered on Nadia. Her Christmas list, every year, looks like this: real/live dolphin, real/live unicorn, real magic wand, followed by an assortment of various living, breathing animals, many of which there are actual laws against owning. So, every single year, Nadia is disappointed when she gets a FurReal puppy and a pair of underwear with bunnies on them. So, this year, I caved. She got guinea pigs. TWO guinea pigs, no less. REAL, LIVE guinea pigs. Oh yes….this was the year I was going to make her wildest dreams come true! And it was going to be awesome, and I was going to be awesome, and she would love me more than she ever imagined (I could hear the nomination…”And up for Parent of the Year is Kelly Gorreck, for getting TWO REAL LIVE guinea pigs for her animal-loving, animal-deprived daughter, Nadia!!”). And she was overjoyed over her little pigs, in complete disbelief that, FINALLY, she got a real/live something. The euphoria lasted until…Grace opened her iPad. And it was all over. ALL. OVER. As delightful as the pigs were, they were not an electronic device, incapable of delivering her alternate worlds or random videos of Cesarean births (don’t ask). They were merely living, breathing poop factories. How could something so…smelly…compare to the shiny, sparkly iPad?!?!?!  Parenting fail. Deep breaths. 

I’ve largely shamed her into being guiltily grateful for her critters, but the sheen is off. She’s disappointed, I’m disappointed (in her, frankly), and we haven’t seen Grace since she unwrapped the iPad. Parenting. It’s a thankless, expensive, labor-intensive job. At least Liam was overjoyed over his sneakers. Of all things, sneakers. The kid hugged us, for getting him sneakers. 

So, seasonal melancholia was in full force. And then…the unspeakable. An affliction that might as well be called Voldemort…so vile that you don’t even want to utter its name. Lice. That’s right. Lice. So vile, it can only be whispered. Lice. I refuse to say it any louder. According to the pharmacist at the local grocery store, there’s been an epidemic the last couple months. But, of course, who would dare announce it? So, for the first time ever in my life, I am facing lice. Which is vile and disgusting and not very easy to kill. So, over the holidays, while we should be having a good time and whooping it up, we are instead quarantined, fighting amongst ourselves, while we deal with the outbreak. I’ve washed, dried, disinfected, nitpicked (now that I know the origin of the word…look it up), home-remedied, etc, and I am DONE. This is disgusting and I don’t want to do it any more. Ironically, Nadia came up with a new theme song for me tonight, as we hovered over the guinea cage, cleaning it. It went something like this, “Killing bugs from hair to hair, scooping turds from here to there!” And that’s when I realized…my melancholia is legitimate, earned, and fairly serious. If only I could vote myself off my own island. 

And as I made my margaritas tonight, nearly crying each time as the lime juice seeped into my bitten-to-the-quick, gnawed-off-gel-nails fingers, I imagined how glorious my life might have been if I were a Radio City Rockette. Surely, my weight problem wouldn’t exist. Surely, my nervous, nail-devouring habit also wouldn’t exist. I’d get everyone gift cards for Christmas and, obviously, I would NOT be nit-picking. My theme song wouldn’t consist of lice and turds, but, whatever the theme song was, it would surely be accompanied by some exquisitely choreographed high-kicking. How different things might have been. Insert giant sigh here. 

But instead, my Rockette alter-ego sleeps, while my mom-of-four actual identity is on her third margarita and awake, because she never sleeps. While my Rockette dream is behind me, my dream now is much more humble…to not be fitted in a wrap-around, safety “jacket” and keeping my kids from becoming wards of the state. And getting a new theme song. I definitely need a new theme song. 

Merry Christmas and a happy new year. Or, at the very least, a tolerable new year.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Genius Tagline

I won’t lie…I miss him almost every day. He was a man I just couldn’t solve, a man women love to love, a man men want to be and women want to be with. He was a man easy to make excuses for, knowing where he came from and how he got to where he is. He was both haunted and haunting; a progressive, yet a man firmly rooted in his time. And his genius was unparalleled, responsible for some of the most lasting ideas of a generation, including the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” tagline and ad that everyone over a certain age knows and can sing. I still miss Don Draper, and Mad Men, all the time, as well as Stan’s mutinous beard and that lovable, deplorable, drunken, womanizing rascal Roger Sterling (who, incidentally, was Mike’s man crush). But what those mad ad men never came up with was the defining slogan for parenting, not that there’s any money for ads or actual ads in the realm of parenthood. 

While I’m no genius, tonight I came up with the definitive slogan for parenting, with a wink and a nod to the Peace Corps (though not much about parenting can be said to be peaceful). As I was cleaning up dinner tonight, I said something innocuous to Grace and she immediately came back with a mocking noise much like Charlie Brown’s teacher, that made me want to throw in my apron and, Dolly-Parton-style, say, “Take this job and shove it!” And that’s when it hit me…the slogan for parenting, in all it’s painful, truthful glory, should be: Parenting - the most thankless job you’ll ever love

Parenting is not glamorous. I spent years walking around with spit up on my shoulder and down my back, sometimes known and sometimes unknown. I carry around a full set of clothes in a backpack in the van - for all of us, including adults - for when someone (anyone) is unintentionally covered in a random bodily fluid. I didn’t wear earrings or necklaces for the better part of a decade, for fear of having my earrings ripped out of my lobes (which, a former neighbor who grew up in LA and was a part of the Crips in her teenage years, can attest hurts like a *mother*) or being choked. 

Parenting is not a “career” to have if you’re interested in immediate satisfaction. The project assignment lasts the rest of your life, with intensive management for two solid decades, and there’s no way to tell if you’re doing a good job for about the first 20 years. Every now and then, I’ll think things are going okay, but then I realize I won’t really know how things are going until the kids are adults. If they turn out to be serial killers, I’ll know I failed. And the real judgement will come only when I can come up with some kind of ratio to determine amount they spend on therapy, versus total amount of earned income. Only then will it be possible to know if I did an okay job. When they’re functioning adults, capable of standing on their own two feet and giving and accepting love (assuming this actually happens), I’ll know. But that’s a helluva lot of years away. In the intervening decades, parents just toil and plug away, day after thankless day, with no real clue how the projects they’re managing are progressing, and hoping they succeed. What kind of system is this, anyway? There is NO real world situation that mimics this whole parenting business. 

In the realm of compensation and appreciation, to quote another deeply flawed, deeply missed friend, Tony Soprano, fuhgeddaboutit. If there was a parenting HR department, parents would be resigning in droves. The complaint department would be flooded with egregious reports of overtime, unreasonable demands, unrealistic expectations, expense reports that would make CEOs blush, horrific working conditions…the list goes on and on. The whole enterprise would be shut down, the system would collapse, and parenting as we know it would be over. Capital O, capital V, capital E, capital R. As in, the end of civilization. Done. Finito. That’s all she wrote, folks. 

Yet people keep reproducing. I think it’s because all of those non-parents just DON’T know, through no fault of their own. And then there are the people with a million kids, like me, who figure it out so late. I just didn’t know, because I had them all so close together. It’s all fun and games until, one day, someone is making Charlie-Brown’s-teacher noises at you, and another one is challenging you with the exact same levels of stubbornness that you have (egads!), and another one is designing a rocket car out of a tissue box and a helmet out of a Dixie cup to take their duck to the moon, and another one is shattering your wine glass and staining the carpet, when you are forced to say, “Hold the phone! What the heck is going on?!?! How did I get here? Where’s the HR department?!" 

I hope that, someday, the kids grow up to be appreciative and thankful. I suspect that, if they grow up NOT to be serial killers and ever offer up some kind of appreciation, it will all be worth it. Don Draper may have been genius enough to create memorable taglines but, dammit, I’m so crafty I made people!! Who, hopefully, grow up NOT to be serial killers (I can’t hope this enough). In the meantime, though, and for the next decade or so, I’ll just be knee-deep in trying to grow my kids into loving, functional, non-murderous adults. Who someday appreciate me. And don’t have therapy on a daily basis. While living my own personal tagline: parenting: the most thankless job you’ll ever love.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Our Traveling Circus: Coming to a Town Near You

It’s summer again, which can only mean one thing…road trip season is upon us. Of course, the “season” isn’t firmly dictated by a date on the calendar, but oftentimes by a state of mental being. Road trip season can strike at any time, usually occurring whenever Mike is deployed and I need to get the heck out of dodge before someone suffers bodily harm. Most recently, we road tripped to the East Coast for a whirlwind at Christmas and successfully completed about 3000 miles in a span of two weeks. 

Imagine, if you will, my family going anywhere. Four small kids and (often) one adult just going to IHOP for dinner on a Tuesday night is usually enough to get me a comment or two about my “bravery” for even leaving the house. And this is not to say the kids are horribly behaved - truly, they’re usually not - but I am so obviously outnumbered that, should anything NOT go strictly according to the plan, things can get hairy quickly.  

Now picture that posse on a road trip for a few thousand miles in the winter. Our holiday 2014 venture had the excitement of a van breakdown in the middle of Indiana (screw you and your stupid law, Murphy!!!!!!)…just a mere two days after a complete vehicle service, replaced filters, oil change, etc, etc. I always plan preemptively to avoid horrific things like, say, breaking down in the middle of Indiana, on a 1400-mile drive across half of America, with my four kids, in January.

But it happened anyway. Cruising along at 75 miles per hour (ok, probably 85 MPH) on Interstate 70, the van suddenly felt sluggish. I was about 10 miles from the designated stopping point for the evening and mouthed some silent hopes that may have passed for actual prayer. As I coasted down the exit ramp, I realized the van had almost no power. By flooring the gas, the van eventually reached about 20 miles per hour and, after verrrrryyyyyy sloooooowly creeping through town, crossing a couple of multi-lane, high-speed roads, the van limped into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Richmond, IN. Though Murphy had tried his best (that bastard!), we made it to the hotel parking lot, where the van collapsed completely. Small victories. 

Now imagine, if you will, the scene of a woman with four small kids (who’ve been in the van for 12 straight hours), a broken down van in need of a tow truck in central Indiana, at the tail end of a 3000-mile road trip, walking into the hotel with her posse. I know…scary, right?? And that was the experience of our family on that cold, January day, hundreds of miles from home. Add to that no cell phone service (again…screw you, Murphy and T-mobile!!! Hate you both!!!) and a whole lot of hostility as I thought about all the ways that Murphy and his freakin’ Law have screwed me over the years, and you probably have a pretty accurate image of me/us on that particular day.

In the end (I can say after months of getting over it), the fiasco went as well as or better than one can imagine. The staff at the hotel was wonderful and beyond helpful, the Honda dealership squeezed me in and did everything in their power to not prolong my misery. We got back on the road the very next morning, and almost made it home before the blizzard struck (that I was supposed to miss, had I gotten started at the correct time) in the last 60 miles of the journey home (HEY, MURPHY!….HATE!!!!!! YOU!!!!).

Now fast forward to the Summer 2015 road trip we just completed. The original plan was a beach trip to North Carolina, but we threw in a pitstop in Maryland, because that’s how we roll (when it takes the Army as long as it does to assign you a new place to live…Murphy!!!!!!!). Because of my positive experience at the Holiday Inn and our route being the same, I thought it would be a good stopping point again. Mike was with us this time, so I wanted to give him the much-less-exciting-than-the-actual-event, scenic tour of the breakdown in central America. 

I still couldn’t help but be surprised as we approached the front desk of the hotel and Amadeus (the same attendant from our prior, frightful entrance) saw me, smiled, and said, “How’ve you been? Long time no see!” And I said, “Oh, please, tell me you DON’T actually remember us!” And he said, “Of course I do!” I turned to Mike, who I think sometimes thinks I exaggerate and/or embellish the events that go on in our lives when he’s gone, and said, “See??? I don’t make this stuff up.” Silently, I sighed and realized, we are THAT family…the family who visits ONCE that people don’t forget and probably talk about for weeks or months later. 

In the morning, when we went down to breakfast, Kristi (the delightful front desk manager from the winter incident) saw me, came over and actually hugged me. We caught up on the prior months, compared kid craziness, etc…like old friends. I expressed my disbelief at how people remembered us and wondered how much crazier we must seem than I realize. The cook was walking by during the conversation and stopped to announce, “I remember you, too!” Sometimes, my embarrassment has no end. But, as the hotel staffers put it, they are all fellow parents, as well, and felt immensely sympathetic for me in my plight. They said they only remembered us for those reasons, though I can’t say I am entirely convinced (but I certainly do appreciate that no one said, “Who could forget an unhinged woman on the verge of a complete and total meltdown!!”). 

So, we’re THAT family. I probably shouldn’t be surprised. We get to do one more East Coast road trip in four weeks (the fifth trip across half of America in seven months) and it appears our path will cross Richmond, IN, one last time. For old times sake, and because they know us there, we’re making one more stop at the Holiday Inn. 

Beware, Interstate 70, we’re the traveling circus that just may be pitching our tent in your town. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mother's Day: A History

Ah, it’s almost Mother’s Day…supposedly it’s my holiday, my day to be celebrated for all the awesomeness I bring to our family which, for the other 364 days, is completely and totally overlooked. Yay me!!! For a whopping one whole day,  I get to be celebrated. Statistically, one day out of 365 is an incredibly sad percentage…0.3 percent of the time, I am cherished and valued. Yup, sounds about right. 
I’m a little hostile about Mother’s Day (and Christmas, for that matter) because I feel the spirit of the holiday has been lost in our commercialism and self-interest. But then I decided I was full of it, since I don’t even know anything about the history of Mother’s Day and am frequently prone to have cynical feelings about things that are widely considered as good. So I tasked my trusty assistant, Mr. Wiki, to research the origins of the holiday. 
Enter Ann Jarvis. In 1858, this progressive woman founded the Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in five towns in Virginia to help the community, from raising money for medicine for families with an ill mother or children to inspecting milk. After the Civil War broke out, the MDWC declared neutrality and provided nurses – trained by Ann’s doctor brother – for both Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war ended, Ann organized a “Mothers Friendship Day” for both Union and Confederate soldiers and their families, to try to ease postwar strife. She did just that, in 1868, and the band played both Dixie and The Star Spangled Banner at the event, which ended with attendees in tears, singing together to Auld Lang Syne. 
Ann Jarvis died on May 8, 1905, after a lifetime of selfless service to her own family (four surviving children of an estimated dozen or so births) and to families in her community. Her daughter, Anna, organized a memorial on May 10, 1908, to honor her mother, and all mothers, in Grafton, WV, and then proceeded for the next several years to promote recognition of a national holiday to honor the daily services and sacrifices of mothers within the home. She succeeded in 1914, when Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday of each May. The holiday eventually spread throughout the world. 
But Anna Jarvis quickly got perturbed by the commercialization of Mother’s Day (I knew I was on to something!). She had designated the white carnation as the symbol of the holiday, appreciating how the carnation closes in on its petals as it dies, likening it to a mother’s hug always keeping the love of her children close to her heart. Yet when the greeting card, floral and chocolate industries realized the potential profitability of the holiday, Anna Jarvis spent her remaining years and inheritance trying to preserve the sentimental intention of the day and was even arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace during a protest against the commercialization of Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day spending this year is expected to be around $21 billion. It’s the third biggest retail holiday and the most popular day of the year to eat at a restaurant. Jewelers take in a good share of their annual revenue from Mother’s Day, and the floral industry ($2.6 billion), greeting card industry ($68 million) and “pampering” gifts (i.e. spa treatments - $1.5 billion) all share in the profit. The sassy blogs have been circulating. Mothers are lamenting prior year Mother’s Day escapades and making their wishes known in advance - whether it’s for something big or small or expensive or blingy - so as to not have a repeat of the year they got a live frog in a box, or some reptilian equivalent from little Johnny. It's not entirely about the swag, but a lot of it is about the swag.
Interestingly, Anna Jarvis never married or had children of her own. And, obviously, the early 20th century was surely a far cry different from the early 21st century, so I don’t want to be harsh on Ann. She wanted a day to idolize mothers but, as a mother (and specifically as a mother to several small children), I can only speak on my own behalf, but I would love to be completely forgotten for an entire day. Please, kids, forget me!!! Just for a day, forget that I live here! Forget that I usually know where everything is!!! Forget that I know how to replace a toilet paper roll!! Forget that I am in the shower, or using the toilet, or on the phone!! Ignore me, please!! Pretend I am wearing an invisibility cloak! When you have a knot in your shoelaces, find a fork! When you need to use the bathroom, don’t come find me, just get there on your own!!! When you need to know which shoe goes on which foot, just match the shape of your shoe to the shape of your foot! When someone is miffed at someone else, solve it with words or fists, but figure it out on your own!! Honestly, I’m not that smart…I just Google tons of stuff and watch lots of YouTube how-to videos!! Truly, you don’t need me for everything!!!! Just for one day, for the Love. Of. Pete…
Sigh…I think I sound curmudgeonly. I’m with Anna, in that I am anti-commercialization but, at this stage in my mothering career, I also totally don’t need any extra attention. When your greatest dream is of using the toilet without an audience…truly, sometimes less is more. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Memory Attic

I have always written stuff down. I kept a journal for a lot of years, beginning with the melodramatic, pre-teen, angst-filled years of drama, followed by a slightly-toned-down version of similar events in high school, followed by a more-toned-down version of similar events in early adulthood. My romantic idea of the written word has always been that of preservation…remembering the events, feelings, je-ne-sais-quois moments that fill Life (yes, capital-L-Life). The mind and memory - the equivalent of a dusty attic filled with boxes and boxes of information, memories and blood types, crawling with the spiders of distraction and appointments and shoe sizes and social security numbers - is a wonderful and dangerous place…wonderful for what it is able to retain, dangerous for the wonderful moments you never want to lose, but eventually do through either age or the general quantity of stuff that a mind contains. So I’ve always been inclined to write things down so, if granted the gift of  age, I could revisit those things - those simple moments - that made my chest contract with feelings of awe or wonder or love, in the general chaos of life, in general. 

I’ve kept a journal for the kids since Grace was born (a decade!), jotting down various things…the trivial aspects of life that are likely to be forgotten. Like, “Grace, you had freakishly large feet at an incredibly early age.” Or “Nadia, you once ate three hot dogs at nine months old, in spite of the fact you didn’t have a single tooth in your mouth.” Or “Liam, you pronounced ‘hospital’ as “hoss-is-pital’ until you were long past the age of knowing how to pronounce ‘hospital.’” Or “Declan, it took me a full year to potty train you,” which is actually something I sincerely hope to forget one day. Perhaps a better example would be, “Declan, one time you fell asleep, with your blanket over your head, while driving the Jeep, and continuously went in circles until you eventually startled and woke up, while your mom and another spectator just sat giggling over how a kid could fall asleep while driving a Jeep. Remind me to show you the video evidence someday.” Yes, that’s a better example, for sure. 

Between yesterday and today, there were a million (okay, five) really great instances of memories-worth-preserving that justify why I write. Granted, three of five were steeped in toileting, disgustingness and general humiliation (in other words, typical moments in the life of a parent) that probably better aren’t shared (though I couldn’t help posting one episode on Facebook because, well…who doesn’t want to hear about the woman who didn’t know she was in a men’s room, despite the urinal? FYI, I blame Declan). But these are the moments to look back on and laugh at, the moments you want to remember, the moments to counter all those other moments of general-parenting-madness. 

The two of five instances that don’t involve disgustingness: Nadia came up to me with a detailed drawing of who-knows-what and said, verbatim, “When I’m bigger and know about more stuff, I’m going to build a gravity-take-away-er.” Then I realized the drawing was of people and things, devoid of gravity, floating around and having a great time. Everyone was shouting, “WHEEEE!!!!” She’s like Dr. Doofenschmirtz, but with an incredibly pure heart (if you are wondering who the heck this is, you clearly need to be tuning in to Phineas and Ferb).

The second episode was a moment that left me quiet, tears streaming, as I hid on the deck, not wanting to insert myself into a beautiful (if rare) dynamic. Nadia and Liam were outside on the monkey bars. Liam, who is completely capable of doing the monkey bars, has no idea that he is completely capable of doing the monkey bars. Nadia was giving him a pep talk, encouraging him in the kindest words possible, telling him that he could do it even though he didn’t know he could. She was full of patience, as he hemmed and hawed and worried, “What if I fall?” She was the perfect example of what a parent should be and I wished, in that moment, to be more like my eight-year-old, wondering where she got the amazing heart she has. Insert silent parental tears, choke, gasp… Then she rolled up his sagging pants, so he wouldn’t slip as he stood on the bars, and, eventually, after an incredibly long time (exuding patience I JUST. DON’T. HAVE), Liam did it….just as we knew he could. I was so proud of both of them….I felt like the Grinch, that my heart grew three times (at least!) with pride and with love. And as I watched this magical moment between them, all I could think was, “I can’t forget this…I can’t forget this…” 

And so here I am, writing and preserving. While I often hope, in the course of my typical day, that I will forget these years of being overwhelmed, undermanned, stressed to the max, and feeling on the verge of general mania, there are the moments…the quiet, inconsequential moments…that lift you up (so cliche, I know!), that make you forget the other 23 hours and 52 minutes of madness, and make you know….just know…that all the madness is worth these precious moments. So I write it down, so it doesn’t get lost in the memory attic filled with STUFF, so someday I can revisit and remember the beautiful day when I marveled at the creatures I’d created, when I knew every moment of madness was worth it, when I thought - for the briefest moment - that I was doing an okay job.