Thursday, March 29, 2012

Etiquette 101

     When I got home from the bookstore yesterday, I pulled a book out of my bag, showed it to Hubs and announced "I have become my grandmother."  I was referring to a time years ago when my grandma gave my twin sister and me a Miss Manners book "To Marian and Margaret for Christmas and Birthday."  Neither of us asked for that particular "gift", but recently I have found myself wishing I had it.

     I was at dinner with my friends one night when I conceded that my daughter has awful table manners.  My hope was that my girlfriends would come to my rescue with tips and tricks to help me and my daughter.  Instead it was met with a resounding "mine too!" from all the moms at the table. The next half hour was a gripe session about our kids' poor table manners.  This time, my friends didn't have the answers.

     I really have been trying to teach Blondie table manners, but this is met with resistance.  Lately, dinners at our house have become a nagging session where Blondie seems to think we are picking on her.  I need something that will show Blondie that manners aren't something her father and I arbitrarily made up.

     Again I am reminded of my grandma who was a stickler for manners.  During meals with her we were instructed to get our elbows off the table, put our knife down after cutting our meat, put our utensils down while we chew our food etc.  But it's not these obscure rules that I'm trying to teach Blondie.  All I want is a meal where my sweet girl sits in her seat properly, drops crumbs on her plate instead of all over the floor, and uses a fork instead of her fingers.  A five course meal with with three different forks can be taught later.

     I remembered that our Parks and Recs department offered etiquette classes for 6+ year old children.  I've been holding this class over my daughter's head for months: "fix your manners or I'm sending you to manners class."  Finally, Hubs looked at me and said "sign her up."   I went online, but these classes are no longer available.  Then, I googled etiquette classes in OC.  The first three links were all dead ends - links to an era when people had disposable income.  The class I was dangling over Blondie's head is no longer an option.

     Now I'm forced to rethink my strategy because it looks like this dreaded job is falling to me.  In an unexpected turn of events I was at the local bookstore looking for a manners book for Blondie. I thought "my daughter responds well to books.  A book will show her that these are actual rules that exist in a world outside of Mom and Dad." 

     At bedtime I presented Blondie with her new book.  I saw the excitement in her eyes as she took in the cute pictures of girls on the front cover.  I watched as she skimmed the book's title.  I saw her entire inner dialogue:
a smart girl's guide "that's me! I'm smart!"
to "to what??? I'm so excited!"
manners her face visibly fell "manners???  My parents got me a book about manners???" 
(All of that was silent.)

Out loud Blondie said "ugh!"

I think I've found our first lesson from our new book: accepting gifts graciously.  And no, we can't exchange this "gift" for something else.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Playing House

     I have finally entered a phase in my life where I can grab a quick shower without the kids totally destroying the house.  This morning the scene downstairs was Ball playing with her dolls while Dude was looking for something to do.  Ball and Dude seemed amicable enough that I could risk leaving them alone for 10 minutes.  I silently prayed that whatever Dude found would be minimally destructive and I made a break for it.

     When I finished my shower I peeked downstairs,  I saw Ball in the corner and Dude holding a doll.  I asked Dude what he was doing and he said he was putting a diaper on the baby.  He picked the doll up by one foot, showed it to me, and slammed it back down on the ground.  Then he proceeded to put its cloth diaper on.
     Dude rarely plays with the girls.  He'll play in the same room as them, but this is a typical exchange:
Blondie: We're playing birthday party.  Dude, want to play?
Dude: Okay.  Pretend you guys go to the birthday party and I rolled over the people who weren't invited in my tank.
Blondie: We're playing sleepover Dude.  Want to come?
Dude: I'll pack my blasters so I can shoot the bad guys if they come near our tent.

     Dude plays near his sisters, but not really with his sisters.  One might think this is natural because he is the lone boy outnumbered by girls.  However, even among his boy friends he'll only play with you if you're playing something he's into.  If you're playing Star Wars and he wants to play Ninjas, he'll go off by himself and play ninjas rather than adapt and play what you're into.  This is one of  Dude's "quirks".
     However, with all the dolls, the high chair, the bassinet, the strollers, and the toy kitchen I knew this was inevitable.  Ball and Dude were playing house.  It surprised me when it finally happened because Dude is not into dolls - at all.  Ball of course, was leading the charge, but Dude was pretty happily following. 

     Together they were diapering and dressing the baby for bed.  They laid the baby down  nicely for night time and sung her a song.  Then "Daddy" grabbed his gun, went to work, and joined the army to fight the bad guys.  That's our family for you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Carpet is Visable

     Saturday on Facebook my status read: "Marian is not coming out of the office until a respectable amount of the carpet is visible."  This may have seemed like hyperbole, but our office was a complete disaster.  (A tornado coming through probably would have helped matters.)  And as much as I would love to blame someone else, it was all my fault.

     I know in a lot of houses mail might get left on a counter for a few days, or the dining room table might get piled up with stuff that needs to be taken care of soon, but in my house there was an entire room devoted to "I'll get to it later".  The most unfortunate part was; that entire room is Hub's home office where he actually tries to work sometimes.  That wonderful man kept his complaining to a minimum (he deserves a medal).

     Now I have some great mom friends.  We swap stories about the fun and not so fun aspects of raising our kids.  We complain about getting the kids to school, preparing dinner, and housework.  We curse housework.  If not for housework, our lives would be almost perfect. 

     Usually when conversing with my friends at some point I will confess that my house is messier than most.  Being the understanding and gracious friends that they are, this confession is usually met with statments along the lines of:
"I'm sure it can't be that bad."  (I have photographic evidence to the contrary.)
"I can't even imagine how busy you are with 3 kids!"  (My kids are only signed up for 2 activities and I am terrible at showing up to those on a regular basis.)
"I can barely keep my house clean with my kids, I can't even imagine having to deal with all 3 kids." (most of my friends stopped at 2)
When these lines are said to me I smile and nod and happily move onto the next topic of conversation. 

     My friend's comments leave me wishing that any of those was the real reason that an entire room in my house turned into my dumping ground.  Instead the real culprits are laziness, procrastination, and an amazing ability to turn a blind eye.  Whenever stuff comes into my house it sits on my kitchen counter (lazy).  When it is time to clean my kitchen counter everything gets dumped in a pile on the office floor to be dealt with later (procrastination).  These piles grow, spilling out of baskets onto the floor making it difficult to even walk in the room.  The next time my kitchen counter needs cleaning I open the office door, brace myself, dump the new pile on top of the old, and run away (turning a blind eye).  And so it goes until:

(I am lucky my husband still lives with me after I did this to his office.)
     Suddenly, I realized that when I go back to school I am going to need this office too.  Uh oh!  The office has been in this state for so long that I am fairly certain I could have waited until June to remedy the problem.  I could have procrastinated - I'm really good at that.  But instead I decided to not be totally selfish and give my sweet, tolerant husband some time to himself in a nice, relaxing office - at least until I come in and take over with all my school books and homework.


Thanks for living with me Michael!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

McDonald's Ruined My Child

     We're into minute 45 of our terrorist stand off.  Ball is mad and she is not going to take it.  I think I can safely blame McDonald's for this one.  Let me bring you up to speed.

     I am being completely serious when I tell you that my children have gotten less than 10 Happy Meals in their lives.  My kids know what a Happy Meal toy is - it is the Holy Grail.  Today I was helping out a friend and watching her kid.  I realized I was short on time and needed to feed the kids before I drove him home.  I chose to drive through McDonald's; mostly because every child on the planet loves McDonald's, but also because it was on my way.  (Stupid McDonald's are everywhere!)

    When we got home with our Happy Meals we realized they had accidently given Ball a boy toy.  Princess Ball will not accept anything less than her promised girl toy.  I knew the solution was simple.  All we had to do was walk into the store and give them our boy toy in exchange for the girl one.  (I also know this is a pain for a stupid Happy Meal toy, but I was feeling compassionate.) 

     I told Ball the plan.  We had to drive our friend home, go to school, pick my boy and his car pool buddies up, take them all home and then we would be free to get her the coveted girl toy.  Ball was cool.  She did the ride alongs and when we pulled into the garage she ran inside to get the boy toy so we could take care of business.  I followed her inside.

Me: "Okay, let's go!"

Ball: "I want to give this to Dude."

Me: "No, Ball.  We need that to trade at McDonald's."

Ball: "Here you go Dude!" (hands the package to her brother)

Me:  "Ball, I am not buying another toy.  We need that toy to exchange."

Ball: "But I want Dude to have it."  (I know, awww!)  "Let's go get my new toy."

Me (the hardass): "No.  I am not buying you a new toy.  You have to get that toy back from Dude because we have to exchange that toy if you want the girl toy."

Inevitably, this led to a game of "keep way" and "chase" where smaller, younger Ball was the looser.  Dude was not giving up his new toy.  (A wiser mom would have seen that coming.)

     I was willing to go to McDonald's on the down low to exchange one piece of junk for another to appease a disappointed Ball.  I did not want it announced to the other children that Ball was getting a toy and they were not.  I did not want to give Dude the toy and go buy Ball a new toy.  Buying Ball a new toy meant I would be paying extra money for a piece of junk.  Also if I didn't come home with one for Blondie too she would be pissed (and rightly so) that Ball and Dude had brand new junk and she didn't.  Thus, buying one for Ball meant actually buying TWO more pieces of junk.  Annoyed that Ball offered her toy to Dude when I told her not to and that it had caused them to start fighing I took the toy away and decided no one was getting it.

     This resulted in Ball running into the garage, sitting in her seat in my van, screaming and crying for the next hour, and waiting for me to buckle her in and drive to McDonald's to do the toy exchange.  When I finally went to the garage to get her she was laying on the floor of the van sobbing.  Because I do not negotiate with terrorists, I carried her upstairs, laid her in her bed, and invited her to come downstairs when she could be calm and nice.  Her tantrum lasted 65 minutes.

he toy that ruined Ball's life.

     Although I am sure that some of my parenting this afternoon was not beyond reproach, I prefer to lay the blame squarely at McDonald's feet.  (I've never experienced this type of meltdown over In & Out stickers.)  I know few parents who can resist their children constantly begging to go to McDonald's and I am sure the kids aren't begging for the delicious burgers.  Because of the toys they give away, McDonald's is clearly an evil genius corporation that has ruined my child (or at the very least part of our afternoon).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Assume We're Busy - Haven't heard back so I assume you're busy, flaky, or dead

     I asked a friend of mine if everything was okay since I hadn't heard from her in a little while.  Her response was "Just been really busy and yet, uneventful."  Doesn't it feel like that completely sums up motherhood a lot of the time?   If someone doesn't check in with us every day, everything we've done seems to fade into a big blur. 

     I can't tell you how many times friends or family call me and ask "What have you been up to?" only to leave me stumped.  Do you mean other than getting all three of my kids up, dressed, fed and off to school every weekday?  Do you mean besides picking them up from school, finishing homework, hopefully finding time to play, feeding them, and getting them to bed?  Yes, you probably do which is why my answer is often "Oh, you know, the usual".  I'm not flaky or dead, just very busy.  I put my head down and get the job done.

     And that, in case you wondered, is exactly why I named my blog "just keep swimming".  When Blondie was little we loved Finding Nemo.  In spite of the title, I believe the star of that movie is the hilarious Ellen DeGeneres as Dory.  It was her adventurous and positive attitude that won me over.

     On my most hectic, crazy days at home being "really busy and yet, uneventful" I sometimes find myself singing "Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.  Just keep swiiiiiiimmmmming." in Ellen's funny elongated manner in my head.  Motherhood is not about just getting through this minute, hour, or day.  It's about persistance and a willingness to keep going no matter what gets thrown at you.  Sometimes you might get chased by sharks, stung by jellies, or swallowed by a whale.  Good moms know that whatever the obtacles, it's our job to "just keep swimming".  And so we do.

Monday, March 5, 2012


     Thursday night a thick envelope arrived in the mail that was the culmination of a lot of hard work.  I received an acceptance letter from a local university's Masters of Teaching program.  I will start classes this summer and after an intense 15 months I will have a Masters degree and my teaching credential.  I am excited and nervous.  This is going to be a big change.

     This feels like having another baby (without as much physical discomfort). I started working on my application in September. Even though I wanted this and took all the necessary steps to make it happen, there are still times when I wonder: Why did I decide to go back to school? It reminds me of being pregnant. With each of my 3 children there were moments when I wondered: Why did I think it was a good idea to have this baby?

    When I had kids, I realized being pregnant was the easy part.  You suffer through your nine months.  Then you are handed a baby.  Inside your body, that baby was warm and snuggly, fed through a tube, and diapers were not an issue.  When that baby is placed in your arms it needs food and changing, cries a lot, and doesn't sleep.  Pregnancy had nothing on this new phase of life.  If you thought creating life was hard work, it does not compare to keeping this new baby healthy, happy, and safe.

     Much like being pregnant, applying to school was the easy part.  Sure, studying for the GRE was tough.  I spent a lot of hours practicing too much math. And collecting all the necessary paperwork and writing essays was a chore.  But I know that is nothing compared to the amount of work I will have to deal with when I actually begin classes. I will somehow have to go to class, care for 3 kids, feed my family, and find time to study.  Ack!  (Maybe I can pawn the "feed my family" business off on Michael or Subway.)

     In spite of all the inevitable changes, I am thankful I have the opportunity, time, energy, and resources to go back to school.  I know that laboring through this new stage of life will be far less physically uncomfortable than birthing my actual children.  And once again, I am hopelessly optimistic about this new change; like when I was pregnant and people would try to tell me how difficult having a baby was and I would smile and nod and think "It can't really be that hard, can it?"