Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just In: Work At Home Productivity Down 95%

Every night when my husband comes home from work, we exchange our daily routine banter. He asks, “So, how was your day? What did you do?” I regale him with stories about the past 10 hours, which no doubt include way too many details for him, and after me talking for about 15 minutes solid his eyes are a little glassy and he’s already onto his second beer, and he wraps it up with, “So. You wrote the table of contents for your book. That’s great.”

When I stop to think about what I accomplished, which is to say, what I actually wrote down or edited or drafted, it occurs to me that it never really sounds like much at all.

But I always feel so busy! I didn’t even leave the house, not even to check the mail or take the kids to the bus, instead telling them to “walk in the rain; it gives you character. I’ve got to get some work done.” I felt like my ass was strapped to my chair for eight hours, my brain working on overdrive for about 10. How had I only accomplished one little blog? Or one small article? Or one little Letter of Introduction? Do I have multiple personalities that black out sections of time, while my second persona goes shopping, has lunch out, and gets her nails done? Where the hell is my day going?

Well, as I type this I realize now where it’s going. My day is going to that three-year old time-vacuum. The one sitting in the other room right now watching Curious George and eating her breakfast on the couch, no doubt smearing banana hands on my furniture.

When we were finishing the lower level in our house, it was my brilliant idea to create the playroom right off the office space. That way, thought I, my youngest can happily play with her fabulous toys while I sit at my drafting table and write feverishly, churning out loads of novels, websites, blogs, and essays that are thoroughly researched and highly entertaining. She will be happy. And I will be happy. And I’ll have mastered the stay-at-home-work-at-home conundrum.

Yeah. That happened.

My daughter has no desire to play with her toys for more than 10 minutes at most, and then she’s at my drafting table opening the drawers so she can scale my desk and try to sit on my lap while I work. Which if you’ve seen how much clearance I have behind my desk, or know that my chair is a bar stool whose legs we sawed off to fit the height of the drafting table rendering my chair ineffective for moving in and out, you’d understand that what she’s trying to accomplish is a little bit like a circus elephant trying to sit on the shoulders of a tight rope walker without her falling to her death.  

Here was my morning; aka, a typical writing day for me when my daughter is home:

  • Sit down at computer. Open email, begin reading email. Spend 10 minutes reading and responding to email.
  • Daughter wakes up. Must comfort and love on daughter so she’s not in a bad mood. Lop her onto the couch and put on Curious George which buys about 10 minutes.
  • Go back to computer. Close email and go over list of things I need to accomplish today; 1. Finish an article, 2. Continue editing book project, 3. blog.
  • “Mom! I’m hungry! Can I have bwekfast?” child yells from TV room.
  • Get up from computer to make toaster waffle with cream cheese, half a banana, and glass of orange juice. While I’m in kitchen I pull out crock pot and cans of beans to make chili for dinner. Serve child breakfast in front of TV like bad American Mother.
  • Sit back down at computer, open up article to work on. Read through article to figure out where I’m going to add information in and begin to think. Yes, I actually need time to think about stuff.
  • “Mom! Look look!”  “WHAT?” I yell from office. “Look! I finished my bwekfast! Can I have more?” “More of what?” I yell. “More bwekfast! Come here!” she yells back.
  • Get up again, gather child’s plate, get her another waffle another banana, deliver food, and head back to computer.
  • Where was I? Oh, yes. Thinking. Thinking about my article and trying to be creative. I have about five minutes.
  • “Mom! I hafta go to the bathroom!” “Then GO!” I yell. “WHAT?” she yells back. “GO! TO THE BATHROOM!” I yell again. Note that we’re not yelling in anger just for distance, because Curious George is loud and getting out of my office seat eats up time
  • “Mom! I’m done going to the bathroom! I need help!”
  • Swivel-tilt-my chair back, climb out of my creative corner (that hasn’t seen a creative thing yet today) and help child in bathroom.
  • “Do you have to poop? I ask. “No.” She answers. “ARE YOU SURE?” I inquire again. She nods yes. Fine. She must wash her own hands. With lots of soap. She must rinse her own hands. One finger at a time. She must turn off the water, grab the towel, and hit the light switch with no help from me, but I must be physically present.
  • Swivel-Tilt-Adjust myself back in corner. Re-read article for the third time. Okay. Think. Start writing. Feel a groove coming on, a hint at productivity, silence from the other room propels me forward, and dare I say I’m feeling like I might be able to…
  • “Mom! I hafta go to the bathroom!” my daughter yells. “You JUST WENT!” I yell back. “No! I hafta go POOP!” she retorts. “I ASKED IF YOU HAD TO GO POOP BUT YOU TOLD ME NO!” I quip loudly.
  • Passive-Aggressively leave desk and bruise hip and thigh on corner, a good Karmic sign that I need to not be passive-aggressive with my three-year-old. Because peeing and pooping are clearly two separate activities and must not be performed at the same time, when one is already on the pot doing the other, even if convenience and logic tells you otherwise. Different exit areas, different results, different activities. Duh.

And on continues my day, in two and three minute increments. I write in between picking up the toy room so she can find the accessories to her ponies, getting out paint, brushes, and water so she can decorate little wooden hearts and bird houses, throwing a load of laundry in because the other children who live here are out of underwear…. (“Mom!! Mommy! Mah-Mah!” She just yelled. “Are you almost done?? You said you would come check on me!” Do you see what I mean?) and not that I even have time to put it in the dryer let a lone fold it because suddenly it’s lunch time, and I must go scrape together something halfway healthy for her noon meal, which is particularly difficult because we need to go shopping today as we have no food, but we don’t get paid until tomorrow. Mother Sucker.

When I die I have decided to have the following epitaph inscribed on my tombstone:

Here Lies Rachel Vidoni
Tired Dead Mother But Never an Author
She Hopes Her Children Are Happy
Now She Has Time To Think

I’ve been sitting at this computer for an hour and a half, and this is what I’ve got? It could have been better readers. But I must move onto to my next task. Just so I have something to tell my husband when he comes home. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Party Politics

This is a treat any kid would be proud of. (From Parents Magazine)

This one, not so much.

 One of the things I’m constantly being reminded of is that reading the calendars that get sent home from school is important. It’s not that I don’t instinctually know this being a former teacher and all, but life tends to get away from me on an hourly basis which means my children show up to school without the red shirt on, the much needed paper sack, or the five items that begin with the letter “W” in a plastic zip lock.

Now that my youngest is in preschool, I’m having to re-learn all the rules—spoken, unspoken, and whispered in hushed tones—and quite honestly I’m a little annoyed at my learning curve because I was under the impression that navigating preschool would be akin to the old adage about riding a bike or smoking; you never forget how to do it. In reality it’s more akin to breastfeeding. No matter how many times you’ve done it, you wonder why the hell it’s so painful and difficult each and every moment.

I dropped my daughter off September 30th and made sure to find the snack sign up calendar for October, so I could scribble down my John Hancock in a tiny box since I had missed the opportunity to bring in snack in September. As of 9:00 a.m. that morning, the October calendar hadn’t been put up, so I figured I’d sign up for it when I came back at 1 p.m.

Imagine my surprise when (at 1 p.m.) I noticed that not only had the October calendar been tacked to the wall, but that every single snack slot for the month was already taken. How had I missed this? Were the good parents lined up behind the trees and bushes outside ready to steal the slots from me the moment I left? No, logically most children leave at 11:30 and those lucky parents happened to sign up for October. The very nice and gracious teachers told me they’d hang up the Halloween party calendar after 11:30 pick up, so I’d have a chance to sign up for something. I’m a good mom, really I am, they reassured me. They wiped my nose and sent me on my way with a little pat, pat, pat on the back.

It’s not that I’m pouting. I just understand how these things go. I know because I was a teacher when I didn’t have kids and now I’m a parent who doesn’t teach, and I’ve heard first hand the implications of parents who don’t bring in snack. Or a cool item for a class party. You’re  labeled:
·         a busy working mom who doesn’t have time for her kids, or
·         a lazy stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have time for her kids, or
·         cheap, or
·          a user

Trust me. It’s not spoken. It’s one of those quiet things you just feel. I was walking with my friend the other morning who was also commiserating with me on party politics. She says:
“And since I was out of town, I told my husband, ‘Husband, make sure you sign us up to bring something for the Halloween party.’ And so when I got home I asked him, ‘What did you sign us up to bring?’ And do you know what he says? He says, ‘Napkins.’ Napkins! ‘You signed us up to bring NAPKINS?’ I asked him. ‘You don’t sign us up to bring napkins! Napkins aren’t fun! When you sign us up, you sign us up for something good, like cupcakes. Or cookies. You do not sign us up to bring napkins.’ So now I’ve been online and looking in the stores for the best damned napkins I can find.”

Napkins just aren’t sexy, along with the other drab party necessities like paper plates, cups, and plastic utensils. The only thing that would make bringing in napkins cool, is if she hand cut 8” squares out of harvest colored flannel and monogrammed each child’s initial in the corner, which would then make it suitable for a party favor as well. That would be something every  3 to 5 year-old could brag about.

Moms want to bring in something their child can be proud of, show off and boast about, like cupcakes with glittery frosting, or cookies with gummy lifesaver eyeballs, or little bags of candy tied with curly orange ribbon. We want to try out all those food crafting projects we see in Family Fun and Martha Stewart because really good moms make chocolate pudding cemeteries with oreo earth and their children love them forever. Those items speak volumes about how much your love your child, care about their preschool psyche, how dedicated you are to domestic service and hence, what a wonderful woman you must be.

Truth be told, perhaps that extra effort of making colorful cupcakes is a silent offering to our children, a way to make up for the million ways we slight them, yell at them, ignore them, or look past them while we worry about schedules and bills and homework and housecleaning and laundry. If we’re lucky maybe our children will remember the hours we spent decorating 50 sugar cookies with candy corn and black licorice, and not the 15 minutes before bed when we refused to read a story because we were so completely exhausted  the very  thought of reading Good Night Moon brought on a migraine. I mean, any idiot with five bucks in their pocket can bring in napkins and plates. Bringing in party ware must mean you aren’t sorry for anything, right? That your kids should be happy with the mediocre parent you turned out to be?

Regardless of the emotional baggage and implied meaning us parents bring to the party table, kids only see the glittery. The colorful. The sugar coated. And trust me, when the little kids are out on the playground having a pissing contest over what they brought in, you do NOT want to imagine your child, hands shoved in pockets, eyes cast downward while the cupcake kids taunt:
Suzie’s mom brought napkins. My mom brought in the cupcakes that say, ‘Trick or’ Treat!’ when you take a bite.”

Because isn’t that our worst fear? Having our kids be embarrassed of us the way we were embarrassed of our parents? Don’t the embellishments and colorful gift bags make us cool?

Well, the good news is that I got to the sign up sheet before the 11:30 pick up parents, but the bad news is that mini cupcakes and all the food items were already taken. My choice? Non-edible treat. Fine. I signed my name. Perhaps I’ll buy each child their own Barbie house or Star Wars leggo set. I can do something cool with a non-edible treat.

What did they end up with? Well, a little cello bag with a friendly ghost on it, filled with a mini play dough, bouncy ball, and spider ring. I filled a shoebox with the little packages of delight, and they are ready and waiting for the infamous party day.

I know. I sold out. I over did the “non-edible treat” and bought into the politics of the holiday. The good news is that I closed the baggies with the enclosed twist ties and did not use any sort of curling ribbon to make them cuter. I thought about it, but refrained. I mean, I’m sorry at times…

But not that sorry.

It’s a mediocre thing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nature Vs. Nurture

The other night my three-year old was shrieking in the bath. Mr. Musings arrived seconds before me to find our daughter holding up a piece of my long, black hair that had stuck to her skin. “Hair! Hair! HAIR!” she wailed.
“What’s she yelling for?” Mr. Musings asked me.
“She gets freaked out when hair gets stuck to her,” I replied.
“Is there any way to change that?” he asked.
“What, her genetic code or the hair in the bathtub?” I inquired.
“Her genetic code.”
“I suppose we could medicate her early,” I retorted.

It’s true. My youngest daughter has this gifted ability to find the smallest hairs-stuck to her in the bath, on her sweaters, on the table, and bring them to me pinched tightly between her index finger and thumb, arm outstretched like she’s holding toxic waste. She’s not content until I’ve thrown it away in the garbage and assured her that “everything is fine. It’s just hair.”

The fact that my hair falls out in clumps to rival a molting Persian cat contributes largely to this problem (and is actually enough material for an entire blog), but there’s not much I can do about it. Most days I wear my hair up in a ponytail or twist to keep the suckers from falling out, and my doctors have assured me that nothing is wrong with my thyroid, so unless I decide to go Sinead on my family, we’ll need to figure out a way to deal with the hair. And yes, I’m sure I could vacuum more than I do. Still, I have no idea why she freaks out over little things like clingy hair. (Or messy hands.) No idea at all.

This little peccadillo of my daughters does not stand alone, however. Lately I’m noticing things that seem a little a-typical of three-year old behavior, or at least what they told me was “typical” back in my childhood development classes in college. Granted, it was back when 90210 was popular, so I get that it might not be the most recent information to go on.

My daughter is starting to shows signs of being freakishly organized. Coming in to take her out of the bath one evening I found this:

Wouldn’t most three-year olds have them scattered all over the shower walls? Be pretending to drive the cars over the people and sticking the trees on the roof tops? Not my girl. She’s already creating Stepfordville. Is this an example of nurture or nature? How much is my youngest picking up on my own neuroses, and is this a sign of her neuroses to come?

But perhaps that was just a fluke I think. Until I notice her playing with her puzzles:

And her pegs:

And when she colors:

Yes. Her picture is on the right. Now I’m starting to suspect that my daughter is a little abnormal. The little girl she colored with in the picture above is also three years old and is also the third child. Their pictures look a little different, don’t they?

My youngest even wants to get in on the calendar action; making sure to stay organized by placing important events on each day:

Well sure. We need to work on the writing a little bit, but the big picture is she understands how important it is to write things down on the calendar. Schedule her time. Stay organized.

Even at school one of her teachers commented on her abilities. When I went to pick her up one afternoon her teacher remarked, “You know, I’m really impressed that she could work all those buttons on her sweater. She spent most of the day buttoning and unbuttoning, buttoning and unbuttoning that sweater. That’s really a higher level skill, and not usually age appropriate for a three year old.” We were both glancing down at my daughter during this little tribute, when my daughter reached into her nose, picked a huge booger, and wiped it on her sweater with the big buttons she knows how to work.

“What about wiping boogers on her sweater?” I asked. “Is that age appropriate?”
“Totally,” the teacher laughed. “All three-year olds do that one.”

Whew. Perhaps I don't have anything to worry about. I'm not so naieve to think she wasn't going to get any of my personality, but with each child I keep hoping that it's some redeeming part, not the parts that put people into therapy or on the road to drug warranted anxiety. My oldest is glass-half-empty just like me, my middle daughter is anxiety-ridden just like me, and now my three-year old is turning into Type-A-organized just like me. Oh they have many good qualities, don't get me wrong. For example, they obviously all got my fabulous good looks and winning personality. But I still question how much of their characters are genetically encoded and beyond their control, and how much of it they pick up by living with me as their mediocre mother.

"Is there any way to change that?" I remember my husband asking.
I suppose not. I'll just embrace the years of therapy to come and line up the bottles of Paxil.