Forget the House; my conscience is haunted.

I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel like my parenting has been slipping a little lately.  Maybe it’s the busy fall season or the relentless grind of the school-year routine.  Maybe it’s just the chilly fall weather.  (Yes.  Let’s say it’s the chilly fall weather.)  At any rate, after a sunny and cheerful September with my children, my October mothering efforts have been less than stellar.  I might even say they’ve been mediocre.  Maybe even pitiful.  (Yes.  Let’s say pitiful.)

For starters, I’ve spent the better part of the month with a cold.  Not enough to justify staying in bed, just enough to feel lousy while I quasi-do everything I’m supposed to do.  “What I’m supposed to do” apparently includes sleeping too late on a weekday (hungover from my nighttime cold medicine) and then yelling at my kids to “HURRY UP!!” because Mom couldn’t get her hiney out of bed on time.   “What I’m supposed to do” must also include allowing Megan to go to school three hours late last Wednesday because she was “sick” (sure) and allowing Ethan to go to school an hour late on that same day, so we could get him some cold medicine (and a Sprite) at the store before he started his day.  On Thursday I let him stay home with me all day because, in fairness, he did have the sniffles.  You can imagine my relief, however, upon witnessing his miraculous recovery at 3 pm, when he promptly began lobbying to have a friend over.  I cannot account for this healing, except that maybe the two hours I spent with him on the couch that morning watching the Wizards of Waverly Place movie had some kind of emotionally therapeutic effect.  (And don’t worry…I got some great catnaps in while the snotty teenage girl tried to undo the spell on her family.  That is one bratty adolescent wizard.  Man, her parents must be pushovers.)

Would you believe that the following day, when Ethan went back to school, I didn’t even send a note excusing him for being absent?  Upon realizing my oversight, I thought about calling the school and telling them that Ethan had, in fact, been home sick the previous day.  But then I thought:  they’ll figure it out.  Why waste my breath?  Now there’s some conscientious mothering for you.

Things got even worse as the weekend approached.  On Friday, instead of writing or cleaning or paying bills or making homemade sourdough starter (it’s on my bucket list), I spent the better part of my day driving to WalMart/Fred Meyer/Goodwill/back to Fred Meyer/back to Walmart.  You may be wondering how much grocery shopping a lady can do, but let me assure you, my three faithfuls:  all of this time was spent getting my children what they needed for Halloween.  Not shopping for a milestone birthday party.  Not prepping for a big family vacation.  Halloween.  The holiday that is rapidly outdoing Christmas as the biggest annual pain in a mother’s already stressed-out groin.

May I remind you that we’d already spent ample time at Value Village last week putting the kids’ costumes together?  This set of errands was spent just finishing things up:  I had to find just the right face decals (red, shimmery but not glittery, able to peel-off individually, not too big but able to see on my face, thankyouverymuch), a basket that would be believable as Red Riding Hood’s (bowed handle, rounded, no lining, not too big or small, thankyouverymuch), a black and white, horizonally striped “mime” shirt (Megan seemed to think I could just pick this up anywhere.  As if!)   And black suspenders. (This was the real doozie.  For a ten-year old waif of a girl?  As if.)

I also had to spend a little time comparing candy prices ounce for ounce, because apparently we need to start an escrow account in January to prepare for the cost of Halloween candy come October.  Now that we’re approaching our forties, I’ve committed to passing out only the good stuff (i.e., cheap chocolate) to the kiddos.  The lame dumdums and fake jolly ranchers need to be left behind with the poverty of our twenties and thirties; with the wrinkles and weight gain of middle age must come some level of dignity.  The best deal was a big bag of mini candy bars for twenty bucks at Walmart.  I’ll probably need about four more of these to satisfy our busy neighborhood, but I’ll wait to buy them during peak trick-or-treating time tonight, so that if the store is out, I can say “not my fault!” and just turn off our porch light.  Everybody (okay, only me) wins.

After my Great Day at Walmart/Fred Meyer/Goodwill/Fred Meyer/Walmart, I pulled into the driveway just in time to greet my middle-schooler as she came home and realized that I had once again been far too indulgent in satisfying my children’s whims.  A Tiger Mother would have told her kids to make their own costumes–after they’d practiced their music for three hours.  Instead, I gave my children the goods they’d requested, sought their approval, and heard myself telling them not to worry about chores this weekend, since we’d be too busy getting everything ready for the big holiday.  I shook my head even as the words came out of my mouth.  A Blue Personality is one thing, but this is ridiculous.

I then spent all of Friday night being the ultimate Cool Mom (see previous post).  Lucky kids.  Saturday afternoon required one final trip to Goodwill.  Megan had pointed out to me that the mime shirt I’d bought was in fact navy blue-and-white striped, not black-and-white striped.  No way, I said.  Way, she replied.  (I couldn’t believe it.  I felt like George Banks in his blue tux.)  Saturday evening, it was finally time for the big party, which by all accounts was a smashing sucess.  I felt only a flicker of guilt as I watched my six-year old make his way through the potluck line with three cookies, a scoop of red jell-o, and a white roll for dinner.  I did nothing to stop him.  Derrick, who stood right next to me, did nothing either.  I said to him, “Is that all Ethan’s had to eat tonight?”  My usually strict husband replied, “Yeah, I told him to just eat whatever he wanted.”  I then replied, “Oh.”  We watched as he took his paper plate and sprinted across the gym with his nineteen sweaty and smelly best friends, not to be seen again for the rest of the evening.  Hours later, when he finally reappeared, I found myself idly wondering:  where did Ethan spend his evening?  In the parking lot?  In the the street?  In the ladies room?  In a car with strangers?  I didn’t know.  I was just glad that I didn’t have to fix him a plate for dinner myself.  That seemed like a lot of work.

Sunday afternoon we came home from church, changed clothes, and grabbed a snack as usual.  The kids had settled themselves throughout the house, so I decided to take a little break and read for a bit before tidying things up and getting dinner ready for company.  Two hours later I woke up and saw the clock on my nightstand.  What had happened?  I stumbled into the bonus room to find that my kids had been glued to back-to-back episodes of The Cosby Show since the minute I’d dozed off.  I thought about telling them to turn the tv off; that it was the Sabbath and a family day.  I thought about making them come downstairs with me to help with dinner or to just read and chat together in the living room as I baked.  But then I thought again.  That seemed like a lot of work.  Instead, I shut the door quietly behind me so they wouldn’t know I was awake and spent a glorious two hours in the kitchen, alone with my thoughts as I kneaded rolls and chopped up a salad.  When I finished, I went upstairs and finally faced my children.  Their total elapsed time in front of the television was now at three hours, forty-five minutes.

“Kids!” I said sharply.  “Turn off the tv!  It’s Sunday!”  I pretended that I had just discovered them there.  The zombies looked up and rubbed their eyes, as if only just remembering that they had a mother.

“Oh yeah…okay Mom.”

“Come help me set the table,” I said, a little more gently.  This made me feel good.  (A wise mother always involves her children in household responsibilities.)

Fast-forward to this morning:  I offered them cold cereal for breakfast. (An aside:  I’ve tried to make them hot food in the morning, but they don’t want it.  And as you can see, it’s all about What My Children Want.)  Anyway, Megan began asking for muffins instead, and I told her no–they’d had enough sugar this weekend.  The kids needed something healthy and filling, like the bag of fake Frosted Flakes I’d set on the table.  Megan rebutted, saying she hadn’t had any candy so far, so why couldn’t she have a muffin?  Derrick intervened and told her to knock it off and quit arguing with her mother.  I could barely hear what Derrick was saying, however, because at the same time he was reprimanding our daughter, I was offering to make her toast instead, hoping that that would satisfy her desire for something other than cereal.  Derrick looked at me and shook his head.  I looked at me and shook my head, too.  A Blue Personality is one thing, but this is ridiculous.

And so begins the Great Parenting Slide that seems to begin every Halloween and last through New Years Day, when all of my resolve gets put on hold because “I have a cold,” or  “Its the holidays!”  Problem is, we just finished up three months of whatever-ness when the same loosey-goosey logic applied:  “Don’t worry about it…it’s summer!”

I obviously need some help.  Could you help me, my three faithfuls?  Derrick tries to help me, but you know how good wives are at taking their husband’s parenting tips.  Tonight is Halloween, and the blue-personality in me wants to send the kids outside, tell them not to come back for at least three hours, and to eat as much candy as they want to when they get home, as long as I don’t have to clean up the wrappers or their vomit.  But the wanna-be-responsible mom in me says I should monitor their trick-or-treating, teach them to share their candy, and allow them just one piece a day in their school lunches until it’s gone.

I’m not sure yet how this Halloween night will play out, but I’m thinking that the easier parenting method will triumph.  Just a hunch.

And to avoid ending this parenting confessional on a down note, I must share with you the one–the only–upside of my wishy-washy, squishy-squashy, blue-personalitied parenting style:


And I hope you do, too.  Happy Halloween!

I never worry about action, only inaction.

I love this quote from Winston Churchill.  I’ve decided to adopt it as the new tag line for my life.  (What, you’re telling me that you don’t have a tag line for your life? Get one, my friend, and share it with us all.)  I’ve chosen this particular phrase as my Guiding Light in an effort conquer the giant stumbling block I’ve never conquered in all my blue-personalitied days:  making decisions.

Are you decisive and confident, like my husband, or indecisive and neurotic, like me?  Do you make up your mind and then move forward unbridled, or do you survey everyone you know (including and especially your three faithfuls), think about it, pray about it, think about it some more, then make a hesitant, halfway decision, only to regret the path you’ve taken before you’ve even began taking it?  Have mercy, I’ve just described my own decision-making process.

I am a flounderer.  I stink at making decisions, large and small.  Derrick dreads pulling into a drive-thru with me because he knows that nothing terrifies his wife more than a screen with eighty different menu options staring her down.  The brightly-lit board sits expectant and menacing, with a powerful but hidden stranger who is waiting–along with five carloads of people behind us– for me to decide on just one thing to eat.  Don’t they understand that this is the only food I will have for the next two to three hours?  I mean really.  Where’s the fire?

Imagine my angst in grocery stores, clothing stores, and furniture stores, not to mention farmers markets, flea markets, and stock markets.  (I threw that last one in to impress.  As if.)  Imagine the terror I experienced at the tender age of twenty-five when someone put a Choosing Your Baby’s Name book in my hands for the first time.  Already reeling with loop-de-loop hormones, I’m pretty sure I closed my eyes, opened the book, and stuck my finger on a name.  I wrote it down on a little piece of paper and put it in my coat pocket so I wouldn’t forget to bring it to the hospital.  Hopefully the baby’s gender would match up with the name that I’d picked out, but if not, c’est la vie, because I wasn’t about to go through that hellish choosing process again.

Are you a Churchill or a wuss?  Now in fairness to us wusses out there: along with this wussiness comes a flexibility that allows us to work well with others and manage the unexpected pretty easily.  This is a nice trait to be sure, but it doesn’t help me choose between a chicken sandwich or a salad, a brown or black picture frame, if twelve is too young for makeup, or whether or not we should have another baby.  (My husband will be so happy I brought up that last one.)

One day, after a particularly grueling decision needed to be made regarding whether or not my children should ride the school bus, my decisive husband let me in on a little secret.  He said, “Jen, I just make a decision and figure that even if it’s the wrong decision, I can always go back and fix it later.”  Judge if you will, but I’m telling you, this was something of a revelation to me.  I had always seen decisions as so right-or-wrong, so permanent, such an unforgiving mark of my character and judgment.  But here was my Best Faithful telling me I could mess it all up, and everything would be okay.

I could order the chicken sandwich and if it was terrible, lunchtime would happen again tomorrow.  I could always swap out the black frame for the brown and tell my daughter that I’d changed my mind about eyeshadow (too bad.)   And I can enjoy the children I have and stop worrying about the ones I don’t.  It will all, somehow, work out.

So I’ve decided that from this post forward and with my three faithfuls as my witness, I will honor Mr. Churchill by choosing action over inaction, lumpy and awkward as that action may be.  When I am not sure what to do–which is about ninety-percent of the time–I will close my eyes and just do, and have faith that it will all, somehow, work out.

I will keep deciding and re-deciding how to parent my children, because what really matters is that I care enough to decide.  I will keep writing dorky things on my blog that might make me sound dumb, because sounding dumb once in a while is better than not writing anything ever.  And, like I did this morning, I will keep semi-dancing while I run down tenth avenue, especially when Shawn Mullins needs me to bust out air-drums while jamming with him on my iPod.  Because an out-of-shape mom who dances while she runs is better than an out-of-shape mom who doesn’t run at all.  At least that’s what I’ve decided.

Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

I spent Friday night in the kitchen with my two daughters (ages 12 and 10) and my niece (almost 13) making chocolate chip cookies and gabbing about “girl stuff.”  I was certain that the conversation they were having, with me in the room, was exactly the conversation they would be having were I not in the room.  After all, my girls tell me everything.  We’re practically BFFs!

A Taylor Swift song belted from our kitchen CD player and, not to be outdone by my jamming girls, I threw my hips for a loop every few beats to show them just how cool their mom really was.  I even used the dough-covered wooden spoon as a microphone, displaying my familiarity with the lyrics of a top-twenty hit.

I then allowed each of the girls to dip a spoon into the bowl for a big hunk of cookie dough.  Aren’t you lucky, I beamed at them as I dipped my own spoon in, to have a cool mom like me?

They smiled faintly and looked at the floor.  Um…yeah.  I think they were so excited to see my wild side, they were at a loss for words.

I took this as a good sign and decided to outdo even myself.  I asked my niece all about eighth grade:  her friends, boyfriends, and frenemies.  As she answered my questions, I made sure to interrupt her every few minutes with a story of my own from junior high, like how much I totally hated math in sixth grade or how laaame my Language Arts teacher had been in seventh.  I think the girls really liked hearing me talk about myself because every time I did, the conversation would come to a halt and they’d sort of exchange looks with each other, like they weren’t sure what to say next.  I’m pretty sure this is because they couldn’t believe they had a mom as withit as I was.  So I just kept jumping in and talking over them every chance I could.

I was so happy for my girls, sitting at my knee, drinking deeply from the well of self-awareness that I offered them.  As I talked on and on about What It Takes To Be Cool, I saw them smirk and glance at each other, obviously giddy to listen to their mother who knows it all.  Clothes, makeup, boys, popularity, stiff parents?  Just ask me, darlings.  Just ask me.  I have a totally awesome answer for everything.  Check it out:

1.  Clothes:  Anything at Aeropostle is RAD.  As long as it’s on the two for $20 rack.  (You mom is cool and frugal.  I know.  You scored.)

2.  Makeup:  The more the better!  You’re in middle school now:  time to grow up.  Full coverage foundation and liquid eyeliner are especially RAD.

3.  “RAD“:  Short for “radical,” a totally awesome phrase from when I was in high school.  If you want to be a trendsetter, start saying it at school and just listen as it catches on.  The other kids will think you’re totally retro and totally cool.  Trust me.

4.  Boys:  Just follow the boy you like around at school, say “Hiii!!” to him really loudly in the halls, and tell everyone that he’s your soulmate and you’re gonna marry him someday.  Boys are dense and need to have girls’ feelings made very, very clear to them, especially in front of all the other boys.  Decorate his locker on Valentine’s Day, and on his birthday, wish him a “Happy-Sappy, Lovey-Dovey Birthday!” over the loudspeaker if you have access to it.  (A cool girl always does.)  As soon as the opportunity presents itself, be sure to tell him, “I love you.”  Those are three sweetest words a prepubescent boy can hear from an aggressive girl.  Preferably, do it the middle of the school dance floor while all his friends are watching.  Then, whatever song is playing while you proclaim your love will become “your song.”  You should probably cry a little here if you can manage it.  Middle school boys are suckers for this kind of romance.  Believe me, he’ll never forget you.

5.  Popularity:  It’s easy!  Just follow the popular girls around and be extra mean to anybody who’s not them.  (We have a responsibility as mothers to breed confidence in our young women.)

6.  Stiff parents:  I wouldn’t know!  Never been one.  It’s more important for me to be cool.

The only downside of being a Cool Mom like me is that you might have to bend your standards a little.  No biggie–you can always change the rules later when it suits your mood.  Just impose the Stiff Parent stuff when they get older.  I’ve heard it’s easy for kids to change their habits and attitudes after they’re eighteen or so.

The upside of being a Cool Mom like me?  Hellooo!  You kids will worship you!  So when you’re dancing around the kitchen and your ten-year old says, Mom, could you stop?  That makes me uncomfortable, you’ll know she’s just teasing you the way all BFFs do.

Just look at me.  My kids want to hang out with me so much, they beg me to go to the mall with them on a Saturday.  I drive them there, give them each some money, and wait on the bench outside Aeropostale while they shop.  It’s so fun and so hip that sometimes I sit there for hours while they go from store to store.  We totally have a blast when I buy them a Cinnabon and they show me their new clothes.  (How many moms do you know who put that kind of time into parenting?)  When we leave, they walk about ten paces behind me, I think because they’re still a little shy out in public and like to follow my lead.  Sometimes on the way home they’ll ask me to drop them off at the movies, and of course I’m glad to, since all BFFs love to go to movies together.  I pay for their tickets and know they’d love for me to stay and watch the show with them, but I usually need to get back home to Dad and Ethan.  When I tell them that, oh my gosh, they are always so sweet and understanding, I give them a little extra popcorn and licorice money to thank them.  (We BFFs love to be generous with each other.)

Parenting can be a rocky road.  But after all the ups and downs, highs and lows, and joys and tears, we Cool Moms come to understand one important truth:  Nothing is as satisfying as being a friend instead of a parent.  Nothing.

Except maybe bragging about sharing all of my parenting successes on this blog.  I mean, “it always feels so good to tell you everything, because if I don’t, it’s like it never happened.”  (movie?  a cool mom would know.)