Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

The best (worst) thing about having Netflix instead of cable is that is forces me to watch decades-old t.v.  Consequently, while the rest of you have been enjoying Big Bang Theory and The Voice (two shows I’m told I sorely need to watch), I’ve been squatting under my rock these last few weeks salivating over what I’ve decided is simply the best television drama ever written:  The West Wing.  And lest you think I’m merely impressed with the brilliant dialogue and Rizzo as the First Lady, let me assure you that my fascination spills broadly over such superficialities.  You see, my faithfuls, after watching the entire first season, I’ve had an extended, expansive epiphany:  I’ve decided that I belong in the the West Wing.  Or at least on The West Wing.  (Is there a difference?)  And as though choreographed by Fate herself, my introduction to this (psuedo)political (psuedo)education just happens to coincide with my first trip ever to our nation’s beloved capital, Washington D.C.  (Washington D.C.!  The home of President Josiah Bartlett!)

I’ll be there next week with my daughter, and I can only surmise that this month’s virtual rendezvous with President Bartlett was simply providential preparation for my literal rendezvous with destiny.  And even though the White House tours are closed, I’m pretty sure that, if I can just get a moment alone with Traveler and show him my smarts and cunning, he’ll invite my into the Oval Office and witness for himself all the style and sass I have to offer.  Among the many Ivy League intellectuals and military geniuses roaming those hallowed halls, surely there’s a place for a middle-aged English major from Eastern Washington.  I mean, is this an egalitarian society or what?

Now you may be wondering why, besides my looks, I believe I belong in the West Wing/on The West Wing.  Well see, I’ve always been a big fan of pretending to be smarter than I am.  I’m also a big fan of talking a lot, talking over other people (I dare you to interrupt me!), and talking at lightning speed as I pace briskly down long hallways.  Granted, I don’t own any hallways long enough to really Pace Down Briskly, so unlike President Bartlett, I have to make do outside Residence.  I’ve found ample space for Pacing Briskly in the Columbia Center Mall, although the venue is a bit wide for my dazzling wit to bounce clearly off its walls.  There are also the walkways inside the TRAC of Pasco, although the Home and Garden Show they run every spring gets a bit noisy during peak hours, sometimes drowning out my brilliant political discourse.  So you can guess, my friends (constituents?) which single hallway is long, grand and glorious enough to house the intellect and authority that oozes quite naturally from my West Wing/West Wing destined lips:  yep, the hallway at the church.  It’s long, it’s painted, and it has countless people milling through it every Sunday.  Most of these people are are shorter, younger, and less educated than myself, which works nicely when I’m striving to sound smug and superior.  (This shorter, younger, less educated crowd is known as children in some socioeconomic classes, but for the sake of this piece, work with me.)   I don’t know if anyone at church has noticed, but lately I’ve been using the building’s hallway to practice for what will soon (next week!) be my inevitable stint in/on/ the West Wing/The West Wing.  And I have to say, rehearsals are going pretty well.

Last week, for example, I entered the church hallway dressed for the part:  pencil skirt from Target, iPhone conspicuously in hand, Reading Glasses That Make Me Look Smart fixed firmly on my face.  I sauntered confidently through the walkway, picking up two and three and then four Shorter, Younger, Less Educated people as I went, slipping Cadbury Mini Eggs in their upturned palms if they agreed to walk slightly behind me and look up in wonder as I spoke.  The bribes were quickly accepted, and before I could yell “Donna!” I had an impressive entourage of admirers hanging on my every word as I boldly flung instruction in all directions, letting my wisdom settle on whomever was apt enough to receive it.  I didn’t want to overwhelm the crowd with too much political lingo–it might confuse them, since they are probably not at the end of Season One yet, like me–so instead I stuck to the subjects under my stewardship.  Breezing past the first door on my left, I called out with a concerted irritation, “I need to see those Scout Camp registration forms before third hour…”  (I didn’t wait around for a response; in The Hallway, people come to me.)  With adoring entourage in tow, I then sauntered past the door on my right, yelling out “More paper in the library copier, pahleez…” as  I looked down over my shoulder and shook my head at my followers.  “Admin staff…” I muttered, “what can you do?”  I received no response to this statement, just upturned hands for more mini-eggs.

Finally, on rounding the corner by the kitchen, I stopped, knocked cockily on the open door, and jauntily said to the woman pulling a tray out of the oven, “They told me a Harvard education would get me a job, but they didn’t say anything about muffins.”  (See, they’re always listing their degrees on The West Wing, so I have to get over my usual girlish modesty about my academic achievements.  Harvard…BYU…potayto, potahto.)  I then grabbed a muffin off the counter and popped in my mouth before she could protest, yelling, “Thank you, ma’m!” in a full-mouthed garble as I swung merrily down the hall with my peeps, stopping only to high-five the occasional approaching admirer (i.e., some Younger-Shorter-Less Educateds had heard about the free candy.)

I was in The Zone now.  I was cruisin’.  We sailed by the library and, without so much as looking at who I was talking to (a gesture that’s big on The West Wing), I blandly yelled out, “Copy paper is coming–you’re welcome!”  Clucks of admiration trailed behind me as I made my way blithely down the hall.  No matter–I was too busy for chitchat.  Like Sam and Josh and C.J., I always had Somewhere Important to go.  I then felt a small, sticky palm smear chocolate across my Target pencil skirt, and I suddenly remembered my entourage.  I glanced back across the hall and saw that most of the adult crowd had dispersed, thus reducing my need for the hastily assembled Throng of Admirers.  I decided to release them from their Cadbury Contract and deliver them back to the Primary room, but I was going to do it in style.  I stopped mid-hallway and planted one hand firmly on my thrust-out hip, making eye contact with the YSLEs for the first time (on The West Wing, eye contact is discouraged when addressing inferiors.)

“All right, people, time for class.”

What? No!”  Their shouts of dismay toppled over each other.

We want more candy!”

You promised us more candy!

Lady, you stink!” I nodded my head and smiled tersely, which is all a political operative can do when assaulted with an opponent’s Free Speech.  (I’m pretty sure the Free Speecher was, in this case, my eight-year old son.)

“I’m sorry for your disappointment,” I said, in my coolest-Mandy-manner, “but there is simply no merit to your argument.  Now go.”  They grumbled and growled as they trudged past me toward the classroom door, and I swear I felt a chocolately palm swipe across my skirt on purpose.

I gathered my things and headed for my minivan, so pleased with my Dress Rehearsal that I decided to skip the rest of church and go back to Residence for my sweatpants, slippers and the remainder of the mini-eggs.  The Brisk Hallway Pacing may have ended on a flat note, but don’t you worry, President Bartlett.  I’m ready.  I’m coming, and I’m ready.  Are you?

(If not, may I suggest you watch a few episodes of Parks and Recreation?  It may aquaint you with what I’ve got going on over here.)

(Plus, my husband says I remind him of the lead female character.  Nice.)




don’t do it, ladies. just don’t do it.

Since my family is going to be scattered about the country this Easter, I decided to hold a special Easter family night before we all left.  I wanted to have some cozy circle time with the wee ones to emphasize the true meaning of Easter in a comprehensive but kid-friendly, way; maybe read some nice stories or show some visuals to help explain some of the deeper doctrines of this very doctrinal day.  So, in my standard effort to avoid any effort, I dismissed the idea of coming up with my own ideas and turned to the Internet instead.  To blogs, more specifically.  To motherhood blogs, to be exact.  And all I can say, my faithfuls, is:  what was I thinking?

I consider myself a fairly well-adjusted, reasonably confident person.  I am too old to compete with the hot young supermoms, and too young to be (totally) bitter about all the things you are doing that I’ve never done.  So I’m kind of at that sweet spot in life where I’m okay with (resigned to) who I am , and less-than-interested in who I’m not.  But I learned on this recent blog tour that, despite my “knowing better,” no amount of intellectual reasoning can pad my psyche against the emotional assault that is the The Mommy Blog.  Despite my phony protests to the contrary, I find that I am in no way immune to this volley of Motherhood As It Should Be:  creative and crafty projects, creative and crafty (and stylish!) homes, creative and crafty (and stylish!) moms who seem to have nothing but Time Time Time in which to plan, organize and execute a myriad of games, charts, service projects, and neighborhood activities that will teach their children about love, faith, civic responsibility, timeless children’s literature and, of course, the value of nevereverever watching t.v. on a Saturday morning when you could be pulling your elderly neighbor’s weeds instead.  All of this is done, of course, with the word Simplify etched in vinyl over the front door.

Failing at the Craft Thing doesn’t really bother me–that ship sailed in the third grade, when I attended a kids craft day at a local church and some Mean Old Lady came over to yell at me that I was painting my miniature bird statue all wrong.  (I’ve spent the last thirty years avoiding crafts just to show Mean Old Lady what she’s done to me.)  Failing at the Chart Thing doesn’t really bother me either; I’ve always thought that some people keep charts as hobbies, and that’s fine, but for me, by the time I make, laminate, and help my kids keep up a chart, we could just have the freaking chores done already.  So, though I’m not too hung up on the tangibles, it’s the intangible facets of motherhood–my time, my priorities, my teaching efforts–that I feel shriveling up and keeling over as I read blog after blog after EasyBreezyBeautiful Motherhood Blog.

See, there’s so much I want to do for my family in my heart, but I struggle to do make it all happen with my time.  I try to teach my children a lot, but looking at these blogs, I realize I could be teaching them so much more.  I try to spend a lot of time with my children, but looking at these blogs, I realize I could be making that time so much more educational.  I try to impose a little structure in our family life for chores and allowance and music and homework.  But looking at these blogs, I realize that I could impose so much more structure, which would prepare them so much more for their adult lives ahead.  I try to have fun with my children but–goodness, faithfuls–I didn’t know how much more fun I could (and should!) be having with my children.  (How much fun should we be having, you ask?  The answer is:  tons.  TONS AND TONS OF FUN!)

Take Easter, for example.  As I looked for stories and games about this holiday, I learned instead that millions (I’m pretty sure) of mothers out there are holding family devotionals every night for a month leading up to Easter, observing Lent with their children while doing so, and preparing authentic Old Testament fare for Good Friday to really bring the whole thing home.  These mothers are dying Easter eggs in seventeen new and glorious ways, weaving hand-made pretzel dough into “prayer symbols” (folded arms, I guess?), and organizing neighborhood-wide egg hunts so as to fold all nearby children into their loving and capable arms.  These mothers have links and videos and printables and puzzles and games galore, and they seem to have the time, energy, and will to use them.  (This last one is what brings me down; I don’t know that I have that will.  The intention?  Sure.  But I don’t know about the will.)

Now, lest you should think me a whiner (never!) let me make it clear that I am not blaming the blogs nor their architects here.  I take full responsibility for my own neuroses, thankyouverymuch.  It’s just that I prefer the blissful ignorance of the pre-blogging era.  Reading these blogs makes me aware of the vast maternal opportunities I am willfully, ignorantly missing out on.   But because I know that the blogs don’t “make” me feel anything–I indulge in these emotions myself–I keep going back for more, certain that my ego can handle it this time around.  And so I keep subjecting myself to these blogs and I keep feeling deflated–sometimes even depressed–when I do so.  And it’s not because I think I’m a bad mother.  I know I am a good mother.  It’s because I’m not a great mother, like the Mother On The Blog.  And because I’m worried that, though my children are happy, they are not as happy as hers.

Case in point?  The other night I was browsing one such blog and my eleven-year old daughter came and stood over my shoulder, sharing my view of a youth group barbeque that looked like the spring layout for J.Crew.

“Who’s life is that?” she asked innocently.  (I inserted the bitter italics.)

“Oh, I don’t know.”  I sighed.  Which was true.

“Wow,” she said breezily.  “Looks like a good one.”  She then trotted off happily as I slumped in my chair, suddenly glum that I wasn’t giving my daughter the childhood memories that this bloggermom was obviously giving hers.  Sure, my kids’ childhood was good.  But was it that good?  And even if I wanted to make it “that good,” where would I start?  To be that good of a mother is an elusive goal with blurry benchmarks.  In other words, I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing to show that level of love for my children, I just know that I’m not doing it.

And so, after spending the better part of my Monday mad at myself for being so mad at myself, I did the only thing I can do when I find myself in such a state:  I called my sister.  See, my sister and I have a few Standard, Self-Righteous Conversations that we default to about once a month, and Keeping Up With Bloggers is one our favorites.  So every few weeks, one of us calls the other in a panic about what we’ve seen online that we’re just not doing well enough.  And the recipient of this call invariably assures the caller that she is, in fact, the superior being, because she doesn’t need to do all “that stuff” to validate herself.  This is a tidy process, because it relieves us from actually doing whatever it is we’re worried we’re not doing and allows us to sit back and judge instead.  (It’s our own form of mommy-time-management.)

Final outcome:  I closed my computer and made a rare attempt to produce rather than consume.  After a heated internal struggle, I came up with my own truly original Easter program.  It would consists of:

a) reading the account of Easter from the scriptures out loud to my children, and

b) talking with them about it.

Final question:  If the blogs make me feel bad, is it their problem or my problem?  I think that, probably, it’s my problem.  But it makes me feel so much better to pretend that it’s theirs.





This morning was lazy and lovely.  Derrick left to walk the dog in the cold March wind while I lay in my warm March bed, dozing and dreaming for the better part of an hour.  The earliest of spring suns pushed through the blinds and fell across my sleepy face, and the only sound in our normally cacophonic castle was the gentle rush of the vent under my bedroom window.  It was a rare Saturday morning wherein we had nothing on the calendar, the kids were still asleep and my house (get ready for this) was already clean.  I should have been lying there thinking about how good I have it: beautiful kids, beautiful(ish) husband, and beautiful springtime just around the corner.  I should have been thinking about how lucky I was to have my fine health, my fine(ish) mind and the fine perspective on life that comes as the years saddle on.

But instead of warming my hands around these blessings as I curled up in my covers, do you what I was thinking about?  Being twenty.  And how young and stupid and fabulous I was back then.

The vent hummed along as a kaleidescope of mid-nineties memories toppled over each other in my mind.  I saw myself with longer hair and a thinner body (can you imagine?), hefting a monstrous brown suede backpack up the hill to the humanities building for my eight o’clock class.  I saw myself walking a cheerful mile to work after class, the noon sun high as I ducked into the shade of a campus cafe for my favorite lunch–small vanilla yogurt piled high with crushed Oreos.  I saw myself sitting with my roommates around the kitchen table at 2 am, gulping down bowl after bowl of Tootie Frooties (Froot Loops by-the-bag) as we rehashed the day’s drama, unable to sleep with the mouth-watering angst over what might happen tomorrow, next week, next year.  How could I sleep with so many unknown variables bouncing wildly around in the vivid affair that was my life?  My life.  My life!  It was an exquisitely crafted soap opera (widely viewed, I was certain) whose outcome was a delicious mystery to all.  Oh, how enthralled I was with myself back then!  Self-absorbed, melodramatic, a little pathetic?  Sure.  But oh-so-enthralled.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not now.  In so many ways–all the good and right ones–my life is more interesting to me now than it was back then.  The world of my youth was miniature compared to the world I can access an adult; I had so little power then, such a narrow range of motion.  But the cool thing about being young was:  you didn’t know it.  Though my world was bordered by whatever was in walking distance (who had a car back then?),  I considered my world to be without boundaries.  Because as a youth, I lived in the World of Possiblity.  And so it didn’t matter than my twenty-year old life, when I look back on it now, was actually small and boring and common.  It was lived in my own head, to the beat of my own heart, and it was magnificent.  No one could tell me otherwise.

And so this soft Saturday morning, lying snugly wrapped in recollection, I realized that the thing I missed about my youth wasn’t really my youth at all.  I don’t want to be twenty again with no money, no car and no clue.  I want to remain in this world of adulthood, with its responsibilities, regrets and all.  But what I do want to do, a little more often, is visit that old, wonderful World of Possibility.  It still exists, you know, even if it’s only in my own head and to the beat of my own heart.  And it’s a magnificent place to be.

No one can tell me otherwise.