Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mental Health Day for Moms

There are very few things that I miss about being in the "working world": I don't miss the commute, or the politics, or the meetings, or the difficult clients, or the difficult bosses. I DO miss the paycheck. But most of all, right now, I miss the ability to take a mental health day now and then.

I didn't take mental health days often when  was working, but there were times when I absolutely needed to give myself a brief pause, a one-day respite from the pressures of what I did all day long. I never abused the privilege, and I'm certain that I was more productive because of those moments I took to take a figurative breath and gather myself.

But as a stay-at-home parent, I don't get mental health days often.

Let me say, first thing, that my husband is AWESOME about giving me those days whenever he can. He often comes home from work, takes one look at my face, and offers to take us out for supper so I don't have to cook. He even offers to take the kids without me so I can have a few hours to myself. On weekends, he'll take the kids for the whole day if I ask him to. But sometimes I find myself having a spontaneous mental meltdown in the middle of the day when he's at work, or on a day when he's not around.

Today is one of those days.

A lot of my acquaintances are probably surprised to hear this. On the surface, I seem to come off as a capable, competent parent. (So people tell me, anyway.) And at a certain level, I am. But there are other levels when I just fail at adulting. I fail at balancing my commitment to my kids with my commitment to my husband with my commitment to my multiple volunteer positions. Sometimes, I flat out drop the ball. And today, the ball is rolling, rolling far away, rolling out of my reach.

And today, I'm just going to let it go.

I'm going to do the absolute minimum I can to keep myself and my children fed and dressed and alive. I'm going to do my best to let go of all the other projects on my plate, just for today. I'm not going to stress over getting my next column written, I'm not going to the fabric store to search for that costume pattern I need, I'm not searching my house for that missing library book or that folder of music I know are both around here somewhere. I'm not going to color my hair. I'm not going to plan the dinner menu for the rest of the week. I'm not looking at my "to do" checklist for the big event I'm helping plan next month.

I'm just going to take a few deep breaths.

And tomorrow, I'll jump back into the trenches, ready to take on those projects again. Hopefully, with more energy, more focus, and more confidence.

In the words of Frasier Crane, I wish you all good mental health. Even if it means taking a mental health day from whatever you do.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Barbie Bums (and Other Weird Things Your Kids Stick in Your Face)

It doesn't happen quite as often now that my kids are closer to school age, but it's still not terribly unusual for me to be absorbed in something - reading, making dinner, folding laundry, contemplating my navel lint - and suddenly find some random object being thrust under my nose while a child demands something like, "What is this?" or "Look at this!" or perhaps just grunts wordlessly. The object could be something I've seen before, like a Matchbox car or a puzzle piece, it could be something uncommon but recognizable, like a roly-poly bug or a leaf of some kind, it could be something completely unfamiliar, like a playing piece from a game I didn't know we had or a long-lost food item that had shriveled into near-nonexistence. Or, it could be a naked Barbie bum.

My nearly-5-year-old daughter is fully in the throes of Barbie love. She has a Barbie town house. She has a Barbie boat. She has a Barbie pop-up camper. She has an extensive collection of Barbie dolls. Well, a few of them are true "Barbie" dolls. But most of them have other names. Now, if you do not happen to share a residence with a small, female child, you may not know that some Barbies are not actually "Barbies". Barbies can be Skippers or Francies or Jazzies. "How do I know," you may now be asking, "what my Barbie's real name is?" And that, my friend, is the crux of the Great Barbie Bum Problem.

Each Barbie doll comes with her name carefully written ON HER BUM. But not in large, clear, block printing that a small child can read herself. Oh, no. It is written in small, flesh tone-on-flesh tone, CURSIVE letters.

If you look closely at this photo, you will note several things. 1) The Barbies are not really naked; they are wearing flesh-toned - but patterned, because reading cursive isn't hard enough - underpants. Because modesty is important (at least from the waist down; neither doll is wearing an, ahem, upper undergarment). And 2) The name is written in frilly, loopy, feminine, cursive writing.

So it's written in cursive, what's the big deal?

Here's the big deal: 5-year-olds can't read cursive. Which means that when my daughter is playing with her Barbie dolls, she has to stop every two minutes, drop Barbie's (or in this case, Stacie's or Chelsea's) trou, and shove a bare Barbie bum into my face while asking politely, "What's her name again?"

I can only imagine that her father finds this habit even more disturbing than I do.

I guess I shouldn't complain, though. Her brother is nearly 7, and I shudder to think about the kinds of things he'll be shoving in my face soon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Rainy Day Summer Fun

If you have small children and are a stay-at-home parent, like me, you probably had the same thought I did when you got up this morning: "Uh-oh, it's raining. What am I going to do with the kids all day?" Fortunately, I have some answers for you.

1. Go to the library

Admittedly, you will not be the only family who opts for this activity today. But that can be a good thing, because it means there will be other kids for your kids to socialize with. And if your library is anything like mine, the kids' room is no longer the silent, forbidding place of our youth, but instead a welcoming room encouraging kids to play and read out loud. There may even be activities like story hour, Lego club, and reading contests. Pick out some good read-aloud books, too, and when you get home, read the stories and challenge the kids to draw their own illustrations as you go along. Good titles that appeal to wide age ranges include "The Wizard of Oz," "The Indian in the Cupboard," "Bed-knob and Broomstick," "Matilda," the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, and "The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobischer."

2. Bake something.

My kids love to play in the kitchen, and they don't get a lot of opportunity in the summer, because I hate heating up the kitchen and tend to make supper on the grill. But a cool, rainy day is the perfect time to teach your kids how to knead bread, bake cookies, and peel vegetables. Here are a few of my favorite kid-friendly recipes:

3. Have a board game marathon

Pull out all your favorite board games - you know you have a stash gathering dust in a closet or on a shelf somewhere, everyone does - and take turns choosing which one to play. Our family favorites include Operation, Sum Swamp, Twister, the Princess Cupcake game, and of course, Chutes and Ladders and Candyland. If you honestly don't have a single board game in the house, get thee to Target and pick up a few! Seriously, it'll be the best 20 bucks you ever spent.

4. Do something messy - outside

If it's not pouring, or if there are short breaks in the rain, take advantage of Mother Nature's cleanup skills and do something messy on the porch or the sidewalk, and let her take care of cleaning up afterwards. Here are some fun, messy ideas to get you started:

Depending on what your kids are into, this could be anything from a dance recital to a karaoke contest to a concert to a gymnastics exhibition to an art show to a play. Let them make decorations for the stage, choose background music, and create costumes. Help them write up or print out programs. Get out your best announcer voice and introduce each act as if it's a monster truck show. The hammier, the better. Invite the neighbor kids to be the audience - or, even better, get them to create acts and have all the parents over in the evening to be the audience. If some of the kids are too shy to be on stage, let them be the techies and pull back the curtain, control the lights, start the music, and hand out programs. 

6. Have a scavenger hunt
Make up a list of things that can be found around the house - a safety pin, a blue sock, a penny dated from the 1970s, a book with the word "of" in the title - and give the kids 20 minutes to find as many as they can. Or challenge them to collect items starting with each letter of the alphabet - in order. If they get stuck on a letter, give them a chore to do to get to skip it: make the beds, fold a load of laundry, sweep the kitchen. 

7. Do a science experiment

I know this sounds suspiciously like school, but experiments can be fun! Have the kids predict the outcome, then compare to what actually happens. Repeat the experiment to see if it comes out the same every time. Change something and see how the results differ. Talk about it. THINK about it. Figure it out! Here are some fun examples:

Of course, the best challenge of all is to challenge your kids to keep themselves entertained for the day! Give them some art supplies, some costumes, some toys, and some time - a warning that the alternative is helping you clean out closets all day wouldn't hurt, either - and see what they can come up with! You might be surprised at their creativity!

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