True or False: My tweens are the last on planet earth to have cell phones

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Pop quiz. True or False? My 14 and 12 year olds are the very last tweens on planet earth to have cell phones.

Please tell me the answer is false. I want the answer to be false. Surely there must be other kids in that junior high sans phones. I can’t be the only holdout, right? And if the answer is true, that they are the very last, that means…well, that means…my children are…right.

I was 32 when I finally got an iPhone. Before that, I asked gas station attendants for directions, kept a Thomas Guide in the glove box, and if I said I was going to meet up with someone, I made darn sure I was there and on time. Sure, there were a few awkward moments when I had to ask perfect strangers at Disneyland if I could borrow their cell phones when I got separated from my group, but it was a small price to pay to never be over my minutes.

I get the convenience of a cell phone, I really do. Seven years later, my phone has now evolved into an essential third appendage, connecting (or tethering) me to my loved ones and babysitters. But the convenience comes at a price. The self discipline it takes to unplug or power off a smart phone regularly is herculean. Are my tweens ready for that responsibility? Am I ready for that battle?

I want to hold on to this era before it becomes a bygone era. Right now their self esteem isn’t tied to a number of “likes.” The dinner table is chatty. Their friends have to actually call me in order to contact them. (Talk about knowing where they are!)

I keep clinging to this idea that when a boy wants to call my daughter, he’s supposed to say, “Good evening Mrs. Anderson, is your daughter home?” Then she’s supposed to blush and stretch the long curly cord into a tightrope, tugging it vainly for a shred of privacy. What a great system! With just that short exchange and a little eavesdropping, I’d be able to quickly identify the Eddie Hasckels from the Wally Cleavers of the world and keep a firm finger on the pulse of the house. I know this scenario is as naive and jejune as insisting a spiffy milkman in a bow tie drop off my two-percent every morning, but it’s nice to dream.

Occasionally my dreams do come true. Just last week my 14 year old was ice skating with our youth group when a pretty blonde asked him for his number so they could “text later.” He had no choice but to tell her he didn’t have a phone, but she was welcome to call me, his mother, and that I could patch her straight through. She hasn’t called. How come forward girls never call when they say they will?

But now my tweens are starting to make more money than any of their two-bit lemonade stands ever did. The babysitting and lawn mowing dollars are adding up. By this time next year they will have enough dough to strike out on their own phone plans. Instagram and Twitter feeds will inevitably follow. They always do.

I believe I must accept the coming changes with grace, dignity, and also a few rules, stipulations and provisos. I’ll have to up my own cell phone etiquette too, lest they call out my hypocrisy. On the bright side, at least once they have cell phones, they’ll have something cool I can take away. Because guess what? Here’s one more pop quiz:

True or False? My kids are the only ones left in the entire free world to not own a single video game either.

 

 

 

 

The 10 Commandments of Toilet Training

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“When are you coming home!” I whispered fiercely into the receiver, panic and paranoia choking my volume.

“Things at the office are a little hectic. Uh, about an hour I guess. Why?”

“He’s doing it again. He’s pooping his pants behind the couch just to spite me. To spite me! He knows what he’s doing too. I can see it in his eyes. He knows he holds the power…”

This was me, 12 years ago, potty training our first child. Clearly, it did not go the way the book had promised. Somewhere between the salty breakfast and cleaning up our first “accident,” the power somehow shifted from me to him as he sat smugly on his porcelain throne, those big blue innocent eyes of his looking calculating for the very first time. He was only two years old.

Since those dark days, I’ve learned a thing or two about teaching this life skill to each successive two year old to cross my changing table. If I had a nickel for every time the topic has come up at nursery, the park, playgroup, I could afford diapers indefinitely. But as it is, we all must take the plunge, (or the plunger…until good TP etiquette is established.) So if I may be so bold as to impart what I’ve learned, take it for what it’s worth.

1.) Thou shalt never ask whether the trainee has to go. Rookie mistake. The simple truth is, they lie. All of them. Instead, phrases like, “It’s time to go to the bathroom!” will do more to further your cause. A two year old saying he doesn’t have to go is like an inmate saying he didn’t do it. Save it for the judge.

2.) Thou shalt give at least 48 undistracted hours to the task. The fridge is full, the house is clean, the TV is off, and the phone is set to voicemail. Do not leave the house. Your toddler has your full attention! What a treat for the two of you to do puzzles together, read books, play games. And yes, the minute to turn your back to rotate the laundry, disaster will strike. Constant vigilance!

3.) Thou shalt mark the day. I always don my apron with deep pockets filled with mini marshmallows and M&Ms, skip my way to the sleeping toddler’s room, and announce in my best Mary Poppins sing-song voice, “Today is the day!” as I throw back the curtains. We ceremoniously get rid of any diapers still in the house and introduce them to the soft feel of cotton.

4.) Drink up! Practice makes perfect. This is when I splurge on otherwise contraband beverages. Chocolate milk, juice boxes, soda–it’s the best day ever as far as toddlers are concerned.

5.) Thou shalt not go half way. No pull-ups, no diapers during a day of errands. Pick a day and there is no going back. Be like Churchill and never give up!

6.) Thou shalt praise. A potty cheer, a victory dance, a high five or all of the above work wonders.

7.) Thou shalt not get mad. Get disgusted instead. Pee-yew! Gross! Then cool as a cucumber, have them clean it up.

8.) Set them up for success. After the 48 hour period of home confinement, make only quick trips out if need be. Be prepared to happily drop whatever it is you’re doing to answer the toddler’s call for assistance.

9.) Enjoy the savings! Do something special with the money you’re saving by not buying diapers and wipes! It’s a small fortune.

10.) Thou shalt not worry. I promise your child will go to kindergarten potty trained. They will take their driver’s test potty trained. College, honeymoon, first job, all fully potty trained. It will happen.

Now if you have any advice for me on training teenagers to pick up their wet towels. I’m starting to think they’re doing it just to spite me!

Party of Nine, Your Table’s Dirty

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What would I do without tablecloths?

If I were say, a realtor, and had to describe my kitchen table, I’d use words like “distressed”, “whimsical”, or “lived in.” The blunt truth is, our kitchen table is a dumpster dive from our early bootstrap years of marriage. We dragged it home, slathered on a thick coat of white paint, gathered some mismatched chairs from around the house and she was ours, good as new! Now, several years and and even more babies later, her thick coat of white paint is peeling like a nose in August.

Like the pencil ticks on the door jam preserving our children’s heights, the kitchen table is another monument to their ages. There are places where the two year old finally found his creative gift when he uncapped a Sharpie. There are glue gun gobs from years of school projects that simply won’t scrape off unless, you guessed it, more paint peels off with them. There are smatters of tempera paint that I was sure would wash right off, drips from the four year old’s nail polish, and stubborn splatters of spaghetti sauce during the toddler’s Jackson Pollock phase. Each mark, scar and stain have left it looking, well, “distressed.”

The 2mm crease where the missing leaf would normally sit (the  whereabouts of which are still unknown) is conveniently fused together via a sticky, slurry blend of homemade play-dough, spilled milk, and spoonfuls of cinnamon sugar from the morning toast. I couldn’t pry it apart if the missing leaf knocked on my front door tomorrow.

So for special occasions like Sundays, in-laws, and eating in broad daylight, we prefer to keep the old girl veiled in one of her sweeping polyester favorites, stain resistant and machine washable. Otherwise, juxtaposed to our newly remodeled kitchen, the table feels like Martin’s barcalounger from the show “Frasier”: comically out of place amid clean lines and our attempt at a fresh modern feel.

Then there’s the size. When it was the four of us, then the five of us, then six, her size was a nonissue. Now we are nine. Nine people mashed elbow to elbow, hip to hip around its narrow perimeter, our screechy chairs constantly vying for spots along the edge. I’m still trying to decide if we can even afford to set up the high chair seeing as our available breakfast nook real estate is so scarce.

Table shopping has been nothing but frustrating. Anything very nice will get ruined, anything big enough leaves no space for chairs, and can’t you just see us all standing around the dinner table, plastic Ikea cups in hand,  chatting like it’s a single’s mixer? I’d breeze by with trays of chicken satay, mushroom puffs and canapés at five minute intervals…

I have a friend who had the ingenious notion to remove all the floor carpets from her brand new car on day one. She let the actual floor of her minivan receive all the abuse from muddy cleats, leaky bottles and used ketchup packets directly. Then when she had a guest, she plunked down her factory fresh, mint condition floor carpets. Instant detail job!

That’s how I feel about our dirty kitchen table. Bring on the science projects, the manicures, the watercolors, the homework, even the glue gun. I’ve got a spanking fresh tablecloth at the ready for when a guest knocks or the dinner bell tolls.

And if it’s both, best bring your own chair.

 

 

 

 

Why won’t essential oils and I mix?

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“Aah! It’s burning my throat!! Cough-cough. What is this stuff again?! Gasp! Must…Get…Water!!!” I barely managed to hack out. 

I wanted to like essential oils so much. I really did.

“A drop or two of this in the back of the throat and that cold is as good as gone,” my neighborhood guru assured me after scanning her spiral bound guide.

I recall the words “all natural” and “homeopathic” before opening up my sore gullet. The 20 minutes that followed were somewhere between Sandra Bullock wheeling around the cold heart of space struggling for breath, and Dumbledore pleading with Harry down in that freaky cave from Book 6. Heeeelp…me!!

Maybe I didn’t do it right.

My next experiment with the oils was when my two year old had the croup. My guru suggested diluting a few drops of a potent breathing blend into virgin olive oil and soothingly apply the salve to her chest, spine and the bottoms of her feet. 

The way she describe the regimen over the phone, it sounded so relaxing that when the barking seal woke me up at 2am, I fetched my kit, whipped up the salve, then cooed reassuringly to my darling that everything was going to be all right. Mommy had the right stuff to calm her breathing and help her sleep.

“AAAHHHHHHHHHHHRRRGGG!!!!!!!” 

Turned out, my two year old didn’t like pungent oils slathered onto her body in the middle of the night. She howled, kicked and screamed to get it off, get it off!!! I wiped and wiped, to no avail. That stuff is persistent! Red faced and still kicking, I had to do something to calm the angel. 

“Mommy has a special mist that is supposed to relax you and help you feel better” I sang in a sweet voice as I added two drops of the peppermint in my kit to a spray bottle of water.

Fssst, fsst, fsst….

“WAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! It’s like mommy toothpaste!!! I hate mommy toothpaste!!!! AAHHHH! My EYES!!!!!”

My husband was awake now.

“What are you doing to her?!” he asked while rubbing the heels of his palms over his tired face.

“She said this relaxes people!!” I quickly doused my own face to prove my point. Fsst, fsst, fsst. “Argh!! It’s not working!!!!!”

“What is that smell?”

“It’s a blend of soothing oils!! It’s helping her calm down and breathe!!”

“HACK, HACK, BARK, BARK…WAAHHH!!!”

I figured it was either my lack of bedside manner or my angel’s high strung personality, (probably both), that turned that night into the croup debacle of 2013. Despite the essential oil fiasco, I was willing to give them another shot.

“Mom, my tummy hurts.” moaned my ten year old.

Wait! I have an oil for that. Oooooh, so exciting. I quickly concocted a water bottle of oil infused elixir for her to glug down. According to the guru’s blog, this should settle her tum-tum in no time.

“Blech!! This tastes like black licorice! Ugh! Do I have to drink all of it??!!”

Bottoms up!

To be fair, tummies really do feel loads better after a good vomit.

Okay, maybe she was minutes away from loosing her lunch anyways, oils or no. And I really did want a more natural approach to medicine. My next opportunity for essential oil success was just around the corner: springtime allergies!

“Gently swipe a drop of lavender along his brow bone and along his jawline,” said the guru.

“Should I dilute it?”

“No. Neat will be just fine.” 

Like bar tending, “neat” is essential oil speak for straight up.

My poor seven year old. Every spring I think he has pink eye. His over-the-counter allergy medication barely keeps it at bay. I was so excited to try a new trick to cure his itchy eyes! After school I reclined his slender frame on the couch and told him I had a new medicine for his allergies that would heal his irritated eyes and have a real calming effect. A gentle swipe here… and there….There we go. Now doesn’t that feel better?”

“AAAHHHHH!!!!! My eyebrows are burning!!!! They are burning off!!!! Do you hear me? BURNING!!!!” 

I grabbed a wet washcloth and tried to wipe if off, but oil doesn’t mix with water now does it? Man, that stuff is potent.

“But…but the lady said….” I was fumbling.

My seven year old cut me off. “Stop listening to that lady!!! I hate this stuff!!!! Do you hear me? HATE IT!” he roared.

His eyes turned even redder than before after all that crying and rage, but it at least the copious tears plunged out the nasty pollen from his eyes and sinus cavities. 

What came next was the fatal blow. I had the audacity to smear the breathing blend under his nose. “It’s to help clear your airways after all that fussing. Don’t worry. It’s not the lavender!” I promised. It was too late when I saw that his nose was dry and cracked from all his nose blowing. Let’s just say essential oils+cracked open skin=disaster. Dis. Sast. Ter. I’m still not sure if he’s forgiven me for that one.

I have more oil horror stories, but I’ll close the curtain there. I know, I know! I’ve read the success stories. I’ve listened to the podcasts. I personally know people who have found great relief from those rootin-tootin’ oils. 

But for whatever reason, oils and my family just don’t mix. Don’t feel too bad for me though. I didn’t become a distributor. Although if I did, they’d probably work.

 

Feeling overwhelmed? Unload the dishwasher.

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If the daily grind of a messy house is like a murky pool of water, then unloading the dishwasher is like pulling the plug. There is no hope of any clutter swirling down the drain and off your to-do list until that dishwasher gets unloaded.

With six young children frolicking in my wake, the tap is always on, per se. The toys, the laundry, the dishes…one look at the bottom of my closet would have crippling effects on even the strongest of neat-freaks. When I take inventory around the house, I gasp! Where do I even begin? Each room needs immediate disaster relief, a chemical spill response unit!

It was like a zen ah-ha moment for me when I learned to take a deep breath, put the kids to work in the playroom, and then go unload the dishwasher. Music helps too.

You see, for me, a clean kitchen is like a fresh breath of air. It’s like stopping for gas on a long road trip and stretching out your legs. You know you have to cram back into the car eventually, but it sure is refreshing to take a turn or two around the sunflower seed aisle and get the blood moving again.

When the dishwasher is empty, the sink can give up her mess. When the sink is clean, the counters become free of their piles. When the counters are crumb free, most of those crumbs are now on the floor and it is time to sweep. Once the Cheerios and other debris is scraped off the floor, the mop can do her thing without interruption. And once the kitchen sparkles like the top of the Chrysler building, you’ll feel like you can conquer anything! Vacuuming, dusting, baseboards, the bottom of the closet! You become a whirling dervish bent on sanitizing those cup holders in the back of the minivan for sure this time. Nothing can stop your momentum now…

Except a crying baby. But that’s okay! You got a load of laundry in and your kitchen floor is glistening, and your dishwasher is humming. The machines are working for you! That’s a win.

Soon the other children will surface from the playroom, war-torn and hungry and won’t it be pleasant to prepare a lunch for them on a gleaming countertop? Don’t worry about the inevitable mess and dirty dishes lunch will produce. The dishwasher will beep soon enough and you’ll get to unload it all over again with a deep breath and an “OOOoooAAAMMMMMMMMmmmmmm……”

And if you can savor every moment of that baby as you try to rock him to sleep after lunch, all will be right with the world.