Monthly Archives: January 2012

Coveting Alone Time (Why I can’t be a SAHM and why I think all you SAHMs are a combination of brave and crazy)

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Anytime I meet a stressed-out SAHM, my first comment is “Get a job!” I happen to be in the camp that thinks staying at home is way harder than trying to figure out that so-called “work-life balance.” A job: Where you can talk adult-talk. Where you can get out of your messy house. Where you can go to the bathroom by yourself. I’m not even thinking about the economic issues here (especially since for many of us the cost of childcare easily eats up the second income). I’m talking about sanity.

This was my first day of work at my current (wonderful!) job. Note the piles of laundry in the background. I was so excited to GET! OUT! Bu-bye, messy house!!

At almost 2, Baby MoFo is still babyish. Apart from general cuddliness and the inability to pee in the toilet, he pretty much refuses to talk. I call him “The Artist.” He knows to clench his fists and growl when he sees a picture of a lion. And he has the essentials: I (iPad), Elmo, Uno, more, mayonnaise, shoes, . . . that kind of thing. And “no,” which he uses frequently. For a long time we thought it was only “no” and not “yes,” but recently he surprised us when asked a series of yes/no questions:
“Are you a good boy?” “No.”
“Do you love your mama?” “No.”
“Do you love your brothers?” “No.”
“Did you make a kak?” “No.”
“But you stink.” “No.”
“Are you lying?” “No”

[Change poo]

[Cool J, in the meantime, is trying to translate for his baby brother. “He says ‘NO’ when he means ‘YES.’ He just doesn’t know HOW to say ‘YES.’ Watch this: MoFo, can you please give me that Mario Kart toy?” MoFo: “No.” Cool J yanks the toy out of Baby MoFo’s hand and Baby MoFo starts to cry. Cool J: “He’s crying because he tried so hard to say yes, and he couldn’t. Thanks for the toy!”]

“Are you scrunching your brothers?” “No.”
“Stop scrunching your brothers!” “No.”
“Did you make your brothers CRY?” “No.”
“I’m going to give you a time-out! Do you want a time-out? Are you a bad little baby?” “Yes.”

Well, there was that.

Mostly, he just motions to us when he wants to communicate. Like on Friday, when I went into Cool J’s school office to talk to them about billing, and of course, Baby MoFo came with me. That’s what the SAHM life is all about. You go somewhere, baby goes somewhere with you. Baby MoFo was waiting, not so patiently, digging around in recycling bins, digging through my pockets, opening my wallet, dumping its contents on the floor .  . .As I set off to leave the school, in the pouring rain, I reach into my pocket to take out my car remote and do a quick click-click to open up his door, when I discover my pocket is empty. Wallet, probably missing a credit card or two, is in one pocket, and the other pocket is empty. I rush back into the school to look for my keychain holding my car remote, car key, and house keys. It is nowhere to be found.

I look suspiciously at the baby. “Do you know where the car keys are?” No answer.

“Where are the keys?” No answer.

“¿Dónde están los llaves?”

“Ou sont les clefs?”

“?איפה המפתחות”

“Ha a kulcsok?”

We try all the languages of the house. Sometimes we think he’s not an artist, but perhaps English is not his first language.

No luck. And then, suddenly, he races into the school office and points at the radiator. We look inside. Nothing. We get a flashlight, look in it, over it, under it, behind it. Nothing.

Sometimes his non-verbal communication is not great.

Which is unfortunate, because The Scientist was out of country, and we were locked out of house and car for many hours.

*         *             *                  *                       *

This morning the non-verbal communication was not great, again.

I dared to go to the bathroom alone. It’s risky business, and I knew it.

I was in there for 1 minute.

I spent the one minute thinking of all the mischief Baby MoFo might be up to. Mostly I was thinking about my cup of coffee sitting on the table not too far away from my laptop.

When I emerged from the bathroom, Baby MoFo looked pretty innocent. Also, naked. He had, in the one minute I was not watching him, taken off his footy-pajamas and diaper. So cute.

Except. What’s that? A ball of kak on the floor.

“Did you kak?” “No.”

“Did you make a kaka?” “No.”

“Is that kaki on the floor?” “No.”

“Is there more kaki?” “No.”

As I crawled around the house, picking up balls of kak, I thought about my new semester starting up again in a little over a week. A lot of people who teach get anxious as the new semester rolls around (I was just reading a post by one of my favorite bloggeristas– MannahattaMama –about this feeling). I get excited. Work? Work! Work!

And then I see another kaki ball. And another.

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The Good Kid

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When asked about The Scientist’s childhood, his mother, to this day, turns pale. His father mutters under his breath. His brothers shake their heads. Only his friends have plenty to say: You know what he did if someone didn’t obey the rules in street hockey? Your husband would not only quit the game, he would also pick up the net and storm off with it. If he wasn’t going to play, no one was going to play. Oh, and speaking of hockey, he used to come to class wearing full hockey gear, skates and all. We all knew he would be kicked out of class for it, and so did he. Smart kid, he went behind the school and skated around on the rink. We all watched him jealously from the window. And don’t let him tell you he switched schools because he wanted to go to a less religious school. You know how much the administration at our school loved him. But did you know that when he “left” our school, his poor mom was the president of it?

His poor mom, urged to talk, manages two words: Family therapy.

His poor dad, meanwhile, comes to life with a story about an enormous fit The Scientist took one day on the way to shul. And on the way home. In the snow. Then his poor dad is muttering again.

And so, as you might imagine, when I got a note home from school last week informing me that LL “shows no respect for the teacher,” I looked accusingly at The Scientist. “What?” he asked. “I didn’t do anything!”

Harumph.

A day after the note, LL was being wild as he was getting into the car. I asked him to stop. He didn’t. I asked him to stop. He didn’t. I asked him to GET! HIS! BUTT! IN! HIS! SEAT! He did–stepping, to get there, on the cup holder and breaking it.

The next evening we had a babysitter. “How did it go?” I asked.

She hesitated.

“What did he do?” I didn’t even know which “who,” but I had a pretty strong suspicion it wasn’t Baby MoFo.

“He yelled a lot. And said the F word.”

“The big one?”

“And then the middle one after him.”

Fuck.

What to do with this kid? That was the day I decided it was time for military school.

Oh yes, it sounds cliché, I know, but really, what does one do with a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad boy?

Someone recommend Alyson Schafer’s Honey I Wrecked the Kids, but the subtitle scared me off. If I can’t “Yell . . ., Scream . . ., Threat[en], Bribe . . ., [use] Time-outs, Sticker Charts [or] Removing Privileges . . .,” what the heck is left?

So I yelled (“What’s wrong with you??? How could you speak that way??”). And screamed (“AAAAAAAAAAh”). I threatened to throw out the Wii (military school being too abstract). I tried bribing him that he could get a $100 Lego if he was good (January is the month for fantastic Lego sales). I sent to his room for Time-Outs. I made a sticker chart to reward him for making beds and putting away Lego. I told him he couldn’t have afterschool snacks.

And all that failed (eh, screw you, Alyson Schafter, parenting guru extraordinaire).

So I cut out all sugar (it so happened Mama was on a sugar-free cleanse that week . . . as well as caffeine-free, alcohol-free, gluten-free, animal product-free, chemical-free  . . . which might have added to the yelling a wee bit).

And when that wasn’t enough, I moved bedtime from 8pm to 7pm.

And I got rid of the Wii.

And guess what?

THE KIDS WERE FREAKING AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

. . . .

until we brought back the Wii this weekend. And then they were less awesome.

So we took away the Wii again.

Did that do the trick?

Oh yes!

At 6:50 this morning, my darling little 6-year-old jumped out of bed. He got dressed. He brushed his teeth. He went downstairs. He poured himself a bowl of Cheerios with milk. He ate it. He took his bowl to the sink and wiped the table.

Bleary-eyed, I was getting Baby MoFo out of his crib when LL came back upstairs. He took MoFo from me and led him to the bathroom and helped him brush his teeth. Then he brought the baby downstairs, holding his hand step by step, and poured him a bowl of Cheerios with milk. When I came down, LL was playing the car game with Baby MoFo: “Open the garage door for Elmo’s car . . .”

Was this the same kid I threatened to send to military school last week??

At the end of the day today, I picked LL up from his bus. First he excitedly told me about his new spelling words (this is a kid who insisted on going to school half-sick on Friday, despite my recommendation that he stay home and hang out with me and watch TV, because he didn’t want to miss his weekly spelling test). Then he said, “Mama, the sandwich you made me for lunch was so yummy! Thank you, Mama!” Then he said, “Can I help you give the baby a bath?” The he said, “Mama, can I help you make dinner? You always make the best dinners.”

Then I got suspicious.

“Sweetheart, are you being nice just to be nice?”

“No, I want to earn Wii back. If I’m super super nice, can I earn one day of Wii back?”

Ah . . . of course. Well, I should probably just take advantage of the nice . . . What do you think Schafer would think of –not bribing exactly –just kind of stringing a kid along, you know, suggesting good things might happen if he’s exceedingly nice for an exceedingly long time . . . ?

A good, happy boy at his siddur ceremony

A High-Class Problem?

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People generally refer to “nanny problems” as “high class problems,” as though clearly only the rich can afford to have nannies and therefore nanny problems.

In my native Canadia, amongst my friends, nannies are very common. There is live-in caregiver program in Canada, which allows caregivers to come to Canada and establish permanent residency. According to the Canadian government HR website, “Live-in caregivers working in Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program may choose between two options for calculating their employment requirement for permanent residence:

  • 24 months of authorized full-time employment, or
  • 3,900 hours (within a minimum of 22 months which may include a maximum of 390 hours of overtime) of authorized full-time employment.”

Most of these nannies come from the Philippines, and many have wonderful, long-term relationships with the families they come to live with and work for. Furthermore, the financial benefits run both ways: the nannies make substantially more in Canada than they would in, say, Hong Kong (generally with far better living conditions), and for the Canadian family, the cost of a nanny is about equal to the cost of one child in daycare (so if you have more than one child and you need to decide between a nanny and daycare, in terms of cost alone, the choice is obvious).

All this is to say, I wish someone would watch my kids, cook my meals, and do my laundry. There, I said it.

Nanny-employers got a bad rap in this book/film . . .

When I moved to this side of the border, I first looked for someone to watch my kids. Which I could find, I discovered, for about $15/hour.

I also looked for someone to clean the house. No problem, as long as I’m willing to shell out $25/hour–and then come home and clean the toilet and the kitchen, since apparently they’d been missed.

Yet still, I was convinced that somewhere out here, in bounteous America, there had to be someone who wanted to work for me for, say, $14/hour, and do some laundry, be a wonderful playmate for my children, and scrub my toilet.

And I found her!

We spoke on the phone:

Me: “Hi, Would you like to come to my house to meet us and talk about employment?”

Nan: “You me need?”

Me: “YES! Can I give you my address? Can you come by on Sunday? 1pm?”

Nan: “Meet at library?”

Me: “OK, library.”

Nan: “OK, bye.”

Me: “Wait–how will I know it’s you??”

Nan: “Sunday no good?”

Me: “No, I mean, like, will you wear red?”

Lady in red?

Nan: “Better at 2?”

Me: “No, but how will I find you?”

Nan: “Saturday?”

Me: “No, no!”

This conversation, dear reader, should have rung some bells. How can you employ someone with whom you have no means of communication? Maybe what should have also rung some bells was that she was so readily available, or that she was willing to do for $14/hour what she should have been charging at least double, and maybe triple for.

But I determined to learn some Spanish, determined it would be wonderful to have my children exposed to a new language and a new culture, and yes, I determined to have my neverending piles of laundry diminished, and my peed on and peed around and peed near toilet and floor scrubbed, and my children entertained by Spanish tales more authentic than Diego provided. All would be perfect!

It didn’t work out that way.

We hired Nan.

At first, things went well. I came home and the baby was sleeping soundly, the beds were made, and, without my asking, the fridge had been meticulously wiped down. Nan continued to come, and I continued to be sure that the money was well spent. I pulled Baby MoFo, who was going to daycare 4 days a week, out of yet another day of daycare, dropping him down to 3. Admittedly, from the first days, Nan often came late–somewhere between 10 minutes and 20, but I didn’t worry too much.

Then she came an hour late. Then 2.

Then I started looking for clothes I had put in the washing machine when she came, asking her to throw them in the dryer, fold them, and put them away. I discovered them stuffed in a bag (each piece crumpled into a little ball), hidden in Baby MoFo’s room. Despite my repeated requests that she fold the clothes rather them hide them, this trend continued.

Then I started noticing that although the floor had that clean vinegary smell, it was covered in granules of rice and other debris. It turned out than while she was washing the floor, she wasn’t first sweeping or vacuuming it first.

Evidence of Nan's cleaning: our bookcase tiers are "decorated" with cleaning utensils, a kippah, my cosmetics case, garbage, and clean laundry (that *I* folded).

Whereas friends in Canada swear their nannies save them $100s with their economical ways–they hang clothes to dry! they wash and reuse baggies! they carefully pack up and save all leftover meals in tupperware neatly stacked in the fridge!–mine ran the dishwasher with one glass and two plates in it. And since she never rinsed said glass and two plates first, they often had to be washed again.

One day I came in while she was feeding Baby MoFo his lunch. It was a bowl of the chili I had made–full of beans and veggies and other good stuff–she had warmed it up and then mixed in potato chips and chocolate chips cookies.

The toilet never got scrubbed.

One day when I was leaving the house at 9am, I saw her giving Baby MoFo another wonderful meal: a Lifesaver. Apart from the fact that Baby MoFo was 18 months old!, could have choked and died, and never needed to be eating candies, it was 9am! Was this breakfast?? Luckily, I caught her. She looked at me: “No good?”

I breathed deeply. “No good.”

It was around then that I decided to admit the truth: things were not going well. It was time to let her go.

But how? How? How?

I couldn’t do it. All I could think of doing was pretending I went to Florida and never came back.

Dear Nan, Here's Baby MoFo in Florida. We're having so much fun, we may never come back. All the best, PP

And then, miracle of miracles: she quit.

I hugged her, wished here well, and was thrilled.

Two days later, she called and asked for her job back. I hedged. I said we were going to Florida and I didn’t know when we would be back.

Shortly thereafter, in my absence, she left at the house boxes and boxes of Christmas presents–for me, for the house, for the kids. Talk about guilt.

I waited a long, long time before I called her. But how could I not say thank you?

Nan: “You me need?”

Ass that I am, I said: “Yes.”

But reader, this story ends on a happy note.

No, I didn’t suddenly grow some cojones.

Yesterday, a blustery January day, Nan came over. She fed the kids garbage, she threw out that one piece of Lego that makes the whole 875-piece spaceship stay together, she hid our clean laundry, and she made the bed using our waterproof mattress cover as a sheet, BUT–here’s what else happened:

I decided to go get some work done at Starbucks. I went into the shed to get my bike. Suddenly, a gust of wind whipped the door of the shed closed. The pin fell into the hole of the lock, and hearing the little “click,” I immediately realized: I was trapped!

I tried not to panic (I was panicking). Suddenly I remembered that, miracle of miracles, I had my lousy, rarely-charged, pay-as-you-go cell phone with me. I kissed said phone. I called Nan.

“Nan!! Help!!! I am locked in the shed!! Get me out!!!!”

(In my state, I forgot that classic Diego line: “Ayudame! Ayudame!”)

Ayudame! Ayudame!

Nan: “Baby OK?”

Me: “I hope so. You have him. It’s me! I’m in the shed!”

Nan: “Wash sheets?”

Me: “YES, wash sheets! But that’s not what I need right now! Come to the backyard!!”

I finally did make myself understood.

And so, signs from the universe tell me that perhaps I should keep this nanny . . . although signs of my peed-on, unwashed bathroom floor tell me otherwise . . . What to do . . . what to do . . .

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