Category Archives: Childcare

The Bright Side of My Singlemotherhoodlife: A Top Five List

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What bright side?

No, no, that’s too depressing. On the eve of The Scientist’s return home (also known as a brief visit), I am determined to think about all the good things that happened while he was away. Because, you know, silver lining and all that.

So here’s my top 5:

5. Nutella. I grew up believing Nutella was disgusting (thanks, Mom). But, on a whim, I decided I was going to let the kids try it this week since The Scientist, who has a fatal nut allergy, isn’t here anyway. And in the meantime, I tried it, too. Let me tell you (and Mom) something: Nutella is NOT disgusting. It’s AMAZING. Best food discovery of my adult life.

4. Fresh Direct arrived in my neighborhood precisely the day The Scientist left! Coincidence or divine intervention?? As LL said (and I couldn’t agree more),”Now THIS is the way to shop.”

3. The Boy Babysitter. He’s come twice now. Booked for 3 more visits. And there will be even more, I assure you . . .

2. My beautiful, sexy, smart iPhone. Yes, after years of whining to you about not having one, I got one. My justification? Facetime! How else to remember I actually have a husband somewhere out there in the world. (Baby MoFo is a huge fan, too. In fact, he calls his dad, and they “hang out” while he watches Batman/Phineas and Ferb/The Backyardigans in Spanish because for some reason they’re gone from both TV and Netflix in English, and Dada does work. It’s great!).

1. Baby MoFo told me he loves me! Normally, he says, “I just love Dada.” If pressed, he will admit he also loves LL because “he’s my best brother.” But today, when I absolutely wouldn’t give him a popsicle until he said he loved me (that’s legit, right?), he said, sighing, something that he would never say if Dada were around: “OK, Mama. I love you a little.” Good enough! I’ll take it!

And that’s my list! If there’s more, I have been too steeped in vomit to notice!

The Boy Babysitter

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Last night, we were puke-free. It’s been so long since we were puke-free that I did a happy dance. It’s been even longer–remember those snow days and holidays–since I’ve had a child-free block of time. But today I was desperate to get some work done (the semester is starting all too soon!), so I did the best thing ever: I got a babysitter.

And, to my kids’ delight, he was a boy babysitter.

The minute he arrived, it was as though a playdate were starting. There was no talk, as there usually is when a babysitter arrives, of rules and regulations of the house. They handed him a wii-mote and gave him instructions (they’ve never taught me how to play Rayman Jungle Run, FYI), urging him to join them on the couch. Before I was even out the door, the boys–my own as well as the young, tattooed, pierced babysitter that was, without a doubt, the brightest spot in my kids’ week–were completely immersed in the game. Later, I’m told, Boy Babysitter made popcorn (it was his first time seeing an air popper! but he was a smartie and figured it out) and put on The Croods (which we don’t own — Boy Babysitter brought DVDs with him!). And after the movie, they ate lunch, which Boy Babysitter prepared for them. And then they played cards.

The kids declared Boy Babysitter the best babysitter ever.

And I had to agree, because thrilling and feeding my kids to pieces wasn’t all Boy Babysitter did. As I walked up to the house on my return, I knew he was a winner before I even got to the door. Why? Because Boy Babysitter had shovelled my porch and my front stairs. And salted them.

And more: not only did he clear and wash the lunch dishes, he also washed the dishes and muffin pan that had been lying in my sink for . . . some time. And wiped down the countertops. And table.

Really, I have to get out of the mindset that it has to be all me all the time just because The Scientist has moved to another planet continent. Having a babysitter gives me a break from the kids and the kids a break from me. And seriously: we all needed that break. And it’s not as though babysitting will clean out my pocketbook . . . One of the best parts of getting Boy Babysitter — and any other babysitter — is that my work pays for it.

Big Mama schlepping the burden alone

Big Mama schlepping the burden alone

I WILL NOT YELL THIS WEEK!! (bli neder)

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One teenage summer, I took a job as a counselor at a summer camp in a Jewish cottage colony. All the campers slept at their cottages, which surrounded the camp, and all the counselors, who also had cottages nearby, slept on-site. The set-up made the camp very exclusive, as rare was the counselor who had not been going to the camp his or her entire life. Still, my BFF, Geddy Lee, whose cottage I had visited many times over the years, convinced me to join her. So, though a bit nervous about how I would fit in, I did.

The camp was (and is) about an hour from the city, and on the day we started our pre-camp training, we threw our sleeping bags and duffel bags in the back of Geddy Lee’s mom’s station wagon (a wood-paneled artifact from around the time Geddy Lee was born) and headed out to the country roads. About five minutes into our drive, Geddy Lee’s argument with her mom began. I think it was about Geddy Lee’s supershort cut-off shorts or maybe her boyfriend (the neighbor’s gardener) or perhaps it was about the clay penis she had sculpted and insisted on leaving out on display in their house. I’m not sure. All I know is that it escalated and escalated and that 70s wagon was vibrating with their voices (OK–or age). I tried to distract myself by thinking about what a fun time I would have at camp.

Finally, the fight hit its climax. “I refuse to have my daughter to talk to me that way!”
“I refuse to have my mother talk to me that way!”

“If you don’t like it, you can get out of my car and walk to camp!”

“We will! Come on, PP!”

The car came to a screeching halt in the middle of nowhere. Geddy Lee’s door flew open. I sat in the back quietly, pretending to be invisible. “Let’s go!” Geddy Lee repeated.

“Do I have to?” The sky was black. I slowly dragged myself from the car.  By the time I was out, I discovered Geddy Lee’s mom had already tossed my stuff out onto the gravel and was gone. The rain began to fall almost immediately.

“Sorry,” Geddy Lee said sheepishly as the rain soaked us. “But I figured you would understand.” Huh? “I mean your house is always high drama.” It was? “It’s just like mine–a yelling house.” She then proceeded to do a perfect imitation of my mother shrieking my name.

It took us about 3 hours to walk to camp. The duffel bags were heavy. I held one handle on Geddy Lee’s bag, one handle on mine, and she did the same, walking in front of me. It poured the whole time. I was starving. And I was thinking. My house was high drama, it would seem. My house was a yelling house. I made myself a promise: when I grow up, and I have kids of my own, my house will be so calm, people will be sure we’re WASPs. No one will call us high drama. No one will call us a yelling house.

So, it turns out that I failed.

That voice Geddy Lee imitated over 20 years ago sounds eerily like my own today.

In truth, I forgot all about that high drama episode between Geddy Lee and her mother, and my internal promise, for the longest time. It was obliterated from my mind by all the fun I had at the camp (and also by a high drama incident of a wholly different kind that happened that very night, involving a drinking game). On Monday, however, staying at my in-laws’ cottage, with my kids attending a similar day camp filled with Jewish kids who summer in nearby cottages, I had a flashback to that stormy day years ago. I remembered, and in so doing, I had a painful realization: I yell almost every day. Sometimes it’s a safety yell (Get off the road!), which I think is OK, but too often it’s a mad yell (Go to sleep already! Who peed all over the floor?).

After dropping off the kids at camp, I was reading this great blog post about Tisha B’av. Now, I actually had no plan to fast (or if I did, it was so fleeting it doesn’t really count), but I decided that to commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple, which has been chalked up to baseless hatred, I was going to do a very unhateful thing: I was not going to yell. All week. No matter what. I was going to have a low drama house. I was going to be a WASP.

Wish me luck, will you? I am on day 3, and so far doing pretty well. Mind you, the kids have been relatively well-behaved. It’s possible (highly likely) that will change. And I will have to keep saying to myself: I will not yell this week. I will not yell this week. I will not yell this week. Of course, I didn’t make any such promise about not leaving them by the side of the road in the rain . . . It’s a good thing their camp bags aren’t too heavy.

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These bags were made for dancing–not schlepping in the rain.

This Side of Paradise

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We danced in Elysian Fields. We ate manna and nectar of the gods and bonbons. Choose your version of heaven and we were in it. Three kids? Pshaw. No problemo! A full-time job demanding a full-time (plus) investment? Happily invested! Throw in some supersized novels (and a book club), a few hobbies (and/or courses), an exercise regimen, and a social life, and maybe a teeny tiny bit of husband-and-wife time, and there you had it: my life. Or so it seems to me now that it’s not my life.

“How do you do it?” I was asked repeatedly (there were days when I felt distinctly like the SJP character). It was not that I had 3 kids under 7 and worked full time that surprised/baffled/bewildered/horrified? people–big deal, so do many folks–it was the I had 3 kids under 7, worked full time, and did not have full-time care. That was the astounding (stupid, crazy) part.

But I insisted it was easy breezy lemon squeezy. Afternoon meeting? No problem! Put Baby MoFo down for his 2, 3, sometimes 4 hour nap, and I’d be free as can be. Work seeping into the evening? Not an issue on that side of paradise. By 6:59, Baby MoFo was standing on the stairs, calling “Night night!” to signal the end of his day. The big boys did their own thing; they could put themselves to bed.

Oh, May, 2012. How I miss you.

With impetuous recoil and jarring sound

Th’ infernal doors, and on their hinges grate

Harsh thunder, that the lowest bottom shook

Of Erebus. She opened, but to shut

Excelled her power; the gates wide open stood

Something happened. Inside Baby MoFo’s little head (with its great big hair), a wheel rotated, engaged a pinion, and when just the right pin fell into just the right groove, the alarm gear caused the spring-lever of his itsy bitsy brain to release the alarm lever. The spring began to unwind. The alarm lever rotated to and fro,  hitting his hard skull: BRRRRRRNG!!!

His discovery? He could climb out of his crib!

Naps? Gone. Bedtime? Gone. Middle-of-the-night sleep? Gone.

Oh, woe is me.

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June, 2012, a typical afternoon:

“Naptime, sweetheart. Here you go. Lie down. Put your keppy down. Good boy. Have a good shluffy.”

Five minutes later: “What are you doing here?”

Then: “I just put you back in bed!”

Then: “This time I’m standing by the door!”

Then: “Fine, stay up. We’ll go to the park. But you had better sleep tonight!!”

June, 2012, a typical night:

“Night, night, my love.”

“Back you go.”

“Back you go.”

“Back you go.”

Silent back you go.

Again.

Again.

Times 26.

June 11, 2012: A Standoff at the Princess-Scientist Corral.

7-8pm: Princess on Guard. Many returns of baby to bed. Then the door stays closed. But I am suspicious. I have heard a pitter patter. I know he’s out. But does he know I know he’s out? Silence reigns for 10 minutes, then 15. I begin down the stairs.

Behind me, the door opens. “I’M OUT!!!!!!!” cries Baby MoFo.

“Husband, your turn.”

8-9pm: The Scientist on Guard.

Baby MoFo, inside the door of his room. The Scientist, just outside. Every few minutes, the door opens a tiny bit and then quickly closes again. If you look closely, you’ll probably see two excited little eyes peeking out. Open, shut. Silence. The Scientist slides out of sight. Open, shut. Open–pause–pause–and suddenly a blue teddy bear comes flying out the door.

The scout

Baby MoFo wait a few more seconds, sees the bear untouched, unreturned to its room, decides the coast must be clear after all, opens the door, and is about to run out when–

“Caught you!!”

And back to bed he went. Again.

Remembering the Elysian plain, “where life is easiest for men.
No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does
Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind
that they may give cooling to men.”

Oh curse ye gods who recalled the Crib Tent (dangerous is a mom who has been sleep and sanity deprived!). Can someone please go buy me a good old-fashioned door lock?

Multitasking Mom

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When I was away on the left coast last week, I was out late in the evenings (talking about research, of course–what else does one do at conferences other than work?), up early (thanks to my routine-addled body, and because of course I wanted to do some work!), taking long runs (to think about my research!), and I was never, never, never tired. Miracle? Or just a case of not-momming?

(While I was gone, The Scientist, poor, poor man, was up late and early too, and everywhere in between, only rather than dealing with drinks, old friends, new friends, wonderful discussions, brilliant talks, and a bit of pool time, The Scientist was dealing with puke–the milky kind, the chunky kind, the now-we-have-wash-everything-we-own kind, the projectile-directly-into-dad’s-mouth kind. He was exhausted. Sorry, husband! But you do know I was working the whole time, right? If not, see above!).

Working outside of the home, working inside of the home, mothers are always too busy. One of my favorite email forwards ever (and rarely do I actually enjoy email forwards!) is the Mom Song, to the tune of the William Tell Overture–

Ah, momhood. Busy, busy, busy. So tiring. And while I couldn’t say working moms are necessarily busier (after all, we get a break from some of the busy momhood activities), there are definitely times when the two different kinds of busynesses of work and home smash into each other.  Such was the case for me this weekend, after I returned the conference, which (career related though it was) actually put me behind on the job front, which in turn brought my work into my weekend–when I should just be momming.

So, I decided, it was high time to cut down on my busyness and exhaustion and be a little French about it. What does Pamela Druckerman say in her book, Bringing up Bébé?–Yes: “French parents are very concerned about their kids. . . . They take reasonable precautions. But they aren’t panicked about their children’s well being.”

And the result? Druckerman tells us “French kids aren’t just more independent in their extracurricular activities. They also have more autonomy in their dealings with each other.”

Notes to self: Reasonable. Independence. Autonomy. No problem. I wasn’t going anywhere but my laptop–that is a reasonable precaution, to be home but set the kids free. The baby certainly needs independence in extracurricular activities. Why not toilet training? The big kids could learn autonomy in their dealing with each other by being left alone to do their own thing, and while I was teaching the kids all these crucial lessons (and therefore momming, really), I could have a little more time to do the things I needed to do.

So, yesterday morning, when The Scientist left to go play a little baseball (one feels one has to grant one’s husband who has done all the parenting for the last week or so a little playtime), I let go. I didn’t tell the kids what they could or could not do. I gave them, instead, a sense of independence and responsibility. And this was good for everyone–I could run a couple of loads of laundry while grading student papers, and the kids could have unstructured time. If I say so myself, I felt I was doing a great job of bringing up bébés and making working momhood really workable.

The result, you wonder? SUCCESS!! LL and Cool J played several rounds of Mille Bornes (see how French we are?), then went to work on putting together Baby MoFo’s new Cozy Coupe; Baby MoFo took off his clothes and diaper and found a green magic marker to occupy himself. And after the naked/marker fallout, Cool J dutifully grabbed himself a whole bunch of wipes (which handily were on the floor since Baby MoFo took them out, one at a time, until the box was empty, and then he filled the box with marshmallows. Such creativity!), cleaned all the pee off the floor (but I’m sure next time Baby MoFo will know where to go when he has the urge!), and LL took another bunch of wipes and began removing Baby MoFo’s self-engraved tattoos. Win-win-win!

I am organized, efficient, and capable. I am hard working and adept at keeping track of lots of bits of information. . .Vote for me!

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As a part of that world of academia, I am a member, as surely you are of your profession, of various organizations that host conferences, publish journals, and come up with useful, applicable ideas and plans for both the sub-specialty and the field at large.

There is one organization that I have been a member of for near a decade. I have published in their journal, I regularly review articles that are submitted to their journal, and I attend and speak at their conferences. But I’ve never thought to get involved at an administrative level, which would mean really immersing myself in the organization’s inner sanctum, and contributing to its welfare. Recently, however, the editor of the journal the Society hosts suggested I run for office this term. I thought about it. On the one hand, it meant committing time I can’t imagine I have, and attending the two major conferences a year, which can be pretty much anywhere in the country. On the other, this was the opportunity to participate in something I believe in and care about. I guess teaching at an Ivy League university, where everyone is earnestly involved up to their eyeballs influenced my decision: I looked around at my messy, messy house, took stock of the (virtual) stack of papers to comment on, pulled Baby MoFo up on my lap, and began to write my nomination statement.

“I am organized, efficient, and capable . . .”

Four nights later found me running through campus, wearing PJs, boots, and a jacket. No socks, no bra. It was 11:30 at night and I had not forgotten that stack of papers at school (it was virtual, after all), nor was I meeting with a student at that late hour. I had been lying in bed, about to drift off into unconsciousness, when my mind starting running through all matter of things:

1. I never did anything about that hunk of pasta sauce stuck in my engagement ring I noticed a few nights ago while I was on my way to parent-teacher interviews. I should probably stick it in the jewelry cleaner.

2. I forgot to pay for the Daddy-and-me Gymnastics night. Crap. Hope there’s still room.

3. I have to open blocks on my online calendar so the students can schedule their conferences since they begin in just a couple of days.

4. I should take my coat to the seamstress–the buttons look like they’re about to fall off.

5. I really have to start revising that article if I’m going to have it workshopped by my faculty peers next month. Which reminds me, I have to go to the library. They’re going to cancel my hold order again if I don’t pick up the books soon.

6. I should have loaded the dishwasher before bed. I’m going to regret that pile in the sink when I wake up.

7. Even the counter is cluttered with dishes. That must be unsanitary.

8. Were my rings sitting in that counter clutter? I don’t think I wore them all day.

9. I don’t think I wore my rings yesterday.

10. Have I seen my rings since I discovered the hunk of pasta sauce on them 3 days ago?

11. Yes, I did see my rings. I was playing with them while I was trying to revise my article in my office the other day, wasn’t I? Wasn’t that after the parent-teacher interview? But I wouldn’t have taken them off and left them at school, right?

12. WHERE ARE MY RINGS?

I jumped out of bed, went downstairs, looked in all the usual places: sitting on top of the microwave, on the kitchen counter, on the dining room table, on one of the bookshelves. Nada. I told myself to be calm and I did #6–loaded the dishwasher. That way, either I would have an empty counter and sink and also find my rings (could they have fallen in the sink? Could they have fallen down the drain?) or, at worst, I would have an empty counter and sink and one or two fewer things to worry about. I did my nice service for next-day me, but my heart started pounding harder as I put the last plate in the dishwasher: No rings. I took everything off the table. I pulled off the table cloth, checked it thoroughly and shook it out (not from the 21st floor–so my rings couldn’t have the adventure you must remember they had last year!). Nada. I picked loose Lego brick, pens, opened mail, DVDs, Wii games, and crumpled receipts off the bookshelves. Nada. Cleared the microwave surface of a bag of rice cakes, a container of Jane’s Krazy Salt, and The Scientist’s deodorant (huh?). Nada.

I finally decided I was driving myself crazy–that they were, of course, somewhere, and I went to bed again.

Once there, a rendition of Scarlett played through my head: “I can’t let [my rings] go [again]. I can’t. There must be some way to bring [them] back. Oh I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow. But I must think about it. I must think about it. What is there to do? What is there that matters?”

And so, near midnight, I was sprinting through the campus, hoping not to see my students, or rather, hoping they wouldn’t see me, and hoping, moreover, that I hadn’t been so stupid as to play with my rings in my office and then just leave them lying on my desk, and hoping, even more than that, that I had left my rings lying around on my desk or in my wastebasket or in my coffee mug or on my coat hook–anywhere, anywhere, that they could be found again.

I opened my office door.

No rings.

I sorted through the papers and lifted my mug and looked in it and under it; I pushed books hither and thither; I  checked my coat hook and wastebasket and recycling bin; and finally, deflated, I called The Scientist to say that they were gone–lost forever. As he answered the phone, I absentmindedly lifted up my keyboard. And underneath–

“They’re here! I didn’t lose them!!!”

I am organized, efficient, and capable . . .

Which is true, for the most part, and saved me over the next week, which is to say, this past week, during which time I taught my 2 classes twice; prepped for my classes; commented on 24 essays, which takes, according to our program’s requirements, about 36 hours; met with each of my students individually for 45 minutes, conferences scheduled around their busy lives, so that the 22 hours I was at or going to or returning from conferences included hours early in the morning and past 10:30pm; stayed home with my baby for the afternoon of President’s Day when there was (I was late to discover) no daycare; went to the dentist for a cleaning and a check-up; did my usual triple pick-up of the kids most days (and took them for frozen yogurt on the particularly warm day) as well as about half the drop-offs; made all three meals for everyone every day; took the baby to the doctor when the daycare sent him home (and said he couldn’t return) because he had pink eye; and all this, I should add, with no sleep since, in addition to pink eye, Baby MoFo also developed an ear infection –actually, a double-ear infection — this week, and he suffered all through the night.

I am organized, efficient, and capable . . .

But my house can often be a madhouse, and as a result, I might act as though I’ve been lobotomized . . .

Oh–but vote for me!!

A calm(ish) moment in our madhouse (in case you're wondering, Baby MoFo is about the fall off the couch, cry, and then take off his diaper and pee on the floor)