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I was listening to the radio the other day and the talkshow hosts were talking about stereotypes. Ostensibly, the discussion was about stereotypes that you are proud of – the example they gave was that one of the hosts, who is Indian, is proud to be the bearer of the cultural stereotype about not wearing shoes in the house, because her house is cleaner than that of people who wear their shoes inside. Even though I am a STAUNCH no-shoes-in-the-house supporter, I thought the example was a bit of a stretch. (Is taking off your shoes at the door a negative stereotype? Is not wearing shoes in the house an Indian stereotype at all?)  Most of the other examples were neutral to moderately negative stereotypes that people didn’t mind about themselves: an Italian man said he talks with his hands; a white dude said he can’t dance; a Jewish woman said she is constantly trying to feed people.

It was one of those benign little conversation topics that’s stuck with me. (I am trying to distract myself with benign to balance out all the horror.) I am sure that I fit many, many stereotypes about people of my age, race, cultural background, etc. etc. etc. Probably a lot of them aren’t particularly attractive.

But there is one stereotype I know for sure I fit: I have a stereotypical Mom Car.

I don’t think I was even aware this was a stereotype until Carla started school and I made friends with other moms. (Did my mom have a mom car? I can’t remember.) All of us are always apologizing about the state of our cars. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you drive a 2019 Mercedes or a 1999 Dodge, if you’re a mom, the interior of your car is a disaster. (At least among my group. I know this doesn’t apply to EVERYONE; it’s a stereotype not a genetic imperative.)

My car is such a mess at all times. It is crowded with a hearty mix of Necessities and Absolute Nonsense, and it’s really hard to disentangle the two categories. And even more difficult is trying to find the time (or desire) to tackle the grand unknotting.

For example, right now I have two purses in my car, one in the front seat and one in the back. The one purse in my front seat is a Necessity; the one in the backseat is there because of laziness. Or, more likely, because any time I leave my car to go into my house, my arms are laden with groceries or child or child’s backpack and artwork, so there is no room for a Nonsense Purse.

Speaking of artwork – which could be a whole post on its own, titled “Do I Spend Money Now on a Separate House to Hold All My Kid’s Precious Art or Save It for Her Inevitable My-Heartless-Mother-Cruelly-Disposed-of-My-Creative-Output-Themed Therapy Bills?” – I have several absolutely irreplaceable pages of semi-crumpled paper on my front seat, waiting for a moment when Carla isn’t looking so I can toss them directly into the outdoor recycling bin (if I put them inside, she will see them and there will be tears). Also on my front seat is the school pickup sign that I need in order to collect Carla at the end of the day. Also probably a sweater that Carla couldn’t wear for one more second so ended up squished into a ball on the passenger seat as I urged her in escalating desperation to get in her carseat so I could stop holding up the pickup line.

In the center console is a Barnes & Noble gift card (depleted) that Carla won’t allow me to throw away; I will, but she has to forget about it first. In the cupholders are some acorns, some barrettes, a hair tie, a leaf that is well past crispy and on its way to dust, and a plastic heart-shaped “gem” that is too precious to get rid of but not so precious it ever makes it into the house. This morning after I dropped Carla off at school, I grabbed a half-eaten bag of mini carrots that had been languishing in the cupholder for… more days than I care to consider.

Because my car is a billion years old, I have a bunch of CDs that constantly spill all over the floor. I have an extra set of mittens. I have gum and mints and a handful of ones that I use to tip the grocery-bag-loader people at my grocery store. I have a bag that contains Emergency Entertainment Supplies – a pad of drawing paper, a package of colored pencils, flash cards, a miniature book. Usually there is a Beloved Stuffed Animal floating around somewhere. More often than not, there are assorted sticks, rocks, and leaves that were deemed too beautiful/interesting to leave outside but not quite beautiful/interesting enough to ever leave my car. I’m guessing you’d be able to find a sticker or two from Trader Joe’s or Target or the pediatrician’s office that Carla will never use – but whose potential is too powerful to allow her to dispose of them.

In the trunk is an old diaper bag I haven’t been able to bring myself to get rid of. Jumper cables. My grocery bag holder slash car organizer, which has really just become another receptacle for junk. A bag with “winter necessities” (blanket, hat, scarf, some ancient granola bars). Some apple juice leftover from a teacher appreciation thing.

I have at least three bags of antibacterial wipes floating around the car, not that I can ever find a wipe when I need one.

See what I mean? Total mess. And even though I try to keep up with it, the mess just keeps growing and growing.

My husband’s car, on the other hand, is spotless. He has Carla’s carseat and an extra white coat in the backseat. His grocery bag holder is folded up neatly in the trunk. He has a pack of gum and his latest book on tape in the center console. That’s it.

How does he do it? Well, he doesn’t ferry our kid around five days a week, there’s that. He’s not the main grocery/Target shopper. He doesn’t really need anything in his car.

While we’re talking about stereotypes, you should see my “mom purse.” First of all, it’s meant to be a mom purse. It’s one of those big almost duffle-y type bags that wears a welt on your shoulder if you carry it too long. But that’s because it holds everything you could possibly need! If you need a bandaid or some Purell or some headache medicine or gum, I’ve got it. I don’t know how many times I’ve been with other moms who inexplicably had nothing with which to entertain their toddlers, and I was able to unearth some crayons or plastic animals for them to play with. Or some goldfish to munch on. When my daughter’s friend didn’t have her hair tied back at ballet, I was able to produce a hair tie from the depths of my purse. Need a pen? I have one! Need a Kleenex? Chapstick? Change for the meter? Look no further. (Well, maybe look further for the Chapstick; I don’t share.) Feeling puckish? I’ve probably got some Teddy Grahams or a pouch of applesauce or at the very least an old, slightly sticky Dum-Dum.

Well, I am not embarrassed. My car and purse are functional; I’m not entering any organized-purse competitions or car-interior beauty pageants. I am a mom, and I do a bunch of stuff that requires me to have a bunch of junk in my car and prevents me from cleaning it out regularly. It’s like if I were a plumber: you’d find a ton of spare parts and tools and shoe covers and business cards and stuff in my vehicle, and you wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. The lollipop sticks and half-colored coloring book pages and once-beautiful leaves and spare socks are my work supplies.

Stereotypes be damned: I’m not ashamed.

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Good Gravy!

Halloween is not even a week in the rear-view and I’m already dashing headlong into Thanksgiving preparations! It’s coming up in two weeks, people! This is not a drill!

This morning in a fit of… something, probably lack of desire to exercise… I took down and put away all the Halloween decorations and replaced them with my meager Thanksgiving decorations.

I love decorating for the season, and I really enjoy Fall Décor specifically, but I have a very hard time paying $25 for a wooden pumpkin, even if it’s handpainted, and even if I really like the pumpkin and pine for it each year at this time. Oh well. I keep it in my Etsy shopping cart for annual admiration, hoping each year that the shop will have a massive sale and I’ll be able to get it for $10.

You know who has surprisingly good seasonal décor? Michael’s, that’s who. I usually spend a morning in early fall, or, as seasonal buying seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, in early summer, wandering through Michael’s, admiring the stuffed scarecrows and fabric owls and tabletop gourds. Would my life be vastly improved by tabletops gourds? Probably not, but I imagine them in my life just the same.

(photos from Michaels.com; although they are all on DRASTIC sale they are not available online and very possibly not available in store either; cute nonetheless)

I don’t really know what more I NEED, by way of fall decorations. I have a plain orange pumpkin that I use to bridge the decorating gap between Halloween and fall. I have a table runner with leaves. I have a small wooden pumpkin. I have a small wooden “gratitude tree” from which Carla hangs little paper leaves on which she’s written things she is thankful for. I have a wooden welcome sign for my front door in the shape of a leaf. I removed the jack-o-lantern faces from the pumpkins, so they are sitting on the front stoop, pretending like they were meant to be fall pumpkins and not Halloween pumpkins. I have two or three ceramic leaf bowls that I can never really figure out how to incorporate; they are not quite deep enough to be candy dishes, so I think I generally use them to hold cashews or pistachios when we have Thanksgiving guests. I have a plastic Thanksgiving plate and bowl for Carla, although she may be too big for them. I saved the fall window clings from last year. I have some small wooden leaves that I don’t know how to use – but I’ll find a way, mark my words; I used small wooden pumpkins on all the windows for Halloween and they are fall-ish enough to stay through Thanksgiving.  I have a couple of fall hand towels.

It sounds like more than it is.

Oh! I also have a handful of colorful cloth leaves that I usually toss onto the Thanksgiving table. But this year, I used putty to stick them to my kitchen walls.

I don’t know if I love it; give me a day or so to think about it. (Who am I kidding? Now that they are up they aren’t coming down unless the putty gives up and they fall off themselves.)

What else could I possibly want, right? Especially because I am picky about decorations. I don’t like anything that’s made out of that scratchy material – what is it, sisal? I don’t like anything with words (my “welcome” door sign notwithstanding). I don’t generally like turkeys or pilgrims. Really, I’m a leaf and pumpkin girl, and I tend toward wood. And there are only so many wooden leaves and pumpkins a person can scatter about her house without feeling like they’re closing in.

It’s not just the decor that has me in a frenzy; it’s the food. Thanksgiving is so early this year! My parents arrive a week from Friday, which is very exciting but also makes me feel a little panicked. I need to come up a meal plan for while they’re here. The one thing I know for sure is that we’ll have this chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup for dinner the night before The Big Day. At least I have already ordered my turkey – which reminds me, I need to call and request that my turkey arrive a day earlier; DONE. – and I have dusted off my Thanksgiving Timeline. That helps a teeny little bit. I can’t really do much more until my first round of Thanksgiving shopping.

I am feeling a little bit devil-may-care this year about the food. If you know me at all, you know that I am a Huge Kitchen Control Freak and do not like anyone else in the kitchen with me. But I am also realizing that I don’t actually like any of the food on Thanksgiving – except for the garlic goat cheese mashed potatoes and gravy, which I make by the bucketful – so why should I care so much about working myself to exhaustion while insisting on making the entire meal without ANY help from my family lovingly preparing it all on my own? My mother and father both like to help. Why not let them? Such a novel idea! However, jury’s still out on whether I will actually be able to turn over the reins.

While I am throwing Thanksgiving caution to the wind, I am also contemplating doing things differently. Perhaps if I made a pie I actually like – apple, maybe! or a fall version of this plum torte that I have been dreaming about since I made it this summer – I would enjoy pie! Maybe if I made some sort of wonderful Brussels sprout recipe or a delicious mushroomy mac and cheese, I would be able to fill my plate with more than my traditional pile of mashed potatoes and a slim slice of turkey!

This is not new; I have contemplated doing things differently in the past and then stuck with our family traditions. Therein lies the problem, of course: our traditions are so ingrained beloved that we’re not going to change them. Which means that I wouldn’t be lessening the cooking load at all. I am still going to have to make dressing, because it’s my husband’s favorite. I am still going to have to make pumpkin bars, because people want something pumpkin-y at Thanksgiving. And I don’t know that I have enough bandwidth – not to mention enough oven space – to add something else to the mix.

So probably all this wild and reckless and altogether deviant thinking won’t go anywhere, and I’ll do what I’ve always done. It’s fun to think about, though.

The one shake-up I am contemplating that stands the best chance of actually happening is the gravy. I love gravy so very much. And the last time I made it, it was amazing. It was this deep mahogany elixir of the gods that I would have been happy to drink by itself. But it’s finite, you know. And you have to share it with the other people at your Thanksgiving table.

So I’m wondering if I might try to make some gravy in advance. I keep seeing suggestions for doing this, and it doesn’t look terribly hard. I mean, you have to procure chicken or turkey parts/carcass in advance, which troubles me a little. But I could probably buy some chicken wings or legs for not too much money and roast them for the gravy. And I would still make gravy on Thanksgiving Day, don’t you worry. This plan is designed to produce EXTRA gravy, not less work. I want to be eating mashed potatoes and gravy well into December, is what I’m telling you.

Well, I have a little time left to fit it into my Thanksgiving Timeline. If it works out, I’ll let you know.

Do you have A Best Friend in the place that you live? I don’t; I have acquaintances and former work friends and mom friends, but no one who’s really… a Best Friend. I mean, I have my spouse! He’s certainly my best friend and my soul mate, but let’s not get all ooey gooey about him. I’m talking about a non-romantic bestie, someone to go grab a glass of wine with, someone who will go shopping with you and tell you which jeans look best, someone who knows and loves you for who you are, someone who will dissect every facet of an awkward interaction ad nauseum, perhaps while watching The Good Place.

I do have close friends. They just… don’t live nearby.

Some days I am totally fine with the fact that I don’t have a best friend right here in town with me; other days I feel crushing woe. This is a crushing woe period, and I think the root of the current woe is a communication desert between me and these friends. Take my lifelong best friend, for instance. She lives in our hometown, where we met more than 25 years ago. She and I have maintained our relationship via the magic of phone calls since we left for college in fall of 1999. Sometimes we talk every day. Sometimes we go a few weeks without talking – especially in the past few years. But I’d say on average we talk about once a week. And right now, we’re in a period of very infrequent contact. It sucks.

Same goes for… pretty much everyone else on my Regular Contact list. For some reason, there’s a lull in communication with everyone. And it’s freaking me out. I miss these people! I miss knowing what’s going on in their lives. And I miss talking to someone who knows me really well; it’s really hard, for me at least, to get to the point in a friendship where you feel fully relaxed and comfortable around the other person.  I just don’t have that kind of relationship with any of the mom friends I’ve made.

I am 95% sure – based on past experience – that the communication desert has nothing to do with me. The most likely explanation for the radio silence is that my friends are just really busy, and keeping up with me isn’t top of the priority list at this moment. If I think about that too hard, it makes me sad, but I do understand it.

Since I believe that my friends are just busy, I do try to stay in touch anyway, despite a lack of response. But that can be tiring. And disheartening; I end up wondering if I’m being annoying, or if I’m pushing on boundaries my friend is trying to set, or if I’m not getting the hint.

Because even though I know the likely explanation is that they are just busy, it’s hard not to worry. Did I offend them somehow? Is something really upsetting going on in their lives that they can’t tell me about? Worst of all, are we drifting apart? Are they ghosting me? Is this the end of our friendship? Am I unlikable and destined to go through life friendless and alone?

Okay, okay, let’s rein it in here. I am feeling lonely and adrift and the gloom of ceaseless rain seems like it’s here to stay but dwelling on it certainly isn’t helping, so I am going to change the subject.

Have you ever bitten your nails? Carla does, and it’s to the point that I cannot look at her fingers without every molecule of my body cringing. I worry she’s permanently disfiguring her fingers. Or that it’s just a matter of time before she gets some horrific bacterial infection and goes into septic shock or loses her hands. I haven’t heard a lot of stories about nail-biting-related amputations (and nor do I want to, thank you!!!!) (must… resist… googling…) but my mind always goes to the worst possible outcome.

I talked to her pediatrician, and he was pretty blasé about it; he recommended touching her hand gently every time I notice it. That was it. That’s all well and good if she bites her nails while I’m sitting next to her, or if she’s sitting on my lap while I’m reading to her. But what if she’s in the next room? What if she’s in the back seat of the car? What if she’s at school? The “knock it off, Carla!” and “stop biting your nails, Carla!” yelled across the room/car method is not a good deterrent, that’s for sure.

We tried putting special tape on each of her fingers, creating a physical barrier between her teeth and her nails. The tape stayed on for approximately three minutes and then came off.

We suggested bandaids instead, but Carla has a severe phobia of bandaids (I’m not kidding), and just trying to convince her to let us put one on a single one of her fingers was traumatic enough that we gave up.

We bought some of that nail biting polish that tastes horrible, and tried that. It did not work. She still bites her nails.

We tried bribing her with pretty nail polish and with those cute nail stickers — the ones that have unicorns, mermaids, flowers, or animal faces that you can stick directly on your fingernails. But her nails are so bitten that the stickers don’t fit on them, and so far the bribe hasn’t been enticing enough to keep her from biting.

So now I am trying the Ignoring It method.

My husband used to bite his nails, until quite recently. He finally just quit cold turkey. I have no idea how. My mother and father-in-law both used to bite their nails, and they managed to quit. So there’s hope.

And I used to bite mine – still do, if I’m being honest. At some point in high school or college, I stopped biting them compulsively. But anytime they get so long that they peel or crack, I bite them. And I cannot wear nail polish because the instant it chips, I peel it off with my teeth (I know, GROSS and probably poisonous) (In my youth, I used to wear Sally Hansen Hard As Nails clear nail polish just so I could peel it off with my teeth. Kids are weird, man.) and then bite my nails. Sigh.

So maybe it’s genetic. And maybe she will eventually get over it (like her father and grandparents have) or learn to manage it (like I have). But sheesh. It is so awful.

Well, at least she doesn’t bite her toenails. I suppose I should be thankful for THAT.

I had no idea that one of my biggest side hustles as a mom would be trying to find a babysitter. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone – especially if you have nearby relatives who are happy to take a kiddo for a few hours – but man it has been true for me: I spend a ton of energy trying to find and keep babysitters.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to feel comfortable leaving Carla with a sitter AT ALL. Our first regular sitter lived down the street. She’d just graduated college, she had a bunch of siblings and a history of taking care of kids in the neighborhood. Plus, she was a former lifeguard so I knew she was a) CPR certified and b) schooled in handling emergencies.

At one point, she was always busy when I asked her to watch Carla, so I stopped asking. (Who knows – maybe she really wasbusy. But if she was just uneasy telling me she no longer wanted to babysit, I wanted to take the hint.) That was a sad loss.

I tried one of those websites where you can find a sitter… but I have to be honest. I freaked me out. Too many options, and too much potential risk, I guess? I know many people have used those sites with great success. But it’s not my thing.

A neighbor mentioned that her high school son would be interested in sitting for Carla. But… Carla is scared of him for some reason. Maybe not scared, but totally apprehensive at the idea of having him watch her. So that’s off the table. (And, I’m sure, so is asking his older sister; talk about insulting!)

Finally, we found a sitter who worked at Carla’s old daycare. Again, I was delighted! She and Carla knew and liked each other. She’d been vetted by a place whose very business was taking care of kids. Plus, I just liked her. But she moved out of state. Before she left, she recommended one of her former colleagues from the daycare, who was also a great find. But then she had a baby and I never heard from her again.

Just a year ago, I felt flush with an abundance of sitters. Carla’s swim instructor was happy to babysit. And one day when she was unavailable, she recommended a friend who is a speech pathologist and works with high-needs kids. We met her and she was excellent. So that’s TWO sitters to call on if we need it. But they are both really expensive, which is a factor.

So when Carla literally picked up a sitter at camp this summer, I was over the moon. (I showed up in the car line on the last day of camp and Carla dragged this young woman over, and the young woman said, “Hi! Can I give you my number so I can babysit Carla sometimes?” Um. YES.) She was Carla’s swim coach at camp. She was a high school student, so she commands a lower fee than the two adult professionals we’d been using. And she was wonderful. Full of energy and obviously deemed capable of wrangling a bunch of five year olds – in the water, no less – by Carla’s school. We had her over to watch Carla and Carla had a blast and keeps asking when she can come over again.

My husband and I haven’t been on a date in MONTHS, so I am ready for one. And I want to sign up for this Sur la Table class so I can cross it off my to-do list. So I texted the sitter… and she hasn’t responded. I am going to give it until this weekend to follow up (she’s in class during the week, obviously), but I am worried about how best to contact her. I could email her… but do kids these days email? Or I could call her… but do kids these days use the phone? (I doubt it. I don’t use the phone and I’m a billion.) Probably I’ll just text her one more time and then if she doesn’t respond I will begin the grieving process. Because I don’t want to badger her.

Did I ever tell you about the horrible babysitting experience I had in grad school? I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here. As with most of my past (a phrase that makes my earlier years sound unnecessarily mysterious; they were not), the incident is kind of fuzzy. I have a truly dreadful memory. But the broad strokes and the pervasive dread have stuck with me.

I had a professor that I loved. He taught a class on my all-time favorite author, and we spent the semester reading books I loved and delving into the author’s craft and I loved every minute of it. Much of the reason I loved it was the professor, too. He was engaging and smart and he seemed to value my contributions – slim though they were; I once got an A- in a class I otherwise excelled at simply because I didn’t speak up enough – and I really liked him.

One day, he asked if I would babysit his two young kids. I can’t remember if he put the request out to the class or if he asked me specifically. But I said yes and gave him my cell number so he could send me details. I sat for the kids one time and it was… rough. I’m not much of a kid person as it is; I don’t really know why I said yes in the first place. I have a very blurry recollection that maybe the professor was in a bind and I said yes reluctantly just to help him out. I’m pretty sure I told him right then that it was a once-in-a-while deal, that he should not count on me as a regular sitter. But maybe that’s one of the tricks your mind plays on you, after the fact, filling in what youshould have done. Maybe I was eager to help out, at the time.

So I sat for the kids and then I was done. Once was enough. Again, I don’t have anything specific to hang that reasoning on. Maybe the kids were unruly or mean or fought a lot or cried a lot. Maybe I felt overwhelmed or realized, yeah, I don’t like kids. Maybe the parents were late coming home or I felt uncomfortable in their house. I have no idea.

But he asked me again and I said no, I couldn’t do it – blaming it on some other commitment, feeling horrible for leaving him in the lurch.

(A little part of me can empathize with him, now that I’m well-versed in trying to find a sitter for my own child. You find someone you like, and you want that person to be Your Person Forever. When you have no other options, you might be a little more willing to be annoying in pursuit of getting what you want.)

And then he called me again, to ask me to babysit. And I declined again. And then he asked me again. Did I go back and sit for the younger kid, one more time? I think maybe I did, but maybe I wanted so badly to say yes and stop the badgering that I invented that memory. In any case, he called again. And again. I stopped answering my phone when he called. I felt guilty about not wanting to help, and uncomfortable about lying about my other commitments, and awkward about having to see him in class.

And then, in class, he started telling us stuff that struck me as really inappropriate. Stuff that maybe you shouldn’t share with your students. But it sounded like he and his family were going through a really rough time – my memories here are more specific, but I don’t want to share the details because a) they aren’t mine and b) if I ammisremembering, that makes sharing them even worse; suffice it to say it was really, really disquieting stuff – and so I can understand that he might have been so consumed by what was going on that he lost his sense of judgment about what he should and shouldn’t share. Or hey, maybe it was perfectly reasonable for him to tell us what he was going through, and my particular high-boundary personality coupled with my strained relationship with him is what made it seem out of line.

He would talk about these things they were going through, and how desperate he and his wife were to figure them out, and how they had all this time they had to spend away from the one kid while they were struggling to help the other kid.

In any event, it made me feel awful. Sad for him and his family. But also like he was guilt tripping me about not babysitting for them. In front of the whole class. He and his wife neededsomeone to help them out. The younger kid neededsomeone to be there for them, while her family’s lives were in a tumult. And I couldn’t even be bothered to babysit???

I realize that a lot of this is my own personal interpretation. And you weren’t there, and you aren’t getting his side of the story. But I hope you believe me when I tell you I felt a tremendous amount of pressure. And I felt I couldn’t do anything about it, either. I couldn’t drop out of the class – it was too far along in the semester by that time. I didn’t feel that couldn’t go to anyone in the department, because it’s such a small department and he had such standing in it that I didn’t think anyone would believe me that it had become a bigger issue than a stupid babysitting request. I didn’t even tell my closest grad school friend about it, because I was afraid she’d say something and I’d get blackballed by the department.

Writing it out even now, it seems ridiculous. How could an entire semester be ruined for me because someone wanted me to babysit his kids and I didn’t want to? And of course, I’ve lost (or blocked) the details so I can’t lay it out for you to fully examine. Instead, you get these shards and fragments. How can I expect you to form a clear enough picture that you understand?

Well. This is all I’ve got.

And it did ruin the semester for me. Worse, I haven’t picked up a book by my once-favorite author since.

Like I said, I do have some empathy for him. Now. After the passage of many years has softened the anxiety and discomfort I felt at the time. And knowing what I do about the singular desperation a parent feels in the face of losing a perfectly good babysitter.

Procrastination list

Usually when I go to the trouble of writing things down on actual paper, I have an easier time of getting them done. Something about the physical act of crossing things out. Something about having a slip of paper on my table/counter/desk rather than easily-ignorable in an email or on my phone. Plus, by the time things are so dire I need to write them down in list form, I usually Mean Business. And I bullet the items and then whittle the list down until it’s merely a pile of strike-throughs.

Well, my current to-do list is resisting whittling. I have had it for… three weeks, now? And I have managed to cross off a measly THREE and 6/7 items. And one of those three is “laundry” but, while I have done an altogether excessive amount of laundry in the past few weeks, that it is DONE is a little bit of a fib, because I still have a pile of laundry on my closet floor, waiting to be put into the washer; a washer full of clean towels to put into the dryer; and a laundry bin full of clean clothing to fold and put away. SIGH.

Okay, there, I moved the towels into the dryer. Baby steps.

My To-Do list – well, I guess this is my procrastination list, now. Because all I see when I look at the list are Things I Do Not Want to Do for Completely Valid and Justifiable Reasons.

My Procrastination List stayed on my kitchen island for a very long time and I HATE having things on my kitchen island. That island is for preparing meals and eating those meals, nothing else. So I looked at it DAILY for a long time, hating it and its very presence but doing little to relieve myself of the need to have it there. And then it fell into the junk drawer (which I finally cleaned, although that was not on the list at ALL) and I saw it less often but still regularly, every time I needed some scotch tape or a pen or a rubber band. And then I used it as scratch paper to help Carla write some things. And then it disappeared for awhile until I spotted it again this morning. And now I have resurfaced it, because despite the fact that I am not DOING the things on the list, they still need to be done.

Let’s take a peek, shall we?

  1. Order contacts

Top of the list is ordering new contact lenses. I finally got a new eye doctor and went to see her, and she set me up with a trial pack of new lenses. Which I then immediately hated. She’d given me her business card and had told me to call the number listed to order my contacts, after I’d tried them. She didn’t mention what to do if I tried them and hated them, and I didn’t ask; we both assumed I would love them, I guess. Anyway, the card lists an “appointment scheduling” phone number and a “contact lens ordering” number. Which do I call??? I don’t need an appointment, but maybe if I called that number I could leave a message for the doctor, asking if she could get me a sample of a different kind of contact? But maybe I should call the contact line instead, because they are accustomed to dealing with the specific item I am in need of, and should be best positioned to help? But then again, what if the contact line people are equipped to put in an order only, and do nothing else? ARGH! So here I sit, dithering and refusing to call. Fortunately, I have a nice stockpile of the OLD contact lenses I have and hate, so I’m all set as far as seeing goes.

2, 4, & 13. Buy & change air filter, put up rack in laundry room, grill???

(I apologize sincerely for the lack of parallelism in the header of this list item. Especially because “grill” is also a verb. It’s very confusing. But I wanted to group them together for reasons that will soon become clear.)

Some of the things on this list are probably ludicrous; they’ve been needing doing for so long, it was simply some fit of hyper-industriousness that caused me to put them on the list in the first place. That’s the main problem with to-do lists in general, right? You usually don’t have as much of an issue with taking care of the URGENT stuff. It’s really the stuff that can languish for a while that needs explicit calling out. I mean, the little sticker on our air filter says we last changed in 2013, so clearly a few more months won’t hurt. (REALLY?!?! 2013?!?! The current air filter is as old as my KINDERGARTENER? That is disgusting. I don’t believe it, for one thing; I’d say that we simply didn’t change the sticker the last time we changed it, because that totally sounds like an oversight we would make. But how do I know for sure? The sticker says, very plainly, in my husband’s writing, that we changed it in 2013.) The laundry rack thing is similarly old and not particularly urgent; we got a new washer and dryer earlier this summer and had to remove the little shelf that was sitting on the floor in the laundry room, so we bought a hanging rack to replace it. We have not hung the rack yet, and I’m beginning to suspect we may never do so. Ditto the grill, which has been broken since LAST FALL and swells me up with such rage that I will have to write about it later.

  1. Halloween costumes

This item fills me with dread. We have, for the first time ever, been invited to a Halloween party and are expected to dress up. My husband does not want to dress up. But I don’t want to show up and be the only ones without a costume. So I have been spinning in terrified circles for WEEKS trying to come up with The Perfect No-Effort Costume that will allow us to fit in no matter what. The party is THIS WEEKEND so the time for wheel spinning has come to an end and I still have nothing to show for it. (I realize that I have shifted metaphors somewhere along the way but I am too panicked to fix it.)

  1. Mail boxes

I have had boxes sitting in my office for MONTHS that need to go to various people. But they aren’t technically urgent – they aren’t birthday gifts or anything, they aren’t time sensitive; it’s more along the lines of me saying I would send you a T-shirt you liked and then not doing it – so there they sit. And, of course, the longer they sit, the more I fret about them; are the intended recipients annoyed that it’s taking so long? Will they think poorly of me once they finally, presumably, receive them? Have they already written me off as a lost cause and not worthy of speaking to? It’s so bad that I haven’t even SPOKEN to one recipient in months because I am so embarrassed it is taking me so long to mail her this silly item. Two weeks ago, I moved one of the boxes into the kitchen, near the door, to help move it on to the post office more quickly. That has not worked but has increased my general dissatisfaction with a) my own lack of follow-through and b) the cluttered state of my kitchen.

This also reminds me that I need to mail a housewarming gift to a friend who bought her first house. In July. SIGH. Why am I like this?????

  1. Set up cooking class + sitter

We received – as a gift for our anniversary (in DECEMBER) (of 2017 I wish I could all-caps numbers) – a gift certificate to take a cooking class at Sur la Table. We’ve done one of those classes before and it was great fun; I have no idea why we haven’t scheduled this one yet. (Well, I have some idea; it’s the same reason that I only finally this past April used a pedicure gift certificate that I got as a baby shower gift in 2013.) Anyway, I have at the very least chosen the class we want to attend and texted the babysitter and am now waiting anxiously for her to respond; perhaps she doesn’t know how gratifying it would be to cross another item off this list or she would have gotten back to me more quickly.

  1. Presents for bdays

Carla has been invited to a LOT of Classmate Birthday Parties this fall. So I have been buying gifts left and right. I am down to needing ONE gift (of the upcoming birthdays I know about; but we’re into December already for three of the kids, so I feel pretty safe) and I already have that child’s card, so I feel good about the status of this item.

  1. Cards

For the aforementioned children, plus my brother. DONE.

  1. Fill out details for TB

This is a detailed financial overview for a prospective financial advisor. It asks a bunch of questions about retirement and money fears that either a) I’ve never thought about with any purpose or b) send me into a frenzy of “life is short and then it ends” pessimism. So I’ve been avoiding it. Plus, it requires information from me and my husband, so we have to find simultaneous time to go through it together.

  1. Call about ice maker

Our refrigerator’s ice maker has been on the fritz for several years, and finally, over the summer, gave up producing anything besides a horrific grinding noise. So I have to figure out how to get it fixed. There’s nothing in the manual about how to fix it. My best bet is to call the appliance store where we bought it and see if they know who I can call to look at it. But that’s a guaranteed TWO phone calls about something I don’t know how to describe (aside from “horrific grinding” and “no ice”). So it remains on the list.

  1. Air filter cleaning?

By the way, this should say “air DUCT cleaning” but whatever. Doesn’t matter as long as I know what it means, right? After the horrifying discovery that we may not have replaced our furnace air filter in five years, I started feeling like maybe we should do MORE to purify the air we breathe. I happened to stop at a light behind a truck that was advertising air duct cleaning, which got me thinking that maybe we should do that. (It’s a service I didn’t know existed.) I went so far as to research and email three different companies that offer this service and get estimates from two of them via the phone. But I have not yet scheduled anything.

  1. Laundry

Well. We know where this stands. It’s an ongoing thing. It only made the list because it had gotten out of control. Now it is back to manageable status so I guess crossing it off is the right thing to do.

  1. New sneakers

I need to get new sneakers for Carla. But I hate buying shoes for her, because a) they are expensive, b) they will need replacing in about five minutes, and c) she will insist she likes a pair of shoes… and then never wear them. And I don’t know about you, but getting her out the door and to school on time is already so fraught that I am not going to add “forcing her to wear shoes she doesn’t want to wear” to the mix. No thank you. But now we’re getting to the point where she needs shoes for gym and the shoes I bought her in May are too tight and I can’t find any good sales and BLARGH. I just need to bite the bullet and get her ANY PAIR, but I keep looking online and then going back through a, b, and c, and not buying anything.

  1. Teacher appreciation

The PTA asked parents to volunteer to bring snacks for Teacher Appreciation week; I signed up and already bought the item I signed up for AND already delivered it to the school. BOO YA ending on a high note.

 

Okay, the whole point of this post is to shame myself into tackling SOMETHING. What shall it be? What… shall it be?

UPDATE: Per the magic of posting one’s failings on the Internet, I did, in fact, pursue a few of these items.

1. I called the place where we got our refrigerator and asked for a recommendation for an appliance repair person. However, when I subsequently googled the appliance repair company they suggested, I noticed they have TERRIBLE reviews. So I think I need to either a) find my own appliance repair company or b) call the fridge place back and ask for an alternate recommendation. So I am back at square one with this one.

2. I called the appointment-making line for my eye doctor and explained to the receptionist what I needed. I apologized profusely for calling her, when I KNEW she was an appointment making person, and she was very nice about it but also very clear that I had called the wrong number. She connected me to someone with whom I left a message for my eye doctor; whoever THAT was said I might need to come in and get refitted for contact lenses which fills me with despair. I JUST had an appointment, and I don’t see why those measurements would have suddenly disappeared just because I don’t like the brand of lenses she had me try. Can’t she just… give me another type of lenses to try? Without having to make a separate appointment and come in for what surely will NOT be covered by insurance? But I suppose we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

3. I put my brother’s birthday card in the mail. That wasn’t one of the packages I mentioned above, but it’s something.

4. I am taking Carla to a department store TODAY after school to fit her for new shoes, and then if they aren’t horrendously expensive, I will buy some right then and there.

Man, this was a LOT of work and I don’t think I can even cross a SINGLE THING off of my list. BLARGH.

Because I firmly believe that my mother and I cannot possibly be the only two people in the world who are the way we are, I am going to make a Vast Generalization about appetizer serving.

There are two kinds of people: The people who put out the entire bag of chips, and the people who put out half of the bag and then refill as necessary.

The people who put out the whole wedge of cheese, and the people who cut a wedge of Brie in half, and put out half and put the other half in the fridge.

The people who put out the whole jar of salsa, and the people who scoop half the jar of salsa into a smaller dish and put the rest in the fridge, adding more salsa from the fridge as the dish gets low.

And on and on.

The reason I am a Refill Person is twofold:

1.) I am germ-averse, and so I don’t like the idea of saving something that other people have been nibbling on. If it’s chips, I don’t want to re-bag a bunch of chips that people’s hands have been in contact with. If it’s dip, I don’t want to put away and then eat something that other people have been dipping (and possibly double-dipping) into.

2.) I don’t want to waste food. If I put the whole container of hummus out on the table and people nibble at it for a couple of hours, I am not going to want to put the rest of it back in the fridge for future consumption. First of all, see item 1 in this list. Secondly, it’s been out in the air, gathering bacteria and getting warm. Yuck. Extra yuck if it’s a mayonnaise/cream based dip. Or guacamole. Or cheese. If I put out only part of what I have to offer, I can always add more without the risk of having to throw away a large portion.

I acknowledge that there’s a disadvantage to being a Refill Person, which is that you need to be constantly vigilant that the chip bowl isn’t getting too empty. And you have to be keenly aware of the Eating Enthusiasm level of your guests – if it’s waning, you either let the bowl empty out, or you only put in a handful of new chips. If it’s still high, you can fill the bowl up to the tippety top again.

Okay, there’s a second disadvantage. In addition to the vigilance, you might end up spending a decent amount of time going back and forth to the kitchen/fridge to refill, which detracts not only from conversation with your guests (potentially a plus, I suppose, depending on the type of people you are entertaining) but (more importantly) from your own snacking.

Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!