Middle school: The purgatory of parenting

January is really the most un-wonderful time of the year.  The weather stinks, I’m still tired from the holidays, AND it’s that very awkward and terrible time when all of the Reese’s peanut butter trees are no longer in the store, but it’s too early for the Reese’s peanut butter eggs to come out.  I sat in the parking lot outside of a Five Below last week and wondered–where do all the trees go?  Because all of my local chocolate peanut butter tree selling retailers seemed like they had an abundant supply of them the week before Christmas.  Now there are none.  I can’t figure out the math on that.  Why no leftovers, Five Below?  You didn’t put them back in the stock room for next Christmas, did you?  ‘Cause that’s not fair.  I’m not sure how I will live until the retail stores decide it’s almost Easter.

Speaking of things I may not live through, it occurred to me just this week that in approximately 8 months, I will have two middle schoolers in my home.  TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLERS.  Can’t. Breathe. Must. Eat. Reese’s. Peanut. Butter. Chocolate. Trees.

I know some of you have younger kids, and aren’t there yet.  You are still in the thick of diapers and preschool and early morning wake up calls, and can’t imagine a day when you will sleep past 6 am on a weekend.  Or some of you more experienced parents are far enough away from it that you forget what it’s like, and the pain has dulled with time.  Some things are difficult to fully convey in words, but let me see if I can paint you a picture of these special, special years.

Having a middle schooler is like picking up your mail, casually opening it just like every other day, and then realizing that one of the envelopes had white powder with anthrax in it and now you have a huge crisis on your hands and also probably you are going to die.  And then 10 minutes later everything’s “fine” and the person who laced the envelope with anthrax is sitting on your couch with a headset on, happily playing a video game, while you continue working on your newest hobby which happens to be deep breathing and growing new grey hairs.

Having a middle schooler means that there are lots of tall-ish people with long limbs, big shoes, and questionable hygiene in your house, and you have to feed them pancakes a lot.  And they eat your pancakes but they don’t make eye contact with you.  And they wear a hood for extra protection indoors in case of leaking ceilings or splattering pancake syrup, I am assuming.

Having a middle schooler means that you are no longer funny.  You used to be very funny, maybe let’s say, just last year or the year before.   In fact, you used to be able to make certain people laugh hysterically just by playing peek-a-boo!  But now you’re not funny.  And every time you try to use any humor of any kind, someone in a hoodie yells, “STOP!”.

Having a middle schooler means that you question the very foundations of your education, as you stare mutely at your 7th-grader’s homework on algebraic expressions or some such, hoping to forestall the meltdown that will inevitably ensue should you be unable to not only figure out how to do it, but also figure out how to show your work using a simple 13 step process that, in your day, was a two step process.

Having a middle schooler means that you will sometimes have your sweet baby, who now weighs 100+ lbs instead of 10 lbs, come over to snuggle with you like a fully grown St. Bernard who thinks he is a lap dog.  And you love every second of it, even if his knee is in your spleen.  You don’t even care about your spleen right now, because you know that once the magic passes, your sweet, oversized baby will disappear underneath his hoodie for an indeterminate amount of time.

Having a middle schooler means that you have lots of toys, but no one plays with them.  But they also won’t let you get rid of them yet.  And they are unfortunately old enough that they notice when you try to sneak the toys out of the house to take to Goodwill.  Ah, how you miss the days when they didn’t have object permanence, or even those good times when you could trick them into thinking that if they couldn’t find a certain toy it was because they probably lost it, so maybe they should take better care of their stuff next time.

Having a middle schooler means that instead of dealing with diapers, field trips, potty training, preschool, and playdates, you now must face “crushes”, sex talks, friend drama, eye rolling, snarky comments, and poorly developed sarcasm skills.  You may really want to help them with this sarcasm piece since you know that you are so much better at it, but this is not advisable.

Having a middle schooler means that all important problems, questions, and/or feelings will absolutely need to be discussed at 9:30 PM, when you really thought you were crossing the finish line for the day.

Having a middle schooler means that your child will come home and tell you the things that happened at school, and you realize you have to relive all of the horrible things that happened to you in middle school.  Except now it’s worse, because it is happening to your tall-ish, constantly hungry, hoodie-clad baby.

Having a middle schooler means that you kind of want to call your mom and dad to complain, but you don’t because you’re pretty sure that they will laugh maniacally at you.

Having a middle schooler means that all of the above can happen to you in the span of one day, and just when you feel completely beaten down, you still get to be the soft place to land.

Having a middle schooler means that as bad as it seems for you, you know it’s worse for them.

Having a middle schooler means that you will need lots of Reese’s chocolate peanut butter trees.

 

 

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Goals

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I have a few goals for the summer.  I tried not to make too many, so as not to set myself up for failure.  My main goal this summer is to be more present.  Everyone seems to talk about the joy, peace, and fulfillment that comes from being present–my yoga teacher, the Dalai Lama, Oprah.  It sounded like a noble goal.  So I said to myself, “Self, let’s spend less time on the smartphone, and less with the obsessive email and Facebook checking.  Let us notice our surroundings.  Let us be in the moment.  Let us soak up this beautiful summer with our beautiful family.”  Apparently when I talk to myself it is in the first person plural.

Being present in the moment is not natural for me.  I live in this whole other world in my head.  Unfortunately it is not a lively, creative, inner world.  I am not like Anne of Green Gables.  I have heard the description of a woman’s mind being like a browser with  dozens of tabs open, and this is exactly how I would describe it.  An endless stream of consciousness that would bore the average person to tears.  A rushing river of pragmatic thoughts.  Picture with me, if you will, me in my pajamas this morning with a thought bubble reflecting my current inner dialogue:

My head hurts.  Why do I always get so many headaches?  Maybe it’s a brain tumor.  No, I had an MRI two years ago, they would have seen it.  I’ll just go grab some ibuprofen.  Do I have to take chicken out of the freezer for dinner?  Where’s Leah?  Has she gone over her screen time limit?  When was the last time she pooped?  Should I send that medicine to overnight camp with her so she doesn’t get backed up?  I would have to get the doctor to sign the stupid form–I don’t have time for that.  Why can’t I sign the form, for heaven’s sake?  Crap, we’re out of trash bags.  I was just at the store yesterday.  Why do I always forget one thing?  Wait–did we miss garbage day?  Oh, we’re ok, it’s delayed a day because of the holiday.  Maybe we should hire an exterminator to spray for bees.  There have been so many wasps around the pool this year.  I bet that’s not cheap.  We have to have the driveway sealed too.  Maybe I should go to yoga today to see if that helps my headache.  Wait, wasn’t I going to go grab some ibuprofen?   

You get the idea.

So being present means what, exactly?  That I flick some kind of inner switch that turns off the cacophony in my brain?   Where is that switch located?  My yoga teacher suggested that I take notice of each thought as it comes, without judgement, and just let it float away like a bubble.  So now I have this internal bubble machine cranking out rapid fire bubbles, which doesn’t really help me be to be present, but instead gives me the vague impression of a bathtub overflowing after your toddler empties out an entire bottle of Mr. Bubble.

So, here are a few real life examples of what being present looks like in my life. A few weeks ago I took the kids to church in the morning.  The hubby was out of town so it was just the three of us on a rainy, dreary Sunday morning.  When we were leaving the kids asked me to pull up the car, since it was raining and we only had one umbrella.  So I walked out to the car, plugged in my phone, quickly checked my email and messages, fired up the windshield wipers, and buckled my seat belt.  As I was pulling out of the parking lot onto the street, I thought, “Wow, the kids are pretty quiet this morning,” and stole a glance in the rearview mirror.  And…. I had forgotten my children.  Apparently I had driven right past them, while they watched in confusion as their mother abandoned them at a house of worship.  It’s OK though, because I turned around and got them.  They won’t need therapy for that, right?  It will probably help them to straighten up and fly right.

Then last week I went to yoga on the lake with my friend Mary.  She just finished yoga instructor school, so she is extremely present.  I felt the sunshine on my downward dog, and listened to the waves as they lapped gently against the dock.  I set my drishti on a beautiful, majestic tree as my bubble machine released all thoughts of trash bags and driveway sealing.  After we finished, Mary and I agreed to meet at a little cafe for an iced tea so we could catch up.  I got in my car and, lo and behold, my gas light was on.  Why don’t I ever notice that I’m low on gas until my gas light comes on?  I don’t know why.  Because I’m an oblivious airhead, apparently.  So my gas light is on, and I’m in an unfamiliar part of town, and, oh–look at that, I forgot my wallet.  Hmmm.  What a pickle I have gotten myself into, once again.  So I find a gas station nearby, hoping I can pay wth the app on my phone, but no, the gas station I found doesn’t do that.  There’s another gas station several miles away, but at this point the gas light has been on for a while and I don’t know how far I can make it.  So I drive toward the next gas station in a panicky state (which really killed my yoga buzz, by the way), praying that they will let me pay with my phone and that I won’t run out of gas on the way there.  (Don’t worry, mom, I made it and I was able to pay with my phone!). Mary sat in the cafe, patiently waiting for me, probably being extremely present as she received my anxious texts about my latest predicament.  She was not surprised, I am sure.  And after I got there, she bought me an iced tea.  Because I forgot my wallet.

So in regard to my goal of being more present, it’s going pretty well, as you can see.  Today I said to myself, “Self, perhaps we should lower our expectations about being present, and work on just keeping the car filled with gas.”

My new summer goal is to keep the car filled with gas.

P.S.-I wrote this post this morning, and then this afternoon I went to the library, and instead of discarding my snack wrapper I threw my keys in the trash. Then of course I couldn’t find my keys, so my daughter and I, along with three concerned librarians, searched high and low until I remembered that there was a big garbage can at the entrance to the library and that sometimes I throw important things away by accident.

Screaming Into My Pillow’s comprehensive guide to comfortable pants

I think we really need to talk about something.  It is a long overdue conversation.  We need to talk about pants.  There are more serious things going on in the world, I agree. But I have a lot of feelings and thoughts about pants, and I think we need to get some of these things out in the open.

Pants.  Ah, pants.  Those belly pinching leg prisons.  Pants are not my friend.  And yet, they are so necessary for warmth, coverage, and the health of our society.  I mean, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where people walked around with no pants.  Please do not make any such inference.

But, seriously–how many of us spend the better part of our days thinking about how uncomfortable and frustrating our pants are?  Most of the time they are tight in all the wrong places, even though you thought they fit perfectly when you tried them on in the store dressing room with the flattering lights and the mirrors that made you look two sizes smaller than you really are.  Sometimes they stretch out and sag in the butt or the knees by midday, and you spend the rest of the afternoon hiking them up to avoid a plumber-bummer situation. Quite commonly, they start out feeling fine in the morning, but then by the afternoon it becomes clear that your pants either have room for your body or your lunch, but not both.

Is it me, or have dress pants become so complicated?  Some of them have a zipper, a series of buttons, and then two or three hooks over top of the buttons.  And what’s up with that clear button that you have to fasten on the inside before you move on to the outside buttons?  Is it a modern day chastity belt? Is it some kind of backup plan to hold your pants up in case the three outer hooks and two outer buttons experience some kind of equipment failure? I personally have left that particular button undone many a time and I did not suffer any noticeable consequences.  In addition to the fact that it leaves a semi-permanent button imprint on my belly, it just seems superfluous.  And it’s very labor intensive, especially if you are striving to maintain proper hydration.  I went through this really embarrassing phase where I kept leaving my fly down at work, because by the time I fastened the inside button, two outside buttons, and three hooks, I had forgotten all about the zipper.  I just felt like I was done at that point.

My current job affords me the opportunity to wear scrubs every day if I want to.  If I want to?  Well, let me think about this for a second.  I can either wear dress pants that require hemming, dry cleaning, high heeled shoes, and a 4 minute re-fastening procedure every time I go to the bathroom, or I can wear pants that are basically work pajamas.  Not a hard decision.

On the positive side, I think one of the best things that has happened to pants is the mainstreaming of the legging.  Leggings are everywhere.  They are taking over!  You can get them in colors and patterns.  You can dress them up or down.  You can wear them with a dress or a sweater or a blouse, with flats or boots or slip-on sneakers.  When I was a kid, leggings were for dance class or worn as an extra layer under your “real” pants in frigid weather.  No more!  I know some would argue from various directions that leggings aren’t pants.  These are not my people.

However, I do believe that one should follow certain guidelines in order to successfully wear LAP (leggings as pants).  If you are over the age of 13, wear a long top.  Please make sure it covers your crotch and preferably most of your booty.  I don’t have a problem with people who think they have a nice butt trying to show it off, but sometimes you just don’t really know what’s going on back there.  You can’t see what the rest of us see.  We don’t want to see your panty lines or the pattern on your underwear.  We most certainly do not want to see your camel toe.  These are relatively easy guidelines to follow, given the fact that tunics and long, flowy tops are all the rage.  Please follow them, for the sake of your fellow citizens who have to walk behind you in the grocery store.   If you are indeed going to the gym, you may disregard the guidelines about wearing a long top and covering your butt.  However, continue to avoid camel-toe at all costs.  P.S.–mom and dad, if you’re reading this, DO NOT GOOGLE camel toe.  Trust me.

While we are on the subject of the gym, let’s discuss the athleisure trend. Athleisure is a way that we can wear sweats around the town and still look presentable–super cute, even.  Your old ripped sweats with the hole in the butt from college say to the world “I just rolled out of bed because I was up all night with my vomiting child who now needs Pedialyte, so here I am in the grocery store at 6 AM.”  And by all means, if you were up with your vomiting child all night and have to go out for Pedialyte, wear those crappy sweats.  Or if you’re going to Walmart on a random Tuesday. Same/same.  In comparison, your sporty space-dye joggers and fun long sleeved hoodie with those thumbhole thingies that look adorable but are such a pain for people who wash their hands a lot say, “I can be cute AND comfortable, and now I’m going to Target.”

While athleisure is both comfortable and cute, and LAP are a huge leap forward for womankind, nothing beats pajama pants.  I like to go right from my scrubs/work pajamas to my sleep pajamas, while strategically avoiding any weeknight activities that may require me to wear anything nicer that a pair of sporty joggers.  I mean, after I have worked all day, there is no greater reward than changing into my jammies and some soft, fuzzy socks.  I get very grumpy when this reward gets delayed by things like band concerts, parent-teacher conferences, dance class, or any number of pajama pant delaying activities.

Alright, let’s talk about jeans.  Jeans have come a long way since the pair of Buffalo jeans I had in ninth grade with the leather button fly and pleats.  And thank the Lord that the low-rise trend appears to have mostly run its course.  It seems that the people who make denim have recently gotten the memo from women that we want to look like we’re wearing jeans, without feeling like we’re wearing jeans.  Because let’s face it, jeans are not very comfortable unless they’re doctored up with all kinds of stretchy fabrics.  I’m not talking about 98% cotton and 2% spandex.  If this is the best your jeans can do, they are underperforming in the comfort arena.  Especially once skinny jeans came on the scene, this sort of fabric scenario became completely inadequate.  You need to look for words on the label like elastane, modal, and sometimes even words that are completely made up but someone trademarked them to make them look legit.  A good pair of very stretchy jeggings can take you to many a social outing feeling stylish and relatively comfortable until such time that you can politely excuse yourself and sneak home to get in your pajamas.

I realize that I have just thrown a lot of information at you.   I am very invested in helping all of us be more comfortable and avoiding constrictive waistbands.  So for your convenience, I have summarized my thoughts into this helpful flowchart below.

CLICK HERE TO SEE ENLARGED IMAGE

Microsoft Word - pants infographic.docx

That is all for today.  Until next time:  Stay comfortable, my friends.

All Aboard the Hot Mess Express

I got the best mug for Christmas this year.

Normally I am staunchly opposed to the gifting of mugs, on account of the fact that my husband used to be a teacher, and the yearly influx of mugs was just overwhelming.  Mugs with snowmen on them, mugs filled with candy, insulated travel mugs, mugs reading “#1 teacher”, personalized mugs…. So. Many. Mugs. The first year when he was just starting out we happily accepted all of the mugs like the dirt-poor, just out of college, living in an apartment the size of a shoe box twenty two year olds we were.  But by his tenth year teaching?  Let’s just say, mugs made me cry.  (Just do the math—if you get an average of 6-8 mugs a year times 10 years teaching = WHERE DO I PUT ALL THE MUGS???)

But I digress.  I got this mug here from the white elephant gift exchange we had at work.

The mug reads “All Aboard the Hot Mess Express”

 

Isn’t it awesome?  I saw it and I just knew we were meant for each other.

This was one of those gift exchanges where you could either take a new present from the pile, or steal from someone else.  I stole this one from Eileen who, when I approached her and said “I will take that, thank you very much”, replied “Yeah, I figured”.

Wait, what?  She figured that I would take the “hot mess” mug?  I don’t know what that means.

Maybe she knows about that time that I went to work wearing two different high heeled boots, one black and one brown.  I mean, they looked quite similar in style, and the heel was almost the same height.  I thought I was just a little off balance from fatigue, quite honestly.  I had a three month old baby and a two year old at the time that I had to drop off at the sitter before work, so I think maybe I get a pass on this one.  I decided to deal with the faux pas by just addressing the elephant in the room right at the outset.  The whole day, I just walked into each exam room and said, “Hi! I’m Tracy, one of the nurse practitioners.  I’m wearing two different shoes today because getting dressed is hard for me.  What brings you in today?”  Also during this very fragile and sleepless time in my life I showed up at the gym (multiple times) with my shirt on either inside out, backward, or both.  Add to that the time I worked about 4 hours–a half day!– with my sweater on inside out before a medical assistant kindly said, “Hey, I’m not sure if you know this, but your sweater is inside out”.  You’re not sure if I know?  Do people wear their sweaters inside out on purpose? 

There was also a period of time about a year ago when I spent at least two weeks mismatching my pants and tops.  I had two pairs of pants in the same style, one black and one navy.  Despite the fact that I have no history of color blindness, I would get to  work and notice that I had on the navy pants instead of the black pants with my black shoes, or vice versa.  This sort of thing went on for almost two weeks, despite my efforts to carefully check the color of my pants before heading out the door.  I finally gave up and declared, “THAT’S IT!  I WILL NO LONGER WEAR PANTS.”  I wore skirts and dresses exclusively for about a month after that.  Pants can suck it.

Then there was the time I was eating an apple in my car.  It was an Empire apple.  They are so yummy, aren’t they?  New York State’s finest.  Anyhow, after eating the apple in my car, I parked and went around to a few places to do some errands.  I went to at least three places–a few quick in-and-outs at some stores, the bank, etc.  At my last stop, I was chatting with this nice lady who was helping me out at the counter.  I conversed with her for at least 3 full minutes before she said, “I just need to tell you–you have a little sticker on your chin.”  I reached my hand up to my chin and, sure enough, there was the little oval produce sticker, stuck to my chin, from the apple I ate one hour and three errands ago.  I don’t eat apples anymore.

ALSO, there was this time at work when I had to do a trach tube change on one of our medically fragile kids.  Her mom was, legitimately, a real stickler about germs, because one of the easiest places for a medically fragile kid to get sick is in a doctor’s office or a hospital (unfortunate, but true!)  So she watched everyone wash their hands and made sure everything was tip-top.  We set up the drape and got the supplies all ready, and we were just about to change the trach tube when the mom said, “What’s that on the drape?”  Strangely, a large chocolate chip, one of those oversized ones, was sitting on the drape overlying the patient’s chest.  “It looks like a chocolate chip”, said my very wise and observant physician colleague.  “That is so weird,” I said, “how did that get there?”  We all looked at one another, completely confused and befuddled at this unexplainable phenomenon, as mysterious as a crop circle.  The chocolate chip didn’t seem to be too much of an infectious threat (since it was a clean procedure, not a sterile one) so we removed it and carried on.  When we got out of the room, I confessed to the doctor that my NP colleague kept a jar of chocolate chips in our office, and almost every day after lunch I grabbed a handful from the jar as a little treat.  Well, on this particular day, I was wearing an infinity scarf.  And….well, the chocolate chip kinda sorta fell out of my scarf while we were getting everything ready.  It must have dropped into my scarf when I tossed the chocolate into my mouth, and then fell out when I was getting the supplies ready.  We died.

There is more.  Oh, so much more.  But we will have to save some stories for another day.

So, yes Eileen, I stole the mug from you for a very good reason.  I have earned it.  I am the conductor of the Hot Mess Express.  All Aboard!  Choo choo!!

 

Cupcake shame

Let me tell you a little story about my childhood.

In order to fully appreciate this story, you have to understand a little about what six year-old Tracy was like.


Six year-old Tracy was the new kid at St. Joseph’s Catholic School that year.  I had knee socks and pig-tails and really hairy legs because my dad is Indian, so I can’t help it, OK?  I was the kid whose hand would shoot up in the air immediately after the teacher asked a question, my fingers waving and twitching, my bottom halfway off the seat, levitating  from the energy of knowing the exact right answer before anyone else.  Often the teacher didn’t call on me, which was weird, because while I was waving my hand in the air I would say things like “ooh ooh ooohhh, meeeee” to let her know I would make it worth her while.  I don’t know what her problem was.  Anyhow, I also had a major sweet tooth, which has carried over into my adulthood and has also been genetically passed down to my daughter.** As an adult, I have been known to eat fudge for dinner. Being able to eat fudge for dinner has turned out to be one of the only good things about being an adult so far.

So when Jason Nelson stood up at the front of the classroom and said, “If anyone can tell me what this word spells, I will give you my cupcake”, my ears perked up.  Cupcake?  Spelling?  Two of my favorite things.  

Then he proceeded to spell the word:

A………..S…………S. *  

Never one to shy away from a challenge, I got to work sounding it out, just like the purple two-headed monster on Sesame Street taught me.  “A” made a sound like “apple”–I silently repeated the sound “a–a–a” in my head.  On to the next letter….I had to hurry!  I couldn’t let someone else win that cupcake!  It looked homemade too!  Luckily the letter “S” had recently been the letter of the day on Sesame Street, so I was well studied.  I silently made a hissing “s” sound in my head, and then quickly but efficiently started to scootch the two sounds together, sounding it out ever so carefully.

Aaaaaa………Ssssssss…….Sssssss

Aaa…..Sssss…..Ssssss

Aa….Ss….Ss

ASS!! ASS!! ASS!!  I jumped to my feet and exclaimed the word with great enthusiasm.  And the room went silent.  All eyes were on me, as I beamed from ear to ear and strutted up front to receive my cupcake.

But the temperature in the room had changed.  My classmates were staring at me, mouths agape, as I peeled the paper wrapper off the bottom of Jason Nelson’s cupcake.  It didn’t take too long to figure out that they were more shocked than awed, except I had no idea what I had done wrong.  All I knew was that I felt suddenly ashamed, which totally ruined the spontaneous spelling bee for me, not to mention putting a damper on my cupcake enjoyment.

I don’t remember how I learned the truth about my faux-pas.  And I’m sad to say it wasn’t my first experience with food shame, nor was it my last.  However, I have been able to do the psychological work necessary to push past this painful memory and boldly eat cupcakes without fear.  And sometimes I eat fudge for dinner.

 

*Where on earth were the teachers while this was happening, you ask?  It was 1981, we ate lunch in our classrooms because our school did not have a cafeteria, and there was one teacher who would make periodic rounds to all of the 1st-3rd grade classrooms while the other teachers smoked cigarettes in the teacher’s lounge, which meant that a bunch of 1st graders spent much of their 30 minute lunch unsupervised.  Ahhhh—the 80’s.  


**This is my daughter.  She inherited my sweet tooth but thankfully lives her life completely unencumbered, with ZERO cupcake shame.