Eating My Words

In case you’ve been following the saga of the social studies project, I have an update and it’s a doozie. If you want the back story, it’s here, here and here.

In the end, we all pitched in and worked together, and as I hoped, we all learned a little something along the way. I found G-Man needs less of my neurotic micromanagement; he’s ridiculously smart and independent, and he can shine just fine without me going all Great Santini on him. I really need to dial down the Type-A mom mode when it comes to him. Bear…now that’s another story…

On the other hand, G-Man and my husband learned that the project was still going to be a pile of work and effort, regardless who was directing. Eventually, I helped take the pictures, and provided guidance on putting together the backboard, and my husband conceded that he was glad for the help. Visual design just isn’t his forte and he runs in horror from glue guns.

So, what happened? Well, G-Man won first place in his category of Louisiana History at his school, and advanced to the regional competition, which encompassed all schools in the surrounding five parishes (that’s counties if you’re from anywhere but LA). I spent last week helping him rehearse his oral presentation (hence my barren blog), and after a too-long day at the regional competition, we received a very big surprise. G-Man won not only first place in his category, but also first place and best overall for all elementary school projects in the region. He will now advance to the state competition!

So, I guess the moral of the story, like all things in life, is that compromise and middle ground were the keys to success. I’ll try not to be so Attila the Hun, and the rest of these clowns will try not to act like I’m the meanest mom ever when a task takes more than five minutes of effort. And, I’m pretty sure my husband will refrain from armchair quarterbacking when it comes to anything school related, lest the responsibility be dumped in his lap yet again. We’ll call that a win-win.

School Project Wars—Turning Our House into the Hatfields and McCoys

I will eventually post my homemade Christmas gift round-up, but we still have family to see in the next couple of weeks, and I can’t spoil the surprises yet. In the meantime, I am engaged in a Mexican standoff with my husband and G-Man, and it will be interesting to see who prevails. To understand the meaning behind our good-natured feud, you first have to understand a little something about G-Man.

G-Man is an exceptionally smart kid, so much so that he almost has it too easy in life. 99% of the time, G-Man brings home no homework, because he finishes it all in class. On the very rare occasion he does have homework, he has the assignment completed in 10 minutes or less. This may sound like heaven for a frazzled mom, because I never have to micromanage him. I can’t remember the last time I even checked his assignments. He just excels, without any help from me.

However, G-Man’s life of ease creates an unfortunate side effect; anytime he has to expend more than 10 minutes of effort, such as on a book report or science project, he transforms into a stubborn, mouthy, bull-headed, teary, long-suffering victim who is just oh so put-upon! To end his torture, he will rush through projects with sloppy effort, and then dissolve into a tantrum when I make him go back and do it better.

Before you think it’s just a G-Man problem, I have a confession to make. As a pseudo-OCD person who tends to be more than a little Type-A, working on a school project with me is probably a lot like a scene from The Great Santini. I want to done, I want it done right the first time, and I expect a good grade on it. End of discussion. As a result, I turn into a harpy, helicopter parent who gives way too much direction, and G-Man and I end up waging war at the dinner table. It doesn’t help matters that so many of his peers’ projects have clearly too much parental involvement, and I fear that if I don’t direct G-Man, his efforts will be compared to those of an impressive project (one we all know deep down no 5th grade child could have done), and found lacking. I am always struggling with trying to find the balance between helping him and doing too much for him. I’ve grown to hate school projects with the fire of a thousand suns.

So, this equation is volatile enough, but then you throw my husband into the mix…also known as the peanut gallery. As a stay-at-home mom, I manage all school stuff and rightly so. That’s in the job description. On any given day, my husband couldn’t tell you what the kids are working on, what their homework is or what projects are on the horizon. Even when he does see us working on a project, he doesn’t know the first thing about the requirements, but more specifically, he has no idea the amount of work I have to do in helping the kids, like picking topics, shuttling them to and from the library and operating the glue gun for yet another wildlife habitat diorama. And let’s not forget all those trips to Hobby Lobby for modeling clay, fake moss and poster board.

What my husband does have, however, is an uncanny ability to walk into the room just as G-Man and I are descending into hysterics. At that point, he dispenses his backseat driver commentary without actually sitting down to take a tour through Project Hell with us.

That’s the way I see it, at least. He sees it as me being Attila the Hun with G-Man, and that my drill sergeant-esque approach is unnecessary and unproductive. I say I get the job done and he has no clue what it takes; he says I make everyone neurotic. I think maybe we’re both half right.

But, after the last project was another arduous gauntlet that ended in me feeling like it was Mom versus the rest of the house, I threw my hands up. I announced to the entire brood that I was DONE. Done-da-da-da-da-DONE!! You know that huge social studies project coming up? The one that requires a report, a visual display and an oral presentation? The one that has a full packet of instructions and guidelines, rules and regulations? Well, peeps, I wash my hands of that. Ya’ll think it’s so easy, and I’m just soooo mean, you can figure it out for yourselves. I told my husband that this project is between him and G-Man. They can do it together, and he will get a dose of how much work these things really are. If G-Man fails, it’s not on me. If you think it’s so easy Jack, have at it.

But here’s the thing…as much as I had hoped to seethe in my self-righteous indignation, a deeper part of me believes that we will all learn something from this experience. For my husband and G-Man, I hope that they learn and appreciate that these projects take extensive time and effort, regardless of which parent is helping, and that my making him do it is not “being mean,” that it’s just freaking life, guys (wishful thinking, I know). I want my husband to see that our struggles are not just a “me” problem, and that managing the kids’ school work isn’t as easy as it looks. I want G-Man to see that trading out parental supervisors won’t yield a quick and effortless project; the work will still be there no matter which parent helps him.

To be completely honest, I also grudgingly admit that I hope my husband is successful in getting G-Man to put together a project that reflects his true efforts, and not my helicopter tendencies and strict directions. Even if I do “get the job done,” I admit that I don’t think I’m teaching G-Man to be independent and self-motivated to succeed. If anything, I may be doing him a great disservice and enabling him.

In the coming weeks, we’ll see how it plays out, but in the meantime, I may choke to death from biting my tongue and keeping my mouth shut. When I do feel the need to open my mouth, I’ll pour a glass of wine and go find something brain-rotting to watch on TV instead. Seems like I win, either way, don’t ya think?

Better Late Than Never

Soooo, I finally finished my husband’s very belated anniversary gift. As much as I wanted to knit my first pair of socks with his yarn of choice, the mohair blend was not conducive to the strenuous trial and error of this endeavor. Luckily, I found yarn that was much easier to work with, and though progress was slow, I emerged victorious.

A month of knitting a dang pair of socks? That’s a labor of love, right there.

How I Met Him—Part 1

Friday is a really special day for our little family. It’s my husband and I’s tenth anniversary. Our marriage has lasted a decade, and while we treat every anniversary with the reverence it deserves (have you seen the divorce rate?), this big milestone is incredibly dear to us, especially since we started out as the most unlikely couple imaginable. At a time like this, it’s inevitable to take a trip down memory lane, starting with the first time I saw the guy who would later become my BFF, the father of my kids and, the killer of all the wayward bugs in my life.

My husband and I went to the same small college, and we were both residents of the honors’ co-ed dorm. Despite the familial environment of our tiny student body, we never really crossed paths during my first two years there.

One night, a group of my girlfriends pooled our miniscule funds in order to have a cocktail-infused get-together of epic proportions. We had just received our scholarship refund checks, we had no papers due, and we were ready to blow off some steam. Mostly, we were a group of girls sowing our oats in the safety of our dorm, surrounded by fellow students that had become like one giant extended family. Among the beer and homemade jello shots, we also ended up with these:

We found these Austin Powers-inspired cocktail mixers at the Wally World. These plastic shakers were a promotional item for the recent movie release, and we were always up for trying something completely ridiculous. All we needed to do was add the appropriate alcohol, and we’d have a neon-colored cocktail with a completely cheesy name.

So, we did. And that blue concoction tasted like a cross between drain cleaner and nuclear waste. Despite our best efforts, not one of my girlfriends could stomach it. Luckily for us, we had plenty of backup drinks, but the retched blue juice remained untouched. As the night wore on, we finally decided (with the kind of logic only college students possess) that we couldn’t let precious alcohol go to waste, so we began a door-to-door campaign around our dorm to see who was brave enough to choke it down. We were already three sheets to the wind, so this endeavor was a hilarious bumbling trek that was more laughter than anything else. Door to door we went, and every single one of our peers was so turned off by the smell of the noxious cocktail that they all refused even a taste-test.

That is, until we got to my husband’s door. After knocking (and giggling) quite loudly, the door was thrown open by one of the most imposing figures I had ever seen. He was wearing pajama pants, and a black bathrobe, and his long blond hair looked like a throwback to an 80’s hair band. But what struck me most of all, was his mean-face. The guy standing in front of me had the most mean expression I has ever seen, like we had just interrupted him from writing the great American novel or discovering the cure for cancer. In my mildly inebriated state, I explained to him the now famously intolerable blue cocktail, and how no one in the dorm could stomach a sip, let alone the whole shaker. As he looked at me with an expression of annoyance (perhaps tinged with a little contempt), my husband snatched the psychedelic cocktail shaker out of my hand, downed its’ putrid contents in three seconds, thrust the shaker back in my hands, and promptly closed the door in my face.

I turned to my closest girlfriend with pure astonishment (did he have a cast iron stomach, or what?), and said “holy crap, that guy’s an asshole.”

Little did I know that, within a few months, that scary-looking guy would sweep me off my feet in one fateful night…and I would never look back.

Soooo, About that Work Thing

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, but now that the dust has settled, I can finally catch my breath. The big announcement is that I officially left my career and am once again a stay-at-home mom. The road to this decision was fraught with questions, doubts and more than one panic attack, but ultimately, it was the only decision that was right for our family.

As the reality of Bean’s impending arrival began to sink in, we took a good, long look at our options, which were basically to continue my full-time, high-stress job and find some sort of child care for Bean and the Heathens, or leave my career and focus on being a full-time wife and mom again. Financially, both options were not optimal. Losing my income may turn out to be financial suicide, but when we added up all the costs associated with two working parents, we realized I would probably be giving most, if not all of my salary to child care and incidentals. Either way, our finances were going to require serious reconsideration.

With no clear answers, we stepped back from the money issue, and finally took a good long look at what we really want for our family. Certain truths became glaringly self-evident.

Right now, I am not the kind of mom I want to be, and our home-life is not reflective of who we are as a family. Somehow, things began to deteriorate in the past year. The pressure of being a full-time, working mom was bad enough, but both my husband and I were desperately trying to balance our demanding careers with our family life, and we were failing miserably. Well, I was, at least. My career required enormous mental and emotional resources, and though it was incredibly rewarding, it was nearly impossible to compartmentalize.

The work-weeks became more about survival, and the weekends turned into a stressful marathon of catching up and endless to-do lists. Our home began to feel less like a haven and more like a burden of never-ending needs that we wanted to hide from. I struggled to keep up with the Heathens’ school work and activities, and was always dropping the ball in some way. Instead of being focused on helping them excel, I could only make sure we did just enough to get by.

I think what really started to get to me was that I lost the joy I once had in being a mom. I used to love planning birthdays, holidays, meals and family events…that is, until I began to dread them as just one more thing I had to get done. I was sinking under the weight of my exhaustion and apathy. It wasn’t my job’s fault, and it certainly wasn’t my family’s fault. It was simply a matter of me realizing that I had spread myself too thin, and I needed to prioritize what was really important to me.

Before anyone gets their panties in a twist, I’ll be the first to say the whole “Mommy Wars” debate is totally ridiculous. I’ve seen working moms who put Martha Stewart to shame, and stay-at-home moms whose kids might as well have been raised in wild. Working versus staying at home isn’t the issue… moms, families and individual situations are far too diverse for us to assume there is ever one “best” way to raise our kids. All options have their own pros and cons, it’s just a matter of finding what’s right for each individual family.

Right now, this is what’s best for us. Being back at home full-time is going to take some getting used to, but so far, the simple act of slowing down has already done wonders for all of us. Though I’ve spent first few days mostly running the 200 errands I’ve put off for months, the stress level in our house is noticeably lower. I have some catching up to do, and getting our house and lives back under some type of organization is my most pressing objective.

Why? Did I mention that I only have a couple of weeks till Bean arrives? Yeah…She’s coming a bit early, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.