Monday, March 28, 2011

When It's Time for "The Talk"

There comes a point in every mother's life when it's time for the talk. The kids never want to hear it, and you never really think you'll have to "go there," but it happens. You heard it from your mom, she heard it from her mom, and so on. It usually goes something like this:
That's it. I quit. I resign. I give up. If you think you have it so bad here why don't you go live at Johnny's house?
The talk is usually preceded by one of these off-the-cuff comments from your childr(en):
  • Mom, can you turn off the vacuum, I can't hear the TV.
  • [with 5 minutes notice] Didn't I tell you I need brownies today (or my gym shirt washed, or a sheet of poster board, etc.)?
  • Susie's mom never yells at her.
  • I'm not eating that!
Last week I had the talk with my children. I'd been feeling like crap all day, but struggled to my feet to make them dinner, trying a new recipe in the hopes of breaking free from our Cinnamon Toast Crunch  hot dogs and mac & cheese chicken and broccoli routine. Both children took one look at what I was serving and announced "I'm not eating that!"

At this point, in my calmest mommy voice, I announced my resignation, told them they could make their own dinner, and stomped off to my bedroom and slammed the door. I crawled in bed and cried until my husband came home and made the mistake of asking what was wrong. I told him that I was terminating my (poorly negotiated) contract and stepping down from my position as mommy.

I am very mature.

Unfortunately, I am completely unable to stick with my resignations (this is not the first time I've handed in notice). Even while furious in bed that evening, I kept thinking, "How are they going to know there's rice in the microwave? It's going to dry out and have to be tossed." And after Rob wisely removed the children from the house before I could seriously consider eating my young, I actually went to the kitchen, fed myself the lousy meal with dried out rice, and then cleaned up the mess.

In addition to boycotting the role of chief cook and bottle washer, I've also been known to swear off cleaning and picking up after everyone, convinced there could be a dead body in the living room and everyone else would simply step around it. But alas, my staying power is no stronger there.

I know I'm not the first woman to retire/quit/resign from the role of mom, but I wonder if there's a better way to see it through, at least until it actually makes a difference in my family's behavior. I've learned that the positive results of my meltdowns generally have a staying power of less than 24-hours. If you've ever stepped down from your matriarchal position, please share what works for you. Your good advice could be just what all of womankind needs in order to not have a mommy-meltdown in vain.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hairspray, Traffic Circles, and Diners (a.k.a. "How You Know You're in Jersey")

This has been a week of tributes to the fine state of New Jersey where I took my fast-paced and supercool social media marketing class at Rutgers University. On Monday I used a good amount of hair spray. On Tuesday I contemplated going to a movie (the nation's first drive-in theater was in Camden). Today is Wednesday and I am saluting diners.

If you live in New Jersey or have ever been there, you know that there is one diner for about every 10 people in the state. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But there are seriously a boatload of diners, and don't just take my word for it. According, New Jersey has the most diners in the world and is sometimes glowingly referred to as the Diner Capital of the World. New Jersey is also home to the world's tallest water tower, however you can't eat there.

For some strange reason, I am a big fan of diners. Last week I went to two of them, one in Cinnaminson for dinner before my trek to Rutgers, the other in Piscataway for breakfast before my class. Truth be told, the food wasn't that great at either of them, and when I think about it, I'm not sure I've ever had a really good meal at any diner. This is probably why my high school friend Tom confessed, "I only ever end up at a diner after I've had too many drinks."

So what attracts me to diners if it's not the good food? I've narrowed it down to these three possibilities:
  • The cool stainless steel exteriors with the neon lights
  • The 27-page menus that offer everything except foie gras which I would never eat anyway
  • The dessert cases you see when you first walk in the door
Who am I kidding? It's the dessert case. The interesting thing is I never rarely hardy ever get dessert. By the time I've loaded myself up with pancakes, hash browns, and bacon, or mashed potatoes and gravy, overcooked beef, rolls, and applesauce, there's just no room left for the good stuff. And for some strange reason I never rarely hardy ever buy something to take home with me.

So there you have it, my personal diner reflection. Perhaps tomorrow I'll dive into why so many of them are owned by Greek families (my new Rutgers friend Eva can possibly help with that one).

Now, please share with Freakin' Angel readers the best or worst diner experience you've had!

Monday, March 21, 2011

In Search of a Role Model?

Saturday was my dad's 70th birthday. With all the mental exertion I spent in class last week, I forgot to even buy him a card. In an effort to make it up to him, this post is dedicated to my dad.

First, for those of you who know him, you know my dad doesn't look like a 70-year-old man. I always enjoy shocking folks by revealing his age. If his hearing loss and increasingly slow driving didn't give him away, you'd never know he was older than his early 60's, tops. But good looks aside, my father has a laundry list of commendable qualities, including:

  • A selfless desire to be there for his friends. Just ask them.
  • Compassion for living things (with the exception of squirrels and skunks and game that he likes to eat) I will never forget the time he pulled the car off to the side of the road to pick up a turtle that sat in harm's way.
  • A desire for knowledge. My father tends to feel badly about himself for his lack of a college education, but without question he is one of the smartest people I know. The engineering/architectural type things he can figure out with a paper and pencil would blow your mind. And he's not a bad writer either!
  • Second to none craftsmanship. Need proof? Come see the beautiful wood work he did in my living room. He's got offers from my friends for projects that would keep him busy for years.
  • A great protector. Whether it was bumps in the night at home as a kid, or in rough ocean waters with him on the boat, I have never felt more safe with anyone in my whole life.
  • A great provider. How many people do you know who could put two kids through college and pay for two weddings without a penny of debt, all on a welder's salary? My dad still fights the urge to take care of my sister and me. (Dad, for the millionth time, we don't need an inheritance, we need you and mom to enjoy your retirement. Go spend your hard-earned money.)
  • Unquestionable moral and ethical fiber. Whether he's returning a stranger's lost wallet or refusing to take a sick day, my dad's integrity, work ethic, and honor are second to none. Could a kid ask for a better role model?
Now, lest we proceed to have him anointed for sainthood, the reality is that my father isn't perfect. For instance, you wouldn't want to be with him when he's negotiating to buy a new car. And you probably don't want to engage him in a discussion of politics. And he can be maddeningly obsessive in his work. And sometimes he makes questionable decisions, like driving with a dead skunk tied to his truck hitch in order to dispose of it in the woods about a 1/2 mile away (should I mention it was rush hour and he passed bus stops,  traumatizing children in the process?) But all in all, my father is without question one of the people I love most in this world, and I couldn't be prouder to say he's mine.

Happy 70th birthday, dad!
Mom and Dad a couple years ago on a trip to Mexico (the last one I tagged along on...sigh)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Turning Down the Noise

You know what I'm starting to really appreciate?


It's not that my life is any noisier or more stimulating than anyone else's, but recently I've noticed that I increasingly delight in quiet time. Cases in point:  
  • When something prompts me to turn off the radio while driving, I breath a sigh of relief at the silence
  • If I don't turn on the computer after I get home from work, by the time I'm ready for bed I realize that not only did I survive being unplugged, but I actually found peace in not checking my email or Facebook.
    This need and desire for quiet comes at an interesting and perhaps inopportune time. This week I'm taking a course in social media marketing to benefit my employer. My days have been chock full of  Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and YouTube, with introductions to Booshaka, Tweepz, Klout, Technorati and It probably goes without saying that social media is noisy. Cluttered, busy, constant, and really, truly, noisy. Consider the the statistics I've heard this week:
    • 50,400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every day; the equivalent of 176,400 full-length Hollywood movies each week
    • The average American spends one out of every 4 1/2  minutes online
    • 40% of iPhone moms download games for their children, offering what's been termed a "digital pacifier"
    • The iPad is the #1 item interest to purchase in the next six months for kids ages 6-12
    • More than 350 million people log onto Facebook each month
    Obviously it would be easy to spend 24-hours a day with social media, but at what cost? How many of us have tried to enjoy a meal with a spouse, friend, or family member only to have them more engaged with their smart phone than they are with you? How often do you half listen to your children while writing your blog post, updating your status on Facebook, or checking your email? Even this week I've found myself constantly dividing my attention between the class presenter, TweetDeck, Facebook, and office-related projects. My head swims just thinking about it.

    So here I am, learning how to be more engaged and effective in the virtual world, and all I really want to do is unplug, refresh, and reboot. Finding that balance is a never-ending challenge and one that we'll each need to wrestle with literally for the rest of our lives.

    If you've found a way to stay connected yet keep your soul, humanity, and marriage and family intact, how about sharing? You can comment, blog, tweet, create a YouTube video, develop a slide show for SlideShare, comment on a discussion board, podcast, share it Facebook....

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    A Word from Wood about "The Bachelor"

    Jim Wood: "Yes He Can!"
    I know, I know. My material has been downright depressing a little dry lately. While I'm in class this week, I have invited a friend to guest post for me. Jim Wood is a funny guy. He should lighten things up considerably for you. I would point you to Jim's site so you can start to follow him, but alas, my smart and funny friend does not yet have a blog. He shares his wacky humor on Facebook. Perhaps this is just the incentive he needs to get his butt in gear and start a site of his own. 

    Now, without further ado, I present...

    Do I Really Wanna Be The Bachelor? 
    by Jim Wood
    I've decided there could be no better topic for my guest post on Kim's site then the topic of women. Something that we, as men, seem to think of as the weaker sex when actually, the human female is one of the most beautiful, complex and confusing creatures in existence.

    When I say "confusing and complex" I'm not talking about chemical imbalances, X chromosomes or anything like that. No, when I use these words to describe the thing God took a rib to create I'm referring to a woman's relationship with television and in particular "The Bachelor".

    For the life of me, I can not grasp why women get so giddy when this show is on. From the time they announce who "The Bachelor" is, to the first date, to the "Women Tell All" special, it's a non-stop estrogen fest that women can't get enough of.

    Which makes me wanna be The Bachelor.

    Where else can you be a guy living in the lap of luxury and have twenty five women all fawning over you for your attention? Women who have never seen or met you and yet would kiss you up and down for no other reason than getting a flower. Women who would bring you beer dressed as a french maid or feed you strawberries dressed in a toga while you lie on the couch watching the ballgame? Women who didn't mind at all if you left the seat up or dirty socks lying around. Yea, I could get used to six weeks of that.

    And yet, if I watch a few episodes with my wife I quickly come to the conclusion that this show actually turns women AGAINST men.

    You see, everyone knows the Bachelor obviously has to send someone home. And I think as the weeks go by and the women become fewer and the decision on who to send packing becomes harder, women at home start choosing their favorites. And if that favorite happens to be the one sent packing then woe to “The Bachelor” (and any and all nearby men).

    From then on "The Bachelor" becomes all about male bashing. And that's when the wife or significant other turns to her man angrily and says something like this:
    "Oh, he just chose her because she's got big boobs...he's like all men...he's like YOU...You'd pick her because of her boobs WOULDN'T YOU??...PIG."
    At this point me and the dog (also a male) make the dreaded walk of shame to the bedroom with ears down and tail between our legs and close the door. And so I'm thinking if this happens to me as an innocent bystander then maybe I really don't wanna be The Bachelor.

    This process continues weekly until the final rose and proposal when the Bachelor finds his "soul mate." A soul mate for all of two months until they are both back in the "real world" and subsequently break it off. And a few months later the whole thing starts all over again.

    If I'm really lucky though the next series, a few months later, will be "The Bachelorette." At least that way the women watching can oooh and aaah all over the hunky guys and be proud of the woman being in the dominant role of chooser.

    Until then, I'll let my wife bask in the glory of "The Bachelor." She can enjoy her male bashing; I'll stick with my sports and beer.

    But next time she asks me the question I'm going to answer honestly: 
    "Yes Honey, I would have picked her because she has big boobs".....

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Back to School at 40+

    I loved college. I loved it so much that I went to grad school less than a year after finishing my bachelor's degree. And then, only a year into my first real job in advertising in New York City, I decided I'd rather be in school again. I quit and went back for a PhD, expecting I would become a college professor (though I left after a year to return home to get married, be near family and settle in to the ho-hum life of a suburban soccer mom). I'm sure you'll say I was just avoiding the real world by staying in school, but I also loved everything about the college experience. The atmosphere. The culture. The professors. The books. The bars. Oh, and the learning.

    This week I'm completing a "mini-MBA" in social media marketing at Rutgers University, thanks to the generosity of my employer who has taken note of my interest in Facebook, blogging, webinars, and all things virtually social. It's a one-week accelerated course designed to help me create and implement a social media strategy for Judson Press and the American Baptist Home Mission Societies. The instructors are leaders in the field and the course is packed with everything one could hope to know to be cutting edge in social media. We even get an iPad2 out of the deal, which I'm very excited about, assuming I can figure out how to turn it on.

    You're probably thinking I must have been deliriously excited to return to school, but in reality, I was anxious. Would the other students be younger, smarter, and more technologically adept? Would I feel overwhelmed?  Would there be group projects? Will I be tested? What about networking? I know I should network but I hate networking. Will the teachers be nice? Most importantly, what should I wear? Is this like real college where I can wear sweats and a baseball cap, or should I dress like I'm going to a business event? All very important questions.

    Well, it turns out that I'm comfortably holding my own in my previous knowledge of social media. And I'm right in the middle of the pack age-wise. Everyone else (at least all the women) also wondered what to wear (I erred on the side of caution with khakis on day one). They're all friendly enough that the networking thing isn't so scary (we've even got happy hour on the schedule for after class today). The teachers are nice but kooky (as most college profs are). And yes, there's a group project and presentation but I think I'll be okay.

    Does this mean it's time for me to go back to school again? Alas, no. While a college campus was my happy place at one time, I can tell you that 20 years later it's just not the same. Maybe it's because I'm at Rutgers University's Livingston campus where there are no ivy-covered or brick buildings to make me nostalgic. Maybe it's cause I'm too old (and married) to flirt with the freshmen should I see any. Maybe it's because I'm working a full time job, have two children, a husband, and a home to look after and I'm too damn tired to read and study at the end of the evening. I know my mother-in-law will be disappointed (she really wanted to be able to tell people her daughter-in-law was a "doctor"), but I don't see that completed PhD in my future.

    So how about you? Have you gone back to the classroom after a long absence? Was it the same? Was it better? Was something missing? Share!

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    God Sightings in a Time of Grief

    I have a friend who has been to hell and back over the past couple years. Yet nearly every time I see this amazing woman she's telling me that "God is good." She has an incredible ability to see God in the little blessings that come her way and I am in awe of her strength and her spirit.

    I've seen God a good deal myself the last few days and these God sightings have been a source of comfort and joy for me in what otherwise has been a sad and difficult time. While losing Maddie has been much more painful than I could have anticipated, I have been truly blessed by the love and support of family and friends, including:
    • Phone calls and cards expressing condolences even from those who have never lost a pet
    • Poems and stories of hope, heaven, and reuniting somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge
    • Flowers from three Freakin' Angels (Rebecca, you're an honorary FA), just when I thought I couldn't bear the drab and dreariness any longer
    • Kind words and advice from long lost classmates on Facebook
    • A sweet note and massage gift certificate from a friend who wanted to help relieve my stress
    • Dinner with friends who didn't want me to be home alone last evening after Rob left for Spring Training
    • Lunch with a Freakin' Angel today
    And I think the best gift I've been given in this experience has been seeing my children handle our loss with such grace and tenderness. They've been tender and kind not only to me, but to each other, demonstrating a gentleness that I didn't think was possible. Ian even told Abby he loved her the other night at bedtime. And they both will reach out to touch me or hug me when even a fleeting look of sadness passes over me.

    Yes, each thought of Maddie still hurts, but I've been blessed by so many who have reminded me how much she loved me and more importantly, how much they love and care for me. Thanks for all you've said and done.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

    I've been meaning to write about my animal menagerie for some time now. We've got Snickers, the guinea pig who chews on the metal bars of her cage like an inmate in an asylum trying to work his way out. We've got Scout, the cat who has a paper fetish such that "the cat ate my homework" is actually a legitimate excuse from my children. And of course, we've got Maddie, the naughty yellow lab who has an affinity for Q-tips, cat poop, and all things edible.

    When asked about Maddie's advanced years, I've usually responded with a smile, a laugh and the comment, "She's going to live forever just to piss me off." Well, this morning, my heart aches to tell you that Maddie did not, in fact, live forever. Last night we had to put her to sleep and my little joke in retrospect seems so cold, cruel, and foolish.

    Yes, Maddie made me crazy. Whether she was bolting from the yard to devour the neighbor's trash, or taking a dip in the pond, sneaking on to the couch the minute we left the house, or peeing in the basement in defiance of us going out, she was always making a statement. No shoo fly pie, loaf of bread, or bowl of spaghetti was safe when Maddie was around, and the garbage can still has the rock on top of it that our little thief necessitated.

    But while I could do without the missing food, clean up duty, hair balls, and stinky dog breath, I am mourning the loss of a constant companion. One whom I secreted enjoyed sharing my bed with, tossing a ball to, and hearing her teeth chatter when she got excited. My sweetest memory of Maddie was when I lay sick in bed several months ago and called to her in my time of need. Back then she was afraid of the wooden steps to our room and rarely if ever had made the climb, but hearing me call her she faced her fears and arrived at my bedside to snuggle with me when I needed a friend.

    The pain of saying goodbye to my friend Maddie is much greater than I could have ever anticipated and I'm not sure when it will ease. Perhaps the only thing worse is knowing how much my children are grieving the loss. Abby wonders "will I ever stop thinking about her?" and Ian seems to be trying to balance his need to be a strong "man" with his broken heart.

    If anyone can suggest means of healing, please share them. And I'll leave you with a couple pictures of our naughty but lovable girl:

    Maddie, the bed hog, looking half human with Abby's legs

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Be Nice to Me. You Know how Sensitive I am.

    By now we know that I can be a little sensitive. Which is ironic given how insensitive I can be toward others. But this isn't about others, it's about me. Me, me, me!

    Today, I was insulted. And this insult got me thinking about the other times I've been insulted. Not that I'm keeping a list. Or at least I wasn't till I started thinking about it and then I found I had a list neatly tucked in that little corner of my brain that is reserved for pent up hostilities, bitterness, and grudge-holding.

    So let me put today's insult in context. Over the weekend I bought this cute little tunic top from my friend Kelly who sells Jockey clothes (which are awesome, by the way). It's long and stretchy and super comfortable and the first top I've found that I can legitimately wear with leggings (in other words, it covers my behind and enough of my upper thighs to not be offensive). I wore it to church yesterday and actually had two friends tell me I looked cute and stylish. They didn't add "for the first time ever," though I know they were thinking it. But that wasn't the insult.

    The insult came today at work when, wearing the same outfit, my colleague asked "Is this a new look for you?" And then proceeded to tell me that she heard about leggings that will help you lose weight if you wear them all the time. Now that I think about it, I may have been insulted twice there. 1) "Is this a new look for you" without being followed up with "I think it's cute," is definitely insulting and 2) She may have been suggesting I should get the leggings that would help me to lose weight.

    Like I said, this indirect insult got me thinking about others, including this much more direct doozie from a former coworker (there must be something in the water here in Valley Forge):

    Her: "Kim, do you wear makeup?"
    Me: "Not much. Why, should I?"
    Her: "YES."
    Alrighty then. At least that woman had a reputation for being blunt and offensive.

    Other comments I find insulting include:
    • "Did you get a haircut?" When not followed by, "It looks nice," it's really the equivalent of saying "what the hell did you do that for?"
    • When looking at a not-so-recent picture of you: "You were so pretty."
    • When viewing your landscaping or home: "This is going to look great when you're done with it." And unfortunately, you thought were done with it.
    So there you have it. Next time you see me, try to avoid noticing a change about me without saying it's awesome. You know how sensitive I am.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    I'm Mom and Dad's Favorite...Right?

    I understand my fans would like me to blog about bras and the indignity of bra shopping, but I'm going to have to save that for another time. What I really want to address today is the touchy subject of parents, children, and favoritism. And no, I'm not going to confess suggest that I have a favorite child because we all know that distinction depends on the season, month, week, day or hour. What I am going to confess is that at the ripe old age of 41, I still aim to be my parents' #1 child.

    I am fully aware that this is slightly pathetic at this point in my life. And it's sad how I allow it to affect everything from the way I deal with my kids when my parents are around, to how guilty I feel if I don't take it easy on my car brakes or change the oil often enough.

    For the past week, my parents have been in Mexico with my sister and her family. Once upon a time, back when I had time and money, I would join them for these delightful all-inclusive getaways. But the last couple years now it's just been Dawn and the 'rents, and it's bringing out the green-eyed monster in me. I'm way jealous. Partly because it's cold, windy, and rainy here and I'm surrounded by dust, dirt, and grime from home improvements, but part of me is jealous because this little trip could put Dawn in the lead in the favorite daughter standings.

    Let's face it. You're already at a distinct advantage when you're in the warm sunshine with free margaritas and the world's cutest 2-year-old in tow. And because Dawn lives out in Denver, every occasion for seeing her is something special. Me, not so much.

    Visits to my house seem to require my father fixing or improving something. He can't just visit for the sake of visiting when he sees how much  needs to be done. When my parents are here the house is always in shambles. The children are usually being particularly obstinate. I never have anything to make for lunch or dinner, and I'm constantly miserable about something. I think my mom and dad must wonder about my housekeeping and parenting skills and question whether I am mentally and emotionally fit for the tasks at hand. Yes, you're at a distinct disadvantage for favorite child status when you're letting it all hang out with no warm tropical breeze, crystal blue waters, or free drinks to distract from life's realities.

    Now, lest my dad feel the need to spend an hour penning a missive to tell me how much he and my mom love me, I will say I have no doubt that they prefer me greatly to my sister love me with all their hearts and that they truly have never played favorites (despite my sister's long running belief that she's adopted or at least "the black sheep of the family"). But I think, just to be on the safe side, I need to go along to Mexico next year.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    My Visit to the Art Museum (aka "My Kid Could Paint That")

    Well, that was a bit of a disappointment. I took a vacation day yesterday to accompany my daughter and her class to the Philadelphia Art Museum for a field trip. My disappointment wasn't in the museum. Nor was it in the kids. It wasn't even in the fact that I had to take a vacation day for something I really had very little interest in doing. My disappointment lies in not having found some great kid-related blog material in the experience.

    You figure a field trip is bound to deliver some good stuff. There are children involved, after all, and you know how much I love the little dears. But alas, aside from deafening noise on the bus and interesting lunch bag contents, the kids gave me little to work with. The best quip I overheard came from one of the chaperoning dads who was informing a chaperoning mom about his family's atheist status and efforts to improve the image of atheists as a whole by doing good deeds.

    What turned out to be most interesting about the day was the Art Museum itself, and that's what I least expected. See, I'm an art snob. As in "My kid could draw that," not "I believe Picasso did his finest work during the Blue Period." I'm honestly not certain I'd ever been to the Art Museum before. I never had any desire to go, imagining a bunch of paintings that said nothing and meant nothing to me.

    And I did see several of those pieces that make you go "hmmm..." While flash photography was not permitted, I was able to snap these beauties with my cell phone camera:

    Abby & Michaela reviewing a bunch of colored squares. Abby loved this one.

    Seriously? It's white paper with three black lines.

    Green Cyclone. My kid could paint that.

    1970s KMart wall art?

    This crap art was what I expected. Stuff I don't understand. Can't interpret. Prefer to laugh at.

    But along with the goofy abstract art, I was surprised to find art I could appreciate. Works of realism agreed with me and I particularly enjoyed the wings filled with pottery, sculpture, coats of armor, religious artifacts, and other "history museum" type pieces. The museum tour guide's interaction with the students was probably as illuminating for me as it was for them.

    So now I'm thinking I might like to take an art appreciation class. Who knows, I may even learn to see something in the wacky pieces shown above. In the meantime, let's have some fun with those pieces. In the comment section below, share your critical analysis of one or more of them:
    • Give it a title 
    • What did the author have in mind? 
    • What does it say to you? 
    • Would you hang it on your wall?
    Look forward to seeing what you have to say!