Thursday, August 27, 2009

Title Change

I've decided to change my job title from Mom to Housekeeper/ Childcare provider. It seems Westchester puts more monetary value on the latter title. Case in point, an advertisement I saw the other day:

Housekeeper/childcare provider available: dedicated and very reliable, will keep your house so clean you can eat off the floors, do all of your laundry, will run your errands and take kids for haircuts, doctor’s appointments, the pool, park, etc. Speaks English, has valid international driver’s license (and her own car) and has never called in sick one day in 4 years. Prefers live-in but will consider live-out. $550/week cash.

As soon as I saw the 'has never called in sick one day' I knew this was the job title for me. What mom ever gets a sick day? This describes my job responsibilities almost EXACTLY, though it omits paying the bills and walking the dog. But I'll consider that a trade off for keeping the house so clean you can eat off the floors (unless you are said dog).

I guess what gets me every time I read this type of ad (which is surprisingly often) is the thought that always runs through my mind: why do some women have children if they end up outsourcing every aspect of the job?

Now, working moms, don't get your panties in a twist. I know that working full-time and being a mom full-time are mutually exclusive positions and that no one can do it all. Hey, I'm an at-home/part-time-work-from-home mom and I still have help from my community, other moms, babysitters, etc. I get it. Really.

The thing is, there is so much flexibility in jobs today--thanks to the wonder of technology and the family-friendly nature of most companies--that I wonder if these moms are actually choosing to not take advantage of these options. That they are instead deciding to let someone else do the grunt work of motherhood, and keeping the fun stuff for themselves.

OK, fine, so maybe I am a little jealous. Who of us wouldn't want to outsource the chauffeuring, cleaning, laundry and housekeeping portion of our jobs? As my late sister-in-law once said to me about full-time motherhood, "the drudge factor is off the charts." Yet even with that warning, I really had no idea. In fact, when I think about the time I could spend with my children if I wasn't so busy cleaning, cooking, driving and doing laundry (oh, kind of like when they were newborns?) it makes me realize that I've been going about this job all wrong.

I need to find someone to pay me to raise my kids. You know, like a sponsor. Then I'll be able to do a better job as a mom, and at the same time, outsource all the work that's keeping me from doing said job well. Who knows? I might actually get to do it FULL TIME, as my current title implies.

Hey American Academy of Pediatrics! What do you say? Jacob and Ben would make great cover kids!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Burn, Baby, Burn

Anyone who knows Ben or has read this blog at any length knows that he is forever in motion. Even when he sleeps, he moves around. And when he needs to move and can't, he lashes out at his brother, just to expend some energy.

So, being the thoughtful and sensitive parents we are, we decided to eschew a two-hour flight to our beach vacation this year in favor of a 12-hour drive. That's if you don't hit traffic. Which we did all through New Jersey, and then again in the area surrounding Washington D.C. in northern Virginia.

The first 1/2 of the trip, to Richmond, took nine hours instead of 6.5. For you non-parents, this is, to a six-year-old, an earthly version of hell. For Ben, it was the equivalent of being put into a straight jacket and strapped to a chair. For a year.

By the time we reached the hotel at 7:30pm, Ben was WAY done with the car. We took five minutes to drop our bags before going for dinner. We returned to the parking lot to drive to the restaurant up the road, and when Ben realized we were getting back in the car, he actually started to cry.

Trouper that he is, he agreed to come along, and kept it together long enough to get dinner down. Then, refueled, he was up. He crawled under the table, out into the room and started doing push-ups. People at other tables were laughing and pointing, likely assuming David was some sort of punitive, military dad like the one found in Pat Conroy's The Great Santini. To which David said loudly, "Drop and give me twenty!" Which Ben did, happily.

But 20 push-ups was not enough to burn the pent up energy this kid had after a full day in the car, so when we got back to the hotel, Ben took matters into his own hands. He raced his brother up and down the hallway several times (and won every race). Then, in the room, he devised a game of jumping--no, flying with reckless abandon--from bed to bed. He did this over and over, working up a sweat, and was finally able to fall asleep shortly after 10pm. And David and I laughed and laughed until we were tired enough to fall asleep too.

What did we learn from this little episode? Not much, apparently, because the next day, before driving the remaining five hours, we made sure to sugar Ben up with a bowl of Froot Loops and some toast with jelly. But once the caffeine kicked us into parental mode, we made notes for next time:

-hotel pool would help a LOT
-don't count on anyone napping in the car. They are as excited as we are, and haven't moved in hours.
-for all of my resistance to kids' reliance on technology, a dual screen, portable DVD player is the best 75 bucks I ever spent.
-pack Cheerios

And most importantly, always, ALWAYS carry the camera and spare batteries. Because traveling with Ben is always an adventure, and always funny.

Friday, August 14, 2009

YOU Do The Math

Isn't it funny how differently kids' minds work? I mean, when they're in first grade, they kind of think the same way as other first graders: farts are funny, dark is scary and knock-knock jokes are silly even if you tell them a hundred times in a row. But when it comes to personality, putting two brothers to work on the same project can really shine a light on where the biological similarities end.

"Hey Jacob and Ben, I need you to go out in the yard and collect all the apples that have fallen from the trees. Fill up the bucket, take it over and dump it across the street and do that until the apples are all gone."

Ben: "OK! Where's the bucket?"

Jacob: "Are we going to get paid?"

Granted, they are three years apart, but wait. There's more.

Jacob: "Mom, there's like a million apples. I'd better get ten bucks for this."

Ben: "Mom, how about if I count how many I collect, and then you give me five cents for every apple?"

Now, my kids get their math savvy from their father. Case in point: when I hear 'pay me ten bucks to do this job,' my first instinct is, 'dream on, kid.' But when I hear 'pay me five cents an apple,' I'm thinking, 'five? That's nothing! I'll give you ten cents an apple!'

After all, what's a measly dime for each apple?

I should point out that, after surveying the yard, I realized there were a couple hundred apples blanketing our lawn. Even at Ben's reasonable rates, I was looking at at least ten dollars per kid.

But seeing that entrepreneurial (some might say crafty) spirit in Ben--the one that made me eager to offer him even more than he suggested to do the job--showed me just how differently these guys look at the world. Well, that and the fact that I'd better brush up on my math skills.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Famous Last Words

Like all mothers of more than one child, I learned the hard way (i.e. through a second labor) that your second child is never anything like your first. For example. Riding in the car to camp one day, Jacob and his friend were arguing over the correct name of a particular Pokemon character. As the discussion got louder and louder, the friend finally said, “Wanna bet? I’ll bet you two dollars!” And Jacob replied, “NO! Gambling is illegal in New York State for people under the age of 18!”

Silence.

I peeked in the rear view mirror, and his friend was looking right at me with eyes that said, "are you a ventriloquist?"

And I looked back at him with eyes that said, "Dude, I swear he was born this way."

Seriously, how many nine-year-olds talk like that? And he's been like that for, oh, his whole life.

When he was three and got a new teacher at pre-school, the energetic young man tried to put Jacob at ease with the transition.

"Hey, you know we have something in common. Your name is Jake and I'm Mr. Jake!"

And Jacob responded, and I am not kidding,

"Actually, my name's Jacob."

ALL RIGHTY then.

Now let's take Ben. Last night, he filled up on vegetables and could only eat half of his cheeseburger for dinner. So this morning, I jokingly suggested he have the rest of it for breakfast.

"I can do that?" he asked.

"Uh, sure! Do you really want it?"

"Yeah!"

And so there I was, packing bologna for lunch and heating up a cheeseburger for breakfast. When he finished and was still hungry, I sent him out to the yard with a little container. He picked as many raspberries as he could find, then brought them in a devoured half of them.

What did Jacob want?

"Rice Krispies. No fruit."

Right. Like night and day.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I arrived at camp to pick them up at camp one day and a young counselor-in-training came up to me and said, "Albert wants to talk to you about Ben."

Uh oh. What did Mr. Unpredictable do now?

"Hi, Albert. Is everything OK?"

"Well, yes, but I have some bad news about Ben."

What I asked was, "Is he OK? Did he hurt someone?"

And as my mind began to race, what I was thinking, but didn't say was, "Is he going to be expelled from camp? Are broken bones involved? AM I GOING TO NEED TO HIRE A LAWYER??"

Looking around, I still didn't see Ben anywhere. Truly, at that moment, anything was possible.

"He's fine, it's just..."

At this point, right before I really started to worry, Ben marched up to me with a down-turned mouth. On the verge of tears. In his socks.

As he buried his head in my stomach, Albert continued,

"...Ben took off one of his shoes and threw it in the latrine..." (this is scout camp. Translation: Ben threw his sneaker into a dark, smelly, 20-foot-deep hole in the ground where people, well, you know).

Blink.

"...and he was worried you were going to be really mad at him."

Blink blink.

Mad? He thought I was going to be mad? I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Did Ben then convince some other camper to climb in and retrieve the sneaker for him, leading the kid to get stuck down there? Did he throw someone's backpack in after the sneaker? That can't be the whole story. Can it? I mean, Ben's not a toddler. Throwing his sneaker in the toilet must be just the beginning. FOR GOD'S SAKE, HE'S A-SOON-TO-BE-SECOND-GRADER. Where's the drama? I held my breath.

Perhaps my silence seemed to Albert to be the calm before a storm. "We, uh, didn't try to retrieve it," he added sheepishly. "The other one is in his backpack."

Wow. That really is it. Silent exhale.

"Uh, OK. Thanks."

The archery coach, another counselor, the camp's assistant director, Ben's brother, another counselor from a different den and, well at that point I lost track, all came over to see if Ben was OK and ask if I'd heard the story. Apparently everyone in camp--like 50 people--knew about this. I mean, it was a big stinkin' deal. And the thing is, while this is so completely unlike anything Jacob would ever do, it is so typically Ben.

So there you have it. The only thing I learned about how to parent Ben by having Jacob first was how to change a diaper.

Let this be a message of enlightenment for those of you in love with, and feeling like a parenting pro of, your first-born. If you're saying to each other, "Hey! This is a piece of cake! We should have, like, eight more!" just keep this in mind. You weren't the first to utter those words. And you won't be the last.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ms. Fix-It

Not long ago, a friend was telling me about her what-turned-out-to-be-disgruntled washer repair man. The short story is that she had a problem with her washer and suspected what was causing it. But the repairman wouldn’t listen to her theory. He misdiagnosed the problem. He changed out the wrong part. The machine still didn't work. My friend had to call and request that the repair man come back again.

Mr. Maytag, his man-pride likely hurt after being emasculated by one who was not only a non-washing machine repair person but also a WOMAN, started giving her a hard time about it over the phone. So she did what any self-respecting customer would do: she hung up and called his boss. AFTER WHICH THE REPAIR PSYCHO CALLED HER BACK AND YELLED AT HER BECAUSE HE HAD TO COME BACK AGAIN TO ACTUALLY FIX THE PROBLEM. I'm sorry, did I offend you by insisting that you do what I'm paying you to do?

Look, I was in customer service for about 20 years, but regardless, I'm thinking most people would see this action as not-very-customer-friendly. And now my friend had to let this guy back into her home? While she was alone with her kids and her husband was at work? What is the world coming to when you feel threatened by the Maytag repair man?

Suffice it to say that the supervisor took care of the “personnel” problem as well as the washing machine problem. But the whole thing got me to thinking. In this day and age, when we tell our kids not to talk to strangers but are willing to let people we don’t know into our homes, there’s something to be said for being able to take care of these things yourself. Especially if you don't have a gun permit. Cost savings aside, the last thing you want to worry about when an appliance is broken is whether your repair man is going to turn out to be Mr. Fix-It or Psycho Killer. I love my journalist friends, but not enough to sacrifice myself for their headlines.

And of course, there’s the bonus feeling of accomplishment when you CAN fix something yourself.

For example, last year when my washing machine started acting up, I did some research to find out what it would cost to get a repairman to come out, diagnose and fix the problem. When it turned out to be roughly twice what we paid for the machine itself, I decided to do even more research. It seems my agitator wasn’t agitating. I’m a mom, so I know from agitation. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I was able to look up pictures of the agitator’s insides, diagnose which piece wasn’t working, figure out where to buy it and print out step-by-step instructions for replacing it.

Yes, yes, I know. But I figured if it didn’t work, all it would cost me was an hour of my time and six bucks in parts.

The good news is, it worked. My machine was once again as agitating as my children. And the best part about it was not actually telling my husband how much money we’d saved. It was swinging my tool-belt-laden hips in a come-hither way while waving my cordless power drill and telling him I had fixed the washing machine myself. The POWER! The ADRENALINE! I was ready to change the oil in both cars.

And, now that I no longer own a gun, the fact that I didn’t have to let some strange man into my home was also a plus. Of course, once the washer was fixed, I had to go back to doing laundry again… But I’ll take that over fear of bodily harm any day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Fourth Dimension

I noticed this weekend, when we took the kids to a movie, that many of the new kids' movies coming out now and in the future (according to the previews) are being made in 3D. This was interesting to me, mainly because of the dichotomy of the whole quaint, retro, 3D-theater experience that our parents enjoyed in the 1950s when they dated as teenagers and the INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF MONEY IT COSTS TO GO TO SEE A 3D MOVIE TODAY.

Granted, both of my kids are old enough now to actually sit through an entire movie together, so we've just started doing this family movie night thing. And I had finally become OK with the $7 per ticket admission fee. But 3D movies automatically tack on another $3 per ticket, and matinee prices no longer apply. Nor do children's prices. And you don't even keep the glasses--in the interest of 'going green' there is a recycling box for the glasses outside the theater. So. Let's recap.

Large, buttered popcorn: $7.50
Tickets for two adults and two children at a matinee: $40
Total: $47.50

I'm no mathematician, but that seems like a boatload o' money for just a two-hour movie. Did I mention it was animated? They didn't even have to pay the actors a bajillion dollars each to make this one.

Not for nothing, but babysitter fees have gone up five-fold since I used to hold that gig, and that's a killer on its own. Today, taking the kids to a movie for two hours is the same price as hiring a babysitter for five. It just adds a whole other dimension to the question of the best way to spend quality time together. I love my kids, and I love being with them. But I also love my husband, and these days can only dream of spending five hours alone with him. It's a tough choice for parents to have to make.

I'm not complaining. I'm just saying.