Friday, November 22, 2013

The Hungry Games

When I was a kid, my mom used to make us eat something before going visiting, even if we were going to someone's house for dinner. This made no sense to me. Why eat when we're going there to eat?

"Because when you don't eat, you get evil."

It sounds like a terrible thing to say to a child, but the fact is, she was right. We'd be cranky, surly and more obnoxious than usual at the first sign of hunger. Best to make a preemptive strike.

The torch has been passed in my house (or, rather shared: I still have to keep from getting too hungry if I want to remain civil). But it's not only my children who share the trait, apparently. It's also my dog.

When the kids get home from school, they are hungry. I know it because they eat lunch at noon or before, and don't get home until three or later. It would make sense that the first thing they do after dropping their backpacks is open the fridge and rummage, but no, that's not how it works. Their brains are still back at school. They take off their coats, pet the dogs, start their homework, read the mail. Usually, I'm still writing or doing some other work, so I let them do their thing and I do mine. Until the fighting starts.

"Mom, Jacob won't let me have the comic book that was in my spot before he took it."

"No, Mom, he's had it there for two days. The only reason he wants to read it now is because I want to read it."

"Gimme it!"

"It's my turn!"


That's when it dawns on me that no one has eaten yet.

"Who wants a snack?" I offer.

Suddenly, the book is no longer important. A pop tart and a glass of milk later, everyone is happily sitting and reading, the fight forgotten.

One of my dogs, it seems, has also picked up this habit of becoming obnoxious when he wants to eat. The problem is, he's a dog. So he *always* wants to eat. In fact, my beagle will often go out and eat random who-knows-what from under the leaves when we walk right after breakfast. I know his stomach is full, so it must be a dog thing. Rather than try to decide when they are truly hungry, it's easier to just put them on a schedule and stick to it. I mean, come on. If they could talk, they'd say they were hungry all the time.

The dogs' dinner time is five pm. Lately, though, this has not been early enough for Flash. We go for a walk at three, and when we come back, each dog gets a biscuit. This has been our routine for over a year. Suddenly it's not enough of a snack. It seems it just gets the juices flowing, because for the last week or so, the biscuit has flipped some switch in Flash's brain. From 3:30 until 5:00, he just barks non-stop.

The first day it happened, I went downstairs to investigate. I knew he didn't need to go out again, so I checked to make sure Bailey wasn't in Flash's bed. Nope.

Maybe he wanted water. Check the water bowl. Empty? Nope.

Is someone outside the door? Nope.

I let him in to the playroom and gave him fresh water, then called him over to it. He walked right by and started sniffing the dog food bin.

"Uh, Flash?" I say, checking my watch. "Nope. You have an hour and a half to go."

Maybe it's because it's winter and he wants to fill out so he'll be warmer. Or maybe he's just overheard my conversations with the kids after school. Whatever it is, he has been wanting more of a snack after his walk, and has no problem complaining about it. But until they make beef flavored pop tarts, I'm just going to have to deal with his getting evil. The barking is just his little game to see how much I can take before feeding him ahead of schedule.

So far, I'm winning. But I make no guarantees: when the weather gets cold and dark and I can't retreat to the porch to get away from the noise, I may just have to start looking for those doggie pop tarts. Until then, let the games continue.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Love, Outsourced

I think I'm a bad mom. I know, I know, don't we all? But it's true. This week, I saw a pattern of behavior in myself that made me think, "Whoa. You are one selfish mother." I realized that, when my kids want to do something that I have no interest in doing, I will outsource the task.

This may not sound so terrible on the surface. I've been finding a way out of these situations since my kids were little.

"Mom, can I have a piece of candy?"


"Why not?"

"It's too close to dinner time."


"Hey, listen! It's your favorite song on the radio!" (starts doing geeky mom dance)

"Yay, I love this song!" also begins dancing and forgets about candy.

Ah, the power of distraction. It served me well for so many years. The problem is, schools like kids to stay focused. So they teach them all these tricks to keep them from losing their train of thought, even when something interrupts them. This is great for school work, but it stinks for parenting. They could have at least sent a memo warning me. One day, the power of distraction stopped working in my house.

I needed a new tool. My kids were still going to ask for things and I was still going to be unwilling to provide them. The problem was compounded by the fact that, as they got older, they wanted experiences instead of just things.

"Mom, can we go to some-ridiculously-overpriced-teeny-bopper-event-in-which-you-will-have-no-interest-but-that-I-can't-attend-by-myself?" The details are meaningless. We've all been there. I have several supermom and superdad friends who say yes. Some even go whole hog, buying the VIP tickets, driving two hours to the venue and bringing along a friend for their child. I bow to them.

But as I said, that's not me. When my son wanted to take up camping, I pawned him off on his dad and, later, the Boy Scouts. When he wanted to go to Comic Con, I sidestepped the request until one of his friends invited him along as part of her birthday celebration--all I had to do was buy the ticket. Her mom was going to drive them to NYC, park, attend the event and even take them to dinner afterward. Bless her, I would have paid triple what I did. In the end, my son got to go and I was spared eight hours of milling with thousands of adult, costume-clad comic-geeks and their attending tribes. Whew.

The pattern emerged last night, however, when I got an email that my son could go to Disneyworld in Florida, march in a parade through the Magic Kingdom and spend the rest of spring break going to all attractions Disney. He'd be chaperoned, transported and insured. All he had to do was start coming in to rehearse again with the Fife and Drum Corps before then.

Next to winter weather, Disney is my hell. I did a happy dance when my second son was born because I knew no daughters meant I would never become a slave to the Disney Princess dynasty. I went to Disneyworld when I was eleven, on a school trip. It was fantastic and magical and I loved it.

But I was eleven.

Disney today is rides with hours-long lines, tchotchke kiosks, super-sized big gulps and millions of screaming, sticky children. Yes, it's something every child should experience at least once. Yes, we've talked about going as a family. But this is one of the very few instances in my history as a parent where I have dug in my heels and resisted with every fiber of my being. As Elizabeth Bennet said of her marriage proposal from Mr. Collins, "every feeling revolts." I. Just. Can't.

So when this invitation came for Jacob, I was all over it. They'd be bused down, stay the week, perform and play and experience Disney, all for less than a thousand dollars. My first thought was, can I send his little brother too?

But Jacob, ever the mature child, decided he has "too much on his plate" to fit in the required rehearsals.

Me: "But it's Disneyworld!"

Jacob: "I know, but it would just be too much."

Me: "Well, yes, there'd be a couple of rehearsals a week starting in December. But drama club will be over, and your Italian tutoring job will be off that week since school is closed, and you won't have Boy Scouts that week either, and... and... it's Disneyworld!"

Jacob: "I know, Mom, but I just think it would be too much."

Me: "But.... it's Disneyworld!" (And it's hands-free for me!)

Jacob. "Sorry."

Yes, I was practically begging him to juggle and find a way to work it into his schedule. That way, I would not have to feel the guilt of depriving my child of the Disney experience. And he wouldn't have to know that he will otherwise never see Disney during his childhood, that's right, because of my selfishness.

I didn't admit this last fact to him. My hope is that he'll give it a try in the next couple of years. Failing that, maybe by the time the opportunity to travel there with school is no longer an option, he will be too old to care that he missed Disney as a child. And he'll never have to know what a bad mom he really has.