KidzBop is Slowly Destroying My Soul

Every parent has a list of things that they swore they would never do when they had children.  At the top of my list, even above using pacifiers and buying cereal with marshmallows, was kid’s music – especially those garbage Kidz Bop CDs.  There was no way on this green holy Earth I was going to drive around in my car listening to such awful noise, exposing my kids to watered-down versions of good music.  They would grow up listening to the original recordings of classic songs.  I mean, kids can appreciate good music — I grew up listening to (and loving) Vince Neil and Brett Michaels singing about strippers and partying while my mom drove us to elementary school.  I didn’t need a chorus of pre-teens trying to tell me that Dr. Feelgood was some kind of motivational speaker.

Years passed, pacifiers were (thankfully) used, Lucky Charms were reluctantly purchased.  But somehow, I held firm to that last item on my list.  Rob and I made mix CDs of real music we thought the kids would like, which worked for awhile.  I’m willing to bet Phaedra is the only kid in her class who can identify Queen on the radio when she hears it and wishes she could meet Elton John.  I quietly congratulated myself on raising a child with quaintly retro taste in music.

I’m not sure what planted the seed in Phaedra’s head.  I think it might have been a combination of Nickelodeon and YouTube that showed Phaedra that Kidz Bop is a thing, and that she could listen to “today’s hits” (which she has never heard) being sung by KIDS!!!  She started asking me to buy it whenever the commercial came on, and I always gave one of the vague parent answers that you give whenever your kid asks for something, and you’re not going to buy it, but you don’t want to directly tell them “no”:

“Well, you can ask for it for your birthday…”

“I don’t know.  We’ll see…”

“You can save up your money if you want…”

Then I found myself in Target with Phaedra after The Crane Game Affair, with a copy of Kidz Bop 25 in my shopping cart and a frown on my face.  I tried telling her she could only listen to it in her room, but before I knew it, I was driving to the store and playing DJ in my car.  “Play number twelve, Mom!”  “Ooooh, number six, I love this song!”  After I listened to those asshole kids sing that “Royal” song about three hundred times, I figured that brain damage would settle in fairly soon, and that I had sunk about as low as I possibly could sink.

I was so, so wrong.

Here’s the insidious thing about Kidz Bop: you’ll notice when you listen to these songs that the kids enunciate when they sing.  A lot.  To the point where you can’t help but learn every single word to the songs.  That doesn’t sound that bad, and in some cases, it’s quite helpful — for example, now I know what the hell Lady Gaga is telling me to do in the chorus of “Applause”.  However, here’s the problem: you’ll learn the words to the most awful fucking songs, and then find yourself singing them when you hear the song and enjoying it.  I listened to “What Does the Fox Say?” about eighteen times during a thirty minute drive with Bella, and it was about the same time that my ears started bleeding that I realized that I knew every single word to that song, and that I was jamming OUT.

But oh, it gets worse.

Upon picking up my children from Grandma’s house after a weekend away, what to my wondering eyes did appear? KIDZ BOP PARTY!  It’s a mix of your favorite party traxx!  And OH SWEET BABY JESUS NO, “The Hampster Dance” is on this one!  Ooooooh! and “Gangnam Style”! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BUYING THIS FOR MY CHILDREN MOM.

So now, with two Kidz Bop CDs in heavy rotation in my car, I’ve become a case study in Stockholm Syndrome.  During the first few weeks, I actively hated it.  But something happened to my brain after listening to “Wrecking Ball” for the 105th time.  I noticed that it gradually took me longer and longer after dropping off my kids at school to turn off the CD.  Then Phaedra started trying to appease me by specifically asking for the songs she knew I liked.  “Mom, let’s turn on #6.  You love this song…”  She was right, I did really like that Bruno Mars song.  Except for when I told the twenty-somethings I work with how much I liked “Treasure”, and they shook their heads and laughed at me when I sang the sanitized Kidz Bop version, which made me look extra cool and young.

It’s alright, though, because I’m not really cool or young anymore.  I’ve learned to embrace my new Kidz Bop overlords, and I welcome the release of Kidz Bop 26.  I kind of wish they would do a Kidz Bop version of the new Eminem album so I could figure out what he’s saying.  I mean, I really like it, but he raps too fast.  Also, FYI, using the phrase “he raps too fast” is a sign that you have become too old to listen to rap.

I mean, look at me.  I SAW IRON MAIDEN LIVE IN CONCERT, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.  What the hell has happened to me?

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of His Year

My kids are going camping this week with Grandma.  They’ll be gone from Tuesday until Sunday, which is a pretty long time to take three iPad-loving, GoGurt-chugging little girls into the Michigan wilderness (“wilderness” meaning “campground with a playground and a heated camper”).  My husband and I are not campers per se, so my wonderful mother-in-law whisks them away for all the outdoor adventuring that we can’t give them here in the suburbs.  They have an absolute blast and come home tan, happy, and very dirty, which is absolutely how it should be.

While my kids are Up North having fun, I’m left here alone with the empty cereal bowls and toys that stay where I put them when I put them away.  I can’t do the childless life anymore.  My brain has been rewired.  I’ve been Shawshanked — prison being a mom is all I know now.  I’m used to mothering a house full of kids every day, and when that gaggle of girls is suddenly gone, it creates a a huge disturbance in the Force.  I need someone (or something) to direct all my love and smothering towards.

Oh, look!

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Shaft is our eleven-year-old Boston Terrier and our first baby.  We bought him when we were young and newly married and it didn’t matter if we blew our entire tax refund on a purebred dog.  When we filled out his AKC paperwork, we gave him one of those long dog show names.  After a list of ridiculous options that only two 22-year-old idiots could come up with, we decided on “Shaft’s Bad Mutha”.  But after sending in the paperwork, we received a response about two weeks later, informing us that the AKC will not accept names that are “offensive in nature”.  So we changed it to “Shaft’s Non-Offensive Name”.  They were either satisfied with this or tired of dealing with us, because it was approved, and Shaft got to keep his name.

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This is what 2003 looked like.

It was just us and Shaft for a few years, until the kids came along.  It was little Shaftie that I walked around the neighborhood the day I went into labor with Phaedra, hoping all the walking would help move things along.  When I brought her home, he would cry when she did, which I think was more his way of grieving for his former life as a dog of leisure and less sympathy for the baby.  Shaft has always tolerated the kids, and even kind of likes them now that they’re older and leave real food at dog-level all over the house.  He made it through Bella’s weird “turn your head and cough” exam phase, and has learned not to get between Surrey and her food lest he be chased and screamed at in gibberish.  They’ve learned how to let him outside, which he likes.  They’ve also learned that Shaft gets a treat when he comes inside, and argue over who gets to give it to him, meaning he gets three treats (which he really likes).

So when the kids are gone, I aim my tractor beam of love at him and pull him in, like it or not.  I need someone to ride with me in the car and listen to Kidz Bop.  I need someone to lecture about going to bed, to yell at for making annoying noises, and someone to squeeze in at the last second between my husband and I when we go to bed at night.

I make him take selfies with me.

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He gets snacks and love and hugs and cuddles and if he tells you he hates it, he’s a goddamn liar.

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But believe me when I tell you that he’s just as happy to see the kids when they get home as I am.  There’s only so many snuggles a little dog can take.

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DO NOT WANT.

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My First Celebrity Interview!

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Phaedra is a 27 year old woman trapped in a seven-year-old’s body.  She is far more mature than Rob and I.  When we make stupid jokes, she usually just stares at us for a few seconds, then continues with her conversation.  She doesn’t have time for our bullshit.  She is a diva.

One night, after the kids went to bed, Rob and I started trading funny kid stories back and forth.  We each had funny “I’m so done with you two idiots” stories from Phaedra that day.  Rob suggested that it would be funny to interview Phaedra using the Pivot Questionnaire made famous by “Inside the Actor’s Studio”.  Since she is a celebrity (in her own mind), I agreed.

Holy shit you guys, this kid is hilarious.  A few things I want to point out:

1.  She dressed herself.  The only guidance I gave was, “get dressed in something nice”.

2.  She is wearing the highly illegal colored lip gloss that my mom bought he when I was out of town and they were staying with he.

3.  My absolute favorite thing about this video is that she doesn’t look at me to answer the questions.  She looks straight ahead almost the entire time.  I feel like one of those junket reporters on Extra”!

4.  If she ever loses her baby lisp, I’ll just die.

When I turned off the camera, she said, “Mom, I wanted to say ‘bitch’ for my favorite bad word, but I was too embarrassed.”   I guarantee you that Bella will not have a hard time answering that question.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

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The Milk Challenge

So, I tried to spin this story as some sort of lesson, but let me just be honest with you from the beginning: this is a strictly a funny story about the time my friends and I tried to drink a gallon of milk in an hour.  That’s it.  We didn’t all hug and realize some deeper life-lesson after it was over.  What we realized was three grown-ass women temporarily lost their minds and tried to do something our bodies physically couldn’t do, simply because nobody could convince us otherwise.  Unfortunately, we did it in front of every single one of our friends, so that we could talk about it for the next few decades or so.

It’s late summer 2005. Rob and I had just moved into our house, and were planning a big housewarming party so our friends could come over and see how grown-up we were, with our fancy mortgage and responsibilities and shit. A few days before the party, Rob came home from an evening spent at our local Denny’s. “Dude, you’ll never believe what Muriel and Jenny said.”

“What?”

“Okay, do you know what the milk challenge is?”

“Where you try to drink a gallon of milk in an hour?”

“Yeah. They both seriously said they could do it.” He instantly started cracking up.

“You know what? I think I could probably do it.  I mean, if they think they can do it, then I definitely can do it.”

He started laughing even harder, his face changing from do you believe this shit? to completely incredulous.  “You three are DUMB.  It can’t be done!  Like, physically, your body can’t  do it.”

“Well, why don’t we try it here?  They’re both coming over this weekend anyways.  I’ll buy three gallons of milk, and we’ll go head-to-head.”

He just shook his head.  “You guys are so stupid.  You’ll all end up puking.”

Whatever, I thought.  How dare he underestimate me.  I knew for sure that I could do it.  I was going to OWN this shit.  I couldn’t wait to impress everybody with my incredible milk-drinking abilities and sheer determination.  I wasn’t much of an athlete in high school or college or, actually, during any part of my life, but goddammit THIS was something I was going to excel in.  I pictured myself in my shining moment, with all my friends cheering for me.  They would be all, “Wow, I didn’t know Janel was that tough.”  My mom would be really proud.  Maybe I’d make it on the news.  Local Woman Does The Impossible, Shows  the World She’s a Total Badass.  Details at 11.

Dude, I… I know.

The day before the party, I went to the grocery store and bought three gallons of skim milk. [Note: Muriel would like me to point out that she did, unfortunately, drink cow's milk this particular evening.  It was before she saw the light and became a vegan and renounced all forms of dairy in favor of Our Lord and Savior Soy Milk.  In the event of a rematch, she would definitely bring her own gallon of Silk, in which case we would all call bullshit and insist that it doesn't count.]  I figured if you were going to try to ingest an entire gallon of milk, there was no room in your stomach for all that extra fat in whole or even 2% milk.

The next night, everyone showed up at our brand-new house.  We mingled, gave tours, and enjoyed our new status as “Most Likely to Store Your Shit in Our Garage”.  We were so winning this whole adulthood thing: college, jobs, marriage, house.  Feeling mature, feeling good.  Feeling so good, in fact, that I decided that now was the time to begin The Great Milk Challenge.

We gathered the entire house full of people into our brand-new backyard, around our brand-new deck and brand-new patio furniture.  The three of us sat down in front of everyone with our own brand-new gallon of milk.  A timekeeper was assigned.  A large amount of smack was talked by everyone.  Whatever.  They can talk, but I knew my role: I would be the underdog, the dark horse.  I’d come from behind and blow everybody’s mind.  Small but mighty, that’s me.

Then the drinking began.

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The first fifteen minutes was absolutely fine.  Lots of laughing and joking around.  Every time I saw someone drink,

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I would drink too.

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This isn’t so bad!  I was right, I could totally do this!  Man, this is going to feel so good when everyone sees me finish this gallon!  They’re going to be so impressed, they’ll talk about it for years!  I couldn’t wait to finish my milk and end the evening on a high note.

Around the 25 minute mark is where things got not-so-fun.  I decided that I needed to go in the house to get my jacket because OH HEY, drinking a large quantity of cold milk in a short time span makes you feel a little chilly.  I also needed a rubber band to pull back my hair.  You know, no reason at all, just in case I wanted to do something that involved having my hair away from my face.  Nothing in particular.

When I sat back down, I thought, “Whoa.  I shouldn’t be up and moving around when there’s a 1/4 gallon of milk sloshing around in my stomach.”  Five minutes later, the pizza guy showed up.  I got up and walked to the door to pay the pizza guy, and brought the food into the house.  Again, when I sat back down, I thought, “Whoa.  I shouldn’t be smelling pizza when I have so much milk sitting in my stomach.”

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At about 35 minutes, everyone looked pretty fucking bummed.  You could see in our faces that we had realized what a poor decision this had been.  It ceased to be a fun stunt and was now a pure test of willpower and estrogen-fueled stubbornness.  We knew drinking milk made us feel bad, but we also knew that drinking more milk was the only way out of this terrible, terrible situation we had gotten ourselves into.  I made it about an inch below the top of the jug handle before my brain received the signal that it was time to put an end to this ridiculous bullshit.  Whether or not that happened publicly in front of all of my friends was my decision, but stomach had made an executive decision about this fiasco, and it was decidedly not in my favor.

I bolted from my chair, ran into the house, down the basement stairs, and into the small bathroom by the laundry room.  Throwing up cold milk you only drank about twenty minutes prior to throwing it up isn’t that terrible of an experience, believe it or not.  In fact, after I puked, I felt so much better.

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So great, in fact, that I returned to the stage to torment my fellow contestants.  I filled them in on how great I felt now that I had puked, and that I was going to enjoy some hot, cheesy pizza now.  About ten minutes later, Muriel made her trip to the bathroom, after making it slightly below the handle of the jug.  Finally, with ten minutes to spare, Jenny finally succumbed after drinking a little over 3/4 of a gallon of milk.

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I wish I could tell you that I learned my lesson and refrain from stupid pissing contests like this.  I wish I could tell you that I didn’t go on to eat three pieces of ham and cheese pizza that night, too.  Sadly, I’d be lying if I sad either of those things happened.  Here’s what I learned that night:

1.  If you’re going to try to drink a gallon of milk, be sure to stay seated the entire time.

2.  That’s it.

I’m planning to try this every ten years, so I figure I have about a year to get ready.  I’ll let you know how it goes, but I’m calling it now: I really think I have this locked down.

Thanks to Jenny and Muriel for letting me talk about that night they puked in my basement bathroom for no good reason.  Do them a favor and check out Go Comedy! Improv Theater and Sasha Farm Sanctuary.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.  

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I Made the Worst Haul Video in the History of Haul Videos

After I had kids, my grandma would always sign my birthday cards with “spend this on you.”  I don’t recall if I’d ever mentioned what I actually do with my birthday money, but as someone who raised four kids herself, I’m guessing she knew from experience.  I always tried to follow her advice, but you know — sometimes the kids need new sandals, or you see a t-shirt you know they’ll love…

I was reminded of my grandma’s commandment last weekend, when I went to Target with $75 worth of gift cards that I received from my family.  I started out doing really well, and by the time I reached the checkouts, I realized how miserably I’d failed.  So I decided to commemorate my poor shopping decisions with a haul video.  A haul video, for those of you not familiar with this incredibly banal corner of YouTube, is when a person shows you everything they bought at the store.  It’s basically what I do to my husband whenever I go to the store, except instead of talking at him, I can talk straight to the camera and exert less energy trying to ignore the super annoyed expression on his face.

So, a few things to remember watching this:

a) I swear a lot, obviously, because I refused to be raised correctly.

b) I realize that 142 lbs. is not a whole lot of pounds relatively speaking, but it is about twenty pounds past where I was before having kids, so it’s a big deal to me.  Plus, all twenty pounds currently resides in the middle of my body, instead of spread out evenly.  I recently had a come-to-Jesus meeting with my ass to let it know that unfortunately it was going to remain this size for a little while longer.  I haven’t broke the news to my stomach or thighs yet, so please keep it quiet for a little bit.

c) FOR REAL, A DOG DISH?!

Okay, anyways, here it is.

So guys, please tell me this is you as well.  Am I the only person who can’t walk out of Target without spending most of my money on my kids?  Do you spend your birthday money on your kids?  Honestly, I guess I don’t care too much, as long as I still get to kill an  kid-free hour on a Saturday afternoon with that sweet $1.99 popcorn and pop combo.  If birthday money is the price I pay for that little peace of heaven once a week, then so be it.

I love Target.

I wish I knew how to quit you, Target.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.  If you like this post, you can pin it and pass it on!

You'll never look at pink spoons the same way again.  Watch this haul video by @649point133!

Posted in temporary insanity, videos | 56 Comments

Parent Like There’s No One Watching

This post was featured on BonBon Break and The Huffington Post.

My friend told me once that I could find the silver lining in anything.  Here’s a big one that I’ve found: being a parent of an autistic child has humbled me and made me a better parent.  Specifically, I’ve stopped caring about what strangers think about my parenting skills.  It took me a lot of searching to find that particular silver lining, and it wasn’t easy to find.

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Sometimes Bella can’t handle all the people at the store.  Sometimes she doesn’t want to leave the spring fair at the elementary school.  Sometimes she can’t share or take turns the way other kids can at her age.  It could be anything, or nothing at all.  But her reaction is often huge, her meltdowns epic, and when they’re public meltdowns, well, you can imagine how fun that is.  I’ve been screamed at full-blast in Target over a toy I didn’t buy.  I’ve had to coax an anxiety-overloaded child off of the floor at Jo-Ann Fabrics because she’d just had enough.  I’ve left parks carrying my child like a sack of potatoes kicking and screaming because she wouldn’t leave any other way.  I’ve been slapped, scratched, kicked and almost bit while strangers watched (or pretended not to watch, but lingered just a little too long to leave any kind of doubt as to whether or not they were shopping or watching).

It’s not always meltdowns, though.  Sometimes it’s just all the quirky things you don’t notice around the house, but are glaringly obvious when you venture out into the real world.  I had to tell Bella once that no, not everyone in the store thinks it’s funny when you stand in front of their cart, put your hand up, and shout, “STOP!”  Also, kids tend to notice when your daughter licks every doorknob in the hallway at morning drop-off.  Here eccentricities are amusing at home, but were mortifying in public.  I found myself saying, “No, Bella…” the entire time we were out, which only aggravated me and put her on edge.

I used to walk out of public places feeling embarrassed and humiliated.  Partly because of how my child behaved, but also partly because of how I behaved.  So often, I found that I was parenting for the benefit of those around me.  I felt their eyes watching me, judging me, and so I would perform for them.  I said what I thought I “should” say, what I thought people were expecting me to say.  Instead of calmly and patiently waiting for Bella to cool down before talking to her, I would jump the gun and reprimand her when she wasn’t ready to process what I was saying.  I would speak harshly to her so people could hear that I was in charge, that I was doing the “right” thing — even though the “right” thing for Bella doesn’t look or sound anything like what the “right” thing might be for other kids.

My worst parenting moments, the ones I am least proud of, happened because I was trying to impress a bunch of strangers I’ll probably never see again.

One day, after a particularly awful meltdown at the grocery store, I was driving home and had a simple but important thought flash in my head:

I’m not responsible for those people.

I have no control over those strangers’ reactions towards or perceptions of me.  To put it simply, who the hell cares what those people think?  The only people’s opinions that matter, the only people I am responsible for are my kids.  I’m only beholden to them.  I care about what they think of me, and how they feel.  No one else.  Those lingering people in the store can just fuck off. 

Once I stopped trying to impress strangers, my life got a whole lot easier.  I don’t worry about what people will think of Bella and her behavior in public anymore, because I seriously don’t care.  I focus only on my kids and how they’re feeling.  If they’re happy, I’m happy.  If they’re upset, then we deal with it the same way we would deal with it at home.  Sometimes that means I have to stand in the store and wait a minute for Bella to pull herself together.  Sometimes it means I have to stay calm and not react when my daughter tries to claw my arm.  I know it’s because she doesn’t know what to do with the overwhelmingly intense feelings she’s experiencing, and reacting physically towards me is the only way she knows how to deal with those feelings.  Other people don’t know that, but I don’t have to explain myself to them.  If someone says anything dumb, I ignore them — I literally pretend like they’re not talking.  If someone lends sincere help, I accept or decline politely (depending on whether or not it will make things better or worse, in my opinion).

People stare, and I’m sure some people go home and judge the hell out of me.  Why should I care?  I get to go home and feel good about how I treated my children.

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This girl’s opinion of me means a whole lot more than your opinion, lady.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.  If you like this post, you can pin it and pass it on!

Read "Parent Like No One's Looking" by Janel @649point133

Posted in autism, Bella | 45 Comments

It’s Been Real, Diapers.

Once again, it’s time to experience that ancient parent-child ritual that’s such a joy for all parties involved: potty training.

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I really take issue with the phrase “potty training”, because so far, despite guiding three children through this particular patch of Hell’s real estate, I don’t feel like anybody was “trained”.  I mean, I guess I’ve being trained on how to time another person’s bladder, and how to pretend like a faint piss smell doesn’t actually permeate every room of my house.  The new trendy term for this is “potty learning”, but the only thing I’ve learned is how many paper towels it takes to soak up an entire bladder’s worth of pee off the floor.

When it comes to learning to use the potty, Surrey has been a case study in zero fucks.  She could teach a master class to other toddlers on how to infuriate and boggle the minds of your parents.  Even getting her to sit on the goddamn potty is an exercise in working through the various stages of grief: rage (“IT IS TIME TO GO PEE-PEE.  YOU SIT THERE RIGHT NOW!”), bartering (“Do you want to sit on the potty and play iPad?), denial (“Oh, you don’t have to go?  Okay, just make sure you tell me if you need to go potty!”) and acceptance (“Fuck it.  Go ahead and shit on the floor; I’ll be over here making lunch and playing on my phone.”)

We tried all the typical motivational tactics, but this kid proved to be a tough nut to crack.  When we made a huge deal over her peeing on the potty, she was equally impressed with herself, clapping and laughing as if to say, “I KNOW! Can you fucking believe I did this?”  Then she would walk across the room and pee on her sister’s Barbie.  Treats didn’t work, either.  I realized one day that I’d passed out about fifty Hershey kisses to someone who sat on the potty fifty times to watch Team Umizoomi yet still managed to pee on every square inch of the house except the potty.

Exasperated, I tried being angry.  She didn’t seem to give a shit about where she did and didn’t go to the bathroom, so I thought maybe some tough love would work.  Rob and I have been watching that Scared Straight show a lot, so I felt like she could use a little bit of a reality check.  Maybe I could have her sisters come and scream testimonials in her face. “YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME?! I USED TO BE JUST LIKE YOU, WEARING DIAPERS AND POOPING MY PANTS.”

So I put my mean face on and walked over to the puddle on the floor.  “Surrey! What is this?”

Her face brightened up.  She knew the answer to this one. “It’s PEE PEE, Mommy!” she said, with a huge grin.

I keep my mean face on, despite the temptation to smile back.  “I know, Surrey.  Did you pee pee on the floor?”

“Yeah, I pee pee on the floor,” she agreed matter-of-factly.

“Why did you do that?  I do NOT like that at all, Surrey.”

“I know,” she emphatically agreed.  She’s on my side.  We’re in this together.

“Surrey, I do not like this.  Where are you supposed to go pee pee?”

“In the potty,” she told me reassuringly.  She then recited the Gospel of the Panties in her best scandalized-to-think-otherwise voice: “I no go pee pee in my panties!  no go pee pee in a diaper!  I just go pee pee on the potty!” 

“So then WHY DIDN’T YOU DO IT?”

“I go pee pee on the floor, Mommy!”

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So basically, just like the other two, nothing worked.  Reasoning, bribery, anger, encouragement, threats — she didn’t give a shit.  She knew what we wanted, she what to do, she just didn’t give a shit about actually doing it.  If you asked her if she was a baby or a big girl, she chose “baby” about 75% of the time.  My husband and I were at our wit’s end.  One day, after a particularly eventful day of Surrey peeing on every single surface that could absorb urine quickly, he announced that I needed to “figure this out”.  MOTHERFUCKER THERE’S NOTHING TO FIGURE OUT.  She’s a stubborn redhead who won’t do anything unless it’s her own idea, that’s what’s going on here.

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So we left it alone.  We went back to diapers when we left the house, and went without them around the house when we were feeling brave or lazy.  We suggested she use the potty when she started holding herself, but didn’t push it.  We started a two-person support group called “She’ll Do It Someday”, in which we took turns convincing each other that yes, she would eventually start using the potty, just like the other two girls did, and yes, it always seems like it gets worse right before it clicks with them.  I still felt anxious, though, because this time around, there’s a deadline looming over our heads: preschool.  Surrey is due to start preschool in October, but only if she’s potty trained.  So there we were, two months before her third birthday, making pretty much zero progress.

Then, one day, I came home from work and Rob announced that Surrey had started sitting AND PEEING on the potty.  By herself.  With no one mentioning it to her.  The next day, she pooped and peed by herself.  And the next.  And the next.  Are we officially potty-trained?  I don’t know, but I sure hope so.  Am I kind of sad and nostalgic about the end of the Days of Diapers in our house?  Bitch, please.  We’ve already started planning what we’re going to do with the space taken up by the Pack ‘n Play that served as a diaper-changing station these past seven years.  I don’t even fucking remember what we used to put there before we had kids.  Maybe we’ll start stacking our mountain of cash there, now that we’re not blowing it on diapers and paper towels every week.

At any rate, good luck with this kid, preschool.

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Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth!

Posted in famous last words, Ginger problems, not doing that ever again, potty training, Surrey | 15 Comments

Reflections on Becoming a Prom Queen in Your Mid-Thirties

A few weekends ago I went to Baltimore for the BlogU conference that I’ve NEVER EVER talked to you about.  I won’t recap the entire thing, but suffice it to say that it was incredible and you’re a fool not to consider attending next year.

However, I will tell you about how I became prom queen at age thirty-four.

Our Saturday night party was sponsored by NickMom, and had a retro prom theme.  Now, I am a contributor to NickMom, but they’re not paying me a goddamn thing to say the nice things I’m about to say in regards to the party.  Because, guys?  When NickMom decides to throw a party, they do not fuck around. 

Nicole Leigh Shaw and Kim Bongiorno

Nicole and Kim

Now, my original plan was to wear my friend’s Halloween costume.  She made a replica of the hideous prom dress Andi created from the completely adorable vintage dress Iona gave her in Pretty in Pink.  However, I failed to realize that my sweet friend’s boobs are about three times bigger than mine, meaning the lace front hung past the bottom of my bra.  Since I’m pretty sure “retro” wasn’t code for “show us your non-existent titties”, I decided that I should probably find a backup dress.

After spending $4 on the most unflattering dress I’ve ever had the privilege of shoving my fat ass into and then modeling for my cell phone in the handicap stall of a mall bathroom, I decided to see if I could find my original prom dress.  After searching my mom’s house, I finally found it in a storage tub in my basement, buried under a spare quilt with my senior class t-shirt (CLASS OF ’98, BITCHES!).  I tried it on and oh my sweet Jesus, this dress is truly magical.  I’ve decided that from now on, every dress I purchase is going to have an empire waist and be made out of jersey knit fabric.  This dangerous combination of loose and stretchy will ensure that the dress fits you for the rest of your life, even if you decide to gain about ten pounds after high school and then not even bother to try to lose the other thirty pounds you packed on after the last kid, because you know what? Fuck it.  I don’t drink or smoke or do drugs so I need something in my life to keep me from assaulting my coworkers and emotionally scarring my children so YES I’LL HAVE THE CORNER PIECE OF THAT CAKE PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

So I packed my pink polyester treasure and flew to Baltimore.  I didn’t really think anyone would remember that it was The Dress, but I guess I seriously underestimated the effect that this dress and that picture has on people.  I am well aware of the effect it has on my mom, because I get to hear the story of that picture at nearly every family function forever and ever, amen.  But when I showed up at the NickMom Retro Prom wearing this crazy-ass dress and that awful sneer, people kind of noticed.

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But it gets better: as I looked around the gymnasium, I remembered that NickMom asked everyone to submit their awesome prom pictures, so of course I sent The Picture.  And wouldn’t you know it? It turned out that each person’s picture was hanging up around the room, AND they were numbered so everyone could vote on their favorite picture.  I didn’t think about anything past getting a picture of myself with myself, because it’s basically all about me and my fucking attitude problem.

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After the fourth person that told me they voted for me, I started to reeeeeeally want to win.  I may or may not have directly asked a few people to vote for me, and did I tacitly approve of and subtly encourage a few people to campaign on my behalf?  I don’t know.  The night was kind of a blur after my fourth Coke.  All I know is at some point, I found myself on the dance floor, sweating like a me in church, waiting to find out if I would been crowned prom queen.

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I’m not exactly sure when or why I became convinced that the crown and my kingdom was at stake.  But I do know that this happened shortly afterward:

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That’s the travel wine tumbler that I won.  I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the prize for prom queen at the dance my high school hosted at the Crowne Plaza by the airport back in the day.  I’m also fairly confident that the fact that I didn’t receive an actual crown is just an oversight on NickMom’s part, and that it should be arriving in the mail any day now.

I know I just wrote an entire blog post about the NickMom Retro Prom, but believe me, there was much, much more to BlogU than that one epic, bass-filled party.  It’s just that there’s still something magical about getting all your close friends together, putting on fancy dresses made from synthetic materials, and shaking your asses until you just can’t anymore.  There’s a reason why each generation continues to carry on the tradition of prom, and it’s not just for the fancy dress.

Or for the pictures.

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It’s for the stories you share together.

(And maybe partly for the crown.)

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth!

Posted in BlogU, don't be jealous, internet famous | 8 Comments

Yomiko

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Today was the last day of school for the big girls.  I drove them both to school today, instead of just Phaedra.  I wanted to say goodbye to Bella’s teachers and therapists.  Her classroom is moving to a new building next year, and while the parapro that she loves will stay with the kids, her teacher is retiring.

“Now Bella, before you get on the bus to go home, make sure you give Ms. Barb and Ms. Beth an extra big hug, because it’s the last day of school.”

Nothing.  Still walking, holding my hand, but no acknowledgement.

“Today is the last day you will come to Clifford School.  Next year, you will go to a new school.  Ms. Beth will be there, but not Ms. Barb.  Today is Ms. Barb’s last day.  So, give her a big hug before you leave.”

Still nothing.  Then –

“Uh, Mom, the busses haven’t come yet.”

This is life with an autistic child.  You know change is hard, and so you try to prepare them.  You break things down into simple, black & white terms.  Then they either react in an extreme way, or not at all.  The “not at all” reaction means either a) they weren’t listening because they were too busy thinking about the TV show/video game/YouTube video they’re currently obsessed with; b) they heard you, but just don’t care about what you told them; or c)they heard you and they’re processing what you said.  It might make sense, it might not make sense, but nevertheless, they’re thinking about it.  Then they mentally set it aside until later, when they can pick it back up and fiddle with it some more, like a Rubik’s cube that they just can’t put away until it’s solved.

In the classroom, we follow the routine — hang up backpacks, put away folders, start playing.  I chat with her teachers, and annoy Bella by insisting she take pictures with her teachers when all she wants to do is play.  Playing is difficult today, since half the classroom is packed up in anticipation of all the changes the end of this school year is bringing — new teacher, new classroom, new building.  When Bella’s teacher notices her trying to free a hand puppet from the box she’s been stuffed into, she says, “Oh, Bella! I have something for you! I put Yomiko aside for you to take home!”  She walks across the room and picks up a stuffed cat.  “She loves this cat,” she tells me, “plays with her every day. I was packing things up yesterday and thought she might like to take it home.” She turns and looks at Bella.  “Bella, who is this?”

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She smiles.  “Yomiko!” She grabs the cat and happily starts tucking her into the doll bed in the housekeeping corner.  Her teacher smiles too.  “She asked me once what the tag on the cat’s collar says, and I told her it says, ‘Yomiko’.  It’s the name of the company, I think, but the name stuck.”

As we walk back to the front of the room, her teacher adds, “You know, last year, I had an autistic student in my class who was nonverbal because her anxiety was so extreme.  Her mother sent in the cat for her to carry around with her at school, to help her feel more secure.  By the end of the school year, she didn’t need it anymore.  Her mother told me to just hang on to it for the other kids to play with.  So when I was sorting through things yesterday, I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was for Bella to keep it.”

*****

It’s bedtime.  After an uncharacteristically calm run through the gauntlet of going potty and brushing teeth, Phaedra, Bella and I stood in the bathroom doorway chatting about this and that.  Yomiko lay at Bella’s feet, ready to accompany her to bed.

“I’m going to a new school next year, you guys.”

“Yes, you are, Bella!” I said.  “Tell us about it.”

“Um… Ms. Barb and Ms. Beth are going to meet me there…”

Phaedra corrected her.  “No, not Ms. Barb.  She retired.

“That’s true, Bella.  Ms. Beth will meet you there, but not Ms. Barb.”

Bella looked confused.  “No, Ms. Barb said she and Ms. Beth would meet me there…”

Oh no.  She hadn’t understood after all.  Oh no no no no no no.

“No, baby.  Ms. Barb is all done teaching.  Remember?  I said…”

Her eyes started filling with tears, her face crumpling in front of us.  “But… but… Ms. Barb said she would meet me there.  She said…

She didn’t.  Bella misunderstood.  And now here’s the other shit thing about being a parent of an autistic child: no matter how black & white you think you explained something, you didn’t.  You didn’t crack the code — you failed to string together the correct words that will help their brain understand what you mean.  You used American slang and colloquial phrases to explain something to someone who’s just learning English, but because those phrases and sayings are so ingrained in your brain, you didn’t realize you told that tourist something that made absolutely no sense to them whatsoever.  You find this out around 9:56pm when your daughter starts sobbing uncontrollably and demanding that you call her preschool teacher and get her over to your house immediately because she wants to give her a hug.  You will start to cry because you see the sincere, unfiltered heartbreak on her face and in here eyes and then cry more when you realize you can’t do anything about her hurt.  You can’t even hug her because she’s far too emotional to deal with your hugs and your feels at the moment.

I tucked in the other two girls, and came back to Bella.  She sat on the floor just outside the bathroom.  I sat down next to her, giving her a test side-hug to see if she was ready for comforting yet.  “You okay, Bell?”

She looked at me with sad eyes.  “She said she would meet me there.”

“I’m so sorry Bell.  I really am.”  I hugged her in the dark hallway for a few minutes.  “Hey, where’s Yomiko?  Is she still in the bathroom?”

“Uh, yeah.  I need to sleep with Yomiko.”

“Okay.  Go lay down in your bed, and I’ll grab Yomiko for you.”

I got up and grabbed Yomiko out of the bathroom.  I walked down the hallway to Bella’s room, and handed her the black and white stuffed kitty.  “Thanks Mom,” she said, already too sleepy to keep her eyes from fluttering.

She hugged Yomiko tight.  I hugged her even tighter.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth!

Posted in autism, Bella, preschool | 12 Comments

A Girl, a Guinea Pig, and the Best Prom Picture of All Time

Let’s all hop in our Super Happy Fun-Time Machine and travel allllllllllllllllll the way back to that golden era of human civilization: the late 90s.  It was May 1998. Will Smith had just shared the secret of how to get jiggy with it; the nation was trying to put the pieces of their broken lives back together as Seinfeld came to an end; and I was sitting on the floor of my living room painting my nails before heading out the door to my senior prom.  Oh hey, look!  There I am!

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My mom and I were getting ready to leave to meet my friends across town for pictures.  All I had left to do was to get dressed, grab my overnight bag and fancy purse, and get in the car.  I did that wavey-thing girls to do get their nails to dry faster, then ran to my tiny bedroom to get dressed.  I came out of my room, ready to impress my boyfriend (and future husband) with how great I looked.  Hair curled, tiara in place, makeup perfect, hand resting on the front door handle when I remembered.  I looked at my mom and said the words that must have made her want to throttle my faux jewel-encrusted throat:

“Where’s Piggy?”

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Piggy was my beloved guinea pig.  He was more dog than pig, really.  He was fat and happy and generally a delightful little guy.  When I was home, I would let him roam the house on his own.  Piggy would just trundle on down the hallway, giving you a few squeaks as he waddled past.  He rarely got into trouble or became lost, preferring to hang around the dog food bowl or the corner of the living room.

Except that on this day, of all days, he was kind of lost.

You see, I didn’t really have too much time between getting my hair done and leaving for the dance.  But I knew I would be gone all night and most of the next day, and I felt bad that poor Piggy would be stuck in his cage for so long, so I decided to let him run around while I got ready to go.

It was about five minutes before I had to be at my friend’s house for pictures, and I was NOT going to miss it.  The entire family was enlisted in the Search for Piggy.  Since I was spending the night at another friend’s house, it was imperative that Piggy be returned to his cage before I left.  How the hell a two-pound, eight-inch rodent could be so hard for four people to find in a two-bedroom suburban bungalow, I have no fucking idea.  I do know that the amount of time it takes to locate said critter and return him to his comfortable cage is about the same amount of time it takes for a hormonal, extremely well-dressed seventeen-year-old girl to start believing that all her friends are about to leave for the prom without her and she’ll be the only person missing in the pictures and THIS JUST CAN’T BE HAPPENING WE NEED TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.

Finally, Piggy was safe in his cage and I dramatically huffed my fancy ass out the door towards the car.  At this point, my mother said the words that made me want to throttle her:

“Can we take a few pictures before we leave?”

I turned around and looked at my mother.  My mother, who sewed a pink crepe drawstring purse for me when I couldn’t find a purse that matched my dress.  My mother who only raised one daughter, who drove her to spelling bees and birthday parties and sat through rainy marching band competitions.  My mother who, having unknowingly raised a founding member of the Thrift Store Jet-Set, discovered she wouldn’t be shopping with her only daughter for a prom dress the day that girl brought home a $9 vintage dress found at the local Salvation Army store.  My mother, who just spend the last fifteen fucking minutes searching her house for a goddamn guinea pig that her presumably intelligent daughter decided to let run around unsupervised shortly before she had to leave for a major event.

I turned around and looked at my mother, and she knew me well enough to be ready to snap a picture.

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Did she really think I might pose, or was she just poking a frilly pink bear with a stick?  I’m not sure.  I know that sometimes you’re lucky enough to perfectly capture moments in time with your children.  You get a select few snapshots that tell the story, good and bad, of who that little person was, is, and came to be.

**********

Hop back into the Super Happy Fun Times Machine and travel forward fifteen years to September 2013.  That sassy teenager stood in the kitchen of her own house, with her own exasperated daughter.  The mother had already taken about fifty pictures, and promised that she had absolutely, positively taken her last picture, promise.  As the girl’s hand rested on the handle of the door, ready to finally leave for her first day of school, her mother said the words that made the little girl want to throttle her mother:

“Can I take just one more picture?”

And somehow, without thinking, that teenager, now a mother herself, knew to be ready.

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*****

This post is written for NickMom in conjunction with their paid sponsorship of the BlogU blog conference.  All snotty attitudes and poor teenage decisions are my own.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss a post.  Better yet, pop your email address in the box at the top of the page and subscribe!  Also, you can read my essays in I Just Want to Be Alone and You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth!

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Posted in BlogU, famous last words, NickMom | 16 Comments