Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who I Was Before You

Moms, somewhere in the files of your computer, or tucked away in a manila folder at the bottom of your desk is that dusty piece of paper. With your name in BOLD at the top, with your Magna Cum Laude or Director of Communications or Tax Litigator or MBA…or, maybe it just says you were more than just a woman who walks into a bathroom to the sight of your son, naked from the waist down, bent over like he’s the starting center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, impatiently shrieking for you to “WIPE MY HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINEEEEEEEEEEEEY!”

We all have seen the articles outlining what a stay-at-home mom could make. Between the food shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, childcare, homework, chauffeuring, and – let’s just say “other” – a mom is worth about $122,732. Seems reasonable to me; if not a little on the cheap side. Do I get an expense account? Who pays for gas? Can I bill for extra hours, say between 11pm and 5am? Vacation time? And, no I don’t mean the family takes a vacation to Disneyland or some other place that has nothing to do with me. THAT is not a vacation; THAT is work in a different location.

No, a VA-KAY-SHUN Meaning: to vacate. Leave. Vamoose. Me. Possibly my husband. With some friends. Fruity drinks, and people to serve them.

Or, just throw in a monthly case of Four Buck Chuck and I think we got a deal.

Among our circle of friends, Lydia and I share our time with a federal prosecutor, a health care professional, a teacher, a genetic biologist, a history professor, a television producer, a corporate executive and a “senior government official.” We even have a friend who majored in Mandarin Chinese. The language, the alphabet, the cuss words. All of it. She scolds her kids in Chinese. It’s fantastic. Even my children behave when she gets going. When her kids are bad, she says she’s going to sell them to China. It’s a legitimate threat. I’m pretty sure she could do it.

In her former life, she was a translator for visiting Chinese, which I think is so cool and something I could never do. First of all, besides the seven words I’ve managed to absorb from Ni Hao Kai Lan, I don’t know Chinese. Second, I don’t think I would behave myself. Some American Dignitary would say, “It is our greatest pleasure to have you visit us, and we are honored to discuss mutually beneficial trade between our two great countries.” And then I’d look over at the Chinese Dignitary and say, “We have set up a sumo wrestling mat behind the White House. My country is challenging your country to your great sports venture. May the victor dictate the terms of our trade agreement.”

And then they’ll shake hands, and one Chinese guy would say to the other, “Do they think we’re Japanese?”

We find ourselves wistfully saying, “…I once had this case/client/story/patient…” and re-tell stories…mostly I think, to remind ourselves that we – our lovely children notwithstanding – were once relevant to a world greater than what we could fit into our sedan-cum-minivans.

So, moms of the world, take heart. Your skills are more transferable than you think. You’ll find yourselves brushing up on case law, communicable diseases, standardized tests, DNA, hidden cameras, and, when your children push you to the edge, that Mandarin is going to come in REAL handy.

Doctors, Nurses, EMT's and Health Professionals: Not only can you fix what hurts, you save all of your friends the trips to the doctor for a crazy splotch on Jimmy’s forearm that just turned out to be from a particularly evil game of Indian Burn. They still play that? Are Purple Nurples still popular too? Because I don’t want to be racing to the ER just because Son #3 has what I deem to be an infestation of hives, but in reality is the neighborhood kid who just has no concept of where another person’s nipples are…We all hope his aim will improve by 17. So does his future girlfriend.

As a secondary utility, while you’re quite versed in fixing medical maladies, you also have the practical knowledge of what hurts most. “Son, you may clean your room, as I’ve asked you to do three times already, or you may find yourself with a Subcutaneous Glutteal Hematoma (a spanking). Your choice.”

Also, perhaps most importantly, if someone ever threatens to harm your precious little angels - you know how to beat them down and not leave any bruises.

The Media, Marketing and Communications: When I was a kid, we had the Grandma Campbell Rule. It went something like this “Would you do what you’re about to do if Grandma Campbell was watching?"

It tended to keep us in check, save for when we decided it would be a grand idea to try and smoke. Factor in the Grandma Campbell Rule there, and she would’ve promptly dropped her knitting needles to teach us how to blow smoke rings and play Cribbage.

With Scotch.

Anyhow, now with technology and, sadly, my Grandmother’s apparent inability to teleport (damn, I would have like to inherit THAT; instead of that chafing dish. What the hell is that by the way? It’s been in my house for eleven years. Clearly I’ve never chafed; well, not from a dish anyway.) I have discovered something just as effective: The Videocamera.

Amazing how kids fall into two distinct brackets when faced with a blinding white light, and some fool saying, “Jimmy, say something to the camera!”

Mine turn to stone. Remarkable, considering their mother basically whips out the device every time they turn around. What do I have? A lot of footage of statue kids. Our home movies are like time elapsed photography, but without the time elapsing.

Other kids turn into jumping, flailing, face-making, pants-dropping, Jim Carey wanna-be comedians.

Moms, this is called ammunition. SAVE IT.

Again, one day, when the “gang” is coming over to your house to hang out, you can retreat to the family room, and play these old home movies REALLY LOUD.

Then your son’s almost-girlfriend can see him at the age of 4, when he got out of the bath, and put on his belt. Only his belt. Then grabbed Dad’s briefcase and said “I have to go to business.” And my disembodied voice said, “you’re going to work?” And he slowly closes his eyes and shakes his head, like he's thinking "wow, there goes two seconds of my life I can't get back," and says slowly, for my feeble mind, “No. Girls go to work. I. Am going. To business.”

And your daughter’s friends can see her when she decided to become a performance artist and spread Desitin over her entire body. Two tubes. And then fingerprint on her own stomach, taking great care to paint “big boobies” as the circles consumed more and more of her tiny torso.

Factor in Facebook, and you have ready-made extortion. They agreed to it when they checked the box joining said group. It's called Terms of Use. Fabulous.

Mom: I want you home by 1am. We have church in the morning, and you need to be ready and pleasant and not snoring during the homily.
Kid: Ugh. Mooooooooom. No other kid has to be home that early. This sucks. It’s not like you’ll be awake anyway.
Mom: Tell you what, kiddo, for every 5 minutes you’re late, I post 2 minutes of Your Funniest Home Videos on your Facebook page. I’ve got about 40 hours of the stuff. You can be as late as you like.
Kid: [unintelligible grumbling combined with door slamming]

[1am, door creaks open – mom smiles victoriously]

Teachers & Educators: You guys could enter a room of 26 5-year olds, and have them sitting in Circle Time, reciting the alphabet within 90 seconds. You knew their names on the 2nd day, as well as all their little quirks that Mom and Dad weren’t even aware of yet. They gazed up at you with the awe reserved for the Wizard of Oz and Santa Claus. Your rules superseded ANY and all rules. “Mom, Mrs. Michaels says SpongeBob isn’t good for our developing minds.” And, poof, your quiet 20 minutes in the kitchen has been replaced by “we can help you – how many eggs should we crack? – mom, you said not to drink out of the milk container, but you’re drinking from the wine bottle – why does it smell like burning? – I dropped an egg – no I get to crack it – MOM!”

Now that you are a mommy, you have a well developed crevice above your nose that has furrowed to the point where your eyebrows, on occasion, actually touch. Your kid has quirks that in all seven years of teaching, you never experienced one of them. You say things like, “I have a Masters in Early Childhood Education,” and burst into hysterical laughter.

But take heart my Molder of Small Minds. You have the power that all kids fear. Wanna freak your kid out? Grades aren’t what you think they should be? Is he blowing off Algebra, because “really, who uses that in real life?” (Sidebar: I’ve still never used it.)

You. Are. Friends. With. The. Principal.

My kids get completely discombobulated when they see their teachers outside of school. I truly believe the kids think they live there, in caves under their classroom. My son, horror-stricken at seeing one of his teachers in shorts and a t-shirt at the grocery store one day rather than the school-appropriate shirt and tie, refused to speak with him. When his teacher was out of ear-shot, my son, incredulous, said “Mom, Mr. Petrie has ARMS!”

Imagine the horror if those arms were resting on my sofa, swigging on a beer. People who you mentally expect in certain venues DO NOT BELONG IN OTHER VENUES.

Complete sidebar: I know this works. We were invited to a BBQ one Sunday. Probably 40 guests with kids. We’re chatting away, the kids are playing. The host says to McLovin and me, “I'd like to introduce you to a good friend of mine” – and, suddenly, I am face-to-face with a face I already know. We exchange pleasantries, acting as if we've never met. McLovin whispers, “He’s so familiar.” Whispering back, I say, “Yes, he’s my gynecologist.” To which my middle son, tucked on my hip, hollers “What’s a gynelogilist mom? MOM! No I DON’T WANT DOWN. WHATS A GUY-NEE-LOJO-LIST?

Pro Se, Pro Forma, and Pro Zac: I wander around my house thinking I’m part-Jack McCoy and part Detective Lennie Briscoe. I can find the smallest sliver of evidence that proves Child 1 did in fact take Child 2’s i-Pod and replaced the ear buds with the newer, therefore better, pair. Not only do they believe that I have eyes in the back of my head, they think I can rewind life. Like honestly hit a virtual rewind button and watch their day pass in front of me on an invisible TV in reverse. That is, by far, my best con. I figure with the straight face that MUST accompany that gig, I should seriously play that Million Dollar Poker Match. I can’t play cards for shit; but I can bluff.

So, for you once-was litigators, prosecutors and incarcerators, you may have the easiest transition to Mom Life. Three words. Be. The. Judge.

If Sally takes Bobby’s favorite pencil and breaks it, then Bobby gets to decide Sally’s punishment. No sleepovers for a week? Done. Case closed. Sally has to make Bobby’s bed every morning? Brilliant case, counselor. Denial of dessert, movie choices, pay up five bucks, it’s all fair game. We call it Summary Judgment. No juries, no pleading of cases. The “victim” simply decrees the punishment proportional to the transgression committed against them.

I’ve put my heel through a cell phone, taken a bedroom door off the hinges, and allowed my son to spit on an entire day’s worth of his sister’s meals. (She spit on him, I considered it not only fair, but poetic.) The best part of this punishment? Putting a snack in front of my daughter, forgetting about the Loogy Law, and hearing my son running upstairs and hollering, “WAIT! I get to spit on it first!”

It absolves you of coming up with, enforcing, or feeling the guilt from said punishment. And, you’ll discover that your children can be surprisingly lenient with each other. One could argue it’s their better nature coming through. One could also argue they know that the person they get to hurl a dodge ball at now will be the same kid who will be making them taste soap later.

It also beats being sold to China.

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