28 Sep

The Mama Curse

Well, I hope you’re happy, Mom. That mama curse you put on me so long ago is now working overtime and I am, indeed, “paying for my raising.”

For those not familiar with this brand of maternal magic, let me explain. The “mama curse” is spewed out at an exasperating child when the mama is at her wit’s end. There are countless variations on it, but the gist of it goes like this: “One day I hope you have a child who acts exactly the way you’re acting right now! Then you’ll know how it feels.”

When my mom hexed me, I was young and just rolled my eyes in the charming way children sometimes do. Little did I know that a mama curse doesn’t kick in until decades later.

And now my frustrating chickens have come home to roost. I have three kids who, each in their own maddening way, act the way I did. It may be most evident in our daughter Kate, whose heightened response to seemingly trivial things is way too familiar.

When I was about 12 years old, my mother took me to the first of many appointments to see the orthodontist. I sat next to her in the waiting room as she filled out the new patient forms. On one of the forms, there was a question that asked, “Does your child display any of the following characteristics that we need to be aware of?” The possible answers were: Fear of dentist? Aggressive behavior? Overly sensitive?

Without hesitation, my mother checked the box next to “overly sensitive.” I was horrified and hurt – far more than any normal person would be offended by a question on a new patient form.

“What is THAT supposed to mean, Mom? I’m not too sensitive! I’ve never been too sensitive. What are you trying to say? Why would you say something like that about your own daughter? I can’t believe you would do that to me. Now the orthodontist is going to think I’m weird and I’ll be embarrassed and all his assistants will know, too.”

With tears welling up in my eyes and my heartbeat racing, I continued my whispered rant in the waiting room. At the end of it, Mom gave me “the look,” the one that tells you to cut it out now before you make her really mad. Then she said, “THAT is why I checked the box. THAT is what they mean by overly sensitive.”

Fast forward nearly three decades to today. I’m on a piano bench next to 5-year-old Kate who is practicing before her next lesson. Even though she’s doing remarkably well for her age, she is getting more and more upset because she has hit the wrong note three times.

I assure her it’s normal to hit wrong notes when you’re learning to play piano. But she’ll have none of it. Her inner perfectionist demands nothing short of Beethoven quality, and soon there are tears spilling down her cheeks. Then in a dramatic, overly sensitive fashion, she declares she will never, ever, ever learn to play piano because it’s too hard and she can’t do it.

Just like my mother did with me, I let Kate vent her frustration and cry her angry tears to get it out of her system. When she calms down and the world stops coming to an end, we begin again.

As the melody gets stronger, I can almost hear an echo of the mama curse ringing in my ears. And finally I understand just exactly how Mom felt.

# # #

21 Sep

My life as a dog washer

For years I’ve said that the main reason I became a writer is because it’s my only marketable skill. Lucky for me, I’m nerdy enough to like stringing words together and have a genuine interest in prepositions and participles, which comes in handy.

But before my first writing gig, I tried other jobs. I was 18 when I snagged my first real position as a dog washer at a local grooming salon. I loved dogs and had plenty of experience washing my own so it sounded like a fun, easy summer job.And it did turn out to be fun, but it was never easy – especially the first day. I’m not sure if the owner was trying to get me to quit or just had a cruel sense of humor. Instead of easing me into the job with patient instruction, she tossed me into the doggie deep-end by assigning me a Saint Bernard to wash and dry during my first day on the job.

Thankfully, the Saint Bernard was sweet so I didn’t worry about getting bit or scratched. But it soon became clear that a back sprain was a definite possibility. This gentle giant was also the laziest, heaviest animal I’ve ever met. His only trick was the “dead weight” game, at which he was a master.The sink at the grooming salon wasn’t big enough for him, so my boss suggested I wash him in a horse trough outside. But Bernard wasn’t interested in jumping into the trough, no matter how much I coaxed and begged. And there was no dog crane on site with which to lift him up and over the side. So I mustered all my determination and picked him up, one half at a time, and lifted him into the trough.

After scrubbing and rinsing for an hour, I was as wet as the Saint Bernard but at least he was clean. My boss came back with a hair dryer and told me I could leave for the day once the dog’s hair was dry. But drying the incredibly thick hair of a dog that’s roughly the size of a Ford Focus takes a while, so the joke was on me.

When I showed up for work again the next morning, my boss seemed genuinely surprised that putting me through the Saint Bernard gauntlet hadn’t run me off for good. So she took it easier on me that second day, asking me to wash a few poodles and a Schnauzer who were so accustomed to doggie spa treatments that they practically asked me for a bottle of Perrier and peeled grapes.

After the Schnauzer and poodles were trimmed and fluffed, she told me that the little brown poodle named Coco needed her nails done. Not just trimmed and filed, mind you. Every two weeks, Princess Coco got a mani-pedi featuring bright red polish, and I was her newest manicurist.

I thought painting poodle toe nails was fun until I realized I’d forgotten one critical step – holding the dog’s paw in order to keep the nails separated from each other as they dried. By the time I’d painted those last few nails on the fourth paw, the first three sets of nails had dried and stuck together. Coco could barely walk with those red nails cemented together. So I had to redo the mani-pedi, being careful to hold the nails apart and blow on them until they were dry.

It was the first job among many that taught me I was probably better off with prepositions and participles versus Saint Bernards and poodle pedicures. Live and learn.

# # #

05 Sep

Why I clean before the cleaners come

Today will be a good day. Because by early afternoon, the kitchen and bathroom counters will be clean, the floors shiny and there’ll be fresh vacuum cleaner tracks throughout the house. Every other Wednesday by 2 p.m., life is good and orderly and smells like lemons. It’s wonderful.

But before that happens, I’ve got to clean up around here. Why? Because the house cleaners are coming!

Tom always thinks I’m nuts when I fly into my pre-cleaning routine before our bi-weekly Swat Team of Clean arrives. But women understand the two reasons why we clean right before the house cleaners come:

  1. Because we don’t want the house cleaners to think we’re slobs.
  2. Because the cleaners will be able to clean more thoroughly if they’re not dodging our clutter.

That last one is the only good reason to pre-clean before the cleaners come, but the truth is that the first reason has a lot more to do with it. I’m not sure why women worry about whether or not our house cleaners think we’re slobs, but we do. If I asked our housekeeper about it, I imagine she’d say she rather likes the job security slobs provide. Dirty houses have allowed her to build her own successful business.

After I got married 14 years ago, I never thought I’d have a house cleaning service. I assumed I could do it all myself and worried that, if I didn’t, Martha Stewart would show up at our door with a judgmental stare and revoke my “good homemaker” card.

But after our first two kids were born, I was barely keeping up with laundry, housework and writing deadlines. I was driving myself crazy trying to get it all done. When I got pregnant with our third child and was put on partial bed rest, I finally ripped off the Supermom cape and hired Diana, the house-cleaning savior who swooped into our lives and showed me what I’d been missing.

For the first few months that Diana and her crew came to clean, I felt terribly guilty about it. Part of me wanted to follow her around apologizing for the glob of toothpaste dried onto the kids’ sink or the apple juice that had made the kitchen floor sticky.

But over time I learned to let go of the guilt and instead appreciate how great it was to have the whole house cleaned in a few hours’ time instead of the week it would have taken me to do those same things on my own.

By the time my due date arrived, I was officially in love with my house cleaners. They were like my own magical fairies who flew in to make everything beautiful again.

Shortly after our third baby was born and bed rest was over, Tom asked if we should discontinue the house cleaning service. I laughed – a good, hard laugh – and told him we could discontinue it as long as he promised to take over the round-the-clock breastfeeding I was doing. He saw it my way after that.

Of course, having a house cleaning service does add another expense to the budget. Many people decide to deal with a little domestic dirt or clean it themselves rather than pay that fee. But I’ve decided that, as nice as a newer car might be, I’d rather skip the car payment and keep the cleaners. The sense of calm I get from the gleaming floors makes it worth it.

Now I better get busy straightening up around here. The house cleaners are coming and this place is a mess.

# # #

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required Email Address * First Name Last Name