Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marble Motivation

A few weeks ago we were invited to a cookout with some friends who also have children.  While the dads entertained the children with armpit farts and water guns, the mommies started discussing helpful child-rearing ideas. 

Idea #1 was suggested by a mom to three girls who are similar in age to my three boys.  Her suggestion was that you mark a dot with a Sharpie on the tag inside their clothes.  The oldest gets one dot, the middle child gets two dots, and the youngest gets three dots.  When clothes are handed down from the oldest to the middle child, you simply add a dot.  When you’re doing laundry, you can quickly look at the tag and know which clothes belong to which child.  Brilliant!  Why didn’t I think of that?

I suggested Idea #2, and here’s where it gets tricky.  There was some “discussion” among the moms regarding the validity of Idea #2.

I read in Disney’s FamilyFun Magazine about a family that used a Marble Jar to motivate their children to help out around the house.  In “Don’t Lose Your Marbles,” author Melissa O’Brian discusses how she implemented a system in which her kids are rewarded with a certain number of marbles based on the task they complete. 

I sat down and modified her system to work with our family:

1 marble
2 marbles
3 marbles
Take out trash/recycling
No timeouts
Try new foods
Put dishes in sink
Clean out car
Bring toys in from yard
Sort laundry: lights & darks
Sweep or swiffer
Put clean clothes away
Dust surfaces
Vacuum family room
Empty dishwasher
Brush teeth
Clean up playroom
Windex windows
Stay in bed after tuck-in
Clean up basement
Clean bathroom
Get dressed by yourself
Stay on smiley/green

Feed dog

When they fill their marble jars, they get $10 to spend however they choose.  The added bonus to this, of course, is that they almost always choose to go to Target to spend their money.  There's a Starbucks there.  Aces!  (Perhaps I've mentioned this before.)

I explained the system to my girlfriends at dinner.  One of them said she thought it was a great idea.  She's my new BFF.  And then there was the other one.  There’s always ONE, isn’t there?

“You’re a MUCH nicer mom than I am.  I expect them to do those things anyway.”

I think that was a DIG; the insinuation being that her children are intrinsically motivated to contribute to the successful functioning of their family unit, while mine will only work for marbles.  She continued by talking about how her girls make their beds every morning and put their own clothes away in their drawers and eat vegetables and whatnot. 

Good.  For.  You.

The marble system works for us.  When I say that the garbage needs to go out, the boys (sometimes . . . if there’s nothing good on tv . . . ) come running into the kitchen to take it out.  They help move clothes from the washer to the dryer.  They help me Swiffer the kitchen floor.  It’s not perfect, but that’s not the point.  They’re helping out around the house, and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be rewarded for good behavior.  We don’t give them some arbitrary weekly allowance; they help because we’re a family and we all contribute.

I realize this system might not work for everyone, but it’s what works in our family.  I’m not one for making passive-aggressive comments that sound like a compliment but are really an indication that I’m SO MUCH BETTER at this parenting thing than my contemporaries.  Guess what?  My kids eat McDonald’s . . . sometimes several times a week if I’m desperate.  Large’s t-shirt drawer looks like someone opened it, threw a live grenade in, and then closed it again.  And raw vegetables are certainly not their snack of choice. 

HOWEVER, do her children unload the dishwasher out of the goodness of their little 6-year-old hearts?  I tend to think not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer "Vacation" - DAY 1

Summer “Vacation” has arrived.  I have taken some artistic liberties with the timeline, but all of the following have occurred at some point during the first 4 days of summer break.


7:44 AM – kids wake up.  Even though I have to rouse them from catatonic slumber on school days, today they are ready to go, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

8:07 AM – I am told that I “can’t be on WipeOut because small people do better.”

8:32 AM – the very first “What are we gonna do today?” of summer vacation. 

8:40 AM – “What are we gonna do today?”

9:07 AM – “What are we gonna do today?”

9:08 AM – Mommy threatens to take away a quarter for every time Large asks, “what are we gonna do today?”

9:11 AM – Large: “I’m just so anxious about what we’re gonna do today!”

9:31 AM – “So what are we gonna do?  Just sit in the house all day?”  (Someone’s getting sassy!)

9:38 AM – Lesson of the Day:  when the toilet is clogged with toilet paper that Small has stuffed in the bowl, for the love o’ pete, don’t poop on top of it. 

9:43 AM – Addendum to Lesson of the Day: don’t leave the bathroom door open, which will allow for Small to throw two Rice Krispie Treats and a pair of Crocs into the toilet. 

10:00 AM - Mommy:  “Can you get off the table, please?”  

10:16 AM – It’s Albert Pujols; not Albert Poopholes.  But Poopholes is much funnier.

10:32 AM – picture frame mysteriously falls from wall, throwing Mommy’s prized Gallery Wall off balance.  I become aware of this when Medium sheepishly announces, “Um, I have something to tell you, and I’m gonna be in BIG trouble.”  This never ends well.  

10:58 AM – restart WipeOut, so we can watch it AGAIN.

11:14 AM – Medium: “Did you know that Justin Beiber sings 'Eenie Meenie Miney Moe'?  And so does his best friend Utcher.”

11:20 AM – I know!  Let’s go to Target!  There’s a Starbucks there!

11:38 AM – “(Gasp!)  Mom!  Oh, never mind.  I thought that was Miss K’s car.”  Because we ALWAYS see K at Target. 

11:45 AM – Large: “EXTRA Large?”  Um, can we refrain from commenting, please?

1:00 PM – Blessed Nap Time for Small.  Find something quiet to do. 

1:07 PM – see neighbor boys outside with their mom, who is taking them to the tennis courts, and they want to know, can Large and Medium come?  Gee, I just put Small down for a nap . . . “I can take them,” says neighbor mom.  Well-played, Boy Mommy.  Well-played. 

1:08 PM – After admonitions to use their best manners, be good listeners, etc., Mommy sits on couch to catch up on the world news.  (Afghanistan?  Midwest Flooding?  The upcoming Presidential Race?)  And also, Real Housewives of New Jersey.

2:00 PM – they’re back.

2:14 PM - Overheard from basement: “Whoa.  It’s a good thing you were wearing a helmet.”

2:36 PM - Medium: “Is Pluto just a really small planet, or is it big but just really far away?”  F*ck if I know, kid.

2:53 PM – “Mom!  Come see!  There’s ants in here and they’re eating a dead fly!”

3:00 PM – Small wakes up from nap.

3:06 PM - Large:  “Mom.  Small has a runny nose.  Can you do something?”

3:07 PM – Medium begins doing laps around the kitchen and living room on the Ride-On vehicle intended for the baby and complete with a set of headphones.  At last count, he was on lap 75.  He’s perfectly content.  

4:00 PM – Know what time it is?  It’s Happy Hour!  We’re just gonna have one glass.

4:23 PM - Mommy:  “No, I don’t want to do Easy Bake right now.  Mommy’s busy.”

5:00 PM – kicked the bottle.

5:13 PM – Daddy’s home early!  Takes the kids out.  Somewhere.  Not sure where, but when they return, they’re singing . . .

7:20 PM – “I like big butts and I cannot lie.  You otha brothas can’t deny.  When a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist and a round thing in yo’ face you get SPRUNG!”  Super.

8:00 PM – While cleaning up bath toys, I notice equivalent of a cup of sediment in a ring around the bottom of our bathtub.  A sure sign of a good day!

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Was Only Trying to Help . . .

It has been said that opposites attract. 

Hubby is a Republican.  I am a Democrat.  He was an Accounting major and I studied English.  (And one of the reasons I married him was because I cannot, for the life of me, balance a checkbook and my parents refused to do it for me after I had graduated from college.)  He is a morning person, and I am more of a night owl. 

Because he likes to get up in the morning and *begin his day!* while I would rather lounge around until 10 AM or so, he helps with the morning routine even if he’s already left for the gym.  He sets breakfast out for the boys, along with their vitamins and little notes instructing them to have a good day.  The night before, he lays their clothes out so that there’s less confusion in the morning.  Hubby gets major props for this, because it enables me to ease into my day knowing that my first responsibility is to simply wake up and walk them to the bus stop.  It’s really best for everyone involved . . .

Anyway, it always cracks me up that he lays their clothes out on the floor in little outfits.  The shirt is on top, usually with an undershirt laying underneath it, the shorts are on the bottom, and their shoes and socks are beneath.  Our children may not be Harvard material, but I’m pretty sure they could figure out which body parts belong in which arm hole, etc., without having a visual aid. 

Hubby and Large had to be at baseball practice immediately following church on Sunday, so I suggested that he lay Large’s clothes out so he could just run in, get dressed, and be ready to go.  When I walked in OUR room, however, I noticed that he’d done the same thing to his own clothes. 

Hubby does not think I’m nearly as funny as I really am, so I’m sure he had no appreciation for my effort, but this is what I left him:

Just a little suggestion for how he could tweak his ensemble.  My humor is so under-appreciated around here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Helpful Advice for the Suburban Mommy in the Big City

A continuation . . . 

11.  Make sure your child’s immunizations are all current.  You won’t have to worry as much about Hepatitis when a sweet little Hispanic lady says to you, “your son lick elevator.” 

12.  On the subject of hygiene, I’ve never been one of those Purell mommies.  (You know the kind that have the travel-size hand sanitizer in a little holster on the side of their purse?) I tried to make sure my boys washed their hands often when we were in the city.  They loved to hold onto the pole on the train and the thought of the thousands of people who have touched that same pole throughout the day skeeves me out.  And then of course, there’s the licking.  Again.  It SHOULD go without saying that “we don’t lick the pole,” but it’s worth emphasizing.

13.  Remember the Geriatrics at Golden Corral who are experts at raising my children?  It’s worse in the city.  There’s the added threat of having a little mommy vs. toddler screaming match at the playground documented on is a special website where random strangers can tattle on your childcare provider if she dares to talk on her cell phone or discipline your child for sticking a wet lollipop on that nice dog.  I worried that someone might assume I was a nanny, take a photo of me doing the one-arm wrangle with my toddler, and post it on the website.
I'm sure rodents don't use this sand as a litter box when we're not around . . . 

14.  There is no shame in wearing shoes that are practical for your situation.  Just because every 13-year-old girl on the Upper East Side is wearing Chanel shoes and carrying a Louis Vuitton bag does not mean that you should sport such accessories to the playground.  I once saw a Prada mommy standing on the side of the sandbox trying to coax her preschooler to get out of the sand.  That little girl knew there was NO chance her mother was gonna hop in the sandbox to retrieve her.  Since I logged a lot of time at the playground with my dirty little sand throwers, while wearing J Crew flip flops and stylish ensembles from Old Navy, I may have silently snickered at this scenario.

15.  Do not let your children play with the ashtray in taxi cabs, lest you notice something in your child’s mouth and discover that he is indeed chewing someone else’s previously chewed gum. 

16.  Hope you like pets!  We had mice while we were in New York.  Lots of them.  Hubby has never moved so fast as the day he called the exterminator and insisted he service our apartment immediately as, and I quote, “my wife is losing her sh*t.”  It started when I caught half a mouse under a plastic cup.  I’ll wait while that image sinks in. . .  HALF a mouse was caught under the cup while the back end (the half with the long tail) was wiggling furiously outside the cup.  We came home from a trip one time to find a mouse carcass in the middle of our bedroom floor. Hubby once had to call a colleague to stop by our apartment on his way home to help me dispose of a mouse, which involved us duct taping it inside a paper plate and carrying it out to the curb.  But the incident that put me over the edge was when Medium came into the family room and announced excitedly, “I petted the mouse!”

17.  Teach the kids good balance.  Climbing onto a crowded city bus with a diaper bag and your stroller strapped to your back while your children clutch the tails of your shirt so you don’t get separated does not guarantee you a seat.  Many people have little sympathy for children on public transportation.  The fact that children can’t reach the handle is irrelevant to some weary travelers, but unfortunately it means that when your bus stops suddenly for a wayward jaywalker, your kids are going to go flying towards the front of the bus with the velocity of a roller coaster.  And then you’re gonna have to put all your crap down and go retrieve them.

18.  The subway stations are a maze of germs and danger.  The trains pull into the station at breakneck speed, so when our kids were standing close to the edge of the platform so that they could count the black rats, (always a fun game!) we would tell them they couldn’t stand on the yellow warning part; instead they had to stand with their backs pressed against the wall.  It was the lesser of two evils.  Expose them to Hepatitis or risk being hit by a train?  Your pick.

19.  The preschool process is an absolute nightmare.  We applied to preschools that wanted $30,000 a year for tuition. . . to cut paper, eat glue, and draw stick figures!  Unless the school has crayons made out of pure gold, our kids aren’t going there.  We knew we were out of our league when Hubby and I went to an informational meeting and looked up to see Spike Lee sitting 3 rows behind us.  It is safe to assume that we are NOT in the same income bracket as Mr. Lee. 

20.  Know that you are being assessed when you take your child for a preschool interview.  (Yes, there are interviews.  Perhaps your child isn’t ready for ALL of the letters of the alphabet . . . )  I mistakenly showed up for an interview where Medium was taken into a playroom with other children his age and I was shuffled into a conference room with the other mothers.  I was wearing a wool sweater, jeans, and Ugg boots.  (While hideous, they are warm and comfy for city walking.)  One of the other mommies was all decked out in a fancy suit, Prada shoes, and one of those Berkin bags that Samantha coveted on Sex in the City.  Medium was not accepted at this particular preschool, although his fate was probably sealed when I asked how they handle “spirited” children. 

These are just a few helpful tips for the Minivan Driving Mommy who will need to get used to schlepping children around in the City That Never Sleeps.  (And neither will your children, until they get used to the incessant noise.)  Good luck!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Advice for the Suburban Mommy in the Big City

I have an acquaintance who is about to embark on her New York City adventure as her husband is being transferred.  Similarly, Hubby and I lived in Manhattan for three years while he did a rotation with his firm.  Millions of Manhattanites raise their children in the city, but when you are a suburban girl moving to the big city, there are many nuances of which you are unaware.  It’s the Country Mouse and the City Mouse all over again, except with offspring and a lot less parking.

My advice to a Suburban Mommy on becoming a City Mommy:

1.  Teach your children early that Manhattan is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities.  This will save you from embarrassment when your 3-year-old sees a Hassidic Jew and loudly proclaims, “look!  It’s Abraham Lincoln!” 

2.  Locate all the Starbucks and Barnes and Noble locations because they have restrooms.  Unfortunately, when your child has diarrhea in front of the Toys R Us in Times Square, none of these locations will be close enough.  Don’t ask me how I know this, but trust that I know of what I speak.  The good news is that a bout of gastric evacuation will gain you more personal space than you have EVER had in Times Square.

3.  You know how when you’re walking down the sidewalk in your neighborhood and you pass someone you don’t know you smile and say good morning anyway?  Don’t do that in the city.  In the words of my shrink, “stop smiling at people.  They think you’re a freak.”  For this I paid her big bucks.

4.  That wasn’t a squirrel.  It was a rat.  A big one.

5.  Your stroller will not fit into any retail establishment.  Buy a bike lock, leave the stroller outside, and enjoy wrestling your wiggly kids in the Ralph Lauren flagship store.  Lock it, or you will see a homeless man transporting all his wordly possessions with your Bugaboo.

6.  Finding  a sweet parking spot on the street is a huge responsibility, and it is not to be taken lightly.  When the street sweepers come through, you will need to remove your car from that spot, but ONLY for the duration of time it takes the street sweeper to sweep that spot.  What I mean is, you need to pull out of the spot into mainstream traffic and block traffic until he passes and you can, fingers crossed!, pull back into your spot before some jackwad races in there.  This is how it’s done, folks.  Ambulance behind you?  Wait in line, buddy; nobody’s getting my spot!

7.  While I can’t stress enough how important it is to teach your children sidewalk safety immediately, I might suggest being aware of your word choice when doing so.  It can be frightening to be waiting at the curb with the aforementioned melting pot ingredients and have your child remind you that we don’t walk until the White Man tells us we can go.

8.  Speaking of which, you cannot cross Park Avenue in one light cycle by walking.  You need to grab your kids and run, or else you’re going to get stuck in the median (which is lovely with its spring tulips, by the way,) and have to keep the hair out of your eyes as yellow cabs whiz past you as if they are getting ready for take-off at LaGuardia.

9.  You can purchase gorgeous fresh fruit and vegetables from street vendors.  And also pot.

10.  Your stroller is your primary source of transportation, but be careful not to overpack.  You will be carrying that bad boy UP the stairs in the Subway station, along with all your accoutrements AND your children.  Plan accordingly, because it’s about 50/50 that someone will offer to help you.

To be continued . . . 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The friggin' Science Expo

Medium and I have been working tirelessly on this Science Expo project.  He loves to do little experiments with his science kits, so when the paper came home describing the Science Expo at school, I, in all my infinite mothering wisdom, decided that this would be a good opportunity for him to showcase his talents . . . specifically on a tri-fold board purchased from Staples. 

Because Medium is the middle child, I worry constantly that he’s not feeling appreciated or valued.  He and Large are only 20 months apart in age, so Medium feels competitive with his older brother, and yet he doesn’t understand that there’s an almost two-year age gap between them.  Medium is easily frustrated and gives up much more quickly than Large does, so this seemed like a good opportunity for Medium to excel at something.

When we got the info about the Science Expo, I set it aside for Medium.  When Large asked if he could participate in the Expo as well, I said no.  (It felt sorta like the night I told them “No, you can’t read books; you’re gonna watch a show and then go to bed!”)  I told Large that he could NOT participate in the highly educational, extracurricular school project because this is going to be Medium's thing.

Since Medium is only in Kindergarten, our his experiment is very basic: do oil and water mix?  He conducted his experiment and I took photos because the students are not allowed to bring actual science stuff to school. 

A condensed list of what they CANNOT bring to school:
  1. living organisms, including plants.  (Don’t want anyone forgetting their marijuana seedling or their grow lights at school!)
  2. taxidermy specimens
  3. food
  4. body parts or body fluids  (Good call, Public School system!)
  5. chemicals
  6. sharp items
  7. fire
  8. business cards
  9. glass
  10. combustibles
I kid you not; every one of those items is forbidden at the Expo.  Body fluids, fire, business cards.  Makes total sense.

I remember the year my dad I made a terrarium for plants.  Because what 7-year-old girl isn’t fascinated by a big glass case of dirt and store-bought plants?  We were so rebellious, with our glass terrarium and our . . . um, plants.  I guess the ban on plants is understandable.  Family legend has it that my uncle had a lovely plant sitting in his window sill and my sweet little grandmother watered it religiously.  It was totally pot.

Upon further inspection, I discovered in the fine print that this Science Expo is indeed an EXPO.  It’s not a science fair where the biggest nerd gets the biggest ribbon.  

But we’ve done all this work!  

Fellow Mommies, I know you understand.  The actual experiment was a breeze.  Oil.  Water.  Shake.  But I made my Kindergartener write out the process.  It is easier to free Prisoners of War than it is to get a Kindergartener to write.  It took three days.  There were tears involved.  His AND mine.   We used three different colored crayons, because, f*ck it, I don’t care anymore.   Oil is spelled “oyo” and water is spelled “wotr.”  (It’s cute, right?) 

And then I realize that it’s an EXPO?  An everyone-gets-to-feel-good-about-him/herself EXPO?  

F*ck that!  I want a medal!  I want a big blue ribbon that says “Suck it, losers” and a medal that indicates that my Medium earned 1st place in the Kindergarten category because I’m secretly harboring the hope that he is the ONLY Kindergartener to enter. 

So now I need to go to Michaels to purchase supplies for making a first-place ribbon.  Yes, I want him to feel good about himself for participating, but dammit, the kid deserves a ribbon and he’s gonna get one.  Mommy deserves a glass of wine, but I’ve already got the supplies for that.