Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Poop, Spit Up and Tears – Baby’s First Week

Friday, August 22, 2014
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Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

“Come watch how funny this is!” I said to my brother as little AJ grimaced. Squirt. Time for a diaper change. I took her over to the beautifully set changing table and began to take off her diaper. As I went to make the switch between dirty diaper and clean, SQUIRTTTT, out came another round. All over her new, white Pottery Barn changing pad, diaper caddy and changing table runner. All over her diaper pail. All over the carpet. All over me (brother was thankfully spared). We could barely contain our laughter. Looks like the joke was on me.

And so goes many similar moments in the first days of AJ’s life. My husband Chris and I have laughed often, slept little and loved more than words. Both AJ and I have shed tears. I’ve only been projected pooped on once twice.

My labor and delivery was quick and relatively routine. The nurses and staff at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital are amazing and I owe them and my doctors a huge thank you. I would never have made it through without their caring and generosity.

I got the epidural I swore I would not get. I only realized after it was all over that I had a notion in the back of my mind that getting an epidural would be “taking the easy way out.” Trust me – there is NO easy way to birth a baby. After everything was said and done, I felt like a superhero at the end of a movie – beat up, barely alive, but I had just saved the world.

The first night at the hospital was by far the hardest. AJ cried almost all night and the only way to soothe her was to nurse, which neither of us knew how to do yet. She would only come close to sleeping while in my or Chris’s arms (still the case some nights). Come Wednesday morning, we were more than ready to get out of the hospital, go home and start our new life.

Nursing was difficult and frustrating to start. I could not have done it without the help of the lactation specialist at Women and Children’s. It’s still a heavy responsibility to bear, being the only one that can feed your child, but it gets significantly easier with each feed.

I wouldn’t dare say we’ve formed a schedule yet, but we have started to get into a semi-routine of feeding, cuddling, napping and trying to take care of ourselves. She feeds every two to three hours throughout the day and night, some days more regular than others. Diaper changes are almost constant, and we’ve learned that diapers need changed with speed similar to a NASCAR pit stop to avoid a mess on the changing table or ourselves. Sometimes she sleeps soundly in her bassinet, other times we stay up holding her in her rocking chair. Spit up has become my clothing’s constant accessory.

Although we’ve learned more about parenting in the last week and half than I could imagine, this is only the beginning. When she cries, we don’t always know how to soothe her. We don’t know if we are doing things the “right” way. But we are trying our hardest, and we love her more than we thought possible. Chris goes back to work on Monday, and I don’t know what I will do without him. I’ll face an entire new set of challenges taking care of her alone during the day. I do know I will cherish the first two weeks of AJ’s life for as long as I live; a time when the three of us had no obligations other than each other, when we began to learn to be a family.

Don’t Judge Me

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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I didn’t care that the man in the cowboy hat was well over six feet tall with the hard edge of a prison guard. He had angered me, and I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings.don't judge me

My daughter had darted back into the theater to spend a few more minutes with her friends after I told her we needed to leave.

“If that were my daughter,” he drawled, “I wouldn’t tolerate that. I’d be marching her out of here and grounding her.”

That’s when I gave the man what my husband calls “the look.”

There is nothing that bothers me more than people who immediately judge me, my family or my behavior.

The man in the cowboy hat didn’t know that I’ve given my children “warnings” since they were young.

That may not work for other parents, experts may never recommend the practice and I may never receive any award for mother of the year, but it works for me.

I  tell my kids it’s time to go, they go back and spend time with friends and then I say it again and we go.

The practice started when my son was a toddler. He didn’t respond well to being abruptly pulled out of a situation, and I learned giving a warning worked. It gave him the time he needed to adjust and, as an adult, I could easily adapt.

The practice continued with my daughter not because she necessarily needed the time to adjust but because I had become accustomed to the practice.

As my children grew into adolescence, the practice just stuck.

I shouldn’t have to explain that to anyone, especially the man who was so quick to judge my parenting skills, but for some reason I am compelled.

My children are good students and generally good people. There is no reason for anyone to judge us.

And yet they do.

And we are among the lucky ones.

This past week I’ve witnessed others blaming large groups of people – those who receive “welfare” benefits, those who don’t speak English, those who suffer from addiction – for society’s ills.

Here’s the thing – those groups are comprised of individuals, and every individual has a story. That’s not to say every individual is perfect – none of us are. But we were all handed a different set of skills, a different family and different circumstances.

Instead of judging each other, we should spend more time listening to each other’s stories and supporting each other rather.

I could have explained this to the man in the cowboy hat, but instead I made an instant decision that he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t care.

In other words, I judged him.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

I could try to rationalize, but I can’t. All I can do is admit that  I’m human, I’m not perfect and I sometimes judge others..

But I’m also constantly working on that impulse, listening to individual stores and teaching my children to do the same.

Maybe the man in the cowboy hat is doing exactly the same thing.

I didn’t ask him, so I’ll never know. But my guess is that he, just like me, is just trying to do his best.

The Empty Lot

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
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The small house was torn down only a few weeks ago, and already there are few signs it ever existed. Grass and clover cover the empty lotare growing where the foundation once was, and there is no indication of the fence that bordered the small yard.

Now, it is just an empty lot.

Maybe someday the area will be used for  a garden or a new structure, but the space will never be the same again.

The destroyed house shouldn’t even be on my radar. When it was standing, it meant no more to me than a random stop where my dogs sometimes greeted the dog on the other side of the fence. Soon, I won’t even notice the changed landscape during my short, daily commute to work. I will accept the space for what it is: the status quo.

Yet, the destruction of the house has been weighing on my mind like the rapid progress of time, the growing independence of my children and the aging of my parents.

Maybe that’s because its destruction was timed perfectly with my son attending his first real graduation party – not one for a family friend but one for a friend no one else in our family knows.

Dropping him off at the party reminded me of dropping him off for his first day of kindergarten almost eleven years ago.

For months, people had been asking me if I was ready, and I blew off their concerns. I didn’t understand why they thought kindergarten was so significant. Both of my children had been in day care since they were toddlers, and I thought kindergarten was no different from day care.

Only it wasn’t.

On that first day of kindergarten, his teacher didn’t know my name. The school personnel didn’t know my son’s unique issues or about his contagious sense of humor. He was just another little boy who needed to be taken out of his car seat, encouraged to wave goodbye to his mother and walked into his classroom.

And I, his mother, couldn’t even watch him walk away. The woman working the carpool line frantically waved me to move on as the tears trickled down my cheek .

Now, my son’s public school education is quickly coming to a close. This coming school year, he will be a junior, which is considered an upperclassman. He is already talking about colleges and moving out of our house – which is exactly what I want him to do. I have no desire to have a 30 year-old son still living in my basement and depending on me to do his laundry.

And yet, there is a part of me that is sitting in my car watching my 5  year-old son take a teacher’s hand and walk into doors which lead to a world over which I have no control. And I can still feel the tears trickling down my cheek as I realize that my children, like time, grow, change and move on without me.

I can’t control my children’s growth or the rapid flip of the calendar any more than I can control the landscape I pass every day on my way to and from work.

What I can do is appreciate the potential.

Roses might bloom in that now empty lot. Or a  young couple might build a house and start a family there. Or the lot might remain one of few empty green spaces where people can walk their dogs while enjoying fresh air.

But I have no doubt that the space is destined for something meaningful that will make the world a better place.

Just as I believe my children are destined to make a positive  mark on this ever-changing world.  And like the empty lot, their quickly fading childhood needs to be appreciated rather than mourned, celebrated instead of regretted and, most of all, serve as the foundation for something even greater.


Just a moment

Monday, February 24, 2014
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It was one of those mornings.

My girls were waiting out another 2-hour school delay despite roads that were clearer than they had been all week.  The dogs were barking to hear themselves woof, and the cats were fighting through the laundry room door.  I was preoccupied with innocent giraffes, the quality of water, the threat of more snow, and the loads of laundry heaped into mountains. Our youngest daughter then reported symptoms of some type of disease (“My head hurts when I cough and that makes my ear ache and then my throat cracks.”). My other daughter panicked that she might’ve finished the wrong Math workbook page. A stack of overdue library books collected dust on the stairs.

I stood at the front door, waiting for the car to defrost. It’s against the law to leave a car idling without a driver in the front seat, but I didn’t care. Arrest me, please. It’ll be a vacation. I caught a harrowing glimpse of myself in the hall mirror.  My skin was a dull yellow color. Not quite yellow jaundice, but close.  I looked tired, even though I had slept like a log the night before.  My hair, newly colored, looked like I had slept like a log the night before.

After driving my daughters to school and wishing them well in their half-day ahead, I came home and treated myself to more misery:  potato chips and French onion dip for breakfast. Leftover birthday cake for lunch.  A Diet Sun Drop soda for a mid-afternoon snack.  A handful of Skittles to make my stomach forget about dark chocolate frosting. I watched an hour of Olympic coverage that featured every country but the USA, and then I read depressing articles about unwanted animals taken to a local shelter. I fed my dogs pepperoni rolls to bribe them indoors.  I’d pay for that later.

Later.  That means I’d set myself up to stay miserable when the dogs get stomach cramps and threaten to ruin our wood floors.

WHY, WHY, do we do this to ourselves? When life is messy — not really bad…just frustrating — why, oh why, do we insist on punishing ourselves even more? Why do we belly-flop into a pool of bad choices just because we’re in a foul mood?

It’s called self-sabotage.  Women are particularly good at it. I’m in contention to win the gold medal.

Experts say there are several signs that mothers, in particular, are in self-destruction mode. The number one behavior is….

1) Wild eating: Instead of uncovering a problem and dealing with it, women cover it up with potato chips, dip, chocolate cake and a diet soda. Emotions are stuffed away — literally — with food.  In my situation, I was angry about something I had read on Facebook.  Instead of posting my outraged thoughts, I quieted them through the gnashing of teeth as I crushed chips into dust.  The healthier behavior would’ve been to write down my rant in private, and then rip it to shreds. But no, I ate a half-pound of Lays.

2) Pausing:  Two-hour school delays rewire my brain into thinking the day is shot. I can’t do x, y, or z because the girls will be home until 10:15.  I’ll have to pick them up at 2:45, so what’s the point in starting anything? In the MONTH the girls weren’t in school due to snow, wintery temperatures, chemicals in the water, and a holiday that I’ve already forgotten, I became a bit of a vegetable (since I wasn’t eating one). Experts preach that procrastination is the gap between good intentions and actual activity. But doing things now means mental clarity later. Get on it!

3) Hiding: I’m certainly not going to impress anyone with yellow skin and flat hair. Since laundry procrastination had prevented the donning of clean khakis and a pretty top, I opted to stay home and eat junk food in the warmth of a ratty sweatshirt and yoga pants. Not that I had any intention of doing yoga.  But when we dumb ourselves down, or refuse to fix ourselves up, we get into a mindset that potato chips and cake don’t really matter. We’re already a mess.  Instead, we should put some energy into our appearance so that we trick ourselves into feeling confident.

4) Fascination:  After my letter to Mark Zuckerberg about the “Look Back” video that made fall in love with Facebook all over again, I realized that my addiction to everyone else’s news often ruins my day. More than often, it clouds my judgment. I’ve always been hooked on news, but someone’s political rant isn’t news. It’s just someone else’s problem that I’ve allowed myself to become a part of just by reading it. Like alcohol and drugs, like hoarding and compulsive shopping, an addiction to social media makes otherwise strong people (women) doubt themselves. Someone’s perfect-looking kitchen makes us hate our whole house. Another person’s gourmet meal makes our children appear neglected.  Someone’s dream vacation makes our day trip to the Huntington Mall feel like punishment.  Health experts remind us that stepping into other people’s lives can ruin our own. Unplug.

So what’s the answer? Why are women – mothers - their own worst enemies? Those same experts say it’s because we’ve lost sight of the big picture. For years, we’ve been instructed to live in the moment. But now, it seems like an immediate reaction could lead to a lifetime of regret.






Procrastination is Making Me Wait

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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There’s a saying that couples who have been together for a long period of time start to look like each other.procrastination

I don’t think my husband and I have taken on similar physical characteristics, but I do fear we are becoming more alike.

When we got married, people constantly reminded us about how different we are. I’m high strung and feel guilty if I’m not doing something productive. My husband isn’t and doesn’t.

I worry about deadlines and returning phone calls. My husband doesn’t believe in unnecessary stress and knows how to prioritize what is truly important. Needless to say, I’ve sometimes accused him procrastinating.

But lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve started waiting until the last minute to do things. I never did anything well in advance, but I never put things off either. That’s seems to be changing.

Recently, I had a report for work due on Friday, and at 3:00 on that Friday afternoon, I finally started the paperwork. At 3:05 I got an email telling me that the deadline had been extended until Tuesday. Instead of finishing the report, I started working on something else. I didn’t actually complete the report until, you got it, Tuesday afternoon.

Such  behavior defies my innate philosophy about the need to plan for unforeseen circumstances. I’ve tried to teach this to my children, but they have adopted their father’s philosophy of, whenever possible, putting off until tomorrow what you don’t want to do today.

Last month my children should have realized the wisdom of my advice when the unforeseen did happen. I had been hounding my son to finish his science fair project, but he was dragging his feet. With the science fair scheduled for Monday, on Saturday morning I told Shepherd that we would spend the afternoon organizing the data so he could put together charts and his display. With that said, I took the dog for a walk, slipped on ice, shattered my wrist and spent two nights in the hospital.

On Sunday, I had only been out of surgery about an hour when I received a phone call asking if I was up to helping Shepherd with the data. With less than 24 hours before the project was due and literally nothing done, I told him to come by. With laptop in tow, he did, and we put together the charts. For the rest of the day and well into the evening, I got updates about the project. Around midnight, I even received a text with a photo of the display board.

When I got home, very little was said about the project, but I was pretty sure my daughter had assisted with some of the artwork. I was also sure she would take note of the pitfalls of waiting until the last minute. That’s why I was surprised when Kendall didn’t take my advice to work on her social studies fair project during Christmas break. Instead she, like her brother, chose to wait until the weekend before the project was due.

I grumbled, but since the project was her responsibility, there wasn’t much I could do. Besides, Kendall is at that age when she takes great pleasure in testing her mother.

She made that quite clear as she finally cleaned off the coffee table in the family room, dragged out the blank cardboard display board and dramatically opened it on the table. Then, Kendall looked at me and gestured at the table. “It’s procrastination station,” she said. “It worked for Shepherd and it will work for me.”

I wasn’t at all pleased that the kids had actually named the spot where they work on last-minute projects, but my husband seemed to be. He actually grinned when I told him.

I’ll never know for sure, but I’m pretty sure he thinks the children actually inherited that trait from him.

There may be something to that theory, and investigating the existence of a procrastination gene might make a good science fair project.

I’d suggest that to my kids so they could get a jump start on next year, but something tells me that’s just not going to happen.

Here’s looking at you, kid

Monday, March 11, 2013
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It has been suggested that I seek professional help so many times that I’ve lost count.   There was the recommendation of grief counseling after my parents died, the prevention of postpartum depression when my daughter was born, and spiritual sessions during my aunt’s residency in a hospice center.  But then, things got weird.  It was as if everyone knew my life needed expert care to whip it back into shape.

My house needs a deep cleaning.   You should call (this company).

I can’t lose 10 pounds, let alone 40.   You should call (that trainer).

The roof is leaking in the kitchen.  You should call (these contractors).

We need a sitter for a few hours each week.  You should call (those caregivers).

But my stubborn streak keeps me from accepting help before it’s a lost cause.  This is how I got into trouble coloring my own hair (Mike called me “Patches”), trying to groom the Golden Retriever (Mike called her “Patches”) and stripping the bathroom wallpaper (Mike called me lots of names).

When Ulta opened this past year, I did it again.  I must have bought everything in the store to try to reverse sun damage.  There was this serum for this problem, and lift gel for that one, de-puffing cream and firming lotions, dark spot eliminators and line fillers.  I self-diagnosed my face through online quizzes and virtual evaluations, and I tried all of the new age treatments that relied on nature’s greatest assets to blur creases and wrinkles.  Nothing worked (aside from staying out of the sun). Then, I found an article in one of the many beauty magazines that endorsed a top of the line cream harvested from the deepest crevices of the Mediterranean Sea. Women wrote that it worked like “Jesus rubbing His hands on your face.”

I bought two jars.

Two weeks later, I was at Rite Aid buying Clearasil.

Recently, I took Ava and Maryn to visit my hairstylist, Nancy, at Angela’s Salon.  It should come as no surprise that I had attempted to trim the girls’ bangs with kitchen shears.

First, Nancy asked me not to do it ever again.  And then she asked me what I had done to myself.

“Everything,” I replied.

Nancy told me to toss the high-priced, low-quality shampoos in the trash and to start over with a clarifying product that would undo all the “essential” oils I had poured on my tresses trying to bring back a glossy sheen.  Then, she told me to toss everything I had been slathering on my skin — even the Jesus cream — and to start over with a regimen that was age and stage appropriate.

OK, Nancy.  Step one is accepting that I have a problem.  Step two is seeking professional help.  Fix me.

Nancy put me on a special skincare program designed by two dermatologists, Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields. After a thorough consultation, it was determined that I didn’t have serious problems.  I did have an addiction to bottles and boxes. I’m hooked on packaging, and I end up giving myself troubles that weren’t there before.

Stress has beaten up on my face, though, as a previous blog of mine revealed.  I have goal posts between my eyebrows from scowling, lines around my mouth from pursing my lips to prevent saying things I shouldn’t, and fan-type designs around my eyes from squinting because of a cataract I still haven’t dealt with.  My skin is dull from harsh soap, and there are splotchy marks from lightening creams that bleached the area rather than fading freckles.

(Click on the images below to get a close up look…if you dare.)

Brow lines

Ruddy complexion and enlarged pores

Crow’s feet

Loss of firmness and dark circles.


The Rodan and Fields’ program appropriate for my condition is called REDEFINE.  There’s nothing famous about it — no cosmetic counter registries to make sure I haven’t bought more than one miracle in a month, no celebrity endorsements, no opportunities to buy it in stores from uneducated sales associates. It’s just a doctor-recommended program to undo damage (that I’ve brought on myself) and to slow down what I can’t totally prevent.

“You have to follow the directions,” Nancy warned.  “There’s a reason you do what the doctors say.”

There are four steps to follow — a cleansing mask, a toner, a day cream (and then a night cream). While it doesn’t sound unique, it’s the difference between a beauty gimmick and skincare therapy.

  • Step one:  Remove makeup with a product of your choice (I like Cetaphil, found at Target or Walmart). Then, apply the REDEFINE Daily Cleansing Mask. Massage a quarter-sized amount into your skin with wet fingers for about 10-15 seconds, and then  let it dry – yes, dry.  Leave it on your face as a mask for 2 minutes, and then rinse off with cool water.  The cleanser turns into a clay mask, which pulls out impurities.
  • Step two:  Apply the REDEFINE Pore Minimizing Toner.  Use a cotton pad to swipe a quarter-sized squirt of this alcohol-free liquid to remove traces of the mask and to exfoliate the skin.
  • Step three:  Apply a dime-sized amount of REDEFINE Triple Defense Treatment, which is a daily moisturizer with SPF-30 coverage.  (I added a REDFINE Multi-Function Eye Cream to produce quicker results in that area.) Apply your regular cosmetics, if you wish.
  • Step four:  Repeat all of these steps at night, but apply the REDEFINE Overnight Restorative Cream, which is the product that turns around the effects of the day. Firm your skin, lessen lines and minimize the appearance of anything else that’s annoying.

The booklet states that users  should start to see changes in about a  week, but if they don’t like the line of products for any reason, customers can get their money back.

With all of that said, I’m giving it a try — and yes — I’ll post before and after photos to see if Rodan and Fields helped me undo my evil ways.  My hairstylist, Nancy, was able to give me 10 years back when she cut several inches off my hair.  I trust her to erase the same time off my face.

* This is not a sales pitch, but another one of Katy Brown’s many experiments.  She paid for all services and products (about $140). Only the advice to seek professional help was free! For a consultation with Nancy Hilliard to find the regimen that’s right for you, visit her Rodan and Fields page:


Katy Brown is the Monday blogger in The Mommyhood.  She is the owner of The Write Word, LLC, the author of Kat Tales: Stories of a house…broken, a college instructor of communication classes, and a speaker on the topics of parenting and elder care.  The mother of two daughters ages 9 and 7, Katy’s first children’s book will be published in late spring of this year.

Face Off

Monday, February 11, 2013
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The other day, I was waiting on my husband for an impromptu lunch date when I spotted an acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen in a while.  We exchanged the traditional “hi, how are you’s,” but then the gentleman remarked, “Honey — something’s wrong. You look worn down.  I can see it in your face.”

After I brushed off the comment and replied that I had I stayed up watching too much Martha Stewart on PBS at 3 a.m., I pulled a mirror out of my purse and studied my face, assuming I’d find a lazy eye, shingles or a missing tooth.

Maybe I needed brighter lipstick. Oh, but wait…I was already wearing British Red Coat.

Mike appeared and didn’t seem to notice anything strange.  I waited a beat.  Silence.  He sat in the car. Sigh.

“Does my face look different to you?” I asked.

He scanned my hairline, looked around my ear and under my chin.  He shrugged his shoulders.

“Nah, just like it always does.”

Such a romantic.

Later that afternoon, I visited with my aunt, who spares no one when it comes to “constructive” criticism.

I walked into her hospital room and sat down in the motorized lift chair.

“Scoot closer,” she motioned.  “I want to get a better look at you.”

I obeyed, rolling the chair next to her bedrail.  She got a better look at me.

“You’ve got bags down to your chin.”

So that’s it.

Exactly what does stress do to our bodies?  We know it can create cardiovascular issues and stomach ulcers, and we know it can lead to hair loss and insomnia.  But what does stress do to our face?

As it turns out, cigarettes and sunshine are not the two primary culprits of aging or exhaustion. If you’ve got a frowner’s forehead or a pursed pucker, chances are you’re not inhaling Lucky Strikes.  You’re internalizing anxiety.

The great and powerful Oz (Dr. Mehmet Oz) says to blame saggy cheeks and a pasty complexion (and a stroke) on a surge of adrenaline.

If a person feels threatened in any way – physically, mentally or emotionally – the body is going to react. It’s going to take up for us.  Defend our honor! According to my research, the brain responds to stress by shooting hormones into the bloodstream.  If we need to move a car off our spouses while they attempt to change a tire, then the blast of the superhuman hormone is put to good use.  But if we’re out of sorts over an upcoming PTA meeting, then we’re wasting good drugs on a bad cause.  And it will end up all over our face.

Dr. Oz explains in his many talk shows, books, magazine articles and blog entries that stress of any kind, if ignored, accelerates the aging process. The stress response hormone causes damage that inhibits cell repair and collagen production. And one of these days, someone like my dear auntie will inform you that “your face fell.”

If you seem to have aged 10 years overnight (watching Martha shuck oysters), Dr. Oz believes you can turn back the clock with a few simple tricks.  You can try antihistamines to eliminate dark circles and bags, drink extra glasses of water, increase your time on the treadmill, allow yourself more caffeine for the time being, and when the effect of the espresso shot wears off – you should sleep, sleep, sleep.

Of course, then you’ll wake up with pillow face.

Revoking the Mom Card

Monday, March 5, 2012
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"Getting carded" has an entirely new meaning at the age of 38.

Sometimes you can’t help but take your frustrations out on an innocent person who is just doing his or her job.  However, he or she doesn’t realize how infuriating it is to be asked the same question over and over and over again.

This morning — in the wind and rain — I escaped from the house that had been hit with the worst case of stomach flu since 2006 (a Christmas I’ll never forget).  I needed to make a quick trip to the grocery store for more bleach, more Gatorade and more Cheerios.  I was in a foul mood, as foul as the stench in my bathrooms, and I wasn’t in the mood to be cordial or even civil for that matter.  I needed a shower and two hours of uninterrupted sleep.  I needed to change my clothes.  I needed to go back to work.  I needed a good cry, even though it wouldn’t have helped. But what I didn’t need was to be asked the standard question that annoys me to no end:

“Do you have your Kroger card?”

It’s a good thing my right fist was jammed into the bottom of my purse searching for the red Kroger Plus Card. It was obvious as I wheeled my cart to the register that I knew what I needed to present to the cashier.  I’ve been shopping at this particular store for 16 years.  I know the drill.  They recognize my face. I’m in the store at least every other day and every other day I swipe my Kroger card.  YES, I have my Kroger card!!  I always have my Kroger card!!  But it’s stuck in my wallet — stuck to the Petsmart card, which is stuck to the Books A Million card, which is stuck to the Gymboree card and the CVS Pharmacy card and the Sam’s Club card, and they’re jammed in the pocket with my library card, which is stuck to my PTA card…and sooner or later, my NRA card.

“Just give me a second!” I snapped. Now was that necessary? Probably not.  But for the past week, I have been asked to present a card of some sort to get through the smallest transaction. It’s as if I have to show identification to live my life. Do you have your insurance card?  Do you have your driver’s license with you?  Do you have a business card?  Do you have one of our super-saver cards?  For $20 you can save 20% off your next purchase!  Punch your card nine times and on the 10th visit, we’ll give you 50 cents off your $10 purchase.

When did the membership madness start? In the early 1990s. Loyalty programs are structured business models that reward, therefore encourage, consistent buying behavior — behavior that is potentially beneficial to a merchant, according to Wikipedia.  In larger cities, though, independent coffee shops have set up experimental ‘disloyalty card’ programs, which thank customers for buying beverages anywhere but Starbucks.  While these marketing efforts are intended to give the buyer some money back (or the illusion of money back), marketing gurus explain why cashiers are so insistent about offering those cards: Many salespeople get a commission for every person who signs up.

Still, the phrase “Can I see your card?” grates on my nerves like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. I’m a card-carrying mother of two kids with severe gastroenteritis. Want me to prove it to you?

I fold.


Making it work

Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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  Just when I think I’m finally finding my groove as a single mom, something comes along to put me in my place.

  You see, for the first few months, I wasn’t being much of a mom at all. I was in a grief-filled haze and had little energy or desire to do anything more than the basics. Then I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom for a while. I had all the time in the world for board games and baking cookies.

  But even that wasn’t exactly right.

 So, I decided to not only go back to work but to go back to school for another degree. I realized I was taking on a lot. But my daughter was starting preschool and I was ready to take on some new challenges. I want to be a good role model for my daughter and a good provider. So I rolled the dice.

  And most days it works out really well. I am loving my job and my classes. I’m rediscovering a career drive and ambition I thought I had lost long ago. Julia is excelling at school. My shy little girl no longer clings to me and is the first to run through the door without so much as a kiss for her mama.

  We’ve pretty much got our schedules and routines down pat.

  But when something happens, say a stomach bug or a teacher training day, it’s like our whole world crumbles to the ground.

  Because I’m not just a single parent, I’m an only parent. I don’t have an ex to pinch hit. (Wow, wouldn’t Mike be proud of me for working a sports reference into a mom blog? God, I hope I used it right… )

  And that’s when life can get overwhelming. Who’s going to pick up Julia if I’m stuck in traffic? How am I going to get my reports done when she’s sick? Who will watch her when there’s no school? Drive her to a doctor’s appointment? Wash the dishes? Study for a test?

  I panic and doubt myself when there’s a kink. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone back to school. Maybe I should quit my job. Maybe I should just stay home and take care of my daughter.

  Then I take a deep breath and realize I am actually not completely alone.

  And on this week of Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for my own mom and all my awesome mom friends who step in and help me, even when I’m too stressed to ask. Even when they are overwhelmed with lives of their own.

  Thank you moms for helping this single mom somehow make it work.

The Mother of all Holidays

Monday, October 10, 2011
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Martyr. I mean, Martha.

As I write this blog, I’m waiting on dinner to come out of the oven.  I’m relying on a meal hyped up by the food editors of Southern Living, the same people who have warned me that Thanksgiving is coming.  This is the time of year that requires me to make an important decision:

Am I cooking or am I having it catered?

I don’t know why a woman’s job includes being the Family Holiday Coordinator.  It’s a tremendous amount of pressure to be in charge of other people’s festive happiness, and it requires an exhausting amount of preparation from October through January — a time that should be spent with family as opposed to for family.  Thanksgiving dinner is the trophy meal of the year — the one that simply can’t be ruined or rescheduled.  It’s on, people.  It’s on!

Growing up, my mother made every single Thanksgiving meal that I can remember, except for the year she was angry with me for getting married (that’s another story saved for another time).  Since I moved out and moved on, in her opinion, my mother declared her house CLOSED.  Thanksgiving dinner?  You can find that at Southern Kitchen.

And we did.   And my mother quietly hated every minute of it.  Five of us were crammed into a faded red booth, ordering the special of the evening advertised on a handwritten sign by the cash register.  I tried to pretend that my mother’s semi-peaceful protest didn’t affect me, but the truth is, it was the worst holiday ever recorded.  But when we saw a friend walk in alone — unaccompanied by her adult children and permanently separated from her husband who had just passed away — my mother announced that we should have been at home.  Thanksgiving should be spent at home.

A few years later, the task of bringing Thanksgiving to the table was handed down to me when my mother was too sick to eat, much less cook.  I was determined to make her last supper as perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting, and I delivered.  It was important to me to make sure my mother’s favorite holiday was honored, but also to prove to her that I had paid attention all of those years that she stood in the kitchen while everyone else sat on the couch.

However, I did a little too good of a job.  From that year on, Thanksgiving belonged to me.  So here we are — more than a decade later — and I want to quit.

Why? Because I set unreasonable expectations for myself and others.  Celebrity chefs lecture me on what a real turkey is supposed to taste like. Home decorators show me what an inviting atmosphere should look like.  Television psychologists remind me of what a holiday should feel like.

It feels…frustrating. Sure it’s funny now, but year after year, the same things happen:

1) I live at the grocery store 48-hours before the big day, worried that I won’t be able to find sage for the herb dressing.

2) I poke and prod my frozen fowl, fearing it won’t thaw in time, which always leads to a water bath in the kitchen sink. The turkey is always larger than my kitchen sink.

3) The headcount for dinner changes each day leading up to the main event. I have to rent banquet tables and chairs from a party supply store because I don’t have enough space in my dining room.

4)  I pray for my 35-year-old Westinghouse oven,  which stopped working temporarily on November 22, 2007. Heating elements are necessary for this type of production.

5) I miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  I also miss the hour of Broadway performers singing and dancing at Herald’s Square.

6) My kitchen turns into a war zone and I declare the space behind the counter hostile territory.  Yet, everyone wants to lean in to watch what I’m doing…and offer advice.

7)  At the exact moment the turkey pops its thermometer, someone gets the bright idea to take a group walk to make room for “all that food Kat’s got going over there.”  And they leave.

8 ) When I announce that dinner is served — at 4:00 on the dot — everyone freezes.  No one moves. They all stand and stare at me. “Well?! Go! Sit! EAT!”

9)  After men, women and children play a round of musical chairs, the dishes are passed from one person to the next.  This is the moment that my children announce  they aren’t hungry.  They ate too much Chex Mix.

10) At 4:20 p.m., it’s all over.

Friends shake their heads at me when I describe my to-do list and projected outcomes. Wouldn’t it be easier to call Honey Baked Ham Company? Ask everyone to bring a dish to share?  Wouldn’t it be easier to set up a buffet instead of place settings for 10?  Wouldn’t it be easier to serve lunch instead of dinner so the rest of the day can enjoyed?

Probably.  But I feel as though I owe it to my mother, a true Southern cook who wouldn’t have allowed anyone to bring the meal to her (except, of course, when her daughter got married).  Despite my moaning and groaning, I want my children to have memories of family holidays, some of which have rivaled National Lampoon’s.  I want them to look back on this one day of the year and know they were well loved and well fed.

Yes, they can count on me to give them the bird.