Saturday, August 23, 2014

Back to the Routine: one "No" at a time

I established the first rule before we’d even left North Carolina, the last of our visits in a month of visits on the road.

“No more Sprite,” I said emphatically to my nine-year-old.

“And you,” I said making eye contact with the littler one who’d developed a Pavlovian drool near rest-stops.

“It’s over. M&M’s from the vending machines are a thing of the past.”

Vacation was coming to an end and we were going cold turkey. No more soft drinks. No more candy because it’s “11am somewhere.” No more watching Scooby Doo in the back seat for 8 hours a day. When we pulled into our driveway at home the next day we were going to be a lean, mean, post-vacation machine.

But I had a lot of laundry to do. And the dog forgot he was potty trained. And there was that super moon.

Things were pretty much a mess when we got home after thirty days away from our routine. Rules are made to be broken, unless you’re the one whose sanity depends on them.

The dog was probably the easiest to retrain.

“I don’t care if they let you pee wherever you wanted at Camp Bow Wow,” I told our one-year-old spaniel.  “We don’t have concrete floors.”

The milk bones were my most effective tactic with him.

And the crate.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t use either of those incentives with my human children, and I had to resort to phrases I’d used when they were toddlers.

“Whining won’t work.”

“I’m in charge.”


Looking back, there’d been a surprising absence of that two-letter word on our vacation, and it took some time to relearn the meaning of it.

Again, the dog surpassed his sisters in this.  But my tone with him was more emphatic. The threat of dog poop on the floor is just that much more intolerable than the prospect of the kids watching another episode of Guy Fieri’s Grocery Games.

It was a long process of detoxing from some very bad habits: TV as if it was an inalienable right; dessert as if it was more vital than oxygen; and bedtime, which lost all definition and meaning and became just a quaint word they heard me say from time to time, like “whom” and “post office”.

It’s been about three weeks now and things have finally settled down. In fact, the dog is fantastic.

The kids are ok, too. A regular bedtime. No expectation of Sprite with breakfast or a feature film every time I merge onto the highway.

“We’re only going five miles,” I still catch myself saying from time to time. “Nobody needs a snack!”

I am once again the alpha dog—with the dog, I mean. And we have finally re-established a very good routine for bedtime.

That should last for about ten days until school starts.

At least the dog hasn’t started Pre-K, yet.

Thanks for reading. Please follow on Twitter. I follow back, unless you're selling Sprite and M&M's to my children for breakfast. 

This week on The Educated Mom, I write about the Common App Essay for college, and a private consultant who helps guide students in an era of sensational "over-sharing". 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Other People's Children at the Hotel Pool: Lessons in Hypocrisy

You can’t really expect the whirlpool at a hotel to rival the rejuvenating powers of the likes of Franzensbad, but on the second-to-last day of a month on the road, I’d hoped for something akin to relaxation.

The seven-year-old girl with the bobbed hair had something else in mind. While her parents swam in the deep end of the adjacent pool, this little sprite sat curled up on the steps of the hot oasis a few feet away from me.

At first it was just a trickle of water I felt dance across my nose. I turned, and she smiled at me, swirling her hand in the water.

Kids will be kids, I thought just as her older sister hurled a soggy hockey sock at us, the ball landing with a plop in the water.

I looked for the parents, who were engaged in some sort of tickle fest in the deep end. Maybe they had just finished a long drive and were trying to ignore their children. I was doing the same thing, of course, but my children were swimming laps with olympic form, nary a splash from their toes.

Eventually, the hockey sock flew past me in the other direction. I closed my eyes.

A few seconds later, water again on my face and dripping from my hair. This was no mistake.

“I do not want to get wet,” I said with a smile to the child in my irritated-patient voice, fully aware that most of my body was submerged in water. Surely the kid understood the subtleties of what I meant: I was wearing a pony-tail.

I glanced back at the parents. The mother was occupied in a snorkel-like float on her belly, but there were no tropical fish in this pool. She knew what was up.

I sighed and watched my girls.

An older couple got in the whirlpool, sipping from cold drinks. They probably thought they were going to get to relax.

Two other kids hoped in. I took a quick scan at the rules posted by the steps. You can’t use the facilities if you’re drunk or using drugs, but being under the age of 8 is apparently just fine.

Trickle, trickle. Water from the fountain of youth once again. I closed my eyes, deciding to take a cue from the mom and ignore the child. It was probably now time to get out. I was fully cooked, sweating, actually, in the way you do when you’re in 104-degree water, but there was no way I was leaving the whirlpool before the kid.

The next attack was not really a trickle; it was a full force assault. Water, scooped with her tiny hands and tossed right at me. It had all the deliberate force of a snowball fight.

No more Miss Manners.

“When I tell you I don’t want to get wet,” I said, looking the child in the eyes, “why do you still throw water on me?”

The kid didn’t say anything, consistent with her ways.

The other kids began tossing an inflatable ball around. I gave it another minute or two and then got out, wrapped myself up in a towel and sat in a chair, still hot from the soak.

The sound of screams, splashes and some laughs as the balls and hockey socks were thrown around the tiny indoor pool in the underbelly of the historic hotel in the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson.

We'd be going to dinner in a few hours, and if the karma of parenthood held, we'd become the subject of another parent's gripe you read about it in a blog somewhere.

With this road trip and soon summer coming to an end, I hope to return to writing LBM more frequently. Thanks to all my kind and loyal readers. And to those who have joined me over at the additional blog I write, The Educated Mom. Education--it's not just for parents!