Diary of a Wimpy Mom

The dishwasher was running, the pots and pans were drying and leftovers were stashed in the fridge. Homework was completed, backpacks were re-stuffed and permission slips were signed. The kids were nestled all snug in their beds, a load of laundry was spinning and I had just settled into the couch for a “Friends” rerun.
All of the sudden there arose such a clatter; a loud scream emerged from my daughter’s bedroom. Hearing jettisoned objects and uncontrollable sobs, I flew up the stairs to see what was the matter.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a 12- year-old girl, red-faced and in tears.

Seattle Spider. Photo: Justin Rorem

“Mom!” Pea yelled. “There was a SPIDER in my bed!”

I wrapped my arms around her frail, shaking body, and tried to calm her.

We re-entered the war zone together, and sure enough, a black spider – roughly the diameter of a #2 pencil – lay dead on Pea’s fitted sheet. I was amazed that she had actually made the kill, and told her I was proud of her bravery. She was not in the mood.

Welcome to spider season in Seattle.

Every September, savvy arthropods set up shop near blackberry bushes, in dark garage corners and under my kids’ beds.

And every September, my husband and I are called upon daily – usually at high volume, with urgency — to dispose of these eight-legged interlopers.  Often, we’re able to preserve the lives, sending the spiders outside to toil in greener pastures. But occasionally, in the heat of the moment, the hard shoes or rolled newspapers must take extreme measures.

I once knew a girl who was a lot like Pea. Several decades ago, this child screamed at the sight of beetles, ran from mosquitoes and bees and stopped eating raisins after finding ants in a Sun-Maid box. She begged her dad to kill moths and spiders that ventured into her room. She wore the same pair of socks to bed for two straight weeks at Girl Scout camp, because she was sure that bugs were crawling inside her sleeping bag. She lay awake for nights in college after finding a roach underneath her bedcovers (the nuclear-resistant creatures smartly congregated in the dorm-floor kitchen, which was right across the hall).

I guess we know who passed Pea the “I’m afraid of creepy-crawly creatures” gene.

By the way, my sons inherited the gene, too, albeit to a lesser degree. In fact, when the boys were young, #2’s greatest power against his big brother was realized when he left a Dorling Kindersley book open to the spiders page in their bathroom. After that, it worked every time.

Fortunately, my husband has no palpable fear of spiders or other bugs, so when he’s available, he does the swatting, stomping and/or trapping.

So, we made a deal years ago, after he confided his fear of birds (thanks to Hitchcock) and dead rodents (due to an unfortunate slingshot incident). Because our cats have always enjoyed presenting us with fresh kill – mice, moles, sparrows and even rats – we agreed that if I could dispose of those corpses, my husband would handle all of the fur-free pests.

That agreement has worked somewhat, but since Rich travels a bit for work, I’m often called in as the Bug-Buster. And when I don my Super-Mom cape, I’m a lot braver than my siblings or camp counselors could have predicted.

So, the other night, I helped Pea strip her bed and then checked under the rugs and behind furniture to ensure that her room was spider-free. Sure, my heart was pounding and adrenaline was surging through my body, ready for “flight” instead of “fight.” I soldiered on, though, and in the end, invited Pea to crawl into my bed, which is in a decidedly arachnid-free area of the house.

We clutched each other tightly and fell asleep fearing the evils that lurked downstairs.

Yes, I’m a wimp. I have an preternatural, exaggerated fear of bugs, and I have passed this unfortunate affliction on to my kids. So, sue me. But when you need a dismembered rat removed from your back stoop, you’ll know who to call.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 24 Sept. 2012
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Senior Road

The solicitations started arriving in the mailbox months ago promising “Natural looking portraits” that will “capture your senior’s special moment” with “as many outfit changes as she wants.” The directmail pieces were beautiful, but, the high school senior in our house is a “he” who could care less about outfit changes.
My son casually trotted out the door this weekend to have his senior portrait taken. As a guy this was going to be a decidedly lowkey affair. Unlike his female friends he did not view this event as a “photo shoot.” His senior portrait would not become a photo medley of his real or wishedfor persona – serious senior, sporty senior, silly senior. It would not be a piece of artistic self-expression. It was a quick look in the window reflection as he left. I uttered in vain, “Don’t you even want to look in a real mirror?” “What for?” he replied. I dropped it.
I couldn’t help but note the contrast to his gal pal’s portrait sessions that highlighted model-worthy make-up and outfit changes fitting for Fashion Week. There would be no multiple-personality on display for perpetuity from my son, just a guy wearing the shirt that happened to be at the top of the pile in his closet.
While he has no sense of the magnitude of the moment, I sure did. “Do you realize that this picture will hang on my wall and be plastered on your lapel for every reunion the rest of your life?” 
The sense of profoundness was solely mine. Only I could see the sands of the time glass running through. Lines from the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, kept popping up in my head. ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both…”
I have always thought of high school as the end of the narrative from the parent’s point of view and the beginning of the young person’s editorial control. Senior year is the demarcation line; the time when a young person begins to truly write his or her own story. Thus, the senior portrait becomes a snapshot that illustrates the “who that I am” and the “who that I will become.”
My son did not appreciate the moment; it was just something else he had to get done this weekend. I however, have the benefit of hard-earned hindsight, and think that some day he will look back on his young self peering into the camera and ponder the moment suspended in time. As Robert frost wrote, “Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

For now, I give myself permission to be sentimental and excited as I ponder my son’s passage toward the future. I can’t wait to see his story unfold.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, September 17, 2012


Just Another Day in the Life

Last Saturday started much like any other. Son #3 needed to arrive at the high school by 7 am to catch a bus for a cross-country meet. Sadly, we wouldn’t see him run, as we had committed to watching #2 son’s high school football game in Idaho, just across the state line.

So, at 6:15 I woke #3 and his friend, who had spent the night, tried (unsuccessfully) to interest them in breakfast, packed a bag of protein bars, water and cheese snacks, and delivered them to the school with 30 seconds to spare.

Then, it was back home to wake my daughter and get her to a mother-daughter charity-league meeting by 8 am. There, I ate a bagel, drank a cup of decaf and communed with friends. At the meeting’s conclusion, I passed my girl off to her aunt and cousins, who would take her for the day.

My husband met me in the dog park with “son” #4 (the Golden-doodle), so we could exercise him before heading for Idaho.

Next, it was off to the airport for our noon flight to Spokane (my husband wisely suggested we fly instead of drive; because he travels for work, we have plenty of frequent-flier miles).  Lunch was a bag of trail mix purchased in the airport gift shop.

We battled traffic en route to the field (some 40 miles away), arriving just in time for the game’s start. It was a beautiful, sunny day; the team played well, but lost. Our son played well, but not as much as we had hoped. We communed with the many parents who had made the trip the prior evening, ate soft-serve ice cream and popcorn for a second lunch, and at the game’s conclusion, rushed back to the airport for our 6:30 flight home – the last one out of Spokane that evening.

Back in Seattle, we collected our daughter, checked in with #3 son, played with the dog and settled in for the evening. I gave my husband “permission” to watch the Huskies game he had taped (the team played poorly, and lost); my daughter and I rented a movie (I missed most of it; very uncharacteristically, I spent most of the time on the phone). Dinner was… hmmmmm… I think I grabbed a yogurt at about 9 pm.

Did I mention it was my birthday?

Many years ago, I would have felt very crabby about spending my birthday in such a fashion. I always had high expectations for a fantastic day, but never knew how to let others know what I wanted or anticipated. Perhaps this was because I came at the tail end of a large family, or maybe because I lacked the skills and confidence to assert my wishes; at any rate, I almost always ended my special day feeling underappreciated and disappointed.

As a mom, it was worse. I soon learned that “special days” are a myth; our duties and pressures don’t cease on Mother’s Day and birthdays, despite the best efforts of spouses and kids. So, I often felt cranky about having to chauffeur, cook, clean up, cajole and cheerlead on those “vacation days.”

Over the past few years, Carol (my friend and blogging partner) and I have worked to practice what we preach. We spend our work time discussing and writing about how women need to give themselves permission for breaks; to take care of their own mental and physical needs, so they can remain happy and healthy enough to help others.

So, a while back, we started treating each other to an annual birthday lunch (her big day comes four days after mine) in a waterfront neighborhood about 30 minutes from our homes. We would dress up, drive towards the Puget Sound, walk along the beach, soak in the sunshine and clean, salty air (Septembers in Seattle are spectacular) and then stop for a long lunch.

The change of scenery and routine always made us feel that we had taken a mini vacation.

This year, we instead rented a two-person kayak near the University. We enjoyed a picture-perfect Seattle day, paddling in calm waters under sunny skies. Those few hours served to re-energize both of us, and our personal happiness cups were filled.

I didn’t stop there, though. Knowing that Saturday would be somewhat occupied, I booked a spa visit for Friday afternoon. In all honesty, I’m a low-maintenance gal; my friends say I should spend more time on my hair, makeup, nails and skin. I do prioritize time for work outs every day, but otherwise take a very “au naturel” approach to my appearance. So, the spa trip was definitely an unusual treat.

At a lodge northeast of my home, I soaked in an outdoor hot tub while sipping herbal tea, and then underwent an “exfoliating body wrap” and an “anti-aging facial.” I felt pampered, relaxed and rejuvenated. And so, between the spa and the kayak, time with friends and time to reflect, I had taken care of me.

Others would treat me later on. My husband and kids booked a brunch for the day after my birthday, and a good friend and her daughter invited my daughter and me to dinner Sunday night. Other friends scheduled a birthday lunch for later in the week.

So, while my actual birth date wasn’t all that special, I still felt happy and well-cared for (and my skin felt fabulous). Because of that, I was able to enjoy what the day brought, instead of focusing on what was missing. And, back at home, many wonderful surprises awaited: flowers, gifts, cards, emails, texts and phone messages, and a Facebook page filled with lovely notes from good friends from throughout the years.

Yes, it was just another day, but it was a wonderful one.

 – Linda Williams Rorem, 10 Sept. 2012
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Domestically Disabled

The woman exclaimed, “This mind-numbing routine of cooking, cleaning, driving… around, and grocery shopping is slowly killing me. “

These words were recently posted on Facebook by:

  1. A stay-at-home mom
  2. A working-outside-the-home mom
  3. A dad
  4. All of the above
  5. None of the above

While any choice could be valid, “E” is the correct answer.

The statement was made by my college-age daughter after taking care of her three younger siblings for one week. LOL.  I have had the same sentiment numerous times over the last 20 years, although my silent refrain more often went, “I am going to be @#$%ing brain-dead soon!” After reading her declaration, I wasn’t sure if I should smile in smug satisfaction or be very worried.

The experience of being “mom” for a week was certainly a good deterrent against early parenthood, not that she was inclined in that direction. While the reason for putting her in charge wasn’t to “teach a lesson,” I didn’t mind the side benefit. It was a good contrast to the romantic People magazine cover that implies a cute cuddly baby is a fashion accessory with minimal lifestyle impact.

I love my children and really enjoy their company and activities, but I admit I have always struggled to find the joy in the domestic side of my parenting duties.  My husband  finds much greater satisfaction in completing his household chores or at least has a better attitude toward them.  Nothing wrong with taking a little pride in a clean garage, a well-prepared meal and a 100% on-time-arrival rating to events, but I just can’t seem to get myself to household zen.

I don’t just dislike household duties a little, I abhor them a lot. I have tried to trick myself with various games and reward strategies over the years. “Hey Carol,” I say to myself, “if you get all the laundry done, walk the dog and grocery shop by noon on Saturday you can do something fun!” Alas, Carol doesn’t care, she is a lolly-gagging, bad-attitude procrastinator when it comes to housework.

Sure, I like things neat and tidy, but I’m not that motivated.  I am definitely The Odd Couple  “Oscar” in our relationship. I always think of the vintage humor refrain from Anne Taintor, “Someone has to set a bad example.” 

I will continue to minimize my time spent on routine chores, without guilt, while maintaining a socially acceptable low bar. I know my kids’ well-being is not based on the quality of lunches prepared or the number of fur balls on the floor. Even if daughter, like mother, never embraces her inner-Martha Stewart, I hope that she can tolerate a little mind-numbness. Yes, there will always be some “daily grind,” but family life is so much more than domestic drudgery. It is full of precious moments, heartfelt joy and deep satisfaction. I can’t imagine ever thinking it wasn’t worth it.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

September 4, 2012


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