Here are a few of my latest newspaper articles:
Mommy Wars: The Battle of the Blog
Mothers have been at war with each other for as long as I can remember. In the eighties, it was the working mother who was under attack by the non-working mother. I know, because my mom worked (she had to) and we got a lot of guff about it. That battle continues between those who work and those who stay home. Not only is there the working/stay at home mom battle, but there is also the battle over breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Then there’s the lovely epidural vs. non-epidural debate, which I have been a victim of several times (I just want to avoid unnecessary pain so I can have some energy for when the baby is born and needing constant attention—is that so wrong??) These issues are designed to divide us, and make us feel alternately superior and inferior.
And now that kids have so many options, from piano lessons, to Kindermusic, to sports, to play groups, and so on, there’s another battle going on: the battle of the scheduled vs. the unscheduled. I know some moms who have their kids’ entire days packed with various lessons, practices, and classes. This can cause some anxiety in those of us who choose not to force our children into piano prodigy-hood at age 3. And yet those of us who choose not to schedule our children’s lives can be a little judgmental of those who do. It’s a vicious battle.
This is bad enough, but as technology has made us even more connected to each other, the mommy wars are getting much worse, and now the battle has reached us on that most hallowed ground, the blogosphere.
If playgroups in the park have made us compare ourselves to other mothers, then blogs have made us obsessively compare ourselves to other mothers.
Let me preface this by saying that I have a blog, and have been blogging for five years. And I blog for selfish reasons: for validation, for connection, for an outlet. My blog is called My Misadventures, so named because it is about ME. It’s not one of those family blogs with 20-photo entries entitled “ Baby Caden Tries Peas.” Occasionally I post photos of my kids for the benefit of family who live far away, but my blog is primarily about me. So I realize that those moms who blog only about their family and children probably think I am the ultimate self-absorbed loser. But at least I am open about it.
Don’t get me wrong, my blog may be all about me, but it’s not a braggy blog: most of what I talk about are the embarrassing moments, you know like when the gift-wrapper at the BYU Provo bookstore makes me cry, or like when I humiliate myself at church, those kind of things. Self-effacement is the way I roll. But this way of blogging is dying quickly.
See, nowadays, many blog moms choose to blog about how perfect their lives are, rather than the missteps, gaffs, and awful things that can happen on the road of life. For example, I recently read all about a 6-year-old’s “Yoga Birthday Party.” The mother’s Ashram allowed her to use her yoga space, which was decked out with hand-made felt decorations. Each girl was also given a handmade yoga mat, and a special symbol was designed and silk-screened onto organic cotton t-shirts for each of the party guests to wear. I can only imagine what a riot it was for the girls to practice their downward dog and then snack on organic fruit and veggies, followed by soy cupcakes. What the . . . ? And this is not just a freak blog. There are dozens of them, possibly hundreds! I saw another one about a two-year-old’s “Mr. Man Birthday Party” that included chocolate mustaches, organic cotton t-shirts with hand-embroidered ties down the front, and custom-made sugar cookies from a fancy bakery. For a two-year-old? Contrast this with the hideous teddy bear birthday cake I tried to make for my daughter’s birthday, with its ugly brown frosting, haphazard sugar sprinkles, and almond buttons, and you can see why blogging has become a painful experience for me.
And these blogs aren’t all just about birthdays. Some moms blog about all the excruciatingly adorable things they sew, or how cleverly they organize and decorate their homes, or how good they are at putting an outfit together, or how wonderful they are at cooking, etc. etc. etc. And what gets me is that they do it under the guise of “helping others.” I guess the rest of us slouches can’t figure things out on our own, so these supermoms have condescended to share their best tips, like how to line the inside of your drawers with wrapping paper that costs $20 per foot. Really, my life wasn’t complete until I had that choice tidbit. How did I live without adorable liners for the inside of my drawers? HOW?
Two things really annoy me about these “Look How Great And Perfect I Am” blogs: 1. They seem to indicate that blogging is no longer a practice to enhance quality of life, but rather that people may actually be enhancing their quality of life in order to impress other people on their blog. It seems like these moms go to great lengths to document every moment of their enchanting day and then put it all on the internet for the rest of us to see. Whatever happened to just enjoying a moment and not capturing it on camera?
2. They really do make the rest of us look and feel bad. I was reading through the comments on one of the birthday party blogs, and among all the “wows!” and “amazings!” was a very disturbing comment: “I am such a loser mom. All my kid got was a Costco pie with a candle on top.” Since when was that not a perfectly acceptable birthday for a small child? These supermom bloggers may have the best intentions, but they are perpetuating this battle between mothers. In fact, they are making all the problems and issues between mothers much bigger and more complex, not to mention available 24 hours a day.
I suppose I could just stop reading these blogs, and I have--sort of. Sometimes I have to just check in to see what new thing is being done with organic cotton t-shirts. It’s a bit of a sado-masochistic relationship. I look at these blogs, and first I feel horrible about myself. Then I start to get mad and think that this can’t even be real, or that these people must be hiding some deep dark secret. Then I get this nice, satisfied feeling of superiority, cause at least I am not hiding anything. Slouchy moms: 1; supermoms: 0. And the battle rages on.
Cruise + In-Laws = Surprisingly Good Time
Last week I had the rare opportunity to go on a cruise to Alaska with not one, not two, but all of my husband’s brothers and sisters, not to mention his mom and dad. I think congress is still debating whether seven days on a boat with your in-laws is, in fact, torture. Yet despite congress’s uncertainty, I had a great time. Maybe it was the fact that my children were not with me. Maybe it was the copious amount of food available at all hours. Maybe it was the beautiful Alaskan scenery. Whatever it was, I highly recommend going on a cruise, especially if you can go with your in-laws. Here are some reasons why you should go on a cruise with your in-laws:
10. If you go with Holland America, your ship will likely be named something like “Zaandam” or “Rotterdam.” Anything ending in “dam” makes for some Zaandam good jokes, don’t you think?
9. It’s interesting to find out just how intelligent your various in-laws are during the daily trivia quiz. They seem to have known all the right answers even if they wrote down the wrong ones!
8. There’s nothing quite like watching your spouse’s family try to dance to “Billy Jean” in rough seas.
7. Afternoon laziness + kids two thousand miles away = napping for as long as you want.
6. Learn everything you ever needed to know about the following: engines, various types of boats, ventilation, welding, snow loads, glaciers, and “how things work” by sitting next to your husband, his two brothers, and their father at dinner every night.
5. Two words: Lobster Tail.
4. Two more words: Dessert Extravaganza.
3. There’s nothing quite like watching your brother-in-law perform Simon and Garfunkel’s “Kodachrome” on stage for a huge audience of people in an American Idolesque superstar competition.
2. Relive/redeem a very bad prom on formal night.
1. Get a glimpse of what your spouse will be like in ten, twenty, and forty years by observing his brothers and father. If you don’t like what you see, escaping is as easy as jumping off the starboard side.
So, reserve your cruise, and call your in-laws today. You won’t be sorry.
The Best Laid Plans . . .
Well, it’s that time of year again: back to school time. There is very little I love more than back to school time. I love school supplies: pencils, folders, notebooks, systems of organization for various school projects and papers. I love going school clothes shopping, although my son would rather die than try on clothes. I love that different, crisp feeling in the air as school approaches, and the way things smell on the morning of the first day of school. It’s a smell of excitement, new asphalt, new clothes with the tags just cut off, and the impending autumn leaves. There’s also a palpable sense of relief in the air, as mothers congratulate themselves for surviving another summer and get together to compare their battle scars. Back to school time is the one time of year when I really do a lot of planning and hoping. I plan and hope for a school year that is organized, healthy, rewarding, and fun.
I picture making creative and nutritious lunches in a tidy little lunch box with a blue ice pack to keep organic veggies and dip cool throughout the morning. I imagine volunteering in the classroom, and discovering that I really am a great artist. I envision a perfect little mudroom, complete with well-appointed cubbies for each child’s hand-knit mittens, scarves, and hats. I plan out the ways in which I will display my children’s artwork: laminated placemats, rotating museum-quality exhibitions, a wall painted with magnetic paint to stick them on. I even imagine the nutritious snacks and strict homework-first rule for after school time. Ahhh, it’s a wonderful vision.
And then of course reality sets in about a month into the school year. Remember those nutritious and creative lunches? Half of their contents get thrown into the garbage before they are even consumed. That classroom “art mom” gig I volunteered for? Much more involved than I thought, and the only thing I discovered is that I am not good at art and I know nothing about the color wheel. Those organized cubbies and fancy artwork displays? The sheer volume of papers, jackets, backpacks, and shoes coming into my home in a steady stream has buried me, along with all of my intentions for making a place for them in my already brimming-with-clutter home. The after school snack and routine falls by the wayside as I simply try to keep my head above water.
By the end of the school year, a lunch consists of a granola bar and a box of juice thrown into a Ziploc bag. Papers that come home are glanced at, then immediately thrown into the garbage. I’ve alienated the entire PTO by crashing a special teachers and staff dinner that I would have known wasn’t for me if I had carefully read the letter that came home with my son before tossing it into the garbage (sorry, PTO. I owe you a piece of Fried Chicken and some potato chips!) The portfolio of artwork brought home at the end of the year, though it should be considered a great piece of history, a great artistic accomplishment, is viewed merely as a huge piece of junk that I must somehow find a place for, which happens to be behind the couch.
Why does this happen every year? I can’t decide if the problem is with my high expectations and lofty goals, or if the problem is just that I am too lazy to maintain this level of efficiency. Since my natural instinct is to avoid hard work, I am going to go with the first option: my expectations are too high. So this year I am going to do the opposite of all my urges for organization and efficiency. First, I am going to buy ten giant boxes of granola bars and juice boxes from Sam’s Club and have them at the ready, right next to the Ziploc bags. Then, I am going to resist the temptation to volunteer. Let someone who is qualified be the art mom this year! My absence in the classroom can only help those kids. Next, I’ll place a shredder and a recycling bin next to the door so incoming papers (homework excepted) can immediately be disposed of in a guilt-free manner, and hopefully by my kids themselves. I think it’s about time my son learned the use a shredder responsibly.
Here’s the after school drill I have planned for my son: come home, shred non-essential papers, throw backpack and shoes anywhere, grab a bag of chips and a sugar-filled can of soda, retire to couch, watch cartoons while wiping greasy hands right on the cushions, maybe get some homework done sometime before dinner (which consists of frozen tater tots and chicken nuggets), throw clothes on floor while putting on pajamas, crawl into unmade bed (taking care not to step on toys littering the bedroom floor), go to sleep.
And the wake-up routine is similar: wake up, crawl into rumpled, dirty clothes from the day before, eat a breakfast of pop tarts, frozen waffles, or donuts, brush teeth, assemble lunch in bag, walk to school.
Maybe if I plan on this routine, I will be pleasantly surprised when something goes better than expected. It’s a new way to live! And I’m hoping for the least organized, least nutritious, least rewarding, and least fun school year ever.