Friday, July 29, 2011

Praying For Failure

I think I am a typical parent in that I do quite a bit of self reflection and review to check myself on my parenting skills.  Am I doing a good job?  Are my kids screwed up?  Should I have not allowed the word fart in the house?  The questions are numerous but the day I stop asking means I’ve already failed.  Of course our eldest born child, Margaret, has the honor of being the guinea pig of sorts and we learn right along with her.  So, why is it that with our first born we are already praying for failure?  It seems wrong.
Meg is a typical first born with a type A personality and a drive for perfection.  I will be honest and state that she did not inherit this characteristic from her middle child mother.  While I have high standards on some things, a perfect report card is not one of those things.  Meg set an extremely tough goal of getting straight A’s for all three years of middle school before she embarked on her 6th grade year.  I support my kids in their goal setting but I looked at Meg and said, “You know B’s are great too” and “all we want is your best”.  Meg received a schedule containing all advanced content classes and that made me nervous.  It was going to be quite a load and challenge all on its own!  I pictured a teenager in trouble if we didn’t break this goal of perfection!
Sure enough, the first 9 weeks, she nailed it and there we were at the straight A’s ceremony.  Second nine weeks were a little harder but she did it again.  By the third nine weeks I was praying for a B….the stress was mounting. I thought we had it in the bag with a “bomb” on a science quiz.  Like all good parents Pete and I were fist pumping and high fiving when we learned of the poor grade.  We grabbed our baby girl and told her that we loved the bad grade and it will be okay and sometimes you need to totally screw up so that you can appreciate the hard work…..and there it was……the look…..eerily the same look appeared on Meg’s face that I saw so many times on my own mother’s face when I would use the word fart and she would say, “why can’t you say passed gas”….the type of face that oozes of disappointment and disgust.  So it went over like a fart in church (sorry Mom).  But again, she pulled it out on the very last day and got all A’s!  Pete and I felt defeated, like we had lost an opportunity to drive home a point.  Should we have grounded her from homework?  Should we have kept her up late and fed her junk food?  Obviously we had dropped the parenting ball!

In the final nine weeks we thought we were golden!  Art, of all things, was deeming itself to be a Meg buster!  Absences helped to make that an extra challenge but Pete and I were in agreement that we would take the end of the A’s in Art.  And then a bonus!!!!  Meg bombed a math quiz.  A secret high five between horrible parents was exchanged in private as we proudly hung the D quiz on the family magnet board.  Again, a speech was given but this time with far more compassion.  The quest for perfection was falling like a house of cards and then the final blow….
  As I sat in the score board tower at my son’s baseball game, acting like I knew what I was doing, I received a phone call from Meg.  I told her to talk fast because I was in the midst of a 7 to 8 game and somehow I managed to have 3rd down showing on the scoreboard and I was getting nervous about the dirty looks from hardcore baseball parents down below.  Meg’s voice was off….it was the voice I knew so well…..a self confession was about to happen.  I said, “Meg, what’s wrong?” and she said, “I got in trouble today.”  All at once I stood up and let out a Wahoo!…Mabel gave me a disgusted face and said, “Mom, that’s not our team that just scored.”…...ignoring Meg, I announced  the happy news to Mabel…”Meg got in trouble today!”.  Mabel’s eyes lit up with excitement and she immediately grabbed a clean sheet of paper and a marker to make her own demerit sheet for her big sister.  I focused again on Meg as the umpire motioned up to my window that I needed to change the score, and next I began a perfect parent oration on the importance of behaving in school……  “Meg, I’m so proud of you…you need to cut loose once in a while and talk to a friend or try to pass a note!  It’s a rite of passage and most importantly you have to learn that no one is perfect and you aren’t horrible for getting in trouble.  And then I paused and thought , crap, maybe I should have asked what she did first!….sold crack in the hallway?....smoked in the bathroom?.....disrespected a teacher ?.....but it was all good…my instincts were correct….Meg just giggled too much with a friend.  Part of me wanted to get a cookie cake and get out the “You are special today” plate!  Instead, I hugged my baby girl when I got home and reinforced that she should watch her tail at school and not beat herself up over this.

Meg always punishes herself far more severely than Pete and I could ever dream of so we stepped back and did what all good parents do…..let  the 5 year old spitfire little sister  take the lead….Mabels course of punishment included repeated references to juve along with daily greetings at the door to ask if there had been another incident, and my favorite, the constant reminder to Meg that Mabel had maintained a perfect record and had not yet been reprimanded by a teacher during her kindergarten year. This burned Meg up because we all know full well that Mabel should have been nailed several times by now but third borns have more street smarts than the first borns. 
The combination of being reprimanded for poor behavior and some less than stellar grades was just amazing!  We couldn't have asked for more!  Pete and I were convinced that Meg would finally lose the perfect record and go forth in her middle school years knowing that you can always start over and life is too short to forgo outbursts of laughter.  I’ll cut this short and tell you that Meg pulled it out again…..perfect A’s all year long and now we are forced to wait and wonder if next year we can break her spirit and bring home a B.  It’s a hard job but I vow to do my best to teach my daughter how to fail, screw up, get in trouble and keep on trucking.  Gus is following in his big sisters footsteps so we have already begun a course of treatment that includes constant reminders to get in trouble at school each day and our secret weapon, Mabel, has been teaching Gus to loosen up with butt fives and hoola hooping lessons. Obviously we will have to completely shift gears for Mabel but we have time.   

A new school year starts in just a few weeks and Meg’s quest for perfection has crept into my mind.  While Meg sets her new goals, Pete and I are setting our own.  We shall overcome!  We will not accept straight A's and stellar behavior! Who knew that parenting would be so hard? 

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Am I Supposed to Be When I Grow Up?

As a very young girl I aspired to have long, painted fingernails and work as a cashier at Glaser’s drugstore in my neighborhood.  It was my dream job!  I loved the sound and the look of those long, red, fingernails clicking away on a register and picking up each item and entering a price that always ended in .99.  Such a sad dream that would never come to fruition due to the fact that I have man hands and an inability to grow long fingernails and on the one occasion where fake nails were applied, I looked like a cross dresser. 
  When I reached my teens and could get a job, I ended up at Schnucks grocery store as a bagger.  Great skill building position to have…in no time at all I knew where to locate SPAM and horseradish and yell paper or plastic with a smile.  Being tall, I was also utilized by the vertically challenged folks, to reach items off the top shelf. 
My next career move took me to Purina Mills, courtesy of my Dad who worked a deal with a fraternity brother.   I wore a hard hat, jeans, and safety glasses and made rat poison, horse chow,  and utter ointment.  Finally I was sentenced to an obscure part of the factory that was leased for another purpose. For the rest of the summer I was making Sani Flush Toilet Pucks for people in Taiwan.  I literally turned blue every single day from product dust and worked on a line next to an ex con who called me “sweet meat”.  I have to share that the ex con and I bonded and set an all time record for most pucks produced in one shift.    
The next summer I landed a great gig via the secretary at my high school, working as a manager at Joe’s Car Wash!  And you guys thought I lacked drive and determination!  The truly funny part is that I lacked a driver’s license!  I could detail a car with Q-tips, toothbrushes and tar remover but I couldn’t move them!   I became an expert about car waxes and I took on the mission of educating car owners about the dangers of  Armour All overuse.  I did achieve an incredibly stellar hoosier tan which is always a benefit. 
My next two positions involved the Girl Scouts of America….first, Waterfront Director  and Head Life Guard at Camp Lakamaga in Big Marine, Minnesota.  There I convinced small children that they could not drown during polar bear swims because the water was way too cold and I wasn’t going to jump in to save them.  But I did save small children from the berating torment of “Kiwi” my junior lifeguard from New Zealand who came to work in America but clearly hated America and tried to feed me Vegamite before she ditched camp and headed to the grand canyon.  But the premier experience gained from this job was my newfound talent......  using a tree trunk to repair a dislocated shoulder….pulling a Lethal Weapon Mel Gibson movie moment if you will.  If you are hours away from a physician, and you are in great pain, and you can’t scream because you are surrounded by small children, the tree is your only option. 
Camp Cedarledge Program Director in Pevely, Missouri was my next stop…..I was in charge of scheduling daily camp life for 600 children. Head snake remover.  Boutros Boutros -Gahli  call name on the walkie talkie for weekly, United Nations themed, capture the flag games. Handled all calls from parents who wished their kids were homesick and acted as chief head lice inspector because our narcoleptic nurse tended to fall asleep during inspections(totally not kidding). 
I know what you are thinking….Rachael has done it all and she could go back to any of them!  Oh but wait…my first real job out of college was the best of all.  Investigator for Child Support Enforcement in North St. Louis City which is the hood. I was  totally na├»ve and had the Crips or Bloods gang members guarding my car in the parking lot each day, depending on who was winning the war….again, totally not kidding.  It was an education unlike any other.  "CT", my security guard became a close friend very quickly as he was my only hope when I was meeting with large male clients who wanted to kill me for taking their paychecks or cars.  I later learned that "CT" stood for Carmel Thunder….his stage name when he went over to the East side to perform as a stripper to make some real money.  There, I truly learned about real life and how incredibly fortunate I am.  And then I kissed all of those incredible employment positions goodbye for the best of the best….stay at home motherhood. 
You will be shocked to hear that none of my past professions are at all alluring to me.  What should I be when I grow up?  I ask this out loud at least once a day and most of the time my kids are present and roll their eyes (everyone except Gus because he literally cannot roll his eyes.  We’re working on it because I feel that is a necesssary skill for the teen years.)  “Mom, you are already a Mom.”  I always wanted to be a Mom.  I have a great Mom and I  grew up watching her and knowing that I wanted to do all of it like her……we do say fart, I've purchased rather than make some Halloween costumes,  and I can’t cook  so I have added a few things and omitted a few things from Barb’s repertoire but all in all I achieved that goal!  I am a Mom to three amazing children who challenge me, inspire me, and bring me more joy than I ever knew possible.  They also frustrate the hell out of me and bring me to my knees in worry but evidently that comes with the package. 
So I need a little more and I often wonder why I couldn’t get a gig like the guy who opens the show on Iron Chef.  I have been told that I have a plastic face capable of many different expressions and I could do some karate moves timed nicely with the ninja sounds that are piped in as he reveals the mystery ingredient.  I also think that I am highly qualified to be chief batting helmet shiner for the St.Louis Cardinals baseball team.  It’s always been a pet peeve of mine that major league baseball players have pine tarred, ugly helmets when it’s so beautiful to see a nice clean shiny helmet under the lights of a ballpark.  I don't think the position really exists.
I’ve often wondered if I’m destined to be a greeter at Wal Mart….but then I realize that my cankles would be massive if I had to stand all day and my back would go out if I had to tackle a shoplifter.   I toyed with the idea of being a professional organizer…the “Crap Fairy”.  I would show up in my “CrapWaggon” (a vintage green Ford Grand Torino) wearing my fairy wings and Converse high tops, and while families are at work and school,  I would commence with crap removal and crap organization.  But then the paparazzi would reveal a picture of my very own basement which is in need of a crap fairy visit and everyone would realize I’m a fake and the gig would be up. 
After further review I might have all aspects of my dream jobs already in hand….I like to type on the computer even if it is without long painted fingernails. I do reveal mystery ingredients each night at dinner to my own family only because they can’t recognize what I’ve prepared.  I don’t shine up batting helmets, but God knows that I do enjoy a nice shine on my stainless steel frig.  And finally, I am my own personal crap fairy. All I really need to do is paint my fingernails, yell "Allez Cuisine" while presenting my crappy dinners and put on fairy wings when I am de-cluttering my  own house.  I have a Psychology degree from Quincy University and that little fact right there explains this predicament of vocation dysfuntion in its entirety.  Maybe I should be a life coach! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Going Gluten Free Grief

It all began with one little question from the grocery store cashier.  “Did you find everything you needed?”  “Yes” came out of my mouth but in my head where my brain has been soaking in celiac for a month and a half, the following unfurled…..I call it a Celiac Attack of sorts. ”No!  Hell no I didn’t find everything I need!  You’ve got to be kidding me, right?  I need a donut the size of my head.  I need about 1,000 more gluten free products in this store.  I need a deli manager who will agree to clean the slicer.  I need your tiny gluten free section to be relocated because I get depressed hanging out with magazines and the baby products that are too overpriced for anyone to journey there.  I need the gluten free, crap ass Styrofoam crackers to cost a little less than $5.26 a box.  I need a sale!  I need to walk out of here with more than seven items that cost a total of $80.00! And for the love of Christ please put the Dove chocolates on BOGO because this is crisis time!”  Of course none of that came out of my mouth. 
The cashier picked up each of my items as she scanned them and instantly her eyebrows lowered and her lips furled as if to say, “Hmmmm, I’ve worked here a long time and I’ve never seen this?” Then the question came….”Are you trying to eat gluten free?”  I responded, “Yes, I have Celiac Disease so I can’t eat glutens.”  The cashier said, “I’ve heard that can be painful……..ya know, with that shooting pain going down your leg.”  What?  Oh my God this lady had Celiac and Sciatica confused!  I wanted to laugh but I just smiled and nodded and pictured myself eating a donut the size of my head while I suffer extreme leg pain.  It was the perfect cure for my Celiac Attack. 
Sometimes there are moments of extreme joy at the grocery store.  You would have thought that I won the lottery when I found sunflower oil at Kroger….only $5.64!  On one fateful day I made my typical mad dash down Kroger’s health food aisle to the end cap only this time it was all happening in slow motion and I heard music playing in my head. My cart made the turn so smoothly despite my speed, and there I found, for the first time, Udi’s gluten free hotdog buns!  I grabbed the buns and for a moment thought that I should buy the mother lode inventory….all 4 of them.  You have to know that Udi’s hamburger buns are sought after like the latest and greatest Christmas toy…..a Cabbage Pack Kid or Tickle Me Elmo or Wii game system if you will.  You can’t find them anywhere including all of the weird gluten free online stores! 
Regrettably I only bought one and now I dream about how much I could have made if I bought them all and put a few up on EBay.  It was such a big win!  I looked around to make sure that no one would try to steal them out of my cart….only to snap back to reality knowing full well I am alone in the “special diets” aisle and my buns are safe and sound.  
 I really don’t have to go down any of the middle aisles but I always hit the cereal aisle in the hopes that Chocolate Chex has made their way to my store.   I have found that younger eyes are much more talented in finding the little “GF” that we all crave to see on packaging and we all instinctually cheer and pump a fist when luck shines on our side.  
 Gus is convinced that we should go Kosher instead of Gluten free because he sees those foods more often.  Mabel rides down aisles sitting in the back of the cart telling me that she will one day have her own line of gluten free foods called “Mabel Made It So It’s Good”.   She explains, “And everything will be really little because little food always tastes better than big giant food.”  The last statement reflects the fact that we have reached the sixth and final stage of Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ 6 Stages of Going Gluten Free Grief…..We’ve made it through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and now we’re in the rarely studied final stage of Reshaping……When you’re sick of eating all of the same foods over and over again, change their shape to something tiny and you will think it tastes better and it will buy you a few more days.   Mabel is so right, the new plan is to take a tiny biscuit cutter to everything we eat and it will be all good.