Bon (yeah right) Appetit!

As I was finishing up a conference call around 5:15 tonight, I could smell Andy making dinner downstairs and all I could think of was, “Pasta, AGAIN?”

While I was certainly happy that he was taking care of feeding everyone, the mere thought of eating another strand of spaghetti had me contemplating filling up on the Altoids in my purse instead.  When I asked him why the carbo-loading of late, he looked at me quizzically and asked, “You ARE aware that we have almost no food in the house, aren’t you?”

And then it hit me.  Between snow days for all three kids, multiple soccer practices, baseball pre-season, meetings and, oh yeah, our full time jobs (!?*), I seem to have forgotten the way to the grocery store.

Sound the alarm: the Shumways aren’t eating balanced meals.  AGAIN.

Am I alone here?  Lately I’ve found myself so busy that I’m lucky if Andy and I get to talk for more than two minutes much less gather the family around the dinner table for a meal consisting of meat, a vegetable, a starch, and five tall glasses of milk.

(Sidebar: I just pictured that very scene and almost started to laugh.  Our darkened dining room, filled with a chatty family, good china and a hot dinner rather than a lonely table piled high with stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else in the house?  Stop the madness!)

b57fb7b110c81770c5a95fb752b55248While I love cooking and trying out new recipes, it’s really hard for busy parents with even busier kids to make that happen.  I mean, if I can’t even get to the grocery store, well, there are only so many dinners you can make with a jar of pickles, Dijon mustard, eight eggs and a bunch of wilting kale.

(Actual items in the Shumway refrigerator at this very moment; no exaggeration here.)

There are times when I get a burst of organizational energy (and a quiet week with fewer meetings and sporting events) whereby I will break out recipes, make lists, perhaps even cut a coupon or two and hit the grocery store.  As much as I am so proud of myself when I’m able to accomplish this, it seems to be a bit of a rarity.

When it DOES happen, usually the dinner is cooked and there are only two or three of us around to eat it while it’s hot; the other ones will scarf it down when they return from practice or meetings.  It’s then that I get irritated and think, “did I really just kill myself to make Beef Bourguignon, just to have the kids pick through the vegetables and hoover the meat in less than 60 seconds?”

(Confession: Beef Bourguignon has never been prepared in the 11 years I’ve been a parent; extreme exaggeration on display here.)

At the end of the day, we busy parents do the best we can with whatever we have in the kitchen.  Sometimes our families enjoy a dinner full of vitamins and protein and other times they’ll eat pasta for the fourth time in a week.

Either way, if a chicken nugget and carrot stick is all you have on hand, then serve it with gusto, toss an apple at your child and hug them on their way out the door. Vow to hit the grocery store and do better next time.

As for me, it’s another busy day tomorrow so there’s a good chance I’m serving spicy mustard and kale omelets with a side of pickles for dinner.

With a tall glass of milk. Obviously.

The Perils of Flying. With Kids.

When one travels with children, one becomes astutely aware of little things along the way that can both help and hinder their vacation.

ImageLast Thursday we headed for Logan to catch a 7:45am flight to Florida.  We had pulled the kids from school for a few days so that we could visit Andy’s parents outside of Ft. Myers and despite the heinous snowstorm were able to enjoy some family, fun, and yes, SUNSHINE.

Like any good parents, we packed the unimportant (clothes) while making sure to remember the essentials (electronics) that would be available to tired, cold and bored children at a moment’s notice.  For the most part, we were successful: the kids were not perfect but weren’t intentionally left on the plane either.  We’ll take it.

As we arrived home, I made a mental note of those things that I absolutely love and will never travel without again.  Get yer finger on the printer button, folks…you’ll want to keep this list handy the next time your family is flying to a tropical island, spending a weekend on the cape or even (depending on what kind of seasoned travelers you’re raising) simply driving to the grocery store.

I give to you: A Parent’s Survival Guide to Traveling with Little Monsters Children

DO:      Hit the CVS candy aisle and buy a cheap bag of Dum Dum lollipops.  Not only are they economical and come in a bazillion (nasty) flavors, but your children won’t understand why you laugh when they eat them (it’s because they remind you of the microphone that Bob Barker used while hosting “The Price is Right”).

DON’T: Spring for the expensive Charms Blow Pops.  They cost more, are too cumbersome for a 3-year old’s mouth/attention span and the gum in the middle gets so hard SO FAST that it’s likely to give them a turbo case of TMJ.  Plus, they look to YOU to dispose of the funky gum.  It’s a lose-lose, no matter how you suck it.

ImageDO:      Spend the day before travel charging every iPad/iPhone/laptop/Nook you can find and pack ‘em all in a child-sized carry on.  And before your flight, say a quick Novena that someone at Apple will uphold Steve Jobs’ grand tradition of inventing stuff to keep kids entertained.

DON’T: Get all holier-than-thou with a “When I was a kid, we brought Mad Libs and played License Plate games” attitude.  Times have changed, folks.  Although my parents DID drive my two sisters and me to Florida in a Volkswagen Dasher back in ’82, I’m quite sure they vehemently hated us the entire time and were only thankful that no flight attendants were in the car to hear their thoughts.

DO:      Invest in CVS Detangler if your daughter will be anywhere near a pool.  I have tried them all and while this was a last minute panic-purchase, it may have saved my relationship with the curly-haired Georgia.  I don’t know WHAT is in it (Vegetable Oil?) but I don’t care.  Within minutes it had turned her thick dreadlocks into real hair again.

DON’T: Pay a lot for the fancy herbal stuff because it doesn’t work.  Your daughter will hate you and you will waste at least 20 minutes of cocktail hour swearing at her.  DO NOT TEST THIS THEORY; take my word for it.  You are welcome.

DO:      Let your kids get spoiled, a little.  It’s their vacation too and if they want to have ice cream at 8:45 at night, just remember that it’s short-lived.  A little indulgence never hurt anyone (this rule also applies for adults during the aforementioned cocktail hour).

DON’T: Allow children to take things too far.  Take heed: although they may “be their grandparents’ problem,” that very same loving couple will happily hand them back to you at the airport.  No parent enjoys deprogramming children after vacation, so moderation is key.

ImageJust remember to keep this checklist fastened firmly to the front of the family suitcase or risk watching your very own kids melt down in the middle of baggage claim.  Should that happen though, simply look around, roll your eyes, and deny that “that child” belongs to you.  Just grab your detangler, pop a Dum Dum in your mouth and head straight for the pool.

To Fail or Not to Fail? THAT is the question.

As a parent, it’s a common scenario.

Your child comes home from school one day and casually mentions a project that he or she has been assigned.  It’s a big deal and will be factored into their overall grade.  They are “really looking forward to putting it together.”

ImageThe night before it’s due, you ask how it’s coming.  Suddenly that same kid (who couldn’t wait to begin) mutters that they have taken some notes.  That’s it.

The fury creeps up from inside of you as you’re grabbing them by the scruff of the neck, tossing them in the car and heading to AC Moore to buy poster board, Sharpies and rubber cement.

Grrrrr….

Okay, fellow parents, here’s a tough one.  This subject has been the topic of conversation with many of my friends lately and I have stood on my soapbox, declaring that a failed grade is a lesson worth learning and teaches kids to manage their time wisely and take responsibility.  Yet there I was, forcing my 6th grade son (after arguing with him at a noise level that would wake the dead) to write an outline, scrap his lame attempt at taking the easy route out by starting over, and FINALLY offering to help him create an A+ worthy project.

Oh, what a hypocrite I am.

Now, I will admit…I like to get things right.  While not a complete perfectionist, I will work until the 11th hour to make sure that I turn in something that’s good at the very least (as evidenced by this very story which I am writing the night before I post it).   When I have something due, I make sure that it’s in on time and if I have to work late then that’s my fault.  But why, oh WHY does my 11-year old son not have the same work ethic?

Put simply, because he is, in fact, an 11-year old boy.  There are so many times as a parent that I am baffled at their lack of responsibility when it comes to school, their toys or anything that is valuable to them.  I mean, I certainly get it, why don’t they?  If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus then Children are from a Planet so very VERY far away, and it’s one where nothing (outside of TV watching and X-Box) ever gets accomplished.   Who would want to live like that?

I’ll admit…I didn’t exactly let my son FAIL (I may be too Type A for that, or at least right now) but I did have to let him put together a B-ish science project.  As I watched him quickly scribble the title on the poster board and spell “Animall” with two L’s (oh, my Father the newspaper Editor must have rolled over in his grave), he put his head in his hands in utter defeat.  I figured that this might be my great teaching experience for him as I explained that although he made a mistake, the big win would be in how to fix it.  He suggested that printing out the title on the computer with a black background and white letters and gluing it over the misspelled word would make it look better.  I exhaled as I realized that he had learned something:

We all make mistakes.  Instead of submitting something that isn’t perfect, figure out a great solution.  There’s a life lesson fer ya, kid.

In the end, the project is good.  I mean, it’s no A+ in my book but he admitted his shortcomings, asked for help and actually seemed to enjoy doing it.  And wonder of all wonders, as he went to bed I even got an un-prompted, “Hey Mom, thanks for helping me.”

I may not have the stomach for the failing grade yet, but at least he’s picking up a few life lessons…and so am I.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

But just you wait for the project on Rome.  I’m just saying.

What are your thoughts?  Do you let them fail or help them get an A?  PLEASE, comment below!

Ode to Dr. Seuss: Paying respects to a literary genius


In honor of what would have been the 109th birthday of literary genius Theodore Geisel this weekend, I shall don my tallest striped hat and Seuss it up.  To the man who has provided my family and me with countless hours of stories and smiles, might I say “Happy Birthday to You!”

***

c9c46ff208b788c1b9d1a2404cbb953aWhen I was a mere two years old
My young mind was all yours to mold
I loved Sam I Am
And his Green Eggs and Ham
That first book was pure solid gold

As I got older my library grew
A Lorax!  A Grinch!  A wee Wocket too!
Your creations were fun
Learning had now just begun!
Soon I met Horton and his small quiet Who

As a mother, you can imagine my thrill
For my kids, the Seuss-values to instill!
They loved Hopp-Soup-Snoop
Although he’s just a big Group!
And laughed at Fizza-ma-wizza-ma-dill

They meet Sneetches and young Katy Klopps
My husband smiles as he softly eavesdrops
Ben loved Willy Walloo
While Georgia preferred Cindy Lou-Who
Which character will young Quinn think is tops?

I observe while they chat and they dish
About four silly and colorful fish
“They are both red and blue,
That Fish 1 and Fish 2!”
It’s stuff like this that we all will cherish

They have adored each absurd little quirk
Of one silly Morris McGurk
Sounding out every word
To a kid, nothing’s absurd
They actually like this kind of homework!

Dr. Seuss, you were a rare breed
And your lessons were special indeed
I owe you a lot
For what you have taught
Thanks to you, my children can read!

Toddlers and Tiaras? Not on MY watch…

Perhaps one of the most harrowing ordeals a parent can experience with her young daughter is the shopping excursion for a new bathing suit.  We had spent a few days on the Cape during last year’s February vacation and as any parent knows, the goal for this trip (in the kids’ eyes at least) is to spend 12 straight hours a day at the indoor pool.  Therefore, when 7-year old Georgia told me that her suits from the previous summer were too small, I took her word for it.  I mean, it could be that she had grown, right?  The thought of heading into her disaster of a closet (and risking never coming out again) scared me enough that I grabbed my American Express and we headed to the mall.

As expected, Georgia led me straight to Justice, her favorite store.  Never had the pleasure of shopping there?  Let me help: if the Disney Channel and Teen Nick had a lovechild and it launched a retail chain, Justice would be the outcome.  Any questions?

As we stood in front of the bathing suit wall, my jaw fell to the glitter-covered floor and I realized that Georgia had brought me there to buy a new style, not a bigger size.  Skimpy neon-colored bikinis with plunging necklines hung from ceiling to floor, and when I asked the sales clerk where the suits for my 7-year old were, she said I was looking at them.

Oh, the horror.

ImageWhat’s worse is that Georgia had already grabbed two bikinis and was headed for the dressing room.  I frantically reached for a somewhat less-revealing two-piece and followed her inside.  As she pulled on the first top and visions of Toddlers and Tiaras flashed through my mind, I panicked.  How would I talk her out of this?  Would it be possible to convince her that Justin Bieber actually prefers one-piece suits?

“Hmmm, that one doesn’t look too comfortable.  You’ll be pulling it up the whole time.  Why don’t you try THIS one?  It has these little sparkles on it and everything!”

Wasted words, my friends.  She was twirling in the mirror to see it from all angles as I chattered on, extolling the virtues of the longer top that came down to her bellybutton.  “And this one will keep you warmer when you first get in the pool, while that bikini will let your stomach get cold so fast.”

Seriously?  This was the best that I had?  I embarrass even myself, but a woman backed up against a wall will grasp at anything.  I knew what had to be done; I was just hoping to avoid it.  However, the time had come.  I had run out of options.

Breathing deeply, I looked at my tiny 7-year old Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model-wannabe and gave it to her straight. “Georgia, I’m sorry, but that bathing suit is inappropriate for a little girl.  You need to get the other one.”

At that very moment I think I aged 15 years. Ugh.

Of course I got my way (I was the one paying, after all) and after a few minutes she had come around.  But, I saw a glimpse into my future and it scared me to my very soul.  Today it’s a bikini, but what is it tomorrow?  A bellybutton ring?  A car?  BOYS?

I fear that neither Andy nor I are ready for what lay ahead as she gets older.  While I hope she’ll see us as cool parents who understand, I expect that she’ll see us as nerdy conservative ones who love rules and won’t let her get away with anything.  And you know what?

That’s just fine with me.

I am Alpha Dog

So you know when you move from one room to clean dog poop from off your dining room rug, only to go the kitchen to find your 3-year old telling you “I had a accident” and before you know it, you’re cleaning up MORE poop, this time out of tiny little underwear?

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Yeah, that.  Welcome to my glamorous existence.

In October, young Quinn Shumway proved to us that he was ready for potty training.  At least, we realized that one was coming, ran him into the potty at a breakneck speed, ripped off the diaper and just like that, he did it.  It was as close to a staged event as one can get, but a mom who wants to throw away diapers can convince herself of anything.

Of course, since that day he’s had about 10 successful pooping trips to the loo; the rest of the time we’re cleaning up accidents.

Cut to early December when 9-month old Elvis the rescue dog arrives to join La Familia Shumway.  While generally a sweet little dog with a great disposition, he doesn’t like the snow and so when given the opportunity would rather leave a present in the Dining Room than brave the elements.

Put simply, cleaning up crap – literally – has become a large part of my life.

I was venting to a friend of mine about the dog and his “issues” (he also has severe abandonment anxiety…I can’t make this stuff up) and after proclaiming that Elvis would not win, that I WOULD BREAK HIM OF THIS HABIT, she said to me:

“So let me get this straight: you are fighting with a 12 lb. canine for the title of Alpha Dog in your house?”

Umm…YES I AM.

You need to understand: I succeed when it comes to things like this.  I know that the key to letting a child (or dog) know who’s boss is maintaining a steely resolve to not give in.  They wiil fight back but if you vow to stay the course (and keep spare plastic bags handy) then eventually you will win.  I was able to get three babies – albeit, human ones – to sleep through the night by the time they were 10 weeks old and successfully potty trained two of them within five days, so I thought I had the magic bullet.

Four months later, I’m still dealing with crap.

I can’t figure out why this is taking so long this time around.  I mean, I’m sticking to my guns, punishing the dog, not giving in and buying diapers again, so by all accounts I should have been victorious months ago.  And while I’ve heard all the encouraging sentiments – “Every child is different, you won’t win this battle” and “The dog just needs time,” I refuse to back down.  I will win or die trying.  For I am Alpha Dog.

Of course in the meantime, you can still find me cleaning up crap.   Literally.

Pinterest: a busy Mom’s creative inspiration or worst nightmare? You decide.

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“Do you Pin?”

I remember the first time I delved into Pinterest.  My sisters were telling me how fabulously addictive Pinterest was and that I must try it.  I was skeptical to say the least: ”You ‘pin’ pictures onto virtual bulletin boards?  Sounds dumb.”  I agreed to open an account for our Web Series (Greater Boston Gala Girls) as I thought I could pin recipes and party pictures.  Plus, I thought, I can be crafty when I want to (my Nerd-nickname is “Knitty McNeedles” if that tells you anything) so perhaps I could get some great ideas to do with the kids.

Before I began, though, my sister Jocelyn gave me this warning:

“Be very careful with Pinterest.  You may find yourself in a craft store with bolts of felt in your arm and a giddy feeling in your head.  You’ll wonder ‘why am I here?’ and then you’ll remember the handcrafted flower banister wrap that looks and sounds so easy and so handmade! And then you’ll stare at those bolts of felt for months, with a guilty conscience and a chip on your shoulder… 

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘Crafts are not easy.  Selling them is.’”

Of course I thought that she was being melodramatic, so I dipped a toe in the water one evening when the kids went to bed.  When I looked up from my laptop, bleary eyed and jittery, it was 1:15 am.  On a Thursday.

Put simply, the Pinterest novice can lose hours, DAYS even, in their first few sessions.  You’ll have grandiose visions of planning “EASY!” nightly meals involving salad dressing packets and crockpots that look so delicious and healthy.  This will of course save you the time to create a crafting station where you and the kids will make Dream Catchers from twigs and feathers and a Paper Mache Solar System to hang above the kitchen table.  And you swear you will get there.

Inevitably, there’s a birthday party and a soccer practice carpool and you can’t get the ingredients for that crockpot Beef Wellington so instead you decide on pasta for dinner again.  Then you’re waylaid on the trip to AC Moore to get the glue gun because your 3-year old has to go potty and the thought of bringing him to the restroom at the “Arts and Craps” Store (see what I did there?) is too much to bear and before you know it, you’ve ordered “Finding Nemo” on demand for the 15th time in a week and that’s their activity instead.

My friends, I’ve been there.  Don’t beat yourselves up.

If you need to quench that Pinterest thirst with an easy to accomplish activity, try this one.  I found it on Pinterest and even tried to involve the kids (they couldn’t have cared less) but who knows, maybe your children will dig it:

When you’re finished using a bunch of scallions, don’t throw away the white ends with the bulb and roots.  Put them in a small glass of water like this:

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Within a few weeks, they regenerate and look like this:

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Voila!  The way I look at it, I saved a couple of bucks, taught the kids about growing vegetables (sort of) and saw a Pinterest project from beginning to end.  I mean, it’s no flower banister wrap but a busy mom knows her limitations.

Just ask Eleanor Roosevelt.

Sports Radio. I just don’t get it.

Last weekend, I offered to go pick up Ben from Hoops practice and as Andy’s car was behind mine in the driveway, I took his instead.  As I fired up the engine to that sweet, sweet Minivan, the radio came on blaring and the sound of angry men arguing with one another filled the air.  I knew in a moment what had just happened…

I had entered the Sports Radio Zone.

 

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I have to assume this is a textbook example of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”  I mean, I know plenty of female sports fans but not one of them will spend hours listening to “Joe from Canton” or “Dave in the Car” wax philosophical about the Celtics’ third round draft pick or just exactly what was going through Belichick’s mind during the third quarter of the AFC Championship game.  Caller after caller argues with the host, yelling at times, and at the end of the show, nothing is resolved.  NOTHING.

I started to think what Women’s Sports Radio would sound like.

“Caller, you’re on the air.  Who is this?”

“Hi Bob, this is Kathy in the Minivan.  You know what I can’t stand?  That no matter how many times I beg, plead, threaten and in the end, CLEAN, there are always stale Cheerios and French Fries stuck to the seat of my car.  I mean, EVERYWHERE.  They are wedged in the seatbelt buckles, they’re all over the floor, and whenever I get out, inevitably there is some kind of month-old food that’s adhered to the back of my pants.”

“Thanks, Kathy.  We don’t care and totally disagree!  Next caller.”

“Hey Bob, this is Jennifer from the Gap dressing room.  What everyone needs to know is that I’ve lost 8 lbs…EIGHT POUNDS, BOB…and yet standing in here trying on a great pair of pants that I need for a client meeting tomorrow, I look as big as the side of a barn.  Whoever is in charge of the fat mirrors in the Gap dressing rooms should be FIRED.  And another thing, Bob…”

Click.

The funny thing is, I feel the same type of bewilderment with some of the drivel that seems to entertain the kids.  At any given time there are about nine recorded episodes of the same Disney Channel and Nick shows clogging up our DVR, and Georgia will watch them over and over AND OVER AGAIN.  What’s even more baffling is that my 6th grade son Ben likes to get YouTube and watch other people play Mine Craft.  Yes, OTHER PEOPLE.  I guess this is how these boys grow up to love…

Sports Radio.

This is Alex at the Kitchen Counter laptop, signing off.

Notes from the Ledge…jumping in.

Welcome to my blog.

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I, like most women, am many things.  I’m a Mom, I work full time, I’m a wife/middle sister/daughter/friend, I host an online entertaining show called The Greater Boston Gala Girls and I really, REALLY love a nice bottle of Cabernet.

I live just outside of Boston and have three kids…Ben is 11, Georgia is 7 and Quinn (he’s a he) is 3.  For two years I wrote a weekly column for the Dedham Patch called “Tales of a Tireless Mom.”  I didn’t name it and always hated that title because, well, I AM tired.  What working Mom isn’t?  Anyhow…

The paying gig finally ended and while I thought having one less thing to do would be nice, I missed adding to the literary scrapbook I’d built.  Therefore, welcome to my new project, “Notes from the Ledge.”  The goal is to entertain and probably make you feel better about the parenting job that you’re doing (I mean, I’m literally ignoring my pre-schooler’s demands to get up from his nap as I type this).  And for all my fellow working sisters out there, this should make for great reading while you’re dialed in – but not paying attention to – conference calls.

My house is usually messy, I wear yoga pants every chance I get (although they’ve never seen the inside of a yoga studio), the kids don’t always eat healthy food and often watch age-inappropriate TV.  If any of this sounds like you, then pour yourself a cup of coffee or glass of wine and join the madness.  At my crazy party, there’s always room for one more.

Alex