I’ll be the first to admit that when times get tough, I throw in the towel. I don’t mean literally. I don’t – like – leave and return a week later after a blur of booze, parties, and memories I pray were just nightmares.
I mean – like – I just give up. Mostly at being a parent.
It doesn’t usually last long. Typically an hour. Two, tops. Or it’ll last for an event.
Maybe the appropriate phrase is I give in.
Recently, my husband was working at a different company for a little over a month. Basically, his company hired him out for the duration of that period to do a particular project, in hopes it will bring the show he worked on to his facility later on down the line.
Blah blah more film industry jargon blah blah reality TV blah blah.
None of that meant a thing to me, beyond the bottom line: longer hours, longer commute, more overtime. Or, in short: Heather you’re a single mom for a while.
At first things went pretty smoothly. We worked through the upsettedness that Dad wouldn’t be home for bedtime some nights. He took a day off to compensate for the fact that he would be gone on Valentine’s Day.
And then, the hiccup. This is always what happens when he goes through a busy period at work: everything goes great until one thing goes wrong, and in an instant all hell has broken loose in our house. I become that mom that hides in the closet eating candy bars to calm herself before emerging back into the trenches. And, speaking of the house, it becomes such a disaster that people have to literally climb over piles of laundry (who knows whether they are clean or not?) to get to the bathroom.
From the time the hiccup happens, until my husband’s busy period at work is over, it isn’t pretty to be around any of us.
The hiccup this time happened about a week in; suddenly, and without warning, I threw in the towel without even realizing it.
“Can I have an entire sleeve of Thin Mints?”
Sure, why not.
“Can homeschooling today just be playing with Barbies?”
I’m sure that could be educational in some circles.
“Can we push bedtime back to oh say 2 am?”
By all means!
It isn’t that I depend on my husband, necessarily, to be the parent around here. I mean, really. He’s the most stereotypically aloof dad-figure out there; if we had $1 every time the phrase “go ask your mother” comes out of his mouth on a regular basis, we’d have the money to hire a nanny to do the parenting I don’t do every time I throw in the towel.
Nonetheless, he provides me with the back up I desperately need.
So upon coming to the realization that I had thrown in the towel so soon this time, I knew that something had to be done. Something drastic.
Something as drastic as Christmas.
Christmas is when kids are at their absolute best. Whether they believe in Santa Claus anymore or not, they know that good behavior around Christmas is rewarded with more presents under the tree.
It’s the law of the land, as far as childhood is concerned.
A few years ago, we started reinforcing the idea of the fat guy in the red suit putting you on the naughty or nice list with the Elf on the Shelf. It wasn’t that we necessarily agreed with doing the elf, and her subsequent elf friend – the reindeer; it’s that everyone else is doing it, why aren’t we?
And I will be the first to unashamedly admit that the elf has done even more than Santa Claus ever did for good behavior.
But as much as I can tend to be a Pinterest Mom (in between severe bouts of laziness), there was a cold chance in hell I’d be staging any kind of second Christmas around here. What would that even mean? How would I even justify that?
Then I realized that there already is a second Christmas, and it was already well on its way at that point.
So in my genius, just a little over a week into my husband’s busy time at work, a lightbulb went off over my sugary, candy-coated, closet-hidden mush of a brain:
The Elf on the Motherflippin’ Shelf will come back as the Easter bunny’s helper.
The Elf on the Shelf and her reindeer were sent by Santa to help the Easter bunny keep an eye on things, and to make sure kids are not only good and deserved of their Easter treats, but to make sure they understand the meaning of Easter. Brilliant, right? The lies have grown so deep in this house now, I don’t even know what’s true anymore. And I don’t care, because everything went back to normal as soon as Jem and her pet reindeer, The Hologram, returned. I also feel more as though we’ve gotten our money out of The Elf on the Shelf, and all it’s accompanying purchases. I mean, the tradition will only last so long before everyone decides to cut the bullshit on the whole thing. At least this way we’ve gotten more use out of it.
Anything to make myself feel less pathetic for needing a toy to provide discipline in my own house.
On the positive of this entire endeavor, things have gotten better.
There have been no more requests to eat an entire sleeve of Thin Mints in one sitting.
No more suggestions that homeschooling consist of playing with Barbies all day.
Bedtime went back to its normal (already too late) time.
So The Elf on the Shelf returned for Easter at our house, because I can’t parent. I’m sure worse things have happened; more egregious parenting faux pas have been committed. The end result is a happy, functional household; and a less-crazy mom. I make a terrible single mother. I’m OK with admitting that I need help restoring order around here.
Even if it’s from a stuffed Christmas toy that I glued bunny ears to.
I was at Barnes and Noble yesterday. I know what you’re all thinking – but wait, we thought you hated going anywhere during the holidays! Well, I do. But I had to go to Barnes and Noble to get what was apparently the last, mangled copy of the map of the world in all of Southern California. To finish a Christmas present I had been stalling since I finished all the rest of the shopping back in October.
So I was at Barnes and Noble and it was a mob scene. A mob scene at 1 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, which sort of makes me question whether or not anyone in my community works to be able to afford to spend so much money at the local Barnes and Noble. I mean, shouldn’t all of those people have been at work?
Nonetheless, I got my map and several other things I absolutely did not go to Barnes and Noble for, and headed to the check out line for the most miserable 45 minutes of my life. Towards the end, as I was close enough to the cash register to make eye contact with the employees as three of them aimlessly wandered around behind the register station, pretending to do something else, while one, lone cashier checked out the seven billion customers – when I was that close, I heard someone behind me approach people further back in the line. “Oh my God, we haven’t seen you guys in YEARS!” she shrieked as though they were – quite literally – separated still by miles, and then they started the old game of catch up that in a nutshell involved platitudes and niceties.
As if this experience could not have gotten any worse, these were the final moments of my time in line yesterday at my local, overcrowded Barnes and Noble.
Then it happened. Right as I was starting to walk up to the cashier, I heard one of the catcher-uppers say “and Joanie will be coming home from college for Christmas break tomorrow!” And in that little statement, made by a complete stranger and completely irrelevant to my life, I was hit with the striking realization that I probably should have made several years ago. Somewhere around the time I left graduate school five years ago, maybe earlier than that.
I will never go home from college for Christmas break again.
As I drove home – another 45 minute task, because every person with a car in Southern California apparently drives around and clogs up traffic on Tuesday afternoons as well – I realized just how many stages of my life are over. I’ve never really come to terms with this, or thought about it so seriously. Accepted it into my heart and soul that there are chapters of my life so fully completed that they have been burned up, never to be read again. At least by me.
Not only will I never go home from college for Christmas break again; I will never experience the butterflies of a first date. I will never have that “new mom” feel again, just as the thrills of skipping class to hang out at the local McDonalds with the other high school seniors are gone forever.
Admittedly, I have noticed signs of the ushering in of this next era of life. But have I never noticed before when one door closed and a new one opened? I don’t believe so. At least I don’t remember noticing the passing of time in the same way that I did yesterday.
The signs have been there, though.
A few weeks ago, I realized that I rarely wear make up anymore, unless of course we’re going somewhere. And even then I find a way to justify wearing none. Or just some mascara.
My outfits used to be coordinated perfectly – I’m not even sure why. I’ve never cared much for what people think of me, and yet my underpants always matched my belt. In this new stage of life, though, it’s all yoga pants, mom jeans, and stretchies. Tucked into slippers that could pass for moccasins. Paired with a tank top that has a bra in it.
I noticed this about a month ago when I was at the mall and realized that I can’t remember the last time I wore a Victoria’s Secret bra.
Someone at a family party a while back was talking about going to a bar and out to play pool, and actually planning to get home around 3 in the morning. I remember thinking – in earnest – to myself that nothing good ever happens after midnight, which is something my grandmother used to say.
I felt so disgusted at the idea of doing anything other than watching Netflix and reading a book, that I immediately looked for an excuse for us to go home and do just that.
More importantly, while I definitely have memories involving college and high school and growing up and going out, I still can’t remember what my life was like before becoming a mom. I actually have no idea what I was doing with my time. And I don’t mean to sound diminishing to those that aren’t mothers, or to sound so cliche. But really in this new stage of my life, being a mom is not only my job but who I have become.
I’m a wife and mom. That’s about it.
I feel so ordinary, and there was a time in my life when to be ordinary would have been like spiritual death. But that time is over and I am fine with my new chapter in life. In fact, I have never been happier.
When I was younger, I wanted to make something of myself. Be something – be someone. But I think I had a very skewed idea of what it was to be someone. Rather than be known or famous or a published author or an accomplished painter, or someone everyone knows and writes about in history books and is remembered for generations to come… being someone really just meant being myself.
In this new stage I am myself, and very few people know me. I’ve accomplished very little and have many talents. Not one of them results in a paycheck and that’s totally cool. I don’t wear make up often, and prefer comfortable moccasin-style slippers over high heels, even when high heels are the status quo.
And when it is my turn to run into people at the local Barnes and Noble that I haven’t seen in ages, my most exciting update on what I’m doing with myself and my life will be simply that I’m a wife and a mom. Some may find that meaningless or boring, but that’s what I’m doing, and it’s the most Me I’ve been in years.