Mother of the Year

Not to brag, but I’ve already received multiple awards for my stellar parenting.

This is due to the fact that my friends generously bestow “mother of the year” accolades to anyone who has spectacularly crashed and burned in this race called motherhood. Consequently, there happens to be a ton of mother of the year awards flying around my group of friends.

If you’ve ever taught a small child your favorite college drinking game in order to entice him to chug Pedialyte when he was sick, welcome to our club. And if you’re the person who invented the explanation that the ice cream man plays music to announce that he’s sold out of treats for the day, you’ve earned a lifetime achievement award.

Somehow, confessing to my friends that I was forced to make PB&J on a defrosted hot dog bun because we ran out of bread that morning helps reinforce a few truths about motherhood: this gig is hard; no one can do it perfectly; and we all need to be on the same team.

I’m lucky enough to be a part of an all-­star team of women who make this role of mom so much easier and so much more fun because of their willingness to laugh at the pandemonium and then ask, “What can I do to help?”

Sometimes help comes in the form of play dates and carpools to ease the logistics of needing to be in several places at once. Other times it’s an invitation to go on a hike or grab a coffee or (let’s be honest) a glass of wine to blow off some steam and perhaps discuss the fact that earlier that day, my son had lovingly referred to me as a “beautiful old lady.”

These are the friends who can collectively -­‐-­‐ at a moment’s notice -­‐-­‐ cobble together a costume for any school event and who will make a special trip to the grocery store to buy saltines and ginger ale when I’m at home comforting a kid with the stomach flu.

I couldn’t do this job without them. But for a while, I tried.

There was a time when I thought I could handle all of it on my own. I had friends, of course, but I only allowed them to see glimpses of my life when the house was clean, the kids were behaving and I was wearing something other than yoga pants.

That meant we didn’t see each other very often because the domestic holy trinity of house, kids and mom all being presentable at the same time never happens. I had made the mistake of assuming that everyone else had their act together and expected me to do the same.

That kind of life is tidy, but it doesn’t ring true. That life is a polite courtesy laugh when what we’re really craving is a raucous belly laugh that brings tears to our eyes, smears our mascara and makes us wish we’d taken our doctor’s advice about doing those daily Kegel exercises.

For me, the real fun didn’t begin until the jokes about mother of the year started to appear. Slowly, I began to let my guard down and share my true self, parenting disasters and all.

There was freedom in admitting that, while in a fit of rage, my daughter yelled that she wished I was nice – like Caillou’s mom.

It seems counterintuitive, but through these friendships, I became both vulnerable and strong at the same time.

The best result of this honesty was the beautiful discovery that the moms who are willing to admit they need help are also the first to offer a hand to others. The women who can laugh at themselves are also the ones who give their peers the benefit of the doubt. They know the challenges we all face and trust we’re doing the best we can.

These “mothers of the year” are my closest friends. I couldn’t ask for a better village to help raise my kids.

And now that I’ve found these moms, I’m holding on tightly. I try to be a good friend, quick to put together a play date and even quicker to organize a happy hour, but I find myself more often in the position of saying thanks, I owe you one.

I know I’ll have a chance to return the favor since I’ll be friends with these women for a long time – because a bond forged while discussing the fact that when clean laundry is in short supply, bathing suit bottoms make a pretty decent substitute for underwear – is a bond that will withstand whatever life and motherhood can throw its way.

The Adventures of Roller Girl and not-Giselle

We were quite a duo as we hiked the hills behind our kids’ elementary school.  My friend, fresh from her visit to a phlebotomist, was accessorizing her running shorts with knee-high white surgical stockings.  Resembling a sexy roller girl from the 70’s, she wore her ugly socks with pride.

After a few sweaty miles, I started suffering from an itchy heat rash across my middle.  “Fuck it,” I said as I folded my shirt into a micro crop top in a desperate attempt to get some fresh air on my misbehaving skin.  I’m 100% certain that the only human on the planet who should legally be allowed to wear a micro crop top is Giselle — and I’m not convinced she’s entirely human.  I looked ridiculous, and sadly couldn’t even muster a redeeming roller girl vibe.

So there we were, Roller Girl and not-Giselle, trudging up the mountain, talking, laughing and reveling in the fact that we’ve reached the age where we truly didn’t care that we looked like we escaped from a facility harboring the criminally unfashionable.  We were women of substance.  (Yeah!)  We were fearless.  (Hell, yeah!) We were standing right in front of a huge gopher snake.  (Oh, shit!)

Admittedly, the thing looked comatose as it stretched across the trail soaking up the sun.  But it was big and it was close and, well, a snake is a snake.

Shrieking, I started doing the jumping, flailing, I-just-almost-stepped-on-a-snake dance.  Believe me when I say not even Giselle could pull off that dance while wearing a homemade crop top.  Roller Girl stopped pointing and laughing just long enough to put an arm around me and walk us waaaay around the snake before we both doubled over, roaring with laughter at the absurdity of it all: the knee socks, the crop top and the jiggly snake dance.

Once I wiped the tears from my cheeks and caught my breath, I commented that between the goofy clothing and uncontrollable laughter, we were not that much different from our daughters – and that made me so happy.

Our daughters are close friends, bonded over a shared love of tether ball, adventure novels and a complete disinterest in the drama that we know is just around the corner in the ‘tween years.  They have fun together, look out for each other and laugh hysterically – just like their moms do when they’re together.  Ages ten and forty turn out to be uncannily similar, with all four of us at the same place of carefree self-assuredness.  The daughters haven’t yet descended into the abyss of self-doubt and mean girls, while their moms have comfortably made it through to the other side.

We continued our hike, talking about our kids and how we wished we could bottle up their plucky attitude for future use.  Keep it behind glass with a “break in case of teenage angst emergency” sign plastered next to it.  But we also know that our girls must navigate the journey on their own and that the heavy lifting of adolescence builds muscle for adulthood – a form of strength training for the soul.  Truth be told, we know these girls will be just fine, eventually reaching the point where they find themselves happily hiking through life’s hills, protecting friends from snakes and confident in their roles of Roller Girl and not-Giselle.

The Jinx

I think my daughter has been jinxed.  Not cursed, because curses are serious.  This is just a quirky annoying jinx of getting sick at the most inopportune times.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my daughter ended up sick on Halloween.  She has a long history of celebrating the holidays with a swig of Children’s Motrin instead of a sip of sparkling apple cider.  She’s missed Thanksgiving because of the stomach flu, Easter because of strep throat and a class field trip because of the croup.   She spent her first visit to Disneyland sick in the hotel before we finally gave up and headed home early.  She’s not ill that often, but when it happens, she makes it memorable.

This bout with a Halloween virus was certainly memorable but for a different reason.  Yesterday afternoon, my daughter’s friend rang our doorbell to deliver a surprise that rendered us speechless; her group of buddies used their own haul of Halloween candy to fill a trick-or-treat bag for my daughter.

Apparently, as soon as word spread on the playground that she was going to miss out on all the fun, the girls started planning how they were going to bring a smile to her face.  It worked like a charm.  I’m also smiling, grateful that my daughter has found her tribe of girlfriends.

Fourth grade seems to be the age of discovering the joy of true friendship.  Instead of enduring mom-scheduled playdates that simply help fill the day, she is choosing her friends and developing an appreciation of girls who share a fondness for bad jokes and tree forts.  These girls — who greet each other every morning with big, squealing bear hugs — have built a fun, inclusive, drama-free friendship.

I can’t wait for my daughter to feel better so we can invite her friends over to play.  I’ll make a batch of cookies as a thank you and send them out back to build a fort, tell some jokes and maybe even consult with fairies to create a spell to eliminate the dreaded holiday sick jinx.

Riggins and ‘Ritas

Three friends living in three different parts of the country decided that too much time had passed since they last got together and laughed themselves incontinent.  It took only one conference call (masterfully scheduled between school drop offs and naptime) for these friends to track down cheap flights, a hotel deal and a plan.  The unsuspecting folks in Dallas had no idea what was coming.

There was a pool.  And a pool boy.  There were gossip magazines, spa treatments, midday naps and late night gab fests that ended in drunken hugs and misty-eyed declarations of BFF love.  There were three separate hotel rooms because everyone wanted the chance to stretch out — blissfully alone in a king-sized bed — and sleep past 6 a.m.

If margaritas are the lifeblood of a girls’ weekend, these three friends were well nourished.  After one particularly margarita-y evening, the friends tumbled into a cab to head back to the hotel.  “Where to, ladies?” asked the driver.

“Can you take us to Dillon, Texas?   I need to get me some Tim Riggins!” declared one of the friends.

Ok, it was me.

Unfortunately, the driver was not a Friday Night Lights fan and did not find the outburst nearly as amusing as I did.   But it did feel good to give a shout out to Riggins and his little football show that never got the attention it deserved.

I’m telling this story for two reasons: first, the three friends need another weekend away and this will hopefully get the ball rolling; and second, now that you know about my fascination with Tim Riggins, I’m hoping you can answer a question for me.

It’s about this shirt.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed to have it.  The problem is that it breaks one of my ironclad fashion rules.  Much like flouncy sundresses and short shorts, novelty T-shirts have been retired from my wardrobe for quite some time.  “I heart cupcakes” is fine on my daughter’s shirt, but not on someone who is thisclose to 40.  My chest is no longer a billboard for hipster graphic designs, team logos or snarky social observations.

But it’s Riggins.  And I love him.  So can I wear this shirt out of the house?  It’s kind of loose and slouchy and looks pretty good with just the front part barely tucked into jeans (like Jennifer Aniston does to prove she’s not prego when the paparazzi are out).  So what do you think?

Freedom

Hiking the hills…

The text messages start flying first thing in the morning – “meet u at lower parking lot”  “don’t forget water” “leaving now, see u soon”  I wonder how my friends manage to find the time to send texts (with emoticons even!) while I’m frantically slugging coffee and slapping together turkey sandwiches with extra mustard.  I must ask them their secret to calm mornings once we’re on the trail.

With the simple slide of a minivan door and a quick “love you, have a great day,” I can slip out of mom mode into friend mode, if only for an intense hour of hill climbing.

We start hiking and settle into easy conversation, bouncing between topics and enjoying the ability to drop an f-bomb without having to put a dollar into the swear jar.  Parenting experts tell us that kids are most willing to share feelings when they’re riding in a car – something about lack of direct eye contact, if I remember correctly.  I think the same theory applies to exercising with friends.  The only other thing that comes close to fostering such banter is a bottle or two of wine, which might be frowned upon at 8:30 in the morning.

I finish the hike with heavy legs but a light heart and start mentally flipping through the pages of my calendar, looking for my next available morning to schedule some freedom in the hills.