Five Situations that All Parents Fear

It's almost Halloween, so spooky things abound (like my face when I woke up this morning. The bags under my eyes could have held ten pounds of Halloween candy. Ugh!).

As parents, we're always the ones reassuring our kids that things aren't really as scary as they seem. There are no monsters in the closet. There are no zombies in the backyard. The Woosta-Wah Fart Smeller is just something your brother made up. We're the dispellers of myths, the banishers of fears, the reassurers that everything is going to be all right.

But when something makes us panic, we can't usually count on our kids to return the favor. In fact, they're the cause of the paranoia, more often than not - like when these five freakout-inducing situations occur.

"I feel like I'm gonna throw up." Nothing can bring my good mood screeching to a halt faster than a vomiting child. I start praying like a priest at an exorcism, hoping against hope that it's just a one-time thing. "It must be something you ate!" I say brightly, as though saying it out loud will make it true. It's just that when one child starts, it inevitably spreads to the rest of the household like a chain of diarrhea dominoes, including me - which means that more often than not, I'm trying not to heave while cleaning up someone else's bodily fluids. No bueno. Stomach viruses are a nightmare - no, they're worse.

A call from the school. When the caller ID shows that my kids' school is calling, you better believe I'm steeling myself to receive some sort of disheartening news. Is somebody sick? Is somebody hurt? Is someone in trouble? Did someone say "penis" in his Kindergarten classroom? In five years of having school-aged children, I've never once had a phone call from there that was like, "Hey, we just wanted to tell you that your kids are fantastic and they're our favorite students and we're wondering what your amazing parenting secrets are?"

An unsettling noise from the other room. It might be a crash. Or a splash. Or a thud. Or a gasp, or an "uh-oh." Whatever it is, it's never a good sign - especially if it's followed by dead silence. Because you just know that it's some heinous mess, or a valuable object shattered into a bazillion pieces, and that right about now your kid is staring at it wide-eyed, trying to figure out how to fix it before Mom and Dad find out.

An embarrassing question. You're going along about your day, everything is normal, and then bam! - your kid drops a bombshell, asking a question you're so not ready to answer. Whether it's an unexpected inquiry about the birds and the bees or, "Mommy, what's a whore?", you've got to work through the blind panic that rips through you and come up with a reasonable, age-appropriate answer. (Just don't attempt to illustrate your point via hand gestures, like I did. Learn from my mistakes.)

When kids say the darndest things. Along those same lines, we have the lovely tidbits that kids interject at the most inopportune (read: embarrassing) times. As we grow, we develop a social filter that keeps us from saying these things - but before that filter is in place, you never know when your child is going to say something (loudly, natch) that will leave you utterly mortified, wishing that you had a roll of duct tape handy. One of my kids told his teacher that she reminded him of a Muppet. One announced to a crowded lobby that I had pooped that morning. One questioned the gender of our waitress (re-peat-ed-ly). They have a knack for creating awkward situations that you, as a parent, must then stumble your way out of. Talk about nerve-wracking.

Our kids are scared of things that are easily remedied - just a reassuring pat on the back or some "monster repellant" (water in an old spray bottle or something) and they're good to go. But the fearful scenarios they can lead us into are far more tricky. At least they're funny in retrospect.

... Well, sometimes.

The Instrument (of Torture)

Fourth grade is an important year. It's the year that most kids turn double-digits. It's the year that they go from being the little fish in the school hallways to being in the "upper elementary" grades. And it's the year in which fourth-grade parents everywhere are subjected to a rite of passage so taxing, so torturous, that Satan himself would chuckle with approval.

Your fourth-grader brings home .....

... a recorder.

It doesn't matter if your kid is a complete instrumental novice or some sort of gifted virtuoso - recorders all sound the same. Their toot-toot-tooting is at a frequency that hammers at your eardrums like a woodpecker. And if your kid is anything like most, the "woodpecker" is ever-present, at least for the first few days.

Colin brought his home at the end of last week, brandishing it proudly in its little felt bag. He proceeded to play "Hot Cross Buns,"emitting a few squeaky, off-key notes during the rendition. And then he played it again. And then again.

Practicing, he called it. My music teacher told us we should, he said.

And, like, what can you say about it as a conscientious parent? I mean, it's something he brought home from school. Something he's supposed to learn. It isn't like we can be all, "Stop that practicing! Put that thing away and leave it alone!" Because it's like homework. High-pitched, ear-splitting, repetitively annoying homework. "Hot Cross Buns" on loop.

Of course when only one of your children has a recorder, it's automatically the coolest thing on the face of the planet and the other children want to play it. Badly. As though it's some magical flute whose notes will produce a sparkling horde of candy-farting unicorns. This resulted in huge fights about whose turn it is to play, and endless explanations about how this is Colin's special school thing and that it needs to be kept in a safe place, and the realization that they failed to listen to said explanations because they kept sneaking the damn thing out of Colin's backpack to play it. (Apparently small children don't get that you can't exactly play a screechy recorder unnoticed.) Did I mention that this happened at times when they thought their brother wasn't looking ... such as the crack of dawn?

Yeah. It's like that.

This morning, I checked like thirty times to make sure the recorder was in his backpack so that he could take the infernal thing back to school. Colin was bouncing around by the door, saying, "I'm excited about school today!"

"Well that's good!" I said brightly. "And why are you so excited?"

"Because we're learning a new song on the recorder!"


The only thing stopping me from going downright nuts is that I remember when I was a fourth-grader, and how awesome it felt to bring home my very own instrument (never mind that it was an instrument of torture. Sorry, Mom). And I wouldn't begrudge my kids that feeling.

If you need me, I'll be out buying earplugs before Colin gets home.

Foodie vs. Fitness

It's baking season, y'all. And soup weather.*

*(Just don't almost accidentally get your kids drunk when you try to make French onion soup, mmkay?.)

If you don't know what I mean by "baking season," I'm not sure we can still be friends.

The trees are changing into their gorgeous autumn outfits in preparation for their slow strip-tease into bare branches. And I'm changing into my loose sweaters and extra-chin-camouflaging scarves. (And my fat pants.) Not solely because of the cooler weather, but because the compulsion to bake and eat at this time of year tends to overtake me. So come January, I'm usually wearing something else: an extra ten pounds.

Okay, okay ... fifteen. Sheesh.

This year, in an effort to thwart the outward expansion of my thighs, I'm trying to ramp up the amount of exercise I'm doing. Because lord knows I'd rather do a little more moving than a little less eating. I mean ... baked goods and soup! (And Halloween candy. And Thanksgiving dinner.)

But I'm finding that I'm not very easily motivated. You know what motivates me? Food. Which, for obvious reasons, is kind of an issue. I feel like there's something wrong with me when I'm not inspired by those Pinterest photos of chicks with rock-hard bodies, rivulets of sweat trickling down their determined faces. Seriously, all I can do is feel sad that they won't be experiencing the cozy bliss that is a pot of chili simmering on the stovetop and an apple pie in the oven on a brisk, breezy day.*

*I suppose they won't be experiencing fat days, either, but I never think about it that way. 

I wish I could view kale chips and Paleo whatever-people-are-eating as delicious alternatives - but alas, try as I might, I'm not wired that way. The thought of giving up my foodie-ness makes me sad. 

But so does the thought of the fall-and-winter poundage that I pack on like a bear preparing for hibernation. Which is why I did fifty squats last night while waiting for my chocolate chip cookies to bake. 

That's gotta count for something, right?

The Demented Dentures

Halloween is coming up. I'm not what you'd call "crafty" or "talented at sewing" (I once tried to hem a toddler-sized cow costume and ended up making the legs capri-length) so we buy our kids' costumes. Hence the reason for our trip to the ridiculously-overpriced Halloween store late last week.

Our nine-year-old wants to be a zombie. When he told me this I was all, "Yay cheap costume!" because I envisioned some torn-up dirty old clothes (which we have in abundance around here) and some cheap face paint. But of course, he wanted the fancy putty-stuff to make scars with and the (seven dollar!) decaying teeth that you put over your own. Ugh.

When he said he wanted the teeth, I was skeptical. I mean, the kid hates tags in his clothes - I couldn't imagine how he'd feel about sporting a big hunk of plastic in his mouth for the duration of Halloween. But before I could point that out, thereby saving myself seven bucks and a whole bunch of inevitable whining, my husband was like, "Wow, buddy, those are awesome! I think they'll be perfect."

So, we bought the teeth.

Just as I'd expected, Colin had them in his mouth for all of 2.5 seconds before he deemed them too uncomfortable and abandoned them on the kitchen counter. I was just about to launch into an epic "I told you so" speech when I noticed that the teeth were gone.

I had to chuckle when I saw where they'd ended up.

They might have been too big for Colin's little mouth, but they fit oddly perfectly into Curtis's. We had a good laugh, and I figured that was that.

Only it wasn't. Because the teeth kept reappearing. Or, more accurately, they never really disappeared. Curtis was obsessed with the damn things. Just as I thought he had put them away for good, they would materialize out of his pocket. All. Weekend. LONG.

He wore them with our Kindergartner's Harry Potter glasses.

He wore them while playing video games with the kids.

He wore them while on the computer.

He wore them while on the phone. WITH HIS WORK.

He wore them at dinner.

He wore them in bed.

Yesterday, he took them to his office and wore them when he spoke at his morning meeting. (Did I mention that when he wears the teeth, his accent typically slips into a redneckish drawl?) And he had them in last night. They're in his pocket as we speak, ready for their next great adventure. I can't take him anywhere without risking total mortification. He hasn't embarrassed me this much since that time he followed me around Target making farting noises.

At least we've gotten our seven dollars' worth. And then some.


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