Sending Out a Summer S.O.S.

I just dropped my kids off for their last full day of school. Tomorrow they get out at 12:25 and then they'll be all mine for the summer.

... All mine.

... For the summer.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Yes, I'm excited about not having to get up at the crack of dawn, drag my sleepy and complaining children out of bed, prod them relentlessly to get ready, herd them into the van, make sure everyone has every backpack and project and lunch box and permission slip, and schlep all of them to school. (Although I guarantee you this: while they balk now at waking up by 6:30, they'll happily bounce out of bed when they do have the opportunity to sleep in. There's some unwritten rule in the kid handbook.)

On the other hand, all that weekday morning hassle pales in comparison to the shitstorm that's coming. Namely ...

The. Bickering.

Sometimes my kids get along and play nicely (although seeing as I have four boys, even "nice" play can involve pummeling each other). But when they spend too much time together - so basically, on weekends and school breaks - it's a recipe for stress. They fight like cats and dogs about the most inane and unimportant stuff. We get tearful meltdowns and all-out skirmishes over who gets to be what character while they're wrestling, or who gets to wear the shorts that "don't bother their balls" (yes, really). Their tattling voices haunt me in my sleep. I need to just wear black and white stripes and a whistle for the next few months, because all I'll be doing is acting as referee.

This incessant grousing at each other is bad enough, but there's another threat to my summertime sanity ...

Y'all already know I'm not a fun mom. I work from home, and my work doesn't take a summertime hiatus, and I have to get my stuff done in the midst of a loud, whirling chaos (like, literally: my "office" is in the middle of my kitchen until the budget allows for a basement remodel). So I have something to say to the parents who let their kids out the door in the morning and allow them to wander throughout the neighborhood unsupervised and show up unannounced at the door asking to play every couple of hours:


Like seriously.

If I want to have your kids over to play with my kids, I will invite your kids over to play with my kids. Thank you and good day.

I know I sound horrible right now; I'm just ranting. There are definitely things I look forward to about summer break. But the transition period from school to OMG NO SCHOOL LET'S GO CRAZY! is pretty difficult, and I'm kinda worried that the next couple weeks of my life are going to suck.

Anybody wanna share their best summer survival tips, or how you ease into a new routine? GO!

Fifty Shades of Green

We're together at least once a week, Dolores and me.

As spring lazily unfolds into the sultry heat of summer, we see each other frequently, and I look forward to each tryst. I'm always in control when we're together, grasping her sleek curves, guiding her once more over terrain she has already explored every inch of. She eagerly, expertly covers each place I tell her to. She's been in my life for almost eight years now, so I'm as intimately familiar with all her parts; I know exactly what she will respond to, and can get her fired up the first time, every time. She purrs beneath my fingertips as we do our thing. Sometimes we take an hour, sometimes we take three, but our encounters always leave me breathless, dripping, beads of sweat mingling with the swelling humidity.

Beyond the physical, though, there's the way my time with Dolores makes me feel inside: clear-headed. Pulsing with life. Exhausted but satisfied.

I found her through Craigslist, of all places - via a short, simple classified ad. I had recently relocated to a new town and had a need. I didn't know what to expect from her, since I wasn't exactly her first, but she has never disappointed me. Not even once. And now, after nearly a decade of partnership, there is no awkwardness between us; we move together as one.

My husband likes to watch us sometimes. Hell, I think even the neighbors scope us out once in a while; I've seen them casting glances. But can you blame them? Dolores and I make magic. It's intense.

I mean ... just look at these straight, gorgeous stripes.


Sure, Dolores isn't everybody's cup of tea. She's a little rough around the edges, a little dirty, getting a bit of age on her and it's starting to show. There are newer, shinier models. But to me, she's perfect.

Dolores Axelrod. My trusty John Deere push mower. My Deere Dolores. We run the yard, yo.

... What did you think I was talking about, you perv? This isn't some lesbian version of Fifty Shades. This here is a family-friendly blog.*

*Sort of.

Point is, I love to mow - I'm literally disappointed when I don't get to - and I love Dolores. And yes, I actually do call her that. It just sounded like a good name for a lawn mower. And if you can guess the obscure movie reference without Googling it, you're my new BFF.

We make a great team (well, until I fall in front of spectators). Over the weekend I used my neighbors' mower on their yard while they were out of town, and it just felt ... wrong. Like I was being unfaithful to Dolores. She has a bum handle (it wobbles) and she sounds like somebody is rattling a bucket of spare parts, but she's my rusty, wobbly, clanking machine and she still tackles my yard like a champ - even after all these years. And she makes my home look great, at least from the outside.

It's a blissful domestic partnership if I ever saw one.

Ten Boy-Mom Challenges

One year ago today, I wrote Ten Boy-Mom Musts: the post that went crazy viral and put my little blog on the map.

... Okay, so maybe it's like a small village on a map of Africa, but still. THE MAP.

There are few things I consider myself an expert on - I mean, I have to Google "how to hard-boil an egg" every time I do it (it's hard to remember, okay?!). But I've had an all-boy household for the last decade. I have been immersed in boyhood for that long; literally twenty-four hours a day, I'm with a minimum of at least one little dude. And that's taught me a lot about mothering males. So, in addition to those ten things that moms of boys must do, and in honor of the post's first anniversary, I bring you ten of the challenges brought about by raising a person of the XY-chromosomal-persuasion.

#1: Say "so long" to silence. If I had a nickel for every time I shushed someone or reminded them (for the eight millionth time) to use their "inside voice," I'd be enjoying an early retirement on the beach in Ibiza. With a boob job and a tummy tuck. And a frosty drink and a personal masseuse. Wait, what? Oh yes. Little boys are loud, is my point. Even when they're within a one-foot radius of each other, they still feel the need to bellow. Especially if they're excited ... which boys almost always are, about one thing or another. They may not talk as much (unless it's about Minecraft, in which case they never shut up) but they are always making some kind of noise or sound effect. And P.S.? Their toys are loud too. Yay!

#2: Good luck being gender-neutral. In a valiant attempt to make my boys as well-rounded as possible, I have provided them with a slew of baby dolls, kitchen playsets and other toys typically geared toward girls - which they've loved, and played hard with. I have made repeated, impassioned speeches about how there are no "boy colors" and "girl colors," but simply colors, period, and how it's okay to wear whichever one makes you feel happy. They've asked me to paint their fingernails and toenails, and I've gladly obliged. But as they get older, they are leaning more and more toward activities of the masculine persuasion (and are downright disgusted with anything they perceive as "girly") - despite my best efforts to quash a "boy stuff vs. girl stuff" mentality. Short of keeping them isolated from the rest of the world in a plastic bubble, or actively trying to inhibit their natural tendencies, you can't change the facts. Most boys are ... boyish. It's something a boy mom has to accept. Which brings me to number three ...

#3: Rough is routineOne little boy can be plenty rough all by himself - but put him with a male friend or family member (or several) and it's a recipe for a wrestling match. They push and shove and punch and pounce and tackle and wallow. It doesn't mean that they're angry; in fact, 97% of the time it's just the opposite. (Note the smile on my son's face as one brother sits on his head and another tugs at his undies.)

While a perfectly natural occurrence, this roughhousing can also be problematic for two reasons: first, they lose track of their surroundings and damage your crap (I've had holes - multiple - in my walls and a broken TV screen, among countless other things, to back up that claim). And the second reason? ...

#4: The ER staff will know you. IntimatelyYou know how they say kids are expensive? They're not joking. When you have a boy, you should automatically tack a couple hundred bucks onto your monthly expenses for out-of-pocket medical costs (and, at the very least, a bunch of Neosporin and gauze). Concussions, chipped teeth, broken bones, nasty gashes and road rashes - boy moms encounter a steady stream of these, and must be prepared accordingly. Well, as prepared as you can ever be when your kid comes to you with a blood-dripping injury that makes your stomach turn. Two nights ago, one of my boys kicked his brother's tooth right out of his mouth during a routine wrestling match. (It was a baby tooth, thank the lawd, but still - it hadn't even been loose!).

Should I also mention that the frequency and variety of said injuries will make you secretly panic inside every time, sure that this time someone will report you to the authorities for abuse? Yeah. It's like that. I'm pretty much always mentally composing an explanation in case Child Protective Services comes a-knockin'.

#5: Weapons are everywhere. Along the lines of roughhousing and ER visits, parents of dudes must face the fact that little boys can - and will - turn almost anything into a weapon. When my oldest son was a toddler, I swore adamantly that he'd never play with toy guns. Not even water guns. But guess what? Life happens (thanks, well-meaning friends and grandparents), and somewhere along the way he encountered his first Super Soaker and was hooked. Four boys later, and my once weapon-free closets are stocked with a plastic arsenal. I'm telling you now, though, it doesn't matter if you outlaw weapons: they'll make them. Out of empty wrapping paper/toilet paper/paper towel tubes. And sticks. And Legos. And plungers. And leftover sticks from corn dogs. And any-damn-thing that can be aimed, flung, or jabbed at someone repeatedly.

#6: Kiss your girly dreams goodbyeI used to fantasize about my daughter wearing my wedding dress. Or bequeathing her my high school journals, filled with stories of my friends, my crushes, and drama. But I'm pretty sure my boys aren't gonna want to read about the "magical" New Year's Eve kiss I once received, or the time(s) I faked having cramps to get out of gym. And I can almost bet that nobody's going to be clamoring to wear my wedding dress (but hey, boys? If that's your type of thing, it's yours for the asking). When you don't have girls, your visions of mother/daughter bonding evaporate faster than rain in a desert, and you have to make peace with that. But wanna know a secret? It's not that hard. The worst part comes when people don't understand that you're cool with having all boys, and they act unnecessarily sympathetic - like your life is somehow incomplete without female offspring, and you're going around pining for the daughters you never had. Now that's irritating. Because bonding over armpit farting contests is poignant and lovely in its own right ... believe it or not.

#7: Oh, the pressure! As the mother of a boy, you feel a huge - gigantic - obligation to make sure that they don't grow into that douche-y ex or dating horror story that every woman has. The problem is, you're not exactly positive what makes sweet little boys grow into bad dates and insufferable bedfellows. There's no manual that tells us how to ensure that our dudes develop into ideal mates (or at least close) - and if you've never been a man yourself, it can be hard to tap into what makes them tick, adult-relationship-wise. So you do the best you can, but it's all trial-and-error. And then you have to wait until they grow up to see if it worked. To my future daughters-in-law: I'm trying really hard. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

#8: Stains stink. Trying to keep boys' clothing pristine is like trying to jump into a pool and stay dry. And figuring out how to treat the endless parade of stains - from grass to blood to pudding to mud to Popsicles to poop - is a never-ending guessing game.

You'll spend hundreds of dollars amassing a collection of stain removal products so impressive that your laundry room will rival the detergent aisle at the grocery store. You'll hold your breath as you run the pre-treated item through the wash, and then snarl and swear and grit your teeth as it comes out still bearing the faint trace of spray paint or gum or permanent marker that you tried so hard to banish. You'll toss out tons of stuff because nobody wants a hand-me-down that looks like you tried to tie-dye it with spaghetti sauce. Yeah, you'll get to shop for new clothes for your boys, but here's the next boy-mom issue ...

#9: Boy clothes are boring. It's true. If you want easy, boy clothes are where it's at: outfits are a snap to put together because there are only a handful of styles, not a lot of trends, and everything goes together. But it's not fun. Boys aren't all that into accessories. It's not like you get to choose ruffly socks or a coordinating hair ribbon or the perfect necklace. The boys' clothing sections in stores always pale in comparison to the girls'. You might get to pick out, like, a belt or some sunglasses once in a while ... but that's about the closest to accessorizing that you're gonna get. And forget about a closet full of shoes - dudes are happy with one or two pairs. (Although I have to admit ... that's much easier on the wallet, which makes me happy, too.)

#10: Sometimes you just. Don't. Know. I can comfort my boys when they're sad or scared, praise them when they do well, correct them when they do wrong, and be happy when they're happy. But when it comes to completely, 100% identifying with their feelings and concerns, let's just say that one little thing stands between a mom and her total understanding of her sons. And I do mean one thing - also known as the penis. Because as much as I can empathize with the boys, I will never be able to completely understand why the male appendage requires so much airing out, or the allure of pulling on it all the time, or why its facing the "wrong way" (whatever that is) in your Ninja Turtle briefs is cause for alarm. Don't even get me started on the questions that ensue on the occasions when it, uh, points north instead of south. It's hard to teach them about a body part that you don't have, so I resort to stammering uncomfortably scientific explanations for stuff like that.

When applicable, "Ask your dad" can be a boy-mom's best phrase. And if all else fails, just remember: when you're dealing with boys, a well-timed burp can diffuse any awkward situation.

A Word About Wrinkles

The other day I was creeping on my mom's Facebook profile pictures for one to steal, and I found this one. It's one of my favorites, taken just a couple of months ago.

See how young she looks, how beautiful her skin is? Can you guess her age? (If you've been on my Facebook page, you already know, but let's pretend you don't, k?)

She is going to be sixty-eight old in a month. Sixty. Eight. THAT IS DAMN NEAR SEVENTY YEARS OLD.

There is zero airbrushing in this photo (I mean ... she barely knows how to upload them, and she couldn't crop to save her life, so I know she doesn't have any fancy Photoshop tricks up her sleeve). She has had NO plastic surgery: no facelifts, no fillers, no Botox, no nothing. This is just literally the way she looks.

Let's get a better analysis.

While I'm obviously proud of my mom's stunningly fabulous skin, I'm also a little bit (okay, a lotta bit) pissed off. Because here is a photo of my actual THIRTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD forehead:

And no, my bathroom wall is not booger-green.

... Okay, maybe it is in some places. Damn kids.

Anyway, how is it that my mother, the contributor of half of my genetic material (not to mention twice my age), has a less wrinkly face than I do?! In this case, the apple fell so far from the tree that people find it and are all like, "Hmm, how'd this apple get here?" When I ask her, she just shrugs and contributes it to longtime usage of Mary Kay products.

If that's the case, I'm going to BUY ALL THE MARY KAY.

Seriously though, why is this happening to me? Why does my forehead look like somebody drew stripes on it with a ballpoint pen, while my senior-citizen mother looks like she just stepped out of a medi-spa?

Oh yes. Because I apparently walk around looking something like this all the time:

(Sorry about the cat butthole.)

I think that whatever gene is responsible for the good skin just skipped me entirely. Because I'm pretty sure my mom's parents were made of porcelain. See?

If you need me, my wrinkly face and I will be panhandling on a corner to raise money for Botox. With sunscreen on, of course.

Zum-boob: a Story of Humiliation and Redemption

I've been attending Zumba classes for like six years now, and teaching my own for four. In that time, I've dealt with some minor embarrassments - like pit stains, flatulence, and accidentally deleting my entire playlist just before a class. But those pale in comparison to the time I shimmied my boobs right out of their holsters in front of an audience.

I'm not a big-chested chick. Nobody has ever been impressed or appalled (or injured) by the ample size of my melons. Despite that, though, I wear two bras when I do Zumba: a regular one, and on top of that, a sports bra.

Why is that necessary, you ask? Well, the reasons are twofold. First a sports bra alone would mush my boobs to nonexistence and I would have the flat chest of a twelve-year-old boy. (Also: visible nippleage.) And second, when your boobs are smallish to begin with, and you've nursed four children, they lose volume. Instead of filling up the cups of your bra, they kind of just rest mushily on the underwire. Like pantyhose with the feet full of Jell-O. I have drawn a helpful illustration so those of you who don't have this problem can see what I mean. (PS - I hate you.)

Anywho, because there's so much space for them to flop limply around, a nice sports bra is the key to keeping them in place. But one Monday morning, I was running in a million different directions, trying to get the kids off to school and myself dressed and keep track of this and that ... and I forgot to put my sports bra over my regular one before I headed off to teach Zumba.

I didn't notice so much during the warmup. But when I got to the first upbeat song, I felt the unnerving sensation of nipple against fabric, and realized with horror that my left boob had actually left the confines of its bra cup and was flopped over the top. Still under my t-shirt, thank goodness, but still: I was all "OMFG" inside. I mean, it had to be relatively obvious. That kind of silhouette isn't exactly normal.

But what was I going to do? I had an entire class to teach, almost an hour left, and people expecting me to give them a good workout. As discreetly as possible while in front of a crowd, I shifted my shoulders and adjusted my bra to allow the wayward titty to slip back into place.

As soon as I moved, though, there it was again. Flop flop!

I couldn't go through the whole class calling attention to my problem by tugging incessantly at my bra. And I couldn't tone down my movements because everyone would wonder why I was being so lame. Luckily, most of the people there that day were my regulars - people who have been coming to my class for a really long time, and who know I'm a big dork and love me anyway. So I stopped the music and explained myself.

"Um, you guys?" I began tentatively. "I, uh ... wore the wrong bra today, and I'm having wardrobe malfunctions galore up here. So if you wonder why I'm not moving as energetically as usual, and tugging at myself a lot, that's the reason."

There were a few snickers, a few understanding nods. Nobody seemed horrified ... at first.

And then? One of my ladies left the room.

Oh no. My embarrassing bra snafu has offended her, I thought, cheeks burning.

But by the time I collected myself and went to push "play" on the music, she had returned - triumphantly waving a sports bra!

"I always wear two sports bras!" she said. "You can use this one!"

Now I know how rock stars must feel when people toss panties at them during concerts: awesome (okay, maybe not). Because in that moment, I couldn't have been more grateful for someone hurling their undergarments toward me. I put that sucker on over my t-shirt and resumed Zumba worry-free, my boobs firmly in place.

That was the only thing firm about them, but that's another issue altogether.

Dear Boys: a Lesson in Proper Peeing

Dear Boys,

I know that you're technically "potty trained," but let's be honest: to say you're trained would indicate that you are experienced - nay, proficient - at something. And even though you're not in diapers any more, there are still a few things you need to learn about the proper use of a toilet. So as a courtesy to you (and anyone who has to use the bathroom after you), I'm going to give you a little refresher course in the basics. For example, this obvious-yet-worth-mentioning cardinal rule ...

Aim. Seriously. See that area with all the water in it? That's called the toilet bowl and that's where you pee. You should preferably point at the hole at the bottom, but I'll be happy as long as you just hit the water. I know you have this fun little appendage that allows you to urinate in every direction (I'm actually kind of jealous), but that same flexibility is what makes it possible to put your pee-stream in a specific place. LIKE THE WATER. As such, there is literally no reason why I should ever find crusty yellow spots or dribbles on the seat or the edges or the floor or soaking into the edges of the bath mat.

But if such a thing happens ...

Clean it up. Ah! Such a simple solution! Just use your eyes: if you see yellow outside of the perimeter of the toilet bowl, dab it up with some T.P. and everybody will be happy. Of course, these types of accidents can be prevented if you ...

Do not pee in weird positions. There are two main ways to get the job done, boys: standing up or sitting down. Not backwards. Not planking across the toilet. Not positioning yourself three feet away and trying to arch. Not squatting on the seat like Gollum.

And while we're on the subject of the toilet seat? Let me give you another hint ...

It has more than one position. Namely, up or down. If you're sitting down, the seat should be down. If you're standing up, the seat should be up. And when you finish, take one second to put both the seat and the lid down as a favor to others (i.e., me,) - because a cold, clammy toilet rim to the bum is an experience that pretty much everyone prefers to avoid.

So you see, my dear sons, correct and courteous usage of the toilet takes a bit of extra effort - but it will prevent your bathroom from looking and smelling like a Port-a-Potty. And it keeps your mother, and eventually your future spouse, happy.

I know you can aim, because I've seen you hit a dandelion off the edge of the deck with sharpshooter-like precision (and so have the neighbors). So do me a solid and use those skills in the bathroom, because I'm tired of wearing a Hazmat suit when I clean it.



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