Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Haboobies! or What I Did on my Summer Vacation

You have to understand that I didn't intend to take two months off from blogging, but it was summer, and the girls were home, and first, I took a few days off, and then it was weeks, and suddenly, at the end of July, it hit me that I had taken a summer vacation... So I waited a couple more weeks, until the girls went back to school, and then another week, for good measure, and here I am, back in your browser, hoping you haven't forgotten that I even have a blog...

Not that the summer was all fun and games.  I do live in Arizona, high temperature capital of these United States, so even before school ended, we were battling the crankiness and lethargy that invades days where the low temperatures start with the number 8.  We did hit record lows this summer... record HIGH lows, as I tried to explain to Fiona.  That means we had a couple of days when our low temperatures were the highest they have ever been; those numbers started with 9s.  We also had (are still having) what's called "monsoon" season here in the Phoenix metro area, which means that it gets humid-- taking away the one advantage we claim: "It's a dry heat!"-- and turning even the sun-baked retirees, who fled here with their aching bones from snow-packed Minneapolis and Buffalo, into whining, sweaty, babies.  During the monsoon, moist, grey, dusty air hangs heavily for most of the day, until the "storm" gathers enough momentum to move across the valley in a dust wall called a "haboob." 












These dramatic pictures I cribbed from the Huffington Post show a 2011 storm, but they all have the same defining features. The feature I especially like is how the girls giggle at the word "haboob" not just when they hear it from the weather people on TV, but for days on end, when they point to each other and say, "haboobies!" and fall down screaming with laughter. You can bet that never gets old...

Sometimes, it actually rains, after some thunder and lightning.  We often get as much as twenty solid 
minutes of serious precipitation, though usually, the rain lands somewhere across town and we only know about it because the evening news shows that people  have palm fronds ripped from the trees and crazy, patio-furniture related debris in their pools.  And, at least once each Phoenix summer, the newscast turns into an awesome action adventure show called "Who Got Stuck In the Flooded Wash?" See, that twenty minutes of heavy precip is enough to flood some of the lower lying boulevards and avenues in town, and drivers know this, because signs are posted in these lowlands with a big red slash and the actual words "Do NOT enter in heavy rain" and everything.  Some people must relish the opportunity to be seen on TV climbing out of the rear window of their floating SUV.  Or maybe they cry "NOT IT" as they start through the flooded area, hoping that will protect them, because, dammit, going around the long way is gonna make them late for that appointment and cost them money...What no one thinks of is the unassuaged scorn of the viewers at home, or bill they'll get from Fire and Rescue on top of the fine from their local municipality.  Oh well, some people just like to throw the dice, I guess... and it does make for some good comedy TV.

When I think about it, this summer vacation was a lot like the ones I remember when I was a kid, except that I had to go to work three days a week, and I never got to go to the beach.  We had some lazy mornings though, and the girls went to fun day camp at the Boys & Girls Club on my work days.  We went to the library and to the dollar movies with friends once a week, and swimming on the weekends.  And we had a couple of days when we all stayed in our PJs all day or closed all the blinds and popped some popcorn and watched three movies in a row. The best thing about this summer was the chance to share the essence of summer vacation, about the absolute value of time spent lolling on the sofa with nothing on the agenda.  There are small windows in life to enjoy low-pressure days.  I think the girls got it, because even though the first week of school was only three days long, they were still looking forward to the weekend when they could sleep late, go swimming, and shut the blinds and watch a movie.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Maybe this Post Should have a Trigger Warning...

Sunday morning-- well, afternoon, really, because who gets through the whole Sunday paper in the morning?-- I read this article in the New York Times about calls for "trigger warnings" on assigned literature in college classes.  

What?  

The way I understand it, students and some faculty members at colleges and universities across the country are lobbying their administrators for some kind of warning labels about content that could make some students uncomfortable.  My first question was, "what kind of pornographic, violent, or otherwise seriously offensive crap is required reading at these two-bit institutions?"  Then I read further and saw that there were references to books including The Great Gatsby, The Merchant of Venice, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Some of the colleges named were Oberlin, Rutgers, and UC Santa Barbara.

Whaaatt?

Apparently there is some concern that students who have suffered trauma, such as rape, or the horrors of military service in a war zone, might be taken by surprise by violence or other elements in such books. Thus startled by literature, they might suffer symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.*  Trigger warnings would accompany texts which contained war, violence (especially against women), racist or sexist or antisemitic language, or other elements which could upset sensitized individuals.  While I sincerely believe that people do endure tremendous genuine trauma which may sensitize them for the rest of their lives, I can't agree with the notion of requiring literature to come with warning labels. 

I feel I can speak about this with some sense of what sensitized individuals must be going through, because I was the victim of repeated, life-threatening, domestic violence, which I narrowly escaped by sneaking out on one of the rare occasions while my ex-husband was at work. That was after secretly packing my children's clothes and toys in black garbage bags which were thrown over the side of  my second floor balcony to generous family members who were willing to help me get out.  Before I could file for divorce, I had to obtain a restraining order so that I could go in and out of my parents' house without encountering my screaming, crying, threatening, soon-to-be-ex.  I've also been the object of sexist and antisemitic language, including quite a lot by that husband. I hadn't ever considered myself traumatized by it, so I offer that only as a background fact to support my claim that this is a discussion I am qualified to take up.  I returned to my college studies after I left my abusive husband, so I could have found myself among those deemed potentially sensitive.  

Wow.  Just reread that.  Maybe what I'm really sensitive about is whether people will think I'm qualified to talk about something.  Maybe I'll take that up in another post.  Or with a qualified therapist...

All of that qualifying brings me back around to saying, emphatically, that the whole idea of lit with warning labels is something that's not only ridiculous, but in some sense, appalling.  I'm sorry, I thought that the purpose of literature was to touch human beings and affect them viscerally.  I thought the idea of studying literature was the opportunity to grapple with, discuss, interpret and deeply understand the human condition as it is presented on a page by writers who have done some of the same grappling and interpreting. Literature, in fact has been found to increase empathy in readers according to the study discussed in this NPR squib.  Though the study cites that the immediate effects are short-lived, the researchers conjecture that repeated literary reading will exercise "empathy muscles," and improve such social skills over the longer term. 

So, even if you ignore enjoyment and pedagogical value,  reading literature still has to be considered a good idea, even though it might trigger upset in some people. But really, what harm might come from requiring instructors to put warning labels on some books?  Well, it actually seems like kind of a lot, because once requirements starts, the nature of what might need a warning could grow exponentially.  If you think for a moment about all of the traumatic experiences people might have and all of the experiences portrayed in literature, you realize how gigantic the overlap is, and what a Pandora's box we might open if warnings are deemed necessary.  There's also a point raised by a professor quoted in the NYT article, who mentions the "chilling" effect such requirements might have on untenured faculty members who are concerned about how student complaints might impact their employment.  More and more classes are taught by adjunct, part-time and junior faculty than ever before, so this opens up the possibility that a number of important books will be effectively banned from the classroom because everyone is afraid to teach them.

One more thing.  And maybe this will make me sound mean and insensitive, but come on, how much can any of us expect to be warned about? Part of me wants to tell sensitized people to just suck it up.  I know that's wrong, but there is something about the call for trigger warnings that makes me think of it as an extension of the "helicopter parenting" which has become prominent in some socioeconomic groups in the last decade or so. There are parents who try to cushion every possible blow for their children, taking away their opportunities to deal with adversity and effectively impeding the kids' ability to handle life when the real shit hits the fan. 


David 3 Names 
And it will. Some way, somehow, because none of us entirely escapes adversity-- even if we are warned about it.  It looks like literature, at least literary fiction,  helps with this too, as noted so eloquently by David Foster Wallace: 

Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it finds a way both to depict this dark world and illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. (from Conversations with David Foster Wallace)

Wallace was no stranger to darkness within and without-- he ended up taking his own life-- but he was also a proponent and producer of literary fiction that opened up the world in the way he described.  Even if literature wasn't enough, in the end, he said it helped.  I believe that literature connects us to circumstances and to each other.  It seems that having to think too hard about what will upset some people might keep others from getting the help that literature gives us.  Losing that, even in the service of sensitivity, would be an incredible shame.  



*This is a summary-- the call for these warnings is much more nuanced on some campuses-- but here, I want to take up the general idea of these warnings, even though I know there are details I am eliding. Please read the Times article, and know that I read it too.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Cake from Eileen

Today, both the girls have the sniffles.  Nothing serious, just a Spring cold, I think.  Annoying, but not catastrophic.  I would have had them stay home, as it is an early release day, so school lets out just after noon.  I couldn't though, because while they're at school, I'm going to nip over to the dentist's office and have a tooth pulled.  It's a broken, cavity-ridden tooth that's been giving me trouble since the end of last year, but I have been babying it, because doing something about it costs money.  Last week, when my jaw started to ache as if someone had punched me, I figured I couldn't wait any more, and sure enough, I was put on some antibiotics for the raging gum infection below the bad tooth, and told to come back this week for the extraction.  It should be a fun way to spend an hour before I need to pick the girls up, and then I plan to spend the afternoon sitting on the couch and letting all of us watch something I don't usually allow, like a binge-watch of Wizards of Waverly Place or the umpteenth showing of Frozen since Easter, when the girls were gifted with the DVD.

That's today: cranky, sickish kids, tooth pain, and the possibility of several spontaneous interpretive dances to "Let it Go."  I know, you wish you were me.

 Yesterday, however, someone gave me a cake.
If you want to make yourself a chocolate bundt,
this recipe  looks like a great one. 


I was working at the tiny post office inside the strip mall bike shop, and Eileen, one of my regular customers stopped in to buy some stamps.  I had some time to chat because traffic in the post office has recently declined pretty sharply owing to a combination of factors.   For one thing, the Easter and Mother's Day rushes are over, and then, of course, a half of the regulars are what we real Arizonans call "snowbirds" or "winter visitors" (what the state lawmakers call "tourism dollars") who have now gone back to wherever they live when they are not escaping a hundred feet of snow in their own backyard. They've already created their own little postal rush here, sending boxes back home, trying to calculate when to send them so they get there before the boxes, but don't have to wait too long to get them.  The grand kids do not want to wait around for that Cactus candy they were promised...


Also,  tax season has ended, so we don't have people waiting in line to mail their tax returns certified, with return receipt, so there's no chance that the bastar-- er, government-- will lose the the filing this year.  Honestly, I have heard enough horror stories about people's tax returns to think that there must be monkeys working in the mail rooms at all of the IRS facilities in the country.  Not the cute circus-trained monkeys with the little fez-style hats either, but crazy monkeys who treat precious envelopes like they were so many banana peels to be flung about for sport before they are hidden or discarded.  (I apologize now to everyone who thinks I am unfairly stereotyping monkeys, or, for that matter government employees.) But I digress... 
Picture from here

The customers still coming in are stalwart Arizonans who hang here during the months when the temperatures rival those on the surface of Mercury. (I know, I'm exaggerating, but really, we are closing in on the beginning of the 100 days over 100 degrees and I am not looking forward to that...) They are chatty elders who remember when a first class stamp was ten cents, guys who work in the hardware store and pharmacy here in the shopping center, and parents of kids who go to school with the girls. These are people from the neighborhood, who like to chat while I get them stamps or put postage on their packages.  One of these is this lady Eileen, who often mails birthday and anniversary cards to nieces and nephews across the country. She is always up for a joke, and sometimes tells stories about her thirty years as a stewardess-- because she started when they were proudly called stewardesses, when that was the way for an adventurous single girl like herself to travel the world.  She flew international flights out of New York for years, but she grew up here in Scottsdale, back when it was a little pueblo surrounded by the undeveloped, cactus-filled desert.  Her eyes still have that twinkle that must have charmed plenty of pilots and world travelers back in the day... not that I've heard many of those kinds of stories.  Eileen is a fun gal, but she is definitely a lady

She lives in our neighborhood, so I sometimes run into her at the library, or the pharmacy or, most recently, the grocery store.  The girls and I were trying to decide which of the on-sale Popsicles were the perfect compliment for a pizza dinner, when Eileen came around the corner with her cart, heading for the Lean Cuisine.  "Are these your beautiful daughters?  They are?  Oh my gosh, could you just die? So cute.  One sweet blondie and one stunning brunette. Aren't they just wonderful?"  

"Thank you," I said, mumbling something about how they "have their moments," and we talked for a minute about the weather and a movie she just saw and then we decided on Popsicles and moved on.  

The next day was my birthday, and the day after that I was working when she came in to buy some stamps.  She likes the ones that say CELEBRATE!  for birthdays and graduations, and we got to talking about Mother's day, and she mentioned my beautiful children, and she talked about her mom, who passed ten years ago, and she misted up a little, then said it was her birthday the next day, and I said that must be why we get along so well, our birthdays are so close.  By then, I had a couple of other customers, so she waved bye and we wished each other happy birthdays again.  

Twenty minutes later, she was back with a chocolate bundt cake from the grocery store, and she had festooned the plastic dome the cake came in with pink and purple ribbons.  She sang Happy Birthday and told the customers that I was helping that I was wonderful and had wonderful children.  And she misted up a little, again, and so did I,  I mean, she brought me a cake, and she barely knows me.  "Share it with those beautiful daughters," she said, "and tell them it's from the lady they met buying Popsicles."  

And I did.  And we had cake for breakfast today too, because when you have the sniffles and you still have to go to school, even for a half-day, or you are getting your infected tooth pulled, and having to pay to have that pain inflicted, you should eat cake for breakfast.  I'm going to tell Eileen next time I see her.  I think she will approve.
If we keep this up, I may have to get this,
from here, to hang up as our motto.
Note:  I actually started this post the day I had the tooth pulled, but couldn't get back to it until today.  Good news is the girls are better, and my jaw doesn't ache anymore, but sadly, I have the sniffles now and we are out of cake....

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Nothing Doing

In Arizona, where we live now, school ends just before the month of May does.  Since today is the first of May, I think I can confidently say that the countdown to summer vacation has begun.  As much as the girls like school, and as quickly as they will start thinking about life in the next grade and all the fun and glory it will surely bring, there is the sense now that summer is out there, and it has some fun and glory to bring first.  Of course, summer weather in Arizona compares to a cool evening in the first ring of hell, so I have some trepidation about the season to come, especially where my air conditioning costs are concerned.  That's generally overcome, though, by a nostalgic feeling from my own school days when summer stretched out like a three month magic carpet, where anything was possible, and nothing was compulsory.  
Phineas and Ferb, seen almost daily on the Disney channel,
doing their best to enjoy every day of summer vacation.

That, I think, is the real allure of summer vacation:  the daily grind of school days is suspended and the requirements of homework and learning and just plain having to show up every day disappear with the warm breeze of the summer months.  Summer days seem to evaporate.  And that's okay.  The pressure to get ready for the next day, to get through the week, to make it to the weekend, doesn't exist during summer vacation.  A most excellent vision of this is available on the Disney Channel series Phineas and Ferb, in which the title characters strive to make the most of every day of their "104 days of summer vacation, until school comes along just to end it."  The amazingly intelligent and well-adjusted stepbrothers are often seen relaxing in their backyard until the big idea for the day comes to them, as Phineas exclaims, "Ferb, I know what we're going to do today !"

That's how it when I was a kid. (Minus the kicky music, the zany inventions, and the pet platypus, of course.) I'm sure it makes me sound nothing but ancient to say this, but when I was a kid, time after school was kind of like that too.  Kids played on sports teams and had piano lessons, and there was plenty of homework, by my reckoning, but there was also time to to just hang out. I would say it was like a taste of summer vacation in the middle of a school week, but it wasn't a big deal then, to just spend an afternoon hanging out at a friend's house, playing or reading or listening to music.  It wasn't anything as formal as a "play date," it was just a matter of everyone checking with their moms, then getting on their bikes, or getting out some toys.  

There are any number of reasons why kids are so incredibly scheduled these days, and if I were more inclined as a social scientist or better with statistics, I might be able to offer some kind of explanation.  I could rant about it, but that's only going to raise my blood pressure.  Instead, I can just express some nostalgic sadness and some righteous outrage for the lost opportunity to do nothing.  At least I won't be alone.  I ran across this article by writer Anna Quindlen, which pinpoints the importance of free time so much more eloquently than I ever could:

Of course, it was the making of me, as a human being and a writer. Downtime is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, lying on the grass or sitting on the stoop and staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky. I don't believe you can write poetry, or compose music, or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.

What really strikes me about what she says is how clearly she associated the free time she had to sit around doing nothing (and sometimes, to be totally bored) with the growth of her creative mind.  It seems kind of crazy to think that we need to remember that our kids-- all of us, really-- need time to sit and dream.  The thought that this is wasted time is a sad feature of our culture, when all of us can be connected to others 24/7, without ever being left to entertain ourselves with our own thoughts and actions.  Most adults, and I include myself here, can't sit and wait for more than a few minutes without picking up our phones or tablets and trying to find out what everyone else we know is doing or thinking.  it doesn't make for a very introspective or creative future generation, does it?  And the way the world is going, we might need our kids, and theirs, to be skilled creative thinkers...

So as we look forward to summer, I think am going to impose a requirement on the girls while school's out:  Do nothing!   Get bored, then make up something to do.  I want them to take time to let their minds wander until they get to some fantastic world of their imagination, populated with princesses and Lego men and flying horses and stuff I can't even imagine anymore.  But I'm going to try.  It will be my summer vacation too...

Schoolhouse pic from this page.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why I'm Going to Try to Unitask...or is it Monotask?

I don't know how it is at your house, but here, we struggle with homework.  The biggest problem is getting the girls to sit down and concentrate.  In an effort to get the homework done, I have now banned after school TV and activities, engaged in mid level bribery involving after dinner desserts, and threatened to text and email teachers about the lazy, lazy children in my household who will not do their homework.  (I have gone so far as to complete the text and wave the phone in my child's face with my thumb hovering over send.) None of these measures work for longer than an afternoon, so we tend to get into a constant cycle of threats, bribery and recrimination. And even with all the drama worthy of an episode of Scandal (but none of the fun) I still constantly find myself telling the girls to focus, for the sweet love of G-d, just focus, and get your work done.
This image used from this page

I recently realized, of course,  that I might be to blame for their inability to start and finish a single task.  I've been setting a horrible example, see, by constantly trying to do several things at once.  And I'm not talking about things like reading the paper while having a cup of coffee or working on beads while listening to music. I'm talking about multitasking episodes like putting the groceries away while talking on the phone while opening and trying to read the mail.  This might explain why I recently found the envelope for my electric bill in the kitchen cupboard.  I'm talking about cooking dinner while giving one girl a shower and helping the other with that pesky homework.  This could possibly be the reason that I find myself trying to clean up a ring of burnt, boiled-over rice from the stove-top while figuring out how to make it look like Fiona's homework does not, in fact, have the dried remains of a soapy hand print obscuring two of her spelling sentences.  Ay-yay-yay! The multitasking never ends!

And now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to reveal that I am fine-tuning this post (I know, who thought I fine-tuned, right?) while I'm at work at the post office.  So this isn't exactly a rant against multitasking, but more of a reminder to myself, and anyone else who thinks they need reminding, that we might be losing something when we try to do too much at once.

Which brings me to another realization:  apparently, what we call multitasking is actually task switching. Even though we think we're doing several things simultaneously, we're actually juggling activities quickly. And we all know what juggling leads to, don't we?  Eventually, all you have left are broken balls...


This article notes that we humans have been trying to do multiple things at once since we started, you know, doing things.  It's an adaptive survival skill dating from the stone age when hunters and gatherers had to search for sustenance as they avoided becoming sustenance for the bigger animals.   Those left at the cave (let's face it, probably the cave-gals) had to be aware of many things at once too, like predators, the elements, ways to use that dangerous new thing called fire to make the hunted and gathered food edible without burning everything else to a crisp, rock-climbing cave-kids hopped up on sugary berries... the list goes on.    
Image from Wikipedia

No wonder we find cave drawings... who could have all that going on and keep little ones from drawing pictures on the walls?  Maybe that helps explain why, according to studies published late last year, (detailed in this Huff Post article) women may be better at this quick switch than men. Who would have thought that energetic toddlers had possibly had a positive effect on mothers' evolutionary adaptation?  

But what good has all of this really done?  Those of you with a well-developed sense of irony probably already guessed that it hasn't done any good.  This article , directed at business people, but pretty appropriate for all chronic multitaskers, outlines the perils of trying to do it all at the same time. (From a site called The One Thing. It's also the source of the nifty fallen juggler image, above) The news that hit me was that multitaskers are actually less efficient than people who focus on one thing at a time, because they use their brains less effectively, failing to filter distractions.  

Which brings me back around to why I started in on this is the first place-- how do I get myself off the multitask merry-go-round and set a better example for the girls, so that they can use their brains effectively and efficiently to get their homework done?  Apparently, there is help.  This article reminds graduate students of "the lost art" of how to do one thing at a time, in order to get a project finished.  It seems that those of us who were sold on the wisdom of multitasking have trouble giving it up. The suggestions in the article are so simple, they should work for me and my kids.  Clear your space.  Clear your mind.  Put your butt in the chair.  And focus, for the sweet love of G-d!  All I can do is try to set a better example...







Monday, April 7, 2014

This Morning My Moon was in The House of Pancakes

Since I have complained so loudly, and so often, about my daughters and their morning debacles in this very space, I feel that it is only fair that I let everyone know that today,  the morning went smoothly.  No yelling, no screaming, no threatening, no foot-stomping, no tears.  And the girls stayed in good moods as well.

I have no idea what alignment of planets or sprinkling of fairy dust brought this about.  But somehow, some way, everything moved along smoothly.  Both girls got up on their own, then, with only minimal prodding,  picked out suitable, weather appropriate outfits and acceptable footwear.  And socks.  No one imploded during hair combing, which was quite remarkable, because neither girl had been interested in hair combing at all after showers yesterday.  So this morning, I untangled two masses of slept-on, curled up, just-washed hair, which often elicits a racket similar to a shed full of sheep being shorn, and that's just from Fiona, who also usually alludes to my styling techniques as the meanest of torture tactics.  That accusation is usually accompanied by full-on frowny face, foot stomping, and real tears.  

Then they each ate breakfast, and drank juice, and brought their plates into the kitchen.  Fiona even offered to rinse her oatmeal bowl.  If they hadn't had a minor scuffle during tooth-brushing and tried to sneak extra snacks to their lunches while I was in the shower, I would have suspected the girls had been replaced by well-trained androids or alien pod-people worming their way into my affection to further their plot to dominate mentally inferior earthlings and take over the planet before all of our natural resources have been utterly depleted.

Even the girls commented on the morning's sublime flow.  "We're having a good morning, huh, mom?" said Delia as I detangled her dense blond curls.  She seemed pretty pleased that things were going well. Fiona, with her usual diplomacy, added, "you haven't screamed your head off at us once."  So I hadn't.  

What I did was get the dishwasher unloaded-- remarkable not only because I usually use my clean up time for the aforementioned screaming, but also because I have recently come to realize that unloading is my most hated chore. ( I don't know why, and I'm trying not to over-analyze it. ) I also got the front rooms tidied up, checked my email, got the outdated newspapers ready to recycle and made the girls' lunches (though I apparently skimped on the snack elements) and reloaded the dishwasher.  You can do a lot in the morning when you don't have to scream like a hysterical bitch!  Who knew?  

I even had enough time to pour coffee into a travel mug-- a once-every-two-months-or-so phenomenon-- and I'm drinking it now at work as I write this in between postal customers.  Hey, this may be the day to buy a lottery ticket... You'll know if today's extraordinary good fortune continues:  I'll be blogging from Europe for a while...

Glittery morning pic from here

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Battle for the Morning Continues: Update from the Conflict Zone

This is Spring Vacation week at our house, so this morning was a little more relaxed than usual, even though the girls actually left the house earlier than they do on school mornings.  The relative calm and the extra few minutes gave me a chance to actually drink a second cup of coffee and think about the morning battles of the last few weeks.  Not that I have any answers, mind you.  Don't think that there is enlightenment forthcoming.  I'm venting, that's all. At the expense of my children, because that's what I do.  


We are usually lucky enough to get a ride to school with my friend Janet and her daughter Jennessa at about 8:15, and I've found that we have the least trouble if I allow about a 45 minute window to get out the door. Longer, and we get sidetracked, shorter, and we don't really have enough time. Still, we struggle.  Most mornings, I find myself yelling at the girls by 8 am. Yelling a lot. Well, hiss-yelling, because we live in an apartment with neighbors on both sides and below us, and I do not want to be known as the crazy mom who yells at her kids all the time. So, instead, I hiss at them that I don't care if their hair is combed or if they eat lunch or if they go to damn school at all.  "Just stay home, then," I hiss, "but I am going to work!"  

I usually stalk off after I hiss that last bit, to let them think about being left for the day, but they just laugh because, really, they know I can't leave them home alone.  So I start telling them it isn't fair that they won't listen and do the five simple things (food, clothes, hair, teeth, shoes) that are required to leave the house.  Not fair at all. Every day, I start out reminding, move on to cajoling, speed through pleading and finally end with a display of swearing, hissing and pulling out my own hair in utter frustration.  Life in the suburbs, right?  

I've tried check-off charts with stickers, and I am not above simple bribery.  I'm even up for changing the order of the way the tasks get done-- want to comb your hair before you put your clothes on?  Great, though not ideal... Want to put your shoes on before your clothes? Not such a great plan... though some people didn't believe me at first.  I actually let Fiona try that one to prove that it wasn't the best practice.  I wasn't above pointing and laughing as she tried to pull her leggings on over her boots.  So maybe I sink pretty low in the mornings, but I don't feel too bad, because usually, Fiona is my main opponent in the morning wars.  

Oh, she has her reasons.  She doesn't like the breakfast selections (no pancakes? no omelets?) and she doesn't like the outfit she picked last night and she doesn't like this kind of toothpaste and she absolutely does not want to finish the last bit of her homework so that she can turn it in.  Fiona is not a shy girl, and in the morning, she has no hesitation about showing all of this displeasure.  Her favorite move is to plant her feet and cross her arms in front of her chest and hiss, "I'm not going to do thissss.  Heeelllppp me!" Then she throws herself back on the bed or the sofa and fumes dramatically.  Meanwhile, Delia moves along slowly, though she gets mesmerized by the things on her desk, or feels the desperate need to immediately sort her lip gloss by color, or sometimes she's just distracted by the book she's been reading.  I can usually just catch her attention and keep her on track.  She doesn't like to be late to school, so she is relatively  motivated to be ready on time.

But a couple of weeks ago, it was Delia who could not make herself get moving.  She draped herself on the sofa and stared at the blank TV. I asked her if she was sick, and she said she was fine, but still, she didn't move. I put breakfast on the table, and while I was dealing with Fiona, she took it over to the sofa, and ate there. Slowly. I brought her clothes into the living room, thinking she could put them on and just stay in whatever trance she had gone into.  No dice. Ten minutes later, she was still staring, the empty plate about to drop from her hand.  I grabbed it and went into countdown mode.  "We only have fifteen minutes, but you can still get done."  I put my own clothes on, then came back with , "thirteen minutes, come on."  Nothing.  We got to nine minutes, when Fiona appeared next to me, and said, "I'm all done, Mommy.  Do you need any help?"  She was dressed, smelled like toothpaste and had a hairband in her hair and shoes on her feet.  I checked her forehead for fever.  No.  "Wow, great Fee, I'm glad someone is cooperating." She smiled angelically and said, "Well, I can see you're having some trouble with Delia today, so I decided to be good."

Of course, this totally enraged Delia, who has a semi-permanent hold on being "the good one." She looked at me, then at Fiona, and hissed, "Shutttt up, ssssstupidheadddd."  Still, she didn't move to get dressed.  With three minutes to go before departure time, I found myself pulling her pajamas off and putting her clothes on, like she was a toddler.  She cooperated about as well as a two year old.  I shoved socks and boots onto her feet and then started to run the brush through her hair.  The phone rang. Janet and Jennessa were on the way. "See you in a minute," I said, trying to force Delia's toothbrush into her mouth without gagging her.  

Fiona grabbed her back pack and was down the stairs before Delia and I even had jackets on. Delia trailed behind while I yelled that she'd better run as Janet's car pulled into our lot.  Fiona, who usually elbows Delia out of the way to sit next to Jennessa in the car, opened the door and then pointed for Delia to get in. "Wow, Fee, that was nice for you to give Delia a chance," said Janet, not knowing she was entering a battle in progress.  Delia, totally over the edge by then, began to fiercely poke Fiona in the ribs. 

"Fiona's just being nice to be mean to me because I had a bad morning!"  Delia hissed.  

I hopped in the car and began to explain, but Janet just looked at me and started to laugh, because we talk about this stuff all the time, and she has three kids, so she gets it.  We moms have to stick together in the trenches-- Janet's an excellent ally to have when the going gets tough.

Especially because, after vacation, I know the battle for the morning will continue...