Friday, January 27, 2012

My School Project

I hate school projects.

My daughter loves them. In fact she seems to love them so much that she chooses the most complicated topic or book available. One time she even requested that the teacher allow her to do TWO topics. She was only 7 years old. When I was 7, I think I was still learning to tie my shoes. And break dance.

The current project strewn across the dining room table is a non-fiction book report for “Grizzlies and Other Bears”. The book has like 30 chapters. Grizzlies are the first 2 and the Other Bears are like 28. Rumor has it that the other children will be organizing their reports by using the chapter names—because their books have 4 chapters. We’ve designed a matrix.

Yes, I said it. WE. How on earth is a 3rd grader supposed to know how to organize a 30 chapter book into a 3 minute oral presentation and poster? As a parent, my brain knows that letting her struggle through is how she learns (even if all she learns is to select an easier topic next time), but my heart wants to save her from late nights and lost weekends.

By the end of the project, I’m exhausted. I’m mentally spent from correcting grammar and explaining why scratching out and huge eraser marks don’t qualify as neat. My undiagnosed OCD takes over and all lines must be straight and all colors coordinated. Usually the final project looks perfect. Too perfect. I know I’ve overstepped.

I imagine this struggle to let her learn on her own will only get worse the older she gets. Next time it won’t be just a book report. It will be solving an argument among girlfriends on the playground, or selecting what she will major in, or deciding who she will marry!

On second thought, I love school projects.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Missing Money Monday-Part I

Both my husband and I had humble financial beginnings. Very, very humble. Like the WIC program and used Christmas presents humble. Our college tuition, wedding and every car and house we’ve ever owned were paid for 99.9% by the two of us. I’d love to tell you the story about how our meager upbringings gave us the skills to be frugal and make a buck stretch, but our story doesn’t go like that.

When I entered college, I didn’t know squat about finances. I worked typical low paying jobs in high school to be able to keep up with fashion trends but had zero idea about what I was signing when I took on thousands of dollars of student loans or signed up for that first credit card (I just wanted the free t-shirt!). Four years later I graduated with arguably one of the most prestigious Economics degrees in the world. And I was in debt up to my eyeballs.

My husband and I put a down payment on our first house by taking a cash advance on our credit card. I thought I was an absolute financial wizard when I came up with that “solution”.

At our worst, we had over $20,000 in credit card debt and couldn’t get additional credit. We were making the minimum payments, but nothing more. Luckily, booming economic conditions at that time bailed us out. Our income increased over the next few years (unexpected year-end bonuses came) and the real estate market boomed. We realized it was time to stop buying and start crushing the debt. Over two years we paid off the credit card and never looked back. Ironically, we left a potentially devastating financial situation with an amazing credit score and enough equity in our home to buy a larger home. It was either dumb luck or part of a divine plan.

I am thankful for being raised broke. It gave my parents the chance to teach me what really matters to children is generosity of time and unconditional love. I’m thankful for going deep into debt. It taught me that even really smart people can make really dumb financial decisions.

But I have a confession. Despite living below our means, we aren’t tithing 10%, we don’t have a cent saved for our kids’ college and based on a fancy retirement calculator my financial advisor gave me, I’m scheduled to retire in 2145. Much like socks in a dryer, I think there is a monster that is eating my paycheck.

It's time to do something about it. It's time to get real. It's time to make a household budget. To be continued next Monday.....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bed Hog

My baby will be 1 year old in 25 days. That means I have gone for exactly 340 days without a good nights sleep.

During my pregnancy I read a number of heartwarming books written by Dr. Sears which suckered me into a method of child rearing known as "attachment parenting". Form a close bond with your baby in infancy with the promise that will become a secure adult. Sounds beautiful. My husband and I followed it to the letter. Babywearing, breastfeeding and co-sleeping. It worked like a charm. Now we have a VERY attached baby.

Our marriage now consists of four members: my husband, myself, God and little baby Simon. We all go on dates together and enjoy late nights awake together.

And one of us is a serious bed hog. He may only be two feet tall, but he prefers to sleep short ways on the bed, leaving his father and me exactly one foot on each side of the mattress.

He also has this magic sensor that shocks him awake if you hover him over his crib. He can go from being in a coma-like sleeping state to a screaming banshee if you bring him within 3 feet of his crib. You never even get him to the mattress. So forget that advice about pre-heating the crib with a heating pad. Won't work.

The advice about letting him cry-it-out isn't working either. He has amazing stamina.

I have some bad news for the late night party animal. The party is coming to an end! Mama and the staff at the Crystal Lake Library are researching No Cry Baby Sleep Solutions.

I just wish they had a No Cry solution for Mamas.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Fishbowl Freakout

Some people are hoarders. I'm a purger. I believe the politically correct term is "minimalist".

My biggest pet peeve: birthday party goody bags. Little plastic yoyo's, random pencils, single pieces of gum, temporary tattoos, ultra mini water guns and those dreaded animal-shaped elastic bands. If it were up to me, the goody bag would go straight from our car to the outside garbage bin.

While we regularly donate our gently used items, I don't donate the contents of goody bags. I feel like if I do, I'd be doing some other parent a disservice.

At one point goody bag pieces could be found in my vacuum, all over the kitchen counters, in every bin in the playroom, and even on their way into my baby's mouth! I wanted every little Chinese-made trinket out of the house. The kids balked. My husband just wanted peace. For awhile, he got me to secretly agree to a 24-hour "pitch it" rule. The rationale was that given the lifespan of the toys, most would break on their own within the first day. The rest would never be missed. So I diligently waited the required time, hunted the next day for the pieces, and buried them in the garbage bag. My covert operation was working.

Or so I thought.

I sorely underestimated my children's intelligence. One day as I was purging summer clothes in my daughter's room (while she was out collecting another goody bag at a birthday party), I found a drawer full of the dreaded Chinese trinkets. Not one or two, but 30"x12" full of them. I had to face the harsh reality that my daughter is a goody bag hoarder.

...and so is my son. He had a drawer, too.

Have you ever watched the show "Hoarders" and wondered how relatives of those hoarders let it get that bad? I do. "No way are my kids going to be on that show", I mumbled to myself. "I'm helping them now" and I dumped the drawers.

When my daughter discovered the freshly cleaned out drawer, it was as though I had dropped a bomb. War ensued. My daughter brought out the heavy artillery. Tears. Wailing. Something about a painted shell. While she was flailing her arms and yelling something about a super special painted shell, my husband silently put on his coat, went outside and started digging around remnants of that mornings' breakfast.

Like waring countries working through an interpretor (aka Dad), we agreed it was time for a ceasefire. She could keep the retrieved shell if she agreed to limit her "collection". We came to an agreement that an empty fishbowl (which was also a remnant of a past goody bag) would hold all future goody bag contents. If they didn't fit, Waste Management got to keep them.

Saturday is Elliott's birthday party. In an attempt to not be a complete hypocrite, I didn't put them in bags, so I'm calling them "parting gifts".

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Life as a Dropped Stitch

Corporate photos are deceiving. They make me look like I have it all together. "Trust me with that multi-billion dollar account because I know how to match my necklace to my suit jacket". The purpose of these photos at my Fortune 500 employer is to remind the executives who I am at bonus time because they may not actually know my name. Welcome to corporate America.

In reality, I often feel more like a dropped stitch in the knitting project of life. Things are cruising along just fine and then without even knowing it, a big gaping hole appears. The big question is what to do next. Do I rip out the entire 4 rows of knitting to erase any indication that the slipped stitch ever happened? Or do I repair the miss, even if I will still see the repaired flaw every time I wear the scarf?

I am a ripper. Make it go away. Perfect it. Start over.

Yesterday I had these grand plans to start the 21-day Vegan Kickstart Program and follow it through painstakingly for the full 3 weeks. I made it to lunch. Dinner was at a football party, with football party food. I started with the veggie tray and ended with a miniature cheesecake. Don't ask about what was in between those two. Hint: it was not good for my arteries, or the environment, and probably involved a mistreated cow. I actually weighed the fact that if I die a day sooner because of it, it was worth it. It was that good.

But today is a new day. A fresh start. A corporate photo. It's all good. Bring on the soymilk!

Friday, January 6, 2012

If a Tree Falls in the Forest

The new year rings of opportunities! Opportunities to prioritize, organize, goal set, budget, list, and fill up that crisp 2012 family calendar that is the single most important means of communication between my husband and I. While I multitask for sport, my husband is much, methodical. If it isn't written down, it doesn't exist in his world. Kind of like the tree falling in the forest thing, only it involves the dentist and girl scouts.

And like many things in my mind, if one is good, more is better. In addition to the main refrigerator calendar, I also have a calendar on my desk at work, a pocket calendar I carry around, and an electronic calendar on my computer. Let's face it, there isn't enough room in that little 2"x2" square to list everything for a given day. I NEED 4 calendars. Either that or I need less to do, which is #12 on my list of New Year's resolutions. Given that most people give up on their ONE New Year's resolution by the end of January, I figured I'd better buy my 4 calendars before the stores clearance them out.

This year my 6 and 9 year old children asked for calendars for their rooms. I'm not really sure if this is my obsessive compulsive time management rubbing off on them, or if they fear that their father's genetics predispose them toward forgetfulness. I'm hoping that it's just that they really wanted to decorate their rooms with Angry Birds.