I was swallowed by a career and just survived getting shit back out.
Career day in elementary school wasn’t a gathering of kids with big dreams of someday being underpaid, under-appreciated, mid-level employees facing brutal criticism and daily disappointment.
Upon graduating from high school, I thought I was making an incredibly sensible decision in abandoning the pipe dreams of being an actress to get a degree in Telecommunications.
Shit, I didn’t even walk.
I picked up my diploma from an office and started applying to jobs. Hundreds of jobs. Mostly radio jobs, where the salary offered wouldn’t have been enough to survive on without roommates and lots of Top Ramen.
When nothing panned out, I moved in with my mother in Miami and starting working as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble.
Little did I know, that would become my favorite job to date. That’s despite having to wear a ridiculous witch hat on Harry Potter nights.
No brown nosing.
I wasn’t giving up my sense of self either. Hoodies and jeans.
Deal with it.
Within a year, I was a full-time associate producer. Within 2 years, a regular producer.
I would sit at bars with co-workers and hash out the bullshit of the day, an alcoholic post-mortem always punctuated by my comments about how it would be “When I run shit someday.”
Four years later, I got sick of working overnight, paying my dues in sleepless nights, power naps that left a dent in my forehead from the edge of my desk.
Daydrinking because it was normal.
Breakfast baked potato from the 24-hour Wendy’s in the ghetto.
I took a position in Tampa with every expectation I was on the fast track to becoming an Executive Producer.
I watched my mom go from Associate Producer to News Director in less than 6 years.
I had this on lock.
Not to mention that the News Director who hired me referred to my cover letter as “beautifully written.”
He called my resume impressive. Once I started, he said he thought there was no way they were going to get me to come on board.
I was too good for THEM.
I met my husband and had a couple of kids.
Along the way I went from weekend producer, to weekday 11, to weekday 6.
Then, suddenly 2 years ago, I was doing the Noon show.
Then, they told me they were moving me back to weekends.
After 9 years.
I gave my notice the same day.
I don’t have some awesome other job lined up. I am not just giving up a job, I am giving up a career that I once loved very much.
While I couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to focus on being a better parent to my children, there is also some sadness over a dream that has died.
But, as one of my very best friends said, “Defeated doesn’t suit you.”
Somehow I allowed this business, this job, to dig its hideous black talons into my spirit and squeeze out the very guts of who I am.
Enjoy my entrails.
Consider them the breadcrumbs that lead to another world, one where I am free to aspire to be something greater than I am every day.
Chew on that.
My mother is Earl Grey tea with a little milk. She is cinnamon toast and yogurt with peaches. She is macaroni and tomato soup on a cold night.
She is the piano playing on a drowsy summer day. She is the soft hush after a nightmare. She is rocking me slowly, singing Carole King until the crying stops.
She is my solo standing ovation, applauding my practice for an audition. She is the voice of reason following bullying and rejection. She is taking me on a shopping spree for clothes so I can fit in.
She is chocolate cake after a rough day.
She is wine and carbs after a bad breakup. She is cruise ships and suntans and Mexican food so spicy I get second-degree burns.
She is a late-night campfire and the deepest, safest sleep.
She is brushing my daughter’s hair, scratching her back. She is picking flowers with her, strolling through the garden.
She is Nana now.
But, she will always be cattails, Vanilla and willow ware, swinging brass pots and Chariots of Fire, cradling me and singing Hush Little Baby.
For all she did for me that I understand now, I will forever be blessed.
Here’s my riddle. I am in desperate need of something that flies without wings.
There’s a fine line between having a life that’s moderately difficult and a life that’s nearly unbearable.
The former can be greeted with an acerbic sense of humor. The latter cannot be greeted with anything other than a veritable sledgehammer of curse words, an inordinate amount of alcohol and a river of tears.
Lately, I have found it increasingly challenging to manage my life with shrugs, snickers and snarky comments.
I’ve read articles recently about the curse of having a “Threenager.”
I have a Fournager. See? It’s not even funny because there is no word for a child who has gone from being willful to unmanageable and is also four.
I am bombarded with comments about how her stubbornness and crappy attitude will someday allow her to become a powerful, confident woman. It is of little comfort when I am currently tossing her “powerful” butt in time-outs all day long, every bedtime is a battle of wills and we’ve been forced to swear off all public outings.
Don’t get me wrong, she still melts my heart by telling me I’m her best friend and randomly cuddling up to say, “I like you, mommy.”
But, lately, she’s destroying my life.
I can’t take a bath without the sound of her shrieking upon getting another time-out.
I can’t make it through dinner without her playing with her spoon, flicking her food to the dogs and shouting “Huck touched me!”
I can’t take the kids somewhere fun without her demanding a toy. Since when did it become a requirement to have a commemorative purchase when you go to a Jump Zone?
Huck is not absolved of all guilt.
The other day I heard them arguing about “who won” in the race to get upstairs. (They both say they won no matter who gets to the top first and then fight about it.) Moments later, I heard the loud smack of Huck’s hand across Alma’s face.
Even when he’s not pummeling her, she’s fake crying over something he did.
When he finds out I’m not the one putting him to bed at night, he slaps the air and grunts. If I am in close enough proximity, he slaps me too. Another time-out! Yay!
I am sure every parent has been there at some point, but it feels like the kids are conspiring against us right now.
They’re determined to suck the joy out of every single moment of the day and let me tell you, my days suck pretty hard long before I get home in the evening.
Not to mention all the fun times involved with cool stuff like earaches.
I have tried so many different methods of discipline and parenting (Without spanking, can’t bring myself to get there yet.) to no avail.
The only explanation I can come up with is that they have so little respect for us because we’re… just… not… there.
We’re paying a hodgepodge of day care workers to raise our kids for pretty much the entire day, five days a week.
I can only wonder if I would find better ways to get them to behave if I was actually able to monitor their behavior, their food and their naps every day.
Maybe they’re tired.
Maybe they’re eating too much sugary crap at school.
Maybe they’re harassed all day by whiny brats and no one is there to intervene, so they become whiny little brats when they get home.
Maybe they just don’t respect us because we’re just not there.
It’s a long shot, but Lord knows, I don’t blame the kids. If children behave badly, it’s invariably the parent’s fault, right?
So, now on top of the misery of long commutes and long days at work and long and repeated time-outs, I am wracked with the guilt of feeling like a failure as a parent.
So, if anybody wonders why lately I’m not a font of hysterical anecdotes and amusing quips about my adorable family, that’s why.
I need… more… time.
The real story behind the sweet pictures of our Sunday trip to the zoo.
(Worth noting: My son was sick the night before and we were up with him every hour until he woke up for good at 4 a.m.)
Things started off remarkably well.
The first animal we saw was some kind of warty hog that had buried himself under a pile of hay with only his rotund rump exposed. Despite this, my daughter shouted with glee, “This place is fun!”
We dodged dive bombing parrots inside the aviary.
We saw white rhinos, including the enormous lumbering bull that my daughter was determined to call the “mommy rhino” despite some obvious danglage of dude parts.
Both kids were amped inside the exhibit I call “Snakes and bugs and stuff.”
We made our way through the shrimpy funk at the stingray tank and got splashed by mungy water during a feeding.
Then, Alma made her first demand for a toy.
Here we go.
I tell her she has enough toys at home.
She says she wants a different toy.
I say she should start to learn to enjoy the experience of being somewhere fun without taking home a token toy.
Her attitude shifts and the next thing I know she takes a swat at my husband with her bunny.
I take her bunny away and tell her she has to apologize for hitting him with it and she bursts into tears.
She’s crying hysterically while we walk past the flamingos and coy pond.
People are staring, but I am not backing down.
Eventually, she apologizes and we recover on the carousel.
Afterward, Huck wants to go on the tiger train rollercoaster and we’re pumped when we see that he’s over the required height.
Alma and I stand by to take pictures while the boys wait in line and then I see them come back out of the line.
Huck is crying.
They’ve told him he has to be 3. My husband told them he turns 3 next month and they still turned him away.
We try to appease Huck with a watermelon icee and he’s NOT HAVING IT. He’s grunting like a gorilla and swatting the air.
“Do you want to go to the petting zoo?” “Do you want to see more animals?” “Are you hungry?” “Do you need medicine?”
With every question, he does an angry Michael Jackson moonwalk away from me.
I finally get him to calm down enough to take a spoonful of the melted icee and he promptly gets brain freeze and spews it across the ground outside the penguin exhibit and starts screaming.
Moments later, Alma starts choking on her icee. This is just SO MUCH FUN.
Later, we’re standing in line waiting for the “train” (hoping to make Huck feel better) that takes you around the zoo for a brief and underwhelming tour. The kids are eating Doritos, which means mostly just dumping them along the walkway and stomping them into tiny pieces.
Of course while we’re waiting in line, they notify us one of the trams is shut down so it’s a longer wait than usual. (Now, 20 minutes) Then, the speaker system breaks on the working tram while we’re in line and it’s another 20 minutes.
Alma yells, “Mommy, Huck pushed me!” Huck says, “I said I was sorry.” Then he hugs her.
I overhear people standing nearby saying, “Awww” and “There’s still good parents out there.”
There it is. The balance between cracking the whip and showing the kids a good time.
“Here’s a fantastic day where you don’t have to do anything but have a good time. We provide the snacks, juice, icees, rides and carry your crap around. We wipe your bums, bring changes of clothes and spend a gazillion dollars all so you can have a blast.”
They behave badly and we give time outs, take their stuff away and trouble shoot.
People see them throwing a massive temper tantrum and probably think, “crappy parents.”
People see them hugging and apologizing and think, “good parents.
The fact is, we’re good parents BECAUSE we don’t buy into their temper tantrums.
Alma never got a toy. She got to keep the zoo map.
We did not try to smuggle Huck onto the kiddie rollercoaster. (Although it was tempting) He got the tram ride where he kept saying, “There’s no animals. There’s trees.” (An astute observation)
We’re trying so hard, but it’s a battle and one that doesn’t usually end with pleasant memories and grateful children.
As we walk back to the car, Alma is pouting because she didn’t get a toy.
Huck whines, “Where’s MY map?”
Then he crashes, drooling on the car seat.
We were hoping to go out to lunch. Instead, it’s McD’s and buying groceries and consoling Huck when he wakes up and tossing out the kids uneaten peas and watching Batman and breaking up fights over legos and “Don’t hit your sister!” and “Stop crying over everything!” and yes, that’s moonshine in my Coke.
There were good moments at the zoo: Alma in heaven on her horse, Huck mesmerized by otters, the moment when Alma randomly started patting Huck sweetly on the head.
Was it worth it?
Ask me when the kids are in their 20’s and we find out if they even remember this stuff.
Lately, I can be seen shuffling around like a homeless schizophrenic, mumbling to myself over and over, “It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase.”
For the past few weeks, my daughter has transformed into the kind of girl nobody wants to hang out with.
She has pretty much ruined every holiday event or special occasion.
There was Christmas where I watched in horror as she shredded open gift after gift barely pausing between to assess the present. When she finished she whined, “I want more presents to unwrap.”
I tried to convince myself it was just some kind of OCD obsession with the thrill of unwrapping.
She practically cried when I offered her Cinnamon Buns for breakfast, then downed two of them within minutes, sending her off on a sugary high, shrieking and bouncing around the house like a crackhead kangaroo.
She spent hours in separate “time outs.”
I asked her what her favorite gift from Santa was. (Santa, you know, the “guy” who bought all the presents, wrapped all the presents, decorated the tree and stealthily stuffed stockings when “he’d” rather have been sleeping.) Her response: “The kitty, I guess, but it was the wrong color and I didn’t get the doll carriage I wanted.”
This sent me off on a tear-filled, mimosa-fueled afternoon followed by a splitting headache and sweaty nap.
On New Year’s Eve, we used the Netflix fakeout countdown for the kids during which my daughter whined that she wanted to watch Batman instead.
Afterward, we partook in the Cuban traditions.
We were each eating our 12 grapes when Alma proceeded to drop 2 of them, 1 of which was never located. A slimy grape is currently curled up in our carpet maliciously awaiting a middle of the night barefoot run for a glass of water.
She refused to put pants and shoes on with her pajamas, despite the fact that it was super cold outside, because she wanted to “be Tinkerbell.”
We walked around the house with our suitcases in order to ensure a 2015 filled with travel. Of course, our neighbor walks out in a vest and tie on his way to celebrate New Year’s the way normal adults do. I can only imagine how ridiculous we looked traipsing through wet grass and dog shit with our luggage, wearing pajamas.
We get back to the front door and Alma starts fake-crying because she was under the false impression we would be walking around the whole neighborhood.
We go to dump our bucket of water out the front door to wash away all the crap that’s happened in 2014. Alma is throwing a fit because she wants to do it herself even though the Popcorn bowl is so heavy, she would end up on the sidewalk in the puddle.
Last night, I managed to sneak out of work early because we had short newscasts on New Year’s Day. On the drive home, I am cheerful despite writing about sons decapitating their mothers and boyfriends nearly strangling their girlfriends to death. There is no traffic, it’s not too hot and I am arriving home before the sun sets.
So, we decide to take the kids out for pizza. After the 30 minute drive, we discover the restaurant is closed. Alma commences whining about how all she will eat is pizza, so we end up at chain Italian restaurant that shall remain unnamed.
I always planned to be the kind of parent that would NEVER let their children play on computers at the dinner table… until I ended up the kind of parent with kids that jostle me perpetually, ask “why” repeatedly and don’t allow me to eat a single bite of food without arguing with me about something.
So, I let Alma play with her Leapad. Instead of enjoying herself quietly, she’s demanding that I watch what she’s doing, take part in what she’s doing and talking over the Comicon, Dungeons and Dragons playing waitress who is trying to take our order.
Halfway through our overpriced, undercooked pasta, the little boy in the booth behind me stands up and projectile vomits spaghetti all over the floor.
The C-team staff starts to mop it up and then leaves little wet spaghetti pieces on the floor right next to me and the stinking mop and bucket right behind my husband.
My main resolution this year was just to detox, not for the entire year, but long enough to avoid feeling pickled post holidays.
January 1st and I’m making a Moscow Mule so I can suffer through putting my daughter to bed.
We’re coloring together and she’s wide-eyed and crazed, intentionally coloring hard and outside the lines.
She stays up too late on her computer. I take it away and tell her to sleep.
When it’s finally time for me and the husband to go to bed, he turns off the hallway light and I heard Alma yell, “MOM! MOM! Turn on the light! I can’t see!!!”
She says it like we’ve offended her sensibilities by turning out HER light when SHE is trying to stay up until midnight the day AFTER New Year’s Eve.
I cry myself to sleep while browsing Facebook, looking at people wearing their fun New Year’s Eve hats, drinking champagne, their children grinning and still joyously and gratefully playing with their Christmas loot.
It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase. Until… it’s not.
It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love.
When I reminisce about the idyllic Christmas mornings of my childhood.
The lying awake for a signal from my parents that it’s acceptable to dig under my bed for that first hidden gift, the teaser of what was to come.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, swishing on socked feet into a living room packed with presents, pouring across the floor like a tidal wave.
My brothers and I clambered around on the Oriental rug, digging through our stockings for the tiny gifts hidden among the cheap chocolate, held afloat by a single orange.
Our bellies still full from the smorgasbord of Teriyaki steak skewers, stuffed mushrooms, sweet and sour meatballs and cheese spread of the celebrations the night before.
In Florida, there are no snow flurries to usher in a white Christmas, but it didn’t stop me from believing I heard the jingle of sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.
It was a huge family affair. My Uncle, Aunt and cousin would come to town from Cincinnati. We’d brave the chilly waters of the Gulf on their behalf and gather sand for luminarias to line our walkway at home.
My grandparents would come down from Massachusetts and our entire holiday herd would go to the St. Pete pier where I would beg my parents to buy me overpriced colored rocks masquerading as gems.
Every year, we would eat at Arigato Japanese steak house, a huge splurge for a family of 5 living mostly off a math teacher’s salary.
Now, nobody comes down from “up north” to take a dip in frigid waters.
The Pier is in disrepair, people kept away with a lock and chain, it’s future uncertain.
Arigato shut down in September. The owner filed for bankruptcy.
Immediately after Thanksgiving I would hold the bottom rung of the ladder (a pointless show of support) for my father as he strung the giant colored lights along our rooftop.
Now they’re considered “retro” and a fire hazard.
Now we put off stringing the Christmas lights along our porch railing because it’s such a pain in the patoot. We’re just too dang busy.
On Christmas Eve, we sat down as a family and read scripture to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We reenacted the nativity scene. I was usually stuck being a sheep by the manger, shrouded in my beloved and battered baby blanket, “Lambie.”
Now, nobody even mentions the “real reason for the season.”
These days, we are so busy redefining “family” that there’s no room to even bother trying to resurrect the Christmas traditions of our childhood.
The massive mountain of presents are now split between 4 homes. Christmas Eve with my in-laws, Christmas morning with my children, another random day with my family and finally a visit with my dad and his wife.
How does Santa pull this off? I don’t know. I just don’t know what to tell my kids.
Holidays should be about lazy mornings in jammies, cracking walnuts, watching football (reluctantly) and afternoons spent with kids crammed onto and underneath sofa beds, watching Rudolph on repeat.
Instead, I will leave work on Christmas Eve to rush home to food that I couldn’t help prepare.
Christmas morning will bring a modest delivery from Old Saint Nick.
The Friday after Christmas, it’s back to work.
Saturday, it’s the next “Christmas” with my family.
I am learning that there is absolutely no way I can recreate the magic of holidays past for my children.
I cannot pull it off.
It makes me sad and angry.
There’s nobody to blame, yet it feels patently unfair.
These days, who’s got the chestnuts? Where’s the open fire?