Just stupid

I want to talk about a couple of pet peeves today: “Why don’t you just…” and “That’s stupid.” Both have been grating my nerves lately, for similar reasons.

“Why don’t you just” assumes that the solution to someone’s problem is simple. Common sense, you’d say. But if it were that simple, the person likely would have thought of it themselves. I remember hearing a former coworker — married, with a nearly grown only child — say to a chronically late single mom of a teen and a toddler that she ought to just try to get to work 5 minutes early. Easy enough when you live 10 minutes from work, have half as many children, and have help getting said child out the door, I suppose. When you are trying to get two kids and yourself out the door and work is 40 minutes away, it isn’t so easy.

“Why don’t you just” assumes that the other person is on a level playing field. That you know what they are dealing with. But you don’t. If you must offer advice, try saying “Have you tried,” or “What works for me is” or “What is your biggest challenge with this issue?” And listen to the answer. You might learn something.

“That’s just stupid.” We all say this at times. And sometimes it is stupid. I think my daughter’s school attendance policy, which has them urging parents not to send a kid to school with a fever but then threatening to penalize the parents for truancy when the kid misses a preset amount of school, is seriously stupid. I know school officials are doing what they are told, so I bite my tongue, but insisting that kids toe an attendance line in the middle of a lethal flu epidemic is stupid. There is no other word for it.

But I hear this word used in other instances. And almost always the underlying reason behind the declaration is that the person doesn’t understand the situation. Recently a kerfuffle arose on a neighborhood group: A man posted a video of a guy he was convinced was casing his house, and refused to give up on that assumption even as others pointed out that the guy seemed to be a lawn mower looking for work. The original poster seemed to be basing his assumption on the fact that the guy was black and wearing sweatpants and a hoodie — if he were a legitimate landscaper, he would have dressed nicely. Wearing sweatpants was “just stupid.”

Well, what do you wear to mow the lawn?

I mean, maybe he was right. Maybe the guy was up to no good. I don’t know. But my point is, neither did the poster. He just made an assumption and posted a video of the guy without finding out the facts.

As with many things, my attention was called to “Why don’t  you just” and “That’s stupid” when they came out of the mouths of my children. The lack of knowledge behind them is apparent when an 8-year-old says “Why don’t you just,” or when a 5-year-old says “That’s stupid.” These phrases fill that knowledge gap with judgment instead of knowledge and understanding.

Whenever I hear them say something is stupid, I ask “I wonder why?” If my daughter’s classmate does something she feels is stupid, like acting out in class to the point of punishment,  we brainstorm reasons why the child may have behaved in that way. And we always come up with at least one reason. Maybe the child feels sick and is grumpy. Maybe the child needs attention, and bad is better than none. Maybe the child for whatever reason has a hard time behaving as expected.

“Why don’t you just” and “That’s stupid” are just ways of saying “I don’t understand.” So instead of snapping to judgment, I am trying to teach them — us — to admit the lack of understanding and probe further.

Now would be a bad time to reread The Stand

The flu visited us this year. Anya, then Daddy, then Kai. Actually, it went more like this:

  • sheldonAnya gets a mystery virus.
  • Kai gets it, too.
  • Anya gets better.
  • Kai gets better.
  • Anya gets the flu.
  • Daddy gets the mystery virus.
  • Mommy washes All The Things and coats them in Lysol.
  • Anya gets better.
  • Daddy gets the flu.
  • Mommy Lysols the house again.
  • Daddy doesn’t get better. Daddy gets a sinus infection.
  • Kai gets the flu.
  • Mommy starts washing bedding every other day and wanders the house with a can of Lysol and the Chlorox wipes, debating if it’s in the budget to stay in a hotel until they all get well.

And yes, I vaccinate. This is with the flu shot. And Tamiflu. This ish does not play.

We’ve had illness cycles before, of course, but this one’s sucked me dry. I haven’t been to the gym since the first week of January. I’ve gone entire weeks without making it to the end of the driveway to get the mail. I spent an hour ironing patches on Anya’s Girl Scout uniform only to have her miss the event that required the uniform because no one could take her. Today I’m taking my still-sick son with me to the parent-teacher conference. Which was rescheduled from last week (when he wasn’t sick, so I could have had someone watch him for me) because the teacher had the flu. That’s where we’re at right now.

Actually, I’m starting to think Girl Scouts is too time consuming for us. The troop has set a sales goal this year of 400 boxes per girl. PER GIRL. There goes every weekend for the next month and a half. I work two jobs and have a husband who works weekends. It’s not exactly single motherhood, but I’m very short on free time. I didn’t sign her up to be a Girl Scout to learn to sell cookies; I wanted her to make friends and have educational experiences. I’m starting to think that I might be better off looking elsewhere for that.

Four hundred boxes? Are you kidding me?

Sorry. I’m just so very tired. And my hands are scabby and my to-do list is growing exponentially and I haven’t had more than 6 consecutive hours of sleep in a month because I’m constantly cleaning.

Speaking of which, time to wash the sheets again. I don’t have time to catch this stuff.

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

This post is going listy because it’s been sitting here in my browser for a full 11 days, mocking me. I don’t have time to do it right, but don’t want to scrap it, so…here we go.

We’re into our second year with Snow Angel, our Elf on the Shelf. The shine’s apparently gone; they are fearless now, fighting openly in front of the elf. I’ve deflected their comments about other families having an elf for each kid (I am not hiding TWO elves every night for 25 days, thankyouverymuch) by telling them that because they are so good, Santa only had to send one elf to watch them. Now I’m thinking about getting a second elf to pull out when the bickering gets particularly intense.

Our house is becoming the gathering spot for our families. We have the space, and if the grandparents visit us, they don’t have to clean up a mess afterwards. One of our challenges in the past has been dining space; we have a 4-seater dining table, the leaves of which were sold many moons ago by my grandfather’s second wife, so either someone had to eat standing up or some adults (okay, me) ended up at the kiddie table. This year, inspiration hit: We simply bought a board, drilled a few holes in it, and boom — instant leaf. We didn’t opt to stain it, at least not yet, so I am working on putting together a collection of holiday tablecloths. And eventually we will need more chairs; I have a couple of nice folding chairs, but to seat us all means the lawn chairs come into play. But it feels good to have us all together at the holidays. Now we just need to work on getting living room seating for everyone.

Oatmeal, it would appear, gives me hangover-level headaches and makes my skin itch. Oatmeal. The blandest of all bland foods. Is too much for me.

Speaking of food sensitivities, our month without dairy passed fairly uneventfully. Whatever the kids’ digestive issues are, it doesn’t appear dairy is the culprit. I’ve put the next round of testing off til January because I’m testing wheat/gluten next, and I can’t bring myself to deny them Christmas cookies.

I’ve joined another social network. Like I have time for the ones I’m already on. (I tweet maybe twice a year since FB and Twitter packed up their toys and went home. Three people talked to me on Twitter, but FB has everyone from my childhood neighbors to people I used to work with.) Feel free to friend me; when I have 5 minutes to rub together, I swear I’m going to sit down and figure out how to replace the crying taco picture.

My son is on the cusp of big-boydom and, like his mother before him, is really feeling Peter Pan right about now. He wants to be a big boy, and will tell me he is not a baby — “I will do it!” is a common refrain. But the idea of someday being an adult is totally overwhelming, and nothing I say changes his mind that growing up is a trap, so he refused to grow past being a “boy-man” to being a man, full stop. (He was totally touched to hear that being a mommy was far and away the best part of adulthood, though.) And he’s still bummed that my milk is gone; he spent an hour yesterday snuggling with me and trying to come up with strategies to make the milk come back. (One such theory revealed that he took the comments about my milk drying up pretty literally; he appears to think I have milk powder in my breasts, and that adding water will fix the problem.) Potty training, though, may actually happen; wet diapers are all but nonexistent, and the poopy ones are fewer and further between. So we’re in this weird limbo. I am both devastated that he doesn’t automatically seek me out upon waking anymore and elated to get to know the little boy he is becoming. (Also pretty excited about not having to change poopy diapers anymore, to be honest.)

Setting the thermostat to 66 at night has completely eliminated my nighttime hot flashes. I occasionally wake up because I am cold, but never because I am hot. And I sleep so, so well. I understand all of the older people in my life much better now. Doesn’t mean I’m setting my air conditioner to 66 in the summer, though.

In researching learning differences for my daughter, I came across a description of dyscalculia, and my whole life suddenly makes sense. Nobody ever would have dreamed that I have a learning difficulty because I test well. The rest was written off as quirks (at best). I’m glad I know now, so I can help my daughter develop better coping mechanism than “blurt something out and hope for the best.”

After one too many YouTuber remarks in my 16-hour work day (I believe the sass to break the mama’s back was a complaint that picking up two toys was “hard work” and therefore I must do it for him), I took away Kai’s tablet, refusing to let him watch it without supervision. I’d intended to give it back that evening…but he was too busy playing with toys and reading books to ask for it. Then I was going to give it back over the weekend, but he didn’t seem to miss it. It’s still sitting on my fridge a week and half later. Next year I might become one of those scheduled screen time moms. I don’t think screens are bad — he’s learned so much from those videos. But I do think some boundaries are in order. And until YouTube lets me block specific channels, supervised viewing is the answer.

I am working on some recipes, but I want to polish them up a bit before sharing. I’m actually taking some time off around Christmas this year, so watch this space. And if I don’t get time to post before the new year, I hope your holidays are merry and bright.


It’s all about the sweet potatoes

Once again, weeks have gone by without a post. I mean well. Time, like Douglas Adams’ deadlines, just whooshes by. As it is, I’m stealing this moment to update while my husband and our children are at the store, so I’ll be brief.

It’s been a week of illness around here. A fortnight, rather — in the classical rather than the video game sense. It started with me eating pizza (I know, I know…but it smelled so good, and I was too hungry for a stupid baked potato), followed two days later by the greasiest fries known to man. A mild gallbladder attack turned into a raging gallbladder attack, which led me to get an ultrasound that found…nothing. Because I don’t have gallstones. I have shingles.

Shingles suck, by the way. I spent the better part of a week feeling like I was randomly being shocked in the gallbladder, and am even now waiting for these blisters to finally pop and scab over so I can stop itching/hurting. But shingles don’t require surgery, nor did I end up having to get the expensive follow-up gallbladder test I was scheduled to have, so there’s that.

Partway through my shingles saga, the kids got sick. One, then the other. During fall break. Kai recovered quickly, but Anya complained of a super sore throat. So I took her to the doctor. They tested her for strep, but the rapid test came back negative.

The not-rapid test came back positive. Found that out today, after I’d sent her to school. Oops.

So tomorrow is my mom’s 70th birthday, and we can’t celebrate with her because I have shingles, Anya has strep, and Mom, after a monthish without her RA shots, is finally well enough to get them again…provided we don’t make her sick.

In other words, I’m desperately in need of some self-care. Luckily, fall delivered.

This past weekend, we finally got something resembling fall weather. And I have been head-over-heels in autumn ever since. The kids and I hit the botanic garden, plus several parks; we basically spent the entire weekend outside. And we went to the grocery store, where I stocked up on all things fall. Today I had pumpkin-chocolate chip bread (if you have food sensitivities, click that link — trust me on this) and oven-roasted sweet potatoes with rice and peas. I’m going to have to write up the sweet potato recipe, because I promise you it will make you forget all about pumpkin. Best part? Nobody else in the house will touch sweet potatoes, so they are alllll mine. Also on the week’s menu: Pot pie and corn chowder and mashed sweet potatoes and a white pumpkin soup that sounds promising. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Friends, with a small f

My friend Lorna just posted about Friends. I never watched Friends; at its peak, I was commuting 60+ miles per day for college, so I was sleeping, driving, or studying whenever I wasn’t in class. But her post makes me want to check it out. At the very least, I’d get to indulge this 90s nostalgia I’ve been nursing. (Someone please remind me how awful brown lipstick looks on…um, almost everyone.)

But friends. Small f. That’s been an issue. It’s not that I don’t have friends — I do. I consider Lorna a great one. It’s that I don’t have friends I could sit down and have a cup of anything with that didn’t require driving a good distance. I don’t have anyone close by I could tell things I wouldn’t tell my Facebook wall, like how I just got my nipple stuck in the bread machine while I was putting it away. (The kids are still laughing. With me, they say. Little turkeys. Also, life lesson: Carry the bread machine with the lid opening facing away from you.)

I used to have friends. Then I had a few bad friends and just…stopped looking for new ones. When I say bad, I mean…look, I’ve had some pretty awful breakups, but I still continued to date. That says something about how I feel about making new friends. But I’ve come to see how much I need friends. Just a few. One. One local friend who can relate to me where I am now. But I worked over 100 hours this week, and my weekend has been spent making up to the kids for all the hours I said, “Just give me five more minutes before you tell me the thing. Just one paragraph. One sentence. Where’s your tablet?”

How the hell am I going to make friends like this?

My daughter has taken it upon herself to find me friends. At our local town fair yesterday, she was introducing me to vendors: “Hi, I’m Anya. This is my mom. Her name is Nicole. She needs friends. She’s really nice!”

I now know how people feel when their moms try to set them up on dates. Only worse, because it’s my 8-year-old announcing to total strangers how socially inept I am.

Then I discovered I accidentally sent my mom’s birthday present to our old house. Anya introduced herself to the new owners last week, so I took her with me when I went to retrieve it. My daughter, being who she is, opened the door like she lived there and invited herself in. Then insisted on taking me on a tour of the house (which looks amazing — they are clearly better at decorating than I am) and tried to arrange a playdate. For her, but also for me.

“She’s really nice,” Anya said of the new owner as we left. “I bet she’d be your friend.” And she is really nice — I don’t know that I would handle the former resident of my house barging in as gracefully as she did. So yeah…nice. We could maybe be friends. But we are not 8. It’s more complicated now.

My Meetup attempts have failed. I’ve talked to a few moms on Peanut, but I barely have time and stamina for the little social media and texting I already do without adding another app that requires I type with my thumbs. (My wrist is flaring again. More on that later.) And there are days when the only time I see daylight is when my kid gets on and off the bus. I’ve volunteered for the school carnival in the hopes that I might talk to someone there. But most people around here meet friends at church, and…I don’t church.

Anya ran into roughly 15 friends yesterday. Whereas I’ve lived in this town a collective 18 years and saw no one I knew.  Not one person. One of us is clearly better at the friends thing. So maybe I should give Anya’s method a shot.

You think you have time

(Nostalgia alert. Menopausal maudlins a-go-go around here lately.)

RA sucks.

I’ve been deeply nostalgic for the kids’ baby days as of late, and have been watching videos from years past. I recorded more than I thought I did. And captured more than I planned.

In one video, Anya, her Poppy, and I greeted Mimi as she returned home from the office for lunch one day. This Mimi, my mom, looks so different from the Mimi of today. Then she was…Mom. She looked the same as she had my entire life. Strong. Fit. Healthy. She could do anything, and did.

Shortly after that video was taken, Mom got sick. We thought it was a cold that she just couldn’t shake, until she almost died. She didn’t die, but she never fully recovered either. Pneumonia. Heart attack. MAC infection. All stemming from what were not normal age-related aches and pains but rheumatoid arthritis. Now she is pale, cachetic, tired, fragile, with an ever-present oxygen tube.

I miss my mom. I mean, yes, I still have her. We’re so, so lucky. I know that. But it’s different now. We’re on the “after” side of the RA diagnosis.

When I was pregnant with Anya, I made plans with Mom to do a breast cancer walk in honor of her mother, who died of breast cancer before I was born. Only Anya came by cesarean and I wasn’t up for walking that year. Next year, Mom said.

That walk will never happen now.

This year, my company is sponsoring us to participate in the St. Jude walk/run, so I signed Anya and myself up. If it goes well, maybe I’ll sign us up for a breast cancer walk: Daughter and granddaughter walking in place of mom and daughter.

I really wish I’d pushed harder for that mom/daughter walk, though. The problem is you think you have time.


Shortly after finishing this post, I read this one: It’s Later than You Think. Wiley was Anya’s age, so this hit really close to home. Don’t wait. Please don’t wait. You never know which chance will be your last.

Scenes from the potty

My son is at this point completely potty-trained; he just can’t be bothered to go to the toilet all the time. As a result, he gave himself diaper rash. He’s never had diaper rash a day in his life, so I thought he had some sort of disease. Took him to the doctor; she gave me Desitin and looked at me like I was a hypochondriac mom.

He hates the cream. He dug through the first aid drawer, found the tube, and threw it away while cackling gleefully. He also hates being wiped with wet wipes, because they are wet and he doesn’t want his butt to be wet. (But sitting in a sack of his own urine and feces is apparently a-OK.) So he tries to hide the fact that he’s pooped his pants. When found out (I have an extremely sensitive nose; I can smell poop from across the house), he screams and punches and pleads. It’s a two-person struggle to clean this child’s tush. So I’ve stopped letting him wear pull-ups during the day, in the hope that he will start using the potty with more regularity.

This is a punishment for me, not him. He still craps his pants. Only this time, I can’t just throw them away; I have to scrub and wash them. This is the child I nicknamed Mr. Fastidious; never have I cleaned up after him so much as I am now.

The following scenes took place in a span of roughly 18 hours.

Scene 1. A public restroom.
He’s told me he needs to potty, so the kids and I pile into a stall in a fast-food restaurant. Kai, for some reason, stands beside the toilet instead of in front of it. It’s one of those oval-shaped toilets, which means he has to really lean to get the angle right. He’s a little guy yet, and not used to standing and peeing, so this is an even bigger challenge.

Once he relaxes, awkward angle and two-person audience notwithstanding, he overshoots and hits the floor on the other side of the toilet. We all laugh. His sunglasses fall into the toilet. He pees on them.

Scene 2. His bathroom.
He’s about to go outside to play when I notice him tugging on the crotch of his shorts. I tell him to go pee first. I leave the room to get a beverage to take outside. When I return, he is mopping up a puddle on the bathroom floor.

“Didn’t make it?” I ask.

“No,” he replies.

“That’s okay,” I tell him, and give him some more paper towels to clean up the mess. “I’ll go get you some dry underpants.”

He is flushing the toilet when I return. “Toilet broke,” he says.

“Oh, no — did you flush the paper towels?” I ask. “You’re not supposed to…”


“Well, I needed to mop the floor anyway.”

Scene 3. Our living room.

After three days of carrying it around, I finally get the chance to crack open my new book. I’m on page two when I start smelling poop and pee.

“Are you wet? Did you poop?”


I check his pants. He is not lying. I go back to my book.

The smells persist. I check again. Nothing.

“Please go use the potty.”

“I no hafta go!”

“Can you at least try?”


I could continue to argue with him, but it’s been a long day, and to be honest I’m kind of tired of fighting about this. I go back to my book.

Just as I finish the first chapter, the poop smell gets really strong. He has either pooped already or will soon. I go get the wipes. When I return, I see him digging at his butt. Which smears the mess from inside his underwear through to the outside of his shorts. I clean up said mess, start the washer, clean the sink.

I sit back down with my book. A few pages later, I realize I still smell pee. I run my foot over the carpet in front of the couch and find a wet spot. Sniff. Yep. Get the stain remover and a rag, scrub the spot, throw the rag in the wash, and sit down to read again. Just as Daddy and Anya return from Girl Scouts.

I never did get to finish that chapter.