Saturday, August 28, 2010

Take Time to Sniff the Underwear and Other Time Savers

As a mother of six active children, I’m always on the lookout for time savings tips, and I’m not above trying a housework cheat or two. There are so many things I’d rather be doing than scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees like say… anything. And if I can save a few dollars in the process, well I’m euphoric.

Tip Number One – Wash Clothes and Dishes without Soap

A few years back a neighbor was selling these plastic balls that she told me where full of special ionized water. When added to a dishwasher or washing machine, clothing and dishes came out sparkling clean without the use of detergent.

I was skeptical, but agreed to give them a try. On a Saturday morning I set up my own scientific test. I washed three loads of clothing, one with regular detergent, one with the ion balls and one without adding anything at all. Per her instructions I pretreated all stains before washing them, and amazlingly enough all three loads came out pretty much the same. The dishwasher experiment was equally as surprising.

Needless to say I returned the ion balls, but it gave me serious pause to think that plain hot tap water just might be the best cleaning agent of all.

Tip Number Two – If You Can’t See it, It’s Not Dirty

This is a trick I learned from my twelve-year-old son who is a master at hiding the entire contents of a dirty room in such a way as to make them disappear. He’s discovered nooks and crannies in his room that I hadn’t imagined even existed. One time he managed to cram all of his dirty clothes behind the sheetrock through a hole in his wall. We weren’t any wiser until strange smells began to fill his room without any noticeable cause.

Now I don’t recommend hiding dirty clothes for extended periods of time, but I have been known to grab a laundry basket and sweep everything on the surface of a cluttered table inside, before stowing it out of sight. This works well when my mother-in-law calls to say she’s in the neighborhood and wants to drop by.

Tip Number Three – The Occupied Bathroom Ruse

We have three bathrooms, one of which is the exclusive domain of the boys and upon passing through the door, you’d have no doubt about the truthfulness of this statement. It badly needs a new paint job and flooring, especially in the vicinity of the toilet, but we’ve decided to wait until the last guy’s a little older before investing the money to redo it. In the mean time though the guys aren’t bothered, I’m hesitant to have someone walk in there accidentally.

My trick is to simply lock the door before guests arrive, then direct those that ask to one of the two other facilities. Should someone decide to investigate on their own and find their way to the bathroom of terror, the door will be locked and they’ll be left to assume that the restroom is already in use by someone with a serious and possibly smelly bowl condition. For the rest of the visit they’ll be secretively searching the faces of everyone else in the house, looking for the poor victim.

Tip Number Four – Smell the Laundry Before Washing

A few years ago I went on this kick of riding the kids to clean their rooms. I would scrutinize the furniture and floor each night before bed, and if the room wasn’t up to my exacting standards I’d make the negligent inmate arise from the comfort of his or her cot and finish the job. It only took a few of these nightly inspections before the kids got the idea and made sure their rooms would pass muster before retiring.

A few days later I noticed a sudden and unexplainable influx of laundry coming through. At first I thought that it was a backlog from all the weeks of sloppy bedroom upkeep. But after a week when the volume didn’t diminish I began to get suspicious, and it was then I noticed how many folded shirts and pants were showing up in their dirty clothing piles. I washed several swimming suits, even though it was the middle of January and there was at least three feet of snow outside, and socks that hadn’t fit my youngest for at least two years where coming through the dryer with frightening regularity.

The following morning I got up early and hung about the hall watching my children get ready for school. Sure enough as each opened a drawer they would throw five or six outfits onto the floor before located something they liked. Blouses and skirts were knocked off of hangers, and one little boy emptied half the underwear drawer until he found a pair with Spiderman swinging across the back. No doubt by tonight, all these clean cloths would be scooped up and unceremoniously deposited on the laundryroom floor.

Now, I employ the famous sniff test on all questionable clothing, which has saved me hours of time, and probably gallons of detergent free water. It’s simple really. If a piece of clothing looks questionable, I take a quick whiff. If it smells like lavender, orange blossom or spring morning fabric softener, it goes back to the room and if it smells like… well anything else, into the wash it goes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Emergency Room Journey

A few months ago my daughter had a nasty fall that wrenched her ankle. I was almost positive that it was merely a bad sprain, but she sobbed and screamed that the pain was excruciating and that she was certain she’d heard a bone crunch as she hit the ground. It was a Saturday afternoon (of course) and our normal pediatrician’s office was closed until Monday. Our only option was a visit to the local ER.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me an ER visit ranks right up there with walking barefooted over hot coals and sleeping on a bed of nails. It’s a long torturous processes often resulting in physical and emotional pain.

“Can’t we wait until Monday,” I beg my hysterical daughter.

“You want me to suffer with a broken foot for two whole days?” She responds in her best abused child voice.

Which is worse, the guilt trip administered by a skilled teenager or the eternal wait and condescending attitude of an ER trip? Hmmm that’s a toughie.

I’ve worked in a hospital, and I know that the ER professionals are a skilled and talented group of men and women trained to deal with gunshot wounds, internal bleeding and the occasional missing finger or toe. In fact, I’m sure they’ve chosen to work in the ER because they like the challenge that comes from never being sure what horrible life threatening emergency will come through their door next.

Maybe that’s why they get so exasperated with guilt ridden mothers or slightly over dramatic young people.

One Sunday evening my younger son clobbered his older brother over the head with a kitchen bar stool made of wood. Fearful of a concussion I checked the young victims pupils, and asked such questions as “Are you dizzy?” and “Are you nauseous.”

He replied in the affirmative to both questions, so I rushed him down to the ER. After waiting nearly forty minutes to get into a waiting room, and another thirty to see a doctor, I was humiliated when this same boy assured the doctor that he felt fine and not the least bit sick.

Once the doctor left, after giving me that “over-protective-mother-wasting-my-time” look that they all have down, I turned to my son who was happily getting dressed to leave and asked him. “Why did you tell me you were nauseous?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I thought it meant hungry!”

As mothers, we have debated at some length about what goes on at the ER desk while we sit in the examining rooms waiting for hours and hours with Nickelodeon or the Disney channel running incessantly in our ears. We’re pretty sure the doctors and nurses are making fun of us, and wondering why the state doesn’t require some kind of competency test in order to be a parent.

Still whether it’s a bad cold, a failing kidney or as in our case, a bruised ankle that was feeling much better ten minutes after arriving at the ER, the medical personnel get paid either way. And paid well. You can’t go to a doctor’s office or clinic and get the kind of tests that are routinely prescribed by an ER doc.

“Let’s get an x-ray, a CT scan, a spinal tap, and fourteen vials of blood… and I promise you, she won’t bring her kid in here again unless they have one leg dangling by a piece of muscle.”

So if it’s such a pain to visit the ER, and I assure you it is! Why do we mothers keep doing it?

The answer is simple…guilt. Mothers have the unique ability to carry around guilty feelings better than any other creature, human or otherwise, on the planet. What’s more, mothers have the capacity to imagine whole scenarios that include answering questions at the inquest when their son or daughter died, because the seemly innocent headache turned out to be a brain eating parasite. And had they only rushed Junior or Juniorette to the ER when they had the chance, everyone at the wake wouldn’t be staring at them with dismay and judgment in their eyes.

Sure the chance that a child could die from a brain eating parasite is pretty low, probably even less than winning the lottery or being attacked by a gang of angry girl scouts. But if there is any possible chance… do you want to be the mom that wasn’t cautious enough?

What this means it that I will continue to be humiliated when I take my child, who acts like she’s on deaths door, to the ER only to find out that her pony tail holder is on too tight. And the ER docs will continue to vent their frustration by taking two hours to do a fifteen minute test. (And yes guys I do know that you do this!)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Infamous Diaper Bag Dilemma

My daughter and I were shopping for a baby shower gift a few weeks back and had decided to buy the mom-to-be a diaper bag. We stood before a wall literally covered with carry-alls of every style and color, but there was one thing they all had in common. They were huge, practically the size of an ice chest but without the wheels.

“Do you think she’ll want something that big?” I asked as I surveyed the selection before me.

My daughter, the mother of a two-year-old, only laughed. “She’ll probably need two of them at least.”

She went on to explain that today’s diaper bags have to carry so much more than simply diapers. “There are changing pads, and wet wipes and refills for the wet wipes. You have your baby powder so they don’t get diaper rash, and your diaper rash cream for when they do. You have your plastic, non-porous, odor-free plastic bags to hold poopy diapers and the cute little yellow ducky dispenser that hides them discretely out of sight. And if you’re little darling is a boy, well you have to carry little pee-pee tee-pees.”

Apparently the pee-pee tee-pee is a paper cone that fits over the little male’s pee spouter to prevent unfortunate accidents. If you run out, you can also use traditional snow cone cups.

“Then of course,” she continued.”You have to have room for pacifiers, bottles and milk.”

“I thought she was breast feeding,” I said.

“Expressed milk for those times when you need someone else to feed the baby, and a large wire-framed cover up blanket for when you do it yourself.”

I was beginning to get the picture.

“Then of course there are the clothes. I always carry at least three complete outfits from socks and onesies to coats and hats, four if I’ll be gone longer than an hour. You’d be amazed at the multiple ways an infant can find to soil a set of clothing.”

I took a deep breath and tried to concentrate.

“There are the incidentals like baby pain reliever and allergy medicine, a first aid kit, syrup of ipecac, tweezers and a thermometer. A variety of small toys and books, preferably educational in nature, and I always carry a notepad with emergency numbers and medical history for the little guy… just in case.”

My eyes were starting to glaze over.

“Now that he’s bigger, I have to include a box of rice cereal and those bland apple snacks that taste like styrofoam. And unless I like driving down the highway with a screaming toddler, I can’t forget the portable DVD player and a selection of Elmo videos.”

“Wow,” I said. “What a collection. No wonder the bags have to be so big.”

“But you know what’s really frightening,” my daughter asked, her eyes big and her voice dramatic. “She’s having twins.”

I’ve never been so happy to be menopausal in my life.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Is it Really a Lie if No One is Deceived

Liar, liar, pants on fire

The other day I walked into the kitchen and discovered a plastic bottle of chocolate syrup turned upside down on the counter. It was carefully balanced against the toaster its squeeze top immerged in a slowly growing puddle of brown ooze.

I don’t know what the rational was for leaving the sticky sweet stuff in such an unlikely position. To be honest, I stopped asking why a long time ago. Suffice it to say, that an hour before when I’d left the house, the counter was clear, and when I returned some would-be Willy Wonka had been at work.

I turned to my youngest son who was deeply engrossed in a computer game only a few feet away, and I asked the question, “Did you leave the syrup container upside down?”

Without looking up for his game he responded quickly. “No.”

“Are you sure? Cause it looks like your work.”

My husband says this child is naturally destructive, I say he is creative in the damaging sense of the word. One day I found a small black stain on the top corner of his bedroom ceiling. From my vantage point it appeared to be smoke residue. When I called the kid in and confronted him with the mark, he assured me that there had been no fire involved. Black spray paint was at fault.

Why he was standing on a chair in his bedroom, in the corner with a can of black spray paint to begin with, I’ll never know. And what possessed him to dispense a brief spurt to that lonely spot is also a mystery, but not out of character.

“No,” he said again, “I didn’t even touch the chocolate. Why would I?”

“Maybe you wanted to make chocolate milk, but the syrup was all at the bottom,” I suggested

He glanced up, giving me the look that only an arrogant thirteen-year-old male child can pull off. “Oh yeah, right. Like I’d do that.”

This is the same kid that spent over an hour at the kitchen sink, when he was suppose to be doing the dishes, mixing Kool-aid powder and dish soap to create florescent pink bubbles that smelled like lemony-fruit punch. By the time I realized what he was up to, the foam had filled the basin and overflowed onto both counter tops and the floor.

“Why do you always blame everything on me?” he said, the volume in his voice rising with his apparent indignation. “There are lots of other people who live here too.”

“That’s true,” I said, keeping my voice calm, “But no one else was home. Are you suggesting the dog was messing about with the chocolate syrup?”

“Maybe,” he said, unmoved by my show of parental logic. “All I know is it wasn’t me.”

I still made him clean up the mess, despite his constant insistence that he was innocent. and I was being unfair. But it got me to thinking. This young man in smart enough to realize that he’s been caught; the evidence of his guilt is air tight. So why would he continue lying in such a useless defense attempt?

The conclusion I arrived at is this. Perhaps it isn’t so much about deception as independence. Maybe these pointless arguments are a way of stretching his wings and testing his intellectual faculties against a worthy opponent.

Through the years of broken toilets, mangled mini-blinds and chunks of wood super-glued to the carpet, I’ve retained a hope that as my son grows his power of thinking outside the box will turn into a force for good. And his determination to cling to his convictions, regardless of the obstacles in his way, will someday be a strength rather than simply an amusing stubborn streak.

That’s my dream, but in the mean time, if we can just get through today…

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