Our Gathering Place

It’s 6:20 p.m. We just got home from the reading tutor. It was an hour-long session, but traffic was hideous so we were gone for nearly two hours. Neither kid has finished their homework, practiced the drums, or taken a shower. No one has eaten dinner, and I have nothing planned or prepped to cook. The dog’s water bowl is empty again. The kids won’t have anything to wear to bed unless I fetch some wrinkled pajamas from the load of laundry that’s been sitting in the dryer for two days. Whatever is in the washer smells by now and will have to be rewashed. I have a dozen emails to return, a check to write for the PTO, and a claim to submit to our health insurance provider. We need flu shots, and if I don’t pay the gas bill online today (as in over an hour ago when it wasn’t yet 5:00 p.m.), it will be late. I haven’t gone through the mail in nearly a week, a tower of boxes in the garage need to be broken down for recycling pick-up first thing in the morning, and I need to text our soccer coach about bringing a team snack to the next game. Lunch boxes need to be unpacked and ice packs need to be refrozen, reading logs need to be signed, and the dishwasher needs to be emptied so everything in the sink can be loaded. I owe my sister a phone call or at least a text (I can’t remember the last time we spoke), there are 25 voice messages on my cell phone, and I haven’t checked in with my writing group in several days.

It’s a typical day. We’ll never catch up. We’ll never get it all done. We’ll never get it all right. We’ve definitely passed the window to do math homework without a meltdown. We’ll wake up tomorrow and try again.

“Let’s go!” One by one, we spill into the backyard.

The boys jump, run, spin, and giggle on the trampoline. They rest their eyes that have been fixed on a screen, a workbook, or a smart board all day. They breathe fresh air. They marvel in the feeling of being weightless in the air, and they surprise themselves when they flip and land on their feet. I throw the ball for the dog. When she tires of that game, she races in circles underneath the trampoline barking and jumping to catch the feet she sees bouncing above her. Distracted by the fun and physical movement, the kids tell me snippets about their day. About the game they played at recess, the book they borrowed from the library, and the hopes and dreams they chose at school for the year ahead – to be strong and make new friends.

As the fall sun sets and the noise of cars on the road beyond our yard dwindles, we let the exhaustion, stress, and anxiety of the day evaporate into the cool air. Inside, there’s schoolwork, chores, and endless household tasks to be done before we go to sleep. They are important. But so is this. We will get back to work. But first, this. Our safe place. Our happy place. Our nothing else matters no matter how much we still have to do place. Our gathering place.

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9 Strategies Guaranteed to Save Your School Lunch Sanity

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I can’t think of anything worse than making school lunches. Oh, wait. I can. Opening my kid’s lunchbox at the end of the day when the ice pack is lukewarm to discover he ate nothing. NOTHING. And all of it has to be tossed. ALL. OF. IT. Yeah, that’s worse.

I get it. The cafeteria is loud and overwhelming. There’s a lot of activity and socializing happening. It’s easy to forget how quickly 30 minutes pass.  I can totally relate to forgetting to eat.

Hold up. That’s crap. I can relate to forgetting a lot of things, like where my glasses are (on my face) or why I walk into a room (I have no clue), but I never forget to eat. Ever.

My child’s refusal to eat his lunch at school could send me to an early grave…if I let it. But there’s too much to live for, including the second season of “Stranger Things.”

If you have a school lunch pain in the butt abstainer like I do, you’re going to need a better plan than mindful breathing and a stiff cocktail to survive the year, which is why I’ve devised nine strategies guaranteed (maybe) to save (or squash) your school lunch sanity.

1. Make your kid buy lunch. I don’t know about your school, but I’ve seen the taco meat in my kid’s cafeteria and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Not even my (ex) pediatrician who asked me if I was pregnant again six months after giving birth to my second child because I didn’t lose the baby weight fast enough for his taste. (Perhaps I’d wish it on him.) After a few days of this tough love, your kid will beg you to make him a turkey sandwich. He might even take a few bites.

2. Don’t pack a lunch. He’s not going to eat it anyway, so why waste your time, energy, money, food, and valuable hot coffee drinking time. Feed him a hearty breakfast and an early dinner and trust that his body can sustain itself from the giant bowl of Goldfish, three bags of fruit snacks, and four waffles he ate right before bed the night before.

3. Let your kid pack his own lunch. Don’t helicopter this one, Mom. Let your kid learn some new skills and appreciate the effort you put into this daily shit show. Independence is golden (until your kid prepares himself a bowl of microwave popcorn for breakfast). This is a great idea if you’re not a morning person and don’t mind if your kid packs cookies, chocolate bars, and stale candy from deep in the pantry from last Halloween for lunch.

4. Pack the foods you want your kid to eat. You know, sliced banana and sun butter sushi rolls, white bean hummus and quinoa chips, mixed berries, and lightly salted edamame. Be sure to put an extra ice pack in there so it’s still cold when it comes home untouched.

5. Ask your kid what he wants to eat for lunch. See #3.

6. Pack what your kid will actually eat for lunch. Also see #3.

7. Bribe him. Remind him to look for the knock knock joke, spider ring, and Lego minifigure you hid in his lunchbox next to the sliced seedless watermelon, Kefir smoothie, and American cheese sandwich on whole wheat crustless bread.

8. Make threats. Some parents pack notes in their kid’s lunches that say things like, “I hope you’re having a great day!” or “Good luck on your fractions quiz!” My lunch notes say things like, “Eat your effing lunch!” and “Eat or I’ll tell Santa!”

9. Compromise. I’ll pack SkinnyPop if you eat your cheese squares and crackers. I’ll make you a peanut butter sandwich if you promise not to sit at the nut-free table in the cafeteria. We’ll bake homemade brownies after school if you eat your grapes. I promise not to run out the back door never to be seen again when you refuse to eat the bagel and berry cream cheese I packed for lunch if you promise not to beg for a bagel and berry cream cheese for dinner. I won’t drop you off in an extra-large basket at our local fire station if you throw your half-eaten yogurt tube in the garbage instead of leaving it in your lunch box to become a sticky, strawberry crime scene that has to be hosed down in the backyard. Deal?

If all else fails, ring the dinner bell as soon as you get home from school so you can fight over how many bites of chicken your kid has to eat before he can have a snack. Hang in there. There are only nine more months until summer vacation when you will still have to make lunches every day.

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The Secret to the Long Haul

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Several years ago, my husband gave me a pair of electric toothbrushes for Christmas.

I know what you’re thinking. Epic gifting fail.

Believe it or not, I’m the type of woman who enjoys receiving an appliance as a gift. Luckily, my husband is the type of guy who pulls it off. He once gave me a label maker for Christmas, and it’s one of the best presents I ever unwrapped. If I were to wake up on my birthday to a new dishwasher, I’d be delighted.

The toothbrushes were a welcome convenience because, at the time, we were sharing a single electric base. With two of them, we’d have the freedom to brush simultaneously or whenever we so pleased. Still, it was an oddly practical gift, and I was noticeably underwhelmed.

“Now we have two.” He saw the disappointment on my face. “And someday we’ll have two bathroom sinks to match.” And then, “I’m in this for the long haul.”

It takes a special man to transform a pair of electric toothbrushes into a romantic gesture and a promise for the future.

As we enter the teen years of our marriage, we’re finally doing it in a home with double sinks. The sinks by no means represent our happiness – we’d be content living in a tent (maybe…okay, probably not) – but they and the electric toothbrushes demonstrate perfectly what makes our marriage work: brushing side-by-side but spitting separately.

Over the last year, my husband lost his father and mother to dementia and cancer respectively. As we navigate this difficult and unfamiliar “middle” terrain of our shared journey, I’m keenly aware that the secret to the long haul is that togetherness and solitude are equally important. My connection to my husband has never been stronger, and if he falls I’m his net, but I know he must grieve on his own.

The beauty of the early years of our marriage exists in our collective accomplishments – making a family, creating traditions, filling a home, and building a community of support. In the years that lie head, the magnificence will come from our enduring faith that when life inevitably sends either one of us down a path alone, we’ll know how to find our way back to each other.

Ironically, my husband has hinted that he wants to buy a new electric toothbrush with one base and a UV sanitizer for the brushes. I’m hesitant, but he’s always had a knack for picking appliances, so I’m going to follow his lead. After all, I’m in this for the long haul.

© 2015 Jennifer Gregory, as first published on Scary Mommy

 

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