Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From One Boys' Club to Another

After graduation, I began practicing law at a small firm in the South.  At the time I was hired, there were four women (including me) in a firm of almost forty attorneys.  When I left several years later, the firm had grown in size, but the number of female attorneys had dwindled to two. 

The numbers weren't the only problem.  I don't think the firm intended to be an old boys' club, but it was, in many ways, a network of former fraternity brothers who now had law degrees.  If you didn't drink, golf, or drink while playing golf, it could be a lonely place to work.  And you haven't been patronized until you've been introduced to a client by a senior partner with the following (in a thick Southern drawl): "Don't let this little girl fool you.  She's a real lady lawyer."

In my second year of practice, I was assigned to serve as local counsel in a Title VII case in federal court.  I had written and filed all of the pretrial motions, researched the salient issues of law, and prepared witness testimony.  A week before the trial, three of us--the lead counsel from New York, a senior partner from my firm, and myself--met to discuss trial preparations.  What did they ask me to do?  Make copies of the exhibits and hand them to the lead counsel during the trial.

I suggested bringing a paralegal or secretary to the trial to help with the paperwork. 

"Why do we need a secretary when we have you?" the senior partner replied. 
"Do you know what I really need you to do?" the lead counsel gestured to me.  "I've got to get a trim before the trial.  Can you recommend a good salon in town?"
In that moment, I knew I wasn't in the club. 

Needless to say, I breathed a sigh of relief when I left the firm.  I had enjoyed the research, writing and oral argument part of legal practice, but I knew I didn't belong in a firm whose partners viewed my greatest contributions to be a headshot for the marketing brochures (a badge of hiring diversity) and the ability to recommend hair salons to out-of-town attorneys.

Several years later, I find myself again outnumbered by the men in my life. Once more, I am a welcome guest but never a full-fledged member, of another tight-knit club of boys.

Today, I sat down on the playroom floor with my boys as they readied themselves to tinker with the heaps of Legos spread across the carpet.  One of their favorite pastimes is building battle scenes for their extensive collection of Star Wars minifigures, and I decided to enter their world for an afternoon.  They were rather excited for me to join them and happily offered to instruct me in the basics of Lego engineering. 

Twenty minutes into the endeavor, I finished an intricate forest scene reminiscent of the planet of Endor.  I had carefully constructed two sprawling trees and a neatly manicured hedge accented by red and yellow flowers.  The scene was complete with a few Ewoks standing guard, C-3PO sitting on a throne, and Princess Leia and Han Solo facing each other in a corner. 

Rather proud of myself, I showed my creation to my boys.
"What is this?!?" one of the boys cried.  "Are these... flowers?  Where are the missiles?  The blasters?  Why don't any of the characters have weapons?"

"This is my favorite scene," I answered.  "Han Solo and Leia share a nice moment.  He finds out that she loves him."
"That's not in 'Star Wars'!" my 6-year old exclaimed in horror. 

"Yes, it is," I replied.  "It's at the end of Episode 6.  Han tells Leia that he knows she loves Luke, and he won't come between them.  Leia replies that she loves Luke, but that Luke is her brother..."    

"A kissing scene?" my 8-year old gasped.  "You're actually building a kissing scene?  Disgusting!"
He proceeded to place a Lego gun in Leia's hand, and repositioned the minifigure so that she was now shooting Han Solo. 

"Let's destroy it!" my 6-year old chimed in.  Two seconds later, my little garden was razed to the ground.  The Leia and Han minifigures, with arms and heads removed, lay in a pile of green Lego bricks.   
"Mom," my oldest son informed me, shaking his head, "we build battle scenes.  We don't build kissing scenes."

And with that, I knew I was out of the club again.        
It doesn't matter if they're lawyers or little boys... I just can't seem to fit in.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Confession #5: The One Driving the Minivan in the Footie Pajamas is Me

There are a lot of glamorous moms out there. I see them arriving at school to pick up their children in coordinating yoga outfits, perfectly coiffed hair and flawless complexions. The other day, the mom before me in the pickup line stepped out of her car wearing a Lilly Pullitzer dress and stilettos. Wait... stilettos? At an elementary school? Really? 
Sadly, this isn't me. I once drove the boys to school wearing footie pajamas and a scarf. It was chilly that morning, and well... I really just wanted to go back to sleep.
"You're not really going out wearing that?"

This is a question I hear often from my husband. Unfortunately, when you have four boys, there really is no point in getting dolled up for the grocery store, soccer practice or any of the other exotic destinations I frequent in a given week. Anything I wear will likely be spit up on, smeared by sticky fingers, or tugged out of shape. Plus those fifteen minutes I'd use getting properly dressed, combed and applied in the mornings can be spent on far more critical activities like sleeping.
And this is one of the fringe benefits of being a stay at home mom: Now that I no longer have to wear a suit and heels to the firm every day, I can literally spend my entire day in my pajamas! Why didn't anyone mention this when I was considering whether to leave my legal career?
I know what you're thinking. First, why slack off in the hair, makeup and fashion department simply because I no longer report to an office? And second, why does a grown woman wear footie pajamas anyway?  
These are questions without adequate explanations. At least not from a woman who's never owned a pair of stilettos in her life.  
The funny thing is, I realized a little while ago that my firstborn is as hopelessly fashion-challenged as me. The other day, I caught him going out the door wearing pants that were two sizes too small (I think he'd grabbed his brother's pants by mistake). How had he compensated for the length problem? He'd pulled his athletic socks all the way up... over his pants. He'd created his own footie pajamas! What can I say? I guess he inherited the gene that determines one's complete inability to elevate form over function, couture over comfort, Prada over practicality.

When I asked him to go back into the house and change, he replied in all seriousness: "Mom, I really don't mind what people think of me. I'm comfortable... just the way I am."

I don't think I've ever been more proud of him.

In that moment, it hit me: I was meant to have only boys. Imagine what a poor example I would have set for a daughter. Little girls want to dress up in sparkly princess dresses, put tiaras in their hair and paint their fingernails in shades of bubble gum. Just to go to the playground, girls require matching hair bows, color-coordinated socks, and any number of jewelry items made from shiny plastic beads. I'm afraid such attention to fashion would have been totally lost on me. When I head to the playground with my boys, the only thing I need to bring is band-aids. And let's face it... what kind of mom would have applauded a daughter's creative use of socks to make ill-fitting pants look even more socially unconventional?
Now, I suppose in a few years, my little boys may grow into teenage boys who suddenly care about their appearances. I imagine that one day, I'll spy them studying themselves in the mirror, fixing their hair in a style I don't understand, and applying zit cream with the unrestrained hope of adolescence. Maybe they'll refuse to wear the clothes I pick out for them because they complain the pants are too stodgy and the shirts are ridiculously old-fashioned. On that day, I will remind them of who drove them to school for years wearing footie pajamas and tell them to be comfortable... just as they are.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Go Ahead and Count 'Em... Four Boys!

Living in the South, you meet a fair number of large families.  I never felt like a statistical anomaly when I had three boys.  After we had our fourth son, however, my husband and I began noticing the stares from onlookers, followed by silent (and in many cases, not so silent) counting.  The typical reaction is for strangers to glance at our family, and then glance again; count the number of boys; and finally ask the gender of the baby just to be certain.  The last part of this exchange usually involves some words of consolation or sympathy from the onlooker, proceeded by one of the following three questions:
1. "So are you going to try for a girl?"
2. "Are all of these your biological children?" or
3. "Was the last one an accident?"

The first time this happened to us, we didn't think much of it.  Now, after numerous times that strangers have approached us to remark on the number of boys we have, we are starting to realize the novelty of it.  So math nerd that I am, I decided to figure out the percentage of Americans who have four boys.

First, I calculated the statistical probability of having four boys.  Every birth is an independent event, which means you have a 50% chance of having a boy at each pregnancy.  By the fourth pregnancy, one still has a 50% chance of having a boy, but the odds that all four children are boys is 50% x 50% x 50% x 50% = 6.25%.    

Next, I had to figure out how many Americans have four children.  Unfortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau only releases data for households with "three or more children".  The most recent census indicates 9% of American households have at least three children.  If you adjust for all children in one household having the same biological parents (compared to blended families), the percentage goes down to 7.47%.
Then I found a study published in The New York Times based on census data combined with other demographic research, which indicates that 0.78% of American households are comprised of a married couple with four children under the age of 18 years.  However, this figure doesn't include unmarried couples with four children; single parents with four children; couples (married or unmarried) whose four children are not all under 18 years of age; and parents who don't reside with all four children.

So, assuming the actual number I want is somewhere between The New York Times' narrowly determined 0.78% and the U.S. Census Bureau's catchall 7.47%, I averaged the two numbers.   The result, 4.125%, wasn't scientifically derived, but it was sufficient to satisfy my curiosity.   
Lastly, to figure out the number of households with four children who are all boys, I multiplied 4.125% by 6.25%.  The end result: Only 0.2578125% of Americans have four sons.  A quarter of one percent. 

We're in a small subset of the population.
So now I can appreciate why people feel the need to remark on the number of boys that are crammed into and hanging off our double wide stroller like monkeys around a tree branch.  I still don't care for the offer of sympathy or nosy questions, but I understand why having four boys is noteworthy.

And as for the counting?  That part was always easy to understand.  I know they're fast, and if you blink you might miss one.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Are You Ready to Raise Boys?

How do you know if you are ready to raise a family of boys?  Raising multiple boys requires highly developed skills in multi-tasking, project management, negotiation and diplomacy, for which no amount of education like a law degree can adequately prepare you.  It involves patience, perseverance and a lot of band-aids.  Raising boys is a full-time gig that lasts an entire lifetime, and certainly not one for the weak-willed or faint-hearted.  Here are ten simple tests to determine if you're up for the task!

1. Go to a local batting cage and fill two or three baseball pitching machines with Nerf darts.  Place the pitching machines so they face one other, and then position yourself in the middle.  Have someone turn the machines on.  Now, try to balance your checkbook, read your email and carry a conversation with your mother on the phone, all while dodging Nerf darts. 
2. Buy three or four parakeets and place them in front of a microphone.  Turn up the volume on your speaker until you can no longer hear yourself think.  This is similar to what you will hear every day for the next ten years.

3. Head to your grocery store.  Bring with you one spider monkey for every son you plan to have.  Place one monkey in a cart and hold the rest of the monkeys by hand while you push your cart across the parking lot.  Buy your entire week's groceries without letting the monkeys out of your sight.  Pay for everything the monkeys eat or destroy.  Now repeat this exercise once every week for five years.
4. Fill a shoebox with Legos (you may substitute thumbtacks for Legos).  Have someone spread the entire contents of the shoebox throughout your house.  Now, put on a blindfold and walk barefoot around your house without screaming.  If you pass this test, you can wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or get a drink of water.
5. Go to an aquarium and ask to borrow a baby octopus.  Rub cooking oil over the entire surface of the octopus while it is underwater.  Now rinse and repeat.  Take the octopus out of the water, and wrap it in a large piece of newspaper.  Finally, transfer the octopus from the newspaper into a potato sack with four holes cut out of it, so that only four of its arms hang out of the holes.  You are now ready to bathe and dress a small boy.
6. Can you handle the mess that a pack of boys can make in your car?  Put a popsicle in the glove compartment and leave it there for a week.  Now jam a quarter into the CD player.  Finally, take a box of goldfish crackers and crumble them along the back row of seats.  Until you are prepared to accept this level of untidiness, do not attempt a road trip with boys.
7. Collect the following items: an empty toilet paper tube, two ping pong balls, one pipe cleaner, and a handful of uncooked rigatoni.  Using only a glue stick, assemble these items into a three-dimensional model of Thomas the Tank Engine.  Time allotted for this exercise: 10 minutes.  You are now qualified to host a boys' playgroup!
8. Buy something expensive for yourself like a pearl necklace.  Now hand it over to a puppy.
9. Find a user manual of any kind.  Read the first sentence.  Wait 60 seconds.  Now read the sentence again, a little louder.  Wait another 60 seconds.  Read it again, even louder.  Now go on to the second sentence and repeat this process until you're finished with the entire manual.  You now have the patience required to provide a week's worth of instruction to boys!
10. Take an egg from your refrigerator, and roll it down a flight of stairs.  If your heart doesn't skip a beat, you have the inner strength to watch your son fall off a bike, learn to skateboard, and leave home for college.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Charlotte's Web Cupcakes

This week, my oldest son's class is holding a "County Fair" inspired by E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. Each parent was asked to contribute a homemade dessert or craft for the fair (and the "homemade" part was spelled out as a requirement).  Now, ever since my fourth son was born, I've been lax in bringing anything homemade to the boys' classes (see my blog entry detailing my guilt).  So I figured I had one last opportunity to make up for this school year. Besides, I felt inspired to pay tribute to literature's finest pig and spider duo.  One of the many pleasures of parenting is revisiting your favorite books with your kids, and Charlotte's Web is one of those classics worth reading over and over at any age.     

1 12-oz. bag of pink candy melts
1 tube of white frosting
1 tube of black cake decorating gel
Black candy beads
Black Jelly Belly jellybeans
Pink fondant
Betty Crocker White Cake Mix
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
Pig candy molds

To make the pig faces:
1. Melt candy melts in a medium saucepan over low heat, or in microwave on 50% power, stirring frequently.  Two minutes should be sufficient in the microwave oven (check every 30 seconds to avoid burning).
2. Spoon melted candy melts into mold cavities.  When the mold is filled, gently tap the mold on a hard surface, to level out chocolate and remove air bubbles.
3. Place filled mold directly onto a flat surface in the freezer.
4. When solid, gently remove pig heads from the mold by turning the mold upside down and carefully tapping it if necessary.  The pieces should fall out easily.
5. Fill in eyes with white frosting and black candy beads. 

To make the pig tails:
1. Cut pink fondant into thin 1"-long strips.
2. Roll strips to round edges, and shape into curls. 
3. Let tails sit for a few hours (overnight if possible) to harden.

To make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Fill cupcake tray with pink liners.
3. Beat cake mix, water, oil and eggs in large mixing bowl on medium speed until smooth.
4. Pour mix into cupcake liners, filling 2/3 full.
5. Bake cupcakes at 15-20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
6. Let cool completely before removing from pan.
7. Spread pink frosting on top of cupcakes.

To assemble the pig and spider:
1. Place pig face to the front of each cupcake.
2. Gently press pig tail to the back of each cupcake.
3. Draw eight lines for spider legs using black gel.
4. Add one black jellybean on top of each cupcake for the spider body.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chocolate Covered Sushi

I made chocolate covered sushi (Rice Krispie treats) for my husband's birthday party a few years ago. If you've met him, you'll know he's a sushi aficionado like no other. He would eat tuna tataki for breakfast if given the option. We invited our guests that night to roll their own sushi, and I wanted to make something for the kids to enjoy for dessert.

6 cups Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 10-oz. package of marshmallows
1 8-oz. package white chocolate chips
1 8-oz. package of dark chocolate chips (with added black food coloring if desired)
Dried coconut flakes
Dried mango strips
Dried papaya, cut into small squares
Banana taffy
Black licorice tape

To make the "rice":
1. Coat a 9"x13" baking pan in butter or margarine.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter or margarine in a medium saucepan over low heat.
3. Add 10 oz. marshmallows and stir until melted.
4. Stir in 6 cups of Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal, coating evenly with mixture of butter and marshmallows.
5. Scoop mixture into buttered pan, pressing down to compress about 1" in height.
6. Allow Rice Krispies treats to cool. When slightly warm, cut out rectangular pieces (about 1" x 2") for "nigiri" and circular pieces (approximately 1" in diameter) for "rolls". To create more realistic sushi, form rounded edges by hand. 

To make "salmon sushi" and "eel sushi":
1. Coat the circular Rice Krispies treats evenly in melted white chocolate, and lay on waxed paper.
2. After chocolate cools, use a skewer to roll the edges of the sushi in melted dark chocolate.
3. If desired, sprinkle dried coconut flakes on top.
4. Add dried mango and dried papaya, cut into thin, small squares, to the top center of each "sushi" piece.

To make "tamago nigiri":
1. Coat rectangular pieces evenly in melted white chocolate.
2. Add yellow banana taffy pieces, cut and shaped by hand to resemble "tamago" (egg omelette) on top.
3. Wrap black licorice tape from one side of each "nigiri" piece to the other.

To make "salmon nigiri":
1. Coat the rectangular Rice Krispies treats evenly in melted white chocolate.
2. Add dried mango strips on top.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Confession #4: I Haven't Folded Laundry in a Year

When I was pregnant with my first son, I asked my friend Leah what advice she had for me before I embarked on this journey of parenthood.  Leah is a few years older than me with three children of her own, and I remember her reply very distinctly.  "Don't get caught up in housework," she said.  "There will always be messes and spills, but your kids won't be little for very long.  So make sure you sit down on the floor with them every day and just enjoy their company."

That kind of wisdom resonated with the kind of parent I wanted to be.  So when I finally left my legal career to stay home full time, I made myself a promise to follow Leah's advice.

Somewhere between my third and fourth son, I decided that if I was going to make good on that promise, something in the housekeeping department had to be sacrificed.  The first expendable item on my to-do list?  The all-consuming task of folding laundry. 

You see, now that we're a family of six, I easily run the laundry machine once every day. Between the baby spitting up and the older boys playing sports in the backyard, our family generates a lot of dirty laundry.  And laundry, like time, waits for no one.  If I miss a day, which happens pretty often, the pile just keeps getting bigger and bigger. 
If I only had to throw clothes into the washer and dryer, I'd probably be able to keep up.  Unfortunately, it's not that simple.  There are boys' shirts, pants, shorts, socks and underwear of four different sizes to differentiate.  The older two boys wear school uniforms five days a week, so their tops and bottoms are virtually identical except in size.  Add in towels, sheets, pillowcases, blankets, bibs and seatcovers, and the laundry takes on monolithic proportions.  
Once upon a time, I hung up shirts buttoned up to the collars, tucked neatly folded pants into drawers, and rolled pairs of matched socks for the boys.  However, my work was undone the moment one of them ransacked through his closet to dress himself.  My boys have a knack for pulling down five shirts off hangers to reach the one they need, or pouring out the entire contents of the sock drawer in search of the elusive pair that fits their shin guards. 
Enter the pile system.  (If you can call it a system at all.)  This is how it works: First, I unload the clean laundry into one massive pile on my bedroom floor.  Then I sort the clothes into six piles, one for each member of the family.  Next, I transfer these piles into six larger piles that reside in each person's closet.  If I'm having a good week, these piles might be shifted into large baskets (I don't know what the point of this step is, except that I feel less guilty if the clothes aren't actually on the floor).  But more often than not, the piles just remain on my bedroom floor; and in the mornings, everyone sifts through his own pile to get dressed. 
So, on any given day, there are probably six large piles of clothing on my bedroom floor.  I've gotten used to them, actually.  And if you think about it, the piles are multifunctional.  They create a serpentine path from my bed to the hallway, which is useful for the baby to develop his crawling skills... Look, it's a baby maze!  How ingenious of me!  The piles also serve as soft landing spots for the older boys to practice the long jump; so if one of them makes the varsity track team someday, you know who to thank for providing all this training.
Someday, the boys will be old enough to fold, hang and maybe even iron their own laundry; then we can retire my deplorable pile system in favor of something more civilized.  For the time being, though, even my 3-year old helps sort the clean laundry into piles and carry his pile into his own closet.  The system works.  It's enough for now.
My friend Leah was right.  It is tempting and all too easy to sacrifice time with your kids in order to keep up with housework.  I'd rather be guilty of the opposite while there's still time to enjoy their childhood.  Even if that means I don't see my bedroom floor for the next few years.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Confession #3: My Children Play with Guns

When our first son was a toddler, my husband and I decided we would not allow toy weapons in the house, lest he grow up desensitized to violence.  We also determined that our boys should abstain from role-playing games that involved first-person shooting, stabbing, punching, or any variation thereof.  All the studies I'd read about the effect of violent video games on children were sufficient to convince me that surely prohibiting all forms of make-believe aggression at home would lead to the development of peaceable young men who respect human life.

Well, in theory, this all sounded pretty reasonable.  But as most parents can attest, ivory tower parenting often gives way to real world compromises.

First came the straws.  One afternoon, I found my two oldest boys happily brandishing swords they had fashioned together from plastic drinking straws, crudely connected from end to end with Scotch tape.  I actually felt a little sorry for them, having to resort to recreating Luke and Darth Vader's duel with straws pilfered from the pantry. 

Then, I discovered the rifles built from Legos.  When I approached my 3-year old about his stash of firearms, he told me matter-of-factly, "Mommy, they're not guns.  They're called shooters."  Wonderful, I thought to myself... not only do I have a pint-sized sniper in the house, but he already understands the power of semantics.  I think I've just met a future lawyer.

Soon, it seemed that any ordinary household object was being turned into weaponry.  Who needs an egg timer when it is far better as a ticking grenade; or a syrup bottle if a few modifications can render it a suitable uzi?  And if there were no materials around, the boys simply resorted to using their fingers as imaginary pistols.   

Well, part of me found all of this rather amusing.  I had to applaud their creative thinking... who knew I'd given birth to a team of mini-Macgyvers!   

But clearly, something wasn't working in the parenting department. 

So when the invitations to laser tag parties started arriving this past year, my ideals had all but flown out the window.  By now, I had already caved and bought them water guns, Nerf  blasters, toy light sabers, and a plastic doohickey that shoots foam arrows.  "So you want to strap on army gear and pretend to shoot your friends in the chest with laser guns?" I asked the boys. 

"Most definitely!" they replied with glee.

Needless to say, I've come around to the idea of toy weapons.  It's not as if I ever believed that boys who play with toy guns grow up to be violence-craving thugs.  After all, generations of boys have played some version of cops and robbers without uniformly turning into armed felons.  And in reality, although my boys like to engage in the occasional epic galactic battle, they are far more interested on an everyday basis in innocuous activities like soccer, biking and chess. 

As a parent, I've realized that even the most well-intentioned rules aren't always worth enforcing.  I'm not saying I'll allow the boys to play "Call of Duty" or shoot rabbits in the backyard with BB guns when they're older, but for now, I am okay if they want to arm themselves with plastic lightsabers to save the universe. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Confession #2: Is That My "People" Magazine?

A few days before Mother's Day last year, my firstborn came rushing over to me and told me he' d just come up with a great idea for a gift.  I was curious what a 7-year old envisioned as the perfect present for me, and since he's not one to keep a secret anyway, he was happy to divulge.  Can you guess what he said?  A People magazine. 

"Why would you give me that?" I nervously asked. 
"Because I saw you reading it the other day."
This is when it dawned on me that there are several pairs of little eyes watching my life, and they keenly observe the embarrassing habits I would rather others not see.  The fact is, I like to fancy myself as an intellectual, the sort of woman who might discuss the current economic crisis and Dostoevsky in the same breath... but this is far removed from the truth.  In reality, I can rattle off the names of Brad and Angelina's children faster than I can remember how to spell "Bernanke".  (I actually had to Google him just to write this entry.  And what does Chairman of the Fed do anyway?  Don't ask me.)
Now, it's true the only television I've watched in years is "Downton Abbey" and a handful of British miniseries, limited strictly to those adapted from Dickens, Austen or Hardy.  However, after my son's revelation, I realized I can't take pride in being a television snob because my reading tastes, on the other hand, are appallingly lowbrow.  Let's face it, they are downright uncultured, philistine, plebeian.  (Okay, I threw in a few big words here just to compensate.)
Someone my age should be reading The New Yorker or The Wall Street Journal.  No, not me... I read People.  There, I said it.
Sadly, it's true.  From time to time (granted, mostly in waiting rooms), I read People magazine.  In fact, I will choose a Hollywood gossip magazine over Time or Newsweek any day of the week.

For so many years, I read nothing but law textbooks, legal journals, and judicial opinions.  When I left the legal profession, I suddenly found that I actually had time to read for pleasure.  Of course, I didn't delve immediately into Wuthering Heights to satisfy my leisure time.  No, I skipped right over serious novels and dove headfirst into gossipy magazines.

So what does the enjoyment I derive out of discovering which celebrity is secretly dating another celebrity, or what someone wore to the Golden Globes, say about me?  Such is useless information that certainly can't enrich my life or the lives of my children.  And if I endeavor to raise boys who will become men of substance--the well-read, creative, interesting kind with whom I'd enjoy grownup conversations someday--well, knowing their mom reads trashy Hollywood magazines has to be counterproductive to that cause.  

At seven, my son probably couldn't understand how embarrassed and convicted I felt at that moment.  I don't know if he fully comprehended the clumsy explanation from me that followed.  I remember telling him that reading People is a poor use of my time, and that I should fill my mind with more meaningful information.  Someday, I hope he'll know that although I am more shallow and worldly than I'd like to admit, I strive to be a better example and worthy of his scrutiny. 

You realize that as a parent, you can't pretend to be someone you're not.  As much as I like to think of myself as a cerebral type, my boys know better.

For the record, I didn't receive an issue of People for Mother's Day. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a sketch from my favorite 7-year old artist, with plenty of hearts and scribbles rendered in bright blue marker... and that was infinitely better. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Confession #1: No, I Didn't Bake Those Cupcakes

If you have a preschooler or elementary student, you've probably been asked to bring in baked goods to your child's class.  For me, it happens every few weeks: for a birthday, the annual baked goods charity drive, the holiday party, Teacher Appreciation Week, and the list goes on and on.  Multiply that by the number of children you have, and that's a lot of chocolate chip cookies.     

One of my fellow associates at the law firm was a mom with three children, and I remember her confessing that she routinely passed off store-bought cupcakes as homemade for her daughters' classes.  She would even go so far as deliberately messing up the frosting so they appeared to have come from her own kitchen.  It was shamelessly dishonest, she admitted, but she couldn't face her youngest daughter asking why someone else's mom had time to make chocolate eclairs from scratch when she couldn't manage a tray of cupcakes.   

Looking back, I have no idea why she felt she needed to keep up this ruse.  Here she was, running on the proverbial hamster wheel with us twentysomethings to make her billable hour requirement and raising three young women at the same time.  Shouldn't that have been enough?

But one thing all moms can understand is this: we always think we're not doing enough for our kids. 

It doesn't matter if you work in an office or stay at home.  I've done both, and the nagging feeling that I could be doing more for my boys has always been an inseparable part of motherhood for me, regardless of where I spend my day.

These days, I feel like I should have no excuse not to bake cookies that didn't come ready-made dough.  Isn't that what women who stay at home are supposed to be good at?  Never mind that I spent several years working late at a law firm and the only thing I ever made was reservations.  Now that I can no longer justify my lack of domestic skills in the kitchen as a tradeoff for climbing the corporate ladder, shouldn't I be doing so much more than putting refrigerated, pre-cut cookie dough in the oven?   

But somehow there never seem to be enough hours in a day, and I confess I've delivered many store-bought cupcakes to school this year.  As the adage goes, confession is good for the soul; and I might as well own up to the fact that I'm not the mom who mixes, bakes and frosts while her children are napping.  For now, I'll be content to admire women who arrive to parties with beautiful homemade pies or fondant-covered pastries; but when you see the tray of slightly burned brownies made from a ready-made mix, you can bet they're from me.