Spring cleaning…in November

My Aunt Phyllis was legendary in child-rearing circles. A tough, smart, no-nonsense kind of woman with a voice like Marlene Dietrich and a will as unshakeable as an iron rod.

This woman was cool. She smoked long brown cigarillos and always looked like she’d just waltzed out the latest issue of “Vanity Fair.”

But I seriously feared for my safety and the security of my belongings whenever my mother spent time with her.

You see her most famous story was the one where she smiled beatifically and offered her cursory goodbye wave as her three children boarded the bus to school one day. Then, as soon as the bus pulled out of eye range, she went back inside and without an ounce of emotion, collected every single piece of clothing, school work, and various personal items that had failed to be put away by her children. She methodically went room to room. If it was on the ground, it went into the heap. It was as simple as that. There were treasured stuffed animals from bygone years, irreplaceable journals, records (back then that’s what we listened to), favorite hats, scarves, shoes. There was no selection process. If it didn’t belong on the floor, she took it.

Then, she carted all the items out of the house and dumped them smack dab in the middle of the street. Some blew into a neighboring park. Others were squashed by oncoming traffic. And some of the nicer items were happily adopted by local city workers, gardeners, and random passerbys.

Upon returning from school, Phyllis’ three children were mortified to find a plethora of personal belongings littering the lane in front of their home. Legend has it there were tears, tantrums and no lacking of hysterics at the scene of the incident. But Phyllis said nothing. In her mind she had already said too much. Too many frustrated reminders to throw dirty clothes into the laundry basket and not just leave them lying prostrate on the floor next to the hamper. Too many threats that something would happen if school work was carelessly left scattered across the carpet instead of neatly lining a safe social studies folder or securely tucked into a nearby back-pack. She was just done.

I get this. It’s taken me years and two children to finally realize what an amazing woman my Aunt was. The story goes that her kids didn’t leave their crap lying around after this jarring episode. Still not sure I entirely believe that. But I’m proud to say that I too have joined the ranks of merciless maternal maidservant.

Last night, while my eldest was at rehearsal for his Christmas show, I grabbed a green garbage bag and went to town. I threw out every random piece of paper, article of clothing, book, towel, foot wear, etc… The list is endless. I will admit that there were a few cords that looked really important that I hid in a cabinet in my husband’s office. But everything else landed in the Hefty. I took it straight out to the curb and left it for the morning garbage pick-up. As much as i wanted to throw it into the street for dramatic effect, the HOA is really up our butts about everything and I just figured it wouldn’t be worth the angst.

When my son came home, he went to his room to dump his stuff. Then he came joyously bounding into my bathroom where I was brushing my teeth. He thanked me profusely and offered warm hugs and kisses. “For what?” I had to finally inquire.

“For cleaning my room. You’re the best!” He smiled broadly.

“Well, you’re welcome honey,” I said, matching his buoyant tone, “But I didn’t really clean up for you. I just got tired of the chaos. So I threw out everything that wasn’t where it belonged. I love you.” Then I walked into my bedroom, climbed into the bed, turned out the light and did not utter a single word more.

Oh, he tried to get me to engage. But I stood my ground. I kept breathing and reminding myself that good old Aunt Phyllis only had to do this once. He finally gave up and went to bed about a half hour later.

I’m not sure if my actions will have any kind of lasting effect. One can only hope. But even if they don’t, at least it’s a jump start on spring clutter cleaning.

Thank God summer vacation is finally over!

Look closely. Don't those kids look like they're just lovin' vacation?

Look closely. Don't those kids look like they're just lovin' vacation?

Vacationing with kids is not vacationing. It’s parenting in another location without all of your resources.

I want to tattoo that sentence on my forehead so that I, and every parent I meet along the way, will remember that taking a family trip is different from taking a vacation.

I sometimes think that once you become a parent there’s this unwritten rule forbidding you from ever having a truly restful respite until maybe your kids reach college age. The funniest part about all of this is that while we’ve all been members of a family since our inception, none of us had any inkling about how exhausting and stressful family travel actually was until we became parents ourselves.

Think about it. Didn’t you used to treasure family vacations? Did you ever once think that your parents didn’t look forward to those times as much as you did? Hah! Now you know the truth!

Vacation parenting is harder than home parenting. You have no help, first of all. Your regular cadre of baby sitters isn’t available. Your friends aren’t there so you have no one to share those endless hours at the park with. Your kids don’t eat right. They don’t sleep well. They don’t have their favorite toys, books or best buds. Then, if you filter in the expectation piece of the whole thing; this idealistic belief that these are supposed to be the best times in your life, you end up with a perfect recipe for disaster and disappointment.

Now I’m not saying there aren’t great moments that occur during vacations. All I’m saying is that we strive for this unrealistic ideal and then spend an equal amount of time and energy berating ourselves for failing to achieve it. So I’ve compiled a list of 10 guilt free family vacation rules that should help all of us as we start planning for Christmas break:

1. You’re allowed to yell at your kids on vacation and that doesn’t make you a monster.
2. You have the right to put your children to bed at a reasonable hour.
3. You will not scar your children by refusing to buy them ridiculous tourist paraphernalia that you know damn well will never be looked at again after this trip.
4. You are not a bad parent if the thought of one of your children being abducted for a few hours hasn’t momentarily crossed your mind as one way of offering a much needed parenting break. (Of course they always get returned happy and unharmed, even in your most disturbing fantasies.)
5. You are strongly encouraged to say “no” at least three times a day.
6.There is no dessert for breakfast, no matter how convincing your child may be.
7. Baby sitters exist in every city. Get a recommendation from family or friends of a friend and then give yourself a few hours off.
8. Portable DVD players are a good thing. Plant your kids in front of one for an hour and take a nap.
9. Theme parks are for young people. Rent one or bring one with you so that you don’t have to act like you enjoy those horrible, nausea-inducing rides that make your kids giggle oh so gleefully.
10. Hotels and resorts provide kid’s clubs and activities for a reason. Use them!

I guarantee that if you follow my vacation guidelines, you will feel better about yourself as a parent, you will appreciate and enjoy your little ones and all of their mercurial wonder and whimsy, and, most importantly, you may even end up having a good time yourself.