How to Go From Better-Than-Nothing to WAY Better-Than-Nothing on Valentines Day

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Today is Valentine’s Day. My only real excitement on February 14 lies in waking to squeals of delight from my children upon finding the treats I left out for them the night before. This morning, my daughter was particularly excited by the Peppa Pig Beanie Baby I got for her, which brought a big smile to my face because I totally knew I hit the jackpot when I found it in the card store. Apparently, pigs with British accents are all the rage for toddlers nowadays.

The kids’ enthusiasm wore off after about ten minutes (it isn’t exactly Christmas, you know), and then my husband and I exchanged our own treats. After seven years of marriage, I’ve come to expect very little on these cheesy Hallmark Holidays. I find that it successfully avoids unnecessary disappointment and marital arguments. He handed me his classic Valentine’s Day safety net trifecta of roses/card/candy, and I forked over my own card for him. Kiss, kiss, Happy Valentine’s Day, and back to the regular daily routine.

I had to laugh a few minutes later when we were watching the morning news and they were doing a segment on making last minute V-Day gifts look like they were planned out for weeks. The last line of the piece read: “and whatever you do, avoid that cheesy drugstore flowers and candy combo!” To which we both laughed and I added “unless you’ve been married for seven years.”

My husband has never been a big gift-giver or an over-the-top romantic. He proposed to me in the car while driving on the highway, saying “so I was talking to my aunt and she thinks that, since you’re pregnant, maybe we should just get married.” I cried immediately, obviously not because I was so moved by his gesture. And I cried all the way to our dreamy City Hall wedding a few weeks later.

But I don’t blame him. Failed birth control combined with the need for better health insurance never does create the perfect environment for romance. But he set the bar pretty low from the start, and I have learned that the whole mushy-gushy, sweep-her-off-her feet shit just isn’t a requirement, and its absence does not a bad marriage make.

While my little less-than-fairytale romance isn’t exactly one for the books, I’m 100% sure I’m not the only wife who doesn’t bother with high hopes on most gift-giving occasions. Even those who didn’t exchange vows in the same building where ex-cons go to have their urine tested for drugs.

But here’s the thing: since so many married wives have low expectations on Valentine’s Day, it at least gives their husbands an opportunity to catch them off guard by doing something seriously sweet once in a while. I think that, sometimes, guys should toss their “better than nothing” flowers and candy out the window of the same car they proposed in, and do something extra special for the special ladies in their lives. And really, they don’t even have to think that far outside of the box to do it.

Thus I present to you my five, fantastic, WAYYY-better-than-nothing gifts for wives on Valentine’s Day. If there are actually any guys who read my blog, be prepared to slap yourself in the head, coulda-had-a-V8-style, for not thinking of these nifty gifties on your own.

Jewelry. It’s expensive, so I think husbands like to avoid it because they can get away with their wife thinking “oh we can’t afford that right now”. But no one’s telling you to hit her with a diamond from Tiffany’s. It’s 2015, and the timeless gift of jewelry comes in all sizes, shapes, and price tags. From crystal to silver to cubic-Z: it’s ALL better than nothing.

Lingerie. You would expect this type of gift when you first start dating, but it does seem like the last thing a married mother could ever want. Right? Wrong. Think about it. Receiving that type of gift from a husband shows that, after all these years, he still sees his wife as being just as sexy as she was when they were first dating. It’s pretty flattering. She’ll feel like maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t look so bad for a married mom after all. Plus, it might be something extra to look forward to on Valentine’s NIGHT. Wink wink.

Wine or champaign. I mean, if he’s going for an edible gift, it shouldn’t be a gigantic box full of little chocolate regrets. In fact, if you pair some bubbly with #2 on my list, it’s really one hell of a win/win.

Dinner. Either cook it, order it, or take her out for it. Whatever happens, just make sure she doesn’t have to deal with it for at least one night. And for pete’s sake, do the damn dishes after it’s done. And if there’s time, feel free to also sweep, mop, dust, do the laundry, make the beds, scrub the toilets, and clean out the fridge while you’re at it.

Be an even better Dad than usual. There is so much joy in seeing a father make his kids feel special– when he spends time with them, plays with them, shows them how important they are. So on Valentine’s Day, go the extra mile for the kids, too. Take them out to lunch, make a card for Mom together, maybe even pick up a special gift for them too. They’re the littlest Valentines, after all. And honestly, that’s probably one of the most romantic things a man can do for his wife. Because there is NOTHING sexier than a really, really good dad.

Mom Guilt: The Working Parent Edition

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Want to hear something ironic? I work for a parenting magazine, and a huge part of my job is finding fun stuff for people to do with their kids and sharing the stuff I find with the community. But I spend so much time looking for fun stuff other people can do with their kids that it takes a load of time away from me doing fun stuff with MY own kids.

First, let me say this: I love my job. Let me repeat (and not just because my boss may or may not browse through my blogs from time to time), I LOVE my job. I can’t say I’ve ever had a job that I love, doing something that I truly enjoy, and feeling like I am making valuable contributions to society using the skills and creativity that I have always known I possessed. As much fun as it was slinging pastrami sandwiches at a kosher deli in Brooklyn for eight years, it wasn’t exactly my calling.

But this job? This is as close to “my calling” as I’ve ever been. Don’t get me wrong, it comes with quite a bit of stress and pressure, but what job doesn’t? At least, what CAREER doesn’t?

I did the Stay at Home Mom thing for a very long time, and it certainly had its ups and downs. Now that I’m working, I never realized just how much of myself I was available to give to my children when I was literally always available for them. We could pick up and go whenever we wanted. There were no schedules to coordinate, no deadlines looming, no emails to answer first. If we wanted to go to the park, we went. If we were low on groceries, to the supermarket we’d go. If they wanted to watch all three Toy Story Movies in a row, I knew we would just play together later. We were together all the time and they loved it.

And I…liked….it. Kind of. Well, as any Stay at Home Mom will tell you, being around your kids 24/7 can be draining. There are no breaks, no real help from anyone else. It’s on YOU to keep those kids happy around the clock. It’s tough stuff. So when the opportunity arose for me to take a job where I could keep a flexible schedule and often work from home, well, mentally and financially speaking, turning it down was never an option.

So while I’m very familiar with the Stay at Home Mom depression, I’m new to the whole Working Mom guilt. And, boy, is it something else entirely. When I tell people I can work from home, I think they envision this utopian ideal wherein I’m simultaneously baking cookies, overseeing fun craft projects, and emailing my boss all in perfect unison. How lucky I must be, to be able to accomplish so many tasks at once!

Well, in fact, I DO accomplish all of these things at once, but perfection it is NOT.

Allow me to set the scene for you.

It’s 3:30pm on any given weekday. My son is working on his math homework, that hellish Go Math common core homework book open in front of him. He’s crying a little because he doesn’t understand how to solve 15-7 by “making a ten” first. Quite frankly, neither do I, and I’m about to cry along with him. At the same moment, my three-year-old daughter is climbing on my back, shoving her Princess Sofia floor puzzle in my face and begging me to help her finish it. I glance over at the clock and see that if I don’t start dinner soon, I’ll have hunger meltdowns thrown into the mix. So I get up and head to the fridge to start cooking.

I wash and chop and slice and prep while my son reads his “book buddy” to me, hoping he’s actually reading what it says and not just making up random things to avoid using his brain. My daughter lingers dangerously over the cutting board, narrowly missing my razor-sharp knife with her tiny fingers as she tries to reorganize the veggies in a futile attempt to “help” me cook. I stop for a quick minute to check my work email, remembering something important I’d forgotten to do earlier. I see that I have 15 new emails and realize that the thing I forgot to do has spiraled into into an entirely new problem, and I absentmindedly spend another 20 “quick minutes” attempting to rectify it.

Suddenly I hear the sizzle of hot liquid hitting the stove and I realize my potatoes are boiling over, which is my reminder to check the oven and find that I’ve overcooked the crap out of the chicken. I look up and find Princess Sofia puzzle pieces and sliced vegetables strewn about the living room— my daughter’s passive aggressive way of displaying her resentment for my ignoring her. My son hands me his homework to check and I try to explain that “We bilted a snwmn” is spelled incorrectly, which immediately prompts a tantrum because, according to him, it IS spelled correctly and I’m the MEANEST MOM EVER and he just wants to go play video games but I WON’T LET HIM and his homework is DONE…..

And then my night-shift-working husband emerges from hibernation, bitching about us all making too much noise and waking him up, and wanting to know why the house smells like burnt chicken.

Fast forward a few hours; dinner is done, baths are done, husband’s off to work, kids are tucked in bed. And me? I’m on the couch, laptop open, typing away—finally able to get some work done.

The sad part is that I actually AM lucky to be able to do this with my family because I’m home from work in time to make dinner and oversee homework. Some working parents don’t get home until well after the kids are sleeping. And as insane as the afternoons with my family are, it’s a whole other type of insanity when you don’t even get to see your kids during the day at all.

The part I hate is when my daughter looks at me with her heart-meltingly innocent baby blue eyes and asks me “mommy can you play with me?” and I have to say no because I have work to do. Or when my son’s school sends home a note about yet ANOTHER school fair and I try to move heaven and earth to make it there, every single time, because I never want to let him down.  Or when I’m up very late, typing away into the wee hours of the night, and it causes me to wake up like Oscar the Grouch, ready to bite the head off of anyone who dares to ask me for plain Cheerios after I’ve already poured milk on an entire bowl of the honey-nut ones.

Sometimes I worry that my kids’ happiest childhood memories will be overshadowed by mental images of Mommy hiding behind a computer screen.

I love that I love my job. I don’t know how many people can say that and mean it, but I love having a job I enjoy, a job I’m proud to do. And financially speaking, I REALLY love that I can finally start putting some money away to someday, somehow, possibly, hopefully, maybe be able to afford my family’s first real home. Or our first trip to Disney. Or maybe even start up a college fund (well, after I’m done paying for my own college loans).

As stressed as I feel most of the time, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I’m sacrificing a lot, I know. But I do believe that in the end, it’s worth it.

I just wish it wouldn’t feel like my kids are the ones making the biggest sacrifice. Hopefully someday they’ll understand why.

Winter: 10 Things I Hate About You

sled (2)I used to really like the winter. At least, I felt like enjoying winter was a requirement of anyone who despises the summer. Like you can hate one, but not the other. Otherwise, you’re just a complainer.

Well, screw that. I AM a complainer. I own it. If I want to hate the summer, I’m gonna hate the summer. If I want to loathe winter, I’ll do that too. Hell, if I want to go outside one day in the middle of May and trample on a bunch of spring flowers, or maybe smash some giant pumpkins in the street sometime in October, I’ll do that as well. Screw the seasons. All four of them. Yea, I said it.

But since it’s winter, and most people hate the shit out of winter, I figured I’d dedicate a blog post to it and maybe give the people what they want. Plus, the Super Bowl is on right now and I need something productive to keep me busy in between the commercial breaks, and blogging about the weather seems productive enough.

Dear Winter. You suck. Here is why:

1. I always spend more time dressing my kids in snowsuits, coats, hats, gloves, boots, scarves, two layers of pants, three pairs of socks, and two shirts with an extra sweatshirt than they spend actually playing in the snow. Like, wayyyy longer. And it just doesn’t seem fair.
2. Not every type of snow yields decent results when building a snowman. The light, powdery, fluffy stuff is impossible to roll into a ball. But the kids don’t understand that and want to know why we’re building a “snow lump” instead.
3. Have you ever dragged children around on a sled, cross-country style, in the freezing cold? Maybe it’s fun for some people, but an Olympic athlete I am not. I’m usually huffing and puffing worse than an 85-year-old chain smoker by the end of my block, meanwhile my kids are begging me to “pull faster!”
4. There is no graceful way to slip on ice. There’s a painful way, a mortifying way, and an ass-bruising way, but no graceful way. Except maybe if you’re Kate Upton.
5. Shoveling. Because potentially throwing your back out and/or risking potential cardiac arrest beats the dangers of an icy walkway. Right? Right??
6. No one wins with board games. NO ONE. Young kids holding tiny game pieces + everyone being forced to take turns + someone having to lose eventually = mommy chugging wine before noon.
7. This might be mostly an NYC thing, but getting a parking spot is a pain in the ass enough on its own, without having to worry about needing four-wheel drive to be able to pull out of it.
8. After Christmas, wintertime holidays are nothing special. I mean, they’re great excuses to get a day off, but I work from home on those holidays anyway. And don’t get me started on the most pointless holiday in the whole damn calendar: Valentine’s Day.
9. There is no deeper hell on earth than a nasty mid-winter stomach virus sweeping violently through your home, complete with green-tinted children and vomit-covered couch cushions. And of course, the promise that you’re up next!
10. I’m not a fan of facial pain. That’s right, facial pain. You know, the kind of pain you feel when it’s so fucking horribly cold outside that it literally makes your FACE HURT? Well, I don’t enjoy that.

For argument’s sake, the winter does have its moments. You can drop off and pick up your children from school without a bra on and no one will ever know. Trips to the park are entirely off limits. The sun sets about ten seconds after it rises, so you can put your kids to bed as early as you want. The phony conversations you have when you run into acquaintances are cut short because everyone is freezing their asses off. That being said, I’m still looking forward to the end of this winter. I doubt I’m alone in that.