My Kids Don’t Love Nature Like I Do

mice
These guys are so darned CUTE!

I’ve always had an unusual fascination with wildlife. Growing up, I not only had multiple dogs and cats, but also birds, hamsters, gerbils and mice.

I majored in Biology (of course). I have excellent memories of camping with my Mammalogy 101 class right outside the mouth of a bat cave in northern Vermont. Junior year, my Evolutionary Biology professor noticed my overzealousness and invited me to spend a few summer weeks in the Arizona desert catching geckos by the tail (he was gathering data on tail-regeneration). I declined, because my boyfriend would be in Connecticut all summer (Stupid! I should have chosen the geckos.).

You get the picture. I was really into weird nature stuff that most girls don’t like.

So, naturally, I assumed my kids would be just as fascinated as I am. I have two boys, and boys are supposed to get into that kind of thing, right? What I’ve come to realize is that you can’t convince someone to be a nature lover. But God help me, I’ve tried.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gleefully purchased wildlife-lover items for my kids hoping they’ll find bugs and nature as compelling as I do. Without fail, after half-heartedly feigning interest, my kids cease to notice these “projects” and go back to their Legos, Nintendo DS’s and iPods. Sadly, I’m saddled with keeping these creatures alive while they languish in their various containers (“habitat” is a cruel distortion of the truth in every instance I’m about to describe).

The African Dwarf Frogs lasted almost two godforsaken years in their little self-contained aquatic cube/prison. You only needed to feed them once every few days, so when the first one finally died, I found it afloat on the surface with the other frog shooting daggers at me with its eyes. The second one gave up hope immediately afterwards and died within a week. No one was upset (not even me). I’m not sure the kids even remembered we had frogs after the first week they’d been in our house.

The praying mantis egg case in the little netted cube habitat was, seemingly, a dud. I glued it onto a stick as instructed, and we checked on that damned thing every two or three hours for two weeks. Even I had given up hope. Then, on the day I’d resigned myself to admitting defeat and tossing it into the garbage, I awoke to find – I kid you not – about 300 newborn centimeter-long mantises crawling around in that container. The kids found it fascinating for exactly 6.5 minutes and then ran off to claim their Pop-Tarts.

The praying mantis episode sort of ran me ragged. I had to get rid of all but one of the teeny tiny mantises within a day, unless we wanted to witness them killing and eating each other (in retrospect, maybe that would’ve captured the kids’ interest). I released them into the yard, and the one I kept became my every-waking-moment obsession for the next three months.

Mantises grow slowly, and they ONLY. EAT. LIVE. FOOD. Each morning, my husband giggled and smirked through the window at me as I traipsed around the yard, cursing and swatting mosquitoes away from my face as I searched for tiny aphids and baby inchworms. Finally, I resorted to purchasing flightless fruit flies from Petco.

Yes, this is the explanation for why a person would actually shell out cash for a small container full of maggots.  Tweet: Yes, this is the explanation for why someone would actually shell out cash for a small container full of maggots. http://ctt.ec/d1ybp+

The mantis only grew to about an inch long before he was accidentally murdered by a friend to whom I’d entrusted his care while we vacationed on Cape Cod (In truth, his death was likely due to a change in environment. That’s what I told her anyway – she was riddled with guilt.). Thank God that was over.

I end this diatribe with my current dismal situation. Christmas before last, I purchased a “self-cleaning” fish tank made by those damned “As Seen On TV” people. You can already see where this is going, can’t you? When the algae on the sides of the tank began to obstruct the view of the colorful Betta fish inside, I did some googling and purchased a couple of Inca Gold snails. I now must not only feed the fish its pellets, but must remember to throw in occasional bits of blanched cucumber to keep the snails happy (because, of course, snails don’t survive on algae alone).

self clean tank
“Self-cleaning” fish tank.

The system isn’t exactly working. For some reason, the snails are now slacking off on their algae cleaning jobs (too fat and happy on the cucumber bits?), and I can’t really even see the fish unless I look down into the tank from above. Why do these damned things live so long???

My husband is totally mortified that we even have this green-slimed container in the house, and he keeps pleading, “Just get rid of the fish for God’s sake! Put it outside!” (it’s 20 degrees today). But I can’t. At heart, I’m still a lover of all living things and it’s my duty to keep this guy swimming until his natural death.

Betta fish are pretty hardy though. I’m thinking he can probably make it just fine while we’re gone on vacation next week and the house is lowered to 50 degrees.

Much to the horror of my husband, my younger son just asked for a bearded dragon for his next birthday. I am in serious and dire need of an intervention, friends.. Please remind me about how this will end badly, because I’ve already caught myself perusing bearded dragon care and feeding sites online.


 

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My Sweet Husband’s Attempt at Failure

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 2.44.42 PMAs I pick up the lasagna pan my husband hand-washed after dinner last night from the drying rack, a realization hits me. It’s entirely possible that my husband is either intentionally or subconsciously terrible at cleaning things so that I’ll just do it myself.

Hasn’t this ever occurred to you?

I’m not knocking the fact that he regularly assumes clean up duty after dinner. Because it seems genuine. He knows I spent the past hour or so prepping the dinner, cooking it and dishing it out to our family. So it’s lovely that he offers to clean up afterwards.

Except the stuff he washes isn’t clean. At all. It’s like having your toddler help you with the dishes. In theory, you have to allow and encourage them to help, because they do need that training. But you have to wash everything over again when they’re not looking.

Does he even understand that you have to use hot water and detergent to cut through oil and grease? It’s as if he treats the self-soaping dish sponge as a magic wand – you simply need to wave it in the general direction of the greasy pot or casserole dish and – Voilà! Clean! Into the drying rack it goes with all its greasy brothers and sisters.

He catches me inspecting his shoddy work and pulling still-oily items from the drying rack to re-wash them. He smiles sheepishly and says, “What, honey? I didn’t do that one to your liking?” and gives me a smack on the rear or a quick hug as he chuckles and watches my face to see if I’m truly upset or just faking it.

Adding to the frustration of the unclean cookware, the sink itself has to be cleaned when he’s done. Bits of spaghetti sauce and pasta fragments are left clinging to the sides and bottom of the stainless sink in a maddening layer of quick-dry food/cement. How hard is it to just rinse off the mess and swipe a soapy sponge around the sink after washing the dishes? Aha! – Another reason for me to take over the dishwashing duties altogether.

The truth is, I don’t even care if he’s doing it on purpose or not. I appreciate that the man works like a dog for this family in the trenches of his workplace every day. And he does perform some household cleaning activities perfectly adequately. He’s an enthusiastic and thorough vacuumer and a truly respectable folder of clean laundry, both tasks I dread. So I’ll give him a pass on the dishwashing for now.

Don’t get me started on toilets, though… That, sadly, will be my responsibility until one of us dies.


 

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Trying Harder to Embrace My Mess

5942e74e5312d286c5f215328d1d3fa2My good friend and neighbor (I’ll call her “Suzanne” to protect her anonymity) invited me over yesterday to catch up over coffee. Our kids are school aged so we manage to do this every few weeks, at one of our houses or at our favorite coffee hangout in town.

I walked through her front after shoving the kids off to school and she immediately said, as she hugged me, “I am so sorry about the state of my house. Please just ignore it and pretend you don’t see it.”

I walked through her foyer and saw kids’ boots piled by the front door and two pairs of snowpants hanging over the adjacent dining room chairs to dry. As I entered her kitchen I saw on her island a few scattered piles: a six-inch stack of mail and catalogs, a few kids’ books, her dog’s leash and a few poop bags. Also a box of goldfish crackers and two cereal boxes from the morning’s activities. There were juice glasses and a few bowls next to the sink from breakfast.

My eyes moved next to the collection of papers on Suzanne’s kitchen table – remnants of one of her kids’ art projects, with some scissors, a roll of tape and scraps of colored construction paper. A box of magic markers was next to that pile, with a bottle of glue.

From where I sat at the kitchen table, I could see the family room looked,… well… like the Tasmanian devil had torn through it. There was a carnival-prize sized stuffed elephant on the coffee table, a “Star Wars” blanket thrown in a pile on the sofa, a “Frozen” sleeping bag and a pillow on the other sofa, and a half assembled Lego set on the floor in front of the television.

This clutter is one of the many reasons I adore this woman. Although she always apologizes profusely about the state of her household when I walk in her front door, she regularly invites me in ANYWAY.

Who do we think we’re kidding when we make our homes a semblance of perfection before we let our friends walk in the door?

At my house, I’m running around like a lunatic 30 minutes before friends arrive. I’m stuffing papers into random desk drawers, stashing the kids’ school planners and homework binders into the mudroom closet, and carrying 15 pairs of shoes and boots from the foyer upstairs into my bedroom. I’ve been known to put dirty cereal bowls and mugs into a dishwasher full of unemptied clean dishes just to hide the evidence.

My house is clean, mind you (I have an OCD tendency that causes me to run out of toilet bowl cleaner more often than is reasonable, even by Merry Maids standards), but many of my home’s surfaces are cluttered with “life” byproducts. Sometimes it’s hard to see the floors of my kids’ rooms. My solution is to just close their doors.

Why do most women I know insist on hiding that we’re real people leading real, messy, busy lives? Why do we fear the judgment of people we consider our friends when we invite them into our homes and cars? The “perfect household” illusion perpetuates status competition among women who should be letting that stuff go and supporting each other in every way possible.

I love the fact that Suzanne won’t let her fear of judgment hold her back from welcoming me and her other friends into her space. She’s decided to be real and to not care who sees it. And if I’m the kind of person who judges her based on superficial and esoteric criteria, maybe I then self-select myself right out of her friendship circle. Because why would she want a friend like that?

Being in Suzanne’s home, with all of its evidences of a busy and thriving family life, makes me feel happier about my own reality. My house looks just like hers does almost every single day (unless I’m having dinner guests – I can’t help myself; I clean and de-clutter like a madwoman). Many days, I look at the plane crash disaster that is my kitchen and feel woefully inadequate. How can I be a full time stay-at-home parent and not have time to keep my house looking “orderly”? And when I go to a friend’s house and see that it almost looks as if it’s been staged for a real estate showing, I feel oh so much worse.

Suzanne’s house makes me feel less anxious and more confident that I’m focusing on the right things in my life and in my family household. I’d rather spend time helping my kids organize their homework, further their artistic experimentation, and encourage them to pick up that book again and read it by having it constantly within eyeshot.

This illusion of household maintenance perfection is one we are too often compelled to admire and perpetuate. Suzanne decided not to play the game. I admire her for it. She’s a great inspiration to me.

I’m still working on my own compulsions and fear of judgment, and I have a long way to go. But just this morning, inspired by my time with Suzanne yesterday, I left the Time magazine I was reading last night out on the kitchen table and my used coffee mug out on the counter.

It’s a start.


 

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Ready to Work Again, Momma? Here’s How to Get the Job You Really Want.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.55.08 PMIf you’ve been off the career track for a few years while staying home to raise a family, finding the path back into the work world can be overwhelming. Whether it’s part-time or full-time work you’re seeking, it’s hard to know where to start and how to secure fulfilling job that will set you back on your chosen career path.

The first thing many women do is hop onto job boards (such as SimplyHired.com, Indeed.com, or CareerBuilder.com) and begin searching for jobs in their local area. This can work, but rather than wait for jobs to be posted on those boards, there are some more proactive things you can do to beat the rest of the competition to the punch and find a job that is perfectly suited to you.

First, update your resume. Even if you’ve been a stay at home parent for years, you should have your resume in “ready to go” condition. You haven’t just been sitting at home up to your eyebrows in diapers and crayons all this time. You’ve been managing a household and even volunteering for causes you care about (church groups, school PTO, etc.). Be proud of those activities and find ways to showcase them on your resume.

If you don’t have a profile on LinkedIn, create one. These days, LinkedIn is essential. It’s like having an online resume, but you can choose what you display publicly (to people you haven’t accepted as “connections”) and what you keep private. If you can, contact your former colleagues and ask them to write recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. (In return, you can offer to write recommendations on their LinkedIn profiles, but only if you were honestly impressed with their skills!)

Check your Facebook privacy settings. This is important. These days, one of the first things potential employers do is search for applicants on Facebook. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t have a care in the world about who sees your political rants and drunken summer barbeque party pictures on Facebook, you need to care right now. This matters a lot to most prospective employers. Remember, even if you change your general privacy settings now, the stuff you posted in the past that was public remains public unless you go back to each post and change it. So do that, pronto!

Make a list of employers in your area for whom you’d like to work. Don’t rule any of them out because you think they wouldn’t be interested in a mom who’s paused her career path for a few years. Roll up your sleeves and do your internet research. Then, find contact information for the key people in hiring roles at each company. You can call them up and ask for the name and email address of the head of Human Resources, or you can often find that information on their corporate websites.

Write a personalized cover letter to key hiring individuals. Tell them specifically why you’re interested in working for them. Be sure to add some key detail from your research that will prove to them that you’ve done your homework to learn about their mission or business goals. Tell them, why you think your skills or background could benefit them in some way. Don’t forget to close your letter with your contact information, and tell them that you plan to follow up within a couple of weeks with a phone call. Then, in a couple of weeks, follow up with a phone call! Even if they have no current openings that match your skills, this will likely make a positive and memorable impression on the individual you’ve contacted, and it increases the likelihood that they’ll save your information, remember you and contact you about a future opening.

Consider part time work. Some employers may have a hard time finding someone who only wants to work part time. Most recent college graduates will rule out a part time position immediately. That could work to your advantage. The position could very well grow into a full time position.

Network with as many people as possible. Let people know you’re interested in finding work. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, and tell your book group. If you know of people who do the kind of work you’re interested in, reach out to them and offer to take them to coffee or lunch. Ask them about their employers and how they found their jobs. That person might be likely to recommend you for a position if it opens up at their workplace or if they move on to a different job and need to hire someone to fill theirs.

Consider registering with a temporary staffing firm. Employers often mitigate the danger of hiring the wrong person by “test driving” an employee for a period of time through a temporary agency before hiring them directly.

Don’t grab the first job that comes your way if it’s not what you want. If you’ve been offered a position, give serious consideration to how it will position you for potential job growth. Will it be a meaningful addition to your resume in terms of skill development, or possibly a stepping stone along the career path you want? Don’t take a job just to have a job. You’ll regret it if the right job comes along a few months down the line, and you don’t want to be viewed as a “job hopper.” A reputation like that can catch up to you and burn your chances with prospective employers.

Finally, don’t sell yourself short, girlfriend. Just because you’ve taken a detour from your career path to do the worthwhile work of spending time with your family doesn’t mean your skills are irrelevant and useless. Although there are many, many fresh and newly graduated college applicants vying for jobs, many employers are seeking someone with experience, maturity and a proven track record. Keep your chin up, and your attitude positive. If you follow these suggestions, you will find yourself back in the work groove sooner than you think.


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