Adventures in House Hunting Hell: A Tale From the Archives

Several years ago, Thomas and I embarked on our first house hunting journey. We had decided we had had enough of trying to cram all of our (kids’) junk into 1350 square feet (125 square meters for my non-American audience.) We figured if we didn’t act soon, we might be approached to appear on “Hoarders.” However, rather than get rid of unnecessary belongings, we decided to consider the more reasonable option  – buy a bigger house.

The first house we made an appointment to view was highly promising – 5 bedrooms, remodeled kitchen, pool, palm tree out front: the California dream. As we drove to the house to meet the realtor, I felt the excitement brewing inside me. Finally, we’d have space for all of our stuff, the kids could have their own rooms, I could float on a raft in the pool after putting up the Christmas tree – the day dreams were endless.

As we toured our dream house, we found a few things were slightly different than expected. The bedrooms were a little on the small side, except for the large downstairs bedroom which had apparently been “upgraded” into a bonus room. That was ok, though, since half of the garage had been converted to the fifth bedroom. It would have been helpful to see this garage/bedroom, however, this part of the home would have to be bought sight unseen; the occupant was taking a nap and could not be disturbed.

While I was wondering if the garage inhabitant was included in the price of the house, Thomas was being attacked by swarming gnats next to the pool. A quick look over the backyard wall revealed the source of the infestation – a massive storm drain. The owner, for her part, made a valiant attempt to convince us that in all her time living there she’d never been seen these kamikaze gnats. I have a feeling those gnats and their cousins in the front yard would be offended by that statement. Actually, the gnats weren’t the only backyard surprise. While some sellers entice prospective buyers with the scent of freshly baked cookies in the kitchen, we were treated to the smell of freshly laid dog poop. We decided to keep looking.

It turns out all was not lost. A few days later we found another home that looked like a good match: four bedrooms, new flooring, big backyard and no storm drain. As we pulled up, we noticed the extra-wide driveway.  This would be perfect for Thomas, whose true dream is to park a broken down RV in the driveway and use it as a “man-cave.” He came up with this idea after realizing that no room at home is safe from the girls and their Barbies. Now that I think about it, maybe we can both move into the RV and let the girls have the house.

Unfortunately our RV fantasy was not meant to be. All the pavement in the front and backyard of the house was severely cracked, meaning the RV would probably sink underground with the next earthquake. On the other hand, a subterranean bunker could be useful I suppose. As we entered the property, the realtor explained to us that investors who were flipping this foreclosure had put in brand new flooring.  These investors were definitely family minded – the carpet was a familiar color that can only be described as “Already Dirty – Gray”. This was a good trick to help the prospective buyer’s budget. After all, if your new carpet already looked like the kids had roughed it up, then there was no point in ever cleaning it, right? That’s how you stay ahead of the game.

The garage offered its own dilemma; not only was there room for only one appliance (leaving us to debate whether the washer or the dryer was more important) but the smell of gas was overpowering. It was so strong that I quickly ushered everyone out for fear any escaping remnants of our Cajun dinner might torpedo us to outer space.  The gnats were starting to look better.  Yet, before I could pitch the benefits of gnats and garage-living to Thomas, common sense slowly took over.  It looked like we would need to forget the RV for now. Thomas would just have to put up a tent in the garden.  Besides I had just gone through a labor-intensive move at work… from the coat closet I was squatting in to a full-sized office down the hall. I would need to recover before I could start thinking about packing boxes again.

EPILOGUE: Two years later we found the strength to once again attempt to find a house. This time, with a bit of patience, nail biting, anti-depressants, alcohol and good luck we did eventually find a gnat-free house without a gas leak or random dude living in the garage. More on that story to come later…

What Kind of Parent are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out.

I’m a bad parent. There, I said it. No matter how much I want to be a good parent, I usually end up either yelling at my kids, drinking alcohol or staring at my iPhone. Sometimes, I even manage to do all three at the same time. If you are not sure how you are doing as a parent and would like some honest feedback, then take this quiz. (Note that if you end up with the result of “douchebag parent”, I probably know you and will see you at next month’s PTA meeting. Don’t worry, the results of this quiz are anonymous.)

1. Your daughter makes the school honor roll, you

A) Are proud of her. Her hard work is paying off.

B) Run out and stick the “My child is an honor roll student” bumper sticker on your minivan. Now all the PTA moms at drop off and pick up will be secretly jealous.

C) Are irritated that she still got a few B’s. Your competitive streak might be getting a little out of hand. You wonder if there is medication to help wackos like you. In the meantime, you find those third graders that got straight A’s and challenge them to a duel.

2. It’s time for your child to choose an instrument for the school music class, and he chooses the trumpet, you

A) Tell him that’s a great idea. What a fun instrument!

B) Enroll him in private lessons 5 days a week, so you can brag to your friends and everyone in the supermarket about how well he plays.

C) Try to convince him to play the flute instead. Trumpets are too loud and you’ve got your nerves to worry about. When he complains, you offer to let him switch out the flute for the triangle. Hey, the triangle is a respectable instrument!

3. Both you and your kid take karate lessons. You:

A) Love that you have found an activity you can bond over.

B) Make her wear her karate gi and belt to school so everyone will be impressed by her clear martial arts superiority. You decide to wear your gi and belt to the next PTA meeting for the same reason.

C) Accidentally split her lip while teaching her some sparring moves. After the bleeding stops, you try to console her by showing her all the bruises you got from your lessons last week. Two years later she still hasn’t let you live that down.

4. Your 7 year old has started putting on makeup every day, you:

A) Let her wear it around the house but explain that she’s too young to wear it in public.

B) Take head shots and send them to the nearest modeling agency. You can’t wait until everyone sees her in the next Walmart ad.

C) Get her to teach you how she does that neat thing with the eye shadow.

5. Your kids’ rooms are a mess, you:

A) Patiently explain that this is unacceptable and supervise them as they clean up. You help put away those toys that go on the top shelves.

B) Put everything away yourself. The Mom’s Club is coming over, and you want them to think your kids are neater than their kids.

C) Yell and scream. When this doesn’t work, you yell and scream louder and threaten to throw everything out that is cluttering your house. When your kids finally start cleaning up, you find at least ten items that have been missing for months, including the remote control. At least you can finally watch tv again.

6. Your children take swimming lessons in the summer. You,

A) Watch their progress at every lesson and cheer them on.

B) Take a video of another kid doing the butterfly and pretend it’s yours. No one can tell who that is in the water anyway, so your deception will never be revealed.

C) Watch the first five minutes and then drift off for the rest of the hour. You gotta sleep where you can; yelling at your kids all morning was exhausting.

7. Your child is hungry for breakfast. She asks for pancakes, you:

A) Show her how to make them herself and watch patiently as she spills flour all over your freshly cleaned kitchen floor. No worries; that’s why they invented vacuum cleaners.

B) Ignore the request and instead spend 2 hours making a “European” gourmet breakfast that your kid and the rest of the family hate. You then post the pictures on social media. Damn, you’re good.

C) Throw some frozen pancakes in the microwave but forget to turn it on, because you got distracted by the text message you just received. You admit you’re not good at multitasking.

8. Every night you,

A) Read at least 20 minutes with your child. It’s been proven that reading with children leads to success.

B) Falsify his school reading log so it looks like he reads 4 hours a day. His teacher will be so impressed!

C) Drink wine while you and your kid watch Wheel of Fortune. C’mon, people, that show involves reading! Good thing you found the remote.

9. You find out someone is bullying your kid before school, you:

A) Talk to the school principal and the bully’s parents to try to resolve the issue.

B) Cry to anyone who will listen about how your baby is being treated unfairly.

C) Tell your kid to jump out of the bushes and ambush the bully. Those karate lessons are expensive, so you mind as well get your money’s worth.

10. Your 11 year old wants you to teach the class’s volunteer art lessons for the third year in a row. However, her class is full of psychos who have managed to traumatize all the teachers they’ve had since kindergarten. You,

A. Agree to do it. In a few years, she won’t want you anywhere near her friends.

B. Bribe the class with homemade cupcakes. Make sure the yearbook committee shows up for the photo op.

C. Do it, but jump out of the bushes the next day and scare the crap out of everyone who didn’t listen. The principal forbids you from ever teaching art lessons again.

Scoring:

Mostly A’s – You are a great parent and undoubtedly played classical music for your kids when they were babies. Why are you taking this stupid quiz? Go do something productive as usual.

Mostly B’s – Congratulations, you are a complete douchebag. Like you, your kid is a sniveling brat with no friends. Maybe if the school bully slaps you a few times, you’ll wake up to reality.

Mostly C’s – Like me, you stink as a parent. You love your kids, but you’re too exhausted to have much patience. On the bright side, at least you recognize your shortcomings. That should count for something, right? Consider checking yourself into therapy and, in the meantime, don’t teach art.

Suck It, Crafters

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Everyone knows that to be a good mother, you must spend hours crafting with your kids. Thanks to modern inventions like blogs and Pinterest, crafting has risen from hobby to absolute requirement. This proves problematic if you are afflicted with crappy small motor coordination (known in medical circles as “CSMC”) and are from Generation X, meaning you were unaware of the crafting movement when you were trying to get pregnant. 

Had I understood that crafting skills would one day be the barometer in measuring my competency as a mother, I certainly would have planned my future differently. Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that I would have chosen better birth control. I like my kids more than 50% of the time, which statistically-speaking, means they’re keepers. What I am suggesting is that I probably would have pursued a double major in college, supplementing my B.A. in Economics with a degree in Craft Shit.

On second thought, who am I kidding? Even Upper Division craft classes couldn’t help me conquer my CSMC. Because of my two left thumbs, I can’t cut a straight line with scissors or even fold a piece of paper in half neatly. I failed a summer school origami class when I was 7. In high school I never volunteered to make the bubble letters on spirit signs, because my bubble letters ended up squished on one side of the sign. I’ve never admitted this publicly until now, but my husband wraps Christmas presents better than I do.

Speaking of Christmas, my two daughters got a “style your own headband” kit last December (from one of my best friends no less…clearly she was pissed off at me about something). Using this kit, you were theoretically able to decorate plain headbands with lace, bows, ribbons and jewels. When I tried to help my 10-year old, I ended up with gobs of glue everywhere. As my daughter sulked in disappointment and I tried to peel glue off my body, my 6-year old took pity on us and neatly pasted a dainty piece of ribbon along the entire outside of my 10-year old’s headband. At least somebody in the family was qualified to be a mother.

As the reality of my incompetence sunk in, I knew it was time to take action. I needed a new approach if I was going to go head to head with the crafting mothers of the world.  I can’t tie bows, but I can create a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points, text boxes and process flows. So, suck it crafters. My kids and I aren’t going to build a birdhouse out of twigs and plant-matter we picked out together on our morning family nature hike and then decorate it with sequins. We’re going to sit in front of our computer with a cup of coffee and make slides in PowerPoint, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, we might even make ourselves a second cup of coffee and write some exciting formulas in Excel.

And when we’re through, we’ll pop a few Lean Cuisines in the microwave. Did I mention I can’t cook either?

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Good Parents Don’t Play Monopoly

 

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It’s a universal truth that I am a crappy parent. I yell; I have little patience; I sometimes use bad language when I’m yelling with little patience; and the biggest of all telltale signs of a bad parent, I played Monopoly with my kids…and was ruthless.

Let’s be honest, Monopoly is not for the faint of heart. It’s a high-stakes, cutthroat game. You purchase as many properties as possible with the ultimate goal of staying out of jail while building a bunch of cheap, plastic, substandard housing units and bankrupting the heck out of everyone who is forced to pay you rent.

My 10-year old, Elizabeth, who is a sweet kid and naïve to the ways of economic power plays, discovered my dusty old Monopoly game from the 1970’s a few months ago and embarked on a campaign to convince me to play it with her.

This is not a game that children should play with adults. Actually, it’s not a game that adults should play at all. If you get pleasure financially ruining those around you, you most likely have a prosperous career in Corporate America and don’t need validation through the board game. You don’t have time to move a shoe from Marvin Gardens to Pennsylvania Avenue. In fact, you already missed three important calls in the time it took you to tell your kids to take a hike.

 If you need validation through the board game, you were probably passed up for that last promotion and are passive-aggressive. Go directly to Therapy; do not pass Go and no, you can’t collect your $200. Well, at least that was what you got in the 70’s; no idea what inflation has increased the payout to in today’s version.

If you are neither of the above but have a highly competitive nature, resist any temptation to play Monopoly. Instead, use your powers for good (e.g. to brainwash your colleagues at work into believing you know what you’re doing and following your lead.) Whatever you do, do not let your kids persuade you to play “just this one time.”

For weeks I endured plea after plea, which increasingly characterized me as a negligent parent who deprived her children of important family bonding rituals like game nights (where the game is, of course, Monopoly). This was worse noise pollution that the compulsive office whistler who worked at my company last year. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fire my kids or even send them to Human Resources for a warning.

Finally, beaten-down, guilt-ridden and in a state of weakened common sense, I gave in. Giddy at their victory, my kids pulled out the game and immediately started arguing over who got to be the dog. We settled the issue with a dice roll, which Elizabeth won and then promptly forfeited; after all that, she decided she’d rather be the car. Go figure. With the initial drama of the game behind us, they helped me set up the board as I explained the rules.

For the first hour of the land grab, it looked like my little 6-year old, Corinne, was going to mop the floor with us. She had wisely purchased several key properties and had a continuous inflow of rent. I beamed with pride at my offspring’s prowess. Although she wasn’t able to obtain all the properties of any one color and therefore couldn’t properly inflict financial doom on us, she clearly had potential.  I nurtured a secret hope that she might be our meal ticket when we hit retirement.

By the end of the second hour, the tide had turned in my favor. I had, without cheating, managed to secure Park Place and Boardwalk. I put three houses on each, sat back and waited for the inevitable. With my opponents’ (I mean, kids’) bankruptcies just around the corner, I almost turned into the office whistler myself.

To her great misfortune, Elizabeth landed on Boardwalk almost immediately. Sans sufficient cash on hand or enough property to mortgage in order to pay me the rent due, I made her an offer that she couldn’t refuse. She did refuse. The evening just took a turn for the worse.

Now, to be fair, I didn’t put the head of a horse or even the head of her favorite stuffed animal in her bed. I did, however, pick up my cell phone and pretend to call my “hired help”.

 In retrospect, I suppose I went a little too far. While Elizabeth sobbed at the table and I apologized profusely for my cold-blooded collection tactics, Corinne smartly decided she was getting out of the game before I took her down too.  As the scene progressed, my husband shook his head knowingly and explained that he had endured a similar fate while playing Monopoly with his father when he was Elizabeth’s age. He sympathized with her plight.

I finally managed to convince Elizabeth that my Godfather-esque offer (to take 2 of her properties and most of her money) was a well-meaning effort to allow her to stay in the game rather than flat-out bankrupt her. I conveniently left out the part about the perverse pleasure I got from dragging out the game when I was ahead. As her crying subsided, I realized that before ever playing another game of Monopoly, I should go directly to Therapy; do not pass Go.

 

Computer Compassion

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A few years ago my mom sat me down to ask me a question. Given her serious tone and the fact that uncomfortable conversations in my family often start with “a question”, frantic thoughts began racing through my mind. Had she discovered I’d tried smoking? Oh wait, that already happened….high school flashback. No, from her voice, I could tell it was certainly something graver.

After a few seconds it hit me. My palms got clammy as I realized my cover was blown. Somehow she had figured out the dark secret I’d been hiding from my family, my neighbors and all the PTA moms: I’m a negligent parent and, gulp, I sometimes forget to send the kids to school without breakfast or jackets or, on really negligent days, both.

I was about to break out into tears and several mea culpas about my pathetic parenting when my mom jumped in with her question, and to my relief, I realized the conversation was taking a far different..though probably equally disturbing… turn. She wanted to know about technology.

You see, as my mom explained, she had been chatting with her friend Diane  who, according to my mom, is “really good with computers.” What came next left me speechless.

Apparently Diane had told her it was possible to do something called “copying” and “pasting”. Fascinated by this possibility, my mother wanted to know if I knew what this was and if so, if could teach her how to work this magic.

This was the last thing I expected. As my mind raced to determine the appropriate response, I’m pretty sure this was the look on my face.

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Clearly I was in a quandary. I was torn between laughing at how impressed she was by this advancement in modern technology and crying at the realization of how hard her life must have been through this point without the ability to copy and paste.

Luckily I managed to reign in my emotions and did neither. Instead, composing myself, I took the road of compassion and answered her question seriously. After all, I’m no spring chicken myself and will certainly have to ask Elizabeth and Corinne these same kinds of questions. When these moments happen, I would prefer they show similar restraint.

In fact, I think these moments are closer than I’d care to admit. This is based on the fact that I’ve already started losing my mind and, as recent studies have shown, failing to grasp technological concepts closely follows the loss of one’s mind. (This is not to say my mom is nuts…she reads my posts and I still want Christmas presents, so I am definitely, absolutely, positively not saying this.)

My decent into insanity became evident a few months ago when I tried opening my office door at work with my car remote. This was particularly disturbing since my office door doesn’t even have a lock. A few weeks later I tried to use the remote control for my garage door at home to enter the parking structure at work.

I would like to openly blame my children on a daily basis for driving me over the edge, but have come to the conclusion that if I do this, they will conveniently not teach me how to copy and paste. I’m safe as long as they don’t read my blog.

Corporate Dream Careers

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In Elizabeth’s elementary school yearbook, the pictures of the graduating sixth graders are complemented by a blurb stating each child’s anticipated profession.  Some common ones are movie star, football player and astronaut. While certainly great dreams, these aren’t necessariy the most realstic goals, statistically speaking. I fear that when these children compare their yearbook blurbs to their actual jobs in 30 years, there may be some disappointment.

To avoid this outcome, there should be a better understanding of all the dream-worthy, yet realistic, jobs out there that kids can aspire to. Elizabeth is only in 5th grade, but to help her and her friends understand the true breadth of fascinating professions before it’s time to commit to their dream jobs in 6th grade, I’ve put together the following descriptions of some positions found in the corporate world:

Facilities Manager

This is a multi-faceted position. First, you are in charge of the physical assets of the company. In hopes of getting promoted, you will spend hours tinkering with the broken photocopier before giving up and calling the professional repairman.

You are also responsible for figuring out how to save space by reducing employee cubicles to the size of a hamster cage. To minimize employee frustration, make sure the now smaller cubes are each outfitted with a hanging water bottle and salt lick. Put an exercise wheel by the printer to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Lastly, you coordinate entire office moves. As long as you act important, no one will question you on why it took a week to move the coffee machines to the new location and another whole week to move the coffee.

Career Tip: Instill fear among co-workers by holding a clipboard and walking around with people in suits. If you speak in a low voice and point animatedly to various cubicles as you mumble words like “headcount” and “bottom line”, everyone you pass will start boxing up their belongings as they wait for the call from Human Resources.

Call Center Representative

This is the ideal job for those who both love to talk and have a sadistic streak. You are the first point of contact and a stringent gatekeeper. You will enjoy further frustrating already annoyed callers by insisting they don’t need to speak with a supervisor, even though you’ve tried unsuccessfully for an hour to resolve their problem. For added pleasure, put callers on hold every time they threaten you with legal action.

Career Tip:  Increase your performance bonus by changing your voice and posing as the supervisor you finally agreed to transfer the caller to.

Accounts Payable Clerk

This position requires a high attention to detail with little tolerance for error. Your daily mission is to review and process department bills and employee expense reports for payment. As protector of the company’s coffers, you take your job seriously and are careful to reject business trip reimbursements of tips to hotel valets and bellmen without a paper receipt.

Career Tip: Wield your power by routing invoices that don’t meet your high standards to a holding queue. For added fun, don’t  mention this to the person who needs the invoice paid and act surprised when he/she questions you in a state of panic.

IT Manager

This is a job which requires strong technical and no people skills. You are saddled with budget cuts but rather than admit this, you assert haughtily that you can resolve every problem, even finding the coffee that Facilities lost in the move.

Career Tip: Stay ahead of the game by pretending to be extremely busy and hiding behind voice mail, so you can never be held accountable for these untruths. While you will be well compensated for your technical savvy, if you get hit by a bus, no one will send you flowers…though this might be because Accounts Payable won’t reimburse sympathy gifts.

IT Support

This is an entry-level position with a steep learning curve. Although you will be hired for your many degrees in computer science, when you hit the real world you’ll receive no training on how to deal with end users in a live production environment.

Career Tip: Be sure to figure out ahead of time who you can blame when you accidentally remove users’ access and delete their files.

Marketing Director

This is a job for high energy, goal-oriented individuals who don’t let rules stand in the way of a good idea. You’re tasked with coming up with creative strategies to get new customers. To do this, you do your best to alienate the legal and compliance experts who have to sign off on your wacky ideas, by acting like you know how to do their job better than they do.

Career Tip: Make everything a “marketing emergency” so no one will have time to realize how bad your idea really is.