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Class Mom

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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The bumblebee had a bun. The ladybug, her identical twin, had a clumsy mess of French braids, studded with plastic barrettes.

I panicked. My neon green T-shirt said “ASK ME!” The bumblebee, the ladybug and I were going to hear about this.

One of the dance recital police ladies approached, pointing at the bumblebee.

“Uh-oh,” said my daughter, the zebra.

“She’s going to need to go to the French-braiding station,” the dance recital police lady ordered.

“Um, I thought French braids or buns were acceptable, no?”

Dance recital police lady frowned. “Not for the actual performance. You’d better get her over to the French-braiding station. Like, now. There’s already a line.”

She summoned the ladybug to stand before her. The ladybug held her ground impressively.

“My mommy did French braids on me,” the ladybug told the dance recital police lady. “But she gave up when it was my sister’s turn because the French braids were too hard.”

The harried dance recital police officer considered this. I chewed my lip. All around us, little feathered yellow chickens and Sleeping Beauties and Cinderellas and jazzy tappers and Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo girls and parasol carriers and monkeys and kissy dolls and hip-hop Baby Beyonces were wreaking havoc, twirling and spinning and tearing their tights and spilling contraband items like Pepperidge Farms Goldfish.

Dance recital police lady decided to let ladybug’s subpar French braids go. She had bigger goldfish to fry. She scowled at me. “Tell her mother no plastic barrettes next time. They catch the light.”

“Will do,” I said.
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Mother’s Day, in any dimension

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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“Stay in your room,” they warn me. “We’ve got everything under control.”

“I’ll only come out if I smell smoke,” I say.

Five minutes later, Daughter #1 pops her head through my bedroom door. “Um, when you preheat the oven?”

“Yes?”

“Do you, like…leave it on? Once it gets to the right temperature?”

“Yes,” I say.

She nods and skips back down the stairs.

A moment later, Daughter #2 sticks her head into my room.

“You can’t hear what we’re talking about, right?” she says sternly.

“I really can’t,” I say.

“Would you even tell us if you could?”

“Well,” I say, pondering this. “I suppose if I thought you might be really disappointed, I might just not tell you.”

“But you didn’t hear.”

“Nope. I really didn’t.”

“Okay.” She hops downstairs to help her sister. Their dad dropped them off this morning with a bunch of mystery groceries, a nice gesture on his part, so they could make me breakfast for Mother’s Day.

I realize I am not actually worried that they will burn down the house. This is progress, I think. The kids are all right.
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On needing the thing you don’t know you need

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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I ask you: What did you not know that you needed to do this year, so far?

Funny story. Turns out I needed to drive four hours, meet my best friend from childhood at a god-forsaken hotel in the Twilight Zone of Pennsylvania, don purple workout gear, and dive belly-first into mud.

There was more, of course. I also needed to run 3.1 miles through hay bales and rocks and swampy bits and tires and over an 8-foot-high wall and a 35-foot-high cargo net. That was part of it.

Physics lesson: What goes up does not necessarily come down, at least, not right away. It’s scary at the top, when your legs and arms have turned to jelly.

I did eventually get down. And we crossed the finish line, in respectable time. And that’s when I realized, Oh, I needed to do that. I didn’t know it, but that’s exactly what I needed to do this year.
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My Downstairs Thingy

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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Just like I can’t seem to explain what anyone does for a living (”um, he…well…it’s kind of like…computers, sort of, but not, you know, the kind of person who knows, like, how to pronounce ‘Linux’” or, you know”), I am clueless about house stuff.

This is me being clueless about house stuff:

The state of Massachusetts sent a team of, um, you know, guys who check the things that burn, like, oil, or gas, or whatever, to my house. They were there to check the…the thingy. For, like, EFFICIENCY.

Always—but especially since the divorce—I am certain that any men who show up at my door (often including the ones I’ve dated) mean me no good, NO GOOD WHATSOEVER. Every time a serviceman shows up, I have the urge to ask him for five minutes so I can finish my will on LegalZoom.com and to then tell him I prefer a nice sharp quick stabbing with my own cleanish chef knives, as opposed to bludgeoning by unsanitary windowless-van serial-killer tools.

These guys, the heating efficiency guys, they had name tags sewn onto their shirts. My first thought was, “OH, THEIR MOTHERS ARE IN ON IT, TOO.”
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Unnatural Athlete

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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I need a new mouthguard, she says. We have a lacrosse game tomorrow.

This is perhaps the oddest thing about single parenting: when your kids return from your co-parent’s house two inches taller and needing equipment for a sport you have never before heard them mention.

Lacrosse? I ask. I gulp. I am still adjusting to her playing field hockey with howling banshees twice her size.

She shrugs. I decided to give it a try.

Alrighty then, I say. I admire her willingness to run with sticks.

At the sporting goods store, she hunts for mouthguards while I browse running shoes for my upcoming muddy, wet 5K. I always feel like an imposter in the running shoes section. I hate running. I mean, I really, really, really hate running. And I get the feeling the sport hates me for pretending to be a runner. We are leery of each other, me and running.
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Pinterested?

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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Hi. I’m Jenn Mattern, and I need a Pintervention.

No, never mind. Keep your stinking Pintervention to yourself. I’m hooked and I like being hooked.

Pinterest, oh, Pinterest, how they mock you! How misunderstood you are! I have heard Pinterest referred to as Fantasy Football for women. If I understood Fantasy Football, I might be able to refute or confirm that statement. I have also heard Pinterest derided as a place where women go to decorate homes they will never afford and plan weddings they will never have.

WHATEVER. LIKE ANY OF YOU BOYS ARE EVER GOING TO PUT TOGETHER A REAL NFL TEAM. HMMPH.
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What’s working for you?

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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I’ve been writing this column for a couple of years now, and though some days I might forget it, I’ve come a long way from where I was when I started writing here. I imagine if you’ve walked a similar path, you’ve also noticed that you’ve come a long way too.

The Dark Days never feel far enough behind me. I still hope there will come a time when the bleakest days post-split will seem another life. I bet it will come. But for now, I’m thinking it’s a wise move to count all that’s gone right. Counting blessings: that’s never a bad practice. Here are 10 things I thank my lucky stars for:

1) Two fantastic daughters. Something’s working. I’ve got healthy, happy, bright, funny, kind, inquisitive, respectful, and giving young ladies who are quiet leaders and loyal friends. I tell them I don’t know what I’d do without them. They laugh and tell me again and again that I would say that to any kid I’d had, and I wouldn’t know it could have been them. I like that they are logic sticklers, but I must respectfully disagree: I’d KNOW something was missing, without these two.
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Writing in the Woods

Categories: Best Practices, Business tripping, Fighting the Stereotype

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It is difficult to explain to my daughters what I do. I don’t have an office to go to. I am a writer, and as far as they understand it, EVERYONE can write, so everyone must be a writer.

I find sometimes I forget what it means, myself, to call myself a writer. Freelance work is spotty these days. Much of what I do is working on creative pieces that don’t pay—yet, if ever. What the hell do you think you’re doing? the grumpy inner voice demands. Who the hell do you think you are?

I decided I needed a kickstart, a refresher course to remind me what it is, in this bleak and muddy season, to call myself a writer—to BE a writer. I learned about a Winter Writers Retreat, all women, in a cabin in the woods in SE Ohio. Did I dare?
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Bring On the Report Cards

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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I’d have to rank report cards near the top of my Stuff That’s Fun About Parenting list. I love getting their report cards. I devour them in private with a heady and completely insufferable mix of:

a) Yeah, I could have told you that. The child is AWESOME.
b) She did what?!? I know, right?!? The child is AWESOME.
c) A 2? No way, she was robbed. The child is AWESOME.
d) This child must have a terrific mother. The child is AWESOME.

The girls and I make a date out of it. We snuggle up in one or the other’s bed, and we read our favorite parts aloud. This time around, for instance, H’s teacher declared that H’s “gentle and quiet leadership” was an asset to the class.

“GENTLE AND QUIET?” yelled S. We all fell over laughing, especially H, who toppled off the bed, cackling. “Gentle” and “quiet” are not words that accurately reflect her at-home personality, but it makes for good reading, for sure.
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What we save, saves us

Categories: Best Practices, Fighting the Stereotype

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In the faraway eras B.C. and B.H. (Before Children and Before Husband), I went through a particularly awful breakup back in 1996, when I was living just outside of New York City. My boyfriend of five years had just moved out. I asked my mother to care for my dog for a while. I begged her to take him back to Philly just for a few months, because the post-breakup depression was so intense. I felt like I could barely take care of myself, let alone another creature — this one in particular, the most soulful, sensitive dog I’d known, my very first dog, who sat beside me with a worried expression, pawing at my arm as I cried and worked my way through a bulk stash of Kleenex boxes. He missed my ex, too.

My mom refused to take the dog.

“If I take him, you’re never going to leave the apartment. If I take him, I worry what’s going to happen to you. As long as he’s with you, you’re going to need to walk him and care for him and go out to buy food for him. He stays with you. You need him. He WANTS to be with you.”

It was a wise move on my mama’s part. And so he and I would go on three, four walks a day — sometimes with me in my pajama pants, or in yesterday’s clothes, sometimes with me sniffling and gulping the entire way. I cried into his fur until he was damp. We drove to Philly in the middle of the night, when it was just the truckers and us on the wretched stretch of tangled highway between the George Washington Bridge and Newark. My dog and I listened to countless old mix tapes with the windows down, and I like to think that we left a lot of grief on the side of the highway at night.

My mom was right. That boy saved me. I rescued him from a pound as a puppy, but during his sixteen years of life, he did most of the rescuing. I still cry when I see a graying muzzle on a shep/collie/husky mix. What we save, saves us ten times over. I know this to be true.
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