How Much Would You Pay for a Clean Bedroom?

The high cost of a clean bedroom.

The high cost of a clean bedroom.

Sometimes, I can’t stand to hear some of the words that come out of my mouth.

Usually, they are the same words that used to come out of my own mother’s mouth. The ones that addressed particular behaviors and were repeated at regular intervals:

“Chew with your mouth closed.”

“Don’t pick your teeth.”

“Put your napkin on your lap.”

“It’s ‘most fun,’ not ‘funnest.’”

“Make your bed.”

“Clean your room.”

As it turns out, those same reprimands that were so annoying to hear as a kid are doubly irritating having to say as a grown up. As a child, I perceived those reminders as assaults against my character. I bristled every time my use of the English language was called into question or uncouth table manners pointed out by my mother.

It hurt my feelings.

But in the end, I walked away with very nice eating habits and an excellent command of the English language (in thanks, no doubt, to all those times I complained of boredom and was instructed to go read a book).

It’s a parent’s job to instruct. We are like the audio versions of the “How to Be a Person” manual. Sure, some of us are missing pages – hell, some of us have entire chapters ripped out– but for the most part it’s our duty to guide our youngsters towards becoming functioning members of society.

I always felt like my mom was a little too vigilant in this regard. It always seemed like she was jumping down my throat about the littlest offense. But then I had my own set of children and began to see things differently.

I am the oldest of eight siblings and now realize that while my mother was really on top of instructing me in the finer art of cleanliness and good manners, I’m pretty sure my younger siblings’ habits were not so hyper-scrutinized. I know my youngest is not held to the same standards as his big brother. Dinners when the eldest was younger included a lot of correcting of improper use of cutlery or failure to spread his napkin upon his lap. But when my little guy put his head down and started licking his plate not long ago, I found the act simply charming.

“Are you pretending you’re the cat?” I cooed, while his siblings looked on in horror.

As a result of more militant housekeeping when they were younger, my first two children still keep pretty neat-and-tidy bedrooms. Dirty laundry makes its way into the hamper and beds are generally made most days.

You would think such good behavior would have trickled down to the younger two siblings. You would assume they’d observe that type of lifestyle and embrace it as their own.

You would be wrong.

My youngest two children – an 18yo girl and 12yo boy – are lovely people. They are easygoing and team players and have great senses of humor. They also happen to be pigs.

The boy doesn’t seem particularly stupid. I mean, he’s done some dumb things that other boys his age sometimes do, but he just got promoted to the seventh grade so he must be doing something right. And man, he is a sweetheart.

And the girl – oh, my messy, messy girl. She resists doing laundry. Instead, she spreads her dirty clothing across every square inch of floor space in her bedroom, perhaps under the assumption that she is airing those items out for future wearings. Then there are a few piles of worn jeans and t-shirts shoved into corners in which she seems to be employing a method akin to composting. Whether she stirs the clothes at regular intervals remains a mystery but the piles definitely seem to be heating up.

And she’s not lazy. This school year she juggled three paying jobs and a full course load of honors and AP classes. Obviously she is capable when it suits her.

But how do you explain the empty plastic water bottles strewn across her desk and nightstand or the garbage can overflowing with crumpled printer paper and empty bags of Trader Joe’s veggie sticks?

So I’ve wasted a lot of breath over the years telling these two to clean up their acts.

“Make your bed.”

“Empty your garbage.”

“Put your clean laundry away.”

Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.

But these two do not perceive these admonitions as an attack on their collective character. Having a clean bedroom is simply not high on their priority list.

Over time I’ve struggled with how high cleanliness should be on my priority list, too. I mean, in the scheme of things, is an organized desk that important? I’ve learned over the years in the mom business that I’d rather have someone practicing their saxophone rather than making their bed. I am, however, pretty dedicated to not letting loose someone who chews with his mouth open into the world.

Which made what I walked in on Sunday night after I returned from dropping that messy girl off at college all the sadder.

In the days leading up to her departure, there were clothes all over her floor, which were joined by two giant suitcases awaiting the stacks of American Eagle jeans and Urban Outfitter tops to be squeezed inside. Her college crap had even spilled out of her bedroom and down the stairs into the den where a mound of Target bags filled with sheets and towels and lady products had started to grow.

When I last saw the room it was late Saturday night and I went in to say good-night and make sure we were still on for our 5:30 a.m. departure. By then, most of her stuff had made it into some type of bag. The giant duffel bags had been dragged downstairs and all that remained on her floor was her little turquoise Vera Bradley bag stuffed with what seemed to be the last-minute items – her packet from new student orientation and a tangle of chargers – and the new tote bag we bought online for carting her books in style around campus.

But the nightstand and desk were still in disarray and the pillows that decorate her bed – the queen-sized Ikea number she got for her 15th birthday with big drawers underneath and headboard with stacks of shelves, which took her three days to assemble by herself – were still scattered everywhere.

“Please try to leave your room clean,” I said as I kissed the top of her head. “At least make your bed.”

I know she had a lot on her mind. She was less than thrilled to have to leave for college just a week after graduating from high school. She didn’t really have time to wrap her head around all the changes awaiting her when she was diving right into it the thick of it.

So, like, why did I feel compel to nag? Can I not learn to control that dastardly impulse?

We hit the road a mere 15 minutes behind schedule, probably a new record for me, and I drove the four hours in the rain while most of the other passengers in the car dozed intermittently. We squeezed into a lot about a quarter-mile away from her dorm and tracked down a cart to carry her stuff upstairs. A college move-in day in never complete without a trip to the nearby Target or Wal-Mart so we climbed back into the car and set out to purchase another $200 in last-minute throw pillows and power strips. And of course, there’s the obligatory trip to the bookstore to check out her textbook requirements for the two courses she’s taking over the summer and to outfit her two siblings in her new school’s logo. Finally, after her bed was made and we oohed and aahhed over how cute it all looked together matched with all her Target dorm essentials, we decided to say good-bye.

And it was sad.

Very. Very. Sad.

The other two kids and I drove home in still more rain listening to David Sedaris’s “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” which was good for lifting our spirits. We got home and heated up some stuff in the frig and I went upstairs to get changed into my pajamas (read: finally take off my bra), but when I got to the top of the stairs I took a left rather than a right into my own bedroom. I walked down the hall to the first room on the right to find the door closed, as usual, to ward off any ideas our cat might have about rolling around on my daughter’s bed (which grosses my 18yo out to no end).

I pushed open the door and my heart almost stopped. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

In all those years of asking/suggesting/demanding that she clean her room, my daughter would eventually comply but never 100 percent. There was always crap piled under her printer table or clothes shoved onto her closet floor.

But on Sunday I opened the door to something out of a magazine. The bed was made and the throw pillows artfully arranged. The desktop had been organized and no clothes lurked at the bottom of the closet. The hangers draped with clothes that usually hung from her floor lamp had also been put away.

She had outdone herself.

And now it all just sits. Empty. Lifeless. All that energy that used to fill up every last inch of that room has now relocated 263 miles west of here.

So now I have that made bed I’ve been dying for, along with the clean clothes put away and emptied garbage pail.

I just hate the price I had to pay to get all of it.

But good luck to her new roommates. They’re gonna need it living with that girl.

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That Time I Became a Werewolf

1024px-Superkuu0372So, I’ve been busy lately with the college kids home and their assorted needs and stitches that came back to New Jersey with them.

Yes, stitches. Don’t ask.

I just feel out of sorts now with folks home during the day and just can’t focus. And coming up with things to blog about has been at the bottom of my to-do list. I’m back to restocking quickly dwindling larders and moving laundry along. I don’t know how I ever held down a full-time job around here.

Anyway, I thought of something funny I had wanted to write about last week but then when the time came to produce, I could not for the life of me remember what that was.

And then I was in Target this weekend (this is also where I’ve been spending too much time and money lately), standing in the bathroom accessories aisle trying to pick just the right basket to corral all the girls’ lotions and potions on the counter in their bathroom, when I totally remembered.

At first, I thought maybe it was just a little warmer in that part of the store and then I realized that the heat was coming from inside me. Hot fucking flash. I looked around at my fellow shoppers — the boyfriend and girlfriend, maybe, about three feet away examining shower curtains — and started to nonchalantly take off as much clothing as possible without seeming like a weirdo.

And it totally reminded me of what I wanted to write about. I had just happened to catch one of my all-time favorite movies, circa 1982, on cable the night before and made this startling revelation; “Holy shit,” I thought, “going through menopause in like becoming a werewolf, with, like, a little less hair.”

Ladies of a certain age, please tell me this hasn’t happened to you at one point in your not-so-distant life:

Tell me you haven’t found yourself sitting there quietly reading a book, or perhaps shopping for containers at Target, minding your own business when out of the blue, you start screaming that you’re burning up and then sweating like you just ran a marathon through the Mojave Desert and need to take off all your clothes. Pronto.

Even my kids can recognize those moments when they see them. I was making breakfast not long ago and felt a flash coming on and quickly pulled off my sweatshirt and started to fan myself with a Reeses Puff cereal box.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” asked my 11-year-old, quietly moving to the other side of the kitchen island. “Hot flash?”

He is going to make a great husband some day.

The only comfort I get in all this sweating is that it’s leading to something better. I’m looking forward to life on the other side of swinging hormones and managing my monthly visit from Aunt Blood. She is rarely a welcome visitor.

I am going to cling to something I read in The New York Times Style Section this weekend that Sandra Tsing Loh, who wrote the new book, “The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones,” says about menopause. 

She says that women finally stabilize hormonally after the insanity of our baby-making years.

“It’s like you lived on earth, and then you went to the moon, and lived there for a while,” Loh says in the Times article. “Now you’re back where you started” — the hormone levels of a preadolescent — “and it’s, like, ‘Welcome home.’ ”

It sounds like the silver bullet to crazy. With a lot less hair.


valentine’s day is stupid

IMG_3118I wrote this post last year and what a difference 12 months can make (or maybe not having a job).

This year, not only had I purchased cards and candy well ahead of Valentine’s Day, I even was organized enough to send bags of candy to the two college kids in Virginia that even GOT THERE EARLY.

I’m never that together.

I also stumbled upon the aisle of boxed Valentine’s cards when I happened to be in Target in January, yes January, and called my fifth grader to tell him what was there and get ahead of the game.

“I’m not doing that,” he almost spat when I suggested he make a selection.

“But they have a million choices!” I told him. “Sponge Bob. Superman. Transformers.”

In the end, he relented to my prodding and picked NBA-themed cards.

I brought them home and they’ve sat on a counter in our kitchen until yesterday.

“Buddy,” I said to him last night. “Don’t you want to start working on your Valentine’s cards?”

“Nah,” he answered. “I’m not going to bring them in.”

So as it seems to happen so often in my life, my timing was once again way off. 

So if any of you parents are feeling frantic because you forgot to get your kid cards in time, as you’ll see below that I did last year, you can come on over and grab mine.

I have a whole box.


IMG_3123I am not a festive person. I do not come from festive people.

As such, I do not own colorful sweaters, necklaces that light up like Christmas tree lights or candy cane earrings.

It used to bum my children out that I didn’t want to create a cemetery in our front yard for Halloween or string twinkly lights in the front bushes in December. Isn’t it enough I buy costumes and put up a tree? Can’t they be happy with a wreath?


But it’s the make-believe holidays that make me crazy. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Valentine’s Day.

These are the phony holidays created solely to get you to spend money on things that nobody needs, like Barbie Pez and ties.

So, imagine my chagrin when I found myself last night at Target searching for Valentine’s Day goodies for my two kids still living at home.

Nothing says “I’m a horrible procrastinator” like standing in the seasonal aisle at Target at 5:30 the night before Valentine’s Day, huddled with all the other working moms and clueless dads in front of the few remaining pink stuffed animals and Necco Wafers that all the organized parents hadn’t already scooped up last week. It was like landing on the Island of Misfit Toys: Valentine’s Edition.

But there I stood, thinking, “This is stupid,” while one young mom kept telling her preschooler he was a brat and another mom, who had three little kids hanging out of her shopping cart, employing the “f” word to stop the all their bickering. Right there next to the bags of miniature Snickers bars.

This was obviously not a happy time of day to be at Target (and man, I am usually really happy to be at Target).

Of course at this point, there is not one box of Valentine cards to be found for my 10-year-old son to bring to school the next day. No Dora. No Thomas the Tank Engine. Nothing.

I was talking to my younger sister, who is  like 14 years younger than me and has one toddler, on the phone while casing the joint and reported my findings.

“Go on Pinterest!” she says, and starts describing excitedly something she saw where I’d take my son’s picture holding out his arms and print it out and tape a lollipop to it. And I’m thinking, “Okay, I can do this,” and grabbed one of the remaining bags of lollipops from a bottom shelf.

I turned the corner and ran into a big display of Fun Dip cards that are pretty much the paper pouches containing the sugary dip and weird candy stick that kids can write classmates’ names on. I reached my hand out and hesitated for about two seconds, remembering then that you pretty much can’t send any food items into school anymore due to allergy restrictions, and then grabbed it anyway.

I’ll take contraband over crafting, all day long.


I Survived Black Friday and Teen Angst, All in One Night

I wrote this essay two years ago after being coerced by my then 14-year-old daughter into a midnight Black Friday run to Target.

I was not happy.

The good news is now she has friends who can drive her to wherever she feels compelled to go post-Turkey and I can remain at home on my couch drinking wine.

A win-win.

de1086df1000b12064e3dd511ed5571bIt started out as an attempt to humor my teenage daughter who had seen one-too-many Target commercials encouraging shoppers to prepare for Black Friday as if it was the Olympics of shopping.

Spurred on by the fun we had last year hitting a few stores in the early-morning hours the day after Thanksgiving, coupled with all of those savings she envisioned (she has tons of her own money and is indeed a thrifty shopper), my daughter was gunning to hit some big box stores late Thursday night.

But after a long Thanksgiving day filled with an early-morning run, cooking, cleaning and hours with my family, all I wanted to do by 7 p.m. was crawl into bed and read.

And that’s when she started to cry.

Not only did she want to go Black Friday shopping, my daughter wanted to go AT MIDNIGHT and was unwilling to negotiate an early-morning departure instead.

So between the tears and the fact that this child asks for very little, I found myself pulling into the Target parking lot around 11:30 on Thursday night, with said daughter and our neighbor — her trusty sidekick — and found a line of hundreds of people snaking along the side of the building waiting to get in.

I had envisioned that we’d saunter into the store, walk around and pick up a few sale items that were on our list and head home. I didn’t realize the commitment involved in the endeavor, bringing new meaning to “midnight madness.”

The girls jumped on the line, which they told me later went counter clockwise around the building from the entrance, along the back and reached clear to the other side. I parked the car in the packed lot and sat listening to the news and feeling cranky until they signaled me to join them some time after midnight as they approached the store’s entrance.

Red-shirted employees let about 30 shoppers in at a time in and so we had time to chat with one worker as we waited our turn in the chilly night air to join the masses inside. He told us that he thought there were about 2,000 shoppers and that while the first in line showed up about 5:30 p.m., the next bargain hunters enjoyed a few more hours with family until hunkering down around 7:30 p.m.

28eadbb0733581d44a1a58b78b28a8f4Not long after midnight, the first shoppers began exiting the building to applause, their carts filled with listing boxes of flat screen televisions. When one woman left with just a plastic Target bag in hand, it seemed almost as if she had squandered some magical opportunity to score an LCD.

As our Target friend wished us luck and let us into the store to join the throngs, we grabbed a cart and headed towards the back and immediately realized that unless we were gunning for one of the big screen TVs, we needed to ditch the cart to navigate through the sea of humanity pulsing toward the back of Target.

A quick stop at the pop up DVD selection set up among the bras and panties in women’s lingerie led us to our next line, about 30-people deep, to access the electronics cases. But because my daughter is anything but shy, she quickly ascertained from one of the employees overseeing the line that the item on our list could be grabbed from a nearby display, which we quickly did and kept moving towards the other end of the store.

After scooping up a few more items on our list and admiring, but resisting, all the doorbusters (Legos, crockpost and griddles), we made our way towards the checkout.

And here’s where I felt like I was back in Orlando, where the kids and I spent a few days doing the theme parks earlier this month. At first glance, it was a straight shot to the registers after we entered the cordoned off queue as instructed by yet another re-shirted Target worker. However, we soon found ourselves snaking up and down the aisles leading up the checkout, past endless selections of mascara, holiday-scented air fresheners and cleaning products.

And although we didn’t end up boarding a rollercoaster at the end of our walk through the line, I did experience a sense of disorientation that the half hour we spent moving from one end of the store to the other cost me about $374 when the very happy cashier rang me up.

Just like Disney, but at least with more to show for it and with significant discounts thrown in.

But the girls were elated as we walked through the giant lot back to our car. They had each picked up some DVDs and a few odds and ends as gifts for their siblings and relished the discounts and the sense of surviving the mayhem.

And when we got home, my girl gave me a big hug and thanked me for taking her and told me she had been waiting all year for her Black Friday adventure. She also assured me she wouldn’t force me to do it again next year.

And when I overheard her little brother asking her the next morning how her Black Friday shopping was, I smiled when I heard her say, “Awesome.”