Liquid Paper and Solo Parenting: A PSA

I used to write about my kids and their fiascos all the time. There was the Habitot catastrophe, the Lutheran calamity, and the swim class crisis, to name just a few. But lately, there hasn’t been that much to write about. Well, there was the alter-altercation, in which the kids began slapping each other around in front of the whole congregation during the children’s sermon… That resulted in Andy walking to the front of the church, picking Rachel up (not that she was the most culpable, it was just who he chose) and moving her to the other side of the pastor and gaggle of well-behaved kids. She immediately stood up and moved right back to where she was before—sitting by and hitting Aaron—which all but about two people (guess who?) in the entire church found hilarious.Children's Sermon

Anyway, the fiascos are of a more ongoing type these days, and mainly consist of the kids hitting, pushing, and yelling at one another. And even that has almost stopped thanks to our new parenting method, which involves so much talking through things and compromising that I’m usually hoarse by 10am.

But today… today was a fiasco the likes of which I haven’t seen in I don’t know… two months, maybe?

I showered. That was my first mistake. We don’t have any real plans today, and I’m flying solo while Andy gets to do fun things like enjoy the all-you-can-eat dining hall at Wheaton. But Rachel was sewing and Aaron was watching Trotro and I promised myself I’d hurry. Giving in to my I-want-to-feel-human self, I took a shower.

About 1 minute before I would be all done and head downstairs to check on the kids, Rachel came running in.

“Mama! Mama! You know the stuff, the mistake stuff? Aaron has it! And he painted my hands with it and it’s everywhere!”

I, of course, had no idea what she was talking about and also couldn’t see her hands see because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

“What are you talking about? Where is your sewing needle? Your scissors? We need to get downstairs immediately!”

She thrust her hands in front of my face.

“No! The white stuff you use if you make a mistake… the stuff we aren’t supposed to touch!”

I saw the white on her hands, now only an inch from my eyeballs. Crap. He had the Liquid Paper. “It’s everywhere,” she had said. My wool rugs, newish-couches, the dog’s fur… all sorts of visions went through my head.

So we ran. Ran pell-mell through the bedroom and hall, down the steps and into the kitchen, where I found an entire bottle of Liquid Paper dumped on the floor, and white kid-size-11 footprints trailing from the kitchen to the living room, while the culprit stood in the middle of the sticky, rapidly drying puddle, clearly happy with himself.

After wiping both kids’ feet, I assessed the damage and found, thankfully, that other than a few white streaks on the couch (it’s under warranty!), the bulk of damage was only on the wood floor. Bullet dodged, or so I thought.

Liquid Paper 1

After about 30 minutes of scrubbing the worst spot.

People, Liquid Paper is some serious business. If I ever want to keep a secret from the NSA, I now know exactly how to do it. Almost NOTHING can get through well-placed white out. Trust me, I know.

I tried hot water, a plastic knife, my fingernails, 409, Goo Gone (I thought I had a winner there, but nope. It just made white swirls on the floor), hardwood cleaner, a mop, a rag, a bigger rag, and Rachel’s fingernails (hey, she offered!). All this gave me was a bunch of dirty laundry, a back- and elbow ache, broken nails, and a floor covered in swishy stuff. So I did what all good moms do when faced with a housekeeping stumper: I Googled it.

Liquid Paper 2

She wanted to help!

It’s Google, so the answer came up within nanoseconds. I didn’t even click any of the links, but just read the little snippets to find my salvation: WD-40, baby. That’s the only thing that’ll cut right through the atrocity that is Liquid Paper.

Liquid Paper 3

After 409, Goo Gone, fingernails, a mop, and one round of WD-40.

So, WD-40 it was. It stank, it still took an additional hour or more to clean (took about 2.5 hours total), and, as you may have guessed by now, it made my floors about as safe as speed walking in flip flops on straight up ice.

“Don’t walk on it, guys. It’s slick.”

Despite having used my serious voice, with three minutes they had both forgotten, and Rachel shot right across the worse patch to get a pony off the steps (of course). That resulted in a bruised tailbone and lots of tears, as well as a little brother who thought that he’d just witnessed the coolest thing ever. I could see him planning his Tom-Cruise-sock-slide even as Rachel howled in pain.

So I got super hot water from the on-demand tap and began to scrub.

It didn’t help.

At this point my house shoes may as well have been slathered in Crisco, so I took them off. This, of course, turned my “special” socks into a greasy mess, so I took them off, too. Prior to this my back had ached and elbows throbbed, while my hands cracked and nails split in two. Now I had the added benefit of aching feet and swollen legs. I was not a pretty sight, and if things didn’t change, I’d be cleaning the floor right through ‘til bedtime.

“Kids,” I said. “I have no other choice. I’ll have to tea-kettle it.”

Tea-kettling is a trick I use for things like Popsicle drips all over the deck, pee on the front steps, or cleaning off the remnants of dead birds that show up at the back door. Rather than drag out the hose, I boil a kettle full of water then dump it right on the offending substance. Boiling water is the only thing that will cut through ant-attracting sugar, take the wafting odor from stinky things, and undo the slick from a floor ravaged by kids and saved only through the use of harsh and oily chemicals.

“Stand back, kids. This is going to be hot.”

Aaron moves closer.

“Aaron, it’ll splash. Move back!”

He takes maybe half a step back and does his shivery little thing he does when he’s trying to pretend he’s nervous.

Kids safely enough away, I pour the steaming water on the slickest, still white-speckled spot. I stand on a towel and began to move my feet around to wipe the mess.

“Hot! Hot!” The boiling water, of course, seeps right through the towel and onto my now-bare feet. The kids are both worried and amused by this.

I shuffle down the hall, pouring boiling water onto the hardwood floor then sashaying over it with a towel, until I get all the way to the last little kid-sized-11 footprint. Pour, slide. Pour, slide. Then I do it all over again in the opposite direction. Pour, slide. Pour, slide. I do this again and again until finally the floor is only moderately dangerous. There’s only so much one person can do.

During all this, one child was asking for cheese toast, the other for chocolate milk. Somehow the dog’s food ended up in his water bowl, and cracker crumbs found their way into just-vacuumed couch cushions. Ponies were stolen, fought over and reclaimed, clothes that were once on a child’s body somehow didn’t remain that way.

When it was all said and done, I decided I would eat chocolate at some point today, despite having had a slice of chocolate mouse cheesecake with double whipped cream from The Cheesecake Factory yesterday. Maybe I’d even make some decaf and make the kids go somewhere—anywhere—else so I could write this and recuperate.

While I haven’t had my chocolate or coffee quite yet, this PSA has been written. The morals of this story are many: sometimes, on those days when you feel in your gut it probably isn’t a good idea, skip the shower. If you shower anyway, make it a 3-minute-or-less one. And when Liquid Paper gets on your porous hardwood floors, go straight for the WD-40 and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. You’re going to need them.

IMG_0969

Our New Life With Lupus

This is not a lupus* blog, and it will not become one. It is a blog, however, about my faith and my family (among other things). As such, it only makes sense that I might, on occasion, write about our new Life With Lupus (LWL).

I don’t know a lot yet about LWL. My dad had it, and passed away from it, so I guess I knew a little going into this. Don’t worry! I don’t imagine my fate will be the same, and I don’t want to pretend oh-so-dramatically that I think that. In the last ten years lupus treatment has grown by leaps and bounds, and 80-90% of those with lupus have a normal life expectancy.

Does that mean Lupus doesn’t suck? Um, no.

Because it does. It sucks a lot. Not every day, but many days. And even when it doesn’t suck, per se, it does impact each day in some way, whether big or small.

There are a lot of things that come along with a diagnosis (finally! A diagnosis!): relief, mourning, anger, denial, frustration, disbelief, etc. It’s really the seven stages of grief. I think I’m in the acceptance stage now because I’ve decided that I can be open about it, and even write about it here.

Honestly, there’s some very good stuff that comes from a diagnosis of a serious chronic illness. I signed up recently for a Lupus support website, and it asks all new members to answer questions for their profile. One question is, “Knowing what I know now, what I recommend to others is…”

My answer?

Love your kids, your partner, your parents, your friends. Love yourself. Love your neighbors, the homeless guy on the street, the business exec on the street, and everyone in between. Learn to say, “there’s no rush,” and truly mean it. Learn to say “no.” Learn to say “yes” when possible, but give the caveat that you might just have to flake. Flake if needed. REDUCE STRESS. Use your community; they truly want to help. Never take them for granted or misuse their help. Find a good rheumatologist, but always do your own research. You can diagnosis in 2 days of googling what might take even the best rheumy three months to diagnose. That said, beware of the internet and what you Google. Take pictures of rashes, swelling, hairballs, splinter hemorrhages and anything else you can. Because, of course, the day of your long-awaited appointment everything will clear up and you won’t be able to make your case. Download the “My Pain Diary” app, and use it not for pain, per se, but for all the other medical things you need to keep up with. Eat right, exercise, rest, and stay positive.

 Sure, there are things I could add (many things!), but these are the bones of it.

I’ve had a lot of loss in life, and so I always assume that I’m already living life pretty well aware of its importance and fleeting nature. I get on my little kids’ level and look them in the eye when they speak. I don’t giggle and brush away the silly things they take seriously; there are too few years they will be honest enough to say what they think, and perhaps even fewer years that they’ll care what I say in response. I try to ignore my cell phone and computer when they’re home (goodness, the two little ones are home a lot!), and I try to drop little tidbits from the past, my past, into the life of my oldest. Someday they will want to know it all; no use beating around too many bushes. I try to have dance parties, and not sweat the small stuff, and have lots of white space so “I don’t have time” are four words I seldom have to say. Do I always succeed? Of course not.

My point here is that I thought I already fully realized and appreciated the time I have here on Earth. But let me just say that there is nothing like hearing certain words from a doctor to make you really realize and appreciate the fleeting nature of things.

That sounds awfully serious given medical advances and that the numbers are significantly on my side. But that’s neither here nor there in the late night and early morning hours when one’s mind turns from all the rational things we focus on during the more civilized hours, to all the irrational things we pretend we’re too grounded to think about.

Because really, we aren’t that grounded. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Perspective shifts. Hermeneutics readjust. And yes, love and appreciation and faith grow.

Most mornings my little kids and I sing Rise and Shine together to get our days going. Often we follow it up by singing Psalm 118:24:

This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

These are the words I will bind to their wrists and put upon their foreheads. These are the words I will live.


* SLE in my case (and my dad’s)

There are tons of resources online, but here are a few:

http://www.lupus.org

http://www.mollysfund.org

http://www.lupusny.org/about-lupus/lupus-links

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Welcome Home?

After one month and two days, I feel like I can say with some authority that downtown Annapolis is perhaps the most beautiful place there is.

This morning I drove downtown to find a Starbucks and a park, and perhaps a walking path on the water. I found all that, but also so much more.

There was an impressive generational mix—grandparent types strolled hand in hand down the brick streets, while moms around my age (give or take) pushed their children around in strollers and sipped lattes. The air was calm. I saw almost no cell phones at all. I did see ample street parking, people conversing happily, and too many 30-something women and their tag-alongs to count.

I pulled into a parking spot directly in front of Starbucks. I went in and found myself—at 9am—only the second person in line. The cashier and I spoke cheerily of hummus and cucumbers, and he graciously forgave Aaron for throwing reusable Starbucks mugs on the floor. On the way out, I accidently bumped into a woman. In response to my apology she said:

“You are a magnetic person, and a wonderful child of God. Don’t apologize, be glad.”

Between that and my first pumpkin spice latte of fall, the tenor of my day was set.

I prepared to walk a mile to a playground I had passed earlier, but to my happy surprise I found a mostly fenced, well-shaded park with fantastic play structures just a block away. It was on the water and the state capital was visible on the horizon as I watched Aaron play. It was peaceful, beautiful, calm.

As is the case at almost all parks, the mom brigade began to trickle in around 10am.

At first there was only one mom, accompanied by a 3-year-old and a newborn. She was friendly. She had moved here a year ago. She was happy. We talked, and I was excited at the prospect of a park-born friendship. Sadly, as the other moms and tots strollered their way in, she drifted away towards them and they all gathered together—they were a group of women from the neighborhood. Apparently the park meeting was a regular thing.

Our children played together, and everyone was pleasant, yet… there was no overt attempt at inclusion in their group. And who could blame them? They wanted to chat about where to get the best deal on kids’ pants, how one woman’s husband would be out of town all weekend, while she had the kids, and other various things. This was their time, their very, very precious time, carved out to give them that extra boost to make it through their day.

I wasn’t disappointed in the lack of love-at-first-park-sighting. Instead, I felt hopeful. Hopeful because I live in a town with a lovely mix of generations, but with a heavy dose of married-with-kids. Hopeful because there is so much to do, parking is cheap and easy, and traffic is typically light (but don’t ask me about Friday afternoons…).

In the hot tourist-full days of summer or the freezing months of winter, I may feel differently than I do at this particular endorphin-filled moment. But for now… for now I am full of gratitude that this crazy life season may be beginning to slow down, to bear fruit, and to give a little breathing room.

Andy works late tonight, so I know this day will drain me. I will likely snap more than I mean to, and eat more chocolate than I should. But for now, I feel full: this place might just be okay.

Maybe even great.

parkwithaj

Sehnsucht

Tonight, two weeks after our last child’s first birthday, I reinstated my gym membership.

I went through the reenrollment process with a young, sprightly girl who seemed genuinely happy to help me.

“A pregnancy leave! How nice. Congratulations on the birth of your baby! Just fill in the baby’s name and date of birth on this form and he can go to Child Watch while you work out.”

“Great!” I fill out the form and hand it back.

“Okay, you’re good to—wait, don’t you mean October 2013?”

“Er, no. 2012.” Ms. Young and Sprightly stares at me.

I mumble, “There were complications.” (translation: “Life is complicated.”)

She still stares.

“But I’m here now!” small, awkward fist pump.

“Oh. Okay. Well then.” She hands me my ID and looks away.

Thanks, young sprightly girl.

The workout is great. I feel more alive, happier. On the drive home, I can feel the realignment of my spine, my neck. I can also tell just how sore I’ll be tomorrow.

Even though it’s barely after 5pm, it’s dark on the drive home, and store lights shine bright. I can see into Saul’s, where people eat free pickles and over-priced latkes. Twinkling lamps light the place where several years ago a friend—rich, East coast—took me for tapas and mojitos.

In the dark-made-bright, people seem to bustle. They seem fuller, somehow, then perhaps they think they are. Peppermint has replaced pumpkin, and when I get home, Rachel is making her Christmas list.

I start cooking, among other things, winter squash with butter and brown sugar. Nana will return next week, Collin the week after.

Andy and Rachel visit the porch to look at 6pm stars and I’m shooing Aaron away from the stove, wooden spoon in hand.

Tonight the early dark brings joy and something… else. Some frustration that none of this can be neatly pocketed, pulled out when I need it. It is fleeting, incapable of capture. Bittersweet and elusive.

Tomorrow, headed home on a crowded train full of tired people, legs sore and back aching, I will curse the early dark. But in this moment, with stars and vertebrae aligned, sticky smiles shining under a Berkeley sky, I am, almost, happy.

Related posts: The Smell of Pumpkin Lattes Can Only Mean One Thing: It’s Almost Christmas!

Porch view.

Porch view.

Poor, Pitiful Me

I am not a kind person.

Okay, so really I am. Almost all of the time.

But when I’m not, I can’t even stand to be in the same room with me.

For example:

This morning I got upset with or in front of every person in my house, except for the baby, and he was still asleep when I left so I’m not sure that he counts.

The set-up:

My three-year-old had her first singing “performance” this morning. She and the other cutie-patootie Pink Lambs were singing their memory verses. Rachel missed it last time (because the baby was sick), and I didn’t want her to miss it this time. And last week the class leader very, very specifically said to “be on time,” because the late kids would miss out.

So I:

nagged my mom to hurry up and get ready despite the fact she gave every indication of being on time;

got into a very heated upstairs/downstairs text exchange with one very affronted teen over car logistics borne of being a 5-car family with a 2-car driveway;

ignored the fact that my husband had been up all night with a fussy baby and snapped at him for his incoherent-to-me mumblings when I had to wake him to move one of the aforementioned cars;

looked for emotional support from my mom for the crap I have to put up with, which she responded to by reminding me of how snarky I’d been as a teen. So. Not. Helpful.

So then I got snappy with my mom while my simply-excited-to-sing daughter sat in the back seat hanging on my every ugly word.

I slumped in my straight-backed chair feeling very sorry for myself. Why was everyone so grumpy and hard to deal with when I’m always Little Miss Sunshine? Why do they push me to such frustration? It just wasn’t fair.

The icing on the cake was finding out, after getting there on time, that the program had changed: the kids were scheduled to sing at 10:40, not 9:15. I slumped lower in my chair.

I felt like a big old idiot for my ugliness and rushing. Don’t I always say things work out how they’re supposed to so we should just go with the flow? Aren’t I even a little smug when others are freaking out and I stay calm? Why did I have to (re)learn the lesson that it’s always, always in the mama meltdowns that I end up being WRONG? It just wasn’t fair.

I tried to listen to the guest speaker, a missionary who was giving a talk on her AIDS orphanage in India, complete with heart-wrenching photos. My mom nudged me and said, “now THEY have problems.” I knew she was right. Knew I should be more thankful, but still I felt icky.

Icky and discouraged, and like the heavy task of trying to be a relaxed, easy-going mama for my household was on my shoulders and I was just too weak to hold it.

Then we went into our last lesson of the year: the passion of Christ. When the large group reconvened, the leader said something along the lines of:

“…. and the women went to the tomb. Filthy, weary, discouraged women…”

(I may have misheard the “filthy” part, but that’s what I wrote down in my handy-dandy notebook so I’m sticking to it.)

“Filthy, weary, discouraged women.” And oh, we are! (Well, maybe not filthy.) Every smiling woman I know is weary and discouraged somewhere, somehow, some way. When the weight gets too great, we stop smiling and start shouting. Or even if it the weight isn’t too great (read: me stressing over being on time and ending up being 1.5 hours early, and really is being on time worth alienating 5/6 of my household?), we shout anyway. And then we cry, most likely in the shower since that’s the only place we’re ever alone. And if these other women are anything like me, they tell themselves they will be nicer. They will not snap and then feel guilty. They will be the light bearers for their homes.

And we should be. But it’s a mixed bag: we should forgive ourselves for our infrequent breakdowns (thanks, o-friend-of-mine for donning your priestess robe and waving your arms and reminding me we all fall short). But…. maybe we (read: I) should be a bit more relaxed. A bit more trusting in how things will play out. Sort of like those other weary and discouraged women.

And this is where I tie it all back, nice and neat, to those women who got the surprise of their lives just when they were at the lowest of low and thought all hope was lost. But honestly, I just don’t think my little bitty issues can be analogous to something so awesome. But I can tell you that’s what I was thinking.

Anyway, the singing was great.

(Sorry about the weirdo scribbles. I don't feel comfortable showing other people's cutie-patooties.)

(Sorry about the weirdo scribbles. I don’t feel comfortable showing other people’s cutie-patooties.)

Leaning in: An Example

My mom, who lives with us part-time, arrived home tonight after having been gone for 3 months. My husband, who happens to be in Boston right now and misses us all very much, emailed and asked me if she had made it home yet, and if so, to describe what her first night back was like. Here was my response:

Although it took her 7 hours to make a 4-hour trip, she has arrived.

Her boundless energy exhausts me.

The kids are thrilled; the toys come out. Thus begins the endless parade of “look at this,” and “I brought you that.” “Do you think so-n-so will like this or will she think it’s tacky?”

The kids won’t stop smiling. There is somehow sweet and sour sauce in the living room, on the coffee table, on the couch. But we are all smiling.

Later, I rock the baby as she reads to the other little one. As the baby’s eyes drift shut, I fear she will too-loudly shut our daughter’s bedroom door and say, decibel upon decibel louder than necessary, “goodnight, I love you!” and the finally-sleeping baby will wake.

But tonight, for the first time ever, she remembers to close it quietly. Whisper her goodnights.

She doesn’t know I can see her, and she dances down the hall. Shuffle step snap. She shushes the wall when she bumps into it, so the wall doesn’t wake the kids.

Later, unloading her truck, she hands me a jug of water. I question it and she says, “It’s good. You can drink it,” and I see her driving 85 mph down the wrong road, swigging from the gallon as she curses herself for getting lost. That little shake of the head I know so well.

The house, previously so tired, so full of illness, is alive. A better place than it was before.

1000 Moms Project

50 Years After the Feminine Mystique, I Just Can’t Do it All.

Back in March, I wrote a very tongue in cheek, yet very true, post titled 50 Years After the Feminine Mystique, I (Heart) My Kids. In it I say that despite the difficulties of going from being a full-time professional to being a mostly stay-at-home mom, and despite how crappy some days are as a stay-at-home parent, it’s all worth it because I love my kids.

That’s definitely true. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that explanation was a bit disingenuous. It certainly didn’t get to the heart of why I have made the choice to be a 99% SAHM instead of continuing to practice law full time.

The heart of it is: I can’t do it all.

For me the question isn’t can I have it all. Of course I can have it all! A dual income family can afford more outside help, the house is neater because no one is home all day, I’d actually be excited to see my kids at 7pm, and I could run errands during my lunch break or while my boss is under the impression I’m at court. (shhh!) I say this from experience because that’s how it used to be when I worked full time.*

All that said, even with a housekeeper twice a month, I still felt like I spent all weekend washing clothes and cleaning toilets. On the weekends, we ran around so much going to baseball tournaments and practices that it felt like I was either in a car or on a bleacher all the time. And if I was at home, I was scrubbing something. We couldn’t ever go to church, and family time (other than baseball games) was either non-existent or strained by the problems that presented themselves once we became a latch key family.

I couldn’t pick my son up from school, and he started “hanging out,” which, let me tell you, is the root of all evil. Other things started happening that I couldn’t take care of because I was 30 minutes away from home and had clients depending on me to be at work taking care of them. I got important personal calls at my desk all the time, many of which were urgent requests to be somewhere other than at work, and if my flex time was all flexed out, I was out of luck or I had to sneak out while my boss wasn’t looking.

So I quit.

I didn’t “want” to quit, but there was also nothing that I wanted more. It took me at least a year to stop thinking about my old co-workers, commenting on their Facebook statuses about their latest trial, or reading the emails from my boss (she forgot to remove me from the list).

But I had to do it.

I had to do it: 1) for my family, and 2) for me.

I think the reasons my family needed me are obvious. It wasn’t to keep the toilets clean or the colors bright. It wasn’t even to make sure we ate healthy home cooked meals, or so I could go to all my son’s baseball games. It was because we needed someone to be “home base.” Someone to grab on to and yell “olly olly oxen free!” Whole books can be and are written about why it’s beneficial to have at least one parent (mom or dad) at home, so there’s no real need to go into that here.

The reasons I had to do it for me are less talked about.

I’m a perfectionist. I had to give either 100% to my work or 100% to my family. I couldn’t find a way to give 60/40 or 30/70 or whatever was needed at any given time. Despite a laundry service, a housekeeper, ordering takeout, a great husband, good kids, and all the other amenities that make working-mom life easier, I was a complete and utter failure at finding the balance between work and home.

Part of this was because the only part-time option offered at my work was a 3-day workweek, and I wanted a 2-day workweek. My husband and I could have worked out something 2 days a week for afterschool pickups, but as hard as we tried, we couldn’t work out something for 3 days a week. And that one off day was so important to us (remember: hanging out is the ROOT OF ALL EVIL) that we saw no other option. I was also pregnant, and very much wanted to be at home for our then-unborn child.

But really, the main reason is all because of me and my inability to do it all. I am not supermom. I cannot BE supermom. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, trying to both work and parent. On any given day, if someone were to ask me why I quit the job I had always wanted, I could give any number of answers, all of which would be true. But it is important for me to say, because it needs to be said, that the biggest reason of all is that I could not do it all.

But you know what? That’s okay. And that is what this post is really all about. It isn’t some therapeutic rant for me; it’s about one woman, one family, saying “I can’t do this,” hoping that some other woman will read it and not feel like she has failed because she can’t balance work and home. Some women can, some women can’t, and some women do it because they have no other choice. Women need to feel honored for their choices, no matter what those choices are, instead of being made to feel like failures if they can’t “lean in,” or always work at the office, or not have spit up on their suit. Sometimes, perhaps even oftentimes, where we really need to “lean in” is at home.

Which is what the next post will be about.

* (I want to acknowledge that much of what I’m saying isn’t true for many women: I am speaking from my experience as an attorney, which is completely different than the experience I had, say, when I was waiting tables or cleaning houses and single parenting my son.)