Carol Kaufmann

Writer, Editor, Etc.

Your Own Personal Daily Show January 27, 2010

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 10:09 pm
By Carol Kaufmann,  Columnist, “Mama Tricks: Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood”

I’m grateful for The Daily Show. As Jon Stewart turns the absurdity of current events into a joke, I turn to Hubby and say, “Thank God for them.” Stewart and his talented crew get it – in a way you know is spot-on, but you, in your sleep-deprived existence could never express. Powerless to stop the constant stream of headlines that makes me slap my forehead in incredulousness, at least I feel not so alone each night when we press play and watch our beloved Show recorded from the day before.  Sometimes all you can do is laugh.

daily showAnd this, fellow mommies, is what gave me the idea for another Mama Trick.

Think of all in your life that now just doesn’t make much sense – all that is just a wee absurd, which is, admit it, is most of it. I can tick off a few choice items without much thought:

My toddler threw up exactly where one of the cats did which required more color-zapping stain remover on the navy blue carpet. Speaking of cats…

One also threw up in my purse.  And it’s hard to get off hairball detritus with a baby wipe when you’re late for work. Speaking of work…

I fell asleep this week at my desk, sitting up, reading a perfectly interesting article. Even better…

I got lost five times going to the office yesterday because, I guess, my automatic pilot is in permanent “off” position. And…

I was gloating that I made it to the gym during my lunch hour until one of my nursing pads flew out of my jog bra during a male-led, male-attended Butts, Guts, and Guns body sculpting class. Then…

I forgot to put infant diapers in the go-bag so Precious Baby had to wear her two-year-old brother’s size 6, like an actress wearing a fat suit.

I mean, can we make this stuff up?

daily showWhat if, at the end of each day, we could insert our own events into a Daily Show dialogue and rewind them in our heads, like a cerebral TiVo?  Imagine a mini Jon Stewart perched on your shoulder, ticking off all those motherhood incidents that bring you to near tears and laying them out there for a laugh. A personally tailored comedy routine would help us feel part of a greater community, happy to know that others get the joke, too.

daily showThere is, in fact, a whole group of creative talent with a deft understanding of the inherent absurdity in mommyhoodland. You have a team standing right behind you, nudging you to throw up your hands and laugh about it all. Though we can’t see them when reading a column on the internet, they’re all around us – the thousands of mothers who have been there and done that, and, after much practice, mastered the art of laughter through tears.  If we listen closely, I bet we can even hear the chuckles.

Copyright 2007 Carol Kaufmann

Carol Kaufmann regularly shares her “Mama Tricks” with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.

First posted on Thewellmom.com, December 5, 2007.

 

Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 10:06 pm
Mama Tricks: Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood

busy momBy Carol Kaufmann
I had the chance to go on a retreat for work. It was to be held at my boss’s weekend house, with promises of creative brainstorming (which I love), socializing (which I love), and good drink (which I could use). A further bonus: helpful hubby encouraged me to go, thought it would be good for my career, and was willing to go two-against-one with our bundles. Problem was – it was a three-day trip and my baby girl wasn’t yet three months old. Aside from the obvious problem all nursing mothers have – pumping and storing milk – I had a bigger one: Precious Baby doesn’t like her bottle, no matter what’s inside it.

When it comes to trips, I go. A weekend jaunt, a last-minute air deal to London, trekking in the Sahara – I’m there, suitcase packed, passport ready. And I’m a relatively ambitious career gal who would never minimize the importance of meeting colleagues face-to-face, especially since all my bosses are in New York and I work in a satellite bureau. To them, I’m a one-dimensional picture on our phone directory. Passing up any trip, especially one like this, would have been unheard of two, three years ago. Then again, babies have a way of redefining you. The best decision was to stay home. Fortunately, my boss understood. But the subsequent guilt over bypassing this chance to be an adult stung.

This recent decision highlighted a gnawing life trend that I know has grated on many moms since the advent of two-income families and streamlined personal technology that only makes your life busier. The pangs of choosing.

No matter what I’m doing, I question whether I should be doing something else. If I’m with my kids, I feel the tug of work. If I’m working,  “irresponsible mother” eeks out my pores. Then, once that balance is as good as it can get, I start thinking of other deserving life-priorities: phone calls to friends, visits I owe extended family, exercising, buying healthy food, (then there’s fixing the healthy food) and saying yes to my exhausted husband who’d love for us to actually make it through a whole movie before falling asleep.

All good choices. But it kills me that there MUST be choices and I’m never comfortable making any of them. I’m not comfortable always being torn.

I was expressing this frustration to my hubby for the 64th time. He told me F.Scott Fitzgerald once defined genius as being able to hold two opposing views in their minds at once. Hmmm.

Genius I’m certainly not. And with the permanent effects of sleep deprivation, I’m sure few new-ish moms would make such a claim. But we can dare to emulate the intellectually gifted. Why couldn’t we hold the idea of being a full-time mom, full-time professional, full-time friend, volunteer, daughter, medic, housekeeper, and fill-in-the-blank at the same time? Why couldn’t that imagery always be present in our minds, available for recall at a moments notice.  Isn’t believing also being?

Imagine yourself a fully functional mom, a professional who can bring home bacon, and whatever other identity you value. You are these people all of the time, whether or not you’re wearing that particular hat at the moment. While you’re fully engaged holding your infant or rescuing a toddler from a tumble off the sliding board, your dormant professional is still there ready to take up residence when called. So is the loyal friend, house nutritionist, the amateur athlete. One identity is on and the others work subconsciously. Just like a diamond – no matter which facet of the stone is in the light, the whole gem shines.

So while I missed the brainstorming retreat, I did come up with a few new ideas for work that weekend. It happened when I least expected it, during a full-mom moment at home, sitting on my juice-stained couch, while my toddler was streaking through the kitchen and I was feeding Precious Baby. I also figured out what we could eat for dinner. Genius, indeed.

Carol Kaufmann will regularly share her Mama Tricks with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.

First published on thewellmom.com on October 17, 2007.

 

Pre-Inauguration Angst

Filed under: Reader's Digest stories — carolkaufmann @ 10:01 pm

As the inauguration approaches, my inner-grump begins to emerge. I remember past Inauguration Days all too well.  The freezing temperatures, the huddled cold masses of bodies searching for available viewing spots and Port-o-Potties. I distinctly recall leaving off that crucial layer of thermal underwear because I thought someone might actually care about my bulky, unsightly jeans.

This particular year, worst of all, the District is cautioning residents daily to not rely on our normal modes of transportation–the fabulous Metro, Buses, our cars–because security will be so tight and the lines so long, that chances are we’ll be outside the security perimeter come swearing-in.  I can’t even go to work that day because our building is way, way to close for comfort and will be shut down.

Then there are the Don’t-Get-Me-Started Balls. First of all, they’re not balls. At a Ball, the coat check isn’t a mosh pit with hundreds of long, black wools ending up on a grimy floor. At a Ball, it’s possible to dance without smelling what the couple next to you had for dinner. Oh, and at a real Ball, there might actually BE dinner…not wine in a plastic cup that costs $5.00 and boxes of peanuts and a white bread sandwich for a few extra bucks. These, er, gatherings should be called exactly what they are: hysterical parties. This is all perfectly fine—for those who have extreme bladder endurance, coats they don’t give a hoot about, and have learned over the years NOT to wear anything full-length because it will inevitably wind up with at least one large footprint or unsightly tear.

See? The inner-grump emerges.

Yet, this year, there’s just no way I can sit home. My mother announced she’d be traveling to D.C. to take my darling 10-year-old niece to witness this event of history. Mackenzie is over the moon about the trip and has persuaded her teachers to let her go, a full report promised upon return. My mother says she’s never been more excited about a president since JFK–and there was no way she could go to that inauguration when she was 10. Being smack-dab in the middle of these generations, how can I not witness what shall surely be a spectacle?

But as fun as our adventure getting to the Mall might be, I know deep down they’re only part of the reason I’ll make the trek. Even though the economy is teetering on a precipice, even though everyone I know (generally parents with small kids) aren’t buying a thing because they’re scared of spending, and even though many people I know are in serious danger of losing their homes, not to mention their jobs, there is something stirring. In the midst of all uncertainty, this president-elect is ushering in a palpable, undeniable feeling of hope. The hope has spread across this huge and multicolored continent and tomorrow it will emerge in human form in one three-mile stretch from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial. Touching that, being a part of that illogical optimism that might actually make perfect sense, will be well worth the cold feet.

This Inauguration—this beginning—is also the time for me to depart Shared Space (Those corporate budget cuts run deep!) I’ve loved spending time with you. Thank you for writing in, sharing your thoughts, and being a part of something that is bigger than all of us.

First appeared on rd.com, January 7, 2009.

 

A Mother in Iraq

Filed under: Reader's Digest stories — carolkaufmann @ 10:00 pm

Today, my post is a bit of a departure. Last fall, I had the chance to talk with Linda Robinson, a wife, mother, and long-time volunteer from Dallas, Texas. Linda had accepted the mission of opening the first USO center in Iraq. The center is located at Balad, an enormous American base in one of the most hostile parts of the country. Linda and I continued corresponding through email once she was there; she’d graciously answered my questions, though managing the center demanded nearly all of her time and energy. She has a special interest in taking care of the troops in Iraq; her son is about to be one of them. Linda gives us a glimpse of downtime during war, reminding us how some Americans are spending their new year.

Here’s her story.

I had never been away from my family so the thought of being this far for this long was a big decision.  My husband knew that I did not just flippantly decide one day to leave it all and go to Iraq. He knew that coming here was a deep calling that I felt from God.
Linda in Iraq
Linda poses with two soldiers in Iraq. (Courtesy Linda Robinson)

Even though this is the first USO Center in Iraq, we still have troops come in who are surprised to know there is a place that provides them some of the comforts of home. All the snacks! My friends in Texas organized a chocolate drive and shipped us over four hundred pounds of chocolate. It was devoured in less than a month! We try to keep peanut butter and jelly out for them. They would rather fix a PB&J and sit here than go to the dining facility where there is every kind of food imaginable. I think they love being in a homey environment and having nurturing women to talk to.

We have this beautiful theater room with comfy chairs and yet the soldiers seem to prefer to sit in the lounge where the staff members and volunteers are and watch movies. I think it is because they are hungry to have someone to talk to…I should say to have someone listen. I hear the stresses that many of these troops face, the broken homes and financial struggles. In a typical day, we see pictures of their children, hear stories from R&R, and console a few broken hearts.

United Through Reading continues to be one of the most popular programs here.  This is a program that enables the troops to videotape themselves reading a book to their children.  The USO then sends the videotape/DVD and the book to the soldier’s family so their children can have the experience of their parent reading to them while they are still serving away from home.  It may sound a little strange, but it is one more thing that we do to try and keep the troops and their families connected. The response here has been overwhelming.  We filmed 601 recordings in July alone.

United Through Reading

A soldier in Iraq reads a story to his child as part of the United Through Reading program. (Courtesy Linda Robinson)

The troops need to know that the American people back and support them! I would encourage others to find ways to encourage the brave men and women serving in our military. It can be something simple like sending a care package or prepaid phone card, participating in a deployment or welcome home ceremony at the local airport, or supporting the wide range of USO programs, all of which make life better for our young men and women serving in uniform.  Whatever you do, our soldiers will appreciate knowing that you took time to think about them and their needs.

I love being here with the troops. They are all my sons and daughters. My son, John Micah, is at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and will leave for Iraq again [soon] for another tour. I see my [him] in so many of the troops. I watch them and wonder what my son would say or do in similar situations. I see the lines for phones and computers and marvel that my son would be so patient to wait in a line like that to connect with us when he was here in 2004. As I drive around the base, especially out by the wire that protects me from what is outside, I find myself praying for my son’s safety even now before he is deployed. I know the reality and know my son will possibly be out there and plead with God now to protect him.  My husband has been my greatest encouragement. I am sure there were times when he would have liked to have told me to pack it up and come home, yet he supported me through the tough issues. Several times a week he sends me poetry.

First appeared on rd.com, December 23, 2008.

 

The Best Gift Ever

Filed under: Reader's Digest stories — carolkaufmann @ 9:57 pm

I grew up surrounded by teachers. I remember the late nights my mother spent grading papers, correcting first attempts at cursive writing, meticulously cutting giant letters out of construction paper for bulletin boards for her second graders. She and my aunt, who taught first grade, would sometimes combine their efforts and traipse the countryside searching for the perfect pinecones for a Christmas tree craft project (this, before the PC era of no religion in schools). Occasionally, their mother would assist. A retired teacher who taught in a one-room school house, grades 1-6, she understood their needs and would lend her stash of buttons or quilt patches. So much of their effort was on their own dime. They did all this because, well, that’s what they did. Teaching children was their vocation.

I think most teachers are like this. Completely committed, often self-sacrificing underdogs—and rocks—of our communities. That’s why I was estatic to come across—quite by accident—the best gift idea ever. Donorschoose.org connects teaches who want educational supplies for their needy students in low-income or poverty-stricken areas but are unable to buy them because of tight public-school budgets.  It’s simple. Teachers submit proposals for their idea on this not-for-profit website. The site categorizes proposals by subject, area of interest and state. Anyone online can choose the project nearest and dearest to them, select to fund the whole thing, or contribute a few bucks. When the project is fully funded and materials are delivered (by donorschoose), each donor who contributed over $100 received hand-written thank you notes from the students themselves. The kids send photos of themselves using the materials and write thank you notes to the donors.

What could your donations buy? Mrs. C, a high school teacher from Liberty, Mississippi, requests 150-200 preserved frogs for dissecting purposes. Mrs. M, a reading specialist in Houston, Texas, requests the magazine Time for Kids to help her students get excited about reading. Ms. R’s would like 22 copies of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted for her Maryland psychology students.

The site tracks and posts all donations. Since 2000, $27,092,093 has been given to over 1.6 million students in all 50 states. That’s a lot of chalk! (actually books, stethoscopes, memory cards, audio cards, toner cartridges, video cameras… and frogs). And if you can’t decide what to give, there are always Giving Cards you can purchase in honor of someone else—and the honoree gets the thank you note.

Yes, friends, philanthropy has never been easier. I can’t wait to tell Mom.

First appeared on rd.com, December 10, 2008.

 

Surprise!

Filed under: Reader's Digest stories — carolkaufmann @ 9:56 pm

December birthdays are tough. Those of us who were born around the busiest, most anxiety-ridden and cash-strapped time of year know.  Everyone who has a December baby in their lives—and given that our conceptions took place in the Spring, this should be about everyone—may also have encountered this non-birthday phenomenon.

But if not, allow me to share. As a child, your BIG DAY comes amid the class holiday party so any recognition is shared with cupcakes with red and green icing. Winter vacation has already begun and many of your friends have “family plans” that prevent them from celebrating your day accordingly after school. High school and college only bring final exams, due theses, or the anxiety that goes with end-of-semester stress. Friends are busy cramming, too, or stuffing their laundry bags for home. Later, in the professional, post-college life, office colleagues focus on the potluck or finding a clever Secret Santa gift. Friends are caught up in the Christmas swirl of events, traveling home for the holidays, or if they’re very glamorous, the Caribbean.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

But from where I have sat for a good thirty-something years–on the calendar square of December 19—I’ve never understood what all the hoopla is about birthdays. Party hats? Streamers? A sugared sheet cake? Whatever! No, I never got it. Until this weekend.

After a tough year that brought my little nuclear family of four loss that we’ve never experienced–the loss of my dad, our jobs, and not to be overlooked, our health insurance,  my sweet husband threw a surprise party for me. A surprise, especially, because it occurred a few weeks before the actual date of a birthday that didn’t end in a five or zero. If he threw a party on the actual date six days before Christmas, he thought, our friends would be too soaked in eggnog, committed to making fruitcake, and unable to add anything else to the holiday plate. This, I thought, was genius.

The move was also brilliant because it gave me the one thing I most needed during a sorrowful time—a circle of friends, in person, at a small creperie on a Saturday night. To top it off, my best friend, who I hadn’t seen in way, way too long, got on a train on a frigid night and hightailed it down from New York. This memory—the sight of people I love around a messy dinner table with savory food, wine and conversation flowing will keep me going until my bad luck lifts. A gathering of old friends does everyone some good. I could see it in their faces.

You never know who you’ll touch by your effort. In this cold, harsh winter, surprising one who leasts expects it can change her—or his—entire outlook in ways you can’t imagine. So go ahead. You don’t really need an excuse. Surprise someone this season.

Especially if they were born in December.

First appeared on rd.com, December 9, 2008.

 

Ending with Grace

Filed under: Reader's Digest stories — carolkaufmann @ 9:55 pm

One of the greatest gifts my father ever gave me was planning his own funeral.

When my seemingly healthy, physically fit father was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer last year, he went to his financial planner and made sure my mother would never have to worry about a bill. WIth Mom’s help, he cleaned out the attic so my brother and I wouldn’t have to sort through piles of “collectibles,” junk, and memories. He went to the funeral home, picked out a casket and plot and paid for everything in advance. He updated his will and made a living one. Carefully, he told my brother and I he had done all of this, assuring us our inheritances were set. I didn’t want to hear any of it. I knew—just knew—he’d beat this thing. Kidney cancer was a bizarre diagnosis for an optimistic, easy-going sixty-something who never suffered more than a bad cold for as far back as I could remember.

I was wrong.  After my mom, brother, aunt and I watched him take his last breath on a cold Sunday morning a month ago, we were immediately thrown into the frenzy that happens when a man with many friends passes on.  Among the numerous calls, emails, visits, and covered dishes, we spent a long afternoon with a kind funeral director who had what seemed like thousands of questions.

Three-quarters of them had already been answered, thanks to Dad’s planning. The rest weren’t too difficult because we knew what he would have wanted; he’d either told mom or conveyed the answers to us kids. The process still took a good four hours and our biggest decision was which songs we wanted the soloist to sing. I couldn’t imagine enduring another minute that afternoon, which we would surely have had to do if we needed to select a casket and satisfy the bill (no small price tag, these funerals).  In retrospect, I realized my brother and I had time to write the tributes we gave at the service.

After the last of the well-wishers had gone home and the final casserole put away in the freezer for another day, Mom set about the business of settling his affairs. Once the death certificates came, it took her about a week. Though we’re still writing thank-you notes, the big check list, with items like bank accounts, property deeds, and  income for Mom, has been tossed. Instead, my brother and I spend the energy on the slow process of figuring out how the world works with our father not in it.

The burden of Dad’s death was enormous and is still very fresh. Having to make major decisions about the service and sorting through my mother’s financial situation would have sent me to the white-padded cell, I’m sure. There are enough conversations to have without adding major decisions to the heavy load. Dad’s compassionate gift of planning his final passage gave us unbelievable comfort at life’s most difficult, heart-wrenching time.

I write this for parents so you might considering talking to your children about your final passage and planning as much of it as you can.  I write this for children so you might ask your parents what they want in the end. If your stuck, the Engage with Grace project and the five questions they suggest answering can help get you started. Though you may not want to discuss it, I can assure you forethought is a gift of love.

First appeared on rd.com, November 29, 2008.