YouTube is Evil

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Can you hear Don Henley right about now? Never did I think as a young teen at summer camp that his slightly cheesy yet ever relevant classic bidding farewell to fairy tales would best summarize this particular juncture of my life. Still, somehow here we are:
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence…

It’s what happens when you have a curious, precocious child who absconds with your mobile device to explore the supposedly taboo. I had no idea what was happening upstairs until 1) I realized my phone was missing and 2) hours later I went to look up something on the internet… and up popped breasts so large they could have busted the glass on my phone. Mine eyes! Mine eyes!

I scrolled through the history of what had been viewed and let’s just say that Edith Wharton was way, way ahead of her time with Ethan Frome’s appetite for pickles and donuts. The difference being, of course, is that 100 years ago we were left to conjure up our own images, not the twisted documentations of disturbing minds posted on YouTube and similar sites. And those gems could not be brought to life by the touch of an innocent child’s finger.

Indeed the sun has set on our innocence.

My best defense needless to say is to take away the privilege of iPads, iPods, iPhones and iEverything. But that is a temporary solution. And anyone who knows us, our usage–very much G rated–is pretty minimal for starters.

The real issue to address is the curiosity, and do so appropriately. Our kids already know a lot. A LOT.  For example, the mystery of life had been inadvertently revealed in the opening scene of Black Beauty a while back. By the way, I highly recommend it to any parent as a template for that conversation.

Who doesn’t remember poring over What’s Happening to My Body? In our house I had the “for Girls” version and my brother had the “for Boys”, and we were forbidden to look at one another’s. Just last week on the plane my husband noticed a tween sitting in the row ahead of him sheepishly reading the American Girl version: The Care and Keeping of You– the Body Book for Girls. Ironically, the plane ride before that he sat next to a woman less covertly drooling over Fifty Shades of Grey. What would Edith Wharton think?!

On the evening of the discovery at hand, when my blood pressure returned to normal and after we had a lengthy talk with our darling child, I revised my to-do list for the week. It now reads:

1) Smack the hell out of a few hundred tennis balls                                                              2) Cash in on my gift certificate for a massage                                                                     3) Visit Barnes and Noble for some appropriate body-book reading material

Only, if only I liked wine…

 

 

Mangled Hearts

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Eight years and a couple of weeks ago I had a baby. She was perfect– except for the critically imperfect heart. Whisked away to the main Duke Medical Center, she underwent an emergency procedure on her walnut-sized damaged organ. We followed her there as soon as I could discharge myself, and we met the team who would save this tiny life. As the strikingly young and handsome doctor briefed us before the surgery, he began with the harshest of words: Your baby might die.

There I was– bleeding, swelling, sweating– with head spinning. Would you believe that over the course of the next hours I actually tried to convince myself that it was OK if she didn’t make it, because I never had the chance to know her anyhow? I’d like to chalk this up to postpartum delirium and circumstantial trauma, as opposed to terrible parenting and awful moral character.

Handsome Doctor emerged to update us that the procedure went as well as expected (weeks later we learned that this was his youngest patient yet– that normally this procedure isn’t done on babies only hours old). He had been cautious, and projected he would need to go in for a second attempt within a couple of weeks or several months. For now they’d watch and wait.

Later in the evening we went to visit our daughter– of whom we couldn’t see very much behind the tubes and wires. Clad in a tiny diaper and a purple cap with two pink hearts, she was sedated, intubated and medicated. But that little heart was beating. We couldn’t hold her, but we touched her and marveled at her– just as any new parents would. Days later, when she was at last no longer sedated, she broke free from the swaddle and ripped at her tubes. At that moment we knew we had a fighter.

Despite some additional complications, which included a giant blood clot, we brought her home eight years ago tomorrow. We’d have to inject her twice daily with blood thinners (yes, right there on the kitchen counter) and we’d be in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices for months. But there she was, and here she is, a fighter still.

Each year around Christmas I send off two holiday cards– one to the doctor from North Carolina and another to the New York cardiologist who performed the second repair. I know not whether they actually receive the notes, or even if they care to. Nevertheless, I include a photo and a brief update to document their masterful achievements. Not only did this child survive, she has thrived. From swimming to skiing to snowboarding to horse back riding to playing tennis to bike riding to skate boarding to competing in triathlons, this kid has no limits. Imagine what she would do with an undamaged heart?!

Also each year on her birthday I bake a cake, as does any parent. But mine is always in the shape of a heart. I have a compulsion, I suppose, to make whole what I originally created as flawed. This year, the cake didn’t quite slide out of the pan, and we were left with yet another mangled heart. There were some tears involved, until we reminded the guest of honor that her own heart doesn’t look so pretty but it gets the job done. She’s old enough to know that she has a special heart, one that goes lub-dub-squish, and that we love this about her.

Our little girl has a heart of infinite capacity. It’s imperfectly perfect.

How Does Justin Bieber Do That?

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His music is oddly pleasing, his hair intriguing and his man-child biceps endearing. But what fascinates me above all else regarding Justin Bieber is his massive Twitter following! Is he really that profound? Or eloquent? What is it that well over 33 million people–mobile devices afire–scramble to read?

Perhaps that’s just it: I don’t understand. Twitter and tweet– it’s all lost on me. And when it comes to social media I thought that I could continue to live in blissful ignorance for a while yet. I’ve long since been vocal about my resistance to joining the movement unless by necessity. Of course by necessity I mean  having to help my kids navigate the scene. I figured that would buy me some years, and maybe somehow this would all pass and the pendulum would swing the other way drastically so we could raise our kids without all of this crap technology.

Well, that’s not gonna happen now is it?!

Last week came the brutal awakening. Parents were notified that the second graders were now on Twitter. They’d be sending out tweets (as a group) from social studies, with the first informing us how, according to creation stories, the snake came to have no legs.

Oh, dreaded day!

With my son home sick and napping, I, the reluctant laggard, set up my Twitter account so that just in case my almost-eight-year-old daughter wanted to chat tweets I’d be one step ahead. Fast forward to the car ride back from school, when she asked what we had done all day. With pride and (feigned) enthusiasm I revealed my feat: setting up Twitter. Her response: What’s that?

Now not only did I have to join Twitter, I also had to explain it. My explanation involved birds, and announcements and mass communication and loads of (presumable) misinformation. I even brought Justin Bieber into the conversation to sound relevant. In the rear view mirror I could see her processing thoughts. Her response: So, if I wanted to announce that I were pregnant, then the people in China would know?

Holy S—!!!  Beat that one, Justin.

Can’t we just leave tweeting to the birds?

Lessons from an Unlikable Suspect

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My mom’s done it. My mother-in-law is still doing it. And Pukey Pukerson’s mom showed us how the real pros do it. What is it exactly? That would be resourceful outsourcing, all in the name of a successful vacation. This year after an epiphany on the slopes I joined the ranks.

I entered parenthood thinking that I was going to be the cool mom. Among the many activities I enjoy, I’d swim, bike, ski, play tennis, horseback ride– you name it– with my kids. I’d even teach them myself. Bring on the bonding opportunities!  (And of course they would appreciate them all.) The strategy seemed to work with my daughter, whose athleticism and risk-seeking tendencies favor such endeavors. At seven, with only a handful of “real” ski lessons under her belt, she not only keeps up but often leads the way down the hill. We’ll be chasing her in a season or two.

Then we put skis on my son. He’s a whole other animal– cautious, reserved and a little bit less than agile. My moment of defeat came on the first run. Half-way down the bunny hill I extricated him from between my knees and encouraged him to slide down just a few yards to where I would catch him. With that, he slumped to the snow– melting like the Wicked Witch when doused with water. Having duck-walked back up to him, I struggled to bring him upright. From that angle I just couldn’t lift 52 pounds of wet noodle. That’s when I knew: I would have to outsource to ski school.

Heartbroken (yes, both of us) we made our way to ski school the next day. That’s where we met Pukey Pukerson. This poor kid was waiting for his mom to purchase his ticket when his semi-digested breakfast reappeared all over the floor, his jacket and chin. His mom, completely unfazed, took some tissue from the counter, swabbed his coat, dabbed his face, then made a light attempt to remove the evidence. The result was a sizable and stinky stain on the carpet where the barf residue mixed with tissue filaments had seeped in. With that Pukey Pukerson was off to ski school.

There I was– the horrified and now nauseated witness– left to wonder doesn’t she know the universal rule that requires children be fever and vomit free for 24 hours before returning to school, camp, day care and so forth? Not 24 seconds, lady.

I mean really, what kind of mother sends her barfing child off to ski school for the day? The really hardcore, resourceful outsourcing kind. Nothing, especially not a little puke, was going to keep her from big plans for herself that day. Suddenly I didn’t feel like the worst parent ever, sending my own son through the rainbow arches of the ski school entrance with quivering lower lip. Now I just hoped for the sake of his very sensitive nose that he wouldn’t be in Pukey Pukerson’s group.

This incident was life altering for me. Not because of the trauma I suffered watching the kid vomit nor the aftermath. Rather, from Pukey Pukerson’s mom I gained invaluable perspective. It’s OK to take care of the self sometimes, even if it seems that in the moment it’s not in the best interest of the child. It just might be what he needs for long-term success. As a parent I do need to outsource from time to time. (Fortunately finances prevent us from doing it all the time because I can see how it could be completely addictive.)

I now see how outsourcing the family during vacation actually promotes successful family time. At long last it makes sense why my own ski-adverse mother agreed on and even looked forward to a family ski week. What fun was that for her, sitting around waiting for us all to return from the slopes? Therein lies the answer. She had time for her– and sitting by the fire alone, reading the paper alone, sipping coffee alone, enjoying a book alone, was vacation in and of itself.  She is the unsung genius of successful family vacations.

To that end, my mother-in-law is no slouch either. She still outsources– her retired, stay-at-home husband that is. Many a winter day she is asked to drive not just my father-in-law but also his cronies both to and from the slopes for an afternoon of skiing, burger-eating and beer-drinking. What?! Why on earth would she, a self-respecting woman, agree to this?! I silently pitied her for years, questioning doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time? Again, therein lies the answer. This alone time is the precious commodity, and being master of the car pool is the no-brainer trade-off.

We should all thank Pukey Pukerson’s mom. Not only has she schooled us in the art of effective and relentless outsourcing, but she has also made us look pretty darn good as parents!

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Tattoos and Piercing

This past weekend was bliss for my family: thirty-one uninterrupted nag-free hours. That’s right, while mom’s away the dad and kids play.  Though they sent adorable and quirky photos of their antics and adventures, while claiming to miss me, I think secretly they cast not one thought in my direction. They love the rare occasions when I take myself out of the equation probably even more than I do.

Those hours, meanwhile, are precious few for me. I hopped the train to LA, a beautiful journey along the coast. However, I didn’t take in much of the scenery as I was engrossed in my latest book The Shoemaker’s Wife— a recommended read for anyone lucky enough to take a long plane trip, sit quietly on a beach or have a few spare moments in the evening. So, probably not applicable to many of you in this busy and hectic life!

I was retrieved at the station by one of my dearest friends from summer camp days (yes, a witness to the haircut). I’ll never forget the day we met– she already a veteran of this eight-week sleep-away camp and I a complete newbie to this east coast tradition.  Confident, sprightly  and engaging, she captivated me immediately and took me under her wing. Fortunately she was able to look beyond the haircut to establish a  friendship that even today slides right back into that comfort of our 8-year-old selves.

The wonderful afternoon rolled into a pleasant evening in Santa Monica with my mother, brother and some special dinner guests. Even more special was the guy at the bar, who apparently forgot to put on jeans that would actually cover his extremely unattractive and completely exposed rear. I did try to capture a photo, but alas, my phone-photo skills failed me at this critical juncture. I invite you to conjure up your own visual.

Early Sunday morning my electric blue shoes took me along the beach to the canals of Venice.  I did contemplate stopping here to revamp my image, but I neither had the money nor the time to wait until it opened:

I sauntered slogged back along the “colorful” Venice Beach as a birthday brunch awaited in downtown LA. There my brother took us to a swanky eatery, and then introduced us to his surrounding neighborhoods. I definitely don’t miss city life, but it’s always nice to be able to picture your friends and families in their habitats once you see how and where they live.

My respite from reality was not complete without a Chinese foot reflexology session. These poorly paid, highly competent people are geniuses at their craft! It’s a good thing I don’t have access to such venues as I would escape much more often, justifying that I’m helping their personal economy.

Back to the Amtrak I went, this time accompanied by my mother. A short two hours later I returned myself to my family, trained to welcome me with enormous enthusiasm. It was brief of course, but lovely while the love lasted.

How quickly we settle back into the routine tasks as chores themselves never go on vacation. As I thought about that phenomenon, I was grateful for having had one night when no one peed in the bed– or if someone did, I wasn’t there to find it.

Oh, and that tattoo? Perhaps next time.

Confessions of a Fraudulent Halloweener

Guilt is powerful, paralyzing even. It holds some of us more captive than others, and strikes in unpredictable places. I am prone to guilt, and I worry too much. My husband claims that I worry about worrying, even when I have nothing to worry about. This I can’t deny. On Monday I was wracked by guilt as I swam laps outside, enjoying the mid-70’s sunshine in a pool heated comfortably. I kept company with the retiree water aerobics class, and feasted my eyes on the very tan and equally toned lifeguard leading the crew.  I did so as my friends and family were being pummeled by Sandy, and as the house we still unfortunately own was left to weather the fury powered only by a back-up marine battery. This battery, plugged into the sump pump, is like the little dutch boy’s finger jammed into the hole. Should it give, the system fails and the floods conquer. Only when power is restored are we out of the woods. Still we’ll own the damn house.

At least this time around I’m not stuck inside that house with famished, stinky, cooped-up children. The guilt of my feeling relieved magnifies as I know that others are in dire condition– financially, physically and emotionally. Thousands of miles away from them we carried on with living: school, work and Halloween.

My guilt surged on Halloween night, and not because in the chaos of the day I mistakenly switched my kids’ lunch items which they quickly brought to my attention after each went slightly hungry. Rather,  I was involved with perpetuating a fallacy that was revealed in the thick of trick-or-treating.  We discovered the truth: the California condor is not, in fact, the state bird. The quail won that honor back in 1931 when it beat out the condor for the title.

Not only is the condor frightfully unattractive, it’s also nearly extinct, so two valid reasons for missing out on top honor.  The condor, however, is on the state quarter as consolation prize. Hence the confusion, and one explanation for how we let our creative, crafty and proud seven-year-old don a condor costume and inadvertently dupe the neighborhood. As well as friends, teachers, administrators, parents and passers-by. In the months leading up to the festivities our daughter had announced to anyone and everyone that she would be representing the state bird, the condor, on Halloween. She’d be devastated to know that her costume– her inspired efforts– were inaccurate. I couldn’t tell her right then and there. Plus I needed to be sure.

In the haze of my Halloween hangover the next morning I scoured the internet for all things condor. Remember– the purpose of a sabbatical is for research. I’m now an expert in condor traits and facts, including full knowledge of why they purposefully defecate down their legs. Most importantly I concluded that they are, indeed, not the state bird. When I shared my findings with my condor-loving child later that afternoon, there were tears. I recognized those tears– they were guilt-ridden puddles of shame.

My condor kid truly believed that everyone at school, in the neighborhood and at the party where she had won first prize for best costume would deem her a liar. She even suggested that she should return her grand prize, the highly anticipated and already beloved MG (gaming system) that is en route from China as I type. Worst of all, she implored through her sniffles, Why didn’t you check more carefully?
How right she is, and how guilty I feel.

A stickler for accuracy, I try to triple-check everything. I don’t like to be wrong, and moreover, I refuse to make errors without taking ownership. I figured that she, too, would want to know the truth and to hear it from me instead of being called out by someone else. I’d rather be the bad guy. I’ll wipe away her tears, absolving her of guilt and absorbing it into my own.

There is little I can offer from afar to aid those affected by the hurricane, other than to open our home up for a hot shower (even without electricity we have gas-powered hot water). And we can’t redo Halloween unless we head to New Jersey to partake in the postponed affair on November 5th. The best I can do is to make a subtle modification to an essential part of that costume, and tuck it away in a keepsake box as a reminder that, when having erred, we move forward not with guilt but in good humor.

Brave Boy

Motherhood gives rise to various lose/lose situations over the years, with fashion responsible for more than several of them. Surely you can name instances of blaming your mother, “You never let me me wear what I wanted” as well as “I can’t believe you sent me out of the house like that.” My own recollections include Doc Martens (the former) and a certain Dorothy Hamill bowl haircut (the latter). Other questionable trends you might recall with nostalgia span feathered bangs, leggings with scrunchy socks and acid-washed denim jackets. And at the root of each missed opportunity and every regrettable outfit was your mom.

Just for a moment, though, let go of that hostility and step into her Keds shoes. It’s harder than it looks to guide your children through a world of constant and harsh judgment. It’s even harder on those of us whose kids have unconventional predilections. As a mother of two children who are each in their own right out-of-the-box thinkers and doers, I’m ever balancing my conflicting maternal instincts– one of which urges me to protect their vulnerability and the other to nurture their individuality.  To this end, Halloween is particularly stressful.

Spooky in origin, Halloween is actually a creepy night when wallflowers will transform themselves into Slutty Snow White and mansie-pansies into suave Magic Mike. Others perhaps are dripping with gore, or feigning super power.  People let loose, celebrating not who they are but who they could be when inhibitions disappear. They explore the other-worldly on a night when all limits are off.

Or are they?

Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed, such as when Prince Harry emerged as a Nazi. That was simply dumb. Others are more innocent. Cue my son, who makes a darling Merida this Halloween season. If you haven’t seen the movie Brave, you must, if only for the animation of Merida’s wild, fiery hair. Ironically, this was my son’s big draw to the character but now he doesn’t want to wear the defining wig. Herein lies the conflict. Clearly he is a boy in a dress, but with the wig, it’s less obvious. Protected by the wig his gender may go unnoticed as he parades around his new 1,000+ person school, complete with preschool-aged kids up to high school seniors. Without the wig, all bets are off. He is a boy in a dress.

Personally I have no problem with this. I am a woman who prefers to wear pants. This too used to be criticized and jeered– and not so long ago. It now sounds so silly doesn’t it?   I wish you’d all agree that pants and dresses don’t determine our worth as individuals, but that’s a naive request. For some reason not all of us are there yet. Articles celebrating gender creativity appear from time to time, each of which resonates profoundly. The most recent of note, from The New York Times Magazine (August), poignantly highlights boys wearing dresses.

Like several articles before it, this tells the stories of children living life unconventionally and parents supporting them unconditionally. Wouldn’t you do that for your child?

My mother thought she was doing right by the bowl haircut. I can assure you that it was wrong. So very wrong. Time will tell whether my purchasing the Merida outfit will be valued or resented. For now, what I can say with absolute certainty is that there are things much more twisted on Halloween than a boy in a gorgeous turquoise dress. Funny how if we are so concerned with what a child’s disguise implies about his or her future behaviors, decisions and lifestyles, that we condone– celebrate even– the blood-lusting, weapon-wielding, terror-seeking figments of horror portrayed by the conventional boy’s costume. I’d take unique over depraved any day. We witness too much violence in the world already. What we need to see more of are the awe-inspiring characters who encourage us all (and I write this in my best Scottish Princess voice) to follow our heartsto write our own story.

So when you see him, my brave boy, this Halloween give him a cheer. And maybe even an extra piece of candy for his mom. She deserves it.

The F***-ing Fours

I like my children a lot better when I am not with them. It has nothing to do with the time then that I have to myself, such as for exploring the best lunch options in the area (Zinc Cafe on the fabulous Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach won out this week). I was also able to partake in a timely discussion at my children’s school on Raising Kids in a Device Driven World. Note, the handful of very young siblings who were brought along by mothers were all plugged into iPads or iPhones. (I decided it best not to make a snarky comment on the irony, as that is no way to begin friendships in a new community). I attempted to donate blood but was thwarted by my travels to Mexico last spring. Apparently the area around Cancun is now considered a Malaria risk– though my lack of any extreme fever leads me to believe that my blood is actually desirable. And I also participated in a friendly tennis tournament for Breast Cancer Awareness (more later on my reversal of retirement from the sport). How easily I can combine selfish time with selfless acts when unencumbered by children!

No, I like my kids better because I have to believe that they are at their best when I am not in their presence. Just yesterday I asked my son’s teacher if he is always as pleasant as he is at pick-up, or is it just when I walk into the room. She confirmed the latter– fortunately for everyone else.

I’m simultaneously envious of and repulsed by the starlets who incessantly tweet about how in love they are with their babies. Clearly Kristin Cavallari is years away from being called Didiot by her son. Oh yes, at least mine is clever enough to add a consonant at the beginning of “idiot” so that he is not technically saying a naughty word, or so he reasons.

There has to be a bright spot in this madness. I know there is because my daughter was no picnic at four, five and even into six. Now she has terrific moments where she really reminds us that her exceptional qualities can prevail. But my son, well, right now he has a personality that only a mother could  has to love. And for some reason being around me brings out the worst in him, very sadly. The Terrible Twos didn’t happen for us, and at three he was still quite charming. Now we are paying for those years with the F***-ing Fours! Just under six more months to go…

Come March 31st I don’t unrealistically expect a miraculous emergence from this trying phase. But with each passing day there is the promise of raising a self-sufficient, socially-conscious, critically-thinking, compassionate citizen. I look toward positive role models of talent, intellect and humanity to keep me going in these child rearing efforts. How incredibly moving is the plight of Malala Yousufzai, the bright, young Pakistani blogger who fights for her life after a brutal assassination attempt? She is just fourteen. She is a mere seven and ten years older than my kids. Is it possible that my oft whiny, moody, snotty children can evolve in just a handful of years into mature, admirable, inspiring leaders? That may be a stretch, but dreams are meant to be lofty. We’ll keep working on taming the Didiot-shouting beast.

And above all we’ll keep sending our best wishes for Malala Yousufzai’s recovery.

Glory Days

I recently realized where I went wrong: I wasn’t knocked up in high school. Nor was I an adolescent alcoholic. And no sexual dalliances were ever leaked online. My dysfunctions were never exploited for public entertainment, and certainly not so by my momager. Wow, I was am boring. And boring is definitely not profitable. But perhaps in my next lifetime I will come back as a much more trashy version of myself and cash in on my indiscretions.

The latest person who has found fame and fortune through pure poor decision making is Farrah Abraham from MTV’s series Teen Mom. I’m all in favor of the network airing the young mothers’ struggles in an effort to decrease teen pregnancies and to help steer kids toward positive change. But somehow the intentions have been distorted. For one thing, more than several of these young women have put their financial gains into breast implants and hair extensions. Initially, I thought this was idiotic, but now I view the strategy as ingenious. With flowing hair and bouncing boobs, Farrah has landed her own spin off. And more disturbing, she has reportedly penned a New York Times Bestseller called My Teenage Dream Ended.

Yeah, my teenage dream ended as well.  But the only thing I came close to birthing in high school was an ulcer. That’s when I was holed up in the library, having given up my lunch period, to study. I committed every afternoon, and sometimes early mornings, to one of my three varsity sports practices. I recall Saturday nights dedicated to SAT vocabulary words and college essay writing. And I completed my community service hours, not because it looked good on those applications but because I enjoyed the effort. This is what I was doing instead of getting high and sleeping around– but that memoir would not be a bestseller.

So perhaps with degrees from my tony New York City private school, Harvard College and Tufts University, I’m not that wise and worldly after all. I could have spent my more formative years shirking responsibility and profiting from the outcome. My bucket list would have been so much more interesting.

Instead, being responsible has proved quite dull and sometimes draining. Just ask Kate Middleton, who bears the burden now of no longer being able to sunbathe topless. It’s hard to be a gorgeous royal role model who is allowed to do no wrong!

No, I don’t aspire to be Farrah or Snooki or a Kardashian, and I most definitely don’t want to raise a Honey Boo Boo. But it would be nice to have been a little (ok, a lot) less reserved. My parents always said that I was born thirty-five. And not a free-spirited thirty-five. So that would put me at pushing seventy-one. I had better get living then!

Today I am going nuts. Throwing caution to the wind. I’m blowing off responsibility and treating myself to something completely unproductive and frivolous.  I’m off to enjoy a foot massage– one that includes back, neck and shoulders to boot.

I just need to switch the laundry and make those damn beds first.