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July 24, 2010

Parenting Imperfect: Summer down time a welcome retreat, but columns suffer

Daily Star

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At some point during the last eight years, I absorbed a quote about parenthood and war being similar in that both contain large stretches of nothing much punctuated by moments of abject terror. I'd love to tell you who said this but my memory is so shot after two kids that I can barely remember what they have said mere seconds after they have said it. Sadly, my usual memory prompt _ a.k.a. the Internet _ is no help.

As I write this (and this could all have changed by the time it sees print), we're in one of those long stretches of nothing much. My summertime morning routine consists of nothing more exciting than walking the Diva to various lessons in Wilber Park. I spend the time catching up on all of the non-work books that I've wanted to read. In the afternoons, we amuse ourselves in typically summery ways, in water or under fans or in movie theaters.

It is delightful to have this down time. The down time makes for unexciting columns, however.

On more than one occasion, I've found myself staring at the kids trying to will them to do something interesting enough to carry a column. This is stupid on a number of levels:

First, the kids should be more than little material generators for their writer mom (although I do think that letting me write about them should be a reasonable trade for free room and board).

Second, "interesting" in our house frequently translates to "painful" or "messy" or "disturbing." Wishing for a house covered in cat fur, floam and tears is a truly bad idea. The quiet will break itself soon enough, with or without my urging.

Third, and, perhaps, most importantly, I wouldn't be able to do justice to something interesting because I can't get much kid-free time in which to write. While there may be writers who are able to write scintillating copy while being asked every 10 seconds if we can go to the pool now, I am not one of them.

Back when my oldest was still in utero, it was frighteningly common for folks to point out that writing was the perfect job to have when you have children since you'll be at home anyway. I just smirk when I think about how I used to believe that.

If you've lived with kids under the age of 10, you know that it is well-nigh impossible to do anything that requires focus if they are in the house and awake. Even just making a phone call is a challenge. For the hours preceding picking up the phone, no one pays any attention to you. Start to talk to someone and, suddenly, it's like you're giving away ice cream cones and free puppies. Hang up and you're invisible again.

Even baking cookies is a challenge right now. The Boy is tall enough to see onto the kitchen counters. He reminds me of a golden retriever I once knew, who would use his snout like a periscope to seek out treats to sneak off of the counters when their rightful owners were distracted.

The Boy likes to hang out at my elbow when I'm cooking. He doesn't want to help, no matter how hard I've tried to draw him in. He just wants to distract me, usually with endless strings of questions, from what I'm doing long enough to steal dough or lumps of brown sugar. It's even better when I trip over him. While I'm down, he can snatch handfuls of sweets.

One of his newest tricks is to treat the ice and water dispenser on the front of the refrigerator as his own personal fountain. The Boy is now the right height to stand in front of it and place his head in just the right spot so that the water hits his mouth when he pushes the lever where the glass should go.

What amazes me is how infrequently he misses.

What infuriates me is how much water winds up on the floor when he does.

I know this period of nothing much will end, if not during the summer, but certainly once school starts back up in the fall.

Then I will do nothing but complain about the non-stop running around and the irritating minor grievances.

If nothing else, they'll make for good column fodder.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," which was published in March. Her columns can be found at