The Rockwood Files: A Tale of Two Dishwashers

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I’ve heard horror stories about how some spouses constantly butt heads with their in-laws. And I’m lucky because I don’t have those war stories. I love my husband’s family and he loves mine, and we’re blessed to get along the way we do.

But there’s one tiny bone of contention between my husband and my mother, and I land squarely in the middle of the debate. Perhaps you can be the judge. The question revolves around the proper loading of a dishwasher, and the issue comes up after we have Sunday lunch together and start the clean-up process.

In this corner is my mother, who has never once loaded a truly dirty dish into any dishwasher – hers or mine. She washes and rinses the dishes first and then puts them into the dishwasher for what she calls “sterilization.” In her mind, the dishwasher is an dishwasher2extra safety check to ensure the dishes have received “a good scald” and are therefore germ-free.

But rest assured you could safely eat from any plate she puts into the dishwasher well before she runs the wash cycle because it has already been scrubbed, rinsed and examined with a careful eye. She treats forks and spoons like a surgeon treats scalpels and retractors.

In the other corner is my husband, who has never once loaded anything resembling a clean dish into any dishwasher. He, like many men, takes the name “dishwasher” literally. If the machine is supposed to wash the dishes, then by all means, “let’s let it wash the dishes!” he insists. After all, there are other things to do and Sunday afternoon naps to be taken. Why waste time scrubbing lasagna remnants off of plates when we’ve invested in this expensive piece of machinery that’s supposed to do it for us?

But the debate doesn’t end there. When my mom loads the dishwasher, she’s careful to leave plenty of perimeter space around each and every dish and utensil. She worries that if the plates and bowls don’t have enough breathing room, they’ll be blocked off from all that hot, sanitizing water.

Tom, on the other hand, has a theory about how many dirty dishes will fit into the dishwasher. It goes something like this: “The number of dirty dishes in the kitchen is the same number that will safely fit into the dishwasher at any one time.” In his mind, the dirty dishes of two people or 20 people can and will fit into the dishwasher, if you just put your mind to it and pack them in there efficiently.

Remember that old commercial about how there’s “always room for Jell-O”? Tom applies that same logic to cups and plates, too. I must admit he is a master when it comes to finding that one last nook or cranny of available space.

A few weeks ago, as Tom squeezed yet another cup into what my mother deemed an overly full dishwasher, she actually put down her scrub brush, shook her head and said, “I just can’t watch this.” She had to avert her eyes from the horror of all those cups packed into the top rack like so many dirty sardines.

My philosophy is simple. Don’t criticize the cleaning method of anyone – mother or husband – who helps with the dishes because that criticism might dampen their willingness to help in the future.

But I can tell you this: When I unload the dishwasher, I can always tell which one of those two people loaded it, and I’m reminded of the opening line to that famous Dickens novel: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: How did I become my kids’ secretary?

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

For years, mothers have been expected to wear several hats to get the child-raising job done – cook, nurse, teacher, chauffeur, psychologist, housekeeper, event coordinator and detective. But I had no idea that “administrative assistant” would become such a big part of what I do each week.

It turns out that my kids – ages 12, 9 and 7 – need a full-time secretary to handle the reams of paperwork that modern-day child-rearing requires. They bring papers home almost daily that litter the kitchen countertops until I round them up, fill them out, sign them, attach checks to them and put them back into their corresponding backpacks.

I just finished a half-hour of paperwork that two of the three kids needed done: school picture day order forms, field trip mom secretarypermission slips and registration packets for 5th and 2nd grades. The school picture paperwork and field trip forms are self-explanatory. Moms have been doing that stuff for decades. But I suspect this registration hoopla is a fairly new phenomenon.

These days, you don’t just register your kid for Kindergarten and then cruise through the following grades year after year. Now you have to jump through the “please sign up my kid for school” hoops every single year: Name, address, age, race, email address, emergency contact, back-up for emergency contact, list of people who can check your kid out of school, names of people living in the household, allergy info, etc. Then you sign your name and circle “yes” or “no” at the bottom of the page to indicate whether or not your kid will be coming to school in the next grade up the following fall.

When I was a kid, the routine was simpler. If your teacher didn’t call your parents to suggest that you repeat a grade, it was a fair bet you’d be back after summer break with new pencils and school clothes, ready to start the next grade. I’ll have to check with my mother to be sure of all this, but I don’t remember seeing her spend this much time filling out forms and returning registration packets. And that was before the Internet made everything “simple and easy.”

Even though some schools have their own smartphone apps, there’s no shortage of administrative acrobatics going on in households with school-age kids. We sign reading logs and homework reports. We check daily emails from our kids’ teachers so we’ll have the most up-to-the-minute news on homework assignments and deadlines. Then we go through weekly folders that contain all the important documents that need our attention. In the Spring, we fill out these registration packets so we can do it all over again next fall.

The kids reminded me several times today that I should fill out the registration packets right away so they could get them back to school in time, thereby assuring their spots in the next grade up. They’re under the impression there might be a mad rush on the 2nd and 5th grades by a horde of eager new elementary school students, and they can’t take a chance on being the ones left standing when the elementary school music stops. I promised I’d make sure they got in before all the desks are taken.

I’m sure schools do these things because families move around and they need accurate head counts to prepare for the next school year. It makes sense, I suppose. I appreciate the level of detail school administrators are responsible for collecting from thousands of families.

It’s just that all the paperwork adds up over the course of a year, which sucks up time, triggers hand cramps and inspires a sincere appreciation for summer break.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

My sweet addiction: Battling the sugar ninja

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

If you’d asked me a few months ago if I’m the kind of person who loves sweets, I’d have said no. And even though I didn’t know it at the time, that response would have been a big ol’ lie.

I would’ve answered “no” because I’ve always been able to walk right past a bowl of candy without hesitating. Even a plate of cookies won’t break my will. Chocolate fudge? Nope, I can do without it.

Upon further investigation, however, it turns out that yes – in fact, I am a raging sugar junkie even though I don’t crave what we sugartraditionally call “sweets.”

Here’s the thing: Sweets aren’t just for Skittles anymore. Sugar is everywhere. On my quest to drop about 10 to 15 pounds before the unforgiving arrival of swimsuit season, I’d been carefully counting calories but didn’t pay attention to sugar.

And it turns out that sugar had been kicking my diet’s butt.

Before we go farther, let me assure you I haven’t turned into one of those annoying people who brag about broccoli, preach the gospel of green tea and act disgusted when we mere mortals talk about eating a slice of pizza. I still love pizza, especially the thin crust of a hot, cheesy slice of pepperoni, and a “once in a while” dance on the dark side isn’t going to wreck anyone’s health or figure, in my humble, non-expert opinion.

But I’ve given up one of my favorite things in the world – Dr. Pepper. And it pains me to say it because I’ve started my day with a cold Dr. Pepper for as long as I remember. It’s been nearly a month now since I’ve sipped from that familiar maroon can and no one is more surprised than me.

It was my friend and Pilates teacher Jodi who convinced me to try giving it up. I was sure that one little miniature can of Dr. Pepper couldn’t possibly be the thing keeping my stubborn bathroom scale stuck at one number. Knowing I’d need hard cold facts to convince me, Jodi sent me dozens of links to research and news articles that spelled it all out.

Whether I want to admit it or not, sugar is my weakness. I might not have been eating it in jellybeans and brownies, but I was definitely scarfing it down in breakfast cereals, soft drinks, sweet tea, and packaged foods – some of which sound healthy but often have an alarmingly high amount of the white stuff.

Even harmless-sounding things like Raisin Bran have an eyebrow-raising level of sugar in them. Sugar was the ninja ingredient that was sneaking up to karate chop my progress, despite my best efforts to limit calories and get more exercise.

Sugar hides out near the bottom of most food labels where it attempts to play the sweet wallflower, so you really have to look for it and figure out how much is too much. I was amazed and more than a little sad when the research articles said that most women should only have about 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. Food labels don’t list it by teaspoons, so it’s important to know that 1 teaspoon equals about 4 grams of sugar, which means women need only about 24 grams a day. You can get more than that amount in one 6-ounce cup of Yoplait vanilla yogurt.

Perhaps one day, when I’ve detoxed from the extra sugar and I’ve learned better self-control, maybe I can sip a cold Dr. Pepper once in a blue moon without falling back down the sugary rabbit hole. But for now, I’m keeping an eye on those sneaky sugar ninjas and, slowly but surely, inching back down to a more bathing suit-friendly shape.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: What I’ve learned about stage fright

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Tomorrow I’m going to attend a luncheon and speak for 20 to 30 minutes to a room full of people. I’m headed to bed early tonight in hopes I’ll be rested and on my “A game” tomorrow.

But we all know the night before a speech is often a restless one. I’ve wasted so many hours lying in bed the night before an event thinking about how much I need to go to sleep, unable to stop internally replaying my presentation over and over again.

The fact that I’m doing the speech at all, though, is a big deal for me. When I say that I was painfully shy as a kid and teenager, I really mean it. I’m sure many of my classmates and teachers assumed I was mute. Shyness was one of the reasons I became a writer. It was just so much easier to talk to people on paper.

It wasn’t until my second year of college that I realized how much that anxiety would hold me back. So I signed myself up for a public speaking course. Being forced to practice public speaking in a class, with the guidance of a teacher, really did help me improve. Did it make me unafraid? Not even a little bit. And I doubt anything will cure me of that.

The fear reminds me of something Jerry Seinfeld talked about in his standup routine. He said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two! Does that sound right? That means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

In the years since I took that public speaking class in college, I’ve done my share of public speaking – including a couple of eulogies. I’ve emceed a few events, done public readings from my book, made countless business presentations, and I’m now part of a daily radio show. Just like my college professor said, the practice of getting up in front of people has helped more than anything else. Knowing that all those past public speaking events didn’t kill me reassures me that podium and microphoneperhaps I’ll live through the next one, too.

So if you, like me, fear the microphone but don’t want the fear to keep you from taking on opportunities, here are three simple little rules I’ve learned along the way that help me stand behind the podium and deliver.

Remember it’s just a story. You might be calling it a presentation or a keynote address or whatever, but at the heart of any speech is a story. And we’ve been hearing and telling stories since we were little kids. Strip out all the fancy “look how smart I am” language and just tell your story – sincerely, honestly and in a way that lets people know how much you care about it.

Don’t chase rabbits. That means you create a storyline and stick to it, resisting the urge to follow random thoughts down a 20-minute detour. Your audience needs to trust that you value their time, and they can’t do that if you’re busy chasing rabbits.

Give a good show. Any type of public speaking is a performance. Beyond impressive numbers or dazzling facts, audiences want to see a good show. Ask yourself if what you’re preparing is the kind of show you’d want to see.

Finally, remember that most people in the audience are already happy the minute you step up to the podium. Why? They’re immensely relieved that it’s you up there and not them. Break a leg.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Recipe for raising kids

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Yesterday, as I was standing over the stove stirring boiling macaroni noodles, I asked a question my family hears a lot around our house. “Wonder what I should write about this week. You guys have any ideas?”

When you have a weekly writing deadline, you often pick the brains of those around you, hoping to find a seed of an idea that might grow into something bigger once you give it a little time and attention. Sometimes that happens, but most of the time the family members just stare back at you, shrug their indifferent shoulders and say, “I dunno.” Then they go back to watching cartoons or ESPN.

People who live with writers usually learn, the hard way, that the creative angst leading up to a deadline is inevitable, and it’s best to just stay out of the way until the article is done and the temporary insanity has resolved.

But this time when I went fishing for ideas, I got lucky. Seven-year-old Kate piped up with this simple idea: “Just tell them how to raise kids.”

I laughed out loud when she said it but then quickly realized that she thinks I actually know exactly how to do that – as if I’m following a specific recipe like the one on the back of the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box. So I recovered quickly and said, “You know, Katie, that’s a good idea. I just might use that.” She beamed about the warm reception and went back to asking me how many more minutes before the mac & cheese would be done.

As I stirred in the packet of gooey cheese, I realized something that all mothers and fathers come to accept at some point during our parenting journey: “I have no idea what I’m doing.” And that’s a scary, humbling, exhilarating reality.

Sure, I learned a few things about parenting from watching my own parents. But they probably didn’t know what they were doing either. And they raised kids before email and iPhones existed, so the playbook has changed significantly.

The terrifying truth is that we’re all just making things up as we go along – tossing ingredients into the pot and hoping the results turn out the way we want.

Part of the reason I don’t like actual cooking is that, even when you follow a detailed recipe, things can always go wrong and, when I cook, they often do. My mother says I’m too uptight in the kitchen, that I should relax, experiment and accept that there’ll be a culinary catastrophe now and then. But I can’t stand the thought of wasting perfectly good ingredients, not to mention the time it takes to put them together.

And that’s just dinner! What if I accidentally screw up the kids – the most important ingredients God ever lends to us? What if I broil when I should have sautéed? What if I add chili powder when what they really needed was sugar? What if this all goes horribly wrong and they fall like ill-fated soufflés?

The stakes are so much higher than just dinner. But even though I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, it’s the most exciting, fulfilling creation I’ve ever been part of. I can hardly wait to see how it all turns out.

So, sweet Kate, thank you for your great idea. One day, perhaps when your kids are growing up, you’ll realize I had no idea what I was doing, and you won’t know either. So here’s my best “recipe” for raising kids:

measuring spoonsTurn oven setting to “Love” and pre-heat to 450 degrees.

Mix sweet babies with wide-eyed parents who’ll do anything to protect them.

Stir in heaping cups of on-the-job training, mistakes, and learning to do better.

Sprinkle generously with extended family, friends and good teachers.

Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly with time and attention – even while they’re teenagers and they claim not to want your time and attention.

Pour in your heart and soul and bake on high love temperature for as long as you can.

Remove from oven. Learn to “serve” those around you.

And, most of all, enjoy.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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