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Updated on March 25, 2013

As a mom of three – (10 if you count the seven furry creatures that also share our dwelling) – I sometimes find it exhausting to rear offspring, run a household, work, be an awesome friend, be a super awesome wife and find time on top of that to visit WalMart for the obligatory grocery trips. Perched precariously in the foxhole of motherhood, I count my blessings whenever I can nab more than fifteen minutes of luxury “ME” time. I absolutely adore the fruits-of-my-loin, but 8 minutes in the shower is no longer enough time to stifle the sounds of sibling banter, ringing phones, barking dogs and queries of lost shoes, belts and homework.

If multi-tasking were an art, I’d be Picasso. If finding lost items were a mad skill, I’d have a merit badge. If mind reading were a talent, I’d have been on Star Search years ago. (I can barely remember the girl who used to sleep 14 hours and turned to dust if she awoke before noon. I am amazed when I recall the days when I couldn’t pump gas and carry on a conversation, much less something monumental like simultaneously balancing the checkbook while cooking dinner and folding laundry.) This is nothing special because every mom I know – every mother worth her plaster-of-Paris handprint paper plate wall plaque – does all of this and more. I swear to the Good Lord I have one friend whom I have witnessed changing a diaper, talking on her cell phone, texting, carrying on a conversation with a four year old, and loading a dishwasher ALL AT THE SAME TIME. She knows how precious “me” time is…she has a T-shirt that reads “SILENCE IS GOLDEN: DUCT TAPE IS SILVER”.

So tonight I find myself in a vacuum of silence. A moment of meditation. A Niche of Nothingness. And to think I forgot to buy wine. There is only one problem. My brain. I could nap. Nope. I could read. Nope. I could do yoga and meditate, check off some things on my list, plan my next big artistic endeavor...nope. What is really happening is a gallimaufry where my mind is rattling off ideas, fragmented notions, grocery lists, ponderings, hopes and dreams, trivial tasks, what-ifs, favorite foods, forgotten forms, and weird questions about how the Keeners got their name.

The Keeners are some of my ancestors, from Ireland, and they were professional keeners. Just imagine: Uncle Patty passes into the Great Green Beyond and he is lovingly prepared for burial. Once the body is ready, the official keening begins, started off by the Caointhe (lead keener) and followed by the other keeners, then the rest of the family. The Caointhe would read poetry, sing in meter then cry and wail. Other members of the funeral would sometimes sing along or repeat the verses. The process would start all over again whenever a new person arrived to pay their respects. Traditional Irish wakes lasted four nights! That’s a lot of poetry, folks. Come to think of it, I have met some WHINERS. Not quite the same thing….

Naturally, thinking of family leads me to ponder my grandmother – whom I am babysitting tonight. She has dementia, but our night has been peaceful and uneventful. In body, she is as healthy as – well, healthier than her own daughter, who has Lupus and yet cares for her. Gigi (my grandmother) had to have her meds re-evaluated, so she recently did a stint in the hospital. Mom and I both joked, “Heck, let ME go in there and relax for two weeks!” In my mind, I imagined Gigi lolling in a comfy bed, watching soap operas and eating three squares a day. I envisioned Muzak wafting over the intercoms, elderly people cruising up and down the halls on their scooters and Gigi doing some kind of low-impact exercises – perhaps a bout of Wii bowling. Nurses in pretty scrubs would float in and check her stats – smiling and chatting loudly (Gigi refuses to wear her hearing aides because people are using them to spy on her). To Mom and me, two weeks in the home sounded idyllic….if not a little mundane.

It was, in fact, ruinous. Gigi was fully functional when she arrived. She was potty trained, able to dress herself and fully capable of performing all normal physical functions. Who knew the place was more understaffed than Folsom Prison? For mindless convenience, they stuck Gigi in diapers. Gigi has never been in diapers. When hypochondriatic Gigi began complaining with minor pain in her knee they started pumping her with oxycontin! Gigi has never been on any pain medication other than Tylenol. Then they fed Gigi every time she grumbled for a snack – so much so that she gained almost 15 pounds in two weeks! Gig never drinks coffee, yet she had coffee with three meals a day – and to think the nurses were alarmed when her heart rate went up. So naturally they put her on blood pressure medication. Gigi is on a diet because of her meds, but that didn’t seem to matter. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet via her hospital tray. Diapers, drugs, coffee and gluttony. Who knew retirement centers could treat elderly strangers with the kind of acts that would get any mother of school-aged children thrown in jail by Child Services for the same behavior?!

Mom went to get Gigi only to find her lying naked in her bed, her diaper looking like something a neglected 1-year-old would be proud to display. My Mom went nuts. Nurses came from everywhere. Confusion, chaos and excuses flew around the room. Mom demanded to see the caseworker and the staff. Gigi got up, got dressed and readied herself to go home. Mom asked why they gave her a 30 day prescription for Oxycontin – something most people couldn’t score if they were missing limbs…they simply said she didn’t have to get it filled. People often wonder why we don’t want Gigi placed in a nursing home. They couldn’t care for her for a mere 16 days. Just think: Gigi had to quit ice cream, adult diapers, coffee and oxycontin cold turkey.

Turkey. I have to go to the grocery but I cannot find the name for the phobia where I hate to grocery shop. If I could hire someone to do one thing for me, it would be grocery shopping. Ugh. Meal plans alone – after 16 years – yikes. I used to keep up with all of my meal plans – recycling them. Now I just wish they’d hurry up and invent some new meats. Turkey, ham, beef and chicken have had rerun after rerun, like a bad sitcom that never goes off the air…and my family treats most seafood like something you scraped off the sidewalks of New York, so that’s not an option.

I love watching the Food Network and my inspiration soars – if only I could find a store that sells cream from pure-bred Swiss cows hand-expressed by virginal maidens…or the finest salt procured from the deepest crevices of exotic Russian mines– but in the end they make me feel human again when they add the phrase “or store-bought will do”. I love to cook, and I don’t even mind cleaning, but the shopping wears me down. To me it’s like a math equation (I took Algebra four times if that tells you anything). Take 45 minutes of fluorescent lights times the number of steps you take on a concrete floor, add the number of buggies and gossipers you must dodge with the number of items you must add to your buggy, then multiply that by the number of things you suddenly remember when you get to the front of the store….now divide that by the minutes waiting in line and add how many people are in front of you – multiplied by all the items in their buggies….minus the amount of your bill…you see where I am going with this? It is a nightmare – the worst kind of 1st world problem.

First World Problems. I had never even heard of that phrase until two weeks ago. Now it is everywhere. My kids were watching a commercial on TV – the one about the starving children and how your “penny a day” will feed them. My 9 year old asked me, “Mom, why is that fat white man talking about how hungry everyone is? He obviously isn’t hungry.”

My 12 year old chimes in, “Yeah Mom, they could have gotten a really skinny person to talk about it – so it wouldn’t look so bad. He obviously hasn’t missed a meal…

My 14 year old finished by saying, “I have read that your penny may not even go to that child…how can a penny feed someone all day? It would be more believable if they said they needed $10 a day to feed them.” I was curious – my little skeptics were savvy and full of innocent inquiries, but what did they know about First World Problems? I asked them.

What is that?” my 9 year old son asked. Exactly. The irony is in the ridiculous title. First World Problems. We all know what kinds of problems Third World countries face – but us?

I know it’s silly stuff, like not finding a parking space or having a restaurant get your order wrong I guess.” My 12 year old said. She was right – I think. My first guess would have been our own challenges – such as our homeless veterans, our own orphans, our sick who cannot afford insurance…but that is where I would be wrong. My children and grandchildren have to live in this world – First or Third or Whatever…I once explained to my children the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, born after the Holocaust in 1948. I told them we each “own” 30 basic human rights – as does everyone.

They do not teach this stuff in schools – so we had a discussion. We are all born free and equal. We have the right to live, to eat, to have shelter and to have our own convictions and beliefs. We have the right to marry, have families, have nationality, move, speak freely, have asylum, a fair trial, justice, education and the right to own things. The kids thought it made perfect sense – especially the idea that every child in the world deserved a home, food, a family and safety. Those who do not have such things should get help. My daughter even said she would love to send financial aid to other children in our country. Not overseas. She specifically said that since we live here, we should help other kids who are here. She wanted to send money to a Native American family on a reservation – but there are never any advertisements for that kind of thing. Her request to keep her help here at “home” made sense.

And now my parents are home – back from their date night. Perhaps these moments of “me” time are for this: making sense of the world and piecing together the puzzles which are our interactive lives. Heck – I’ve multi-tasked while sitting here – I have diner planned for tomorrow night and a grocery list ready to go. My First World problem of not having enough quiet time is definitely one with which I can live. Silence is golden, but I can never find the duct tape.


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