Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waging, But Not Winning, The War on Bathroom Lights, Halloween Costumes and Wet Towels.

I am a winner.

Or, at least, I have won the battle.  OK.  I have won a single battle.

Still.  As the single mom of 14-year-old Snarky Son (SS) and 12-year-old Darling Daughter (DD), I engage in hand-to-hand, wit-to-wit combat every day.  I'll take any victory I can get.

Some encounters are predictable, of course.  Every parent of school-age children sees frontline action in routine academic-expectations conflicts -- some more bloody than others.  We also encounter ongoing appropriate-dress skirmishes.  Really, who would think I would ever have to say -- out loud, mid-winter -- "no pants, no dinner"?  Do manufacturers no longer make girls' tops with sleeves?  And are those jeans?  Or some kind of new-fangled denim tights?  Clothing casualties abound Chez Wiles.

I can't help but engage in the day-to-day respect-for-your-elders battle, even when I brandish nothing more threatening than such war-weary cliches as, "Because I said so," and "I don't care what your best friend is doing," and ultimately, "Just stop talking to me."  Easy to see how I earned the title, Worst Mom Ever, right?  And chores-ignored?  Well, as SS and DD hear it, Whah, whah-whah, whah-whah.  Hmmph.  So much for my planned stealth attack on individual responsibility, contributing to the household, and those dang cat litter boxes.

These are just the routine clashes, of course.  We've recently added the issue of rock concerts.  On school nights.  And phone calls.  After midnight.  And appropriate language.  For 14-year-old boys.  And 12-year-old girls.  And there's always Old Faithful -- the perpetually "up" bathroom switch.  Seriously.  Is it that hard to turn off a light?

One current issue is the upcoming Halloween holiday.  When the kids were little, I'd choose what they'd be, I'd make the costumes, and I'd decide which houses we'd visit -- based largely on the type of beer I'd be offered.  I'd then decide when we were done (serendipitously coinciding with when my beer bottle was drained), and I'd eve help the kids decide which candy they would like.  ("Yuck.  You won't like those.  Let me get rid of those Kit Kats for you.")

Sigh.  Those choices haven't been mine for a while.  This year, DD is dressing up as a Wannabe Ballerina.  Don't ask.  All I know is that it involves striped tights, navy blue lipstick and a Fat Hen t-shirt.  Nice.  SS is considering gathering his posse to make the rounds for their own sugar stash, but knows I'll insist on a costume.  ("No pants, no dinner.  No costume, no candy."  Who thinks these things up?)

So here's the question:  Does a t-shirt reading, "No, really.  This is my Halloween costume" count as a costume?  I was afraid so.

Yep.  Parenting only gets tougher as they get older.  These kids are clever.  Persuasive, too.  As SS recently said, "I just told you a lot of stuff that should make you change your mind."  Sheepishly, I agreed.  Yet, I have my victory.

The dreaded wet-towel-on-the-floor beast has been slain.

I fought the good fight.  I pleaded, I threatened, I cajoled, I reasoned.  I docked allowance, billing the resister with a "maid service" fee every time I scooped up a soggy towel.  I made reminder checklists and dutifully called any offender home from a playdate should so much as a washcloth be left on the floor.

I told embarrassing stories to friends and family, and at one point, I banished towels altogether.  Turns out I was more uncomfortable with the resulting 70s-style streaking than they were.  That, and I couldn't help but join in with the giggling.

The power shifted one recent evening, though, when I called a repeat-offender upstairs, with the usual admonishment, "Towels belong on the rack, not the floor."  (If I only had a beer for every time I've uttered that phrase.  I could open a pub.)

Then, genius struck.

"Think about this," I said, "See where you left your towel?  That's exactly where the cat walks on his sweet, little pink paws. Just after he steps out of the stinky, smelly litter box, after depositing a fresh batch of the dog's favorite treats -- Tiny Tiger Tootsie Rolls.  You dropped your damply absorbent towel there.  And later, you're going to rub that same towel on your body.  Yuck."

Hasn't been a towel on the floor for three days now.  That's one in the "W" column for Mom.

To keep my winning streak alive, I'm making one of the kids' favorites for supper -- corned beef.  Actually, their "favorite" favorite is corned beef hash, but since I wasn't able to cook the corned beef in advance (BTW, the slow cooker is the best way to go), I'm making Not Corned Beef Hash -- serving roasted potatoes, etc., with all the flavors of hash, alongside the corned beef.

Another victory for me.  I now feel brave enough to tackle the perpetually-on-bathroom-lights -- after snagging a few Kit Kats for dessert.

Not Corned Beef Hash
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut in 1" dice
1 onion, peeled and cut in 1" dice
16-20 baby carrots, cut in chunks
1/4 vegetable or olive oil
several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 ladle corned beef cooking broth (about 1/2 cup)

Soak potatoes in cold water for about 30 minutes (to remove excess starch and improve browning), rinse and drain well.

Preheat oven to 450 (or 400, if using convection).  In a large roasting pan, toss drained potatoes with onions, carrots oil, thyme and Worcestershire sauce.  Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Roast about 15 minutes, or until vegetables begin to brown.  Stir in cooking broth, toss well, and continue roasting until done -- browned and crispy -- about 20 minutes.

Serve with freshly sliced hot corned beef.
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