How Not To Fail At Valentine’s Day This Year: A Guide For Men

Why February 14th Is Important (Hint: It has nothing to do with cupid.)
I don’t hate snow. I might come off that way a lot and I may have even said that, but it’s not what I meant. I don’t like being cold. I don’t like driving on ice. I don’t like driving on the same roads as other people driving on ice. I don’t like standing in below zero wind chill trying to stuff my children into their safety harness in their “not-too-puffy but just puffy enough to need a readjustment” coats. I don’t like it being dark before dinner and I don’t like scraping my windshield before 7 a.m. I don’t like wet shoes, mucky carpets or slush. Other than all that, I totally dig winter. The day of our first snow the Barkeep took the boys outside to build a snow pirate. I went outside to take a picture and the snow was still sparkling white. It was sunny and warm enough to stand outside in just my sweater. If that were a true Midwestern winter day I would welcome it with open arms and an open heart. It was a freak of nature brought on by global warming. It was a tease. That was December. It’s February now and I am officially over winter, snow, ice and scraping my windows. I’m day dreaming about road trips and a dry yard for the children to run in while I soak in the sun.

I’m convinced that this is the true purpose of Valentine’s Day. Winter needs plenty of holidays to break up the monotony and misery. I may not leave the house between mid-November and March if it weren’t for delicious turkey, Christmas shopping and fancy dates with wine and chocolate.

Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day is the official holiday of high expectations and disappointment. Our expectations are set high by the industries that profit from them but their marketing teams are selling women an idea while selling men a tangible item. We want both. (Speaking in general terms. I realize we all want something different. Don’t email me. Seriously.) I have a word of advice for women with high expectations that will eliminate most chances for disappointment. I can’t say all, because, let’s be honest with ourselves and each other, some of us have terrible taste in partners. He might be a jerk and there is nothing I can do for that. But for the rest of you, my advice is simple: Just tell him what you want. Do not hint. Do not suggest. Do not simply hope he knows. He doesn’t. Not because he’s a jerk but because he is a man. (Don’t email me. I don’t care how awesome your husband is or that he buys you the exact perfect gift every time. I’m speaking in general.) Tell him what you want. Cut the picture out of a magazine. Write it down. Make the reservations yourself. Set a reminder on his phone. Let him know what you want, when you want it and that it matters to you. If he still doesn’t deliver… that is another blog for another day. My condolences.

The Gift Guide
Results will very based on the female you are trying to woo, and the first step to gift giving is thinking about the recipient.  When they say, “it’s the thought that counts,”  that does not mean, the thought of buying a generic gift at the last minute. It means putting thought in to what your Valentine cherishes and carefully picking a gift based on that. Some girls may not want any of the typical gifts. I asked to go see A Good Day To Die Hard for Valentine’s Day this year. One year I asked to see Friday The 13th. Think before you buy, craft or book.

Flowers: When buying flowers for your Valentine consider her décor, her style and her favorite colors. A dozen roses is a romantic touch. but perhaps she’d like something with a little more personality. There are so many types and colors and possibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask the florist for suggestions, but be prepared with information about what the recipient likes.

Candy/Food: First of all, is she on a diet? Forty to fifty percent of Americans make dieting a New Year’s resolution, so keep that in mind. Is there Lean Cuisine in the freezer? More celery in the fridge than usual? Did she order a salad for dinner? Skip the candy. If not, you can’t go wrong. Candy is awesome.

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Speaking of awesome, for our first Valentine’s Day, the Barkeep made me a veggie lasagna. Can you cook? Then save the candy for dessert. Edible arrangements are also a fun gift. Cute cupcakes. Homemade cookies. Think outside the heart shaped box. She will appreciate it. If you have kids, keep in mind she might actually want to eat some of the deliciousness by herself without hiding in the bathroom or making anyone cry. Buy them their own, or better yet, give her some alone time with her chocolates.

Jewelry: I have to admit this one is beyond my expertise. I like jewelry from the clearance rack at Target, the stuff so big and sparkly no one else will wear it so I get it 70% off. I did have a beautiful diamond necklaces from the Barkeep that I lost somewhere in the house. Sometimes when I get home from the bar my jewelry makes me feel claustrophobic and I start taking it off as I walk in the door, leaving a sparkly trail behind me. So, expensive jewelry is maybe not the best idea for me. We have three cats that also like sparkles and whisk them away to the playland that is our basement, never to be seen again.  I enlisted the help of some female friends and it turns out I’m not the only one who shouldn’t own something that cost a car payment unless it is the size of a car. Other important tips: Check her jewelry box, does she prefer gold or silver? Does she have any allergies? If you want her to wear it everyday you should tone it down so it’s more versatile. If it’s only for special occasions it can be a bit more fun/colorful/fabulous.

Perfume/Smelly Goodness: First, check her perfume stash. Is she almost out of something? That means she likes it. Tell a sales associate what she prefers and see if they have suggestions, or if she is really almost out just buy her more. Does she even have a stash? Maybe, like me, she prefers scented lotions. I used to have a slight obsession with Bath and Body Works until I discovered Etsy. And then this happened.

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That is not food, boys, that is a selection of bath bomb cupcakes from Five Sisters Apothecary in Iowa. The most awesome thing about 5SA in my oh so humble opinion is the Batsmoke line of products. If your Valentine is also a mother she wants needs Batsmoke. Bath goodies are one way to give her the gift of relaxation, but don’t stop there. Clean while she pampers herself. Take care of any the tedious chores that usually fall on her list.

Stuffed Animals: You get away with this once. There better be flowers or jewelry attached. Or cash. Or your Valentine better be sixteen.

Those are just the most common tangible gifts given for Valentine’s Day. That list is not complete and should not be the basis for a “but the author of that blog you like said” argument. Just in case, I interviewed a group of exceptional women, the kind any man would be lucky to call his Valentine, and we compiled a list of both common and unique gifts that are both store bought and intangible.

Behold. the list:

  • tattoos
  • live music
  • The Book of Mormon (in the theatre, not that actual book), or any other live performance
  • a clean house (I cannot stress how many times this was mentioned.)
  • pedicure/manicure (any other fun thing we can’t afford for ourselves makes a great gift)
  • spa day
  • massage
  • get my hair done
  • a good book (and time to read it)
  • ipad/tablet/kindle
  • steak or lobster dinner (meals we can’t usually afford, Vday is a good excuse to splurge)

Actual quotes from real (amazing) women, about what they really want:

“Something from Tiffany’s. They have cheaper gifts. Goddess I’d love to get one of those blue boxes.”

“Pick a movie you know we’ll both watch, or a Wii game or something.”

“I’m big on pampering and having stuff done that I usually do. Heaven is “you go shopping all day” and coming home to dinner and a clean house. Or a bath drawn. Or the kids at my parents and candlelight pizza. Being allowed to sleep in. Paint my toenails. Brush my hair out. Arrange a date night down to the sitter and stay home with a fire and a movie and take out. A break from responsibility.”

“On the tangible gift side- pjs. Gift cert for my hair guy, day spa, or Sephora. Jewelry is good- it lasts. A new purse. Sex toys.”

“Never underestimate the power of coming home to a clean house. When [My Husband] cleans the house, I melt. It really sets the tone for a romantic evening in. I don’t look around at clothes and pop cans strewn about. It’s much sexier for him to strip off my clothes and toss them to the side if they land on a clean floor as opposed to a landing on a random pile of kid toys. It’s hotter if our primal sexiness is what is messing up the house.  It’s a simple, cheap gesture that goes a long way.”

“Arrange the kids to go to his mothers so we can sleep in, be romantical, I can pamper myself with a pedicure while they’re gone and not feel guilty about not waking up with them when he does, make me dinner, do some household chores (i.e. the garbage).”

“[My Husband] has been making an elaborate amazing candlelit meal for the last few years and I love the thought he puts into it. Usually dinner is followed by massage. I bought him a tool box and I’m sure I’ll massage him too. The good kind with oil and followed by sex.”

“Remind them about the flowers for no reason too. It can be just one. It doesn’t have to be expensive.”

“So I would have to say chocolate – the good stuff and “hey honey I paid the phone/cable/water bill” would be awesome.”

“‘Honey I took care of all the bills this month’ would garner him all sorts of things he loves in the bedroom. Mostly cause me doing it involves taking 3 kids out to do it…”

“I would like some me time. If he could make everyone disappear, including himself for a lil bit and give me some gas money to go somewhere and take pictures or something, that would be awesome.”

After that these beautiful insights the conversation quickly dissolved into “I like cheese” and “I like bread” so I will spare you the rest of the quotes, but girls like food, too, buy us some.

I am not including a list of gift ideas for men, because seriously, we’ve got this.

Thank you to the beautiful women of SIA for their inspiration, help with jewelry shopping tips, and these quotes.

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Parents Are People, Too (aka A Good Ol’ Fashioned Guilt Trip)

Every so often I check my site stats to see which blogs are being read and shared and what search terms lead people to my blog. (I think a lot of lonely young men attempting to buy their own batsmoke leave my page disappointed.) I can see at a glance which blogs are the most popular and which blogs you are sharing with friends.

Most of my blogs are about parenting and all of the wonderful things that go along with that like cleaning the house, cooking dinner and trying to explain why I don’t have a penis. Those blogs are, by far, the most popular. I also write about movies I like or do not like and I suppose eventually I will write about books again and there will be a lot of blogs about The Bar and live music. Those blogs do not get read as often or shared as much but I will continue writing them. I write for me but I also write for you and I think you need the blogs about music and movies and drinking as much as I do.

Becoming a parent changes everything. It’s a cliche because it’s true. Humans, in general, are self centered. That’s not mean or a negative outlook on humanity, it’s just common sense. All of your most basic instincts are cleverly designed to protect you. Until you have a child. Between your biological urge to protect your child and society’s pressure to do so and do so better than anyone else, it is very easy to forget that you still have needs of your own. When taking a shower becomes a task you have to schedule, finding time to nurture your talents and explore hobbies can seem like a luxury.

Some time after Goldy and Beauty were born, but before my divorce, I discovered that I was boring. I didn’t do anything worth talking about and I didn’t have anyone to tell even if I did do something noteworthy. It would be easy to blame my ex-husband because he did instigate my isolation but it wasn’t intentional and I let it happen even though I know better. Lucky for me, he still had friends and one of his friends was still into girls (that is a whole different blog for another day) and he brought over my future best friend, H-Bomb.

It’s amazing what one person listening can do for your self esteem. My Ex had forgotten who I was before I became overwhelmed with parenting and house work. It wasn’t entirely his fault, though, I stopped reminding him. I suddenly understood all possible meanings of the phrase, “I need to find myself,” which I had always thought was complete hocum. How do you lose yourself? Now I know how very easy it is to lose track of yourself. Hint: You will not find yourself at the bottom of a pile of laundry.

No matter how deep the pile, you will not find yourself at the bottom.

Having someone to listen again made me want something to talk about. I didn’t want all of my fun stories to be about the past. I wanted to read books that weren’t by Mercer Mayer and go places that weren’t family friendly. I wanted to put on lipstick, not chapstick and paint my own nails, not my daughters’. I wanted my own life.

If any of this sounds familiar or you are nodding your head then you are the one I’m writing for. You need support. You need a friend to listen. And you need to know that it is okay to be a parent and your own person. It’s not only okay to have a life outside of your children, it is necessary to be a good a parent. You cannot be your best self if you are only focused on your children. You need a hobby. You need a night out. You need a shower. No really, you need a shower.

I often hear new moms say, “I don’t even have time for a shower!” I feel your pain, I do. Put the baby down and go take a quick shower. Yes, he might cry and you might feel guilty but when you are done you are going to feel so good.  Babies sense your stress and discomfort. They also sense your peace and happiness. Be at peace, be happy. It will be easier to get him to latch on or fall asleep if you are not a sweaty ball of nerves. This gets harder as the kids get older. Cages are frowned upon so you will need a good support system, but you not only deserve it, you need it.

These are not my kids. Do not call CPS.

We went out last weekend on Little S’ birthday. Without him. We spent all day with the kids and then took him to Grandma’s house after dinner. We have karaoke every Saturday at The Bar and our karaoke jockey was having a birthday party. We’ve only owned The New Bar for 6 months so it is important to be present, to meet people, to interact. We also had friends playing in bands on the other side of town. The Barkeep helped set up one of our friends, an old local music connection of mine,  on the bill at the last minute, so we wanted to see the show. I met a fellow at The Bar that night that asked about my kids. When I told him it was my youngest baby’s first birthday he told me I should be at home. Now, you might agree, but I want you to flip the phrase around in your head awhile and ask yourself why I needed to be home with a sleeping baby on a Saturday night when I had so many other options and a trusted babysitter. In case he wakes up and wonders why his Mommy went out on his birthday? This is your first baby, isn’t it?

People might make you feel guilty about pursuing your own interests. You might make yourself feel guilty. Consider this, it is our job to model the behavior we want to see in our children. We cannot raise well rounded people if we feel like half the person we used to be. We cannot encourage them to cultivate their talents and nurture their ideas if we are ignoring our own. We can’t teach them to explore hobbies if we don’t have any of our own. Humans have an actual need to share and enjoy themselves.Why do you think Sims have a social meter and an aspirations meter? They are based on us! (And now you know one of my hobbies…) Our children need us to remember that we are all people, too. Our children deserve to be raised by well rounded individuals.

If none of this convinces you then I have one last thought, a question actually. Think of your child’s favorite activity. Goldy likes writing. Beauty likes fashion. Sharkboy likes constructing. The jury is still out on Little S, he seems to enjoy dancing and eating. What does your child enjoy? Do you do your best to encourage that hobby, take her to lessons, buy the necessary tools and praise liberally? Do you want him to give it up for anyone, ever? Or do you want him to continue building on that interest and learning new ones as he grows?

At the core of everything we want for our children is the same basic premise. We want them to be happy. Se ta good example for your children and remember, your parents wanted you to be happy. Don’t let them down.

What Dads Really Want For Father’s Day – A Mom’s Point Of View

What We Really Want For Mother’s Day: Batsmoke was quite popular on Facebook with the moms but not so much with the dads, it seems. (Some dads, other dads were actually the ones sharing it! Thank you.) Yes, I stalk my Facebook shares and read their comments. It’s like an addiction, don’t judge me. I know I should wait and post this in June but the time I spend indoors, near a computer, is dwindling daily. I am a stay at home mother and childcare provider. Sunshine and a big back yard are my two best friends. I have something like a farmer’s tan already, except I call it a provider’s tan. I have lines from flip flops, board shorts and modest neckline tank-tops. That’s a lie. I apologize. On one hand, I want to be honest, but I also want you to think I’m the most awesome caregiver ever. I wear skimpy tank tops when I take the kids out so I won’t have terrible tan lines. They say the truth will set you free but I feel about the same. Anyway… See, the sun is already affecting my writing. I’m all scrambled. June. I won’t be blogging much. So, this one is for the dads to pass around on their special day. Bear with me and my social generalizations, please. I know there are a lot of stay at home dads and moms who work outside the home, too, but it’s much easier to write from one perspective- my own.

You can only buy so many dragon figurines, neck ties, grill accessories, witty t-shirts and such before even you get sick of them. Dads are difficult to buy for. Most men just buy the things they want and need. In their defense, and falling off the feminist bandwagon once again,  this is often because they have a much shorter list. You can’t go wrong with a quality steak, a night out doing something he enjoys or a massage from a professional, but I think there is something higher on his list.

I think that Dad would like to come home and not be in trouble for something, or if he is in trouble I think he would like very much to flash one of these puppies and have it end abruptly. I go to great lengths to not be a nag. By “great lengths” I mean I attempt to count, take deep breaths and meditate away my nagging feelings, but I have to admit sometimes, “I slipped in the cat puke you didn’t clean up and fell face first in your dirty laundry,” just slips out before I can strike a yoga pose.

I’m not a control freak. If I were, I would not have time to blog. That being said, I do have a routine, a system, a way of doing things to keep everything running smoothly in the house that chaos built. I communicate these routines and their minor changes often. I have no idea why. Instead of a lengthy and unnecessary diatribe I will just say that the dad in our house, like dads in most houses, needs reminded of the routine more frequently than I am currently keeping up with. I’m certain he knows this, I tell him often. Yet I am also just as certain he would like to duct tape his “get out jail free” card to my mouth sometimes.

Then there’s the broken stuff. For us, it’s half the house, literally. I would like the addition finished. I would like to take all this junk and spread it out across the finished house. I’d like the dryer to stop squeaking. Ya know, I might just pass him a card on that one, I bet I can figure it out. I’d like our screen doors to make sense and not create a maze on the front porch. Just little things, well, and that half of a house. I’m sure he’s tired of hearing it, even when I dial down, count backwards from ten and say it in a calm voice.

I think dads would like to come home to Batsmoke almost as often as we’d like to use it. I think we should propose some sort of trade. Dad takes the kids at least one night a week while Mom disappears in a puff of smoke. She returns slightly tipsy to a mostly clean house with safe, happy, sleeping children who may or may not have followed their usual routines, but she does not comment on or question Dad’s methods. Dad, meanwhile, enjoys a beer without a single word of nagging about anything, even the laundry.

Do you think it will work? Me neither. Get him one fo these instead.

What We Really Want For Mother’s Day: Batsmoke

I can’t speak for all mothers but I feel confident speaking for most stay at home or work at home (with children present) mothers on the subject of “Oh my god, I need a lifetime supply of Batsmoke.” Thank you Pregnant Chicken for giving it a clever, male friendly name.

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My kids are pretty good kids. I mean, obviously, I think they’re awesome. Sharkboy put two triangle blocks together and called it a rhombus and I took about 20 pictures and sent them to various friends and family members. Little S has enough video footage to start his own YouTube channel. I dig my kids. I’m just saying, you know, behavior wise, they are pretty good. Little S likes to pull the cats’ tails and shriek a lot and pull all of the wipes out of the wipey box. Sharboy sometimes says, “I want milk,” followed quickly by, “No, I can’t want milk!” I sometimes feel like I’m taking part in a secret psychological exam. I’ve been blessed with unusual teenagers that are mostly compliant and that don’t sneak out of the house or steal things or if they do they are good enough at it not to get caught which sometimes is good enough, but even good teenagers can be exhausting. They “forget” important things. They procrastinate. Just, you know, stuff, that has to be dealt with.  I should probably mention at some point, we only have one vehicle. This is one of the choices we make to make our stay at home parent situation work. Maybe when this one is paid off we can afford insurance on a second one, but until then we prefer to spend any extra money on driving somewhere fun together instead of driving two seperate cars.  So, I spend all day with five little bitties and all evening with two little ones and two teens who generally disappear into their rooms and only come out to inform me they forgot something extremely important that needs dealt with immediately or to ask if we have any eggs because, “Oh yeah, my egg drop project is due at 6am tomorrow so can you drop me off at school around the same time you normally roll out of bed… and help me do my whole project?”

Sometimes my boyfriend comes home and I have an immediate need to buy… Chapstick, for the diaper bag. I like to have some everywhere, the moisturizing kind with SPF 15. Hand soap. We go through a lot. I need something, anything to get me out of the house. Toilet paper. Still trying to set the standard. So, I make my excuse, which I’m sure reeks of the very bullshit it is made of, but I don’t care and inevitably Sharkboy hears the word “go” and begins the hunt for the two year old holy grail, which is a matching pair of socks. There is no doubt in his mind that he is going because I am a sucker. He’s trapped in the same house with me, he needs out, too. This is a prime example of when a mother needs Batsmoke. I want to disappear into a cloud of smoke, no explanation, and come home tipsy and go to bed for a week, or for the evening at the very least.

Batsmoke would come in handy when I need a new bra, too. I can’t just look at the size and go buy a new one in this size. I don’t know if this problem is unique to me because I have a lot to work with, or if all women need to try on a dozen bras in a dozen sizes to find the right one, but either way, this is not a kid friendly activity. I would like to just get up in the morning, realize my need for a bra, and go purchase one. I have been a mother my entire adult life and I do not remember what it feels like to get up and do what I want without first making sure everyone else has what they need.  Teenagers need rides. So many rides. Infants and toddlers need supervision. Men have needs. Not those needs. There is ductwork to be done on the addition and paperwork at the bar and a hundred other things that are also not kid friendly. Sometimes just getting people to commit to a time frame makes me want a nap… that I can’t take because everyone else needs something first. This is when I want to disappear into a cloud of smoke, no explanation, and come home tipsy and go to bed for a week, or for the evening at the very least. In a new bra.

My Batsmoke wish has conditions, though. First of all, I want it all guilt free. No one, not even the bitsy baby, is ever allowed to give me any amount of grief for needing a break. Next, no reciprocation should be expected. Everyone else has Batsmoke already, its called, “a life outside the house.” Last, but definitely not least, I expect to return from my sabbatical to find the house and children in at least as decent of a condition as I left them in. Diapers changed, meals on time, dinner somewhere other than on the floors and counter, that kind of stuff.

I had intended to write a list of things women really want for Mother’s Day but I feel Batsmoke covers it. I’d like to take a shower whenever I want. I wash the towels, after all. Six people, one bathroom, you do the math. I used to look forward to the weekends because I had the idea that I would get to be the first person to take a shower on Saturday. I would get up early with Sharkboy, who was just a Sharkbaby then, (or more likely we would startle awake after a restless night on the couch when a demon hellcat pounced on us in search of his morning meal) and feed him and change him and get him ready for the day. I was generally covered in baby sweat and spit up because Sharkbaby had an upset tummy for the first year of his life. There is no greater feeling than a long hot shower after spending the evening insane. I’d hear my boyfriend coming up the stairs and get ready to hand Sharkbaby over, only to have him breeze past with a freshly washed towel over his shoulder and say, “I’m going to take a quick shower…”

I’m just saying, if the judge were a mother, I wouldn’t get jail time.

Then of course, teenagers have plans so they need showers and rides and there is paperwork at the bar and eventually I have to throw a tantrum to get in the damn shower. This is when I need Batsmoke. I want to disappear into a cloud of smoke, no explanation, and come home tipsy and go to bed for a week, or for the evening at the very least. Clean.

If you are thinking right now that you want or need something other than Batsmoke for Mother’s Day, might I suggest a nice gift basket from Bath And Body Works? That is, after all, what you get the woman who already has it all.