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The Truth about My Big Family

October 24, 2014

People peruse my blog or my Facebook page, see the gaggle of children that call me mom, and seem genuinely befuddled as to how I manage such pandemonium. When I leave the house, kids in tow, folks always want to know “Are they all yours?”, “How do you do it?” and “Where is the man who got you into this mess?”.

Okay, no one asks me that last question because that’s impertinent even for rude people.

But strangers do generally pick the absolute worst moment to offer up their obvious observations about my big family. It usually happens at the end of a shopping trip with my kids. I’m frantically loading my groceries on the conveyor belt and I look as though I’ve been pecked, kicked, licked and honked by a herd of farm animals.

I’ve had to say “no” to seventeen-too-many boxes of congealed fruit leather and instant pizza nuggets; or I’ve had to stop my shopping altogether to race to the toilet with a child – and a flock of kids trailing behind me – to avoid the embarrassment of pee in aisle nine; or one of the little darlings – whilst twirling or hooting or swaying grandly – bumps an end-cap display and sends its contents sprawling across the floor. I get to puzzle it back together while a horde of annoyed shoppers try not to stare and my children snicker because (clearly) that’s hilarious.

While I’m crawling on the floor chasing cans of rolling soup, I will, in a most uncomfortable fashion, maniacally exclaim to nobody in particular “WHERE IS MY HUSBAND!?”, leaving the impression that some chauvinistic slob knocked me up a handful of times and left me to desperately manage the situation alone. This, of course, isn’t the case but I would do or say almost anything to solicit a molecule of sympathy and, for goodness sake, a little help.

When the kids are grabbing eggs, poking holes in the cellophane over raw meat, dumping 12-packs of soda, and otherwise trying to “help” put groceries on the conveyor belt while ignoring my pleas to knock it off, that is when the woman behind me decides to chuckle and say, “Boy, you have your hands full!”

YOU THINK, LADY? Thanks. I know I make it look easy but I’m glad your keen powers of perception have unearthed this fact for you. I’m even more grateful that you’re the nineteen millionth person to tell me that in the last week. Next time, stow the commentary and help-a-bitch ($0.25) lift this watermelon.

“God bless you, how do you do it?” is how the elder generation often phrases it.

God must bless me indeed, as only divine intervention gives my tortured soul the humanity to let loose a polite response through gritted teeth. I usually answer with pithy platitudes, such as that I try to stay organized, or this chaos suits my personality, or that I just roll with it and take it one day at a time. And there is a nugget of truth in all of those explanations.

Other times, I’ll say “I get by on muscle relaxers and tequila shooters”. I try to gauge my audience and answer accordingly.

But there’s another truth that I usually keep to myself: having a large family is a lot of work and being constantly swarmed by children can be a little suffocating.

I am moving and going and doing and thinking and rescuing and intervening and feeding and changing and cooking and cleaning from the moment I open my eyes in the morning until I trip over a plastic shopping cart and face-plant into bed. Years of operating at this pace have left me haggard and generally incapable of second-level thinking. I can’t waste any precious brain power probing for deeper meaning in anything. Most days, it’s all I can do to walk upright and convert oxygen into carbon dioxide.

So, why did we have so many kids?

We asked ourselves the difficult questions and gave ourselves sublimely simple – and ultimately naive – answers. After all, when you want something and you know the path is treacherous, you’ll just rationalize away the potential snags until you have the thing that you wanted.

For example:

What if the baby doesn’t sleep?

Then we take turns comforting our precious bundle until she calms the shit ($0.25) down or we die of exhaustion!

Ok, that’s great, in theory. Until you actually die of exhaustion. I’ve done that several times and it sucks.

What if they all get sick at the same time?

Then we line up some buckets for poo and puke and hold an in-service on which bucket is for which problem! Just to make sure we don’t have any crossing-of-the-streams, I’ll write a reminder on the chalkboard menu in the kitchen! No one will be eating for a while, anyway!

This assumes you can estimate ahead of time the river of poo and puke violently ejected from a child when they’ve got a nasty stomach bug. What toddler (1) has the planning skills and (2) the physical capability to move when hurling with shit ($0.25) running down their leg? Mackenzie, you idiot!

What if we want to take them to Disney and it costs a small fortune because there’s so damn many of us?

Then we just won’t go. Plenty of kids have never gone to Disney World and they survived.

This rationale is factually accurate but ignores the practical reality. When you see the beaming smiles of your friends’ kids in Facebook photos of their family trip to Disney, you must go and you must go now while they are young and innocent and impressionable! They will only be this age ONCE, and if they don’t go NOW, they won’t like it as much. Seriously, Facebook photos are Disney’s best marketing strategy yet.

What if we have to take out a second mortgage on our house just to keep them all in shoes that fit?

There’s hand-me-downs and second-hand stores and they’ll all have shoes that fit, silly.

This might apply to ordinary children, but our kids were born to parents with Fred Flintstone-feet, and they require extra-wide shoes that are never in stock and cost fifty bucks a pop, when I can find them. They also need to be replaced every four months because our kids are mammoths and grow like weeds. So on this point we’re kinda screwed. Maybe not second-mortgage screwed (see: Disney), but certainly Yes-It’s-Ramen-For-Dinner-Again screwed.

What if, while I’m trying to drive and make an appointment with the pediatrician for a suspicious rash on the baby, one girl complains because her sister’s car seat is so close to her that their arm-skin is touching and the boy is whining for more food even though he is presently enjoying the toasted waffle I gave him when we left the house and the teenager is texting me to bring home food because there’s “no good food here”? What then?

We’ll just deal with it! Take it day by day!

In other words, we had no idea how to deal with that, and I still don’t. I suspect the answer involves booze, carbs, sleep and chocolate.

Truthfully, some of this hassle is self-imposed. I don’t have to take these kids swimming, or to paint pottery, or to the art museum. I could go grocery shopping alone after they’ve gone to bed. But most of the time these things are actually fun, at least in the beginning, and I get a thrill out of giving them new experiences. I love the look on their faces when they try something amazing in this world for the first time, especially when that amazing something is Candy Corn Oreos.

Unfortunately, their curiosity usually overcomes their judgment and, at some point in every excursion, the novelty wears thin, the day grows long, they get tired, I get tired, we all meltdown together, and a few days later you people get a profanity-laden rant about it.

So, yes, I have my hands full. If I had ten hands, I’d still have my hands full. And while in the moment I’m spitting nails and fully prepared to drop-kick one of these kids down the cereal aisle, the truth is that I am addicted to my children and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unless the other way involved nanny McPhee. I’d totally take Nanny McPhee.

(Total owed to the swear jar for this post: $0.75.)

Mackenzie is a SAHM to five beautiful, albeit annoying, kids. She worked so super hard in her twenties to get an MBA only to retire and become her kids’ bitch. She spends her days dashing into the fray and taking power naps. You can catch her ranting and swearing on her blog, Mommy Needs a Swear Jar and Facebook. She’s still trying to figure out Twitter.

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12 Tips for Trick-Or-Treating with Toddlers

October 23, 2014

Crazy costumes, spooky decorations, and massive amounts of candy — what’s not to love about Halloween, right?

Right. Tell that to the parent of a young child.

All the fun of Halloween can quickly be zapped by an ill-fitting costume, a house that’s too scary, or a kid with a sugar-induced belly ache. Keep your All Hallows’ Eve enjoyable (and safe) with these twelve tips for trick-or-treating with toddlers.

12 Tips for Trick-or-Treating with Toddlers

1. Choose the right costume.
There are some adorable costumes out there, but remember that simple beats cute-but-complicated any day of the week. Avoid itchy fabrics, elaborate headpieces (your kid won’t keep it on anyway), and outfits that don’t fit properly—just imagine your child tripping on her princess dress on the way up your neighbor’s doorstep, causing candy to fly everywhere!

Comfortable shoes are also a must, no matter how cute the princess heels look in the store. And most kids don’t like wearing masks for long, so try nontoxic face paint instead.

2. Be visible.
Even if you aren’t intending to be out after dark, it’s not a bad idea to slap some reflective tape over your toddler’s costume, just to be safe. Take a small flashlight along, too, in case you end up candy-gathering for longer than you expected.

3. Talk about Halloween etiquette.
The last thing you want to be doing while trick-or-treating is nagging your kid at every door to “remember to take just one.”

Have a short conversation beforehand about how only a single piece is allowed at each house unless the homeowner indicates otherwise. That two-minute chat could save a lot of headaches later in the evening.

4. Inspect all candy before anything is eaten.
An adult should always look through the loot first to identify possible choking hazards, foods your child is allergic to, and any candy that’s open or just looks off.

5. Prep for unexpected surprises.
Being scared is part of Halloween’s charm, so chances are high that at some point someone will jump out and say “boo!” or you’ll pass an older trick-or-treater with a seriously terrifying costume.

But those kinds of unexpected surprises can be too frightening for a toddler. Be sure to prep your little one ahead of time; explain that some people enjoy feeling a bit scared, and that none of it is real.

6. Skip the super spooky houses.
Some people get really into their Halloween decorations. If you come across a house that you think will overwhelm your toddler, don’t feel bad steering him in the opposite direction.

7. Time it right.
Go early in the evening, and keep it short. Young children can’t hold up for too long, and everyone will have more fun if you stop before they’re too tired or overstimulated.

8. Have a candy plan.
The temptation of a bucket full of candy is too much for a toddler to resist. (Heck, it’s too much for most adults to resist!) So go into it with a plan.

Tell your child ahead of time how many pieces she can eat that evening, how many she can have each day throughout the next week, and when the candy will be gone.

9. Consider staying home.
Handing out candy to other kids—with or without a costume—is often just as fun as trick-or-treating for young children. Just be sure to choose candy that’s toddler-friendly, since inevitably a few pieces will end up in his mouth.

10. Potty prep.
Go right before you leave the house, just like always. Also, plan your route to have a stop back at home or at a trusted neighbor’s house, in case your toddler needs to go again.

It also helps to choose a costume that makes going to the potty easy—a long skirt that has to be lifted over her head or a head-to-toe costume that needs to be taken off completely just makes things more complicated than they need to be!

11. Pick an appropriate candy bag.
Make sure it’s small enough for your toddler to hold himself and has an easy-to-grip handle. A small backpack is another toddler-friendly option.

12. Eat beforehand.
An early dinner or large snack will help ensure your kid isn’t begging for candy—at least not out of legitimate hunger!—all night long.

Will you be trick-or-treating with young children this year? What tips would you add?

Katie Markey McLaughlin is a freelance writer and blogger who believes that moms can do anything, but not everything. Her blog Pick Any Two encourages all of us to set priorities without apology or guilt. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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A Fly Will Poop on Your Lip... and Other Parenting Lies

October 22, 2014

Someone once said, “I believe in being honest with my kids, 101 percent.”

That someone wasn’t me. I lie to my kids all the time. I’m not just talking about the trifecta of deception: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. I don’t creatively bend the truth. I straight up lie like Pinnochio. Am I ashamed? No. Lying to my kids saves my sanity, not to mention time and money. And sometimes, it’s just fun to eff with them a little.

Here are seven of my go-to’s:

1. Your face will freeze like that.
In a few years, my kids will be old enough to understand that a few tears or even an all-out DEFCON 4 meltdown won’t cause their face to freeze mid-wail. But for now, this little lie has a better than 50 percent chance of getting my crying kid to shut it.

2. A fly will poop on your lip.
This is a hand-me-down. Every time I stuck my bottom lip out when I was a kid, my mom would scare me with the possibility of fly poop on my face. Technically, could be true, I guess. It worked for me and it works for my four year old bottom lip sticker-outer. Fly crap is scary to a little kid, I guess.

3. That’s broken.
This is reserved for every annoying automatic pony ride thingy that camps out in the entrance of the grocery stores. There’s a time and a place for shit like that: it’s called Chuck E. Cheese in my neck of the woods. Taking time out of my errands to feed coins in to a pony, car or airplane that jiggles and bounces for all of eighteen seconds only to be met with cries of “more, more”? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Easier just to breeze by and announce in a mock-regretful tone “sorry, darling, That’s broken.” Occasionally some “fun mom” will trip me up by actually letting their kids ride these things. If that’s you, knock it off, k? People like me need to get in and get out of the store and don’t have time to indulge in a mini carnival.

4. No, you can’t have a bite, that’s spicy.
This is reserved for anything that my kids want that I don’t feel like sharing. Being a mom, I’m usually resigned to going halfsies on anything that looks like it tastes good, but some things aren’t shareable like Klondike Bars and anything made by Dove. I’m not above sneaking in to the bathroom to eat stuff like this, but when I get caught, I tell my kids with a straight face that its way too spicy and that it would burn their mouths.

I know this kind of lying has a limited shelf life. Pretty soon they’ll be worldly enough to know that no ice cream is spicy and that if I’m eating something in the bathroom, it means it’s extra good and that they definitely want a bite.

5. Go away, I’m pooping.
When I’m behind the locked bathroom door, it means I need my special alone time. I recently discovered that there’s a Pinterest app on my smart phone (I’m not an early adapter) and I might be busy oohing and ahhing over recipes that I’ll never make because they’re beyond my skill level.

Being behind a locked bathroom door might mean I’m having some chocolate I don’t want anyone to know about. I might have a -glass- bottle of wine in there. Being a mother in a large-ish family means alone time is pretty much nonexistent, unless I’m claiming to be on the crapper… and even that isn’t a guarantee. I might be eating, drinking or stalking people on Facebook, or I might just be soaking up a few minutes of blissful aloneness. My payback will be the mess that the kids have made while I’ve been locked in my she-cave, but it’s usually worth it.

For now, my family believes my little lie about Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I’ve got a good thing going with “I’m pooping, kids” so I’m gonna milk that as long as I can. You would, too.

6. If you don’t go to sleep, Santa won’t come.
What this really means is “if you don’t go to sleep, mommy and daddy are going to crack open that -second- third bottle of wine.” It means we’re going to get well and truly blitzed while we’re waiting for you to pass out so that we can assemble your junior Batmobile, or whatever piece of crap we’ve decided to blame on Santa.

Confession: there’s no “we” involved in assembly of Christmas toys. I’m a supportive wine-drinking couch potato who periodically mutters things like “looking good, honey” or “they’re really going to love that.”

But Santa will come, no matter how late you stay up, kids. The Christmas toys might be put together with chewing gum and hot glue and mommy and daddy may be a little bleary eyed on Christmas morning, but it’s all good.

7. I’ll take that iPad away.
I’ll freely admit to using electronic entertainment as a babysitter from time to time. Okay, -several times a week- daily. When my boys get out of hand, the first thing I do is threaten to take their iPads away. Sometimes I even stalk over and act like I’m going to grab it from their sticky little hands. Pul-leeze.

Sometimes I need my small humans to be engaged in something besides pulling on my shirt and whining for Fruit Rollups. Maybe I want to blow dry my hair without fear they’ll burn the house down. Judge me if you want to.

In all seriousness, I don’t believe in lying to kids about important stuff, although I am a never say never kind of girl. I’ve told lies to my kids in the spirit of self-preservation and personal comfort levels, but in general, I believe the truth is easier when it comes to important stuff… except stuff like what I’m really doing when I’m locked in the bathroom.

Jill likes running, wine and sarcasm (sometimes all at once) and pretending to be the grammar police. She writes about adoption, midlife and being the oldest mom at the playground, at the pediatrician, and pretty much everywhere else on her blog Ripped Jeans & Bifocals. The best way to get on Jill’s good side is to end all questions with ‘and would you like wine with that?’ You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Is Social Media Changing You?

October 21, 2014

After an early morning family walk and outing, I came home, showered, put away the groceries and posted the following on my personal Facebook page:

"Early morning family hike around east Town Lake Trail (beautiful rowing on calm waters!), explored new buildings/architecture downtown and enjoyed tacos at Galaxy in Clarksville, all before ten a.m. – it’s amazing what can happen when you rise with the sun!”

A short while later, I felt off, slightly sick to my stomach and sensed a strange, almost ‘warning’ sensation roll through my body.

During lunch with my husband and son, I asked, “Why did I just do that?” Was I feeling lonely and seeking acknowledgment? Was I wanting to look cool and hip with the family set (yes, we spend a lot of time downtown-look at us!) or was I slipping into a new habit of mindlessly hopping on Facebook more than I ever have before?

Dr. Sherry Turkle, former WIRED cover girl and author of “Alone Together,” studies the social and psychological effects of technology. One point Sherry made – that I can’t shake – is that social media/technology is not just changing how we interact, it’s changing who we are.

There’s a danger with us only showing the ‘shiny’ versions of ourselves. The hip highlights of our lives. This way of being with each other is affecting how we perceive ourselves, and how we perceive one another. We’re messy, peanut-butter-covered, sometimes irritable, and often awkward, inappropriate and raw humans – not Pinterest pictures.

In the airport traveling earlier this summer, I picked up the Atlantic Magazine issue, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” No, I don’t think Facebook is making us lonely, but we may be making ourselves lonely by substituting surface-level, virtual high-fives for real time, heartfelt, ‘warts and all’ conversation. Social media can give us the illusion that we’re connecting, but we’re going broad, not deep. And it’s leaving many of us (whether we realize it or not) void of real connection.

Social media can be a great tool for the self-employed, community organizing and keeping in touch with old classmates or colleagues in NY or Munich, but it isn’t a substitute for real friendships.

Last summer, I spent almost a month researching what overuse and misuse of technology (TV, Internet, iPhones, video games, social media) is doing to our hearts and spirits, and how it’s affecting our emotional health. The findings (particularly around boys and video games and Internet porn) were alarming.

I also explored how our habits are affecting who we are, and how we connect when we’re not online. Many shared that they feel speeded up from always being ‘plugged in,’ and they’re finding it harder to be present and just ‘be.’ And when I asked, “What derails your family’s sense of peace and well-being in everyday life?” more than 100 respondents chose overuse and misuse of technology as their number one saboteur.

Last week, I attended a content strategy meeting for entrepreneurs. The speaker said our businesses should each be disseminating 403 pieces of information annually to our target audience. As I watched the 55 attendees furiously adding this ‘to do’ item to their iPhone task lists, I felt a chill go down my spine and quickly calculated what this tidal wave of tweets, posts and articles would look and feel like if every business owner on the planet took this counsel to heart.

Why is all this so triggering for me? (Yes, I admit it is!) As a life balance teacher, I spend a lot of energy helping women/men around the US discover how to tether and anchor within themselves – how to find their center in the midst of chaos and uncertainty – and I believe our growing addiction to social media is contributing greatly to feelings of disconnection and unhappiness.

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with these tools. I don’t think the answer is unplugging completely (although I applaud those who have the courage/ability to do this), but my recent experience and observations made me want to ask myself (and sit with) some big questions. To pause before I post (or even go online). And to observe how I feel before and after I enter the Facebook circus.

Recently, my friend Leah told me she had a rare ‘girls’ night out’ dinner with her neighbors. After being seated in the restaurant, everyone at the table picked up their iPhones and started texting their husbands, taking photos, tagging one another and updating their FB status, while Leah sat quietly in disbelief. Napkin in lap, wine glass full and candles flickering, she was ready for heartfelt conversation – but it seemed the allure of connecting with a larger party superseded connecting with the small one that was meeting in that moment.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

Renée Peterson Trudeau is an internationally recognized life balance coach/speaker and author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. You can connect with Renée at her website Renee Trudeau.

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Oh My Gourd! The Things We Do for Our Kids

October 20, 2014

At the end of kindergarten last year, my oldest daughter Anna (known around here as Anna Banana, or "AB") brought home a biology project: a little plastic cup half-full of dirt with a few tiny leaves poking through. She told me she had planted a pumpkin seed and – to my shock and dismay – the damn thing had actually started to show signs of life. I dismissively told her we could plant it in our garden, fully expecting it to die. When planting day finally arrived, AB lovingly transferred her little seedling to the far corner of the garden where it wouldn’t interfere with the real vegetables.

I learned quickly that a pumpkin vine is quite a commitment.

Over the course of the summer, AB’s pumpkin went from adorable seedling to Little Shop of Horrors vine-from-hell that slowly took over our little garden. First, we redirected it around the other plants, and then out of the garden entirely and into the yard, where its tacky leaves began to crawl toward the back door. Every day we would check the garden, and every day this menacing vine would be just a teeny bit closer to the house. Uncomfortably close. I fully expected to wake up one morning and find this damn plant enjoying a cup of coffee in my living room.

After three months of terrorizing our yard, this monstrous plant produced a grand total of one (1) fruit, which made my little girl squeal with delight when we finally hacked it free. She insisted – nay, demanded – we do something with it. “Let’s make pumpkin pie!” she exclaimed.

If left to my own devices I would have just yanked the thing up and thrown it out. But I’m a mom and this is my precious baby’s stupid plant she brought home from kindergarten and I can’t just throw it away because motherhood. AB ran to the garden almost every day to dote on that orange ball and if I just threw it out, I would be callously discarding her hopes and dreams. Only a lazy asshole would do that.

So I Googled it and, sure as my toddler drinks his own bathwater, that is a thing you can do with a real pumpkin. That cattle-ranch chick on Food Network gave idiot proof instructions, akin to roasting a winter squash, and it will only take an hour, start to finish!

Carving pumpkins is one of the few operations my husband performs, so I am not trained in gourd surgery. I stabbed my sharpest kitchen knife into this thing and blissfully tried to wiggle it sideways. As any pumpkin-carver knows, this is an utter exercise in futility. Once you knife a pumpkin, it grabs a hold of your weapon and will not let go. It’s like there’s a tiny gnome in the center playing tug-of-war with your blade. I hacked away at this impenetrable pumpkin for a good half-hour and narrowly avoided amputating several of my fingers. When I finally got the thing quartered, my reward was scooping and scraping seeds and pulp out of this f*#%ing fruit until my arms were numb up to my elbows.

This chore reminded me of conversation I had with my mother-in-law over the summer. She grew up on a farm in Iowa and has sobering stories of how she spent her childhood: snapping buckets full of beans for hours so her family could eat in the winter; drinking unpasteurized, warm, straight-from-the-teat milk; plucking feathers from boiled chickens that her own mother had just decapitated on a stump in the backyard. No microwaves! A wringer-washer (whatever that is)! Being literally henpecked while gathering eggs from the coop! Outdoor plumbing!

Perspective.

The Great Pumpkin Experience of 2014 seemed manageable by comparison. I always tell my kids they have to manage their own morale, and now it was my turn. Once I finished scooping and scraping and got the pieces into the oven, I went about looking up recipes and formulating a game plan for what to do with this thing. First up was pureeing, which is easy when you have a souped-up food processor with the torque of a riding lawnmower. Then I set to work on no less than three different recipes.

My husband and kids checked on me regularly throughout the weekend and occasionally threw me some food while I converted this one pumpkin into two pies, four loaves of bread, and 60 delicious muffins. Oh, and, just because I love my husband, I raked the seeds from the pulp, washed them, dried them, stared affectionately at them for twenty-four hours and then roasted the shit out of them.

It took me a sweet forever – or two full days – to move this gourd through the circle of life. At some point my husband asked how much the equivalent amount of canned pumpkin costs. I guesstimated that I had harvested about sixty ounces of pumpkin puree, or about five bucks’ worth. Obviously, this wasn’t a money-saving exercise.

I had this rather grandiose fantasy that my little girl and I would do this together. We would wear aprons and lovingly share tasks and I would let her crack all of the eggs and work the mixer and scoop the batter and she would beg me over and over to lick the beater and I would tell her no until the very end when I would hand it to her (along with a raw egg disclaimer) and send her off to slobber all over it as her reward for being mommy’s little helper and she wouldn’t drive me absolutely bat-shit crazy in the kitchen.

The truth is that she ditched me to binge-watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that was okay, because once I finished baking all this shit, she proudly reminded us that we were eating her pumpkin, and wasn’t it delicious and weren’t we so happy that she brought that little plant home so we could have all this wonderful food that she made?

Um. Excuse me, what?

Mackenzie is a SAHM to five beautiful, albeit annoying, kids. She worked so super hard in her twenties to get an MBA only to retire and become her kids’ bitch. She spends her days dashing into the fray and taking power naps. You can catch her ranting and swearing on her blog, Mommy Needs a Swear Jar and Facebook. She’s still trying to figure out Twitter.

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