The baby’s armed. No seriously, he is.

There are whole organizations dedicated to eradicating toy guns from the shelves of retailers. There are armies of concerned citizens, squarely focused on stopping the sale of plastic weapons that in their minds, achieve no other purpose other than incite violence and mayhem.

Personally, I’m not in favor of violent toys like video games that base point totals on body counts. I don’t like movies that glorify violent behavior. Directors claim art reflects life, but I think the door swings both ways. Why expose kids to that kind of junk?

Besides, I’m not much of a risk taker anyway. So I’m going to play it safe and refrain from letting my kids see violent stuff. I am trying to raise responsible, law-abiding tax payers after all. I figure it’s best to expose them to educational toys and TV programs that might plant seeds of positive ambition, instead of grizzly influences that could sway them to the dark side.

However, let me go on the record to say that banning Nerf guns and water pistols is just plain crazy. I mean, come on! They’re harmless, right?

I was recently shopping with my kids in one of those stores were everything costs a dollar. Normally when we shop at normal-priced stores, I preface the trip with the following speech:

“We are going to this store to buy X. It is the only item we will purchase. We are not here to buy new toys, games or candy, so do not ask me to do so. What are we going to buy?”

“X,” they grudgingly respond in unison.

“Yes! Good job,” I praise. “We are here to only buy X,” I repeat.

Fast forward two minutes: We’re in the store, the kids are begging me to buy this or that and I’m ready to blow my stack. I don’t have money to waste on over-priced crap that’s going to get lost in my kids’ over-stuffed toy boxes, so the answer is, “No, no, NO!”

ANYHOW…so we go to the dollar store and the kids immediately start in, asking me to buy them toys. My instinct is to say no, but then I stop, realize I’m in the dollar store, and heroically proclaim:

“Yes! You can pick out ANY one thing from this store and I WILL buy it for you.”

The kids go nuts. They exclaim, “Thank you, mom! You’re the best!” and bolt for the toy aisle.

A minute later my two-year-old toddles up to me with his selection. It’s a bright red plastic gun that shoots foam darts. I inspect it for possible choking hazards - or throat plugs as I like to call them - and deem it an acceptable choice. He thanks me and smiles his biggest smile. This is his first toy gun.

So I bought him a gun. Big deal. It’s bright red - could never be mistaken for a real one - and shoots large foam “bullets”. This is not a toy that’s going to turn my cherub-faced boy into a cold-blooded killer. It’s harmless.

We’re home for about five minutes when suddenly, I’m ambushed. My baby jumps out from behind a corner, gun drawn and shouts,

“Freeze, mama! I said FREEZE!!”

I instinctively freeze. Despite my compliance, he squeezes the trigger and shoots me anyway. I fake a dramatic death and collapse on the living room floor.

Laying there I wonder if I’ve made a mistake buying the gun. Am I fostering a future criminal? Am I grooming a young delinquent? Will I be on the 5 p.m. news someday saying I don’t know where it all went wrong – he was such a sweet child?

Nah, I don’t think I’m going to worry too badly about it. Just because he sometimes plays with an airplane doesn’t mean he’s going to grow up to be a pilot, right?

Besides…he did yell, “Freeze!” and not, “Stick em up!”

When mom gets sick

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Bolton, had a favorite phrase: Mind over matter. She’d whip it out whenever a kid was struggling with something. She delivered it with cheerful optimism, despite the situation.

Hard time doing a chin up? Mind over matter!

Trouble with that cursive capital “G”? Mind over matter!

Can’t carry that heavy cello case? Mind over matter!

Sometimes it seemed like a bit of a stretch, but she’d repeat her mantra at least once a day, regardless of if we were scratching our heads in confusion or not.

One day, Joey, the skinny, dark-haired boy that sat next to me, raised his hand, complaining that he didn’t feel well.

“Mind over mat—” she began.

I recall looking over just in time to see Joey lift the lid to his flip-top desk and throw up inside.

I guess one’s mind can’t always conquer matter.

Now, as a gown-up, I think of poor Joey whenever I start to feel sick. It starts with that familiar tightening in my throat and that not-quite-right feeling in my back. I think to myself, “No! I can’t get sick! I’m The Mom!” and I evoke the powers of mind over matter.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Despite my best mind over matter attempt, I recently came down with strep throat and was rendered out of commission for two, full days. Luckily, before getting sick I’d caught up on laundry and stocked the fridge, so at least I had supplies.

“Mom, I need socks!” called my daughter from downstairs.

“Mom, where’s my snack?” shouted the other.

My swollen tonsils were so painful I couldn’t muster the strength to project an audible response.

Generally, when moms get sick, the whole balance of the house gets thrown out of whack. Housekeeping goes out the window, meal preparation is shoddy at best and it’s generally every man for himself.

This is true regardless of if it’s a single-parent household or not. Moms are the glue that bind, the grease in the gears, the wind under the wings. Take mom out of the equation and you’ve got chaos. In a single-parent household, when Mom’s down, it can be downright anarchy.

By the time I was able to drag myself out of bed and slowly make my way downstairs, the pleas of “Mom! Mom!” had stopped.

The girls were busy helping each other dig through laundry baskets to find clean socks. They’d already found a couple of granola bars in the pantry and tossed them into their backpacks. They had their hair and teeth brushed and, shock of all shocks, they even fed their little brother by giving him his own granola bar – unwrapped and everything.

It was a beautiful sight. I stood in the doorway, full of pride (and penicillin) taking in the scene. It was heartwarming. Where had my babies gone? They were so responsible, so grown up.

Then, I looked around the kitchen to see spills on the counter, school books strewn on the floor and the contents of my purse (which is strictly off limits, by the way) dumped out on the kitchen table. Just then, the kids looked up and saw me…

“MOM!” they yelled in unison.

Mind over matter. Mind over matter! MIND OVER MATTER!

Minivan confessional

Hi, my name is Jess and I…uh…drive a minivan.

(Hello, Jess.)

When I first got married, I vowed to never get a minivan. In fact, I went so far as to tell my hubby that if I ever suggested it, he had my permission to give me a brisk slap across the face to bring me back to my senses.

What turned the tide was the birth of our third child. After a month, we both had bloody knuckles from clicking our crew into three car seats wedged in the back of our stylish, yet ridiculously impractical sedan. In the end, there was no face slapping – it was a quiet surrender.

I remember pulling into the parking lot at work with my new "vehicle". (I didn't know what to call it - it wasn't a car or truck and I couldn't say the m-word without feeling sick.) A co-worker (a woman much older than I) commented on what a nice minivan I had – Was it new? Could the seats fold down flat into the floor?

Instead of proudly talking about its keyless entry or the DVD player, I lowered my head and mumbled something about not being sure if it

She patted my hand and said, "You know, your days of cruising for boys are over." To which a witty bystander (this one much younger than I) interjected,

"But if you wanted to, you could seat 6 of them comfortably."

Eventually I got over the shame of driving my minivan, but remained fiercely defensive anytime anyone accused me of being a "soccer mom". To this day, I immediately shoot a scathing look and denounce the accusation.

"I'm hip and trendy,” I say. “I make this van work!"

But now, nearly 3 years later, as a single gal, I’m finding myself feeling embarrassed again. Lately I feel frumpy and extremely uncool when I get behind the wheel.

But why? Am I embarrassed by my status as a mom? Heck no. Not at all. I guess I just want others to perceive me as the cool mom I feel I am. And a minivan doesn’t exactly make one look cool.

So what's a gal to do? Give up the van?

In my case, my sense of practicality outweighs my vanity. I need the extra seating. I like being able to toss kids and bikes inside at a moment’s notice. And above all else, when the kids start to bicker about who’s sitting where, I love that DVD player!

Nah, for now, I’m keeping the van. I might not look like a cool mom on the outside, but that’s okay. I’ll just crank up my music and dream about that little red hatchback in my future. Though…now that I think about it, a 2-door coupe won’t have the legroom of, say a Grand Caravan.

You know, for all those boys.

What turns me on

Shortly after my divorce, a well-intentioned family member suggested I try online dating.

I thought about it. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. After all, how else would I meet someone? Unless cute single guys are hanging out at the McDonald's Playland or in the library these days, my odds weren't looking too good.

Side note: Single men who hang out at Playlands and libraries are best avoided.

Anyhow, I thought about how my online profile would read:

Single, professional female in mid-30's seeks a nice guy who is financially secure (has to have a job), mature (Say it with me: "Video games are for kids,") and likes children (but not child-like). My turn ons are...are...

What turns me on today is pretty different than what used to get me all hot and bothered. As a working mother, my turn ons are more specific than just some guy with a cute tush. I made a list of what really turns me on. It read:

  • Organized pantries. You know those pantries where everything's in tidy little containers and it's all perfectly labeled? That's hot.

  • California closets. Oh, those compartmentalized closets! Everything has its own place. My purses could have their own cubbies instead of being looped over a sad-looking wire hanger.

  • A real, honest-to-goodness laundry room. Ever see in those home-improvement magazines those bright and airy laundry rooms? Some have windows and everything! Thinking about doing the wash in an inviting (and dare I add first-floor) laundry room instead of a cold, damp spider web-filled basement gives me thrills like none other.
My list of turn ons might sound pathetic to some, but thinking about this list even now gets me all warm and tingly inside.

Instead of spending the money on an online dating service, I decided to invest in something that'd provide a little, you know...self gratification. A small, hand-held device that would instantly launch me into the throes of ecstasy. A battery-operated beauty that could satisfy like none other.

So I ran out and got a label maker.

Employers of the world - hear this:

I am blessed. Health, happiness and family aside, I have an employer that provides family-friendly flexibility.

I recently got a memo from my day care that stated they're going to begin enforcing a much-abused policy which prohibits kids from being at the center longer than 10 hours. A cost-prohibitive penalty fee will now be added for exceeding the 10-hour limit.

Admittedly, I am a parent that has pushed the boundaries of this rule since day one. Nothing crazy - 10-15 minutes, tops. And it's not because I'm off shopping or getting manicures. It's actually quite the opposite - I'm generally fighting rush-hour traffic or trying to wrap up that last-minute project for an important client.

So, here were my options:
1) Suck it up and pay the fee (which I can't afford).
2) Ask my boss if I can work through lunch and leave early.

Let it be said, I HATE asking for favors. I don't want my co-workers to feel that I'm not there enough or that they can't count on me. My competency and dependability are two things I never want questioned.

Thankfully, my major clients often leave early, so ditching lunch to scoot by 4:30 was my best (and only) option. So I composed "The Email", closed my eyes and hit "send". Within a minute, I had a reply.

"Yes, you can leave early."

Oh, thank God.

I quickly composed a thank you email expressing my appreciation and reaffirming my dedication to my work.

I'm sure my boss's decision wasn't made out of compassion for the pickle I was in. It was good business. In the past year-and-a-half that I've worked there, I've demonstrated that I'm a very engaged and conscientious employee. I'm detail-oriented and rarely leave a loose end hanging. I'm known as a team player who often logs in on days off or just calls in to be sure things are running smoothly. I'm confident that my past track record was the biggest factor in her decision to approve my request. She simply accommodated the needs of a highly engaged, productive employee.

While I was dedicated before my schedule change, being granted the new work schedule, has given my employer unanticipated rewards. Without the stress of rushing around after work or fretting about the additional day-care costs, I've got a renewed outlook on my work. I feel even more dedicated to the organization and have an extra little spring in my step on the job.

Employers of the world - hear this:

Work with the working mom. Be flexible with her. Allow her to give you her all in a way that still enables her meet her family's needs. Don't be tied to a time clock. An appreciative, conscientious employee will give you more in 7 hours than a checked-out, unengaged one will give you in 8 or more.

And that just makes sense.

What's C3?

The Cold Cereal Chronicles (C3) is the blog of a busy professional / single mom of 3. Working full time while raising 3 kids alone is a tough gig. (Can I get an, "Amen!"?) This blog is my way of letting other C3 chicks know that they're not alone or crazy. They say there's strength in numbers and this is a bit of an experiment to see just how many numbers I can get.

Here's what C3 is NOT:
  • An anti-man rant.
  • A cry for help.
  • A pity party.

C3 is about empowerment. It's about idea sharing. It's about validation.

Working single moms are goddesses and will be celebrated as such in this forum.