I called my friend Marilyn today to see how she was coping with the first day of school vacation. When she answered the phone, I heard crashes, shrieks and general mayhem in the background.

"Hello," she said in that barely even tone that mothers resort to when their children are reveling in the beginning of summer vacation.

"I guess I don't need to ask how you are," I said, feeling her pain.

"It's only been four hours," she said. "What am I going to do for the next eight weeks?" Something sounded as if it had just shattered in Marilyn's house.

"Have you tried Ritalin?" I suggested.

"I already asked my doctor. He said my kids don't need it."

"I didn't mean for them."

"Hmmm. That's a thought. I'll call the doctor back. At this point, I'm going to require some kind of medical assistance," Marilyn said. "Say, why's it so quiet on your end?"

"They're on the computer, playing Math Blaster and some virtual hockey game. They've been there since last Wednesday. The computer only cools down on Shabbat," I said.

"Do you have any plans for tomorrow?" Marilyn asked.

"Other than holding tight to my tenuous grasp on sanity, not much," I answered. "I had planned for us to go to the Natural History Museum and the Imax today, but the kids spent an hour arguing over how gross an idea that was. After they got tired of that, they went skating for about four and a half minutes and then came charging through the door to fight over a yo-yo. I was still trying to haul them into the car when my middle child tried to actualize his dream of being an only child. That's when I gave up and turned them over to the computer. Do you think an eight-year-old can get carpal tunnel syndrome?"

"I don't know," Marilyn sighed. Just then, blood-curdling screams ripped through the phone lines. "Gottago!" she shouted and hung up the phone.

Next I called my friend Audrey, who had earned my undying admiration once when I had been at her house and, in the face of unspeakable whining from one of her children, said to the child calmly, "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to practice being patient." Audrey also kept up with all the latest parenting books and often had fresh ideas about being a better parent. Her youngest child, aged five, answered the phone. "Hi?" the child greeted in a squeaky voice.

"Hello, is your mother home?" I asked.

"She put herself in time-out in the bathroom. She won't come out."

I guess even Audrey had her limits. "I see," I said, worried. "I'll call back later. Thank you."

Unfortunately, I was unable to make any more phone calls, since at that moment my daughter had the temerity to actually breathe near her brother's face – a clear violation of his airspace and perhaps even of some NATO rules of engagement. In response, he "accidentally" caused her equestrian Barbie to take a hard fall, twisting one of Barbie's impossibly perfect legs. I called an impromptu meeting to clarify our family's policies for activities such as breathing, looking, smirking, teasing, pouncing and smacking, and the acceptable and proportional responses for each activity. I began to long for the peace I had waiting in the snaking car pool line.

Camp was still two interminably long weeks away. So that night, I picked up an old copy of a popular parenting book and reread it. I didn't understand why this was categorized as "Parenting". Clearly this was a humor book. My beef with all these parenting books was that all the methods sounded great on paper but when I tried some of these empathetic, reflective methods to let my children feel understood, my kids looked at me as if I were wearing a lampshade on my head and had begun speaking in Haitian Creole.

The next day I was determined to force happiness on my children, even if it killed me. I suggested we make Popsicle stick charity boxes that we could paint and decorate with glitter. Amazingly, the kids agreed, and all sat down at the kitchen table. But then we discovered that our glue had aged prematurely, as I also seemed to be doing, and the kids had no interest in going to the store to buy more.

Suddenly, they were inspired by the idea of going to one of those indoor play arenas where for only ten bucks a kid where they could wear themselves out for two hours of sliding down giant slides, jumping into pools of soft, plastic balls, and screaming, "Mommy! Look at me!" every five minutes. Meanwhile, I could sit and try to read a book, while putting my best Mommy smile and wave on automatic pilot. This was a no brainer. Sure, it was more expensive than making Popsicle stick charity boxes, but it's hard to put a price on sanity.