Sunday, December 28, 2008

Paved Paradise

My fox died last night. One of my foxes. I saw it lying in the middle of the road, tongue out, a bit of blood. I’m so sad. Okay, so I never got close enough to tell if it was a boy fox or girl fox. I mean, it never invited me over for tea or anything. But, still, we had a connection. I’d slowed my car to point it out to the kids on more than one occasion. I’d watched it look both ways before crossing the road, seen it disappear in the green space that surrounds us. And I felt that I was somehow a greener person, having witnessed this bit of wildness in suburbia.
I like watching nature from my car. In Houston, I watched a Nutria for about 15 minutes from the side of the road. I didn’t know what it was until weeks later (thanks, NG.) I just thought, “Wow, that’s the biggest rat-beaver I’ve ever seen.” I felt so educated when I heard they’d been making their way north from Mexico. Seeking asylum, perhaps, and finding, what?
We have a pet woodpecker we’re trying to tame. Our form of taming involves hammering boards over the holes it’s peppered us with, while verbally encouraging it to have a go at the neighbor’s house. Hey, nature’s great—when it stays in its place.
And that’s the real problem, isn’t it? I’m all for creepy crawlies, as long as they don’t involve the word “roach” or “disease”. I stare for hours at spiders when I’m camping. In my living room, I try to capture them to release them outside. In my basement, I smash them. There’s something nightmarish about spider webs in basements. If they’d just stay in their own place…
Which is, if you look at it, right where I’m living. It’s where I had my house built, where my grocery store is, where the bike path around Alligator Pond took us when we lived in L.A. on the Swamp. And, no, I can’t live in harmony as much as I’d like. I get peeved when I have to clean up my trash because the foxes dumped it over. I get worried when I hear the tell-tale jackhammer sound of the woodpecker on my wall. I get absolutely violent when little rat poops show up in my pantry. We have boundaries, we suburbanites, and nature doesn’t seem to respect those the way I’d like.
But, still, I’m sad. My fox, the mate to the fox with black legs, got hit by a car, probably at night, probably by a car going a bit too fast. And, probably the driver felt bad. Maybe he even called the sanitation department to have the fox removed. Buried, or burned, or dumped. What do they do with the carcasses? Maybe I’ll have a private memorial. With the woodpecker.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone. I thought I'd give the gift of music this year, gracias a YouTube. Below are 6 songs I enjoy immensely. I hope the season finds you happy and healthy and oh, so joyful.

Donny Hathaway sings "This Christmas"
My favorite Villancico, Los Peces En El Rio
Vocal Point sings He is Born
Here's a little Dave Matthews if you need to calm down the frantic pace
I'm not a country gal, but you can't go wrong with Kenny and Wynonna
What season would be complete without Run DMC?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hostage

A spider has trapped my 9-year-old daughter in her room. What it hopes to gain by holding her hostage I have no idea. It hasn’t issued any demands or sent a ransom note, so I’m not clear about its motivation. It might have been sent by the Spider Gods to torture my child for some misdeed in her past, although I can’t imagine what she’s done to the creepy crawlies of the world that would earn her this reward. We go outside after it rains in order to rescue worms. She watches ants for hours, naming them, offering crumbs of her food, encouraging them in their hard work. And when we go camping, she explores under rocks and leaves with me, looking for new critters.
I’m also wondering how this particular spider managed to gain so much power over her. As far as I can tell, it has no arsenal, no visible weaponry. I would consider a telepathic sort of control, but I don’t believe a spider’s brain can link up with a pre-pubescent girl’s brain. I don’t think any living creature can do that. I certainly haven’t managed to do it, and I used to be a pre-pubescent girl, or so my family tells me.
It must be the beets. We’re having beets with dinner and I was stupid enough to mention that unpopular fact when calling everyone to the table. And, suddenly, a child who never exhibited any sign of Arachnophobia has become horrified at the pale yellow, 2 cm long spider on the wall across from her room. In order to get her to dinner, I could remove the spider, smash it or usher it outside. Or I could capture it and put it next to her plate, which is the direction I’m leaning. I could dip it in chocolate and serve it as dessert or I could make it a pet and give it a name and a box to sleep in. Or, I could tell her to get over it and come eat before I serve up the greens that grow on top of the beets. Maybe I’ll add some grub worms for protein.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rocky Mountain Mama

This is an ad. It’s a self-serving ad. It’s shameless self promotion. I’m telling you in advance so you can click the “next” button now.
RockyMountainMomsBlog.com features a conglomeration of, well, mothers, from the uh, Rocky Mountain area. In case you’re not sure where that is, it would be the jagged lines between California and the Mississippi river. Specifically, the Denver/Salt Lake area. Occasionally, about every 2 weeks, I’ll submit a post for them, which they will then throw away or use, whatever.
Now, this is not a “how cute is my kid” blog, nor is it a “why I’m such an amazing mom” site. It’s a rant-log, and it should be interesting. See, if you know much about the area, and there’s no reason why you should, you know that Salt Lake leans to the right just a bit and Denver scootches pretty far the other way. So, you have a microcosm of geopolitical thought, all in one easy-to-access location. Ain’t that gonna be fun, now!
What they write about doesn’t really matter to me, truth be told. I just really like writing, and if it were a weblog devoted to cat food, and they’d let me publish, I’d write about cat food. Of course, I wouldn’t actually taste the cat food. I’d serve it at dinner and blog the responses.
So, go to www.rockymountainmomsblog.com and tell them to post my stuff. I don’t get paid for it, except through those warm fuzzy comments that I need so much.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Feast on This

I just ate 6 chocolate waffle cookies with chocolate icing. A friend made them for me, well, ostensibly for my whole family, but between Hal and me, the kids only got one each. Chocolate isn’t good for them, anyway. Makes them hyper. Me, I’ll just take a sleeping pill to counteract the caffeine.
Tomorrow, I’m going to make caramel lace cookies. I tried to make them in Houston, but the near-underwater levels of humidity rendered them soggy lumps of goo. I ate them anyway, but it wasn’t any fun and so I’m looking forward to polishing them off this year.
I also make Divinity at Christmas, but this is one food I don’t enjoy. I make it because my mother made it, so it’s a tradition. I believe strongly in traditions, to the point that I make a particular Jell-O salad every Thanksgiving even though I am, literally, the only person I know who will eat it. I have stopped doubling the recipe so I’m not completely robotic about Holiday Agenda Items.
Other food issues crop up this time of year for me. For instance, every year, we all get our favorite sugar cereal. Since it’s the only time during the year that I buy that junk, it’s a big deal. Except for me. About 4 years ago, Honeycomb changed their formula so now their cereal tastes like round Cap’n Crunch. Which makes my teeth ache, gets soggy as soon as it gets in the same room with milk and does not remind me of my carefree youth the way Honeycomb did. So, I’m out of cereal options. There is not a single cereal I would buy for myself. I don’t mind eating them, but as a Santa gift? Not in this Winter Wonderland. I think I have it figured out for this year, though. We leave all those cookies out for the Jolly Elf on Christmas Eve, right? And you have to have an assortment, but you don’t leave every single cookie on the platter by the chimney, so I’m thinkin’ I’ll just set aside a couple dozen for myself, stick them in my stocking and call them “Breakfast Cereal.” Maybe a few gingersnaps, some Mexican weddings, a mint iced brownie or two… It’ll keep my energy level up for the present opening, after which I can crash on my bed for a couple of hours to sleep off the sugar headache. Sounds like the best Christmas of all, and a great new tradition.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

All I Want for Christmas

Wow, hold yourself back, because I just got a catalog that could change your gift giving. I won’t tell you the name of it in case there’s a run on the shopping, but suffice it to say that I circled everything in there and put it on Hal’s pillow so he’d be sure to know how to do Santa right this year.
First, we have the Chalice of Galadriel. Not a plastic little replica, either, but an “exquisite crystal goblet” with silver vines entwined, taken straight from the movie. Uh, I mean, the land o’ the fairies. Sticking with the Lord of the Rings theme, you can have your very own Precious, too. I warn you: don’t actually put it on. Dangerous toy, my friend.
If you’re not into fantasy, you can shop from the Harry Potter section. You can have a collection of the Death Eater’s masks. Now, these aren’t dress-ups to hand to children. These are the real masks, metal-wrought, that, I assume, help you channel your inner evil. You can also have a collection of wands, including Harry’s, although how they got him to sell it I have no idea. Perhaps Hogwarts is in recession, too? You can buy the Nimbus or the Firebolt for those quick getaways. Or for sweeping up the mess you’ll make practicing your Accio.
Who has that kind of life? As much as I adore Hal, if he were to bring home the Sorcerer’s Stone, complete with glass case, and set it on our coffee table, I’d be sorely tempted to hurl it at his head. Besides, I’m holding out for the Phoenix. How cool would that party trick be?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sold

I successfully navigated Black Friday. I stayed home. Every year I think, “Oh, maybe this year will be a shopping year,” but for the past 8 years I’ve been able to resist the darker side of my nature. I didn’t actually stay home, either. I worked out. So I drove past lines at Ace Hardware and Tuesday Morning while having the gym virtually to myself: just a few hard-core sweaters working off the mashed potatoes.
I came away from Black Friday in better shape. Not everyone did. You heard about the man in New Jersey, the Wal-Mart employee? He was trampled to death by the rush of crazed shoppers who took the doors off the hinges and knocked down at least 5 people in the first onslaught. One of the those people, a temp. hired to do some maintenance, died within the hour.
This is the ugly side of humanity. You can picture them, right? That particular blend of eagerness and ferocity on their faces, purses held as weapons in front of them, getting ready to run to electronics or hardware or toys or wherever their flier told them to go. So they got Candyland for $4.98 instead of $7.00. They got a Playstation bundle for $469 instead of $532. The employee can rest in peace knowing he helped America’s families save so much money.
The other evil side to all of this is Wal-Mart’s programmed voice on the tragedy. Under advice from a lawyer, I’m sure, they called the “incident” a “tragic situation”. Gee, ya think? They’re “working closely with police,” and their “thoughts and prayers are with [the customers and workers] and their families at this time.” Let me guess how those prayers go: “Please, please, please make them spend lots of money so our stock prices rise.”
Now, the good side of my nature, the part that wants to see everything all rosy, says that the higher-ups at Wal-Mart do cry over the death. I want to think that they’re taking a good look at how they run their stores in order to avoid another black Black Friday. But the part of me that says that corporations only see things in shades of Wall Street, the part of me that remembers Wal-Mart’s forced unpaid overtime and blackballing of Union members, says that Wal-Mart will let this sweep by. They’ll advertise lower prices, longer shopping hours and better return policies. And next year, if it’s mentioned at all, the tragedy will only inform policies meant to make shoppers feel better, not actually keep people safe, sort of like duct tape and plastic sheeting. “Take your shoes off, ladies and gentlemen,” but meanwhile the larger picture will remain the same: we’ll pander to your greed, your selfishness, your ugliness, and we’ll get rich doing it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Iron Chef

Cooking tip 101: when plating a hot item with liquid, do not try to flip it onto the plate. You will splatter hot grease all over your chest and you will scream and you will cry and you will get blisters all over your neck and other sensitive areas and you will not enjoy wearing shirts for a very long time and, even worse, you will look like an idiot. Not that this happened to me on Sunday or anything: I’m just thinking that it might happen to someone and I want to warn you ahead of time.
Do you ever do things like that? Things that, given 3 seconds of thought, you would have figured out were really really stupid ideas? But for some reason the synapses in your brain weren’t firing as fast as they should and you found yourself on the other end of dumb? Confess: what are your Darwin moments?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Left Cold

Coldplay. Doesn’t it send delicious shivers up your spine? When we saw them in Houston 2 years ago, they left it all on the stage, filling the Toyota center with copious amounts of energy. In a nutshell, one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some great ones (Prince being among the naughtier but more energetic shows.)
But this time? Well, still a great show, still enjoyable, but not worth the ticket price. I’m thinking for $100 a pop for not-so-great seats, they ought to be on fire. Maybe literally. Although that seems to belong more to Ozzy Osbourne than Coldplay.
I’m not saying Coldplay didn’t do a good job. They did, and they performed well. They actually sang the songs, unlike some bands who think it’s a good idea to hold the mic. out to the audience and let them do the work. They ran around on stage, moved around the audience, sang a good variety, yadda yadda yadda. But they lacked that something, that magnetism that made the Toyota Center show spellbinding.
Maybe it has to do with the opening, um, band? DJ? Skinny guy behind a sound board? He sucked, bless his heart. He had screens set up showing a Pink Floyd-esque movie that roughly corresponded to the “music”. And I mean that in the most loose definition of the word. One hour, one song, 12 chapters as seen by the film, and the whole time I thought, “Hmmm. This would work better if I were completely wasted. At least then I wouldn’t notice that it’s now 9:30 and no sign of Coldplay.” When the opening act finally ended, the wait music put our whole group to sleep. It’s a dangerous game, to lull the audience to sleep right before you want to energize them so they'll buy lots of souvenir crap.
When Coldplay finished the concert, they gave us one encore, one song in the set; "Yellow", which is worth sticking around to listen to, but for as nice as Chris Martin seems when speaking to the crowd (“Thank you for giving us your Friday night; Coldplay fans are the most handsome, the best looking crowd”) it just doesn’t seem nice to make us wait 2 hours to hear them play for 1.5 hours, and then send us on our way not having even worked up a sweat (us, not them. They were sweating, but who wouldn’t under those lights?) So, while I still enjoy Coldplay, I’m thinking hold onto your wallet when they come to your city and listen to ‘em on Youtube instead. Besides, there you can get a lovely version of Lips Like Sugar that would make Echo weep.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Norman Bates as Innkeeper

Here’s a tip you can thank me for later. If you’re looking at Bed and Breakfasts, steer clear of the ones that have stuffed animals on the beds. The middling innkeeper will have thought it a cute touch, homey, offering comfort and charm during whirlwind vacations. But “cute” should not apply to B&B’s. Trust me on this. For breakfast, Granny, as she’ll ask to be called, will serve toast cut in triangles, pre-smeared with a butter substitute alongside Smuckers packets of jam. She’ll offer scrambled eggs with American cheese, Oscar Mayer bacon and Folgers coffee. Tea will be something her ancestors threw into the harbor and the idea of granola for breakfast will make her hand flutter to her heart.
When you ask her for recommendations for dinner, she’ll point you to the Olive Garden down the road.
And you’ll know all of that because she’ll follow you around the house, pointing out pictures of her grandchildren, her cats, her dogs. She’ll show you how to flush the toilet, how to make sure the bathtub doesn’t over-flow, how to adjust the alarm clock. She’ll warn you about using too much hot water, and remind you that breakfast begins promptly at 7:30 and ends at 8:15.
Not only that, but the accommodations will be about as comfortable as snuggling up to that ratty old bear on the pillow. The sheets will have faded roses on them, the bathtub will have plastic no-skid flowers attached to the bottom and the TV will have several channels. 3, to be exact.
Now, all of that is lovely when visiting friends. Give me a simple breakfast of yogurt or toast or cereal, let me snuggle in your well-used sheets, and keep me company when I walk into the living room. I’m visiting because I like you, and I want to be around you.
But an innkeeper? I don’t want her to encourage me to eat my peas: I want her to offer the most luxurious, the most cotton-filled, scented room possible, and then I want her to get out of my life. I want breakfast when I wake up, which may be at 6:00 and it may be at 9:30. I want chocolate left by my fireplace and I don’t want to see her, ever, unless I need reservations for dinner, or a bike, or mountain climbing. A good innkeeper is not your best friend: she doesn’t care about your health, she cares about your wallet. And in order to get at your cash, she’ll politely excuse herself from conversations that move beyond “How was the bike ride?” or “Would you like more cocoa?” If you can remember your Innkeeper being in your room, she, like dear Norman, has overstayed her welcome.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas at Tiffany's

You know how some people think that diamonds are a girl’s best friend? I’m thinkin’ a maid and a personal chef, but whatever.
So I’m browsing through the Tiffany & Co. catalogue (gotta wonder how we wound up on that mailing list) and I notice a bangle. For all you wrong-chromosome people, that means a hard, skinny bracelet. Anyway, of course it’s a diamond bangle. (It’s on page 2 of the cat, in case you’re following along.) You have a choice of 18k rose gold, 18k white gold, or 18k gold. For $5,800. Each. And no one wears just one bangle.
Now, if you’re pinching pennies and can’t afford to get your gal 3 diamond studded bangles, you can go for the cheaper Tiffany Blue version, sans diamonds, for a mere $450. Nothing says class like advertising for Tiffany. If you’re really cheap, you can get her the “I love you” version, retailing for $325.
And don’t think you can shop at JC Penney, stick the bangles in a blue box, and fool your beloved. We’re born knowing Tiffany, even those of us who never actually shop there.
For her birth, our middle child got a silver cup from Tiffany. In case you haven’t bought baby gifts there, it happens to be one of the cheapest things in the place. I know because I tried to return it. Honestly, like I hate my kids enough to make them polish their own silver cups, especially at such a tender age. I found out that for the $45 cup I could get, say, another silver cup. Tiffany boxes run pricier than the mug. So, we kept it. She’s never used it, but I did let her hold it for a couple of seconds before she tossed it across the room. $45, and the child uses it to play “fetch”. Either she has no shame, or her tastes lean toward the bangle-price range, as opposed to the camping mug price range. It’s in a box taking up precious space in my basement. I’ll give it to her when she goes to college: it’ll be great for pan handling.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Training

The stupid train wouldn’t work. As a child, my grandmother had a Christmas Train that went around her tree. I spent hours playing with it, imagining all the people in the houses, eating dinner, hanging stockings, etc. So, when I saw that Linens N Things had Lionel trains discounted, I bought one. No returns or exchanges, you know, since LNT is defunct, but they assured me I could contact the manufacturer for help if the train had a problem.
It did.
I set it up, made sure the track fit together tightly, plugged the track into the wall and rejoiced when lights turned on. But it wouldn’t go. I tried the remote again and again, changing angles, swearing at it, no longer filled with Holiday Cheer. Santa waving at me from the caboose filled me with panic. Thoughts of disappointed children, myself included, drove me to look up Lionel “service stations” online. The nearest one would take about an hour drive time. An hour? Like I’ve got a spare hour to waste on a train. I decided I needed a closer solution.
I tried Ace Hardware. Whenever I have any sort of problem, I try Ace Hardware. They don’t like it so much when it’s a personal problem, but they’re great at home improvement advice. This time, Retired Expert Number 1 explained that they didn’t stock the part he thought I needed, a micro-light, but he gave me directions to 2 different hobby shops specializing in trains. I love Ace. Even if they won’t babysit.
Returning home, I fiddled with the train some more. All the lights appeared to be on. In sheer frustration, I pulled apart the remote. I removed the batteries and stared at them for a long time, hoping I could channel some sort of mechanical intelligence I lacked. And I did. While staring at the brand-new batteries, I read the word “rechargeable.” Oh. That means they come uncharged. Which means that all the angle adjusting in the world wouldn’t make the remote work.
Why didn’t I become an engineer? I’m brilliant at this stuff.
After pirating some batteries from another toy, I’m happy to report that the train works just fine. Santa says, “Merry Christmas”, bells whistle, music plays, and it goes around at a break-neck pace. And no one in my house has noticed the now-silent other toy, the one that sacrificed its batteries. Which makes me wonder why I keep buying noisy toys.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Soup weather. Tonight we had carrot soup, homemade wheat bread with homemade jam (love that bread machine), pomegranate seeds (which only one child ate without threatening to throw up) and pumpkin cookies (no one threatened to puke over those). Not only have our Beta Carotene levels topped off, but I feel all domestic and peaceful. I also have the Christmas cards labeled and waiting for a personal note or group letter, depending on how clever I’m feeling (not very, it seems) and I think I could cheerfully hibernate until Spring Thaw.
Except we don’t do that, do we? Now begins the Season of Shopping. My oldest wants a Moon Chair, whatever that is, and the middle one wants a real fake cat, a battery operated pettable toy that responds to your touch. I wonder if it will respond the way normal cats do, i.e., by scratching her hand and then leaving in a huff. The youngest hasn’t made up her mind, but she did manage to circle every single item in the toy catalog, including the Ipod and the cell phones. Yah, that’ll happen. “Here, 3 year old. Santa bought you an Ipod. Have fun with it and I trust you not to blow out your ear drums.”
Hal wants memories of when I was young. Gee, what’s he saying? I thought about buying a bunch of clothe diapers and pins, but then thought he might actually use them. Then I thought about dressing up in one of the outfits I wore in the early ‘80’s, but didn’t want to ruin his image of me. I finally decided to buy him the complete series of 21 Jump Street. Hope he doesn’t read this.
I’m thinking if Santa were really smart, he’d give us money in our 401K (a friend started calling them 201K's) and a get-out-of-your-mortgage-free card. I’d also take a decent pair of slippers, ones without pigs or cows on them. Hate being reminded, you know.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Making Memories

The 9 year old is in her room, crying and stomping because she had to finish her math homework. She spent dinner making us all glad she has vocal chords by loudly protesting how rotten math is and how much she hates it. When she finished, she slammed her pencil down on the table, screamed at the top of her lungs, “There! I’m done because I can’t think of anything else!” and proceeded to run up to her room and slam the door.
I love being a mother.
The 3 year old cut her own hair. I tried to even it out, but there’s only so even you can get with “bald spot”. Of course, she’s completely nonplussed that she had scissors privileges taken away. When I remind her that she can’t use them because she cut her own hair, she screams at me. The 6 year old hurries to get her whatever she wants, which is how the monster was created in the first place.
The 6 year old smells bad. She has the stinkiest feet in our house, which is no small accomplishment. It’s worse when she doesn’t wear socks, so I frequently ask her to put socks on, especially when she’ll be in small spaces, such as anywhere inside. And do you think she cheerfully puts them on while saying, “I realize my foot odor is offensive. I will strive to remember to wash my feet and wear socks. Thank you for letting me know, darling Mumsey.”
No. She tells me I’m a horrible person. If she knew how to curse, she would. Wait until she’s a teenager and I refuse to let her drive my car. I’m so excited for those conversations.
I see the commercials with families sitting around the table, playing games or eating popcorn, and I wonder why those moments in my home seem overshadowed by the anger that comes from small things. I wonder if I should let my oldest fail math so she feels she has control over her own learning. I wonder if the 3 year old will mellow out. I wonder if I should talk to the Pediatrician about the 6 year old’s smelliness. I wonder if we’ll ever laugh over these slights, or if they (or I) will continue to hold a grudge for all the times we lost our tempers.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One Step Beyond

Witness my rapid descent into madness. I lost a cell phone. I lost an Ipod. I lost another cell phone. All in a year. And then, this morning, I lost my keys.
‘That happens all the time,’ you say. Ah, but do you lose your keys in the 3 steps it takes to move from the front door to the car door?
I pulled the keys out of my purse, locked and shut the front door, used the remote to unlock the car door for the school-bound children, walked to the car, and no longer had the keys. I retraced my steps. No luck. I plowed through leaves. No keys. I searched every backpack, every inch of ground, even cleaned out the car. No keys. I pulled out my spare keys, only to discover that they unlock doors but don’t drive cars. I sent the kids scampering off to school on foot. I re-searched the ground. I re-searched the car. I crawled under the car. I walked around the yard. I went back inside and searched every inch of space by the door. I looked in my room, in the fridge, the pantry, the cabinets. No keys. I called Hal and told him to bring home a straight-jacket. I called BlueSkies and told her to reserve a spot for me at Bellevue. This lady had gone crazy. And, we needed milk. Never run out of milk and lose your keys when the baby wants a drink.
We walked to the store. 4 miles round-trip. We came home. An image appeared in my mind: my church bag, which I hadn’t touched since yesterday afternoon. It wouldn’t hurt to check.
And guess what I found? I was so certain I’d used my keys to unlock the car door—and I had. I’d used the spare keys. And then I’d dropped them back in my purse, zipped it up, and forgotten all about it by the time I got to the car.
And this, children, is why I don’t work with power tools.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

67 Channels and Nothing's On

Let’s take this blog back to the gym. There are rows of TV’s lined up for our viewing pleasure. They’ve got 2 channels of news (Fox and CNN so that the matter and anti-matter can create a vacuum through which will be sucked various pundits), some sports, and TNT/TBS (they alternate). I don’t enjoy either sports or news early in the morning, and I certainly have no desire to watch Las Vegas. Whose stupid idea was Primetime in the Daytime? Like I need to wonder if the guy next to me on the rowing machine is getting all juiced over the, not kidding, topless chicks on TNT. I like mindless, funny, not-interfering-with-the-thought-process TV, aka Rachel Ray, Today Show, Regis and Kelly, etc. And I don’t want to get wrapped up in a plot, because the last thing I need is a choice between Antonio Banderas as Zorro and crunches. So yesterday I asked the Remote Control Master to change just one station. I told him I didn’t care what he chose, as long as it wasn’t sports, news, or smut. That was my mistake. I left the decision making process up to a personal trainer. Guess what he chose? Infomercials. Yup. First it was Salsa Dancing to Fitness, then it was Never Sharpen Knives, then a Chicken Roaster. And suddenly I cared deeply what was happening in football.
So today when I showed up, I planned on keeping my big mouth shut. I figured I’d call the topless TV chicks “inspiration” and work on kicking up my testosterone levels through ESPN.
But someone higher up must have gotten the memo. Either that or one day of Infomercials torqued off enough of the spandex crew that they complained. Either way, Today Show was on. Right next to TNT, but whatever. And just so you know, thanks to the Today Show, I can now tailgate for 8 under $80.00. ‘Course, I’ll have to start watching sports…

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Playing with the Big Boys

Don’t tell me you’ve never had the urge to do something completely taboo. I don’t mean something like burping after dinner with your in-laws. I mean something like burping in your pastor’s face and saying, “Yum—repeat spaghetti!”
For instance, when I see a butt crack, I have the almost overwhelming desire to drop something into it—a pencil, a quarter, dirt, whatever. I’ve never done it because I don’t want to be a social parasite, but I always feel like I’m on the edge of giving in.
The other day at the gym I walked by a full-bellied, gorilla-hairy man doing bench presses. I know about the hair because his shirt didn’t cover his midriff. In fact, not much would cover it because he had quite a gut. I don’t mean a six pack; I mean more like a keg. While walking by, I suddenly saw myself reaching out to tickle his stomach hair. I threw in a “goo goo goo goo goo” and the picture in my head made me burst out laughing. I probably destroyed his confidence for months; he’ll quit going to the gym and die of heart disease because some random chic at mocked him. Only I wasn’t mocking him. And obviously I didn’t actually tickle him, but I really, really wanted to.
At least once a week I have to stop myself from creating mayhem. I’m guessing other people think the same things. So, what socially unacceptable things would you like to do?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Makin' You Spend Your Dough

You’ll be glad to know our local school district has figured out a new way to raise funds. Here’s what we’ve had traditionally: bake sales, book fairs, Papa John’s Night, McTeacher Night (yes, exactly what you're thinking: teachers flipping burgers at Mickey D’s), popcorn sales, wrapping paper sales (?!), cookie dough sales and 5k’s. Now, we’ve gone straight for advertising. On the school bus. Bank One, it would seem, sponsors the route around our neighborhood. I know this because they have a lovely blue and white sign painted directly on the yellow school bus.
Now, I could say that advertising has no place in a public school system. I could make the case that children believe what they read/hear/see, and so we ought to keep that out of the realm of the place where they get most of their indoctrination: schools. I could argue that once we allow corporations into the school systems, we’ll be well on our way to imbedded advertising, which is so sneaky, so under-the-radar that kids won’t pick up on it. They’ll only know that Mrs. Clementine really loves her double lattes from Starbucks and Mr. Roadrunner only wears Nike. But I’m not going to go into any of that.
Here’s what I think: if they were smart, they’d get advertising that the parents really care about. Honestly, are you going to switch to Bank One because they painted a sign on the bus? No, you’re going to think that’s the stupidest thing the banking system has done. Well, that and the whole destruction of the economy thing.
So, we don’t care about banks on buses. But picture this: you’ve just dropped Jimmy and Janie off, you’ve got a million errands to run and somehow you’ve got to find time to get to the grocery store. If the bus reminds you that Albertson’s offers home delivery and you can shop in your ratty bathrobe, you might take them up on the offer. Or, if you’ve had a stressful morning because Christie found a new zit and Christopher just mentioned that his science fair project appeared to be taking over the fridge, and the bus reminds you that your local spa offers ½ hour get-away-from-it-all massages with Michel, you might ignore the growing thing in your GE and head for the spa. Or what about babysitters? Picture an ad for Nanny McPhee, English Governess Extraordinaire, with references, available at a moment’s notice. You might spontaneously hire her to take the baby so you can spend the day at the spa while Albertson’s delivers the groceries. Things people care about, that’s all I’m sayin’.
Besides, should banks really be spending money on advertising right now? Shouldn’t they be doing something larger, like shoring up failing financial institutions? Under my mattress has never looked so safe.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Room Mother Throw Down

I didn’t volunteer. I’m so over that. For the Kindergartners, there wasn’t a problem. All the 1st time parents get excited about each milestone, so there’s no dearth of volunteers. In one school we attended, fistfights actually broke out over the honor of being titled Room Parent (which is a stupid PC term. Have you ever had a Room Dad? I didn’t think so.) But by 4th grade, we’ve had our fill of wrapping mummy hotdogs, frosting multi-colored Christmas cookies and cutting Valentine’s hearts out of red fruit roll-ups. We’ve competed for Best Mother in the School and been found lacking. So, we quit en-masse. Which is why I got an email earlier this year. “Mrs. Mama? Um, no one else in the entire fourth grade volunteered to be room mother for any of the classes. So we were wondering if, um, you’d please do it again this year? Just for your daughter's class? Please? Or we’ll start crying?”
I was tempted to let the entire PTA burst into tears and film it as a documentary, but then I made a mistake. I showed weakness. They must have tried every alternative if my “minimalist” approach last year didn’t convince them to find someone else. And when they saw me falter, they moved in for the kill. They reminded me that I love kids when they’re at school parties.
They failed to remind me that I hate the parents. Actually, I haven’t had any problems with parents in my class. But I’ve had problems with other room mothers. Turn back the hands of time to the end-of-the year party for 3rd grade…
The 3rd grade teachers inform us 1 week before the end of school that they’d like all 3 classes to combine so that all the 3rd graders can play together. This means working with 2 other room moms. One of them is a good friend, so we had no problems, but the 3rd room mother? I’ll tell you now not to expect any Kumbaya moment. The 3rd RM turned out to be very caustic and dictatorial. She informed me that for our lunch we had to have hot dogs, boiled and kept warm in a crock pot. I started laughing and then realized she seriously thought I’d feed any living human being boiled and crock-potted hot dogs. I wouldn’t willingly feed them grilled hot dogs. I’m certainly not going to make them taste worse! I firmly suggested we each feed our kids in our own classrooms and combine for the games afterward. I had visions of a couple of optional crafts, a couple of optional games involving water, a lot of places for the kids to run around and play their random kid games. But, no, Caustic Room Mom informed me that there would be no crafts. The kids she gave birth to don’t like crafts.
“Fine,” I replied. “I have 9 girls in my classroom, all of whom love crafts. And several of the boys would spend hours gluing pom pons onto paper if we let them. I’ll do crafts for my group and if your kids want to join us, they’re welcome to do so.” She then informed me that she’d get some balls from the PE teacher and have them on the field. ‘Great,’ I thought. Kids like balls. They can come up with a lot of games with balls.
But on the day of the party, she tried to force my kids to participate in, hold your breath, Dodge Ball. Have we not progressed beyond that? And co-ed Dodge Ball? Why don’t we just paint targets on genitalia and give the kids loaded guns? She shot me an evil look when I told my kids, in front of her, that they could choose to play or not, whatever they felt like doing. I think a total of 3 boys from my class participated in her Stupid Game Plan. The girls sat on the ground and, true to form, began creating doll necklaces out of grass and weeds.
So, with joy and elation I greeted the news this year that Caustic Room Mom had agreed to parent a 4th grade class through their parties. We will, once again, be privileged to work side-by-side, if not eye-to-eye. I’m making plans for the end of the year party now. I’m going to train my group on Navy Seal tactics—by the time Dodge Ball becomes an issue, my kids will be able to sneak up on an opponent and blindside him before he even knows the 8 inch ball of death is coming. And as for food, I’m saving my entire budget to buy pizza, which I will have delivered to the field. If I can’t fight her, I’ll at least have the kids in her class so envious that they’ll be begging me to be their room mother next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Shock and Awe

“Dad, what’re those things next to your peanut?”
“Testicles.”
“And they make babies?”
“They help make babies.”
“I don’t have testicles.”
“No.”
“I have a vagina.”
We’ve gathered in the bedroom before school, hanging out with Hal as he gets dressed, and I’ve just learned that my daughter has changed “penis” into “peanut.” This is how nicknames develop, I think to myself.
The 3 year old continues her line of questioning.
“What’s that for?” she asks, pointing at the flap in Hal’s undies.
I answer. “That’s a pocket for his peanuts.”
She corrects me. “Peanut, not peanuts. There’s only one.” Ah, how silly of me. I’m hoping we can continue this conversation for a long time. We’re about to head to the gym, and the babysitters love it when children talk about anatomical parts. ‘Course, they probably won’t get the whole “peanut” thing, but she says “vagina” so you can’t mistake it. I’ve found that most people get fidgety and walk away when someone says that word, so I teach it to my kids as early as possible. I also allow them to talk about it wherever they want (not that I could stop them, anyway) because I enjoy the looks we get at the grocery store, church, after picking them up from playdates…

Sunday, October 12, 2008

When 2 Tribes Go to War

I am the most popular person in the country right now. I get visits every week, usually 2-3 times, from stumpers out convincing plebeians to see it their way. You see, I’m a suburban white mother, registered but unaffiliated, in a swing state during a Presidential election year. Normally I don’t answer the door on Saturdays (never anyone I want to know.) But, recently, I’ve been inundated. Hal mops up the overflow on days, like yesterday, when I don’t feel well enough to talk politics with complete strangers.
Last week, I got a visit from a 20-something who smelled like he hadn’t met a shower. He wanted me to vote ‘no’ on 3 proposals. I asked him what the proposals said. I assumed, mistakenly, that since he knew so much about them, he’d certainly have them written down somewhere, perhaps on a handy-dandy little flier he could give me. Nope. He could tell me why they were bad, but not what they said. And, when I told him in my sweet ‘get a real job’ voice that I would like to read the proposals for myself, he said, and I am not kidding, “They’re too complicated.” Um, thank you oh noble Neanderthal, but I think Geico wants you back on the set. Good grief! I mean, maybe you think I’m an idiot or maybe you think proposals are always written in a difficult language. But please don’t insult the lady in the apron! Just because I’m at home during the day doesn’t mean my brain synapses only fire to soap operas! (They really get going to Wiggles, but that’s a different blog.)
Anyway, so while I enjoy the extra attention during this campaign season, I won’t be sad to get out of it and into gift-buying season, when the doorbell rings at nap time because packages are being delivered. If my kid’s gonna wake up too early, at least let it be the Wells Fargo Wagon at my door.
Besides, I’m probably voting for Nader.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bugged

The smell surprised me. Like flowers—not roses, but marigolds. Not something you’d want to bottle, but something you don’t mind spending time with. Which was good, since the owner of the smell was crawling across my lips. It took timid, tickling steps, feeling ahead before advancing. I paid attention for a long time, since the dream I’d been in hadn’t left me and it took me a few seconds to come to grips with this new sensation. Luckily, blessedly, something kept my mouth shut and I didn’t let out a scream when I realized that a bug had found its way down to my bed where it was attempting, it appears, to snuggle me. I didn’t scream, and both the bug and I are very pleased with that turn of events. Andrew Zimmerman can eat whatever nasty thing he wants: I prefer my meat pre-packaged, resembling nothing at all that I would find outside. Or, apparently, inside.
I whisked the bug off, throwing it onto the floor. And then I turned on the light and proceeded to smash it. Or try to smash it. Being on top of carpet, it didn’t get smashed, although it did lose a leg or two. So, I picked it up in a tissue, flushed it down the toilet, and then spent an hour trying not to imagine what would have happened if I had yawned while it was crawling on me. I washed my lips, my hands, my face, my arms (just in case) and hallucinated that the scent was still all over me. All over my bed. I began to itch. I felt things brush against my ears, my nose, my cheek. When I would be on the brink of falling asleep again, a mental picture would form: bug crawling inside mouth. And my body would do that involuntary jerking thing and there I’d be, fully awake again.
Mind you, I hadn’t been scared while the crawling occurred. It wasn’t a dangerous critter, just overly friendly (sort of like rural Texas). I knew before seeing it exactly what it was, having decided earlier in the day to let it stay inside. I occasionally do things like that. It wasn’t a spider, so my kids wouldn’t panic. It wasn’t a cockroach, so we didn’t have to sell the house and move to Alaska. I’d seen the sort of bug before on my plants outside and it seemed rather docile. It had spent all day trying to move from the middle of the wall to the corner. And, since it was far away, and slow, and looked like it needed refuge, I let it stay. “Manana,” I thought. “Tomorrow I’ll take it back outside to be bait for the birds.”
Now you don’t want to come to my house I bet. You think we’re infested with lifeforms which will overpower you in your sleep and breed in your orifices and cause new medical terms to be created. Mostly, that isn’t true. Mostly I can almost positively guarantee that it won’t happen. But if it does, wouldn’t it be fun to have a new syndrome named after you?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lick This

I licked an envelope 2 days ago and thought I would die. It tasted like vomit. I actually had to eat chocolate to counteract the stomach acid taste.
Hallmark, on the other hand, does it right. I lick those envelopes just for fun. I get every little bit, and then I lick again just for good measure.
It’s the no-calorie treat.
There’s a thing on Food Network right now, Throw Down with Bobby Flay. Chicken Waffles. Seriously. Fried chicken on top of savory waffles with flavored butter on top. I’m thinking they must be scraping the bottom to have a throw down with food like that. I know how to win. Take the chicken off, make the waffles the normal way, add lots of Grade A Amber syrup from Maine and ya esta. Perfect waffles, no nasty creative stuff happening. Waffles=good. Fried chicken=good. Fried chicken waffles=nasty envelope taste that will only drive me to the chocolate again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blister in the Sun

A teenage girl at the bus stop, alone, earbuds in, dancing like she’s tryin’ to be famous. I’m not talking about tapping her foot while she waits for the number 49. I’m talking full-on spins and dips, arms flailing. Eyes closed, of course, cuz you wouldn’t want to see the condescending smiles of the passers-by. Like me. I’m wondering if Prince Charming finds that sort of behavior adorable?
I can’t remember ever doing that as a teenager. Currently, I dance down the aisles at the grocery store, singing along to the muzak or entertaining the 3 year old with various Wiggles songs. But as a teenager? I loved to dance—in my room or at a function, but never at bus stops. Ditto with the singing. One exception: Buttercup and I used to sing in the car. Loudly. Especially if a certain prude-y girl was in the back seat and Violent Femmes came on the radio. I won’t repeat the words to the song here out of respect for her parents, but we enjoyed making said girl blush (you have no idea how funny that all is unless you know Buttercup and Prude-y Girl, which you don’t, so I’m sorry for the insider statement.)
Another story about music. When I was 17, the church I went to sponsored a dance-athon. I got pretty close, in the final 10 people. And after 2 hours of dancing, I seriously couldn’t move my feet any more. Migaloo came up on stage and literally held me up through an entire song—a 2.5 minute recess from having to carry my own body weight. I’d like to say that the respite gave me the energy I needed to win, but in truth I lasted another 10 minutes and then asked the judge to call me out so I could finally sit down. (Pride wouldn’t let me just stop, which is another silly thing about teenagers.) Point is, now that I’m old and past public appearances, losing the contest doesn’t seem to matter. But those friends, the ones who lifted me up? You get the idea. (Another aside: Migaloo became a professional lifter-upper and married a woman who radiates compassion, so once in a while, life works out just the way it should.)
Point is, if a friend were with me at the bus stop and really needed to dance, I’d go ahead and dance with her. Prince Charming or no, I’d let loose. Of course, I’d ask to move to a more secluded spot first, perhaps indoors…

Monday, September 29, 2008

Playing Fashion Police

OHMYGOSH! I am so offended. Did you see what she was wearing? I’m voting for McCain just so I don’t have to watch the Lillian Vernon fashions Michelle Obama pulls out of the back of her closet. When she walked up on stage after the debate, she looked like a page from last year’s Homeless Chic catalogue. Maybe she was celebrating her husband’s background, but seriously? A multi-colored Hawaiian print knee length Chinese style fitted-but-not-very-well dress that ZIPPERS all the way up the back!!! If you have to ask for a little help getting into your clothes, it better be for something small and black. Standing next to Cindy McCain, it’s like Angela Lansbury meets Scarlet Johansson. Cindy looked relaxed and professional in a tailored red suit with wide collars paired along a front placard. A bit of curl in her hair, lipstick that matched… I’m not talking about money; it’s a judgment thing. If you’re going to do casual, at least do elegant. This ain’t no church potluck. Complex patterns, with a complex dress, and a back zipper from butt to neck; I’m just thinking someone got clever with the workshop scraps. What about a simple suit, chunky beads if you’re young enough (and Michelle is), maybe go crazy and do piping in black and black boots—now, that’s young, and cute, but it doesn’t say “Rummage Sale.”
Speaking of sales, occasionally I humble myself by walking through the Nordstrom outlet. Not only do they cut the cost of a cotton shirt to a reasonable $400, but they also sell socks. For $35/pair, I’m wearing them on my ears so everyone can see them. Some of the clothes, I’m wondering who buys them? From what I’ve seen, it’s mostly old ladies with several karats on their fingers and standing weekly appointments at the hairdressers. Do they take home the (not kidding) $1,100 lingerie? For that money, there better be a plastic surgeon included. And have you seen the new line of nylons? Spanx. I’m not buying them on principle. And a few of the outfits, I couldn’t figure out how to even put them on. There were several straps going all over with loops and hooks. I’d need directions. And knowing me, I’d get in a car wreck and they’d have to cut me out of the straight jacket I’d put on thinking I’m all cool and hip.
“Poor woman,” the EMT would say. “Must have escaped from the mental ward.”
Which is where I’d deserve to go if I ever showed up at a public function looking like I’d recycled my prom dress.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hold On Tight

You gotta admire a grown man who can make an entire music video while holding his who-who. I’m talking about Kanye in the video for Homecoming. Chris Martin has his own, um, quirks—have you ever seen him live? When he plays the piano, he really gets up close and personal. With the piano, that is.
What is it about boys and their extras? Sitting in the Kindergarten classroom with my daughter, I noticed 3 boys hanging out together around the blocks. All holding their “handles”. Not talking about it, not yanking, just building towers and hanging on. I’m wondering if it’s a fascination or a fear for them. Is it such an incredible thing, that they have this hidden appendage, or are they afraid that if they let go, it will fall off? I’m looking for someone with that sort of item to weigh in here. Having never been a man, having never had a pocket in my undies, I’m wondering why it is that there’s a common theme to men relaxing. Is it an invitation of some sort?
I’ve seen a few women who are hangers-on, too. They’re the same ones who are likely to use their girls as a storage facility. Me, personally, I can’t get away with that. I stick so much as a nickel in my bra and people wonder why I have the image of Thomas Jefferson embossed on my shirt. I put my hankies in my purse and I don’t grab myself. First, I’m likely to miss. Second, it’s not a comfortable thing for my hands to be doing. Third, I’m usually lugging kids around so my hands are kept pretty busy without checking to make sure Los Tetones are in place.
And, speaking of the Grand Tetons, why in the world did we keep that name? What, we let a bunch of lonely old men walk around making up hilarious names, and in our wisdom we say, “Great. Write it on the map. How do you spell it again?” Big Boobs Mountains. I bet the French are still laughing about that one.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Kanye and I Go Home

Have you heard it? It makes me weep. I have it on now: Kanye West and Chris Martin crooning “Homecoming.” You can Youtube it if you want to emote with me.
I could tell you that it reminds me of my teenage years, growing up in Cabrini Green, wishing I could afford to do more than window shop while the Oprah-ites walked around L.S.D. in Manolos. Actually, I grew up in a rather affluent part of an affluent suburb that boasts a mall the size of Delaware and an Ikea. Not exactly good for my gangsta image. In fact, I’d never heard Chicago referred to as “Cha-city” until Hal, also very pale but not from Chicago, emailed the song. I did spend time downtown, but like a vampire I left as soon as it began getting light. And always in a car. Well, almost always. Once, I got out of a friend’s car at an intersection and began walking home because he kept using a no-no word. At least, I think I was headed home. Don’t worry. He apologized by the next intersection, which saved me a minimum of 29 miles.
True Confessions time: I did not live in the Chicagoland area for long. 2 ½ years. But they were formative years. I fell in love for the first time, graduated from High School, learned to drive. I also joined PETA and wrote letters to free Nelson Mandela, for which I am STILL waiting for a thank you card.
I sometimes think I’m from Spain. I spent some time there and fell in love again, this time with a whole culture. You gotta respect women who can walk on cobblestone streets for miles wearing handmade Italian heels. I wore tennis shoes, because I’m American and I can, but there’s something appealing about dressing from Vogue to walk around the block.
Other times, I feel like a Bostonian. I’m comfortable without people in my business. I enjoy the anonymity, the vaguely irritable nature of the people who, underneath that exterior, have enough spit and vinegar to stick it out in a climate that scares most beach babes. I’m happy in sweaters, especially when those sweaters come from organic farms, handknit by a local artisan. ‘Course, at those prices, you can only have one.
I never felt like I belonged in Houston. How does one belong there? I had a friend I love dearly, a home I wish I could have brought with me, and an HOA that regularly sent me nasty letters—all the things that make a suburban housewife’s life exciting. But, after one evacuation and the births of my 2 youngest, I still didn’t feel bad about leaving for good.
And here? I love here. I can do all the things I love, with people I love, and I see myself sending down roots that, I hope, will hold us here.
So, what about you? Where are you from?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rock Solid

“Holy Mary, Mother of…” my mind screams at me. I’m not Catholic, but I’m willing to try whatever prayer might help. I looked up at the sheer rock face. I lean back against another rock face that forms the second part of what is not-comfortingly called a “chimney climb”. I glance up. 80 feet. 80 wet, slippery feet of granite on the coast (literally) of Maine. It has recently rained. And I’m standing in a pool of water where, at high tide, I would likely drown. I take deep breaths. I tell myself to get hauling before the tide comes in. My knees buckle and I call up to the total stranger belaying me, “Um, Nick? Yah, I’m not actually sure I want to do this now. Is there a way to get back to the top by walking around this point?”
Nick uses the “mother soothing a child back to sleep” voice. “You’re going to make it up. I promise. You’re going to do great.”
So, because I seek approval from outside sources, I start climbing.
Now, have you ever been to a rock wall? You know how they have brightly colored protrusions, and lots of them? This ain’t nuthin’ like that. This has small cracks the size of dimes, bumps the size of peas, none of it conveniently placed, and did I mention that all of it is wet because, in my brilliance, I’ve decided that I should be able to watch the lobster boats while climbing? Repelling down hadn’t scared me. But now that I’ve got to climb up? Crap.
I inch my way up. It’s amazing what rubber-soled climbing shoes can grip. “I am a mountain goat,” I chant to myself. In my head, of course, because my mouth is all screwed up tight so I don’t let out a sob. “I am a spider on my silken cord.”
And then there are no more bumps, no more cracks. Smooth as, well, granite. “Nick? What do I do?” I ask, thinking that he could just haul me up the rest of the way.
“See the ledge behind you? Sit on it.”
So I throw my butt backwards, landing on a ledge about long and with plenty of space for me to sleep. Which seems way more appealing than venturing out into the chasm again.
Nick doesn’t feel like taking up residence, though.
“Now, you’re going to stand up.”
“Here?”
“Yes. Good. Now, reach forward and place your hands on the wall in front of you.”
“You mean that wall? I’ll never reach it.”
“I promise you’ll reach it.”
“No, it’s like 10 feet away and I’m not that tall.”
“You’ll reach it. Your arms will go all the way there, I promise.”
And like a dunce, I reach out and miraculously (see the above prayer) reach the other side. So now I’m standing with my arms on one side of a chasm that ends in a rocky death and my feet on a narrow ledge on the other side of the chasm. Can’t be good. Nick has a solution.
“Now, you’re going to lean your back against the wall your feet are on and kick your legs to the front.”
“But I’ll have to let go with my hands!”
“That’s right. You’ll put your hands down by your waist to help scoot you up.”
“Oh. What’s the other way of getting to the top?”
“This is the only way. You’ll do great.”
I pressed my back against the wall, kicked my feet in front of me and put my hands down by my bottom to help scootch me along. Actually, the first time I climbed the chimney, I used my elbows to push my body up the face. Bad idea. Elbows were not made to push a body up a rock wall. Guess that’s why, the second time I climbed up that chimney, Nick showed me how to use my feet to “walk” up, which basically involves trusting the flimsy piece of man-made rubber on the shoes to grip the wall, since nothing else is. Ever seen Spiderman? That’s me, baby. The second time, I only needed one “reminder” on how to climb up. And, since Hal had successfully commandeered Nick’s attention, I had to yell, loud, to get that reminder. I tell ya, you’d think that since my life was on the line, the guy could give me a little glance now and then!
Having conquered that rational fear, I moved to a different part of the wall to climb. This one sat right on water, no rock wall behind me, and I had a lovely view of the seagulls chasing crabs. Or, I would have, if I had been crazy enough to look, which I was not, thank you very much. Coming up, I felt like a pro. Nick enthused several times over my clever maneuvering, or maybe he just felt happy that he didn’t have to baby me through the climb.
As a souvenir I have a bruise across the small of my back where I got up-close-and-personal with Maine’s shore line and which, if anyone at the gym asks, I will say Hal gave to me. And I have a new attitude—I’m feeling enthused by life, capable of leaping buildings in a single bound. Or, at least, in a lot of steps if I have really good shoes and a rope. To quote Hal after he finished a day of kayaking, hiking and a 6-mile run, “I’m a bad ass!”

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sex at 30

“If we get pregnant this month, we’ll name the baby “Logan,”” I joke. The time: 7 years ago. The place: Boston, Ma. The dialogue: my husband and I try to figure out schedules. He has to fly out at 8:30 AM. I have a doctor appointment at 9:00 AM. The complication: we have to get a semen sample to the doctor so, in a loving and romantic way, she can try to get me pregnant. Since the sample only lives for about an hour, my husband can’t “donate” before he leaves the house. Being the creative, problem solving people that we are, and being completely desperate, we decide on an ingenious solution. I’ll drop my husband off at the airport. He’ll run inside, do his bidnus in the men’s room (hopefully without getting caught by a camera, security guard or amorous man), run the sample back out to me, and I’ll break every speed limit to get back across town to the doctor’s office before the expiration time.
This is not how I imagined things would happen as a teenager. At 16, I thought every event would be roses and mountaintops. I had not anticipated, even for a minute, turkey basters and stirrups and “keep your hips elevated for the next 5 minutes and we’ll see what sticks.”
So, I’m thinking about 17 year old girls who get pregnant and friends who can’t and how worked up people get over other people’s sex lives. And I’m glad the doctor decided to open her doors early that day, because the last thing my husband needed was an “indecent exposure” annotation on his legal record. Fun story, lousy introduction to future employers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Don't Look At My Boobs

“Don’t look at my boobs,” the three year old says.
Now, if it had been my oldest, I would have smiled at her modesty and told her that I would honor her request for privacy. Since this is my third, I lie for all I’m worth.
“Okay, sweetheart.”
“Close your eyes.”
“They’re closed,” I say, squinting them like I’ve got them closed tightly, while looking out through my lashes.
She lifts up her shirt. She looks at her boobs. They are brown. So is her belly button. She has decorated herself, focusing on the most important parts.
I sigh. Well, they aren’t piercings, so who cares about a little marker around the nipple?
She looks up to make sure my eyes are still closed. “Don’t look at my boobs. Because they’re brown. I colored them.”
“I know,” I say, opening my eyes. After all, she’s still young enough to believe that her mother is all-knowing, all-seeing and all wise.
Except, she’s not. The baby, the third, fooled me good yesterday. She went to bed for her nap. She came downstairs an hour and a half later.
“I’m awake.”
“Did you take a nap?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Did you actually sleep?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Take your fingers out of your mouth and make eye contact with me. Are you sure you actually closed your eyes and went to sleep without playing?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I went to bed and then woke up and went to the play room and now I’m downstairs.”
But, turns out, she had her timing wrong. She didn’t actually wake up, because she never actually went to sleep. I figured it out when she fell asleep after 5 minutes in the car. Kudos to her, though, for being so sneaky. She left her room, walked across the hall to the playroom, shut the door and stayed in there, totally silent, for an hour and a half. I was exactly one room away making salsa. And I didn’t see, hear or smell her. And she’s my third! I should have been smarter.
The third must have learned from her sisters—don’t confront the Mother Beast, just do what you want only be quiet about it.
And, all-in-all, I think she’s right. I got the salsa made, listened to Talk of the Nation, and had my Mommy Time. And she played whatever it is that three year olds play when they’re supposed to be sleeping. Win-win.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Thorn is Sharp and Swollen

I planted wildflowers in my front yard in the spring. For about 2 months, I thought they were duds. Nothing popped up except thistles and dandelions, and I do not consider those two guys “flowers” except in the most generic Linneus-system way. No matter how sweetly worn, prickly thistles do not belong in a seed packet.
But, after finally rolling up my sleeves and pulling the weeds from the “flower patch”, I’ve found a very delightful surprise. Within the last month, the flowers have taken off like they mean it. There are black-eyed susans, alyssum, purply things, pink things, lots and lots of yellow things. And they look like they’re supposed to be there. Our goal with outdoor living is to no longer be the scourge of the neighborhood because of our nasty yard, and I think the flowers move us up a notch.
Yesterday, I saw a tiny yellow and black bird sitting on one of the flowers, eating the seeds. I tried to look it up online so I could impress you by knowing its name, but it turns out that googling “yellow black bird” does not yield good results. I don’t recommend it.
I worked with artists at one point in my life. They needed a picture of a zucchini plant for a project they were working on. I googled “zucchini”. Oh, bad choice.
Last week, a dear friend told me that my delphinium is poisonous. I guess the front porch wouldn’t be a good place for it, then?
So, I’m thinking a lot about plants. If I put the delphinium next to the thistle patch, will it kill the thistles? Are thistles edible? Can I call them “salad” and let them grow?
I have a spot in the flower garden where all the water runs. I planted moss there. It’s the Irish part of the garden. 5 feet away, I have a spot that never gets touched by water. I put in an aloe, and call it “Arizona.” And, having learned my lesson in my last house (sorry to the people who live there now), I planted my mint in plastic containers in the ground. They’ve taken off, as mint does, but they have boundaries. Hmm, I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Far Cry From Spumoni

I hate it when my husband celebrates his ethnic heritage. Melted chocolate bars mixed with Cool Whip become “truffles”; a jar of cheese whiz and cream cheese becomes a festive cheese ball; bread, butter and sprinkles transforms into an afternoon snack. The doozy, though, is the White Trash Birthday Cake. It involves Cool Whip, Jello and a white cake from a mix. You're smart. You can put it all together in your head.
If he were from Beijing, I'd make him red bean ice cream. If he were from Tibet, I'd make him yak stew. If he were from Scotland, I'd make him haggis. Okay, no I wouldn't, but I'd make him a nice vegetarian version of haggis, which he would love and which would make me feel accomplished and clever. But my husband is from Idaho and he comfort eats from a box, which makes me feel like I ought to have my hair in curlers and my dress should come from Lilian Vernon.
One year I tried to bribe my way out of making this particular cake. I offered any cake in the book (literally). I anticipated a multi-step, ganache-coated mousse concoction that would require a lot of egg beating and delicate sifting of cake flour. Nuthin’ doin’. I think tears actually welled up in the poor guy’s eyes, and since he rarely gets any food he’d recognize from his childhood, I gracefully (Ha!) gave in. Normally, I suck up a small piece and then I remember that I A) don’t like Cool Whip B) don’t like soggy cake C) resent food that does not resemble my childhood in any way. After all, White Trash Birthday Cake is a far cry from my mother’s Heart Attack Grilled Cheese (which involves mayonnaise, American cheese and prodigious amounts of butter).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thin Refers to the Cookie, Honey

The nine year old sits in the front yard. She yells, “I want ten thousand Girl Scouts to come to my house! Is anyone a Girl Scout? Come to my house!”
Go back in time with me 10 minutes. We’re in the kitchen, where she expresses concern over a social conundrum. 3 of her dear friends, it turns out, belong to Girl Scouts. Who will we buy from when cookie season hits us?
“I’ll buy at least one box from each Girl Scout who comes to our door,” I promise, feeling expansive.
If my daughter’s advertising works, I’ll have to put up barriers to prevent the G.S.’s from getting to our door. I’m thinking foaming dogs and smelly skunks ought to do the trick. I might also threaten my daughter—no more friends from the Green Brigade or she’ll have to pay her own medical bills. And mine, since I’ve never passed up a frozen Thin Mint. Or an unfrozen Thin Mint. Or a melted, squashed, under-the-baby’s-carseat Thin Mint. Dang, it was hard to wrestle that one out of her fingers!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Repentance

I missed it. I thought she had some quirks, some behavioral issues. I thought the parents didn’t monitor her as well as I thought they ought to. I thought… but I missed it. And now, looking back, I say, “Oh. I see now.”
Gratefully, my friend saw. She spent the summer investigating, asking questions. She paid attention to the bruises, the hunger, the parents who never, ever, ever wondered where Katherine had spent the past 14 hours. And she called Social Services, she called the police, the school and then she called Social Services again. And they’ve opened an investigation, so maybe Katherine will be able to talk to someone about what happens when her parents get so mad. Maybe her sister will get a cast on her hand, her fingers, her wrist. Maybe Katherine will eat breakfast and lunch and dinner on the same day. Maybe she’ll find a safe place to land.
And maybe idiots like me will pay better attention so that no one else has to be hit with a pipe across her side more than once. Maybe I’ll open my eyes wider, doubt parents more, so that no other classmate has to go to a friend’s house asking for ice for her privates. Because I do believe that it is my problem. And I believe that turning a parent in is far better than sending a child home to be locked in her room for, literally, weeks.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What is it Good For

I know why men go to war. Sit down and take notes because this may come in handy when you become President of NATO. I have a story to illustrate my point.
Last weekend, Hal and I tore up the nasty deck in the back yard. Horrible death trap that should have come out last year, but considering the list of things that had to happen to make this home safe and livable, it fell low on the list. “Watch out for the loose boards and don’t step on nails,” became a theme. So, we got hammers, a crowbar and sliver-preventing gloves and ripped it apart. Now we have a mud pit, which has provided hours of entertainment for my children and their friends. (Word of warning if you plan to have me babysit—I let kids play in mud.)
Then, this Saturday, Hal put on his loin clothe and ripped out the faux (read: ‘70’s) beams and “wood” paneling in the den. Wow. Some couples go to therapy, some go on retreats. Give my man a couple of tools and let him destroy something in our house and suddenly he becomes Apollo on his chariot.
So, women, we are to blame for war. Helen wasn’t kidnapped—she wanted to spice up her life with a bit o’ blood and pillaging and found an easy go at it with Paris. Aristophones had it wrong when he wrote about women refusing their spouses in order to stop war. Uh-uh, honey. I’m telling you, they wore their diaphanous best once they saw their men folk pushing back the tide with only a sword and shield. Like Circe in her lair, I found my Odysseus most becoming with filthy hair and wood chips flying. I’m sure there’s an evolutionary reason for the increase in love I’m feelin’. Guys with glasses and computers didn’t get the girls a million years ago, either. All I’m sayin’ is that I may love my man for his mind, but gee, it sure is nice to watch him sweat.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ties that Bind

Half way through our 2 week long family vacation, the 5 year old says, “I’m just so sick of being with my family. I need to see someone else!” Tempting though it was, I did not put a sign around her neck and leave her at the closest on-ramp. Next time we go on a family vacation, we’re doing an all-inclusive thing, where we don’t actually have to see each other. I hear Disney cruises are good for that.
This is the same child who told me she wants me dead. In the middle of a book, she said, “I want to be an orphan.” Instead of bursting into tears, which was my first reaction, I tried to find out what I had done that would cause such angst in my child. “Because orphans get all the candy they want.” Ah. Apparently, the worst part about having a mother is the whole limiting-of-the-junk-food aspect.
First day of school this week. All the other kindergartners hung out with their parents until the teacher walked them inside, most of them unwillingly. Not mine. She walked right up to her teacher and only occasionally glanced back at me, with annoyance, I think. And after class, as I waited close to tears from missing her, when all the other children ran with open arms to their parents, my child sauntered out of the room, stopping about 15 yards from me. Thinking she didn’t see me, I started waving frantically. She looked at me, but since she didn’t move I thought she still hadn’t seen me. I added a little hop to my waving.
“Oh, hi, baby,” she said to her 2 year old sister who had grabbed her around the legs. Looking back at me, she turned half away and started talking to the favored one, asking how her day went, etc. For this I went through labor? So the mountain went to Mohamed in about 3 strides, grabbed her in a hug and refused to let go until the hug was returned, however begrudgingly. Just to get even, I’ve met her outside her door every single day this week. A little less self-confidence and a little more co-dependency would be appreciated, thank you very much.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nacho Rider

We’re ordering room service at the hotel because that’s our favorite thing about staying in a hotel. Not that the food is good, because it never is, but there’s something Oscar-Wilde-decadent about ringing the butler to bring a PB&J. My daughters and I had decided on nachos, but first I needed to know if one order would fill our bellies or if we’d need to toss in some onion rings.
So I call the 20-something kid in the kitchen.
“How big are your nachos?” I ask.
And I wait patiently while he laughs.
“Well, my nachos…” he laughs some more. And I think I ought to be given an honorary sainthood for my forbearance. Oh, lots of things sprang to mind, things I would not have hesitated to say 20 years ago. Now, however, I applaud myself for keeping my mouth shut while he gets over his big bad self.
I look at my husband and wonder that such a terrific person comes from the same hormone pool as boys who fling jock straps at each other. I’m amazed that the same chemical makeup that produced Jim Carey has produced my spouse. And I wonder, too, what secret manly traits lurk in his depths. Someday, they may come out. He may start laughing at statements like, “Do you know where the hose is?”
Oops, too late. He read this over my shoulder and laughed. “Always count on the consistency of 12 year old men,” he said. And then he turned on the TV and made the “turning on the TV” noise that men everywhere hear as a mating call.
Sainthood, here I come.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Shee-Ite

Here’s a parenting question for you. (Sorry, Shelly, it involves another poop story.)
The two year old walks into the room, smeared in fecal matter. Her face, her naked stomach (she’s always naked), her arms. She’s wiping it with a piece of toilet paper, which isn’t working so well, being covered in poop already. She looks very angry. “Sissy wiped poop on me!” she asserts. I grab her hand away from her mouth, rush her back to the bathroom and confront the 5 year old.
“Did you wipe poop on her?” I ask.
Mind you, the five year old is clearly emptying her bowels, which takes her a long time and always smells like the stuff that comes out of the men’s room at the Chevron station.
“No! I didn’t! I didn’t! She went poo before me and she did it!”
Oh, crap.
The two year old now yells that although she did go poop, she didn’t paint herself in it. It was the five year old. A shouting match ensues. I need to solve the problem quickly before I asphyxiate.
Since they’re both just as likely to have done it, I decided to lecture them on the death that can occur from rolling in feces. All this, while I’m gasping for fresh air. We’ve had this lecture before, many, many times, but apparently I am not a good teacher of hygiene and so someone did not get the memo that poop is not a toy.
And given the decibel level in that bathroom as they argued, neither was about to admit to being the artist. What would you do?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hosed

I’m such a manly man. I just fixed a leaking sprinkler hose in the back yard. “Big deal,” you might think. And I say, “Yes, it is a big deal. It is a big deal, Jimmy.”
Full disclosure, it probably isn’t permanently fixed. It’s right over a tree root, which appears to be pushing up on it, and no matter how much I squeeze the clamp, it won’t form a perfect seal, since the hose has to bend at the middle to go over the root. But, hey, it does not currently shoot water in a geyser-like fashion, so I call it fixed. And I didn’t even use duct tape. I bought tools, 2 of them, and supplies (clamps and a hose replacement segmenty thing) and I dug a hole in the ground to find the leak. And when I found it, I waited 3 weeks. At first, it was too hot to move. Then, I went on vacation. But, today I’m back, and I fixed the leak. And now I’m going to eat something sweet and yummy because I’m sure I burned at least a jelly-donut’s worth mucking around back there. You should have a jelly donut, too. After all, now that you know how to fix a sprinkler leak, you just might have to do it some day, so you’ll want to keep your energy up.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm Switching to Priceline

Me: Hello, Hotels.com? I’m calling because I just confirmed a reservation on your website for two nights. One of the nights was supposed to be $114 and the other night was supposed to be $123. When I got the confirmation email, it listed $123 each night. I need to make sure the first night is only $114.

Out-sourced Worker: I see you have a reservation for two nights for $123. Is there anything else I can help you with?

Me (controlling the urge to swear at him in Spanish): Yes. When I chose that particular hotel, the website said that the rates changed during my stay. I requested more information by clicking on the handy red message and was told, via your website, that the first night would be $114 and the second night would be $123. I need to confirm with you that that is the case.

O-s W: It says here that it is $123.

Me: Okay, that’s what the confirmation says. That’s not what your website says, nor is it what I agreed to when I hit the “Confirm Reservation” button.

(Here ensues a 12 minute debate about what the website actually said. He said he couldn’t find that page, even after I almost-patiently walked him through the whole process, while doing the same on my own computer at home. I read to him the popup explanation and said, “That’s a quote, right from your own website. That’s the price I agreed to and that’s the price I want.” O-s W puts me on hold. For quite a long time. When he comes back he says…)

O-s W: We put only the highest possible amount on the confirmation email, that way you are not surprised when you are charged that amount.

Me, asking the apparently impossible: Okay, I need you to send me a confirmation email with both prices so that I can show the page to the hotel when I check in.

O-s W: I will explain it to you again. We put only the highest possible amount on the confirmation email so that you are not surprised when you are asked to pay that amount.

I’m going to pause here to explain that I understand there’s only a $9 difference. And I understand that the fee charged by hotels.com is only $5. However, there’s a larger picture at work here. It’s the picture of a Soulless Corporate Entity Acting with Impunity which, at best, can’t get its act together and at worst, bilks people like me $14 at a time. I can’t change most of the injustices in the world, but by gum, I’m going to fight on this one.

Me, speaking loudly: I heard you the first time. I need a paper that has the correct amount on it that I can show to the hotel. They won’t charge me less than the amount I’ve already agreed to pay, so I need a paper that shows that the first night is $114.

O-s W #2: Mama, mama, mama (okay, so he called me by my real name), I will tell you again…

Me, poking my finger in the air, which would have terrified him had he seen it: I don’t need you to tell me again! I’m not an idiot. I’m telling you…

O-s W #2: Mama, mama, mama…

(This continues for a good 3 minutes, finally I out yell him.)

Me: I want my reservation cancelled and I want my $5 fee returned! Now!

(We argue about this for a long, long time. He keeps saying my name, in triplicate, with a “Rational Man Trying to Sooth the Hysterical Female” voice. I’m guessing this was a training thing for them, and they should really rethink that whole approach. Finally, he says, and I am not making this up…)

O-s W #2: We can cancel your reservation but we cannot refund the $5. It is completely out of our hands.

Me: Are you kidding me? There’s not a company in the entire freakin’ (almost didn’t use that word) world that can take money off of a credit card and not return it. Give me my money back. I agreed to a contract and you changed the contract after I agreed, which makes you big fat liars. I want my money back or I’ll sue you!

O-s W #2: Please hold.

I hold and contemplate the likelihood that I will, in fact, sue. Sure, the labor is cheap, but it’s the principle of the thing, man.

O-s W #2: Mama, mama, mama, we will cancel your reservation and refund your money.

Me: Hallelujah!

I know they probably won’t. I know it was a trick to get Cave-Woman off the phone before she sent death rays to attack their shoddy operation. I’m having my lawyer draw up the papers now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mouths of Babes

I thought the man had heat stroke. There he sat, on the sidewalk of a major road on the hottest day of the year so far, holding 2 gas cans. He looked pasty white, and as I rushed by him on my way to take the 5 year old to her class, I thought I ought to stop. But, we were running late, as usual, and so NMP (not my problem). It took me 5 blocks to turn around, 3 minutes to drive back, and another illegal u-turn (justifiable, I thought, if a police officer should pull me over) to get back to the 70-something year old guy.
He looked up as a I rolled down the window.
“Sir, are you okay?” I shouted, not willing to actually step out of my car into the 98 degree heat.
He laughed. “Yah, I’m alright.” (Did I detect a Southie accent?) “My wife has the car and I’ve been waiting here for half an hour. She should be back soon.”
“Maybe she stopped for ice cream,” I responded, brilliantly deflecting any angry feelings he may have had toward his wife.
We chatted for another 15 seconds, I waved goodbye, and sped off. We'd stopped for nothing and now the child would be 10 minutes late for class. How was I going to explain this to the middle child who, understandably, resents anything that takes away from the few things that are “just hers”.
“Honey, we’re late for your class. But, we stopped to see if a man needed help. It’s so hot, you know, and he was just sitting there looking sick.”
And I should have known. I should have understood that my 5 year old sees more clearly than I do.
“What’s better,” she asks, “helping someone or gymnastics? Helping someone!”
Well, duh.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Louse

You’re so jealous of me. I just had the chance to call all of the parents of all of the kids in our church building to tell them that one of the kids has lice. This wasn’t my idea, just so you know. I would have preferred to discreetly call the two or three parents of the kids who sat close to this child during the meeting, but, heck, I'm directed by a higher power who felt that every parent has the right to know. I’m thinkin’ ignorance is bliss, and why make waves, but whatever. Here are some of the responses so that you can be prepared for this if it ever happens to you:
Most common response: “Thanks for letting me know. We’ll monitor our kid. Have fun with the rest of your calls.” I love this response. The phone call ended in 30 seconds, I felt warm and secure knowing that they wouldn’t make a big deal about it and that the lice infested child would not become an object of ridicule.
Most challenging phone call: “My child was sitting next to little girl X and little boy Y. Is he more at risk? Should I be more concerned?” My response: “Um, still not gonna tell you who has lice, so if you’re concerned, figure out what to do about it.”
Most annoying response: “I just told my teenage daughter and she said…” My response: “You told your teenage daughter? The one with the big fat mouth who is sure to blab it all over the entire world? You just told her? What, are you stupid?” Okay, I didn’t say that, but I thought it really loudly. The mother actually said, “Oh, I would never tell my younger child.” Oh, well in that case, go ahead and tell your chatty teenager because she certainly can be trusted to keep it to herself. ARGH!!!
As a precaution, I’m going to shave my kids’ heads. I mean, not to make a big deal about it or anything…

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My Diet

I’m reporting to Hal the NPR story of the attempted attack on our embassy in Turkey. To quote the military, “It’s too early to speculate on the reason for the attack.” Well, gee, Wally, whatever you say. Ever the out-of-the-box-thinker, Hal says, “They’re mad because “Friends” was cancelled.” Wow. I mean, the show was good, but was it worth all the effort: getting guns, wearing a coat in Turkey in the summer, driving a beat up car, not to mention the whole getting killed thing… I’m thinking a few complaint letters would have gone further.
For my part, I avoid such disappointment by not watching TV. Before you think I’ve gone all Montana-ranch, gingham-shirt-and-jean-skirt weird on you, let me explain. I’m not organized enough to watch TV regularly. But when I get there, I am lazy enough to sit down and watch an entire season of, say, “Arrested Development”, gracias a Netflix.
I always thought kids who weren’t allowed to watch TV were bizarre. They did things like macramé and homework. Lame. Now that I’m a parent of three precious, pure angels, I’ve got to say that if it weren’t for the whole babysitting factor, I’d be sorely tempted to run an axe down the middle of our big black box. That and, oh, yah, I really really like the mindlessness of it all. Sure, we watch History Channel and PBS, but nothing beats a good episode of “Psych” or “No Reservations” (Anthony Bourdain, not the silver-screen flick). I’m considering upping our membership at Netflix to 6 DVD’s at a time. Just how long can I go without using my brain at all? I’ve had a lot of practice, so I’m betting it could be a solid month before I have to focus on anything of substance.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Forever Young My Lily White...

Apparently, I’m old. This comes as something of a shock to me because I still feel 16. Being old and partially senile, awareness of my problem settled slowly. It began last week when I played chase with a group of under-10-year-olds. One of them said, “You’re pretty fast for an old lady.” I laughed—ah, the innocent remarks of youth. Then, just today, I saw an ad that sent me into fits of depression. An ad for a movie. A movie I consider to be one of the quintessential, age-defining movies of my generation. You know the one. Matthew Broderick plays a genius lurking inside a strapping 20-something body. Wow. Talk about pre-teen fantasies.
So, imagine my shock when the ad comes on and says, no kidding, that there will be a celebration to commemorate the 25th anniversary of War Games. 25!!!! That’s so old! That’s pre-digital, back when PacMan had kick-butt graphics and people still said things like “kick-butt”. OHMYGOSH!! Not only do they play Billy Idol on the “Oldies but Goodies” station, but now I have to endure watching my movie remade by stupid kids who won’t even appreciate what a cool thing Matthew did by subverting an entire governmental super-secret, top-officials-only computer.
And that’s how I know I’m old. It’s one thing to fall in love with a movie on American Movie Classics; it’s quite another to remember watching it in the theater. Now I know why Rod Stewart begged us to stay “Forever Young” and why the song made me want to gag a maggot. Besides the fact that a mostly-gay 80 year old man had chicks my age dancing around him, he piggy-backed on Alphaville’s most righteous tune by the same name and proved himself a total lame-o.
Anyway, point is, I have crossed over to the “remember when” side and I find it a scary, scary place indeed.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Neighbor

Excuse me a minute while I start crying. I just lost my wallet. In a parking lot. I know it was lost there because a manager of the local pet store said he had seen it on his way back from lunch but hadn’t stopped to pick it up. Because bright pink wallets look natural in asphalt parking lots, I guess. And, 15 minutes later when I checked, it was no longer there. Which means that one well meaning person could have saved me the aggravation of a trip to the DMV, the joy of 3 credit card companies reissuing my cards, and I could still have my gift cards. Goodbye, Gap. Goodbye, Bed Bath and Beyond.
Maybe someone will mail it back to me. Maybe it will be one of those lovely stories where I find it in the mail, in perfect condition, with a note attached saying that the finder wishes me well, no reward expected. Am I too jaded that I doubt that story will happen? After all, the manager couldn’t even bother to stoop and pick it up.
I’m trying to picture a scenario wherein I understand the actions of the manager. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
He works in a dingy pet food shop being mowed under by the big-box stores like PetSmart. He’s frantically trying to salvage his profits, which he has great need of at this time. His wife has just left him for one of his sales clerks, a 20-something in tight t-shirts and skinny leg jeans. She’s taken the kids, sued him for cruelty and bad breath, and the judge awarded her a fortune in child support. Because of that, he’s had to move to a tiny cockroach infested apartment previously rented by a drug dealer. The drug dealer left behind several “presents” for the new tenant of the apartment: a mysterious odor coming from the closet; a few bags of small white pills hidden in various patched-over holes in the wall which the Manager will eventually discover when he, himself, is arrested (but that happens later and so it doesn’t figure into our story). He also left behind a string of addicts who knock on the apartment door, incessantly, at all hours of the night. The lack of sleep has resulted in hallucinations, and as the manager walks back from his lunch break, he sees millions and millions of bright pink wallets lying on the ground of the parking lot. At first, he tries to pick them up. After all, only a cold-blooded fool would leave them out in public. But after trying to pick up several, he realizes that this is, yet again, a hallucination, and he stops trying.
That being the case, I can sympathize with the manager. Poor guy—he has enough on his plate right now. In fact, if I miraculously have my wallet returned to me, I’ll give him a couple of bucks. He can buy some ear plugs with it to get him through the night.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Art Smart

You should go to my art museum. I planned to spend an hour there with the two oldest girls, forcing culture on them. I find it also improves the sheltered lives of the frumpy dumpies who often hang out in such places waiting for their digestive tracks to function. Last time I took the middle child to a very different, more traditional art museum, she spent the whole time pointing out the penises on the statues and in the paintings. We got some very sour looks, mostly from women who might not know what a penis is. For my part, I had to do some quick calculating: how much is culture worth? That’s why it’s been over a year since we’ve gone. “Not that much,” I concluded.
Anyway, the museum we went to today had the anticipated sections: impressionism, african, native american, modernism. I thought we’d pick a section and I could spend the time trying to cajole wise and insightful statements from my daughters while they whined about sore feet and hunger. Imagine my surprise when I found out that scattered throughout each exhibit were activities for kids. And I don’t mean the kind where you look at something then go to a separate room to do a project. I mean that while looking at the African instruments, the kids crawl into a little tunnel where they watch an interactive video about Africa, complete with music. For those of us who like to sit while being cultured, there’s a row of Ipods set up with a thousand different African songs, from traditional to modern to Sweet Bessie singin’ da blues.
Each exhibit has some such thing. And if that isn’t enough, you can check out, for free, backpacks; one for each section. Inside the backpack are games and projects and “experiences”. From the African backpack, we pulled supplies to make traditional headdresses. In the Native American backpack, we felt things like goat wool and copper sheeting. We read a totem story and made the totem pole. We then made our own bento boxes with stencils like a bear, eagle wings and squatting human figure. All this, while sitting in the room with the art, looking at it and feeling inspired. I enjoyed the experience a million times more, partly because I didn’t have to fight my kids, partly because I could browse the art on my own, and mostly because I got to do the projects.
Forget passes to the children’s museum next year: we’re joining the art museum.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Getting A Lot Out of Church

We’re sitting in church, being quieter than we have been in years. That’s because the 9-year-old is out of town and the 5-year-old has taken the baby to the bathroom. Suddenly, we hear screaming. Hal and I sink lower in the pew and look at each other. The screeching continues, a full-on, total-meltdown tantrum. It gets louder. And louder. Reluctantly, we turn around. Running toward us, her arms outstretched, is the 2-year-old, yelling so loud the speaker actually stops midstream. My husband, closest to the aisle, stands up, snatches the baby and carries her out, all in one swift motion (he should have been a football player). The five-year-old saunters in, calmly sits down next to me, and informs me that the baby had entered someone’s office, taken a sucker from the desk and popped it in her mouth. Whether she was concerned about theft or the lack of fairness because she didn’t get a sucker I’ll never know. What I do know is that the five-year-old tried to take the sucker out of the baby’s mouth. What idiot came up with the saying, “Like taking candy from a baby”? He must have been blind, deaf and really, really dumb, because once my baby has candy in her mouth, ain’t no one taking it away. She gets that from her mother.
This is only the most recent incident in our church-going experience that suggests we ought to receive parenting classes, or at least an intervention.

A few weeks ago, while we stood up to sing, the baby escaped. Before I could catch her, she’d left the main room and run toward the outside door and freedom. It took an entire congregation pointing the way for me to find her. I saw her, at last, in the arms of a friend, walking back from the potty. Turns out the baby hadn’t been making a break for it; she’d only be taking care of business. Or so she claimed, once I caught her.

Last time we had “open mic” during a meeting, my 9-year-old decided to get up there. With the baby. Without passing the idea by me. So, I look up from my reverie (or my nodding-off) to find my youngest child standing at the mic in front of the whole congregation. And does she tell everyone how much she loves God? Does she say that her parents are wonderful? Does she say anything remotely intelligent? Of course not. She snorts and then laughs at herself. One of the leaders sitting behind the mic picked her up before she could start on her farting impressions.
All this, and we still haven’t been kicked out. Which is good, cause we sure could use the help.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Turning Grief into Action

I just got back from a funeral. Most funerals that I’ve been to have been sad, and the dead person has been mourned, but they’ve been the funerals of older people, and so there isn’t a feeling of surprise. And there hasn’t been the additional element of parental grief. Two that I’ve attended have had the last component: my husband’s cousin, who died in a snowboarding accident, and this one, an infant boy. There’s something sacred and horrific about watching parents bury their child.
I wonder if these deaths feel more tragic because we’re so sheltered from early childhood mortality. Not all of us, of course. Some friends I love lost their son to SIDS years ago, and my cousin died the same way. But over all, I expect that most of us see the possibility of the death of a child as remote, something that happens in Sudan or to our ancestors, but not something that we’re likely to experience. So we watch our kids, we make them wear bug spray and hold their hands when we cross the street. We warn them against strangers and drinking and smoking and unprotected sex. But we believe that medicine can help us prevent childhood illnesses, cure their diseases and ensure that they grow up reasonably healthy. We trust that our schools will prepare them to earn a living, that our churches will keep them out of jail, and that problems, mental, physical and emotional, can be fixed by medicine. So when a friend puts her no longer breathing infant into a white casket and lowers him into the ground, it throws my middle-class suburban world into a tail spin.
Now, I’m not stupid. I know that plenty of women in my own city watch their children die. They see them suffer from diseases that my children don’t have because we have all the insurance we can handle. They put them to bed without a full belly because there just isn’t a way to pay those bills and feed those children. Their schools will teach them less about earning a living than about getting around authority. I’m not ranting about designer clothes and ballet lessons. I’m thinking about people who work, or would work if they were allowed to, but who can’t provide vegetables every day, who can’t pay for insulin or eyeglasses or the chickenpox vaccine. I’m worried about families who can’t live together because they can’t survive at all that way. I’m thinking about the guys who used to pick my tomatoes, who built my house and who butchered the cow I ate for dinner. I know those people. We used to go to church together. And let me tell you, they aren’t running drugs, using up the welfare system or taking jobs my kids want. But my kids, and I, are sucking the life out of them because I don’t want to pay more than $1/lb for apples.
Fixing those problems wouldn’t have helped my friend, so maybe I should just keep my liberal mouth shut. Or, maybe I should quit moping and actually do something about the problems I can address.