Friday, September 30, 2011

Language, Please

I have a proclivity for bad language.  I have been swearing for over twenty years, some periods of my life more prolifically than others.   Even though my language tendencies are not altogether pure or even creatively colorful, I’m not one to swear without boundaries.  For instance, I find that swearing is not always welcome in certain situations, like in a job interview, or around certain people, like a police officer, especially when being pulled over for speeding.

You may think that my sub-par standards of speech mean that my children-sponges also delve into some pretty salty language when they stub a toe or choose to express their distaste when I decide to, say, serve fish for dinner.  Not so. When my kids were very small, I was careful not to utter profanity around them, because I cringe when kids swear worse than I do (Hypocrite, party of one?).  Now that they are old enough to know that some words are not for general repetition, I have become a little lax with my language.  I have told them that their fighting and bickering is bullshit, and in a weak moment, that they are pissing me the F off.  I am not proud of this, especially when I have taught them that we are not to use bullshit or the F word in everyday dialogue.

Because of my language lapses and insufficient parenting, I have not figured out how to deal with the inevitability that my children will adopt my language leanings.  How can I punish them when I am not obviously punished for my unsophisticated words?  And even though I would not be amused if I heard them using certain words, other crude talk, about bodily functions and body parts, have been known to cause me to laugh until no sound comes and I gasp for breath.  I’m like the most immature mom out here.

Recently we played the audio from the classic SNL/Alec Baldwin NPR “Schweddy Balls” skit.  My husband and I were giggling at the ridiculous dialogue, and the kids were aghast at all the inappropriate talk about balls.  Their shock and embarrassment turned to glee when they realized that because mom and dad were laughing, so could they.  Of course we didn’t stop them.

I come from a community where the adults, from time to time, gather ‘round and marvel at our children’s innocence, endearing high jinks and sweet pearls of wisdom.  “Janie said that she loved me so much, her heart was beeping!”  “Georgie put the frog in his shirt pocket so that it could be close to his heart!”  My friends’ kids are repeating Bible stories, and my kids are screaming with laughter about balls.  My daughter made up a little rhyme about balls.  They made jokes about balls.  They soon graduated to other subjects.  My howler monkeys yelled “My penis is killing me!” back and forth to each other, in between cackles.  Any genitalia can and should be called a wiener no matter who sports it, because wieners are funny.

I guess I should be grateful that my children still burst into tears when I wildly throw out the F bomb when my nerves are so jangled that my teeth are chattering.  Someday I will hypocritically have to dole out punishments or at least a stern talking-to when I hear my trucker words come right back at me from their mouths.  I can’t take back the allowances I have made for their language.  In the meantime, you will catch us all laughing together about balls, wieners and penises, as it should be.

Enjoy the audio.  We did:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How I Feel About Football Season

My husband looks forward to football season like a castaway being rescued from a desert island.  He grew up watching football and playing it; football players were his earliest heroes.  All of his family members love football, and all of his friends.  He went to a college where a good percentage of the students attended because of the football team.  You may get the impression upon hearing him talk about college that at this school, football was the most popular major, most people who attended were football players, and all the students spent most of their time talking about, studying for, and dreaming about football.  He has decorated two rooms in our home with football memorabilia.  His ideal life would be days spent watching and commenting on football with a world full of like-minded people.

I do not enjoy football.  I did not grow up playing it or watching it.  The rules and nuances of the game escape me, and I focus on the jerks of the football world as representative of all football players everywhere.  The noise of the crowd when watching on TV gives me a headache.  I only watch football in the interest of family or relationship solidarity.  You may sense that football season is represented by tension and angst in my house.  You are correct.

The more my husband expresses his passion for football, the more my passion against it intensifies.  I have dreamed about all the football stadiums in America being hit by rogue meteors.  I have toyed with slowly de-footballing my home one piece of memorabilia at a time, or staging a robbery where only our football décor goes missing, or asking the cable company to scramble only our sports channels.  My husband bought a life-size cardboard cut-out of his favorite football coach and proudly displays it in high-traffic areas in our home.  I retaliate by hiding it in unexpected places around the house to surprise and scare him on the off-chance that he might punch or wrestle it to the ground, in effect ruining it so it can be thrown away.

I know I’m in the minority.  I get that football is a favorite sport to millions of people.  I just happen to not be one of them.  I spend most of my time trying to teach my children that there are better ways of conflict resolution than violence; I don’t understand idolizing barbaric forces of men whose profession is to bulldoze each other. I feel that people put too much emotion into worrying about their football team winning when they could be focusing more on relationships and making the world a better place.  Violence, anger, division between loved ones: this is what football represents to me.  With this in mind, I realize that fighting about football with my husband is just not productive.  If I focus on it, I will give it the power to destroy, like these poor men do to each other each fall.  So instead, I have made up a mantra to repeat to myself during football season.  You may adopt it for yourself if you, like I, was born without the football gene:
Although football season fills me with the venom of a truckload of pit vipers, I will accept that, like PMS or too-bright blonde highlights, it is only a temporary and unpleasant moment that will pass like a vapor when life moves inevitably forward.  There will be a day soon when we are blissfully rid of such upheaval, a day when paradise is once again found.  In February.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Movie Effects

I’m a total crybaby at the movies.  I cry at anything sad, joyful, terrifying, dramatic.  When my husband and I were dating, we saw Meet Joe Black, a movie where Brad Pitt played Death, who, after taking over the body of a doomed yet brilliantly handsome sap, called himself Joe Black, fell in love with a girl and somehow traded places with Anthony Hopkins so Joe could live on earth?  Whatever.  It was not a great movie.  It touched me so much that I spent 30 minutes in the car after the movie sobbing while my now-husband-then-boyfriend sat in the driver’s seat, uncomfortable because he was unsure exactly how long he should wait after I was done crying to try to get in my pants.  I also cry – I mean, really cry – any time I see the “Be Our Guest” scene in Beauty and the Beast.  Yes, the Disney version.  It’s so sweet, the little furnishings have been cooped up in that big, dreary castle for so long, and they finally, FINALLY have some company, just one girl who they are so desperate to impress… Like I said, total crybaby.

Anyway.  The kids and I were talking about movies that move us to tears.  My list was long and varied (Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, the aforementioned Beauty and the Beast, Terms of Endearment, The Wizard of Oz - when Judy Garland sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - forget it, I'm done for).  My daughter has only cried at one film: Hachi, the old story of a dog who was so devoted to his master that he waited for him at the train station every day after work, even after *SPOILER ALERT* his master dies.  Richard Gere stars as the ill-fated master.  You can find it at any grocery store or bargain bin at the local discount store.  It is a sad, sad movie, and if you cried through Marley & Me, you’ll be positively dehydrated after this one.  I don’t even like dogs, and I had a post-crying headache for days after watching this movie.

My husband always cries at sports movies.  These gems of cinema are designed to touch us all with the appeal of the loser coming out on the other side, victorious.   Remember the Titans, The Blind Side, Rudy, Rocky; if there’s a coach and at least one underdog in it, he’s stuffing tissues up his nose like I stuffed them into my bra when I was thirteen. 

My son is careful to reveal anything about himself that might paint a picture of him as less than macho.  He listened to our crybaby stories and then thoughtfully said, “You know what movie makes me cry?” 

We quietly anticipated hearing what movie makes him tear up, what cracks that eye-poppingly frustrating indifference of his. 

“Which one?”  I ask.

The Legend of Gator Face,” he replies. 

Man, I love my kids.  The End.
That darn singing teapot.
 Gets me every time.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sock Bun Fun

Last week I came across a video on this awesome blog.  It shows you how to create a Sock Bun.  Now, this particular hairdo has been around for years and years, and I coveted it so hard during Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sex and The City days when she wore her hair in an amazing huge bun that seemed to be made of caramel-colored cotton candy (which, YUM!  Caramel cotton candy?  Sign me up).  My general laziness kept me from really researching how to get it until now.

My hair is kind of long and kind of stringy, and I often wear it knotted up to help with facial drooping and to avoid resembling an old hag.  When I wear my hair in a bun, the bun is anemic and looks like a little baby fist curled up on the back of my head.  My hair just doesn’t have the kind of volume I need to rock a large bun without help.  For a girl like me, The Sock Bun is a miracle find, and luckily for people who are as non-crafty as me, it can be made at home.

After I made my own pair of sock buns, I tried one out on the crown of my head just like Carrie Bradshaw did.  The result was not fabulous. 

What I was going for

What I got

I tried and tried, and still couldn’t get it sleek and sophisticated.  Frustrated with my efforts, I figured I could go a whole different route with the Sock Bun and make an even bigger fashion statement.  This is what I came up with:



It's good, right?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Parenting Fail, Food Edition

I fail at parenting every day.  Typically, I can go to bed and relive the day’s mishaps with only a cringe or two before my eyes close, but on days that I fail at contributing to my kids’ health and eating lifestyle, the nights are a little longer, and by longer, I mean that guilt prevents me from sleeping.

I take all the blame; I choose what the people in my household eat to a large degree, except for my husband, who has his own set of food choice issues that I won’t get into here.  I’m the meal planner, grocery shopper, chef.  I try to eat healthy foods due to my body’s intolerance for anything delicious but bad for you, yet I still manage to feed my  kids things that will never decompose in a landfill.  Here’s a list of terrible foods I feed my children that keep me up at night:

  • Fast Food.  Tonight we did McDonald’s drive-thru for dinner, where I purchased one child a cheeseburger Happy Meal so she could have the toy she wanted plus a chocolate milkshake, and the other a Large bacon cheeseburger Value Meal so I could have the free glass that came with it.  And a large chocolate milkshake.  Then we came home and I ate a salad and drank a large glass of water out of my free glass.

  • Mac and Cheese.  This dish is one that my children love unconditionally, in any form.  Frozen, boxed, or homemade, it doesn’t matter – my kids will eagerly lap it up any time, any temperature, any level of freshness.  I make it with an entire log of Velveeta, and they will eat it for weeks on end.  It never goes bad.  On the last day we have mac and cheese, I cry a little into my pillow, from relief that it’s over and shame at what I’ve done.

  • Leftovers.  This goes with the indiscretion above, but when I see their hands reach for a second helping of three-day-old corn, then a scoop of questionable mac and cheese, my self-loathing balloons.  I have time to cook fresh, healthful meals.  What kind of mother am I?

  • White bread.  I buy wheat for my own turkey and tomato sandwiches, but for their lunches that I pack every day, I buy white sandwich buns.  White POTATO buns.  I might as well make their sandwiches with pound cake.  Or maybe marshmallows.  I won’t even say what kind of sandwiches they take to school.  Sometimes they include marshmallows.

  • Ice cream.  They eat gallons of ice cream until we run out.  Then they eat cake.  That I bake.  For them.  They each just finished a second piece.

  • Fruit.  You might think I made a mistake adding this to the list, since fruit is healthy.  Except my kids eat very little of it.  My son will take an apple or some grapes to school every day, and he will bring an apple or some grapes home from school every day.  My daughter hasn’t eaten fruit since 2005.  Sometimes we make her eat a piece of pear or pineapple, and she will vomit.  She takes carrot sticks to school every day, but she also takes a vat of ranch dressing to dip them into.  So… yeah.

We don’t drink soda, but they drink Gatorade.  Sugary cereal.  Candy, cookies, bacon.  Potato chips, corn chips, cheese curls.  Pancakes once or twice (TWICE!!) a week.  The list goes on.

Maybe someday they will come to their senses and make the right choices.  Maybe their bodies will retaliate against them like mine did.  Maybe they won’t.  And if they don’t, it’s all on me.

Where’s my Ambien?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Okay

Last night I broke the butter dish.  It was after dinner and it slipped from my hands to the floor as I was cleaning it off, and it broke into twenty pieces.  It was not the first time I had broken this butter dish; the handle on it had broken off so many times that the glue that held it in place was becoming part of the handle itself.  But this time, the butter dish was lost.  It could not be repaired.

My son was in the kitchen when the tragedy unfolded, and came over as I picked up the shards that had fallen into the dishwasher, and he watched me put the pieces into the garbage can.  He asked questions.  “What happened?” “Did you get hurt?” “Can you fix it?” “Will we get a new one?” “Have you done this before?” “Is it okay?”

I answered his questions patiently.  I dropped the butter dish.  I did not get hurt.  It cannot be fixed.  We will have to get a new one.  I have broken things before.  It is okay.

It is okay.  The loss of the butter dish was just that; it was not a throwaway item (hence the multiple repairs I had made to the handle), but we can get a new one and it is not the end of the world that this one was broken.  It is unfortunate, because this was a wedding gift, unfortunate because the replacement will not be exactly the same.  My son knew how to ask “Is it okay?” because he knows that when something breaks, we are sad.  We want the item to be whole again.  He knows how it feels to lose something.  But It is okay.  I have said this a thousand times as a response to my children crying over spilled milk, broken toys, hurt feelings.  It is okay.  Usually I say this to my kids as an attempt to comfort over the loss.  It is okay, it will be better.  You will feel better than you do right now.

I have broken more valuable things before.  Objects are the least of these.  The big things like feelings, spirits, relationships, trust – these things, like my butter dish, can never be repaired.  The effort to fix may be valiant, but the repairs bear remnants like old glue.  These remnants cannot be erased, and if broken again, these precious things may never again hold a repair.  It will be okay, but it will be irretrievably broken.  This is what I wish I could tell my son, and have him understand instantly.  I don’t want him to know the sadness that comes from breaking something that cannot be fixed, something so valuable that no effort surpasses its loss.

But this is life, and he will break things.  It will be okay, but it will never be the same. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

City of Fight

Paris is my absolute most favorite city in the world, which isn’t saying much since I have only been to a handful of cities in the world, and most of them are in the US.  I studied French four years in high school, and spent the last month of my senior year living with a family in the suburbs of Paris.  Although back then I was a whiny little brat who didn’t really know how completely awesome it was that I was able to have that opportunity, I became the worst kind of Francophile who loves everything French with the same obnoxious devotion that my husband has for his college football team.

So when my husband found out that he was going to be spending five weeks in central France for work this summer, I became obsessed with inserting myself and our children somewhere – anywhere – into his trip.  I wanted to tag along with him the entire five weeks, but trifling commitments like the kids’ schooling and not being as equipped to raise our debt ceiling as easily as the federal government prevented us from spending a month-plus overseas. However, I did enough finagling so that the kids and I could piggy-back on the tail-end of his extended work trip, so we rented an apartment and totally kicked it like natives in the City of Light for two weeks.

I loved the idea of staying in Paris with my kids, sharing with them the sights, the food, and just the coolness of leaving our bland suburban life for one in a rich European cultural hub, if only for two weeks.  Because I knew it would be overwhelming for them if we went full-on European Vacation the whole time, and because there were several days in which I was traveling alone with the kids, we managed our time in a low-key way, with late mornings spent wandering around our neighborhood, dinners in and early nights relaxing.  We did our fair share of tourism, too, eating and drinking at cafés, visiting museums and churches, playing in the gorgeous parks, riding the Mètro from one end of the city to the other, and traveling by train - to Versailles (which they hated) and France Miniature (which they loved).

I’d been to Paris as an adult several times, and speak passable French to follow directions and order food.  I have smugly found on past trips that I was able to pass as European, if not Parisian – I try to fit in, and at least don’t get stared at as much as my husband does, due to his wardrobe of favorite plaid shorts, college T-shirts, and white running shoes.  I have even been stopped by a fellow Frenchman for directions once or twice. 

However, on this most recent trip, my incognito and coveted French cultural heritage blew asunder with kids in tow, kids who weren’t always so awed by the city (as their mother was) to forget to fight about – well, everything.  In Paris, instead of arguing about who gets control over the remote, they argued about who gets to be first in line to enter the Louvre.  Kid stuff, really – but no less grating to the nerves of parents who really just want to relax and have a NICE FAMILY VACATION FORTHELOVEOFGOD!!!!!!!!!!  As soon as I opened my mouth to discipline – or, let’s be real, here – yell at my kids, my semblance of unruffled Frenchness vanished as quickly as a bag of snack-size Snickers stashed in my freezer.  A cool breeze of indifference would suddenly wash over my family and I, ugly Americans we are, who loudly discipline their unruly kids with an escalating tone of desperation and ineffectiveness that is best left behind closed doors, away from the highly cultured crowd, or plain old Parisian parents who wisely step out sans enfants to avoid a similar scenario.

Which I guess doesn’t make me any more American or any less French.  Traveling with kids usually produces at least one person in tears, and it ain’t always the children who do so.  It doesn’t really matter what nationality you are.  On this trip, more than any other, I noticed French kids in tantrum form, and I saw their parents discipline, even yell, at them.  I guess on previous trips I just wasn’t paying attention.  Maybe I was indifferent to their failed parenting because I was intent on enjoying my vacation.  Maybe my kids are normal kids who fight because they’re kids, and I’m just a normal parent who wants peace and quiet for fortheloveofeverythingthatisholyinthisworld.  French or not, I’m fighting to raise my kids to be decent human beings, and if I seem overly dramatic or overly American, then so be it.  I’ll practice my French accent when those little buggers are civilized.

Or maybe I’ll just travel without them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cured

I can’t eat whatever I want anymore.  I used to.  I see your eyes rolling, and I hear your indifference.  Stay with me here.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not bragging.  I realize that weight and emotional food issues are a real problem for a lot of people their whole lives.  I know many people who have NEVER been able to eat what they want EVER, have always struggled with weight, and have real emotional problems that require psychotherapy when it comes to food.  I am not in any way into making people feel bad for their own weight or food issues.  It just so happens that I am not one of these people, so please, no hating.  Or hate if you want.  I am not trying to trivialize anyone’s struggle, or make my own made up problem more important, even though I have to withstand comments like “Omigod, just kill me if I get up to a hundred and sixty pounds, that’s like the fattest I ever was when I was pregnant.  I had to buy size TEN pants,” when it’s a pretty big deal for me to weigh less than 160, and I don’t own clothing smaller than a 10.  Some intense internal struggling has happened from having to keep my mouth shut when people say this crap.

The fact is that I am six feet tall and have been this tall since my teens.  There is just more space for food to be distributed simply because of my body’s large volume.  From my point of view, whatever your weight or food issues, you are probably littler than me, and I will see you as a cute little pixie kitten while I feel like a garbage truck.  That’s just the way it is. 



Until recently, I could really pack it away.  Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter – what with the whole hams and turkeys and gravy and potatoes and pies and cakes… sigh.  I thought about entering one of those extreme eating competitions and really make a respectable showing by eating 200 wings in a half hour or something.  I would watch these people gorge themselves on hotdogs and scoff - amateurs.  I really had an iron and bottomless stomach.  And I guess my metabolism just kind of kept up with it.  Until recently.

I was on vacation with family, where I ate and drank with no regard to health or balance in any way, shape, or form.  Bagels for breakfast, pizza for lunch, pasta for dinner, and snacks of all kinds thrown in every other hour for good measure.  All of my eating was done before sitting and talking, while sitting and talking, and after sitting and talking.  Exercise was not part of the plan.  And in between, there was booze.  It was freaking amazing.

My mother and I obsess about clutter avoidance and general tidiness, so we spent a morning cleaning while everyone else was out.  After a mildly intense cleaning session we decided that we would reward ourselves with two or three Bloody Marys out on the lanai.  I was mixing, and the air was clear at ten o’clock in the morning.  We chatted and laughed about pleasant things, as only a mother and her grown daughter can while mildly tipsy in the morning.  The rest of the family came back around lunch time, and we talked about what we would be doing the rest of the day.  Someone was dispatched to fetch another batch of drinks, and lo and behold, I was drunk.

Unfortunately, I've been drunk before.  It had been a long time before this particular time, though, and I was unprepared.  I was reeling and unable to focus.  I retired to my room to lie down.  Several minutes or hours later, I had a shower and dressed, blew my hair dry and applied makeup.  I also vomited.  Blessedly, my family left me alone in my misery save my husband, who, also blessedly, was amused and didn’t mind at all that his wife of ten years and the wife of his children, the drill sergeant of his life, was a mess of Bloody Mary drunkenness, smeared makeup, and rumpled clothes that she may or may not have tried to iron immediately before showering.  After a period of time, I rallied enough to remain vertical for minutes at a time and was able to keep down a few sips of water, so I fixed my hair and reapplied makeup, and we joined the rest of the family, who had by now migrated to a dinner party. 

When we arrived, I had to endure the joking and teasing that should accompany an entrance after an early afternoon of drunken vomiting and passing out.  I drank only water that evening; my taste for even a drop of alcohol was completely wrecked by the morning’s bacchanalia gone bad.  To my surprise, the appetite I expected to have for too much greasy food and sweets after such an escapade was missing.  I had a normal-sized appetite for normal foods, like salad and a little meat.  I chalked it up to a tender stomach and promised myself I’d return to gluttony the next day.

Except it didn’t happen.  Not that day, or the day after that, or even the day after that.  We returned from vacation and I food-shopped for my family like a healthy person – vegetables and fruits, chicken and fish, whole wheat bread.  Our family ate these strange and exotic foods for months, and I even ventured into buying organic.  I tried to buy locally as much as I could, or at least fresh stuff that was grown in the USA.  I stayed away from the center aisles in the grocery stores and kept to the perimeters, which was totally weird.  We drank organic milk and water.  Red wine and beer made their way into our diets, but never again at the rate we experienced on that one vacation.  If I did overeat or drink too much, I immediately felt ill.  Eventually I learned new limits.

Because I am a woman, I did not lose a pound doing this.  I began walking around the neighborhood and following fitness shows on TV.  Then I joined the fancy gym down the street.  Exercise was still my enemy – man I hate it – but I felt the urge to improve.  I was sick of living in my skin.  So I exercised three times a week, and I felt great.  I was in the best shape I have ever been in my entire life.  I went to the doctor and got a physical, at which I announced to anyone with aural capacity that I was in the best shape ever, and that my baseline physical was going to be hard to beat.  Everyone hated me more than you do right now.

I dropped a few pounds, my clothes fit better, and I had tons more energy.  I didn’t miss gorging.  Luckily, my husband magically came to the same conclusions about his body and health habits, only he started running, a cruel form of exercise that I am convinced only appeals to people with masochistic tendencies, and lost 25 pounds in two months.  Even though I hated him for that, at least he was with me. 

As life goes on, I find myself struggling to keep healthful foods in the house, because my kids just aren’t interested in whole-wheat crackers and fresh strawberries for snacks every day, and there is whining, and frankly, I’m just an average-bad mother, so I buy more junk food and stuff they could help themselves to without my help, like granola bars and packaged cracker sandwiches, the orange kind with a slice of dry peanut butter sandwiched in between, and chips and bags of Twizzlers.  I also don't go to the gym in the summertime because having my kids home from school is a good excuse, because making excuses not to exercise everyday exhausts me.  Every summer, I expect my tolerance for food and drink to increase.

I admit, it does, but never to the same level that I enjoyed my entire life up before that one vacation.  Anything that was so delicious that I could eat so much of that my stomach felt like it could rupture at any moment is nibbled on and set aside.  Times that I lapse and eat and drink too much leave me with horrible side effects that are too embarrassing to be documented here.  And I feel awful on my breaks from exercising.  I’ll never admit that I love it, but I do kind of look forward to school starting again so I could stop feeling like such a slug.  And when it does, I go back to the gym and slowly return to any healthy habits I let go.

So there you have it.  On one hand, I am healthier and have a handle on my appalling eating habits; on the other, I wish for those carefree years when four hotdogs and half a bag of chips and onion dip was what I enjoyed at least once a week for dinner.  But I just can’t do it anymore.  To quote my 101-year-old great-grandmother, who told me the last time I saw her before she died, “It’s hell getting old.”  Amen, sister.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mean

Once I got an AARP membership registration in the mail.  I hear that you have to be 50 to join AARP.  The reason why I’ve only heard about it and don’t have any first-hand knowledge about it is because the AARP does not apply to someone like me.  I mean, I will be 50 someday, but not for DECADES.  Okay, a little over a decade, but still.  Anyway, upon seeing the letter, and after entertaining my neighbors with a loud string of profanities, I violently ripped open the envelope to see just what this 50-and-over club wants with me.  I was mad.  I do a good enough job of aging myself prematurely, thank you very much.  As if I need yet another reminder that I’m getting old, other than the obvious breaking down of my body and the cruel evidence I see in the mirror daily.

It got me thinking about how much solicitation I field every week by well-intentioned marketers trying to make a buck.  I am not opposed to being asked to buy a service or membership, but I also don’t hesitate to say “no” to something I don’t want or will ever need.  Free consultation for new windows?  No thanks, I’m good.  Set of kid-friendly encyclopedias?  Nope.  I got internet.  Eighteen-pack of microwave popcorn?  Not today, but you’re getting closer.

On a good day, I feel proud and accomplished when I get asked to participate in or purchase so many things.  They want me!  They really do!  They need my business!  I am doing my part to keep the economy going!  I actually have some power here!  On a bad day, I want to crush the solicitor’s soul with a snide comment, fistfight, or just plain old rude hang-up.

This was a bad day.

Of course I didn’t have anyone to rail against right in front of me, so I did what any sane person would do:  I called AARP.  I wanted to know just exactly WHY I was sent such a hateful letter, one which threw me into such a fit of denial and indignant disbelief.  Mostly, I wanted to stop any and all future solicitations to their one-foot-in-the-grave association.  I called the toll-free number on the offensive correspondence and hit all the appropriate buttons on the telephone (very few, it turns out) to get to a “live” customer service agent to give the poor unfortunate soul a piece of my very young mind.

 A pleasant woman (likely much younger than me, I have to admit) patiently listened to my incredulousness at receiving such a piece of mail, and quickly reassured me that my name had been on a AARP-purchased consumer list of people who fit certain criteria, most likely linked to recent purchases.  The organization did not identify me as someone who was over 50, but she would promptly remove my name from the list so I would not receive any more notices from them.  Temper receding, I uttered a small “thank you” and hung up the phone.  Blissful relief washed over me as I realized that the universe was not against me and my tender age.  I am actually as young and vital as I think I am. 

But what in the world am I buying that puts me on a shortcut to Old Timeyville?


Monday, September 12, 2011

Top 5 Brattiest Things I’ve Said to my Husband

I’m rarely proud about anything I do, but there are some times when I’m positively aghast at my dreadful personality.  The following are a few ugly things I’ve said to my husband, who most likely didn't deserve it:

 #1:  You know, unloading the dishwasher won’t be an option for you next week when I go on my vacation with the girls.

#2:  Why don’t you go outside and come back with a new attitude?

#3:  I’ll make it easy on you.  I’ll do it when I want; then you don’t have to worry about asking me to do it.

 #4:  You paid the credit card bill with the wrong account and now we are overdrawn.  The check for (our daughter)'s dance school tuition bounced, so I can't show my face at the studio because we look like deadbeats.

 #5:  Please don’t touch me with your feet.  I feel like you’re making my leg stink.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Deadly Sin or Lifesaver?

"Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful.” – Mason Cooley

What is the most important ingredient in a successful marriage?  Some people say love.  Others – communication.  Sex, successful conflict resolution, respect, honesty; they all work together for a harmonious union.  I think that vanity may top the list.

If you stick with a marriage long enough, you will accept that it changes.  Nobody likes moving from a comfortable spot, but it is inevitable.  Human relationships, like the humans that live in them, continually flow and look different today than they did yesterday, two months ago, ten years ago.  My husband and I are past that stage in our marriage when we accuse each other of being different than we were when we first knew each other.  We don’t care much anymore that we don’t ride around screaming with our heads sticking out of the sunroof after a night out.  There was a time when we minded. 

We also muddled through a time when we just couldn’t get it together, when everything that I did and everything that he did was annoying.  We still have those times, but they are fleeting and wearisome, and so considered minor hurdles, attributed to a bad day at work (him) or a hormonal imbalance (me), or in a perfect storm, both. 

This is not to say that we have it all together.  As individuals we are a mess.  Like everyone else in the world, we are only a fraction of what we could be in an ideal state.  Our bad decisions and mental strongholds that keep forgiveness, tolerance and compassion captive, threaten our relationship regularly.  It’s pride that can really do us in.

Stupidly or not, it’s this pride in ourselves that I think might work best to the advantage of both parties in marriage.  I think most of us have a level of vanity that propels us forward, that helps us to get up in the morning and live our lives.  Vanity is pride, however excessive, in one’s self.  If I look at myself at an elevated level, the fact that my husband also views me at an elevated level is important.  Our congruent visions help my sense of worth, my self-esteem, my confidence in my abilities.  If I see myself as a winner and my husband sees me as a loser, my vanity starves.  My ego will be stunted, I will be bitter, and our relationship will suffer. 

On the other hand, if I view myself as nothing yet my husband thinks I am a success, I may blame him for lying to me, for giving me a false sense of confidence.  He will be hurt, convinced that his opinion doesn’t matter, that I am spiteful and difficult.  Our relationship weakens.

All of this is communication, really.  But the heart of communication is giving yourself to another.  Telling someone what's on your mind, who you are, how you feel, is a product of how you view yourself.  It's a product of vanity.  And when my husband tells me that I did well or that he appreciates me, it feeds my vanity.  In return, I feel benevolent, he is fortunate, and we are content.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reluctant Helicoptering

As my children grow older, external demands grow with them.  Activities, like their food intake, seem to increase every day.  Drive here, drop off there, pick up in two hours, pack extra snacks for school today, tomorrow and next Tuesday, and bring a book and a beach towel and two dollars in an envelope marked “Pizza Pretzel Ice Cream Donut Party” (I’m convinced that public schools are secretly funded by all the junk food companies in the US).  Have your child ready for baseball practice immediately after school, and stay after practice for a parent meeting to be told that you need to volunteer to be an umpire three times this season.  Then rush back to the school for the band parent meeting to be told that your kid needs to practice his band instrument.  Check all homework for mistakes, read all papers sent home, and don't forget to sign the assignment book.  This is in addition to the regular activities that you have planned, like making dinner, eating dinner, emptying the trash cans, and breathing.

Head spinning, I try to not feel guilty about not wanting to do it all.  Not being unable to do it all, but not even wanting to try.   None of us can do it all, but there are some parents who want to do it all, that they should do it all.  I’m talking about meeting all of society’s ramped-up expectations about their children’s success in school, organized team sports, art, music, and foreign languages (the last which, let’s face it, should be part of every American child’s education, beyond Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and Ni Hao Kai-Lan.  Come on, US public schools!).  Parents lament about how much time kids spend in school and extra activities, and express relief yet a little guilt that they don’t do as much as someone else’s kids, who are also taking horseback riding lessons and performing in community theater, in between summer camps for several sports and a mission trip out of the country.  These parents never miss an awards ceremony at school, are represented at each parent-teacher conference, and somehow also volunteer in the PTA for several committees during the school year.  Presumably, they are doing all of this while I am home because I’d rather watch TV or sleep than take an active part in my kids’ lives. 

Which isn’t really true.  I want my kids to succeed in school and in life, but common sense tells me that my constant handling does not guarantee their success.  Independence is valued in this society; if I show up around every corner to give my kid everything he needs to succeed, how will he know that his accomplishments are real, that he can succeed without me eliminating each obstacle?  I’m proud of my kids even when I’m not there to witness every step.  Furthermore, I realize that just because they have “tasted” every extra-curricular activity in the community, this doesn’t also mean their overwhelming success in life.  Have they tried out several activities until they find one they really like?  Yes.  Do they stick with two or three or four or eight activities throughout their childhood, running ragged everyday and not knowing what it feels like to eat at the dinner table with their family?  No.

Ramped-up expectations of extra-curricular activities are requiring me to spend time organizing my childrens’ lives around an increasingly tight schedule, when they are approaching an age where they can make their own choices about how to spend their time productively.  Playing a sport should not mean that they must play the regular season, a travel league off-season, a week of summer camp, and a winter clinic right after the holidays.   All this practice does not guarantee that my kid will be an overwhelming success; it may only teach him that personal limits are to be ignored.  Likewise, if the school has a field trip at the end of the year for each grade, and two or three awards ceremonies plus special class-wide parent-invited events, does mom and dad show up at each one?  Not necessarily.  It’s this madness that I resist in participating.  I hope that it is teaching boundaries to my kids.  I hope that it is not ruining their sense of love and support and parental encouragement.  I hope that they won’t end up spending thousands of dollars on therapy because I missed their second-grade talent show.  There will be bigger, better problems, and they will eventually need to figure them out on their own.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Save The Children

My sister-in-law was wrestling with a decision about what kind of backpack to buy for my nephew, who is in preschool.  Her concern was that the backpack she wanted to buy may be a bit too “girly."  It was turquoise with red polka-dots and it looked like an owl.  The other choices were a blue dog, a black and white penguin, a yellow bumblebee, a pink bear and a brown monkey. 

She got a myriad of opinions on which backpack to buy.  Most people said “if you’re worried about bullying, get the dog.”  I tend to agree.  None of us want our children to be a target, and the Mother Bear defense mechanism takes control when we think our child might be picked on in any way.  We think that parents exist to protect children from the mean, cruel world that will stomp on their hopes and dreams when they express them.  If kids show their true feelings in any way that might attract unwanted attention, which children are guaranteed to do, our response sometimes is to suppress the abnormality of the reaction and try to calm the emotions out of them with words, comforting actions, or even bribes.  We may even anticipate painful social situations and defuse them before they arise.  We try to manage their futures by manipulating how the world views them.

With every new encounter my kids have in the world, it becomes harder for me to keep from fighting imagined battles for them.  My husband and I got our son inline skates one year for his birthday.  Not the kind of deck hockey street skates that all the kids are wearing; these are adult-sized fitness skates that your mother wore in the 90’s during the roller-blading fitness days, with the huge brake on the back and adjustable sizing up to three different shoe sizes.  We insist on his wearing a bike helmet for protection when rolling through the neighborhood because it’s the law, and because even as a child he is as big as a small adult, with precious little control over his fast-growing body, all arms and legs flailing about as he moves through the world.  He knows not his own strength, let alone his unchecked limb-waving.  In addition to the contraptions on his feet and head, he wears thick, bright orange knee socks from a past Little League uniform.  Quite a sight he is, rolling, jerking, and careening down the rolling hills of our neighborhood, desperately trying to stay upright at 10 miles per hour.

My husband and I were taking a walk through the neighborhood one evening, and our son decided to rollerblade with us.  He was still practicing staying upright on them, and really hadn’t got the stopping part down yet.  On this particular walk he was stopping by smacking the toes of the blades into the nearest curb.  This maneuver worked as long as he wasn't moving too fast.  He just rolled right along, and when he felt he was getting a little out of control, SMACK he went into the concrete curb.

We were walking down a particularly steep hill past some neighborhood kids, and as he waved hello, my son abruptly lost control of the blades, and I could see the panic on his face as he tried to slow down before smacking the curb with his toes.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful, and kind of slid on his bottom across the street onto the curb.  Because our children emote on an Oscar-winning level, a screech and a scream came out of my son instantly, simultaneously producing tears as big as 5-carat diamonds.  My husband and I and the neighbor kids openly gaped at him as he grabbed his rear end and writhed in pain.  Our inaction only served to intensify his anguish so he began yelling “IT REALLY HURTS!!  I HURT MY BUTT!!”  After this performance, at which I giggled a little at its absurdity and over-the-top quality, we assessed his injuries to be non-life-threatening.  He gathered himself up and we continued on our way.

Inside, I was mortified and embarrassed for him.  I was sure that these children who witnessed this unfortunate sight would never again be friendly with my son, and that he had started a chapter in his life that would forever be plagued by bullying.  His life flashed before my eyes as one that would involve me constantly demanding justice for the discrimination and harassment he was sure to receive.  As his mother, I will be his advocate forever, but now I had to step up my role as paving the way to a more comfortable, emotionally safe future for my sensitive boy and his fragile spirit.  I would save him from the world. 

The next day after school, one of the kids who had witnessed the carnage came to the house asking for my son to play outside.  As I watched the boys go out into the neighborhood, the previous day’s incident was never mentioned.  It didn’t matter.  Here were two boys shooting basketballs at a rickety hoop, laughing together as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  Back in the house, there was a mother who was more than willing to take on any burden for her son and any other bullied child who comes along.  My son, in his orange knee socks and 90’s era rollerblades, doesn’t care what he looks like or acts like, and his friend doesn’t either, as long as they can be friends and shoot hoops after school. 

I’m going to tell my sister-in-law to get her son that owl backpack.  Maybe she should get him the pink bear, if that’s what he wants.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rated

There are many things that lots of people like, like chocolate, or Starbucks.  There are also many things in the world that lots of people dislike, like bear attacks, or vomiting.  Although a good icebreaker, you can get nowhere fast in a conversation if you only talk about things in terms of what you like and dislike.  A conversation will fizzle if you and your conversation partner are on opposite ends of the spectrum on a topic, or if you both feel the same way about something, like shoes matching a purse, or that an appropriate punishment for parents who fail to discipline unruly children in restaurants is public flogging.  It’s a conversation lengthener to look at things as how overrated or underrated you think they are; the following is a brief list of some important things which I have found useful in energizing a conversation in important social settings, like a debutante ball or your husband’s company picnic, when you are cornered by his boss’s drunk wife. 

Overrated:
  • “Reality” TV.  At this point, if you are trying to convince me that people on these shows really live their lives like this, I want to see bathroom breaks and pimple popping.  If you’re not willing to show that, make it stop.  Okay, I don’t watch reality TV; they might do these things.  I just never miss an opportunity to ask it to stop.

  • Wisdom that comes with age.  I hate when people who are older than me pretend that they are so much smarter just because they are a few years older.  You remember black and white TV?  Can you help me with my doctoral dissertation?  Keep your wisdom; getting old sucks.  What are you doing with all that wisdom?  Most likely nothing.  Being young is way better.

  • The need for a minivan.  Although comfortable for families, all that space is completely unnecessary; it’s basically used to store trash.  Look in the windows of any minivan; most are motorized dumpsters.

  • Perpetuating traditional childhood myths.  Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy seem like good ideas at the time until you realize that you have to construct elaborate lies to avoid crushing your children’s spirit.  At some point you have to unravel the lies in time without them a) hating you or b) being ruthlessly teased in school for believing such idiotic fantasies.


Underrated:

  • Regular bowel movements.  Enough said. 

  • Good health.  Everyone says that you don’t know how good it is until it’s gone.  This is true for anybody suffering any ailment, from a paper cut to stage 4 cancer.  Not that a paper cut is even on the same page as cancer, but try thinking of anything else when you’ve got one.

  • Clean windows.  When I washed the windows in my house after several years, it was literally like all the lights went on.  Do it, once.  You won’t be disappointed.

  • Being a good role model for your kids.  I laugh out loud at my kids’ potty humor, teach them songs that I used to get into trouble for singing when I was young, and use swear words, on occasion, to get my point across.  The verdict is out on whether or not they will actually benefit from these things, but I feel that seeing mom as a human being is better than them expecting me to do the impossible, like fixing a broken bouncy ball or baking two  hundred cupcakes the night before the school bake sale.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Could You Repeat That?

In conversations, I often embarrass myself. My social ineptitude involves putting my foot in my mouth or saying more than the situation warrants.  I try to be funny or clever, but I end up looking stupid or crude.  Sometimes others don’t get the joke, which is the worst.  I also have bad listening skills – I miss details of a story by thinking of a similar memory, and share inappropriately.  My intention is to find common ground, but I end up revealing some irrelevance that should remain unspoken.  I also ‘out’ myself and others in ways that are unfortunate and unnecessary.

I was at a home party at a friend’s house, along with 25 other ladies.  After the party, I found myself standing with two women: Ashley*, a good friend of mine, and Joan*, an acquaintance.  Ashley was my son’s preschool teacher, and Joan was asking about the preschool and how my son liked it.  I responded quickly and dead straight, “He loves preschool, and his teacher.  The teachers are great - they’re not all crack whores like Ashley.” 

 Ashley roared with laughter and gave me a little push.   I was kidding, of course.  Ashley is NOT a crack whore.  She is a lovely woman with a lovely family who lives in the next development over.  She isn’t even the type of person who would ever see a crack whore.  We live in the suburbs.  I smirked and waited for Joan to laugh.  She didn’t, but gave a non-committal “huh” and excused herself.  The next day, the guilt I felt over my comment ate at me for hours.  My friend is not a crack whore; what kind of parent makes a remark like that about her child’s preschool teacher?  What kind of a person was I to call my friend such thing?  Plus, I hardly knew Joan.  I came off as completely tasteless, not to mention judgmental about crack whores.

 I called my husband at work for advice.  I could see him rolling his eyes, thinking “why doesn’t she get a job?”  He said that if I was so upset about it then I should apologize to both women.  He was right.  This was the best way for me to overcome my guilt and coarse reputation.  Calling Ashley was easy; I told her I was out of line, I didn’t think she was a crack whore or even resembled one, I loved that she was my son’s teacher and I was sorry for being rude.  We laughed about it again, and she advised me to apologize to Joan to repair my impression.  I was nervous about talking to Joan because I wanted the conversation to be quick and painless and not awkward, and I knew it wouldn’t be any of that. 

 I called Joan, and sensed immediately that she was confused about the call.  I worked up the courage to get to the issue.  “Joan, I wanted to apologize for calling Ashley a crack whore last night.  It was off-color and untrue, and I’m really embarrassed.  I feel bad for saying it and I had to call to say it was out of character.  I’m sorry.”

I was so relieved and proud of myself for doing such a difficult thing.  I could face my children with the knowledge that their mother is a strong, astute woman.  What a lesson to teach them.

 A moment passed. Joan responded, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”  Turns out she didn’t even hear the comment, and I outed myself as being trashy and crude.  Again.




*names are changed to protect the more socially refined

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Dark Side

This summer, I got a suntan.  Such a good tan, that on occasion, as I bumbled my way around the house this summer, on occasion I would do a double take as I’d catch my reflection.  My usually peachy-blah skin color was transformed into a warm, rich Crayola tan, with a pretty major sprinkling of freckles.  Not much of a surprise, since I spent most of summer lounging at the pool and a week at the beach, where I lounged daily on the sand, drink in one hand and cheap novel in the other, soaking up the sun’s rays like a lizard warming its ectothermic body for a day’s worth of functioning.

Normal for the summer, you say?  Normal for most, except for me.  The past ten years or so, since marriage and kids, I traded in my free-as-a-bird, tan-at-all-costs mentality left over from my childhood and teen years for a tan-leads-to-skin-cancer-and-premature-aging-and-wrinkles-pass-me-the-SPF50-for-God’s-sake one.  Add to that a diagnosis of sunlight-triggered rosacea that has resulted in regular trips to the dermatologist, at which the doctor has more than once firmly prescribed the religious use of sunscreen and avoidance of sunlight, and a mild hermit-like lifestyle that makes it easy to shun any and all outdoor activity.  Despite all this, I acquired a glowing caramel color that would make the Coppertone girl turn an envy-tinged green.

The biggest problem with all of this is not only that I will most certainly pay for my sunbathing sins with premature aging, more pronounced redness, ever-expanding freckling, and wrinkles that guarantee me a place in the lost youth club.  No creamy smooth visage for me, although it was probably the many years of sun abuse and slathering on coconut oil, lying in tanning beds and on rooftops surrounded by sheets of aluminum foil from noon to three several times a week when I was in my teens and twenties that did it, and not just this past summer.  It’s not that I’ve taken two steps back from the ten years since where I wore floppy hats and managed to avoid the sun using umbrellas at the beach and used daily moisturizer with sunscreen and opted for the cool library with the kids during hot sunny days instead of the local swimming pool.  It’s that I have likely contributed to a bad habit in my daughter. 

My daughter, 8-year-old lovely that she is, is also a very gifted tanner.  Her skin, with rich olive tones that practically invite the sun in for café au lait, browns so easily that she had tan lines at age two months simply from us carrying her from car to house to grocery store to mall in her infant carrier during the summer.  While she was wearing SPF 60 baby sunscreen.  Since my children were babies, I made sure they had a thick layer of sunscreen protecting their skin while outdoors, and only once or twice do I remember sunburn.  Only on my pale, freckly son, of course.  My daughter has never, ever had a sunburn.  Only a deep, dark, tropical tan.   This recent summer was no exception.  We slathered on the sunscreen every day, and she tanned.  And tanned.  And tanned.  We gaped and ooohed and aaahed over the capacity of depth of color that her skin could reach at the end of each sun-filled day, and she proudly stood as majestic and dignified as a peacock at the zoo accustomed to the attention of camera-snapping onlookers.  She took in the praises and comments that we hurled at her like roses, gathered them up in her arms and tucked them away safely into her burgeoning self-image.  I barely pulled myself away from my inane complimenting of her UV-radiated skin to realize that I was creating a miniature sun goddess, not unlike myself when I was hardly older than her.  I remembered the comments, the compliments, the oohs and ahhs I received as a child in summers, when I swam every day and never used sunscreen.  My skin, like hers, carmelized the instant the sun kissed it.  Fast forward thirty years, and I see my future in wrinkle creams and chemical peels to remedy the damage I’ve done.  I don’t want that for my child, but I’m afraid now that she sees the mystical power her browned skin holds over others, her fate will follow mine.

Normally when we experience the jarring realization that we have failed our kids, it’s the kind of failing that is easy to measure, or in my case, hear.  I’m a yeller.  When my kids (or husband, for that matter) really make me mad, often for something minor but grating to my jangly nerves, usually in the form of oft-repeated questions or constant in-fighting, I respond in a cathartic yet increasing volume and pitch that to me serves to get my point across but to them is the indication that it’s time to take their shenanigans elsewhere.  It’s not a prized quality, this propensity to shout.  The guilt that overcomes me is instant and despairing, and I always ask for forgiveness, apologizing for breaking their hearts and mine, inwardly vowing to pay for therapy in their damaged adulthood.  We limp on our injured ways, my gratification-slash-disappointment resulting from successfully expressing to my family how they pain me and apologizing for the pain I’ve caused ringing in my ears, as well as their dented psyches from the knowledge that not only is mommy a flawed human being who makes mistakes, but that she has the power to make them feel very terrible.  The gratification is a false one, for in the corners of my mind I know that there is a very good chance that someday they will also be yellers, and I am teaching them this skill.  The “I learned it by watching you” line from those anti-drug PSAs in the 80’s has never rung so true in my head than when I walk from my children after a particularly Mommy Dearest moment, or now, when I see my sun-bronzed daughter preen like a Miss America contestant during the inexplicable evening gown portion of the pageant.

What to do about this?  How do I undo what I’ve done so cheerfully, so admiringly, so completely in the form of praise for something that comes so absolutely effortless to her?  How do I reverse this teaching that being tan is desirable?  Furthermore, when I look at myself in the mirror, how can I tell myself that it’s not?  I’m hardly a fan of the “do what I say, not what I do” philosophy, though it may be pretty appropriate at the point, as my tan fades but is most certainly hanging on.   Graphic photos of prematurely aged skin and a dermatological lecture sound a little extreme for an 8-year-old’s education on the importance of taking care of yourself, but as her parent, I am responsible for leading her on the high road of skin care and conscientious sun exposure.  I guess I will start by apologizing and asking for forgiveness for my transgressions yet again, and hope that she listens long enough to understand that, while we are both bronzed goddesses, that isn’t necessarily the life either of us should want.