Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Don't everyone answer at once

Everyone knows about the laws in the universe, like gravity, that keep our feet on the ground. Equally well known is the ninth law of thermodynamics, which states that sitting on black vinyl car seats in the middle of August really hurts. And who doesn't know about the law governing the speed of light, which in my house involves a competitive sprint to bed each night, leaving the loser responsible for turning off the lamp in the corner. Everyone knows about those laws, but it takes a seasoned parent to detect, and understand, the law that governs the functions of auditory processing in children. I call it, the Law of Don't Everyone Talk at Once, because that's what you find yourself saying, whether you mean it literally or sarcastically.

In scientific terms, it goes like this: "A child's voice operates disproportionately to his parents' need to hear it." In laymen terms it means that when you really need the little people to pipe down, their "off switch" is jammed in the "on" position; other times, like when when you discover a game of tic-tac-toe on the dining room wall drawn in purple Sharpie, suddenly everone's on "mute." It happened to me just the other day...

"Who did this?" I announced, not even bothering to play the reverse psychology game of staying easy-breezy in order to flesh out the culprit. That's when I avoid making any eye contact and casually mention, "Oh, I was just wondering, no big deal, if anyone remembers who may have accidentally put a mark over there on that wall..." In those cases, it's always easy to spot the guilty one if you're really paying attention because they consider fessing up for about one nano-second, before their common sense reminds them it's a trap. In that brief moment, the eyes will lower and the mouth will droop, for just an instant. But that's long enough! You've got them! On this particular day, like I said, I didn't bother with highly evolved modes of interrogation. I was annoyed and I wanted my man. My query was met with total silence.

"Well, Don't Everyone Answer at Once," I snapped. Shoulders were shrugging all over the room, a room so quiet that you could hear the spider on the wall breathe a sigh of relief as the fly landed in his web with a dull "poof." At that point I had to start grilling them individually, utilizing all of my FBI body-language training. After three nopes, I had my man (well, woman). Her answer? "I don't remember."

So, why is it that when you want kids to talk, they can make clams seem blabby, but when you really, really, really need a little quiet time, the voices are like hail, raining straight down on your brain? For some reason, as it gets close to dinner time, this phenomena is at its peak in my house. One by one they file up to the counter bar and simultaneously begin rapid-firing their requests:

"Can I have just ketchup and a teeny, teeny bit of mayo on my hamburger?"

"Can I have pickles on the side and no bun?"

"Can I have mustard, a lot of ketchup, and mom?? Can I have lettuce, but under the burger on the bottom bun?"

"Mom? Can I have..."

"PLEASE DON'T EVERYONE TALK AT ONCE!!" I shout. At that moment, those boys in The Deer Hunter have nothing on me. Give me the goddamn gun!! Spin that chamber and let her rip!!

Suddenly, everyone's on mute again and the laws of the universe are working in my favor.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So Many Questions

Just when you think you're getting somewhere as a parent, when your well-thought out lecture or explanation of a critical issue or situation rolls off your tongue like a strike right down the middle, your kid throws you a curveball. Take, for instance, the profound discussion I had the other day with my almost-11 year-old son who thinks he needs to begin wearing deodorant. I explained that until his body starts changing, and he begins going through puberty (immediate smirk on his face), he really doesn't need deodorant. He wasn't buying it, and a little later in the day approached me and tugged up his t-shirt. "Mom, smell. I need deodorant." Okay, I thought, I'll give this moment to him. I bent down a bit and took a whiff near his armpit. "Whoa. You're right." I recoiled in shock as my mind processed this turn of events. My little guy was growing up. Not only that, he was taking after his mom. Depressing. Then, the next day, came The Question that made me feel as though we'd taken a giant step backward in the realm of understanding bodily functions. "Mom, do they make shin-deodorant?" I didn't know quite what to do with that, but guessed that the season's first soccer game on a 95 degree day, combined with those hideously polyester kneesocks had something to do with it. "No," I replied; shins sweat, but they don't stink, luckily.

By far the best question he's ever asked that has made me question my ability to explain the world to him, was after our first 'birds and bees' talk. I was fairly frank, included all the requisite body parts and where they go, and when he pulled his face from the half-buried position in his comforter, asked me this: "If you want more than one kid, do you have to do it again?" My answer was a tight-lipped "Yes" as I wondered what was coming next. Yep, he didn't disappoint: "So, you and dad had to do it once for me and once for sister?" Crap. Now what? Is this where I am supposed to explain that there are other reasons for doing it? That there is also the "no particular reason, but with plenty of birth control" purpose? I quickly scanned my brain's hard drive for the file entitled, "Too Much Information." I mentally opened it. I had my answer: "That's right. Twice. Let's go eat dinner."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Back at the Ranch

There was a big difference between the first day of school last year, and the first day of school this year, for both me and my kids. This year, they went. I didn't.

The decision to leave teaching, and pick up my former career as a freelance writer, was made to salvage the ol' grey matter, and therefore be a more sane mom, woman, wife and friend. I can already tell it was the right one - as evidenced by the fact that not once this morning did I have to do what I call, The Mom Move. That is, when I feel that my head will surely pop off, which usually happens four or five times each morning that my four children and I, and my husband (also a teacher) are getting ready for school, I bite down hard on my tongue. It's like an emergency brake for my head. I bite hard, hold for three seconds, then release. My head doesn't go into orbit, no blood is shed, and amazingly enough, whatever ridiculous thing my kid was doing has stopped. It's like they can sense The Move, even though my mouth is closed. They smell it. Like a wise mouse, they back away from the mousetrap and scamper to some undisclosed location.

This year, on Opening Day, I was just a mom. This year, one breakfast was served at one time - it wasn't five people scurrying around a kitchen, gathering bowls, plates, spoons and forks while the sixth person asked a variety of questions about the lunches he was making for the whole crew. "Strawberry or Raspberry?" "Who wants ham?" "Who wants mayo?" Who wants a poke in the eye with a sharp stick? Today, I put a platter of scrambled eggs and toast on the table at 6:45. My husband, who loves his title of Lunch Guy, used a list I typed up with each kids' sandwich likes and dislikes, and made lunches without a game of 200 questions. He didn't have to stop and pour milk or butter waffles because I was still upstairs trying to create flat hair. I did breakfast, he did lunch, and the kids did great. At 7 a.m., I headed up to change clothes, help out with pony-tails and stubborn cow-licks, locate missing socks, and we headed out at 7:40. Best of all, no tears were shed in the making of this morning.

Fifteen minutes later (ah, the beauty of a small town) I was back home, at my computer, working away. The budget will be tight, but the load will be lighter. A few other things will be different as well. For instance, I picked up the kids from school. They didn't have to scurry around the play ground looking for the shuttle driver that brings them to the high school. Instead, we walked home, I layed on the living room floor, and one-by-one, my son and three daughters told me about their day. They listened to one another and I listened too - with no papers to grade in front of me, and no nagging worries on my mind. I even asked questions about the things they were telling me. Not so long ago, I often did the auto-nod and "hmm" response when they spoke to me. Or, they weren't telling me things at all because I was too distracted to notice the "I have something to tell you" look and too overwhelmed to truly do anything about it if I did. Only one of my four will really open up to me without me having to ask. The other three need a little prodding.

So, now, instead of being a cattle dog, herding them toward the tv, or herding them toward the computer so I can get some serious work, or worrying done, I'm a cattle prod. I poke, I prod, I like it.