Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's argue about it

The situation: my nine year old daughter and twelve year old son will not stop arguing. No topic is too meaningless, no issue too worthless for them; they can make mountains out of molehills faster than I can make a gin and tonic, which is why I had to come up with a plan, quick. Turns out, it's also going to make me wealthy. 

The idea hit me the other day when I overheard this little gem of a convo at the breakfast table:

Niner: Stop looking at me.
Twelver: I'm not looking at you.

Niner: Yes you were.
Twelver: No, I wasn't.

Niner: Yes, you WERE.
Me (from across the room): Grow up, both of you.
Twelver: Mom, I was not looking at her. I was looking out the window behind her.

Niner (with gusto): No you weren't; you were STARING at me!
Twelver (with even more gusto): Landry, if I was staring at...
Me: Both of you grow up!! If you want total privacy when you eat, take your cereal into the closet!!

I immediately realized my mistake. Twelver, otherwise known as Literal Boy because of his inability to detect sarcasm, started to get up. So did Niner, who will do anything, anytime, no matter how ridonkulous. I told them to use their mouths for eating and try not to activate their eyeballs.

"Does that sound reasonable!?" I asked in that tone of voice suggesting to them that mom is teetering on the edge of coming completely unraveled. They know this tone. It usually results in very nervous expressions on their faces. I sort of enjoy that, which makes me a little nervous, but continued anyway:

"If there was a way to make money on your arguing, I'd be FILTHY RICH! LISTENING TO YOU TWO MAKES ME WISH I'D NEV..." I stopped short of saying that terrible thing a parent should never, ever say to a child, wondering if my eyeballs were replaced by little spinning dollar signs like the ones in cartoons. I had a twinge of guilt, knowing what I had almost said aloud, but that feeling was immediately replaced with a highly rational thought: I would never ever wish they hadn't been born, but does that mean I can't help out some  unsuspecting, perfectly happy young couple who enjoy weekends in Napa having hot, protected sex and then returning to their chic, comfortable and most importantly, empty apartment?

That's when I began to hatch my plan. I would videotape their arguments, have them professionally produced into thirty-second public service announcements and sell them to Planned Parenthood for their next birth control campaign. I'd make millions! The first thing I'd do with the money is put a little into the kids' college fund. No, make that a lot into their college fund. Then, because college is still several years away, I'd splurge on that ear-drumectomy surgery I'd been saving  for. I saw the commercial one day right after an episode of Hannah Montana. There was no subliminal message; in fact, I had my back to the T.V. at the time.  All I needed to hear was the booming announcer:

"Parents, do you fantasize about being deaf?" and I was listening! I hastily wrote down the toll-free number on the back label of one of the wine bottles laying next to me. BAM!!

Now, I encourage the arguing. I have hidden microphones all over the house. I look for ways to help them turn minor skirmishes into full-blown offensives.

"Jackson, did I see Landry just go into your room looking for a pencil?"

"What? Where? LANDRY...."

I even began modeling the kind of behavior I want to elicit from my children, just like all of the parenting books describe. I use my husband for this part of plan. To keep things authentic, lest my children figure it out, I didn't tell him what was up.

"Stop looking at me," I said to him the other night at the dinner table.

"But you're beautiful, baby, I can't help it," he replied.

I glared at him. He frowned.

"What the hell is that look for??" he half-yelled. Now, we were getting somewhere.

"You know EXACTLY what!" I hissed.

"Do not!"

"Do too!!"

"You're crazy!"

"Well YOU married me so I guess that means YOU'RE CRAZY TOO!!"

"Let's argue about it!!"



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ass: It's what's for dinner

I bought a roast the other day. Not just any roast. A rump roast. A large, asymmetrical wedge of beef that sports no cool name, like tri-tip or tenderloin. About all it really does is conjure up an image of a fat ass. That's its claim to fame. The ass roast.

It was my first roast. My mom made them all the time when I was a kid, usually petrified beyond recognition and served with mashed potatoes, peas and homemade gravy made with something called "drippings." Even then the word freaked me out. Now, it's even scarier. If I knew then what I know now, nary a morsel of anything made with "drippings" would have passed my lips.

So, I was in the grocery store, looking for something easy, yet impressive to serve my in-laws when the idea hit me: a roast! I quickly scanned the meat department for a large chunk of meat. I didn't even know that it was ass that I was looking for. I had no idea really what that thing was that my mother used to serve. I grill tri-tips and tenderloins; I don't put meat into the oven, unless it's a bird. I saw something that looked vaguely familiar. I checked the label: rump roast. There was no doubt about it, this was the very same thing my mom regularly executed in our aqua-colored oven circa 1977.

I took my ass home and poked holes in it, then shoved in chunks of garlic. Salt, pepper, olive oil and into the oven my ass went. An hour and a half later, I tore open an envelope of gravy mix and followed the directions. I added the "drippings" to it (evidence that I have, in fact, become my mother) and whipped up the potatoes. We had our dinner: a perfect piece of ass.

Just then, my nine-year old came in.

"Mom, what's for dinner?"

"Assss..." I began, swiftly realizing my error. I continued: "...k me no questions, I'm trying to get dinner on the table."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where are your manners? (rhetorically speaking, of course)

Last night at the dinner table, in a span of twenty-two seconds, the ten-year old daughter was caught licking her mashed potatoes off the back of her fork and the twelve-year old boy turned the simple task of drinking  milk into a highly complex procedure - which he failed to execute.  Instead, he decorated his face with it, where it dripped onto both his shirt and the table. In fact, the mashed-potato-lollipop-licker got nailed twice in less than a minute; it was between takes that I turned to look at my son and saw the dairy beard.

What the hell?

I was already annoyed by the fact that husband, who sits right next to potato girl, didn't seem to notice because he was far too busy licking his fingers one by one: slurp, slurp, slurp, slurp. He doesn't lick his pinkie finger, but always hits the others in the same order, beginning with the ring finger and working toward the thumb. Guess what he does next? He picks up the napkin and dries his fingers.

Sooooo, when I turned and spied the milkman, doing it for the second night in a row I might add, I had a little somethin-somethin to say - to all of them.

"Can you slow down and make sure the cup is actually touching your lips before you tip it up to drink?" I said rhetorically, of course. He didn't get that. He actually answered.

"Mom, I DID!"

"Don't even go there. You didn't, or it wouldn't be all over your face and the table, now would it?" And another thing:  his ability to detect rhetorical questions is non-existent.

"Mom, I --" but I cut him off.

"Just slow down. The goal is not to toss the milk from the cup to your mouth from an inch away." I wanted to add that there would be plenty of time for that someday with beer, after breaking his mother's heart and joining a fraternity, but I didn't want to open up that can o' worms at the moment. Fingerlickin' good man would have chimed in and admonished me not to criticize the brotherhood. Plus it would only lead me to conjure visions of frat boys in their underwear, getting blindfolded and paddled and it was certainly too early in the evening for that fantasy.

That's when I saw the potato-licker, at it again. Who taught children that it was a good idea to spin forks or spoons around and go at it from ten different angles? This is the same one who will simply tilt her head up to the ceiling if someone asks her a question just after she has taken a drink, so she can talk without it spilling onto the table. I desperately wish I was kidding.

"Kee, just move the food from your plate to your mouth with the fork; it isn't a sugar cone for your dinner."

I decided to test them one more time, just to see if anyone had learned anything.

"Why is it so hard to eat without involving fingers, noses, chins and fork cones?" I snapped. All but one had finally figured out that mom's questions don't always require answers.

"Well," clipped the younger daughter, who's nine and always ready with a long-winded speech when just a syllable will suffice. "Sometimes when the food is..." she began, glancing up to see The Look on my face. "Nevermind."

Not two minutes later, I noticed a smiley face made with mashed potatoes and peas on my son's plate. He can't be serious, I thought to myself. I looked at him. He looked at me. We both looked at the plate. He looked scared.

"Are you kidding me?" I said incredulously. My annoyance at his poor timing surged ahead of my disbelief that he was making pictures with his food. Again, the rhetorical question meter failed to launch.

"I wasn't  --"

"You don't have to explain what it was you weren't doing. I can see exactly what you weren't doing because I have eyes in my head. And stop answering my questions!"

I ask you, am I asking too much??

(Don't answer that.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Ironic Vampire Song

Remember that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall when the hot concierge that the main character goes out on a date with tricks him into getting up onstage at a local bar and singing a song from the vampire opera he's been pouring his heart and soul into composing? Remember? The guy adopts a Transylvania accent, right out of a Count Chocula commercial and adds a sadsack tone to his voice that gets the bar full of local islanders practically crying in their beers: "...die...die...die...I can't" the guy sings in his plaintive, slow-motion-like wail as he drops his head down and to the side on the last note. Even the hot concierge undergoes a tranformation in that moment, seeing the guy as a real person, with a real heart and real emotions - unlike the goofy bastard that dumped her a few years back. Remember how funny and perfect that song was - in the movie? In the movie, it brought two people together.

Now imagine your husband singing the same refrain, over and over. Imagine it's 10:30 p.m. and you're flossing your teeth, trying to tell him about something important that your boss did to you that day, some great injustice that needs to be expressed. You glance in the mirror and see your husband in the walk-in closet, pained expression on his face that might also indicate a furious case of gas and those words dripping from his sad lips: "...die...die...die...I can't" as he throws one limp sock, then another, into his already overflowing laundry basket. Imagine he's still singing it as his your head hits the pillow. Then, you're head starts singing it - well after he's snoring.

Fast forward eight hours. Kids are looking for their backpacks, which they left "RIGHT HERE LAST NIGHT" but that somehow have evolved into upright, walking hominids and split since then. Someone needs her hair brushed while you're brushing your teeth (a talent most moms have, yet try their best to not let anyone find out about) and the twelve year old wants to give you a hug. A hug? At seven-twenty in the morning??? There's no time for hugs! About this time you realize your husband has picked up where he left off last night with his serenade and "...die...die...die...I can't..." drifts into hearing range, which means he isn't doing anything because you know damn well that he uses both hands to dramatize the song, spreading his arms apart as if an enormously fat woman of his dreams is going to spring into them.
Are you imagining it? What are you feeling?

"Die...die...die...I can't."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things to do when you’re dead

I'm starting to worry. I need to sleep through the night and I need it yesterday. My usual remedy of doubling up on my thryoid medicine is not helping. I've been waiting patiently now for almost a dozen years; my kids are practically grown and I still rarely get a full night of sleep. The youngest two seem to think it's an all night party. The older two, eleven and twelve (their ages, not their names) believe they invented bloody noses and that they go away quicker with an audience. My plea to "pinch and go back to bed" falls on deaf ears.

Question: Shouldn't nocturnal interruptions have ended years ago? When my first child hatched, I plunged into sleep deprivation hell so surreal that I once forgot how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich - halfway through the complex procedure. I remember a sudden feeling of hyper-consciousness, aware that I was holding a knife and a jar of peanut butter, but unable to figure out why. It was just the four of us, including the bread, alone in the universe with no purpose or attachment to anything - not even each other. Turns out that unless one is purposely trying to zen out, it can be a little scary. Either way, it was the closest thing to amnesia I've ever had, except for when I'm in the grocery store with my kids and pretend not to know them.

Anyway, I told no one. Not even my husand (now ex-husband, keep reading) who was very busy sleeping in, going to his job as a bar manager at noon-ish (after surfing) and coming home at about the time I was going to bed for the third, though not yet final time of the night. I was too embarrassed and afraid to tell anyone about my momentary coma so I chalked it up to lack of sleep.

Fast-forward a few years. Nighttime feedings were replaced by other, more complex needs: cough medicine, the fan turned on, the fan turned off, a hug, the blankets pulled up, the blankets pulled down, etc. The little people, their feet flying, bounced into my room at all hours with endless, sadistic requests. Good thing they were still little, soft and smelled good. Tucking them in, even an hour before dawn, felt satisfying.

Now, it's a little different. We're currently in the sleepwalking years: new husband, a blended family and increasingly inventive ways to prevent a full night's sleep. Closet monsters and wayward blankies have been replaced - last week it was with the sound of Santa and his reindeer in one of the children's closet. Turns out it was the eight year old doing a midnight search for her bicycle, which she explained she must have in order to go to Paris. Other times a nine or ten year old might pop up at the foot of our bed asking if we know where Larry is. One of us gently nudges the miniature somnambulist back to bed, assuring her that Larry will be right back - he's probably catching a nap somewhere. Some nights we simultaneously drop back into bed, exhausted and share our adventures:

"Where ya' been?" I ask groggily.

"I had to get in the airplane (bean bag) and land it safely so the boy from 14F would go back to his seat (bed). What about you?"

"Just some general hysteria. A little involuntary farting. That's about it," I mumbled.

Our fate as permanently addled zombies was sealed last summer when we made the tactical error of getting a dog. Not just any dog, but a beagle. Beagle owners out there, wipe that smirk off your face. For the rest of you, the question, "What could a dog possibly do between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. but slumber?" is contained in the following list, for starters: skunk interaction, shocking intestinal distress, sleep barking/farting/whimpering, endless self-gratification (licking).

I guess several nights in a row of solid sleep will just have to wait until they are all out of the house - the college years. Then, we can lie awake at night wondering not just what they're doing, but where and with whom they're doing it.

Many years ago, when sleep was what you did after you got laid and before you snuck out of someone's apartment, I thought I understood Warren Zevon's plan to "sleep when I'm dead." It was an option I exercised. Little did I know that one day I'd be penciling "sleep" into my color coded, month-at-a-glance day planner under the heading, "To Do (After I Die)."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grey Matter Management 101

Sometimes, you have to kill off the weak to make the robust ones work to their fullest potential. No, I’m not talking about offspring. I’m talking about brain cells.

Brain cells are funny. Not funny ha-ha, (nothing funny about sitting in the driveway with the car running and wondering where the hell you were going), but funny weird. Sometimes they fire on all cylinders and other times, not so much. Like the other day when I found a package of shredded cheese in the cupboard – next to the dog biscuits. Hmmm, I said, pulling the package out with two fingers as it dangled like a dead bug – one that took a left instead of a right and ended up in a pantry instead of a shrub. Of course, my husband had to be standing right there at that exact moment so I couldn’t bury the package at the bottom of the garbage can and pretend it never happened.

“Oh” I said casually, “I must have tossed this up there on accident when I was putting away groceries yesterday.” The look on his face said it all: a kind of “yeah, right” smirk. But, because he’s so good at being a husband, he kept his mouth shut and did his very best at disguising what he was thinking.

“Hee hee…silly me,” I quipped.

My theory is this: aging, half-dead brain cells are what make me get into the shower with my underwear still on and they need to be regularly and mercifully sacrificed for the greater good. If not, they draw down on the fresh, powerful brain cells that help me remember to turn off the sprinklers or locate my reading glasses. It’s all about thinning the herd. Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Clearly, the simplest and most enjoyable way to eliminate the almost-dead weight is through the use of a cocktail or two. Just a little nip does wonders for a brain and the results are immediate. Case in point: last night my son showed me this week’s logic problem that his math torturer, I mean, instructor gave him for homework. I read it. I read it again. I gave up and said, “Wait ‘til your father gets home,” but not like June Cleaver says it. When it comes to homework, my husband and I know our place: I get language arts and he gets math, or anything connected to math, like science, history, social studies and Spanish.

About thirty minutes after reading, and then abandoning the logic problem, I made myself a cocktail. Just a little fruity concoction I threw together with canned pineapple and mandarin orange juice leftover from the nearly fresh fruit salad I made to go with the crock pot meal that was simmering. The logic problem was a distant memory…or was it?

As I sat on the couch, sipping and staring at the kids staring at the TV, the following sentence popped into my head: “If Colonel Mustard gets six shots, and the first two add up to an even number on the bullseye chart, that leaves four shots and three of them have to be odd points or he’ll never arrive at 71 points!” I reached over and poked my son on the shoulder, rapid fire, and told him to “go get the logic problem, Q-LAB!” (Quick Like a Bunny” which is responsible parenting code for “Hurry the f*&! up!) I didn’t want my sudden burst of vodka-induced cognition to evaporate without getting it down on paper – which of course would have been the fault of those feeble brain cells slowing everything down.)

My son returned and we quickly plugged in the numbers. I was correct! My son was not convinced. He listened, nodded and then said politely, “I still want to show it to dad.”
Fine, I thought to myself, knowing I had the problem solved. Thanks to proper brain cell management, that is. If I had not kicked up my feet with a cocktail, nudging those addled cells over the cliff into grey matter oblivion…

I pondered the idea of writing a book. I’d need a doctor to collaborate, to give my theory legitimacy.

Now where did I put that phone book...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chatting with a twelve year-old boy, or tightrope walking on acid

Year after year, the relationship between my son and me, his loving mother, grew stronger, deeper and kinder – until he turned eleven. That’s when the previously solid, almost sublime nature of our bond began to show signs of stress fractures. It used to be I could look at him, tilt my head a fraction of an inch, adjust the appearance of my eyes by barely lowering or raising my eyebrows and know what the trouble was. Instantaneously, he would have the answer he needed to whatever dilemma he currently faced. We communicated without words. Not all the time, of course, but when it happened, it was gold.

It works a little differently now. Now, he’s twelve.

Instead of non-verbal cues, I’m barraged with not only too many words, but too many of the wrong kind: pronouns. Our exchanges are anything but silent, thanks to my son’s knack for slaughtering the English language like a blind butcher with a dull knife and a rib roast.

I pepper my responses carefully with mental cusswords before I speak, and then quickly edit out the foul language. Recently, I could not withstand the urge. I knew I was seconds from experiencing my own head popping off and rolling across the kitchen floor with its eyes still blinking, so I said it: “F-word!” No, I mean I really did say the letter “F”, followed by “WORD!”

The feeling was dually satisfying: Great not only because I “cussed”, but because I didn’t actually say the word “fuck.” Had I gone that far, a new era would have dawned. Like the old college adage, “Hold off peeing as long as you can when you’re out drinking, because once you go you’ll have to go all the time,” allowing myself to drop F’ers is a slippery slope I’m not ready to experience. Hell, I just allowed “crap” into the household lexicon, even for my three girls, ages 9, 9, and 11. “Have at it!” I cheered the first time I heard one use it correctly: “Crap! I forgot my backpack at school!” (as opposed to the incorrect use of the word: “What’s this crap on my plate?”) While they seem to have a firm hold on usage, it isn’t necessarily the case with brother.

My son can no longer answer even a yes or no question without mentally straight-jacketing me.

“Do you like this?” I asked while we recently shopped for back-to-school clothes.

“Yeah, but no, yeah, I don’t know,” was his double oxymoronic reply.

“Um, so, you like it, or you don’t. Want me to buy it for you?” I queried calmly.

“I like it,” he said. Not exactly an answer to my question, but in the ballpark. I continued.

“So, I’ll buy it for you?” I said, hopeful we were really getting somewhere.

“Well, it’s just that I don’t know if I’ll wear it,” my son said, as I heard the hiss of the air
escaping from my rainbow balloon.

“I don’t understand. If you like it, why wouldn’t you wear it?” I said, still calm and
carefully obscuring what I was feeling on the inside: utter terror at the direction we were headed, yet again. It’s always the same – I’m on bad acid, he’s on some kind of turbo crack, yielding a complete absence of common ground.

“Mom!” he spat, followed by, “I just can’t know so many things! Your holding stuff up, and I don’t have green shorts!!”

Wow, I thought to myself. I have not felt this weird in twenty-five years. I think I’ll take my lungs out of my body for a second, massage them, and put them back in so I can breathe. There we go. Much better now.

Sometimes, it’s more surreal than terrifying, other times, it’s the opposite. In either case, I remind myself to relax, and enjoy the long, strange trip it is.

A Fantasy of One's Own

I’m sooooo conflicted. There’s a cloud hanging over my head that makes Katrina seem like a fanciful squall. My tortured soul rebounds between moments of clarity one minute and utter confusion the next. It isn’t even a complex issue: I simply hate football, while my husband, on the other hand, thinks the word “football” actually belongs in a sentence containing the word “fantasy.”

Thankfully, he has most of the standard fantasies men have, like those involving Carol Brady, or teeter-totters, and he happily shares them with me. However, the fact remains that the fantasy he logs the most hours with on a weekly basis is Football. Hence, the problem: I just do not get it and I desperately want to. I need to understand.

As I watch my husband watch the television each Sunday, I remind myself to use the word “passion” instead of “obsession.” When I find myself growing irritated at the sound of one man clapping for a bunch of players who cannot hear him, I start mentally checking off all the considerate things my man has done that week. Let’s see, there’s the weeding, just because he likes it and knows I don’t. Then, there’s reading to the kids and helping them with homework. He even vacuums.

When listing his weekly accomplishments doesn’t do the trick, I try a little fantasizing of my own. I tell myself that a forty-two year old man changing jerseys three times in one day in support of a pretend dream team is sexy. Sometimes I follow him up to our closet between games, and he lets me watch. Yeah, baby, the blue one. No, the other blue one. Oh, that’s it, right there, next to your little league uniform. Oh, baby, these thirty-four jerseys taking up valuable real estate in our closet are hot! Yeah, that’s my fantasy.

It’s not like he doesn’t snap right out of it at the end of the evening each Sunday, because he does. Well, right after he does the stats and sends out the newsletter, complete with quippy football comments, while watching Sportscenter. Then, he snaps right back to being the guy I fell in love with, the guy who made me believe in love again, and the guy who continues to hold me after the regular hug has ended. He is this guy six days a week (save for a couple of hours Monday evening), and seven days a week for half the year. Why, then, can I not help rolling my eyes when I overhear him on the phone with one of his fantasy friends, behaving like Ari Gold trying to work a last minute trade with some maniacal producer?

Right now, you might be thinking that I am that spouse – male or female – for which nothing is ever good enough. Well, the truth is, nearly everything is always good enough, and my husband would be the first to say that I never complain. That is because my husband, ironically, is a fantasy husband. He is my best friend. He is the guy who never leaves me hanging, if you know what I mean. He brings it. He is the guy who sees a pile of clean towels in the laundry room and puts them away. Hell, this is the guy who goes into the laundry room! (I know a woman who once hired a hooker to hang out in her laundry room, just to see if her husband could find it. Three days later she sent the lonely whore home.)

Maybe it has nothing to do with my husband. Maybe it’s my dad’s fault for punishing me with the same weekly clapping and yelling for my entire childhood – back when fantasy leaguers didn’t have computers. My dad and his friends had fifteen sheets of binder paper taped together that they scribbled their points down on as they happened. I must be suffering from PTFSD – Post-traumatic Football Stress Disorder.

Perhaps what I need is something to do on Sundays that gets me out of the house and away from the mental triggers. Just so that I can fully relate to my husband, to see things from his perspective, it will be something that never gets boring, and that I won’t know the outcome of until it’s completely finished. It’ll chew up hours and hours of my time, but I’ll have a lot more to show for it at the end of the day than empty beer cans and ranch dip stains on my shirt.

Interestingly enough, it rhymes with “ball.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Stop Doing the Math

Numbers have no business in exercise. I learned that today. Instead of getting on the treadmill at 4 p.m. like I usually do, putting channel 10 on (Oprah), and walking for 45 minutes, I picked up my son's iPod. Hmm. I thought about the big hillside we have for a backyard, just sitting out there. And, that view of the Sierra from the top of it.

A narrow loop up, around the two big oaks, and back down is 110 steps. It's approximately a twelve to fourteen percent grade, I figure, based on my comparison of it to the big hill my grandparents lived at the top of when I was little. That hill was a bitch. This one is slightly less bitchy - more of a shrew. Enough with the numbers.

I set off with Radiohead playing in my ears. I had never heard Radiohead, but I've heard that Coldplay copies them, and that they copy Coldplay, and since I like Coldplay, I decided to begin my circular hike listening to them. I completed ten loops in two songs: "Just" and "Paranoid Android." Those are the only two Radiohead songs on my son's iPod. I liked them so much that I kept hiking and started the songs over again. I lost count of my laps, thank god, and then switched to White Stripes, another group I've never heard, but have heard a lot about - mainly from much younger people and people on TV who seem to know about these things.

Turns out, I like the White Stripes too. After listening to "Hello Operator" and "My Doorbell", the latter of which I really liked, "We're Going to Be Friends" started. I have the Jack Johnson version too. I love that song. I love it even more now, after exercising and discovering there's more to life than Jack Johnson. When the thumping "Blue Orchid" began, I tried to keep time with the beat. It worked on the way down, but I stopped pretty soon after the uphill leg began.

My son even thinks I'm cool. He just asked me why I still have the iPod on if I'm done hiking. I told him I liked the music he had on it. He smiled.

I'm setting a goal for the end of next week: "Blue Orchid". Not miles, or minutes, or heart rate. The next time someone asks me what I do to stay in shape, I'm going to say White Stripes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Of Yoga and Hookers

It’s probably getting really tiresome reading about my eleven year old son all the time. Unfortunately, the guy just won’t stop providing me with fodder…

Yesterday, I was helping him with an essay that he had to write summarizing what he has learned as part of the D.A.R.E. project, which helps educate kids about the evils of making bad choices regarding drugs and alcohol. In order to help him put his thoughts into words, I said, “Tell me what you have learned about making bad choices regarding drugs and alcohol?” He thought for only a split second before spitting out this little nugget of wisdom:

“Well, I know I won’t marry a hooker someday!”

“Reeeeaaallly” I replied, nodding in complete agreement. “That’s a good start. Shall we put that in the essay?” I asked. I began to type. I'm a fast typer.

“NO MOM! I just meant that, well, I don’t know what I meant! Nevermind, pretend I didn’t say that!”

“So you’re saying you WOULD consider marrying a hooker someday?” I said, laughing. I love tripping him up in his own words. Love it, love it, love it.

I hope he has lots of boy children someday (and three girls just for good measure).

Meanwhile, one of my lovely little ladies has adopted a new pet: my yoga mat. I do yoga in her bedroom because it is the only room with the perfect combo of VCR and floor space. She found the mat one day and proceeded to roll it up and carry it around the house off and on for a couple of days. I mostly ignored it, stopping occasionally to tell her and Yoga Buddy to pick up their sandals. It was her buddy. The last "buddy" she adopted was a 12-inch stick. It's name was Stick Buddy. She whittled it to such a sharp point that it really should have been called "Shank Buddy," so I confiscated it.

I didn't think too much of Yoga Mat Buddy, though it did seem a little odd. Then again, I have known my daughter for all of her almost nine years, so it really wasn't that strange. Fine, it was normal for her. Until a few nights ago. On my way to the laundry room, I walked past the bathroom at the same time the door opened. She had just emerged from the shower, clad in her robe and jammies, with the yoga mat rolled up under one arm. This one stopped me in my tracks.

"Um, you had the yoga mat in the bathroom with you?"

"Yes," she said, in the most neutral voice I've ever heard come out of her mouth. In fact, it's the only time I've ever heard Neutral Tone. I hear harsh, sassy, sad, even bored, but never neutral. I could tell by the look on her face that even she knew that this qualified as bizarre - even by her high standards.

We stared at each other for about five seconds. Then, I kept walking. I just kept walking.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Can I, Can I, Can I...

In my house, wanting things that other people have is a dangerous contagion the likes of which haven’t been experienced since the plague brushed Europe clean of a third of its population over six centuries ago. Back then the carriers were rats and fleas; now, it’s perfectly healthy children.

When one of my little people sees one of their siblings with something, about to get something, or even thinking about the potential possibility of receiving something in the distant future, the secondhand barely moves before the “Can I’s…” tumble out like wet dominoes on a hot skillet.

Of course, when I say “things,” I obviously mean precious commodities like empty shoeboxes, or a slice of American cheese. And, by now you realize that when I say “little people” I mean the youngsters I live with. I used to call them “little people” all the time until that hit show aired featuring the official little people of this world. Now, my kids are actually more like “medium people.” The exception is my ten year old. There is, in fact, a medical term for her condition and that is “shrimp.”

Recently, the thing they all wanted was toothbrushes. It began with one asking for a new toothbrush. Unbeknownst to me, she'd followed me into my bathroom (my medium people actually glide silently over the carpet) and saw me get the huge multi-pak of instruments for brushing out of the cupboard. That’s all they are after all, a thing that cleans one’s teeth. What's the big deal? The needy one said, “Can I have the blue one?” Then another not-so-needy one, from where she came I have no idea and seeing two empty slots said, “Who else already got one? Can I have one?” Then, a third, but not so stealthy one, sensing that somewhere, someone was getting something, burst into the room and said, “What-are-you-guys-getting-can- I-have-one?”

Oh how I wished I'd been giving out spankings.

Tossing the package up to a top shelf I said, “Brushing is overrated anyway,” and left the room.

I’m pretty sure that in our house a driving force behind the competition for things being equal is probably due to their subconscious, yet diabolical wish to drive me insane. If it isn’t helping with dinner (Can I stir the pasta? Can I stir it next? Can I stir it after that? Can ANYONE stir my Martini?) it’s helping at the grocery store or sitting up front. The other day all three girls clamored to help me hold the bag in the bulk foods aisle. I only wanted pine nuts, but ended up getting dried cranberries, which I already had at home, and something called quinoa, because it was cheap and served to quickly even the score before my head popped off and rolled down the aisle with its eyes still blinking.

As I sat and stared into space a few evenings ago while the eleven-year old rubbed my feet as punishment for not cleaning his room (it’s all about logical consequences), the moment I’d been waiting for finally arrived. In an instant, my kids’ unchecked competitive spirit was no longer a mystery; my problem wasn’t solved, but it certainly was understood. It was, of course, my husband who provided my moment of illumination when he walked in the door and after quickly surveying the scene, said eagerly:

“Can I have a foot rub?”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where Have All the Name Brands Gone?

I’m writing this with a heavy heart and an even heavier cart: that is, a cart laden with jumbo-saving sized packages whose providence isn’t Italy, France or even Mexico. My grocery cart, ever since I left teaching and its monthly salary, such as it was, no longer contains items that have crossed any borders save for the ones between some factory town in Scranton, Ohio and my little hamlet in the foothills of Northern California. I’m saving money, to be sure, but my palate is paying the price.

It warms my heart to know that a lovely little factory in a quaint, smog-choked town somewhere in the middle of the United States is the place my canned tuna calls home. Gone are the days of the tender fish packed in olive oil and imported from Genoa, or Sicily. Now, my cupboards overfloweth with items from places not even remotely Mediterranean. Western Family Spaghetti Sauce has replaced Pietro’s Marinara. I don’t even like spaghetti. The very least these mass-producing food manufacturers can do is a little research. If they did, they’d find out that a sauce isn’t defined by what it tops; it’s defined by what’s in it. That’s why the Italians call it marinara – because if you would like to, you can put the meatless sauce on fettuccini, eggplant, polenta or any number of other things beside boring old spaghetti.

Speaking of pasta, too bad the only brand I can afford now doesn’t even offer anything as exotic as angel hair. I bought Billy Bob’s Noodles the last time I went shopping. Why would a company call their pasta product Billy Bob’s when it would have been just as easy to pick Salvatore or Luigi? Can’t they at least humor me?

Now when I shop, I do it with a calculator in my hand instead of an iced mocha. Not only that, but the once entertaining business of reading labels to make sure that the oil in my salad dressing is virginal has been replaced by the punishing practice of comparing costs per ounce of various brands. How the mighty have fallen. Now, I buy three pounds of ham at Costco and slip half-pound portions into plastic fold-over baggies which are stored in the freezer until needed. I can no longer afford the nifty little re-usable plastic tubs that I used to buy. Sniff, sniff.

What’s worse, I’m becoming my mother: I buy things like that giant, dreaded green canister of parmesan cheese (or so they say it is) that I’ve long criticized her for doing. Don’t for a second think I splurge on Kraft. Nope, it’s Select Brand Parmesano, with the fake fancy ending thrown in, as if it has any more connection to Italy or its culture than my neighbor’s German Shepherd who dumps on my lawn every morning.

I must admit that my new adventures in grocery shopping are adding some spice to my life. Granted, it’s Steve-O’s Chile Seasoning and not Miguel’s Mole, but you can’t have everything. In fact, I’ve got a mantra that I repeat to and from the store, one that motivates me to keep my chin up and my eyes on the prize (lower grocery bill): “I’m working from home, I’m working from home, I’m working from home…”

Has anyone seen my funnybone?

By Lisa Lucke

Lately, I’ve felt lost. I’ve felt…separated from something important. Recently, I put my finger on it, and came up with what it is I need to locate: my sense of humor. More specifically, I need to find my sense of humor at critical times of the day when it seems so very far away from me.

There are times when I really could use a good laugh, like around seven-thirty in the morning, as my eleven-year old son gets into the shower when he should be getting into the car. Now, this doesn’t mean I want one of my eight-year old daughters to walk up to me and say, “Knock-knock!” like they’re so famous for. It means that I simply wish I could embrace my son’s eleven-year-oldness with a smile and perhaps, just maybe, a brief roll of the eyes and a funny-sounding cussword, like “fiddlesticks,” instead of a silent “Mother F!” and a not-so-silent foot stomp that sends my other three children scurrying for cover like infantrymen into a foxhole.

Why can’t I just roll with the punches? Why can’t I be more like Carol Brady and throw my perfectly coiffed head back and laugh it off?

Sometimes, the need for a sense of humor strikes in the middle of the night – when I least expect it. Surprisingly, it isn’t any easier to come up with a lighthearted perspective at two a.m. when the family beagle is howling in two part harmony with the sound of daughter number three puking. I try so hard at those times to conjure up the spirit of Erma Bombeck, or even Marge Simpson, women who showed the world how to navigate the streets of domestic Crazytown with their eyes closed and wearing a grin from ear to ear. As my husband breaks for daughter’s room, I sprint down the stairs to rescue the dog, where he’d been trapped in the eleven year-old’s room – since eight. I was too late. Thank goodness the dear boy didn’t have his sleep interrupted – by the noise or the odor.

About that time I realize that pubs all over town are announcing “last call” which means that technically, it’s an acceptable time to relax and have a cocktail. I pour one. Sure enough, I’m just beginning to feel funny, when it all comes crashing down around me.

“Watcha doin’?” My husband asks as he pads down the stairs, and sees me sitting on the couch, in the dark.

“Just hanging out, enjoying a Scotch.”

Silence. The worry lines on his forehead deepen into Everest-like crevasses.

“Honey,” he says gently, carefully sitting down next to me.

“Yes,” I respond cautiously.


The Language Barrier

By Lisa Lucke

It’s been said that as young boys begin the gradual process of becoming young men, magical things happen: they take on more responsibilities, they look out for their younger siblings without being told to, and their brains go on an extended vacation, only to return just in time to take the SAT their senior year.

At some point during the last six months, when my son turned eleven, the transformation began. He and I have been living on different language planets.In the past, we’d barely have to speak at all to understand each other; our ability to simply look into each other eyes was all we needed to communicate. I remember those days fondly, when I’d glance at him, smile, take a sniff and then change his diaper. He’d smile back. We’d Eskimo kiss. Now, I smile, but not because I’ve met his needs; I smile because if I didn’t, I’d be sobbing.

Even when I’m really concentrating, I just can’t seem to put the dots together anymore. Now, when I can’t figure out what he wants, or what he’s trying to tell me, I take that giant leap of faith and do what my mother always did: I say, “No.” I figure that whatever it is he’s asking for that I can’t wrap my college-educated, teaching-credentialed brain around, I can remedy with a simple, negative response.

It happened to us just the other day at the grocery store, while I was trying to push the right buttons before the debit card machine beeped at me again, while the lady in line behind me stared me down. At that particular moment, my son walked up and said something about soda and his allowance. I replied, “No” without even looking up.


I said nothing, and continued concentrating on the buttons.

“Mom. Mom. MOM!” he sputtered in rapid succession. “Can I have this?”

(Another pet peeve of mine: using pronouns when a common noun will do nicely. Couldn’t he see that my head was buried in buttons…how should I know what “this” is?) What happened next can only be described as bizarre.

“Jay, what is 'THIS'?” I spit out, without taking my eye off the buttons.

"How should I know!" my son replied hotly. "Mom, what are you talking about?!!"

I ignored what may as well have been Swahili, and pushed away from the check stand with my fully loaded cart. My dumbfounded son, expecting me to answer his original question, whatever the hell that was, just stood there. Everyone was staring: the checker, the people in line, well, everyone except the bagger, of course. He’s 16, and he’s a he. He knew exactly what my son was talking about the whole time. I could see it on his pimply little face. He thought I was a moron.

I’ll go out on limb here and suggest that it’s a gender thing. I have three daughters and while we don’t always like what we’re hearing from one another, make no mistake about it – we do understand what the other is saying. In fact, one of my daughters, at the tender age of 8, has already mastered a foreign language: beagle. That’s right – she can communicate with our family mutt as evidenced recently when she informed me that our cocker/beagle mix was requesting ribs for his birthday dinner. “Hmm,” I answered. “Ribs are your favorite food. What an interesting coincidence.” My husband and I just looked at each other, and about this time, my son entered the room. Just because I thought it was safe to do so, I asked him what he wanted for dinner, and his reply included the following words, not necessarily in this order: doorbell, toothbrush, cycling.

The burning question is, why is it that my daughter can speak Beagle, but I can’t even speak 11-year old American Boy? On a good day, my son and I have only two or three head-exploding conversations that usually end with one of us begging the other for mercy. Mostly, the beggar is me. “Please, can we start this conversation over? I promise to try harder,” is my normal plea. He gets frustrated, sometimes stomps his feet, and occasionally, his eyes well up. That only happens when the thing we’re discussing is school. It’s virtually impossible for us to discuss why a certain paper didn’t get turned in on time without some form of water escaping from some orifice: for me, it’s steam out of the ears, and for my son it’s tears out of his face, and it usually goes like this:

“Mom, I had to go to study hall again today.”

“What happened? Didn’t you finish everything last night? What did you forget?" (My first mistake is always the same: asking him more than one question at a time. It never goes well.)

“Nothing MOM! I DID; he didn’t put it on the BOARD!”

“Put what on the board? Didn’t you put your name on it?”


“The paper you didn’t turn in.”

“NO MOM! What paper?!! The DUE DATE MOM!!”

“You missed the due date?”

“NOOOO! He said it OUT LOUD and Joey had my HAT!”

“What does Joey have to do with this? Did you or did you not have everything done last night when I asked you specifically 'Do you have everything done?'”


“You’re right. I don’t get it because I’m an idiot.”

This is where the tears start flowing because my son feels bad for my confusion. He doesn’t like it when I put myself down. He actually believes that I think I’m the problem. Little does he know that it makes me feel better to stop the bleeding by blaming myself so that I can go on with my life like most moms I know and just pencil in an extra therapy appointment for the following week.

“Can we please start over?” I say meekly. “I promise to really concentrate this time.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rules and responsibilities

By Lisa Lucke

I got all tripped up in my own rules the other day. Most of the time, they stay out of my way, but occasionally, they’re like a squirming, coiled rope that I have to dance around carefully. I made the mistake of taking one of my eight year-old daughter’s laundry basket into the laundry room for her…breaking my newest rule, which is: anyone needing their clothes washed must get their clothes basket to the laundry room and then tell me it’s there. I, in turn, promise same-day turnaround, which means at some point before they go to bed, their clean laundry will be stacked on their bed, waiting to be put away, or thrown into a corner at bedtime.

What happens when you break your own rule? Every other kid notices and wants to know why. I cleverly pointed out to them that taking one’s laundry to the laundry room is actually something they are expected to do; it’s more of a personal responsibility. Therefore, I simply decided to lighten the load a bit for that person. They weren’t buying it. I immediately knew that the family scorekeeper (the nine year-old) would be monitoring my every move for the rest of the week and waiting for me to lighten her load…

I once read that anything a kid can be doing for themselves is something the parent should NOT be doing. I like that. I don’t expect my kids to do their laundry just yet, but hauling their laundry basket into the laundry room, located on the same floor as their bedrooms, is a responsibility they can handle. So, that one does not, in fact, qualify as a rule. Rules, as a friend of mine has always reminded me, are stupid, and are for regular people. I guess my kids, until they turn 18, will be classified as “regular people.” Wow, and I always thought of them as highly irregular…go figure.

What it comes down to is this: rules (not to be confused with responsibilities) are part of my neverending quest to trick myself into thinking I don’t have as many children as I actually do (four). Lately, though, I’m finding that the amount of rules in our household has become cumbersome. It isn’t that the rules of engagement in our house are unusual, or cruel, they’re just numerous. We have the typical ones that are must-haves in large families, like put your shoes away, load your own dishes, speak only when spoken to, but also a few others that are getting a bit hard to manage. For example, the other day, one of my daughters asked if she could sit on the couch. I said, “No, dear, it isn’t your day. Check the calendar. It isn’t even your day to speak to me.”

Some might say this is going too far. I mean, a rule against sitting on the couch? Well, if kids have perfectly good chairs, and even beds in their own room, why clutter up the public space with bodies? Right now, the air quality is manageable, but that’s because they’re all under the age of eleven. Just think of the stench that will be wafting around in just a few short years. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll make a rule against puberty…

Typically, I like rules. I never have to answer questions about who sits in front on the way to school because they each have their assigned day. Friday is the day nobody sits up front, which conveniently frees up plenty of space for my ice chest (full of iced, caffeinated beverages, of course). And I’m particularly fond of the rule prohibiting getting the dog too worked up. That’s a fun one to monitor. Hmm, are they playing, or is that a near growl I hear? Did I just hear the dog run? Are those squeals of delight, or panic? Who made that sound? Who’s playing with the dog instead of getting ready for school? Most mornings I just shut my bedroom door and let that one work itself out. Gotta love the rule against coming into mom and dad’s room during “getting ready” time: getting ready to go to work, getting ready to shower, getting ready to lose my mind…

It has occurred to me that I may need to cut back on making rules. Or, maybe I’ll just call them policies, in honor of our new administration in Washington. I can see it now…

“Um, Jackson, what are you doing?”

“Getting something to eat.”

“What’s the policy for opening the refrigerator?”

“At least one hour after, but not less than one hour before the next meal.”

“Exactly. When did we finish lunch?”

“An hour ago, Mom.”


See the difference between “rules” and “responsibilities?” My friend is right – rules are stupid, but they keep me sane. Therefore, rules rule.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Xmess Traditions

Every family has its Christmas traditions. Some we look forward to with enthusiasm, others we tend to avoid thinking about until they are upon us, like my grandmother’s tomato aspic, or my Uncle Ted’s kamikaze-style wet kiss on the mouth, which he places only after gripping my head with both hands in a vice-like snare. These kinds of memories we try bury deep in our subconscious with a gentle pat-on-the-back and desperate plea to never resurface. With any luck, I won’t be unpacking those bags someday in a therapist’s office.

Food plays a central role in my family’s holiday traditions, and while most people can recall the moment they discovered that Santa didn’t exist, finding out another piece of key, Christmas related information far surpassed the shock at finding out my grandmother’s neighbor was, in fact, Santa. Not surprisingly, the moment of revelation included food and I’ve never forgotten it. It was the moment I found out, after taking my first bite, that my mom regularly included the gizzard and other innards of the turkey, all boiled and ground up, in the Christmas stuffing. No doubt about it, my family could have taught those Native Americans a thing or two about utilizing the whole animal…

Like some people go to church, my family goes to the Christmas dinner table. There are customs, rituals and rules that need following. Rule number one is that Christmas dinner needs to be exactly the same, year after year. For as long as I can remember, or at least as long as my Italian grandmother was alive and in control of the situation, Christmas dinner meant two kinds of roasted meat, turkey and ham; mashed potatoes; real butter; homemade butterflake rolls; three gravy boats; homemade ravioli; carrots, peas with pearl onions, homemade cranberry sauce, a jello salad, and two bowls of dressing – one with the dressing that came out of the bird, and the other that just cooked in the oven. The tension created by the in-bird stuffing was palpable; everyone wanted it passed to them next, fearing they’d have to eat the slop that was cooked in a casserole dish. Not only that, but anyone who suggested that the non-bird stuffing was just as good as the in-bird variety was immediately asked if they were crazy – and definitely NOT in a funny, rhetorical question sort of way. It was more like a scene out of Perry Mason. My grandpa, the angry judge, bending toward the poor defendant, while all eyes were on him: “Answer the question, sir, ARE YOU CRAZY??) That’s how serious our family food traditions are. Make no mistake, it was an equally grievous, even unheard of idea not to make everything by hand; even the stock that went into the making of the gravy was from scratch. My aunt and mom bought extra turkey wings, legs and necks in order to prepare fresh turkey stock in the days before Christmas. There was also a rule, I mean tradition, regarding appetizers: few were allowed because of the fear that everyone would fill up and ruin their appetite. So, all we ever had was a clam dip, some salami and sliced cheeses, home-cured olives and peppers, mushroom torta, grilled paninis, chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce and a cheese ball. Homemade, of course.

Now that another year is out of the way, and the food traditions packed nicely way like ornaments in those little sectioned boxes, my family is free to go back to their willy-nilly menus that on any typical night might include as many as two food groups. But that’s another story.