Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Random Christmas Musings (and by musings, I mean gripes)

It may not seem obvious, but if you really think about it, the holiday season is a lot like getting your period. There’s guaranteed bloating. Headaches. Mood swings. Let us not forget that red theme.

Getting your period on Christmas? A little bit like blowing your brains out and then having to clean up the mess yourself.

Face it, Christmas is for children. By children, I mean anyone young enough to believe that a fat, hairy stranger invading a house in the middle of the night and everything working out fine is actually a possibility. For the rest of us, it’s a tangle of massive proportions, disguised as a good time, cloaked in booze.

By “good time”, I mean agony. By “booze”, I mean “and plenty of it.”

At the risk of disappointing my kind, I hate malls. Therefore, I don’t like to shop. Even worse than being in a mall, is standing in a long line in a mall, sweating because I forgot to leave my coat in the car and being unable to take it off because my arms are filled with stuff nobody really needs, that I am about to spend the next six months paying off.

To be honest, I don’t do very much shopping. I buy for a handful of adults, and I actually put a little thought into what would make them happy before heading out to shop. If I do find myself without a plan, I find a non-mall specialty shop and wander around until something jumps off a shelf and yells, “That’s perfect for (insert name here)!” I buy it and I don’t think twice about whether it’s perfect. I always go with my gut when it comes to gift decisions.

One thing I try never to do is go to a mall without knowing the precise GPS coordinates of the item(s) needed. I’m in, and I’m out. People crossing in front of me abruptly, stopping to read their “lists” in the middle of a walking aisle is not one of my favorite things. In my mind, minimizing the risk of me biting my own tongue in half is what Christmas is all about.

Every Christmas, I also try not to throw-up when talking to grown-ups (and I use the term loosely) who insist that they still “believe” in Santa. These people love to say, “You gotta believe!” as they explain the ridiculous lengths they go to in order to keep their kids, well into their teens, believing in Santa. These are the same people who tell co-workers “Today is my birthday!” when they’re 46.

The day my nine-year old son looked me in the eye and asked me that all-important question was the happiest day of my life.

“Mom, are you Santa?”

“Well, yes, son; I am Santa and I have worked my ASS off for the last nine years trying to make you believe I’m not. I’m also the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and frankly, I am exhausted.”

I mean, whom are we kidding? A jolly man with a bundle of presents flying through the sky with eight tiny reindeer, giving out presents to good children? Totally implausible. Everyone knows there are no good kids (except for mine, of course…).

I haven’t even mentioned family gatherings. I’m not going to start now.

My dog loves Christmas. At this years’ Special Dinner, something just for the six of us, we had grilled t-bones. The kids all had steaks that hung over the sides of their plates, and a steak knife. For every bite that reached their mouths, a hunk of beef careened onto the floor as they taught themselves the finer points of sawing their dinner into bite-sized chunks. Forget Pavlov’s dinner bell. When my dog sees steak knives come out of the drawer, he begins salivating. The same dog also ate an entire plate of homemade cookies given to me by someone who actually knows how to bake, and six pieces of fudge. He couldn’t eat the white chocolate covered pretzel sticks that some nice person without taste buds bestowed upon us; he had to scarf the cookies. If only there had been a little more fudge on that plate…

Gifts. This season, I only received things I really wanted, which means there are a lot of good listeners out there. I got a book I really wanted, wine, gourmet foodstuffs, gift certificates to restaurants I love, a candle, a blender, a bracelet and many lovely gifts from my children.

What else does a girl need? Quite a bit, actually, in the form of the various things I’ve bought for myself: a back support pillow on clearance, a short, hot, black pencil skirt on clearance, a wireless printer on clearance…is there a theme developing? Yes! I spend almost as much time purchasing things for myself each December as I do for others, all because I’m prowling the retail jungles more this month than all the other months of the year combined. It’s a simple matter of percentages, I explained to my husband, knowing he’d understand the numbers game. The more you go to the mall, the more chance there is of finding a screaming deal that technically, would be irresponsible to pass up. The more you spend, the more you save…everybody knows that!

Not to worry, I did pass on some things: people hawking stuff at the kiosks that dot the center of the mall. Valet parking outside Nordstrom. Nordstrom. The food court. Sobriety.

Christmas 2010: That’s a wrap! (Pun intended.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dumb it down, please!

I’m sick of learning things. I’m tired of knowing what’s living between the creases of my mattress (bedbugs) and in the inner recesses of my down pillow (mites). I don’t want to know what the five most dangerous skin moles look like, how to determine if my car’s idling might be telling me something, or which sexual positions burn the most calories (well, maybe this last one is important).

I’m just so tired of the diarrheal stream of extraneous information coming at me with every click, by way of internet articles on a freakishly wide range of topics. From “How-To’s” to “Top Ten” lists, I’m over it.

Oh how I long for the days, circa 1975, when advice came along once in a blue moon, and boy could a person see it coming. In fact, everything I really need to know I learned in the seventies, and it was all summed up with this:

“Eat right, get plenty of rest, and take Geritol every day!”

I honestly don’t know what Geritol is, so I have replaced that with “wine.” I also exercise. That helps me to burn more calories than I take in, another important piece of advice discovered before the Internet “How To” article spawned the Age of Enlightenment Part Deux. I know better than to beat my children, and I refrain from using a blow dryer in the bathtub. All valuable bits of information, and all learned without the use of the Internet. In fact, all learned before the advent of the Internet.

What if people incorporated all the globs of unnecessary web data they’re exposed to into their daily routines – routines that have existed for centuries, without the benefit of knowing exactly how things might turn out. Even better, what if people started getting all the crazy amounts of info out there all mixed up, and turned into paranoid, confused little creatures who can’t keep it all straight? For example, what if I said this to my ten year old daughter:

“Turn off the TV, go outside, and get some vitamin D.”


“The sun is a natural source of Vitamin D and 47% of American children do not get enough vitamin D in their diet. The popularity of advanced sunscreens is not helping either. Plus, you’re absorbing gamma rays and probably lead from the TV screen. Is that a melanoma on your earlobe?”

“Whatever, Mom. I’m going outside to ride my scooter.”

“That’s what I said! Go outside and play!”

Wait a second. That’s not what I said. What I said made no sense to her, and exhausted me. What I said (in my imaginary conversation, because I swear I don’t do this) was complete garbage. I told her to go and do something constructive. For ten year olds, that’s garbage. It ruins the journey. I have to admit, I can’t keep everything straight – all that information that jumps off Yahoo! homepage headlines is hard to keep track of! Just last week I mixed up “Five Steps to a Better Complexion” with “How to Find the Male G-Spot” and had a real situation on my hands. Not to mention the fact that I’m pretty sure a little bit of “10 Turkey Recipes You Can’t Live Without” may have slid its way into the mix.

Trust me when I say, it’s all I can do to drop the right kids off at the right schools each day and return home to the right house. On top of that, I have to plug back into the right computer. Now let’s see…was I working on that document on the upstairs PC, the downstairs laptop, or my new vacuum cleaner-word processor hybrid that allows me to work while I’m working?

It’s a lot of pressure, knowing everything. Some people really get off on it. They find out all possible options and explanations and consequences for any and all choices. Then, and only then, do they proceed with caution. I’m a curious person by nature, but I am at the saturation point for stuff I really do not need to know.

Why are we all so afraid to misstep?

Here’s why: We’re being told how dangerous it is to make one false move, whether we’re having our bra sized, buying produce, or making a birthing plan. (Don’t even get me started on the number of birthing options today. My plan was, and still is, until the last little creature is off to college, “Get the hell out!”) Anyway, it’s a simple case of TMI. I understand that articles attract eyeballs, and eyeballs have fingers attached to them that click and buy. I know it’s all about the bottom line. Big sigh.

All I really want to know on any given morning is who likes me enough to have sent me an email. I promise. I just want to know if my best girlfriend has something funny to say. If there’s more I need to know, I’ll Google it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Filter this

I can’t wait for my kids to grow up. Actually, that’s not quite true. I can’t wait for my kids to get a bit older so that I am able to say what’s really on my mind. They’re still a little young for TUM: Totally Unfiltered Mom. TUM is the little voice inside my head representing the other mother, the one who longs to tell it like it is.

TUM is tired of watering her shit down.

How old does a child need to be to know what’s actually going through mom’s mind? When do I get to lose the filter?

Allow me to set the stage.

I have four children: two in fifth grade, one in sixth, and one in seventh, a.k.a. “The Fetid Socks Grade.” But that’s another story.

Each day between five and six p.m., a period of time in my house I like to call, The Bitching Hour, I make dinner. Within the same time frame, I am asked at least four times, though it feels like four hundred, “When will dinner be ready?” This is usually accompanied by my other favorite question, “What’s for dinner?”

You may be wondering, especially if you have a penis, and therefore, rarely cook anything other than the occasional grilled cheese sandwich for a party of one, what exactly is so bothersome about a few simple queries concerning dinner. The truth is, I don’t know. If you figure it out, let me know. For now, I’m chalking it up to one of those unexplained forces in the universe: put a woman in charge of a meal, then watch her head splatter against the walls if she happens to be interrupted one too many times while trying to read a recipe.

(If you really must know, options such as driving a whisk straight up my nose, into my brain and wiggling it around, ala a 1950’s-era lobotomy, have occurred to me during The Bitching Hour. So has homicide. I like wine.)

Back to my original assertion: What I’m thinking, and what actually comes out of my mouth, are not one and the same.

Oh how I’d love to Let. It. Rip.

Sometimes, my husband is a few feet away, winking at me as if to say, “I know what you are thinking, and I love you. Please don’t lose your mind and leave me alone with these beasts.”

The situations involving my fantasy replies and the actual responses I give almost always occur in the kitchen. See if you can tell them apart.

“MOM! How long ‘til dinner?”

This, as ten-year old daughter careens through the kitchen just in time to cross in front of me as I am transferring a cutting board with raw chicken juice on it from the island to the sink. I stop short, but the fowl juice keeps going, splattering on both the floor and my bare toes. Before I’m able to form my answer, another child enters My Space.

“What are we having for dinner?”

Now, I’m in two deep. Ten seconds later, in walks thirteen year old boy.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Wine. Wine’s for dinner, and plenty of it. Now go fill mama’s schooner and then make yourself scarce.”

Okay, so I didn’t actually say that.

What actually came out of my mouth was, “Chicken Picatta, mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini.”

“Cool. Sounds good,” he claims, as he strolls out of the room and into the abyss, otherwise known as Fetid Sock Factory.

There are other times when I long to give flight to, yet pluck the tender wings from, the words of a delicate fowl perched on the tip of my tongue:

“Mom, can you fill my water bottle for me?”


“Mom, can you help me find my sneakers?”

“Sure. But first, can you help me find my fucking wand?”

“Mom, could we please not have peas again tonight?”

“Sure. Could you please never again ask me a question?

“Mom, I love you.”

“I love you more.”

Wait a second. I do say that last one, which always starts a bedtime debate that I end up losing.

Which, I guess, is why I have a filter.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Length does matter

Ever get treated to a story by a friend or acquaintance, and stand in awe of how well it’s told? I’m talking about the kind of experience in which someone says, “Have I got a story for you!” and gosh darn if they weren’t absolutely right.

I appreciate the telling of a good story not only for the details sprinkled throughout by an adept storyteller, but for a focused storyline and engaging ending that leaves me saying, “Ahhhhh. I shall not soon forget that tale,” as I kick up my feet on a velvet footstool, lean back into my worn leather chair, and take a sip of sherry, mesmerized by what I’ve just heard.

Enough with that crack-pipe dream. I have children. I don’t have friends who drop by for stimulating conversation in the parlor. I have a countertop, with unidentifiable smears that stick to my sleeves, or even more enjoyable, my bare arms. Furthermore, I use that same countertop to speed through the latest People magazine. When my doorbell rings, it isn’t Robert Redford and Meryl Streep showing up with a bottle of fine cognac to “have a story now” as they did in Out of Africa. It’s a girlfriend looking to discuss this week’s episode of Real Housewives of Crazytown.

Where have all the good stories gone? Where is the oral tradition that passed on such epic dramas as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or Beowulf, so many centuries ago? As much as I love the written word, I just find it more satisfying to listen in rapt delight and watch the facial expressions of a human being standing before me, weaving action and dialogue, humor and tragedy, into oral gold.

Most of the stories I’m treated to are told by my little people, which means that what they lack in plot, they make up for in incoherence. Endings? Not so much. With my kids’ stories, it’s not a matter of when they end, but if.

My daughter’s stories are so long I’m sure that someday when I’m comparing war stories from a rocking chair with my friend Gladys, the conversation will likely go something like this:

“Say, dearie, when did you go through menopause,” Gladys will ask me, as we sit on the porch of some old folks home, our necks craning and our tongues searching for the bendy straws sticking out of our 32-ouncers.

“Let’s see…what year was it when Landry turned nine? Let me think..."

“Wow, you went through menopause in one year?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Gladys; I went through menopause while my daughter told me about her first day of fourth grade.”

(Note: To be totally honest, I have not gone through menopause. That was purely an imaginative attempt at making a point.)

Now that I've covered length, I can spend a little time on delivery.

You know you are talking to my ten-year old daughter when the end of almost every sentence sounds like it should be a question, but it’s not. Think of the tone of one’s voice when picking up the phone and saying, “Hello?” That's how all of the sentences sound when she tells a story. Not only that, short her stories are not.

Unfortunately, my daughter is not completely responsible. Genetics are also working against her. My daughter comes from a long line of women who would no sooner leave a detail, no matter how irrelevant, out of story than they would throw cat shit all over their living room just to see where it landed. Sadly, I’m one of them. I’m working on it.

The compelling orations that come forth multiple times a day from my daughter are also sans verbal punctuation, otherwise known as logical pauses. The question-yet-not-actually-a-question-tone of voice takes the place of periods and commas. In one aspect it’s rhythmic and almost hypnotic, as her voice rises and falls and rises and falls, until…it becomes evident that the sentences just keep coming…and coming…and coming.

Quite honestly, listening to my daughter tell a story sometimes causes me a bit of anxiety. It’s like watching a movie in which some poor lady crashes a car into a river. Water begins to fill the interior. The water is rising. It’s up to her chest. She desperately claws at the door handle and pounds on the window. Then, the water is up to her chin. It covers her mouth as she juts her chin up and tries to keep her nose above water. This is the point where you yell, "Breathe through your eyes! Breathe through your eyes!" Then, the water level is over the top of her head. She’s completely under water, and you're thinking, “She’s got to breathe! Breathe! But she can’t! She can’t take a breath or she’s dead! She struggles, but still, she can’t inhale! You’re watching this and you suddenly realize you’re holding your own breath, and possibly digging your nails into the arm of the person sitting next to you.

I’ll bet you’re just holding your own breath in anticipation of an example. I’ll bold each word that should be said with the same rise to the voice as a person would when picking up the phone and saying “Hello?”

Ready? Here we go? Are you getting the picture? I’m going to begin? Don’t forget to pause slightly at each bolded word, and say it the way you would if you were picking up the telephone and saying Hello?

“Mom, you won’t believe what happened today. Okay, so, today at recess Kaylie M. and Kylie R did that thing to Khloe and Kayla who had their backs turned and Mrs. Gardner told them again not to but they did it anyway and right then Clem Cadiddlehopper caught the ball and threw it up on the roof so that we couldn’t get it and Mr. Souza walked by and looked at us and said, “Hello girls!” and so then, later, at recess, I was on the swings with Keely and Sammy S. and then the bell rang and we lined up for lunch and guess what?

“What.” (I purposely withhold any trace of intonation that would indicate I am asking a question. I am taking a moral stand at this point and refuse to contribute to the shameful overpopulation of question/statements in the world. In fact, I may even start an effort to rid the planet of needless statements, questions and possibly, all communication whatsoever. I may just climb trees all day.

Back to the story?

“Right then, Chloe and Kayla turned around, and oh my gosh.” The look on my daughter's face communicated just one thing to me: I had missed something.

I quickly rewound, only to end up with a mental pile of tangled, black cassette tape encasing my head which I could only hope would result in a swift and painless death as it tightened around my throat. Technically, because I could not detect any exposition, rising action, climax or falling action, what I’d just heard wasn’t a story. I know the little darling tried to tell me something, but what was it?

I fondly recall the days, somewhere in the neighborhood of eight years ago, when my daughter’s stories took this form:

“Mama, I went potty in the potty chair at Nona’s house today!”

Now, that’s a story! A not-so vibrant verb, but who cares! Look at all those setting details: in the potty chair! At grandma’s house! Today! The only thing I was required to do all those years ago was smile, put out my arms and hug. There was no quiz at the end, in the form of, “Mom, did you hear me?” or “Mom, are you listening,” or the occasional, “Mom, why is your head in the oven?”

Now, it’s a little different. What makes it all even more fun is the anxiety I feel as the non-story- story seems oh-so-close to wrapping up, and my almost 13-year old son suddenly becomes aware there are people in the room with him. Like Rip van Winkle, his little head jerks a bit and the glazed-over look disappears from his already wide-open eyes. How he managed to daydream during the last ten minutes is beyond me. The glimmer of hope I had just seconds before of possibly being lucky enough to escape the scene with no more than a slight trickle of blood from my ear, as if I’d been concussed with a blunt object, recedes. My son opens his mouth and speaks:

“Wait. What happened?”

Then, she starts over.

I feel the two halves of my brain slowly detach from one another. A jackhammer sparks to life between my ears. I cannot listen to this again, I think to myself. No matter that I’m in the middle of making custard in the double boiler – I’ve got to get out of here! I try to sell her my departure.

“Well, I just heard the story, so I’ll just go in the other room and…”

“No! Mom. You didn’t hear what happened to them after she did that!”

What the hell is she talking about, I wondered to myself. Why don’t I get it? She basically just told me about every muscle that moved on the playground from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Why did every sentence sound like the question of the century? Would the falling action ever appear, let alone the conclusion? What is wrong with me?

Back to my original assertion: with kids and their stories, it isn’t about “when” they might end, it’s a matter of “if” you can survive them. Pull up a comfortable chair when you come to my house.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Other Temple Grandin

By now, you’ve probably seen the movie or heard the story of Temple Grandin. Inspiring. Unbelievable. Poignant. The true story of a highly intelligent and autistic woman who craves the feeling of a hug, but can’t endure the human touch. She forges a special bond with cattle and then carves out a career designing systems for them to travel to their death without getting so much as one hive.

Apparently, completely calm, centered and happy cows make happy T-bone steaks. Rile them up, deprive them of the perfect coziness and pressure of Grandin’s specially designed chutes and you’re left with cortisol-riddled beefsteak that both tastes nasty and disrespects the beast. Like Grandin said, “We raise them to eat them so how’s about showing them a little res-PECT!!” Grandin even perfected a “squeeze machine”, as she calls it, which mimics the comforting feeling of a hug, without the unnerving (for her) sensation of two arms wrapped around her.

Somehow, she figured out that all she and the cows need is a little TLC.

I am inclined to agree with Temple, not because I totally understand her reasoning, but because I trust her. I saw the movie. I heard her interviewed on NPR. I’m also a fan because of another, more personal link.

See, there’s another Temple Grandin, one who lives in my world. I trust him, too. My version is a 43-year old math teacher and varsity softball coach who, each morning at precisely 7:20, takes his coffee and Sudoku into his "squeeze machine": the toilet closet. This, immediately after eating one bowl of cereal with sliced bananas both below the pile of cereal and placed on top, which he first slices lengthwise and then across, so each slice is a little half-circle. I guess this reminds him of geometry.

My Temple comes home every day at lunch, eats whatever I have fixed for him and then goes back to school with his afternoon treat in a bag: a yogurt and a banana. He sits at his desk, dipping the banana into the yogurt one bite at a time. His students pretend to be doing calculus problems, while secretly texting each other the following: BYGIAIA! (Banana Yogurt Guy Is At It Again!)

Those mornings when he peers into the fruit basket and sees that we’re out of bananas are dark, dark days. His face immediately droops. His brow furrows. He looks at me.

“You’ll survive, chief,” I say while pouring my coffee and shuffling toward the stove.

Trust me when I say, there is a teensy-weensy kernel in his brain, called the Temple Lobe, that tells him not to believe me. Unless he reads it in the sports page or on, no piece of data is trustworthy.

There are other things that give him the warmth and security he needs.

“I need my squeeze machine!” my husband yelled the other day when I told him I would not get off the laptop to let him check before he returned to school after lunch.

“You’ve checked it forty-two times today already. You checked it 10 minutes ago when you got home. What is the point?”

“The point is that if it doesn’t rain I need a plan B for practice. If it rains we’ll discuss situations in my classroom,” he said referring to what he might do if water fell out of the sky after school.

“So, write down an outside practice plan. You already know rain is likely. Why keep checking the weather? You could have had ten practice plans written for the next two weeks with all the time you’ve spent checking the weather!”

“Why can’t I just know?”

“Because you already DO KNOW. It said 80% chance of rain before mid-afternoon. Even if it said ‘150% chance of rain’ you know damn well you’d keep checking because that’s what you do.”

I knew what was coming next. Imagine the little black and white sketches that zoom through Temple’s mind when something does not compute.

“There’s no such thing as 150% chance of rain!! You know that!!” He hates it when I disrespect numbers as much as Temple hates it when cowboys disrespect cows.

“Whatever, Temple,” I said, referring the movie we’d just watched a few nights before, just to see if he was paying attention.

Suddenly, he was smiling. It was time for a scenario. We love scenarios.

“What if you found out that I was a highly functioning autistic?” my husband asked.

“What do you mean, IF?” I snapped, unable to keep the smirk off my face.

“Whaddya mean by that?” he said with that fake sad face he adopts just to get me to laugh.

“You check in the middle of FRIGGIN' JULY, that’s what! We live in California! It’s going to be hot! You’ve even got the kids doing it!" At this point, I can't even keep a straight face, even though I passionately believe in what I'm saying.

“What if a summer thunderstorm comes along?”

I turned and pointed to the living room window. “There’s my, all year long,” I said, adding, “Want to know what my ‘Plan B’ is? The sweatshirt in the closet!!”

There’s more. There are the clocks that he is umbilically tied to whether he’s at home, in a hotel or camping under the stars, where he ties his watch to the little pocket hanging on the inside of the tent. This because he is compelled to look at the clock just so that he knows what to feel: relieved (before 2 a.m.) or nervous (after 2 a.m.).

I once presented an alternate plan: my way. My way and my husband’s way are a little different. While he scopes the horizon, I tend to look straight down, careening through life, adjusting on the fly to whatever mishap I’ve recently created and fairly content to be in the moment. Other than important things, like appointments, kids’ practices and happy hour, I tend to take life as it comes. I'm not saying my way is better; like Temple's mother always told her, and anyone else who was tempted to judge, "Not more, just different."

I once suggested he cover up the clock at night, as I do, to ensure he won’t catch a glimpse. Of all the times to get bad news, the middle of the night is my least favorite.

“Why put yourself through the anxiety of seeing it’s 5:15 a.m. and that you only have 45 minutes left to sleep, which basically guarantees you won’t be getting back to sleep at all?”

“I just like to know,” he clipped.

“Well, I hope you are satisfied. You have most of our kids doing it. Way to go, Temple.”

“I need my squeeze machine!”

“Come here, honey. I’m you’re squeeze machine. I’m your Plan B.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Male genes, decoded

Sometimes, I consciously choose to let go of the surreal thoughts streaming live in my brain, born from trying to understand my children, and instead embrace what I see as the random thought patterns emanating from my husband’s mind. While my kids’ shenanigans actually bother me, given the biological connection and potential responsibility on my part for their weirdness, it’s actually entertaining to stop and contemplate where the hell my husband gets his ideas. Sure, we share our DNA with each other, but we don’t share DNA, so technically, I bear no responsibility for his thoughts.

While my children’s illogical conclusions (the dog pees in the yard, so why can’t I?) and mistaken beliefs (deodorant goes on the outside of one’s shirt) may be traced genetically back to me, thereby worrying the crap out of me, my husband’s oddities cannot. Hence, I don’t mind thinking about them.

Recently, I pulled up to our house after a long day of teaching, followed by picking up and dropping off kids at softball practice, only to find the front lawn freshly mowed. Hmmm, I thought, as I rolled up the driveway. I couldn’t imagine my husband would have come home during his prep period just to mow, then race back to school in time to catch the bus with his varsity softball team to their out-of-town game. I checked the garage. I spied the mower, wedged between the ping-pong table and the garage fridge, right where it had sat untouched since the beginning of softball season a month prior.

I walked out to the yard and inspected the precision cut. Nice. Definitely not a rush job. Just then, I heard the mower going in the back yard next door. Aha! It was our neighbor! He mowed our lawn because he’s retired, has nothing but time on his hands, the lawns are both small and most of all, he knows my husband is coaching three softball teams and in way over his head right now. What a guy. Neighbors rule!

Alas, those were my thought patterns.

Back to my husband’s thought patterns.

Returning home at eight o’clock that night, hubby brought it up first.

“Hey, honey, thanks for mowing the lawn,” he said with a thoughtful smile, knowing that I do things for him because I love him and not because I’m a passive-aggressive whack job. I know people who do this and guess what? They’ve got trained husbands who also know it! Husband stalls on a task, wife completes it, husband gets the cold shoulder for awhile, which suits him just fine because if he plays his cards right, it’ll last through the end of the seventh inning.

It’s a story as old as coupling itself. I can clearly imagine a caveman, sitting around, watching ants or whatever they did for fun back then, instead of going out and killing something for that night’s dinner. Along comes the wife, home from birthing her seventh baby in a nearby briar patch when she decides to take matters into her own hands, knowing the lazy slob is at cave, sitting on the rock. She clubs the first woolly mammoth that crosses her path and drags it onto the porch, just to make her husband feel bad about not getting it done.

“I didn’t mow it, honey; Ted did,” I said, smiling back at my exhausted husband and readying myself for his appreciative reply.

“That’s bullshit.”

I froze, not sure of what to do or say next. I wiped the smile from my face. Then, I made a mental note not to tell my husband that I put a fresh twelve-pack in the fridge in case he wanted to toddle over to Ted’s house with a couple of cold ones.

I turned toward the sink to hide the expression on my face which communicated something along the lines of, “What in heaven’s name is he thinking?” but with more f-words.

There was an awkward silence. I imagine it was equivalent to how a man feels when his wife asks him if she looks fat today. I decided to play it mature and direct by filling the sink with soapy water and getting busy on that pile of two dishes sitting on the counter.

“Oh, um, is that some kind of no-no or…” I asked casually before being cut-off mid sentence.

“Uh, yeah. You don’t mow another guy’s lawn,” he said snottily, as if I had a penis or something.

I was desperate to figure out where my husband was coming from. I imagined a somewhat different scenario, one in which my husband came home from work and found me relaxing on the couch, blouse askew, with an extremely satisfied look on my face and a cigarette dangling from my lips.

“Hi honey. Whatcha doin?”

“Well, Ted was just here, and….”

I mean, I can see how a husband might have a strong reaction to a neighbor reaching far afield of the boundary lines, but the lawn?

I tried it from another angle – anything to try and understand what my husband was thinking. This time, it was the other way around. This time, it was I who came home from work, plopping down my book bag and heading into the bathroom to take my first pee since ten a.m.

“Oh. My. God! Honey, you cleaned the toilet! You are so sweet.”

“I didn’t do that. Carol from across the street asked to use it and then she just knocked it out.”

“That bitch.”

“Honey, she did you a really nice favor. She asked to use our bathroom because hers wasn’t working.”

“I don’t care. You don’t wipe up another woman’s pubic hairs and pee drips.”

“Now, sweety, c’mon. She’s retired, home all day, kids grown. She knows how hard you work teaching and then have to come home and take care of four kids. She was just doing something nice for you.”

“She’s got her own bathrooms to monitor. You don’t do that. Nope. No way.”

Like I said, I tried to imagine this scenario. I kept getting stuck at my angry reaction to Carol’s obvious outpouring of support for her kind. Carol is my people. She understands me. She gets that sometimes, it’s just easier to shut the bathroom door, pretend it wasn’t there, and pour a glass of wine.

I looked at my husband, his jaw set, hands on hips as he stood looking out the living room window at the manicured lawn.

I decided to let him own it. Those genes were all his.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Your Kids are Weird

Kids are weird. Especially your kids. That’s right, I’m talking to all you parents out there who send their kids to school every day armed with all the weirdness the world can handle. I’m qualified to make the call, because I’ve got kids of my own – but I’m positive about the fact that yours take the cake, evidenced by the chat I had recently while subbing in my fourth grade daughter’s classroom. Sure, my kid had her sweatshirt on backwards, but this other kid, Dougie, and I had the following conversation after I noticed him yawning and rubbing his eyes for the better part of the first hour of the school day.

Me: Sleepy, Dougie?

Dougie: Yeah, really sleepy.

Me: Didn’t sleep well last night?

Dougie: No, me and my dad went hunting. We were up all night.

To better understand what I was going through at that moment, imagine a split screen, showing what the two halves of my brain were trying to do simultaneously: form an acceptable reply. One side of the mental jumbo-screen flashed something along the lines of, “You went hunting and were up all night?” while the other half read, “What kind of hillbilly, redneck parent lets a nine year old stay out hunting all night on a school night?” Since the latter mental query contained its own answer, I went with the former:

Me: You stayed up all night hunting?

Dougie: “Yeah!” said Dougie, suddenly all fired up. I mean, I could tell this kid was a miniature version of his highly agitated dad, whom I’d never even met. “We got back to the gate too late and got locked in! We drove around and around to other gates and couldn’t get out!”

I pictured a really pissed off guy in camo-gear, which is scary, with a Remington or Ducks Unlimited cap perched crookedly on his head as a result of scratching it while he stared at the lock on the gate(s). Then I visualized Dougie and his dad sleeping in the truck. A big truck with a gun rack in the back window, maybe an ice chest bungee-corded in the bed and a “Nuke Iraq” bumper sticker on the tailgate. To be fair, it wasn’t exactly terrible parenting. They got trapped on a locked ranch. I got it.

Me: “Soooo, what did you do?”

Dougie: “Well, we had to call my mom.”

My mind conjured the image of a sleepy good ‘ol gal in her sweats, t-shirt and socks, sound asleep, being awakened by the sound of a phone and feeling that horrible surge of adrenaline that only parents feel when the phone rings in the dead of night while family members are out somewhere. Especially when dads, guns, ice chests and sons are involved. I pictured her looking at the clock. I asked Dougie for more information:

Me: “What time was it when you called her?” I asked

Dougie: “8:18.”

The familiar feeling of my one brain working on two realities hit me again. I only had a few seconds before I’d need to reply. Dougie was anticipating a reaction. A correct reaction. The kid needed some validation and I wasn’t about to let him down – especially after the night he had, which I was failing on a grand scale at understanding. I quickly recalled that yes, Dougie had been in his seat at 8:00 a.m., so how could he have called his mom at 8:18 a.m.? Better yet, why would Pa wait until morning to call? I decided to go with something vague to cover up the fact I was not computing.

Me: “Then what?”

Dougie: “She brought the extra key and I didn’t get home and get into bed ‘til 9:22.”

More eye rubbing and yawning. This time it was me. It was 9:22 right now.

Judging by the look on the kid sitting next to Dougie, whom I’ll call Mugsy, I had company. Mugsy’s mouth hung open. His brow was furrowed and eyes were turned straight up toward the ceiling as he crunched the numbers. My light bulb, on the other hand, shone brightly.

Me: “So, you went to bed last night at 9:22?” I said, with the building intensity of a trial attorney about to pounce on an unsuspecting witness. I had Dougie’s number, and it was 1-800-WEIRD.

Dougie: “Yes. It was like 9:22 or 9:23,” Dougie reiterated very matter-of-factly, while I tried to keep a straight face.

Me: “What time do you usually go to bed, Dougie?” I asked, expecting an answer of, like, 5:30 p.m.

Dougie: “Like, EIGHT O’ CLOCK!” he said with the dramatic flair of a highly offended Lawrence Olivier.

Clearly, Dougie needs his twelve hours or he’s just no good. I dismissed my witness, satisfied that I had solved The Mystery of Dougie and the Locked Gate(s).

I pictured my own kids subjecting the other adults in their life to stories such as the one Dougie had shared with me. Are there adults, like teachers and grocery store clerks who think my kid is weird? Do my kids have stories like this? If so, what would they be called? Sadly, it took only four seconds before I had a list going. Perhaps one would be “Why I Like to Smell My Sister’s Dirty Feet” or “Ketchup on Scrambled Eggs: Is There Ever Enough?” I stared dejectedly at the still-yawning Dougie.

Maybe your kids don’t have the market cornered on weird after all.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plan, Forest, Plan!

I may not know what I’m doing tomorrow (for as the Zen master says, it does not yet exist.) I may not remember what I did yesterday (for as the day planner says, it was forty-two things), but I do know what I’m doing today: planning.

My husband and I are going somewhere. Not to the Grand Canyon with the kids or to Vegas without them; those are trips. We’re planning a vacation. We’re going to Great Britain. More specifically, we’re going to Wales with some good friends of ours and we aren’t taking the children. There is a very good reason (lots of them actually) why we aren’t taking the children with us. They won’t be children anymore.

We’re going to Wales in 2018.

We hatched the plan a few nights ago, while out to dinner with another couple, the husband of which hails from Wales.

“What’s it like in Wales, Martin?” I asked wistfully, picturing thatched-roofed cottages, a rolling green countryside, and shepherds in natty tweed caps with small herds of white goats following behind. Baaaaahhh. Baaaahhhhh.

“It’s great. Pubs everywhere.”

“Let’s go,” I said to my husband, who immediately whipped out his built-in calculator (not the one he uses to count to one) and began wiggling each finger one at a time.

“2018. The last two graduate in 2018,” he said, in a deadly serious tone, and then added, “We’d have to be morons not to be able to save up for a vacation that’s eight years away.”

“We can go to Wales! Without the kids!” I squealed.

“Yay!” said my girlfriend.

“Cheers!” said her Welshman.

“College tuition,” said my husband.

A hush fell over the table. Our friends have one child. They were silent, but only in deference to our obvious pain. We have four children. Four tuitions. Four sets of books. Four kegs at one per month for four years, minimum, probably five and possibly nine if they follow in my footsteps…We stared dejectedly at our friends, wondering how they got so lucky to have fertility issues. Then, my husband and his calculator sprang to life (again, not the one he uses to count to one).

“Okay, here's how it's going to work," he began, as we leaned in so as not to miss any important details of the jewel heist it looked like we were planning. "We'll have everyone's braces paid off by 2015. We sell the house in 2016, after Jackson graduates. Then, we move into our rental, which still gives all three girls their own bedrooms. We’ll have time to save up even more money before the last two graduate because we’ll only have one piddly little mortgage! Wales here we come!!”

“Yay!” said my girlfriend.

“Cheers!” said her Welshman.

Like Forest Gump and his famous cross-country footrace, we were planning!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Massimo's Oil

This is a short story I just had published in The Olive Oil Times. Follow the link to read a true romance...with olive oil.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness

It’s March and that means madness around my house. Of course, so does January, February, April, May, June…you get the idea. The madness this month comes not from basketball. I actually find it amusing to watch a grown man agonize over a bunch of brackets. The source of this month’s madness is my (and by my, I mean our) annual Spring Project. With the exception of every year prior to this one, I’ve chosen a special (and by special, I mean expensive) project to complete so that I can enter into the season without some nagging, energy-draining task sitting around, in all of its incomplete glory, cluttering up my life and mind. So, my first annual Spring Project is….The Yard(s).

Three years ago, our front lawn was passable and a nicely manicured flowerbed, complete with happy azaleas, lined the front porch. The back yard was mostly beautiful hillside, with an ugly patio/lava rock wasteland nightmare that honestly, couldn’t get much worse. Then, we came to town.

This is our backyard, looking up the hill away from our house. Lovely, right?

With an acre lot, two-thirds of which is wildland, we bought a John Deere riding mower and I’m not allowed to mow. Fine by me. My husband can’t wait for the weeds of early spring to start growing on our hillside so he can do the one chore that allows him to both sit and be productive at the same time. I’m sure it’s highly satisfying. He also likes to weed. He’s a sick, sick man.

Then, there’s me. I have no green thumb, do not find gardening relaxing and if you must know, possess a shockingly immature fear of bugs. I don’t even like to water. I have so successfully dodged my husband’s many attempts to show me how to turn on the sprinklers that to this day, if he asks me to turn them on or off, I answer, “I don’t know how” and I’m not even lying.

There is only one thing I love to do in the yard. I love a freshly hosed-off porch, especially on a hot summer evening while enjoying a glass or wine, or shot of whiskey. It’s cool and clean and I can easily spot and kill spiders who make the fatal mistake of thinking they can enjoy a refreshing drink on the porch with me. I often do the same thing on a summer morning, but don’t worry, I don’t drink wine or whiskey at that hour. That’s what mimosas are for, silly.

The problem is, once we made the decision to re-do the lawns with new sod, I grew discontent with the azaleas. I decided that simply trimming the neglected azaleas was less appealing that ripping them up, I mean, tenderly removing them, and planting daffodils. (See the post dated March 15 for that happy story.)

In the backyard, where the ugly red lava rocks live, we shoveled. Like mad.

                                                The backyard, looking toward the house...

As outdoor tasks go, I’d still rather be using a long handled tool than have my hands in the dirt, weeding and avoiding slugs, and eight-legged terrorists. Speaking of long handles, my husband didn’t even complain about the pace I kept both before and after my 10 a.m. lunch break. While some may have called my movements geriatric, I like to think of them as more zen-like and rhythmic: shovel rocks, dump wheelbarrow, shovel rocks, dump wheelbarrow, shovel rocks, dump wheelbarrow….doesn’t it just have a soothing flow? It did, until I started this convo:

“Um, I was just thinking…”

“Oh no. You want to put them back?”

“No. I was just thinking that the dog and the kids are going to be walking through all this dirt and it’s going to be a big pain.”

(No reply from husband. I could tell by the way his eyelids were flickering that he was searching the mental hard drive for something I might say next that would require more hard labor.) I continued:

“Can we put down some kind of tarps or lining to keep it from becoming a big mud puddle the next time it rains?”

“Can’t we just tell them to stay out of it?”

“Sure. I’ll tell the kids. You explain it to the dog.”

“No more rain this year.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s softball season. No more rain.”

“I’m just curious…do you cross your fingers and your toes when you say that?”

So, the giant mud triangle and the madness of the March project has begun. The first round bracket: Us vs. The Yard(s). With luck, March Madness will not become August Angst.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Daffodil Hell

Not to be confused with Daffodil Hill, the popular tourist destination just a few miles to the east of our home, Daffodil Hell is what our front yard resembled following a visit by a satanic gardening cult (my husband Chris and me) who performed the ritualistic dismemberment of a perfectly good azalea bed and transplanting of what were totally content daffodils previously residing in my Aunt Ann's yard. Click on the picture for a better view of the horrified husband, post ritual, masking his identity for fear of future attacks by copycat cults. Plus, he was just really, really embarrassed. The cult leader, which would be me, when asked by husband midway through the slaughter, whether the carnage could have been avoided by a tiny bit more planning, replied, "I like to adjust on the fly when I do yard work. Planning takes too much time." To which husband replied, "Yes, but so does doing the whole thing over again."

Coming soon: in with new sod, out with ugly red lava rock.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My own (not so private) Disturbia

I had an epiphany the other day about a horrifying topic. Because I’m me, I didn’t panic. Instead, I decided to write about it. It all went down in a matter of seconds: the epiphany, the acknowledgement (“Hmm. That was sort of disturbing…”) and then the laugh. Here goes.

I know why people kill their own children. It isn’t because moms and dads are insane, or because they suddenly “snap.” It’s much simpler than that. The reason parents kill their own children is because it’s easier than teaching them how to organize their backpacks.

If you don’t believe me, go and find a random twelve year old boy, preferably one with both fresh and long-term stains on his shirt, a green Gatorade mustache outlining his upper lip and a ratty baseball cap slapped on his head backwards. Ask him if he thinks he’s dressed appropriately for going out to dinner at a restaurant where you look down to read a menu and not up. When he answers, “Yeah, why?” you’ll know you’ve got your control group. Look into this boy’s backpack. Try not to laugh or cry. It won’t be easy. Next, have a conversation with your control group during which you attempt to explain the benefits of having an organized backpack. Here’s what to expect:

Before you are finished with your first sentence, his gaze will shift from your face to something compelling off in the distance, like a moth flying erratically, or a gentle breeze. After another sentence or two, he’ll begin glancing around, mentally plotting his escape. If your mouth stops moving for more than three seconds, he’ll take it as his prompt to speak. Expect him to say, “Uh huh” or if you’re really lucky, “Ok.” You’ll know the conversation is finished when it hits you that it may be simpler to just cook him and eat him than continue talking.

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that if the forensics teams who investigate crime scenes that involve parents and children would shift their focus one muddy tennis shoe to the left, they’d have their motive. Instead, they enter a room and ignore the obvious. Stepping over the ever-present backpack, they begin throwing ideas out in the effort to figure out just what the hell happened.

“Hey, Mack, look over here. An empty bottle of Prozac. Mom went off her meds.”

“I guess that about does it, Frank. C’mon, let’s go interview the neighbors.”

It’s troublesome to me that in crime dramas, entire cases are culled from interviews with the neighbors, as if the guy next door has some kind of supreme knowledge or ability to see through walls. What do neighbors know about what goes on in other people’s homes? As evidenced recently, neighbors don’t even know if a family of three is living in a tent on the other side of a fence not fifteen feet away from their summer cook-out – FOR EIGHTEEN SUMMERS IN A ROW!

On the way out the door, the detectives finally notice the backpack, unzipped for the world to see: Piles of wadded up papers, inch long pencils sharpened to a razor point, a binder with nothing in it, a couple of bent up cootie catchers and one dirty sock. How do they not see that something is very, very wrong with this situation?? Tsk, tsk, they think to themselves. The poor kid was probably just minding his own business, doing his homework and ka-POW!

I have a sneaking suspicion of my own. I think the last few minutes of the kid’s life included a conversation similar to the following:

“Mom, have you seen the rough draft of my report on Ancient Rome?”

“No. Have you checked your backpack?”

“It isn’t there. It’s not anywhere. It’s gone.”

“It must be in your backpack. Here, let me look.” (The beginning of The End.)

“Mom, it isn’t in there and I’ve got to find it! It’s due tomorrow!”

Opening the backpack, the fully confident mom is sure she will find the very same folder she watched her son label ‘History Homework’ at the beginning of the year. I mean, why the heck not?

Pulling out the bright red folder, the one that even a twelve-year old boy couldn’t miss from fifty feet away, mom holds it up. She smiles. She is proud of herself. Her son, on the other hand, isn’t feeling her joy. He’s scowling.

“I don’t keep it in there, MOM!”

Confused by his reply, mom keeps trying, in her patient mom voice.

“Where was it the last time you saw it?”

(The End is near.)

A cast iron frying pan on the stove catches mom’s eye. Her hand twitches. The boy responds:

“Right where I always keep it! Folded up under the placemat next to the cookie jar!”


The End.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What kind of busy are you?

So many people still ask me, “Why aren’t you teaching anymore” that I feel the need to make a formal statement. Since I don’t have a publicist (my 67-year-old dad bragging about his 43 year old daughter to his friends over coffee doesn’t count) I can’t call a press conference. I’ll just address it here, in my blog, which is read by roughly thirty-two people. Since about twenty of them live around here, I’ll count on them to spread the word so that I can shut up already and stop explaining myself. By the way, has anyone ever considered the fact that asking why a person has made a huge, life-changing decision might, in fact, be categorized under “not your business”? I mean, who goes around asking people, “How come you’re not married anymore, Doug?” or “Why’d you want to make your tits bigger, Bonnie?”

More and more, I understand what poor Brangelina must go through, not to mention Tiger Woods. Can’t a guy have his issues without the whole world poking its snorkeling mask into his fishbowl? Who gives a hoo-haw anyway? He’s getting laid. It’s a story as old as Adam and Eve. That’s right: Adam cheated – with himself! Trust me when I say, the original sin wasn’t eating the stupid apple. There was a man. There was a weenie. There was masturbation. Eve caught Adam abusing himself in the garden and ate the goddamn apple because she was stressed!

I quit teaching because I was beaten. I couldn’t fight the good fight any longer. The fight against what, you ask? The fight against insanity. See, I went from “insanely busy” while teaching high school English and attempting to raise four children (ages 10, 9, 8 and 8 at the time I surrendered) to “crazy busy” now that I’m a freelance writer (again), working from home. Keep in mind, I use the term “working” loosely, especially since my tax preparer pointed out to me the other day, “You really need to be making money to write things off.” That uplifting statement came on the heels of this: “Is this the extent of your writing income?” while holding my 1099’s between her thumb and forefinger like it was a hairy spider. “Um, yes,” I answered, bowing my head in the kind of shame known only by fully conscious morons. Luckily, I’m the sort of sick individual who is motivated by a thorough ass-chewing, so I’m ramping up the effort to stop making a coma at writing and actually make a living. (If you don’t think a tax-preparer making thinly-veiled insults about your income is humiliating, then I guess we have slightly different sensitivity levels. That, or you couldn’t catch a clue with a butterfly net. Only you know for sure.)

Back to why I quit. My goal is to eventually downgrade the rating of “crazy busy” to somewhere in the neighborhood of “mildly kooky busy.” I’d never be so idealistic as to expect to just be plain old “busy.” Miss Merry Sunshine I am not. I hate that bitch. She’s busy painting her nails.

If I could just get my kids to simultaneously shut the hell up for thirty seconds, and my husband to pile all of the household chores, cooking, homework help, meaningful conversations, errands, appointments and shopping, onto his plate next to teaching full time, coaching basketball and softball, occasional side jobs painting houses, rocking my world on demand and the chores he already does, I could get somewhere with this writing thing.

There’s an agent out there somewhere who has that weird feeling he’s forgetting something. He can’t put his finger on it, but he will. Soon, he’ll be sifting through his slush pile and there will be a manila envelope addressed to him, complete with wine stains and maybe a booger helping to hold the stamp in place. In the top left corner, he’ll see my name: Surreal Busy Housewife.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Top Ten Lists, Deconstructed

I hate top ten lists. Mainly, I hate them because at best, only two or maybe three entries are actually funny. Typically, it’s the first one on the list, (#10) because that gets the ball rolling and sucks you in; #8 is usually funny because if there were two duds in a row that soon, the listener or reader would bail. Then comes the lull, or several barely amusing entries that keep you hoping for a funny finale, #1. If it's good, you're happy about hanging in there for numbers 7 - 2. If it's not good, you're sort of numb, wondering what went wrong. The list started so cleverly, had so much promise.

Why can't people just stop when they're ahead? Why is our society obsessed with more, more, more? In my opinion, Top Ten lists are about three times as long as they should be.

The reason I like the idea of Top Two lists is because there is a fifty-fifty chance of actually laughing, given that even a moron can come up with at least one funny thing to say about nearly any topic.

For example, here is the Top Two Ways to Know You Are an Italian Woman:

#2: You wear a sweater instead of a bathrobe over your pajamas in the morning.
#1: When your hands start moving during a tense conversation, people leave the room.

I have friends who are more Italian than me who could probably come up with several more, but that’s about it for me right now. I could add one more (#3: Your Thanksgiving table features a platter of homemade ravioli in the center, and a sad turkey off to the side) but that’s only slightly amusing. Better to quit while you’re ahead, I always say.

I sometimes think of funny lists while I’m taking a shower. Anything to keep my mind off the obvious. For example, one morning, I thought of The Top Two Reasons Not to Take a Shower While Drunk. The entries were easy and obvious. In fact, it was one list where I could have gone on and on; but I didn't. I kept it brief, witty and real. So, here they are, The Top Two Reasons Not to Take a Shower While Drunk:

#2: You might spill your drink.
#1: Alcohol and razors don't mix.

While Top Two lists pop into my head at normal times, like when I’m showering, there are other times when it seems inappropriate, or at least odd, to have one occur to me. Example: At exactly the time we were supposed to be pulling away from the house and driving to school the other morning, I found myself in the middle of a pointless argument with my twelve year old son about whose fault it was, his or mine, that most of his socks were missing. I was so inspired that on the spot I came up with The Top Three Reasons Why I Should Run Away From Home:

#3: It’s finally time to find the lucky woman who went home from the hospital with my baby
#2: I’d have a six hour head start, since that’s when the next meal is and they’ll notice I’m not in the kitchen cooking it
#1: On any given day, SEVEN dust-ridden socks are living under my son’s bed

Feel free to leave your own Top Two, or at the most, Top Three lists under ‘comments’, but please, don’t bore me with numbers 7 – 2.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Solutions on a silver platter

Sometimes kids just need a little help figuring things out. I know the current trend in child-rearing is to stay out of their hassles whenever possible, let them problem solve and all that crap, but is it worth it when you feel you might have a stroke if you listen for one more second to their ridiculous arguments?

It happened just the other night. My four children decided a game of inside hide-and-seek was in order. Keep in mind, our inside hide-and-go-seek has one slight adjustment from the traditional, outdoor, no-holds-barred, flying-through-the-air-to-the-base version I grew up playing.

The kids aren’t allowed to run in the house, so the first person found in each round is “it.” This creates a slightly more competitive mood, which is basically the last thing my kids need. They do “insanely competitive” all by themselves. In the indoor version, a perfect hiding place is imperative. I once caught one child pulling the empty racks out of the dishwasher, preparing to climb inside it. I asked her how she planned to close the door. She had no answer. I didn’t even have to say, “Get the hell out of the dishwasher!” which was what I was thinking. All I had to do was illuminate the problem and she solved it. She went and got the plunger and stuck it to the inside of the door. See, I pay attention to those books once in awhile.

Other times, it’s not so easy.

On this particular night, as I sat in the reading room, reading the same paragraph over for the tenth time, I had to step in and say something when I heard the following exchange, or some similar variation for the twentieth time. Keep in mind, the conversationalists, such as they were, were at opposite ends of a 3500 square-foot, two-story house.

“I need more time! Seventy seconds isn’t enough!”

“Yes it is!”

“No it isn’t; I need eighty seconds!”

“No you don’t, Jackson. Just find a spot."


Fine! I’ll count to seventy-five.”

"What? No way! That’s only five more seconds. Kee, that’s not enough time! You always count longer when you and your friends play!”

“Nuh-uh! I’m counting now! One, two, three, four…”

“Kee, stop! Wait! What are you counting to? Eighty? Keely?"

“…five, six, seven…”


“Everybody freeze!”

That was me. I had to step in and settle this, once and for all. I continued:

“Count to 100. That’s it, every time. If you can’t find a hiding place by then you are disqualified from that round. You will spend the time dusting the bookshelves while everyone else plays. I’ll get the Pledge.”

Miraculously, there was no more complaining about the counting. In fact, the counter slowed down a step, knowing that if even one person was disqualified, it would throw off the whole dynamic. Everyone knows you can’t play hide-and-go-seek with just three people.

Problem solved.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Goodfellas guide to multitasking

Martin Scorsese is a scene-stealing phony who clearly staked out my house for years before baking all of his notes into a mafia-themed film version of a rich ziti, dripping with cheesy, philandering husbands, drugged out hoo-ahs (whores in Jersey) and marinara-making wiseguys. Of course, a drugged out whore and a philandering husband do not live in my home, but there is marinara sauce and cheese, and the insanity of multi-tasking.

The similarities are close enough. After all, what do you think those disclaimers of "any person resembling these characters, living or dead is a coincidence" are all about?

Just dreamed it up out of thin air, right Marty?

My red, runny nose you did.

The latest installment of Goodfellas of Amador County happened just a few days ago, when I got that all too familiar feeling of being in the weeds without a whacker. I had a raging head cold. Snot flowed. Someone had rearranged my face.

My plate was so full it would have fed my mom (she's Italian.) My suburban thundered forth through the highways and biways of my town like an '88 Caddy, bags of guns and money (groceries and hospice donations) in the trunk and a helicopter that circled overhead (the clock) watching my every move.

My moves, by the way, were legendary. In the next ten minutes I had to lose the helicopter, pick up two kids, drop one off at basketball practice, make a stop at the hospital, the doctor's office and the beauty salon and get home in time to fulfill the promise I made to my husband that morning to make his favorite dish - Chicken Cacciatore - and still have all of us on the couch for American Idol at eight. The pressure was on.

No time for getting stuck at a light, I whipped a right turn into the gas station, cut the corner and popped out on the other side of the intersection, narrowly ahead of the school bus instead of stuck behind it. Basketball practice started in five minutes. Calling the coach, who doubled as my husband, and claiming a flat tire was not an option. I needed a plan.

I sped, I dialed, I broke the law. I watched the helicopter. I wiped my nose on my sleeve as my 9 year old answered the phone.

"Landry, listen; I need you to do something."


"LANDRY! It's me!! Where's Jay?"


"LANDRY! Turn away from the television. Listen carefully. Ready? Go tell Jackson to make sure he's ready for practice. Tell him to get his water and a sweatshirt and be outside in front of the house. I'm two minutes - no wait - tell him I'm thirty seconds away. GO NOW AND TELL HIM!!"

"Mom, can I have a snack?"

"Landry! Go do what I said NOW!"

"Fine." (sound of phone being put even closer to her mouth)


"Mom, when did you say you were coming home?"


"JAAACCCKKKSOOOON MOM IS OUTSIDE NOW WAITING FOR YOU! Um, Mommy?" she said in that sweet voice that basically ends my hysteria for the moment, lest I have to crown myself Worst Mother Ever and Eternal.

"Yes, sweet pea. What's up?" I said, wiping my nose.

"Mom, what do we have to eat?"

"Honey, I'll be back soon. I've got to run some errands," I said, hissing at my son to hurry up and shut the door as he poured himself slowly, one appendage at a time, plus his gym bag, into the front seat. "Bye, hon, see ya in a bit," I said to my daughter.

"Mom but wait I -" I hear as I snap the phone shut.

I pulled away from the house. Did I see a second helicopter? I knew I didn't have much time. If I cut through the abandoned car dealership behind the school, I'd be able to go left at the highway and sneak through the bank parking lot to the back of the elementary school where daughter number two was waiting. But first, I had to pick up more drugs (x-rays) from my dealer (the hospital) for my buyer (Dr. Pinhead) who seems to have perfected the art of needlessly billing insurance companies by ordering bi-weekly x-rays of a minor arm fracture. But before I did that, I had to get my son to the airport (gym) to catch his flight to Panama (basketball practice) because if I didn't the supplier (my husband) would break my kneecaps (give me that hateful "I'm-very-disappointed-in-you" look).

We pulled up in front of the airport terminal (gym entrance) and I shoved my son, his gear bag full of guns and money (basketball and water bottle) out the door. The bag popped open when it hit the ground. We were on a hill. Everything splattered. Drugs and hundred dollar bills were everywhere.

"Mom, what are you doing?"

"Haveagoodpracticeseeyalaterbye," I spewed as his shoes tumbled down the hill toward the bricks of cocaine (basketballs).

I roared away, already planning the five minutes I'd have between getting home after making all my drops and being at my eyebrow waxing appointment in the next town. I needed to get a head start.

Opening my phone, I pushed the buttons with my thumb, kept one eye on the phone and the other on the highway. With my other eye, I watched the helicopter watch me.

"Landry it's mom. I need you to get something out of the freezer in the garage and put it in the microwave to defrost."

"What? Mom, where are you?"

"I'm in the car. Just listen. Put the phone down and go out to the freezer and take out a package of heroin."



"Okay, okay. How long do I put it in the microwave for?"

"Just push 'defrost-1-start'. That's all you have to push. 'Defrost-1-start.'"

"What are we having?"

"Chicken cacciatore."

"Mom, are you talking on the cell phone while you're driving?"

"You're cutting out. Gotta run."

I glanced at the helicopter: the guns (groceries) had been in my trunk for more than an hour; the drugs (ice cream, frozen fish sticks) wouldn't last much longer. I wiped my nose on my sleeve again, watching the helicopter. I decided to bypass the stop at home and instead go straight to my next drop (eyebrow wax).

Forty-five minutes later, I pulled into the garage. I went into the house. A frozen pork roast sat on the counter - next to the microwave. A note lay beside it.

"Honey - Basketball practice cancelled - the band needed the gym. Meet us at Round Table."

I walked straight to the safe (wine rack) and pulled out my handgun (Zinfandel).

Then, I pulled the trigger.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It takes a stink to raise a man-child

Let’s see….where to begin. Have I ever mentioned that my 12-year old son is a solid B student, gifted athlete, handsome devil, but living schizophrenically in two worlds? Not only that, he can pull you over to the dark side in just one sentence. Conversing with him is like being adrift on Lake Michigan in a cardboard box and no sail. If you sit perfectly still, the best you can hope for is calm seas. Try and lean one way or another to affect the direction and you might as well call it a day.

While I usually know right where I stand with regard to any of my three daughters, (“My hair is fine. Go away.”) with my son it’s a bit trickier to discern exactly what he needs from me at any given moment. See, he’s twelve and seems to have a foothold in both boyhood and adolescence. One minute he’s gooning around in his annoying sing-song voice, happy and carefree. Then, the phone rings. I answer it and tell him it’s for him. He takes the receiver. The sound that comes out when he says hello alerts me to the fact that he’s hiding some kind of sound-activated bass device in his sweatshirt. Mono-syllables squeeze forth in a forced baritone:

“Yeah. What’s up….Yeah. Yeah. Wait. I’ll ask. Mom. Can I go to DJ’s? Yeah. See ‘ya.”

Then, the phone call is over. Click.

“Wah-wah-wah, aaaaaahhhh-puuuukowie-neener!!” he yells, scooting along the kitchen floor in his oversized tennis-shoe slippers, chasing the dog out of the kitchen.

See what I mean? My little goofball one second, someone’s knight-in-shining-pre-pubescent-armor the next.

The troubling part is that he seems completely fine with his dual-personality. It’s me that is left scratching my head one second and on the verge of a psychotic break the next. Like the other night when I went into his room to tell him goodnight. I found him standing in the middle of the room looking around at nothing in particular. This is normal. That he was also wearing the underarmor he’d had on during his basketball game a few hours earlier struck me as odd.

“Are you going to sleep in the shirt you had on under your basketball uniform?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said with that half-grin that told me he at least saw the door I was opening – whether he would choose to walk through it was another matter.

“Sheesh, Jay, how can you sleep in a shirt you just played a game in? You might get away with it now, but you won’t get away with it when you start to smell…” my voice trailing off to that mumblespeak that always serves as an introduction to the topic of puberty. He really perked up at that point.

“Well, do I smell? I’ve been wondering. I don’t know what it smells like,” he said in his man-child baritone. He also seemed….eager.

Now it was I who stood in the middle of the room, staring at nothing in particular. I was at a crossroads – a body odor fork in the road. Now what? I wondered. In an instant, I did what any caring mom would do. I lifted my arm.

“Here. Take a whiff,” I said. I knew there was only one way to paint this picture for him.

“Well, can you smell me first?” he asked. I said sure. I knew I’d smell a whole lot of nothing, but I played along.

“Nope, I don’t smell a thing really. Now you try it,” I said, offering up the Mother of all pits.

“Ewwww!!!! I gotta go poooootttttty…” my son squealed, flapping his arms from side to side with elbows pinned to his torso, flying out of the room and down the hall.

Just when they think they’re all grown up, they remind you there’s still a little time left.