Tuesday, May 31, 2011

427. Thanks A Lot, Hollywood

If you ask my older son what his favorite movies are, he'll reply (in no particular order):  Star Wars (all 22 reincarnations), Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar, Ironman, Spiderman, and Batman.

He has seen none of these movies.  (And yet he is somehow familiar with all the action figures and related tie-in merchandise.)

Hollywood and its pretty girlfriend, Media, have brainwashed my seven-year-old child into wanting to see (and possibly believing that he has already seen) all these movies. He watches a commercial on TV for the latest installment of Pirates, and the futile begging begins.

“Please can I go see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Mommy, please-please-please-please-please?”


“Why?” (why is drawn out to its natural eight whiny syllables, with emphasis on all of them: “Why-iii-iiiiii-iiiiii-iiiii-iiiii-iiiii-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii?”)

“Because it’s not a kid movie. Sorry.” I shrug. I am praying that we can change the subject.

“Well, if it’s not a kid movie, then why are the commercials on the channels that show cartoons?”

He has a point.

“Tall, come on. Let’s go to the computer and look at the rating for the movie.”

Thank God some intelligent parent before me fought for ratings on all the movies. I show him where it says “Rated R” and what the “R” means: must be 17. He reads the fine print and starts jumping up and down like he’s won the lottery.

“Mom! Mom! Mom! It says, ‘unless accompanied by a parent’! See?? You or Pop can go with me! I AM allowed to see it! Yay! Thank you so much!”

Wait—what just happened here?

“No, Tall; we are NOT seeing it. End of discussion.”

Then the pouting begins, followed by name-calling. A few doors are slammed. I am witnessing the precise type of aggressive behavior found in the R movies that I refuse to take my children to.

Why can’t we go see a sweet little Winnie the Poo movie? How about some dancing animated chickens? Since when do we have to watch guns and loud explosions to be entertained?

“When I was your age,” I say, channeling a Wise Old Parent like Carol Brady or Bill Cosby, “we liked to watch Cinderella.”

“That explains a lot,” says Tall under his breath.

Yes, I guess it does.

(“Media—Oy, Vey!”)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

426. Memory Lane or Purgeville

(Thank you up front to my blogger pal, Megan, for the idea.)

I am throwing a party in one week, and my mental preparations easily rival the planning for the Royal Wedding. Except maybe Kate and Will didn’t actually put as much thought into cleaning as I have.

My party will be on our back patio, so the guests-wandering-inside-factor will mercifully be kept to a minimum. However, we are serving beverages, and beverages mean bathroom breaks. Unfortunately, the guest bathroom is attached to the guest bedroom. Which is a very large junk drawer merely disguised as a bedroom (at least I think there’s a bed underneath there somewhere).

Oh, yes. For the past two years since we’ve moved in, any time we don’t have a spot for something (and it is too “nice” to go in the garage), it lands in the guest room. Toys and clothes the boys have outgrown? Put them in the guest room. Art projects we started but didn’t finish? Guest room, in the closet with the guilt. Negatives of photos that are already tucked safely in albums and we will most likely never need again? Dump ‘em in the guest room, right next to the nostalgia. Screenplay I wrote when I dreamt of becoming a Hollywood legend? Guest room dresser, on top of the regret.

You can see how it is getting crowded in there.

I wake up at 4 AM in a panic:  I must purge that room. I take everything out until the bed is once again visible (mint green sheets! who knew?), and place it all in a giant heap on the floor of the adjacent large basement room (code name: “gym”) for further inspection and dissection.

My years of watching all those TV shows about clean sweeping and ultimate garage sale-ing and maximum organizing are about to pay off. I diligently sort my precious possessions (code name: “junk”) into four piles: Keep, Keep, Think About Keeping, and Really Should Keep.

Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention when I watched those shows after all.

I get out a book on organizing (I found it in the Really Should Keep pile). Aha!—the books says the piles are actually called: Keep, Trash, Donate, and Sell. I can’t be bothered with the Sell pile, so I wonder if “re-gift” would be an acceptable alternative? I look down at the slew of items bought on sale with every intention of giving to the appropriate people.


I wonder if other people have piles of un-gifted gift items waiting to be gifts. Is it like the gestation of a baby—buy the gift (conception), hold onto the gift (nine months or possibly longer), and then finally give the gift (birth)?  And, like childbirth, is the stockpiling of gifts an exclusively female domain?

The Trash pile is growing (manual for a stove we no longer own, chipped coffee mugs, cracked wood cutting board), as is the donate pile (baby monitor, mystery electrical cords that don’t seem to go to anything, mismatched dishes, kitchen items for my fantasy alter ego—Chef Cooksalot). But then there’s that damn Keep pile.

Do I need the black and red giraffe made out of salvaged metal? No, but I like him (and how do I know it’s a him and not a her?). Could my life go on without the extra Scrabble pieces that inexplicably made their way into this pile? Yes, but shouldn’t I at least try to get them back to their game, which may or may not be in the front hall closet? Must I keep the plastic mouth-guard for bleaching my teeth even though I am allergic to the whitening solution? No, but it was expensive to have the molds cast, and maybe they’ll come up with a new improved whitener.

Several hours evaporate, as does my energy level. I am left with a shockingly clean guest room (hey, Oakley! come visit!), and three piles of stuff. I discard the Trash, find drawer and closet space for the Keep things, then stare guiltily at the Donate pile.

The Donate pile blinks up at me. “I remember when you bought me!” cries the Red Ceramic Loaf Pan that does not bake evenly. It’s friend, Extra Set Of Silverware calls out, “You’ll regret getting rid of me, mark my words!” But I am ruthless. I ignore the things and walk out.

I hear them talking to each other and laughing. “It’s okay,” says Broken Lamp, “her husband will get us out of here.”

("Messy Or Victorious?")

Friday, May 27, 2011

425. The Story of Oscar

My sister, Oakley, got married in 2001. She and her new husband decided that for their honeymoon, they would quit their jobs and backpack around the world for a year. Everyone thought this was a marvelous plan. Everyone, that is, except Oscar.  Their cat.

Actually, they didn’t really consult with Oscar before their big adventure; they consulted with me.

“MOV?” said Oakley, in that sticky-sweet tone of voice reserved only for Really Big Favors, “couldyouwatchmycatplease?”

“What was that?”

“Uh, could you watch my cat please?”

“Wash your hat?”

“Watch. My. Cat.”

“Sure. For the weekend?”

Well …”

I do love cats, and we didn’t own a cat at the time, so The Husband and I readily agreed. We adore Oscar, the creamsicle-colored cat, and we were happy to have him live with us.

Now, Oscar is not what you might call “skinny.”

As a teeny kitten, he was rescued from certain death in the trash Dumpster behind Target. Traumatized, he never fully recovered from his fear of lack of food.

Oakley loved this pitiful anorexic tabby kitten and fed him food whenever he meowed. Which was all the time.

Flash forward to Oscar living with me and The Husband. I was a flight attendant at the time, and often I would leave the house at 4 AM. Oscar, who would normally get up at a more civilized hour, like 6 AM, would sense that an opportunity for food was available.
He would leap up and start meowing to be fed. He was a loud meower. I did not want him to wake up The Husband, so I would think to myself, “What harm can it do to feed him a little bit earlier than normal?”

Later, when I would arrive in Chicago after flying to Philadelphia or Boston, I would call The Husband from my hotel and we would chit chat about our day. The topic of Oscar would inevitably arise.

“That cat is so funny. He begged me to feed him at 4 AM before I flew, so …”

“You didn’t though, did you?” interrupted The Husband.

“Well, yeah ... why?”

“You did? Are you sure? Because when I got up, he acted like he was starving, and he went right over to his food bowl and gave me the most pathetic look.”

“Are you kidding me? He’s a con artist. I swear I fed him.”

No 17-pound ball of sunset-colored fur was going to scam me again. The next time I had to leave the house before The Husband woke up, I left him a note taped right next to Oscar’s food bowl.

Later that afternoon, I phoned The Husband from my layover in Maui.

“How is the weather, MOV?” he asked, trying to contain his envy.

“Oh, just terrible. Eighty degrees and sunny. Light ocean breeze. You would hate it.”

“Ha ha. Hey, I have a quick question for you: did you feed Oscar before you left?”

I scrunched up my face into thinking mode. Of course I fed Oscar! I even left a note! Didn’t I? Wait—was that today? or yesterday? When was it? Maybe all that altitude change and jet-lag was getting to my brain and I was hallucinating.

“I did feed him,” I finally declared confidently, “And I left you a note that he’d been fed. I put it right by the food dish; didn’t you see it?”

“Yeah, I saw the note. It’s just … well, he was ravenous, so I thought the note might be, umm, an old note.”

“An ‘old’ note?” I queried.

“Yeah, old. So I fed him.” I could hear him shrugging through the phone lines.

“Sweetie, listen. We have to stop double feeding him. I’m serious. My sister gets back in eight months, and if we keep feeding him at this rate, he’ll be obese. It’s not healthy. You have to stop. If I leave a note, it’s a new note.”

“Okay,” he said sheepishly, “You’re right. Maybe you could write the date on the note, so there’s no doubt?”

A few weeks later, I got another pre-dawn assignment from United. As I shuffled around the kitchen trying to make a cup of coffee, there was Oscar, Velcroed to my feet.  I put his food in his bowl and he gobbled it up as if it was his last meal on Earth.  Fifteen seconds later when he was done, I remembered what The Husband and I had agreed on.  I grabbed a small notepad and scribbled a quick note (including the date) and taped it by his bowl.

There was no room for interpretation now.

I called The Husband from Des Moines.

“Hi, Sweetheart! How was your day?”

After the niceties were out of the way, we got down to business. “Tell me you did not feed Oscar twice. Tell me you got the note.”

“What note?” asked The Husband innocently.
“I never saw a note.”

A month went by and The Husband and I decided to go to New York for a few days. I asked one of our neighbors, Marlene, if she could feed Oscar.

“Oh, geesh, MOV, do you have anyone else to do it? I don’t know that much about cats.”

“Marlene, really, it is so easy. All you have to do is give him one scoop of food, and some fresh water. We usually feed him at 6 AM, half a scoop, and then again at 6 PM, another half a scoop. But honestly, you don’t have to come twice a day, you can just come once a day. Give him one whole scoop instead. It’s the same amount either way. You can swing by this Thursday and I’ll introduce you to him and walk you through everything. Okay?”

The day before our trip, I showed Marlene where we kept Oscar’s food.

“Why do you keep the food in the laundry room with the door closed?” she asked.

“Oh, we found out early on that he’ll try to get into the food if it’s left out. That cat is always hungry.”

“Doesn’t look it,” she mumbled under her breath.

We had a wonderful time sight-seeing in New York. We relaxed because we knew that Oscar was in capable hands. After we returned home, I walked next-door to get the key back from Marlene.

“How’d it go with Oscar?”

“Fine. Fine. He’s so cute. Oh, it was funny the first day, because I just spaced out and could not remember where you stored the food. So I was opening all these cupboards, looking for it, and then Oscar is doing figure-8’s around my leg and then he darts off toward the laundry room and starts scratching at the door. He was, like, My food’s in here!”

I laughed. Typical Oscar.

“Yeah, that’s pretty funny, Marlene, because we actually sing this little song to Oscar, show-me-what-you-want-to-eat-show-me-what-you-want-to-eat, and he goes zipping on over to the giant canister. Hilarious!”

I handed her a bottle of Merlot for her trouble. “So everything was good then?” I ask.

“Well … uh, I couldn’t remember how much you said, if it was one scoop or two scoops, so—”


I cut her off. “No, no, it was only one scoop, remember? Two half scoops makes one scoop, but you were only going to come over once a day …”

“Oh, half a scoop? I guess I should’ve written it down. Well, anyway, so I came by twice a day and gave—”


“Ack! You came by twice a day?” I struggled to keep my tone calm. “Uh, I thought we agreed you were just going to stop over once a day and feed him twice as much?”

“I know, I know, it’s just I felt guilty that he would be all alone and hungry, so I came by at 8 AM and 8 PM every day. MOV, he was absolutely starving. He would look at me with his cute furry face, and I knew that I must be feeding him the wrong amount.”

“So let me get this straight: you fed him two scoops twice a day?” This was four times his normal amount.

“Uh, yes. I guess so.”

I resisted the urge to snatch the bottle of wine back out of her hand.

“Well, MOV, I’m sorry if it was the wrong amount. I started with only one scoop, because I swear that is what I thought you told me, but then he refused to eat. He looked down at the bowl, and then back up at me and he waited. He was like, Are you kidding me?

How could I be mad at Marlene? She’d been played.

Later that evening around 6:15 PM, while we tried desperately to ignore the incessant meowing of fake hunger, the Husband turned to me and said,

“I don’t think we should ever have kids. Obviously, we would spoil them rotten and give them whatever they want, and they would play us against each other, like pawns.”

Eventually, we did have kids. And The (clairvoyant) Husband was right: We do spoil them and they do try to play us against each other. But we’ve learned never to feed them quadruple the amount of food we’re supposed to.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

424. I'm Really Good At Everything

So The Husband makes an offhand remark the other day, along the lines of something about my hair.  He basically hints that it may be time for me to get my hair cut, or at the very least, my bangs cut.  Honestly, it's not like he's some sort of hair expert, so I really have no idea why he said that. 
I decide that maybe he is right.  I immediately call my hairdresser, and she tells me she can squeeze me into her schedule in three weeks.

Three weeks?  That is, like, a totally different month on the calendar!  Who knows how long my bangs will be at that point.

But that's okay, because I am good at everything.  I own a pair of scissors and a mirror; how hard can it be.

There.  Much better.  I hear The Husband knocking on the bathroom door.

"MOV?  Did I see you go in there with scissors?  You're not cutting your own bangs, are you?  Don't you remember what happened last time?"  He sounds a little frantic.

I inspect my bangs again, and realize they might need a tad bit of evening out.
Oops.  Damn mirror.  Damn scissors.  Damn hand. 

I work on them some more. 

This is definitely shorter than I initially intended.  Much shorter.  But at least they are straight.

(Oh, I just realized something.  Everyone knows I highlight my hair, and I currently have some serious roots showing.  So, my bangs are not, ahem, quite as blond as I am portraying them to be in the picture.)
My hair appears to be like the test-phase of a Barbie multi-colored wig gone dangerously wrong.  The Husband takes one look at my new "style," and shakes his head. 

"Oh, Sweetie," he murmurs, "not again."

That's okay.  There is one other thing I am really good at besides cutting hair:  buying baseball caps.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

423. Smile for the Camera!

I was organizing some photos on the shelf today.  I have been known to take a photo or two of my kids from time to time.  I glanced at the bookcase and realized that there were not really that many pictures of The Husband, or me for that matter: 

Every single photo was of Tall and Short. 

It was like The Husband and I just did not even exist. 

I decided to do something about it.  I took down about half of the photos, then I got out my best sterling silver 8 x 10 frame so I could put this lovely photo of The Husband up (taken on our wedding day):

(He is such a cuddly bear.)  Just 173 more photos of The Husband to go before we're caught up with Tall and Short.    


422. Turtle

This is getting ridiculous! 

421. Pictures! Drawings! I Can Draw!

Oh, will the excitement ever end!  Here are my new drawing friends hopping around with the thrill that MOV had learned what her computer is capable of!  Hurray! 

420. Look Who Knows How to Draw Now

(ok, I didn't say draw well)

One of my girlfriends popped over at lunch time to tutor me in Things My Computer Can Do But I Am Too Dumb to Have Noticed Before.  I begged her to teach me how to do some computer drawing stuff, and she said yes.  Yay, Friend!  Yay, computer!  Yay, me!

So, here is the result below, which is our lovely house in California with the original paint colors before we rebelliously changed it to navy and white because of our nosy neighbor. 

I'm an artist! (Warning:  this may change the way I blog FOREVER.)


419. All Children Are Bipolar

Bipolar (bi-pol’er) adj. definition:

"A mood disorder also called manic-depressive illness or manic-depression that characteristically involves cycles of depression and elation or mania.

"The mood deviations from high to low and back again are typically abrupt, dramatic, and rapid; but, they can also be gradual and slow, with intervals of seemingly normal moods. The symptoms of both the depressive and manic cycles can be severe, and often lead to impaired functioning.

"Both phases of the ailment are dangerous. Mania affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that may cause serious problems and embarrassment. For example, unwise financial decisions may be made when an individual is in a manic phase. Depression can also affect thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that may cause grave problems. For example, it elevates the risk of self-inflicted injuries, either intentional or accidental."

After reading the definition of bipolarism, I realized that not only are my children bipolar, but all children in the entire world are bipolar, too.

After doing further Internet research, I uncovered even more evidence to support my theory:

"Depression might be identified by:

• Sleeping much more than usual
• Being tired all the time but unable to sleep
• Having bouts of uncontrollable crying
• Becoming entirely uninterested in things you once enjoyed
• Becoming unable to make simple decisions
• Paying no attention to daily responsibilities

"Mania might include:

• Feeling like you can do anything, even something unsafe or illegal
• Needing very little sleep, yet never feeling tired
• Dressing flamboyantly, spending money extravagantly, living recklessly
• Indulging in high-risk behaviors
• Experiencing delusions
• Feeling filled with energy
• Causing embarrassment to self and others"

My children (and all the children in the world) clearly fit these clinical descriptions in all areas.

Children are over-tired yet won’t go to sleep. Then they pass out for twelve hours.  They have frequent bouts of uncontrollable crying (usually involving a stolen Pokemon card, or their favorite TV show being turned off at dinner time). They become uninterested in things they used to really enjoy, such as building towers out of blocks (“Blocks are for babies, Mom, you should give those away!”). They are unable to make a simple decision between orange juice or milk. They ignore their daily responsibilities by refusing to clear the table or put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Yep, all the classic signs of depression.

Next, I looked at the mania list.

Children feel like they can do anything, even unsafe things like climbing tall trees or six-foot brick walls (while they laugh at you when you beg them to get down). They wake up one hundred times a night, and miraculously do not seem tired (“MOMMY, I WANT TO PLAY DRUMS RIGHT NOW!”). They dress flamboyantly in red plaid shorts with an orange-striped shirt, and they make bad financial decisions by foolishly spending their entire allowance on a crate of Doritos and silly bands. They indulge in high-risk behaviors, such as trying to stand on top of two soccer balls stacked together without falling (“I saw this guy on TV do it, Mom!”).

They suffer from delusions (“I already did all my homework.”). They are filled with energy, even as they drain the energy from innocent bystanders (sweet people like parents and teachers and shop-keepers). They cause embarrassment as they knock over displays of cat food stacked precariously high at the local grocery store, or as they shriek loudly at Starbucks while the beleaguered parent simply tries to purchase her quadruple grande latte to get her through the day. Looks like mania is covered, too.

I never knew that I was signing on for this. Babies always looked cute in the diaper ads, and even messy toddlers looked appealing when I would catch glimpses of them at the airport or in Nordstrom’s. No one told me I would someday be living with two bipolar people under four feet tall, and not only that, I would cheerfully cater to their every bizarre whim.

What can I say? I’m a mom.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

418. Neighborzilla

I have always been lucky my whole life when it comes to neighbors. The Universe has grinned benevolently and remarked, “Let’s give MOV the neighbor who makes homemade brownies and offers to watch her cat when she goes out of town.” So it came as somewhat of a surprise when The Husband and I bought our first house in California and lived next-door to Neighborzilla.

Oh, sure, she seemed nice enough the first time we met her, saying friendly good-neighborish things like, My favorite dry cleaner is Dazzle, or Here’s my electrician’s phone number, or Have you discovered the Caffeine Lounge yet? I got out my little notebook and scribbled these helpful tips down, thanking her profusely for the recommendations.

A few weeks went by and we noticed that Neighborzilla was doing bizarre things, things like weed-whacking her sidewalk and leaf-blowing with her industrial leaf-blower at 6 AM.  Right outside our bedroom window.

“What is her deal?” The Husband asked me, as he groggily pulled the curtains shut. “Did you do something to piss her off?”

“Me? You’re the one who accidentally drove over her newspaper.”

Neighborzilla was 86 years old and retired. She had no family to speak of, and oodles of free time on her hands. She decided to invest all her extra time into noting our whereabouts.

“Your wife didn’t get home until 3 in the morning,” she informed The Husband one day, hoping to elicit a shocked reaction.

“I know, she’s a flight attendant,” The Husband replied nonchalantly.

When he told me about this conversation later, I first thought, “How sweet! She’s looking out for me!” and then I thought, “Wait—why is she up at 3 AM watching out the window for me?”

Neighborzilla repeatedly complained to us about our hideous exterior paint. The former owners, in a misguided attempt to make our Craftsman bungalow stand out, had painted it a teal green with burgundy trim. It looked like a bad Chinese restaurant.

“You know, MOV,” Neighborzilla would say, “Your house is the view I see from my windows. You really should do something about it.” Then she’d make a face as if she’d bitten into an exceptionally sour lemon.

The Husband and I pored over historically accurate books on paint colors and design. We lived in a beach community and wanted the house to look appropriate for the street. We finally settled on a dark navy blue with white trim and soft gray accents (porch ceiling, fine trim detail).

To be nice, I showed our planned color selections to Neighborzilla. This was the exact moment I realized she was bipolar.

“NAVY BLUE?!? Are you out of your mind?” she barked. “Why would you ever change the stunning green and red you already have?”

I started to laugh. I thought she was joking. I realized by the look on her face that she wasn’t.

“Don’t worry,” I said using my best soothing tone, the one I normally reserved for nervous first-time fliers. “Everything will turn out just fine. You’ll see.”

Everything would not turn out fine. It turned out, she tried to get us fined. After we had hired an expensive painter and the gorgeous new navy paint was barely dry, she reported us to the Historical Association of Los Angeles for non-compliance with pre-approved colors for preservation in Landmark neighborhoods.

A gentleman in a light blue seersucker suit, yellow bow tie, and straw hat (I’m not making this up) knocked on our door one afternoon. He looked like he should sit down with a good Mark Twain book and a mint julep.

I had just returned from a run, so I myself was not wearing a cute seersucker suit. I was in sweats and my hair was greasy. Hoping that he was here to tell me I’d won some sort of sweepstakes involving a free trip to New Orleans, I opened the door.

“Miss?” he began, “Is your dad at home?”

I was simultaneously flattered (my dad!) and annoyed (I am the homeowner!).

“Uh, no, uh … this is actually my house; how can I help you?”

“My name is Jackson Wyatt and I’m with the Historical Association. We’ve received some rather vocal complaints from your neighbors about your paint colors. I have to fine you $470. The navy blue is not on the list of pre-appro—”

My brain was a swirl of navy and white and green and red. $470?! It cost a thousand dollars to have the whole house painted; we certainly did not have an extra thousand left over to get it repainted again.

I cut him off. “Who turned us in?” I asked conspiratorially, “Was it her?” I was pointing in the direction of Neighborzilla’s house.

“Miss, that is irrelevant. And I am not at liberty to say. Anyway, I brought some alternate acceptable color choices for you to review and …”

“You can tell me. Was it her?” I couldn’t let it go.

He nodded his head yes, but said again, “I can’t say.”

I smiled. “Mr. Wyatt, first of all, there is not any type of homeowners' group in this area.  Second, my husband and I did a lot of research before we chose these colors.” I gestured to a teetering stack of books on the coffee table, “These colors might not be on YOUR list, but they should be added.”

Forty minutes and two tall glasses of fresh lemonade later, Jackson and I were sitting on the couch perusing the books and laughing like long-lost college buddies. He had agreed to sign a temporary waiver approving our colors while I submitted the proper paperwork to have the classic nautical color palette added to the acceptable choices for the Historical Association.

When The Husband returned home that evening, I filled him in on what had happened.

“Are you kidding me? $470? Who does she think she is?

We were beginning to sense a pattern with Neighborzilla, much like the five stages of grief. Neighborzilla’s five stages were: Interest, Inconsideration, Nosiness, Criticism, and Meddling.

Neighborzilla zipped on over like a pesky mosquito the next afternoon when I was out getting the mail.

“Hi, MOV!” she buzzed, “Anything new going on?”

“Nope.” I looked her right in the eye. “Same ol’, same ol’. Nothing new.”

Her demeanor shifted, “Uh, what about your paint?” She gestured toward the house.

“Don’t you love it?” I said sweetly. “This nice man came by from the Historical Association and he informed me that these were brand new colors that had just been added to the approved list!”

I knew it was a bit of a lie, but I wanted to see her squirm. Which she did.

“Those colors are NOT approved!” she screeched. “I know navy blue is not on the list!”

“Well, thank you so much for your concern. Oh, look, I have a coupon for Thai food,” I said, suddenly taking an intense interest in my junk mail. “Gotta run now!”

A few months later, we gave Neighborzilla the news that The Husband had accepted a job transfer back east. We were moving. She kindly offered to give me some extra boxes she had in her shed. I walked to her backyard with her when I saw him: a handyman who had just started painting the back of her house.

Navy blue.

(“Magenta, Orange, Violet”)

Monday, May 23, 2011

417. Don't Worry, I Didn't Really Say That To Her

We spent a few days in Hershey relaxing at their beautiful resort and enjoying the theme park. My adoration (bordering on obsession) of chocolate has been well-documented in this space. To put it succinctly, I am a chocolate snob.

So it should come as no surprise that Hershey chocolate is not something I ever buy at the store.

We mostly shop at Trader Joe’s, which has a shockingly good selection of high-quality chocolate. I’ve also been known to splurge on dark chocolate from specialty boutiques from time to time. Any friend who wants to impress me at Christmas or my birthday just buys me the largest size box of Godiva they sell. 

When I was a flight attendant, I was in seventh heaven when I would be assigned European layovers because the chocolate there was of such a higher caliber than American chocolate. I have been told that some types of handmade European chocolate must be consumed literally within days of creation due to the fresh ingredients and lack of preservatives. (You mean I have to eat my chocolate right away? Darn! That will be so hard!)

Arriving at Hershey and being surrounded by iconic chocolate such as Hershey bars, Kisses, Reese’s, Almond Joy, Kit Kat, York, etc. was like suddenly finding yourself inside your child’s Halloween trick or treat bag.

I stood in the gift shop (“Chocolate Island,” how original) staring at the shelves full of choices. I wanted to like this chocolate, I wanted to feel a rush of desire … but much like dating that short guy in my American History class in college, the feeling simply wasn’t there.

I walked out empty-handed.

When I returned to the room, The Husband said, “I thought you were going to the gift shop?” The Husband has known me long enough to know I have never met a gift shop I didn’t like, especially one where chocolate was involved.

“Yeah, uh, I’m not really a fan of milk chocolate,” I said lamely.

“Me neither. But I thought they sold lots of different kinds; don’t they sell dark?”

I shrugged like a bored teen-ager. “I guess.”

“Are you feeling okay?” asked The Husband, “Because at home you’re a chocoholic.”

“Yeah. I know. But it taste different. It tastes … sort of bland.” I made a face like if you found out today’s mail was all bills and ads. “Just not my preference.”

“Did you ask the girl in the gift shop for recommendations?”


For a split second, I imagine myself walking up to the sales counter during a rush and saying loudly, “Excuse me, but do you have any Godiva chocolate instead? I’m not a big fan of Hershey chocolate.”

I would probably be voted off the island.

(“Misses Other Varieties”)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

416. Packing 101

  • Horns
  • Ping pong
  • 11 $ or 44 25 cents
  • Camra
  • Shoes
  • Ball
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Tatoo
  • Finger puppet
  • “eyeball”
  • Bunny
  • Swimtrunks
  • Socks
  • Pencil
  • Silly bands
  • Books
  • Lego minifigures
Two days before our trip, Tall sits down at the dining room table and methodically starts writing out his packing list. I dab a proud tear from my eye as I realize he has obviously inherited my must-always-make-a-list-for-everything affliction. 

“Whatcha doin’, Sweetie?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.

“I’m making my packing list for Hershey, Mom. Do you think they’ll have rock climbing there?”

I choke on my coffee. “Rock climbing? Since when do you rock climb?”

“Well, I don’t … but I just want to be prepared in case it’s one of their activities.”

I read over his shoulder at what he’s written so far and I have to suppress a smile. Although it’s always good to bring a horn, finger puppets, and a tattoo with you on vacation, I typically bring more pedestrian accoutrements. Like clothes.

“Tall,” I begin cautiously, trying not to meddle too much, “What are you going to wear? I mean, uh, what about clothes?”

“I know, Mom,” he looks up from his list, “already thought of that.” He taps the page with his pencil. He is pointing at “swimtrunks” and “socks.”

Sure, I think to myself, who needs pajamas when you’ve got 11 $ or 44 25 cents in your pocket?

Speaking of which,

“Hey, Sweetie? What are all the quarters for?”

“Doritos,” he smiles. “Hotels usually have vending machines, right? I want to buy 44 bags of Doritos.”

To my knowledge, he has never eaten a Dorito. Our junk food fetish in this family runs more along the lines of KitKat bars, Twix, and m&ms; hence, the trip to the chocolate capital of the world. Plus, if they do sell Doritos (which they might, who knows), they probably costs more than 25 cents per bag.  I am thinking that Doritos must be part of some very clever commercials he's seen while watching cartoons. 

“Tall, save your money. I will buy you some Doritos if they have them. You can spend your own money on things you like, like toys.”

“Okay, thanks, Mom,” he says, waving me away like a distracting fly, “it might be a good idea to go pack your own things.”

I fight the Virgo tendency to make him write more practical things on the list, things like shirts, pants, and underwear. He is seven. Since we are driving and not flying, space is not an issue.  I will let him pack whatever he wants, and then I will secretly pack a separate bag for him.

After our long drive, we go for a relaxing swim in the hotel’s lovely indoor pool. Next, we go back to the room and change for dinner. After a delicious meal, we are exhausted and want to go to sleep. As The Husband, Short, and I start to get ready for bed, a look of panic flashes across Tall’s face.

“Mom! Oh, no!” he says, urgently, “I think I forgot to write pajamas on my list!”

“Don’t worry, Sweetie,” I say as I retrieve a small tote from the closet, “I packed a couple extra things for you, just in case.”

“Thanks, Mom,” he says, a note of relief in his voice, “Did you pack any worms?”


Saturday, May 21, 2011

415. OCD vs. Chocolate

You probably think I am the OCD one in this story. I’m not.

We stayed at the magnificent Hotel Hershey for three luscious days. The hotel was built in the early 1930’s, and reflects a classic Mediterranean style. Every detail has been meticulously thought out: the bubbly fountains, the perfect floral arrangements, the complimentary chocolate bars at check in, the stunning stained glass windows, the fluffy down pillows, the ... ubiquitous giant freestanding dispensers of Purell hand sanitizer.

Outside the restaurants, Purell. In the gift shops next to the cashier area, Purell. Bathrooms, duh.  Front desk, you guessed it. At the entrance of the indoor swimming pool, surprise (and as an aside, wouldn’t the pool chlorine eradicate any renegade germs?).

Someone (possibly a rep for Purell) had convinced the hotel to install four-foot tall dispensers (imagine a short floor lamp) anywhere people might be. That means everywhere.

At first, I was impressed. Hotel Hershey is so considerate!  Hotel Hershey doesn’t want me to get any nasty germs from sick guests! Hotel Hershey is watching out for my health! Then I took a look at the gorgeous jacquard fabrics on the couches and chairs in all the public areas.

Hershey doesn’t care if I get sick; Hershey just doesn’t want my messy children to get their sticky chocolate paws all over the expensive furniture.

Ah, Hershey must be Virgo.

(“Me—Original Virgo”)

Friday, May 20, 2011

414. The Square Root of Sleep

We planned our trip to Hershey meticulously. I specifically requested a quiet room far from the elevator, and preferably with a nice view of the gardens. I asked elaborate questions about the hotel’s restaurant menu, if there was a hair dryer in the room, and which roller coaster we should go on first according to the amusement park map that I saw online. What I forgot to ask was: how will the kids go to bed at 7 PM while The Husband and I prefer to stay up until 11 PM?

We did what we always did when faced with an ugly problem: ignored it.

7 PM came and went, and the boys’ behavior began to quickly deteriorate. We were so shocked by this. Why were they acting bratty on vacation?? They had only driven in the car all day to get here, and then eaten three full-sized chocolate bars a piece upon arrival (Hershey's secret code name:  crack for kids).  It was truly astonishing to us that they might be dangerously overtired or hyped up on sugar and ready to crash.

As the hands of the clock crept toward 9, we knew we had a potential crisis on our hands. We had to get them to bed this instant or face very unpleasant repercussions, such as crying hissy-fit screaming tantrums (from me, or possibly the boys as well).

Unfortunately, we could not afford a two room suite where we could tuck the boys in hours earlier while The Husband and I relaxed in the adjoining living room, drinking wine and watching movies. Thus, we were all squashed into two beds in a standard room with a blindingly-neon-bright overhead light that surgeons would envy. 

We got the boys into their pajamas and turned off the light.  The boys were asleep when their heads touched the pillows. I adjusted my own pillow and pulled up the covers. For about three seconds, I considered moving the overstuffed chair and ottoman into the bathroom so The Husband and I could at least play cards until 10. Instead, I lay there repeating But-I’m-not-tired-yet-but-I’m-not-tired-yet-but-I’m-not-tired-yet, like a Mantra.

We repeated this insanity for two more days: them getting tired, us not, and compromising by going to bed at 9.

During our drive home on the last day of our trip, The Husband and I brainstormed about how to deal with the sleep situation on future vacations. Take turns, with one of us going to the lobby to read? Not go on vacation again until one of them is 12? Take vacations by ourselves? Hire a nanny and make her go to bed at 7 with them?

We never resolved the issue. We arrived home, did some laundry, and got the boys into bed at their normal time. A little while later, I yawned and told The Husband I was going to bed now.

“You are?” he asked, “You’re sleepy already?”

I looked at the clock: it was 9 PM.

("Me, On Vacation")

Thursday, May 19, 2011

413. Hershey Rock Star

We packed up the car and headed to Hershey for a mini-vacation. We really wanted the boys to experience a fabulous amusement park, and we picked Hershey for two reason: 1. It was cheaper than Disney; and 2. It was cheaper than Disney.

One nice thing about going off-season and during the middle of the week is that the lines are shorter. What we did not really expect was: how much shorter. As in, nonexistent. That’s right: there were no lines. None. Zippo. If we especially liked a particular ride, we could just stay on it and go for a second time. Or third.

Does this sound like a smart thing? Oh sure, in theory it does. Go to Hershey off-season! No lines! The sad sad repercussion, however, is that now my children are ruined for life and will always believe lines don’t apply to them. In the future, if they see a potential crowd forming around, say, a popular roller coaster, they will yell out, “What is going on here? And who are all these people? I’ve never had to wait before!!!”

My children were little Rock Stars for three days. This must be what it feels like to be some famous singer or movie star and have the entire park close up just for you, or open two hours early to give you a private tour. We went on roller coaster after Ferris wheel after sky-ride after merry-go-round after train. Again. Again. My legs were cramping up, not from waiting in line like a normal person, but from running from ride to ride so we wouldn’t miss anything.

We saw everything we wanted to see in approximately 17 minutes.

There were a few clusters of high school kids there. After about the seventh time I made the joke of wish-I-went-to-THAT-high-school, someone let me know that they were actually there for a school project (!). Turns out they were part of the junior Western American Scientists Understanding Physics (WASUP) group, and they were doing crucial research on how things like roller coasters hold things like people in place when they are spinning upside down in impossible configurations. I looked at the group of kids and realized several could not even make sure their jeans were all the way up covering their bottoms; did they really think they could grasp the fundamentals of advanced aerodynamics?

Now that we are home, I flip through all the cute photos of Tall and Short on the rides. There is Short (by himself) on the kiddie helicopters! There is Tall and The Husband on the monorail (by themselves). There they are again (still just the two of them) on the Ferris wheel. There is Short on the miniature train, alone. Busy Bees, alone. Race cars, alone.

Our last photos are in the Hershey Gardens across from the hotel. Tall and Short are smiling in front of a fountain. It is the perfect shot, except for one thing: some tourists have wandered up right behind them.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

412. The Black Hole of The Garage

It has recently come to my attention that garages were initially designed to house cars. Who knew? We like to consider our garage as more of an annex of the house, or should I say giant storage closet.

Our garage had morphed from innocent free spot to store a few bikes and some empty cardboard boxes to full-blown storage unit containing an ancient refrigerator, extra wood doors, children’s toys, old paint from our last house, a floral-print couch, wheelbarrow, sawhorses, electrical cords, wooden crates, a desk from someone’s trash, and a broken piano.

The garage was a Black Hole of indecision. Should we keep the broken football? Put it in the garage and we’ll decide later. Do we really need 5000 boxes? Possibly—just keep them in the garage. Where did all these doors come from? Who knows—but there’s plenty of space in the garage in case we lose any in the house and need a quick replacement.

I decided it was becoming a problem when The Husband struggled to close the garage door after putting away something. What was he putting away? The lawnmower—the one thing we both agreed needed to be stored in the garage.

We got out the calendar, and with much military-precision caliber planning figured out a weekend to tackle the problem. We were both dreading the reality of dealing with our house’s giant junk drawer on steroids.

The Husband woke up early that day to pack his bag for Canada to get started on Operation Clean Out. I looked at my calendar hoping for some sort of forgotten salvation: a children’s birthday party, work at the high-end kitchen store, an emergency grocery shopping expedition … anything to get me out of cleaning the garage.

Seems I needn’t have worried. When I waltzed into the garage at the leisurely hour of 8 AM, the entire contents of the garage had already been emptied onto the driveway. I was confronted with a big, empty room.

My mind was racing—I could do so many things with this space. Art studio! Exercise room! Home office! Spa!  Mini-guest house!

Tall walked in and immediately claimed the space. “Oh, wow, this is so perfect for our top-secret fort,” he began.

Fort?” I queried, “Don’t forts belong in trees?” I was not giving up on my art studio/ exercise room/ home office that easily.

Short showed up about that time. “I get to have a new game room!” he chirped. “The air hockey table can go right over there.”

The Husband returned from his 700th trip to the driveway, sweating like an Olympic medalist. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“We were just discussing future plans for this space,” I offered enthusiastically.

“Ha! Well, don’t get any ideas because I’ve already mapped it out.  This is going to be Party Central.  I’m going to buy a flat screen TV and a pool table.”

I could not visualize putting my new art easel on top of a pool table.

“No, I don’t think so,” I contradicted. “I have other plans.”

“Too bad!” he cut me off, “You’re not the only one in this family, you know.”

Ignoring him, I began to explain the future color scheme. “Turquoise,” I said confidently, “we’ll need to buy some Tiffany-box turquoise to paint those ugly walls, install some French doors over here, and refinish those ceiling beams an antique white for contrast.”

“Beams?” The Husband pointed, “You mean those? Those are called rafters, and they are the perfect storage spot for my soon-to-be-purchased canoe.”

“Canoe?! Are you out of your mind? We are not buying a canoe.”

Ultimately, the garage did not become the home of my imaginary art easel or Short’s coveted air hockey game or The Husband’s fictitious pool table. The garage reestablished its secondary purpose after storing a car: shed. Now the wheelbarrow nestles up next to the lawnmower and a bag of fertilizer. A few pieces of sporting equipment hang neatly from hooks on the wall. Tools are housed in a small cabinet in the back of the garage. A car can actually fit if we want.  If there was a magazine called Garage Beautiful, we could be featured on the cover.

The next day, I happened to get on the computer before The Husband had signed off. There, on the screen, I saw a Craig’s List offering: Canoe, $50.

It might fit in the basement.


Monday, May 16, 2011

411. That Fourth Wall

So the other night I’m typing away on my fancy high-tech computer and a tiny blank box I’ve never seen before pops up at the bottom right corner of my screen. It says “From: Seattle Guru” and then, “Hi MOV! How are you?” Seattle Guru is my blogger friend who lives in Seattle. I am startled by this mini-email and, being the extreme technophobe that I am, am not quite sure how to react.

The tiny box is insistent: “MOV, are you there?”

How does the tiny box know if I am here or not? Is this like George Orwell’s 1984 coming true?

A few seconds go by. Then a blinking cursor by the words: “Can you chat?”

I lean in close to the bottom right of the computer screen. I whisper, “Okay, sure.”

Nothing happens.

I am not sure where the microphone must be, or if I even have it turned on properly. I lean in closer, clear my throat, and say, “Sure, I can chat now. I CAN CHAT.”

The Husband walks upstairs to the study. He is balancing a bowl of pretzels on top of his glass of water. “Who are you talking to?” he asks, puzzled.

My face is very close to the base of the computer screen. “Uh, I think I’m chatting with my friend in Seattle,” I offer lamely.

“Is your phone on speaker?” he eats a pretzel.

“Is that how you do it? Do I have to hook my phone up to it somehow?” I pick up my phone and start looking for a way it might attach to my computer.

“What?” asks The Husband, perplexed.

“What?” I ask him back, equally perplexed.

“Are you on the phone?”

“I’m on the computer.” I shrug.

“And the phone?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Who are you talking to, though?”

“I was trying to chat.” I point to the screen.

He takes another pretzel and chomps it between his teeth. “Oh, cool … uh, do you know how to chat?”

“No. I guess not.” Defeated. “Do you?”

“Of course.  It’s easy. You just type back to them, then hit enter.”

“That’s it?” I say, astonished.

“Yup,” he takes a swig of water, “that’s all there is to it.”

I get hooked on the whole chatting thing pretty quickly. I learn that if there is a green dot next to my friends’ names on the left of my screen, that means their computer is on and hooked up actively to the internet. It does not, however, necessarily mean that they want to chat with me right now this instant. They could be doing something else important. Like work.

Since this is a completely new realm for me, my expertise on the proper etiquette for chatting is non-existent. I view chatting like a very large party. I see a green dot (someone I know is at the party), and so I want to go over and talk to them. Right now!

Who cares if they might be in the middle of writing their master’s thesis or sending an urgent email to their accountant or finding a cure for cancer. Green dot= talk to me!

Like my seven-year-old son who answers the phone, “So are you calling about Club Penguin?” I also do away with superfluous greetings and cut right to the chase. My instant chats begin something like this:

“I was working on my blog, and then Blogger died! Did this happen to you today?” or “Tall was driving me insane at the bus-stop this morning.”

There is no, “Hi Seattle Guru, how’s the weather in your neck of the woods?” or “Kendall, do you have time to chit-chat with me for a couple minutes before you get back to your diplomatic duties in Eastern Europe?” or “Hi M, I would love to chat, you’re not in the middle of a meeting again, are you?”

Nope. No etiquette for MOV in cyberspace insta-chatting.

I start to notice a disturbing trend: when I click on to chat with a friend, the green dot disappears. It’s almost like they’re logging off at the exact second I want to say hi. I wonder why this is.

Are people avoiding me? It’s one thing to avoid me at the drug store or gym if you don’t want to get stuck talking to me for ten minutes, but avoiding me in my own study?!?

The whole concept of chatting is bizarre to me anyway. It’s like when Ferris Bueller starts talking directly to the camera when he is lathering up in the shower. The movie is the movie, and the main character is not supposed to be talking to me. I am not part of the movie.

My friend (Seattle Guru!) informs me that in theater parlance, this is known as the Fourth Wall. The first three walls are the walls of the stage, and the Fourth Wall is the invisible wall at the front of the stage separating the audience from the actors. If an actor breaks character and addresses the audience directly (as in, “Hey, buddy, wanna turn off your cell phone?”) that is referred to as breaking the Fourth Wall.

For me, my computer is the Fourth Wall. I am sitting here in my little corner of anonymity, when all of a sudden, BANG! Someone wants to chat with me, and the Fourth Wall has come crashing down.

I think I’ll put it back up now.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

410. Motherhood Is Portugal

Ever been to Portugal? Portugal is the underappreciated country in Europe, living in the shadow of its more glamorous neighbors. You hear about Portugal and think, “Huh, that would be cool to go to Portugal,” but then ultimately you book your trip to Italy or France, and you promptly forget that you had even a passing interest in Portugal.

People, perhaps your friends, get back from their journeys to Portugal, raving.

“Oh, you have to go!” they say enthusiastically, “Portugal is the greatest thing ever!” and you think Sure, maybe someday, but not someday soon. You go on with your life and your vacations to England or Germany, but Portugal—to be honest—is not even on your radar.

You get a postcard from your best friend. She finally went to Portugal herself. Her card reads:

“Loving it here. Still very very exhausted from long flight and time change, but worth it. Unfortunately, airline lost my luggage (I had to buy all new clothes!). Oh, well. Everything here is the same, but different. Feel like my senses are heightened. I am noticing the flowers, the trees, the vibrant paint colors. The countryside is breathtaking. Beautiful. The people are so nice and helpful, even though I can’t understand a word they’re saying. I got lost and this lady walked with me to help me find my hotel again. Life moves at a different pace here, even the simple act of getting a cup of coffee is an all-day ritual for these people. I think I may move here permanently.”

Then you notice her signature, she didn’t sign off with “Miss you,” or “Love,” or even “See you soon—”; no. She signed the card with an exuberant, “Join me!”

Portugal? Why would anyone go there when there are other more exciting places?

Motherhood is Portugal. You wake up one day, and you are a mother. It is all the great things you heard about, and more (it is also all the bad things you feared, and more). But there is no going back. Your passport is permanently stamped Mother for all the world to see. Messy hair. Dark circles under eyes. Wrinkled khakis (again). Mother, mother, mother.

Unlike your friend with the postcard (amateur), you have photos to show. Lots of photos. Here is baby smiling, here is baby sleeping, here is baby in his green hat, isn’t baby so cute? You don’t really need to show everyone the photos, because they can see the actual baby. He is sitting on your lap.

You never put him down.

Portugal is exactly the same. You visit and then it is all you can talk about and you can’t believe that people have not been there yet. Not gone to Portugal? the idea seems absurd.

Everyone else is speaking Italian, but you don’t: you only speak Portuguese now.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

409. Missed The Wagon

When my older son was just an infant, a friend bought him a miniature red wagon (the idea being to place it decoratively on a shelf and perhaps stock it with a pair of tiny stuffed animals). It was precious beyond words. And thus began my infatuation with wagons.

When Tall was about eight months old, I remember being at the local toy store and inspecting iconic Radio Flyer wagons. I desperately wanted to buy one for my young son. I had an idyllic magazine-cover vision of us cheerfully lumbering along together, me being that cute mom who pulls her baby in the wagon to the farmer’s market on Sundays. The Husband dutifully had his credit card at the ready, but then I hesitated.

“You know,” I began tentatively, “he could fall out.”

“Babies don’t fall out of wagons,” he countered.

“Sure they do, all the time! I don’t want him to wiggle out when I’m not looking, fall on his fragile little head, and then all of sudden we’re at the ER with a brain-damaged baby.”

The Husband did what he always did when I was being completely irrational: he quickly put his wallet back in his pocket, and thanked his lucky stars that he just saved $120.

A year later, we were at a different toy store looking at the same wagon. My farmer’s market fantasy now starred a highly-mobile toddler instead of a docile baby.

“There’s that wagon you always talk about,” pointed out The Husband helpfully, as Tall knocked over a cantilevered display of Lincoln Log houses, “do you still want to buy it?”

“Yes. Absolutely. They’re so cute! Why didn’t we ever buy one before?” I asked, as my mommy-mush-brain forgot my valid reasons for avoiding the death-trap wagons.

“I think you said he might fall out.”

On cue, Tall climbed in the wagon and then, Houdini-style, expertly maneuvered back out.

“No, Tall, no! If we buy this wagon, you have to stay put.” I used my best stern mommy-tone to imply that I was serious.

He immediately started crying. Loudly. Other shoppers five aisles over craned their heads around to get a better look at the mean mother who refused to buy her adorable toddler the Divine Right of Childhood: a wagon.

“I’ll take him to the car,” The Husband uttered through clenched teeth as he scooped up our kicking toddler. “Here,” he said, handing his black leather wallet to me, “Buy it. Don’t buy it. Whatever. It’s your call.”

I hated when things were “my call.” Everything was my call: what kind of diapers, what kind of shoes, when to put Tall down for a nap, what kind of formula to buy, whether he should wear a sweater or not. I was hoping to have some vestige of input on the whole wagon thing.

Once again, I left the store wagonless, rationalizing that, indeed, we should wait another year.

Then Short was born. No way was I putting a defenseless newborn in a wagon with a jealous two-and-a-half year.

Another year flew by. My window of opportunity was shrinking. If I didn’t do something fast, I was not going to be the cute mom at the farmer’s market with the two boys in a wagon.

“Maybe we should get the boys a wagon?” I asked The Husband a week before Christmas.

“Don’t they already have one?” he asked back, proving once again that he does not have any grasp of how many or how few possessions we own.


“Are you sure? Do you want me to look in the garage?”

“I’m telling you they don’t have a wagon!”

“Huh. That’s funny. I thought they did. Hmm.”

“Well?” I put my hands in the air in a gesture of what-do-you-want-to-do.

“Your call,” he offered predictably.

The next day, I had planned to drive to the toy store. It started to snow. I couldn’t see the point of having a wagon in the snow. I decided to wait.

Fast forward to now. Tall is seven, and Short is four. The benevolent Easter Bunny surprised our sons with a large red wagon at our front door in April. The boys giggled, then quickly filled the wagon with all their toy trucks and cars. They pushed the whole ensemble around the back patio a few times. The wagon remains there, laced in intricate cobwebs.

We went to the farmer’s market the other day. I saw a mommy pulling two little boys in a wagon. I could swear it was me.


Friday, May 13, 2011

408. Uh, who broke that table?

So yesterday was kindergarten registration and orientation at our local public elementary school. Short already goes to preschool at the same school, so there is no real “orienting” necessary for him, as he could most likely give comprehensive tours to prospective new students himself. Nevertheless, we show up with all the obligatory paperwork so Short can be registered properly, and I can show the world that I am a good parent and on top of things.

Did I mention that Tall was with us? No? Well, he was. This will be important later, you’ll see.

We sign in at the front office and get our official name tags. Since Queen Virgo is a former flight attendant, she has a slight Punctuality Complex. Okay, the thing starts at 1:45, and we're there at 1:10.

We're not the only ones there though; I notice an Asian family intently reading the posters outside the library. We sort of lounge around the main lobby area, trying to kill some time by flipping through back issues of Highlights magazine.

Now, let me describe the layout of the furniture in the lobby area.  On the side of the lobby, a few random chairs and a small bench are scattered haphazardly about.  The individual pieces are reminiscent of a hospital waiting area or maybe somewhere slightly more festive, like the DMV. The furniture has a retro Ikea-ish quality and is not very comfortable. Utilitarian might be the right word.

The primary seating area, located in the center of the lobby, contains a couch, two end tables, and two chairs, all clustered in a tight little arrangement. Some underpaid employee (a janitor?) must walk by a hundred times a day and inconspicously adjust that furniture because it is always squared off and perfectly placed. 
Tall has been going to this school for almost two years. He knows his way around, and for some reason, he is not happy to be here with mommy and little brother at this moment. He would rather be home watching cartoons or kicking the soccer ball around the backyard. It is a Huge Inconvenience to be here with us now, and he lets us know that by refusing to sit with us, and sighing big sighs while he rolls his eyes.

“Tall, Tall, come sit with us!” I beckon cheerfully from the central couch. “Come over here!”

He becomes deaf. I am not sure if he is embarrassed of us or what the situation is, but he will not engage.

“Tall!” I feel like I am in 7th grade all over again, but instead of trying to get the attention of the cool 8th grader, I am trying to get the attention of my own 1st grade son.



Thinking that this might look bad to the principal or any random teachers that might be milling about (look bad as in: my son wants nothing to do with me, I must be a monster), I walk directly over to him and lean down to his level.

“Tall, Sweetie,” I whisper kindly, “will you please come sit with me and Short on the couch?”

“No,” he hisses.

I decide right then and there that the wisest course of action is to scoot a chair closer to him and join him instead of begging him to move to me. I glance around for the nearest chair, which happens to be one in the boxy seating area next to the little end table and right by the couch. I grab the chair and start to move it toward me.

Only it is a little bit stuck. Or more like bolted. To the table.

The chair is no longer attached to anything, and neither is the table. Apparently, I am stronger than I thought. The whole seating area collapses in an angry bang.

If Tall thought he was embarrassed before, he is really embarrassed now. Mommy just broke all the furniture.

This is all happening in slow motion, like a very bad Quentin Tarantino movie. I drop my purse and keys and all the important documents I had been holding for Short, and I scramble to figure out how to reattach the chair to the dangling table and the couch. I can feel people staring at me, but no one offers to help.

“Tall!” It is my turn to hiss. “Tall! Help me!” I urge.

His face says, “Who is this crazy lady, and why is she talking to me?”

I am struggling, not due to the weight of the table I am desperately trying to click into the couch, but just because of the sheer physics of it. It is a two-person job.

Did I mention the plant? Oh, I forgot? Well, there was a plant. That smashed to the floor and broke. Nice.

After one million thousand minutes, the Asian gentleman walks over (most likely at the prodding of his sympathetic wife) to offer assistance. What I want to say: Yeah, Buddy, it’s about time, what, is it fun for you to just stand over there and laugh at me while I flounder?

What I do say, “Yes, thank you, that would be great.”

Somehow, after three or four futile attempts, we manage to reattach the furniture. I am very much hoping that the public schools cannot afford video surveillance cameras and that this will not be played on a continuous loop in the faculty lounge or on YouTube for the next several weeks.

The furniture is now miraculously intact. The same cannot be said of the plant.

Like a guilty teen-ager informing his parents that he just crashed their brand new Lexus into the garage door, I hang my head and walk into the main office with the sad remnants of the disfigured plant and shattered base. In a move of unexpected solidarity, Short accompanies me. (He had stood still as a statue during most of the incident, wanting to help but not sure how.) I approach the office lady and say,

“I’m so sorry, I broke your plant.” She does not even acknowledge me or the plant. I am wondering if I am invisible. (Did I say it was like a bad movie?). I set the plant on the desk. As an afterthought, I turn and add,

“I was going to say he did it,” (pointing at Short) “because I thought that might be more believable. You know, because he’s only four years old.”

My son Short looks up at me, mortified: Did Mommy just throw me under the bus?

The rest of the day goes on without incident. We turn in our papers. We go to the plant store and buy a new plant, which we zip right back to the school to drop off.

I call one of my girlfriends, and recount my wretched tale to her. She seems to get a good laugh out of it.

And then, this morning, I get this little gem of an email from her:

“I wanted to tell you that you might want to keep a low profile (you know, close the blinds and wear sunglasses from now on!) since there were a bunch of police officers surveying the crime scene at the elementary school when I got there for registration. Seems they didn’t quite believe your story about it being “the kid’s” fault. Finger-printing dust was everywhere, you could hardly breathe! The good news is, I looked at the sketch some Asian man had helped them put together and it didn’t look like you AT ALL, but just be on the safe side, I would avoid the school for the next couple of years or so. It should all blow over by then, I am sure!! Sleep tight, MOV!! hahaha”

I might have to dye my hair. Or buy a wig. At least it will be cheaper than moving to a new school district.

(“Mom’s Our Vandal”)

407. Virgo Seeks Worm

Why do I, a bona fide Virgo, need a worm? Well, it is not actually for me. It is for Short. He has an important school project involving gardening that his teacher dreamt up and thought might be “fun” for the students (read: parents). Yep, the public school has it out for me.

I should be used to this by now. I mean, really. Tall just had to procure a worm for his class last week, so we have been through this before. (Tall’s worm though, uh, “didn’t make it”—his teacher’s phrasing—because Mommy was too stupid and told him to keep his worm in the special plastic container outside, where normal worms belong by the way. Apparently, Tall’s worm froze to death. Or went into shock. Or maybe he was just elderly.)

We do not want to have a repeat of this fun incident and the ensuing Blame Game (“You killed my worm, Mommy! I told you he needed to stay on the front entry table or in my backpack!”). No. We want this worm to live, or at least manage to wiggle a bit until it gets to school.

I should reveal here that The Husband helped Tall find that initial worm. The Husband has an actual garden with actual flowers and vegetables and plants, and he knows where/how/when to locate worms. Queen Virgo, ahem, does not.

Since The Husband has already left for work and Short goes to afternoon preschool, it falls on me, Queen Virgo, to assist with worm location, retrieval, and relocation to said plastic container (provided courtesy of public school, my tax dollars at work). I don’t really like dirt, and that is apparently where worms like to live.

Short and I get the giant metal shovel (that I have seen The Husband use) out of the garage and get to work. We dig up about fifteen patches of dirt around our large grassy yard in our quest for worm glory.

I have to face facts. No worms live in our yard.

This, as you can imagine, is a disappointment to Short. “But, Mommy, look harder! My teacher said worms live everywhere! Maybe you just killed them all with your heavy shovel!”

Clearly, he is a gifted child.

We set the shovel aside and begin to dig with our bare hands (Queen Virgo is not happy with this latest development, and, I assure you, will vehemently scrub her hands and fingernails with excessive amounts of soap very soon). We finally hit pay dirt (so to speak): we find not one, but two, wiggly squiggly worms.

Short is delighted. He does a little Worm Victory Dance of sorts. Then he names his special worms (“Wormy” and “Wormvar”—he obviously gets his creativity from me).

I (reluctantly) set his worms in their temporary worm house on the front entry table, the precise location that Tall had tried in vain to get me to agree on. There are breathing holes on the top of the plastic. Several small holes that, to me, look just about the right size for a determined worm to slither out of and escape into alternate locations around my house.

But I try not to think of any of that as I pack Short’s lunch.

A little while later, the school bus picks up Short. He is clutching his worms close to him, not wanting to drop them.

“Be careful of your worms!” I yell out as the bus pulls away. It is at this moment I realize: I am more mom than Virgo.

(“Mom: Originally Virgo”)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

406. Teeny Tiny Phone-ito

I have a cell phone that I really like. It is by Verizon and fits compactly in the palm of my hand. When I bought it two years ago, I was quite impressed with how small it was. I was stupid back then: my phone is giant.

My friends whip out their microscopic phones the size of a very thin credit card or perhaps a business card, and I am immediately overcome with Phone Envy. Then they start pressing buttons, and magnificent things happen, things like GPS-ing and Googling and photographing and perhaps airline-booking.

These things do not happen with my phone. My phone is very boring. My phone only … calls people.

Oh, sure, I thought calling people was a good feature to have on my phone: I was wrong. The best feature to have in a phone is obviously that it is teeny tiny, perhaps like a ladybug. In fact, I’ll bet there is some phone manufacturer sitting in his teeny tiny office somewhere designing a ladybug phone as I write this. The Ladybug Phone is red with black polka-dots. It is targeted at women, women who want the latest greatest technology, and they want it to all fit in their pocket or possibly lipstick case.

Since the whole ladybug idea might not be as appealing to macho guys, their phone can be the Grasshopper. It will be green, and it will have green features, such as the outer case being made from 100% recycled materials like old tires and aluminum foil. The ad for the Grasshopper will feature a real Grasshopper literally jumping across the globe, illustrating how fast communication is with this new phone-ito. The Grasshopper will also be as light as a grasshopper.

I tell The Husband about the exciting Ladybug and Grasshopper concepts. As is typical when I tell him my revolutionary ideas, he laughs.

“The Grasshopper? The Ladybug? Where do you come up with this stuff? You know what, I think both of those phone ideas are still too big. I’ll bet new phones are the size of the little black dots on the side of a ladybug!”

He has completely obliterated my fabulous idea about the latest phone-ito.

I don’t want a phone the size of a polka-dot. How would I ever find it? What if I accidentally ate it (I would never do that intentionally, as it probably cost $800; but what if I mistook it for a poppy seed or a speck of chocolate? What then?)? My new polka-dot phone would be lodged in between my teeth and no one would even tell me.  (I wouldn't find out until it started ringing.) 

And anyway, let’s say I am lucky enough not to eat my phone, how exactly would I dial such a thing? My fingers are a bit big and clunky, and I sometimes struggle to make a simple button work (think button on a coat, not button on a phone); how the heck am I going to press the keys on the polka-dot?

Is there a point of diminishing returns (literally)?

(“Mom’s Old Verizon”)

****readers, what do you think? Has technology gone too far? For a phone, how small and light is enough?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

405. The Third Place

I think I first heard about the concept of the Third Place back when I was in college. The idea is that people spend the majority of their time in two primary places (home and work), but, in order to stay healthy and happy, need a Third Place that is independent from the first two places. The Third Place is meant to be a reprieve from the stress of everyday life. Church could be your Third Place. Or an art studio where you take classes. Or the gym. Or Starbucks. Or a local bookstore. It is a place where people recognize you and greet you as a familiar presence.

When I first got married ten years ago, my Third Place was actually a second job I had at a ceramic studio. The owner trusted me with the keys (what was I going to steal? clay?) and I would often find myself there before or after hours, painting. Painting was therapeutic to me; I felt relaxed, rejuvenated, and refreshed after painting. I liked to create art.  My Third Place was an ideal fit for who I was then.

Shortly after I had my first son, I quit my part-time job at the ceramic studio, as well as my primary job as flight attendant. I went from three places to only one. Since my new full-time career was taking care of an infant now, the First and Second Place were the same place. While The Husband could escape from a tired me and a crying baby (or is that a crying me and a tired baby?), my worlds had melted together, like m&ms forgotten in the car on a hot day.

And my Third Place? The place that I longed to establish as my invaluable Third Place was a spot that already existed but that I had taken for granted all these years: my bed. Ah, yes. I did not want to make small talk with moms at the doctor’s office nor attempt to socialize at the park with other stroller-pushing zombies like myself: no. I wanted to sleep.

Let me clarify. I wanted to sleep for longer than two hours in a row. Five and half hours sounded like a sin. I would’ve been happy with four.

In the meantime, I felt my personality melting away along with the Second and Third Place. I was not sure exactly who I was anymore; but I knew I needed a place that was not my living room or my kitchen.

“What about the study?” The Husband offered helpfully, not clear on the concept of the Third Place. “The study is not the living room or the kitchen. What about our backyard?” he asked next, referring to a tiny patch of grass behind our house the size of a picnic blanket that we affectionately called 'our backyard', “The backyard could be your Fourth Place!”

This was not my Eureka moment. This was my moment of despair.

I did not get my Third Place at that time, nor even my Second. Not until my younger son was born a few years later did I find it, and in doing so, find myself.

When Short was about a year old, I informed The Husband I was going to get a job at the high-end kitchen store “just for the holidays.” The temporary holiday period strangely morphed from four weeks to four years.

Even though I love and cherish my two healthy and beautiful sons, I also love and cherish my healthy time away from them at the beautiful high-end kitchen store. I need that job as much as the job needs me. I probably need it more.

My Third Place has finally been filled by a local cafĂ© that I have been frequenting for quite a long time. The owner greets me with a cheery, “Hello, MOV!” and knows I will order panna cotta before I even know I will order it. She knows not to put tomatoes on my salad.  Sometimes I take Tall and Short with me for lunch or a treat, but mostly I just go by myself.

Everyone needs a Third Place. And it needs to be further away than the sliver of grass in the backyard.

(with thanks to Megan for the idea)

**readers:  tell me about your Third Place.  And did you have an experience like mine after having kids where the First and Second Place became indistinguishable?

404. We Live There and There and There, Too

So The Husband and I had actually bid on several houses and been rejected before the stars aligned and we ended up buying our current house two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, we adore this house. We love the location, the big yard, the neighborhood, the schools … but sometimes we still drive by our “other” houses.

The boys probably think we’re a bit wacko when we drive slowly past a lovely Colonial in an adjacent neighborhood and wistfully say, “We almost lived there.” The truth of the matter is, our bids were flat out rejected, without even so much as a counter-offer. We did not almost live there.

One of the houses in particular that we liked was ultimately purchased by a builder and leveled. The resulting McMansion is worth about two million dollars, not our target price point. When we pull up in front of that “other” house, Tall and Short are baffled by Mom and Pop’s bad house-picking abilities.

“Oh, wow, Mommy!” squeals Short from the backseat, “That house is so much better than ours! We shoulda bought it!”

“Yeah, Mom,” concurs Tall as he eyes the owner’s son’s hockey equipment in the driveway, “then I could’ve been a hockey player!”

The Husband and I don’t quite know how to explain that if we lived at this address, we would actually be living in the former tiny cottage and all sharing one bathroom. The most we could’ve afforded to improve the previous rendition of that house would’ve been by buying a new mailbox and perhaps a welcome mat.

“Does the car come with it?” asks Short, noticing the red Porsche parked in front, “Because I might like that car, too!”

Next, we drive past the opposite end of the spectrum to a two-story stone house we bid on, a house that now sits empty with its windows broken and boarded up.

“Why didn’t we buy this one?” asks Tall, “Is this the one that had raccoons living in the attic?”

“That’s right,” I confirm, “but I hear they make great pets.”

“That’s not what my teacher said,” corrects Short, “She said that raccoons are mean and can bite you!” I look at Short’s face in the rearview mirror. He has his hands up like a fierce raccoon and he is baring his teeth and growling.

“She said ‘raccoon,’ not lion,” mocks his older brother.

The stone house is The Husband’s favorite. It was built in the 1920’s, and if it hadn’t been left to deteriorate for the past 50 years, would be pretty fabulous. It’s on a dead-end street, so there’s no traffic, only young families teaching their kids to ride bikes. 

I momentarily picture myself living there, and then I realize I would have a completely different set of friends.  I would go to a different dry cleaner.  The kids would go to a different school.  We would go to a different bookstore.  My life would be the same, but the details would be different.   

“That’s my favorite,” says The Husband redundantly, “Why didn’t we buy that one?”

“Like all the other ones, they turned us down. Remember?”

“But …”

“And it had foundation problems,”

I know,” he sighs.

“And old knob and tube wiring,”

“Not a big deal,”

“The roof was caving in,”

“It was perfect!” The Husband cheers, “We should’ve bought that one. We could be living there right now.”

“Would I have to share my room with a raccoon?” queries Short sincerely.

“Yes,” I reply, “or a lion.”


Monday, May 9, 2011

403. Pull A Wallis

The Husband and I sat down and enjoyed our latest obsession last night (Netflix). Netflix had kindly sent us the next movie in our queue, which happened to be “The King’s Speech.” We were impressed with the writing and the acting, and Colin Firth clearly deserved that Oscar he won.

But I don’t want to talk about King George VI; I want to talk about Wallis Simpson.

So Edward abdicated the throne for her? Really? Why? The movie did not portray the twice-divorced Wallis in a favorable light. Can you imagine what kind of passion Edward must have felt for her to walk away from the seat of such power and authority?

I asked The Husband if he would give up being king to marry me. He set down his ice-cream bowl, laughed and said,

“Don’t be silly. Of course not.”

I was a bit taken aback. Of course not?

He elaborated. “Don’t take it the wrong way, hon, I mean it in a nice way.”

“Fine,” I offered, “if I was queen, I wouldn’t trade that in to be with you either.”

He shrugged, then popped the completed movie out of the DVD player.

Somehow my grand retaliation statement was not having quite the impact I was hoping for.

“Wait,” I said, rewinding our conversation, “how is that a ‘nice’ way?”

“I would do what the country expected of me. Which means not taking up with a married woman in the first place.”

Ah, this was good. This I could understand and respect. He didn’t want to cause heartache for—

“… besides, Wallis was not even very attractive!”

“So you’re saying if she looked like Kate Hudson, then you’d give up the throne for her?”

“No. No throne-giving-up. Maybe I would buy her a drink, or a country house. But I earned that throne.” He licked that last bit of hot fudge off his spoon.

“Huh? You were born into royalty and now you’re delusional enough to say you earned it? What does that even mean?”

“Because I had to live my entire life under the microscope with everyone telling me what to do all the time. That’s a lot of pressure. If I had to live like that constantly, then I think I’ve earned the right to be king and not have some little hussy come along and make me lose everything. Plus, didn’t she end up cheating on Edward anyway?”


“Well, there you go. She wasn’t actually worth giving up the throne for in that case, was she?”

Nevertheless, I am still awed by Wallis’s perseverance and charm in making the prince fall in love with her. She had a plan, and she managed to pull it off. From everything I’ve read about her, the prince was smitten with her and would do anything she asked.

“Okay, so you won’t give up the throne for me, but will you get me another scoop of ice-cream?” I asked, handing him my bowl. I smiled sweetly, then blinked my eyes a few times in a faux-flirtatious manner for good measure.

“That I can do.” He took my empty bowl and went into the kitchen. See? Any woman can pull a Wallis.


Friday, May 6, 2011

402. Table for 1

I got paid at the high-end kitchen store today, and I took my impressive paycheck back to its place of origin: that’s right—the mall. The mall was calling out to me, “MOV! MOV! Come spend some of your paycheck here, you know you want to!”

I struck a compromise with mall. I told mall that I didn’t want to blow my entire gigantic paycheck ($114.82) all in one fell swoop … I would take things slow. I waltzed into Barnes and Noble and bought some important literature (Us Weekly with Princess Kate on the cover, and Veranda with, well, someone’s veranda on the cover) and then I went to a fancy restaurant for lunch. By myself.

It is not so strange for me to walk into a place solo. Being a flight attendant for all those years, I certainly ate alone from time to time. But things are different now: I’m a mom. I’m always accompanied by short hungry people, people who either want me to make food for them or buy food for them.

No one ever says, “Hey, Mom, are YOU hungry? You look a little emaciated, perhaps you might like some chicken cordon bleu, some crab stuffed mushrooms, a piece of chocolate mousse cake, and a nice glass of Chardonnay to wash it all down?” This is not a phrase anyone in my family has ever uttered to me, in my seven and a half year history of Mommydom.

I took it upon myself to be in charge of my own happiness today while my two young children merrily learned to draw rectangles or say “Where do you live?” in Spanish or whatever fun lesson the public schools deemed appropriate for this day. It doesn’t matter. The teachers have their degrees in Early Childhood Education, someone official did a background check on them at some point, and I was blissfully child-free for three hours.

The hostess looked at me with a mix of pity and curiosity. The pity was “Why is she by herself? Is she a total loser and has no friends?” The curiosity was “Can’t she just go home and make a tuna sandwich? Why does she want to spend $25 on lunch when she has no one to enjoy it with?”

But you see, dear hostess, I did enjoy my lunch. All. By. Myself. I did not have to dump out all the sugar and Sweet ‘N Low packets to play an impromptu game of dominoes at the table to entertain people with a short attention span. I did not have to play “I spy” and look around for something black (my purse) or something yellow (I give up—oh, the chandelier). I got to peruse the lovely photos of Princess Kate and all her adoring fans. When I was done with the magazine, I re-read it, to make sure I didn’t miss anything (and I almost had! Kate Hudson is engaged!).

I didn’t have to share my sliced mango. I didn’t have to settle a dispute over who has more French fries. I could have sat there all day, zoning away to MOV-land, a place I spent a lot of time before I had kids, and a place that is never on the itinerary these days.

I love my family (why do I always feel compelled to put that disclaimer on these kid-free episodes?), but my Table for 1 was exhilarating. It made me appreciate my usual Table for 4.