Sunday, February 20, 2011

338. What's In A Name?

So when Tall was a baby, I read something somewhere that said if you are talking about your child in what could be perceived as a negative way (paint scene: “Tall was screaming at Target and all the other shoppers were staring at me,”), then you should talk in code so as not to hurt the child’s feelings. Seems reasonable enough. I mean, anytime you hear your name, your ears automatically perk up a little bit because you realize that people are talking about you, and you want to listen intently to find out exactly what they are saying.

That is a lot of pressure on a parent, this whole I-might-be-giving-my-kid-a-complex thing. I told The Husband about this well-researched theory (I think I read it in a magazine at the doctor’s office, so it must’ve been true), and he reluctantly agreed that I might be right. (I think his exact words were, “Huh.”) From that moment on, if we weren’t discussing the merits of teaching Tall baby sign language or his obvious overachiever ability at football (he threw his stuffed panda all the way across his crib!), then we were referring to him by his special top-secret code name.


As in, Fred kicked dirt at another child at the playground today or Fred got into the hidden stash of lollipops and ate five of them when I wasn’t looking.

This worked well for almost three years. Tall was what his pediatrician considered a “late talker”—he could eke out a word or two (think lollipop or dirt), but that was about it. Certainly never phrases or full sentences. Then, one rainy evening, The Husband and I realized that although “Fred” might not say much, he was astutely observing and processing everything. I’d just finished telling The Husband what Fred had done while he was at work all day (uh, that would be ripping up all Mommy’s favorite magazines), when Tall walked in the kitchen and declared

“My name is not Fred! You people need to stop calling me that! And my baby brother is not Klaus, either! His name is Short! Get it together, I am embarrassed to even call you my parents!”

That day was a brutal awakening for us, the feeble-minded mother and father. We have a new code name for parents now: Dummies.

("Morton?  Oliver?  Vladimir?")

337. Field Trip

So Short has a field trip to the Neat Museum in The Big City, and his teacher asked for chaperone volunteers. I jump at the chance to be around Short and all his four-year-old friends (plus I’ve never been to the Neat Museum, and someone else will drive and figure out parking).

The day starts off well. I get to the school early, and check in at the office. The receptionist gives me my special official chaperone name tag, and I walk down the long hall feeling important and needed. I search for my son’s classroom. Everything is so tiny at this school! The bulletin boards come up to my waist; the water fountains are practically on the floor (for a minute I am wondering if they are intended for large dogs instead of short people).

The teacher greets me warmly at the door, and I notice there are about five other parent volunteers already standing around adjusting their special official chaperone name tags. I’m immediately relieved to not be the sole volunteer, as preschool-age children are notorious for their advanced escape/ hiding skills.

We load everyone onto the bus. We settle in for the long drive, and Short snuggles up to me exactly like all those ads showing moms making peanut butter sandwiches or folding laundry. While I chat merrily with two other mothers, the bus bumps along through rush-hour traffic to The Big City.

Right before we arrive at the Neat Museum, the teacher gets out of her seat, and walks through the aisle of the bus giving the parents lists of who is responsible for which children. I mentally calculate how many children I will be assigned, and for a moment I consider asking the teacher not to give me more than four children to watch. I think four might be my absolute limit.

I decide against relaying this little tidbit (for fear of branding myself incompetent), and instead start wondering who the trouble-maker kids are. Short has told me before that he’s not really friends with Tony-the-biter, so I’m praying that Tony will not be in my group. I notice that the teacher’s assistant is sitting with Tony, and reading him a book about museums, so probably Tony will be in his own petite group of two.

The teacher gets to my row. I nod at her, and I look at her pretty sunshine face expectantly. “Oh, and you,” she says, flustered for a moment. She turns and walks away without giving me an assignment.

Wait—what? What just happened here? Was she reading my mind about Tony, and now she has to shuffle things around so that he won’t be in my group after all? Or is Short considered the trouble-maker of the class, and other parents have told the teacher they don’t want their child to be with him? (In his defense, he’s usually a great kid. Sure, he gets excited, and wants to run a bit, but what little boy doesn’t?)

“Uh, excuse me?” I say lamely to the teacher, “Uh, who do you want me to be responsible for?”

She looks at me kindly, benevolently even (I have seen this look before: when I tried out for the singing group in high school and the singing teacher mentioned how important it was to have a “Props Support Team” to help set up the stage for the singers, and maybe that would be a good job for me), and she says

“You can just be responsible for Short.” She might as well have added, “if you think you can handle watching your own child for 45 minutes.”

Next, she leans toward someone’s great-grandmother (who is wearing oversized glasses that make her look like a smart bug), and tells her to watch Isabella, Noah, and Andrew.

My first inclination is to be offended, miffed, and defensive. These are my go-to emotions. I want to get up and shout for all the other parents and kids and even the bus driver to hear, “Hey Teacher! Not only do I have a four-year-old, but I also have a seven-year-old! That’s right—I am responsible for not one child but TWO on an everyday basis! I feed them and bathe them and drive them to soccer practice and help them with their homework, and most days go okay!”

But this is not what I do. Instead, I lean into Short, squeeze his little hand, and say, “Looks like it’s just you and me, kid. Again.”

(“Miffed Or Vindicated?”)

Friday, February 18, 2011

336. Self-Imposed Computer Exile

I have discovered an inviting land (you have probably been there, too), and that land is called: If I Get On My Computer I Will Waste Five Hours. Why why why do I continue to go to this corrupt place? A place where innocently “checking your email” or “updating the blog” can suck irreplaceable hours away from your life (when you could be doing Important Things, things like making dinner for your family or filing your tax return or catching up on TiVo’d episodes of House Hunters).

I have decided to take rash action against this Time Thief: as of right now, today, this instant, I resolve to only be on the computer every other day. You read that right: I’m cutting my computer time in half (if I could just cut my chocolate intake this cavalierly).

This new endeavor is sure to take willpower, willpower that I am confident I possess deep down (should I Google “willpower” to see if the experts have any helpful tips for accessing said willpower?). I used to get up almost every morning at 5 AM to go for a six mile run (well, I did it for about a week or so with my running group); I am sure I can do something as easy as not flipping the power button for the computer.

(Of course, if I need to Mapquest something, then that would be allowed no matter what day it is. Same goes for looking up reviews for a new restaurant. Or what time a movie is playing. Or if I need a recipe for lemon pound cake. Or the phone number for the car repair shop where I get my oil changed.)

Uh, wish me luck.

(“Mom’s Original Vice”)

Monday, February 14, 2011

331. We'll Just Embarrass You Ahead of Time

So we’re sitting at the dinner table trying to extract information out of Tall. “Tall, tell me about your day at school,” begins The Husband innocently enough. “Mommy mentioned that the entire first grade is putting on a play.”

“You’re not invited,” snaps Tall. “I don’t want you to come.”

I suppress a grin. Well, at least I’m not a victim of his wrath today.

“Or you,” he says, redirecting his gaze to me. “Neither of you is invited.”

What? What did we do this time?

“Why not?” asks The Husband. “We want to see you in your special play, and we want to take lots of pictures.”

“That’s why,” mutters Tall, “because you’ll embarrass me.” Now he has a worried look on his face, fast-forwarding to his performance, and his Parents Doing Embarrassing Things, things like taking a few photos of their son.

“Wait, Tall, you’re saying you’d be embarrassed if we took photos? Okay, we won’t take any photos.” This is a promise I can keep, as I know I can ask my freighbor to take shots of Tall when she takes some of her own son. Freighbor is a better photographer than me, anyway.

“Mom, I’m not even talking about just photos. You would do other things to embarrass me.”

“Like what?” queries The Husband.

“You know, like, you might call out when everyone is clapping at the end, you might go, ‘Hey! Tall! Great job!’ or something bad like that.” His little brow furrows, thinking of the devastation that would follow if his friends were to witness us complimenting him.

“I get it,” I say. “That’s fine, Tall. We won’t call out or anything. But we are coming to the play.”

He crosses his arms across his chest deliberately. A pout settles on his little round face.

“I have a good idea,” The Husband offers excitedly, “Mommy and I will say all the embarrassing things now, and get it out of the way! That way, on the day of the play, we won’t embarrass you in front of all your friends.”

Tall’s face registers a new look, one I’ve seen before: skepticism. “No. Don’t do that either,” he says firmly.

Too late. The Husband is out of his chair now, waving and pointing. There is much taking of imaginary photos with the imaginary camera.  “That’s our son! That’s Tall! Hey, Tall, WE LOVE YOU!! Our son is the best actor and the best singer, and he’s the star of the show! Yay, Tall!” Next, manic applauding and foot-stomping.

I’m sucked in by his faux enthusiasm. “Yay! Yay, Tall!” I echo. “Woo-hoo! Go, go, Tall!” I have morphed into a cheerleader at a football game, “Tall is the one! The best! WE LOVE YOU!!”

Tall’s face is a sunset of reds. “Stop it,” he hisses.

The Husband taps me on the arm. “Okay, since we showed him what we won’t do, now let’s show him how we really will act on the actual day of his play.” The Husband is nodding, sending me mental telepathy messages of my lines.

“Do you know anyone in this play?” I stage-whisper to The Husband.

He shrugs. “Nope,” he whispers back. “Why are we here again?”

(“Mom On Vaudeville”)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

328. Death, Divorce, Drama, Disease

Yesterday was a depressing day (ah, "Depression"—yet another dreaded “D” word). I met a friend for lunch, and talk turned to the very recent death of her friend (age 40) from Cancer. My mom is also fighting Cancer (well, not so much “fight”—it started out sort of like a tiff, and has now progressed to a full-blown feud). Cancer is a scary prospect: you can do everything right—eat healthy, exercise, quit smoking—and still become a victim of this hideous disease.

That afternoon, I stopped by another friend’s house to drop off a book. She’s in the middle of an unwelcome divorce (I’m sure all divorce is unwelcome, but in her case, I mean she was completely blind-sided). I can imagine God dealing out pieces of people’s fates, like playing cards, and her flipping over the one that read, “Divorce.” Crap, I can see her cringing, I don’t want that card! Let me put it back. I’d rather have “Lose Job” or “Mother-in-law Problems,” instead.

Later, I had coffee with yet another dear friend, who has major issues with her father. I’ve never met him, but from her description, he’s controlling, manipulative, and bossy. He wants everyone to do things his way or not at all. She wants to keep him in her life so her children can know their grandfather, but the whole situation is very draining on her. So the card that God dealt her was “Drama.”

I guess my role yesterday was that of Listener. I tried to be a good listener and a good friend to my pals that needed to vent their sadness, their frustration, their anger.  I know many times I am the one complaining, and they are the ones listening.  Our roles are fluid, back and forth, listener/ talker/ helper/ friend. 

As I was driving home, I started thinking about these bad cards we get dealt, these cards that start with the letter “D.” I don’t much care for this letter and all its corrupt family members: Danger, Demons, Dishonest, Dull, Disaster, Deranged, Drugs, Disappointment, Dogmatic, Dismal, Damage, Dissatisfaction, Dump, Dark, Disreputable, Drudgery, Derogatory, Distant, Dizzy, Disdain, Discrimination, Dumb, Defensive, Disgust, Doom, Disorderly, Dismissive, Drunk.

When I was a flight attendant, I shuddered to hear the relatively mild “D” word: “Delayed.” Once in a while, I’d hear the word “Divert,” as in, “The snow in Denver is so bad, we have to divert our plane, and land in Wichita instead.”  Damn. 

Now my mind was spinning, thinking about these “D” words. I walked in my front door, set my keys on the table, and hung up my coat. That’s when I saw it: The Husband playing a card game on the floor with the boys. Oh, yeah, I thought, there is a good “D” word after all:  Dad.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

326. You Can't Insult Me Like That

So I’m just leaving the library with Short, when I run into my girlfriend Gina and her toddler. We chat for a couple minutes, I’m genuinely happy to see her, and then it happens. The toddler commits an unspeakable transgression. Well, not so much “unspeakable” as “unrepeatable.” He says something so mean, so vile, that Gina immediately grips his little paw, leans down to him, and says sternly, “No, Bryce! That is not okay! We do NOT call Short’s mommy that word!”

Wait—what word? I didn’t hear what Bryce said. Can your repeat the bad word, Bryce? So I can tell if the word is on my List, too, or if Gina is being overly-dramatic?

Gina turns a Valentine's medley of about 12 shades of red, she is so embarrassed, and starts apologizing profusely. “I’m so, so sorry, MOV, I have no idea where he first heard that word, it’s not a word that Steve and I ever say, I’m so sorry.” She looks like she might cry, like she was the one who said The Word.

I lean in to Gina and give her a semi-hug (she’s trying to wrangle Bryce, who’s trying to get away), and I whisper, “It’s okay, Gina, not a big deal.”

But is it a big deal? What was The Word? Was it of the four-letter variety, the kind of word that one could consider “verbal assault,” and actually take someone (okay, not a toddler) to court over? Was I cussed out by a two-year-old?  Or was it something relatively benign, like “poopy-head,” because, let’s be honest, that’s a phrase I've heard bandied around my own house once or twice by a frustrated four-year-old, possibly even as recently as this morning.

Short is grinning, like perhaps he heard The Word in question. Should I ask him what The Word was when we get out to the car? Or would that reinforce the negative connotations of The Word, and now he would run around repeating it at every opportunity?

I decide to go with the three-step approach of Option B: ignore, ignore, ignore. If I simply ignore what Bryce said, maybe everyone (even Gina) will forget it ever happened.

We say goodbye to Gina and Bryce; Short and I pick our books up off the check-out desk, and start to walk out. Short's grin has taken over his little face, he is all Chiclet teeth and chapped lips. He starts giggling to himself.

We get to the car, and I help him with his seatbelt. “I’ve got it, Mommy,” he insists. Then he starts laughing again.

I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. “Short, Short, what is it? What is so funny?”

More laughing. Kicking of the feet to accompany the laughter that is (most likely) at Mommy’s expense. “Bryce said …”

I wait.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  He won’t tell me.

“Bryce said … Bryce called you … a witch!”  More giggles. “Isn’t that so silly, Mommy? Because you don’t even have a broom!”

That’s okay, Bryce, I’ve been called worse.

(“Mama Or Vulgarity?”)

325. Crazy Like A Fox

There comes a point in every relationship when your very future hinges on three little words. In our case, those words were “Fox on armoire!”

The Husband and I were living in California, renting a tiny apartment across from the beach. One night, I was awakened from a deep deep sleep by The Husband turning the lights on full bright, sitting up straight in bed, and yelling at the top of his lungs, “Fox on armoire!”

As you can imagine, this was slightly disconcerting. Would this wild fox try to bite us, or possibly steal one of my favorite sweaters from the armoire?  And what, exactly, did The Husband expect me to do about this situation?  Shouldn't he be trying to protect me from the fox, instead of the other way 'round?

Yes, I had a job where I dealt with random scenarios every day.  I knew what to do if there was a medical emergency, a fire, or if a plane crashed in water.  But, all my years of flight attendant training had not adequately prepared me for this moment. I had never dealt with a wild animal on the loose (sure, I’d dealt with a drunk passenger or five, but to my knowledge, they never had rabies).

I decided the first order of business was to actually see the fox. Even though The Husband was screaming and pointing to the (supposed) location of said fox, I did not see a fox. Since the armoire was at an angle in the corner of the room, it was quite possible that the fox had hidden behind the armoire.

The logical part of my brain started to thaw. “Sweetie, uh, do you think it is maybe a cat, and not a fox?” This was way before we owned our cat, but perhaps an errant neighbor cat had snuck in our (closed, locked) window.

“It! Is! A! Fox!” he insisted, adamant. “Right there!”

I rubbed my eyes, willing myself to see whatever it was that The Husband was seeing.


Now the truth was apparent.  Not only was there no (mistaken identity) cat, there was no fox either. The Husband was having a nightmare, and as far as I could tell, was actually still asleep even though his (round, crazy) eyes were open and he seemed awake.

“You’re having a nightmare,” I soothed, all the while trying to put my own fast-pumping heart back into my chest. “Go back to sleep, Hon.”

“No, MOV, I’m serious! There’s a fox!” Still pointing.

I got out of bed and turned the light off. “I’m going to bed.”

Four hours later, the alarm went off and the Husband bounded out of bed, cheery and rested. “How’d you sleep, MOV?” he asked sweetly.

“Are you kidding?” I responded tersely. “After you woke me up, screaming ‘A fox! A fox! A fox on the armoire!”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. And then, “You sure have a great imagination.”


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

324. HGTV = Crack Cocaine

So I’m watching yet another episode of Selling New York, when I realize, Oh, I’ve already seen this one. It’s the one where that B-list actor wants to buy a downtown loft, but he hasn’t sold his Malibu property yet. That’s okay, I can watch Divine Design. I click over to my TiVo’d list of programs, and select Candace Olson’s lovely show, only to realize … seen it (the hockey player’s basement-turned-rec room). Color Splash? More repeats (beach cottage retreat inspired by a famous Art Deco hotel).

Designed to Sell? I think I’ve probably seen this one, but I can’t remember. Is this the one where the husband refuses to part with all that baseball memorabilia/ clutter? I fast-forward to the last five minutes of the show for the Big Reveal. Huh, no baseball stuff; his hobby is sailing. I guess it was a new one after all.

I scan through the remainder of my TiVo personal menu. TiVo has obediently taped no fewer than 5288 shows for me, all about Houses. How nice of you TiVo, to help support my nasty little habit. I’m figuring out that I have a teeny tiny problem, some might use the word “addiction,” kinder folks would say “affinity.”

When did this happen? It all started when I became a full-time, stay-at-home mom seven years ago. Before I had children, there had actually been a decade-long segment of my life where I chose not to own a TV (essentially, during all of my 20’s). People would say, Don’t you get bored? What do you do? How can you not have a TV? or the one-size-fits-all, You’re crazy.

Oh, if those former friends/ acquaintances could see me now, they’d be so proud. How the pendulum has swung in the other direction!

In my childless and TVless state, I worked three jobs, worked-out, read books (lots of ‘em), socialized, talked on the phone, wrote letters, went out to eat, shopped, travelled, and didn’t much think about what I was “missing” on television. Then along came my new career Being Home with Baby, and my life was transformed. Oh sure, I waited until he was two years old to expose him to Sesame Street, but the onslaught of decorating shows started beckoning to me way before that.

There is just something so enticing about taking a dreary, uninviting room and transforming it with a bucket of paint, new throw pillows, and a black and white photo of a European city. I watch and think, Hey! I could do that!

My tiny house has become a canvas of (failed?) experiments involving paint colors with names like “Barista” and “Tropicana Cabana” and “Sea Life.” People come over, and ooh and ahh politely as I give them the Grand Tour, complete with Before and After photos, my own personal mini-Reveal. At first, these so-called “friends” were laying it on thick, “This looks amazing! What a dramatic difference!” After about two dozen or so people said the same thing over and over and over (and I found out The Husband was not paying them to flatter me and boost my fragile ego), I realized I had a talent: a talent to copy things from TV.

I’m going cold turkey today. No more House shows. I can think of better uses for my time.

If you’ll excuse me, I just made myself a cappuccino, and I’m going to sit down, and peruse the February issue of Elle D├ęcor. And right after that, Traditional Home. And then maybe, if I have enough time, Coastal Living.

(“Mama’s Obsession, Verified”)

Friday, February 4, 2011

319. Homework Time

Tall’s teacher assigns homework every night. As Tall’s mother, the responsibility falls to me to make sure he gets it done. I take this job very seriously, and I nag him incessantly until he sits down with his pencil and paper.

The high-end kitchen store where I work expects an appearance from me one night per week. On that particular night, The Husband must prod Tall to do his homework. Sadly, I do not have a video-camera set up to film what goes on in my absence. However, I have the next best thing (a vivid imagination), so let’s take a peek:

The Husband: Hey, Tall, your mom mentioned something about homework?

Tall: (silent, watching TV)

The Husband: Whaddya say we order pizza for dinner again tonight?

Tall: Yeah! I love pizza!

The Husband: Uh, wait, there was something your mom asked me to do … what was it?

Tall: Can we play basketball outside for a couple minutes? It’s not snowing that hard.

The Husband: Great idea! Let’s go.

You know what comes next. I come home from work, pour myself a glass of Chardonnay, and watch TopChef. I verify with The Husband that Tall completed his homework. “Yes, we did it first thing.”

The next morning, Tall is scrambling in his typical Before-School-Mad-Dash of getting dressed, and gobbling some breakfast.  As almost an afterthought, I say, “Sweetie, where’s your homework?”

He races over to his backpack and pulls out his homework folder. Six worksheets fall out, none of them touched by human hands.  He scoops them up. “Oh, no!” he panics, “we forgot to do these!”

We now have approximately four minutes before the bus arrives. I help him start scribbling in the answers.

(“Mom’s Our Valedictorian”)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

316. JINQY

So Tuesday is Game Night at our house and we’re playing a game called “Bananagrams” (where you essentially try to come up with as many words as possible in a crossword-like configuration), when Short lines up his letters and says, “Is this a word, Mommy?”

(Now, Short is four. He knows all his letters, and he can certainly spell his own name and maybe “cat.” But other than that, he lines up his letters in pretty arrangements, and hopes for the best.)

The word in question is “JINQY.” It looks suspiciously like the name of some new computer program. I am ready to tell Short that no, JINQY is not a real word, when I look into his big blue eyes full of optimism. His brother Tall has already scored about 322 words (including “BAMBOOZLE”).

I hear myself say, “Yes, of course, Short, JINQY is a word.”

I feel three pairs of eyes swivel to me. The Husband and Tall say in unison, “It is?!?”

“Yes,” I confirm nonchalantly, “You know when someone jumps out and scares you and you jump a little and go ‘Agh!’?” (here I pause to demonstrate being scared), “well, that’s JINQY.”

Short is suddenly quite impressed with his newly-discovered word-spelling prowess. “JINQY is a word!” he says to himself, smug.

You know what comes next. The evening quickly deteriorates into a JINQY-fest. Tummy doesn’t feel so good? Must have eaten some bad JINQY. Don’t feel like putting on your pajamas just yet? Nope, you’re too JINQY-ied out. Misplaced your homework? Did you look next to the JINQY?

We finally get Tall and Short into bed (after a bedtime story read by Tall, and full of—you guessed it!—even more JINQY references). I lean over to say prayers with Short and I hear him recite them by heart, adding a sweet little line about, “God, please bless all the JINQYs in the world. Amen.”

Yes, amen to that!

(“Minefield Of Vowels”)